Saturday, February 04, 2006

Bhagavad Gita and War

This week I decided to reread The Bhagavad Gita or also known as the Song of God. It forms a small but pivotal part of the world's largest epic called the Mahabharata, which is about 13 times longer than both the Illiad and Odyssey combined. I speficially read the Gita and commentary by Ramanuja, one of the finest logical and mystic minds of India. The Gita is a discourse between Krishna, the Supreme Being/Reality/God who has taken incarnation or avatar on earth, and Arjuna, the greatest archer to exist at that time. Essentially, the circumstances that surround the Gita is one of war. Arjuna is one of the Pandava Brothers, of which there are 5 total. They are engaged in a civil war with their paternal cousins the Kauravas, of which there are a 100. The Kauravas have "unrighteously" refused to return the kingdom to the Pandavas who are the kingdom's rightful rulers. After many attempts to peacefully resolve the dilemma, the Pandavas who were even willing to rule only 5 villages and yet denied, decided to go to war. The Pandavas enlist the aide of their maternal cousin, Krishna. He promises the Kauravas that he will not fight in the war but will only be Arjuna's charioteer. So the sides are assembled and they meet on the field of battle. This is where the Gita begins.

Arjuna request Krishna to draw his chariot in between the two armies so that he can see who is on each side. When Krishna complies and draws the chariot in between the two armies, Arjuna is overcome with emotion. He sees his cousins, uncles, grandfather, friends, teachers and kinsmen all arrayed against him. He is overcome with compassion and sympathy. As a warrior, he understands that most of these people will not leave the field of battle alive. He knows that he might even kill many of them. His body shakes and he drops his bow. He tells Krishna that winning all of creation let alone a mere kingdom is not worth killing all of ones friends, family and loved ones. He says how can I enjoy all the riches of the world after I've killed all these people. With that he resolves not to fight and sits in his chariot.

Ok now we have a basic background on the Gita. What follows is Krishna's teaching about the true nature of the soul, karma, God, Reality and ethics. Here, I just wanna focus on the ethics primarily because most people only view the Gita as a spiritual and religious text. The context is both spiritual and also "mundane". Krishna is trying to enlightened Arjuna so that Arjuna WILL fight the war. Krishna advocates war but not just any war but a righteous war. What exactly is a righteous war? Well, a righteous war as we can decipher from hindu texts is a war that is based on the conflict between dharma and adharma. Dharma means many things and it is hard to explain in english but it means both natural law and righteousness. Adharma means opposite of dharma. Natural Law, here isn't the same natural law as seen in western world. Natural Law refers to a balance here, all people have duties to themselves and others. A King to his subjects, parents to children and vice versa. If these duties are breached then the balance must be scaled.

Krishna makes it clear that war is to be fought between warriors/soldiers. A warrior's duty is to fight a war when it presents itself. Attacking non-warriors, un-armed people and non-combatants is considered adharmic in Hindu rules of war. So clearly the Gita nor Hinduism advocate terrorism on civilians. War is always the last option. The Mahabharata clearly establishes this as the numerous attempts by the Pandavas to avoid war and still lay claim to their rights. The key point about Gita and war is that war must be fought for the right reasons without really attaching oneself to the ends. Meaning this: Fight because its the right thing. Krishna says that we have the right to action alone not the fruits of the actions. A war to defend your rights or safety is just but a war to further your interests or desires isn't. The Gita takes the position that war is an inevitable part of nature because fundamentally we are all beings with ego. Hindus view the state of nature as one of warring, or as they say the larger fish feeding on the smaller fish. War should not be taken lightly but must be limited and controlled, hence the many rules of warfare. Fighting must only occur during sunrise to sunset, must take place away from cities and town, non-combatants cannot be hurt, unarmed people must be allowed to surrender or let go, no attacking another while they are fleeing, all fights must be one on one and so on. Now, the warriors in the Mahabharata broke almost every rule in the book. The rationale given was that they were entering Kali yuga or the age of darkness, where people won't have honor or righteousness. anyways, thats just a lil bit of my rambling on the subject. I'm too tired to write more. late

3 comments:

angelic face said...

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Vikram Masson said...

Hence, the cultural connections or community connections but most of these connections are superfical at best because people don't understand the background or the basis of that connection.


But when you get married culture does matter, particularly when you decide to have children. What do you name the child? Do you inculcate religion? Many couples from different backgrounds do successfully work these things out, but for others its not easy.

Also, our outlooks do tend to change, and people almost invariably become more conservative when they get older, and affects our cultural outlook.

Its about interpreting the world in a language we understand. Some easily learn new languages. For others, not so much.

-Vikram

Anonymous said...

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