Arjuna, the mighty pandava prince, was the most powerful warrior of his time. He was also a pure devotee of Lord Krishna, thus being endowed with numerous divine qualities. Yet, as depicted in Srimad Bhagavad Gita, when faced with his elders, guru and kinsmen in battle, at the holy place of Kuruksetra, he became bewildered in his duties. At the same time, by his side as his charioteer was Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the intimate friend of Arjuna. So as the Srimad Bhagavad Gita unfolds, Arjuna presents his doubts about fighting before Sri Krishna and Krishna in return speaks the Gita. An important point to understand in this connection is that although seemingly bewildered, Arjuna merely acts out a role as a conditioned soul influenced by false ego. Being a pure devotee and merciful by nature, Arjuna enacts the conditionings of a fallen jiva, so that the Lord can give transcendental knowledge through the medium of the Bhagavad Gita for the benefit of the world.
Henceforth, being in the category of the fallen jivas, I will attempt with this small essay to explore Arjuna’s doubts and put my own words to his struggle, trying to draw parallels from my own experience as an aspiring devotee. Following the chronological presentation of arguments by Arjuna as given in the book, I will present my analysis, and conlusion in the end.
Compassion. Srila Prabhupada explains the reason for Arjuna’s compassion. It is all due to softheartedness, being a pure devotee of Krishna. So this is not an ordinary quality. Also his compassion is not directly targeted towards fellow living entities who are suffering some affliction of the body or who are in a type of distress. This is what brings out compassion in common people in general. However, being a pure soul, advanced in learning, Arjuna is on a higher level. He is faced with aggressors, men clad in armour and bearing weapons who want to take his life and kingdom. They are his kinsmen and respected elders, and the compassion that wells up in him is due to their decision to fight amongst themselves (Srila Prabhupada, purport Bg. 1.28). Having gone there to pick a fight with Arjuna and his brothers, they have assembled an army of following of the same persuasion, weapons at the ready, and Arjuna’s first response, the valiant warrior, is to immediately considering withdrawal from the battlefield, feeling sorry for how their minds are bent upon such an abominable end of destruction and greed. This is the glorious kind-heartedness of the devotee. However, the mystery of Sri Krishna is unveiled as Arjuna puts his compassionate doubt before his friend. His response is unexpected: “… you are mourning for that which is not worthy of grief.” (Bg. 2.11) With this statement Krishna argues that Arjuna is a great statesman, a leader of peoples. When aggressors appear on the horizon, with an attitude to overthrow the pious rule of the land, rather than becoming introspective, Arjuna should at once draw his sword, confident that his actions as a protector in society are based on a deeper understanding of the eternality of the soul in every living being, and therefore to slay the enemy does not actually kill them, but rather solves the immediate problem at hand, including liberating wayward jivas, his enemies, from their current bodily conditionings, thereby absolving their sins with spiritual justice.
Enjoyment. This is a less noble doubt presented by Arjuna. As royalty in the exalted house of Kuru, prince Arjuna has had the very best of upbringing. From birth he has been taught the transcendental knowledge of the Vedas. He is pure in action as well as mind, so his statements about his own enjoyment of material happiness, is not very befitting a man of his character. Here we can only conclude that this is all due to his acting out the role of a conditioned soul according to the will of Krishna for our benefit. In response to this doubt Krishna very expertly turns Arjuna’s arguments against him. If he retires to the forest, being a ksatria by nature, he will not enjoy, but suffer the pangs of false renunciation. And his kinsmen, also, do not share his mentality. If they are given to rule, they will cause havoc in society and persecute Arjuna and his family to the best of their ability. However, if Arjuna preservers, putting his fate in the prescribed duties of varnashram and fight, he is sure to enjoy either the kingdom in peace, free from envious family members, or should he perish in the battle, he is guaranteed rebirth in the heavenly planets, “svarga-dvaram apavritam” (Bg. 2.32).
Sinful reactions. As a man learned in the vedic scriptures, Arjuna knows all too well the destination which awaits sinful men, and he shuns the prospect of these destinations being his just award should he be guilty of unduly slaying respected contemporaries, elders and gurus. Again he contemplates the possibility of renunciation of his administerial duties for a life as a secluded hermit. Presenting this plan before Krishna, the Lord in return fans the natural ksatria spirit of Arjuna, in this way indirectly praising many of Arjuna’s previous achievements. What good would his unrivalled skills in battle and the many mystic artefacts he had received from the demigods do him in the forest? Arjuna was no yogi. And maybe most of all, to live with the shame and scolding comments of his peers on account of his cowardice, would prove to be worse than death. Krishna also instructs Arjuna in the art of detached work, “naivam papam avapsyasi”, (Bg. 2.38).
Destruction of dynasty, varna-sankara. Being naturally inclined towards kingship and the preservation of religious society, Arjuna holds great respect for the vedic traditions handed down from generation to generation by the revered elders of the Kuru dynasty. The varnashram principles of societal structure and the sacred samskara ceremonies protect humanity at large from degradation into hellish regions and species of life. By slaying of elders, these traditions would be lost and without religious engagements, women would become prey to adultery with its resultant unwanted population. These children, the varna-sankara, deprived of pious upbringing and tutoring, would be the cause of hellish conditions in society, causing the human form of life to be wasted on irreligious acts resulting in the jiva soul being entrapped in degrading conditionings for perpetual suffering “narake niyatam vaso” (Bg. 1.43). Sri Krishna goes to the throat of these arguments by giving transcendental knowledge. Varnashrama is not meant to be the kept as the status quo, but rather as a stepping stone to ultimately transcend bodily and social designations and come to the spiritual platform of the soul. This is the true benediction for society given in the Vedas. As a devotee, Arjuna should endure his service of fighting, seeing it as an offering to Krishna, and further such devotional service into his role as an administrator in society as an “atma-van” (Bg. 2.45), one established in the self, the soul in his constitutional position as a servant of Krishna. This would be for the greatest good of all living entities.
Indecision. The culmination of Arjuna’s doubts can be summed up in verse 2.7, “dharma-sammudha- cetah”. After an intense, introductory discussion, instigating the Lord’s mood of giving instructions, the prince admits defeat before Krishna, humbly revealing his indecision about how to act faced with his present dilemma. This constitutes the major portion of the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna surrendering followed by the Lord taking the position of guru to impart transcendental knowledge.
So, what is my position? If Arjuna enacts these doubts for Krishna to speak for my benefit, how can I relate this to my experience of living as a devotee within the material atmosphere? I must honestly admit that my calibre is galaxies away from Arjuna’s level. Still, by the mercy of the pure devotee one is lifted up and made able to engage in devotional service.
There is an inherent rebellious mentality in the conditioned living entities, “ahankara vimudhatma” (Bg. 3.27). I am the doer. I make my own destiny. I will enjoy. I am my own authority. This is the symptom of conditioned reality. And most of us, at least I can speak for myself, bring this mentality into devotional service. I relate to people from my past on the bodily platform. I contemplate objects for selfish sense enjoyment. I speculate on my activities on the material plane, trying to estimate whether or not they will bring good or bad fortune. I get caught up in preserving a familiar routine, or so called mental equilibrium, without including the superior desire of the Lord, beyond my own. And maybe most of all, I hesitate to engage wholeheartedly in the process of harinama sankirtan, on behalf of my spiritual master.
In conclusion, I realize that Arjuna can teach me the bona fied approach to all such challenges in devotional life, for he exemplifies one of the Lord’s final instructions “bhava mad-bhakto” (B.g 18.65). Surrender to Krishna and His representative, the spiritual master. This will clear all doubts with time, as shown practically in the Bhagavad Gita itself. And in the same abovementioned verse, Sri Krishna concludes “mam evaisyasi satyam te pratijane”:
“You will come to me without fail, I promise.”