By Dr Manish Pandit
कुतस्त्वा कश्मलमिदं विषमे समुपस्थितम् |अनार्यजुष्टमस्वर्ग्यमकीर्तिकरमर्जुन || 2||
When we look at why Arjuna chooses to fight the Kurukshetra war, we come to realise that the choices he has are not totally unknown to us in the 21st century.
He asks Sri Krishna and not without good reason:
अर्जुन उवाच |
कथं भीष्ममहं सङ्ख्ये द्रोणं च मधुसूदन |
इषुभि: प्रतियोत्स्यामि पूजार्हावरिसूदन || 4||
Translated loosely as , “O, Vanquisher of enemies, O Krishna, How can I possibly direct my arrows against Drona and Bhisma (those who are to be worshipped) ?
He goes on to say:
गुरूनहत्वा हि महानुभावान्
श्रेयो भोक्तुं भैक्ष्यमपीह लोके |
भुञ्जीय भोगान् रुधिरप्रदिग्धान् || 5||
Partly loosely Translated as: “After I take the decision to not kill my exalted teachers, it would be better to eat the food collected in this time on earth, by begging from others”
This latter verse has huge connotations and it is not by accident that Arjuna says this to Sri Krishna. How many times has it happened that Munis and sadhus have taken exactly the same decision as Arjuna and have then been lauded by others? In fact, Mahatma Gandhi says exactly the same thing in many places, lauding Ahimsa (or indeed the complete absence of violence)
There is however, a problem here. Let us assume that you are being attacked. Does your absence of violence cause you to escape the situation unhurt? In fact, it is quite obvious to us as it became known even to the Buddhist monks of Thailand and China, that eventually, when attacked, no matter how high your philosophy, no matter how great your wisdom, you are going to have to defend yourself.
However, we may argue here that Arjuna is not engaging in an act of defence here but in an act of offence, indeed it is an act of war. However, here is my reasoning for the situation Arjuna faces: he has not brought the war down on himself. He has not caused the aggression, nay, he is not the cause of war. In fact, he did not want war and avoided war at all costs. But eventually war was thrust onto him. Now that an unwanted war was thrust onto him, Arjuna is forced to face some extremely unpleasant facts which he has perhaps been in denial about all this time.
He simply has not given the matter any thought (as we all do, he is also in denial of the situation right unto this every moment), when he suddenly realises that he is after all going to have to kill those who he once worshipped. It is an extremely unpleasant choice to say the least and Arjuna like a lot of us does not want that decision to be his. The Sanskrit word रुधिरप्रदिग्धान् is used here for this reason. Arjuna therefore simply wants to desert the battlefield and after all, what better reason than to follow the lives of many Munis who came before him.
What is of course not stated here is that Arjuna, though a Yogi is not in the correct Time and Space for such a decision. Arjuna’s actions are referred to by Sri Krishna in a few choice Sanskrit words as “ क्षुद्रं हृदयदौर्बल्यं” and “क्लैब्यं” which occur in verse 2:3 and the mega compound samasa composed of three Samasas ie“अनार्यजुष्टमस्वर्ग्यमकीर्तिकर” from verse 2:2 which consists of “अनार्यजुष्टम”, “अस्वर्ग्यम” and “अकीर्तिकर” which can roughly be translated as “that which is wrong conduct from somebody so noble”, “that which will not beget heaven” and “that which will harm his fame”.
It must be born in mind that Arjuna, though a Yogi, is wearing battlefield armour and is present on the battlefield (Space) at a time when Battle is effectively about to commence (Time).
How did Arjuna Arrive here?
Let us examine how Arjuna came to be there. Arjuna is mentally and physically a Kshatriya who has, all his life, undergone the rigorous training appropriate for a warrior to become battle ready. He has also, of his own accord, trained himself in the arduous penance required to gain Astra vidya from Shiva himself (Astras are higher weapons and therefore we must understand that even Arjuna’s penance is for the acquisition of weapons).
Contrast to Shakyamuni Buddha:
This is all in stark contrast to Shakyamuni Buddha who has never gone into battle, has preferred to stay away from the arduous training required of all Kshatriyas and in fact is possibly a saint of a previous birth born into the family of kings. There is no war which has been thrust onto the Buddha’s life, (because of his father’s decisions) it has been spent in the lap of luxury with all the possible pleasures accorded. While Arjuna has also spent his life in luxury, it has been interspersed with war at regular intervals. Thus we can see that Arjuna is very different to Shakyamuni Buddha and they are in a different time and Space to each other.