"To be Indian, or to simply live in India at any period in her recorded history, is to open oneself to the benign moral influence of two epics - the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Caste, creed, colour do not matter here; what matters is the degree, range and subtlety of exposure, which in turn determines the quality of the affected person's 'Indianness', whatever that very large word means" - Professor Purushottam Lal
Oct 10, 2012
Arjuna's diary - that Grand Delusion of Gita
Well, let me touch upon the mass massacre of Kurukshetra – the eighteen days we spent slashing and killing each other. To tell you the truth, from the very moment we approached each other in our great throngs, I had a eerie feeling that something was wrong.
I asked Krishna to drive me to the middle of the battlefield, so that I could get a good look at the two sides before we hacked away at the closest heads and limbs and all the while I could not really make any sense of it all.
As is usual at the beginning of any jostle of this proportion, there were the customary butterflies that fluttered in the stomach, a sudden dryness seemed to have spread around the throat and a giddiness developed inside the head. A couple of times, the Gandiva slipped from my sweaty palms.
As I looked at the enemy camp, and saw the venerable forms of Grandpa Bhishma, wise Reverend Kripa and my favourite teacher Drona, the fallacy seemed to strike me between the eyes. How on earth could I fight all these men, who had rocked me on their knees when I was young, and had spoken wise, well-meaning words through their beards as I had gotten increasingly heavier climbing on their laps? Old men who would much rather sit on the old charpai, chewing the fat about the ancient Dwapar Yuga over jugs of soma. What nonsense it must have been for them to get their decrepit bodies inside the massive suits of armour.
Granted, I didn’t really trust the sly Duryodhana as far as I could throw an elephant, but did we really need to kill each other for that? What was the bally sense in annihilating the Kaurava brothers and throwing in the rest of the clan for good measure? Why couldn’t we just sit around doing nothing and just bitching about it in secluded somras shops? Inactive liking of like-minded venom, conquering the world with our tongues, these were traits more suited to us, that would be mimicked years and years down the line, in social networks. Why hurtle into actual action?
I looked at Krishna and said, “I say, mate. Don’t look now, but it increasingly seems to me that my own people are to be respected and loved, not wasted. Mutually assured destruction is not a very chummy way of doing things; certainly not my way. Figure out the acronym and it will be clear. I mean, killing is the pits. Come what may, I won’t kill. If one has to make me fight, he has to do it over my dead body. Er, that didn’t quite mean anything – but, you get the gist..”
Saying this I flung the blasted gandiva from my hand and slumped rather thoughtfully on the chariot seat. Don’t be confused by the mind numbing hash BR Chopra made you see. Chariots did have seats, although they kind of poked if you lowered yourself abruptly.
Krishna turned to me with eyes that seemed calm, but I could see that he was not amused.
“You can bet your flute on it, Krishna and throw in your chakra for good measure. I am not going to indulge in this dashed business, and you can put knobs on that.”
I had turned and looked away, thinking that was it. I would hand over my resignation to Yudhisthira and just walk away – and steer clear of Draupadi for about twenty years or so. Maybe I would go north-east. Ulupi and Chitrangada ...
But then Krishna spoke.
“It’s quite normal to experience such dilemma on the verge of the battle, Arjuna. Especially when the stakes are high. It is variously called stage fright, nerves and cold feet. Generally standing up and shaking your limbs is considered a good remedy. Years from now, sporting teams will hire psychologists for this very reason...”
“Don’t talk rot, Krishna. It’s nothing to do with nerves,” I said haughtily. As usual, canny campaigner that he was, he had deduced part of the problem.
“Indeed, Arjuna?” I did not like the smirk on his lips.
“Of course not. How on earth do you suppose I can go ahead and shoot arrows at people like Bhishma and Drona? They are elders, teachers. And anyway, Bhishma won’t die unless he wants to, so a fat lot of good it will do to shoot at him anyway.”
Even as I turned away, Krishna spoke. Well, all those of you who have spent weeks in front of the television sets in the late eighties, eagerly waiting for the big battle to finally begin, you know very well how long he spoke.
“Arjuna, the wise one does not mourn the living or the dead.”
“Really? Who does he mourn in that case?”
“Youth, maturity and old age are but the natural scheme of things. So is the procurement of a new body. The body perishes, we think it dies. The soul just finds a new dwelling. It moves into a new body, it is indestructible.”
“Are you saying bodies are like clothes?”
“Exactly, Arjuna, bodies are nothing but clothes.”
“I don’t see any in the stores, unless you mean the mannequins. Then the clothes that we wear are some kind of second derivative garments. Really, I have never heard such nonsense in my life.”
Krishna smiled. “We’ve just started Arjuna. There are sixteen and a half cantos to go. Brace yourself. Now as I was saying, weapons cannot harm the Self, the soul. Water cannot wet it. Fire does not burn it. Wind cannot dry it.”
“I guess only words have the ability to drive it off its rocker. But, then, why on earth do we need to fight if the Self cannot be harmed? Why are we intent on destroying these things that are nothing but clothes, whereas the true Self just trots down to shopping malls and gets himself new ones? I understand the bodies are bio-degradable, but even then it seems a lot of waste. Which brings us back to the beginning. Our elders are to be revered, not wasted.”
“Ah, but whatever that may be, you need to fight because it is your dharma. As a warrior there is nothing better to you than a war. This war allows all the soldiers to enter heaven.”
“And what happens to the new bodies or clothes they are supposed to get?”
“Don’t interrupt with such blatant materialistic questions, Arjuna. What we are having is a spiritual discourse. I will cover your doubts in due course. Think of your swa dharma as a warrior. Ignoring it is shameful. Shame is worse than death to a man of honour.”
“Maybe, but at least you get to keep your clothes on.”
“Shut the fuck up, Arjuna. If you run away, the ones who once praised you will brand you a coward. Your enemies will hurl insults at you. Is there a worse fate? Arise, Arjuna, and fight. Equate pain and pleasure, profit and loss, victory and defeat. And fight! Your duty is to work, not to reap the fruits of the work. Do not seek rewards, but do not love laziness either. Be indifferent to failure and success. Be the man who sheds desire; is content in the atman by the atman. Conquering desire. Whenever there is desire focus your mind on me…”
“Ahem! That’s going a bit too far. What do you think I am?” I scratched my head and tried to make sense of his blabber.
“But a person who is established in firmness, free from pleasure and repugnance, traversing experience with his senses restrained -- such a person finds tranquillity. When tranquillity comes, sorrow departs; a person whose wisdom is tranquil is truly stable. The wavering person does not grow. Without growth, there is no peace; without peace, there is no bliss. The mind is swayed by the senses; they destroy discrimination, as a storm sinks boats on a lake.”
“My good man, let me at least take a look at the footnotes.”
“The true way is to be tranquil. True knowledge of the Vedas exceeds all action.”
My head was swimming by now.
“You know, you are not making any sense at all. Firstly, how can I equate profit and loss if I don’t even think of the fruits of work? And then on one hand you say knowledge exceeds action and tranquillity is the way to go. While on the other hand you insist that I have to fight. They don’t add up. You are talking right through your crown.”
“This is just the beginning,” Krishna smiled. “Believe me, by the time I finish ...” He continued to babble some obscure stuff about perfection through inaction, renunciation of work, how the senses compel all to action. There was a slight throbbing around the temples, and unfortunately Eau de Cologne was not to be available for another several thousand years.
Krishna went on, “To work is better than not to work. Inaction will not keep the body together. As my counterpart in another religion will say long after we have slipped out of these clothes, he who shall not work, neither shall he eat. Insert the detachment stuff here. Not to worry about rewards and remuneration. And what do you get? Bingo. Action with detachment. Selfless action. Without which, all deeds are traps. Does it add up now?”
“Let me tell you what Brahma said when he created the world. He had said, this world will be your wish-fulfilling cow.”
“How could he use that comparison? Were cows known before the world was created?”
“Concentrate on the essentials, not fringe nittie-gritties,” Krishna snapped. “You are bent on sidetracking the conversation.”
He went on about worshipping gods and how it would satisfy desires and continued to say stuff about sanctified food, rituals, rain … I had soon lost track of why Brahma and his cow had come into the conversation anyway. The sun was beating down and ahead I could see Duryodhana itching to start the big fight. In our camp, Bheema was looking distinctly pissed. I could not help but feel that we were keeping people waiting. And when I refocused on our talk, Krishna had somehow tied up all the threads to conclude that even if I acted I was actually not the doer. A bit too much, that. No amount of sophistry could ever convince me that was true. That made sense only when I was playing the dholak as Brihannala.
He went on about selfless action being the path to perfection, and all such action should be dedicated to him.
Him? How did he step into the picture? It was becoming all the more confusing. And as I tried to figure it out, he was back to desire and disgust being deadly enemies and in one expert laddering act jumped right back to the issue of one’s own dharma being the best.
Well, my sva-dharma told me to lay down arms; my kula Kshatriya dharma advised me to fight; the dharma of the Dvapar-Yuga prompted me to take sides in the doomsday clash; and the sanatana dharma stated that all life was sacred and the atman could not perish. What was I to make of it?
And before I could puzzle out any of this, Krishna had moved on to some gag about what he had told Vivaswat. Now I really had to protest, because Vivaswat was from an era when neither of us had been born. And here, he spoke in bold, italics and size-24 fonts – “When dharma declines and adharma flourishes, I give myself birth, to restore the balance. And every age witnesses my birth; I come to protect the good and destroy the wicked. I come to re-establish the dharma.”
And immediately he went back to the question of clothes. It seemed the man who approved of Krishna and accepted his divine and miraculous powers would get rid of these mortal clothes and go permanently to heaven. It did ring rather thin to me. Rather far-fetched that a cowherd would wield so much power over all humankind. However, he added that disbelief was the product of ignorance, so I decided it would definitely make me look better if I claimed to believe.
It sounded pretty lofty too. Freeing oneself from hate, fear, attachment one realised that he was more than a body, one with Krishna – and that was when the body could be cast aside like old clothes. There were some queer stuff about action in rest and rest in action, and it seemed realising this would make me learned. Well, I guess I had not reached that far, because I did not quite get it. But, when I was asked to cut through my disbelief through the sword of knowledge because the raft of knowledge would ferry me to the goal of peace, I could take it no more.
V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X
“No look here, pal,” I said. “You are speaking in blooming paradoxes. You recommend selfless action and then renunciation of action for knowledge. Again these seem to cancel each other out.”
And he started saying how selfless service was the best of all. Without attachment, performance of one’s duties was nothing but renunciation. In selfless service one could make out one was not the actor. Then he began his drivel about meditation. How to achieve stillness of the mind. We had come so far away from the question of war and killing that these methods of mind control seemed kind of superfluous. But once in flow, Krishna was a difficult man to stop. Experience had taught me to hear him out. So, I waited.
He moved on to how everything depended on him and how he was like a thread passing through precious gems, holding them together. A bit too much on the side of self-important propaganda, I thought. He soon moved to harmony, activity and inactivity – sattva, rajas and tamas. Everything seemed to come from him. Did he really think he was God?
I stifled a yawn and asked him about Brahman, Brahman nature, body and spirit. Brahman has ever since had a distinct relation with yawns in a certain part of the world.
In response he started, “I am Brahman.” Somehow, even in this, the answer was to fight. Since I was not really questioning him, he seemed to be encouraged and started digging deeper into what he called ‘the mystery of his being’. How he produced forms from himself over and over again …how he was the eternal origin …
The drone became steadily monotonous. He went on and on …. “I am the atman, conscious in the heart of all life; I am also the beginning, the middle, and the end of all life. I am the Vishnu of the Adityas, the glorious sun among the heavenly bodies; Marichi among the winds, and the moon among the planets. Of the Vedas, I am the Samaveda, Indra among the gods; of the faculties I am intelligence; and I am the consciousness of the world's creatures. ... . I am Bhrigu among saints, Aum among words, among sacrifices I am Japayajna, and the Himalaya among the steadfast objects. Among trees I am the fig-tree, and Narada among holy men, among Gandharvas Chitraratha, and Kapila among saints. Among horses I am Ucchaishravas, sprung from nectar; among elephants Airavata, and among human being king. Among weapons I am the thuderbolt, and among cattle the heavenly cow: I am sexual desire too, creator of life; and among snakes I am Vasuki.”
By now I was positively drowsy. It seemed Krishna was the whole world and much more. My eyelids drooped and I guess my breathing became regular.
The battlefield became blurry and I was soon drifting away into sweet sleepy reverie.
And there too I heard Krishna droning along, how he was all in all, supremo, omnipresent, omniscient … I saw him with thousands of arms, with numerous mouths spouting such nonsense, and multiple eyes looking at me reproachfully , glittering with divine ornaments, displaying divine signs, all-shaped, all-powerful, transcendent and limitless. Brighter than a thousand suns – much like the atom bomb explosion later. And in the body of Krishna, there seemed to be separate universes united, and resting.
And in front of that form a normal sized Krishna emerged and told me how to worship him. He went on speaking as I floated between dream and consciousness, explaining about the field and the knower of the field. Half awake, I gaped around the battlefield trying to see which field he was referring to. As I reverted back into dreamland, all his words about sattva, rajas, tamas came back to haunt me, punctuated by his eternal drone. All that he had said about slashing with a sword seemed to be repeated again, only this time detachment merged into it, a curious inverted fig tree appeared from somewhere, and a lot of thoughts got muddled up.
By the time I had shaken myself awake, he was saying, ”Om Tat Sat.” I had no idea why.
Seeing me blinking at him, he asked, “So, Arjuna, have you listened carefully? Have your doubts been erased?”
I looked at the battlefield. At the venerable Pitamaha and Acharya who stood waiting patiently for us to finish our semi-monologue … Were my doubts removed?
If yes, I would have to reach for my quiver and shoot arrows at them.
If not, I would have to go through another eighteen chapters of Janardana Krishna.
In the end, it was a no brainer ….
“Yes, Krishna. I have no more doubts. If I have realised something fully, it is that I am a man of action, not knowledge …,” I shuddered. “Come let’s go to war.”
We went back to our forward line and waited for the battle to begin.
Would you believe it? Some days after the war, when I was struck by some conflict and asked him to repeat what he had said, Krishna responded that he had forgotten all about it. The whole thing was bollocks, really.
Many many years later, one great warrior mastered the core principle of Gita. In 1796, he entered Milan at the head of that young army which had shortly before crossed the Bridge of Lodi and taught the world that after all these centuries Arjuna, Caesar and Alexander had a successor.
The great Napoleon Bonaparte always slept before a war. And it served him well.