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A war between Arjun and Krishna || Acharya Prashant, on Bhagvad Gita (2019)

Author Acharya Prashant

Acharya Prashant

11 min
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Questioner (Q): While reading Ramana Maharshi, I have observed that out of all the scriptures Ramana Maharshi has quoted Krishna and Bhagavad Gita the most number of times. I have also seen this with other masters as well, that Bhagavad Gita holds a very special place in spirituality. Why is that so? What makes Bhagavad Gita so special?

Acharya Prashant (AP): The Bhagavad Gita is special because it is narrated in a very worldly, very practical setting.

Bhagavad Gita is not guru sitting under a shady banyan tree in the tranquil silence of a holy jungle, sermonising to some pliant, obedient, willing student. Neither is the setting tranquil at all, nor is the sermon academic at all, and least of all is the student pliant and willing. It's a real-life setting in which you do not have the luxury of a formal podium, a formal appointment, a formal code of conduct. It's the war chariot, not the temple. There are armies around, not silent idyllic trees and cute animals, and the one being spoken to is a biased, emotional and unwilling listener, not some keen student.

The outcome of the conversation would decide actively the fate of many million residents of the kingdom, not merely get entered academically in some pages of another holy book. Life and death depend on this discourse in the literal sense, not just figuratively. Literally, life and death depend on this discourse. Therefore, this discourse has so much potency.

Arjuna is a real-life student, not the ideal disciple. Therefore, Krishna’s persuasion has cutting-edge mastery. If you are preaching to the converted, how much forcefulness do you need? Nothing. But here, you see that Krishna has to be at his not merely godly, but actually tactical best. Arjuna is forcing Krishna to be at his best because Arjuna is such a reluctant listener. And therefore, that which is now proceeding from Krishna is extremely charged and potent. Nothing less than words of the highest intensity and highest potency would do because Arjuna is almost wrestling with Krishna; therefore, Krishna has to exercise and demonstrate all his power.

You very well know how at one point Krishna actually has to demonstrate his own immense form, Virāṭ-rūpa to Arjuna—why is that needed? Because Arjuna is one tough nut to crack, and that's why the Gita is special. It is spoken to someone who is caught in emotionality; it is spoken to someone who doesn't want to listen; it is spoken to someone who has to be convinced to fight and kill his own kith and kin. To fire on your own blood your own relatives is no easy job, or is it?

Therefore, it is no Ashtavakra preaching to a Janaka; therefore, it is no Yājñavalkya-Gārgī Saṃvāda; therefore, it is not even Nachiketa speaking to Yama! It is something that has an extra edge of intensity and quality to it. Krishna is facing a real-life challenge. Arjuna has to be convinced and converted in real time, right now! “Do it right now. Do it right now, else Duryodhana gets a walkover. Do you want to give that mean chap a walkover? Do you?” Look at the urgency of the situation. That's what makes the Gita special.

And if you can look at Krishna here, you will realise the impossibility of being a real Guru. Krishna is such a glorious example. The real Guru is real because he has to deal with not merely uninterested, but actually sometimes undeserving students. I do not think it would be fair to call Arjuna a deserving student. Krishna is a deserving teacher. But in the sense that Krishna is a deserving teacher, you cannot by way of comparison call Arjuna a deserving student. Arjuna is highly resistant. But then, had he been any less resistant, why would he have been a mere student?

So, the situation of Krishna reflects the situation of every real teacher. You have to pull up the one lying in the dirt and make him fight the highest battle. You don't merely have to polish and shine an already existing ornament in gold. The task of the teacher is to take an ordinary piece of metal, iron or zinc or nickel or copper, and turn it into gold. Ha! That's the difference between a Guru and a groomer. To take an old gold ornament and shine it is called grooming. That's not the task of a Guru. A Guru is like Krishna: take iron and turn it to gold. That's what is happening on the battlefield. Awe-inspiring, poignant, beautiful, breath-taking, real—what's about Bhagavad Gita? It's real!

When I say ‘real’, I do not mean ‘real’ in the literal sense of the word. I do not mean that the entire seven-hundred odd shlokas were narrated on the battlefield or such thing. No, not really in that sense. It is quite possible that Krishna said something to Arjuna on the battlefield, and later on Veda Vyāsa just narrated it in the best possible way in his own words, quite possible. But even if that happened, that doesn't take anything away from the sheer intensity and the grandeur of the happening. An able teacher is convincing a reluctant student mired in sentimentality to not to quit—not to quit and do his Dharmā, do his duty.

At a purely academic or conceptual level, the Ashtavakra Gīta is no inferior to the Bhagavad Gita, not at all. Some people even say that the Ashtavakra Gīta is actually a notch higher than the Bhagavad Gita when it comes to the purity of exposition. That might be the case, but it doesn't matter.

It is the intensity and the audacity in the setting of the Bhagavad Gita that keeps it way above any scripture in terms of its relevance, its significance. It will always remain relevant because all of us are Arjunas caught in their own flesh, in their blood, in their tears, in their emotions, in their past. And being caught, we forget what our Dharmā is. Therefore, Bhagavad Gita is immortal. As long as Arjuna lives within us, we will continue to need Krishna.

Also, see the kind of ways Krishna uses to convince Arjuna. That will tell you about what stops Arjuna and therefore, what is it that all of us need to break free of our Arjuna-ness. Krishna could have just instructed or even ordered Arjuna to fight and Arjuna had sincere regards for Krishna. Chances are he wouldn't have disregarded Krishna’s advice. If Krishna orders point-blank, “Fight!” Arjuna would have probably acquiesced. But instead, Krishna proceeds to narrate all spiritual knowledge to Arjuna. That will tell you what it was that was stopping Arjuna. If to make Arjuna fight knowledge has to be given to Arjuna, then what was it that was preventing Arjuna from fighting? Lack of knowledge, ignorance.

Now you know what stands between you and your duty: ignorance. Now you know why Krishna had to come up with the hundreds of verses when the task could probably have been done by a mere strong order. Because Krishna knew that the thing is not so straightforward. An order would probably get Arjuna to fight, but only in a very half-hearted way—and you cannot defend Dharmā half-heartedly. Therefore, the 18 chapters; therefore, the hundreds of verses.

Krishna very obviously understands that it is the knot of ignorance in Arjuna's mind that is keeping him from doing his duty. Therefore, he attacks that knot in all possible ways: Jñāna Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhaktī Yoga, Vibhūti Yoga, Aiśvarya Yoga, you name it. And now that we are naming the chapters, that tells us of the depths of Krishna’s love for Arjuna.

Do you understand what it means to convince a person so much? You will not understand that if you have never really tried convincing a reluctant student in your life. Try that. Try and face the overwhelming power of ignorance and then you will realise what Krishna is doing on that battlefield. The power of a student’s ignorance can be awfully overwhelming and Krishna is fighting against that ignorance. Verse after verse, example after example, chapter after chapter, episode after episode he is doing everything in his capacity to not to let Arjuna suffer a tragic end.

Not for nothing is Krishna also called as the greatest friend ever. Otherwise, why would he invest himself so much in convincing Arjuna? The kingdom is not going to go to Krishna, or is it? What stake does Krishna have in all this? If anything, he is going to be later charged with all kinds of accusations. But look at the intensity of his love. Arjuna is saying, “No, no, no, no, no…” and Krishna, with all his might, delivers another lecture. And that lecture would have taken almost everything out of Krishna. And now with eyes full of hope, Krishna looks at Arjuna, “Friend, now, now you agree, right? Right mate? Say yes…” and Arjuna says, “No!” and the inexhaustible energy of Krishna makes him come to the next chapter. And then comes the next sequence of top-class verses and Arjuna is still saying, “No, no, no, no...”

You know, I see that ultimately it is not Krishna’s persuasiveness or erudition that won him the day; ultimately it is Krishna’s love that won Arjuna over.

I see that Arjuna probably didn't get much of what Krishna was trying to say; even till the end he was almost clueless. But one thing Arjuna could sense: “If Krishna is insisting so much, then there must be something in it. Otherwise, why would He spend so much of Himself on me? He has nothing in all this. He will get nothing whether I fight or do not, not in a personal sense, so surely there must be something beyond the personal that He is persuading me for. Alright! I think I must agree.”

Only later on, sometime later in his life would Arjuna have completely realized the depths of what Krishna was trying to tell him. Much later in his life would the total significance of Krishna's words that day on the battlefield have dawned on Arjuna. The total significance is absolute and absolute doesn't come so easily to anybody. It would have taken Arjuna a lot of time, a lot of maturity.

That's the thing with every teacher-student pair I suppose. Much later in his life does the student really and fully realize what the teacher was trying to tell him. On the spot, when the teacher is trying to persuade the student to do or not do something, it is only the teacher’s love and intensity that compels the student, not the student's realisation. I repeat, the realization comes much later. The student is in no situation to fully realize the import, the vastness of what the teacher is saying.

He is a mere student, you see. He cannot comprehend what the teacher is saying, at least not fully. But this much he can sense, that the teacher is trying very hard. “If the teacher is trying so hard, let me listen.” That's what happened with Arjuna as well. So, the Bhagavad Gita is such a real and captivating story. It is an epic inside an epic!

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