When the Gods deal defeat to a person, they first take his mind away, so that he sees things wrongly. Time does not raise a stick and hit a man's head; the power of Time is just this topsy-turvy view of things.
-- Dhritarashtra (Mahabharata - The Book of the Assembly Hall)
Concepts and Issues
We have studied the text of the 1st Chapter last time. We shall now have a critical look at it. As we take up our seats in the comfortable opera house at Kurukshetra, the panorama unfolding before us on the stage is the gigantic field of the battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. While the text mentions the names of a number of characters about to play their roles on both the sides, we are concerned with only three of them for our critical evaluation. They are 1. King Dhritarashtra 2. The valiant Arjuna and 3. Bhagavan Sri Krishna, who assumed the role of a charioteer to Arjuna.
If we analyze their mindsets we automatically understand the concepts and issues involved and their complexity. The immortal appeal of the Gita lies in the guided tour the Jagad Guru, Sri Krishna, takes us through the annoying wide-spread pot-holes of ignorance (lack of right knowledge, avidya in Sanskrit) on the road and who ultimately makes it possible for us to reach the destination of enlightenment, free from the shackles of bondage. This journey from darkness to light is definitely exasperating at times but yet manageable.
Dhritarashtra already heard several reasons for the likely victory of the Pandavas. He was afraid of the possibility of loss of kingdom for his own sons, the Kauravas. He therefore asks Sanjaya “what did my sons, Duryodhana and others, as well as Pandu’s sons, Yudhishthira and others, actually do on the battlefield at Kurukshetra? Did they undertake the war according to their earlier plan for fighting or did they act otherwise or do something else as a result of sagging of the will to fight due to some reason?
Apart from the inbuilt fear complex in the mind of Dhritarashtra, a significant aspect of his question is his making a distinction between his own sons and the sons of Pandu. Although the question in the form ‘What did my sons do?’ would have been sufficient, he, by separately mentioning his sons and Pandu’s sons exhibits an absence of family homogeneity and harmony in his mind.
The image of the King here is that he is not only physically blind but also is deprived of the vision of personal kindness and a human touch and inclusiveness. He is engrossed totally in his affection exclusively towards his sons.
In the entire Gita this is the only verse which the old king Dhritarashtra gives out. All the rest of the seven hundred stanzas are Sanjaya's report on what happened on the Kurukshetra battlefield, just before the war.
The old king is certainly conscious of the palpable injustices that he had done to his nephews, the Pandavas. Dhritarashtra knew the relative strength of the two armies, and therefore, was fully confident of the larger strength of his son's army. And yet, the viciousness of his past and the consciousness of the crimes perpetrated seem to be weighing heavily upon his heart, and so he has his own misgivings on the final outcome.
Dhritarashtra is physically blind. But passion and desire do not disappear with the absence of sight. Even if all the sense organs were lost, the desires hidden within the mind would not vanish and so his mind is curious, eager and troubled to know what is happening on the battlefield.
Arjuna is intelligent and where there is intelligence there is doubt and where there is doubt there is dilemma. Arjuna is rational and where there is rationality, there lies the capacity to think from a totally different perspective. Where one has these qualities, it is difficult to enter into a dangerous situation like war with closed eyes.
Remember that life does not end the same way as it begins; the end is always unknown and invisible. In this war Duryodhana’s focus was entirely on Bheema. He overlooked the fact that Krishna was on the side of Pandavas and particularly as the charioteer of Arjuna. He could not visualize that Krishna would retrieve Arjuna from his shortcomings and consequently the whole story took a different turn and Duryodhana lost.
Arjuna requested Krishna to place his chariot between the two armies so that he can observe with whom he has to fight. The points to be noted here are:
Once observation starts, analysis is not far too behind and analysis always leads to wavering of mind. So Arjuna analyses the question to fight or not to fight and comes to the conclusion that he should not fight. In all his arguments in support of that conclusion he puts forward several pleadings which apparently look valid and very wise but in fact are very hollow as Krishna proves them to be subsequently.
At this stage although it looks that Arjuna is not obsessed with war, he is not against war either and has no aversion to violence. All his life he fought many wars and his whole life’s education and training and his lifelong conditioning is all violence and war. Then why he turns his face against war? We have to understand this paradoxical situation very clearly because this is the very seed for all the teachings contained in the Bhagavad Gita. Had there not been this ironical situation, the Bhagavad Gita would not have come into existence.