Friday, December 12, 2008

Poem of the Week 11/3/2008: from The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 1: The War Within

from The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 1: The War Within

Having seen your son's forces set in their
places and the fighting about to begin, Arjuna
spoke these words to Sri Krishna

O Krishna, drive my chariot between the two
armies. I want to see those who desire to fight
with me. With whom will this battle be fought?
I want to see those assembled to fight for
Duryodhana, those who seek to please the evil-
minded son of Dhritarashtra by engaging in war.

Thus Arjuna spoke, and Sri Krishna, driving his
splendid chariot between the two armies, facing
Bhishma and Drona and all the kings of the earth,
said: "Arjuna, behold all the Kurus gathered together."

And Arjuna, standing between the tweo armies,
saw fathers and grandfathers, teachers, uncles,
and brothers, sons and grandsons, in-laws
and friends. Seeing his kinsmen established
in opposition, Arjuna was overcome by
sorrow. Despairing, he spoke these words:

O Krishna, I see my own relations here anxious
to fight, and my limbs grow weak; my mouth is
dry, my body shakes, and my hair is standing on
end. My skin burns, and the bow Gandiva has
slipped from my hand. I am unable to stand; my
mind seems to be whirling. These signs bode evil
for us. I do not see that any good can come from
killing our relations in battle. O Krishna, I have
no desire for victory, or for a kingdom of pleasures.

... Arjuna explains at length the ills of going to war against his own friends and family, until,

Overwhelmed by sorrow, Arjuna spoke these words.
And casting away his bow and his arrows, he sat
down in his chariot in the middle of the battlefield.

translated by Eknath Easwaran

It is telling that this chapter heading is, "the War Within," for we must ask, in this introductory section, what this war consists in. "Bhagavad Gita,'" translated, means "song of God," and so it seems that the violence cannot be real, or rather against other beings; rather, the violence is that of a war within. But what is this war? Well, it is a war for a kingdom and pleasures; if I had included the introduction section, it would become clear that it is also a family war, presumably the result of years of inherited grudges, misdeeds, and tiffs. It is a very great war, with two sides, each trying to beat the other, each side matched. Arjuna lets us know that the war is against Duryodhana's minons, who are attempting to please the "evil-minded one." All of these are facts. But are they the entire story?

The song probably includes many levels of interpretation, the large scale ideas about "following one's dharma," doing what one ought in a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation, but I think this moment is also a moment of confronting oneself, of having to sacrifice a personality, or a desire or craving, or a fear-- in the following sections, Sri Krishna gives Arjuna a teaching about the nature of reality and illusion, ego and Atman/Self... for a small book it spans the whole cosmos. You really ought to read it when you want to do so. It's on Google Books, even:,M1

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