War, death and destruction are predetermined. They will happen. But you have to remain mentally unaffected by them. This is the central teaching of Sri Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. One of the greatest treatises on life was taught on the battlefield, amidst missiles flying in every direction. Krishna did not teach Arjuna the art of living in a serene, peaceful place, a temple or an ashram. He gave the sermon and explained all the dictums when they were on the verge of one of the greatest wars in human history, the Mahabharata.
Two splendid armies were standing face to face, the war conches had been blown and Arjuna had a nervous breakdown. Mind you, Arjuna was not a coward. He was one of the most accomplished warriors ever to have been born on earth. His nervousness arose not out of fear, but out of ignorance and delusion. The opposite army standing in front of him consisted of all his kith and kin, uncles, grandfathers, brothers, friends, with whom he had played during his childhood. A false compassion arose in him and he was deluded. After all, it was these very uncles and brothers and elders who had meted out injustice and committed gross acts of adharma towards Arjuna, his brothers, wife and mother. It was Arjuna himself who had sworn a pledge to wage war on them and yet, when the time came for war, he had cold feet.
Of course, in today’s system of war, this will never happen because everything is done by remote now. Even the person who is pressing the button does not realize the consequences of his action. If he could comprehend or perceive the scene of hundreds and thousands of beings annihilated with the mere press of his button, he too would have cold feet like Arjuna. If he could imagine or visualize the hundreds and thousands of children who may become maimed, die or be orphaned, the hundreds and thousands of wives who would become widows, the old parents who would be left without anyone to take care of them, he too would have a nervous breakdown like Arjuna.
The question arose in Arjuna’s mind because the whole scene of uncles and cousins and grandparents and friends with whom he had played, was before him. He began to see it all: the weeping widows, the pining and suffering children and old parents. That made him question the rationalization of this war and his mind began to doubt. However, even his questioning mind was not fully convinced that war is wrong. Had he been fully convinced, he would not have asked Krishna to clarify to him whether he was right or wrong in going to war. He would have simply walked off the battlefield.
In the very act of asking for Krishna’s help in resolving the issue whether war is necessary or not, Arjuna is revealing his divided mind. Then, on the very same battlefield, in full view of all who were poised for war, Sri Krishna took Arjuna aside and explained to him the mysteries of life. Although Arjuna was impressed, he was not fully convinced and would still not pick up his bow and arrows, which he had thrown down from the chariot. Sri Krishna now granted Arjuna the divine vision, and he saw the death and destruction of those he was trying to save. He saw that he was only an instrument and that on account of their misdeeds, their death, at his hands, was already ordained.
Krishna told him,'You are not the doer, so why do you assume doership?'' It is when you assume doership that you become attached to the consequences of your actions and they leave a strong impact on you. If you perform actions, but are not attached to the consequences and your mind is not affected by them, then it is your sense of dharma, or duty, that guides you and also protects you.”
Now, you may wonder about it. That Krishna who was God incarnate is motivating Arjuna to fight and kill and go to war. But if you read the Bhagavad Gita, you will not at all question this because Krishna deftly explains the blueprint of life, from birth to death. He speaks not only of the dharma of protecting and saving people, but also of the dharma of destroying that which has become unrighteous and evil. If you have a cancer growing in your society, will you not want to destroy it, or will you sermonize about the necessity of allowing the cancer to grow because removing it could result in the death and destruction of some? This is the central teaching of the Bhagavad Gita.
—18February 2009, Rikhiapeeth