Wednesday, May 13, 2009

II: 33

Chapter 2, Verse 33

“But to forego
This fight for righteousness
Is to forego
What duty and honor dictate.
In so doing
You will bring down
Ruin on yourself.”

Sri Aurobindo:

“This strenuous self-discipline by which we rise beyond the clamor of the emotions and the cheating tendency of the senses to true Self-knowledge may well free us from delusion. It may well cure us of the fear of death and sorrow for the dead. It may well show us that those whom we speak of as dead are not dead at all nor to be sorrowed for, since they have only passed beyond. It may exalt us to the conception of all life’s circumstances as a means to rise above appearances by an upward evolution until we know ourselves as immortal spirit.

But how does it justify the action demanded of Arjuna and the slaughter of the battlefield? The answer is that this is the action required of Arjuna on the path he has to travel. It has come inevitably in the performance of the function demanded of him by his Swadharma, the law of his life and the law of his being. This world, this manifestation of the Self in the material universe, is not only a cycle of inner development, but a field in which the external circumstances of life are to be accepted as an environment and an occasion for that inner development.

It is a world of mutual help and struggle. Not a serene and peaceful gliding through easy joys is the progress it allows us, but every step has to be gained by heroic effort and through a clash of opposing forces. Those who take up the inner and outer struggle even in the most physical clash of all, that of war, are the Kshatriyas, the mighty warriors. Nobility and courage comprise their nature. Protection of the right and an unflinching acceptance of the risk of battle is their virtue and their duty.”

[In the previous verse, Krishna tells Arjuna: “Blessed are the warriors who are given the chance of a battle like this, which calls them to do what is right and opens the gates of heaven.” Again, in this verse, he says, “…to forego this fight for righteousness is to forego what duty and honor dictate.” Aurobindo refers to “protection of the right” in his commentary, all of which suggests that Arjuna and his brothers and everyone fighting on their side are secure in the knowledge that they are fighting on the “right” side as they struggle against the injustice perpetrated on them by their cousins. Does this mean that everyone on the side of Duryodhana, their evil cousin whose jealousy is at the root of the conflict, is mistaken in their loyalty? The answer can be found in the actions of Bheeshma, the great patriarch of the family who chooses to fight for Duryodhana out of his loyalty to Duryodhana’s father, the blind king Dhritarashtra.

Bheeshma is an amazing fellow. His father is a king and his mother is the immortal goddess of the Ganges River. She exits the earthly realm shortly after Bheeshma is born, the condtions of which make up a whole nother story. Bheeshma, whose given name is Devrarata, grows up as the heir of a his father’s kingdom. His father dotes on him as only a father can dote on his only child. Then his father falls in love with a fisherwoman and asks her to be his bride. She is enthusiastic, but will marry him only if he fulfills a certain condition. “Just name it,” Shantanu (Devrarata’s father) tells her. The condition is that the son the fisherwoman will bear shall be king one day. Shantanu becomes miserable. He has been grooming Devrarata for years to take over; and yet he is head over heels in love with the fisherwoman. There seems to be no way out of the mess until Devrarata, out of devotion to his father and wish for his happiness above his own, takes a life-long vow of celibacy which removes him from consideration as heir. From that moment on, Devrarata is known as Bheeshma which means “he of the terrible oath.”

Even though Bheeshma knows that Duryodhana is wrong, his intuition, the voice of his innermost being, tells him to fight on his side. How do we know that it is Bheeshma’s intuition guiding him and not the crafty voice of the ego? We learn this from what follows the great war, as he lies dying on the battlefield. From The Mahabharata:

(Arjuna’s oldest brother, Yudhishthira, has been crowned king.) “Yudhishthira comes before Krishna and stands before him with palms folded. He says, ‘My Lord, you have given me back my kingdom. For my sake you do so many tasks. In your affection for me, you play the role of a man: you, who are to be worshiped as the Eternal Soul. You are the Lord of lords, and you pretend to be a man and to be affected by the joys and sorrows which trouble us. With us you weep and with us you smile. You show us the way to Truth and you are our guide. I do not know what to say. My heart is full of emotion. I have always followed your advice. I fall at your feet and wash them with my tears. That is all I can do in return for all that you have done for us.’

Krishna lifts up Yudhishthira. He speaks sweet and gentle words to him and his brothers. He is in a thoughtful mood. He says, ‘I am thinking of Bheeshma. He has reached the last few days of his life on Earth. You wanted to learn so much from him. He is calling me in his mind. Let us go to see him.’ Yudhishthira says, ‘We will do as you suggest.’

The entire group leaves for the battlefield. There they abandon their chariots and go on foot to the presence of the great Bheeshma. He looks like the setting Sun. Krishna kneels next to him. He is feeling so unhappy to see the great man in pain. Krishna says to him, ‘How are you faring, my lord? Your strength of will is amazing. How can you bear the pain caused by so many arrows which are lodged in your body? There is no one like you in this world. You are the home of all knowledge. You have always followed the path of righteousness. You must now pacify Yudhishthira who is grieved because of the death of his relatives. He wants to rule the kingdom as well as his ancestors did. You must teach him all that you know. You must make him shake off his sorrow and rule the kingdom properly. You are the only person who can help him.’

Bheeshma hears the words of Krishna. He raises his head a little and looks at him. A smile hovers at the corner of his lips. He says, ‘My Lord, you are the Eternal Soul that pervades this universe. You are the home of all Knowledge and Wisdom. Why do you want me to give this discourse on the duty of a Kshatriya? Why do you not speak to Yudhishthira yourself? I want to know the reason for this.’

Krishna smiles a gentle smile and says, ‘You are right. I can tell him everything. But I have decided to bring you everlasting glory. I want the world to remember you always: forever and ever. The world of men will ever hereafter take your words to be sacred. I want you to live forever. That is why I am asking you to speak.’

Bheeshma’s tears flow slowly and silently. He is speechless. This Love Krishna has for him is too sacred for words. He composes himself and says, ‘Tell Yudhishthira to ask me any question he wants. I am ready to answer him.’ Krishna responds, ‘Yudhishthira feels guilty. He does not dare to come into your presence, since he thinks that he is the cause of the destruction of all the warriors and his own relatives.’ Bheeshma smiles tenderly and calls Yudhishthira to him. He places his old hands on his head and says, ‘My child, the duty of a Kshatriya is to fight and kill. You had to kill. You have been a real warrior. You must not grieve for having done your duty. Come now, Krishna tells me that your understanding is clouded because of the many doubts you have about true conduct. I hear that you want to learn the art of ruling the kingdom well. I will tell you everything, my child. It was taught to me by the great masters, and I will impart it all to you with the Grace of the Lord who is pleased to walk on this Earth calling himself Krishna.’”

And so, before he dies, Bheeshma proceeds to answer all of Yudhisthira’s questions about duty and conduct. Even though Bheeshma had chosen, after a strict examination of his duty, to fight on the side of the blind king and his spoiled sons, great honor was bestowed upon him by Krishna. Hence, one of the messages from Bheeshma’s life is this: it is not necessary for a soldier to fight on the side of righteousness in a war for the fulfillment of his or her duty. Perhaps the lesson is that as war is such a horrible thing, maybe there is no one hundred percent side of righteousness in any conflict but always shades of gray.]

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails