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Updated: Aug 4, 2021

Arjuna's state of despondency

_an outline

“On the whole I think it fair to say that human history is a record of the ways in which human nature has been sold short. The highest possibilities of human nature have practically always been underrated.

Abraham Maslow

Maslow’s legacy also included an interesting observation that we fear our best as much as our worst. The Jonah Complex describes our tendency to evade our own capacities. He observed that for some to have ideals and a mission in life is simply a frightening prospect as it implies that we must lay aside the excuses for not living up to our potential. As a result, we resist the call to greatness and practice what Maslow calls mock humility”

This concept of resistance goes very well with how Gita has been drawn in front of us, from the very beginning when the seeds of the great war had been sown, we keep finding evidence of how the greatness have been pulled down, underestimated, and been mistaken many times, through the means of Dharma, Artha, Kama & Moksha, not just in case of Pandavas but also Kauravas. For example, Bheeshma’s fate was somewhere the result of Shantanu’s disobedience of the vow he made to Ganga and to some extent his desire for Satyavati: Satyavati’s greed led Shantanu to such pain & pressure that he forgot all his dharma and sunk into the well of passion, which apparently became the reason for Bheeshma’s great vow, the vow that led to his continued blindness and ignorance towards the growing envious attitude amongst Dhritarashtra and Pandu and further among Pandavas and Kauravas, and in a way these three happen to be the keys to the great war of Dharma, other than these: the miraculous birth story of Dhrishtadyumna and Draupadi, which was the result of a great yajna, a revengeful act of King Dhrupad’s anger against Dronacharya and not to forget the famous birth story of Shikhandi, the rebirth of the eldest Kashi Princess Amba, born only to bring the fall of Bheeshma. So here we have some vows that blinded the truth, some desires that couldn’t be controlled and some greed that could only have ended with death, all these just to shed the light upon and serve the cause of dharma, you see – Mock humility and greatest of all irony, but as we know the subtlety of spiritual syntax is often beyond the terrestrial mind, yet the concern of Gita is to ameliorate the suffering of the teeming millions of the earth who due to spiritual ignorance think that volume is the means to settle their scores, it addresses the mankind in general with a story filled with all spices of life, like how, In the later verses we find Arjuna justifying his dilemma by pointing out various aspects of why this war might not turn out to be a moral and a righteous act, how the pleasure and pride gained through the war will not serve the rightful purpose of morality and honor, will lead to the destruction of coming generations and their impure acts. “O Janardan, I have heard that whose family righteousness is destroyed such people are bound to go to hell. Alas, we are bound to perpetrate this awfully terrible sin by killing the kins and the venerable ones, for the sake of kingdom and worldly pleasure.” – verse 44/45, a moment of anti-climax, Arjuna is caught deeply and tightly in the nutcracker of maya, he says “If the armed sons of Dhritarashtra slay me, unarmed and unwilling to fight, that will be more useful to me.” Verse 46, saying this, deeply despaired Arjuna drops his bow and arrow and sits down into his chariot shrinking into maya waiting to be pulled out by his grace.

Arjuna is just a medium through whom the spiritual knowledge is being broadcast to the world. In fact the real Kurukshetra is the human body, like the Lord says in second verse of chapter thirteen, “O, Kaunteya, this body is the real kshetra, he who understands the kshetra and the invisible resident of this kshetra is the real knower.”

The beginning of Arjuna’s despair, can be marked as the first phase of his transformation towards becoming a knower, rising above his fear, and uncovering his greater potentials, even though he and his brothers have been called as heroes multiple times but if we dig deeper, their characters are very close to a layman, one who is bound to do mistakes, falls for the wrongs, who loves easily, is distracted often by the events of the world, is attracted to simple pleasures of life, is attached to every relation that has been granted to him and who hasn’t discovered his true nature but seeks the presence of the divine, is willing to surrender in order to find the answers and some greatness inside of him and amidst the surrounding.

Our ancient scriptures have many stories mentioning a famous Hindu deity pair, nara-nārāyaṇa, NARAYANA being the absolute God, or the AVATAR of Lord Vishnu, in this context – LORD KRISHNA and NARA the human soul and the eternal companion of the divine, the ARJUNA, working for preservation of Dharma - the Righteousness. The entire enticing conversation that happens in Holy Gita is to sow the seed of Dharma and hence it was important for Arjuna to realize his true divinity and SELF before fighting the war.

This also brings to us the answer to a question that why Arjuna has been kept in the limelight all along even though the entitled king was Yudhishthira. If you still happen to be in doubt, remember that Gita is a highly symbolic literature, the five Pandavas are not just 5 brothers and the sons of Pandu, instead, they also represent the Pancha Vayu, Pancha tattva, Pancha Karmendriyas, Pancha Jnanendriyas and the bottom five Chakras, Arjuna being the symbol of strength, love and affection can be located at the Anahata Chakra the heart center, which is also considered to be the seat of the Lord himself, the one driving them all to the path of righteousness; Lord Krishna – the Supreme Consciousness, and if the heart fails to merge with the supreme, the true quest will always remain incomplete.

We can say that the occurrence of Gita was a pre-planned act of the Lord in order to bring the perfect union and balance among all of the above mentioned elements, that is why so gracefully and obediently after placing the chariot of Arjuna in the middle of the battle field on his request, Lord himself in Verse 25 points out all the warriors of the opposite army like Bheeshma, Drona and other kings on the Kaurava’s side and deliberately used the word “Kuru” to address them.

भीष्मद्रोणप्रमुखत: सर्वेषां च महीक्षिताम् | उवाच पार्थ पश्यैतान्समवेतान्कुरूनिति || 25||

Smart, as it was to remind Arjuna that both Kauravas and Pandavas were all decedents of the great King Kuru. Therefore, the enemy he was so eager to kill earlier was his own family and relatives. The Omniscient Lord was sowing the seed of delusion in Arjun’s mind, only to eliminate it later; He was preparing the ground for the gospel he was about to preach - The Bhagavad Gita, which would benefit the future generations in the age of Kali. As a result, Arjuna realizes that all the warriors on the battlefield ready to shed blood were none other than his own relatives, friends, and family. He was filled with remorse and fearful of performing his duty as a warrior. The cause for these sentiments were his attachment towards his bodily relatives, he was afraid of what the war may bring to the entire clan, and lead him directly to hell, he became forgetful of his own spiritual existence, that he was not just the body. His affection, fear and attachment blinded his consciousness.

In general, all these are materialistic concepts, affection-love-desire-attachment leading to fear-ego-selfishness-pride, they clog our judgement and thus we start to consider ourselves to be the body and outer appearances, which is emotionally attached to all its bodily relatives. As this attachment is based on ignorance it carries with it the physical burdens of life like pain, sorrow, grief, and death. Only the death of the physical body can be an end of these material attachments. We are more than just the physical bodies; our eternal souls are beyond life and death. Tangled in the various attachments of the material world, we keep forgetting that the Supreme Lord is our only permanent relative. He is the Father, Mother, Friend, Master, and the Beloved of our soul.

As everything that is about to be unfolded in the upcoming chapters of Bhagavad Gita is an answer to various questions of life and true divinity, it would be an interesting note that the very first verse of the Gita is a question itself-

धर्मक्षेत्रे कुरुक्षेत्रे समवेता युयुत्सवः | मामकाः पाण्डवाश्चैव किमकुर्वत सञ्जय ||1||

“O Sanjaya! what did my sons and those of Pandu do who are gathered together for war at Dharmakshetra -Kurukshetra?”

Dhritarashtra is eager to know what is happening between his and Pandu’s sons,

It was obvious that they would fight, then why did he ask such a question?

The blind King Dhritarashtra’s fondness for his own sons had clouded his spiritual wisdom and deviated him from the path of virtue. He had usurped the kingdom of Hastinapur from the rightful heirs; the Pandavas, sons of his brother Pandu. Feeling guilty of the injustice he had done towards his nephews, his conscience worried him about the outcome of this battle. The words ‘dharma kshetra’, the land of dharma, depicts the dilemma he was experiencing. Kurukshetra is described as kurukṣhetraṁ deva yajanam in the Shatapath Brahman, the Vedic textbook detailing rituals. It means “Kurukshetra is the sacrificial arena of the celestial gods.” Hence, it was regarded as the sacred land that nourished dharma.

Dhritarashtra feared that the holy land might influence the minds of his sons. If it aroused the faculty of discrimination, they might turn away from killing their cousins and negotiate a truce. A peaceful settlement meant that the Pandavas would continue being a hindrance for them. He felt great displeasure at these possibilities, instead preferred that this war transpires. He was uncertain of the consequences of the war, yet desired to determine the fate of his sons. Therefore, he asked Sanjay about the activities of the two armies on the battleground.

The comparison between Kurukshetra the field of Dharma Yuddha and this human body is not a farfetched parallel, in the battlefield it is Kauravas and Pandavas fighting the battle of righteousness and in the field of our body-mind mass, it is the forces of righteousness and unrighteousness that are constantly at war, an everyday struggle. The two forces in human body pro (Pandava) and anti-righteousness (Kaurava) must come to a balance in order to make the right decision, the Pandavas being nivritti and Kauravas as the pravritti, comparable to Pandavas are the five subtle forces of body – Panchatattva, and 100 Kauravas the ten senses each one moving in ten different directions making a total 100, these senses being under the sway of mind are always distracted with greed, materialism, and ego, and hence need to be conquered in order to bring everything into order and balance.

In second verse Duryodhana responds after seeing the army of Pandava: even though they were less in numbers he gets nervous and deeply thrilled by their mastered arrangement so much that he hurriedly moves towards his Guru Dronacharya and starts to brief him the situation comparing and blabbering about his side of the army in a state of fear and suspicion of mind, “Your exalted holiness (being Guru) Bheeshma and Karna, Kripacharya, Ashwatthama, Vikarna and Somdatta as well, and many more brave warriors who are determined to lay down their lives in the war for my sake. They are all well trained and well equipped with deadly weapons and missiles. Limitless and massive is our army marshalled by Bheeshma and small and limited is their army marshalled by Bheema.” – Verses 8,9,10

At this juncture we can see that the hatred and fear had prejudiced Duryodhana’s mind to such an extent that despite having a bigger army he had a growing doubt about his victory. The reason could be imagined to be Bheeshma’s fondness for Arjuna and the rest of the Pandavas, the only reason he was fighting for Kauravas was because of the vow he took to protect Hastinapur at all costs.

From verse 12 to 18 we find description of the blowing conches, the important thing to note here is unlike the conches of Pitamah Bheeshma and Kauravas, the conches of Pandavas specially Arjuna’s and Lord Krishna’s conches have been called as divine, the sound of Kaurava’s conches were loud, furious and like battle cries to stir up the battle mood, on the other hand Lord Krishna’s and Arjuna’s conches generated a sound resembling deep mystique of equanimity, because this was the sound of the divine, Nara-Narayana, representing the best of the mankind and greatest of the Godhood. In Human body this signifies the inner conch (naad) which can only be heard by those who establish themselves in spiritualism and have silenced their cravings and desires. Lord Krishna’s conch named Panchajanya which means “born out of the five” it symbolizes the five basic subtle energies – crystallization, circulation, assimilation, metabolism, and elimination, compared to the Pandavas - Arjuna being the embodiment of Teja, the fire element, Bheema the embodiment of Vayu, Nakul the water element, Sahadeva the embodiment of earth and Yudhishthira the ether element, pervades all, here are the Pancha Bhuta seeking refuge in the divine.

Following the above sequence Drupad, the five sons of Draupadi and son of Subhadra, Abhimanyu also blew their conches, “as if to rent the hearts of the sons of Dhritarashtra”- Verse 19, a symptomatic of the nervousness generated by anti-dharma bias, on the contrary; Pandavas stood firm beaming with confidence and courage causing more quiver in Kauravas hearts. This verse emphasizes the power of dharma that reinforces the resolve of those who follow it. It is important to note that Sanjay, the one who is narrating the entire sequence to the King Dhritarashtra, mentions the various names of Pandava warriors blowing their conches but only Bheeshma’s from the side of Kaurava, marking his own preference for those who are on the side of dharma and his fearless openness because in doing so he is not afraid of the king.

And then comes our favourite sequence where Arjuna’s chariot is being placed in the middle of the Kurukshetra, only for him to see whom he was about to fight, and the very moment of Vishad Yoga, the despondency (vishad) and the joining (yoga).


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