Having cast aside his bow and sat down on the chariot,
the mighty Arjuna, overwhelmed with grief, told Krsna … "I Shall Not Fight"

Bhagvad Gita

Fifty centuries ago, on the expansive Battlefield of Kuruksetra in northern India, huge phalanxes of fully-armed troops were poised to begin a war: on one side, the powerful Kaurava brothers, determined to defend the throne they had usurped from their righteous cousins, the five Pandavas; on the other side, the Pandavas, determined to regain their inheritance.

Arjuna and the other Pandava brothers faced severe tribulations after the untimely demise of their father, Pandu. The envious Kauravas had burned their home, poisoned them, dishonored their wife, and sentenced them to fourteen years of exile. Exhibiting tolerance and humility worthy of saints, the Pandavas finally requested only five villages to rule. Though the entire kingdom was legally theirs, to avert further disagreement they made this modest proposal. The Kauravas, however, flatly refused, declaring that the Pandavas "would not be given enough land to drive a needle into." Thus war was inevitable.

The Pandavas and the Kauravas canvassed all the kings of the world, making allies for the great battle. They also approached Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Kauravas acquired Lord Krsna's large army, while Arjuna chose the Lord Himself. Although Krsna refused to take up arms in the battle, He agreed to become Arjuna's charioteer. The Lord's supremacy is not diminished by His taking this "menial" task. Rather, because Arjuna's unalloyed devotion to Krsna had endeared Arjuna to Him, Krsna desired to become subservient to Arjuna in a reciprocation of love. Devotees relish thinking of Krsna, the Lord and creator of the universe, standing on the chariot with the horse's reins in His hands, ready to obey the command of His devotee Arjuna.

At the start of the first day of the battle, both parties blew their conches, filling the sky with vibrations and filling the weak-hearted with terror. Then Arjuna, seated on his fine chariot, took up his bow and prepared to shoot his arrows at the Kauravas. Suddenly, unexpectedly, Arjuna became anxious. He told Krsna to draw his chariot between the two armies so he could see who had come to fight in alliance with the Kauravas. When he got a clear look, he was dumbfounded. There in the midst of the opposing army were his father-in-law, his father's friends, his grandfather, his grandfather's friends, his teachers, maternal uncles, brothers, sons, grandsons, friends, and well-wishers.

Just imagine yourself in Arjuna's position. If a relative or friend mistreats you, you're naturally hesitant to retaliate. Out of love, you tolerate and forgive such behavior. But Arjuna was duty-bound to help conquer an army that included friends and relatives. It was too much for him; out of affection for them, Arjuna became overwhelmed with grief. His limbs quivered, his mouth dried up, and his bow slipped from his hand. He was not a coward, but a great fighter, yet out of compassion he didn't want to kill his family, friends, and superiors.

Immediately he told Krsna he wanted to leave the battlefield. Only evil could come from killing his kinsmen, and he did not desire any subsequent victory, happiness, or kingdom. To fight such a ghastly war was sinful, and if so many noble men were slain, surely their wives and daughters would be left unprotected. Immorality would flourish, jeopardizing the venerable family heritage.

Besides possessing unrivaled prowess and military expertise, Arjuna was an exalted devotee, an intimate friend of Lord Krsna, the Supreme Person. Therefore he had godly qualities. His senses were controlled, he was detached from the false prestige associated with fame and followers, and he was soft-hearted and always conscious of moral principles. Seated on the chariot between the huge armies, Arjuna decided it would be best to allow the Kauravas to kill him unharmed and unresisting. Otherwise he was prepared to give up his royal position, as well as his claim to the throne, and live by begging.

Even these drastic ideas, however, failed to relieve Arjuna's pressing dilemma. Waves of turmoil arose in his mind because despite his resolve to become a conscientious objector, his entire life was dedicated to defending righteousness. In this battle the Pandavas' cause was undoubtedly right. Moreover, Arjuna was a natural leader, gifted with heroism, power, and determination all the qualities needed to defend righteousness. His heritage had served to further enhance these qualities, and he had learned never to give up the work born of his own nature.

Arjuna was torn between his dedication to sacred duty and his love for his relatives and friends. Utterly perplexed and incapacitated by conflicting feelings, Arjuna surrendered to Krsna, saying, "Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me clearly what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me."

But in the next breath he made a second decision "I shall not fight" and stopped speaking.

Lord Krsna smiled, not to mock Arjuna in his plight but as a father might smile upon hearing of his son's bad dream. As the father clearly sees that his boy's dream is simply an illusion and that its accompanying distress has no significance, so Lord Krsna saw that Arjuna was not in the real world but in a dreamlike world of misconceptions that had brought distress upon him. The Lord immediately began to shake Arjuna from his stupor by explaining the essence and purpose of life. "Krsna's teachings on the battlefield that day constitute the Bhagavad-gita, the oldest and one of the most widely read scriptures in the world.

Lord Krsna did not mince words. He first told Arjuna that he was foolish because in the highest sense the spiritual sense no one was going to perish in the battle. In fact, no one perishes anywhere or at any time, because the soul, the minute spiritual particle that lends vitality to the otherwise dead body, never dies. The soul is immutable and immortal; the body, mutable and mortal.

The body is an aggregate of elements animated by the soul, as much as a puppet, animated by the hand of the puppeteer, works, sings, dances, laughs, and cries. When the puppeteer finally puts the puppet down, will any sane man lament? Similarly, when the soul finally leaves the body, no educated person laments.

Of course, this does not at all encourage unnecessary killing. The Vedas prohibit the wanton killing of anyone, even an animal. Killing is abominable and is punishable by the laws of both the state and God. But just as the state authorizes its police to use force, Krsna, the supreme authority, was encouraging Arjuna to fight.

Krsna presented another argument to Arjuna: Even if Arjuna didn't believe in the existence of the soul, he still had no cause to lament. If life is born with the body and dies with it, if life is a chemical reaction (albeit the epitome of complexity), then why mourn when chemicals stop reacting? Arjuna, however, was a descendant of a civilization based on spiritual wisdom, and he certainly believed in the existence of the soul.

Krsna explained, "Arjuna, you are thinking you won't be able to enjoy the victory, happiness, or kingdom you may gain from this fight; but those are never yours to enjoy. You have the right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Perform your duty and abandon all attachment to success or failure." Arjuna was worried about the sinful reactions he would incur from the war, but Lord Krsna assured him, "If you fight for the sake of fighting, without considering happiness or distress, loss or gain, victory or defeat, you shall never incur sin."

And to remain inactive, Krsna said, is impossible. "Everyone is forced to act according to his own nature. No one can refrain from doing something, not even for a moment." To renounce his duties and capriciously take on another's activities was also not viable: "It is better to engage in one's own occupation, even though faultily, than to perform another's duty perfectly." Arjuna's so-called renunciation of the war effort was a display of his attachment: since the result of the activity would be painful for him, he decided not to act. But renunciation would entail that he become unattached to the fruits of his work, work as he was obligated, give up the desire for sense gratification, and tolerate the unpleasant situations that would occur in the course of his duty.

Just as nonviolence and all other pious activity would not relieve Arjuna's misery or solve his problem, neither would his speculations about what to do and what not to do. Lord Krsna urged him to give up all such concoctions. "To learn the truth you must approach a spiritual master, inquire from him submissively, serve him, and receive transcendental knowledge from him. Then you will realize that all living beings are part of Me and that they are in Me and are Mine."

Because Arjuna is a spirit soul, completely different from his body, he should desire to benefit the soul only. How can he derive that benefit? He must perform his duty not for his self-centered satisfaction but for the satisfaction of Krsna, the Supreme Person. A person fully situated in transcendental knowledge and unattached to the results of his endeavor is not working materially but spiritually. "Therefore, O Arjuna," Krsna says, "surrendering all your works unto Me, with mind intent on Me, without desire for gain, and free from egoism and lethargy, fight."

For Arjuna to fight for his self-aggrandizement was sinful; to be inactive or to renounce his duty was both sinful and impractical; but to fight because Krsna wanted it that was the path of liberation and happiness.

But why did Krsna want a fight? Why did God Himself advocate force? Because to maintain society, force is sometimes necessary. Lord Krsna promises that whenever and wherever religion declines and irreligion predominates, He will protect the pious, annihilate the miscreants, and reestablish religious principles. The Lord had gathered all the miscreants at Kuruksetra; He would rid the world of the them in this one massive battle. Although Arjuna was ready to forgive the offenses perpetrated against him by his cousins, Krsna would not tolerate such injustices to His devotees. Therefore He insisted, "Fight." And at the end of Bhagavad-gita Arjuna agreed.

Even though Arjuna's opponents were offenders, when they died at Kuruksetra they still attained their original forms in the spiritual world. They died seeing and thinking of the beautiful Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna, as He drove the chariot of His friend, guided him in battle, and protected him from danger. Just as one who lives thinking of Krsna has perfected his life, so one who dies thinking of Krsna has also perfected his life. Both Arjuna who survived the battle and the Kauravas who didn't became perfect. They both linked up to Lord Krsna, the all-good Supreme Person, who always acts for everyone's benefit.

Desk Soldiers

Bhagvad Gita

The disclosure last fall that higher-ups in the United States government sold arms to Iran, using the profits to fund the Nicaraguan contras, created a big stir.

But maybe it shouldn't have. Why should congressmen and reporters fuss over millions of dollars in secret contra aid when the Pentagon, with little or no congressional supervision, spends billions on secret weapons and espionage every year? Thirty five billion dollars annually now goes to the Pentagon's "black budget," secret accounts used for classified programs. The Iran arms deal itself may have been, indirectly at least, one of those programs, since black budget money funds the CIA, one agency allegedly involved in the Iran-contra fiasco.

Black-budget programs are various: research and development of nuclear bombers, including the Stealth bomber; training of dolphins for under water espionage; mapping out war strategies. Some experts worry that these and other black-budget projects will crowd out defense spending for such relatively mundane items as boots and bullets. Billions have already been spent on plans for World War IV.

Yep, four. Gotta think ahead. These war plans include the use of robots in radioactive battlefields while commanding generals speed down interstate highways in lead-lined trucks, orchestrating with the help of the latest satellite technology the firing of nuclear warheads.

What should alarm us more than the mere secrecy of the black budget is that military leaders, while still expecting the respect and honor due to heroes, are using the money to shirk one of their most basic duties.

How shirk? In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna explains that a primary duty of military leaders is yuddhe capy apalayanam not to run from the battlefield.

But what to speak of running, in the event of world war how many Pentagon leaders will eversee a battlefield? except via satellite. Very few. At best they'll be racing along interstates in their lead-lined trucks, sending newly drafted GI's to the front, or sending millions of civilians to their deaths.

Modern nuclear weapons target civilians. In that sense they are a retreat from battle. Opposing military leaders, instead of confronting each other directly, threaten each other's civilian populations with nuclear annihilation. The arms race thus becomes a contest in depravity: each new and more powerful warhead signals to the enemy how little respect you (a Pentagon or Kremlin strategist) have for innocent human life and challenges him to have less. All this while you, a Pentagon or Kremlin strategist, risk your own life hardly at all.

In light of this depravity, should we want to abolish the military altogether? No. The Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic texts do not recommend pacifism, at least not across the-board. Vedic authorities assert that there will always be a class of martially spirited men who aspire to positions of power and leadership and whose skills are essential to the health of the social body. The Sanskrit name for these men ksatriya is significant. Ksat means "harm," and trayate means "deliver." The military is necessary, in other words, to deliver human society from harm. True ksatriyas are due respect, honor maybe even a few dollars for their black budgets because they put their lives on the line to protect civilians.

That's what modern leaders claim to be doing. They're delivering us from communism or from capitalism or from atheism or from religious fanaticism. But if the cost of delivery is our lives, not theirs, or if the cost is a $35-billion black budget more than the United States spends on education or the environment then what kind of delivery is that?

Even if we live, have we really been delivered'? The Gita says that deliverance ultimately means deliverance from the greatest danger (trayate mahato bhayat), which is the danger not of communism or capitalism but of taking birth again and again in this material world. Communists, capitalists, fanatics, and the faithless are all in danger of suffering perpetually in the cycle of birth and death. Since freedom from this cycle comes only by rendering devotional service to the Supreme Lord, the ksatriya's prime duty is to create a peaceful social atmosphere conducive to devotional service.

Peaceful social atmosphere. That's a goal everyone should agree on. even without appreciating the importance of devotional service. And peace is not something you get by threatening the entire human race with nuclear war. If the world's military leaders want to fight over just how to establish peace, then they should go back to the world of boots and bullets a relatively mundane world for sure, but one where it's possible to reduce the chances of indiscriminate, wholesale slaughter.

So let's demand that our modern protectors strap on their boots, load their guns, choose an unpopulated battlefield, and charge into instead of away from battle.

It'll be hard for them to give up their missiles, satellites, and lead-lined trucks. But if they agree to do it, we'll promise not to chide their cowardice. Or question their black budgets.

Mathuresa dasa