by Swami Krishnananda
Arjuna was such an individual. He had likes and dislikes. The whole story of the Mahabharata is a description of the conflict among the varieties of likes and dislikes. The spiritual seeker is taught, through the epic atmosphere of the Mahabharata and the Bhagavadgita, the lessons of life and the morals that follow from these lessons. When our reasoning capacity is turbid, knowledge is inadequate, our adjustments with the world outside, including human society, are not strong enough. They collapse at the least touch of confronting situations, because human relationships are only an outer form of an internal propulsion of these three forces — sattva, rajas and tamas — which are cosmically present everywhere. There is a cosmic purpose behind even our individual likes and dislikes. And our entanglement in like and dislikes is the result of our not understanding our wider involvement in a cosmical meaning that is at the base of all human situations. We always feel, ‘I have a like’ and ‘I have a dislike,’ but we do not know why we have that like, why we have that dislike. Why is it that we should like this and dislike something else? We cannot give a satisfactory answer except that which is purely sentimental and emotional. But the world does not live on sentiments and emotions. It is a perfectly logical system, and all the parts of the mechanism of the universe are scientifically arranged, and our behaviour outside as well as our thoughts and sentiments inside, our relationships of any kind, are conditioned by this final structure of things in general, of which we are integral parts, and the mistake of the human being in Arjuna was the incapacity to go deep into this involvement of the human individual in the larger set-up of things. It is difficult for us to imagine that we are related in a more significant manner with things than what appears on the surface. A son is related to the father, a father is related to the son, there is a relation between friends, etc. This is only the outer form of some of the relationships that appear to us before our eyes. But these relationships are metaphysically conditioned, cosmically organised by an impersonal government which has no friends or foes, and which does not bestow favours on anyone. It is like a large computer system which has no friend and which has no enemy. It depends upon how we manipulate the mechanism, how we feed this system, how we approach it and how we conduct ourselves in relation to it. If our conduct is in any way disharmonious with the requirement of the set-up of the mechanism, we will find that an undesirable result follows, something we did not expect. And the reason behind this unexpected occurrence cannot be attributed to any kind of error in the set-up of things, in the mechanism we call the computer, but in the mistake we have committed, in the error that is involved in our relationship, in our not understanding properly how it works. Arjuna, and anyone, could not and cannot easily understand or grasp this circumstance. So, we have hundreds of occasions everyday to be jubilant in joy and hundreds of occasions to be sunk in sorrow. The Mahabharata concludes with these words: “Fools find themselves in umpteen situations everyday when they can be happy, or when they can be unhappy, also.” It is the stupid man, not the wise one, who sees occasions for joy, or sees occasions for grief in the world. The world is not intended to bring us joy, nor is its intention to pour on us sorrow. A vast computer has no intention to give us satisfaction, nor is it intended to be there to bring us sorrow. It is impersonal and it has no such emotional meanings behind it. But human beings are emotionally composed. They are not bathed in the light of wisdom at all times. We have secret directions from impulses which sometimes appear to be irrational because they cannot be explained in a scientific manner, though ultimately there is an explanation for everything in this world.
The seeker on the spiritual path is described in the first chapter of the Bhagavadgita, Arjuna being made the spokesman of this occasion. The field of battle is the field of life. The things that we want to do in this world are the confrontations before us and our wisdom will be judged by the manner in which we deal with these situations. A situation means anything and everything with which we are connected, anything that we are supposed to do in the world. And in this duty that we are called upon to perform, there is no such thing as a superior or inferior duty. There is no superior thing or inferior thing in this world, just as in a huge machine we cannot say that some part is superior, something is inferior. Everything has its role to play. Any kind of comparison or contrast would be odious in such a set-up which has no human significance but is cosmically oriented. The spiritual seeker, the sadhaka, has a spiritually-oriented enthusiasm in the beginning. Every one of us has a love for spiritual life. And the moment the idea of spiritual life arises in the mind, we find ourselves in an unspeakable situation of clinging something and abandoning something else. This is the obvious feature in religion and in the popular spirituality of mankind which goes by the name of asceticism, renunciation, etc. The idea of spirituality is generally inseparable from the idea of renunciation, the giving up of something for the sake of clinging to some thing else which we imagine at that moment as our ideal. We bifurcate one thing from the other. But the Bhagavadgita is not a gospel of renunciation of this type. No doubt, it is fired up, right from the beginning to the end, with a surge of renunciation which will burn and burnish us into the gold of the higher personality ideal. If at all there is any scripture which emphasises whole-heartedly the spirit of renunciation, it is the Bhagavadgita. But if there is anything which tells us that spiritual life does not mean the cutting of oneself from what is real but constitutes a harmonisation of oneself with the atmosphere in which one lives, there cannot be a greater and more significant teaching than the Bhagavadgita in this respect. While, when a particular mood preponderates in us, we may be stirred into an aspiration for God, as we conceive god, and feel, or imagine, that we are fed up with this world, it may subside, because this is likely to be a tentative mood which is occasioned by a particular circumstance that may not continue for all times. And when the wheel moves, when the spokes find themselves in another position, our understanding, our feelings, or attitudes change simultaneously; and we see different things altogether before us. We do not like a thing always, nor dislike a thing at all times. As years pass, our ideas of things change. And what we loved one day may not be the thing that we love today. So is the case with the things that we disliked one day or disregarded at some moment of time. These moods of ours are relative to the conditions through which our psyche passes in what we may call the process of evolution. They are relative and not absolute situations. We cannot have an absolute love for any thing, or an absolute dislike for anything. They are like the stages of the healing of a disease or a wound, the recovery of health by degrees, when we begin to feel different things on different days. This is what happened to the great Arjuna, and to every one of us it does happen, also. The sentiments in us are strong enough to counterblast our rationalities and our arguments though they may be philosophical or supposedly spiritual. Whatever be the philosophical profundity of our arguments, we should not imagine that our sentiments and feelings are weaker. They take up the case and argue in a manner which is deserving of equal attention, as the argument of the opposite party. And the arguments of Arjuna in the first chapter were the repudiation of all the feelings that he had entertained earlier, just the opposite of what he said a few days before. Merely because of the nature of the confrontation before us, we may be repelled after a time even by the goal of spirituality, the very ideal which attracted us earlier, because our comprehension of the nature of this ideal was not comprehensive enough. One cannot keep up the sobriety of spirit throughout one’s life, because of the power of rajas and tamas within, whose nature one does not properly understand. The things from which we withdraw ourselves in a spirit of renunciation may demand recognition some time later, at some moment, on some occasion when they find that the circumstances are suitable for their having a say, because, usually, the religious renunciation is a misguided attitude in most cases of even so-called genuine aspirations, all because we work upon the reports given to us by the sense organs, and to a large extent our idea of God, the idea of spirituality, the notion of renunciation, are all conditioned by what the senses tell us. What gives us pain and sorrow and that which appears to be not in consonance with our idea at any particular moment of time of what we call the spiritual ideal may be regarded as worth renouncing. Persons and things are abandoned and the world is regarded as the field of bondage. We dub it as a factory in which Satan works, from which we have to extricate ourselves at the earliest moment. Our idea of God is sensory. If we would deeply consider this theme, are may realise that we are unable to dissociate the God-ideal from sense-perception, boiled down to its essentiality. We may not conceive the God-ideal or the spiritual ideal in a physical or material form, but the sensory atmosphere does not necessarily mean a material atmosphere. It is a peculiar organisation of consciousness that we call the field of sense-activity. When I speak of the sense-world I do not mean the physical world necessarily or the material objects with which the senses come in contact. It is rather an arrangement of consciousness by which it bifurcates subjectivity from objectivity, cuts the object of perception from the subject that perceives or cognises, and refuses to see any kind of vital relationship between itself and its object. The field of sense activity is such that the object of sense perception does not appear to have of any kind of organic connection or real meaning in respect of the subject, so that we can wholeheartedly love something and wholeheartedly hate something, also, without any impact of it upon our own selves. This is how the senses work. But every love and hatred has some kind of impact upon the subject, because it is not true that the world is made up of isolated subjects and objects, finally. So, the war of the Mahabharata, in which Arjuna was engaged, was not a war against some people, merely. He was engaged in a vast atmosphere from which he could not extricate himself psychologically, a point which was driven into his mind by Sri Krishna, as explained in the second and third chapters.