The pain to be resolved in the Gita is ultimately the result of Arjuna’s deep-seated attachments. His love for his teachers, his affection for those fighting on both sides of the conflict, the desire he cherishes to protect social order, and even the sympathy he feels for his evil cousins—all confound him. His is a personal torment, an affliction with roots largely invisible even to himself. The pain of Arjuna’s inner struggle appears to be an isolating experience—a despair that most of us understand. Asking Krishna, his charioteer, to bring his chariot into the middle of the battleground, Arjuna reveals his deep inner struggles to Krishna. He mourns:
- My limbs are frozen, my mouth is drying up, my body trembles, and my hair stands on end . . . My mind is, as it were, whirling (BG 1:29 –30).
- I do not desire victory, nor kingdom, nor comforts (BG 1:32).
- Teachers, fatherlike figures, sons, uncles, and other relatives . . . I do not wish to kill them, even if they are killing me (BG 1:34–35).
- How can we be happy after killing our very own relatives (BG 1:37)?
- Oh, alas, we are embarking upon committing a great sin as we are preparing to kill our own kinsmen out of greed for kingdom and comfort (BG 1:45).
- If the sons of Dhritarashtra, with weapons in hand, kill me in the battle while I am unarmed and unavenging, that will be more beneficial to me (BG 1:46).
[Translations taken from Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita by Swami Rama.]
These speeches, all selected from chapter 1, illustrate the depth of Arjuna’s depression. He is confused: Is he battling his cousins out of greed and a desire for power? Or is he stimulated by less selfish motives, intentions momentarily veiled by images of destruction? A depressive triad—helpless, hopeless, hapless—is clearly visible in Arjuna’s turn toward darkness. Worse, disregarding Krishna’s advice, Arjuna continues to struggle with his mood, finally arriving at a pivotal point. In chapter 2, verse 7, Arjuna utters words that take us to the core of the Gita: “My true nature subdued . . . my mind deluded . . . I am your disciple surrendering to you. Do teach me and guide me.” With these words, Arjuna appeals to Krishna from a place of openness and surrender. He asks for advice and for help in making peace with his actions in the world. How will Krishna respond, and what will happen to Arjuna? We’ll find out in the next post in this series.