By Brenda C. Eppley, March 2021
After reading and contemplating the Gita, readers often wonder how the events of Kurukshetra from long ago apply to our lives. The distance often seems immense, yet the beauty of the Gita speaks to each of us in the human context.
Throughout the Gita, Arjuna’s primary objective is to learn the constructs for fulfilling his life’s purpose while in the throes of extraordinary doubt. Highly relatable, humanity often arrives at such pivotal moments, thus rendering Krishna’s response to Arjuna’s questioning as keenly insightful and significant.
Artfully chosen as the symbolic Aristotelian protagonist, Arjuna embodies the best in us as we, saddled with the most honorable of intentions, strive to gain forward momentum in life’s journey while crippling doubt manifests as our greatest obstacle. Serving as the framework for the conversation between Prince Arjuna and Krishna, his charioteer, the battlefield of Kurukshetra may at first glance alienate the reader with its seemingly perceived-to-be historical and religious references tied to an ancient culture and civilization. Placed at the opening of the narrative, Kurukshetra and the two armies present the highest of stakes for Arjuna who, identified as one of the greatest living archers, quickly becomes paralyzed with inaction. Recognizing his friends, relatives, and teachers in the opposing army, Arjuna must decide whether to engage in battle as befits his station or retreat, thereby disavowing his title. Kurukshetra becomes the backdrop for Arjuna’s questions as he tries to resolve the smothering doubt that gives rise to imposing indecision.
Arjuna’s despair, coupled with confusion and turmoil in the face of adversity, is highly relatable to all readers of the Gita. Placing the action on a battlefield is not simply for dramatic purposes; rather, a late point of attack within a set of circumstances that is embroiled in great conflict easily captures the reader’s imagination. We see Arjuna, desperate for answers, and are confronted with our own questions that align with his of what is right, moral, and just. In this way, Arjuna becomes the “everyman” and Krishna the teacher.
Cleverly first introduced as Arjuna’s charioteer, Krishna assumes the guise of a friend with a relatable nature and speaks with an accessible dialogue. His wisdom throughout the Gita emphasizes the necessity of personal growth and presents a clear path for finding peace and fulfillment – a sort of roadmap – that is attainable to anyone regardless of status or station:
Contextually, we begin preparations for the journey by reviewing the roadmap. Our vehicle is fueled by our dharma (purpose). Because we better the world with little thought to personal gain, our vehicle of choice is a hybrid or electric model. Once we accelerate, focus turns to the action that serves our dharma1, and we do not concern ourselves with the fruit of the action2. Our attention holds steadfast to the details of each moment, noticing all that we encounter. In this way, our actions are not wasted, and we avoid straying from the road. Brief stops to meditate are included on our journey that sharpen focus, encourage the absorption of knowledge3, and lead us to peace. As we approach great obstacles (gunas) that potentially result in death, we are without fear, comforted in our understanding that death is certain for anything that lives, and rebirth is certain for anything that has died. Because this is unavoidable, there is no place for sorrow4.
By staying on the road, our opportunity for growth becomes remarkable. We relinquish desire and attachment to all things, and our cravings cease. Doing so ends the karmic cycle of pain and suffering and leads us to liberation.
Krishna, in his many divine forms that are revealed to Arjuna, is the architect of our unique roadmap, while Arjuna is the everyman who embodies the best in us throughout the cyclical nature of karma.
The Gita, as a non-religious text that is transformational and inclusive, is steadfast in its invitation to all of humanity5. From the most powerful world leader to the beggar in the street, the Gita equalizes each of us while illuminating our path to peace and fulfillment.
Mitchell, Stephen. Bhagavad Gita. First edition, Three Rivers Press, 2000.
1 “…with no attachment to results, he engages in the yoga of action.” (3.7)
2 “You have a right to your actions, but never to your action’s fruits.” (2.47), and “The wise man lets go of all results, whether good or bad, and is focused on the action alone. Yoga is skill in action.” (2.50)
3 “Wisdom is the final goal of every action.” (4.33)
4“Death is certain for the born; for the dead, rebirth is certain. Since both cannot be avoided, you have no reason
for your sorrow.” (2.27)
5 “I am the same to all beings; I favor none and reject none. But those who worship me live
within me and I live in them.” (9.29)