Discussion: Right at the beginning of the chapter, we see that Krishna advises Arjuna that not only does he need to be concerned about his own attitude but he also needs to consider the example he is setting for others. When we are faced with personal dilemmas in life, we are sometimes so wrapped up in our problems and inner attitudes, that we don't think of the importance of the example we set for others - in the workplace, in our homes, amongst friends and other relationships. Our decisions shape the world around us.
It is at this point that Lord Krishna delivers his first teaching on life and death and outlines the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita and the central themes of its teachings. He teaches what true wisdom is, the nature of the Atman, the futility of grieving over the inevitable, the difference between knowledge and experience, the importance of following one's dharma and the philosophy of Karma Yoga. Krishna teaches Arjuna to use his discrimination and tries to guide him out of his spiritual confusion, which Arjuna mistakenly takes for compassion.
What is Wisdom: Knowledge of the Self
Even though Arjuna's words seem wise, the truly wise mourn neither for the living or the dead. True wisdom is able to discern between the real and unreal. Life is continuous - there is never a time when anyone ceases to exist. Human beings live through a cycle of birth into the body, they age, die and then take new bodies. True wisdom is not deceived by the appearances of the cycle. Human life in this world of duality is made up of the opposites: pain and pleasure, heat and cold which are impermanent and Lord Krishna's advice to Arjuna is that he must endure these. Whatever is unreal can never come into existence and whatever is real cannot cease to be. The Imperishable pervades everything and everyone. The real Self is embodied in these bodies but does not die when the body dies. Lord Krishna compares the changing of bodies to the changing of clothes. The wise are not deceived by the illusion of death.
Discussion: The Bhagavad Gita's teachings focus both on the imminent and the transcendent. In that sense it is both a practical guide for action as well as a mystical text which reveals the greater context of human life, beyond the physical realm. Although words are inadequate to describe God, the soul, the Atman and Paramatman, Krishna uses many techniques to offer mankind some sense of the transcendent. Following is the neti-neti - not this, not that approach:
Not burned by fire;
Not dried by the wind;
Not wetted by water:
Such is the Atman,
Not dried, not wetted,
Not burned, not wounded
Being of beings,
For ever and ever.
Discussion: While human grief is a natural process, we need to work our way through it to a greater understanding. It is natural for people to be attached to family, friends and others and to grieve over them when we lose them, or, as in Arjuna's case, he may actually be bringing them harm. This story, should not be mistaken as a justification for violence either. We need to be cognizant of several things: grief should not paralyze us to the point where we forget our duties; we need to consider the perceptions we create and the examples we set for others; we need to have a very fine discernment about the whole context of our natural feelings, and our decisions in relation to the particular life situation. We also need spiritual discrimination to understand the transcendent, not only the imminent - that we are spiritual beings inhabiting bodies and that our existence continues beyond the death of the body. Having such a worldview colours the way we meet life and death and informs the decisions we make about our course of action. This could apply, for example, if we are struggling with taking someone we love off life support, if they are very ill and near death. This could apply to a situation where we need to decide whether to proceed with risky medical interventions. Many situations may arise where we feel torn between our natural feelings and what we must do for the greater good of someone else, of our family, of our society. How we balance the imminent and the transcendent makes a big difference in how we live our lives, prioritize our activities, make decisions.
Knowledge and Experience
Spiritual understanding at its highest level is experiential knowing. There is no doubt or speculation because experience speaks for itself. Some people have actually experienced the Atman. Krishna then explains that people are at various stages of understanding and experience. Some, have direct experience of the Self and so they know this Truth for themselves. Some may speak about it but have not yet actually experienced the Self. Others, may hear about it, or read about it. Then there are people even when they hear about the Atman, they do not understand a word.
Dharma and Karma Yoga
Krishna offers teachings about one's dharma. He explains to Arjuna that for a warrior, a war like this is an opportunity. "It opens a door to heaven." since it is a righteous war i.e., Arjuna is defending his rights to the kingdom. If Arjuna does not fight, others will consider him a coward and believe that he refused to fight out of fear. This would bring dishonour. He then explains the essence of karma yoga:
In karma yoga, what matters is that one does one's duty not caring for the fruits of the work. One is only interested in doing what is right for its own sake without wanting any benefit for oneself. One does one's best to perform their dharma without attachment to the results of one's actions. It is this kind of attitude in performing action which breaks "the chains of desire which bind you to your actions." Krishna explains further that when one directs one's will to the attainment of union with Brahman, then he can free himself from the bondage of rebirth.
You have no rights to the fruits of work.
Desire for the fruits of work should never be your motive in working.
Never give way to laziness either.
Renounce attachment to the fruits.
Be even-tempered in success and failure,
for it is this evenness of temper which is meant by yoga.
Work done with anxiety about results is far inferior
to work done without such anxiety, in the calm of self-surrender.
Seek refuge in the knowledge of Brahman.
They who work selfishly for results are miserable.
the bondage of virtue and vice during this very life.
Devote yourself , therefore, to reaching union with Brahman.
To unite the heart with Brahman and then to act:
that is the secret of non-attached work.
In the calm of self-surrender the seers renounce the fruits of their actions
and so reach enlightenment.
Then they are free from the bondage of rebirth,
and pass to that state which is beyond all evil.
When your intellect has cleared itself of its delusions, you will become indifferent to
the results of all action, present or future. At present, your intellect is bewildered by conflicting interpretations of the scriptures. When it can rest, steady and undistracted, in contemplation of the Atman, then you will reach union with the Atman.
Discussion: There is a lot to unpack in these sections. In the first chapter, we are introduced to the importance of acknowledging both the imminent and the transcendent. In this chapter, we are taken further into how to balance these two. We need to be firm that our main goal in life is to achieve union with Brahman - i.e., to realize the transcendent within ourselves. Then we need to live life in such a way that makes that possible. The secret of that is non-attached work. Attachment binds us. It causes anxiety. When we yearn for the result of our actions, we cannot be calm in carrying them out. We are so eager for the result, for the gratification of our desire, we may act in ways that are not skilful, which cloud our judgement, which distract us from our ultimate goal of self-realization, that will entrap us in a chain of events from which we may not be able to extract ourselves.On the other hand, if we imagine we don't desire something and decide not to do something we are supposed to do, we may actually just be giving in to laziness, which will also not help us achieve self-realization, for the desire still lives within us, but, out of laziness,we don't exert the energy to fulfill the desire. Our energy then becomes sloth instead.
We may also become bewildered, trying to use our intellect, our rationality to figure our way out of our struggle by analyzing scriptural writings. But intellect alone is not helpful enough. We need to engage our will power. We need to understand our feelings. We need to discriminate the nature of our challenges so we can address them correctly. We need to listen to our intuitive guidance, which comes from the transcendent into our lives in the imminent. When the intellect becomes calm, it can then be used towards our ultimate goal of realizing Brahman within us.