The first chapter of Bhagavad Gita begins with the setting up of the war scenario between two parties of the same family essentially over ‘Who should ascend the throne?’. This chapter demonstrates the problems of samsaara i.e, the material world and how attachment, grief and delusion clouds our judgement. When one is not happy with oneself, one tends to seek external pleasures. This leads to dependence and attachment. Since externalities are unpredictable, the very peace of mind of that person is in trouble. A disturbed mind can make only faulty judgements complicating the matters further. Thus a vicious cycle is created. This, in a nutshell, is the problem of samsaara.
The Bhagavad Gita was spoken by Krishna to enlighten Arjuna and thus the coming generations about the various aspects of human life, mind, controlling the senses and utilizing the human birth for good purposes. Sanjaya, the son of Vyasa was given the power of divine sight to describe the ongoings of the battle to King Dhritarashtra.
After all attempts to prevent the war, both the Kauravas and the Pandavas assembled at the grounds of Kurukshetra. Kurukshetra is considered as one of the holiest lands. This land was chosen by King Kuru (ancestor of the Pandavas and Kauravas) for embedding austerity (Tapas), truth (Satya), forgiveness (Kshama), kindness (Daya), purity (Shuddha), charity (Daana), devotion (Bhakti), and conduct Brahmacharya.
The first 20 verses describe the preparation level of both armies. Duryodhan describes to his teacher about the battle formation strategies and the warriors on both sides after which both factions blow their conches, commencing the battle.
Verses 21-25 describe Arjuna’s curiosity to see who he is going to fight. Hence he requested Krishna, his charioteer, to take the chariot onto the warfront to see who he was going to fight. Upon realizing the gravity of the war, Arjuna began to tremble and he was at a loss of words.
“There Arjuna could see, within the midst of the armies of both parties, his fathers, grandfathers, teachers, maternal uncles, brothers, sons, grandsons, friends, and also his fathers-in law and well-wishers”.
“My dear Krishna, seeing my friends and relatives present before me in such a fighting spirit, I feel the limbs of my body quivering and my mouth drying up.
My whole body is trembling, my hair is standing on end, my bow Gandiva is slipping from my hand, and my skin is burning.
I am unable to stand here any longer. I am forgetting myself, and my mind is reeling. I can see only causes of misfortune, O Krishna, killer of Kesi demon.”
We can see how Arjuna loses his mental equilibrium and his sense of attachment to his kith and kin comes up instead of looking at the opposition as violators of Dharma.
From here we see how grief and delusion clouds his thought process.
His intense grief shakes him completely. This indicates the extent of his attachment. His discriminative power becomes inoperative and he commits a series of false judgments. Arjuna even quotes the scriptures to support his unreasonable stand.
“Sin will overcome us if we slay such aggressors. Therefore it is not proper to kill the sons of Dhritarashtra and our friends. What should we gain, O Krishna, husband of the goddess of fortune, and how could we be happy by killing our own kinsmen?”
“O Krishna, maintainer of people, I have heard by disciplinic succession that those whose family traditions are destroyed dwell always in hell”.
In a nutshell, Arjuna loses clarity about his duties and grieves due to his misconception of attachment. Instead of seeing the violators of dharma, he sees his beloved kith and kin and is overpowered by attachment. Veiled by attachment, he makes false judgements. Caught in a dilemma he becomes sad and sits back.
“Sanjaya said: Arjuna, having thus spoken on the battlefield, cast aside his bow and arrows and sat down on the chariot, his mind overwhelmed with grief”.
Food for thought:
- We can relate to Arjuna in our daily lives. What do we do when we face an overwhelming situation- be it professional or personal?
- Was Arjuna right in his decision to give up fighting his kith and kin who have wronged him on several occasions and violated the principles of Dharma?
- Should we let our emotions cloud our judgement? Look at Arjuna himself… Such an excellent archer but when he let his emotions get the better of him, he felt like leaving the battlefield itself and allowing the enemies to kill him rather than killing them!
The summary of the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita can thus be summarized in one sentence -“Wrong thinking is the root cause of all problems“.