Arjuna is immersed in a spiritual war between what is human and what is cosmic. This inner struggle is portrayed in the Bhagavad Gita (“The Song of our Lord”) as a battle between cousins over who has the right to rule. Khrisna, who is initially disguised as Arjuna’s charioteer tells Arjuna that he must accept his condition as a warrior, even if it means killing the very people he loves. It is his dharma.
Arjuna’s struggle with shedding a former self, or an old consciousness, so as to answer his call to God, is Universal.
What ensues is a discourse on the loss and restoration of natural law and cosmic order and the search for moral guidance amid the ambiguity of values.
Krishna reminds Arjuna of samsara; that a person who dies will be reborn. What dies is not essential for it is the Spirit that endures. On a personal level I understand this to mean that transformation requires a death of the personality self while trusting that the spirit will prevail.
Krishna goes on to speak of moksha, the ultimate aim in life. The state of moksha is a liberating and transcendent state of union with the Divine. Moksha is achieved through an inner realization of one’s unchanging being. This is the part of the self which is immortal and the ground of all being. To reach moksha Krishna advises Arjuna to cultivate an attitude of indifference with results and to practice complete devotion to Spirit through the practices of karma yoga and bhakti yoga.
Arjuna faces a choice. Will he obey dharma or will he retreat into the narrow ego?
After long years of exile and humiliation, leading up to the battle, at first Arjuna desires vindication. Later, when he is filled with compassion for those who he is to kill, he rejects the greed of victory and refuses to fight.
Khrishna judges this as cowardice and states that Arjuna is renouncing dharma and indulging in selfish concerns. This suggests that the individual struggle and sentimentality is a limited viewpoint.
Personally, I do not agree with this stance. Why must one always transcend the limited personal ego and sacrifice the ‘I’ in order to connect with a deeper, or higher level of being?
Must all things in which the ego takes pleasure be transcended if the self is to realize its connection to what the ego considers the Other?
In accordance with Arjuna’s struggle, he must engage in action as a sacrifice to Divinity, at the same time acting without personal ego-bound motives. This is action designed to defend dharma or natural cosmic law.
The desire for greater completeness, in which the ego joins the Self, is largely what Arjuna’s process signifies for me. Yet the fragmented consciousness that is to be ‘transcended’, according to this epic, is something I prefer to ‘integrate’. I also feel more aligned with Arjuna’s pull towards love as opposed to the blind obedience of dharma. That is where I choose to seek the God within.
Although I resist the fulfillment of dharma, or a higher law of God’s will when it opposes my values, I appreciate the potent level of courage and devotion called upon when a heavy heart and the egos pull towards safety is challenged. Arjuna’s ability to relinquish his emotions and his will for a greater calling is testimony to his faith in the course of destiny and purpose. Hence, Arjuna is able to do what is deemed right and just, in spite of his struggle. He surrenders to Dharma.
Although I accept that my mortal life is impermanent, and like Arjuna I am but an instrument in this life, I nevertheless remain psychologically attached to the world around me. Paradoxically, in order to relinquish my will for that of a greater calling, I must stand strong in my ego identity. I have to know myself fully and authentically in order to know God. Denial of, or ‘transcendence of’, my essential humanity does not fulfill my quest towards wholeness.
In this sense, Arjuna’s path departs from my own.