Yoga mythology is full of stories of love and war, enlightenment and disillusionment, victory and defeat. Like all mythos, the epic tales from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana provide important insights for understanding our cosmic place in the universe, exploring the depth of human experience through a spiritual lens, and what it means to be engaged and connected to the unexplainable.
The Bhagavad Gita is an epic excerpt from the Mahabharata, and a conversation between the warrior prince Arjuna, and Krishna, a human incarnation of Vishnu the Preserver. Krishna was on a diplomatic mission to restore peace after years of devastation wrought by war between two factions of the same family. He became an ambassador for the Pandava family, and was sent to speak to the Kuravas in the hopes of avoiding more war. Unfortunately his peace efforts were undermined and rejected, so he returned to the Pandava camp where he became an ambassador of peace on the battlefield as Arjuna’s charioteer.
On the first day of the battle, all of the armies arrived at the battlefield, and Arjuna asked Krishna to take him to the center, so he could look upon the faces of his enemy. From the center of the battlefield he could see that his enemies weren’t his enemies at all. Instead he saw his uncles, cousins; his family, friends, and teachers he loved dearly. He became overwhelmed with doubt and despair.
He looked to Krishna and said:
“I see omens of chaos, Krishna; I see no good in killing my kinsmen in battle.
I do not want to kill them even if I am killed, Krishna;
not for kingship of all three worlds, much less the Earth!
Honor forbids us to kill our cousins; how can we know happiness and kill our own kinsmen?
The greed that distorts their reason blinds them to the sin they commit in ruining the family,
Blinds them to the crime of betraying friends.”
Arjuna was confused by the greed, corruption and injustices committed by members of his own family, and put down his weapons. Overcome with grief, he began to weep right there on the battlefield, refusing to fight.
Sound familiar? Despite being surrounded by injustice, when we realize that so many people we love are complicit and sometimes actively involved in the injustice, we decide to “agree to disagree.” It’s too uncomfortable to confront Uncle Joe during Thanksgiving dinner, so we laugh at his racist joke instead. Rather than holding our friends accountable when they make bigoted and dehumanizing remarks about an entire group of people, we chalk it up to them being a jerk, and avoid spending time with them.
It may not seem as dramatic as tossing your weapons on the ground on the eve of battle, however, when we don’t hold ourselves and each other accountable, we become enablers of injustice.
The Yoga of Action, Love, and Knowledge
The Bhagavad Gita begins with Arjuna distraught, conflicted, and unsettled about going to war with his family. Krishna refused to let Arjuna off the hook and chose this moment to teach the prince important lessons about dharma and standing against injustice. He encourages the prince to get over himself and his discomfort, and do what was right without attachment to the outcome.
Throughout their conversation, Krishna teachers Arjuna about duty and action, love and knowledge of self. He advises Arjuna that when he is guided by spirit, there is no guilt in taking action to protect the virtuous and destroy evildoers. We cannot control the outcome after all, and must therefore detach ourselves from such outcomes. When we are guided by spirit, we are also guided by love, and the actions of love purified by the fire of right knowledge, create the conditions for virtue to bear fruit.
The Bhagavad Gita is a call to action from the divine incarnate (Krishna), to the divine incarnate (Arjuna) to know himself and trust that the divine Self within will not steer him wrong. In the story, Arjuna represents anyone who has ever encountered evil and doubted their right or duty to take action. And since the divine source is pure love, self-awareness is key to taking action that facilitates positive, loving outcomes.
In this way the Bhagavad Gita becomes a powerful allegory for self-awareness and love in action. Not only does Krishna remind Arjuna of who he is, he tells him that this path of duty, devotion and knowledge of Self is the secret to finding inner peace in a world full of injustice.
An Appeal to the Heart
Krishna’s lesson isn’t just about duty, it is an appeal to the heart. He is practically begging us to realize who we are and realize that we are all the embodiment of love. When we realize love as our true nature, our entire perspective shifts and we are compelled to treat others with love; including not allowing others to treat our loved ones with hate. Indeed, love is the truth that binds us together. Love unites us and love sets us free.
Consider how you can show up in the spirit of love, refusing to accept evil, injustice, greed and the oppression of others? Are you willing to heed the call of the Bhagavad Gita, and stand against those whose actions don’t align with the divine truth of love. It won’t always be easy or comfortable, however, it is our duty as loving embodiments of the divine source.
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