Reflections on the Bhagwat-Geeta – Chapter II – Sections 1-3

In our article Reflections on the Bhagwat Geeta -1 , we discussed the  Upa-Kramaa or the Commencement of the Bhagwat Geeta. In this article, we offer our reflections on Chapter II.

In the first part of this Chapter, Arjun admits his confusion to Shree Krishna. Arjun tells Shree Krishna that while he would not wish to live after killing his cousins in battle, the same cousins stand before him ready to fight him. Arjun confesses to  Shree Krishna that he does not know which is the more ethical path for him, to defeat his cousins or to be defeated by them.

Then in Verses 7-8, Arjun declares himself as a disciple of Shree Krishna and asks Shree Krishna to instruct him unequivocally. This we believe is the Upa-Kramaa or Commencement of the Bhagwat Geeta.

Chapter II has 72 verses and we shall group these in to five sections based on the contents. The first section up to Verse 10 contains the above request by Arjun to Shree Krishna. The teachings of Shree Krishna begin with Verse 11 of Chapter II. We shall group these in four sections as below:

  • Section 2 – Verses 11 – 30
  • Section 3 – Verses 31 – 39.5
  • Section 4 – Verses 39.5 – 53
  • Section 5 – Verses 54-72

Section 2 – The Indestructibility of Atma (Soul) – Verses 11-30

Recall that Arjun did not wish to kill his granduncles, teachers, uncles, cousins and friends who were arrayed before him in battle (Bhagwat Geeta – I.34). So Shree Krishna begins his teachings by distinguishing between the physical body and the Atma, by teaching Arjun that the physical body is mortal while the Atma is eternal.

In Verse 11, Shree Krishna asks Arjun to not grieve about that is ungrievable. He teaches that the physical body has stages that go from childhood to youth to old age. Then the old body is shed by the Atma (the Soul) to obtain a new body. This concept is explained in Verses 11-22.

Verse 22 is probably the most famous in this sequence. When Bhagat Singh, the famous freedom fighter against the British rule, was hanged by the British, he recited this Verse 22 as he walked with a smile towards the noose.   
            वासांसी जीर्णानी यथा विहाय
            Vasaamsee Jeernnanee yathaa Vihaaya
            As old clothes are discarded

            नवानी ग्रुहान्नाती नरः अपराणी
            Navanee Gruhannatee Narah Aparaanee
           & new clothes are worn by man 

            तथा शरीरानी विहाय जीर्णानी 
            Tatha Shareeranee Vihaaya Jeernnanee
            Similarly after discarding old tired bodies  

             नन्यानी संयाति नवानी देही
             Nanyanee Sanyaatee Navanee Dehee
            (the soul) wears other new bodies
                                              Bhagwat Geeta, II. 22

The next eight verses teach the indestructibility of the Soul. The famous Verse 23 states:

  • Weapons cannot cut the Atma, Fire cannot burn the Atma, Water does not clench the Atma and the Wind does not dry the Atma.

Shree Krishna states in Verse 27 that Death is inevitable to the born and rebirth is inevitable to the dead. Therefore he tells Arjun that it is not smart or proper to grieve about the inevitable. He extends this concept to all beings in Verse 30 by saying that every body has this indestructible, eternal soul and that it is improper to grieve about any physical body.

Thus, Shree Krishna addresses Arjun’s worry about his kin dying in battle. 

Section 3 – क्षत्रिय धर्मं – The Dharma of a Warrior – Verses 31-39.5

Recall that Arjun had dropped his weapons and announced to Shree Krishna (Verse II.9) न य्योत्स्य” or “I will not wage war“. In this section, Shree Krishna teaches Arjun about क्षत्रिय धर्मं, the Dharma of a Warrior.

Many people try to ignore these 8 verses because of their clear, unequivocal message about the duty or Dharma of a Warrior. Perhaps they do so because they feel uneasy about the need for धर्मंयुद्ध or a Just War. In contrast, Bhagwan Shree Krishna speaks with great clarity and with great purpose in these 8 verses.

He states in Verse 31 that there is nothing more श्रेय (Shreya – ethically beneficial or rewarding) than a धर्मं युद्ध (Just War) to a क्षत्रिय (warrior). Then in Verse 32, Shree Krishna gets even more direct.

  • Fortunately, the स्वर्गद्वार (Door to Heaven) is wide open. Blessed are the क्षत्रिय (warriors) who have been given the opportunity of such a (Just) War.

Then in Verses 33-36, Shree Krishna tells Arjun that it would be a Sin on Arjun’s part to not fight this धर्मं युद्ध (Just War). He also tells Arjun how others would interpret his refusal to fight as cowardice and how painful it would be for Arjun to suffer these insults. Finally, Shree Krishna gives Arjun an unequivocal instruction in the famous Verse 37:

           हतो वा प्राप्स्यसी  स्वर्गम जित्वा व भोक्षय्से महीम
           Hato Vaa Prapsyasee Swargam Jitvaa Vaa Bhokshasee Maheem 
           If you die you will obtain Heaven, If you win, you will earn the Earth

           तस्मात् उत्थिष्ट कौन्तेय युद्ध्हाय कृत निश्चयः
           Tasmaat Utthishta Kaunteya Yuddhhaya Krut Nischayah
           Therefore Rise, O son of Kunti (Arjun) determined for War  

Every religion formed or created after the Bhagwat Geeta has used the message of this Verse to exhort its warriors to battle.

Finally in Verse 38, Shree Krishna assures Arjun about the morality of Just War.

  • Make your attachment equal to both happiness & sadness, to profit & loss and to victory & defeat. If you wage War in this manner, no Sin would attach to you (Bhagwat Geeta, II. 38).

This is the essence of the teaching about धर्मं युद्ध (Just War) – A Just War has to be waged because it is the Dharma of a Warrior and not for any lust for victory or conquest. If you analyze the later teachings of Just War in Christianity, you will see their origins in the Bhagwat Geeta. 

This Verse also leads us to Section 4 on कर्म योग or (Karma Yog) beginning with Verse 39.5.  We shall discuss that next week.

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2 responses

  1. Please do not compare religions, that would be Duality or Dvaita.
    Just war gives the sense of there are some unjust wars. Krishna is not telling Arjuna to grade the wars here. He is telling him as a WARRIOR he needs to act only, not thinking wheteher he would win or not. This is all about action only. War seen was used to dramatize Geeta ‘s message.

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