AN INTRODUCTION TO SELF-INQUIRY
After a short introduction of the Self, Krishna begins to berate Arjuna for not following through with his duty. Just to be clear, when Krishna says “Get up and fight!” it’s not because he’s condoning violence, but because he’s interested in defending dharma. After all, the objective of warfare isn’t to kill the enemy, but to impose your will on them. Duryodhana has an ignorance problem that has grown to such epic proportions that it’s now threatening everyone around him. As a crown prince and leader of the warrior caste whose duty it is to uphold law and order, Arjuna is in a position to end the growing threat by any means necessary. So, this is Arjuna’s job and he must follow through with it.
Furthermore, this wasn’t the first time Arjuna had thought about what could ultimately become a battle of huge proportions. Arjuna had years of training for such a battle and had been stockpiling and maintaining weapons for when the opportunity presented itself. Now was the time to put all his skills and resources to work in defense of dharma. This was no time to back down and Krishna let him know it.
In contrast to Krishna’s previous verses on the Self, his scolding comes off as being emotional and worldly, but Krishna is pulling out all the stops to make sure Arjuna doesn’t forget to pick up his weapon:
Considering, also, your own dharma, you mustn’t give up. For, there is no greater calling to someone of your rank than a battle for dharma. (2.31)
Should you refuse to fight in this righteous war and give up your honor, you will only incur sin. (2.33)
People will mock you for years to come. Remember, for a man who has been so honored, shame is worse than death. (2.34)
All the great warriors will assume you have left the battle because you were scared. You are so highly respected by them, but by learning of this, they will look down on you. (2.35)
And by saying you’re not fit for battle, your enemies will ridicule you to no end. Could there be anything worse? (2.36)
The reason for this shaming is because out of confusion, Arjuna has forgotten his role. Krishna is reminding Arjuna that aside from learning about the truth of experience, his personal duty is a righteous one. By chastising Arjuna in this way the Gita isn’t telling us to never be sad regarding our circumstances. The problem isn’t being sad, it’s identifying with the sadness. Sorrow happens, we needn’t shun it or try to suppress it. However, what the Gita is implying is that once we truly understand who we are, the crushing, debilitating weight that sorrow can bring, no longer makes sense.
So far, Krishna has pointed out Arjuna’s ignorance by refuting the following arguments:
There is no benefit to fighting this battle - The benefit is the restoration of dharma which society relies on in order to maintain balance. Without reestablishing order, chaos will ensue and the social fabric that holds it together will be undone. For this reason, Krishna urges Arjuna to defend dharma and not be distraught about the otherwise, imminent death of his relatives and teachers.
Life will be made meaningless - Arjuna implies that life will be made meaningless if he must win the war by killing his relatives and teachers. Arjuna’s mistake is that he has applied too much meaning to people and circumstances while forgetting what’s in the best interest of the Total. Krishna introduces the Self in order that Arjuna sees that things aren’t what they appear to be and that the truth of what we are continues regardless of any apparent death.
One will be creating a great sin - Because Arjuna is a dharmi, he naturally concludes that by destroying the very people who live a life of dharma (his friends and teachers), he will be endangering the very dharma he has vowed to protect. Again, Arjuna is deluded by his attachments and is unable to see the forest for the trees. It’s not Arjuna’s fault that family members and teachers have decided to stand with the wrong side. It’s the duty of all righteous warriors to fight for what’s best for the Total. Furthermore, from the standpoint of the Self, no one is dying.
Like a ranking officer giving advice to a subordinate, Krishna reminds Arjuna about having the proper attitude regarding his task:
Prepare for battle by taking pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat to be the same. By keeping this in mind, you will incur no sin. (2.38)