Battlefield of Kurukshetra (c) Jiva Institure

Is Kṛṣṇa a Warmonger?

Some may read Bhagavad Gītā and think that Śrī Kṛṣṇa spoke in order to inspire Arjuna to fight for dharma. Being a kṣatriya, it was in fact Arjuna’s dharma to fight. However, seeing his teacher Droṇācārya and friends and relatives such as Bhīṣma on the opposing side, he lost his enthusiasm for the battle. Rather than losing enthusiasm, however, Arjuna actually became despondent and confused about his duty. In this state of mind, he approached Śrī Kṛṣṇa and accepted Him as his guide and teacher. After hearing His instructions, Arjuna fought with great valor. This may appear to indicate that Kṛṣṇa inspired Arjuna to fight. Thus, some will blame Kṛṣṇa for the war between the Kauravas and the Paṇḍavas, which led to the demise of both parties. Only the five Pāṇdava brothers, along with Sātyaki, Kṛpācārya, Kṛtavarmā, and Aśvatthāmā survived the battle.

In Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī has made an indept study of Śrimad Bhāgavata to establish Kṛṣṇa as Svayaṁ Bhagavān, the original or selfsame Bhagavān, while refuting the prevalent idea that Kṛṣṇa is an avatāra of Viṣṇu. In the concluding part of section 82, he also refers to Bhagavad Gītā. Incidentally, he shows that Kṛṣṇa’s intention in Bhagavad Gītā is not to inspire Arjuna to fight. Rather, His supreme instruction to Arjuna is to become His devotee.

This specific part is presented below with my commentary to show that Kṛṣṇa is not a warmonger, as misunderstood by some readers of Bhagavad Gīta.

Translation of Anuccheda 82.2 

The Supremacy of Devotion to Kṛṣṇa

In the same vein, because it is specifically Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s glory that is unparalleled and unsurpassable, He Himself in the concluding statements of the Gītā, the essence of the meaning of all scripture, instructed Arjuna in His bhajana alone, which surpasses that of all His other manifestations. This bhajana is in the form of love for Bhagavān, which is venerated by all devotees as the most confidential secret of all (sarva-guhyatama). After asserting, “O son of Kuntī, what, out of delusion, you do not wish to perform, you will perform helplessly in any case, being bound by your own actions born of your acquired nature” (kartuṁ necchasi yan mohāt kariṣyasy avaśo’pi tat, Gītā 18.60), Kṛṣṇa goes on to say: 

O Arjuna, the Supreme Immanent Self (Īśvara) resides in the hearts of all living beings. By His extrinsic potency, He causes all of them to revolve [through the cycles of creation, maintenance, and dissolution] as if they were riding upon the machine [of their bodies]. (Gītā 18.61)

O Arjuna, seek refuge in Him alone with all of your being. By His grace, you will attain supreme peace and the eternal abode. (Gītā 18.62)

Thus, I have declared to you knowledge more secret than all secrets. Reflect on it fully and then do as you wish. (Gītā 18.63)

Hear again My supreme instruction, the foremost of all secrets. Because you are extremely dear to Me, I shall disclose this beneficial teaching to you. (Gītā 18.64)

Fix your mind on Me, become My devotee, worship Me, and bow down to Me. By doing so, you will come to Me. I promise this to you truly because you are dear to Me. (Gītā 18.65)

Abandoning completely all [attachment to] conventional duties, seek refuge in Me alone. I will free you from all sins; do not grieve. (Gītā 18.66)

The purport of these verses is as follows. In the beginning of the Gītā, it is said: “You are grieving for those who are unworthy of grief and yet speaking as though learned. Those who are truly wise lament neither for the dead nor for the living” (Gītā 2.11). The Gītā is not prescribing warfare on the basis of such statements, because [such an outcome is inevitable in any event], as expressed in [other] assertions such as 18.60: “What, out of delusion, you do not wish to perform, you will perform helplessly in any case.” Consequently, the Gītā is prescriptive of the supreme goal alone (paramārtha). And even among teachings on the supreme goal, the Gītā’s precepts are more confidential (guhyatara) than other instructions, as stated above: “Hear again My supreme instruction, the foremost of all secrets (sarva-guhyatama)” (Gītā 18.64). This more confidential knowledge (guhyatara) is presented from verse 18.61 onward.

[The meaning of the individual verses, beginning with 18.61, is as follows:] The One Supreme Regulator (Īśvara), who is the indwelling Self of the entire cosmos, causes all living beings, who are mounted on the mechanism of saṁsāra, to roam about, impelled by His extrinsic potency (māyā), while He remains situated in the region of their hearts.

[Gītā 18.62] (O Arjuna, seek refuge in Him alone) with all of your being (sarva-bhāvena), or in other words, with the awareness (bhāvanā) that “all this is only the Puruṣa” (ŚU 3.15). Alternatively, sarva-bhāvena could mean “by engaging the totality of your sense capacities.” (By His grace, you will attain) supreme peace (parām śāntim), meaning His supreme devotion (paramāṁ bhaktim), because [Kṛṣṇa has equated śānti, or śama, with His bhakti in the following words:] “Śama means fixity of the intelligence in Me” (śamo man-niṣṭhatā buddhiḥ, 11.19.36). The word sthānam means “His abode.”

[Gītā 18.63 says] This knowledge [of Īśvara, or Paramātmā] is more confidential (guhyataram) even than the knowledge of Brahman, which is specified simply as confidential (guhya). The comparative suffix tarap [applied to the word guhya] is used to show the superiority of the former over the latter.

[Gītā 18.64 says] Thereafter, considering even this instruction as insufficient for Arjuna, His own exalted, one-pointed devotee, Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa spontaneously instructs him in that knowledge which, indeed, is most worthy to be imbibed above all, the foremost secret revealed out of overwhelming mercy, concerning that which transcends altogether the hierarchical levels of bhajana that are correlated to the respective gradations of the divinities to be worshiped (bhajanīya), among Śrī Bhagavān’s numerous forms, such as the progression from Pradyumna, to Saṅkarṣaṇa, to Vāsudeva, to the Master of the spiritual sky [Nārāyaṇa]. With this intent, Kṛṣṇa begins: “Hear again the foremost of all secrets.”

Although the use of the superlative form (guhyatama) is itself sufficient to signify that this instruction supersedes those concerning both the confidential (guhya) as well as the more confidential (guhyatara), still, by addition of the word “all” (sarva), what is indicated is the further transcendence even of the most confidential itself (guhyatamam api), which in this case means transcendence of the teachings of other scriptures directed toward the bhajana of the Master of the Spiritual Sky [Nārāyaṇa] or other such forms. This is so because the modifier “all” (sarva) includes the full spectrum of entities that fall within its range. The superlative suffix tamap indicates superiority among a plurality. For this reason, Kṛṣṇa describes this most confidential knowledge of all as His supreme (paramam) instruction (vacaḥ). 

After this, Kṛṣṇa makes evident the cause impelling Him to disclose such beneficial instructions to Arjuna, “Because you are extremely dear to Me.” What Kṛṣṇa intends by saying so is this: “Such instruction of Mine, whose authority is paramount (paramāpta), is certainly to be heard by You with the utmost attention.” The reason for Kṛṣṇa’s revealing His own secret of such caliber is specified by the word “therefore” (tataḥ): “[Because you are extremely dear (dṛḍha iṣṭa)], therefore, I shall disclose this beneficial teaching to you.” The cause is pointed out here as being specifically due to the degree of [Arjuna’s] dearness (iṣṭatva). 

In this way, Arjuna’s curiosity was aroused to discover what this foremost secret was, and with this expectation, he joined his palms together out of respect, with tears of love flowing from his eyes. Seeing Arjuna’s condition, Kṛṣṇa spoke the next verse to him: “Fix your mind on Me …” (man-manā bhava). In other words, “Be of such disposition as to have your mind established in Me, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, as I am at present, standing directly before you as your friend.”

In a similar vein, Kṛṣṇa goes on: “Become My devotee” (mad-bhakto bhava), which is to say, “Be one whose only aim is Me.” By repeating the pronoun “My” (mat) throughout the verse, Kṛṣṇa implies that bhajana, involving the replication of specified spiritual practices, is to be undertaken strictly in regard to Him alone and not simply to God in general terms (i.e., īśvara-tattva).

Kṛṣṇa then describes the outcome that corresponds precisely to the sādhana thus indicated: “You will come to Me alone” (mām eva eṣyasi). Here also, by use of the emphatic particle eva, Kṛṣṇa indicates His superiority above all. “What business do you have with anyone else? It is to Me alone that you must come.” Śrī Parīkṣit makes evident [Arjuna’s attainment of] this very outcome to Kali:

Now that Śrī Kṛṣṇa has departed far beyond [to His own abode] accompanied by the wielder of the Gāṇḍīva bow [Arjuna], you have become an offender by secretly beating innocent creatures [like the bull]. Hence, you deserve punishment by death. (SB 1.17.6) 

 [Gītā 18.65 continued:] By saying, “[I promise this] truly unto you” (satyaṁ te), meaning, “in this regard I make a solemn vow to you alone,” Kṛṣṇa exhibits His special love for Arjuna. According to the Amara-koṣa lexicon, the word satyam is used when making a promise or stating a fact. Again, out of extraordinary grace, to further enhance the sense that the instruction being given is “the foremost of all secrets” (sarva-guhyatama), Kṛṣṇa says, “I promise this to you, because you are dear to Me.”

[Gītā 18.66] [In regard to Kṛṣṇa’s advice,] Arjuna might raise the following objection: “How can my mind, which is upset by a host of obstacles, become established exclusively in You?” In response, Kṛṣṇa speaks the next verse: “Abandoning completely all conventional duties, seek refuge in Me alone. I will free you from all sins; do not grieve.”

The word “all” here indicates all duties up to and including daily obligatory rites (nitya-karma). By the prefix pari- [in parityajya, conveying the sense of completion in regard to the action of the verb tyajya], Kṛṣṇa indicates that conventional duties themselves (svarūpato ’pi) are fit to be given up [and not just the attachment to the results of such action]. The word “sins” (pāpāni) refers instead to obstacles, because the renunciation of conventional duties cannot result in sin when undertaken on His order. Kṛṣṇa fortifies this very conclusion through a negative inferential assurance (vyatirekeṇa): “You need not grieve” (mā śucaḥ). 

In Kṛṣṇa’s opening statement of the Gītā, it is said:

You are grieving for those who are unworthy of grief, and yet speaking as though learned. Those who are truly wise lament neither for the dead nor for the living. (Gītā 2.11)

Here, by pointing out Arjuna’s ignorance and His own discernment, Kṛṣṇa’s intention is to say, “Follow My instructions alone by abandoning your grief.” Later on, even after having educated Arjuna in various disciplines simply to demonstrate the gradations of knowledge and having specified the supremacy of His instruction contained in His ultimate concluding statement, Kṛṣṇa advises Arjuna that this teaching alone is to be taken up by the abandonment of grief. From this it is clear that these two statements [the opening and concluding passages in verses 2.11 and 18.66, respectively] have one and the same purpose. In this way, the supremacy of Śrī Kṛṣṇa alone has been established. 

Commentary by Babaji Satyanarayana Dasa

Here, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī explains that Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s ultimate message is given in the concluding statements of the Gītā. After speaking on karma-yoga, jñāna-yoga, sāṅkhya-yoga, rāja-yoga, and bhakti-yoga through the first seventeen chapters, Kṛṣṇa concludes by instructing Arjuna in exclusive devotion to Him. The word ekam in Gītā 18.66 excludes all other types of spiritual practices and even devotion to other forms of Bhagavān. This is Kṛṣṇa’s real intent in speaking the Gītā. If, however, the Gītā is read cursorily, it may appear that Kṛṣṇa is imploring Arjuna to fight as a matter of duty. On surface inspection, this seems to be the central message. Kṛṣṇa’s instructions began in Gītā 2.11:

You are grieving for those who are unworthy of grief, and yet speaking as though learned. Those who are truly wise lament neither for the dead nor for the living.

Later on, Kṛṣṇa implores Arjuna to stand up and fight in Gītā 2.31–38 and again in 8.7. In verses 11.33–34, Kṛṣṇa requests Arjuna to kill the enemies who are already predestined for death by His design. On the basis of such statements, some readers may be led to believe that Kṛṣṇa’s main intention is to convince Arjuna to fight. Śrī Jīva makes it clear that this is not at all the case. His reasoning is that there was no need for Kṛṣṇa to instruct Arjuna in a course of action that was inevitable for him in any case. Arjuna was a warrior (kṣatriya), but he became influenced by the attachment to his relatives, whom he had to face on the battlefield. In this emotional state, his true kṣatriya nature became obscured. But emotions do not endure for long, and one’s predominant nature eventually reasserts itself. The nature of a kṣatriya is to fight for the sake of dharma, as Śrī Balarāma makes explicit:

Brahmā has sanctioned this as a dharma for a kṣatriya that even a brother is permitted to kill his own brother. Hence, this occupation is exceedingly cruel. (SB 10.54.40)

Regarding the inevitability of warfare for a kṣatriya like Arjuna, Kṛṣṇa says:

By falling prey to the separatist ego-sense, you are thinking, “I will not fight.” Yet, this resolve of yours is useless, because your nature will compel you to fight. O son of Kuntī, what, out of delusion, you do not wish to perform, you will perform helplessly in any case, being bound by your own actions born of your acquired nature. (Gītā 18.59–60)

This means that Arjuna would have fought sooner or later even without any prompting from Kṛṣṇa. He had already fought with the same relatives in the past when the Kauravas, including Bhīṣma and Droṇa, attacked King Virāṭa (Mahābhārata, Virāṭa Parva, chapters 53–67). At that time he was living incognito as a eunuch named Bṛhannalā and was appointed as the dance teacher for King Virāta’s daughter, Uttarā. The Kauravas attacked the king and stole away his cows while the king was busy fighting with the Trigarta army.

The young prince, Uttara, took it upon himself to confront the Kauravas. He needed someone to drive his chariot, but no one was available. Everyone had already gone to war against the Trigarta. Thus, he could not find anyone. When Bṛhannalā heard that the Kauravas had attacked, his kṣatriya nature was piqued. He thought that this was the ideal opportunity to combat these celebrated heroes to protect the cows. So, he proposed to Uttara that he might drive for him. 

The prince laughed at Bṛhannalā, the eunuch, who, being of neuter gender, was not even considered a man. He dismissed his invitation, saying that he was just a dance teacher. What could he possibly know about chariot driving on the battlefield? Bṛhannalā, however, convinced the prince and thus drove his chariot. There was a rush of blood in his arms to shoot at the Kauravas, but he had to contain himself. When Uttara beheld the formidable Kaurava heroes, he became terrified. He commanded Arjuna, who was still dressed as a eunuch, to turn back, but Arjuna refused. He could not let such an opportunity go in vain.

He then revealed his identity to Uttara and exchanged roles with him. His kṣatriya nature simply could not be contained. While still disguised, Arjuna fought valiantly with all the great heroes of the Kaurava army, which included Bhīṣma and Droṇa. He defeated all of them single-handedly and chased them away. So, it was nothing new for him to have to face them again at Kurukṣetra. Indeed, he had come prepared precisely for this. As Bṛhannalā, he had set out only to drive the prince’s chariot, and yet he still could not restrain his warrior nature. This is exactly what Kṛṣṇa is referring to in the above two verses of the Gītā.

Śrī Jīva thus concludes that Kṛṣṇa’s real intention was not to engage Arjuna in battle but to transmit the essential message of the scriptures, which is devotion to Him alone. Arjuna also understood Kṛṣṇa’s instructions in this way. This is evident later, after Kṛṣṇa departed planet earth for His own abode. At first, Arjuna was thrown into grief, but soon he remembered the message of the Gītā and became composed in mind, as stated by Sūta Gosvāmī:

Arjuna recalled the transcendental knowledge he had heard from Kṛṣṇa on the battlefield, which had lapsed from his mind, being covered by the influence of time, engagement in worldly activities, and absorption in matters of ordinary enjoyment. (SB 1.15.30) 

Kṛṣṇa’s final instruction is to give up all conventional socio-religious duties (dharma) and surrender to Him. There are two types of dharma, one related to the psycho-physical organism and the other to the pure self (ātmā). The social institution known as varṇāśrama-dharma is based on the body-mind complex, which is correlated to material nature. Bhakti, on the other hand, is directly related to the transcendental self and, hence, is the ultimate dharma of all living beings. If a person still bound by convention neglects his routine dharma, he incurs sin, but not if he takes to the ultimate dharma instead, as confirmed by Śrī Nārada:

If one renounces his prescribed duty and engages in the service of the lotus feet of Bhagavān Hari, but falls down before becoming perfect, what inauspiciousness can befall him? On the other hand, if a person not engaged in the service of Bhagavān executes his prescribed duty, what does he gain? (SB 1.5.17)

Kṛṣṇa assures Arjuna that if he becomes His devotee, he will be united with Him. Śrī Jīva adds that Arjuna did in fact attain this result, as is clear from the testimony of King Parīkṣit, Arjuna’s grandson (SB 1.17.6).

One thought on “Is Kṛṣṇa a Warmonger?”

  1. It is a very nice explanation about the real meaning of the instruction on the Bhagavad-Gita and it is helpful to enhance the undertanding of it. It would be very good to continue publishing this kind of explanations.

Comments are closed.