THEOSOPHY, Vol. 38, No. 1, November, 1949
(Pages 12-15; Size: 12K)
(Number 1 of a 24-part series)

[Compiler's Note: All 24 articles have the same name.]



THE Bhagavad-Gita, a colloquy between Krishna and Arjuna on mind and soul life, arouses many questions in the consciousness of students, causing them to look upon everyday problems as "battles" encountered on the odyssey of the Soul -- the theme of all genuine classics. The Gita exists for the Western student in numerous translations, the original Sanscrit poem being interpreted from the basis of several religions, Eastern and Western. Yet the Gita is not a religious treatise, nor is its meaning to be discovered through academic dissertations. It is a statement of philosophy, and is both ancient and modern.

No one statement of the philosophy of man is Truth itself, for even the finest words are merely a temporary and imperfect vehicle for pure Ideas. Only a Knower of the ideas can expound the teaching of such a book as the Gita, or render in another language the phrases of Sanskrit, which is, like no other known tongue, a language adapted to philosophical expression. The theosophist's Gita is William Q. Judge's rendition, which presumably has the same aim as his translation of another Sanscrit work, the Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali. Prefacing Patanjali, Mr. Judge disclaimed any intention to provide a "textual translation," and offered instead "the thought of Patanjali clothed in our language."

The present series will approach questions on the Gita in the same way. Finished, analytical exposition will not be attempted, since the spirit of the Gita is not that of dogmatic conclusion. The "answers" read out of these informal essays are intended to open up the matters discussed. The correlation of the warriors on Kurukshetra with the principles of man's nature is based upon the correspondences outlined by Mr. Judge in his "Antecedent Words" and in the separate volume of commentary entitled Notes on the Bhagavad-Gita. This mode of interpretation offers the widest application of the allegory, and is the one most fruitful for unraveling the mysteries of daily life. Questions from readers are cordially invited, whether on the Gita itself, or on the lines of thought herein pursued. --Editors THEOSOPHY.


WHY should the Gita provide so warlike a setting for discourses on spiritual philosophy? Perhaps because there is no genuine "spirituality" unless there has been a struggle in and through the great frictions of material experience. Moreover, individual feats of arms have always been used to signify the attainment of fearlessness, magnanimity toward the defeated, and an unswerving purpose. Wars were not always quite as they are now, and probably in ancient days the "blood-bath" was far from being so meaningless as is today's technically-advanced mass slaughter.

The whole of the Mahabharata epic is the story of a war. Truly, all men must fight wars of some kind, and is not warfare, then, a universal symbol? But the Gita is not concerned primarily with the "facts" of the battles of the Kurus and the Pandus. It deals, rather, with the question of how the war should be fought -- and, most important of all, why it should be fought.

It is hard, and perhaps not altogether necessary, to rid ourselves of the notion that great men are usually "good fighters." H. P. Blavatsky, espousing so many principles commonly associated with a pacifist's creed, still found it natural to speak of Theosophy as having "a severe battle to fight for recognition," and Judge's tribute at the death of his preceptor sought also to draw just homage to the fire of H.P.B., the "lion-hearted colleague" and "warrior soul." Of her greatest work, The Secret Doctrine, W.Q.J. wrote, "it is a mine, and is the magazine for warrior Theosophists."

It is natural that we should wonder why King Duryodhana persists in fighting against Bhima and Arjuna after he has just stated, unequivocally, that his own forces "are not sufficient" for winning the issue of Kurukshetra. Here is the first clue, perhaps, that the Bhagavad-Gita was never meant to be read literally, and that its symbolism penetrates the story from the outset. No good General will fight when he feels his forces to be insufficient -- he will seek to employ strategy. But Duryodhana, the "intelligence" represented by sensuous habits gained from his "father" (the body), does not really fight for victory anyway, as Arjuna does, and therefore does not know what strategy is. Victory is a consciously selected goal, and Duryodhana lacks the faculty of taking the long-term view.

Duryodhana fights only for the reason that it is his nature to resist control. Somehow, too, the prospect of defeat does not seem terrifying to Duryodhana -- he will simply fight until the five Pandava princes regain their kingdoms. Perhaps he will fight to the end only because he does not possess sufficient imagination to know how to surrender. Even if only in the interest of conservation of energy, then, it is certainly desirable for Arjuna to settle the war quickly. For his "enemy" blunders on through a useless campaign until sufficient Will, manifesting in the Arjuna encouraged by Krishna, gains command over the field.

It must be clear that the warfare on Kurukshetra is viewed in a different light by the representatives of the two armies. Arjuna feels that he is in a serious engagement. He can appreciate the sensation of loss which will strike him the moment he enters into actual battle with his army of distant and close relatives -- that is, the components of his own emotional habits. He can conceive of what victory will be and he knows a little of what temporary defeat is, too, for he is just returning after a long banishment from his kingdom. But the opposing army, made up of animal impulses, and too-highly-personalized longings, will thoughtlessly express itself in opposition as long as possible.

Are not all man's habits like this, whether we call them good or bad? The process of evolution is that of turning "bad habits" into good ones, and of making "good habits" into patterns of action still more meaningful. But in each case it is tremendously difficult to break the cycle of repetition. The force of Duryodhana's army is the Force of Inertia, described by H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine as the "greatest of all occult forces." Yet a force can always be re-channeled by a being of sufficient intelligence. The Individual Soul is not merely a "force," but the creator, mover and re-shaper of forces. Thus Arjuna has the power to completely rout the army of Duryodhana, if he so wills; but this power becomes manifest only when he is ready to take the fateful step which sunders him from past habits of too-highly-personalized thinking.

It is interesting to speculate on the reasons why Duryodhana is portrayed as the first one to inspect the battle field -- Krishna and Arjuna do not discuss the battle situation until later. Here we might borrow a phrase from a later chapter: "All creatures act according to their natures." Duryodhana has nothing else to do except walk up and down Kurukshetra. His is the automatic pacing of the professional soldier, who does not fight as most men fight.

Arjuna, on the other hand, has been engaged in preparing himself for this battle, and into his preparation has gone thought and planning for a permanent victory. He has not been content to fight from day to day, casually or spasmodically, as Duryodhana might, because he knows the temporary victory of a battle means nothing, and that the establishment of a permanently satisfactory rule over the Kingdom is what is needed. With Arjuna's victory, too, will come many responsibilities. It has been recognition of this fact, possibly, that has delayed Arjuna so long in making his struggle for the throne. His own forces were "insufficient," until he could grasp that his rule, once attained, must be kept un-ending, and until he desired order and harmony and moral growth so strongly that he could no longer bear to see the Kingdom handicapped by the rule of his rival.

The first portion of Arjuna's apology for hesitation on the battlefield introduces a point of great philosophical and psychological significance. Surveying his personal habits, upon which he has become seriously dependent -- those habits connected with Dhritarashtra, the body -- he says that he "cannot fight." Yet he has come the full distance across a kingdom to wage this battle, and has gathered around him the best available warriors as part of his fighting force. Within him are strong forces for, and strong forces against, fighting. Arjuna is at the symbolic balance-point reached also by every human being who arrives at a time of internal struggle. Arjuna knows that the fight has to be fought, but here, as always, the last minute is the time when renunciation of one's only-recently-outgrown past seems opposed by all the forces of nature. The moment for dissipation of all that cohered in past habits inevitably calls forth a spasm of the old energies. No preparation for this moment is ever entirely adequate, for it will never guarantee success. So Arjuna is confronting, in his own way, Bulwer Lytton's "dweller on the threshold." He is seeing, enhanced by the moment of renunciation, all of those energies which incarnated, too blindly, in personality-gratifying experiences.

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