Dhanurdhara Swami April 27th, 2001
Nyack, New York
Visting with Satyaraja Prabhu. I spent a lot of time this morning with Satyaraja going over an article on ?Violence and the Bhagavad-gita? that he has been requested to write for the twenty-fifth anniversary of Avatar, a prominent modern analysis of the Bhagavad-gita by Anthony DeNicholas?a fairly well-known twentieth-century academician and philosopher. Avatar is unique in that it analyzes the Gita in reference to Western philosophers like Plato and Hegel.
Satyaraja has his work cut out for him. To justify a religious war to a modern audience, without making it seem like you?re promoting the crusades or a jihad, is a daunting task.
Basically, what makes an activity either just or immoral is not the activity itself, but the utilization of the activity and the consciousness in which it is done?even an activity as ghastly as war. Of course, explaining that properly takes real finesse. Satyaraja, however, did a good job. His arguments are strong and digestible. Here’s just a short excerpt from his extensively developed argument:
“A ksatriya is a defender, a protector?a person who will resort to physical means to cultivate the field of life. He is not violent, but, rather, he protects from violence. There will always be violence in this world, weeds that, left unattended, will destroy the garden, and so there must always be protectors of the innocent. To this end, a ksatriya is trained in the military arts. He is noble and chivalrous. But, if necessary, he will employ combative tactics. Because there are people who perform evil deeds, ksatriyas such as Arjuna are needed. And when ksatriyas fight according to fair standards of warfare, they serve an important function in society. A just war according to the Vedic system, then, is one of defense?it is never aggressive but rather serves humanity by protecting people and establishing God consciousness.
?It should again be underlined that not everyone is a ksatriya, and Arjuna’s dilemma is specific to his circumstance?not everyone in his position should fight. A brahmana, for example, should not engage in warfare, nor would he generally find himself in the midst of a battlefield. Nor is he properly trained for engaging in battle. But a ?born? warrior, like Arjuna, must fight. He would be sinful not to fight, and this is Krishna’s main point. The truth of this statement is so obvious that Gandhi, who otherwise endorsed nonviolence in all circumstances, felt it necessary to say the following:
“?Let us suppose that Arjuna flees the battlefield. Though his enemies are wicked people, are sinners, they are his relations and he cannot bring himself to kill them. If he leaves the field, what would happen to those vast numbers on his side? If Arjuna went away, leaving them behind, would the Kauravas have mercy on them? No. If he left the battle, the Pandava army would be simply annihilated. What, then, would be the plight of their wives and children? … Arjuna, therefore, had no choice but to fight.?
?That being said, it becomes obvious that sometimes fighting is necessary, as has been pointed out earlier. The Pandavas did not want to engage in warfare, but they had no alternative. The Kauravas made life intolerable, not only for the Pandavas, but for the mass of people. And if people suffer, ksatriyas engage in battle. As the Irish politician Edmund Burke writes, ?The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.? Men such as the Pandavas would never let evil triumph.?