Scripture Study: Bhagavad Gita, book two verses 35-38

Scripture Study: Bhagavad Gita, book two verses 35-38 March 3, 2015

We are doing a scripture study together: reading along through some scriptures and discussing the passages.

From the Winthrop Sargeant translation of The Gita

35. The greatest warriors will think
That you have abstained from the battle through fear,
And among those you have been held in high esteem
You shall come to be held lightly.

36. And your enemies will speak
many words of you that should not be spoken,
deriding your capacity.
What greater hardship is there than that?

37. Either, having been slain, you will attain heaven,
Or, having conquered, you shall enjoy the earth.
Therefore, stand up Arjuna, resolved to fight.

38. Holding pleasure and pain to be alike,
Likewise gain and loss, victory and defeat,
Then engage in battle!
Thus you shall not incur evil.


Commentaries of Gurus:

 Whereas Arjuna had been know as a mighty warrior and renown hero, a worthy opponent for any of the valiant warriors of the Kauravas such as Karna, Duryodhana etc. If Arjuna were to retire from the fight on the eve of battle they would all consider him a coward and they immediately would assume that Arjuna had abstained from battle due to feeling dread at their prowess. For Arjuna to think that he would be vindicated by his abstention from battle by motives of fraternity and familial ties would be wrong for these sentiments are not considered sanctions for heroes towards belligerents. –Ramanuja’s  commentary

Verse 37: The previous statement given by Arjuna in Chapter 2, verse six, about his concern of not knowing which is better: to conquer the enemy or be conquered by the enemy, is now being clarified by the Supreme Lords instruction in this verse, that by either conquering he will win dominion of the earth or by being conquered he will directly attain the heavenly spheres. –Sridhara Swami’s Commentary

Verse 38: Now Lord Krishna refutes Arjuna previous worry about accruing sin by killing his heinous enemies with the words sukha and dukha meaning happiness and unhappiness. Although the pleasure of happiness and the pain of unhappiness in fighting this righteous war are inevitable; still this must be considered as pertaining to the body only and not to the soul which is distinctly different from the physical body. – Kesava Kasmiri’s Commentary

My Thoughts:

Krishna certainly does provide an alternative way of looking at this situation.

I have to admit that this troubles me. I have to think that this particular section may not apply to those who are not warriors by profession. This is Arjuna’s job, after all. It’s pretty clear that he’s too far in now to not go through with the war. It’s hard for me to process that Krishna puts reputation and loss of face above loss of life, but I guess I can see where it would be dangerous for Arjuna’s reputation as a dangerous warrior to be ruined. I think Krishna realizes that this moment of weakness could ruin him professionally for the rest of his life. Krishna also knows that the Kaurava’s have to be stopped to protect the world, to protect dharma.

There is some context that we miss by having only the Gita and not the rest of the Mahabharata here. I recall Krishna speaking to Bhishma before the war began discussing the “greater good.” Krishna’s argument does seem to be that the world needs Arjuna to stay strong and see this thing through.

Arjuna is a warrior, a jock as it were, and this argument is probably something he can really understand. Loss of face matters a lot in his world. And as someone pointed out last week, Krishna has already gone over every possible reason for Arjuna to fight starting with the spiritually highest and leading to the worldly.

The final verse here, 38, is where things really start to get interesting. This is the first mention of the philosophy that Krishna espouses throughout: to be unflappable; to not bounce between pleasure and pain, thoughts of good or bad, but to see everything evenly. It’s a difficult concept to wrap one’s mind around, and so Krishna will continue to explain and elaborate.

Krishna says that defeat is okay. See victory and defeat with the same eyes. So the important thing here is not to back down, but to face what is in front of him. The need is clear and obvious right where he is in the present moment. There is no other path for him at this point. There are times when we have options and times when we have to do the work that is in front of us.

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  • P Gangopadhyay

    Gita 2.35-37 is of course not philosophy. Krishna is simply using traditional arguments to get Arjuna to fight. If Arjuna did not want to fight then as a General of the Army he should have objected before events led to the war.