The Gita And War

Many scholars have seen in Krishna’s discourse to Arjuna, when the latter throws down his bow and says: “ I–will- not- fight”, an exhortation not to a physical war, but to an inner war, against one’s own ego and weaknesses. While there is no doubt that the Bhagavad Gita is essentially a divine message of yoga – that is of transforming one’s own nature while reaching towards the Absolute, it is also fundamental to understand that it uniquely reconciles war with the notion of duty, dharma.

Since the beginning of times, war has been an integral part of man’s quest. Yet, it is the most misunderstood factor of our human history. And that is but natural, because, as writes Sri Aurobindo in his remarkable ‘Essays on the Gita’: “Man’s natural tendency is to worship Nature as love and life and beauty and good and to turn away from her grim mask of death”. Thus, war has often baffled or even repelled man. We saw how Ashoka turned Buddhist after the battle of Kalinga, or in the previous century how some of the American youth refused to participate in the Vietnam war; and we are witnessing today massive protests against the atom bomb.

Yet, what does the Gita say ? That sometimes, when all other means have failed and it is necessary to protect one’s borders, wives, children and culture, war can become dharma. That war is a universal principle of our life, because as says Sri Aurobindo “it is evident that the actual life of man can make no real step forward without a struggle between what exists and lives and what seeks to exist”. And that humanity periodically experiences in its history times in which great forces clash together for a huge destruction, and reconstruction, intellectual, social, moral, religious, political.

The Gita also stresses that there exists a struggle between righteousness and unrighteousness, between the self affirming law of Good and the forces that oppose its progression. Its message is therefore addressed to those whose duty in life is that of protecting those who are at the mercy of the strong and the violent. “It is only a few religions, writes Sri Aurobindo, which have had the courage, like the Indian, to lift-up the image of the force that acts in the world in the figure not only of the beneficent Durga, but also of the terrible Kali in her blood-stained dance of destruction”. And it is significant that this religion, Hinduism, which had this unflinching honesty and tremendous courage, has succeeded in creating a profound and widespread spirituality such as no other can parallel.

Has India understood this great nationalist message of Gita ? Yes and no. On the one hand you have had Rajputs, Mahrattas, and Sikhs; you have had a Shivaji, a Rani of Jhansi, or a Sri Aurobindo, who, let us remember, gave a call as early as 1906 for the eviction of the British – by force if need be – at a time when the Congress was not even considering Independence. But on the other hand, apart from these few heroes, the greater mass of India seems to have been for centuries the unresisting prey of invaders. Wave after wave of Muslims intruders were able to loot, rape, kill, raze temples and govern India, because Hindu chieftains kept betraying each other and no national uprising occurred against them; the British got India for a song, bled it dry (20 millions Indians of famine died during British rule), because except for the Great (misguided) Mutiny, there was no wave of nationalism opposed to them until very late; we also saw how in 1962 the Indian army was routed and humiliated by the Chinese, because Nehru had refused to heed the warnings posed by the Chinese. Just a year ago, we also witnessed how India reacted during the hijack of the IC flight from Kathmandu: instead of storming the plane when it was in Amritsar, India’s leaders got cowed down by the prospect of human casualties from their own side and surrendered to terrorism. But in the process India’s image and self-esteem suffered a lot and the liberated separatists are now spitting even more venom and terror.

Why is this great nationalistic message of the Gita forgotten ? There are two main factors. The first one is Buddhism and the second is the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. Buddhism, because it made of non-violence an uncompromising, inflexible dogma, was literally wiped-off the face of India in a few centuries, as it refused to oppose any resistance. It is also true that Buddhist Thought indirectly influenced Hinduism and great contemporary figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, whose sincere but rigid adherence to non-violence may have indirectly precipitated Partition. Today, well-meaning “secular” Indians intellectuals still borrow from the Buddhist and Gandhian creed of non-violence to demonstrate why India should not have the bomb…and get wiped-out by Pakistan or China, who have no such qualms.

There is a lining in the sky, though: the Kargil war has shown that Hindu, Muslim and Christian soldiers can put their country above their religion and fight along side each other. We see today a new wave of nationalism rising not only in India, but also amongst the very influential expatriate Indian community, particularly in the US. The nationalist message of the Gita is not only still relevant today, but it is essential for India’s survival in the face of so many threats: the “Islamic” Bomb of Pakistan, the hegemonic tendencies of China, or the globalization and westernization of India, which is another form of war. One would be tempted thus to address this message to this wonderful, diverse, and extraordinary country, which has survived so many threats during her eight thousand years history: ARISE AGAIN O INDIA AND REMEMBER KRISHNA’S MESSAGE TO ARJUNA : TRUTH IS THE FOUNDATION OF REAL SPIRITUALITY AND COURAGE ITS SOUL.

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