Lord Krishna's words help usher in knowledge.
Sreejit Datta teaches English and Cultural Studies at the Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham University in Mysore. Variously trained in comparative literature, Hindustani music and statistics; Sreejit happens to be an acclaimed vocalist who has been regularly performing across multiple Indian and non-Indian genres. He can be reached at:
Then to him who was shrouded in grief,
Helpless eyes brimming with tears, depressed,
The Slayer of Madhu spoke these lines:
Whence does this blemish appear
Upon your bright person, at such critical hour?
‘Tis ignoble, ungodly, and disgraceful, Arjun!
Do not go a weakling’s way, O Son of Pritha;
It ill behooves you. Shake off this petty debility of heart,
And rise up, Scorcher of Thy Foes!
Said Arjun: How can I possibly compete in battle
Of arrows, with Bhishma, and Drona my guru –
Both venerable men – that you tell me,
You who have slain your foes!
‘Tis infinitely better not to kill one’s revered elders,
And rather live on beggar’s alms in this realm.
For what, other than pleasures smirched with blood,
Shall we enjoy when we’ve killed our gurus?
We know not what’s better for us – to conquer or be conquered;
Standing before us are Dhritarashtra’s sons,
Killing whom we wouldn’t wish to live any longer.
This faintheartedness mars my nature, I know not what is duty;
So I ask you: Tell me, with certainty, that which is good for me.
I’m your disciple, I seek refuge in thee; pray, teach me!
I can’t see what’ll quell this grief which gnaws at my senses:
An unrivalled kingship on bountiful earth,
Or even a lordship over the gods of the sphere? Neither!
Declaring these to the Lord of Senses,
Arjun then uttered a final sentence, before he fell silent;
He, the Lord of Slumber, in that battlefield did relent.
“I won’t fight”, is what he said to the All-Seeing Govind.
To this depressed soul, despairing amid the armies,
The Lord of Hearts said, with a mere hint of a smile on his lips:
You suffer yourself over such who aren’t worth suffering for,
And you speak words of wisdom! You should know:
The wise do not fret over the departed, nor o’er the living.
There has not been a time, ever, when I was not;
So with you and all these lords of men, for that matter.
And know this, too, that there shan’t be a time, ever,
When any of us will not be.
As the owner of the body must pass through the forms
Of adolescence, joyful youth, and at last frail old age,
So it must take up other bodies, likewise;
When has this ever baffled the one who’s stable?
It is matter, coming in touch with matter,
That gives rise to heat and cold, or pleasure and pain.
They come and go – they’re fleeting;
And so bear with them, O Scion of Bharat!
Hear, O Bull among Men, only that Man
Is fit to attain the ranks of the Immortals
Whom these trifles cannot trouble, who’s ever alike
In pleasure and pain, or under heat and cold.
Through all he remains unperturbed.
That which is not will never come to be;
While that which is will never cease to be:
Those that see things as they are, know the truth of these both –
That which pervades all this, is imperishable, rest assured.
None can destroy that immutable being;
But these bodies – donned by that embodied, deathless,
Inscrutable, eternal thing – do perish, the seers have revealed.
Knowing this, therefore, you must fight, O Scion of Bharat!
He who takes It to be a slayer, and he who thinks It slain,
Neither has perceived the truth – It doesn’t slay; It is not slain.
It isn’t borne, and It never dies; nor is It ever undone
After coming into existence. Birthless, everlasting, eternal, primordial
Is what It is. The body is slain, not this embodied one.
He who knows It to be imperishable, eternal, birthless, and constant
How can such a man cause to kill another? Who he ever kills, Partha?
As men discard tattered clothes in favour of new ones,
So does the embodied one shed worn bodies, to take others.
Weapons cannot pierce It, fire cannot burn;
Water cannot make it wet, wind cannot turn.
It is unassailable, incombustible, impermeable, unwavering;
‘Tis everlasting, all-pervasive, constant, still – and eternal.
Ineffable it is, inconceivable too; unchanging its nature
Is what the sages say. Thus informed, you cannot grieve!
Furthermore, if you take It to be dying and being born constantly,
Even then you cannot mourn It, you who have arms so mighty!
One is born to die, and dies sure to be born – you can’t mourn inevitability.
The origin of things is not manifest, nor is their end;
Only in between do they manifest, O Scion of Bharat!
What is there to fret about this, then? You mustn’t!
Some find It marvellous, others speak of It in awe,
Yet others are in awe when they hear thereof –
But even hearing of It, none really gets to know.
The embodied one, dwelling in every body,
Is ever unslayable – so you mustn’t mourn any.
Even considering your own dharma, you cannot ever falter –
For other than a duty-bound battle, can a Kshatriya want any better?
An open gateway to heaven has unlocked on its own;
Blessed are those Kshatriyas who get such a war opportune!
If you don’t fight this battle of duty, you’ll lose glory, swadharma, and beget sin.
Every soul shall speak ill of you, unceasingly;
And an honoured man’s disgrace – that’s worse than death, verily.
Great warriors will think you’ve fled war for fear:
Those who once held you in high regard will disdain thee.
Your detractors will speak despicable things of your ability,
Say, what can be more regretful than that, O Phalguni?
Heaven awaits if you die in battle, win and you’ll rule the earth.
Therefore rise, O Son of Kunti, with a firm resolve to fight!
Regard pain and pleasure alike, profit and loss, rout and win;
If you engage thus in battle you will incur no sin.
So far you’ve heard of theory, now learn about its practice;
Taking to this line of reasoning, your karma-bondage you’ll dismiss.
No effort goes in vain, no hindrance occurs; even great fears melt in doing a bit of this.
O Scion of the great Kurus, hear: the discerning mind is singular;
While that of the undiscerning is like many branches in the arbour.
O Partha, the unwise speak vainly of the Vedas and nothing else,
For they are full of desire; they covet paradise, and preach
Reaping of fruit of actions through their florid speech.
And they prescribe so many ritual acts to that effect –
All of which result in numerous rebirths – it is correct
That those who are attached to the riches, and the joys thereof,
Can never develop the discerning faculty: they have been robbed of
Their mind and conscience. The Vedas deal with the three qualities;
Have nothing to do with them, O Arjun! Be not affected by dualities,
Be rooted in That Which Is, care not for goods nor care;
But above all, be firmly possessed of thy Self, my dear!
A true Brahmin – one who knows Brahman – needs the Vedas as much
As the flood-ridden man who at a water vessel needs make a clutch.
To act is your prerogative, never an act’s fruition;
So do not be the cause thereof, nor cling to inaction.
Be steadfast in this path of discipline and act, O Dhananjay,
You must shake off all attachment, for it leads the yogi astray.
You must with the same eye look upon success and failure –
For equanimity is the discipline of yoga, that is for sure.
Dhananjay, mere action is far inferior to this yoga of mental discipline;
Take resort to this path, for those who work for results deserve pity.
The disciplined in this realm treat both good and bad deeds with rejection;
Therefore stick to the discipline of yoga, for it is the true skill of action.
Rejecting the fruits of work, transcending birth, the disciplined sage attain the Highest Station.
When your understanding transcends the dark of deception,
Then you will attain detachment from every heard and hearable notion.
As your understanding, which is now bewildered by received tradition,
Becomes unshakeable in samadhi, you will attain the yogi’s perfection.
Said Arjun: What are the marks of the disciplined, Keshav? How
He speaks, how he lives, moves how – all this, I pray, do tell me now!
Sri Krishna said: When he casts off all his mind’s desires,
When his very self, in the Self, contentment acquires,
O Partha, only then a man is said to be steadfast in wisdom.
His mind is not perturbed by miseries, in joys he is calm;
Beyond passion, fear, and anger, he is called a sage, steady and firm.
He who has no affection for aught, does neither rejoice nor despise
As good or evil comes to him, such a one is truly wise.
When he draws his senses inward – as a turtle does its limbs withdraw –
Then his mentality is steady in wisdom, this is the superior law.
Senses of the abstainer flee from their objects;
But when the Supreme is seen, ‘tis the very longing that he rejects!
Son of Kunti, even a careful and discerning man’s mind
These fiery senses in the end do zealously grind.
Restraining them all, stay disciplined, and be intent on Me:
For one whose senses are restrained, has made his intellect steady.
Having contemplated sense-objects, man grows fond of them,
Such fondness begets desire, from desire in turn anger stems.
From anger comes delusion, delusion makes him forget –
Forgetfulness destroys intellect, and that makes him meet his fate.
But the dispassionate, self-controlled man attains tranquillity through restraint.
That tranquil state causes to end all his pain and sufferings,
For tranquillity soon makes a steady intellect his moorings.
The undisciplined lack in understanding, neither can they concentrate,
Without that there’s no settling down; what can ever make the unsettled elate?
When the mind follows the drifting senses, understanding is lost;
Just as by strong winds on the seas a sailing ship is tossed.
Therefore, O Great-armed One, from the sense-objects
Whose senses are completely withdrawn, he has a steady intellect.
That which is nightfall for others, the disciplined count as day;
And when all beings are awake is night – that’s what the seers say.
The ocean ever receives the waters, and stays motionless still;
Likewise he, in whom all desires melt at entering, is tranquil –
And not the one who seeks desirable things.
The man who abandons all desires attains to peace;
The man who lives without longing attains to peace;
The man who’s without affection attains to peace;
The man who’s without the sense of ‘me and mine’ attains to peace.
This, O Son of Pritha, is the Braahmi-state,
It is the station of those who on Brahman constantly meditate;
Attaining to this station, no one ever gets deluded –
And finally, earn Nirvana unto Brahman when they’re dead.
Thus spoke Krishna, to Arjun who was his disciple and friend,
When on the battlefield in a conversation they engaged.
It was a marvellous discourse, the most brilliant Upanishadic take;
In which the Blessed Lord spoke on knowledge and discipline at length
And thus continued to provide Arjun the necessary moral strength.