Saturday, July 4, 2009

When Violence is Necessary

Arjuna and Krishna preparing for battle “According to Vedic injunctions there are six kinds of aggressors: 1) a poison giver, 2) one who sets fire to the house, 3) one who attacks with deadly weapons, 4) one who plunders riches, 5) one who occupies another's land, and 6) one who kidnaps a wife. Such aggressors are at once to be killed, and no sin is incurred by killing such aggressors.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita As It Is 1.36 Purport)

Question: How can you worship Krishna, who instructed Arjuna to fight in a war that led to the death of millions?

Answer: The ideas of religion and violence never seem to go hand in hand. Religion means to see outside of one’s own body and to see the spirit soul in all of us. This naturally removes feelings of  lust, greed, and anger, which are the forbearers to violence. Because of this, many mistakenly think violence itself is completely unnecessary and never warranted.

According to the Vedic teachings, violence is not only allowed, but it is required in certain situations. The kshatriyas, or warrior class of people, are required to provide protection to the other members of society. From our experience, we see that not everyone is a good or nice person. Some people are always angry and looking for a fight. Material nature is divided into three qualitative modes, the modes of goodness, passion, and ignorance. People in the mode of ignorance are naturally inclined to be violent towards others since they lack the knowledge required to settle disputes peacefully. The Vedas say that one has a right to defend and protect themselves if attacked by such people.

The circumstances related to the Bharata War provide a great example of when violence is necessary. Around five thousand years ago, two families, known as the Pandavas and the Kauravas, who were related as cousin-brothers, had a disagreement over who had the right to rule over a kingdom. The Pandavas were the sons of Pandu, and the Kauravas were the sons of Dhritarashtra, Pandu’s brother. Pandu was a great king who died prematurely due to a curse. His sons were the rightful heirs to the kingdom, but Dhritarashtra favored his sons instead and allowed them to unjustly usurp power over the kingdom. The Pandavas naturally objected to this and the struggle between the two families culminated in the Bharata War, which took place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra in India. Arjuna, the leading warrior for the Pandavas, was getting ready to start fighting, but he suddenly felt faint of heart and didn’t want to fight. He started thinking along the lines of nonviolence, and he questioned his cousin about it, Lord Krishna. Their conversation is chronicled in the Bhagavad-gita.

Arjuna’s soft-heartedness was very characteristic of a devotee of God. Though they were cousins, Arjuna and Krishna were also great friends growing up, with Arjuna looking up to the Lord. When Krishna appears on earth, He usually doesn’t disclose His divinity to most people. If everyone knew He was God, then they might fear Him instead of becoming His friend. Krishna prefers devotional service performed in the mood of friendship and love rather than out of fear. As a devotee, Arjuna possessed all good qualities, with one of them being kindness and benevolence towards all. A devotee is by nature nonviolent, not wanting to hurt even an ant unnecessarily. In his youth, Arjuna and his brothers spent much time with their cousins, the sons of Dhritarashtra. They were all descendants of their great grandfather Bhishma, who was respected by all. They all received training in the military arts from their spiritual master Dronacharya. Now both Dronacharya and Bhishmadeva were on the battlefield, but fighting for the side of the Kauravas. Arjuna did want to engage in a fight against such respectable people. He did want to win a kingdom if it meant killing other family members. These feelings overwhelmed Arjuna, and he decided that he would not fight and instead become a renunciate.

Krishna instructing Arjuna Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who was serving as His cousin’s charioteer at the time, quickly admonished Arjuna, telling him that his behavior was not worthy of a kshatriya. Kshatriyas make up one of the four varnas in the Vedic varnashrama dharma system. Their duty is to provide protection to all the citizens, and especially to the brahmanas (priestly class). Krishna told Arjuna that it was his duty to fight. Here we get the definitive judgment on when violence is necessary from God Himself. Violence is necessary when it is done on religious principles. It was Arjuna’s religious duty to fight. Lord Krishna tells us that each person should faithfully perform his or her occupational duties in life, without attachment. In this way, there is no sin incurred from even acting violently.

“It is far better to discharge one's prescribed duties, even though they may be faulty, than another's duties. Destruction in the course of performing one's own duty is better than engaging in another's duties, for to follow another's path is dangerous.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.55)

Therefore He advised Arjuna to execute the duties of a kshatriya instead of those of a brahmana.

Force is necessary to have peace. Police exist for this very reason. We see in areas where there is not a strong kshatriya presence, that crime is very high and the citizens do not feel safe. Diplomacy has its use, but it usually never brings about lasting peace. In peaceful negotiations, people will say whatever they need to in order to further their position. Lord Krishna Himself tried diplomacy prior to the Bharata War, but He knew that it wouldn’t be successful due to the obstinacy of the Kauravas.

War can be very ugly. The Bharata War saw millions of soldiers die. Yet violence as a last resort, performed on religious principles is a necessary evil in life. Nonviolence is a very nice concept in theory, but not always practical. Even brahmanas, who are taught to be nonviolent, defend themselves when necessary. The great sage Vashishta procured various weapons to defend himself from the attacks of Vishwamitra Muni, who was trying to steal Vashishta’s cow.

In the end, the best way to achieve everlasting peace is for everyone to be constantly engaged in devotional service to the Lord. We can always be thinking of God by reading books about Him, serving His authorized representative, and by always chanting His name. This was the method prescribed by Lord Chaitanya and all the great Vaishnava acharyas. Following their instructions, we can all live peacefully and hopefully never have to fight with anyone.