"If you do not act according to My direction and do not fight, then you will be falsely directed. By your nature, you will have to be engaged in warfare." (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18. 59)
Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is not only the Supreme Lord for the entire earth’s population, including even the animal kingdom, but He can quickly and capably assume any and all important roles. Even when unexpectedly thrust into the role of spiritual master, or guru, He is more than up for the challenge. On one particular occasion, His disciple was perplexed in thought, unable to decide on the proper course of action. Technically, the student had made up his mind to follow a certain path, but since this decision was based on his own nature, a mindset temporarily sidetracked from the divine consciousness, he wasn’t sure of himself. To find the answer, he turned to his dear friend, his charioteer for an upcoming battle. Yet this was no ordinary servant; it was Krishna Himself kindly taking a subordinate role to help out His cousin, the glorious warrior known the world over for his fighting ability. When presenting His subsequent talk, which would later become famous as the Bhagavad-gita, or the Song of God, Shri Krishna not only pointed to the authoritative statements of the Vedas, a scriptural tradition which He personally instituted at the beginning of creation, but He also used cutting logic to get His points across.
The checkmate scenario presented to Arjuna, the doubtful warrior, made the proper course of action to take obvious beyond a doubt. The scene for the talk was a battlefield which saw millions of soldiers huddled together to start the greatest war the world had ever seen. Arjuna was fighting for the Pandavas, the side deemed the “good guys”. They had the rightful claim to the throne of the city of Hastinapura, but due to the backhanded methods employed by the competing Kurus headed by Duryodhana, the Pandavas were put into all sorts of difficulty and denied their chance to rule. After all diplomatic efforts were exhausted, the battle to end all battles was ready to commence. There was one slight problem, though. Arjuna became faint of heart, not wanting to kill his family members and spiritual guides fighting for the opposing army. He was all set to drop his weapons and retire to the woods. Indeed, he had convinced himself of the validity of this plan of action based on his own logic and understanding. His nature was that of a chivalrous fighter, but Arjuna temporarily lost sight of the proper goal in life and the duties assigned to him.
“Sanjaya said: Arjuna, having thus spoken on the battlefield, cast aside his bow and arrows and sat down on the chariot, his mind overwhelmed with grief.” (Bg. 1.46)
Lord Krishna kindly stepped in after being sought out for advice from Arjuna. Though the noble soldier was ready to quit, he still could be convinced otherwise with persuasive words coming from a proper authority figure. Therefore Arjuna accepted Krishna as his spiritual master, the guru to guide him down the right path, one that would eliminate the mental distresses he was feeling and keep him committed to dharma, or religiosity. Krishna started by presenting the basic truths of spiritual life: that the living entity is not the body, and that the spirit soul goes through the cycle of reincarnation perpetually until pure God consciousness is achieved. The desires on the mind at the time of death indicate what type of body will be assumed in the future. One who takes on the spiritual consciousness, wherein all thoughts are directed at the Supreme Personality of Godhead, will naturally think of God at the time of death. Therefore they will receive a spiritual form in the next life.
The difference between a spiritual body and a material one can best be understood by studying the natures of the two realms. Though we see much variety around us in terms of manifestations, there are really only two places to reside, one spiritual and one material. The material world is populated with individual spirit souls, who are by constitution meant to reside in the imperishable land, and gross matter, which is inanimate and incapable of any force or motion without instigation from spirit. Since the manifestations of matter can come in varying mixtures of the three modes of nature: goodness, passion and ignorance, there is immense variety in the phenomenal world. The variations are so great than the human brain, which is the most advanced in terms of its potential for acquiring intelligence, has not even the slightest idea of the full breadth and scope of the material creation. There are too many planets to count, with each one inhabited by different life forms. Just as the human being is not the only species on earth, the other planets in the countless universes have living entities which have different bodily makeups. Some jivas, or living entities, have bodies composed almost completely of fire, while others even have forms made mostly of air.
“Those who study the Vedas and drink the soma juice, seeking the heavenly planets, worship Me indirectly. They take birth on the planet of Indra, where they enjoy godly delights.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.20)
The Christian tradition has saints and angels, who are both deemed heavenly and majestic figures. According to Vedic information, such life forms are not at all difficult to comprehend. After all, with a slight adjustment in material makeup, you can have one body that is extremely powerful and another that is totally weak. If an individual is pious during one lifetime, they get promotion to a higher planetary system in the next. Since the heavenly realm allows for increased sense gratification, a body commensurate with the properties of the land is required. Therefore there can be so many heavenly species, each with their own unique brand of abilities. The Vedas cap the list of total species at 8,400,000.
There is a dividing line, however, between the material and spiritual worlds. On the surface, the spiritual sky isn’t all that different from the phenomenal world. Matter is also found there, but it is of a different quality. Gross matter in the mundane world is known as prakriti, and in the spiritual world it is known as daivi prakriti. Ordinary matter is dull and lifeless, and thus considered separate from the individual occupying and associating with it. But in the spiritual land, there is no difference between the bodily forms and their owners. Daivi prakriti is eternal, so the living entities who are encased in such matter remain tied to their bodies without the need for exiting. What leads to the different natures of matter in the two realms is the desire of the living entities. The jivas in the spiritual sky all want to serve Krishna or one of His personal Vishnu forms. In the material land, they all want to serve their own senses. Indeed, as soon as the desire is shifted in earnest towards pleasing Krishna, elevation to the spiritual sky is guaranteed.
Lord Krishna very nicely explained these high concepts to Arjuna to enlighten him. Spiritual teachers can give instructions and just tell their disciples what to do and what to avoid, but it is much more beneficial to the student if straight information can be imparted first. If the disciple then comes to the proper conclusion on their own, after having been given all the facts, their dedication to the resolved upon path will be a lot stronger. It’s similar to how when arguing with people it is better to ask them roundabout questions, getting them to agree with certain points in the beginning to lead them to the ultimate conclusion, rather than getting into their face and telling them that they’re stupid or wrong.
As the final instruction, the checkmate position that would remove all doubt from Arjuna’s mind, Krishna told his dear friend that if he didn’t fight because of the faulty concoctions of dharma he had made, he would be following his own nature anyway. Krishna essentially presented Arjuna with the choice that all jivas residing in the material world have. We can either follow Krishna’s instructions and carry out our prescribed duties, or we can follow our own nature. Arjuna’s bodily makeup was that of a fighter, a member of the warrior caste. Even if he didn’t listen to Krishna, he was not suited for any other business except fighting. On the other hand, if he followed Krishna’s advice, he could use his natural tendencies for the right purpose.
Krishna’s instruction provides the basic formula for achieving success in the precious human form of life. In the absence of Krishna consciousness, the mind will wander and come up with conclusions that it is not wholly convinced of. The nature belonging to a particular form of body develops from the beginning of life. It is seen that famous athletes were inclined towards their particular sport at the youngest possible age. This means that their body types were conducive to performing a particular activity. Lord Krishna says that the natures of human beings fall into one of four general categories, or varnas. There is the class of intelligent men, or brahmanas, the administrators and warriors, or kshatriyas, the merchants and businessmen, or vaishyas, and the laborers, or shudras. One should follow his nature and not try to forcefully take to the life of another class. The corresponding varna can be determined by a spiritual master during the person’s youth, thereby allowing for proper training to be received.
By giving up, Arjuna wanted to take to the life of a brahmana, who is peaceful and nonviolent. But Arjuna was not suited for this lifestyle. Society needs brave people to protect the innocent. We can praise equality movements all we want, but at the end of the day, we see caste divisions in virtually every sphere. Even when walking into a supermarket there are class distinctions. There is the customer and the cashier. Both parties are not equal in their positions nor in their work. Without proper authorization or training, the customer is not allowed to become a cashier. For starters, they wouldn’t know how to operate the registers, and secondly their inclination would be to not pay any money for the goods being purchased. The cashier has the opposite interest; their goal is to collect money for the owner of the establishment. Therefore the class distinctions in this one particular scenario must be adhered to; otherwise there will be disharmony.
By default, the jiva will follow the nature belonging to the particular body it has assumed. But from Arjuna’s example, we see that if one’s nature isn’t coupled to the Supreme Consciousness, intelligence can get easily clouded and lead the person astray. Even if he didn’t listen to Krishna, Arjuna would eventually have to fight. He wasn’t cut out for becoming a mendicant and begging for a living. He was born to fight against those deserving punishment. If he gave up prior to the war he had every right to fight in, he would have to suffer greatly later on. Similarly, the jiva who simply follows his nature guided by the material elements assumed at the time of birth will have to suffer periodically.
When direction is taken from Krishna, the same nature becomes purified because it can be used towards furthering the ultimate goal of attaining Krishna consciousness. Arjuna would go on to heed Krishna’s advice and fight valiantly, without any attachment to the result. He used his inherent qualities for the right purpose, and subsequently his thoughts never deviated from the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord, who is so attractive that He captivates the hearts and minds of people from all spheres of society, including those following spiritual traditions besides the Vedas. Indeed, all forms of religion are meant to bring about a deep and unbreakable bond of affection towards the Supreme Spirit. Who better to bring about that attachment than the all-attractive Krishna, the most wonderful and beautiful form of Godhead to behold?
The question may be raised as to how to determine the proper course of action for ourselves. Who will guide us when we don’t know what to do? What if we can’t find a spiritual master to approach? This certainly does present a problem, as our natures can’t be guided in the proper direction without some sort of input from a higher authority. Yet there is one quality that we all share, that of a deep, loving attachment for the Supreme Lord found within the heart. The Supersoul, or Paramatma, is God’s expansion residing within the hearts of every living entity. Therefore knowledge can also be acquired from within. The act of chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is universally appealing, as it is in line with everyone’s inherent qualities. Chanting this sacred formula forms the bedrock of the discipline known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Even in the absence of a personally present spiritual guide, simply chanting this mantra day in and day out can bring about a spiritual awakening, a connection with the divine consciousness in the form of the Supersoul within the heart.
Without adherence to bhakti, we will be forced to follow our own material nature, which has proven to be faulty so many times. If it weren’t, we would never be in any doubt. We would never hesitate or make mistakes. The choice is ours: we can follow the path that’s already led to so much heartache, grief and doubt, or we can simply surrender unto Krishna and be guided on the proper path. Either way, we’ll have to follow some nature, so we might as well side with the one connected to Krishna. Arjuna did, and he was eternally benefitted for it.