The Bhagavad-Gita begins with the preparation of battle between the two opposing sides: on the left stands the collected armies of the one hundred sons of Dhritarashtra and on the right lies the soldiers of the Pandava brothers. Warring relatives feuding over the right to govern the land of Kurukshetra, both forces stand poised and ready to slaughter one another. The warrior Arjuna, leader of the Pandava armies, readies himself as his charioteer, the god Krishna, steers toward the opposition when the armies are ready to attack. Arjuna stops Krishna short before the two sides clash together. Hesitation and pity creeps into Arjuna’s heart as he surveys his family and relatives on the other side; he loses his will to win at the cost of the lives he still loves. As Arjuna sets down his bow and prepares for his own death, the god Krishna begins his council with Arjuna, where Krishna uses various ideas on action, self-knowledge, and discipline to reveal to Arjuna the freedom to be attained from the suffering of man once Arjuna finds his devotion to Krishna.
Before Krishna begins his teachings, Arjuna analyzes his emotions and describes to Krishna the way his heart feels. “Krishna, I seek no victory, or kingship or pleasures” (The Bhagavad-Gita, p. 25). Arjuna admits that he stands to gain nothing of real worth from the war. He knows he cannot consciously triumph over family for his own wealth and glory. “We [Pandava brothers] sought kingships, delights, and pleasures for the sake of those assembled to abandon their lives and fortunes in battle” (The Bhagavad-Gita, p. 25). Arjuna continues on to state that once the family is destroyed and family duty is lost, only chaos is left to overcome what remains.
He goes so far as to describe how chaos swells to corrupt even the women in the families, creating disorder in society. Arjuna tells Krishna that the punishment for men who undermine the duties of the family are destined for a place in hell. Finally, Arjuna asks Krishna which is right: the tie to sacred duty or reason?
Krishna begins his explanation by stating that all life on earth is indestructible. “Never have I not existed, nor you, nor these kings; and never in the future shall we cease to exist” (The Bhagavad-Gita, p. 31). Because life has always been, reasons Krishna, then how can man kill or be killed when there is no end to the self? Also, Krishna tells Arjuna that his emotions of sorrow and pity are fleeting, and that endurance is all that is necessary to outlast the temporary thoughts. “If you fail to wage this war of sacred duty, you will abandon your own duty and fame only to gain evil” (The Bhagavad-Gita, p. 34). Krishna reinforces the idea of dharma, reminding Arjuna of the consequences faced when one does not fulfill the duty set before him. “Your own duty done imperfectly is better than another man’s done well. It is better to die in one’s own duty, another man’s duty is perilous” (The Bhagavad-Gita, p. 46). Doing one’s job poorly is preferable to doing another’s well. Even if talents lie in a different area, the duty one is assigned to is the responsibility of the individual. Failure of Arjuna to abide by his duty would have a profound effect on his worldly life as well. Enemies would slander Arjuna and companions would lose faith and respect in the man they once held in such high favor. If Arjuna loses his life, then he gains heaven and if he wins then he gains the earth; thus there is no need for Arjuna to fear for his own fate.
To complete his sacred duty, Arjuna must perform the necessary actions for the duty to be achieved. “Be intent on action, not on the fruits of action; avoid attractions to the fruits and attachment to inaction!” (The Bhagavad-Gita, p. 36). In the third teaching, the abstinence from action fails because one cannot merely reject one’s actions and find success. Inaction threatens the well-being of the physical body, warns Krishna. Discovered through techniques like yoga and inner reflection, action allows the freedom of the self to be found and attained.
Once Arjuna loses desire in the consequences of his actions, then a new