The lesson of arjuna
The third paNDava, as an impetuous warrior, the embodiment of the great indra on earth gave a powerful lesson to his brother yudhiShThira when urged by his wife yAj~nasenI. The pith of this lesson is truly one for the kali age, especially the situation in which the rAShTra that founded by the kuru and the pA~nchAla finds itself in, ruled by duShTa-s, taskara-s and kulu~ncha-s who are but frontmen of barbarous mlechCha-s. Indeed, it is quite likely that a nation that forgets the essence of this lesson of the embodiment of indra, instead perpetually follows the false teachings of the muNDaka who was proclaimed to be a mahAtman by the uneducated, might fail to exist in the future.
We present the core of that teaching here:
nAchChittvA para-marmANi nAkR^itvA karma dAruNam |
nAhatvA matsyaghAtIva prApnoti mahatIM shriyam ||
Without piercing the weak points [Footnote 1] of enemies, without performing ruthless acts, without [slaying foes] with the ruthlessness of a fisherman (slaying fish), no person can obtain great prosperity.
nAghnataH kIrtir astIha na vittaM na punaH prajAH |
indro vR^itravadhenaiva mahendraH samapadyata ||
Without slaughter, no man has been able to achieve fame in this world or conquer wealth or subjects. Verily indra became the great indra (mahendra) by slaughtering vR^itra.
ya eva devA hantAras tAMl loko .archayate bhR^isham |
hantA rudras tathA skandaH shakro .agnir varuNo yamaH ||
Those amongst the gods who are slayers are more extensively worshiped in the world. The gods rudra, skanda, shakra, agni, varuNa and yama are all slayers.
hantA kAlas tathA vAyur mR^ityur vaishravaNo raviH |
vasavo marutaH sAdhyA vishvedevAsh cha bhArata ||
kAla, vAyu, mR^ityu and kubera, ravi, the vasu-s, the marut-s, the sAdhya-s, and the vishvedeva-s, O bhArata, are all slayers.
etAn devAn namasyanti pratApa-praNatA janAH |
na brahmANaM na dhAtAraM na pUShANaM kathaM chana ||
Laid low by the prowess of the above gods, all people pay obeisance to them, but not all time to brahmA or dhAtR^i or puShaN.
madhyasthAn sarvabhUteShu dAntA~n shamaparAyaNAn |
yajante mAnavAH ke chit prashAntAH sarvakarmasu ||
Only a few men that are pacific disposition worship in their rituals those gods that are equally disposed towards all creatures and that are pacific and peaceful.
na hi pashyAmi jIvantaM loke kaM chid ahiMsayA |
sattvaiH sattvAni jIvanti durbalair balavattarAH ||
I do not see an organism in this world that lives without doing any harm to others. Organisms live upon other organisms, the stronger upon the weaker [Footnote 2].
nakulo mUShakAn atti biDAlo nakulaM tathA |
biDAlam atti shvA rAja~n shvAnaM vyAlamR^igas tathA ||
The mongoose eats the mouse; the cat the mongoose; the dog eats the cat; O king the dog is then [consumed] by the cheetah .
tAn atti puruShaH sarvAn pashya dharmo yathAgataH |
prANasyAnnam idaM sarvaM ja~NgamaM sthAvaraM cha yat ||
All of these are eaten by man , behold [this] dharma [i.e. yama] which comes for all. All that is mobile and immobile are food for [the continuation] of prANa [Footnote 3].
vidhAnaM deva-vihitaM tatra vidvAn na muhyati |
yathA sR^iShTo .asi rAjendra tathA bhavitum arhasi ||
This process is the way of the gods; hence, the learned man is never mystified by it. It is becoming you, O lord of the kings, to accept the very nature of your origins.
vinIta krodha harShA hi mandA vanam upAshritAH |
vinA vadhaM na kurvanti tApasAH prANayApanam ||
Giving up anger and pleasure [it is] the slow-witted [who] take refuge in the woods. [Because] even the performers of austerities cannot support their lives without carrying out slaughter.
udake bahavaH prANAH pR^ithivyAM cha phaleShu cha |
na cha kash chin na tAn hanti kim anyat prANayApanAt ||
In water, on earth, and in fruits, there are numerous living forms. It is not possible that one does not slaughter them how could one support one’s life else?
sUkShma-yonIni bhUtAni tarka-gamyAni kAni chit |
pakShmaNo .api nipAtena yeShAM syAt skandhaparyayaH || Mbh 12.15.14-12.15.26
There microscopic germ-like organisms whose existence can only be inferred by logic. At the wink of an eyelid whole multitude of such microscopic organisms are destroyed [Footnote 4].
What arjuna does is to present this basic biological logical to this brother and explain that there can be no existence of one life form without injury to another. Hence, arguments for absolute ahiMsa are illogical. It is in this regard he taught a famous principle that was willfully distorted to emasculate the Hindus in modern times:
lokayAtrArtham eveha dharma-pravachanaM kR^itam |
ahiMsA sAdhuhiMseti shreyAn dharma-parigrahaH ||
The dharma has been taught only for the appropriate maintenance of ways of the world. Between nonviolence (ahiMsa) and violence guided by proper motives (sadhuhiMsa), the superior action is that by which dharma is maintained.
nAtyanta guNavAn kash chin na chApy atyanta nirguNaH |
ubhayaM sarva-kAryeShu dR^ishyate sAdhv asAdhu cha || Mbh 12.15.49-50
There is no act that is entirely meritorious, nor any that is entirely wrong. In all acts, something of both, right and wrong, is [always] seen.
It is with this background arjuna urges the placing yudhiShThira to pursue the path of daNDanIti that said to have been taught in the world of men by the bhR^igu ushanA kAvya.
Footnote 1: In the Hindu martial tradition marman-s are special “junction” points where a warrior strikes to instantly disable or kill the opponent. The tradition of these marman-s and striking them survives today only the south Indian martial tradition from the Tamil and chera countries. What arjuna is talking about here is striking these marman points of enemies in battle.
Footnote 2: All students of biology know this to be a truism – perhaps even an inherent to life, as the pANDu clarifies in this shloka.
Footnote 3: Here the pANDava is describing the food chain and the fact that flow of prANa is the consumption of food by all – death is the dharma of life were every organism ends up as food for another.
Footnote 4: Here arjuna is encapsulating a very important facet of early Hindu knowledge i.e. that of microbial life. Even though they could not be seen, the early Hindus had inferred their occurrence by reasoning based on fermentation and postulated that the whole earth, water and plants are covered by these microbial life forms. We regard this a major scientific inference of our early tradition. This knowledge, which the nirgrantha-s inherited from their predecessors, combined with obsession for ahiMsa of their founder led to their numerous practices to avoid killing microscopic life.