The Character of the Human Disciple

The ability to receive and respond to the teaching requires a basic readiness in the nature. A lot of preparation needs to take place before the actual event can occur. In the case of Arjuna, we see a refined nature in terms of an openness to the spiritual teachings, a sense of honor and integrity of action, and the corresponding “disinterestedness” that allows one to act on principle regardless of personal regard for comfort, enjoyment or the cravings of desire. During the 12 years’ exile in the forest that Arjuna and his brothers had to undergo prior to the time of this great battle, he actually was sent off to meditate on the divine powers Indra, and Shiva, to obtain the celestial weapons he would need to wield when the time of the confrontation came about. He showed the ability to focus his concentration and not be distracted. Even previous to this, during his youth, he showed the capacity of “one pointed” concentration and unerring focus that would be one of the hallmarks of his victorious action.

At the same time, he remains a man of action in the world, subject to the same pressures and forces that act upon each one of us.

Arjuna operates under the principle of his dharma. Dharma as a concept is the right law of action laid down as a principle, and encompasses morality, ethics and appropriate action for the station in life and role one has been given to play. Until the time of the existential crisis he has to face, he has always found this rule of life to be sufficient and has guided himself thereby. Sri Aurobindo describes the issue based on this background: “Following always this rule, conscious of virtue and right dealing he has travelled so far and finds suddenly that it has led him to become the protagonist of a terrific and unparalleled slaughter, a monstrous civil war involving all the cultured Aryan nations which must lead to the complete destruction of the flower of their manhood and threatens their ordered civilisation with chaos and collapse.”

For a man who has adopted and embodied a rule of conduct and social dealing that is intended to preserve and protect society and support its higher values from a sense of nobility, this is a conflict that cannot be tolerated, and he therefore becomes paralyzed until he can find a new understanding. That is the situation that prepares Arjuna to receive the teaching of the Gita.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 3, The Human Disciple, pp. 19-20,

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