Arjuna’s Despair

It is characteristic for most of us to lapse into a state of depression or despair when our desires are thwarted or our goals are rebuffed. When things don’t go our way, we may tend to throw up our hands and bewail the unfairness of the world, or the inability to bring about meaningful change. So it is no surprise that Arjuna, faced with the sight of the armies, without the veil of his righteous action hiding it, about to engage in wholesale destruction of friends, family, teachers, and the leaders of the social order in the entire society, is struck into a state of despair himself.

Sri Aurobindo recounts the three stages of recognition that come to Arjuna at that moment: “The first result is a violent sensational and physical crisis which produces a disgust of the action and its material objects and of life itself.” The enjoyment of the fruits of victory suddenly seems empty to him. “And then comes the cry of the emotions. These are they for whose sake life and happiness are desired, our “own people”. Who would consent to slay these for the sake of all the earth, or even for the kingdom of the three worlds?” “The whole thing is a dreadful sin,–for now the moral sense awakens to justify the revolt of the sensations and the emotions. It is a sin, there is no right or justice in mutual slaughter…”

The standards of protecting the society, the family, the clan, the values of social order all are overturned by this wholesale destruction. “These are the very standards that will be destroyed by this civil war; the family itself will be brought to the point of annihilation, corruption of morals and loss of the purity of the race will be engendered, the eternal laws of the race and moral law of the family will be destroyed.”

The result is total despair on Arjuna’s part and the declaration to Sri Krishna: “Therefore…it is more for my welfare that the sons of Dhritarashtra armed should slay me unarmed and unresisting. I will not fight.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 3, The Human Disciple, pp. 21-22,