Arjuna’s Dilemma of Action

The religious traditions of the world have frequently recognized the relationship between disappointment, thwarted ambitions or desires, failure or loss, and the impulse to escape the life in the world and turn to the solace of religion. The impulse of disgust with the things of the world leads to the desire to abandon the normal activities and fruits of action that we associate with our human existence.

Arjuna has seen that all the principles and guidelines that he has followed throughout his life have now led to an inevitable situation where they no longer appear to lead to the stated goals of those principles. The values are in conflict with one another and the fulfillment of one leads to the destruction of the other. Everywhere he turns, he finds no solid basis for his action.

We see in Arjuna, as he sinks into a state of despair, this abandonment of all his worldly actions and ambitions and his cry for some basis upon which to base his life. As a man of action, he is not asking for philosophical reflection, but some direction that will sort out for him how to act in a manner that is not going to be destructive or sinful.

Sri Aurobindo describes Arjuna’s situation: “But the whole upshot is that all-embracing inner bankruptcy which Arjuna expresses when he says that his whole conscious being, not the thought alone but heart and vital desires and all, are utterly bewildered and can find nowhere the dharma, nowhere any valid law of action. For this alone he takes refuge as a disciple with Krishna; give me, he practically asks, that which I have lost, a true law, a clear rule of action, a path by which I can again confidently walk. He does not ask for the secret of life or of the world, the meaning and purpose of it all, but for a dharma.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 3, The Human Disciple, pp. 22-23,