The Battle of Life

What makes the Bhagavad Gita unique is that it speaks to the human condition, in this case, without the overlay of a moral or ethical pair of “rose-colored glasses”. The cultured and developed individual tries to avoid facing this direct confrontation with the process of the universe that creates while it destroys, that pits one creature against another in a pitiless battle for existence. Arjuna is brought face to face with this stark reality, and this is the initial cause of his confusion, his depression and his emotional collapse.

Arjuna’s realisation is however, relevant to the human condition generally. The battlefield of kurukshetra is the battlefield of all human life and action. The first two words of the Gita make this relevance crystal clear: “Dharmakshetre, Kurukshetre”….the field of Dharma, the field of the Kurus…. We see the linkage to man’s Dharma, his destined work to be done, the principles of his life, and the field of action that ties the principle to the reality.

Sri Aurobindo explains the battle in stark terms himself: “The outward aspect is that of world-existence and human existence proceeding by struggle and slaughter; the inward aspect is that of the universal Being fulfilling himself in a vast creation and a vast destruction. Life a battle and a field of death, this is Kurukshetra; God the Terrible, this is the vision that Arjuna sees on that field of massacre.”

We eat to live. The Upanishad says “The eater, eating, is eaten.” We find that all growth, all life builds upon the destruction and decomposition of other life. All new progress signals the death of a former existence. “Our very bodily life is a constant dying and being reborn, the body itself a beleaguered city attacked by assailing, protected by defending forces whose business is to devour each other: and this is only a type of all our existence.”

It is therefore appropriate, as we reflect on the teaching of the Gita, to remember the context. This teaching was given on a battlefield where all the values, principles, ideals and goals of humanity were engaged in a massive life or death struggle, and all the leading members of society were pitted against each other in a war that would yield enormous destruction, pain, suffering, death and the trampling of an entire social order and governing structure under the feet of a destroying force.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 5, Kurukshetra, pp. 36-38,

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