Tamasic Compassion and Pity As Self-Indulgent Weakness

If we analyse Arjuna’s reaction in terms of the three gunas, it becomes immediately evident that he is reacting in a tamasic way to the situation with which he is faced. Sri Aurobindo points out that for lesser developed men, it is sometimes necessary to temper their hard rajasic impulses with an admixture of tamas, for otherwise they would run roughshod over everyone and everything! He declares: “…a weakness which may well be beneficial to men of a lower grade of development, who have to be weak because oherwise they will be hard and cruel…”

Sri Aurobindo defines the characteristic tamas response to the situation when he clarifies the difference to the divine compassion: “But such is not the compassion which actuates Arjuna in the rejection of his work and mission. That is not compassion but an impotence full of a weak self-pity, a recoil from the mental suffering which his act must entail on himself…” “….it is the physical shrinking of the nerves from the act of slaughter, the egoistic emotional shrinking of the heart from the destruction of the Dhritarashtrians because they are “one’s own people” and without them life will be empty.”

For a man of Arjuna’s character, background, training, and accomplishments, his overall development as one of the leading men of the age, given a work that has been condoned and blessed by God, to be carried out with divine weapons he has acquired through his intense sadhana and inward development, such a tamasic response is unacceptable.

Sri Krishna therefore has to first overcome the weakness that he sees rising up in Arjuna before he can convey the higher teaching. Much of the earliest statements we find in Krishna’s response to Arjuna are intended to overcome this sudden onset of weakness due to the overwhelming of the senses and the emotion caused by the realisation that Arjuna has as he views the battlefield and sees the forthcoming battle and its result as a catastrophe of civil war.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 7, The Creed of the Aryan Fighter, pp. 54-55,