There are times and circumstances in life that push us to examine who we are, what we are doing, and the basis for our future action. These are many times traumatic events that disrupt our normal steady lives. Arjuna is undergoing just such a traumatic event when he receives the vital shock as he views the upcoming battlefield and sees the reality of the civil war, with respected elders, relatives and friends on both sides of the issue.
During such periods, we frequently find that the habitual answers or responses no longer seem to hold any meaning. If the situation leads to a recoil, a state of despair or depression as we see in Arjuna’s response, the quality of tamas makes it harder for the individual to see a way through the resistance and find a clear path forward.
Sri Aurobindo describes how Arjuna clarifies his objections to Sri Krishna: “It is poorness of spirit, he owns that has smitten away from him his true heroic nature; his whole consciousness is bewildered in its view of right and wrong and he accepts the divine Friend as his teacher; but the emotional and intellectual props on which he had supported his sense of righteousness have been entirely cast down and he cannot accept a command which seems to appeal only to his old standpoint and gives him no new basis for action.”
He “…puts forward …the claim of his nervous and sensational being which shrinks from the slaughter with its sequel of blood-stained enjoyments, the claim of his heart which recoils from the sorrow and emptiness of life that will follow his act, the claim of his customary moral notions which are appalled by the necessity of slaying his Gurus…, the claim of his reason which sees no good but only evil results of the terrible and violent work assigned to him. He is resolved that on the old basis of thought and motive he will not fight….”
We see here all the hallmarks of a tamasic recoil from action. It is up to the divine Teacher to overcome the force of tamas, wipe away the foundations of action based on Arjuna’s past standards of conduct and action, and provide a new basis that opens a way forward from a higher standpoint.
Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 7, The Creed of the Aryan Fighter, pg. 55,