The Transfiguration of Arjuna

In the Gita, we see Arjuna undergoing a transformation, what we may actually call a transfiguration, by moving away from the normal human way of seeing and acting, to an understanding and mode of action that comes from a recognition of the Divine Reality and its omnipresence in the transcendent, the universal and the individual. To some degree this involves the ability to hold two apparently conflicting ideas at the same time, and recognize that each of them has its truth and that they are truly complementary rather than conflicting. Thus, the sense of equality of everything being the Divine must coexist with the sense of love between the personal Divine and the devotee, the enlightened human being who has turned his focus and attention on the divine manifestation.

Arjuna’s role requires him to transcend all the norms of human life. He recognizes the paradox between the preservation of the values of society and the need to destroy beloved family and friends in an enormous holocaust which threatens to undermine the very roots of society. He must see with the eyes of the Divine the “long vision” of the necessity and unavoidable nature of the action he is about to undertake, and he must understand that the entire weight of human endeavor and evolution has caused this event to occur, and thus, as Sri Krishna advises, these great warriors are already killed and Arjuna is the instrument of an action long foreseen and ordained by the weight of necessity.

Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace points out that the great war of 1812 which engulfed Europe and Russia was not caused by nor controlled by any one leader, or hero, but was part of a dynamic movement in which masses of humanity were driven to move, first East and then back West again, concurrently abrading the long established norms and customs of the societies of the times, with the result that a new impetus, a new direction could emerge. Similarly, Sri Aurobindo explains about Arjuna: “He is the instrument of a great work, a work terrible in appearance but necessary for a long step forward in the march of the race, a decisive movement in its struggle towards the kingdom of the Right and the Truth…. The history of the cycles of man is a progress towards the unveiling of the Godhead in the soul and life of humanity; each high event and stage of it is a divine manifestation.”

In order to carry this out, the human representative must be prepared for a great transcendence of his human capacity by becoming conscious and shifting his standpoint to that of the Divine. “He is called to self-knowledge; he must see God as the Master of the universe and the origin of the world’s creatures and happenings, all as the Godhead’s self-expression in Nature, God in all, God in himself as man and as Vibhuti, God in the lownesses of being and on its heights, God on the topmost summits, man too upon heights as the Vibhuti and climbing to the last summits in the supreme liberation and union.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 9, The Theory of the Vibhuti, pp. 361-362