For most people, the path of one’s life is laid out based on various standards or rules that create a framework within which we are comfortable to act. For some, this is a particular career based on natural propensities or family focus. For some the rule of life is simply one of basic survival, while for others there are questions of carrying out a duty, to one’s family, one’s country, one’s religion, etc. Some people have developed a set of principles which they treat as a duty, in terms of the manner in which they relate to others or treat the work before them. An example of this is the dictum of the Dalai Lama who asks us to live a life of benevolent compassion towards others.
Individuals judge their success and value in their own lives based on how well they carry out their own standard. Those who see a patriotic duty to support and protect one’s country place their lives in jeopardy, yet they do so with a will and a sense of moral “rightness” about their actions.
In the case of Arjuna, his moral crisis came about because he suddenly awakened to conflicting principles and “dharmas” that gave him no clear line of action. He had set about being the protagonist in the war to uphold honor, protect family and society; yet he was faced with a circumstance where his action would destroy his extended family and all those for whom one would wish to fight, elders, teachers, respected leaders of society. He could not, at that moment, reconcile the need to destroy the family and society in order to protect the family and society! At that moment, he also became acutely aware of the higher dharma of non-violence and harmlessness practiced by the sages, and conflating this with the conflict he had already recognized, he stated “I will not fight”. Sri Aurobindo points out: “Nor will the rule of Dharma, of ethical right, serve any better; for there is here a conflict of Dharmas.”
It is actually in times of internal conflict, when we see a breakdown of the clear-cut sense of values, when we experience the need for a new standard, a new direction, a new teaching, that individuals can progress to a new, higher standard. Arjuna is in just such a situation and thus, he is ready for the teaching that Sri Krishna is prepared to provide.
Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 16, The Fullness of Spiritual Action, pg. 436