The “Journey to the East” pathway met for the first session on February 15th, 2018 at 11 Central (12 EST) to begin the journey through the Bhagavad-Gita, which is a small part of the great Indian Epic Mahabharata.
Summary of 23
One of the central ‘through-lines’ of the Mahabharata is the story of a great feud that takes place in the Kuru family, between the Dhrtrastras and the Pandavas led by King Dyurodhana. When one reads the Mahabharata, it is clear that the Dhrtrastras are in the wrong. The old king Dhrtrastra himself is not necessarily evil, but his blindness allows others in his family to take advantage of him and do wicked things for the sake of self-interest and aggrandizement. Up until this moment, the Pandavas have tried every possible means to negotiate with the Dhrtrastras, in order to prevent the worst imaginable thing from happening – but diplomacy finally fails.
Now we come to the opening of the Gita itself. Both sides of the family are arrayed on a great battlefield, and the heroes begin to sound their conchs and clarions to announce their presence, as might be customary in the commencement of any great battle, according to the duties of the warrior class.
Arjuna, a son of the King Dyurodhana, asks Krishna, who happens to be his charioteer in human form, follows this custom, and has him steered to place so he can see who is he fighting. He sees his uncles, teachers and familiars across the divide, and becomes so grief-stricken that he drops his great Ghandiva bow, and loses the will to fight.
Let’s spend some time trying to unpack the conflict or situation Arjuna is facing. How does he understand it?
One of the more pressing questions that came apparent to us was the question concerning Law or dharma. It seems that to understand Arjuna’s impasse, we need to understand the meaning and significance of this term for him.
In lines 23.40-45, Arjuna tells Krishna what he thinks will happen if he goes ahead and joins in arms against his family. The whole world will collapse, he says, in effect, because killing his family, destroys “eternal Family Law” at the same time, and it is this law that holds together the order of their social world. Law has this kind of profound social-binding significance. One person wondered whether Dharma was understood as something eternal, in the large world outside man. On the face of it, it appears that Arjuna is only thinking in terms of his social world, and not beyond it. Is it possible that Krishna will ‘widen’ Arjuna’s vision to include a cosmic framework?
Up until this point, as we have seen, the Pandus have been just, and the Dhrtrastras the aggressors in pursuit of greed for kingship and honors. But in this moment, Arjuna perceives that that tables have turned, or has been inverted on it head. The Pandavas, were they to undertake this battle to regain kingship, would be no different (in his eyes) than the Dhrtrastras, who had all along been motivated by greed for kingship and property.
It is curious to note that other heroes have lined up to see the battlefield, but only Arjuna has been able to perceive the situation. Is he perceiving it correctly?
This particular situation Arjuna sees has opened out a kind of impasse either in Arjuna’s understanding of dharma or – in what may be the same thing – the traditional understanding of dharma in Arjuna’s world.
One person observed that Arjuna seems to be facing an impasse on several levels: on one level, a personal, family and much wider implications for the social world which he inhabits.
We will have to see where this leads in our next reading, which is section 24  lines 1-40 (stopping at bottom of p 77 with Krishna saying “This is the spirit…” )