The first maneuvers of the battle began. Arjuna took up the Gāṇḍīva and said to Kṛṣṇa, “O infallible one, please draw my chariot between the two armies so that I may see the enemy and how they are positioned. Go forward, O Lord, so I can see who is desirous of fighting with us today. Let us see those fools who wish to please the evil-minded son of Dhṛtarāṣṭra.”
Kṛṣṇa drove the horses forward and the fine chariot moved into the center of the field. Kṛṣṇa smiled. “Just behold, O Arjuna, all the Kurus assembled here.” Arjuna looked across the field. Kṛṣṇa could understand Arjuna’s mind. The long-awaited time for war had arrived--a terrible fratricidal war. There was now no turning back. Suddenly seeing the horror of it before him, Arjuna gazed at his relatives and friends arrayed across from him--men who were like fathers, brothers, sons and grandsons, as well as teachers, uncles, friends, in-laws and well-wishers.
Arjuna was overwhelmed with compassion. How could he possibly have looked forward to killing his own kinsmen and friends? He felt weak, and addressed Kṛṣṇa in a trembling voice. “My dear Lord, seeing my friends and relatives before me in a fighting spirit, I feel my limbs quivering and my mouth drying up.”
Arjuna’s bow slipped from his hand and his body shook. His skin was burning and he felt his hair standing on end. “O Keśava, I do not think I can carry on in this fight. I am forgetting myself and my mind is reeling. It seems to me that only evil and misfortune will result from this battle. How can any good come from killing one’s own relatives? What value is victory if all our friends and loved ones are killed?”
Arjuna dropped to his knees. There was no question of fighting. It had been different when he faced the Kauravas on Virata’s field. At that time, he had no intention of killing them. He had only wanted to teach them a lesson. This time, however, either the Pāṇḍavas or the Kauravas would not be returning home. Tears streamed from his eyes as he revealed his mind to Kṛṣṇa. “O Govinda, I have no desire for a kingdom bereft of my kinsfolk. When I see my teachers, fathers, sons, and so many other near and dear ones standing before me, my thirst for the fight completely deserts me. Even though they may be desiring my death, I cannot possibly think of killing them. O Janārdana, I would not slay them even in exchange for the three worlds, let alone this earth. I can see no happiness arising from this battle.”
Sweat covered Arjuna’s brow. His breath came in heavy sighs. The sight of old and respected personalities such as Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Śalya and Bāhlika, all of whom he loved dearly, filled him with grief. The many young princes, sons of the Kauravas and their allies, were all like his own sons, and he felt compassion for them too. Even Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s sons were pitiable because they were so foolish. How could there be any virtue in killing them?
Arjuna implored Kṛṣṇa. “In my opinion we will be overcome by sin if we slay such aggressors. Our proper duty is surely to forgive them. Even if they have lost sight of virtue due to greed, we ourselves should not forget religious principles in the same way. If we kill the learned family elders, the traditional rituals will be forgotten, and they are essential for religious life. Without tradition, the whole of society will gradually become godless. By slaying the men, we will leave the women unprotected. They will then be prey to sinful men and unwanted children will be born. Who will train these children? O Kṛṣṇa, I will be responsible for all these social anomalies and will be worthy of a permanent residence in hell.”
Remembering his moral training, Arjuna based his arguments on Vedic statements. It seemed to him that killing his relatives was clearly immoral, particularly killing his elders, who were responsible for maintaining the religious traditions in his dynasty. Surely they should never be killed, especially for the dubious cause of winning wealth and kingdoms.
Arjuna wept. “I would rather the Kauravas killed me, unarmed and unresisting, than raise my weapons against them for the sake of my own happiness.” He threw down his weapons and slumped in his chariot.
Kṛṣṇa was still smiling mildly as He looked at His grief-stricken friend. This was an uncharacteristic display of timidity from such a fearsome warrior. He replied to Arjuna firmly. “How have these impurities come upon you at such a critical time, O Arjuna? This is not at all befitting a man who understands life’s true values. It leads not to higher planets but to degradation and infamy. O son of Kuntī, do not yield to such impotence. It is quite unbecoming. Give up this petty weakness of heart and arise, O chastiser of enemies.”
Arjuna looked with surprise at Kṛṣṇa. What could He mean? He had simply dismissed all his arguments. Kṛṣṇa had never given improper or disastrous advice at any time. He was the personification of all religious principles. Arjuna was perplexed. Why had Kṛṣṇa disregarded the religious considerations he had raised? Of course, for a kṣatriya it was always religious to fight and check miscreants, but these were not ordinary wrongdoers. Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Kṛpa, and so many others were highly respectable men who carefully followed their religious duties.
Still shaking, Arjuna asked, “My dear Kṛṣṇa, although it is right to kill sinful enemies, how can I fire arrows at men who are worthy of my worship? I would rather become a beggar than win this world at the cost of their lives. Even if they are afflicted with greed, they are still my superiors. What religious principle sanctions slaying them? If we win the war then all our ill-gotten gains will be tainted with their blood. It seems to me that winning will be no better than losing. Victory is in any event uncertain, but in this case it is not even desirable. How could I live after causing my relatives’ death? Yet they are standing before me with upraised weapons.”
Arjuna could see no way out of his situation. The Kauravas were clearly intent on killing him and his army. Still, he had no heart for the fight. Nor did it seem religious. At the same time, his religious arguments had no effect on Kṛṣṇa. What was his duty now? There was only one person who could help him. He looked up at Kṛṣṇa, who sat peacefully with the reins in His gloved hands. It was by Kṛṣṇa’s help that Arjuna and his brothers had survived so many difficulties. He was without doubt the wisest person. He would know what to do.
Deciding to surrender himself to whatever Kṛṣṇa advised, Arjuna said, “O Kṛṣṇa, I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure due to weakness of heart. Surely I am being consumed by miserly and selfish considerations, but I am not able to overcome them. In this condition I ask You to please tell me what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me. I can see no means to drive away this grief. Even winning a prosperous kingdom equal to that of the gods will not assuage my sorrow. O Govinda, I will not fight.”
Arjuna fell silent. Now it was up to Kṛṣṇa to convince him. On the other side of the field Bhīṣma looked with interest at Arjuna’s solitary chariot in the middle of the two armies. Why was Arjuna not in position? He seemed to have dropped down in his chariot. Something was going on between him and Kṛṣṇa. Bhīṣma raised his hand to hold back his forces. Was Kṛṣṇa considering a final peace effort, even on the battlefield? Surely not. The conches had already been blown to signal the beginning of the fight. Whatever Kṛṣṇa was doing, Bhīṣma wanted to respect it. Bhīṣma decided to wait until Arjuna’s chariot moved off again before giving the order to charge. Yudhiṣṭhira was also holding his forces in check, so there was no need for immediate action.
Kṛṣṇa now smiled more broadly. He was pleased that Arjuna, His dear friend, was ready to accept Him as teacher and guide. Holding up His hand in blessing, He said, “Although you are speaking learned words from the scriptures, you are still mourning for something unworthy of grief. A wise man laments neither for the living nor the dead. Both you, I, and all these assembled kṣatriyas have always existed and will always exist. We are eternal souls, passing from body to body. Even in this life we see how the body changes, even though we remain the same person. In the same way, when death comes, we are given a new body. A self-controlled person is not bewildered by such a change.”
Kneeling at Kṛṣṇa’s feet, Arjuna felt immediate relief. As usual, Kṛṣṇa had gone straight to the heart of the matter. Arjuna listened attentively as Kṛṣṇa continued. “O son of Kuntī, happiness and distress come and go constantly like winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception alone, O Bharata, and one should tolerate them without being disturbed. A person capable of such tolerance is eligible for liberation from all misery. The great seers who know the truth have concluded from a careful analysis that the soul and spiritual reality are unchanging, and that the temporary material body is ultimately without any basis in truth. The soul pervades the body and is indestructible. No one can destroy the immeasurable and eternal soul, but the body is sure to come to an end. Therefore, fight without any compunction for your relatives’ bodies, O Arjuna.”
Arjuna understood well enough what Kṛṣṇa was saying. The soul was surely eternal; but was that a good argument to use when he was about to kill? Death and subsequent rebirth were painful experiences for the soul.
Out of love for Arjuna, and understanding his doubts, Kṛṣṇa said, “Neither he who thinks the living entity the slayer nor he who thinks it slain is in knowledge, for the self slays not nor is slain. For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He is never created. Unborn and ever-existing, he is not slain when the body is slain. Knowing this, how can you ever be the cause of anyone’s death? Indeed, the body’s death allows the soul to receive a new body, just as a person puts on new garments after discarding the old.”
Arjuna understood that Kṛṣṇa was reassuring him that his beloved relatives would not be the losers. By killing their bodies, Arjuna would free them from the pain and suffering brought on by their present karma, and they would then be given a new start in a better body, probably in the higher planets. But Arjuna worried about the celestial weapons he would use, fearing they might somehow hurt even the soul.
Kṛṣṇa answered that doubt. “There is no weapon, be it fire, wind or water, that can damage or cut the soul. The soul is unchanging and impervious to all material effects. The soul is described by the Vedas as invisible, inconceivable and immutable. The body is only the outward dress of the indestructible soul.”
Arjuna remained silent. Even knowing Bhīṣma and Droṇa to be eternal souls, he still grieved at the prospect of their death. Kṛṣṇa had already instructed him that such distresses were unavoidable and had to be tolerated, but it would not be easy.
Kṛṣṇa smiled affectionately at His friend. “Even if you believe the self to be the same as the body, you still have no reason to lament, O mighty-armed hero. The body is matter, and material objects are always being created and destroyed. What wise man laments for the inevitable changes to matter which are wrought by time? Whatever you believe, the effects of time cannot be checked. Death follows birth, and birth follows death in due course. Simply perform your duty without lamentation, for you cannot change the course of time, which is ultimately the cause of everyone’s death.”
Arjuna reflected on Kṛṣṇa’s words. It was difficult to comprehend the soul’s existence. That it was undying and indestructible had been made clear, but its actual nature remained a mystery.
Without pausing Kṛṣṇa concluded His instructions about the soul. “Those who know the soul consider him amazing. He is described in the Vedas as amazing. Even persons who have heard all the descriptions of the soul still fail to understand him at all. Nevertheless, O descendent of Bharata, he cannot be slain at any time. Therefore, give up your useless grief for your relatives.”
Kṛṣṇa changed tack and began to address Arjuna’s fear that he would be tainted by sin if he killed his elders. “You are a kṣatriya, Arjuna, and it is thus your foremost duty to fight according to religious principles. You should not hesitate. Rather, you should embrace this opportunity, for it opens the way to heaven for you. If you do not fight, you will incur sin for neglecting your duty. Thus you will lose your good reputation. You will become infamous, and for a respectable person dishonor is worse than death. No one will think you desisted from fighting out of compassion. They will think you fled in fear and will thus lose their respect for you. What could be more painful than that?”
Hearing his commitment to his warrior duties challenged, Arjuna shifted uncomfortably. The thought that he might be acting sinfully was painful, and the loss of his good reputation would be intolerable. Kṛṣṇa continued.
“O Pārtha, in this battle there are two possibilities: you will either be killed and thus attain heaven, or you will defeat your enemies and win the earth. Therefore, fight with determination. This too is My desire. O Pārtha, fight because it is your duty without thought for happiness or distress, loss or gain, victory or defeat. In this way you will never incur sin.”
Arjuna felt his heart opening as he absorbed Kṛṣṇa’s instructions. Kṛṣṇa had countered his fears that he would suffer and become sinful by fighting. Actually, it would be sinful not to fight.
“I have told you some existential truths about the soul, O son of Kuntī. Listen now as I speak about working without desire for the results, and thus without entangling yourself in karmic reactions. This is the path to liberation. Once you are on this path you will not fall back again into the abyss of material existence. Those on this path only desire to serve the Supreme and are resolute in performing their religious duties. Those who seek worldly happiness, however, are constantly overwhelmed by diverse temptations.
“Only unintelligent men are attracted to those sections of the Vedas that speak about material happiness. Desiring sensual pleasures, opulence and power, they think there is nothing more to life. They become bewildered by such desires and cannot fix their minds upon yoga practice. Do not let yourself be attracted by anything in this world, O Pārtha. Be free from all the dualities of happiness and distress. Established in the self, give up your anxiety for material gain and safety.”
Arjuna could understand that his earlier arguments were aimed only at material happiness. Although he had argued on the strength of Vedic morality, it was becoming clear that he had not fully understood the Vedas and their ultimate aim. There were higher principles and truths. Kṛṣṇa continued to explain them.
“The Vedas give directions for achieving material happiness, O Arjuna, but there is a deeper purpose behind all Vedic instructions. One who knows this purpose can satisfy all his desires without pursuing them all separately, just as one who has access to a great river has no need for small wells and ponds. The greatest aim of life is achieved by working without desire for the fruits of action, simply because it is one’s duty to do so. In this way you can be situated in yoga without attachment for success or failure in your work. Thus you will remain untouched by sin. Even your previous karmic reactions will be destroyed by such work. You will then be able to attain the highest destination, the supreme abode of God, and be freed forever from the cycle of birth and death. When you are no longer attracted by the promises of material happiness given in the Vedas, and remain satisfied by the self alone, you will then be fixed in the divine consciousness which leads to eternal liberation.”
Arjuna asked, “How can we recognize a man in divine consciousness, O Kṛṣṇa? What are his symptoms?”
“Such a person takes no delight in sensual pleasures, O Pārtha. He is ever satisfied within himself. No miseries can disturb him, nor any kind of material happiness. He is without attachment, fear and anger, and remains always aloof to the dualities of this world. His senses are under complete control, even though he may still experience sense desires. His mind is fixed upon the Supreme and he is always peaceful. He does not dwell upon the objects of sense pleasure, which can steal away even a practiced yogī’s mind, and thus he keeps himself free from all material entanglement. Due to such sense control, his intelligence is undisturbed and he is peaceful. O Arjuna, one whose senses are uncontrolled is not peaceful. How, then, can he ever be happy?”
Arjuna was bewildered. Kṛṣṇa was recommending yoga and sense control--keeping oneself peaceful--and at the same time telling him to fight. How were the two compatible? “O Keśava, why do You want me to engage in this ghastly warfare if you think that yoga and detachment are better? Surely fighting requires me to be motivated by a desire for victory. I am confused by Your instructions. Please tell me clearly what will be most beneficial for me.”
“O sinless Arjuna, there are two paths to liberation: one involves renunciation and the pursuit of knowledge, while the other involves working without material desires. One cannot achieve perfection by renunciation alone, for by simply stopping work one does not necessarily remain free from karmic reaction. Impelled by his nature a man is forced to act at every moment, even if the action is only in his mind. To withdraw the senses while allowing the mind to think of sense pleasures is useless, O Arjuna. It is simply a pretense of yoga. Far better is the man who uses his intelligence to control his senses and at the same times works without attachment.”
Arjuna thought of his own case. Even if he tried to renounce the battle and remain aloof, his mind would still work. It was likely he would continue to think of Duryodhana and his evil deeds, and of how Yudhiṣṭhira had been robbed of his kingdom. Those thoughts would sooner or later impel him to act--to take up arms and fight. But how can one fight without attachment?
“Work must be done as a sacrifice for Viṣṇu, O son of Kuntī. This is detached work. Any other work causes bondage in this world. Therefore, work only for His satisfaction. By such sacrificial work a man can achieve all life’s necessities and at the same time make spiritual progress. Only a man who is completely self-satisfied need not perform such work.”
Arjuna wondered if he was able to remain self-satisfied. He already had some experience of yoga and meditation. Did he really need to work?
Kṛṣṇa smiled. “A genuinely detached man sees no need for work, but he also sees no need to give up work. He works simply as a matter of duty and without desire for the results. By this work he ultimately attains the Supreme. He also sets the right example for others, for whatever a great man does will always be followed by ordinary men.”
Kṛṣṇa was thinking of Arjuna’s position in society. He was highly esteemed as a leader and hero. If he gave up his duty, even assuming he was qualified to do so, then his example would be imitated by unqualified men. Kṛṣṇa reminded Arjuna of the famous king, Janaka. Although renowned as an advanced spiritualist and quite able to remain fixed in meditation on the Supreme, Janaka had nevertheless continued to do his duty as a king.
“Think of My own example, O Pārtha. You know My identity as the Supreme Lord of all the worlds. What duty is there for Me? Nevertheless, I execute all the duties incumbent on a man in My position very carefully. If I did not do so, then all the worlds would fall into ruination, for all men would follow My example.”
Arjuna knew that Kṛṣṇa, as a householder and a member of the royal order, was scrupulous in performing the duties prescribed in the Vedas for such men. It was a perfect example.
“One who knows the truth knows well the difference between material work, motivated only by sensual desires, and work done for the pleasure of the Supreme. O Arjuna, I am that Supreme. Therefore, fight for My pleasure, without desire for personal gain, with no claims to proprietorship, and without lethargy. Those who work only according to My instructions, with full faith in Me, attain complete liberation. Those who disregard My injunctions, however, are simply fools and will achieve neither perfection nor happiness.”
This made sense to Arjuna. He had always understood Kṛṣṇa’s divinity, and that knowledge had always stood him in good stead. He and his brothers had enjoyed Kṛṣṇa’s protection up to the present moment when He stood ready to go with them into battle against their enemies. Why, then, did not all men devote themselves to Kṛṣṇa’s instructions? Arjuna voiced his doubt. “Why, dear Lord, do men not do their religious duties?”
“They are overpowered by lust, the greatest enemy in this world. Due to excessive desire for material objects, men commit sinful activities, not seeing the suffering that will result. Lust is never satisfied. Rather, it burns like fire, and when it is frustrated, it turns to anger. A man is thus completely bewildered when he gives in to lust. O Arjuna, you should check lust by controlling your senses. Otherwise it will destroy your knowledge and self-realization. Listen now as I explain the science of sacrifice and self- control.”
Kṛṣṇa told Arjuna that the knowledge He was speaking was ancient. He had first told it to the sun-god millions of years ago. Hearing this, Arjuna asked, “How can I accept this, Kṛṣṇa? It appears that You were born in this world only recently.”
“Both of us have had countless births, O Arjuna. I can remember all of them, but you cannot. Actually, I am never born like ordinary men. My body is transcendental and neither changes nor deteriorates. Still, I appear to take birth in every age. I come only to establish religion and to curb irreligion, Pārtha. In this way, I deliver the pious and annihilate the demons. One who understands this truth about Me will not have to take another material body. Those who take refuge in Me will become free from attachment, fear and anger and will attain pure, transcendental love for Me. According to their faith in Me, I reciprocate with all men, O Arjuna. Anyone can attain Me.”
Kṛṣṇa explained that He had also arranged for the fulfillment of men’s material desires. He was prepared to give everyone whatever they wanted, whether it be sense enjoyment or love of God. He had no vested interests in the material world and simply acted in reciprocation with men’s desires, according to what they deserved. Kṛṣṇa Himself was always transcendental to the material world. Knowing this, all the liberated souls in the past had attained perfection. They acted only for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure. Such work was without reaction, as He was the supreme transcendence.
But those who renounced work, if the renunciation was not done for His pleasure, were still subject to reaction. Anything done on one’s own account, whether motivated by attachment or repulsion, carried a karmic reaction.
After describing various kinds of sacrifice, Kṛṣṇa said, “All types of sacrifice are meant to culminate in transcendental knowledge, or realizing one’s identity as an eternal servitor of the Supreme. This is the mature fruit of all mysticism and it burns to ashes all of one’s accumulated karmic reactions. By working in this knowledge one is never again affected by the reactions of work. All of your doubts have arisen out of ignorance, O Arjuna. Kill them with the weapon of knowledge. Armed with yoga, O Bharata, stand and fight.”
As Kṛṣṇa went on to explain how to work in devotion, Arjuna began to understand that this was true renunciation. Only by dedicating all one’s work to the pleasure of the Supreme could one be genuinely detached. Kṛṣṇa explained that working in such consciousness gradually brought one to the point of always remembering the Supreme, or samadhi. This type of yoga was no less effective than the practice of asceticism and meditation; indeed, it was easier, for to give up everything and meditate in a solitary place would be difficult for a worldly man like Arjuna. To Arjuna’s relief, Kṛṣṇa made it clear that this was not necessary. He also assured Arjuna that the path of yoga, once begun, was never lost. Even if he did not achieve success in this life, in his next life he would be able to continue from whatever point he had left off.
Having established that constantly thinking of the Supreme was the highest goal of yoga, Kṛṣṇa made His own position clearer. “It is I who should always be remembered, O Pārtha. There is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung upon a thread. I am the creation and dissolution of all the worlds. People are bewildered by material desires. Thus they do not know Me, who am always above the material world. It is hard to fully overcome attraction to this material world and its allurements. Only by surrendering to Me is it possible. It may take many births and deaths of striving in yoga until one finally comes to understand Me. It is a rare soul who achieves such perfection. Due to their lack of intelligence, most men are content to worship lesser gods. Other foolish men think that beyond Me lies some impersonal supreme existence. Because of deep-seated material desires, such fools can never know Me, although I am the Lord and the knower of all living beings.”
Arjuna was feeling reassured by Kṛṣṇa’s instructions. All his life he had thought only of Kṛṣṇa as his protector and greatest friend. Now Kṛṣṇa was telling him that this was life’s perfection. The highest achievement in life was to remember Kṛṣṇa at the moment of death, and thus attain His eternal, spiritual abode.
But this required a lifetime of practice. Arjuna listened without question as Kṛṣṇa described the best process for always remembering Him.
“This is the king of knowledge, Arjuna, the most secret of secrets and the perfection of religion. It is I alone who am to be worshipped and served with love. Fools cannot understand how I am able to assume a human form and appear in this world. They do not know My transcendental nature as the Supreme Lord of everything. Intelligent men, however, are fully engaged in My devotional service. They are always chanting My glories, endeavoring to please Me with great determination, bowing down before Me, and worshipping Me with all their hearts. I always personally protect such persons. I am indebted to anyone who lovingly offers Me even a leaf, flower or fruit. Therefore, you should do everything as an offering to Me, O son of Kuntī. In this way, you will achieve perfection. This is the highest instruction. Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, become My devotee, offer obeisances to Me, and worship Me. By such full absorption in Me surely you will come to Me, life’s supreme goal.”
Arjuna was now looking at his friend with amazement and love. The Supreme Lord had become his charioteer. Surely this was a testament of His loving reciprocation with His devotees. Who could ever understand it? Kṛṣṇa seemed so human. How would people be able to accept His supreme divinity?
Again understanding Arjuna’s doubts, Kṛṣṇa went on. “Those who are devoted to Me are able to know of My position and opulence. Because you are My dear friend, I will explain further about Myself. Not even the demigods and great sages can know Me in full, for in every respect I am their source. I am the source of all things, material and spiritual. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly fully engage in My loving devotional service. Their thoughts always dwell in Me and they derive great pleasure from talking about Me. To one who constantly serves Me with love, I give the understanding by which he can come to Me. With the shining lamp of knowledge I destroy all their ignorance.”
Arjuna had no doubts about Kṛṣṇa’s position. He had already experienced Kṛṣṇa’s power and opulence, as well as having heard it described by so many ṛṣis. Now Kṛṣṇa was making it plain. Arjuna was awe-struck. Folding his palms he knelt before Kṛṣṇa and said, “You are the original Supreme Person, the ultimate abode, and the Absolute Truth. Unborn, eternal and transcendental, You are the greatest of the great and the possessor of all opulences. This is confirmed by those sages who can see the truth, such as Nārada, Asita, Devala and Vyāsadeva, and now You Yourself are declaring it to me. O Kṛṣṇa, I totally accept as truth all that You have told me. None can know You, not even the gods and Asuras. You alone can know Yourself by Your own potency, O Lord of all beings, God of gods, Lord of the universe!”
Feeling a surge of divine love, Arjuna asked Kṛṣṇa to describe Himself further. “Tell me how it is that You pervade all the worlds, O Lord. How should You be remembered and how can You be known? Please tell me in detail of Your mystic power and opulences. I never tire of hearing such descriptions and long to taste the nectar of Your words more and more.”
“My opulence is limitless, O Arjuna. I shall therefore tell you only of that which is most prominent.”
Kṛṣṇa explained that although everything was a manifestation of His energy and power, He would highlight for Arjuna some principal features by which He could be remembered. He told him that He was Viṣṇu among gods, the sun among planets, Śiva among Rudras, and Meru among mountains. He described Himself in many ways, revealing to Arjuna how He was present in everything Arjuna saw. Concluding His description, He said, “Know that all opulent, beautiful and glorious creations spring from but a spark of My splendor. Is there any need for so much detailed information about Me? With a tiny fragment of Myself I pervade and support this entire universe.”
Tears streamed from Arjuna’s eyes. Remembering how he would often sport with Kṛṣṇa as if he were an equal, he said in a choked voice, “Only out of illusion did I ever believe You to be a man like me. That illusion is now dispelled. I am convinced of Your supreme position. But, O greatest of all personalities, there are many who will not believe this truth. Please, therefore, show Yourself in all Your majesty. I too desire to see that great form which pervades and supports the worlds. If I am able to see it, O Lord, then please display it to me now.”
Kṛṣṇa assented to Arjuna’s request. “See now My mystic opulence, O son of Kuntī. Here are My hundreds and thousands of varied divine and multicolored forms. My dear Arjuna, I shall bestow upon you divine vision, for you cannot see Me with your present eyes. Behold, O best of the Bharatas, all that you desire to see and all that you will ever desire to see in the future. Everything moving and unmoving is here in one place.”
As Arjuna looked on in astonishment, Kṛṇa displayed His universal form. In Hastināpura He had shown a partial manifestation of this form, but this time He exhibited it in full. Arjuna became aware of a vast form possessing unlimited mouths and eyes. It was decorated with countless celestial ornaments and held many divine weapons. Decked with celestial garments and garlands, it was wondrous, brilliant, unlimited, and expanded everywhere. It seemed as if hundreds of thousands of suns had risen simultaneously in the sky.
Arjuna felt his hair standing on end. He bowed his head to the floor of his chariot and offered many prayers to Kṛṣṇa. In Kṛṣṇa’s divine form he could see all the gods headed by Brahmā and Śiva with all the ṛṣis, Siddhas and Nāgas. Every kind of created being appeared in that form, all the worlds were visible, and nothing was missing.
Finding it difficult to look at the universal form, Arjuna said, “O inexhaustible one, this unlimited body of Yours is wonderful and at the same time terrifying. I see all the gods and ṛṣis standing before You and offering prayers. As they are disturbed, so am I, dear Lord. Seeing this tremendous manifestation I am losing my peace of mind and my balance. I cannot look upon Your thousands of blazing, death-like faces. All the soldiers of both sides appear to be rushing into the fearful mouths of those faces. Indeed, You are destroying all men and everything else. Everything is entering Your mouths as moths fall into a fire. Covering all the universe, You are manifest with terrible, scorching rays.”
Arjuna was trembling. “O Lord of lords, so fierce of form, please tell me who You are and what is Your mission.”
Kṛṣṇa’s voice seemed to Arjuna to be resounding from all sides as He replied. “I am Time, O Pārtha, the great destroyer of all the worlds. With the exception of you, your brothers, and a few others, everyone will be slain. This will come to pass whether you fight or not, Arjuna. Therefore, do your duty as a warrior and you will become an instrument of My desire. Bhīṣma, Droṇa, and all the Kuru heroes are already dead. Fight without disturbance, Arjuna, and you will gain a glorious victory.”
Sitting before Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Sañjaya saw everything that was taking place between Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa. He described it in detail to the blind king, telling him the exact words spoken by them both. The king was amazed as he heard of Kṛṣṇa’s divine opulence. As Sañjaya tried to describe the universal form, Dhṛtarāṣṭra felt his heart tremble. How could his sons face such power and survive? Now Kṛṣṇa was saying that all the Kuru heroes had already been put to death by a divine arrangement. Could it be true? Was Kṛṣṇa really able to make such a prediction? It seemed that not everything was in His power. After all, He had come to Hastināpura seeking peace and had failed in His mission. Perhaps He would also fail to fulfill His desire to see the Pāṇḍavas victorious in the war.
Sañjaya told the king what Arjuna said to Kṛṣṇa after he heard that all the fighters would be killed. “Arjuna could understand Kṛṣṇa’s desire. He then replied, ‘All this is rightly done, O Lord. You are the protector of pious and perfected beings and the destroyer of atheists and demons. This is for the good of all, for even the demons will finally be brought to their senses by this treatment. O almighty one, everyone should simply offer their obeisances unto You. You are the ultimate sanctuary. Knowing everything, You are all that is knowable. I fall before You again and again. My obeisances from every side, O Lord! I have obviously disrespected You until now. Please forgive me. Not knowing Your glories I have lain with You on the same bed, jested with You, and surely dishonored You many times out of madness or love. O infallible one, please excuse me, even as a father would excuse his son, or a lover his beloved.’”
Sañjaya sat with his eyes closed, envisioning the scene. He saw Arjuna bowing at Kṛṣṇa’s feet. As Arjuna stood up he said, “O almighty one, having seen this form which I have never seen before, my mind is filled with fear. Please be gracious and allow me to see Your beautiful Viṣṇu form, with its four arms and divine decorations.”
Kṛṣṇa said, “Happily have I shown you, by My spiritual potency, this supreme universal form. No one else has seen this form. Not by any means can it ever be seen, O Arjuna. You have been disturbed and frightened by this horrible feature of Mine. Let it be finished. See now My Nārāyaṇa form and be peaceful again.”
Kṛṣṇa withdrew his universal form and Arjuna saw before him the graceful form of Nārāyaṇa, with His four arms holding a conch shell, disc, club, and lotus flower. After some moments, that form again changed to Kṛṣṇa’s original, two-armed form, from which all other forms emanate.
Arjuna regained his composure and felt encouraged. Kṛṣṇa said, “O Arjuna, although My universal form is difficult to see, it is even harder to know My original form. The gods are always seeking an opportunity to see Me as I now appear. This form is the most dear and it can only be known by undivided devotional service. Only in this way can one enter into the mysteries of My understanding.”
As Sañjaya repeated Kṛṣṇa’s words to Dhṛtarāṣṭra, the king heard about the science of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Kṛṣṇa first explained that there were two classes of transcendentalists: those who worshipped the unmanifested Supreme Brahman--the eternal, spiritual energy which is the basis of all existence--and those who worshipped Kṛṣṇa’s personal form.
“Of the two, he who fixes his mind on My personal form, worshipping Me with faith and love, is considered the most perfect. For the other class, advancement in spiritual life is difficult, although they too will finally come to the point of worshipping Me when their realization matures. Indeed, O Arjuna, I am the basis and origin of the impersonal Brahman. Therefore, worship Me alone. I swiftly deliver My devoted worshippers from the fearful ocean of birth and death. They then live with Me in perfect happiness eternally.”
Kṛṣṇa then explained how to approach the practice of bhakti-yoga by the gradual method. After describing the qualities found in a consummate practitioner of bhakti, He spoke about the material nature and consciousness. Through descriptions of the knower, knowledge, and the objects of knowledge, Kṛṣṇa explained in detail how He pervaded the material energy and how He was the Supersoul in every living being. He thus assured Arjuna of His complete ability to protect and deliver His worshippers.
From Kṛṣṇa’s instructions, Arjuna could understand that the living being is the cause of his own happiness and distress. By initially desiring to turn away from God, he is placed in the material energy. Then by associating with the various aspects of matter, he becomes more and more entangled, being attracted to various forms of material enjoyment. He is thus obliged to take birth in various species of life. All the while the Supersoul accompanies him as the witness of all his actions. The Lord is the overseer and sanctioner of the living being’s activities. If the living being turns again toward the Lord, he can at once become free of matter.
Kṛṣṇa continued. “Those who can see the difference between the body and the soul, and who can see the Supersoul, are eligible to approach the supreme spiritual abode. Such persons will not become degraded in this world, even though engaged in action.”
Arjuna was curious to know how the soul first came into the clutches of matter. Kṛṣṇa explained it in full. By this knowledge, one would be able to extract himself from the material energy. Arjuna inquired as to what were the qualities of a person who had achieved complete freedom from material bondage, and Kṛṣṇa gave a detailed description. He concluded by saying, “He who engages in full devotional service to Me, unfailing in all circumstances, is at once freed from the material energy and raised to the transcendental platform.”
Arjuna understood that freedom from matter did not mean leaving the material world altogether. It simply meant being freed from attraction and attachment to material things and working only for the pleasure of the Lord. In this mood Arjuna should fight. Kṛṣṇa had clearly elaborated on his initial instruction to Arjuna to fight without material attachment.
Having told Arjuna about the auspicious path of bhakti-yoga and the qualities of a person on that path, Kṛṣṇa went on to describe the atheistic persons who went further and further away from God. “Such persons are absorbed in the conceit of pride and false prestige. They are driven by lust and greed, and they believe that satisfying their senses is the prime necessity of life. Perplexed by various anxieties and bound by a network of illusions, they become strongly attached to material pleasures and fall down into hell. They then attain birth in all kinds of low and abominable species as a result of their own sinful desires.
“Those who disregard scriptural injunctions and act whimsically achieve, in the end, only misery.” Kṛṣṇa concluded His instructions to Arjuna by describing how a person could work in the spirit of renunciation. “In that mood, O Arjuna, fight. One who is not motivated by the false ego of thinking himself to be the body, whose intelligence is not entangled in material calculations of profit and loss, even though he kills men in this world, does not actually kill. Nor is he bound by his actions. On the other hand, he who chooses not to kill, based upon his material calculations is motivated only by false ego, and he becomes bound by sinful reactions.”
Arjuna nodded. He understood. His hesitation to fight was born of ignorance. All his considerations had been selfish. Seeing his beloved relatives before him, he had forgotten his true spiritual nature and allowed himself to be influenced by mundane sentiment. Now Kṛṣṇa had awakened his higher intelligence. He and all these kings on the battlefield were all eternal servants of God; their highest duty was to render loving service to the Lord. That very Lord was now standing before Arjuna and asking him to fight. By acting according to Kṛṣṇa’s instructions, he would achieve perfection, becoming free from material bondage, and attain the eternal spiritual abode.
Seeing that Arjuna had understood His instructions, Kṛṣṇa said, “Because you are My very dear friend, I have fully explained to you all spiritual knowledge. Deliberate on it fully and do what you wish to do. My final advice is that you simply surrender to Me and act for My pleasure. This is the supreme morality. There is no need to consider any other process of yoga or religion. If you act in this way, I will always protect you from sinful reactions. Do not fear.”
Kṛṣṇa looked at Arjuna, sitting at His feet. “Tell Me then, O son of Kuntī, have you heard everything attentively? Is your illusion dispelled?”
Arjuna stood up in the chariot and took hold of the Gāṇḍīva. “My dear Kṛṣṇa, my illusion is gone and by Your mercy I have regained my memory. I am now firm and free from doubt. I shall act according to Your divine instructions.”
Sitting before Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Sañjaya said, “Having heard this conversation between two great souls, I feel my hair standing on end, so profound and wonderful is its import. My heart is thrilled. Upon remembering Kṛṣṇa’s wondrous form, I rejoice again and again. Wherever there is Kṛṣṇa, the master of all mystics, and wherever there is Arjuna, the supreme archer, there will certainly be opulence, victory, extraordinary power and morality. That is my opinion.”
Dhṛtarāṣṭra said nothing. Sañjaya’s prediction was certain to be fulfilled. The old king wondered how there could be any hope for his sons, but he still could not help wishing that somehow they would win the war. It was strange. Even though his intelligence accepted the obvious fact that Kṛṣṇa, and anyone who took His side, could not be defeated, his attachment to his sons rose up and overpowered his intelligence. The internal conflict he suffered was itself a war. He could neither rest nor sleep, although he felt emotionally and physically drained. Somehow, hearing Kṛṣṇa’s instructions to Arjuna had soothed him, although his sons’ position seemed even more hopeless. He sat holding his head as Sañjaya began to describe the beginning of the war.