The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna's Counsel in Time of War / Edition 1

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The Bhagavad-Gita has been an essential text of Hindu culture in India since the time of its composition in the first century A.D. One of the great classics of world literature, it has inspired such diverse thinkers as Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, and T.S. Eliot; most recently, it formed the core of Peter Brook's celebrated production of the Mahabharata.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231064682
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 11/26/1986
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 168
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.43 (h) x 0.68 (d)

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The Bhagavad-Gita

Krishna's Counsel in Time of War
By Barbara Stoller Miller

Columbia University Press

Copyright © 1987 Barbara Stoller Miller
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0231064683

Chapter One




Sanjaya, tell me what my sons

and the sons of Pandu did when they met,

wanting to battle on the field of Kuru,

on the field of sacred duty? 1


Your son Duryodhana, the king,

seeing the Pandava forces arrayed,

approached his teacher Drona

and spoke in command. 2

"My teacher, see

the great Pandava army arrayed

by Drupada's son,

your pupil, intent on revenge. 3

Here are heroes, mighty archers

equal to Bhima and Arjuna in warfare,

Yuyudhana, Virata, and Drupada,

your sworn foe on his great chariot. 4

Here too are Dhrishtaketu, Cekitana,

and the brave king of Benares;

Purujit, Kuntibhoja,

and the manly king of the Shibis. 5

Yudhamanyu is bold,

and Uttamaujas is brave;

the sons of Subhadra and Draupadi

all command great chariots. 6

Now, honored priest, mark

the superb men on our side

as I tell you the names

of my army's leaders. 7

They are you and Bhishma,

Karna and Kripa, a victor in battles,

your own son Ashvatthama,

Vikarna, and the son of Somadatta. 8

Many other heroes also risk

their lives for my sake,

bearing varied weapons

and skilled in the ways of war. 9

Guarded by Bhishma, the strength

of our army is without limit;

but the strength of their army,

guarded by Bhima, is limited. 10

In all the movements of battle,

you and your men,

stationed according to plan,

must guard Bhishma well!" 11

Bhishma, fiery elder of the Kurus,

roared his lion's roar

and blew his conch horn,

exciting Duryodhana's delight. 12

Conches and kettledrums,

cymbals, tabors, and trumpets

were sounded at once

and the din of tumult arose. 13

Standing on their great chariot

yoked with white stallions,

Krishna and Arjuna, Pandu's son,

sounded their divine conches. 14

Krishna blew Pancajanya, won from a demon;

Arjuna blew Devadatta, a gift of the gods;

fierce wolf-bellied Bhima blew Paundra,

his great conch of the east. 15

Yudhishthira, Kunti's son, the king,

blew Anantavijaya, conch of boundless victory;

his twin brothers Nakula and Sahadeva

blew conches resonant and jewel toned. 16

The king of Benares, a superb archer,

and Shikhandin on his great chariot,

Drishtadyumna, Virata, and indomitable Satyaki,

all blew their conches. 17

Drupada, with his five grandsons,

and Subhadra's strong-armed son,

each in his turn blew

their conches, O King. 18

The noise tore the hearts

of Dhritarashtra's sons,

and tumult echoed

through heaven and earth. 19

Arjuna, his war flag a rampant monkey,

saw Dhritarashtra's sons assembled

as weapons were ready to clash,

and he lifted his bow. 20

He told his charioteer:


halt my chariot

between the armies! 21

Far enough for me to see

these men who lust for war,

ready to fight with me

in the strain of battle. 22

I see men gathered here,

eager to fight,

bent on serving the folly

of Dhritarashtra's son." 23

When Arjuna had spoken,

Krishna halted

their splendid chariot

between the armies. 24

Facing Bhishma and Drona

and all the great kings,

he said, "Arjuna, see

the Kuru men assembled here!" 25

Arjuna saw them standing there:

fathers, grandfathers, teachers,

uncles, brothers, sons,

grandsons, and friends. 26

He surveyed his elders

and companions in both armies,

all his kinsmen

assembled together. 27

Dejected, filled with strange pity,

he said this:

"Krishna, I see my kinsmen

gathered here, wanting war. 28

My limbs sink,

my mouth is parched,

my body trembles,

the hair bristles on my flesh. 29

The magic bow slips

from my hand, my skin burns,

I cannot stand still,

my mind reels. 30

I see omens of chaos,

Krishna; I see no good

in killing my kinsmen

in battle. 31

Krishna, I seek no victory,

or kingship or pleasures.

What use to us are kingship,

delights, or life itself? 32

We sought kingship, delights,

and pleasures for the sake of those

assembled to abandon their lives

and fortunes in battle. 33

They are teachers, fathers, sons,

and grandfathers, uncles, grandsons,

fathers and brothers of wives,

and other men of our family. 34

I do not want to kill them

even if I am killed, Krishna;

not for kingship of all three worlds,

much less for the earth! 35

What joy is there for us, Krishna,

in killing Dhritarashtra's sons?

Evil will haunt us if we kill them,

though their bows are drawn to kill. 36

Honor forbids us to kill

our cousins, Dhritarashtra's sons;

how can we know happiness

if we kill our own kinsmen? 37

The greed that distorts their reason

blinds them to the sin they commit

in ruining the family, blinds them

to the crime of betraying friends. 38

How can we ignore the wisdom

of turning from this evil

when we see the sin

of family destruction, Krishna? 39

When the family is ruined,

the timeless laws of family duty

perish; and when duty is lost,

chaos overwhelms the family. 40

In overwhelming chaos, Krishna,

women of the family are corrupted;

and when women are corrupted,

disorder is born in society. 41

This discord drags the violators

and the family itself to hell;

for ancestors fall when rites

of offering rice and water lapse. 42

The sins of men who violate

the family create disorder in society

that undermines the constant laws

of caste and family duty. 43

Krishna, we have heard

that a place in hell

is reserved for men

who undermine family duties. 44

I lament the great sin

we commit when our greed

for kingship and pleasures

drives us to kill our kinsmen. 45

If Dhritarashtra's armed sons

kill me in battle when I am unarmed

and offer no resistance,

it will be my reward." 46

Saying this in the time of war,

Arjuna slumped into the chariot

and laid down his bow and arrows,

his mind tormented by grief. 47





Arjuna sat dejected,

filled with pity,

his sad eyes blurred by tears.

Krishna gave him counsel. 1

Lord Krishna

Why this cowardice

in time of crisis, Arjuna?

The coward is ignoble, shameful,

foreign to the ways of heaven. 2

Don't yield to impotence!

It is unnatural in you!

Banish this petty weakness from your heart.

Rise to the fight, Arjuna! 3


Krishna, how can I fight

against Bhishma and Drona

with arrows

when they deserve my worship? 4

It is better in this world

to beg for scraps of food

than to eat meals

smeared with the blood

of elders I killed

at the height of their power

while their goals

were still desires. 5

We don't know which weight

is worse to bear-

our conquering them

or their conquering us.

We will not want to live

if we kill

the sons of Dhritarashtra

assembled before us. 6

The flaw of pity

blights my very being;

conflicting sacred duties

confound my reason.

I ask you to tell me

decisively-Which is better?

I am your pupil.

Teach me what I seek! 7

I see nothing

that could drive away

the grief

that withers my senses;

even if I won kingdoms

of unrivaled wealth

on earth

and sovereignty over gods. 8


Arjuna told this

to Krishna-then saying,

"I shall not fight,"

he fell silent. 9

Mocking him gently,

Krishna gave this counsel

as Arjuna sat dejected,

between the two armies. 10

Lord Krishna

You grieve for those beyond grief,

and you speak words of insight;

but learned men do not grieve

for the dead or the living. 11

Never have I not existed,

nor you, nor these kings;

and never in the future

shall we cease to exist. 12

Just as the embodied self

enters childhood, youth, and old age,

so does it enter another body;

this does not confound a steadfast man. 13

Contacts with matter make us feel

heat and cold, pleasure and pain.

Arjuna, you must learn to endure

fleeting things-they come and go! 14

When these cannot torment a man,

when suffering and joy are equal

for him and he has courage,

he is fit for immortality. 15

Nothing of nonbeing comes to be,

nor does being cease to exist;

the boundary between these two

is seen by men who see reality. 16

Indestructible is the presence

that pervades all this;

no one can destroy

this unchanging reality. 17

Our bodies are known to end,

but the embodied self is enduring,

indestructible, and immeasurable;

therefore, Arjuna, fight the battle! 18

He who thinks this self a killer

and he who thinks it killed,

both fail to understand;

it does not kill, nor is it killed. 19

It is not born,

it does not die;

having been,

it will never not be;

unborn, enduring,

constant, and primordial,

it is not killed

when the body is killed. 20

Arjuna, when a man knows the self

to be indestructible, enduring, unborn,

unchanging, how does he kill

or cause anyone to kill? 21

As a man discards

worn-out clothes

to put on new

and different ones,

so the embodied self


its worn-out bodies

to take on other new ones. 22

Weapons do not cut it,

fire does not burn it,

waters do not wet it,

wind does not wither it. 23

It cannot be cut or burned;

it cannot be wet or withered;

it is enduring, all-pervasive,

fixed, immovable, and timeless. 24

It is called unmanifest,

inconceivable, and immutable;

since you know that to be so,

you should not grieve! 25

If you think of its birth

and death as ever-recurring,

then too, Great Warrior,

you have no cause to grieve! 26

Death is certain for anyone born,

and birth is certain for the dead;

since the cycle is inevitable,

you have no cause to grieve! 27

Creatures are unmanifest in origin,

manifest in the midst of life,

and unmanifest again in the end.

Since this is so, why do you lament? 28

Rarely someone

sees it,

rarely another

speaks it,

rarely anyone

hears it-

even hearing it,

no one really knows it. 29

The self embodied in the body

of every being is indestructible;

you have no cause to grieve

for all these creatures, Arjuna! 30

Look to your own duty;

do not tremble before it;

nothing is better for a warrior

than a battle of sacred duty. 31

The doors of heaven open

for warriors who rejoice

to have a battle like this

thrust on them by chance. 32

If you fail to wage this war

of sacred duty,

you will abandon your own duty

and fame only to gain evil. 33

People will tell

of your undying shame,

and for a man of honor

shame is worse than death. 34

The great chariot warriors will think

you deserted in fear of battle;

you will be despised

by those who held you in esteem. 35

Your enemies will slander you,

scorning your skill

in so many unspeakable ways-

could any suffering be worse? 36

If you are killed, you win heaven;

if you triumph, you enjoy the earth;

therefore, Arjuna, stand up

and resolve to fight the battle! 37

Impartial to joy and suffering,

gain and loss, victory and defeat,

arm yourself for the battle,

lest you fall into evil. 38

Understanding is defined in terms of philosophy;

now hear it in spiritual discipline.

Armed with this understanding, Arjuna,

you will escape the bondage of action. 39

No effort in this world

is lost or wasted;

a fragment of sacred duty

saves you from great fear. 40

This understanding is unique

in its inner core of resolve;

diffuse and pointless are the ways

irresolute men understand. 41

Undiscerning men who delight

in the tenets of ritual lore

utter florid speech, proclaiming,

"There is nothing else!" 42

Driven by desire, they strive after heaven

and contrive to win powers and delights,

but their intricate ritual language

bears only the fruit of action in rebirth. 43

Obsessed with powers and delights,

their reason lost in words,

they do not find in contemplation

this understanding of inner resolve. 44

Arjuna, the realm of sacred lore

is nature-beyond its triad of qualities,

dualities, and mundane rewards,

be forever lucid, alive to your self. 45

For the discerning priest,

all of sacred lore

has no more value than a well

when water flows everywhere.



Excerpted from The Bhagavad-Gita by Barbara Stoller Miller Copyright © 1987 by Barbara Stoller Miller. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

IntroductionThe Bhagavad-Gita: Context and Text

Translator's Note

The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna's Counsel in Time of War

AfterwordWhy Did Henry David Thoreau Take the Bhagavad-Gita to Walden Pond?

Key Words in the Bhagavad-Gita

Columbia University Press

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