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Letters — Bhagavad Gita and Violence

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Dear Secretary,

I have a question about Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Does the immortality of the soul justify the act of killing? Arjuna feels himself unable to kill, but Krishna sanctions Arjuna’s fighting by saying that the soul doesn’t perish with the body (Bg. 2.17-18). Is this ethical?

Jay Kirsch, Plainview, New York

Dear Jay,

Killing and war are never advocated by Krishna. Indeed, Bhagavad-gita As It Is advocates nonviolence in a number of places (Bg. 10.4-5, 13.8, 16.1-3). Nonviolence (ahimsa) is one of the most important sub-religious principles and is practiced naturally by all devotees of the Lord. But, according to the Gita, even higher than nonviolence is direct obedience to the will of God.

Krishna did not give His order whimsically, as is done in today’s wars, which are brought about by the political desires of the leaders. An ordinary leader cannot kill and claim he has God’s sanction. However, in the Gita Lord Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is personally instructing Arjuna to kill. It must be understood that Krishna is God Himself, not an ordinary man.

If we do not accept Krishna’s supreme position, then we cannot understand anything about Bhagavad-gita. Lord Sri Krishna is completely transcendental and cannot be judged by any conditioned souls within the material world. Nevertheless there are good reasons for His ordering Ayuna to kill.

First, Krishna says that for the organization of human society there must be four divisions, and that one of these is the ksatriya or warrior class. Ksatriya means one who gives protection to the innocent. Krishna doesn’t advocate violence, but if a criminal becomes violent, then he has to be punished by violence. That punishing is the business of the ksatriya.

Next, the Vedic scripture Manu-samhita describes five kinds of criminals who can be punished by violence—(1) one who kidnaps your wife, (2) one who attacks you with a lethal weapon, (3) one who sets fire to your home, (4) one who tries to take your land, and (5) one who tries to give you poison. If someone attacks me, shall I be non violent? In the case of personal attack, defensive violence is natural. Violence is necessary to stop the unnecessary attack of an immoral aggressor.

Also, in the specific case of Krishna and Arjuna, those opposed to them were bent on war. They were a political clique who had committed many atrocities against Krishna’s devotees—in fact, they had fulfilled all the five qualifications of punishable criminals as listed above. Even after this, Krishna tried to negotiate peace with them, but they were determined to fight. Krishna and Arjuna fought only in defense. They cannot be blamed for fighting back when they were attacked. To refrain from fighting at such a time is artificial nonviolence. It is cowardly, especially for ksatriyas.

In addition, the material world is relative. The very word “nonviolence” presumes the existence of violence. Even though you are nonviolent, others are violent. So you may have to be violent to protect innocent members of society.

Finally, there will always be war in the material world because war is a natural reaction to sinful activity. It cannot be stopped by a material adjustment, any more than a flood or an earthquake can be stopped.

The material world is characterized by sinful activity, which brings about war and other miseries. We can be free from sinful activity only by following the instructions of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as Arjuna did. By developing devotion to the Supreme Lord we can be transferred to the spiritual world and not have to come back again to this place of miseries. We are meant to live in the spiritual world. That is the sum and substance of the Cita’s teaching that the soul is immortal. On this basis, Krishna rightly expresses the supreme path of peace and morality for all living beings.

Satsvarupa dasa Gosvami Senior Editor—BTG

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