Krishna delivered the message of the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra, just as two titanic armies were about to clash. The trumpets and conch shells heralding the battle had already been blown, and the bows were drawn tight with their arrows ready to fly. The horses were nervous, the warriors tense with anticipation of mortal combat. It was at this point that Arjuna had second thoughts. Although he was convinced of the righteousness of his cause and had the direct sanction of the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself, he became sickened at the prospect of leading his army into civil war. He could see no good result coming from the battle. He decided to leave the field—ruined and dishonored—and to adopt a life of poverty, although he was by birth and upbringing a prince of splendid position.
At that point, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, advised Arjuna to fight. The course of the conversation which followed between these two is the instruction of the Bhagavad Gita. This may seem an unlikely tree from which to pluck the fruit of peace—but we shall soon see that the fruit is there, and that it is well within our reach.
To begin His instructions to Arjuna, the Lord made clear the difference between the body and the soul. Arjuna’s misgivings were all on the level of material consciousness—he was considering the ills, comforts and relationships of the body. Krishna politely called him a fool for this, and then explained that the living entity—the real being—is not matter at all. The real person is the soul., the pure spirit that dwells within the body. Krishna speaks of the soul in these terms:
He who thinks that this slays
And he who thinks that this is slain—
Both fail to perceive the truth:
This one neither slays nor is slain.
He is never born, nor does he die at any time,
Nor, having being, will he cease to be.
He is unborn, eternal, permanent and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.
It is to this real person, and not to the material covering, that Bhagavad Gita is addressed. The material covering—the body—is born, and is quite as ephemeral as a flicker of sunset color. Of the soul, however, these things are not true. Again, Lord Sri Krishna says:
Weapons do not cut this self,
Fire does not burn him,
Waters do not wet him,
Nor does the wind make him dry.
He is uncleavable. He cannot be burnt.
He can neither be wetted nor dried.
Though he pervades the body, he is eternal, unchanging, and immovable.
He is the same forever.
This is the real person, who has by mischance fallen into this ocean of material misery. Here, he is not at home. He has identified himself with the body, and is therefore suffering the pangs of disease, old age, death and rebirth. All the impermanence and insecurity of the ever-changing material universe are his—although he is in fact “eternal, unchanging and immovable…the same forever.”
Before we can actually consider the problem of peace, we must make clear this distinction between matter and spirit. This is what Krishna did for Arjuna, before going on with the teaching of Bhagavad Gita. And so this distinction is necessary for our further understanding also. The great acharya and our grand spiritual master Sri Srimad Bhakti Sidhanta Sarasvati Goswami used to tell the following brief story to his disciples, to illustrate this point:
Once a man fell into a lake. Being unable to swim, he shouted and cried for help, flailing desperately in the water. A well-meaning passerby, seeing the man’s plight, leapt into the lake and swam to him. The rescuer, upon reaching the drowning man, took off the man’s coat and then brought it back to shore. He was very proud of himself, but the people on the shore jeered at him for being a terrible fool. He had brought the drowning man’s coat to safety, but the man himself had by now gone down to his death.
In Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says:
Just as a person casts off worn-out garments
And puts on others that are new-
Even so does the embodied soul cast off worn-out bodies
And takes on others that are new.
Just as we would deride the fool who brought the drowning man’s coat to shore—so we must deride the doers of good deeds in our present society, who ignore the soul—the true, imperishable person—and make prodigious efforts towards the relief of the body. Fortunes are cast into the fire for saving people’s bodies, but in the end everyone surely dies. Meanwhile, the real living entity within goes on suffering indefinitely, neither its disease nor its very existence being regarded.
This applies to our present strivings for peace in the world as well. All our grave and earnest efforts are being directed at the body—to prevent its death on the field of battle—yet no one can stay the hand of death, nor turn the sun back on its course, nor stop the coming of dusk. We think that conditions in Vietnam are pitiable, but we ignore the pitiable conditions on the Bowery, in Harlem—and, yes, even in Levittown.
We are all suffering at the hands of material nature, because it is alien to us. No man can live contentedly in the midst of the North Atlantic, nor can a whale find a peaceful home on the Great Plains. The eternal spirit soul, in similar fashion, is out of its natural environment when, under the cloud of illusion, it accepts the bodily concept of life. Its plight is duly noted by the Lord:
The living entities are
Eternal fragmental portions of Myself.
They are dragging on in a bitter struggle for existence in material nature
With the six senses, including the mind.
Because we are eternal, we seek eternal surroundings. But we have accepted material nature, and so our strivings for happiness, security and peace are carried out here, where they cannot be brought to success. In the Eight chapter of Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says, “The basis of all created things is mutable nature.” (Gita, 8.4). As the basis of the created—or material—world, mutability is not separable from the material world. Just what this mutability consists of and how it acts is elsewhere described by the Lord, in discussing the three modes by which nature manifests itself.
Goodness prevails, overpowering
Passion and ignorance, O Bharata.
Passion prevails, overpowering goodness and ignorance.
Even so ignorance prevails, overpowering goodness and passion.
This is the working of nature—both within man and within the whole context of material creation. Just as there are many men today who are laboring dearly for peace—so there are even more men (obviously) who are laboring for war. This is an eternal process, according to Lord Sri Krishna. At one time the forces of goodness prevail, at another the powers of passion, and then again—as in a dark or stagnant age-the forces of ignorance are most prominent.
This revolving wheel cannot be stopped. It is not a phenomenon peculiar to human activities, but a universal law—the mutability of material existence. Even on a much higher scale, the very cosmos itself is subject to this restless activity. Here is the Lord’s description of cosmic evolution:
At the coming of day
All manifested things come forth from the unmanifested
And at the coming of night
They merge in that same unmanifested.
This very same multitude of existences
Arising again and again
Merges helplessly at the coming of night, O Partha,
And streams forth into being at the coming of day.
What peace then shall we find here? Here, there is only a perpetual struggle to survive, where survival is assuredly impossible. The Utopian concept of a world without war—a world of material peace and comfort—is an imagination. There is aplace of true peace and, more than comfort, eternal ecstacy—but it is not here in the sphere of cosmic evolution.
However, we have already seen that the living entity is not matter. Although he has identified himself with the body, he is actually eternal, and lives on after the annihilation of the body. He lives on, in fact, beyond the annihilation of the very universe—through cosmic days and nights without end. His real position lies outside the spinning modes of material nature.
The master (of the body) does not act,
Nor does he cause others to act,
Nor does he connect work with its fruit.
It is nature that accomplishes these things.
Disturbance, turbulence and unrest, the grim struggle for existence, the savage grappling for impossible survival—these are nature’s actions. The real living spark does not participate. He merely lends his consciousness, and therefore he suffers. But, when he can withdraw his attachment, and fix himself in his real nature—then he is free, for he has broken his artificial ties with nature. Being established in one’s real identity, we must therefore conclude, is the meaning of peace. No aspect of body consciousness can bring peace, because the body is only an artificial covering—itself the cause of our unhappiness, subject by its very constitution to the limits of day and night, and day and night again, and on and on again.
WE can have real peace. We can withdraw ourselves from our attachment to matter, and fix ourselves in ourselves as we really are—full of knowledge, blissful and eternal. This real peace can be had first of all in personal terms—immediately and directly for the individual. The Lord, in His infinite kindness, appeared on this earth to help us find the way to peace. Here is His formula for the individual:
Whatever thou doest, whatever thou eatest,
Whatever thou offerest, whatever thou givest away,
Whatever austerities thou dost practice—
Do that, O son of Kunti (Arjuna), as an offering to Me.
Thus shalt thou be freed
From the good and evil results which are the bonds of action.
With thy mind firmly set on the way of renunciation,
Thou shalt become free, and attain to Me.
Renunciation is the path of freedom to peace. Renunciation does not mean holing up in a cave or in a jungle. It is much simpler than that. Renunciation means offering everything to God. Everything already belongs to God, but we have foolishly set ourselves up as independent lords and masters—and so we are in agony life after life, never resting, never happy and never at peace. Even if we come to know some flickering shadow of these things, the hand of death touches us, and all is gone—the millionaire, the general, the movie star and the madman—all must go then and there, and none may have even a moment’s delay, whatever his assets. But the man who understands the Lord—this man finds peace which is sweeter than all April’s blossoms—and which will never end. This formula is given most explicitly in the Fifth chapter of Bhagavad Gita:
And having known Me as the Enjoyer of sacrifices and austerities,
The great Lord of all the worlds,
The friend of all beings,
He attains peace.
These three items of knowledge, then, will bring us peace: First, that God is the Enjoyer of everything, and that everything is meant for His enjoyment. Second, that God is the Lord and Master of all worlds. And, third, that the Lord is friend to all beings, whatever their aspect. If we accept these principles, we have drawn ourselves out of the entanglement of material nature. If the nations of the world and their government will accept these principles, then we can actually have world-wide peace at once. There will be no need to battle over some land, some sky, some jewels or some influence if we realize that all these things are the property of God. It is because we imagine them to be ours that we are killing each other for them. We come to this earth naked and we go empty-handed—and while we’re here we struggle ferociously for some clods of clay. But these things are not ours. They will never be ours. They are God’s, and we are also God’s.
Modern civilization is deeply engrossed in the search for peace, but for all the efforts made, no peace has been found. Nations are engaged in vicious warfare—and individuals are likewise so engaged in the course of their daily lives. In Sweden today there is no war, and yet the people are committing suicide in appalling numbers. No armies are contesting the roadways in New York or California, but you cannot count the dead which pile up on them everyday. There is no more peace in Stockholm or in the Bronx than there is in Vietnam—only the fashion of the struggle and its attendant agonies are different. This is because we have failed to recognized the Lord. Our godless civilization is a disaster on every account.
There is a Sanskrit verse which translates approximately like this: “Eating, sleeping, defending and mating are instincts common to animals and men. But the extra instinct, which distinguishes the human from the animal, is his religious instinct.” Human life is characterized by its highly-developed consciousness. Unless we use this developed consciousness to find out the answers to the problems of existence, then we are using only our animal instincts. In other words, without at least a serious enquiry into the nature of our being, our life cannot be said to be human.
This society as it stands today, then, is not human society. It has cast aside all interest in God and the spirit, and has bent all its energies to sophisticating and elaborating upon the gratification of those simple instincts which we hold in common with the dogs, the hogs and the buffalo. Because war disturbs one’s ability to enjoy his animal propensities, our society has decided to find some means to abolish war. It has not taken any consideration of the Lord, however, That would also mean giving up our deep attachment to those propensities which we share with the less-conscious animals. However, without god-consciousness, we are no more than sophisticated dogs. This is why the United Nations is a failure, and why it will continue to fail. There is no more hope of a workable peace coming from the General Assembly than there is from the city pound.
The leaders who are attempting to guide our civilization away from disaster are unmindful of God. Being ignorant of God, they are themselves blind to all truth, and at the mercy of the modes of nature. They cannot possibly accomplish anything but deviltry. The words of this writer will be less trenchant than the following three verses from Bhagavad Gita, in which the Lord Himself speaks on this subject:
Deluded by these
Threefold modes of Nature,
This whole world does not recognize Me,
Who am above them and imperishable.
This Divine maya (illusory energy) of Mine,
Consisting of the three modes, is hard to overcome.
But those who take refuge in Me alone
Cross beyond it.
The evil-doers, the foolish,
The lowest of Mankind—whose minds are carried away by illusion
And who partake of the nature of demons—
These do not seek refuge in Me.
Lord Krishna doesn’t mince His words. We may know then, on His authority, that most of the leaders—intellectual as well as administrative—of our modern world, are evil-doers, fools, the lowest among Mankind—and that their knowledge has been carried away by illusion (in other words, they are mad). Do not expect peace in our time. These men who now lead us are particularly qualified only for the grim mischief which we have already so lavishly tasted in this Twentieth Century. As to whether these men are likely to bring about peace in spite of their poor qualifications—by chance, as it were—here are two more verses which pretty nicely examine this possibility:
The deluded despise Me
Clad in human body,
Not knowing My higher Nature
As Lord of all existences.
Partaking of the deceptive nature of fiends and demons, Their aspirations are vain,
Their actions vain and their knowledge vain
And they are devoid of judgment.
The fact is that there are probably at least as many atheists campaigning for peace as there are engaged in war right now. Bhagavad Gita says that all of these men are devoid of judgment. We can expect no good from them. The Lord Himself avows this, and the events of history attest to the truth of His words.
Even if a political peace can be established, it will not mean that peace has come to Mankind. Peace is a thing of the heart, the mind and the soul. Peace can be absent from the placid shores of some sylvan meadow stream, and it can also be had in the midst of brutal violence and mayhem. Even so slight a thing as a smile on the rush-hour bus is a conquest of material nature. Peace is an inner quality. It is a gift of God bestowed upon those who are wise enough to accept Him as the Supreme Enjoyer, Lord of all world, and Friend of all beings.
The great-souled (mahatmas), O Partha
Who abide in the divine nature,
Knowing Me the imperishable source of all beings,
Worship Me with undistracted devotion.
These are the qualifications which we should look for in our leaders. They are rarely found, to be sure, but if we actually want peace among men, then we must seek out such people. Of course, even the present leaders of the world can quickly attain the status of great-souled. Let them take up the chanting of the Lord’s Holy Names, to purify their minds. Let them recognize the Lord’s sovereignty of God, and the sacredness of all that belongs to Him. Let them make it their business to propagate God-consciousness among the people whose earthly destinies they wish to guide. These measures will bring peace to this planet.
And, if we want peace within—the real peace which affects the soul and not merely its outer covering of the body—then we must ourselves bow down with undistracted devotion to the Lord. This is what Arjuna did. Thereupon, though he waded into the monstrous melee at Kurukshetra, he was free from the good and evil reactions of his deeds, because he acted not on his own behalf, but at the bidding of the Lord, Sri Krishna. Arjuna the warrior continued to be a warrior, but he was at peace, in worshiping God. We too need not retreat from the world in order to find real peace. We need only turn to the Lord. In Him lies the end of all pursuits. The words of Arjuna, upon seeing the Lord’s Universal Form, well apply to us, as well as to all creatures in all ages:
And why should they not do Thee homage, O exalted One, Who
art greater than Brahma, the original father?
O Infinite Being, Lord of gods,
Refuge of the Universe, Thou art the Imperishable,
The being and the non-being and what is beyond even that.
Thou art the first of the gods, the Primal Person,
The Supreme Resting Place of the world.
Thou art the knower and That which is to be known and the Supreme Goal.
By Thee is this universe pervaded, O Thou of Infinite Form!
Thou art the wind, the destroyer,
The fire, the sea-god, the moon and the grandsire of all.
Hail, hail to Thee a thousand fold!
Hail, hail to Thee again and yet again!
Hail to Thee in front, hail to Thee behind,
And hail to Thee on every side, O All!
Boundless in power and immeasurable in might,
Thou dost penetrates all and therefore Thou art All!
One who recognizes these truths has found the genuine splendor of all existence—and he has found peace as well. He is not a weakling or a fool; he is a realist in the highest sense of the word. Let the madmen whose fingers have closed on the gold and the flesh of this world have their brief game of play. We must seek Reality. One who is sincere in his quest for peace will look to the root cause of the world’s distress—and he will find it in the hardness of his own heart. So, let’s pry open the doors that have sealed off the pure, radiant chambers of our hearts. Let’s pray for peace with these words of Arjuna:
Thou art the Father of the world, of the moving and the unmoving.
Thou art the Object of its worship, and its venerable Teacher.
None is equal to Thee. How then
Could there be one greater than Thee in the three worlds,
O Thou of incomparable greatness?
Therefore, bowing down and prostrating my body before Thee,
Adorable Lord, I seek Thy grace.
Thou, O God, shouldst bear with me as a father with his son,
As a friend to his friend—as a lover to his beloved.