Mahabharat Episode 43: The Worst Crime
As the great war begins in Kurukshetra, Arjuna is having some doubts. In one of the most famous dialogues of all time, the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains to Arjuna how hesitation is the worst crime.
What happened so far : A warrior from the South comes to participate in the epic battle about to unfold in Kurukshetra - Barbarik. Recognizing the competence and danger of his presence in the war, Krishna tricks him into decapitating himself, allowing his head to live on and watch as the war rages on.
Arjuna’s Attempt to Bail OutSadhguru: Just before the war, Arjuna suddenly has an urge for peace. Standing between the two armies, he says, “I don’t want this. I cannot kill my grandfather, my Guru, my brothers, and my friends, just to have a kingdom. I will go back to the forest.” That is when the eighteen chapters of the Gita are rendered, and Krishna gives the Vishwarupa Darshana. So Krishna is saying, “If you wanted to become a hermit, you should have become one before. Why did you get all these people to the battlefield? They came to fight for you. And now you want to go to the forest, while they will all die in the battle? You entered the battle. You cannot become a hermit now. Go! Either you kill or you die – you have to do one of these things.” Krishna goes to the extent of saying, “This is my will; you have to do it.”
The war begins. The Mahabharat describes the whole event arrow by arrow. We will not go into every detail. Bhishma is the commander or senapati of the Kauravas. Dhrishtadyumna, Drupada’s son and Draupadi’s brother is the commander of the Pandava forces. Krishna’s Yadava army is on the side of the Kauravas, as promised, led by Kritavarma. Notice that in spite of all the bitterness, they still keep their word. When you promised to send the army, you send the army. You do not say, “You deceived me, so I will not send the army.” That is the day and age in which they lived. I will not go into all the gory details of things that happened. Uttara, who, inspired by Arjuna, has become a great warrior, goes down on day one.
Enraged, his father Virata goes berserk, killing anybody who comes his way. The Kauravas suffer a phenomenal loss of men and material. Bhima is at his destructive best, and the Pandava army has a slight upper hand on the second day. This see-saw continues day by day, hour by hour. Sometimes one side is dominating, sometimes the other. But on certain days, when certain people went at it full force, a very large number of soldiers got decimated on the battlefield.
A Seesaw Battle Ensues
On day three, things happened in such a way that the Kauravas started gaining dramatically. Yudhishthira began to freak out a bit. There are two aspects why you do not want a war: one thing is you do not want the violence; another thing is the fear of loss. When there is hope for victory, you do not mind a war. But when this hope dwindles, you do not want a war. When you know that you are going to be the victor, you say, “Let’s finish the war.” When you know you are going to lose, you want to withdraw.
The war goes on, and the Kauravas gain ground in a big way between the fifth and ninth day. Still, Bhima continues to kill Duryodhana’s brothers, and every day, he tells Duryodhana how many of them he killed. Duryodhana’s anguish and anger keeps building up with each day he counts how many brothers have died. And Dhritarashtra and Gandhari camp close by. Dhritarashtra wants to have a ringside view – like he had a ringside view of the dice game – hoping that his sons will win the war. Every time the dice were rolled, all he asked was, “Who won?” Though people were being led into total disaster, which would invariably lead to bloodshed after some time, the only thing Dhritarashtra was concerned about was, “Who won?”.
Even now, at the battlefield, Dhritarashtra sits there with the same concern. Sanjaya describes every event to him. When the Kauravas face losses and the news reaches him, he suffers immensely. When they are doing a little better, Dhritarashtra becomes hopeful, but Sanjaya keeps reminding him, “Krishna is on the other side. Whatever games happen, in the end, they will win, they will win, they will win.” Vidura and Sanjaya kept chanting this.
Hesitation, the Worst Crime
Along the way, many times, whenever he faces certain people from the other side – particularly Bhishma – Arjuna avoids going for the kill. How to fight a battle that way? You may not have seen a battle, but you have seen a cricket match at least. Let us say if you like the batsman, you bowl a slow ball – you cannot play a game like this. If you are at war and you are willing to kill one person from the other side but not the other – you cannot fight a battle like this. You cannot do anything like this. Krishna’s fundamental teaching is not war. What he is saying is that without involvement, you cannot do anything. This is the beautiful thing about the Gita: Krishna is not saying compassion or whatever else is the greatest thing – he is saying hesitation is the worst of all crimes.
Look back at your own life: if you decided to do something but then hesitate, in this hesitation you are avoiding life. This is the context in which Krishna spoke: when you hesitate, you miss life. Hesitation means you are neither here nor there. Krishna is saying, “Before you start such a huge situation, a major war, you hesitate. But once you start something, there is no looking back. Either you sail through or you die – that is all there is.” This is not just with war but with lots of situations in life. You start something; halfway down, just because it is uncomfortable or unpleasant for you, you think you can drop it and go.
What Krishna is saying in this context does not look like any spiritual teaching, but it is the greatest teaching. He says, “Hesitation is the worst of all crimes, because when you hesitate, you are missing life.” You are losing touch with life, because you are lost in your mind. Your opinions, your ideas, your emotions have taken over, and that does not allow you to function.
Krishna, the Strategic “Deserter”
On the spiritual path, it is a daily affair: “I will give my life to you, Sadhguru.” Then I say, “Don’t give your life; keep it, and keep it well. I will tell you how to put it to truly wonderful use, how to make it worthwhile for the life that you are.” One day, they say, “I will give you my life,” and the next day, they say, “Sadhguru, I don’t like the food in the ashram. I can't.” Or “No, Sadhguru. I was really committed, but you know what this person said?” I say, “Oh, they said something about you too? Is there anything that they have not said about me?” Anything that a man can do and cannot do has been said.
Kshatriyas called Krishna “Ranchor,” which means “one who stole away from a battlefield,” a coward, a deserter. Because when Jarasandha attacked Mathura from one side and another king from Afghanistan attacked from the west, Krishna saw there was no way to fight these two armies at the same time. So he took his people and went to Dwaraka to save them, because he thought there is no point in everyone getting killed. Let the city burn; let the people live somewhere else. So they went and created a great city somewhere else. Dwaraka became one of the richest and most prosperous cities of the day. For this move, Krishna got this title of a Ranchor, a deserter, which stuck to him all his life.
He did not withdraw out of hesitation; he withdrew because he knew that if he stayed there, all his people would die for nothing. Making a strategic decision in a war to do something is one thing. But if you are willing to kill one man, but you hesitate to kill the other, when both are wearing the same uniform – that is a different thing. In a way, it is the uniform that you kill, not the men. If you look into the life of the man who is in front of you, maybe there are so many wonderful things about him that you do not want to kill. If you look at the man – suppose you know his family, his wife and children – you cannot kill him. You are looking at the uniform, and you want less and less of that uniform standing – that is all a war is about.
To be continued..
Editor’s Note : A version of this article was originally published in the Forest Flower magazine, December 2018.