The Mahabharata

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The Song of God


Arjuna raised the celestial conch Devadatta to his lips, and its sound rose high above the entire uproar, causing the Kauravas to quake in fear. Then, seated in his great chariot, Arjuna said to Krishna:

"Drive our chariot out front between the battle lines, Krishna, that I may see all those arrayed for battle, and know who I am about to fight."

The ape-bannered chariot sped out from the Pandava host, Hanuman crying out for victory; and, halfway between the two rival armies, it drew to a halt. Arjuna stood up and surveyed the many champions gathered to destroy each other. Looking around him he saw fathers and sons, grandsires and grandsons, preceptors and disciples, fathers-in-law and sons-in-law, uncles, nephews, brothers, brothers-in-law, cousins and friends. He turned to Krishna and said:

"Krishna, seeing all these kinsmen arrayed here to fight, my mind reels; I can hardly stand, for my limbs grow limp. My mouth is as parched dry as desert sand; my body quivers. The mighty Gandiva bow slips from my fingers wet with sweat; my skin is on fire. What greater crime is there than killing one's own friends and relatives? What gain is victory, what use sovereignty, what joy in wealth and pleasures, what value life itself, if gained by killing one's loved ones? It  is a great sin, Krishna. I cannot do it. How can we ever live happily hereafter, if we kill our own people? I cannot do it, Krishna. I prefer to be poor, and live as a beggar, or a pauper. Krishna, I cannot fight."

Arjuna cast away his bow and arrows and sank down in his chariot, head hung low.

Krishna said: "You grieve in vain, Arjuna; the wise grieve neither for the dead nor for the living. For there is no time that I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these warriors: and there is no time we shall not exist hereafter. The body dies, but not the living spirit within it. Know this, and do your duty; without grief.

“The embodied soul attains the stages of childhood, youth, maturity and old age: leaving the body, it goes on to another. The body is born only to perish again: but That which pervades body and soul cannot die or be killed..

“Bodies slay and are slain on the vast tapestry of Time and Space: but the eternal Self is imperishable, immeasurable; an immutable principle, indestructible. It is not born, it does not die. It is constantly eternal: the same yesterday, today and for evermore; pure unchanging consciousness. Weapons cannot kill that Self, fire cannot burn it, water cannot wet it, wind cannot dry it. It is eternal, all-pervading, stable, immovable, primordial.

“But even if you do think of the Self as perpetually born and perpetually dying, leaving one body at death and entering another at birth, even then, strong-armed one, you should not grieve. For to him who is born, death is certain, and to him who dies, rebirth is certain. All beings, Arjuna, have their origin in the Unmanifest, their middle in the manifest, and return at last to the Unmanifest. Do not lament for them.

“And, too, considering your duty, you should not waver, nor give way to doubts: for there is no greater fortune for a warrior than a righteous battle. And blessed are those warriors who may fight such a battle, to rid the earth of poison and to restore harmony. For such a battle, which has come of its own accord, is the gateway to salvation for a warrior. Failing to fight in this battle would be to fail in your duty; you have been called upon to fight it, to kill these wrongdoers for the sake of righteousness. To fail to do so out of fear, to listen to your wavering heart, is cowardice, not Dharma. If you withdraw from battle now you will be called a coward. What can be worse than that, for a ksatriya? All these bodies gathered here have an end, as every body does; these ones will die here, because they are ksatriyas, and their past actions have brought about their deaths on this very battlefield.

“Fight, Arjuna: either, killed in battle, you will attain heaven, or, victorious, you will enjoy the earth. You are called to do your duty, regardless of the results. Right action is to action without regard  to pleasure or pain, gain or loss, victory or defeat: for the wise man, all these are alike. Therefore, Arjuna, prepare for battle; do that which has to be done, yet unattached to the fruits thereof. Thus you will incur no sin; this alone is Dharma. With this attitude, Arjuna, you will be freed from the bondage of your actions. So will you attain the highest. This I teach to you today, for you are my devotee and my friend. This I taught to Visavat, and Visavat taught it to Manu."

Arjuna said: "Your birth is later than Visavat's: how am I to understand this, that you taught him this in ancient days?"

Krishna said: "Many lives I have passed through, and so have you. I know them all, but you do not. Whereas I am birthless, immutable, the Lord of all Creatures, yet still I come into being through My own inscrutable power. Whenever righteousness declines and unrighteousness prevails, I manifest myself on earth. For the protection of the righteous and the destruction of the wicked, for the establishment of religion, I take form from age to age.

“He who knows Me and performs his duty without attachment to the fruits thereof is no more born after death: he attains Me, Arjuna. Free from attachment, fear and anger, their minds set on Me, purified by knowledge and penance, many have attained My being, and known their Self in Me. However man may worship Me, in whatever form, under whatever name, so do I accept him. For all paths are paths to Me.

“Fixing your mind on Me, Arjuna, you will overcome all difficulties through My Grace. The Lord resides in the heart of all beings, Arjuna. He is the beginning and the middle and the end of all beings: Take refuge in him alone with all your heart, and by His Grace you shall attain supreme peace and the eternal abode. Fix your mind on Me, Arjuna, as your own true Self in the silence beyond thought: and you shall come to me. Truly do I promise you, for you are my Beloved."

Arjuna said: "Your words have destroyed my delusion, Krishna. I shall do as you say. I shall fight. Now I have but one desire, to see your divine form."

"Behold!" said Krishna. And he pressed his thumb to Arjuna's forehead, giving him the divine eye, so that he might look with cosmic vision.

It was as if the splendour of a thousand suns were to appear at once in the skies, so great was the effulgence of that great form. Arjuna saw the entire universe, with all its manifold divisions, united in the body of the God of gods. Filled with wonder, hair standing on end, Arjuna bowed to Krishna and said:

"In your body, Lord, I see the Thirty Gods and hosts of beings all gathered around Brahma, seated on his lotus throne. I see You with many hands, bellies, mouths, eyes, possessing infinite forms—for all forms are Your own. I see You with the diadem, mace and disc, a mass of light radiant in all directions, blinding with the flash of blazing fire, immeasurable.

“You are the Supreme Lord, undecaying, the preserver of the entire Universe: you are the Primeval Being. I see You of infinite prowess, with countless arms, the sun and moon for Your eyes and blazing fire for Your mouths, scorching the universe with Your splendour. I see hosts of gods entering You, some terrified and some praising You with folded palms. I see you touching the sky, filling all the four quarters with glory.

“I see all the sons of Dhritarashtra with all those champions, Bhishma, Drona, Karna, as well as the great heroes on our side—all rushing headlong into Your terrible gaping jaws, like surging rapids rushing into the great ocean. Tell me who You are, O great one!"

The Lord said: "I am the terrible Time, and the Destroyer of all things. Even without your help, Arjuna, all these warriors shall soon cease to be. Therefore arise and conquer. They have already been killed by Me, Arjuna; you are nothing but my chosen instrument. Kill them, knowing that they are already sentenced to die, and do not be distressed."

Thereupon Arjuna bowed low with folded palms and said: "Lord, forgive me for not knowing You before, calling You friend. I have now seen Your true form: You are the ancient Being, the abode of all the Universe. Salutations to you, who pervade all beings. You have entirely dispelled my delusion, O blessed Lord! I shall take up arms for You, and fight to conquer! Only, I pray You: take back your familiar form, so dear to me! For I cannot bear to behold You in all Your awesome glory."

And Krishna took on the form so beloved to Arjuna; smiling, he picked up the chariot’s reins and drove back to the Pandava army.

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