Jai: If Arjuna felt so kind-hearted for everyone he was supposed to kill in the war, how could he go out and fight, Grandma?
Grandma: That is exactly what Arjuna asked Lord Krishna. He said: “How shall I strike my grandfather, my guru, and all other relatives with arrows in battle? They are worthy of my respect.” (Gita 2.04)
Arjuna had a good point. In Vedic culture, gurus, the elderly, honorable persons, and all other superiors are to be respected. But the scriptures also say that anyone who acts wrongly or unlawfully against you or others, or anyone who supports such deeds, should no longer be respected, but punished.
Arjuna was confused about his duty and asked guidance from Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna then instructed him on the true knowledge of Atma and the physical body.
Jai: What is Atma, Grandma?
Grandma: Atma is also called the Spirit, or the soul. Atma is never born, never dies, and is everlasting. Our body takes birth and dies, but not Atma. Atma supports the body. Without Atma, the body becomes dead. Atma supplies the power to our body, mind, and senses, just as air burns and supports fire. Weapons cannot cut Atma, fire cannot burn it, wind cannot dry it, and water cannot make it wet. Therefore, we should not grieve over death of the body because the Atma inside the body never dies. (Gita 2.23-24)
Jai: What is the difference between Atma (Spirit), soul, and body Grandma?
Grandma: One and the same Atma dwells inside all bodies. Our body changes with time. Our old-age body is different from our childhood body. But Atma does not change. Atma takes a childhood body, a youth body, and an old-age body during this life, then takes another body after death. (Gita 2.13) The Sanskrit word Atma is translated as Spirit in English. Spirit is universal and all pervading. The English word spirit or soul also means the Spirit residing in individual bodies. In Sanskrit language, we call this individual soul Jivatma or Jiva (also spelled as Jeeva). If Spirit is compared to a forest, the individual soul (spirit or Jiva) can be compared to the tree in the forest.
The body is called a garment of Atma. Just as we get rid of an old, worn-out garment and put on a new one, similarly, Atma gets rid of the old body and takes a new one after death. So death is like changing the garment of Atma. (Gita 2.22) All beings are visible between birth and death; they can’t be seen before birth or after death and remain in their invisible form. (Gita 2.28) Therefore, we should not grieve over death of the body. We are not the body. We are Atma with a body. Death just means our soul passes from one body to another new body.
Jai: Then why did Arjuna grieve over deaths of loved ones on the battlefield? Why didn’t he want to fight?
Grandma: Arjuna was a very tough warrior, Jai, but he wanted to run away from the horrors of war and lead an easy life of a Samnyasi, a wandering hermit. Lord Krishna taught us to face the battle of life by giving Arjuna the beautiful science of KarmaYoga, the art of peaceful and prosperous living. Chapter 3 of the Gita tells us more about this. Arjuna was worried about the results of the war, but Lord Krishna asks us to do our duty without worrying too much about the results, such as gain and loss, victory and defeat, success and failure. If you are constantly worried about the results of your studies, you will not be able to put your heart and soul into them for fear of failure.
Jai: But Grandma, how could Arjuna fight his best if he wasn’t fighting to win and gain something?
Grandma: Arjuna must fight to win, but he should not weaken his will by worrying about the result while he is fighting. He should put all his attention and energy into every minute of the fight. That energy is what will bring the greatest result.
Lord Krishna tells us that we have full control over our action, but no control over the results of our action. (Gita 2.47) Harry Bhalla says: A farmer has control over how he works his land, yet no control over the harvest. But he cannot expect a harvest if he does not work his land with best effort and with tools he has.
We should do our best at the present moment and let the future take care of itself.
Jai: Could you tell me more about the secret of success as told by Krishna to Arjuna?
Grandma: We should be so completely absorbed in work or study as to become unaware of everything else, even of its results. To achieve the best results from what we do, we should be focused on the action with undivided attention.
Action should be done sincerely without worrying about its results. The results of the action will be greater if we put all attention and energy into the action itself and do not allow our energy to be diverted by thinking of results. The result will depend on energy put into action. We are asked not to worry about results during the course of action. This does not mean that we should not care about results. But we should not expect only positive results all the time.
The secret of living a meaningful life is to be very active, and do our best without thinking of our own selfish motives or even the results. A Self-realized person works for the good of all.
Jai: What is a Self-realized person like, Grandma?
Grandma: A Self-realized person is a perfect person, Jai. Lord Krishna tells us the mind of a perfect person is not shaken by difficulties, does not run after pleasures, is free from fear, desire, greed, and attachment, and has control over mind and senses. (Gita 2.56) A Self-realized person does not get angry, is peaceful and happy.
Jai: How can we keep from getting angry, Grandma?
Grandma: We get angry if our desire is not fulfilled. (Gita 2.62) So the best way to control anger is to control or limit our desires. We should not want too many things. Desires begin in the mind, so we should control our mind. If we don’t control our mind, we drift like a ship without its rudder. The desire for pleasure takes one to the dark alley of sin, gets us in trouble, and prevents our progress. (Gita 2.67) As a student, you should set a higher goal for yourself than pleasure. Put forth your best effort and concentrate on your studies.
Arjuna was a very good example of such concentration. Here is a story about him.
2. The Graduation Test
Guru Drona was the military teacher for both the Kauravas and the Pandavas. At the end of their military training came final examination time. Drona put a wooden eagle on the branch of a nearby tree. Nobody knew it was just a doll. It looked like a real eagle. To pass the graduation test, every one of the students was supposed to cut off the eagle’s head with one arrow.
Yudhisthira replied: “I see the sky, the clouds, the tree trunk, the branches, the leaves and the eagle sitting there"
Guru Drona was not very pleased with this answer. He asked the same of all the students, one by one. Every one of them gave a similar answer. Then came Arjuna’s turn for the test.
Drona asked Arjuna: “Get ready, look at the eagle, and tell me what you are seeing.”
Arjuna replied: “I only see the eagle and nothing else”
Drona then asked a second question: “If you are seeing the eagle, then tell me how strong is its body and what is the color of it’s wings?”
Arjuna replied: “I am only seeing its head and not the entire body.”
Guru Drona was much pleased with Arjuna’s answer and asked him to go ahead with the test. Arjuna easily cut off the head of the eagle with one arrow because he was concentrating on his aim with a single mind. He passed the test with flying colors.
Arjuna was not only the greatest warrior of his time, but also a compassionate KarmaYogi. Lord Krishna chose Arjuna as a medium to impart the knowledge of the holy Gita.
We all should follow the example of Arjuna. Read the Gita and be like Arjuna. “Arjuna Bano, Arjuna Bano,” my dear grandson! Whatever work you do, do it with single-minded attention and put your whole heart and mind into it. This is the main theme of KarmaYoga of the Gita and the secret of success in anything you do.
A word for the youth from Swami Vivekananda:
"Whatever you are doing, put your whole mind on it. If you are shooting, your mind should be only on the target. Then you will never miss. If you are learning your lessons, think only of the lesson. In India boys and girls are taught to do this".