image credit: cloud_nine
In my post The Inner Battle, I mentioned the epic Mahabharata war where Lord Krishna counseled Prince Arjuna to fight. Though this dialogue in which Arjuna refuses to fight his own friends and relatives may be a metaphor for the inner war that we engage in, it is a fascinating study about performing one’s duty and surrender. In the following verses from the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna counsels Arjuna on his sacred duty as a member of the warrior caste:
Chapter two, verse 31: And, perceiving your own caste duty, you should not tremble. Indeed, anything superior to righteous battle does not exist for the kshatriya (man of warrior caste).
Verse 33: Now, if you will not undertake this righteous war, thereupon, having avoided your own duty and glory, you shall incur evil.
Verse38: Holding pleasure and pain to be alike, likewise gain and loss, victory and defeat, then engage in battle! Thus you shall not incur evil.
In The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell said, “The battlefield is symbolic of the field of life, where every creature lives on the death of another. A realization of the inevitable guilt of life may so sicken the heart that, like Hamlet or like Arjuna, one may refuse to go on with it. On the other hand, like most of the rest of us, one may invent a false, finally unjustified, image of oneself as an exceptional phenomenon in the world, not guilty as others are, but justified in one’s inevitable sinning because one represents the good. Such self-righteousness leads to a misunderstanding, not only of oneself but of the nature of both man and the cosmos. The goal of the myth is to dispel the need for such life ignorance by effecting a reconciliation of the individual consciousness with the universal will. And this is effected through a realization of the true relationship of the passing phenomena of time to the imperishable life that lives and dies in all…Man in the world of action loses his centering in the principle of eternity if he is anxious for the outcome of his deeds, but resting them and their fruits on the knees of the Living God he is released by them, as by a sacrifice, from the bondages of the sea of death.”
The Mahabharata war can be considered a myth or teaching story that helps us humans to come to terms with the paradoxes in life. It is difficult for us to accept this story of the God of the Hindu religion, advising his devotee to engage in war. And yet it is the human experience that as long as we live, we incur violence knowingly and unknowingly so that we might live.
In order that we might live, we have to kill. Most people eat the flesh of animals that have been slaughtered. Though I have been a vegetarian for almost thirty years, I now eat some fish to get my Omega 3s. Yes, even being a vegetarian, I kill slugs and pests so that my vegetables will live. I kill millions of microscopic bugs as I cook my vegetables.
Every day I am grateful for my health, that my immune system is strong. My body produces millions of killer antibodies that wages an ongoing war with invading germs, viruses and parasites. What would happen if my body decided that it wants only peace? I would not be alive.
I partake in violence every time I purchase any given item on the market today. Almost everything is produced by the modern-day slavery of cheap labor. Our out of control consumerism encourages the profiteering madness that is taking place in China and India. Agricultural lands are being destroyed to create factories and super-highways to produce and transport our must-haves. Our lifestyle is creating harm for millions of displaced people, due to unscrupulous land grabs by government to further the booming economy of foreign exportation, without just compensation for the victims.
Even the war in Iraq is largely due to our dependence on foreign oil. None of us can truly say that we are totally committed to peace. If we are, then we must make stringent changes in our lifestyle, and even so it will be almost impossible to live in a manner that marginalizes our impact, because we are so enmeshed in a globalized economy.
So is it really possible to live a peaceful life? We can only do what we can to minimize any unneccessary violence that hurts another living thing so that we might live. We have to accept that this life is sacrifice. In the words of Joseph Campbell, “the hero is the conscious vehicle of the terrible, wonderful Law, whether his work be that of butcher, jockey, or king.”