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Since writing my post on Peaceful Thoughts about the vow of non-violence in thought, words and action, I have been contemplating this subject of non-violent thoughts more deeply. I reread the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita in which Arjuna the Pandava prince, friend and devotee of Lord Krishna, is counseled as he is about to engage in battle. The battle is supposed to be symbolic of the inner battle that we all endure. Lord Krishna’s advice to Arjuna as he lay despondent and confused is appropriate to this discussion on what taking a vow of peace means.
The great Mahabharata war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas took place after the failure of Lord Krishna’s peace mission on behalf of the Pandavas, over their rightful share of the kingdom. All the famous warriors from both sides had assembled on the battlefield. Lord Krishna was the charioteer of Arjuna. The two armies were magnificently arrayed, amid the din of hundreds of conches blaring, announcing the commencement of the battle. Arjuna was bewildered by the scene before him, for on both sides were his family members, distant relatives, friends and teachers. He became confused. Should he participate in this terrible carnage? Was it worth killing one’s relatives for the sake of a kingdom and some pleasures? Would it not be better for him to surrender everything in favor of his enemies and retire in peace? He sank into despondency letting the bow slip from his hands. He could not go through with it. He turned to Lord Krishna for guidance.
Lord Krishna rebuked Arjuna for his dejection which was due to attachment and told him to fight. The Lord took pity on Arjuna and began to enlighten him by different means. He explained the nature of the Self, that Arjuna should not grieve as the Self never dies, has no past, present or future; that freedom lies in the ability to be balanced in the experience of pleasure and pain alike.
The Lord went on to say that the performance of action without expectations as to gain and loss, victory or defeat is detachment. “These are in the hands of the Lord. He should perform all action with a balanced mind, calmly enduring the pairs of opposites like heat and cold, pleasure and pain, that inevitably manifest during action. Krishna advises Arjuna to fight, free from desire for acquisition of kingdom or preservation of it.”
The Bhagavad Gita ends with the eighteenth chapter where the Lord said to Arjuna in Verse 59: If resolved with egotism you think, “I will not fight,” this resolve is in vain; your own nature will compel you. And in verse 60: Bound by your own Karma born of your own nature, what you wish not to do, through delusion, you shall do that against your will.
In contemplating these words and thinking about the vow of non-violent thoughts I have come to an understanding that we will have violent thoughts due to our karma. The danger of taking a vow is that we may feel towards ourselves, disappointment, anger, shame or regret which are violent thoughts. We continue to create a karmic cycle of violence to ourselves which reverberates to the outside world of our existence.
The symbolism of the Mahabharata war for me is the need to end our inner afflictions of anger, jealousy, greed, doubt etc. by doing battle with them. We allow the seeds of past karma to manifest as they will, with equanimity of mind but to disrupt the creation of the cycle of karma with the aid of understanding and awareness.
In There Is No Suffering, Master Sheng-Yen said,“Thoughts still create karma, but without corresponding speech and action, the karma created is light…Through practice we begin to reflect after the act. Gradually, with growing awareness, we reflect before we act. This is cultivation. We slowly move from action to non-action, where karma creation is concerned. Some might think it best to lock oneself in a room to avoid creating any more karma. In fact you will still receive retribution from previous lives, so you may as well live meaningfully, and cultivate goodness. Besides, you will create karma as long as your mind continues to be moved by things and events, so it does not matter whether you lock yourself up or not. Afflictions will still follow you like a shadow… When thoughts arise do not reject them or deny them. Just being aware of them is usually enough to dissipate them. If they persist, count or observe your breaths, or recite the Buddha’s name.”
Related Post: Musings on War and Peace