Throughout Bhagavad Gita Sri Krishna addresses Arjuna with love, respect and empathy. He addresses him with morale boosting words like ‘the destroyer of foes’, ‘the prominent among men’, and ‘the descendent of Kurus’. This is true for entire Bhagavad Gita except for the very first Sloka, (2nd Sloka of Chapter 2), that Sri Krishna recites. Here is the Sloka and it translation.
कुतस्त्वा कश्मलमिदं विषमे समुपस्थितम
“In such crisis where has the despair come upon you? It is unbecoming of an upright man and does not add to (your) fame. Nor does it lead you to heaven”
The tone in this Sloka is far from being soft or emphatic. Forget about addressing Arjuna’s concerns, Sri Krishna is almost scornful and passing judgement as to how wrong Arjuna is. This type of attitude is not seen again in entire Bhagavad Gita. To the contrary, Sri Krishna always comes out as a caring and loving friend and very respectful of Arjuna.
That raises a question. What prompted Sri Krishna to start in such an aggressive manner?
Here is my take on this…
Before we can help a person full of depression or sorrow, we need to get that person’s attention. We need to get him to a state of mind where he is open to listen. Sometimes, when the level of sorrow, despair and depression is very high, the only way to get that attention to take the person by surprise and do something to shock him. The approach of starting with an aggressive attitude that Sri Krishna used is one such technique.
This can be best illustrated by a short incidence narrated by Mr. N. Nagendra, the founder of VYASA (Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, Bangalore, India) in one of his lectures.
“VYASA was once asked to help flood victims in a large shelter. There were thousands of people who had lost all belongings, were sick and injured and many had lost their family members. The govt. authorities were doing their best to provide food, basic health care and helping them overcome depression. The VYASA team’s main goal was to help victims come out of depression. The team initially tried many conventional yoga techniques for achieving relaxation and feelings of well-being but the victims were too grief stricken for these techniques to work.
There was one woman in particular whose husband and all kids had died. VYASA team came to know that this woman used to be very active and an influential person in the community. The team felt that if they could help this woman recover, she could in turn help many other depressed victims. Focusing on this woman, they tried to console her and encourage her to look to future. Nothing seemed to work. She was just crying saying, ‘I have lost everything. There is nothing left for me. There is no reason for me to live’.
Finally the team thought of one idea. Rather than consoling, they scolded her; “How can you say all is lost in your life and you have nothing to live for? It seems, you are a very self centered person. You have just lost your husband and children. There are thousands of children in this camp who have lost their parents. They have much bigger problems than you. Shouldn’t you take care of them? Can’t you be a mother to them?”
This did the trick. Soon the woman recovered and became a volunteer, taking care of kids and helping recover other depressed persons.”
(On a lighter note, recall how in countless bollywood movies, when hero catches heroin right on the verge of jumping off a cliff to commit suicide, the first thing he does is to register a hard slap!)
Speaking with anger rather than empathy is exactly what Sri Krishna did and the approach worked. Notice, in the entire chapter 1, Arjuna never showed his willingness to listen to Sri Krishna. At the end of the first chapter he had concluded ‘I will not fight’.
एवमुत्तवार्जुनः सङ्ख्ये रथोपस्थ उपविषत
विसृज्य सशरं चापः शोकसंविग्रमानसः (1-47)
“Having spoken in this manner in the middle of the battle field, Arjuna, whose mind was completely overcome by sorrow, sat down on the seat of the chariot, casting aside his bow and arrows.”
However, after Sri Krishna’s aggressive tone in the beginning of chapter 2 Arjuna slowly shows signs of change. While in slokas 4 to 9 of chapter 2 he again repeats his reasons for not fighting, in the middle (Sloka 7) he does show his willingness to listen…
कार्पण्यदोषोपहतस्वभावः पृच्छामि त्वां धर्मसम्मूढचेताः
यच्छ्रेयः स्यान्निश्रितं ब्रूहि तन्मे शिष्यस्तेहं शाधि मां त्वां (2-7)
“Overcome by faint heartedness, confused about my duty, I ask you: Please tell me that which is truly better for me. I am your student. Please teach me, who has taken refuge in you.”
Look, how Arjuna’s attitude begins to show signs of transition. The aggressive tone by Sri Krishna had shaken Arjuna and temporarily brought him out of his trance. That gave Sri Krishna just enough opening to continue with his message in subsequent Slokas.
Conclusion: This article demonstrated the presence of two important concepts related to human relationships in Bhagavad Gita.
- The first being a technique for motivating very depressed persons.
- The second being the importance of first getting the subject’s attention before imparting any message.
(This blog is a revised version of my earlier blog Eliciting Attention (Srimad Bhagavad Gita – Hidden Gems series), first written almost 10 years back.