3. Bhagavad Gita Online Course – Chapter 1, Verse 1 (Why We Go Against Ethics)

Summary:

Lesson 3 shows that Bhagavad Gita begins with the blind king Dhritarashtra asking his charioteer Sanjaya what his people, the Kauravas, and the Pandavas did as they gathered on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, eager to fight. The text provides context, explaining that the war arose from Duryodhana's jealousy of the Pandavas, leading him to defeat them through a game of dice and exile them, until the Pandavas' return sparked an inevitable conflict that Dhritarashtra did not attempt to stop, despite knowing his sons were on the side of unrighteousness. The text examines three possible reasons for Dhritarashtra's inaction: his “my family, my self-interests” mentality that blinded him to the larger context; various psychological biases like confirmation bias and status quo bias; and his own unfulfilled desire to be king, leading to a “victim mode” psychology. The text also suggests Dhritarashtra failed to recognize the war as part of Ishvara's (God's) order, and that his emotional connection to his relatives prevented him from seeing the interconnected nature of the world, in contrast with the example of Adi Shankara's debate where his opponent's wife remained impartial. The overview concludes by noting that the next verse will describe Sanjaya's response to Dhritarashtra's question.


GITA DHYANAM Revision:

  • Verse 4-9 Revision From Previous Session: 
    • Verse 4 compares the Upanishads to a cow, Krishna as the milkman extracting the nourishing wisdom for Arjuna. The teaching addresses both emotional and cognitive needs.
    • Verse 5 explains Krishna as the universal guru, whose words reveal the reality that our true self is eternal, addressing the root cause of human longing.
    • Verse 6 uses the analogy of Arjuna crossing the battlefield's obstacles, representing life's challenges that the Gita's wisdom helps navigate.
    • Verse 7 highlights converting setbacks into learning opportunities, like how Bill Gates persisted to find a solution to water contamination in Africa.
      • Compares the Mahabharata to a spotless lotus. Lotus made of many petals, that makes it beautiful.
        • Similarly, Mahabharata has numerous narratives that lead Arjuna to seek Krishna's wisdom, thus produce beautiful Bhagavad Gita.
      • Stories draw “honey bees” — who are the discerning people of the world (mature minds available to appreciate the wisdom).
      • This lotus of wisdom destroys afflictions of Kali Yuga. How?
        • By making you revisit your life experiences and reframe it through new understanding.
        • Converting each setback into an opportunity to find innovative solutions.
    • Verse 8 describes the Ishvara's grace earned through one's efforts in applying the teachings.
    • Verse 9 reveals Krishna as the entire manifested universe itself, Ishvara, from which nothing is away from.
  • What is essence of Gita Dyanam? 
    • Even someone as dharmic, successful, attractive as Arjuna, he too has struggles in life and is confronted with same fundamental question. We need to negotiate challenges intelligently, so you emerge as victorious, rather then dejected, throughout and end of life. How to emerge successful? Having Ishvara’s grace summoned through your effort.
  • What is purpose of Gita Dhyanam?
    • To show you that through the Bhagavad Gita, the student is able to emerge victorious in this life, in both situational challenges, and in answering the fundamental existential questions.
  • NEXT VERSE: Dhritarashtra asks Sanjaya a question…

CHAPTER 1: Arjuna-viṣāda-yogaḥ

 

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 1, Verse 1:

dhṛtarāṣṭra uvāca
dharmākṣētrē kurukṣētrē samavētā yuyutsavaḥ
māmakāḥ pāṇḍavāścaiva kimakurvata sañjaya
King asked – What did my people and the Pāndavas, who were eager to fight (and) who were assembled in the holy land of kurukṣetra, do, Oh Sañjaya?

CONTEXT HOW WAR CAME TO BE:

Duryodhana was jealous of his cousins, and wanted to bring them down. He defeated them through dice (by help of Shakuni – the dice manipulator). Consequently, Pandavas were exiled to forest for 12 years. If they were found out on 13th year, they'd had to go back to the forest. Although they weren't found out on 13th year, Duryodhana insisted they were, requesting them to go back to the forest. This time, Pandavas didn’t yield. War was inevitable.

NEGOTIATION FAILS:

Krishna knew war would cause great destruction, so he made one last attempt to negotiate against the war.

He requested Duryodhana, “Give them back their share of Hastinapura, called Indraprastha. After all it’s a small part”.

No!

“Give 5 districts within Indraprastha“.

No!

“Give them 5 villages, one for each brother”.

No!

“One village with 5 houses”.

No! If they want an inch of land, they have to fight to get it.

Negotiations have failed. Thus Bhagavad Gita begins at battle field.

DHRITARASHTRA:

Dhritarashtra (Duryodhana’s father) is blind, sitting in  the palace. He is anxious to know what’s happening on the battle field. His charioteer, Sanjaya, had siddhi (yogic power) to remotely observe happenings on the field, and report back.

Thus first verse is Dhritarashtra asking Sanjaya what’s happening…

  • Kurukṣetra is name of place of war. Dhritarashtra adds adjective to it, “Dharmakṣetra”. Meaning, battle isn’t just for power/position, but battle fought for principles/ethics.
  • NEXT QUESTION: If Dhritarashtra knows his sons are on side of adharma (unethical / misguided), why isn’t he intervening to stop the war?
    • REASON 1: “My” mentality often blocks one from seeing the bigger picture.
      • There's no one particular reason because a person is made of various complexes that contribute to one's thinking and decision. A common complex is, “I have to protect my son/husband/wife”. Immediate emotional comfort (produced by close bond of family) — often blocks one from considering long term goals, and seeing how their actions are affecting those outside the family-circle. This lack-of-consideration ends up producing adharmic (unethical thinking). So it's not like the person is trying to be unethical. Rather, “my family, my self-interests” often blinds one from larger context of life.
    • REASON 2: Psychological biases.
      • Confirmation bias: Discarding information that contradicts one's current view. Caused Dhritarashtra to have selective listening, only listening to ministers who downplayed Duryhodhana's maligned ways. While ignoring Vidur's advice.
      • Status Quo Bias: Emotional preference for current state of affairs. In Dhritarashtra's case, he was preserving “family unity” over morals, as it provided him sense of belonging, which is a fundamental human need.
      • Anchoring Bias: Relying too much on 1st piece of information, overseeing subsequent information. Dhritarashtra's 1st piece of information is “You're my son. You're a prince”.
    • REASON 3: Pressure from personal situation.
      • 1st archetype: Quiet discontent
        • It was Dhritarashtra's own dream to be king since childhood, but unable to due to blindness. He felt deprived/resentful. “Life is unfair” psychology, which comes out in different ways. For some comes out quietly (kind on outside, but dissatisfaction inside); comes out as passive aggressiveness/rebelliousness. Others are verbal about it. How do we know so accurately what Dhrtarastra felt? Because we too experienced it; that’s why BGita is an evergreen teaching. Meanwhile Duryodhana was the verbal and loud version Dhritarashtra's discontent, thereby Dhritarashtra quietly become a collaborator with Duryodhana. Living his unfulfilled dreams through his son.
        • SUMMARY: Dhritarashtra is archetype of person with psychology of quiet discontent, and unable to express it. Behaving externally as if all is fine. While his son, Duryodhana was verbal about it.
      • 2nd archetype: Victim mode
        • “I’m doing everything right and people/life hasn’t been kind to me, and I’m suffering for no reason”.
    • REASON 4: Doesn't recognize the whole thing is in Ishvara's order.
      • He creates a division, indicated by “māmakāḥ pāṇḍavāścaiva” (My sons and Pandavas). Emotional connection to one’s relative, blinds the person, weakening ethics. They don’t say what needs to be said.
        • SUMMARY: Taking sides of people we love, often blinds one from recognizing the the interconnected world.
  • Example of someone opposite to Dhritarashtra: There was a debate between Adi Shankara & Mandanamishra, as to whether purpose of life was to attain heaven (purva-mimamsa from Karma-Kanda section of Vedas). Or purpose was to recognize your Oneness with Ishvara (Vedanta from Upanishads section of Vedas). Judge was Mandanamishra’s wife (Ubhaya Bharati).  Debate went on for days. Finally her verdict was Adi Shankara’s view won. She was able to remain objective, putting aside her love for husband.
  • QUESTION: What does it cost to take side of loved one, even if they are wrong? Creates inner conflict / discomfort.
  • NEXT VERSE: Sanjaya answers to Dhritarashtra that Duryodhana is approaching Drona teacher…

Keywords:  

Course was based on Neema Majmudar's Bhagavad Gita & Swami Dayananda (Arsha Vidya) home study course.

Recorded 12 May, 2024

2 Comments

  1. Teacher,

    You mentioned in class that sometimes you use ChatGPT or internet to help orient our minds toward right-thinking by asking ourselves questions. Can you please remind me of some examples on how to utilize this tool? Thank you dearly.

    1. Of course Thomas. Two ways it’s used to help me deepen understanding of any subject matter:

      1) Question Generator. We don’t know something deeply until we can answer questions related to the matter. Idea is to feed AI any content (chapter of book, section, etc), and ask it to generate 15 questions to test your knowledge. BENEFIT: Strengthen your knowledge in any subject matter.

      PROMPT:
      Suppose you are advaita vedanta expert. Create 15 questions from the following content to test my knowledge. Here’s the content: COPY-PASTE-CONTENT

      2) Ask AI to play role of an expert in any field, and to interview you in that area. It asks, and you answer in writing. It then evaluates your answer from 0-10 and suggests what would make it a better answer. BENEFIT: Uncover your weak areas in the subject matter.

      PROMPT:
      Suppose you are an expert and teacher in Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 1. Your task is to interview me with questions related to Chapter 1. Start by giving me the first question. Then wait for me to submit my answer. Evaluate it from 0 to 10 (10 meaning I included as many relevant details as possible, and 0 is an abstract response). Then give a suggestion what would have made my answer 2 points higher. Ok, provide the first question…


      Additional details: Best AI’s tested: GPT4, Claude.

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