Shankara’s commentary on Bhagavad Gita starts only from second chapter. The first chapter – which portrays the battle field and describes the anguish of Arjuna – is not commented upon, as Lord Krishna says very little in the first chapter. However the first chapter contains a vivid portrayal of a man in anguish and an insightful description – body language onwards – of his position. This chapter of Bhagavad Gita merits to be looked at from this perspective.
Arjuna starts on a commanding tone:
Seeing the assembled friends and relatives on both sides of the battle field, Arjuna has a virtual breakdown. The initial reaction is emotional. There is an outburst of sadness in verses 26 to 35 of the first chapter.
Having expressed the acute sadness, Arjuna moves into a theorizing mode. To begin with, it is not Arjuna’s problem at all. He was only worried about the consequence of the battle on the society:
Arjuna moves in slow steps from they → us → me
Then Arjuna is on right and wrong. He is on a completely cerebral frame, in fact, telling Lord Krishna, the right and the wrong. He is full of answers and he has no questions to ask. In the answer mode he makes statements of great apparent certainty.
If he does ask a question (of Krishna), it is only in rhetoric and not with a view to getting an answer.
After putting forth emphatic theories on what is good and bad for the society, Arjuna begins to express his doubts.
After these questions occurs the admission, “I do not know.”
The hesitation of a person, particularly of a warrior of Arjuna’s prowess and repute, in coming to terms with his fears is also transparent. It takes a lot of time before he is able to express his innermost fears. Once the word play is over, the concern gets expressed briefly and with clarity.
Then Arjuna seeks…
Then, last but not the least…
This is not very much unlike our own experiences.
If the counselor studiously avoids fielding any of these issues, and listens sympathetically (as lord Krishna did) the truth slips out.
In stating his concerns, the person transits
Having seen the transition that Arjuna goes through, it would be enlightening to see Krishna’s response to this metamorphosis of Arjuna. Krishna’s silence is as important as Krishna’s words in this context. From Arjuna’s command to his charioteer Krishna to take the chariot to the middle of the battlefield to the beginning of the Lord Krishna’s Gita upadesha, there are 37 shlokas (from Chapter 1 shloka 21 to Chapter 2 shloka 10) Look how these shlokas are taken up.
Lord Krishna 3
These numbers vouch for the loquaciousness of Arjuna and the silence of Lord Krishna.
Krishna does not respond to any of Arjuna’s stated concerns till the real concern, ‘how can I fight Bhishma and Drona’ emerges. How was Krishna able to conclude that the initially stated extremely well-verbalized issues are not the real issues? Possibly, Krishna was able to sift the non-issues on account of the following.
The Body Language
There is a graphic description of Arjuna’s physical state, once he is taken between the warring armies. Arjuna’s limbs tremble, Gandiwam slips away from his hand and he is not even able to stand. Arjuna’s mouth goes dry and is sin burns and he gets goose pimples.
The state of Arjuna is obvious to Krishna and through Sanjaya to all of us. Still Arjuna speaks as though he knows all the answers. The (wise) words of Arjuna are completely inconsistent with the total state of helplessness being conveyed by the body. Krishna ignores Arjuna’s words and waits for harmony between Arjuna’s spoken words and the body language.
Intellectual vs Emotional
All the initial statements of Arjuna are extremely intellectual and come from Arjuna’s mind; the real issue when it actually does, jumps out of Arjuna’s heart. Krishna waits for the intellectualization to pass. It is pertinent to note that Krishna is careful not to deal with any of these well-stated non-issues. He sweeps aside all these in half a shloka –
Verbosity vs Precision
The real concerns, here and later in the course of the long dialogue are expressed by Arjuna in single sentences. Precision and clarity are the hallmark of the statements of real concern.
Another test possibly was the silence that ensued once the real concern was stated. Once Arjuna seeks and waits, Krishna starts delivering his piece, and not until then.
Namah parama rishibhyo namah parama rishibhyah