Philosophy 111 – Introduction to Philosophy (Fall 2002)
Ethics. Bhagavad Gita. ”Right Action”
[Students and professors, please read.]
A philosophy professor I know said, “The Gita is the most reviewed text in the world next to the Gospels,” and it may be due to their having so much in common. Staying within the subject area of ethics, the Bhagavad-Gita and the Gospels share the belief that lawlessness and attachment to the objects of sense (the flesh) degeneratively leads to ruin (physical or spiritual). One example from the Gita is found in verses 62-63 in chapter 2, which read, “When a man dwells in his mind on the objects of sense, attachment to them is produced. From attachment springs desire, and from desire comes anger. From anger arises bewilderment, from bewilderment loss of memory, and from loss of memory the destruction of intelligence; and from the destruction of intelligence he perishes.” One example from the Bible which agrees with the Gita is verses 14-15 in James chapter 1, which states, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” Maybe these are the most studied texts because the type of people who study these types of texts understand that there are reasons our moral standard-of-living disintigrates when we do not hold ourselves morally accountable.
In the Bhagavad-Gita, doing battle is seen as part of duty, and not wanting to kill kinsmen in battle is seen as attachment. Krsna seems to be telling Arjuna that because this war is being fought for (what to him is) a just cause (to selflessly maintain his position in society as a member of the warrior caste), Arjuna should control his emotions and fight in it. But Krsna goes on to justify why the death caused by war should be overlooked. Krsna says the soul lives despite death for those who die physically and so Arjuna should not have mournful anticipation of their death which prevents Arjuna from fulfilling his duty in battle. But (author’s commentary) that there is life after death does not in itself justify taking someone’s life, or not taking their life into account when considering whether one is taking “right action”. Consider that in the above paragraph, lawlessness and bondage to senses leads to death–death is not seen as a positive end result. Krsna also warns that Arjuna’s inaction would bring him ill-fame (which is seen as worse than death–an interesting comparison given the above detachment from the death of others in war–so that it would be better to die in battle). But (author’s commentary) if we have integrity, we must not decide what is right based on what everyone else thinks is right (or receiving ill-fame), because popularity of an opinion does not automatically qualify it as “right action”. Krsna also points out that, if Arjuna does not die in battle (which is no big deal in the long run, and better than ill-fame), he will live victorious and enjoy the earth. But (author’s commentary) enjoying the earth seems worldly-minded and teetering on the edge of attachment, and that at the expense of others.
I appreciate this text because I found much of it in common with the Bible, like the twice-born concept from the Gita, and the born-again concept from the Bible; the idea in the Gita that scripture is for those who need teaching, and the idea in the Bible that the law is for the lawless. I also appreciate this text because it had an interesting analogy of reincarnation–that our body as a baby is a different one than our body as an adult, but our self-identity remains. I appreciate this text because I like the concept that what does not exist will not come into existence (ex nihilo), and what exists will not cease existing (law of conservation). Lastly, I really appreciate how what goes on in the mind is taken seriously (see Matthew 5:28) in the Bhagavad Gita (6 of chapter 3, one of many verses which illustrates this) even as early as it is estimated to have been composed; it is a very wise observation, and a fact that is ignored evidently by many today.
“Right Action.” The Philosophical Quest: A Cross-Cultural Reader, Second Edition. Ed. Presbey, Gail M., et. al. McGraw-Hill, Inc, 2000. 419-427.