It is impossible to imagine a predicament more desperate than that faced by Arjuna in his chariot that fateful afternoon. He was not just any young man threatened by the bloody chaos of impending battle. He was suited perfectly to his task. A prince of impeccable lineage and upbringing he was also the most proficient, deadly master of his trade. Arjuna was perhaps the most lethal warrior ever to bear arms. Such was his mastery that it was a foregone conclusion that if he bent his arrow arm with a living being in his sights, death would follow as surely and as swiftly as the lethal flight of that arrow from his fingertips.
Arjuna, then, was in the depths of the deepest despair. Out of his duty as a Prince, loyalty to his clan and love for his family he was to engage in deadly battle. This was no ordinary battle, for as Arjuna stood heavyhearted in his chariot, brothers and kinsmen to the left and right of him, he could see his enemies: enemies he was impelled to select and kill – enemies he loved no less than his allies alongside him. For facing him were not only his cousins, but his guru also stood amongst them.
Yet Arjuna was not alone in his chariot. He was accompanied by his charioteer. While he was to exercise his royal fingertips, someone must guide the horses. This was not the task of a prince, nor even a warrior: it belonged to a servant. Yet to the relief of our prince, and the advantage of us all, this servant could not bear the despair of his master in silence. Casting aside the niceties of protocol, he began to speak, and slowly the desperate clouds in Arjuna’s heart dispersed. So that, at the last our noble Prince was able to ride forth to his duty and kill whosoever chanced within his aim. For this impertinent servant was none other than God incarnate.
Krishna spoke from his immaculate wisdom straight to the heart of the problem and explained to Arjuna the true nature of action. Arjuna knew from the Vedas, that nothing was more important than his Dharma, the sacred duty to which he had been born. Yet as he stood in his chariot he was overwhelmed with anxiety and doubt, he did not know what to do. If he went forth he would break his own heart, as he would break his royal and filial duty if he did not. Faced with this desperate choice, he did not know what to do. He was faced, in a way that he never had been before, with the most fundamental question of being human: “What am I supposed to do now?”
Though not in such desperate circumstance, that is a question we all know well, and in many forms. How are we to know what is the path that we must tread through the unpredictable vicissitudes of life? How do we know if we are doing the right thing? To this line of questioning our divine charioteer gave the most liberating answer.
“My Prince”, he declared, in differing and interwoven ways, “take not the fruits of your actions unto yourself. Give them back to me, to whom they belong. You are not the doer, but merely my instrument. The fruits of your actions belong not to you, no more than do your actions themselves. Take them not from me to whom they belong, and go forth, take aim and bring death to the field this day, just as I bring thousands of beings in and out of existence every moment with a heart as light and clear as day”.
Understanding, this hero rode forth to his Dharma of fratricide with a heart light and clear. Just as we also are invited to do the same in our lives.
Knowing that the fruits of all our actions belong to God, is to know that all our actions also belong to God. Knowing that all our actions belong to God is to know that we are not the doer; is to know that we are but his ordained instrument; we are the agents of his will. We are brought to act by his power alone. Even as it functions in and as our body, mind, thoughts, desires and intentions.
The lightening of Arjuna’s fingers on his arrow does not originate in a release of muscular contraction. The shooting of an arrow begins long before the motor nerve loosens the fingers. Consider that those were not just any fingers. They were the fingers of a prince whose birth and power permitted him the finest training as both warrior and prince. A training since childhood that had left Arjuna with an unerring eye, an imperturbable hand and a body that supported them impeccably. But, a simple release of muscular contraction does not begin in the body. There must first be intent.
To raise the bow, to fit the arrow, to kill. Killing is not an easy intention to summon, for the human heart is deeply sensitive to death. Yet Arjuna was a prince. He had been well tutored.
Not only in the Vedas and the seriousness of his sacred duty. But also in the niceties of politics and the subtleties of the power that it was his to uphold. Arjuna knew how to think, he knew how to choose, he knew how to decide.
Yet, that bountiful day, he learned something about choosing, about decision making that not even his guru could teach him – a lesson that had been left to God himself to deliver.
Just as he was not the doer, equally not was he the chooser, the decider, the deliberator, the thinker. For Krishna demonstrated to Arjuna that the world is nothing but the body of God. That there is not an action nor its fruit that does not originate in and belong to God; that the world is the power of God in self-expression; that nothing exists, nothing happens except as an expression of the will, the power of God.
In seeing this deeply, Arjuna understood that he was not the doer, that he was not the chooser, not the decider, not the thinker. He knew that he was but the vessel of the thinking, deciding, choosing that took place through his mind: a vessel created, moved, controlled by the power of God. He knew that he was but the instrument of the actions that took place through his body: an instrument created, moved, controlled by the power of God.
No longer stealing these actions from his beloved Lord, he relinquished also their fruits, and rode forth with a light heart: to kill. He rode forth to fulfil his destiny, to uphold his dharma. He rode forth, as we can go forth likewise, knowing that as all actions, their fruits and their origins belong always and only to God. Our Dharma can only be that which he ordains us to do.
Know that whatever we have done, whatever we are doing, whatever we will do: that is our dharma.
For if there is any truth in this beautiful and pertinent story, if it was God in that chariot that day, then there is no escape for us, his instruments, from his will. If indeed we are but the instruments of God, there is nothing that we can steal from him and make our own, no matter how much we may claim to do so and no matter how much we may believe that claim. All that we do, all that we choose, all that we think, feel and desire comes to us from him. This, then, is our dharma: the actions that we actually take, the choices that we actually make, the decisions that we actually take.
Escape from our dharma is there none.
Our dharma is ordained by the will of God, whatever name or gender we may give him, or her. Our dharma is not determined by the legislative powers of man, but by divine dispensation. Our dharma is not what society says we must do: but what God bids us do. Our dharma is not what our parents tell us to do: but what God commands us to do. Our dharma is not what our mind says we should do: but what we actually do.
No matter how insistently and clearly our minds, our parents, society urge us to action; it will not come about without the power of god’s will. Whatever it is that we actually do, this is what God wants, commands us to do.
For we are not alone.
No matter how often we may feel that we are. No matter how much we may think we are alone and unaided. God is always in our chariot. His hands are always on the reins of our life. He is guiding our chariot this way and that. We are neither the slaves of fate, nor masters of our destiny.
We are instruments of divine creativity.
When we see this clearly we can sally forth like Arjuna with a light heart.
No matter how unclear our path,
No matter how difficult our circumstances,
No matter the carnage that we enter or leave behind us,
We may be unable to see the way forward.
We may see no one with us in our chariot .
The reins may well be in our own trembling hands,
But our hands are always, always, moved by God.