Chapter One is largely a transition from the plot flow of Mahābhārata into the dialogue heavy, Upaniṣadic style of the Gītā itself. We will go through it lightly, since we are presently not so interested in the Mahābhārata plot as we are in getting deeply into the Gītā’s philosophy.
Section 1:1 – Introduction
Dhṛtarāṣṭra asks Sañjaya, “What happened when my sons and Pāṇḍu’s sons assembled for war on the sacred plain of Kurukṣetra?”
Sañjaya answers: Your son, Duryodhana studied the Pāṇḍu army and then went to speak to his guru.
“Gurudeva,” he said, “look at the formidable Pāṇḍu army expertly commanded by your own disciple. Not only do they have the terrible warriors Bhīma and Arjuna, but many others equally formidable. But now look at my army. We have you, Bhīṣma and so many other ever-victorious warriors on our side. All of them are well equipped, experienced, and ready to die for my sake. All in all, our strength is limitless because we have Bhīṣma on our side. So let’s all give our full support to Bhīṣma.”
Bhīṣma then blew his conch, signaling all the other trumpets and warrior’s orchestras to resound deafeningly – delighting Duryodhana.
The Pāṇḍavas responded immediately and fearlessly – blowing their divine and remarkable conch shells to create a deafening sound that crushed the hearts of Duryodhana and his brothers.
Arjuna took up his bow and prepared to begin the fighting, but after looking over all of your sons ready for war he hesitated and said to Krishna, “Take the chariot out midway so I can better see those who have sided with evil Duryodhana and have come to fight against me.”
Kṛṣṇa drove the chariot midway between the two armies and said, “Here they are, Pārtha; all the Kurus.”
Arjuna saw, scattered among the two armies fathers, grandfather, teachers, uncles, brothers, sons, grandsons, friends, in-laws and well-wishers. This sight moved Arjuna very deeply. Desiring peace he spoke to Krishna:
“Dear friend, when I see all of these relatives prepared to kill one another, I start to shrivel up. I am shaking with goosebumps and pinpricks, and I cannot seem to keep a grip on my bow. I want to run away from here before I go mad! Everywhere I look, all I can see is misery about to descend upon us!”
1:2 The Argument for Peace
Arjuna continued, “Nothing good can come from killing one’s own family. And even if something good did come from it, who would I enjoy it with? And how would I enjoy it with their blood on my hands? Even to gain the entire universe, one shouldn’t kill one’s own relatives!”
Arjuna’s argument is that no happiness or prosperity will come from this war. He will now elaborate upon this argument for peace.
“To kill aggressors is self-defense, yes,” Arjuna continued, “but when the aggressors are my own family members killing them will be a terrible crime. Misfortune always results from criminal behavior! They all seem to be blind to this fact, but now that it has clearly dawned upon us we should not follow them into destruction!”
Arjuna’s argument continues that, quite the opposite of bringing happiness and prosperity, this war would be criminal and thus would implicate him in sinful karma.
Arjuna continued by explaining more clearly, “If we kill all these fathers and husbands, what will happen to their families? They will fall to ruin. Ruined families take to sinful paths, and women are forced into degrading situations, from which unwanted children spring forth and the downfall of society begins. If we kill these fathers and husbands we will be responsible for ruining society. We will suffer the karmic reaction, society will suffer, and even our ancestors who are already dead will suffer – since the religious rituals for their benefit will surely be ignored.
“It is so strange,” Arjuna continued, “The we are embarking on the road to hell in the pursuit of becoming kings and enjoying royal happiness! This is a terrible path laid out before me, and rather than setting foot on it, I would prefer to be killed right now, unarmed and unresisting!”
Saying this, Arjuna cast aside his weapons and collapsed into the chariot’s seat, drowning in a flood of desperation and depression.