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Does Someone of High Stature Have the Liberty to Do as They Please?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

आश्चर्यवत्पश्यति कश्चिदेन
माश्चर्यवद्वदति तथैव चान्य: |
आश्चर्यवच्चैनमन्य: शृ्णोति
श्रुत्वाप्येनं वेद न चैव कश्चित् || 29||

Some see the soul as amazing, some describe it as amazing, and some hear of the soul as amazing, while others, even on hearing, cannot understand it at all.

Bhagavad Gita 2.29

देही नित्यमवध्योऽयं देहे सर्वस्य भारत |
तस्मात्सर्वाणि भूतानि न त्वं शोचितुमर्हसि || 30||

O Arjun, the soul that dwells within the body is immortal; therefore, you should not mourn for anyone.

Bhagavad Gita 2.30

स्वधर्ममपि चावेक्ष्य न विकम्पितुमर्हसि |
धर्म्याद्धि युद्धाच्छ्रेयोऽन्यत्क्षत्रियस्य न विद्यते || 31||

Besides, considering your duty as a warrior, you should not waver. Indeed, for a warrior, there is no better engagement than fighting for upholding of righteousness.

Bhagavad Gita 2.31

यदृच्छया चोपपन्नं स्वर्गद्वारमपावृतम् |
सुखिन: क्षत्रिया: पार्थ लभन्ते युद्धमीदृशम् || 32||

O Parth, happy are the warriors to whom such opportunities to defend righteousness come unsought, opening for them the stairway to the celestial abodes.

Bhagavad Gita 2.32

अथ चेतत्त्वमिमं धर्म्यं संग्रामं न करिष्यसि |
तत: स्वधर्मं कीर्तिं च हित्वा पापमवाप्स्यसि || 33||

If, however, you refuse to fight this righteous war, abandoning your social duty and reputation, you will certainly incur sin.

Bhagavad Gita 2.33

अकीर्तिं चापि भूतानि
कथयिष्यन्ति तेऽव्ययाम् |
सम्भावितस्य चाकीर्ति
र्मरणादतिरिच्यते || 34||

People will speak of you as a coward and a deserter. For a respectable person, infamy is worse than death.

Bhagavad Gita 2.34

भयाद्रणादुपरतं मंस्यन्ते त्वां महारथा: |
येषां च त्वं बहुमतो भूत्वा यास्यसि लाघवम् || 35||

The great generals who hold you in high esteem will think that you fled from the battlefield out of fear, and thus will lose their respect for you.

Bhagavad Gita 2.35

अवाच्यवादांश्च बहून्वदिष्यन्ति तवाहिता: |
निन्दन्तस्तव सामर्थ्यं ततो दु:खतरं नु किम् || 36||

Your enemies will defame and humiliate you with unkind words, disparaging your might. Alas, what could be more painful than that?

Bhagavad Gita 2.36

If Arjuna fails to fight, the consequences are twofold: there’s an immediate consequence and a later consequence. The immediate consequence is abandoning fame, which means if Arjuna fails to fight, he will become the opposite of famous—infamous. Arjuna will be despised by all the mighty warriors if he decides to abandon the battlefield. 

The second consequence, a delayed consequence, will result in Arjuna incurring sin later in his life or the next life for not following dharma.

The Immediate Consequence: The Loss of Fame

When a great warrior walks away from the battlefield with all the warriors watching him, what will they think? What will they say? 

They will all talk about his unceasing infamy. For someone who is a well-known warrior like Arjuna and is highly regarded, disgrace is worse than death.

Consider politicians and famous actors. Every move they make is under public scrutiny. Someone in such a position has much more to lose. If they make a mistake, the consequences are more significant than an average person unknown to most. A highly regarded person who makes a mistake experiences public shaming. 

Arjuna makes the argument that those who are closest to him will understand that he chose to leave the battle out of compassion rather than fear. However, to the majority of the warriors, it will look like he left out of fear. Krishna explains that Arjuna will be considered insignificant and cowardly if he abandons his duties. 

Suppose Arjuna is thinking that even if his own army considers him to be cowardly, at least his enemies will be relieved if he does not fight because they will have a better chance to win. With Arjuna fighting, they virtually have no chance of winning. Krishna explains that his enemies will belittle him with nasty words. What could be worse than to be cursed by your enemies?

Krishan is making the argument about what other people will say. The issue is that when our decisions are based on what others will think and say, we may or may not make the right decision. In this case, Krishna’s primary argument is for Arjuna to fulfill his duty. The secondary argument is that if Arjuna fulfills his duties, he will be praised. 

The consequence of Arjuna following his dharma is praise.  However, situations exist where if you follow dharma, you will be criticized. For example, families might not accept their daughter or son marrying someone outside of their religion or cast system. Parents follow dharma if they allow their offspring to marry whom they please, but they might have to face criticism by others who disagree. 

Sacrificing principles due to what others will think or say is unacceptable. Ultimately, what is acceptable is following dharma—regardless of criticism.

What We Learn From the Gita

Those of high stature live their lives under public scrutiny. This means that they have much more to lose than the average person. Someone who has risen high in life stands to lose a lot through public shaming. The higher you rise, the higher you have to fall.