June 12: Krishna, lover of life and killing

If you look at it a certain way, it's a wonder more people don't kill themselves.

Think about it: masses of people without access to decent drinking water; and if they had it, they would soon find themselves bummed by their lack of access to Paxil, or Dolby Surround Sound. People in hospitals engulfed by tubes. Sad teens. And yet we all continue. There's something so powerful about having Life, so you can see what the Bhagvad-Gita is driving at when they make Life itself kind of a deity (in the first two chapters, anyway, which is the reading):

Learn thou! the Life is, spreading life through all;
It cannot anywhere, by any means,
Be anywise diminished, stayed, or changed.
But for these fleeting frames which it informs
With spirit deathless, endless, infinite,
They perish.

How can something make us drag our asses through day after day of cares and woes and troubling skin conditions (I see you trying to hide it with your hair -- trust me, it doesn't help), and yet be gone? You can see how the Indian doctrines would appeal to someone more used to the protection-racket aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

But what is just as eternal as the desire to stay alive is the use of religious scripture to justify war and particular social relationships, and in these two chapters the B-G does not disappoint.
The whole setup for the poem is that Arunja (also called "Arjun," it's slightly confusing) doesn't want to fight in this battle -- although he was tempted by the most martial sound there is, conch-shells:
Arjuna blew
Indra’s loud gift; Bhima the terrible—
Wolf-bellied Bhima—blew a long reed-conch;
And Yudhisthira, Kunti’s blameless son,
Winded a mighty shell, “Victory’s Voice;”
And Nakula blew shrill upon his conch
Named the “Sweet-sounding,” Sahadev on his
Called “Gem-bedecked,” and Kasi’s Prince on his.

(Another constant of ancient Scripture, it seems, is to give you long lists of things you don't need to know -- conches are the "begats" of India, as Diana Vreeland almost said. ) Anyway, Arjuna doesn't want to kill his kinsman, and we're sympathetic, because we don't know what the fight is about, so his charioteer, Krishna (sure, make Krishna a cab driver -- stereotype much, Bhagvad-Gita?) unspools this paean to Life in order to get Arjuna to kill:
Let them perish, Prince! and fight!
He who shall say, “Lo! I have slain a man!”
He who shall think, “Lo! I am slain!” those both
Know naught! Life cannot slay. Life is not slain!
You only feel like you're being slain, but that's just because you're delirious from the loss of blood. And as to wealth and power, don't bother your holy little head about it:
But thou, want not! ask not! Find full reward
Of doing right in right! Let right deeds be
Thy motive, not the fruit which comes from them.
And live in action! Labor! Make thine acts
Thy piety, casting all self aside,
Contemning gain and merit.
Not that this sentiment is wrong -- I wouldn't be doing all this reading unless I thought there was some savor to be found in relatively nonworldly pursuits. I just find myself on Arjuna's side a little. I want to know to whose benefit I'm fighting before I answer the sound of the conch.

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