The first chapter of Bhagavad-gita is titled “Setting the scene”. Bhagavad-gita is part of the epic Mahabharata. As Prabhupada explains: “Once the world was overburdened by the unnecessary defense force of different kings, who were actually demons* but were posing themselves as the royal order.” So it was time for virtue to be re-established. On one side of the battlefield was the evil-minded force led by Duryodhana and other side were the virtuous Pandavas, led by Yudhistra (Arjuna being one of them). The world was depending on the Pandavas to defeat the demoniac kings, and establish a kingdom of virtue and re-establish righteousness.
Mahabharat is a classic tale of good vs evil, conquest of virtue, and a strong lesson in “vice cannot conquer virtue, regardless of who tries to execute it”. Duryodhana’s force outnumbered the Pandavas and many powerful warrriors were on his side. There were also pious people as Bhisma on the side of Duryodhana (for reasons beyond the scope of this post). However, the Pandavas, who were abiding in virtue, were protected, sheltered, and emerged victorious.
As Prabhupada explains, to abide in virtue, we need to ask ourselves:
– Have I transgressed religious principles?
– Have I received good advice from saintly persons, but neglected it?
– My behavior might have been ok, but were my motivations selfish and not done for the satisfaction of God?
If the answer is no to all the three, we will be protected and sheltered. If the answer is not no, we need to adjust our actions and motivations accordingly. It certainly takes a lot more courage, effort, and sacrifice to abide in virtue. The verses of Bhagavad-gita helps one understand virtue and the process of acting virtuously, with the right motive.
Abiding in virtue does not necessarily mean life will always be pleasant. The pandavas had to undergo a lot of tribulations. Just as clouds are carried by wind, time carries us through different circumstances – some positive and some trying and difficult, and just as a cloud is helplessly carried, we have no control over the events that time will carry us through. Furthermore, there is also the aspect of Karma, which brings us the fruit of our past activities – good and bad. However, by choosing our current actions and motivations, we can choose to be protected and sheltered.
In a morning walk with devotees in Juhu, Mumbai, Prabhupada noticed a stray dog, completely ematiated, wounded, and in great anxiety. He also noticed a completely healthy, pedigreed dog. He asked his disciples – what’s the difference between the two dogs? After receiving a variety of answers, Prabhupada shared his realization: the healthy dog has a master who has given him protection and shelter; the stray dog does not have shelter and hence is suffering and full of anxiety.
For us, the shelter and protection comes with abiding in virtue, as explained by Bhismadeva to the Pandavas, referring to the many life threatening tribulations they underwent - ”yet you were protected by the brahmanas (saintly people), God and religion.”
Bhagavad-gita, Chapter 1
Cloud carried by wind – Srimad Bhagavatam 1.9.14
Protection by brahmanas, God and religion: Srimad Bhagavatam 1.9.12
Conquest of Virtue: Srimad Bhagavatam 1.9.16
Lecture by His Holiness Romapada Swami on Bhismadeva.
* The word “demon” does not necessarily mean an evil looking, five-headed, man-eating person that we often remember from different picturizations. But refers to one with demoniac natures (refer Bhagavad-gita Chapter 16) – Takes shelter of insatiable lust; absorbed in the conceit of pride and false prestige; always impudent; deluded by wealth and false prestige; bewildered by false ego, strength, pride, lust and anger; engage in unbeneficial, horrible works meant to destroy the world, etc.
Observing history, we can note that in early ages (Satya yuga) persons of demoniac and divine natures existed in different planets; as time progressed to treta yuga, within the same planet, but different countries (as in Ramayana); later in Dvapara yuga within same family (as in Mahabharat) and in present age of Kali yuga, divine and demoniac natures exist within the same person (as in our lives).