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How according to Krishna's teaching to Arjuna, was the war between the two sides justified? Isn't fighting over a kingdom petty compared to the lives that would be lost?

Isn't killing (be it human or animal) against the basic tenets of Hinduism?

My understanding of the principle of Karma is that when you kill someone, you're interfering with their cycle of life and death, and you end up tarnishing your own soul, earning yourself 'bad' Karma.

Is this understanding incorrect?

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    Your understanding is very correct. Generally it is not advisable to kill anyone. Ahimsa is the best practice. But general rules are as you know general and sometimes not applicable. For example, if a dacoit comes to the city and starts shooting everyone randomly, if the Government decides 'Ahimsa' is the best, then how many lives will be lost!! It is similar with the Arjuna. So we all know the background story behind Mahabharata. Sri Krishna appeals to Duryodhana and all of the Kauravas as the messenger of peace, to surrender and to stop the war. But all attempts to make peace fail.
    – Sai
    Feb 25, 2015 at 17:25
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    When all attempts at peace fail, when adharma is now ruling the roost, dharma has to triumph isn't it. Arjuna upon entering the battlefield as a warrior, suddenly became cowardly and lost all his strength. It is at this point that the Gita was preached. The focus of the Gita is not 'go ahead and kill' but rather that 'when dharma is at stake, do not lose your courage'. Similar to telling the army, 'when dacoits attack innocent people, it is your duty to stop them!!' Secondly upon reading the entire Gita as Swamiji has said one gets the bigger picture of what God really wanted to convey
    – Sai
    Feb 25, 2015 at 17:28
  • As a general rule, whatever you have said is indeed correct that killing for the sake of 'vengeance' or 'kingdom' or 'money' or 'process' etc are never justified. All the best
    – Sai
    Feb 25, 2015 at 17:29
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    In the Mahabharata, Krishna made every effort to reconcile the Kauravas. Duryodhana was repeatedly advised by all parties of the folly of his actions. And remember that the Pandavas and the Kauravas weren't really fighting over the kingdom. Krishna was fighting a war for dharma (Bhagavad Gita 4.8). Arjuna asked the same question in the Bhagavad Gita in Bhagavad Gita 1.32-35: "kim no rajyena govinda?" ("What is the point of a kingdom?") Krishna reminds him that the point of the war is not for a kingdom; it is a war for dharma.
    – AdityaS
    Feb 25, 2015 at 20:56
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    Arjuna asks the same questions that you do in the Bhagavad Gita. He says, "na hantum icchami"--"I do not want to kill." Krishna then answers his questions and quells his doubts about fighting the war. I recommend that you read the Bhagavad Gita first, and then ask your questions if they remain.
    – AdityaS
    Feb 25, 2015 at 21:03

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Bhagawan Sri Krishna answers all the questions you pose in Chapter II of the Gita.

In the first 30 verses He outlines why the conducting of the war is not important from the standpoint of the Ultimate Reality.

In verses 31-38, the Divine Lord outlines why from Arjuna's personal standpoint the war is righteous and why it is it is Arjuna's personal dharma (Swadharma) to Fight and how he can gain heaven and the world by doing so.

From verse 39 until the end of the chapter, Sri Krishna then outlines how from the standpoint of one desiring Liberation, through yoga, one can attain Liberation while still conducting one's worldly duties (see especially verse 47 and 48). Arjuna is about to kill many people, and the Lord shows how to do so and still practice the yoga of Liberation.

The Lord through the Gita shows how, even in what appears to us as the worst of circumstances and events, a person can still attain Liberation. Here we are in our daily lives - which for most of us - the mental and physical circumstances are nowhere near as extreme as those on the battlefield of the Gita. Each one of us must then look in his or her own heart and ask - Why cannot I put forth the effort for Liberation? I have been born in a most propitious life.....

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  • Who decides what is righteous and what is not ? Mar 15, 2023 at 12:44
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BG 18.17 - The one without the feeling of "I am doer", whose intellect is not tainted, despite killing [others] in this world, neither kills nor is bound


"Is killing justified in the Bhagwad Gita?"

Bhagawad Gita has no firm stand or message on any particular subject. It's more of a description about removing dualities from one's consciousness and fixing it unto the supreme self, which it refers as Atma or ParamAtma. According to Gita, Atma or "self", which is unborn & omnipresent, neither gets killed nor kills. Whatever is happening around the universe is merely interactions of 3 modes (guna-s: sattva, rajas, tamas).

BG 2.21 - Which is said to be indestructible, eternal; One who is unborn, indivisible; O PArtha, how that consciousness (purusha = consciousness = Atma, here) be killed by someone or kill someone?

After all the peace treaties failed between PAndava-s and Kaurava-s, the war was inevitable. Arjuna got confused just during the wartime, which is not a Swadharma or a natural trait for a Kshatriya (Patriot or Warrior). Even if Arjuna had ducked that war, he would have eventually been dragged into it due to his nature.

BG 18.59 - If sheltered by ego, should you think as "Won't fight"; that will be a worthless determination. [Because] Your nature engages you [in fight].
BG 18.60 - O son of Kunti, bound by activities born out of your own nature, you [will] do, which you don't desire [to do] due to illusion.

Also, there is a difference between Killing & Violence.


"Isn't killing (be it human or animal) against the basic tenets of Hinduism?"

Never.
Withing the scope of Prakruti, rightful killing is always recommended. Wrongful killing is equally sinful. There are many examples from MahAbhArata. One of them is from Bhishma in RajadharmAnusasana(ShAnti) Parva:

Even a person that is disrespectable, that is of uncleansed soul, and that is very cruel, may succeed in earning great merit as the hunter Valaka by slaying the blind beast (that threatened to destroy all creatures). ......... A deceitful person, falling away from all duties and abandoning those of his own order, always wishes to betake himself to the practices of Asuras for supporting life. Such a sinful wretch living by deceit should be slain by every means. Such sinful men think that there is nothing in this world higher than wealth. Such men should never be tolerated. No one should eat with them. They should be regarded to have fallen down in consequence of their sins. Indeed, fallen away from the condition of humanity and shut out from the grace of the gods, they are even like evil genii. Without sacrifices and without penances as they are, forbear from their companionship. If their wealth be lost, they commit even suicide which is exceedingly pitiable. Among those sinful men there is no one to whom thou canst say, 'This is thy duty. Let thy heart turn to it.' Their settled convictions are that there is nothing in this world that is equal to wealth. The person that would slay such a creature would incur no sin. He who kills him kills one that has been already killed by his own acts. If slain, it is the dead that is slain.

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  • You can also add "Swadharma" verse to justify killing for Kshatriya Dharma. Many people think Ahimsa is the best way in all cases.
    – The Destroyer
    Nov 4, 2016 at 6:21
  • @TheDestroyer, thanks, added. In general, I feel that AhimsA (non-violence) should still be regarded as supreme. Just that, it shouldn't be connected 1:1 with "Killing". Because, "Killing" is an Act, while "Non-Violence" is a State. MahAtma Gandhi had once said that: "I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor."
    – iammilind
    Nov 4, 2016 at 6:45
  • ok. I actually wanted you to add BG 3.35. Sorry! i don't have positive opinion on Gandhi. One should take up arms and resort to violence in those situations (those freedom fighters can be treated as Kshatriyas by Varna). He misinterpreted Gita. His non violence costed very dearly to India.
    – The Destroyer
    Nov 4, 2016 at 6:51
  • @TheDestroyer, I have added BG 3.35 already. BTW, if you want to get another view, then you may refer this post from Balaji Viswanathan: Who was right between Gandhi and Bhagat Singh in his approach towards the British rule in India? and Is Mahatma Gandhi unduly credited for India's long freedom struggle and Indian Independence?. In reality, getting freedom from Britain was a small part of "Independence struggle". The independence was required in so many aspects, where British weren't even present. All these are just side info-s though. :-)
    – iammilind
    Nov 4, 2016 at 7:02
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There is no killing whatsoever. I would like to answer this question indirectly.

Sudharshana chakra is the single most powerful weapon Lord Vishnu uses to kill bad people?

Now what does that actually mean?

The word Sudarshana is derived from two Sanskrit words – Su(सु) meaning "good/auspicious" and Darshana (दर्शन) meaning "vision".

"Vishnu kills bad people using a weapon named good vision ".Isnt it strange to name your weapon "good vision." Unless ofcourse Sudharshan ie Good vision is used to kill evil thoughts not people.

Mahabharata is not a war fighting over a kingdom.Mahabharata is a war within oneself-a war that we all have to fight,within our own conscience,between the right and the wrong.

The symbolic chariot in Bhagavad Gita is a very powerful metaphor. The chariot is our body itself and our intellect is its driver. Our mind is the rope and the five sense organs are the five horses pulling the chariot in the battlefield. The horses i.e., the sense organs travel through the senses. The sum total of the combination of various experiences involving sound, touch, form, taste and smell constitute life in this world. For example, the horse of ‘ear’ travels through the path of sound. The path of smell is reserved for the nose. Likewise, each sense organ is associated with its corresponding sense object.In this travel, if we have the intellect as the charioteer, there will be no trouble. But in many a time, the fickle mind will try to take decisions pretending to be the intellect. We must be able to detect this.

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Ramakrishna ( Guru of Swami Vivekananda) , gives the example of a Doctor treating Patients.
Mostly , he cures with the help of Medicines .This is like the use of Ahimsa , non-violent method of transforming or training others .
But for some patients , he has to take recourse to Surgery --to cure the Disease or Broken Bones or other Ailments . This is like using Violence for Human Transformation.
This is a simplified explanation of the discussions between Arjuna and Krishna in the Gita.

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Gita advocates the path of minimum violence. Krishna advocated the path of minimum violence to uphold Dharma. It is not always possible to eschew violence. One can not live life by running away from evil. There are situations when one has to fight to uphold Dharma. Take the cases of Adolf Hitler or Islamic terrorists. It would not be possible to stop the current Russian invasion of Ukraine. You will not be able to contain their depredations by taking 'the higher moral ground and the noble path'. In fact such a course would be simply cowardice and egoistic. It would simply result in the massacre of innocents. Should one live oblivious of the cry of the innocents?

This is what Sri Aurobindo says on this issue:

We see in the teaching of the Gita how subtle a thing is the freedom from egoism which is demanded. Arjuna is driven to fight by the egoism of strength, the egoism of Kshatriya; he is turned from the battle by the contrary egoism of weakness, the shrinking, the spirit of disgust, the false pity that overcomes the mind, the nervous being and the senses, - not that divine compassion which strengthens the arm and clarifies the knowledge. But this weakness comes garbed as renunciation, as virtue: "Better the life of the beggar than to taste these blood-stained enjoyments; I desire not the rule of all the earth, no, nor the kingdom of the gods." How foolish of the Teacher, we might say, not to confirm this mood, to lose this sublime chance of adding one more great soul to the army of Sannyasins, one more shining example before the world of holy renunciation. But the Guide sees otherwise, the Guide who is not to be deceived by words: "This is weakness and delusion and egoism that speak in thee. Behold the Self, open thy eyes to the knowledge, purify thy soul of egoism." And afterwards? "Fight, conquer, enjoy a wealthy kingdom." Or to take another example from ancient Indian tradition. It was egoism, it would seem, that drove Rama, the Avatara, to raise an army and destroy a nation in order to recover his wife from the King of Lanka. But would it have been a lesser egoism to drape himself in indifference and misusing the formal terms of the knowledge to say, "I have no wife, no enemy, no desire; these are illusions of the senses; let me cultivate the Brahman-knowledge and let Ravana do what he will with the daughter of Janaka"? The criterion is within, as the Gita insists. It is to have the soul free from craving and attachment, but free from the attachment to inaction as well as from the egoistic impulse to action, free from attachment to the forms of virtue as well as from the attraction to sin. It is to to be rid of "I-ness" and "my-ness" so as to live in the one Self and act in the one Self; to reject the egoism of refusing to work through the individual centre of the universal Being as well as egoism of serving the individual mind and life and body to the exclusion of others. To live in the Self is not to dwell for oneself alone in the Infinite immersed and oblivious of all things in that ocean of impersonal self-delight; but it is to live as the Self and in the Self equal in this embodiment and all embodiments and beyond all embodiments.

The Bhagavad Gita with Text, Translation and Commentary in the Words of Sri Aurobindo

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