2

While reading Bhagavad Gita I just wondered what buddha would have done in this situation?

It's truly not good to ask such questions they may seem speculative to some but I want probabilities not speculations, I feel that a mind versed in Buddha's doctrine should be able to give me Buddha's perspective.

at onset of war between Pandavas and Kauravas who happen to be cousins Arjuna from Pandava side was inspecting war arrangements. In middle of war field, Arjuna got demotivated when he saw that he is going to fight his own relatives and teachers. He decided to surrender and told same to his charioteer Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna as an answer to Arjunas confusion told him what is now called as 'Bhagavad Gita'.

The major arguments Lord Krishna gave in favour of Arjuna fighting the war was:

  • Arjuna was kshatriya by varna (ancient Indian class system) so war was his duty, he should fight as he will get heaven by fulfilling his duty.
  • Atman or Soul is immortal so it doesn't matter even if opposition dies since we will destroy only their body their soul will take another body.
  • Even if you think atman don't exist then also the being will reincarnate again, so it's not virtuous to cling to your relatives.
  • A person should follow Karmayoga which is doing own duty without thinking about it's result. One should fix their mind on God and carry on their duty without being attached to it's result.

If Buddha were in place of Krishna what he would have done when Arjuna expressed his desire to abandon war?

Below is background of war

The cause of the Kurukshetra War was a complex and multifaceted one, involving political, social, and moral factors. Some of the main reasons that led to the war were:

  • The rivalry and hatred between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, who were cousins and descendants of the Kuru dynasty. The Kauravas, led by Duryodhana, were jealous and resentful of the Pandavas, who were favored by their elders, such as Bhishma and Vidura, and by the gods, such as Krishna. The Kauravas tried to harm and kill the Pandavas on several occasions, such as by poisoning, burning, and exiling them.
  • The dispute over the throne of Hastinapura, the capital of the Kuru kingdom. According to the law of primogeniture, the eldest son of the king should inherit the throne. However, Dhritarashtra, the eldest son of Vichitravirya, was born blind and was deemed unfit to rule. Therefore, his younger brother Pandu became the king. Pandu, however, was cursed by a sage that he would die if he ever had sexual intercourse. He retired to the forest with his wives, Kunti and Madri, and entrusted the kingdom to Dhritarashtra. Pandu's sons, the Pandavas, were born through the boon of various gods, while Dhritarashtra's sons, the Kauravas, were born through the intervention of Vyasa, the sage and author of the Mahabharata. When Pandu died, the Pandavas returned to Hastinapura and were raised along with the Kauravas. However, the question of who should be the rightful heir to the throne remained unresolved. The Kauravas claimed that since Dhritarashtra was the eldest son of Vichitravirya, his sons should inherit the throne. The Pandavas argued that since Pandu was the king, his sons should succeed him. The elders and the people were divided on this issue.
  • The injustice and oppression of the Kauravas, especially Duryodhana, who was the eldest and the most wicked of them. Duryodhana, with the help of his uncle Shakuni, a master of deceit and gambling, cheated the Pandavas of their share of the kingdom in a rigged dice game. He also humiliated and insulted Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas, by trying to disrobe her in public. He refused to give back the kingdom to the Pandavas even after they completed their exile and agreed to a peaceful settlement. He also amassed a huge army of allies, such as Karna, Drona, Bhishma, and others, to wage war against the Pandavas and their supporters, such as Krishna, Arjuna, Bhima, and others.
  • The need for dharma, or righteousness, to prevail over adharma, or unrighteousness. The Mahabharata war was not only a human conflict, but also a cosmic one, involving the intervention and participation of various gods, sages, and supernatural beings. The war was seen as a necessary and inevitable event to restore the balance of the world, which was corrupted by the evil deeds of the Kauravas and their allies. The war was also a test and a lesson for the Pandavas and their allies, who had to face various moral dilemmas and challenges in the course of the war. The war was ultimately a victory for dharma, as the Pandavas defeated the Kauravas and established a righteous rule over the land.
1
  • when you say no speculation does that include what the 'turning of dharma wheel' might mean?
    – blue_ego
    Jan 4 at 14:29

4 Answers 4

5

I am very familiar with Bhagavad Gita. First time I read it was 30 years ago, and I still come back to it from time to time, it sits right here on my bookshelf.

From the traditional perspective, the episode on the Kuru field is part of Mahabharata epic, happening centuries before Buddha's time, when the first Aryan settlers only recently moved from the Sarasvati river to the upper Ganges.

However, the modern science places writing of Bhagavad Gita to much later times (most often 2nd century BCE), centuries after Buddha. In fact, the modern research indicates that the Gita was written specifically as the traditional response to the (then still novel) Sramana movement. If you remove the mythical entourage, and focus just on its content, Bhagavad Gita reads as a series of Q&A on the topics of controversy between Early Buddhism and the Hindu tradition, aiming to give the reader what the authors thought was the valid interpretation:

  1. Buddhism called for no-violence. BG declares that the soul is immortal, therefore it cannot be killed. As for the physical death, "for the warrior disgrace is a fate far worse than death".
  2. Buddhism called for leaving home and abandoning all projects, to focus solely on attaining the Unconditioned. BG negates the inaction and reinforces the notion of duty without attachment to the results. For example, per BG the duty of baker is to bake bread, the duty of doctor is to treat patients, warrior is to fight with enemies, "indifferent to gain or loss, to victory or defeat". BG considers this action-without-attachment-to-result the only true equanimity, superior to mere inaction.
  3. Buddhism defines liberation as transcending the notions of both the individual Atman and the Pantheistic Deity permeating everything. BG reinstates both the reincarnating Atman and its oneness with the Universal Self as the ultimate attainment.
  4. Buddhism states that subjective experience originates from interaction of impersonal qualities, without any separate Subject that experiences the objects of the senses and the mind. BG insists that the experience originates from the union of Nature (material universe) and the Knower (the Universal Deity looking at everything through us) and liberation is attained by detaching from Nature and realizing one's identity with the Knower.

The rest of the Bhagavad Gita pretty much verbatim repeats the familiar Buddhists notions of suffering, attachment, old age and death, craving and aversion, meditation and joy, freedom from rebirth, surrender, peace, detachment, dispassion, kindness, compassion, five senses, desire, aversion, pleasure, pain, moderation, serenity, self-control, and so on. It definitely looks like the author was addressing an audience deeply influenced by the Buddhist teaching, so he wisely chose to avoid arguments and go along with most of the ideas they have already internalized, while "fixing" only the few of the most important ones that contradicted the traditional doctrine.

The entire approach of the Gita can be summarized with the following verse from it:

The wise man does not unsettle the minds of the ignorant. Quietly acting in the spirit of yoga he inspires them to do the same.

It is rather obvious to me the Gita was written specifically to protect the traditional social order from what the authors felt was a danger tendency to renunciate, making the Brahmin leadership irrelevant. Two millenia after, we can see the project succeeded brilliantly and the Buddhism in India is nothing but a shadow of its former glory.

To answer your question, if Buddha had seen the Bhagavad Gita, I think he would recognize the talent and the cleverness of the author in adopting the Dharma to fit the traditional narrative. However, I have no doubts that the Buddha of Pali Canon would have immediately noticed how the four points I listed above diverge from the Buddha's original teaching:

  1. Certainly, Buddha would have said even though death is a convention depending on the notion of individual being, it does not excuse violence or murder.
  2. Action in accordance with one's duty while being detached from its results would most definitely be characterized by the Buddha as politically motivated attempt of the ruling class to keep their power over the population, exploiting its labor to their advantage.
  3. The notions of Atman and oneness with Universal God are very clearly against the teachings we see in the Pali Canon, so Buddha would have obviously pointed that out, too.
  4. Same regarding the "Knower of the Field". As Nagasena said in Questions of King Milinda, "There is no such thing as the Knower."

And if Buddha were in that carriage along with Arjuna, I have no doubts he would have said (to both sides!) drop your weapons and focus your minds on The Four Brahma Abodes, because it's better to be considered weak by the fools than perpetuate the conflict. That said, I'm pretty sure the Buddha would not have gotten into the warrior's carriage, to begin with. If he were part of the royal family, as was Krishna, the Buddha could have prevented the war altogether.

2
  • 1
    This answer was excellent (apart from its unsubstantiated descent into Marxism in the closing summary points #2). It appears plainly obvious, at least to me, the Bhagavad Gita is an attempt to subversively undermine aspects of Buddhism. Jan 3 at 4:25
  • I have been through BG again and this time after reading the theories (that BG is reaction to sramana movement). I find danger in trusting the theories since all of them were result of British research and later backed-up by anti-Brahmin movement. Even if we assume that the theories are correct can't we make an argument that authors of BG were worried by the fact that inaction resulting from pursuit of dhamma can cause social structure to collapse. Also the point that BG succeeded in it's mission is half truth, Dr BR Ambedkar makes excellent point on why dhamma collapsed in india.
    – Qwerty
    Feb 24 at 18:54
2

We know Buddhism discourage violence and war, but Buddha's advice is nuanced ie not as simple as coming out and saying, "war is bad, violence is bad, you will go to hell participating." Just from reading Vassakārasutta you get the sense Buddha's technique was subtle:

King Ajātasattu representative says:

‘I shall wipe out these Vajjis [local tribe], so mighty and powerful! I shall destroy them, and lay ruin and devastation upon them!’”

Buddha replies as such:

“As long as the Vajjis meet frequently and have many meetings, they can expect growth, not decline.

“As long as the Vajjis meet in harmony, leave in harmony, and carry on their business in harmony, they can expect growth, not decline.

“As long as the Vajjis don’t make new decrees or abolish existing decrees, but proceed having undertaken the ancient Vajjian traditions as they have been decreed, they can expect growth, not decline.

“As long as the Vajjis don’t forcibly abduct the women or girls of the clans and make them live with them, they can expect growth, not decline.

His rhetoric goes on to list more points that indicate the Vajjis are living in accordance with the dharma, and as such, they will not easily fare defeat in battle. So, one might speculate Buddha has sided with the Vajjis - them being good patrons to noble ones and dharma. Given this information, do you really think if King Ajātasattu declared war, and the Vajjis came to consult Buddha, he would say, "war is bad, violence is bad, you will go to hell if you fight, just lay down and surrender to King Ajātasattu"? Or perhaps something more appropriate?

1
2

This isn't the most important point, but an addition that was not mentioned in other answers.

Arjuna was kshatriya by varna (ancient Indian class system) so war was his duty

The Buddha didn't necessary support the ancient Indian class system as it was -- for example, he contradicts the idea of people being Brahmin just because they're born Brahmin -- footnote 26 in this edition of the Dhammapada:

"Holy man" is used as a makeshift rendering for brahmana, intended to reproduce the ambiguity of the Indian word. Originally men of spiritual stature; by the time of the Buddha the brahmins had turned into a privileged priesthood which defined itself by means of birth and lineage rather than by genuine inner sanctity. The Buddha attempted to restore to the word brahmana its original connotation by identifying the true "holy man" as the Arahat, who merits the title through his own inward purity and holiness regardless of family lineage. The contrast between the two meanings is highlighted in verses 393 and 396. Those who led a contemplative life dedicated to gaining Arahatship could also be called brahmins, as in verses 383, 389, and 390.

The Buddha does talk at length about the duties of a layperson (Sigalovada Sutta (DN 31) -- without saying it's a duty to kill -- but also e.g. in DN 2 it praises Buddhist ordination instead of those duties:

A householder hears that teaching, or a householder’s child, or someone reborn in a good family. They gain faith in the Realized One and reflect: ‘Living in a house is cramped and dirty, but the life of one gone forth is wide open. It’s not easy for someone living at home to lead the spiritual life utterly full and pure, like a polished shell. Why don’t I shave off my hair and beard, dress in ocher robes, and go forth from the lay life to homelessness?’

Note: The word “householder” (gahapati) informally refers to any lay person, but more specifically indicates someone who owns a house, i.e. a person of standing. The renunciate life is not just for slaves or workers wishing to escape their station.


And in Getting the message:

Killing is never skillful. Stealing, lying, and everything else in the first list are never skillful. When asked if there was anything whose killing he approved of, the Buddha answered that there was only one thing: anger. In no recorded instance did he approve of killing any living being at all. When one of his monks went to an executioner and told the man to kill his victims compassionately, with one blow, rather than torturing them, the Buddha expelled the monk from the Sangha, on the grounds that even the recommendation to kill compassionately is still a recommendation to kill — something he would never condone. If a monk was physically attacked, the Buddha allowed him to strike back in self-defense, but never with the intention to kill.

For this reason I view the Bhagavad Gita as "anathema" -- or in Buddhist terms, Adharma -- that's my view although of course, historically, nominally Buddhist countries and people have sometimes engaged in war or civil war, explaining it as justified.

1
1

We don't have to speculate. The Buddha clearly taught that the warrior who exerts himself in battle to kill others will go to hell (i.e. suffer bad consequences) according to SN 42.3, quoted below.

The reason for this is that karma is caused by intention according to AN 6.63 and also the opening verses of the Dhammapada. Please see this answer for details and more sutta quotes. Whether one detaches from the fruits of action or not, the intention to kill was there, and therefore, there is karma.

Killing is against the first precept in Buddhism. The five precepts are the most basic training rules for purification of the mind by cultivation of virtues. There are no justifications for putting aside any of the first four precepts.

To understand this better, we find that buying frozen meat from the supermarket, and then cooking and eating it, does not violate the first precept, according to MN 55 and Snp 2.2. This is because the buyer of frozen meat did not have the intention of killing and indeed did not do any killing at all.

There's no eternal soul in Buddhism like the one taught in Bhagavad Gita 2.19-25. Views of an eternal soul is refuted in DN 1.

Also there are no prescribed duties according to one's birth caste in Buddhism. Please see this answer for details.

A king should however preserve justice and provide protection, to keep peace in his land, according to the Buddha in DN 16 and DN 26. Please see this answer.

Then Yodhajiva (= Warrior) the headman went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One: "Lord, I have heard that it has been passed down by the ancient teaching lineage of warriors that 'When a warrior strives & exerts himself in battle, if others then strike him down & slay him while he is striving & exerting himself in battle, then with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of devas slain in battle.' What does the Blessed One have to say about that?"

"Enough, headman, put that aside. Don't ask me that."

A second time... A third time Yodhajiva the headman said: "Lord, I have heard that it has been passed down by the ancient teaching lineage of warriors that 'When a warrior strives & exerts himself in battle, if others then strike him down & slay him while he is striving & exerting himself in battle, then with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of devas slain in battle.' What does the Blessed One have to say about that?"

"Apparently, headman, I haven't been able to get past you by saying, 'Enough, headman, put that aside. Don't ask me that.' So I will simply answer you. When a warrior strives & exerts himself in battle, his mind is already seized, debased, & misdirected by the thought: 'May these beings be struck down or slaughtered or annihilated or destroyed. May they not exist.' If others then strike him down & slay him while he is thus striving & exerting himself in battle, then with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the hell called the realm of those slain in battle. But if he holds such a view as this: 'When a warrior strives & exerts himself in battle, if others then strike him down & slay him while he is striving & exerting himself in battle, then with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of devas slain in battle,' that is his wrong view. Now, there are two destinations for a person with wrong view, I tell you: either hell or the animal womb."

When this was said, Yodhajiva the headman sobbed & burst into tears. [The Blessed One said:] "That is what I couldn't get past you by saying, 'Enough, headman, put that aside. Don't ask me that.'"

"I'm not crying, lord, because of what the Blessed One said to me, but simply because I have been deceived, cheated, & fooled for a long time by that ancient teaching lineage of warriors who said: 'When a warrior strives & exerts himself in battle, if others then strike him down & slay him while he is striving & exerting himself in battle, then with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of devas slain in battle.'

"Magnificent, lord! Magnificent! Just as if he were to place upright what was overturned, to reveal what was hidden, to show the way to one who was lost, or to carry a lamp into the dark so that those with eyes could see forms, in the same way has the Blessed One — through many lines of reasoning — made the Dhamma clear. I go to the Blessed One for refuge, to the Dhamma, and to the Community of monks. May the Blessed One remember me as a lay follower who has gone to him for refuge, from this day forward, for life."
SN 42.3

To see how a Buddhist king practises the Dhamma with respect to military conquests and wars, we should read the following statement by King Asoka from his edicts:

Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, conquered the Kalingas eight years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from other causes). After the Kalingas had been conquered, Beloved-of-the-Gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dhamma, a love for the Dhamma and for instruction in Dhamma. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas.

Indeed, Beloved-of-the-Gods is deeply pained by the killing, dying and deportation that take place when an unconquered country is conquered. But Beloved-of-the-Gods is pained even more by this — that Brahmans, ascetics, and householders of different religions who live in those countries, and who are respectful to superiors, to mother and father, to elders, and who behave properly and have strong loyalty towards friends, acquaintances, companions, relatives, servants and employees — that they are injured, killed or separated from their loved ones. Even those who are not affected (by all this) suffer when they see friends, acquaintances, companions and relatives affected. These misfortunes befall all (as a result of war), and this pains Beloved-of-the-Gods.

There is no country, except among the Greeks, where these two groups, Brahmans and ascetics, are not found, and there is no country where people are not devoted to one or another religion. Therefore the killing, death or deportation of a hundredth, or even a thousandth part of those who died during the conquest of Kalinga now pains Beloved-of-the-Gods. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods thinks that even those who do wrong should be forgiven where forgiveness is possible.

Even the forest people, who live in Beloved-of-the-Gods' domain, are entreated and reasoned with to act properly. They are told that despite his remorse Beloved-of-the-Gods has the power to punish them if necessary, so that they should be ashamed of their wrong and not be killed. Truly, Beloved-of-the-Gods desires non-injury, restraint and impartiality to all beings, even where wrong has been done.

Now it is conquest by Dhamma that Beloved-of-the-Gods considers to be the best conquest. And it (conquest by Dhamma) has been won here, on the borders, even six hundred yojanas away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni. Here in the king's domain among the Greeks, the Kambojas, the Nabhakas, the Nabhapamkits, the Bhojas, the Pitinikas, the Andhras and the Palidas, everywhere people are following Beloved-of-the-Gods' instructions in Dhamma. Even where Beloved-of-the-Gods' envoys have not been, these people too, having heard of the practice of Dhamma and the ordinances and instructions in Dhamma given by Beloved-of-the-Gods, are following it and will continue to do so. This conquest has been won everywhere, and it gives great joy — the joy which only conquest by Dhamma can give. But even this joy is of little consequence. Beloved-of-the-Gods considers the great fruit to be experienced in the next world to be more important.

I have had this Dhamma edict written so that my sons and great-grandsons may not consider making new conquests, or that if military conquests are made, that they be done with forbearance and light punishment, or better still, that they consider making conquest by Dhamma only, for that bears fruit in this world and the next. May all their intense devotion be given to this which has a result in this world and the next.

3
  • how can a king preserve justice and provide protection, to keep peace in his land, according to the Buddha in DN 16 and DN 26, if the king's troops mentioned in DN 26 do not engage in war? Jan 3 at 4:31
  • @DhammaDhatu That's a very good question. King Asoka designed this policy in his edicts: "I have had this Dhamma edict written so that my sons and great-grandsons may not consider making new conquests, or that if military conquests are made, that they be done with forbearance and light punishment, or better still, that they consider making conquest by Dhamma only, for that bears fruit in this world and the next. May all their intense devotion be given to this which has a result in this world and the next."
    – ruben2020
    Jan 3 at 5:10
  • This is also nonsense- intention is not the BG obviously- rather the clear-minded killing that is not namarpua
    – blue_ego
    Jan 5 at 19:11

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .