“Death is imminent,” says Krishna to his friend and disciple Arjuna, and continues, “as also birth after death.” Life is not linear. Krishna perceives life as cyclical.
“This span of life you are living now, Arjuna, is not the first or the last one. Neither shall the death you experience at the end of this span be the only and the last one. You and I, indeed this multitude of people you see – those on your side, as well as those siding by your enemies – all of them are subject to death and rebirth.
“It may be easy for you to perceive life as impermanent, but so is death. Both are impermanent. Indeed, life is continuity. Life does not end with death. Death is not only the natural consequence of birth – for, one who is born must die – but it is also the natural consequence for rebirth. Life continues.”
The individual soul that is composed of mind, emotions and all their sub-faculties is subject to birth and death, but not the spirit that is the life-force running through all life, running through the entire existence.
Krishna asks Arjuna to shift his focus from the material body that is ever-decaying; the mental and emotional sheaths, which are always changing; and the individual soul subject to birth, death and rebirth; to the realm of spirit, where life has no beginning and no end, where even the division between mortality and immortality fades away.
Here, we are reminded of Shakespeare:
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…”
“Play your part, and play it right, Arjuna!” says Krishna. Indeed, nobody can deny their given role. Denying the role given us is denying this very life. For the role given us is what makes our life meaningful. One may argue that human beings have a free will, and therefore the question of “given role” does not arise. Well, the latest scientific researches indicate otherwise.
Based on the DNA studies and supported by several gene experts, psychologist Michel Poulin of the University of Buffalo suggests that not only human ailments but also human behaviours have their roots in the genetic predisposition.
The findings in this field are mindboggling, as it is further suggested that such genetic predispositions “work in concert” with a person’s early childhood training, impressions, upbringing and life experiences to “determine how sociable or antisocial a person becomes.”
This was known to the ancients. Hence, those with “violent” predisposition were given military training, lest they spread violence in society. And they became great warriors, since their genetic predisposition “worked in concert” with such training.
Similarly, those with “scholarly” predisposition were raised to become scientists, writers and poets. Using the then well-developed science of astrology combined with the principles of other life sciences such as ayurveda and yoga – our ancients could determine the genetic predisposition of any child right upon its birth.
Based upon such basic traits, or varna – later mistranslated as caste – five major categories were assumed. The first one was that of the scholars, scientists, educators, philosophers, diplomats, and the like. They were collectively called Brahmin.
Kshatriya, or the Warrior Class, belonged to the second category: Vaishya – entrepreneurs, industrialists, economists and so on – made up the third category. And the Working Class, or Shudra, was the fourth, with perhaps the largest number.
Lastly, the fifth, referred to as the non-varna. It was difficult to determine their basic trait, as they had the characteristics of all four varna in an almost equal proportion. This made them vulnerable to all kinds of influences. They were mostly the indecisive lot. As such, the social system then prepared them for the tasks that did not require much thinking.
Having this in view, a “given role” must be interpreted as a task or an action that is in line with one’s natural tendencies, traits or genetic predisposition.
The training given to Arjuna from his early childhood complied with his genetic predisposition. He was born to be a warrior. The advocates of “free will” would do good to study the findings of evolutionary biologists like Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago.
Coyne argues that “decision” is merely a series of electrical and chemical impulses between molecules in the brain whose configuration is predetermined by genes and the environment. In other words, human reactions are governed by the laws of physics and can not possibly turn out differently. “Like the output of a programmed computer, only one choice is ever physically possible: the one you made,” writes Coyne.
Hilarious is the observation made by Owen Jones, a professor of law and biological sciences at Vanderbilt University: “Will is as free as lunch. (If you doubt, just try willing yourself out of love, lust, anger, or jealousy).”
What we are trying to get at is this: Free will is not all that free. Krishna is reminding Arjuna of this very fact, “You cannot escape your role. Warriorship is your destiny. Use it to defend the meek, the weak and the defenseless. Use it to defend your nation, your peoples. Free them from the atrocities of your cousins.”
So: use your free will to do your part – do not detract. If you have a trait of entrepreneurship within you, then be an industrialist, be a trader, a businessman. Do not enter politics, lest you turn politics into horse-trading.
If you are naturally drawn to scholarly pursuits, then pursue that. I have seen top scholars and educators failing badly as businessmen and politicians. And I have seen good workers, highly efficient executors, failing as decision-makers.
Play your part, your role, right. And make the best of your life. This is Krishna’s message in the second chapter of Bhagavad Gita, to be continued next week.
This article was published in The Bali Times on Jul 11, 2012.