Bhagavad Gita

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Discuss the relevance of Arjuna's situation in the Bhagavad- Gita to universal ethical dilemmas.

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The Bhagavad-Gita is ultimately about an ethical dilemma. It comes as an episode from the larger Mahabharata , whose "main story . . . is the war between two branches of the Kaurava family" (5). The central concern of the poem features a kind of moral crisis, where Arjuna is...

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The Bhagavad-Gita is ultimately about an ethical dilemma. It comes as an episode from the larger Mahabharata, whose "main story . . . is the war between two branches of the Kaurava family" (5). The central concern of the poem features a kind of moral crisis, where Arjuna is torn between the demands of caste on the one hand, and with the reality that, in participating within this war, he would be responsible for the death of his kinfolk. The poem follows the dialogue between Arjuna and his charioteer, Krishna, who is himself an incarnation of the god Vishnu.

Ultimately, the underlying theme of the poem is universal: it's about a kind of moral crisis. Arjuna is torn between two paths, and does not know which one he ought to follow. This is itself a universal feature of human morality—people have choices to make, those choices will be difficult, and they will have repercussions. As a warrior, it is Arjuna's duty and obligation to fight this battle, but if he chooses to fight, he'll have the deaths of others on his hands. On which side of that dilemma does morality side? That is one of the central questions of the Bhagavad Gita, and of morality in general. Different traditions and moral systems will provide different solutions, but they will always need to address that same dilemma—how do we know which actions constitute morally correct actions, and how do we navigate those paths which put us in crisis?

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Arjuna's situation in theGitais relevant to universal ethical dilemmas in that he is asking the central question that lies at the heart of most ethical challenges.  Arjuna asks what he should do.  Arjuna is asking how he should act.  Arjuna finds himself in an ethical dilemma, being poised between equally desirable, but ultimately incompatible courses of action.  He recognizes this agonizing predicament and turns to Krishna, his charioteer, at this critical moment before battle.  The universality of this ethical dilemma is evident in that Arjuna lacks the clear understanding of what he needs to do at a critical moment.  It is at this instant, where the divine power of Lord Krishna guides him, telling him to embrace his duty as a warrior and to understand that he is a part of something larger.  This configuration provides a sense of ethical purpose to Arjuna, who can only see his own predicament with his own blindness as a human being preventing him from seeing what Lord Krishna sees and relates to him.  When Krishna tells Arjuna that he must act with "an eye to the maintenance of world order," it provides an ethical resolution to Arjuna.  He must act.  He must take action.  Krishna tells Arjuna to recognize that he is a part of this larger configuration, and if he surrenders to it and sees himself as a part of it, the temporal condition of suffering that he endures right now can be seen in a larger context.  I think that this is where Arjuna's situation contains a universal connection to ethical dilemmas.  The most basic of ethical dilemmas revolve around what people should do, how they should live.  This is where Arjuna is at the start of theGita.  It is also the point of intense departure for him, as by the end of the "diving song," Arjuna understands what he must do.  In doing so, he provides a potential answer for all ethical dilemmas.  If they are seen in the right context, there are answers that human beings can embrace.  The trick is for them to be able to "see" these avenues and recognize the potential limitations of their own predicament in order to do so.  In this, there is relevance to universal ethical dilemmas within what Arjuna endures, making "the divine song" more mortal than we will ever know.

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