“War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.” So sang Edwin Starr in his famous 70’s anthem, ‘War’. Few would argue with that stark assessment as we watch the scenes of yet another conflict with horror. Heartbreaking images of anguished people and their shattered lives in Ukraine flash across our screens, and we pray to Lord Krishna that peace may soon prevail.
As devotees of Krishna, we are, of course, firm advocates of peace, indeed the supreme peace that comes from self-realisation, described in the Bhagavad-gita. This, however, is only attained when we adhere to Krishna’s directions. He desires that we be happy and live fulfilled lives that culminate in the permanent cessation of all suffering. Krishna advises, “Perform sacrifice for me, and you will receive whatever you need, and in the end, you will be released from all worldly pain.”
Sacrifice in a religious context might conjure images of lambs or other animals being slain in some ritual, but that is not what Krishna means. Indeed, he abjures animal killing and warns us that it carries fearful consequences. Our spiritual teacher, Srila Prabhupada, said that war was a direct consequence of animal slaughter. He was not alone in this opinion. Pythagoras also said, “As long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seeds of murder and pain cannot reap the joy of love.”
Looking back through history, this seems to be borne out by the grim record of endless wars as far back as we can see. Thankfully we are seeing a move toward compassion for animals and a concomitant rise in plant-based diets, at least in some parts of the world. Let us hope that it continues.
What though of sacrifice? What is Krishna talking about in the Bhagavad-gita? Curiously, the text was spoken on a battlefield to the warrior Arjuna when an uncharacteristic fit of pacifism overcame him. Perhaps I should address this apparent paradox before describing Krishna’s instructions about achieving peace. Sadly, there will always be those unwilling to abide by any divine guidance. Those who, driven by greed or hatred, infringe upon the rights of others. Some would put the present conflict in that category, but certainly, the fight that Arjuna faced arose from the unrestrained avarice of his opponents. All attempts at securing a peaceful settlement, including by Krishna himself, had failed, and the final form of diplomacy, namely war, had been reached. However, Arjuna had faltered at the point of the battle. Seeing his teachers and relatives arrayed against him, he lost heart and threw down his weapons. Therefore, acting as Arjuna’s charioteer, Krishna delivered his famous treatise to convince Arjuna to perform his duty as a warrior.
This is where sacrifice comes in. It means sacrificing our personal interests for a higher cause, in this case, the highest cause, the will of the Supreme. Arjuna’s sentimental attachment to those he loved had to be abandoned as they had sided with the offending party. It is an extreme example that we will hopefully never have to emulate. Still, we must somehow observe the principle of sacrifice to achieve the desired goal of peace and happiness.
So what is that principle? In a nutshell, it means aligning ourselves with the Supreme will. As I mentioned, his will is supremely benevolent and meant only for the good of all. Our will inevitably conflicts with others as we all strive for our selfish ends. The interest of my country is secured at the cost of another’s nation’s pain. My desire to taste hamburgers means the violent death of other creatures. For me to win, someone else must lose. God, though, has the complete picture. He knows what is best for all beings and his directions guide us toward that peaceful end.
This means that we must make sacrifices, give up certain personal desires and accept a few restraints. Most of us do this anyway. To achieve anything in life—qualifications, sporting excellence, a slim figure, or just a livelihood—we must be prepared to give up our immediate comfort and enjoyment. Krishna is showing us how we can attain the greatest possible goal with just a few simple adjustments in our lives. One of those is diet; abstain from flesh foods, which he knows will save us so much suffering, such as we are seeing now. It is not that difficult these days, and Krishna’s other directions are also relatively easy once we recognize their value.
It is said that the wars within become those without. There cannot be peace among those who themselves are not peaceful. That peace means freeing ourselves from the disturbances of lust, greed, and anger, according to the Bhagavad-gita. These evil forces lie at the root of practically all the issues we face, whether war, climate catastrophe, pestilence, or whatever else we can imagine. The philosopher Blaise Pascal said that all man’s problems arise because he cannot remain peacefully alone in a room. The Bhagavad-gita teaches us how to achieve that inner peace. Its messages were never needed more than now.
May 15, 2022
Sunanda Das, Temple of the Vedic Planetarium