Drawing the Ego Into Spiritual Effort

Krishna's Teachings

by Jayaram V


Chapter 2, Verse 2

2. From where has this dejection come upon you at this critical hour, for it is unworthy of noble people, which brings neither heaven nor fame?

When a person is down and dejected, having lost his self-confidence, and is about to give up fighting for his values and beliefs, what he initially needs in those weak moments to revive his sagging spirit are a few soothing words, which remind him of his strengths, values and purpose in life. That assurance may come from within himself as an inner voice or from an external source such as God, a fortuitous event or a chance meeting with a stranger, a spiritual person or a friend.

We hear many stories in which people who have lost all hope become suddenly inspired by some divine intervention. God works in mysterious ways. He does not have to appear always as God in full attire to help you or inspire you. He can come to you in many ways and forms to help you if you truly deserve his help. In the Bhagavadgita itself, Lord Krishna gives the assurance that he is ever loving and always ready to reciprocate the love of his devotees and help them in need. Here, he was exemplifying that promise. He was well aware of Arjuna's predicament and at that critical juncture wanted to help him by reminding him that he was a noble person, a great Kshatriya, who was expected to be courageous and firm in defending those who were on his side as part of his Kshatriya duty to uphold Dharma.

It is well known that when a person is depressed and lost in thoughts, the best way to jolt him out of it is by asking questions or reminding of him something that will make him think. Questions make people to think and come out of their emotional reveries and return to the present reality. Reminding one’s duty or status or identity also serves the same purpose. It makes people think and return to the reality. Lord Krishna, master of wisdom and human behavior knew how to bring Arjuna from his reveries and worries to face the reality and reengage himself in the task for which he came prepared to the battlefield.

He also wanted to use the opportunity to impart to him the higher knowledge of liberation so that he could be freed from ignorance and delusion and participate in the battle for Dharma like a true servant (Bhagavata) of God. Therefore, wisely he appealed to the vanity and the ego of a Kshatriya by reminding him that as a noble person and a great warrior it was unworthy of him to succumb to depressing thoughts at such a critical time.

It is obvious from the way the Bhagavadgita discourse is organized that Lord Krishna was not in a hurry to end the conversation with a few soothing words. He wanted to continue the dialogue until Arjuna was firmly convinced about his spiritual duty to engage in the war, without any further doubt or hesitation. He began the conversation in a casual way, without directly plunging into the deeper and more serious aspects of his teachings. His first act was to appeal to Arjuna’s ego, in a language to which the ego can directly relate and respond.

It is also symbolic of the fact that in spiritual practice first it is the ego which needs to be tamed and transformed. The ego is the first major obstacle in the spiritual practice. Once it is purified and filled with Sattva, it unconditionally surrenders to God and helps the devotee to progress on the path of liberation. Thus, the ego that binds you in the beginning, sets you free when it is suffused with devotion. When God wills, the ego becomes a candle of light in the darkness of the mind and shows the way.

Those who engage in spiritual practice know that people do not easily turn to spirituality or think about God until their egoism is tested in the furnace of life and when they face difficulties which cannot be easily resolved with human effort.  In the beginning, because of egoism and vanity they may resist the desire to seek divine help and try to solve them on their own or they may try to use divine help as a resource or a means for their selfish ends. However, what primarily begins as a selfish effort to use God for personal ends eventually culminates in most cases as a genuine aspiration for self-transformation and selfless devotion. In some people the transformation may happen quickly and in some over a few lifetimes.

The truth is, even if you open your heart and mind a little and let God in, you will see that the power of God gradually pervades your consciousness and cleanses your being. As you let the divine power illuminate your consciousness, it transforms your ego and prepares you for liberation. God is the greatest transformative power, but for him to do the cleansing, we must completely surrender and remain silent, which is possible only when we do not let our egos interfere with his will. At that point of time in the conversation, as Arjuna was going through the emotional turmoil, he was not even aware how their conversation would end. He might not have expected that a mere prayer for help in a worldly matter would result in a dialogue that would remain in history as an immortal celestial song.

Note : These commentaries are not part of the Bhagavadgita Complete Translation.

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