Bhagavad Gītā begins with a question asked by Dhṛtarāṣtra, the father of Duryodhana:
dharma-kṣetre kuru-kṣetre samavetā yuyutsavaḥ
māmakāḥ pāṇḍavāś caiva kim akurvata sañjaya
“O Sañjaya, having assembled in the holy land of Kurukṣetra eager to fight, what did my sons and the sons of Pāṇḍu do?”
Dhṛtarāṣtra was blind by birth. He was sitting in his palace with his secretary, Sañjaya, who had just returned from the battlefield at the end of the tenth day. Bhīṣma had fallen, pierced by the arrows of Śikhaṇḍī. It was known that if Śikhaṇḍī came to combat with him, he would drop his weapons and not fight. The reason was that Śikhaṇḍī was born as a girl and later turned into a boy (a transgender in modern terms). Out of respect for women, Bhīṣma, being a great kṣatriya, did not want to shoot at any woman. He considered Śikhaṇḍī still a woman and thus would not even defend himself when Śikhaṇḍī began shooting arrows at him. Bhīṣma’s whole body was pierced with arrows and finally, he fell like a luminous star from the sky. This was unexpected because nobody could defeat Bhīṣṁa in battle. Even Paraśurāma, who decimated ksatriya kings 21 times, could not defeat him. Sañjaya scurried back to the palace to relate this unprecedented news to Emperor Dhṛtrāṣtra. Dhṛtarāṣtra wanted to know all the details and thus he posed this question to Sañjaya.
This battle took place because Duryodhana cheated Arjuna’s brother Yudhiṣṭhira, who was also a king, in a gambling match and took his kingdom. Duryodhana then made a condition that the five Pāṇḍava brothers, including Arjuna, and their wife Draupadī, had to go into exile for twelve years. Afterward, they had to live incognito for one year. If they could complete this, he would return their kingdom to them. If however, they were recognized while living incognito, they would have to repeat the whole ordeal.
The Pāṇḍavas completed twelve years of living in exile, and one year of living incognito, and then returned to request their kingdom. Duryodhana refused. He did not expect them to be successful. He had hoped they would die in exile, but if they survived that ordeal, then he would send his spies to find them out while they were living incognito. If they were discovered, they would have to again spend twelve more years in exile, and another year incognito. Duryodhana thought that wherever the Pāṇḍavas would hide, they would surely be found because they were such well-known, powerful men, and thus they would perpetually live in exile until death and their kingdom would never be returned to them. However, Duryodhana’s plan failed because he was not able to trace them. Thus, when the Pāṇḍavas came back and asked for their kingdom, Duryodhana refused to return it since he did not expect it. He had no intention to return it from the very beginning.
Before the battle began, various people advised Duryodhana’s father, Dhṛtarāṣtra, to give back the kingdom, lest there be much bloodshed and the whole family destroyed. Many kings would be killed, they pointed out, and so many armies would be destroyed. Besides this, the Pandavas deserved their kingdom to be returned to them. But Dhṛtarāṣtra was very attached to his son and was worried that since the Pāṇḍavas were very powerful, they could annex, or usurp, the power of his son. So, he would not listen to anybody, or return the kingdom. Even Kṛṣṇa came to thus advise Dhṛtarāṣtra, but he did not listen to Him. Dhṛtarāṣtra knew he was wrong, and that his sons had behaved in an immoral way by attempting to strip the wife of the Pāṇḍavas in a public assembly. Despite this immoral behavior on their part, he was favoring his sons. This is the meaning of his blindness.
When one knows he is wrong, and his opponent is right, and one still doesn’t act properly, that means he is blind to the truth. The very word “Dhṛtarāṣtra” means “one who has captured the kingdom of another.” This is what an immoral, or greedy, person does. He takes away others’ wealth in an illegal way. He encroaches on others’ rights, property, and wealth. That is what “Dhṛtarāṣtra” signifies. He’s like a person managing the mafia, sitting in his office, knowing that the people he has hired to kill are doing wrong, but still proceeds with evil plans. “Duryodhana” means a tremendous fighter, but one who fights for the wrong cause, which is signified with the prefix – dur. We can always find such people in our lives who act in an unethical, immoral way, and usually, those people who are unethical are in power and they have a lot of followers.
There are also always people who are on the side of good principles, and who act in an ethical, moral way. Those will always be small in number and they will be oppressed. But if they are truthful, if they are with God, and take direction from God and from divine people, then they will be victorious, as happened with Arjuna. The opposing side may be very large in number, but they will be demolished, or defeated.
If we apply this scenario to our spiritual practice, then this battle also happens within our conditioned mind because everybody has two sides—a good and a bad side. When one takes to spiritual life, the bad side, the previous old habits, will object to one taking to spirituality. Our mind will question us, “What is this? Why do you have to get up early in the morning? Why not go to the party and enjoy? What about all your friends and relatives? They will think you have gone crazy.” These ideas will come, and friends will also try to convince you against taking to any spiritual practice. They will argue against it, “There is no God. These are old ideas invented by primitive men out of fear and ignorance. Now science and technology have discovered the laws of nature and invented machines to control it. We have better living standards. We can solve our problems without resorting to some imaginary God.”
But you must remain firm in your conviction and choose Bhagavān. It is quite possible to become weak due to the saṁskāras, or impressions, which influence your intelligence and affect your ability to make good decisions. Then you may deviate from your practice, from your chosen path. This happens to many people.
So, you must remain fixed on your goal, on your purpose. Whenever any thought, idea, or desire comes into your mind, you should study it and see whether it is helping you to move toward your goal or is trying to deviate you. You should not simply follow what the mind says, but discriminate, always try to deliberate on your desires, emotions, and thoughts. We should remain resolute like Arjuna. The spiritual path is for heroic people like Arjuna.
This self-reflection should always be done, otherwise, there is a good possibility of becoming lost. People will come and try to sway you from following a spiritual path or following your goal. They will give good logic, and what they say will be very attractive, but you must remain fixed. Remain very staunch and determined in your process! People who are not on the spiritual path have some logic and some convincing arguments, and if you are not very firm in your understanding, if your knowledge is not very deep, then you may become swayed by them.
Bhagavad Gītā teaches us about the meaning of fighting, internal fighting, and the meaning of killing the opponent. It means destroying unhealthy desires and ideas, those thoughts and desires that block our progress in life. We must remove them. That is the meaning of fighting, and for that, we have to be very expert, like Arjuna.
Arjuna was not just a good fighter by birth, but he underwent a lot of military training. Both, the five Pāṇḍava brothers and Duryodhana and his brothers, all studied from the same teacher, Droṇācārya. When their education was completed, Droṇācārya tested his students. He made a bird from clay, and he placed it on the branch of a tree. Then he instructed the students, one by one, to come and stand in front of this bird, maybe 200 feet away, with a bow and arrow. They were supposed to shoot the eye of the bird.
One by one he called his students. Droṇācārya asked them, “What do you see?” They replied variously. “I see the tree along with the bird.” “I see the branch and the bird.” “I see the man walking behind the tree,” etc. Some said, “I only see the branch and the tree and nothing else.”
Hearing such replies, Droṇācārya asked his students to step back and not take a shot. Finally, he called Arjuna. Arjuna came and took his bow and arrow and aimed at the eye of the bird.
The teacher asked him, “What do you see?”
Arjuna replied, “The eye of the bird.”
Droṇācārya said, “Don’t you see the tree and the branch on which the bird is sitting?”
Arjuna replied, “No. I don’t see anything except the eye of the bird.”
Then he was permitted to shoot, and the arrow hit the eye of the bird.
The meaning of the story is that Arjuna was a person who was fixed on his aim. He did not see anything else. So, you have to be fixed like this if you are sincere about your spiritual life. In fact, if you are sincere about anything, you must be fixed to achieve your goal.
Some people give lectures based on Bhagavad Gītā about management and success in life. This is where they find this idea: if you want to be successful in anything then you must remain completely fixed. All of your emotions and actions must be guided by that one goal, and nothing should deviate you from it.