Bhagavad-Gita: the Hero as Divine Manifestation

& Sacrality of War as Highest Tradition

(from “Metaphysics of War”)

We will conclude our series of essays for the Diorama on the subject of war as a spiritual value by discussing another tradition within the Indo-European heroic cycle, that of the Bhagavad-Gita, which is a very well-known text of ancient Hindu wisdom compiled essentially the warrior caste. [...]

[...] As soon as we refer to previous times we are effectively in the presence of an ethnic and cultural heritage which is to a large extent common, and which can only be described as 'Indo-European'. The original ways of life, the spirituality and the institutions of the first colonizers of India and Iran have many points of contact not only with those of the Hellenic and Nordic peoples, but also with those of the original Romans themselves.

The traditions to which we have previously referred offer examples of this: most notably, a common spiritual conception of how to wage war, how to act and die heroically - contrarily to the views of those who, on the basis of prejudices and platitudes, cannot hear of Hindu civilization without thinking of nirvana, fakirs, escapism, negation of the 'Western' values of personhood and so on.

The text to which we have alluded and on which we will base our discussion is presented in the form of a conversation between the warrior Arjuna and the divine Krishna, who acts as the spiritual director of the former. The conversation arises out of the occasion of a battle in which Arjuna, the victim of humanitarian scruples, is reluctant to participate. In the previous article we have already indicated that, from a spiritual point of view, the two persons, Arjuna and Krishna, are in reality one. They represent two different parts of the human being - Arjuna the principle of action, and Krishna that of transcendent knowledge. The conversation can thus be understood as a sort of monologue, developing a progressive inner clarification and solution, both in the heroic and the spiritual sense, of the problem of the warrior's activity which poses itself to Arjuna as he prepares for battle.

Now, the pity which prevents the warrior from fighting when he recognizes among the hostile ranks some of his erstwhile friends and closest relatives is described by Krishna, that is to say by the spiritual principle, as "impurity, unworthy of a noble man, not leading to heaven" (II, 2).

We have already seen this theme appear many times in the traditional teachings of the West: "Killed you will attain heaven; victorious you will enjoy the earth; arise, therefore, resolved to fight" (II, 37).

However, along with this, the motif of the 'inner war', to be fought at the same moment, is outlined: "Knowing what is beyond reason, steadying the mind by your will, kill the lust-shaped foe, difficult to overcome" (III, 43).

The internal enemy, which is passion, the animal thirst for life, is thus the counterpart of the external enemy. This is how the right orientation is defined: "Devoting all acts to Me with your mind absorbed in the supreme spirit, free from desire and selfishness, fight without faltering" (III, 30).

This demand, for a lucid, supra-conscious heroism, rising above the passions, is important, as is this excerpt, which brings out the character of purity and absoluteness which action should have so as to be considered "sacred war": "Making equal pleasure and pain, profit and loss, victory and defeat, fight for the sake of fighting; in this way you will incur no sin" (II, 38).

We find therefore that the only fault or sin is the state of an incomplete will, of an action which, inwardly, is still far from the height with respect to which one's own life matters as little as those of others and no human measure has value any longer.

It is precisely in this respect that the text in question contains considerations of an absolutely metaphysical order, intended to show how what acts in the warrior at such a level is not so much a human force as a divine force. The teaching which Krishna (that is to say the 'knowledge' principle) gives to Arjuna (that is to say to the 'action' principle) to make his doubts vanish aims first of all at making him understand the distinction between what, as absolute spirituality, is incorruptible, and what, as the human and naturalistic element, exists only illusorily: "To the non-constant (body, matter) there is no permanence; to the constant (spirit) there is no change. Know that by which all this is pervaded (spirit) to be indestructible. He who thinks it the killer, he who thinks it slain, neither is in knowledge: for it slays not, nor is it slain. It is not killed when the body is killed. But perishable are all these bodies. Therefore, arise and fight" (II, 16, 17, 19,20,18).

But there is more. The consciousness of the metaphysical unreality of what one can lose or can cause another to lose, such as the ephemeral life and the mortal body - a consciousness which corresponds to the definition of human existence as 'a mere pastime' in one of the traditions which we have already considered - is associated with the idea that spirit, in its absoluteness and transcendence, can only appear as a destructive force towards everything which is limited and incapable of overcoming its own finitude. Thus the problem arises of how the warrior can evoke spirit, precisely in virtue of his being necessarily an instrument of destruction and death, and identify with it.

The answer to this problem is precisely what we find in our texts. The god not only declares: "I am the strength of the strong, divorced from passion and attachment; I am the brilliance in fire, the life of all that lives and the austerity of the austere; the wisdom of the wise I am, and the glory of the glorious" (VII, 11, 9, 10), but, finally, the god reveals himself to Arjuna in the transcendent and fearful form of lightning. We thus arrive at this general vision of life: like electrical bulbs too brightly lit, like circuits invested with too high a potential, human beings fall and die only because a power burns within them which transcends their finitude, which goes beyond everything they can do and want. This is why they develop, reach a peak, and then, as if overwhelmed by the wave which up to a given point had carried them forward, sink, dissolve, die and return to the unmanifest. But the one who does not fear death, the one who is able, so to speak, / to assume the powers of death by becoming everything which it destroys, overwhelms and shatters - this one finally passes beyond limitation, he continues to remain upon the crest of the wave, he does not fall, and what is beyond life manifests itself within him. Thus, Krishna, the personification of the 'principle of spirit', after having revealed himself fully to Arjuna, can say: "Even without you, none of these warriors in the hostile ranks will survive. Therefore, arise, attain glory, destroy the enemy, enjoy a prosperous reign. All these men have already been killed by Me, and you, 0 Arjuna, be but the instrument. Regret not, fight, you shall conquer the enemy in battle" (XI, 32, 33, 34).

We see again here the identification of war with the 'path of God', of which we spoke in the previous article. The warrior ceases to act as a person. When he attains this level, a great non-human force transfigures his action, making it absolute and 'pure' precisely at its extreme. Here is a very evocative image belonging to the same tradition: "Life - like a bow; the mind - like the arrow; the target to pierce - the supreme spirit; to join mind to spirit as the shot arrow hits its target."

This is one of the highest forms of metaphysical justification of war, one of the most comprehensive images of war as 'sacred war'.

To conclude this excursion into the forms of heroic tradition, as presented to us by many different times and peoples, we will only add a few final words.

We have made this voyage into a world which, to some, could seem outré and irrelevant, out of curiosity, not to display peculiar erudition. We have undertaken it instead with the precise intention of showing that the sacrality of war, that is to say, that which provides a spiritual justification for war and the necessity of war, constitutes a tradition in the highest sense of the term: it is something which has appeared always and everywhere, in the ascending cycle of every great civilization; while the neurosis of war, the humanitarian and pacifist deprecation of it, as well as the conception of war as a 'sad necessity' or a purely political or natural phenomenon - none if this corresponds to any tradition, all this is but modern fabrication, born yesterday, as a side-effect of the decomposition of the democratic and materialistic civilization against which, today, new revolutionary forces are rising up. In this sense, everything which we have gathered from a great variety of sources, constantly separating the essential from the contingent, the spirit from the letter, can be used by us as an inner fortification, as a confirmation, as a strengthened certainty.

Not only does a fundamentally virile instinct appear justified by it on a superior basis, but also the possibility presents itself of determining the forms of the heroic experience which correspond to our highest vocation.

Here we must refer to the first article of this series, in which we showed that there can be heroes of very different sorts, even of an animalistic and sub-personal sort; what matters is not merely the general capacity to throw oneself into combat and to sacrifice oneself, but also the precise spirit according to which such an event is experienced. But we now have all the elements needed to specify, from all the varied ways of understanding, the heroic experience, which may be considered the supreme one, which can make the identification of war with the 'path of God' really true, and can make one recognize, in the hero, a form of divine manifestation.

Another previous consideration must be recalled, namely, that as the warrior's vocation really approaches this metaphysical peak and reflects the impulse to what is universal, it cannot help but tend towards an equally universal manifestation and end for his race; that is to say, it cannot but predestine that race for empire. For only the empire as a superior order in which a pax triumphalis is in force, almost as the earthly reflection of the sovereignty of the 'supra-world,' is adapted to forces in the field of spirit which reflect the great and free energies of nature, and are able to manifest the characters of purity, power, irresistibility and transcendence over all pathos, passion and human limitation.





click here to return to JuliusEvola.Net /text archive