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In the Geeta in the Mahabharata, there's a moment where Krishna is asked by Arjun (to paraphrase): "if I withhold my vengeance so many lives will be saved. For what then should I proceed?" He asks god Krishna.

What philosophical moves does the god make to justify the coming war?

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    This has actually come up in conversation, but I cannot find the email, so I'm going on a very dim memory, but I very sure it had something to do with caste: you are justified in going to war because you are in the warrior caste
    – user63756
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 22:42
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    AFAIK Arjuna's reticence for war is because he doesn't want to fight against his relatives, not because he's objecting to war in general.
    – g s
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 22:48

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If you read between the lines, you will understand that neither the Gita nor the Mahabharata advocates war with weapons. Also, the consequences of war described in the Mahabharata indicates that wars with weapons bring only miseries. If you read this part of the Mahabharata you will never say that the Gita and the Mahabharata is for war with weapons. It was due to Arjuna’s misunderstanding another Gita (Anugita) became necessary.

The Anugita contains sections on what constitutes the duties of a good human being. For example, in chapter 23, it states the best quality and the duties of the good are: Joy, pleasure, nobility, enlightenment and happiness also, absence of stinginess, absence of fear, contentment, faith, forgiveness, courage, harmlessness (ahimsa), equability, truth, straight forwardness, absence of wrath (akrodha), absence of calumniation, purity, dexterity, valor. (...) Devoid of the notion that this or that is mine, devoid of egoism, devoid of expectations, equable everywhere, not full of desires, to be such is eternal duty of the good. — Anugita, Translator: Kashinath Trimbak Telang

A man, if he has been transformed into a new man by listening to the Gita, he will never go into battle armed. So Krishna's advice was not to fight with weapons; but many people who didn't read the Mahabharata or the Gita believe wrongly.

For more details: https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/the-anugita

The word Kshatriya etymologically means one who saves others from wound.

This quote is from the Gitat https://asitis.com/3/37.html . All these show that the enemies are not outside but inside.

The ‘weapon of knowledge’ mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita should not be unnoticed.

How did Krishna justify war?

War is always happening inside everyone. So ‘fight’ is necessary to win the ‘war’. In this sense Krishna justified war.

A 'panacea' (the Gita) for people working in different walks of life should not be misinterpreted as a mere battle or war using weapons. If it were so, billions of people should have already died after reading these scriptures.

The Mahabharata says that even Arjuna misunderstood Krishana’s words as an exhortation to fight with weapons. I believe that no religion, if properly understood, can be interpreted as an advice for killing others.

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How did Krishna justify war?

I found one on-line reference to this. https://krishna.org/arjunas-bewilderment/ (October 23, 2022). It does not look like Krishna has a philosophical justification for war; he just wants obedience from Arjuna.

So the real point of Bhagavad-gita is surrender to Krishna. Not to do one’s duty. Actually one’s duty is to surrender to Krishna and Krishna concludes His instructions to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita by saying exactly this:

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Bg. 18.66)

This is a very clear conclusion and final instruciton [sic] from Krishna to Arjuna. All over the world people have invented so many dharmas, or occupations, or religions and Krishna is concluding here that Arjuna should give up all these dharmas or religions and simply surrender unto Him. So this is Krishna’s real message, the real conclusion of Bhagavad-gita. Surrender to Krishna. This is the main message.

I admittedly know little of Hindu philosophy. Is this what you were looking for?

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  • I suspect there should be some unpacking of the word "duty" here. If I had to guess I think it would be "karma". Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 6:42
  • @Mark Andrews: Abandon all varieties of dharmas (not religions). Religions originated only later. So he didn’t utter anything about religions. Sanātana Dharma (eternal dhama) does not need to treat religions separately. holy-bhagavad-gita.org/chapter/18/verse/66 Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 2:02
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The Gita says it is better to do one’s own dharma poorly than to do another’s well. Dharma is the social and cultural obligations determined by birth into a caste. As a Kṣatriya, he is a member of the warrior caste, and thus obligated to fight the battles incumbent upon him and his social role. It is also a dig against Buddhism, since Buddha was also a kṣatriya, but obviously chose a different path, a different dharma.

The Gita, despite the tremendous attention and admiration globally showered on it, at bottom is an extremely conservative text.

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    Didn't the Buddha come later? Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 6:59
  • I assume they meant contemporary justifications based on it @MoreAnonymous
    – user66697
    Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 14:50
  • @MoreAnonymous: It's thought to be a 2nd century BCE text: "the context of the Bhagavad Gita suggests that it was composed in an era when the ethics of war were being questioned and renunciation to monastic life was becoming popular. Such an era emerged after the rise of Buddhism and Jainism in the 5th century BCE, and particularly after the semi-legendary life of Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE" Other parts of the Mahabarata are older
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 4:30
  • I see... Thanks. Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 5:29
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To understand Krishna's final verdict, it is important to understand the cause of war between Pandavas and Kauravas. It was due to unjust takeover of Pandavas right and property by Kauravas. Extrapolate the scenario to current Russia Ukraine war, where powerful Russian leader unjustifiably wants to control over Ukraine. During the time frame of Mahabharata different strata of society had different functions and responsibilities. Kshatriyas were warriors responsible for protecting the nation. During the course of encouraging Arjuna, the most powerful among Pandavas to do his duty Krishna unfolds the philosophy how a person / soul to live and understand ultimate truth; to perform one's duties selflessly without worrying about its fruits, for betterment of all. Finally, Krishna explains he encompasses the entire universe and every entity in this universe is part of himself. I understand, when one surrenders itself totally to Him the All-pervasive, he/she performs his task with best of his ability without any fear.

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  • [Writing under the assumption that you value the Gita and wish to delve into it's deeper meaning...] does it occur to you that your short answer could (to some) trivialize the Mahabharat and belittle Sri Krishna?? If your black-white evil vs good classification were to hold, how come Gandhari could curse Krishna and his whole clan to perish for being the cause of all this death and destruction, And Krishna accepts the curse quietly? If OTOH Gandhari is correct how to explain Krishna's many attempts to broker peace? [Note: I'm not arguing the other answers are any better...]
    – Rushi
    Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 6:19
  • As for the parallel to current Ukraine-Russia conflict, your analogy is right for the wrong reasons. Here is US senator Richard Black [43 mins on for summary] for the real cause of the war. One could easily multiply that example by a dozen more equally eminent examples. So just as the Ukraine-Russia is ugly and has many causes — one really needs to live in a NATO or Russia state TV bubble to make one side wholly good and evil — likewise there is much good in Kauravas and darkness in Pandavas
    – Rushi
    Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 6:31

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