Bhagavad Gita

Family attachment is a form of violence disguised as love

From the Yoga of Dejection, pp. 132-133. Sub-titles added by this author.

“I” as a congolomerate of “Mine”

As explained before, the conditioned soul’s identity is a conglomerate formed by his gross and subtle attachments. Thus when he says “I”, it does not refer to his original identity, but to the “I” formed by the sum-total of acquired brothers, sisters, mother, friends, land, wealth, social position and so on. This conditioned identity changes as the objects it is shaped by change.

For example, a married woman gives birth to a son and acquires a new identity of mother. Now if her son were to die, her identity as a mother would also perish or be seriously affected. This means that the identity of mother is relative to the existence of the son and therefore cannot be considered absolute. Those we are connected to are called relatives because our identity is relative to them. When any one of them dies, some part of the conglomerate “I” dies, and vice versa.

Arjuna considers killing his relatives as tantamount to suicide

In the conditioned state the conglomerate “I” is dependent on what is considered “Mine”. In fact without “Mine” there is no “I”. This possessiveness is undesirable because when that which is “Mine” undergoes a change, it triggers a concurrent change in “Me”. This was Arjuna’s predicament. He thought, “O my God! I am being called upon to kill ‘My’ relatives! If I do, it will create a drastic change in ‘Me’. If ‘My’ relatives die, what will become of ‘Me’?

Arjuna was confronted with his own death, or a change or loss of identity. Change and loss are almost always feared, and change or loss of personal identity is most disconcerting. Arjuna considered killing his relatives as tantamount to suicide and expressed this later by saying, “Bereft of them, I have no desire to live. What is the meaning of life without them? My very identity exists because of them. ” In this way material attachment binds us to happiness and distress.

Family attachment is violence disguised as love

This attitude of possessiveness effaces the persons possessed by reducing them to mere objects. For example, when I say “My dog”, it means that I want to exercise ownership and control over it. If the dog does not behave according to my wish, I become angry and want to punish it. In my attempt to possess and use it to fulfill my own purposes, I deprive it of its own independence and sense of being. I turn it into a toy that is meant for my pleasure. I do not allow it the right to desire separately from my wish or to rebel. Children become attached to toys because they can exercise their sense of controlling others over them, which is related to ownership. There is nothing else a child can control. Thus he expresses his frustration by smashing a toy or some other object.

Adults often treat others as if they were toys. For example, if a son obeys his father, he becomes upset and punishes or disowns the son. In this way we can see how family attachment, the sense of ownership, is actually a form of violence disguised as love. This love lasts as long as the other person behaves according to our wishes. When the object of love behaves contrarily, either we tolerate it, become angry or sever the relation. One may think Arjuna non-violent for wanting to leave the battlefield, yet he was inspired by the very basis of violence — family attachment. If we do not understand this, we miss the point of the Bhagavad-gita. Arjuna did not argue that war was wrong, but that killing his kith and kin was.

The very basis of violence is material attachment, which arises from the concept of ownership. When we say “My’, it divides the world into what is “mine” and what is “not-Mine”. Thus, I can love what is “Mine” and hate what is not. Hatred is the other side of attachment. Arjuna, who is called ari-sudana (killer of enemies) had slain many men before. No doubt if he were faced with an army of foes not related to him, he would immediately dispose of them without remorse. But because he was faced with killing those whom his ego was dependent upon, he hesitated, considering that his own existence would be vanquished in the process. Consequently, the thought of fighting sent chills up his spine and refused to do so.

Most people empathize with Arjuna as he is in the first chapter

Those who read the Gita superficially are convinced by Arjuna’s arguments and become alarmed when Krishna encouraged him to fight. This is because they identify with Arjuna, having a similar temperament themselves. They dont understand how Arjuna’s concept of non-violence is actually violent. Krishna wanted to expose this and dispel Arjuna’s confusion. Thus he did not praise Arjuna’s so-called noble attitude, but chastised him instead.

One is not affected seriously if a neighbor he hardly knows suddenly dies, but when a close relative dies, he feels a vacuum in his heart and stomach. This is the effect of attachment. When someone close to you dies, a part of you dwindles also.

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