The Gita provides profound justification for engaging in a just conflict and also talks about how one can settle himself spiritually to be able to decide whether a situation of conflict is justified or not. Interestingly, the same epic that justifies disobeying one’s gurus and elders also carries the story of unconditional obedience by Eklavya who cut his right thumb in deference to the wishes of his guru, Dronacharya, who is held in high regard although he commanded a defeated army. The defeat came not because he was not a skilled warrior but because he supported “un righteousness”. His engagement in the war was not justified. His character was crafty. His demand for Eklavya’s thumb was unjustified. He misused his position to satisfy his ego. Also, who does not admire Eklavya for obeying Dronacharya? The selflessness of Eklavya, his ability to sacrifice and suffer in silence is seen as a virtue. Shouldn’t Eklavya have disobeyed Dronacharya?
There seems to be a contradiction. We admire Eklavya for surrendering to and obeying his guru and we also admire Arjuna, for engaging in war and disobeying his guru. Why did Veda Vyasa not see this contradiction? Or do we fail to understand what he was trying to convey?
The Acharya could not have promoted ‘Unconditional Obedience’ as a virtue. He has clearly said that it is the duty of a warrior to engage in a war if the warrior is faced with an unjustified demand even if the demand comes from one’s own teachers and elders. Then there must be a reason as to why Arjuna and Eklavya are both correct. Until such time as we comprehend the reason, the Eklavya story will remain counter-productive.
Dronacharya was not Eklavya’s guru. Eklavya learnt the art of archery through the process of ‘deification’ by meditating before Dronacharya’s statue. Selfless sacrifice is a matter of faith which leads to spiritual enhancement. The argument, put forward by Krishna, is known to everybody. The path to spiritual enhancement is through karma which means engagement in activities that lead to universal good. Deification and faith on the one hand and knowledge and duty on the other are two separate streams that lead to an individual’s spiritual enhancement. Eklavya followed the former and Arjuna, the latter. The genius of Vyasa is that he presented Dronacharya in real and as a deity. In both cases his pupils have excelled. Eklavya did not surrender to Donacharya the person but to the deity and Arjuna dealt with Dronacharya as a real human being.
We err in assuming that every guru is a deity. Our relationship with the guru is that of Arjuna rather than that of Eklavya. We cannot and should not offer unconditional obedience to any human being, whether teachers, superiors or even our parents.
By: Raj Kachroo