Beyond Clichés of War, Peace, and Empathy: The Bhagavad-gītā’s Call for Rational Compassion

How to Cite

Gerald Surya. (2022). Beyond Clichés of War, Peace, and Empathy: The Bhagavad-gītā’s Call for Rational Compassion: Journal of Vaishnava Studies. Journal of Vaishnava Studies, 26(2), 125–145. Retrieved from


Does the Bhagavad-gītā promote non-violence? It certainly exalts ahiṁsā as a physical discipline, a means to knowledge, a divine quality, and even an emanation of the Lord,1 and it disapproves of enmity, hatred, and specifically violence by name (hiṁsā) twice.2 It has also accrued allegorical interpretations about social, political, and spiritual activism, later on to soften its theme of war. Or, is it pro-violence? After all, the overall story condemns Arjuna’s momentary hesitation for violence and narrates his eventual obedience to the Lord’s direct exhortations to fight in battle. Modern observers coming from a wide range of perspectives (Marxist-Buddhist, Christian, and Islamic) see a violent message and charge the Gītā with (1) fallacious reasoning, (2) a lack of absolute moral standards,(3) an iniquitous four-fold social system, (4) a prescriptive divine command to fight, (5) a monstrous epiphany glorifying bloodshed, and, finally, (6) a generalized insensitivity to human feelings—all laying the groundwork for systematic and divinely sanctioned violence. Considering the Gītā’s apparent ambivalence when it comes to violence and non-violence, some critics have concluded that the text is self-contradictory or engaging in mischievous doublespeak.

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