Bhagavad Gita for Executives – Gita Chapter 1 Summary

Chapter 1 introduces the background, characters and the circumstances of the Mahabharata war. It depicts the dilemma of Arjuna, the hero of the war, warrior par excellence.

The opening words of this chapter are “dharmakshetre kurukshetre”, meaning “the field of dharma, the field of the Kurus.” Essentially Bhagavad Gita is about Dharma. And what is “Dharma”? There is no direct translation for the word in English. It can    be explained as Duty, responsibility and character. The ‘Dharma’ of fire is light and heat. If an innocent child keeps his hand in fire, it will burn as fire will show its character (dharma) irrespective of the person. Fire does not recognize the innocence of the baby and performs its Dharma. But the “Dharma” of mother is to protect the child from fire and keep him away from it (duty). It is also her dharma to educate the child about the dangers of keeping ones hand in fire (responsibility).

How is it that the field of dharma is the field of the Kurus, the enemies of dharma? This portrays the real world of today; a world full of dualities; negativity and ignorance. The enemies of dharma dominate society in general. We find within ourselves a welter of negative impulses, conflicts, confusions, fears, and ignorance of all kinds. Yes; we are definitely in–and are–the field of the Kurus, whatever our intentions may be. We have to fight through the whole field and wipe out all the Kurus, the enemies of Dharma to survive and grow.

Next few stanzas portray the din and roar of the battlefield where many generals and their army are restlessly clamouring to start the war and annihilate their enemies. Bhishma, the grandsire blew his conch shell and declares the war, confirming that Kauravas indeed are the aggressors. Arjuna requests Krishna, his charioteer to place the chariot in the middle of both the armies to see all the people who have gathered and sided with the Kauravas to fight the war, knowing fully well that their death is certain. Arjuna sees grandfathers, fathers, sons and grandson ready to fight the Pandavas. He sees his brothers, brothers in law, friends, uncles and other close relatives. Arjuna is confused and declares that killing all these people for the pleasures of enjoying the kingdom is not worth. Arjuna gets mentally and physically paralysed and informs Krishna that he is quitting the war and sits in the chariot after putting down his arms and ammunition. He justifies the decision quoting scriptures and says that death of menfolk will ruin society and culture.

This is symbolic. Every day we face confusing situations in our life and struggle to take the right decision. People may look like friends, but their intentions could be evil. A delicacy may be appealing to our palate but may be ruinous to our health. Medicines which are bitter will help us recover from serious illness. Fortunately Arjuna had Krishna to guide, whom do we have? The Chariot symbolises human body, driven by horses which are your senses, the five senses of hearing, vision, touch, smell and taste. If the horses are under control, they will take the chariot to the desired destination, if not it will lead us to hell. Arjuna’s chariot is controlled by Krishna who resides in all of us as ‘Buddhi’. Use our Buddhi to control our senses, we will have no confusion and reach our destiny with flying colours.

Today’s Youth is Arjuna. They are confused and unsure of their future like Arjuna in the battlefield. The circumstances and situations around them are threatening and unnerving. Today’s youngsters are ambitious, hardworking, intelligent and more educated than their predecessors. Yet they struggle to achieve success in their life due to difficult and unsupportive external environment, political and economic. Today’s youth is facing Mahabharata war like situations every day in their life. Whether at home or at office we only see and hear disturbing news every day.

We have not one but many Dhritarashtra in today’s world. Every government central, state or local bodies are all controlled by Dhritarashtra whose is determined to perpetuate their political legacy by nepotism and favouritism.  It could be their children, relatives, from the same caste, community, religion, region or political affiliation. The rightful claimants for the post are discarded mercilessly! Corrupt political class is driving young and aspiring Arjunas of this world to desperation and out of their country. Similar incidents are repeated even in corporate world, though with less frequency and intensity.

Success of an organization is based on innovative products and progressive policies. Products that help customers solve their problems and create meaningful impact to their business. Policies that support the stakeholders and its proper implementation. Finally we need people who will execute these policies in letter and spirit at all levels, leadership as well as executive. If any one element is missing that organization is bound to fail if not now certainly in future.

Like an organization a country is built with the help of strong, selfless, ethical, hardworking and industrious citizens. If it is led by the likes of Dhritarashtra or Duryodhana it is bound for disaster and total annihilation like the Kaurava dynasty. When knowledgeable and matured leaders do not raise their voice against corruption and malpractices, like Bhishma and Drona, that society will disintegrate and destroy the world.

India is a country of reservation, whether it is education or employment. Seats are reserved on the basis of caste, religion, region, gender, age, political affiliations or based on whom you know in the corridors of power. Alas there is no reservation based on merit! What a story state of affairs our country is passing through.

Gita teaches us the art of living. It brings proper perspective to our thought process and guides your action towards success and fulfilment. It shows us the way forward. Knowledge gives you proficiency. Applied knowledge is efficiency. Right knowledge applied at the right time, right place and right way gives us effectiveness. Effectiveness leads us to success and glory and that is what Gita teaches us.

Arjuna in Bhagavad Gita represents today’s youth, confused and disheartened. A man of action that Arjuna is abandons his action station due to mental paralysis. Neurosis and stress overtakes his judgement and surrenders to fate by refusing to do his duty. Arjuna loses his ‘viveka’ his reasoning ability. He resigns from his job like many youngsters of today who leave their job on some or other pretext, always silly than serious. When a person is angry sad or under severe stress, his faculty for proper judgement diminishes. Under these circumstances either he gives up or take wrong decisions. That is what has happened to Arjuna.

Generally a problem looks big and insurmountable when you don’t have a solution. The moment you have the solution the problems disappears. Bhagavad Gita provides that answer to our life’s problems. Running away from the problem does not solve it; it will only come back and haunt you with even more vigour and ferocity. If you refuse to see the elephant in the room, it does not disappear. We have to face it with courage and conviction as running away is cowardice. Like Arjuna often we justify our inaction quoting precedents and rule books.

Kurukshetra is our field of activities. It is our mind, our job, our office, everything around us. The circumstances are so challenging that there are conflicting thoughts going through our mind about our life, relationships, work and society. The thoughts may be good or bad, evil or angelic, selfish or selfless. They are at constant war and lead us to physical, mental or intellectual breakup and paralysis. That is what happened to Arjuna. Generally the bad thoughts are in larger numbers than the good ones, like the Kaurava army which is bigger than the Pandava army. But with hard work and divine grace we can always achieve what we desire and more.

Why did Arjuna refuse to take part in the war and guaranteed his failure? Generally people fail in their jobs due to three reasons.

  1. They don’t know what to do;
  2. They don’t know how to do or
  3. Don’t want to do.

Arjuna knows what to do. He is the supreme commander of the Pandava forces and a warrior of unrivalled and unchallenged skills and ability. The reason is Arjuna was confused and demotivated like any other youngsters of today’s organization. He was confused between his love and affection for his friends and relatives and his duty as the supreme warrior and a Kshatriya. It is similar to often heard phrase in office these days called “work life balance”. The confusion between work and life or work and family.  For those who believe that work is life, there is no confusion. However for those who think “work after life”, work puts intense pressure that affects their performance. Here Krishna shows the way. Krishna says that no living being can exist even for a moment without action, hence work is life. Those who think and believe otherwise will have no work and soon no life too.

Gita 1.41

sankaro narakayaiva  kula-ghnanam kulasya ca

patanti pitaro hy esam  lupta-pindodaka-kriyah


When there is increase of unwanted population, a hellish situation is created both for the family and for those who destroy the family tradition. In such corrupt families, there is no offering of oblations of food and water to the ancestors.

Explanation – The offspring, that are born of an intermixture of castes, are not religious-minded and do not possess righteousness and rectitude, because they themselves are the product of persons, without virtue. So they behave against traditions and decorum of a race. Not only this but the ancestors of such a family also suffer as well because  there is no descendant qualified to perform the propitiatory rites prescribed in Vedic scriptures such as sraddha and tarpana. . Being deprived of these oblations due to the absence of qualified progeny as a result of destruction of the family structure the ancestors fall down from heaven and go directly to the hellish planets.

This happens in every organization also when there are people who have joined due to corrupt means such as bribery or recommendations from influential people. If appointments are not made according to merits and suitability of the person for the job, it not only damages the organizational performance in the present but also in the future.

Gita 1.42

dosair etaih kula-ghnanam  varna-sankara-karakaih

utsadyante jati-dharmah  kula-dharmas ca sasvatah

Meaning – Due to the evil deeds of the destroyers of family tradition, all kinds of community projects and family welfare activities are devastated.

Explanation – Jati-dharma refers to the duties of the Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vysyas and Shudras as prescribed in the varnasrama dharma. Kula-dharma refers to the traditional practices observed by a particular family. Therefore, the breaking of such traditions by irresponsible leaders of society brings about chaos in that society, and consequently people forget the aim of life itself.

Every organization has certain values, culture and traditions built over a long period of time which would have helped them to be successful and weather the challenges of time and external conditions. Destroying those values destroys the organization and the leaders are solely responsible for such calamity.

Gita 1.43

utsanna-kula-dharmanam  manusyanam janardana

narake niyatam vaso  bhavatity anususruma

Meaning – O Krishna, I have heard from the learned that those persons whose spiritual family traditions have been destroyed, becomes perpetually the resident in hell.

Explanation –    Arjuna is supporting his argument by affirming that he has heard from respectable sources that those who are responsible for destroying righteousness reside permanently in hell. Therefore this decision to fight is not the wisest of choices.

If only the politicians and corrupt officials think about their life after death while damaging the society and its traditions for personal gains, they could have created a heaven in this life itself for themselves as well as others.

Gita 1.44

aho bata mahat papam  kartum vyavasita vayam

yad rajya-sukha-lobhena  hantum sva-janam udyatah

Meaning – Alas, how strange it is that we are preparing to commit greatly sinful acts, driven by the desire to enjoy royal happiness.

Explanation – Here, Arjuna is thinking about the disastrous consequences of war and so he is not willing to wage it. It is a matter of great sorrow that we are prepared to slay our kith and kin, being over powered by greed, for a transient kingdom and pleasure. It is ironic to him that he has committed himself to great sin by his intention to slay friends and kinsman in the pursuit of royal pleasures and enjoyments.

Gita 1.45

yadi mam apratikaram  asastram sastra-panayah

dhartarastra rane hanyus  tan me ksemataram bhavet

Meaning – I would consider it better for the sons of Dhritarashtra to kill me unarmed and unresisting, rather than to fight with them.

Explanation – Arjuna states that even if the sons of Dhritarashtra being devoid of wisdom and obsessed by greed would slay him unarmed and unresisting, this would still be more preferable than perpetuating sin by slaying friends and kinsman and permanently going to hell as a result. What Arjuna practically saying is that if he refrains from fighting then at the deaths of his physical body there would be no feelings of guilt or repentance from committing such a sin.

Gita 1.46

sanjaya uvaca

evam uktvarjunah sankhye  rathopastha upavisat

visrjya sa-saram capam  soka-samvigna-manasah

Meaning – Sanjaya said: Arjuna, having thus spoken on the battlefield, cast aside his bow and arrows and sat down on the chariot, his mind overwhelmed with grief.

Explanation – War, is the root cause of all evils. It will destroy a race and will lead us to hell in the next world. By thinking so Arjuna, overwhelmed with sorrow, became firmly determined not to wage war. Arjuna, who had come to the battlefield with great zeal with bow in his hand, put the bow and arrow down, and overwhelmed with sorrow, sat on the seat of the chariot. Thus, we see that it is delusion, which changes a hero’s (Arjuna’s), great courage to consternation.

Gita 1.36

papam evasrayed asman

hatvaitan atatayinah

tasman narha vayam hantum

dhartarastran sa-bandhavan

sva-janam hi katham hatva

sukhinah syama madhava

Meaning – Sin will overcome us if we slay such aggressors. Therefore it is not proper for us to kill the sons of Dhritarashtra and our friends. What should we gain, O Krishna, husband of the goddess of fortune, and how could we be happy by killing our own kinsmen?

Explanation – An ‘Atatayi’ is someone who commits any of the following major sins and killing them is permitted and justified as per scriptures such as ‘Manusmriti’ and ‘Vasishta Samhita’. The sins are 1) one who administers poison 2) one who commits arson 3) one who attacks with deadly weapons 4) one who steals ones wealth 5) one who usurps another’s property 6) and one who kidnaps another’s wife. Duryodhana and his companions have committed all these criminal offences. They secretly set fire to the residence, where Pandavas were expected to be sleeping, they poisoned Bhima and threw him into water; they made an attempt on the life of Pandavas; while gambling, deceitfully they deprived Pandavas of their wealth and kingdom, and in the assembly, Duryodhana insulted Draupadi, by calling her his waiting-maid and persuaded Jayadratha to kidnap Draupadi, and he kidnapped her.

However Arjuna thought it better not to kill his own close relatives, whatever they may have done and forgive them on the grounds of religion and saintly behaviour. After all, kingdoms and pleasures derived therefrom are not permanent, so why should he risk his life and eternal salvation by killing his own kinsmen? Arjuna addressing Krishna as “Madhava,” or the husband of the goddess of fortune, is very significant in this connection. He wanted to point out to Krishna that, as husband of the goddess of fortune, He should not induce Arjuna to take up a matter which would ultimately bring about misfortune. Krishna, however, never brings misfortune to anyone, to say nothing of His devotees.

Many times we try to justify our actions quoting precedence or law, irrespective of what we are doing is good for the society or organization that we are associated in the short as well as long term. Arjuna through his knowledge and discretion is showing us the way forward through these stanzas. 

Gita 1(37, 38)

yady apy ete na pasyanti


kula-ksaya-krtam dosam

mitra-drohe ca patakam

katham na jneyam asmabhih

papad asman nivartitum

kula-ksaya-krtam dosam

prapasyadbhir janardana

Meaning – O Janardhana, although these men, overtaken by greed, see no fault in killing one’s family or quarrelling with friends, why should we, with knowledge of the sin, engage in these acts?

Explanation – Now in support of his reason for not fighting Arjuna states that the Pandavas are not like the Kauravas because of knowing fully the sinful reaction of slaying kinsman. So why should they engage in this abominable act. Addressing Lord Krishna as ‘Janardhana’ meaning the remover of his devotees ignorance; why should Pandavas, who are his devotees, not refrain themselves from such ignorance being cognizant of the implications of unrighteousness?

Here, Arjuna is thinking about the greed of Duryodhana etc., but he is not thinking about his own, infatuation and delusion. He feels rather proud of his superiority, that he has no defect, while the fact is that, everyone generally, possesses one defect or the other. If we find fault with others, it is also a defect. Beings proud of one’s own virtues and finding fault with others are the two defects which we do not perceive in us, though we do possess these.

Gita 1.39

kula-ksaye pranasyanti

kula-dharmah sanatanah

dharme naste kulam krtsnam

adharmo ‘bhibhavaty uta

Meaning – With the destruction of dynasty, the eternal family tradition is vanquished, and thus the rest of the family becomes involved in irreligious practice.

Explanation – When the spiritual traditions and spiritual values are destroyed in society, unrighteousness predominates and the surviving family members become degraded. In a family it is the father who is the head of the family. He insures that the family traditions are maintained. In times of war it is the father who goes to fight and sometimes the older sons who are the fathers of the future also go to war. If they are slain in battle it is understood that the family is effectively destroyed and righteousness along with the age- old family customs and Vedic traditions eventually cease to exist. The women and children not being properly protected, having lost the shelter of the father are thus overcome by the realities of basic survival and become victims of unrighteousness.

Gita 1.40

adharmabhibhavat krsna

pradusyanti kula-striyah

strisu dustasu varsneya

jayate varna-sankarah

Meaning – When irreligion is prominent in the family, O Krishna, the women of the family become corrupt, and from the degradation of womanhood, O descendant of ‘Vrsni’, comes unwanted progeny.

Explanation – when unrighteousness becomes predominant in the family due to the loss of the father who insures the continuation of the family customs and the propagation of the Vedic tradition, the females of the family become easily accessible and are placed in conditions of compromise. From this polluted and degraded position arises undesirable progeny. The purpose of Arjuna addressing Lord Krishna by the vocative ‘Varsneya’ is to remind Him that He took birth in the exalted royal ‘Vrsni’ dynasty and as such should be fully aware of all these things.

Good population in human society is the basic principle for peace, prosperity and spiritual progress in life. The varnasrama religion’s principles were so designed that the good population would prevail in society for the general spiritual progress of state and community. Such population depends on the chastity and faithfulness of its womanhood. As children are very prone to be misled, women are similarly very prone to degradation. Therefore, both children and women require protection by the elder members of the family. By being engaged in various religious practices, women will not be misled into adultery.