I acknowledge this graphic from the Net.

The Lord said:

You grieve for those not deserving grief, with words of wisdom

The wise do not grieve for the living or the dead

Grief counseling and coaching is a fashionable and lucrative niche. Advanced courses are run to train people in grief coaching. Before one rushes to enroll in one, a few minutes with Krishna may be useful, saving both money and time, and proving more effective.

Krishna follows this statement with a detailed account of the imperishable Self. For a moment, let us focus merely on this verse.

Grief, as an emotion, arises with any loss. It may be a material loss of wealth and assets, It may be one of loss of status and reputation, it may be of even knowledge, and it may be one of life, a threat to one’s own or the loss of a loved one. In the varna system (termed caste now) of Krishna’s days, before the onset of Kali Yuga, different varnas valued their dharma, life purpose, in different ways. As a result, punishment for transgression of dharma was based on what would make the person shameful based on his values of dharma. Let me explain.

A brahmin, generally a scholar or priest, valued his knowledge and reputation. Generally, loss of wealth, power or even life, would not faze a brahmin. Punishment to a brahmin was, therefore, to disrepute him or challenge his knowledge. Life would not be worth living for a brahmin after this, at least in Krishna’s days. This is reflected in the lives of Parashurama and Drona, both brahmins, who became warriors when they were insulted.

To a kshatriya, what mattered most was power, status and control, to retain which he will fight unto death. Punishment to a kshatriya would be to demean him through loss of status, which is what Parashurama and Drona meted out in revenge. A vaishya valued only wealth, and to him the only punishment of meaning would be monetary. In the case of a shudra, whose occupation was physical, the relevant punishment was physical.

This understanding of what loss meant to different groups of people also helped to understand how the emotion of grief through loss could be mitigated. Each one has to regain the sense of confidence by overcoming the loss. While this is relatively simpler in cases of material losses such as that of reputation, power, wealth and physical, sense of loss after losing someone one is attached to is deeper and more subtle. This requires an understanding of where the sense of loss is coming from.

If I lose a loved one, the loss is far greater than physical and tangible; it emotional. Oftentimes other emotional states of guilt and regret add on to that of grief, based on the feeling of ‘could I have prevented the loss somehow’. Kubler Ross outlines the five stage of grieving process as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This is a time based process, requiring venting and gradual awareness of the inevitable. What if the awareness of the inevitable can be internalized to start with to accelerate the end outcome of acceptance?

This is the process that all spiritual masters of all faiths have followed. I can write a book on these processes. In this blog I would make two references. The first is to Mahabharata, where in the chapter on ‘yaksha prasna’, Yamaraja asks Yudhishtra as to what is the strangest behavior he finds in humans. Yudhishtra says: we see people dying around all the time and know the inevitability of death, and yet all of us want to live for ever. The other is to Buddha, who when the young mother came to him with her dead child pleading to revive him, said: do bring me by night fall a spoonful of mustard seeds from  a house that has never experienced death.

Arjuna laments the cruelty he would cause by killing his foes, who were once his elders, teachers, relatives and friends. Arjuna is overcome with grief. Krishna now coaches him on the inevitability of death. Whether at his hands or otherwise they would all die sometime. Every living being has to die. What is there to grieve, Krishna asks.  One must remember the context of the battle field here. Krishna is not talking about wantonly causing death, but in the context of one being aware that death is a high probability outcome.

There are complexities of guilt and regret that ride on grief. We shall explore them elsewhere.

In the next verses, Krishna moves on deeper.