It is widely believed that the most important thing Krishna teaches Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita is that “You should do your duty.” Krishna’s instructing Arjuna to do his duty as a ksatriya and fight in the battle is certainly a very strong theme in Bhagavad-gita:
“Therefore, Arjuna, you should always think of Me, and at the same time you should continue your prescribed duty and fight. With your mind and activities always fixed on Me, and everything engaged in Me, you will attain to Me without any doubt.” (Bg. 8.7)
Arjuna is a ksatriya, a fighter, and therefore his duty is to fight. All political avenues have been explored and there is no alternative to the fight. Therefore it is Arjuna’s duty to fight. And Krishna is instructing him to fight. The situation is quite difficult for him however because practically speaking all the soldiers on the battlefield on both sides are Arjuna’s friends and family members. Therefore in the beginning Arjuna becomes bewildered.
Although Arjuna knows it is his duty to fight, when he is seated on the chariot in the middle of the two armies–Pandavas on one side and Kurus on the other side–Arjuna looks everywhere on both sides and sees only friends and family members and his teachers. Everyone is related to him in some way. So he thinks that if they fight this war it will be a great disaster. Even if Arjuna is victorious in the battle because so many of his friends and family members will be killed on both sides he is feeling that his life would not be worth living because most of his friends and family members will get killed in the battle.
So Arjuna declares, “Krishna I shall not fight.” Arjuna is confused about his duty. On one hand he knows he is a ksatriya and he is on the battlefield and he should fight. But on the other hand he sees the people he has to fight and they include his worshipable superiors and teachers, his friends and his family members. So on the other hand he is feeling it is also his duty not to kill his superiors, his teachers and his friends and family members.
In this position Arjuna is completely bewildered about his duty, he does not know what to do. So after some discussion with his friend Krishna he decides to surrender to Krishna and accept Krishna as his spiritual master.
The relationship between Krishna and Arjuna changes at this moment. In the beginning of the discussion they were friends, but Arjuna becomes bewildered and does not know what to do so to solve this problem he accepts his friend Krishna as his spiritual master, as his guru and surrenders to Him.
“Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me clearly what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple, and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me.” (Bhagavad-gita 2.7)
So you see what has happened here. Krishna has instructed Arjuna that he should do his duty as a ksatriya and fight. But Arjuna realized that if he fights this battle then it will be disastrous for his friends and family who will mostly all get killed. So Arjuna is thinking that it would be better for everyone if he did not fight. Then the battle would not take place and his family members would not be killed.
Arjuna says here that he is confused about his duty. So the real point here is that Arjuna does not know what his duty is so is surrendering to Krishna and saying to Krishna “Please instruct me.” Arjuna is now Krishna’s disciple, a soul surrenderd to Krishna and he will now do whatever Krishna tells him to do.
So the actual central point of the Bhagavad-gita, is really to surrender to Krishna in the mood of Arjuna and to request Krishna, “Please instruct me.”
At this point it does not matter what Arjuna thinks is his duty. Actually at this point Arjuna is completely confused about his duty. On one hand he knows that he has the duty as a ksatriya and he should fight but on the other hand he has another duty to his superiors, teachers, friends and family members who will get killed in this battle and he does not want to see them killed. He is thinking his duty to save his family and his friends is more important than his duty to fight.
Therefore Arjuna is completely confused about his duty. So Krishna’s main instruction in Bhagavad-gita is not actually about “doing your duty” at all. Arjuna does not even know what his duty is, so how can he do his duty? We are also in the same position as Arjuna. We are also confused about our duty. So if we do not actually know what our duty is then how can we perfom our duty?
The real message of Bhagavad-gita is surrender to Krishna and get Krishna to instruct us, “please instruct me,” to let Krishna claify clearly to us what is our duty and exactly what we should be doing.
It is not that we know what our duty is and Bhagavad-gita is telling us that we must do what we imagine our duty is. No. Not at all. Krishna in Bhagavad-gita is instructing us to surrender to Him and to let Him instruct us as at to what our duty is.
In Arjuna’s case he was speaking with Krishna directly, but for us Krishna advises that we approach Him through His bona fide spiritual master. The spiritual master can let us know what we should do, what is actually our duty. Of course we can also hear from Krishna and from Sirla Prabhupada from a careful study of Bhagavad-gita. In this way a thoughtful person can understand what is his real duty. Krishna will speak to him and Prabhuapda will speak to him…
These things can be discussed very elaborately and for a long time but really the traditional idea that Krishna is telling Arjuna to do his duty is a very superficial understanding of the Gita. It is true of course. Because when Arjuna surrenders to Krishna He does instruct him to fight. But Krishna could have also instructed Arjuna to leave the battlefield and Arjuna would have done that also if that is what Krishna wanted him to do. The point is Arjuna accepted Krishna as His spiritual master and agreed to do whatever Krishna instructed him to do. Arjuna surrenderd to Krishna in a humble and submissive spirit and was ready to follow Krishna’s instructions whatever they may have been, “please instruct me…”
So the real point of Bhagavad-gita is surrender to Krishna. Not to do one’s duty. Actually one’s duty is to surrender to Krishna and Krishna concludes His instructions to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita by saying exactly this:
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Bg. 18.66)
This is a very clear conclusion and final instruciton from Krishna to Arjuna . All over the world people have invented so many dharmas, or occupations, or religions and Krishna is concluding here that Arjuna should give up all these dharmas or religions and simply surrender unto Him. So this is Krishna’s real message, the real conclusion of Bhagavad-gita. Surrender to Krishna. This is the main message.
This is adapted from Srila Prabhuapda’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is. If you do not have the book please get it and read it from: