Have a question about Hinduism? E-mail Swami Tripurari.

I was disturbed by the support you expressed for U.S. military aggression against Iraq in your article The Bhagavad-gita and the Iraq War.

You base your support of that war on Bhagavad-gita, but Lord Krsna did not incite Arjuna to fight an aimless war just for the sake of a throne. The battle of Kuruksetra was about divinity and nondivinity. More importantly, it was about the supreme will of the Lord, and one cannot compare the situation between Bush and Saddam to the Bhagavad-gita war. The Iraq war is simply a battle among demonic elements of Kali-yuga and the fact is that Bush is simply interested in oil. The war has nothing to do with liberating Iraq's people.

In that article I stated that the war was justified only if all attempts at diplomacy had failed, Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and planned to use them in acts of terrorism, and he was engaged in horrendous human rights violations. I also stated that should diplomacy not have been exhausted, etc. that the position of the U.S. was contrary to dharma. It is up to the reader to decide what the truths on these issues are, but from a religious point of view, the position of the Bhagavad-gita is one that supports qualified violence in instances where diplomacy fails.
You have determined that the U.S.-led war was not based on righteousness, and in spite of U.S. rhetoric about good over evil, you opine that this was not the motivating factor behind its decision to go to war. . Personally I differ from you on the issue of the war in that I have not taken sides on it. I am not preoccupied with this level of engagement but have taken the time to respond to a sincere question on the issue. You are free to disagree with it if you like. That aside, I also differ with you when you insist that in order for war to be justifiable in any given instance the standard of righteousness (dharma) that it seeks to uphold must reach the level advocated in the Gita. I differ further when you also extend the standard for war to involve the necessity of being in pursuit of the higher spiritual ideal of the Gita, which ultimately is not righteousness for its own sake but rather pure love (prema). The principle the Gita is teaching on righteousness is far more general and universal than the specifics you choose to confine it to.Regarding dharma, the fact that governments today do not follow the system of varnasrama does not render them entirely unrighteous. The universal principle of the Gita on this issue is that to the extent that one stands for actual righteousness one may be justified in going to war. That does not mean all soldiers fighting for the relative good will attain the same status as a warrior of dharma in the full sense of the term. But it does tell us that good is sometimes worth fighting for and such acts will incur relatively good karma as opposed to bad karma.
Regarding the spiritual teaching of the Gita, it is meaningless to apply absolute principles to relative issues. Absolutely speaking, nothing in this world other than pure devotion is justified--sarva dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja. This is the spiritual conclusion of the Gita. However, it is convenient at best to cite this conclusion in support of condemning a government's stance on any particular issue. Others will recognize that they themselves are not yet living the conclusion of the Gita and thus they must consider relative issues on the strength of their own merit. If at the same time such persons are able to cite the Gita in terms of its general stance on relative issues, such as whether or not war is ever justifiable, their position is that much better. Why should we be punished for something that we have done in a previous life and cannot remember in the present? It seems unfair because had we known of the consequences it would have been easier to rectify ourselves.

The law of karma does not involve God's punishing or rewarding us. It involves nature's appropriate response to our will and our subsequent action in relation to her response. While other forms of life have no opportunity to understand this law, human life affords us the chance to become aware of it through introspection, scripture, and the insight of sadhus. Taking advantage of these facilities is what distinguishes humanity from other species.

I don't understand the nature of karma. It seems to be blaming the victim; for example, if I poke you in the eye with a stick, it must be because you are the sort of person who somehow deserves to be poked in the eye with a stick. I know this can't be right. Please enlighten me.
Material nature and the individual souls (jivas) are both children of the same parent, each being powers (sakti) of God, and thus they work together. A tendency arises in the jiva, and material nature reciprocates accordingly. Thus evolution involves more than continuous and gradual adaptation to the natural environment. It involves the will of the jivas, to which material nature responds. Nature transforms and adapts in accordance with the will of the jivas. All of this is part of what we call the law of karma, which determines the kind of body we will acquire birth after birth. The law of karma is the stern, just hand of material nature. It has not been superimposed on nature by a morally good God but rather functions accurately or justly of its own accord by reciprocating in kind the actions of the jivas--be they influenced by sattva (virtue), rajas (ambition), or tamas (torpidity). If no one else acknowledges one's virtuous acts, material nature will take note and create circumstances that reward one. Similarly, if one escapes being apprehended for one's misdeeds, material nature will extend the long arm of her karmic law and bring one to justice. What one sows, one reaps.

Our status within this law with regard to our past, present, and future can be understood by the following example: A person may have money in the bank which can be spent with a check. He may also have cash in hand that he is presently spending, and there is also money owed to him for work he is doing at present. Similarly, we all have a karmic bank account that will be drawn from, karma that is presently spending itself, and actions we are performing that are creating future karmic reactions. While we have no control over our previous actions, which we are presently experiencing the results of, we are free to choose our future by how we react to our present circumstances. What we are today is a result of our past, and what we do with that given situation determines our future. Thus the law of karma is not fatalistic, as it is often misunderstood to be. It absolves God of any blame for our fate, and squarely places all responsibility for our situation on our own shoulders.

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