Duty

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The great public narrative of our post-9/11 lives is that we are engaged in a War on Terror, a great battle between cosmic forces of Good and Evil. No rational person can deny that groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS are threatening civilization with wholesale destruction, and their barbarity and cruelty must be resisted and defeated. This was the lesson that Krishna taught Arjuna long ago in the Bhagavad Gita: sometimes one must do one’s duty, sometimes one must stand up for what is right and fight against evil, sometimes one must simply do what has to be done – even when this includes fighting or even killing. But Krishna also taught Arjuna that this is not to be done with a heart full of hatred, arrogance, or anger, but consciously and from a place of love, with no attachment to the outcome, without greedily wishing for vengeance or reward. It is not to be done for our own self-aggrandizement or to feed our ego’s illusions of superiority, but for a higher good, always remembering that there is infinitely more to the world than what we can see or understand. Similarly, when Christ taught his disciples to love their enemies, he was not being naïve, and he was not telling them to be docile. Like Krishna, he was teaching them that whatever has to be done must always be done with one’s heart in the right place. Of course we must protect ourselves, but an ‘us-vs-them’ mentality, fueled by fear, hatred, pride, and exaggerated stereotypes, will only prolong the horror. How many ages of bloodshed must pass before we see how useless this is, and how wise the words of Christ and Krishna really are.