The Bhagavad Gita tells the story of Arjuna, a prince and very good man, who is trying to regain his rightful place in life. Sadly, to do so he must go to war with his own family. Wringing his hands and paralyzed with fear, Arjuna asks his charioteer Krishna (who turns out to be a voice of wisdom, solace, and more), “How can I kill my relations and teachers?”
Like Arjuna, everyone of us comes to a state of numbness and paralysis when faced with great challenges in life. Swami Chinmaya says, “The average man, you and I, we get crushed by the world around us. Not because the world and situation is stronger than you, but you become weaker. And therefore, apparently the situation becomes stronger. Arjuna’s disease is the universal disease.” We’ve got a plan for everything and we are confident until the challenges are in our faces. However, once we come face to face with a mammoth challenge, we usually lose our balance, our foothold, and we fumble. In this anxious state, we are not able to face challenges properly because our minds have become unsteady and incapacitated by fear. In Arjuna’s case, he must face a battle which he has trained for. He can either face the battle with all the courage and strength that he has within himself, or he can shrink and succumb to his fear, anxious hesitation, and incorrect identification with his smallness and doubts.
I made a list of some of the times when I’ve had Arjuna’s disease:
- As a 12 year old, I had to face a bully in 7th grade which ended in a physical fight. Although your girl won the fight and this experience taught me to stand up for myself, at the time I felt I was in a fight for my life.
- I made mistakes as a young woman and broke a dear person’s heart. Dealing with the guilt and aftermath proved to be quite the challenge that took my sensitive heart years to overcome.
- A close family member had an extended illness, and, during the ordeal, I felt helpless, hopeless, and incapable of finding solutions.
- In 2017, our house flooded and we had to deal with the immediate trauma of flooding, the overwhelming and exhausting clean up, and the year long pain and expense of rebuilding.
All of us have these kinds of challenges as life is the great equalizer. We are all challenged to the core. What about you? What are your experiences of Arjuna’s disease? Some say that a cure for this disease may come from studying the Bhagavad Gita and other sacred literature from the various traditions. We are all hoping to experience more courage, conviction, and freedom after all. What if by diving into the study of the world’s great scriptural texts we could each find our own cures for anxiety, depression, addiction, stress, and staying stuck in our fears and smallness? That would be a worthy pursuit.