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Arjuna's Service To His People

Adapted from the Hindu Baghavad Gita.

This story is an ancient Hindu tale. It is important to tell the story interactively, as guided. The prompts and follow-up discussion questions will help you elicit children’s thoughtful responses to the tale.

Here is a story from the Hindu tradition. A long, long time ago in India, there was a king with two sons. When the king died, Older Brother was entitled to inherit the entire kingdom, but Younger Brother was jealous. Older Brother graciously divided the kingdom in half, to share with Younger Brother. But Younger Brother was still not satisfied and stole the whole kingdom for himself and his children. He refused to share the land with Older Brother—unless there was a war.

Older brother and his children did not want to fight, but they had only two choices: to fight for their rights, or to turn away from war, and their rightful land, to preserve peace and nonviolence.

One of Older Brother’s children was Arjuna, a famous warrior. He had a special relationship with the god Krishna, the god of all gods. Krishna called Arjuna to lead the battle. Of course, Arjuna dutifully came to the battlefield to obey. He had led many battles successfully for Krishna before.

But Arjuna was shocked to see who was getting ready for war on the other side. The people who were called his enemies were, in fact, his own family. Not only his uncle—Younger Brother—but also Arjuna’s cousins, some of his uncles, his favorite teachers and very dear friends. He did not want to kill them and was very confused that Krishna—the god of all gods—had called him to lead this war. He was especially confused since Krishna had always said, “The most important thing for a good person to do is to avoid harming any living thing.”

Leader: Pause and ask, “Think about that statement: ‘The most important thing to do is avoid harming any living thing.’ Do you agree with that? Does it sound right to you?” Allow some brief responses; affirm all. Continue the story.

As a warrior, Arjuna’s duty sometimes required him to kill. That was hard. But this time, it was an even harder problem. Arjuna argued and argued with Krishna because he wanted to be a good person, he wanted to do his duty, yet he could not stand the thought of doing violence against his relatives and friends.

Krishna told Arjuna many stories to persuade Arjuna to do his duty as a warrior. In one story, there was a hermit who lived in the woods who always told the truth. One day an evil robber chased a merchant into the woods. The robber asked the hermit if he knew where the merchant was hiding. Because he always told the truth, the hermit pointed and said, “Yes, I saw him going that way,” causing the merchant to die. Krishna said, “If there is a choice between two good behaviors—for example, telling the truth because it is right or lying to prevent someone from being killed—some good behaviors are better than others. In this case, wouldn’t it have been better for the hermit to lie, and protect the life of the merchant?”

Leader: Pause and ask, “What do you think? Did the hermit do the right thing or not? Should he have lied?” Allow some brief responses; affirm all. Continue the story.

In another story, Krishna told Arjuna about farming couple who worried that the weather, their seeds and their tools would not be good enough to create a good crop to feed their family. Because of their worries, the farmers decided not to work their land at all—in the same way that Arjuna was refusing to fight the war. But Krishna said, “The best thing a person can do is their duty, to the best of their ability, without worrying about the results. A farmer—or a warrior, Arjuna—should not worry about the outcome. To work is their duty and they must do their best. The farmers and their family would have nothing if they did not work at all.”

Leader: Ask the children, “What do you think of that? Have you ever felt like the farming couple? Have you ever been worried about the results so much that it was hard to do the work you are supposed to do? Some people feel like that about schoolwork, sometimes.” Allow some responses. Acknowledge that worrying about the end result can be discouraging when you have a duty to do.

Now ask, “How would you feel about doing the work you are supposed to do, if doing a good job might mean someone would get hurt? Is that a case where you really should worry about the outcome?” Allow some discussion. Continue the story.

Well, Arjuna was still not convinced that leading the battle was the right thing to do. He was pretty sure if he did his duty well, he would hurt people he cared about. He still did not want to do it.

Then Krishna had one more argument to convince Arjuna. He asked Arjuna to think about his father—Older Brother—and the rest of Arjuna’s family members who had been wronged. Hadn’t their land had been stolen? Were they not also his brothers and sisters, cousins and dear friends who needed Arjuna to fight and help them get their land back? Krishna said that fighting for your rights is an important duty. If someone does a bad thing to you, that person cannot be allowed to get away with it.

Krishna told Arjuna, “The best way to be a good person is to do your duty, see the goodness in all living beings, treat all beings equally, and do good things for others.” In these ways, Arjuna could be happy and have a closer relationship with Krishna. Arjuna wanted to be happy and stay close with Krishna, the god of all gods. Yet did not see how he could do all these things at once—not this time.

Leader: Ring the chime to signal the end of the story. Say, “Now we are going to practice listening and discussing skills—both are needed to help us understand the story from multiple perspectives. Let’s find out what one another thought about the story.”

Remind the group not to assume others share their opinions. Ask everyone to use “I think” or “I feel” statements. Encourage the group to listen to each comment and then share some silence. You may wish to use the bell or chime to move between speakers.

Begin a discussion by asking participants to recap Arjuna’s dilemma in their own words. Then, lead a discussion with these questions, making sure everyone who wants to speak has a chance:

  • What do you think Arjuna did? (Did he refuse to fight? Did he fight but ask for forgiveness?)
  • If you think Arjuna did not fight, what do you think happened next?
  • If you think he fought, what do you think happened?
  • If you think he fought, why do you think he did? What convinced him that his duty as a warrior was more important than making sure he didn’t hurt any of his relatives or friends?
    • Did he want the gratitude of his father and the others for whom he fought? Do you think they were grateful, and did that make it worthwhile for Arjuna?
    • Did he want to keep a good relationship with Krishna? Do you think it worked?
    • Do you think anyone accused him of making things worse by fighting?

Tell the children the Baghavad Gita recounts that Arjuna did fight. Many lives were lost and his side won. Then ask:

  • Does the story prove war is the answer, the way to right a wrong? Why/why not?

Allow some responses. Then, shift to a more personal discussion about the nature of service. Ask the children to name chores or tasks they may not like to do, but they know are their responsibility and serve the greater good. Examples might include cleaning chores or caring for pets at home, picking up litter in the playground or park, helping out with siblings and keeping most secrets. Be aware, some children do not have specific chores at home or elsewhere. You might suggest actions of service that reflect responsibility to the greater good, for example, recycling, refraining from littering and keeping quiet in the library and during worship.

 Invite a few volunteers to share stories about their own experiences with service work. Ask whether any had any conflicts about a service responsibility, as Arjuna did in the story. Ask how they worked them out. Ask who or what they relied on to show them their service responsibilities, as Arjuna relied on Krishna.

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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