Conflict of Duty

When it comes to a difficult decision, I can think of no better example than what is in the Hindu scripture called the Bhagvad Gita when Prince Arjuna converses with Lord Krishna. IN the scripture, Arjuna must decide whether to go to war with his family, friends, and teachers. To understand the difficulty of Prince Arjuna’s choice, it is incredibly important to consider the backstory of what had transpired before his decision. Arjuna and his 4 siblings (the Pandavas) were the sons of King Pandu. Soon after their birth, their father died which meant the throne for his kingdom passed to his brother Dhritirastra. Dhritirastra fathered 100 sons who came to be known as the Kauravas. The Kauravas and Pandavas grew up together almost as siblings, playing games and attending classes with one another. They practiced archery, volunteered, and fought rival kingdoms as one family. When the princes had finally come of age, the kingdom was divided in half. One half was to be ruled by the Kauravas and the other by the Pandavas. Despite their long relationship, the Kauravas cheated the Pandavas out of their half of the kingdom. In a game of dice the Pandavas were tricked in betting their share of the empire. The eldest Kaurava, Duryodhan, rigged the dice so that the Pandavas lost. The Pandavas were forced into exile and Duryodhan ruled as a tyrant. In order to retake their share of the kingdom, the Pandavas (including Arjuna) decided to go to war with the Kauravas.

What made Arjuna’s choice so difficult was the long-standing relationships Arjuna had with the people on the other side of the battlefield. Arjuna laid out his misconceptions with Krishna, the avatar of a god and his charioteer. Arjuna implored how was it just to go to war with his cousins, those who he had grown up with as closely to as brothers. He asked how it was morally right to fight his teachers, mentors, and friends, who were obligated to fight on the side of ruling family. Krishna responded to Arjuna that it was his duty as a prince, warrior, and son to fight. By not fighting, he would let Duryodhan continue his path of tyranny and destruction throughout the kingdom while also dishonoring the work and sacrifices his father Pandu made when he ruled the kingdom. Upon finishing his conversation with Krishna, Arjuna decided to proceed with the war with the Kauravas.

Arjuna’s decision struck me and surprised me on a number of different levels. Throughout my life, I have been constantly encouraged to respect my family members, friends and teachers. My parents have always stated to me that we must care for and always protect our family. Thus, I totally understood why Arjuna felt the way he did. I could not imagine seeing my cousins, friends, and professors across the battlefield from me, knowing that I would have to strike them down the next time we faced. Thinking of it produces a sense of dread and uneasiness within my stomach. In some sense, I feel that facing them in an avoidable war would disrespect that memories and experiences we had shared with them. That is why Krishna’s encouragement of battle thoroughly surprised me. Krishna argued that it was Arjuna’s duty to fight, and this transcended any personal relationship. Duryodhan’s rule was hurting the citizens of the kingdom that Arjuna was the prince of, and it was his duty as an heir to fight for the best interests of his citizens. Krishna stated that it was his duty as a kshatriya (warrior) to fight for those who were not able to fight for themselves. Arjuna’s duties and commitments to those around him transcended all personal relationships, no matter how close they were.

This realization of holding oneself accountable to one’s duties no matter the circumstances (this is the Hindu concept of dharma) really struck with me and my own life’s goals. It is my ultimate goal to become a physician and provide the best care possible to as many people as I can. There will be times where I am sure I will have to make choices between my personal life (family and friends) and the lives of my patients. I will always carry with me this scripture in the back of my head, which illustrates that my dharma (duty) is to the betterment of my patients, despite the circumstances. When the time comes, I am sure it will not be an easy choice to make. But at the end of the day, this is the duty I must answer to with the choice of becoming a physician.

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