Can an egoless one engage in a war? || Acharya Prashant, on Bhagavad Gita (2020)

यस्य नाहङ् कृतो भावो बुद्धिर्यस्य न लिप्यते ।।

हत्वाऽपि स इमाँल्लोकान्न हन्ति न निबध्यते ।। 18.17 ।।

yasya nāhankṛito bhāvo buddhir yasya na lipyate

hatvā ‘pi sa imāl lokān na hanti na nibadhyate

He who is free from the notion of egoism, whose intelligence is not affected by good or evil, though he kills these people, he kills not, nor is bound by the action.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 17

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Questioner (Q): Please help me understand this. If one does not have the feeling of egoism, then how can he even perform the very act of killing or not killing? And if does act, for whom does he perform that action?

Acharya Prashant (AP): The question is based on an assumption. What does the question say? “If someone does not have egoism, how can he perform the act of killing or not killing?” Now, take killing and not killing together, and you have the universal set of all actions that can be performed by anybody ever, right? You have the set A, and then you add to it A complement, and what do you get? The universal set. Take any person ever, and you can categorize his actions in one of these two categories: he is either killing, or not killing. Right?

What is the questioner saying? "If one does not have the feeling of egoism, then how can he perform the very act of killing or not killing?" In other words, what he is saying is, if one does not have egoism, then how can he act at all? Because killing and not killing together is the universal set of all actions. So, the questioner is saying, "If one does not have egoism, how can he perform any action?" Right? That’s the question. The question is: If one does not have egoism, how can he perform any action? A or A complement—he can do nothing. That’s the assumption behind the question.

What’s the assumption? Without ego, you cannot act at all. You can neither go left nor right; you can neither eat nor not eat; you can neither live nor die. In other words, the only way to act is to act via the ego. In other words, only the ego acts. And if the ego feeling is not there, then no action is possible at all. That’s the assumption on which this question is based. Are we able to peel off the layers? Do you see the solution now? The question is uncovered? That’s how we live. That’s how we believe. Only the ego is, and hence only the ego acts.

Now, this is atheism in its staunchest form. “Only the ego is.” It is a complete denial of anything transcendental. “Only the ego is, nothing beyond the ego exists.” What else is Nāstika (atheism)? What else is gross materialism? Only the ego is. Only the ego is, and therefore, if the ego is not there, how will one go left or right? How will one kill or not kill? How will one read or not read? The ego is the only doer, according to the questioner. No sir.

All spirituality is about testing the limits of the ego, letting those limits and the testing of those limits consume away whatever they can, and then still survive to enjoy the beyond.

Now, what is it that survives those limits? Not you, not you; but you, but you.

Yes, of course, as we currently live, the ego is the only doer. But that should not fool you into believing that how you currently live is the only way possible to live. You are right to the extent that given the contours of your current life, nothing can happen sans the ego. The ego is the mover and shaker, the sole doer. Yes, that’s true. But how does that imply that yours is the only way of life possible? Yes, that’s your chosen way of life currently, but how does that necessitate sticking to that one particular chosen way of life?