(This dialogue is a free rendering of an episode in Mahabharata. It brings out the difference between the limited moral outlook of Dharmaraj and the broader spiritual vision of Sri Krishna)
The scene is an episode in Mahabharata after the Kurukshetra War. The Dharmaraj was dismayed and tormented by the immense destruction and loss of lives wrought by the war. He felt that he was in some way personally responsible for the war. So, strung by a sense in of personal guilt and sorrow decides to renounce the world and go to the forest to do penance. Krishna meets him and here is the dialogue between Sri Krishna and Dharmaraj:
Krishna: Dharmaraj, is what I hear true? Your brothers told me you have decided to renounce the world and go to the forest?
Dharmaraj: Yes, that is my decision.
Krishna: What prompted you to take such a drastic decision?
Dharmaraj: I want to do penance.
Krishna: For what?
Dharmaraj: For the War.
Krishna: For the War? I don’t understand.
Dharmaraj: Krishna, I feel I am somehow responsible for the war and all the destruction and bloodshed. So I have decided to go to the forest to do penance.
Krishna: I don’t think it is a very wise decision. I would like you to reconsider it.
Dharmaraj: No Krishna, it is a decision prompted by my conscience. I can’t go back on it.
Krishna: Your moral conscience is not the deepest and highest indicator of the Right and True Dharmaraj. It is a construction of your ethical mind and social morality. They are children of ignorance and products of education, culture environment and evolution. Conscience is an instinctive and spontaneous response of your personal moral temperament. Quite often the promptings of conscience are the result of a highly personal, self-centred and hypersensitive moral sentiment, sometimes hiding ignoble feelings like guilt, cowardice and escapism.
Dharmaraj: But Krishna, I don’t have anything higher and better than my conscience.
Krishna: You do have. You have to plunge deeper and beyond your mental and moral nature and come into contact with your divine Self.
Dharmaraj: I am at present too full of grief and sorrow for such deep contemplations Krishna.
Krishna: Then take a broader view. You are a King. Does not all the Arthashastras you have read tell you that a King should raise beyond all personal considerations and has to be solely occupied with upholding of the Dharma and the well-being of the community? Have you given some thought to what is your Dharma at present? You are tormented by the pain of a personal sense of guilt. But do you feel the pain of your people affected by war? Do you know how much they are deeply wounded physically and mentally by the war? Their life was totally dislocated by the war; most of them have lost their near and dear ones in war; a deep sorrow hangs over the heart of your people. It is your dharma as a King to heal their sorrow and help them get back to their normal life. If you want to do penance, this is the right way to do it and not by running away to the forest.