Brahman reveals to Arjuna humanity's profound and everlasting ignorance of the true nature of the real. Material existence as we know it is an illusion and a delusion. It is not real, never was, never will be. The War that Prince Arjuna and his people are preparing to fight to the death is part of that illusion. In spite of this Arjuna is urged to go into battle. No, not just urged. but told that the logical thing for Arjuna to do in the face of his knowledge of his ignorance is to fulfill his social role as "warrior."
Well, i suppose that God's advice does have a certain logic to it. Years later, a Buddhist will say: " Before enlightenmen, a tree is just a tree and a mountain is not a mountain. During enlightenment a tree is no longer a tree nor a mountain. After enlightenment, a tree is a tree again, and a mountain. I have supposed that this saying means that that the tree and the mountain do not change but enlightenment provides a different, clearer perspective through which to view them. Similarly. a war. percieved by the enlightened, is still a war, but percieved differenty.
Sociologist James Aho once did a study of perceptions of war and waging of war by societies of different traditions. Hindu, Buddhist and Catholic wars were compared with Protestant, Semitic, and secular wars. He concluded that Protestant, etc. wars were more destructive because Protestants, etc. regarded war as work, whereas Hindus, etc. regard war as "play." Rather than use the term play, i would suggest that if war is a part of "reality" then it is a serious thing and activity taken seriously is more likely to be seen as work. If war is, rather, part of the "delusion," then it does not matter as much, victory is the same as defeat, both are ephemeral, delusionary. The slayer cannot slay, nor can the slain be slain for what is real (the soul) can never not be, and the unreal (the body) never was.
But, as a friend said recently, how does this help the Syrian people? Most of us will continue to live in maya and we will probably "die" in it. Why unduly distress all these people by killing them and the people they love even if we are not really killing them. It seems a cruel joke if the enlightened go on pretending that this pretense is reality, the play is not a play and the players not merely players.
It occurred to me that the enlightened are not enlightened in the sense that they can distinguish what is real from what is unreal, their enlightenment, their wisdom, like that of Socrates, consists only in the knowledge that they do not know. Nancy Wood's fictional Taos shaman (The Man who Gave Thunder to the Earth)
tries to keep one foot in the spiritual world and one in the material and falls into an abyss which is the beginning of his journey. The author of The Cloud of Unknowing recommends contemplation as the sole employment of the contemplative, he felt that one must forget the unreal in order to seek the real.
In my current mood is see the world divided into two kinds of people (OMG, I've become one of those people) those who think they know and those who know they don't. Those who think they know are very similar; the main distinction is in the content of their alleged knowledge. They all think they know but they all don't think they know the same things. Those who know they don't know are of two types:: the scientists and the mysticsj
It is said that some people were both scientists and mystics (Teilhard de Chardin, Einstein) but this seems unlikely since the scientific and the mystical enterprises make such different assumptions. The scientist assumes that "dark energy" and "dark matter" (Now thought to constitute about 95 percent of the "known" universe will have material manifestations, and although we may be very noisy in our theoretical speculations we must be practically silent until those manifestations appear. While the mystic agrees that material reality is a manifestation of something dark and mysterious. it is unlikely that that darkness ever can or will manifest itself to living conscious beings such as ourselves.
But knowing or believing that i live in a delusion, does not leave me free to do anything i want to do. First of all, there is remarkable agreement among the elders and wise teachers of all times and cultures about what we should do. Whether the problem is maya or suffering or ego or sin or ignorance or patriarchy or something else, the answer is always mercy, humility and restraint. These are the "treasures" of Taoism, but they are also the basis of every ethical system and particularly of the 8-fold path and the sermon on the mount.
Because the world of delusion is a dualitic world, it is almost impossible for me to think in non-dual terms about how reality might be some kind of "seamless" unity. But among our blind stabbings for an opening in the cloud of unknowing, there is surely room for a suggestion that a wisdom derived ethic might be our best chance of a breakthrough to the real.