Manu is fundamentally a maintainer of social order, and no social system is ever absolute. All social systems are time-related. Anyone doing even a little thinking will always rise above the social order, because a social system is created with the last man in mind – just as it is said that the ablest teacher is the one who remembers the least able student in the class while he is teaching. This is certainly true, but then such a teacher immediately becomes useless to the student who ranks first in the class.
As far as the social order is concerned, it is the last person who is taken into consideration and for whom the basic laws are made. Arjuna is not an ordinary person; his is not a mediocre mind. Arjuna is rational, he is intelligent, he is exceptionally talented. For such a person, life becomes a matter of deep reflection
Manu says there is nothing wrong in killing a tyrant. But for a thoughtful person things are not so simple. After all, who is really a tyrant? And even if someone is a tyrant, is it right to kill him or isn’t it? Moreover, what if the tyrant is from one’s own family? Manu does not have even a thought about this. With the term “tyrant,” he has simply assumed that he is an enemy. But here, the tyrant is “one’s own” – and not just one, they number hundreds of thousands. And there are a million kinds of intimate relationships within these – millions.
So Arjuna’s situation is very different. He is not in the usual situation where there is a tyrant and someone who has become that tyrant’s victim. This is what he is reflecting upon, this is exactly what he is saying: “If I win the kingdom by killing all these people, is it a worthwhile bargain?” He is questioning: “Is this a worthy trade-off to win the kingdom at the cost of all these lives? Does it make any sense to pay such a heavy price to gain the kingdom?” This is exactly what he is inquiring about.
Arjuna’s state of mind comes from a much higher level of reflection than the laws of Manu do. In fact, laws are always lifeless and rigid. They only have a functional value. They become meaningless in critical situations.
Arjuna’s crisis is very special. It is special in three ways. Firstly, it is very difficult to determine who the tyrant is. Had the Kauravas won the war, you would have had a completely different knowledge of who the tyrant was – because then the story would have been written in a different way, and the writers of the story would have been different. Storywriters gather around the victorious, they don’t get close to the defeated.
Hitler lost the Second World War, and so we all know who was “the bad guy.” But if Hitler had won, and Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin had lost, then for sure we would know that these other fellows were “the bad guys” and not Hitler. What we are able to think and judge in hindsight, after an event or situation has occurred, is not so clear-cut in the middle of the event or situation. Generally, the writer of history writes the history of the victorious, generally history crystallizes around the victorious.
So today we know that the Kauravas were the tyrants. But right in the moment of war things are not so plain and clear that we are able to judge who is the tyrant, who has done wrong. It is never that clear.