na caitad vidmaḥ kataran no garīyo
yad vā jayema yadi vā no jayeyuḥ
yān eva hatvā na jijīviṣāmas
te ‘vasthitāḥ pramukhe dhārtarāṣṭrāḥ
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 2.6
Nor do we know which is better—conquering them or being conquered by them. If we killed the sons of Dhritarashtra, we should not care to live. Yet they are now standing before us on the battlefield.
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
Arjuna did not know whether he should fight and risk unnecessary violence, although fighting is the duty of the kshatriyas, or whether he should refrain and live by begging. If he did not conquer the enemy, begging would be his only means of subsistence. Nor was there certainty of victory, because either side might emerge victorious. Even if victory awaited them (and their cause was justified), still, if the sons of Dhritarashtra died in battle, it would be very difficult to live in their absence. Under the circumstances, that would be another kind of defeat for them. All these considerations by Arjuna definitely proved that not only was he a great devotee of the Lord but he was also highly enlightened and had complete control over his mind and senses. His desire to live by begging, although he was born in the royal household, is another sign of detachment. He was truly virtuous, as these qualities, combined with his faith in the words of instruction of Sri Krishna (his spiritual master), indicate. It is concluded that Arjuna was quite fit for liberation. Unless the senses are controlled, there is no chance of elevation to the platform of knowledge, and without knowledge and devotion there is no chance of liberation. Arjuna was competent in all these attributes, over and above his enormous attributes in his material relationships.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
Moreover I do not know if I shall be victorious or defeated even if I am prepared to kill them. And I do not know which will be better, victory or defeat: if I conquer them or they conquer me. And even if I am victorious, that also is defeat, for I will not want to live.
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
2.6 – 2.8 If you say, ‘After beginning the war, if we withdraw from the battle, the sons of Dhrtarastra will slay us all forcibly’, be it so. I think that even to be killed by them, who do not know the difference between righteousness and unrighteousness, is better for us than gaining unrighteous victory by killing them. After saying so, Arjuna surrendered himself at the feet of the Lord, overcome with dejection, saying. ‘Teach me, your disciple, who has taken refuge in you, what is good for me.
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
Morever even if we could choose the path of unrighteousness in this matter, we cannot determine which is better for us, victory or defeat. These two alternatives are pointed out, whether the Pandavas should conquer the Kauravas or be conquered by them. But even in conquering them the victory would still be virtually a defeat because it is stated here by Arjuna that: slaying those very persons whom after there would be no desire to live. So win or lose was defeat in his eyes.
Another interpretation is that the word arthakaman may be also taken as qualifying the elders and superiors. These elders being consumed by greed of wealth are not likely to refrain from war. Therefore they will have to be slain. Bhishma for an example spoke to King Yudhisthira saying: Man is a slave to wealth but wealth is the slave of no man, this is the truth. O Emperor I am bound to the Kauravas by the acceptance of wealth.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
Sri Madhvacharya did not comment on this sloka.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
It may be questioned how can Arjuna abandon his duty to fight as a ksatriya which is prescribed in the Vedic scriptures and believe that begging which is one of the duties of a brahmana is better? To counter this Arjuna is stating that he does not know which one is better or if its even better to be victorious or be vanquished as victory itself could seem like defeat for by being forced into the situation of having to slay his relatives in the Kaurava army he would not wish to live any longer.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
2.6 Sri Sankaracharya did not comment on this sloka. The commentary starts from 2.10.
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
2.4-6 Katham etc. upto Dhartarastrah. By the portion Bhisma and Drona in war’ etc., and by the portion ‘I would [not] enjoy the objects of pleasure’, the Sage indicates that in Arjuna’s objection, the intention for a particular act and the intention for a particular result are the points deserving rejection. By the portion ‘We do not know this’ etc., he speaks of the intention for a particular action. For, without intention no action is possible. Certainly one does not proceed on a war with an intention of getting defeated. ‘[In the present war] even our victory would be surely our misfortune.’ This he says by the portion ‘It is good even to go about begging without killing the elders’. It is also impossible to conclude ‘Whether we desire victory or defeat’; for even in the case of our victory our relatives would perish totally.’
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
gurun ahatva hi mahanubhavan
sreyo bhoktum bhaiksyam apiha loke
hatvartha-kamams tu gurun ihaiva
bhunjiya bhogan rudhira-pradigdhan
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
na — nor; ca — also; etat — this; vidmaḥ — do we know; katarat — which; naḥ — for us; garīyaḥ — better; yat vā — whether; jayema — we may conquer; yadi — if; vā — or; naḥ — us; jayeyuḥ — they conquer; yān — those who; eva — certainly; hatvā — by killing; na — never; jijīviṣāmaḥ — we would want to live; te — all of them; avasthitāḥ — are situated; pramukhe — in the front; dhārtarāṣṭrāḥ — the sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra.