The first chapter is called "Arjuna Vishada Yoga". This is popularly understood to mean "The grief of Arjuna", but may also be translated as "The grief of Arjuna at (the) Yoga (system of thought)".
Arjuna, personifying the Human Soul, is here presented in the Nyaya-Vaiseshika system of thought, which he shares with the Kauravas, holding that necessary actions have to be performed (as Sacrifice and for the time being) but should be renounced (in the end) as the final goal of life is believed to be Knowledge and not Action; he is therefore unable to enter the field of combat against the Kauravas and grieves over the idea of the Yoga system of thought which holds Action to be the goal of life.
In Kurukshetra, Dharma's field,
The forces of the Pandavas,
Behold, O thou Preceptor, this
In it are mighty bowmen all,
And Dhrishtaketu, Chekitan,
Yudhamanyu, a hero great,
And know, O best of Brahmans, thou,
Thyself and Bhishma, and Karna too,
And many other heroes great,
Unbounded is our vast array,
Therefore, from your proper place,
The oldest of the Kurus all,
Then all at once their kettledrums,
Then seated in their mighty car,
And Panchajanya Krishna blew,
And Kunti's son, King Yudhishthira,
Then Kasi's Lord, a bowman great,
Drupada, and sons of Draupadi,
That tumult rent the hearts of those
Beholding Dhritarashtra's sons,
And unto Krishna he addressed
Between the armies place my car,
So that I might behold them all
For I desire to see who are
Krishna, by Arjuna thus addressed,
In front of Bhishma and of Drona,
Then Pritha's son saw standing there
And fathers-in-law too, and friends,
Was overcome with pity deep,
Seeing these kinsmen here, O Krishna,
My limbs grow weary, faint, and sink;
And Gandiva slippeth from my hand,
And adverse omens I behold
I seek not victory, O Krishna,
They, for whose sake do we desire
Preceptors, fathers, and their sons,
These I do not wish to slay,
Aid slaying Dhritarashtra's sons,
Therefore ought we not to slay
With mind corrupted through their greed,
Yet wherefore we, who know it all,
For when the family decays,
And when unrighteousness prevails,
This caste-confusion leads to hell
And by the sin of those who slay
And we have, O Janardana,
Alas, alas, we are engaged
Indeed, if Dhritarashtra's sons,
Saying this, Arjuna cast aside
Dhritarashtra: He was the blind old King of the Kauravas. Not being able to take part in the "battle" of Kurukshetra, he asked Sanjaya, one of his courtiers, to describe to him the events of the fight.
Kurukshetra: It literally means "the field of Kuru", and Kuru is the imperative form of "Kri", which means "to act". Kurukshetra means, therefore, the "field of the imperative necessity of action". In other words, the subject-matter of the debate or "fight" is Action; and both sides agree that necessary actions must be performed. But the Kauravas hold that all actions must ultimately be renounced, for the final goal of life is Knowledge, whereas the Pandavas hold that Action, performed as a Sacrifice, is the final end.
Dharma: As this is a conflict of different ideals of life, both sides claim that Dharma or righteousness is on their side.
Duryodhana: He is the eldest son of King Dhritarashtra, and the chief of the Kauravas.
Drona: One of the great Acharyas or teachers of the Kauravas, and, at the early stage, of the Pandavas too. He personifies the Vaiseshika system of thought.
Drupada's son: Dhrishtadyumna, the son of King Drupada, was the Commander-in-Chief of the Pandava hosts. He personifies the Sacrifice of the senses of Knowledge and the Mind. This means that the Pandavas agreed to prove their point of view of Vedanta, viz., that God is the sole creator of the universe, in the light of Sacrifice and the evidence of the senses, or Pratyaksha Pramana. Dhrishtadyumna was a pupil of Drona, and was destined to defeat his own teacher.
Bhima and Arjuna: Two of the five Pandava brothers. Bhima personifies Mind, and Arjuna Prana or Breath, as the vehicle of the Soul and the instrument of action. The three remaining Pandava brothers are Yudhishthira, personifying Buddhi; Nakula and Sahadeva, personifying arms and legs respectively. Hence the five Pandava brothers personify one Man in five parts. There are two main divisions of a man, the upper and lower, and the former extends from the head to the organ of excretion, and the latter consists of arms and legs; and these are personified by the five Pandava brothers. The first three are born of one mother, Kunti, and the last two of another, Madri, in order to distinguish between these two divisions.
Yuyudhana: An ally of the Pandavas.
Virata: An ally of the Pandavas. They spent the last year of their exile in his court; and Abhimanyu, the son of Arjuna, married his daughter, Uttara.
Draupada: The King of Panchala, the father of Draupadi and the father-in-law of the Pandavas. He represents the Sacrifice of the senses, and so is called Yajnasena.
Dhrishtaketu: The King of Chedi, and an ally of the Pandavas.
Chekitana: An ally of the Pandavas. The word is derived from Chit.
King of Kasi: An ally of the Pandavas. Bhishma had carried away the three daughters of the King of Kasi; Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika, for his half-brother, Vichitra-virya, who married the last two of them.
Purujit: An ally of the Pandavas. He was a brother of Kuntibhoja, the adoptive father of Kunti.
Saibya: A descendant of Sibi or King of Sibi.
Yudhamanyu: An ally of the Pandavas.
Uttamaujas: "Of excellent valour". An ally of the Pandavas.
Subhadra's son: Abhimanyu, who personifies Abhimana or Egoism, which must be slain before Man can attain to perfection. Subhadra was a sister of Krishna.
Bhishma: The eldest son of Santanu, personifying the Nyaya system of thought. As God in this system is regarded as a mere spectator of Prakriti, having no creative contact with her, Bhishma remains a bachelor throughout his life.
Karna: He is the eldest son of Kunti by the Sun, born before she married Pandu. Kunti personifies our planet Earth, and so is also called Pritha, akin to Prithvi. Karna means "grain", and so he personifies the vegetable kingdom or Food. He has natural earrings and armour, which refer to the form of seed or grain, and its outer rind. He can be slain only by Arjuna, who personifies Breath or Prana, for Food can be swallowed only by Prana.
Kripa: He is a teacher or Acharya of the Kauravas, and personifies the Sankhya or the senses of action.
Asvatthaman: He is the son of Drona, and personifies the Mind as associated with the senses of action.
Vikarna: Name of a son of Dhritarashtra; the name of a son of Karna. Here he would apparently be the latter.
Jayadratha: The King of Sindhu, Sibi, and Sauvira. He was a great ally of the Kauravas, and personifies Prakriti in the three systems of Philosophy, Vaiseshika, Nyaya, and Sankhya. It is only after his defeat that the Pandavas can overthrow Drona, who represents the Vaiseshika system of thought.
Somadatta: Name of a Prince.
Protected by Bhishma: Bhishma was the first Commander-in- Chief of the Kaurava hosts. This means that the first discussion is between Nyaya and Vedanta. When that is settled, the rest follows more easily.
Krishna: He is the supreme Purusha or God in the light of Vedanta. He became the charioteer of Arjuna in this "fight", and as a chariot in the Sacred Books of the Hindus symbolizes the body, and Arjuna personifies Prana or the Human Soul, this means that the Human Soul accepts the direction and guidance of God in everything, and the latter is seated within it, even as it is said that God is seated in the heart of all creatures.
Sikhandin: The third child of King Draupada, born as a girl, but transformed into a boy or a man. He symbolizes the idea of Prakriti being really Purushic in character, for a Man symbolizes Purusha or God, and a Woman Nature or Prakriti in sacred literature. Vedanta can succeed against Nyaya only when this can be established, viz., that all that belongs apparently to Prakriti really is of God. He is, therefore, the cause of the defeat of Bhishma.
Satyaki: A warrior who acted as a charioteer of Krishna. He personifies Satya or Truth.
The grief of Arjuna: Arjuna, at this stage, is inclined to the Nyaya system of thought, and so is unable to accept the Yoga idea of Action; hence the cause of his grief.
Gandiva: This is the celebrated Bow of Arjuna, and it personifies Action of the Heart. It falls from his hands, because Arjuna is unable to accept the idea of Action at this stage.
Govinda: A name of Krishna.
Madhava: A name of Krishna.
Janardana: A name of Krishna.
Water and offerings of rice: The Hindus offer these to their dead.
Caste confusion: The caste is said to have been created by the distribution of Gunas and Actions. Arjuna at this stage believes that Knowledge and not Action is the goal of life. If he now acts against his conviction, he would cause confusion in the established order of Action itself and so in the Caste.