Krishna As Saviour Part II

At another level, the Gita, as already stated earlier, exalts the ego, by claiming that it too is a part of the infinite Atman, the supreme spirit. Once our individual self is assimilated in such an all pervasive entity and elevated to such a transcendent pedestal, then the preoccupation with projecting our own little selves, is logically diminished. The Upanishadic saying. Tat Twam Asi?That Thou Art?becomes a three word demolition squad against the normal expectation-ridden, ego infested way of thinking.

On the methodology of achieving the desired mutation in our attitude towards action, the Gita is, significantly enough, one of the least dogmatic texts in Hindu philosophy. Its overriding purpose is the conquest of mental strife and agitation. It is unambivalently clear on the principle cause of this strife and agitation; but, beyond this, it does not limit its effectiveness by espousing only one path to redemption. For some, jnanamarg, the path of knowledge, in which the real nature of things is understood through the acquisition of knowledge, could be the most efficacious; for others, the path of bhakti or devotion, in which all the fatiguing retention of our misguided individuality is surrendered cataclysmically to the will of the Almighty, could be better; and for others still, the path of karma or action, in which all activity, free from the taint of ‘I-ness? or thought of reward, is performed as a daily consecration, could be the best of all. This exhilarating lack of dogma in the Gita comes through transparently in the following stanzas:

Set thy heart on me alone, and give to me thy understanding: thou shalt in truth live in me hereafter.
But if thou art unable to rest thy mind on me, then seem to reach me by the practice of Yoga concentration.

If thou art not able to practise concentration, consecrate all thy work to me. By doing mere action in my service thou shalt attain perfection. And if even this thou art not able to do, then take refuge in devotion to me and surrender to me the fruit of all thy work?with the selfless devotion of a humble heart.

For concentration is better than mere practice, and meditation is better than concentration; but higher than meditation is surrender in love of the fruit of one’s actions, for a surrender follows peace.

If there is one dominant attribute of the Gita, it is its advocacy of the harmonious life, as an overriding goal, valid in itself. Here its analysis is both ruthless and precise. The onslaught of the senses is forever at
war with a person in pursuit of wisdom and serenity. If the onslaught is not checked, attachment arises, and from attachment, desire; desire leads to anger, and anger to confusion; confusion causes distortions in memory, and such distortion in turn leads to loss of understanding. Once understanding is lost, all is lost.

Attraction and repulsion, attachment and hatred, are inherent in any interaction with the phenomenal world, if the senses are not kept in control. To the Gita, desire is the root cause of the loss of serenity. The power of desire is not underestimated; at more than one place the Gita equates it with a voracious fire, capable of devouring the resolve of even the wisest of men. The renunciation of desire is, however, not stated as a religious dictum; its harmful impact is psychologically analysed and its consequences spelt out with clinical elaboration. The man in the grip of desire is bound by a hundred shackles of hope, forever confused by fanciful thoughts, and consumed by pride, anger and greed. In short, desire while initially seductive, is in the long run enslaving, and non-conducive to the peaceful life. It must therefore be vanquished, through a control of the senses. ‘Great Warrior,” Krishna exhorts Arjuna, ‘kill the enemy menacing you in the form of desire.’

In stark contrast to the discordance and inadequacy of the man without harmony, is the serenity and composure of the sthita prajana, the man who has seen the reality of the world around him and his own role within it, and has his faculties and senses firmly in control. The Gita is most persuasively evocative in portraying the qualities of such a person. He is impartial to joy and sorrow, gain or loss, victory or defeat, failure or success. He neither exults nor hates. He is unmoved in fortune or misfortune, honour or disgrace. He is calm, controlled and poised and possessed of a quietness of mind. Forever content, he is autonomous in his source of delight which is his inner self. He is beyond fear and anger and envy and greed. He has conquered cravings and passion and is free of desires, expectations and vain hopes. At peace with himself, his detachment is imbued with a transparent tranquility. Imperturbable, unwavering and still, his composure is not shaken by others, while others find peace in his presence. His contemplative calm is suffused by good will for all. His entire demeanour and personality is like a lamp ‘whose light is steady for it burns in a shelter where no winds come’. The joy that radiates from his being is effortless, untainted by the strain and tension of denial and discipline.

In its pervasive idealization of the harmonious person, the Gita at one point appears to ride roughshod over issues of social equality and equity. It is of course true that the Gita, while enjoying the reverence due to a religious text. was also a social document, reflecting in
part the prevalent views of thinking of the period when it was written. The writing of the Gita is generally ascribed by historians to the period between AD 150 to AD 350 although there are scholars who have dated it as far back as 500 BC. It is possible that the text was not written by one individual but that portions were additions or accretions by people whose motivation could very well have also been the preservation and perpetuation of their class interest. In any case, in Hindu religious texts, the intrusion by the Brahminical class of portions which give divine sanction to a social order congruent with their interests, was not uncommon.

It does seem likely, therefore, that the reference to the four varnas in the Gita, and its exhortation that the individual should acquiesce in their inflexible inequity, was included for such a purpose. Krishna was used as a mouthpiece for giving divine sanction to entrenched vested interests representing the Brahmin-Kshatriya coalition. To the same class would belong the following shloka in section 9: Tor all those who come to me for shelter, however weak or humble or sinful they may be?women or Vaishyas or Shudras?they all reach the Path supreme.’ The textual chastity of the Gita has been blemished by such crude attempts to make it a vehicle for social biases and prejudice. The interpolatory nature of the attempt is also quite obvious. The shloka cited above fits in poorly with the general tenor of the section to which it belongs, and is even more out of place when seen against the totality of the Gita’s perspective. More than anything else, to make Sringaramurtirnam Krishna pronounce women as ‘sinful’ is, to say the least, disingenuously laboured, if not patently ludicrous.

This being said, it would be unfair to damn the text as a whole for the unacceptable aberrations of a small segment of it. It is indeed a rare religious text that completely transcends the limitations of the thinking of its time, or is totally oblivious to the social circumstances of the period when it was penned. There is, besides, another aspect to be considered. Perhaps, the Gita was deliberately less than sensitive to notions of social justice and egalitarianism because these concepts, while unquestionably valid in themselves, were not the primary focus of its concern.

The Gita was seeking to essay the attributes of a life enduringly free from the viruses of anxiety and tension. Its aim was to give man a panacea for his perpetually destabilizing interaction with the world around him. Given this frame of reference, it is not inconceivable that, for the Gita, contentment was a higher goal than the agitation of mind that necessarily accompanies the struggle to change the parameters conditioning our daily existence. Of course, it would be wrong, even for a moment, to postulate that the Gita was consciously articulating a passive acceptance of injustice. Krishna asked Arjuna to pick up his bow and
fight because the Kauravas represented injustice. But in motivating him to do so, he appealed to his duty as ordained by his vocation in life, namely that of a warrior. He did not tell him to organize a yagna to pray for the defeat of evil, as he vvould for instance have exhorted a priest to do. Nor did he give him ‘revolutionary’ advice to give up his status in life to take up the battle through any and whatever means available. To this extent, Krishna was a person of his phenomenal time and place.

But to return to the mainstream context of the Gita. The earth is a minor planet in our solar system. The sun is a minor star amidst the millions of other stars with their own solar systems that form our galaxy. And there are millions of galaxies. The mind-boggling vastness of the universe, the timelessness of time, and the inevitability of creation, still act, for many, as a corrosive to faith. The notion that an individual life has an anchorage of purpose and meaning seems to stray adrift the moment we juxtapose it to the seamless canvas of its background. For those continuing to be assailed by such doubt, Krishna, in the Gita, offered redemption through an assertion of his own all-encompassing divinity. Arjuna, the ever questioning intellect, wanted visible proof of the Absolute to facilitate his quantum leap to faith. Philosophical reasoning and postulations were not sufficient for him. In the tenth and eleventh chapter of the Gita, Krishna fulfilled Arjuna’s reverential curiosity.

‘I am said Krishna, ‘not only Vishnu, but also Shiva and all the other Gods; I am the mountain, I am the lake, I am the animal, and I am the bird and the serpent; I am the wind, I am the river, I am the sage, the detached philosopher, as also the God of Love; I am the creator of sound and its articulator, the beginning of time, time itself, and its destroyer. In me are all the human attributes, the rhythm of every melody, the fragrance of every flower, the knowledge of every mystery. In short, I am the beginning, the middle, and the end of all creation, and nothing, animate or inanimate, can exist without me. And, even this elaboration,’ he said, ‘is not necessary; suffice it to know that the entire universe is pervaded and supported by but a fragment of my Being.’

But Arjuna wanted to see to believe. Beyond the theoretical description, he asked Krishna to physically reveal to him his being in all its majestic plenitude. Once again, Krishna complied, giving Arjuna, for that moment, a divine eye to see his glorious form. And Arjuna saw a Being whose radiance was equivalent to that of a thousand suns put together, a form which encapsulated in itself the entire universe, a Body, with innumerable arms and mouths, and eyes which had a glow as powerful as that of the sun and the moon. He saw too all the gods paying obeisance to this magnificent reality, whose beginning or end could not be seen, and in whom burnt the fires of destruction and the terror of relentless time. In Him, Arjun saw the past, the present and the future; the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer. It was a wondrous experience, exalting as also daunting, and finally unable to bear the sheer density and magnitude of the experience, Arjuna implored Krishna to assume again his human form.

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