Alternative Interpretation of Bhagwat Geeta – Our Reflections

For the past thousand years, the dominant movement in the Eternal Dharma has been Bhakti Marg. This is a wonderfully spiritual and emotionally satisfying doctrine that provides a high moral dimension to life. It centers upon devotion to a personal God. It is mainly a Vaishnva movement, centered on worship of the many forms on Vishnu created by local states and provinces.

This is movement that was built and nurtured by great Saints through out India by their poetic creations. These creations have become immortal and are sung in households all over the world.  We ourselves grew up in the Bhakti Marg immersed in the words of Sant Dnyaneshwar and the progression of Saints over 4 centuries to Sant Tukaram. We read and hear the exquisite bhajans of Sant Meerabai from Rajasthan, of Sant Tyaagaraj in the South. 

The Bhakti Marg appeals to the noble in us. It teaches us the virtues of renunciation to God and forgiveness of sins of our fellow human beings. There is no hard side to Bhakti Marg, just a surrender to the love of God. The patron figure of the Bhakti Marg is Shree Krishna, the gentle Gopaal side of Shree Krishna, the Shree Krishna of Geet Govind, of Meerabai, the Pandurang of Sant Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram.

However, the Shree Krishna of the Bhagwat Geeta is totally different from the young Shree Krishna of the Bhakti Marg. The direct message of the Bhagwat Geeta seems totally different from the precepts of the Bhakti Marg. As a result, we believe there was a concerted effort over the past several centuries to water down the directness of the Bhagwat Geeta and mould its message into a gentler content consistent with the devotional Bhakti Marg.

Today, we look at this attempt and provide our reflections.

1. War as the Core Reality of the Bhagwat Geeta

One of the readers wrote saying “War Scene was used to dramatize Geeta’s message”. Many others have expressed this belief. 

Frankly, this thought is an utter fabrication. The Bhagwat Geeta is a part of the Bheeshma Parva (the Book of Bheeshma) of the Mahaa-Bhaarat. The dialog between Shree Krishna and Arjun takes place between the Pandav & the Kaurav armies. The purpose of Shree Krishna was to remove the doubts in Arjun’s mind and convince him to wage war. This is the absolute, uncontestable reality of the Bhagwat Geeta.

At the end of the dialog, Arjun is totally convinced and he says to Shree Krishna “करिय्षे वचनं तव” or “I will do what you ask”. And what did Shree Krishna ask Arjun to do? Wage the Mahaa-Bhaarat war as his duty. (see our article Reflections on the Bhagwat Geeta – 1 ).

In other words, the War was an integral part and the crux of the Bhagwat Geeta, not merely a scene for drama. The enormity of the War and the grave difficulty of the moral choice before Arjun are what make the message of the Bhagwat Geeta so immortal, so absolutely critical and so totally unique in human history.

2. How did Shree Krishna respond to Arjun’s Moral Dilemma?

Arjun had a very valid and deeply moral concern. How could he be asked to fight and kill his own grandfathers, teachers, uncles and cousins? Were the deaths of such family members & friends worth the victory in War and the Kuru Kingdom?

Personally, it would be a very hard decision for us and we are sure for every one of our readers. In fact, it has been a hard decision for Indian Kings, States and Society for the past 1, 000 years. And India has usually answered this question in the negative. This is why India’s response for the past 1,000 years has been to negotiate with those who come to plunder, loot and kill and buy them off with money, territory and sovereignty over India.

But Shree Krishna had a very different reaction to the dilemma expressed by Arjun. His first reaction was of disdain. These are the first words spoken by Shree Krishna in the Bhagwat Geeta:

  • Verse 2, Chapter IIWhere did this garbage (कश्मलं  or kashmalam) come from? It is un-Aryan (अन-आर्य), never done(अ-जुस्ठं), incapable of getting you to Swarga (अ-स्वर्ग्यम) and of great harm to your reputation (अ-कीर्तिकरम).

His next words are even more contemptuous and full of complete disdain.

  • Verse 3 – Chapter IIDo not become a eunuch (क्ल्येबम मा गमः) ; It does not behoove you. Shed this disgusting weakness of heart and stand up, O deliverer of pain to your enemies (परंतप).

We hope you feel the disdain in the words of Shree Krishna. He actually uses the word क्लीब (eunuch) to shake up Arjun. (It should be noted that Arjun was given a shraap by Apsara Urvashee that he would become a क्लीब or eunuch for a period of time. It is this shraap that allowed Arjun to spend one year as an anonymous eunuch assistant to Princess Uttaraa, the daughter of King Viraat. This year of anonymity was a condition of the loss in the dice game.)

Shree Krishna first insults Arjun to shake up his pride and then reminds him that Arjun won his reputation as a Warrior by delivering pain & harm to his enemies. This is hard stuff, the stuff you never see in Bhakti Marg.

The reaction of Shree Krishna was consistent with the standards of that period.

3. The Martial Aspect of Eternal Dharma in the Mahaa-Bhaarat period

The Eternal Dharma of that period was a martial, aggressive Dharma. Recall the Rg-Vedic description of citizens as इमे नराः वृत्रहत्येषु शूराः (these brave men who are successful in killing enemies). Recall the name of Shree Ram’s brother, Shatrughna (killer of enemies).

The Mahaa-Bhaarat itself said that there are two kinds of people who break the Surya-Mandal and go to Heaven, one is a Samnyaasi who has achieved Yog  (योग-युक्त)  and the other is a warrior who dies in battle.

Chaanakya in his great treatise Artha-Shastra gives greater importance to the warrior:

  • The Brahman who desire Swarga achieve it after many Yadnya & Tap. The Brave Warriors who give their lives in War achieve Swarga in one second – Kautilya Atha-Shastra, 10.3, 150-152 & Mahaa-Bhaarat (Shanti-Parva 98-100).

Shree Krishna himself tells Arjun later in Chapter II “If you die, you will obtain Swarga (हतो वा प्राप्स्यसी  स्वर्गम).

You can see that this Eternal Dharma was totally different from the Bhakti Marg practiced for the past 1,000 years. In this framework, you can see how Shree Krishna tried to shake the mental torpor of Arjun by calling him a क्लीब (eunuch) and by reminding him of his reputation on punisher of his enemies.

4. A reader’s comment about Good and Evil being dualistic

Our advise is to go and study the foundations of every single festival of Eternal Dharma, Deepawali, Dassara and others. Every Indian festival is based on annihilation of Evil by the forces of Good.

To consider good and evil as two aspects of the same reality is probably the dumbest thing we have ever heard.  Such concepts tend to destroy the will of societies to fight for their success and result in either utter annihilation or total slavery to more martial societies.

These are the kinds of concepts that were floated from time to time in India for the past several centuries. These were crutches to explain away the refusal of Indian society to attack its enemies and to accept the rule of other societies & religions.

As we will see later, the message of the Bhagwat Geeta is the complete opposite. It preaches the annihilation of evil doers ( विनाशायच दुष्कृताम).

5. Role of an Avataar on Earth – Difference between Eternal Dharma & Greek Mythology

A reader once asked if the goal was to kill the evil doers, why didn’t the all-powerful God do so? This is a concept from Greek Mythology. Greek Gods & Goddesses were described to intervene in human events. These were totally distinct entities.

In contrast, the concept of Gods in Eternal Dharma is that of many parts of one whole Supreme Entity. The Avataar of God on Earth is the physical appearance of the Supreme Entity. But, in doing so, the Avataar becomes a part of human society and follows the laws or practices of human society at that time.

This is why Shree Ram was called “Maryada-Purushottam” (मर्यादा पुरुर्शोत्तम). The hallmark of the life of Shree Ram was respect of Maryada or boundaries of Dharma. This is why Shree Krishna made it clear that he would NOT fight in the Mahaa-Bhaarat War. Shree Krishna dedicated his efforts to teaching Arjun about his Dharma and the need for Arjun to do his Karma or duty. We are all blessed because of it.

6. Need for Action, Need for a Hard Core of Society and the Need for a Soft, Noble, Spiritual Core

The teachings of the Bhagwat Geeta, the history of Mahaa-Bhaarat, Ramaayan as well as recent Indian history teach us that it is not enough for a society or a Dharma to be uni-dimensional.

If you look back at the first 3,000 odd years of Indian Society, you see a Dharma, a society that respected both the spiritual and the martial aspects. The Sages developed the extraordinary greatness of Vedic, Upa-Nisadic concepts. They spread these concepts to far away lands and brought others into the folds of Eternal Dharma. The Warriors invaded lands, destroyed enemies and made India strong, wealthy & great. Both spread the Dharma to far away areas in their respective ways. Indian society looked outward, confident in itself and the rest of the world looked in awe.

Then around 900-1000 CE, something changed. India no longer sought to expand or conquer. Indian Dharma became uni-dimensional and Indian society became a defensive inward looking society. The true, hard message of the Bhagwat Geeta was shelved and replaced by a softer, devotional focus on after-life. Whether as a result or otherwise, India slowly surrendered portion by portion of its wealth, lands and independence to a series of invaders and conquerers.

At the same time, other religions that embraced the hard, martial side began their drive to success. It seems frightening that a society with history, philosophy and dharma as rich & profound as India’s meekly accepted the rule of others. Rather than fighting the invaders, Indians remained content on trying to change the nature of evil doers.

This behavior persists to this day. India has lost more territory after independence than any other major country in the world. India has renounced the territory it won in 3-4 wars after independence. Perhaps as a result, India has been attacked more often and with more casualties than any other major country in the world.

Some day, India will again embrace the real message of the Bhagwat Geeta and combine the original confident, outwardly focused approach of the Bhagwat Geeta with the spiritual, personal side of Bhakti Marg.

Some day, Indian hearts will seek to emulate the words used by the Great Poet Bhav-Bhuti to describe the heart of Shree Ram – वज्रात अपि कठोरानी मृदुनी  कुसुमाद अपिHard as the Vajra (weapon of Indra) and equally Soft as a Flower

We await that day.

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2 responses

  1. Please tell me how you clearly distinguish good and evil ? How good is good enough to be good or How bad is bad enough to bad ? How about a little white lie just make our loved ones not to feel bad?
    Why all the Kauravas Du, Bh, Ka and Dr finally died only through deceitful acts of Krishna ?

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