Two great households, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, are royal cousins that grew up together. Through wickedness and greed Duryodhada of the Kauravas exiled the Pandavas and took the kingdom for his own. Now Arjuna of the Pandavas, the hero of this tale, must face his own kin in a bloody war. On the battlefield with his family behind him and before him, he falls to his knees in despair. His charioteer is Krishna, who offered to be counselor for Arjuna but would not take up arms. Krishna counsels Arjuna, and in the process tells Arjuna of the nature of God, of himself, and the various paths to liberation. For Krishna is far more than he appears…
I enjoyed this book immensely, as well as the commentaries. Part of the introduction really caught my attention.
“From the earliest times, Hinduism has proclaimed one God while accommodating worship of him (or her, for to millions God is the Divine Mother) in many different names. ‘Truth is one,’ says a famous verse of the Rig Veda; ‘people call it by various names.’ Monastic devotees might find that Shiva embodies the austere detachment they seek; devotees who want to live ‘in the world,’ partaking of its innocent pleasures but devoted to service of their fellow creatures, might find in Krishna the perfect incarnation of their ideals. In every case, this clothing of the Infinite in human form serves to focus a devotee’s love and to provide an inspiring ideal. But whatever form is worshipped, it is only an aspect of the same one God.” Hindu monotheism – who knew? I suppose an argument could be made that this is really an example of henotheism or panentheism, but at its core this belief seems to be that God is not limited to one form or one act of devotion, but all of us worship the same limitless Diety.
What IS detachment?
Anyone loosely familiar with Buddhism has heard the word “detachment”. It brings to mind the image of an austere monk meditating alone… not what the average person aspires to. Again I will quote from the commentaries: “It [the Bhagavad Gita] teaches that we can become free by giving up not material things, but selfish attachments to material things – and more importantly, to people. It asks us to renounce not the enjoyment of life, but the clinging to selfish enjoyment whatever it may cost others. It pleads, in a word, for the renunciation of selfishness in thought, word, and action – a theme that is common to all mystics, West and East alike.”
As Krishna puts it:
“One who shirks action does not attain freedom; no one can gain perfection by abstaining from work. Indeed, there is no one who rests for even an instant; all creastures are driven to action by their own nature.”
“Actions do not cling to me because I am not attached to their results. Those who understand this and practice it live in freedom. Knowing this truth, aspirants desiring liberation in ancient times engaged in action. You too can do the same, pursuing an active life in the manner of those ancient sages.”
Renunciation or detachment doesn’t mean hiding from the world or one’s own emotions, it means recognizing them as transient things and existing beyond them. Pain and pleasure, sorrow and joy, are just the result of outside stimuli and cannot touch the soul. One can watch these dualities as if watching a dance or a play, enjoying the show while not being fundamentally shaken by it. Krishna again:
“They live in freedom who have gone beyond the dualities of life. Competing with no one, they are alike in success and failure and content with whatever comes to them. They are free, without selfish attachments; their minds are fixed in knowledge. They perform all work in the spirit of service, and their karma is dissolved.”
What does it all mean?
In short, I don’t know. I think I could spend my life reading this book and only scratch the surface. The book comprises of everything from practical meditation tips and down-to-earth advise to hinting at the mystery of the cosmos. The underlying themes include; that God is one, even when it seems otherwise; that God loves us; that anyone with the genuine desire can attain closeness to God; that the spark of God exists in and beyond everything. That doesn’t mean worshipping idols, just recognizing the miracle of God’s creation.
“Arjuna, I am the taste of pure water and the radiance of the sun and moon. I am the sacred word and the sound heard in air, and the courage of human beings. I am the sweet fragrance in the earth and the radiance of fire; I am the life in every creature and the striving of the spiritual aspirant.”
In this tale Krishna is no mere man, he is a manifestation of God in a form easier for human minds to handle. At one point in the Gita Arjuna asks to see God’s true form. Krishna removes the layers of illusion that surround him and shows his true form to Arjuna… it is a form so beautiful and terrifying that Arjuna cannot continue describing it, and begs God to return to the comforting form of Krishna.
The Bhagavad Gita does acknowledge that souls who do good with go to heaven, and souls that do evil go to hell – punished or beloved by whatever deities they worshipped in life… but after their deeds are rewarded or repaid they are reborn again to make another attempt at learning of their true nature and the nature of God. Only those who leave the cycle of rebirth can become one with God. What is interesting to note here is this doesn’t mean worshiping a Hindu deity, it can be whatever form of God the aspirant feels the most love for – it is all the same God. The book outlines in broad strokes several paths to God (or enlightenment), and while it favors some methods over others it still contends that all paths lead (eventually) to God.
I really enjoyed this book, and I think its message is fairly universal. I am not quite done posting on this topic, but I am out of time for today. I find a lot of technical stuff varies greatly from the teachings of the Quran, but a few similarities did catch my eye. I am hoping to compare and contrast some verses of the Quran with some from the Bhagavad Gita in a future post. Readers, please suggest any quotes from the Quran (or other religious texts) that you feel would be appropriate.