Bhagwad-Gita is a holy text of Hindus, therefore, it is considered very sacred. However, since, as per a news report in TOI, its reading is being introduced in Haryana’s schools from the next academic session, the book is now open to critical analysis, and thus I am reviewing it here — though I admit I had dare not done it earlier because of the fear of hurting the religious sentiments of the Hindus.
The book contains the discourse between “Lord” Krishna, a Hindu God, and Arjuna, a great Pandava Prince and a Warrior, on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, Haryana, India, in an unknown time in history. The discourse is in the form of a recital of the live discussion between “Lord” Krishna and Arjuna, as reported by Sanjaya, the charoiteer, to Dhritrashtra, the king of Hastinapur, India, at the times of the Mahabharata Battle. Though the reporting is live, but, unlike the present times, the reporter didn’t report live from the battlefield, but through some kind of divine sight through which he could see what was happening on the battlefield from the comfort of the royal palace; it would also be pertinent to mention here that Dhritrashtra was himself blind, therefore, given his keen interest in the battle, some kind of divine powers could have been bestowed on Sanjaya by “Lord” Krishna himself, who has most immodestly made claims to his supreme powers in his discourse with Arjuna, so anything is possible; however, in order to maintain credibility of the present review, let me declare at the very outset that I am making a wild assumption of the truthfulness of the events quoted in the book.
The context of the discourse is the uncertainity in the mind of Arjuna just before the start of the battle, for he didn’t want to fight with his elders, teachers and kins; he found living as a beggar for the rest of his life a better alternative to fighting his own. “Lord” Krishna successfully convinced Arjuna to fight by the end of the discourse; the said discourse has been converted into 18 chapters dealing with various philosophical aspects of life. Though the interventions of Arjuna in the discourse were pretty intelligent, but they were, nevertheless, restricted, for it was a sermon from the “God” himself. During the discourse, “Lord” Krishna also showed Arjuna his Cosmic Vision, which as per the “Lord” himself, had never been shown to anybody before, nor, do I think, anybody has seen it even thereafter, so the only witness to the Cosmic Vision of “Lord” Krishna was Arjuna, who, unfortunately, being a mortal being died many years ago; so, in spite of a vivid reporting of the sentiments of Arjuna by Sanjaya, there is no direct proof of the Cosmic Vision in absence of a proper cross-examination of Arjuna — it is also possible that Arjuna went through hallucinations; at least in the present times, one would so assume. The event of Cosmic Vision is extremely important because it brought in a drastic softening in the stance of Arjuna, who impressed by the Cosmic Vision, immediately accepted the supremely powerful status of “Lord” Krishna, and gradually reconciled himself to the views and philosophy of “Lord” Krishna by the end of the discourse. I think, in absence of the Cosmic Vision, it would have become extremely difficult for an objective warrior like Arjuna to surrender to the will of “Lord” Krishna in spite of his many sermons also because the sermons were incoherent at various occasions; for example, read this paradoxical statement of “Lord” Krishna quoted from the English translation of the book available at the website of the ULC, “[t]hose who desire deliverance begin their acts of sacrifice, austerity or gift with the word `Tat’ [meaning ‘That’], without thought of reward.” (emphasis supplied)
Now, coming to the merits. As already stated, the context of the discourse is a battle field, therefore the utility of the sermons is limited. Even though the sermons do touch almost all aspects of life, but, since it was more or less a monologue, the philosophical ideas propagated in the book are more a matter of faith than objective assesment. Furthermore, those very people who want to introduce the book in schools fail to stand up to the teachings of the book: it has been highlighted very clearly in the discourse that people should take up roles of teachers, rulers, merchants, labour, etc., in accordance with their basic nature; however, the Haryana CM, in spite of being a Khatri, has all his life been a merchant — even the PM of this country has now taken up the role of a ruler in spite of originally being a labourer/worker, i.e. a tea seller — so the philosophical ideas have not passed the test of time even. A cynical view would be that Arjuna was manipulated by “Lord” Krishna, through his intelliect, to submit into killing his own people for the reasons unknown; this view finds strong support from the modus operandi adopted by “Lord” Krishna. “Lord” Krishna claimed that he was the supreme power responsible for all creation, operation, and destruction in the world, and, at the time of the Cosmic Vision, also showed people like Bhishma, Karna, Drona, et al, already destroyed as per his will, and he exhorted Arjuna to just complete the formality:
Lord Shri Krishna replied:I have shown myself to thee as the Destroyer who lays waste the world and whose purpose is destruction. In spite of thy efforts, all these warriors gathered for battle shall not escape death.Then gird up thy loins and conquer. Subdue thy foes and enjoy the kingdom in prosperity.I have already doomed them. Be thou my instrument, Arjuna! Drona and Bheeshma, Jayadratha and Karna, and other brave warriors – I have condemned them all. Destroy them; fight and fear not. Thy foes shall be crushed.
In a nutshell, the core philosophy is as follows:
1. “Lord” Krishna is an omnipresent, all pervading creator, destroyer and operator of all activities in the universe.
2. The non-perishable spiritual being is separate from the perishable matter, and “Lord” Krishna is the Home of the Spirit, the continuous source of immortality, of eternal Righteousness, and of infinite Joy.
3. The man doesn’t act; it is the “Qualities” which act, and when a man trascends “Qualities”, which is the real reason of physical existence, he becomes free of the miseries of life and death, and thus immortal.
4. Those who devote themselves to the “Lord” fully, performing their obligations in his name without worrying about the results, have the best chances of achieving immortality by becoming one with him.
So, as per the discourse, the goal of human existence is immortality, which can be achieved by unquestioned devotion to Lord Krishna, and the same was the final exhortation of “Lord” Krishna to Arjuna as well:
Dedicate thyself to Me, worship Me, sacrifice all for Me, prostrate thyself before Me, and to Me thou shalt surely come. Truly do I pledge thee; thou art My own beloved. Give up then thy earthly duties, surrender thyself to Me only. Do not be anxious; I will absolve thee from all thy sin. Speak not this to one who has not practised austerities, or to him who does not love, or who will not listen, or who mocks.
And, which Arjuna answered as follows:
My Lord! O Immutable One! My delusion has fled. By Thy Grace, O Changeless One, the light has dawned. My doubts are gone, and I stand before Thee ready to do Thy will.
So, the discourse was definitely successful in converting Arjuna, but as I said he was the only one who saw the Cosmic Vision; I haven’t, so I am not convinced at all and have ended up writing the above critique.
Note: I am an atheist non-believer.
©2014 Ankur Mutreja