The Gita inspired the Independence Movement: the Gita inspired both Tilak’s call for violent over throw and Gandhi’s clarion for non violence. Aurobindu spoke of Tantric passion in his call for independence, and puritan Victorians responded (unfairly)that Indians were over sexualised, and early marriage weakened their mental disposition.
Media wars are nothing new, I believe this was behind William Sleeman’s linking the Thuggee phenomenon to Kali. Later British linked the Independence movement too it.
“The Hindu student, depraved . . . by too early eroticism, turns to the suggestiveness of the murder-monger and worships the nitro-glycerine bomb as the apotheosis of his goddess.”
A century back, Valentine Chirol the independence movement “in its extreme forms Shakti worship finds expression in licentious aberrations which . . . represent the most extravagant forms of delirious mysticism” (Indian Unrest , 1910).
These attacks have led some to reject Western science when it attempts to place the ancient past on a timeline. I would love the past golden to be discovered scientifically: Article 51 of India’s constitution includes as the duties of a citizen developing a scientific temper.
But if it cannot be, does it matter?
A retired Indian Army Colonel once advised me not too worry. “We cannot even prove that Krisna even existed. But that is not the point. The message of the Gita us timeless. It is outside of space and time.”
What I might call an archetype, a coded message in our psyche. What Jean Houston would describe “something that never happened but is always happening.” A legend – that is the key on the side of our mental page that allows us to read our psychic terrain to go beyond the image (or the computer screen) to access the real life.
Perhaps we can learn lessons from the repeating pattern of past ages . Fractal patterns of history repeat with their own its own unique echo in modern history.
But looking at these lessons from the position of objective witness we can embrace life without falling into self loathing guilt trip of failing to be good Hindu’s, Muslims Christian etc.
Guilt is a cry for help. So I can sympathise with the bhakti call for a religion of no religion similar to what Krishna describes in the Bhagavad Gita (18:66). “Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.”
However, let’s think a little more pragmatically.How could we personally apply the Gita’s advice ?
The question haunts me. The themes of karma and Krishna’s grace contradict each other and the Gita leaves enough room for both sides: a little bit more than how the later bhakti movement is now interpreted .
Krishna proclaims “Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among men, I perpetually cast into transmigration, into various demoniac species of life” (16,19). Also: “Those who worship me and surrender all their activities unto me, being devoted to me without hesitation, engaged in devotional service and meditating unto me, I deliver them quickly from the ocean of birth and death” (12,6-7).
Yet his ‘Avatar’ is subject to karma, killed when shot on his own ‘Achilles heel’ in the Mahabharata. Karma seems to move on with detached clockwork precision. This leads to the Gita leaving unexplained the contradictions between Vaishnavism’s claim that Krishna is only an incarnation of Vishnu wheras the Gita’s super-personal Krishna is the Supreme Lord of the Universe (5,29), eternal (4,6) and the source of all existence: “I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from me” (10,8). , spiritual and material (9,16-19; 8,4; 10,20-42) even contrary to Vedanta, the source of Brahman (14,27) and contrary to Vaishnavism he is the instrument of attaining fusion with Brahman (14,26). Although the intention of components.
Then there is the personal decision we face like Ajuna.
Do we obey duty or dharma verses the karma we must face if we do our duty against our conscience. Krishna tells Ajuna “When you become confused in your false ego you say to yourself, ‘I will not fight’ you are misled. By your nature you must fight” (18,59). Action is better than inaction we are told, the three gunas of Krishna’s past karma, and his warrior caste, determine his nature or prakriti. Our past karma is the hand we must play in the game of life which limits our choices.
Ajuna must break the Vedic code by killing his relatives. “Those who think that they can kill or those that think they can be killed are confused in the manifestations of ignorance. The infinite, immortal soul can neither kill nor be killed” (2,19). Therefore Arjuna is free to kill his relatives, considering them only temporary abiding forms for the eternal self, mere mortal frames.
Or as S. Dasgupta states in his commentary:
The theory of the Gita that, if actions are performed with an unattached mind, then their defects cannot touch the performer, distinctly implies that the goodness or badness of an action does not depend upon external effects of the action, but upon the inner motive of action. If there is no motive of pleasure or self-gain, then the action performed cannot bind the performer; for it is only the bond of desires and self-love that really makes an action one’s own and makes one reap its good or bad fruits. Morality from this point of view becomes wholly subjective, and the special feature of the Gita is that it tends to make all actions non-moral by cutting away the bonds that connect an action with its performer.
-S. Dasgupta, Indian Philosophy, Motilal Banarsidass, 1991, vol.2, p. 507.
But if “actions are performed with an unattached mind, then their defects cannot touch the performer” then why does Yudishthira, Arjuna’s brother, try to expiate the sin of killing his relatives at Kurukushetra through repentance, gifts, asceticism and pilgrimages (Mahabharata 12,7). Yudishthira bad conscience could not be cleansed by a right mind, he needed compensatory acts.
Does not a morality that any act is good as long as it is dedicated to God risk becoming the justification of terrorism? If God controls all could I not decide, as Ajuna is asked to do, to reject well-established moral codes?
The demon Kamsa, whose corruption of karma Krishna came to destroy, used the same argument to kill the children of Krishna’s parents in the Bhagavata Purana;
In the bodily conception of life one remains in darkness without self-realization, thinking “I am being killed” or “I have killed my enemies”. As long as a foolish person thus considers the self to be the killer or the killed, he continues to be responsible for material obligations, and consequently he suffers the reactions of happiness and distress.
Perhaps Krisna, whose avatar comes to destroy Kamsa intends to fight fire with fire.
If the same “detached” perspective on moral values can be used both by the demon Kamsa, who caused the corruption of the dharma, and by Krishna as the divine avatar who came to restore it (Gita 4,6-7) and kill the demon, it is hard to accept that such an approach could represent a true basis for morality.
This I suppose where we as a society and individually must balance the competing forces of life, lest the eros of fanaticism and nationalism takes over.
True detachment is does not stop with nihilistically accepting reincarnation to justify defiance, violence or terrorism.
We must be fully prepared to take the full consequences of our Karma. To go inside and listen.. We must accept communion with the unborn and unmanifest the whisper of the soul can be heard.
As the victors at Kurukshetra reflected
“Alas, having vanquished the foe, we have ourselves been vanquished in the end! The course of events is difficult to be ascertained even by persons endued with spiritual sight. The foes, who were vanquished have become victorious! Ourselves, again, while victorious, are vanquished!” Mahabharata Sauptika Parva Section 10