Lord Krishna Was A Social And Religious Reformer

Krishna and Arjuna

by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V


Summary: According to our scriptures, we are not totally at the mercy of gods. Brahma, the creator created a level playing field for both humans and gods by making them interdependent. The gods need you as much as you need them. If you ignore them you will harm yourself and harm them and harm the world. It means that when you ignore them you incur negative karma in three ways and greatly reduce your chances of a good life in the next birth. Besides it will take your straight into the hands of the Asuras (demons) and make you a slave to them. Evil grows in us and in the world when we neglect the gods who reside in us.

If you are a spiritual person, you will probably face criticism occasionally for what you do or say. Your words may be used against you or you may be insulted and ridiculed because someone does not agree with your teachings, values or your beliefs. The problem is acute when you are at odds with the social norms practiced by a majority.

You are probably not the first one who faced this problem. Lord Krishna himself was attacked by several of his contemporaries for his views. What the Bhagavadgita does not tell you is that Lord Krishna was a social and religious reformer of his time long before the Buddha. He did not belong to the Vedic priestly caste but to a different tribe named Vrishnis. He was dark in color, brought up by a family of cowherds and grew in that community. He was not overly interested in Vedic sacrifices except as part of one's obligatory duties.

His emphasis was upon purity and the highest spiritual values that are repeatedly emphasized in the Gita. He tried to synthesize the various conflicting traditions and practices of his time into an acceptable holistic system that you now find in the Gita as one philosophy and a continuum of the ancient thought, which he claimed he revealed to some people in the past but was forgotten. Each of the chapters in the Bhagavadgita represents a particular thought process, tradition or belief system. Lord Krishna tried to weave them together.

We do not have his direct teachings, other than what we have in the Mahabharata and the Bhagavadgita. The Bhagavadgita was probably the first and the last attempt to codify and canonize his teachings in one scripture. Since Lord Krishna was a reformer who broke free from the declining values of ancient Vedic society, he faced a lot of opposition from others. This is evident from the numerous differences he had with people like Sisupala, Dhritarashtra, Duryodhana, Jarasandha, and even Indra, the highest of the Rigvedic pantheon.

The Pandavas were the underdogs, who were wronged by the society in which they lived. The established order belonged to Duryodhana and his supporters. They twisted the arms of those who disagreed with them or openly challenged them. Lord Krishna chose to ignore that order and join hands with the aggrieved ones, because they believed in his teachings. Since he supported the Pandavas, he antagonized many people from the established old order and faced criticism for his actions as well as decisions.

We can see traces of it even in the Bhagavadgita itself in the following verses: 3:13 (those who out of envy do not follow my teachings), 7:13 (deluded by the modes...this world does not know me), 7:15 (the evil doers and the deluded do not take refuge in me..who abide in demonic nature)7:24 (ignorant people lacking in discriminating intelligence..), 9:3 (people who have no faith in this righteous knowledge..), 9:12 (with vain hopes, useless rites, purposeless knowledge), 15:18 (abiding in egoism...hating me in their own and other bodies),  15:19 (I cast forever these cruel haters..). I think there are some more, but they amply illustrate the point.

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