45. Why The World Cannot Be Free From Violence?

Kala Bhairava, the Lord of Death

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



The following discussion may disturb some people because it deals with an unpleasant subject. If you are a sensitive person, who are accustomed to a certain way of thinking and believing, please do not read it because it may unsettle your beliefs and worldview.

Critics often accuse Hinduism as a violent faith, as one group tried to argue in a court case in Russia few years ago to advocate the banning of the Bhagavadgita. The truth is that Hinduism acknowledges the widespread prevalence of violence as natural to this world and offers an irrevocable solution to it at the most personal level. One of the reasons for this misconception is that Hinduism does not offer the pretentious solution of reforming the world to overcome its ills. Any change or improvement in the order and regularity of the world is possible through individual effort, or the direct intervention of God, but not through collective effort of the kind that is often advocated in certain ideologies and belief systems as a radical solution. It accepts that the world is the creation of God and bound by his will, power and law. It is what it is because God wants it to be so.

Therefore, unless you want to quarrel with him, or question his will, which the Asuras always try to do, you should not interfere with it, but let it be. You should acknowledge it as the play of God and allow it to run its course according to its Dharma (essential nature). However, since the same Creator has endowed human beings with the ability and opportunity to better their lives, they should focus upon their spiritual transformation to infuse their lives with the light and wisdom of God and work for their liberation. It means that while you should stay away from any thought of reforming the world, or challenging the will of God, you should focus upon improving and reforming yourself to live a better and balanced life and find a way to return to your immortal state.

It is said that this world is ruled by the lord of Death (Mrityu). As described in the Vedas, he is the presiding deity of storms and howling winds as Rudras and Maruths, who dance upon the waves of the violent, mortal life. The Vedic hymns beseech him not to unleash his poisonous arrows upon the progeny and cattle of the worshippers, but heal them and help them to destroy their enemies. In the mortal world death always triumphs over life in the end because Death is the lord of this world. Because of him only, this world is called the mortal world or the world of death (mrithyulok). Everything that exists in the world is food for him.

According to our scriptures, the lord of Death has a huge appetite and hunger for food, which he voraciously consumes at every opportunity. We learn from them that in the beginning of creation when Death appeared in this world for the first time and opened his eyes, he was afraid of being alone. Out of fear and hunger, he cried loudly uttering, "bha." He uttered "bha" because "bha" means food, which he was looking for. Since he cried at the time of birth, he is also known as the howler (Rudra). Indeed, he is the most destructive and fierce power ever manifested by the Supreme Brahman in this world. He is the source of all the destruction and violence that we see all around us in this world.

From the Vedas (Upanishads) we learn that the god of Death devours everything, from trees, plants, animals, humans to stones, rivers, lakes and mountains. He is the source of all the natural calamities, loss, suffering, violence, cruelty, pain, and destruction by which he nourishes himself as part of the divine will. He is the bhokta, the ultimate enjoyer, while everything else is his bhakta, that which is worthy as his sacrificial food. Nothing escapes his insatiable hunger and thirst, and he spares none from the destruction that he causes in the world. Life upon earth is a huge sacrifice, in which destruction is the means and death is the end.

This lord of death is described in the Bhagavadgita as the fierce god into whose mouth everyone eventually walks to become crushed between his blood covered teeth (damshtras). He has no gender and goes by several names, Shiva, Rudra, Bhairava, Thandava, Kali, Devi, Agni, Indra, Vasu, Kala, and so on. He is the lord who dances in the battlefields, graveyards, storm clouds, howling winds, firestorms, and places where danger and destruction lurk. He is also hidden everywhere, in numerous manifestations (vibhuthis), and in all gods as their very sustaining power. Hence, they too are often prone to rage and destruction. They hold fierce weapons, the weapons of Death, with which they frighten and destroy their enemies as part of their eternal Dharma. They too are prone to hunger and need to be nourished by us with offerings of food, so that they can keep the god of Death in them well satisfied.

The lord of Death is present in all of us as our very being. He manifests in our bodies as desire, hunger, thirst, and digestive fire (jattaragni). He is the cause of our impermanence and our vulnerability to aging, sickness, decay, and destruction. In our own individual ways we personify him and express him thorough our anger, violence, thinking, and actions. For example, like him we all enter this world at the time birth with a loud cry, most likely because we feel both fear and hunger. From the time we are born and until we die, we are all subject to hunger, desires, and thirst. We are not pacified, unless we eat food or fulfill our desires.

Imagine in the struggle for survival and success how much destruction happens in the life of each individual. Each time we eat food, we indulge in some form of violence, and destruction. It includes everyone, even vegetarians. Whether it is plants, animals, minerals, or food grains, we have to destroy them between our teeth and digest them in the fire of our bodies to keep ourselves nourished. The same happens when we pursue worldly goals or satisfy our desires. For our worldly success and to satisfy our desires, we deprive the world of its resources and take things away from others often through violent conflicts. The god of Death who is present in all is responsible for our violent nature. He unleashes violence through desire-ridden actions, and negative emotions such as anger, and rage, which we use to hurt and harm others, or engage even in self-destructive behavior. Our unhealthy habits, delusional thinking, ignorance, and baser instincts are all part of his numerous manifestations in our minds and bodies.

Nature is an aspect of Death only. She is an instrument of Death. Through death and destruction only she improvises its tools of perfection to ensure the continuity of the world. We may be moved by all that violence, when we watch a tiger hunting a deer, or a group of killer whales unsettle a sea lion perched on an iceberg and consume it. In Nature it is a natural process to establish stasis. This world is designed to be so and will remain as long as the day of Brahma lasts.

However, the good news is that you can escape from all this violence and achieve liberation. While the world can never escape from the lord of Death, individuals can gain freedom from him by renouncing violence and avoiding violent actions to the extent possible. They must learn to avoid violence in every aspect of their lives, so that they can be free from the stench of Death and become pure. The phase of Sanyasa (renunciation) in the Varnashrama Dharma is prescribed for this very purpose. In this phase people have to renounce cooking food and the use of fire, the two most common forms of violence, and live without hurting or harming anyone, including trees and plants.

Death and destruction also figure prominently in the teachings of the Bhagavadgita. Lord Krishna amply suggests that you cannot avoid violent or destructive actions in your life, but you can escape from their consequences if you shun desires and engage in actions with a sacrificial and stoical attitude. Arjuna, listens to the discourse from a friendly, loving Krishna, but the vision of God which he sees in him, is that of the god of Death only. Lord Krishna purposefully shows it to him so that he would realize the significance of death in the mortal world and deal with the inevitability of his encounter with it. If you want to achieve peace and happiness, you must learn to face it, make peace with it, and try to escape from it. This is the teaching.

It is possible only when you tame the manifestations of Death in you and control your destructive behavior and violent tendencies. It is what anyone expected to do to achieve Moksha. Moksha in a very practical sense means eternal freedom from the influence of death and destruction which are inherent in life. To achieve it you must use nonviolence as the raft. In Hinduism the practice of nonviolence has a great significance because it is the best antidote to the problem of violence that is inherent to our existence. It is considered the highest virtue or the virtue of virtues. You cannot truly practice it until you become adept in the practice of all other virtues. When you become skillful in nonviolence, the god of Death in you becomes silent and stops howling. Then, you become a muni, the silent one in whom the hunger of Death is pacified, a sadhu, in whom the anger of Death is subdued, or a bairagi in whom the desires and passions of Death are suppressed. You become amritha or amara, the one without Death.

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