Wednesday, April 28, 2010

BHAGAVAD GITA AS IT IS, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Some monk dude gave me this, and I've been curious about the Hare Krishnas ever since my hardcore days (anyone remember Shelter?), so I figured I'd give it a try.

First impression: Krishna is sort of like a Hindu Christ, and this book in many ways apes Christianity. I'm not a big fan of Christianity, and (big surprise) I'm already having ideological problems with this book.

The first and most serious problem I'm having so far is with the whole blind faith mandate. Prabhupada, the guy behind the version I'm reading, states in his introduction that "the person who is trying to understand the BHAGAVAD-GITA should [...] at least theoretically accept Sri Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and with that submissive spirit we can understand," (page 7). Every time I've gotten into a conversation with a Christian, I've been told the same thing: don't rely on rational thought; you have to have faith, you have to believe. But if I'm supposed to blindly put my faith in something in order to understand it, how am I supposed to know what I should put my faith in? Most of the major religions want you to make a choice--you can't hedge your bets, you've got to choose just one. But which should I choose? Should I listen to the Christians and have faith in Christ, or should I listen to the Hare Krishnas and have faith in Krsna? Or what about the Muslims? Why shouldn't I have faith in Allah?

It's sort of a catch 22: you have to choose, but you can't think about your choice. Because if you really think about it, none of this stuff makes any sense. For a lot of people, intellect is a major tool in the choice-making process, but intellect is anathema to faith.

How do you make your choice then, if not with intellect, if not with some rational decision? Are you supposed to just intuitively feel that one religion is the right one? For me, so far, my intuition has always told me to trust my intellect, and my intellect has always told me that none of this stuff makes sense.

Another similarity I'm noticing between the BHAGAVAD-GITA and the Bible is that both books seem chock full of contradictions. In the Bible, which is comparatively a much larger work, the contradictions are chock-a-block. I'm only 70 pages into the BHAGAVAD-GITA so far (which is a little less than a tenth of the way through the book), but I've already come across a few contradictions in it, too. The one that stands out right now relates to compassion and willingness to kill.

See, the BHAGAVAD-GITA is set up like this: two opposing armies are on a battlefield, preparing for war. One army has God (Krsna) on it's side, working as a charioteer for the warrior Arjuna. Just before the start of the fight, Arjuna has Krsna drive him out to the middle of the battlefield, where he is struck by the fact that people he loves are in both armies, and family and friends are going to die no matter who wins. He tells Krsna he doesn't want to fight, and then Krsna lays the whole meaning of life, the universe, and everything else on him, which constitutes the bulk of the text. After that, Arjuna realizes it's his duty to fight, despite the fact that he'll be fighting with people he loves.

The contradictions come in because Arjuna's compassion, and his unwillingness to fight, are viewed as both a supreme virtue and also a sign of unworthiness. Krsna wasn't looking for just any random dude to deliver the universe's secrets to; he chose Arjuna, out of every living person on the planet at the time, because Arjuna was special. One of the reason's he was special, and worthy of Krsna's knowledge, is because of the ambivalence he feels when confronted with the notion of killing people from the opposite army. And yet he is given Krsna's sermon in part to provoke him to kill, because to not fight in the war is "degrading impotence" and a "petty weakness of heart" (page 67).



Abhijit said...

In the ch18vrs57 and in the ch6vrs21 it has been said to use our intellect to understand the existence of the supreme power.
When we study mathematics, we then have to have full respect on the book itself. If we understand differently from the book, then our teachers would rightly tell us to correct our idea. If we do not keep trust on the subject we are trying to learn, will it be possible to learn it ultimately?

sfauthor said...

Nice posting. Do you know about this edition of the Gita?

Alonso said...

the sciences don't need belief. The sciences are hypothesis and theories based on observable and measurable results. If the results no longer create the expected conclusion then the theory is no longer considered accurate and a new theory is searched for.

When we study math we can count 10 sets of paired shoes and end up with 20 shoes, the same number we come to if we multiply 10X2. So we are not having faith in the book, we are using a theory until it is proven wrong and then adjusting our theory usage if it is.

With religion, opposing views are typically stubbornly ignored or "proven" wrong using the text in question as proof, in other words not objectively.