Krishna and Arjun on the chariot, Mahabharata,...
Krishna and Arjun on the chariot, Mahabharata, 18th-19th century, India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Bhagavad-Gita [Sanskrit: The song of the Lord] is a central scripture holy to Hindus that belongs to book VI of the epic Mahabharata. Believed by many scholars to be a more recent insert within the Mahabharata, the Gita synthesizes different, previously existing forms of yoga.

The main plot line revolves around Krishna urging Arjuna to fulfil the dharma (sacred duty) appropriate to his warrior caste (kshatrya). Taken literally, in the Gita this means Arjuna must slay kith and kin in the battlefield.

Krishna outlines additional dharmas appropriate for other castes, but Arjuna’s sacred task is to kill. Krishna further instructs Arjuna that his relatives will not really perish because the soul (atman) is eternal.

A gentler, psychological interpretation of the Gita sees the ‘killing’ in terms of the destruction of bad karma accumulated over past lives. These attributes manifest as outward aspects of the personality in the present life, not unlike that which Carl Jung terms the persona. Thus the ‘killing’ could be seen as the elimination or, perhaps, redirection of superficial and negative personality components that obscure awareness of the immortal soul (atman)

Lord Krishna instructing the Bhagavad Gita to ...
Lord Krishna instructing the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna in Kurukshetra. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Because God’s grace is said to be central in overcoming negative past karma, some scholars believe that the Gita was written as late as 2nd-century CE, influenced by the teachings of Jesus Christ. Regardless of the precise date, Arjuna’s dharma seems to lie somewhere between Old Testament ideas concerning the problem of social justice (“an eye for an eye”) and the New Testament emphasis on spiritual salvation (“turn the other cheek”).

While some Christians may argue that the Gita’s message is clearly inferior to the New Testament’s prescription to love one’s enemies, this claim is complicated by the additional teaching of the so-called “Just War,” a teaching which is explicit or, perhaps, implicit to many Christian belief systems.

Having said that, it seems that a valid distinction may be made between what Jesus of the New Testament says we ought to do vs. what will happen.

English: The Pandava prince Arjuna chooses to ...
English: The Pandava prince Arjuna chooses to have the unarmed Krishna as his charioteer rather than the reinforcement of Krishna’s large army. The Krishna’s large army is chosen by the Kaurava prince Duryodhana. As the sky turns from gray to azure, and the army begins to wake, Arjuna confirms his decision by a solemn vow and water is poured over his hands as ritual witness. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus of the New Testament says his followers ought not to be violent, nor to even think violently, even though conflict and war will inevitably break out among some members of the population. By way of contrast, the Krishna of the Gita essentially says killing is okay in certain circumstances. And this is something that Christ never advocates in the New Testament.

As intimated above, however, the discussion need not end here. For more on this see The Bhagavad Gita in a Complicated World and comments.

Related Posts » Alchemy, Ramakrishna (Sri), Theosophy



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