(Interactive session on 17.6.2015)
Keynote address by Asish Kumar Raha
(Other participant speakers: Mr. A.K. Sengupta, Dr. Kalyan Chakravarty and Mr Asim Banerjee)
Anchor: Dr. Ramesh Chandra Chanda
Opening Song: Mr. Basudeb Shandilya
Closing Song: Ms. Jayanti Dasgupta
Among all the spiritual leaders of all times, none perhaps was as versatile and as dynamic as Sri Krishna. While spiritual leaders in general made a clear distinction between the spiritual and the mundane, Sri Krishna spiritualized the mundane with his irrefutable reasoning, essentially secular in character. One may nevertheless find it difficult to reconcile Sri Krishna’s deepest spiritual proclamation (in Srimad Bhagavad Gita) viz. immortality and unassailability of the soul, to his simultaneous encouragement to Arjuna to fight the bloodiest battle of contemporary time, where several lakhs of warriors were to lose their lives with a handful eventually surviving at the end.
Was his sermon to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra an Ode to spirituality or Ode to violence?
Vast majority of Hindu sages and commoners including philosophers and thinkers hold Sri Krishna and Srimad Bhagavat Gita in highest esteem. At the same time, contra views about him persisted since the days of Mahabharata. Therefore, the very first poser that one is required to address is how do we reconcile the apparent contradiction between philosophical texts of the Gita and its apparently provocative verses meant to inspire Arjuna to engage in a bloody battle with devastating consequences.
Sri Krishna in contemporary texts, viz. Mahabharata, Bhagavata Mahapurana, some Upanishadas, Hari Vamsha and some well known Puranas has been described as the Purna Avatar (of Vishnu) or God incarnate, who possessed cosmic consciousness. In the Bhagavad Gita, the cosmic consciousness of Sri Krishna is amply demonstrated when he spoke in first person as the Supreme Creator, Sustainer and the Destroyer of the universe. He also manifested his cosmic form to Arjuna (refer chapter eleven). The contemporary texts on the other hand are also replete with references to his seemingly amorous relationship with a number of women since his early childhood. According to those texts, the number of his principal spouses was eight, viz. Rukmini, Jambavati, Satyabhama, Kalindi, Mitravinda, Satya, Bhadra and Laksmana. He also symbolically married sixteen thousand Yadava women upon refusal of their husbands to take them back after he rescued them from captivity of a demon called Narakasura. In the above context, the second poser that confronts us is how Sri Krishna with his supreme wisdom and yogic equipoise could engage in amorous sport or relationship, which all other spiritual seekers scrupulously avoided.
Although the contemporary texts hail Sri Krishna as the ultimate founder, saviour and protector of the Dharma (righteousness), the narratives appear to suggest deceitful conduct on his part in the course of the Battle of Kurukshetra, when as the charioteer of Arjuna he became instrumental in the killing of Bhishma, Drona and Karna by flouting the well-set battle norms. What is the rational explanation for such deceit in a righteous battle?
Before we attempt to address the above three posers, let is first understand Sri Krishna in the light of his thoughts and actions as were depicted in the contemporary texts.
WHO WAS SRI KRISHNA
“Who is this Keshava (Sri Krishna)” was precisely the question asked by Yudhisthira to his Grandfather Bhishma after the battle of Kurukshetra was over (refer Shanti Parva, chapter 1528/200, Mahabharata).
Though flattened on the bed of arrows, Bhisma was in his full sense, waiting for the onset of Uttarayana (northward journey of the sun from Capricorn to Cancer, starting from January 14 up to July 16, and viewed as spiritually auspicious) for departing from this world.
It was not as if Yudhisthira did not know who Krishna was. As a matter of fact, if any person outside the dynasty was intimate to the Pandavas, it was Krishna, known also as Vaasudeva, Keshava, Hrishikesha, Pundarikaksha, Madhava, Madhusudana etc. Born on 18th July, 3228 B.C, (as per astrological data based on stellar position at the time of his birth as recorded in contemporary texts) Krishna was of the same age as Arjuna, the third Pandava (Krishna was younger by 8 days only), and the friendship between the two was legendary. It was also well known to him that Krishna was born of Vasudeva and Devaki of Yadava clan in a prison cell at Mathura as Kamsa, the tyrannical king for reason of a prophecy that the 8th son of his sister Devaki would kill him, had put the couple into the prison so that he could kill their offspring as soon as they were born. Yudhisthira was also well aware how Krishna was transferred to the custody of Nanda and Yashoda at Gokula to evade detection, brought up in Vraja Bhumi (Vrindavana) among cow herders when he demonstrated his miraculous power, and how he eventually killed Kamsa and thereby incurred the wrath of Jarasandha, the king of Magadha, who happened to be Kamsa’s father-in-law, and how Krishna became instrumental in getting Jarasandha eliminated in a wrestling bout with Bhima, the second Pandava. It was also known to Yudhisthira that Krishna was related to him as his mother Kunti was the sister of Vasudeva, father of Sri Krishna. Besides, Krishna was like friend, guide and philosopher to Yudhisthira in his days of glory and adversity. Finally, in the battle of Kurukshetra Krishna took the side of the Pandavas and, though widely known as invincible in battles, he volunteered to play a secondary role as the charioteer of his bosom friend Arjuna. Even in that role, he had ensured the victory of the Pandavas by his constant guidance and extra ordinary skill.
Despite knowing him so intimately, Yudhisthira still felt that he did not know the real Krishna yet. Hence this question to the Grand Shire of the Mahabharata, known to be the wisest Kshatriya of his time.
Bhishma’s reply was not simple. He elaborately described Sri Krishna as the incarnate of Vishnu (one of the Trinity, the other two being Brahma and Maheswara), and also as the Purusha or the first evolved form of Brahman. He cited as his source his Master Parashurama, the sage Narada, Vedavyasa (author of Mahabharata, Hari Vamsha and Bhagavata Mahapurana), sage Markandeya (believed to be immortal by the boon of Lord Shiva) and sages Asita and Devala, all highly respected contemporary persons known for their strict adherence to Truth. Bhishma concluded by saying that truth was Krishna’s real strength and that Pundarikaksha (Krishna) was inconceivable.
Bhishma’s above understanding of Krishna assumes significance when one considers that Krishna was not only his adversary but was also critical of his oath of loyalty to the throne of Hastinapur at any cost as perverse, as in the process he shackled himself to embrace untruth / falsehood by taking the side of Duryodhana, knowing fully well that truth was on the side of Yudhisthira as the rightful claimant of the throne.
In the end, Bhishma correctly read the signal of Krishna and decided to give up his life as he realized that his continuation in the battle would have made the victory of the truth extremely difficult, if not impossible.
There was no dearth of negative assessment of Sri Krishna in the Mahabharata. Duryodhana often referred to him as no more than a magician and was not impressed at all by his valour or prowess. King Jarasandha considered him as a petty operator who ran away from Mathura to Dwaraka out of his fear. Sisupala abused him as cowherd in the open court of Yudhisthira on the eve of Rajashuya Yajna, which eventually led to his death. Shakuni considered Krishna as a shrewd rival in diplomacy and politics. Ashvatthama considered him as beatable if only he could be dispossessed of his Sudarshana Chakra. Ashvatthama, in fact, offered him Brahmashira weapon in exchange for Sudarshan Chakra so that he could challenge him to a battle and defeat him too (Even while Krishna agreed to gift him the Chakra, Ashvatthama failed to lift it with all his might). None of the above characters, however, was respected for wisdom or sagacity. But the fact remains that even Arjuna for whom no sacrifice was considered enough by Krishna, admittedly failed to recognize who he actually was till he witnessed his cosmic form (ref. chapter 11, verses 41-42, Gita). And that too despite his awareness of the revelation made by all the great sages that Sri Krishna was self-evolved eternal being (ref. chapter 10, verses12-13, Gita).
Be that as it may, when we examine thoughts and actions of Krishna, we have to take into consideration all the contemporary views as available on record.
CHILD KRISHNA AGAINST IRRATIONAL CONVENTION
It was customary for the cowherds in the land of Vraja to worship Indra, the god of rain, at a particular time every year. When preparation for Indra worship was in progress, little Krishna asked his foster father Nanda as to why must they worship Indra and for what benefit.
Nanda explained that if Indra was pleased, he wiould favour the Vraja land with shower to the delight and benefit of all beings.
Krishna instantly questioned this age-old convention, saying that ‘the rain is a natural phenomenon and Indra has very little to contribute to it. Life of all beings is governed by Karma alone and not by Indra. Karma is our preceptor and almighty Lord. Indra is incapable of altering the course of actions performed by men according to their nature. Therefore, instead of worshipping Indra, let us worship cows, as cows have been our only means of subsistence. Let us also worship learned Brahmins who guide us on the correct path. Even the mountain Govardhana deserves our worship as it shelters us.’
The elders of the Vraja were already convinced of his divinity from several past instances. Therefore, they accepted his suggestion and worshipped the cow, the Brahmins and the mountain instead of Indra. This enraged Indra who unleashed torrential rain for seven days, non-stop. According to Bhagavata Mahapurana, Sri Krishna lifted and held the mountain by one hand so as to provide shelter to all cowherds till the remission of rain (refer Bhagavata Mahapurana, 10.24).
What is pertinent to ponder here is not whether a mountain could be lifted and held for seven days by a little child, but that the little Krishna had the courage to question irrational tradition of Indra worship by convincing logic and to set a new tradition of worship on the basis of substantive benefit to the society rather than illusory gain.
GOPI LOVE – A NEW VISTA TO SPIRITUAL HEIGHT
Sri Krishna’s amorous sport with the Gopis (cowherd maidens), more famously with Radha, known as Rasa Leela, has been subject of folklore and dance drama in all parts India. It is generally believed that the Gopis, most of them already married, were in deep love with Krishna who also responded to their love. What was the nature of their relationship, as is evident from contemporary texts such as Bhagavata Mahapurana?
At the outset, it may be mentioned that Bhagavata does not mention Sri Radha in particular. Therefore, the fabled love affair between Sri Radha and Sri Krishna may not have any strong foundation in contemporary texts, and in all probability Radha-Krishna love saga came into currency at a later period.
Secondly, Sri Krishna was only twelve when he left Vrindavana (Vraja Bhumi) for Mathura. Therefore, it would be quite logical to eliminate physical angle from the Gopis’ love toward much younger Krishna.
Thirdly and more importantly, sage Garga categorically told Nanda and his community elders that Sri Krishna was no ordinary child. He was Vishnu incarnate, born of Vasudeva and Devaki (not of Nanda and Yashoda) to deliver the world from oppression and ignorance. It was his divinity, extra ordinary mental and physical strength and mesmerizing flute-play that attracted the Gopis toward him. Their love toward him was clearly of the nature of absolute surrender to the Divine and opened a new vista to spiritual liberation, hitherto unknown.
Now the question is how Sri Krishna responded to the Gopis’ unique love. To understand the nature of Sri Krishna’s love toward the Gopis, we will rely upon two narratives, one from Bhagavata Mahapurana ( ref.10.32) and the other from Gopala Uttaratapaneeya Upanishada.
KRISHNA LOVE – NARRATIVE FROM BHAGAVATA
Let us first refer to Bhagavata narrative. Once the Gopis told Krishna that some loved in return of love, while others loved unilaterally without any expectation of return love, while still others did not love at all. What according to Krishna was the ideal situation?
Krishna replied that love in return of love was not true love as it was actuated by self-interest. One-sided love without response may be compassionate love. As to the last category of persons who did not love even those who loved them let alone those who did not, they could be sages reveling in their own self or those who had realized their mission and were, therefore, free from all craving for enjoyment, or those who were dullards incapable of enjoyment, or ungrateful people inimical to their own benefactors. “I, O my dear friends, do not come under any of these categories, being supremely compassionate and friendly, even though I do not visibly reciprocate your love, and remain out of sight……I love all of you invisibly…….Let your services (love) to me be repaid by your own goodness.” The above narrative clearly establishes that true love does not go in vain and even the Divine responds to true selfless love, though invisibly. The last sentence in the above narrative is quite significant; implying that one who loves God should not expect any tangible return. Response of the Divinity is reflected in the glow of goodness in such lover.
KRISHNA LOVE – UPANISHADIC ANECDOTE
After a nightlong amorous sport with Krishna, the Gopis asked him to whom they should offer first alms in the morning. ‘Let it be sage Durvasha who is camping on the other side of the river Yamuna and quite hungry’, suggested Krishna. As the Yamuna was in full spate in the monsoon, and no boat was in sight, the Gopis asked Krishna how they would cross the river. “Request Yamuna” said Krishna, “to make way for all of you to cross over, if it is true that Krishna is a Brahmachari (celibate)”. The Gopis wondered how Yamuna would respond to such atrocious lie. Nevertheless, they complied with Krishna’s advice and found to their surprise that Yamuna made way for them to cross over to the other side.
After serving sage Durvasha with milk, butter and sweetmeats, the Gopis requested the sage to help them cross the river, as not a single boat was available. The sage asked them how in the first place they crossed the river to reach him. The Gopis narrated the Krishna episode. The sage asked them to repeat the same exercise, requesting Yamuna this time to make way if it was true that Durvasha had not eaten anything. The Gopis were baffled by this apparent falsehood.
Understanding their confusion the sage explained to them that he in reality was not the body, but soul who was without action. It was his body that took the alms, not his soul. As for Krishna, the sage explained to the Gopis that whom they knew as Krishna was in fact all pervasive Soul, existing in all living beings. He was the sole existence before the creation. He was incomprehensible by our sense organs. One who had lost one’s self being engrossed in love with him would eventually become him. The duality would get lost in such love, the lover getting merged into the beloved. Krishna was that beloved Soul in whom lay the final destination of the Gopis. In that sense, Krishna was single, the eternal Brahmachari.
SYMBOLIC MARRIAGE WITH SIXTEEN THOUSAND RESCUED WOMEN
According to the narratives from Bhagavata and Mahabharata, Sri Krishna rescued sixteen thousand captive Yadava women after killing demonic Narakasur, the ruler of Pragjyotishpur (now Assam). It is said that the husbands of those women refused to take them back following the Rama tradition, inasmuch as their chastity was taken as tainted in the custody of the demon. Answering the prayer of the deserted women, Krishna out of compassion as also his resolve to change the cruel and unfair tradition, married all those women symbolically on the same day so as to give them respectability together with security. By this unusual and unprecedented act, Sri Krishna proved once again that he had scant respect for irrational tradition. On the other hand, he had no hesitation to change the age-old tradition set by Sri Rama, making it mandatory for an abducted wife to pass the severe fire-test to prove her chastity. Krishna found this tradition barbaric, irrational and disrespectful to the women who had been forcefully abducted. Realizing that love and respect in a relationship cannot be revived by force or persuasion, he decided to marry all those women instead of compelling their husbands to take them back, so that they were given due respect as his wives and none could raise a finger against them in future.
TRUTH VS. TRUTH – CONFUSION OF BHISHMA AND DRONA “Nasti
Satyasamanam Tapaha” (Vedavyasa) or ‘there is no religion higher than Truth’ was the constant refrain of the sages and the enlightened souls during the time of Krishna. But there was enormous confusion among the wisest and the enlightened persons when it came to the question of distinguishing Truth from falsehood,
The case in point is the confusion of Bhishma and Dronacharya on the eve of the Battle of Kurukshetra. As for Bhishma, he had taken a vow to protect the kingdom of Hastinapur at all costs. For a Kshatriya like him, allegiance to truth meant staking of his life to keep his vow. However, he received a boon from his father that he would die only when he so wished. Therefore, the ground reality in his case was that if he lived on to fight for Duryodhana, none could dethrone the ruler of Hastinapur. Hence, in the battle of Kurukshetra, the victory of Yudhisthira was nearly impossible. But Bhishma was convinced that in the fraternal dispute for the throne, truth was on the side of Yudhisthira, not Duryodhana who stood all through his life for falsehood with tacit support from his blind father Dhritarashtra. Thus Bhishma faced the worst dilemma of his life, i.e. whether he should be truthful to his personal oath and side with Duryodhana who represented untruth or falsehood, or in pursuit of truth, he should side with Yudhisthira, ignoring his vow to protect the kingdom of Hastinapur. He also evaluated the third option of going into withdrawal mode, but rejected the same, as it would have been against the prevailing norms for a true Kshatriya. Eventually, even though he blessed Yudhisthir for victory, he stuck to his vow of fighting the battle for Duryodhana. In doing so, he gave priority to his Kshatriya dharma, which mandated him to stick to his vow and enjoy heaven after death or else to suffer in hell. He obviously opted for the former going against his conscience.
Dronacharya also confronted the same dilemma. Like Bhishma, he also eventually decided to side with Duryodhana despite his conviction that truth was on the side of Yudhisthira, whom he blessed for victory. Drona’s compulsion was that he was obligated to Duryodhana for his son Ashvatthama, whose welfare was his sole consideration. Besides, according to Kshatriya dharma, he was not permitted to betray his benefactor. In case he did so, he was to be consigned to hell, which was the last thing he desired.
Same thing could be said about Karna, who like Bhishma and Drona was well aware that truth was on the side of Yudhisthira, and yet for reason of his personal obligation and loyalty under oath to Duryodhana, and also his oath to either kill Arjuna or get killed by him, he did not waver for a moment from supporting his benefactor. And this he did even after being informed by Sri Krishna as also by his real mother Kunti that he was her eldest son and, therefore, had the foremost claim to the throne of Hastinapur.
SACRIFICE OF LOWER TRUTH FOR HIGHER TRUTH
Let us now look at Krishna’s views on Truth. In doing so, let us leave aside the perception of the leading sages and the wise men such as Narada, Parasurama, Markandeya, Vedavyasa, Suka, Asita, Devala, Durvasha and lastly Bhishma himself, that Sri Krishna was the Ultimate Truth. To Sri Krishna, there was no absolute Truth barring Brahman. When a man rises to the highest level of consciousness, he becomes one with Brahman and Truth. In this phenomenal world of man-made rules and rituals, truth is relative, intricately connected with the goal, whether personal or collective, changing according to time and perspective. He made a gradation of truth, viz. higher and lower. When lower truth comes in conflict with higher truth, higher truth must prevail and lower truth must give way. As for instance, personal oath of a Kshatriya is a lower truth if compliance of the said oath results in loss of innocent lives, thereby sacrificing higher truth, viz. non-violence to innocent living beings.
When Bhima took an oath to kill Duryodhana and his brothers in a battle, and in order to make sure that he got a chance to fulfill his oath, he was insistent that Krishna as the messenger of Yudhisthira must not bargain for peace. But Krishna admonished him, pointing out that his personal oath was not as important as the lives of a million soldiers. Therefore, he requested for only five villages for Yudhisthira when Duryodhana denied his title to the throne of Hastinapur.
On at least two occasions during the battle, he was prepared to break his personal oath of not taking up weapons. The first such occasion arose when Arjuna was unable to resist Bhishma from destroying the army of the Pandavas ruthlessly. Krishna jumped out of the chariot and rushed to Bhishma with an intent to kill him. Though eventually Krishna withdrew at the persuasion of Arjuna, his aggressive stance served a signal to Bhishma that his time to leave this world had come. In fact Bhishma himself gave out the secret to Yudhisthira how he could be killed, when he learnt that it was Krishna who advised Yudhisthira to find that out from his grandfather directly.
The second occasion when Krishna was prepared to break his oath was to help Arjuna kill Jayadratha before sun set as otherwise Arjuna vowed to end his own life. Krishna asked Daruka to keep his chariot in readiness so that he could join the battle, if need be.
Thus Krishna’s view was crystal clear, i.e. when personal oath comes in conflict with higher truth, there is no sin or fault in violating personal oath.
Now the question is how Krishna judged the conduct of Bhishma and Drona. He made no bone of his adverse views on the decision of the above two highly respected elders cum fierce warriors to take the side of Duryodhana. He called their decision perverse as they sacrificed higher truth for self-centric lower truth. According to Krishna, the minimum that they ought to have done was not to fight at all, in which event, Duryodhana would not ventured to battle with the Pandavas relying entirely on the strength of Karna, and the destructive battle could have been avoided.
As for Karna, the distinction between higher and lower truth got totally blurred in his vision as his jealousy and complex against Arjuna clouded his judgment. Therefore, in the interest of higher truth, those three great warriors ought to have perished in the battle, according to Krishna. Here, the end was more important than the means. Accordingly, it was immaterial whether the means to the end were ethical, proper or moral so long as the end was to establish higher truth.
There is yet another perspective that clearly surfaces from the text of Mahabharata. Sri Krishna unmistakably emerged as the judge punishing the wrongdoers, logically explaining the grounds for and deciding the manner of the punishment inflicted upon each such person.
KRISHNA RESOLVES ARJUNA’S CONFUSION ABOUT TRUTH
As we are aware, Bhagavad Gita was all about truth at different levels of perception, with Karma as the driving force. It was meant to remove the doubts and confusion from the mind of Arjuna. But Arjuna’s mind was not yet fully disabused. This is evident from the following anecdote of Mahabharata.
When Karna was at his destructive best, injuring Yudhisthira severely so that he had to retire into the tent for treatment, Arjuna accompanied by Krishna dropped in to find about his condition. This infuriated Yudhisthira as he thought that Arjuna had run away from the battle out of fear of Karna. He insulted the third Pandava, calling him coward and unfit to hold the Gandiva. Arjuna took a vow to kill anyone who would insult him by calling him unfit for the Gandiva. Therefore, he picked up the Gandiva to kill Yudhisthira. Krishna intervened and reproached his attempt to kill his elder brother who was like his father, forgetting his ultimate goal to establish righteous rule (Dharma Rajya) for the good of the people under Yudhisthira. Arjuna’s counter was that as a Kshatriya, it was his bounden duty to honour his oath failing which he would be consigned to hell. Krishna countered by saying that if he killed his father-like elder brother he would not be able to escape from hell. To that Arjuna replied that if hell were unavoidable, he would like to suffer it as a Kshatriya and not a fallen one. Now Krishna must find out a solution for him so that his oath was not violated and Yudhisthir also survived. Krishna’s solution was unique and pragmatic. He said that insulting a honourable man is like killing him. Hence, my dear friend, insult Yudhisthira.
After harping volleys of insult on Yudhisthira, Arjuna pulled out his sword to commit suicide, as he vowed to end his life if ever he insulted Yudhisthira. Now it was Krishna’s turn to convince Arjuna how sinful it would be to commit suicide and that for higher truth he ought to sacrifice the lower truth. But Arjuna would not be convinced. Finally, the solution fell from Krishna’s mouth. ‘Self-praise, O Partha, amounts to killing self. Therefore, indulge in self-flattery and honour your vow.’ The problem got resolved and higher truth eventually prevailed without violating the lower truth.
QUESTIONING MERITS OF GANDHARI’S BLINDFOLD
Queen Gandhari who had blindfolded her vision in empathy with her blind husband Dhritarashtra was hailed as one of the most pious ladies of her time for this supreme sacrifice. She was otherwise also known for her righteousness and pursuit of Truth. She did not hesitate for a moment in wishing Yudhisthira victory in the battle of Kurukshetra as she was convinced that truth was on his side and not on the side of her son Duryodhana. Like Bhishma and the venerable sages, Gandhari also believed in the divinity of Sri Krishna and hoped that by his mercy, at least one of her hundred sons would survive the battle. As it did not happen, crestfallen Gandhari accused Krishna that it was very much within his power to stop this destructive war. Because of his non-intervention, the battle happened and she had lost her hundred sons. Therefore, she cursed Krishna that not a single male member in his Vrishni clan would survive him. Smilingly, Krishna replied that he was well aware of the destiny of his clan and also that none of them would survive him, irrespective of her curse. However, her accusation had no basis. The Battle of Kurukshetra happened not because of him, but primarily because of Gandhari’s failure to discharge her duty as a mother to properly bring up, train and control her sons. She had no justification in putting a blindfold on her eyes and remaining blind to her sons’ activities. Since her husband was born blind, she ought to have taken extra care and responsibility for proper grooming of the children. If only she had kept her eyes open, her children would not have fallen under the evil influence of her brother Shakuni, and the battle could have been averted. Gandhari broke into tears, understanding her incurable mistake.
NON-VIOLENCE – THE ULTIMATE GOAL
However paradoxical it may sound, Sri Krishna was an ardent advocate for non-violence. To him, nothing was more important than protection of innocent lives. Unless it was absolutely necessary to terminate life of a demonic character, who himself posed a threat to innocent lives, Krishna had not raised his weapon famously known as Sudarshan Chakra. Even while engaging in battle against such demonic and egoistic characters, he had scrupulously avoided mass scale killing. This explains why he chose not to confront Jarasandha in a battle where loss of lives on a large scale could not be avoided. He instead migrated with his people from Mathura to strategically more secure Dwaraka, which was situated between the sea on the west and Raivataka Mountain on the east. When the time was apt, he escorted Bhima and Arjuna to Jarasandha’s palace and got him killed by Bhima in a wrestling bout. Likewise, as an emissary for Yudhisthira he tried his best to avert the battle by proposing to Duryodhana that let him offer just five villages to Yudhisthira and the latter would accept that, instead of fighting for the throne of Hastinapur. To stop the battle, he even approached Karna and disclosed his true identity as the eldest son of Kunti, as he knew that without Karna’s support, Duryodhana would not dare to go into friction with the Pandavas.
Krishna’s ideal of non-violence is best demonstrated in verse 55, chapter 11, of the Gita where he proclaims:
“Nirvairah sarva-bhuteshu yah sah mameti pandava”
[One who is free from enmity toward all beings attains me]
It is pertinent to note here that Sri Krishna was talking of non-violence of mind here, as in the same breath he was inspiring Arjuna to engage in the battle selflessly as his duty (Karma). In other words, Krishna’s message to Arjuna was to fight the battle without any sense of enmity toward Duryadhana or his army. Thus there does not appear to be any contradiction between the above two propositions. Krishna’s concept of non-violence of mind is further elucidated in verse 28, chapter 13 of the Gita where he proclaims: “He who finds God in every being does not injure the Self by the self. That man reaches the supreme goal.”
Traditionally, a line of demarcation divided spiritual pursuit from secular affairs. Krishna brought a revolution in the conventional thinking by integrating the mundane with the spiritual. Thus there remained no bar for a butcher or a cowherd from being spiritually more advanced than a sage or a learned Brahmin, by steadfastly and selflessly pursuing their respective professions. Krishna defined selfless Karma as the highest worship. A Karma Yogi need not go to temple for worship or to a forest for meditation. Instead, if he dedicates his Karma to the Divine with no desire for the result, he would be liberated from the bondage of action. This happens to be the central theme of the Gita, contained in verses 27 and 28 of chapter 9 which are cited below.
“O son of Kunti, whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer as sacrifice, whatever you give and whatever austerities you perform, all that you offer to me. Thus you will be free from bondage of actions”.
If we apply this standard to our daily life, every piece of our mundane work can be spiritualized if only we perform it selflessly and dedicate the same to God. The uniqueness of this concept is that its cornerstone is not God as such, but selfless Karma, i.e. action without the desire for its fruit, as the result is not in our hands. It is not just an idealistic approach, but realistic and pragmatic too.
In the light of the above in-depth discussion on the thoughts and actions of Sri Krishna, let us now revert to the three posers made in the Introduction.
Our first poser was whether the sermon to Arjuna in the Gita on the battlefield of Kurukshetra was an Ode to spirituality or Ode to violence? It has been explained above with reference to relevant verses from the Gita, viz. verse 55, chapter 11 and verse 28, chapter 13, that non-violence of mind was the ultimate objective and the ideal. The cardinal message of Sri Krishna to Arjuna was to fight the battle as his duty or Karma, as truth was on his side; but he should engage in the battle without any self-interest or desire for the fruit of his action, and most importantly, without any sense of enmity to Duryodhana or his army. In this sense, the Gita is an Ode to spirituality as selfless Karma necessarily pre-supposes Gnana (knowledge), Buddhi (intellect), Bhakti (devotion) and Vignana (ultimate wisdom) of the doer. In other words, the Gita spoke of integral Yoga, which Sri Aurobindo developed into a distinct philosophy.
It is pertinent to mention here that Mahatma Gandhi, the champion and practitioner of non-violence was an ardent follower of the Gita. He once stated that he found resolution of all his problems and doubts from the Gita.
Let us now deal with the second poser, viz. how Sri Krishna with his supreme wisdom and yogic equipoise could engage in amorous sport or relationship with women, which all other spiritual seekers scrupulously avoided. While dwelling on the Gopi love and the nature of Krishna love, it has been explained elaborately with reference to contemporary texts that the Gopi love was far from physical or amorous. It was of the nature of a devotee’s love of God. The Gopis who were simple cowherd maidens sincerely believed that Sri Krishna, a boy not yet adolescent, but possessing enormous mental and physical strength, was God incarnate. Their love for him was intense, deep and total. As for Sri Krishna’s love, it was invisible, compassionate and detached, as Bhagavata mentions in Krishna’s own words. Besides, it goes to the credit of Sri Krishna that he opened a new vista to spiritual liberation through love of absorption and total surrender, which was held as a taboo by the ascetics on spiritual path, during and before his time.
As for the allegation of deceit against Sri Krishna, our in-depth analysis of various anecdotes from Mahabharata establishes that Sri Krishna was ideologically and rather openly inclined toward compromising lower truth for higher truth. Therefore, the charge of duplicity or deceit against him does not stand our scrutiny.
Krishna said in Gita (4.18) “He who finds inaction in action and action in inaction, is a great Yogi, the performer of all actions”. Swami Vivekananda has interpreted it a bit differently as follows: “He who in the midst of intense activity finds himself in the greatest calmness, and in the greatest peace finds intense activity, is the greatest Yogi as well as the wisest man” (The Complete Works of Vivekananda, Vol.I, The Gita I). We agree with the Swami that there is no better candidate than Sri Krishna to answer the above description, as he possessed the unique calmness to preach the deepest thoughts of the Vedanta on a battlefield on the eve of probably the ghastliest battle known to history.