A Few Words of Counsel
The venue of the Bhagavad Gita jolts its reader into wakefulness by making its site the field of blood, devastation and death. The horrific setting demonstrates that even under the most horrible circumstances the one with sharp mind, pure intentions and willingness to understand can cross to the other shore.
One of the “hidden” teachings of the Gita that has affected me deeply is that the “Great Man” (God) without is, what Carl G. Jung calls, the Self within-the organizing source of our psychic system. And I realize that with pure intention I too would be able to make link with my “inner companion” and ultimately with the God within, (Atman).
In the beginning chapters of the Gita, Arjuna is a virtuous man and an intellectual. He is well versed in scriptures, has esthetic tastes and is highly skilled in weaponry. And is well acquainted with the phenomenal world. For the first time in his life the young warrior is facing a major crisis. He is shocked to encounter an imperfect world and wants to do what is right. He seeks for meaning in his life so that he can deal with the chaos within that the situation has stimulated. The painful shock of seeing his kith and kin as his enemies awakens within him his “inner companion” in the form of Krishna.
A few chapters into the Gita, Arjuna rises above the dualities of worldly life, as he understood them. He ceases to question the bloodshed, selfishness, deceit and massacre. It is as if the battlefield is moonlit. Things are blurred and merge into one another. Arjuna is confused and passive. The critical mind in him is vanquished. He does not know where anything is or where things begin or end. What can drive away this evil? He does not know. Nothing helps. He must face the darkness around him. Courage is the only thing he has. At this point, Krishna, the “inner companion” catches the helplessly struggling ego of Arjuna in his net. Krishna advises him to turn directly toward the approaching darkness without prejudice.
As Arjuna delves deeper within to seek answers he realizes that he must have total faith in his “inner companion” who at the deepest level of his being is his own Self, his Atman. Arjuna must find out the secret that lies behind the present situation and some potential spiritual lesson it has to teach.
His Self offers Arjuna painful realizations. Krishna tells Arjuna his human flaws and makes him swallow all sorts of bitter truths. He is forced to listen to the reproaches of this inner judge. From a questioning intellectual he is converted to a believer. Then begins the lengthy work of his self-education.
By chapter seven the dialogue of the Gita becomes discursive and its vocabulary metaphysical. Krishna, Arjuna’s Self, shows him the terrible visions of the divine. He ceases to be a mere “inner companion” and becomes the organizing source of Arjuna’s whole psychic system. Krishna becomes what Jung calls the “Great Man,” the voice of unconscious, the revelations of Christ and Krishna-authoritative, fearful and awesome.
Arjuna must obey the demands of the unconscious at the expense of his normal understanding and sensibility. He is unable to do just as he pleases. His inner self forces him to drastically change his attitudes towards what he is facing. He carefully listens to his inner voice in the form of the charioteer Krishna. Now, finding the meaning of life becomes more important to Arjuna than any thing else.
All the scriptures of the major world religions have different levels of meanings as has the Gita. This sacred text can be understood at several levels. One level is purely literal, another metaphorical and the third psychical. Different people understand the same sacred text utterly differently. For instance, the great missionary of peace and non-violence Mahatma Gandhi was as much a devotee of the Gita as was his killer, Nathuram Godse.
On the literal level the battlefield setting is unspiritual but on the deeper level, behind the dramatic setting of the battlefield, as Mahatma Gandhi argues is “the duel that perpetually goes on in the hearts of mankind.”
The Gita’s attempts to reconcile and refine different currents of thought result in inconsistencies, contradictions and repetition at several places. Furthermore, its spiritual message is not as straightforward as are the teachings of Tao Te-Ching or Dhammapada. So far, the Gita is the least gender-generous. The book was meant to counsel priests and warriors and does not speak directly to women, lower caste Hindus or non-believers.
I do realize, however, that the text was written by men in a patriarchal society. This fact does not take away its essence that points to the ultimate truth, the Self deep within all of us. It goes without saying that its spiritual teaching can be received by any gender.