The Bhagavad-Gita and the Bible: An Observer’s Comments
It’s also very interesting to discover the points of tension between other religions and our own. The tensions are often very different to the ones we are used to arguing with our secular humanist friends.
Last year I was invited to a Hare Krishna (Hindu) meeting by a friend. I decided to go, explaining to the leader of the temple that I was a Christian, and would he be happy if I just observed? Over the months I met with the leader of the temple to dialogue about our respective faiths. I bought a Bhagavad-Gita and read it in order to facilitate discussion. As the leader of the temple said he had formerly been a Christian missionary, he didn’t need to acquaint himself with the Bible!
I thought I would share some of my thoughts. Here is an extract of the Bhagavad-Gita. The context: Arjuna is a mighty warrior who is travelling in a chariot with Krishna. On both sides of the battle Arjuna can recognise friends and family. Arjuna turns to Krishna in turmoil that friends and family are lining up to fight to the death.
1: Seeing Arjuna full of compassion, his mind depressed, his eyes full of tears, Krishna spoke the following words. 2: Krishna said: My dear Arjuna, how have these impurities come upon you? They are not at all befitting a man who knows the value of life. They lead not to higher planets but to infamy. 3: O son of Pritha, do not yield to this degrading impotence. It does not become you. Give up such petty weakness of heart and arise, O chastiser of the enemy 4:; Arjuna said: O killer of enemies, O killer of Madhu, how can I counterattack with arrows in battle men like Bhishma and Drona, who are worthy of my worship? 8: I can find no means to drive away this grief which is drying up my senses. I will not be able to dispel it even if I win a prosperous, unrivaled kingdom on earth with sovereignty like the demigods in heaven. 7: Having spoken thus, Arjuna, chastiser of enemies, told Krishna, “Govinda, I shall not fight,” and fell silent 11/12: Krishna said: While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor for the dead. Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be. 33: (Krishna cont …) If, however, you do not perform your religious duty of fighting, then you will certainly incur sins for neglecting your duties and thus lose your reputation as a fighter. 37: O son of Kunti, either you will be killed on the battlefield and attain the heavenly planets, or you will conquer and enjoy the earthly kingdom. Therefore get up and fight with determination. 38: Do thou fight for the sake of fighting, without considering happiness or distress, loss or gain, victory or defeat—and by so doing you shall never incur sin.
I think the advice of Krishna can be quite shocking to Westerners, both Christian and non-Christians, as we highly value physical life. But, logically, if one believes in reincarnation, what Krishna says does make sense. Therefore, it seems, not all religions can neatly fit into the traditional ethical codes of the West.
Here are some of the points I discussed with the leader of the temple, which you might find interesting:
1. The last verse quoted above, 38, alludes to an important doctrine for the Krishna Consciousness: detachment. Detachment from the material world, the consequences of your actions and ego. We discussed the concept of God, because for the Temple leader detachment drew him closer to God. I explained that the Bible did not cause us to see the material world as evil, and therefore attachment to it was in fact healthy as ‘the heavens declare the glory of God’. This discussion also could be applied to the value, or non-value, of physical life. Jesus cried when Lazarus died. Very different to what Krishna is suggesting.
2. Personality. Was the Hindu God personal or impersonal? If Hare Krishna worshipers are asked to detach from the physical world and from ‘happiness or distress, loss or gain, victory or defeat’ then does this also include human relationships? Or even relationship with God? The Temple Leader confirmed that relationship with God was very important to the followers of Krishna, but this was not true of a great many Hindus. On the other hand, Jesus is very personal. He came to earth once as one man, a personality that can be known and relied upon.
3. Morality. What effect do these forms of detachment have on morality? Does it mean that it is ok to kill? That is what the Bhagavad-Gita seems to say; or at least that there is no room for sentimentality. However, the Temple leader assured me that they would never teach that such a crime was permissible. This is also confirmed in Ranchor Prime’s commentary: ‘Killing brings its reaction for the perpetrator’1. However, I still have questions about whether these conclusions can be drawn from the text. Admittedly they are from a time of war. But to ‘fight for the sake of fighting’ cannot be reconciled with any form of Just War theory, in my opinion. This would be in stark contradiction to Jesus’ command “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matt 26:52)
I’m sure that Krishna worshipers have other answers to these questions than those I have recorded here. The above is only the result of a few conversations with one man. But isn’t it interesting!? The tensions between Christianity and Krishna Consciousness are vastly different to the ones we face in the main stream British culture. It helps me see Christ’s teaching from another angle, and makes me appreciate it even more.
1 Prime, Ranchor. Bhagavad Gita: Talks Between the Soul and God, p. 19