Bhagwad Gita and Why was Sri Krishna so critical of Vedas?
Some months back, I had written a blog post “Was Krishna’s Gita a Rebellion of his times?“, where I had failed to make one major connection – that between the Vedas and Upanishads came Gita. And in my view, the difference in direction of the philosophy from Vedic to Vedantic happened largely as a result of Krishna’s basic take on Vedas and his own “new” Gyan (knowledge).
It has often been claimed that Sri Krishna was indeed one of the greatest Vedic scholars and his take or interpretation and then notes on the Vedas is important – indeed critical – to the evolution of the entire Hindu tradition. I now, after reading and re-reading the Bhagwad Gita have become more and more convinced that Vedas – at least as they were verbatim – were not viewed by Sri Krishna in the highest of esteem. How and why is that so, let us discuss with specific verses and their interpretations:
These verses are from Chapter 2. We will start with these and then go to Chapter 9 subsequently to discuss more.
Shlok 42 & 43: Oh Arjun, those who are ruled by desires and consider Heaven (Swarg) to be the highest achievement, those who follow the desire-driven Karmas from the Vedas, and those who believe that apart from these desires and the world experiences nothing else is either important or exists, such people devoid of discrimination (Vivek) often speak colorful and flowery language that will lead you to enjoy the fruits of Karmas and yearn for prosperity in the lives you live.
Shlok 44: One whose heart and mind has been influenced by such flowery and colorful language and one who is pulled by the desires and one who is attached to the (bhog) enjoyment of what riches and prosperity brings, such people’s intellect (buddhi) cannot be One with the God (or Parmatma).
Shlok 45: Vedas discuss the Karmas and deeds that are within the realm of the three Gunas (viz; Sattvik [Good], Tamasik [bad], and Rajasik [neutral]), but you need to be free of these three Gunas, Arjun! Free yourself of all dualities (dwandva), and dwell only in the Eternal (nitya). Even be free of Yog (achieving the unachievable) and Kshem (Securing what has been achieved).
Shlok 46: Just as one who is surrounded by a vast expanse of fresh water is no more interested in small puddles or water holes, similarly one who knows the core and the profound (Tatva) is no more to do with the Vedas.
Shlok 47: That is why, Arjun, you should have interest only in the Karma and not in the result. So neither should you do something because of its forecasted result, nor be attached to (word used is Asakti – which more accurately translates into “Lust”) the pending or achieved result. [This shlok is often recited by many and is often considered to be the very core of Bhagwad Gita.. many analysts believe it summarizes the entire message of Gita]
Now, a few things do come out of these 6 shloks or verses:
1. Sri Krishna considered any attachment to result or desires to be useless. Not necessarily wrong or bad, just useless. He says that one does achieve a “happy ending” (albeit temporary) if one follows the scriptures and is firmly directed to Sattvik or good, but that is not where one ought to be headed anyways. The right place is BEYOND all three – Good, Bad, and the Neutral.
2. He considers Vedas as repository of “Sakaam Karmas” and not karmas that will have take one “beyond”.
3. He holds karmas (deeds) – colorless and not directed by attachment to result – as the highest of all – higher than any prayer or scriptural ritual or mantras. That is significant.. in fact VERY significant.
I have discussed and read about many philosophers and religions and Saints, but this is the only instance I know where someone – on his/her own enunciation, and not influenced by or commenting on Gita – has made this clear distinction. As I have said many times, when one speaks of Good Deed, one inherently appropriates Himself or Herself as “God”.. for a Good Deed can only be described as a deed that leads to “good” result. In itself, a deed is colorless! So, only one who is sure what result follows the deed, can speak so eloquently of doing a “good deed”.
Now, let us go over to another significant and my favorite chapter, Chapter 9, which is titled BrahmaVidyayaam YogShastre (Treatise on Knowledge of Brahman). What better place to again listen in to the greatest Vedic scholar of all time?
Shlok 20: All the rituals and methods discussed in the three Vedas (here he is referring to Rig, Yajur and Saam Vedas and NOT Atharva-veda. In fact Atharva Veda was never mentioned in Bhagwad Gita!) and drinking of Som-ras (which is often, credibly, variously described as a drink made of special herbs during a Yagya [often utilizing the heat of the havan] or as the divine drink, Amrit) by a pure person while praying to me, will be blessed with enjoyment and happiness of heaven (swarglok). They will enjoy all the great things and fulfill their desires that heavens can provide.
Shlok 21: On spending time and enjoying the heavens (swarg), when their good deeds have been depleted, they again fall back to the human form and have to go through this life again. Therefore, those who follow the “Sakaam Dharma” (or desire-propelled Dharma or rules) of the three Vedas and are attached to their desires are constantly going around in the cycle of birth and death.
In the subsequent Shlokas, the greatness of Upaasna has been mentioned. Now, in popular lingo Upaasna is often translated into Prayer. But literally it has a special meaning. It basically means “Sitting besides”. Now, Upaasna, when it is viewed from the overall Vedantic message of Sri Krishna, actually means “being like”.. If sitting as close to “Him” as possible is a function where the distance between you and “Him” is a Lt->0, then the highest point of Upaasna will be when You and “Him” are One! Or, both are no more! “Upanishad” comes from this word, Upaasna. That is why it is so significant to realize its Vedantic meaning.
Greatness of Gita was not as a “Summary of Vedas” as it is usually claimed to be…. but FAR more than that.. more as a critique of the Vedas and blazing of a new direction. A direction that had become difficult to chart by any ordinary Saint. That is why, perhaps, Sri Krishna often sounds very harsh and ruthless in his examples and discussion. It makes complete sense. Upanishads followed the new direction that was shown by Bhagwad Gita and often resonated the Shlokas of Gita very closely.
That, Sri Krishna not only was successful in giving a new direction to Vedantic thought, but also propose a watershed philosophy that immaterial of whether you follow the Path of Love, or Deeds, or Knowledge.. you end up at the same place.. if. .. and ONLY if, the last vestige of ego has been depleted. When you become Love, Deed and Knowledge itself. Never before and never after has someone covered such expanse of PATHS (not strains of one path) at the same time and in such a telling manner.