Was Krishna's Gita a Rebellion of his times?

Last updated on Oct 4, 2018

Posted on Mar 4, 2008

Lord Krishna has been known as the greatest Vedic philosopher of his time, probably of all times. Vedas – four as they are named in modern times – are said to be the scriptural authorities for the Hindus. They represent the eternal knowledge captured in words. These four are:

– Rig Ved
– Yajur Ved
– Sam Ved
– Atharva Ved

Amazingly, Krishna mentions only the first three in Bhagwad Gita. It was quite strange that he does that repeatedly in Chapters 9 and 10. For someone known to be the greatest Vedic philosopher of all time to cite only three out of four Vedas is strange. I am not sure why this is so, but I intend to find some answer soon.

The tutelage and his later understanding and preaching of the Vedic/Upanishadic (I feel it is more of the Upanishadic message than Vedic) message is very interesting story. He was taught by Maharishi Ghor Angiras (see the shloka). Maharishi Angiras is historically said to be one of the greatest Rishis of his time and was a Sam-Vedi (Sam Ved expert). That is why some say that when Lord Krishna describes his "characteristics", and comes to liken himself to various entities and emotions, the good and the bad – he calls himself "Sam Ved". "Amongst the Vedas, I am Sam Veda" he says (Chapter 10, verse 22). Which was intriguing to me when I first heard that shloka, for logically if he has to liken himself with any Veda, it should have been Rig Veda! Why Sam Veda? The last of the three Vedas he refers to?? But when you see which Vedic School he belonged to, it becomes clear why.

Now, this is where interesting things start happenning. Something about  Maharishi Ghor Angiras – he was a royal blood, who had become an ascetic and performed very harsh penance and meditation (Ghor epithet comes from there). He was also supposed to be a cousin of Krishna. Somewhere during that time he renounced all things and became a non-violence proponent and is known as the 22nd Tirthankar in Jainism – Neminath.. There are references to him in Jain scriptures as well as  Upanishads (Chhandogyopanishad).

This seems to bring us to the most amazing diversion between Lord Krishna’s teachings and those of his Guru. In verse 25 of Chapter 10, after announcing himself as akin to Sam Veda, Krishna likens himself to Maharishi Bhrigu, and not Maharishi Angiras.

इन्द्रियानार्थान्विमूढात्मा मिथ्याचार:

Was this deliberate?

Well, if this wasn’t enough, read this – for a student of an ascetic (who went on to do harsh penances & meditation after giving up active life), to say that to forcibly give up action and start meditating or perform penance is idiocy and the work of a hypocrite (mithyachaari), is pretty harsh for a Guru’s chosen path!!  In fact, while Maharishi Angiras went on to be the high level preacher of non-violence; Krishna, on the other hand, became famous for having given the call for battle to Arjun.

Another thing that is striking about Krishna’s treatise on the Vedic knowledge in Gita is that he repeatedly extols the importance of "understanding the core" of the Vedas as opposed to the knowledge of the Vedas. Specially in Shloka 46 of chapter 2, he makes a very categoric statement for the knowing of Tatva (or the essence) of the Vedas as opposed to the Vedas.  Why is that so?

I have often felt when reading the Gita that Krishna was delivering a message that was going against the grain of prevailing wisdom or interpretation of Vedas (at least the three that he lists – probably they were the only ones which were there originally).  His message seems like a rebellion to the standing authority of that time, as it were.  And if you take the entire scenario into picture:

  • – Gita is nothing but a commentary of Vedas and Upanishads.
  • – He is giving this knowledge to Arjun, who has had the greatest education that money and pedigree could provide at that time.  So to assume he had never read or heard about Upanishads and Vedas is impossible.
  • – Arjun seems to be in states ranging from curiousity, disbelief, confusion to lack of basic understanding of Gita’s message. When Krishna delivers it seems that Arjun’s understanding of some of the Vedic treatise was entirely different.  So, does Gita represent a radical breakaway from Arjun’s knowledge of the same Vedic/Upanishadic philosophy?

Why is that?  It is hard for me to believe that Arjun had not heard of these precepts if he had even done a one time crash course in Upanishads.  Was the message of the Vedas and Upanishads twisted by then (and so needed to be re-aligned to its “core”?)?

यावानर्थ उदपाने सर्वत: सम्प्लुतोदके |
तवंसर्वेषु वेदेषु ब्रह्मंणस्य विजानत: ||

In fact in Chapter 2, where Krishna takes pains to explain the importance of understanding the essence of Vedas as opposed to getting the knowledge of Vedas, that chapter is about Sankhya Yoga (the beginnings of duality as an explanation in Vedic times).  The philosophy was given by Rishi Kapil.  Although this one chapter is totally and namely devoted to Sankhya Yoga, but the commentary on its most important precepts is throughout the entire Gita.

What are then the most important lessons that come out of Gita and why?

  • – Balanced and unattached action
  • – Predominant importance of Knowledge and understanding of the essence of the core
  • – God is everything – the good, the bad, and the neutral
  • – It is not just important to be good (or Sattvik) but beyond the good and the bad (गुनातीत)

What does all this point to?  Going past attachments.  How can that happen?  When there is no duality.  Duality assumes relationship, and so attachment. When there is only one and there is realization of that ONE as you, and you as IT, any concept of relationship and attachment becomes irrelevant.  For such "going-beyond" he does not recommend or suggest escape from attachment – which most Rishis and Maharishis were fond of, but accepting the avenues of attachment and dealing with them with complete equanimity.  Nor the love nor any hatred.  When the becoming ceases, the being emerges.  This simple message, it seems, was too radical at that time.  Intriguing!

Interestingly, another major lesson emerges: revering Guru and his message without “Manan” is useless.  And even a Guru can be debated against.  Reverence without introspection is useless in the spiritual journey.  That is why the word for human being is मनुष्य   (Manushya) – the one who introspects.

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