In response to my recently started series of Facebook postings called Bhagavad Gita in 500 Words in which I write short essays of 500 words each on the Gita, a close friend who is an unsurpassed Mahabharata scholar has asked me the following question:
“Gita is not abstract but evolved from Krishna’s experiences.
How to reconcile his raging decimation of Yadavas?”
I feel a little awkward answering his question about Krishna destroying the Yadavas because I wonder if anyone knows more about the Mahabharata than he does. But then from the nature of his question I believe this is a question that has been in his mind for a long time and he has not been able to reconcile Krishna’s teachings in the Gita with this particular action of his, and maybe with a few other actions of his too. So even though the question does not arise from my recent postings on the Gita, let me try to answer it.
And I am going to answer the question at a leisurely pace because usually when I try to limit my postings on Facebook on the Gita to five hundred words, I feel highly constricted and either omit entirely or skip over a lot of things that I feel I must say.
As we know, Krishna is both man and God at the same time, as he explains in so many places in the Gita, particularly in the tenth and the eleventh chapters, the Vibhuti Yoga and the Vishwarupadarshana Yoga. And in his conversation with the sage Uttanka while he is on his way back to Dwaraka after the Mahabhrata war has ended too he explains that he is a human incarnation of God. He says there that he has incarnated so many other times too in so many different yonis – deva, asura, pashu, manushya and so on. Krishna here shows his vishwaroopa, his cosmic form, to Uttanka, just as he shows it in the Kuru assembly where he had gone to negotiate peace, just as he shows it to Arjuna in the Gita.
What this means is that there are dimensions to Krishna beyond our ordinary comprehension.
I remember this as though it just happened, a few minutes ago, but it is a memory from more than forty-five years ago. I was living in my guru Swami Chinmayanandaji’s ashram then, in the Sandeepany Gurukula, and he was teaching us the Gita. We had a large hall called Saraswati Nilayam where these classes usually took place. But one day Swamiji asked us all – there were some one hundred of us from all over the world living in the ashram and studying then – to come out and sit on the concrete floor outside. We did that while he seated himself facing us under a large mango tree that had a cement platform beneath it – what we call a chabootara in Hindi.
And he then told us an unforgettable story in about forty-five thrilling minutes about a Namboodiri who believed that the world ends at a place some twenty miles from the Namboodiri’s place, Thrissur [which is Swamiji’s birth place]. Swamiji dramatically explained how the Namboodiri passed through Viyyoor, the village next to Thrissur town, and then through Kolazhy, the next village, and then reached my village, Mulakunnathukavu, ‘Little Shrine on the Bamboo Hill’. Swamiji went into a lengthy description of the village, described the Ayyappa temple there and the temple pond there and the other larger pond. Swamiji tarried here for a while, describing the village in great detail, as the international audience of his disciples waited, holding on to every word he spoke and his every gesture and facial expression. Because, as he told me later in a personal conversation with a happy smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes, he remembered the village very well, remembered one particular family there, had stayed there as a boy and it was in the larger pond there that he had learnt swimming. It was a really large pond, almost the size of a lake, as a boy I had gone there so many times for my morning bath and enjoyed swimming there, and Swamiji described it lovingly. He was in no hurry, he was with his own ‘children’ who had come to sit at his feet from all over the world and absorb his presence, what was there to do except to enjoy the moment? We didn’t want the story ever to end in any case. We were dancing for joy, listening to him.
Later, much later, he concluded the story in the words of the Namboodiri who told his beloved wife in wonder-filled tones after he returned from the twenty-mile trip to discover the end of the world, “Tatrikkutti, the world doesn’t end there! Pinnem kedakkunu raajyangalu!!” There lies the land, stretching beyond and beyond, endlessly!!
Coming back to the Gita verse he was explaining, he concluded in his loud, crystal clear, powerful, booming voice: “Sookshmatvaad tad avijneyah!” [Gita 13.16] It is beyond our comprehension because it is so subtle!
Krishna is not just another human being. While he is fully a human being, he is also something much, much more. An avatara, in incarnation. As Krishna himself explains in the tenth chapter of the Gita, na me viduh suraganaah prabhavam na maharshayah [10.2]. “Neither the gods nor the great rishis know my origin, my glory.” And Gods actions are frequently beyond human comprehension. If God and his actions are within our comprehension, then he wouldn’t be God, but another human being.
There is a story about a sufi saint who knew the language of ants. The ants worshipped God – who was an ant, of course. The saint asked the ants, “Is God exactly like you?” And the ants replied, “Of course not, we have only two antennae. God has four!”
That is how we often think of God!
Let’s now look at Krishna as a human being, a great yogi, the yogi Narayana who remained a friend of the yogi Nara lifetime after lifetime, incarnated in Mahabharata times as the friend of Arjuna who was the yogi Nara. As we all know, it is by saluting these two [and also Devi Saraswati and Sage Vyasa] that each book of the Mahabharata begins: naaraayanam namaskritya naram chaiva narottamam deveem saraswateem vyaasam tato jayam udeerayet! The Gita calls him a yogeshwara, as when it says in its concluding verse: yatra yogesvarah krsno yatra paartho dhanur-dharah tatra shreer vijayo bhootir dhruvaa neetir matir mama.
So let’s now look at Krishna as a great yogi, a master of yoga, a yogeshwara.
In his beautiful book Jesus the Son of Man, Kahlil Gibran makes this statement:
“Jesus the Nazarene was born and reared like ourselves; His mother and father were like our parents, and He was a man.
“But the Christ, the Word, who was in the beginning, the Spirit who would have us live our fuller life, came unto Jesus and was with Him.
“And the Spirit was the versed hand of the Lord, and Jesus was the harp.
The Spirit was the psalm, and Jesus was the turn thereof.
“And Jesus, the Man of Nazareth, was the host and the mouthpiece of the Christ, who walked with us in the sun and who called us His friends.”
When you become empty of yourself, empty of your ego, the Cosmic, the Boundless, God, enters you. And then what you speak is God’s words, what you do is God’s actions. Because there is no you, no you as separate from God. You are no more an individual, but the cosmic. Which is what the Buddha called nirvana, the extinguishing of the flame of the ego, becoming shunya, emptiness.
Achieving which state is the purpose of Yoga. This is what you become in Samadhi. This is the kensho experience, the satori, as Zen puts it. You are one with all existence, not different from it. You do not exist as a tiny separate drop, instead you exist as the ocean. As every single drop in the ocean, as every wave, as the ocean’s surface, as its deapths, and as everything in it, living and inanimate, as the ocean’s boundlessness.
As Jalaluddin Rumi said in his famous poem Say I Am You:
I am dust particles in sunlight.
I am the round sun.
To the bits of dust I say, Stay.
To the sun, Keep moving.
I am morning mist, and the breathing of evening.
I am wind in the top of a grove, and surf on the cliff.
Mast, rudder, helmsman, and keel,
I am also the coral reef they founder on.
I am a tree with a trained parrot in its branches.
Silence, thought, and voice.
The musical air coming through a flute,
a spark of a stone, a flickering in metal.
Both candle and the moth crazy around it.
Rose, and the nightingale lost in the fragrance.
I am all orders of being, the circling galaxy,
the evolutionary intelligence, the lift, and the falling away.
What is, and what isn't.
You who know Jelaluddin, You the one in all,
say who I am. Say I am You.”
When you reach the pinnacle of yoga, this is what you become. Or rather, you discover this is what you have always been.
There is an incredibly beautiful verse about Sage Vyasa and his son Shuka Brahmarshi in the Bhagavata Mahatmya, one of favourite verses in the entire Sanskrit literature, sacred or otherwise:
yam pravrajantam anapetam apetakrityam
dvaipaayano virahakaatara aajuhaava |
putreti tanmayatayaa taravo’abhinedus
tam sarvabhoota-hridayam munim aanato’smi ||
The verse says that Shuka was leaving his father and going away to become a wanderer when he was too young and had not even completed his upanayana, the sacred thread ceremony. His father Sage Vyasa, tormented by the pangs of separation, called out to him ‘Oh my son, oh my son!” wanting him to come back. But Shuka had already become one with the whole universe, one with all existence, his ego had been extinguished, he had become empty of himself, was no more the drop but the ocean, and so it is not he who answered the wailing father, but the trees and plants around, because he was one with them all.
I have always said in my discussions that the flute that Krishna carries with him is his true symbol – the empty reed. Krishna is emptiness, what the Buddha calls Shunya, and the music that comes out of that flute that drive the Gopikas insane with love for him is the music of the Cosmos, the music of eternity, the silent music of divine existence, of God.
So Krishna’a actions are not the actions of Krishna the individual, but of Krishna the Cosmic Person, the Virat Purusha, the Purushottama, what the Bhagavad Gita speaks of as:
uttamah purushastvanyah paramaatmetyudaahritah
yo lokatrayam aavishya bibhartyavyaya Ishvarah .. BG15.17
“But other than these two is the Supreme Purusha called the Paramatman, the indestructible Lord of All who, pervading all the three worlds (of waking, dream and sleep), rules over them.”
That he is the Supreme Purusha is Krishna’s living experience. That is how he lived. Knowing that he is the Supreme Purusha, the Purushottama. The Purshottama who is the dispenser of the results of our karmas.
Of course, as the Mahabharata shows us, there are moments when he behaves as though he is only a human being, as though he is fully bound by his human nature. That too is part of being living in the human body, living as a human incarnation, as Krishna himself explains to Rishi Uttanka: “When I [incarnate and] live as a god [Deva], Oh Bhargava, then I doubtless do everything exactly as a god does. When I live as a Gandharva, Oh Bhargava, then I doubtless do everything exactly as a Gandharva does. When I am born as a Naga, then I behave exactly like a Naga. And when I incarnate as a Yaksha or a Rakshasa, I live my life exactly as a Yaksha or a Rakshasa does.”
Krishna makes a great revelation here, something he does not do even in the Gita. When God incarnates as a human being, he is both a human being and God at the same time. He becomes at once a human being with God’s powers, and God with a human being’s limitations.
As the Purushottama, Krishna’s actions are what the samashti karma demands, the karma of the totality or the group demands. They are responses from the Cosmic Reality, from God, to the demands of samashti karma.
Perhaps the samashti karma demanded that the Yadavas of Dwaraka be decimated because they had become a threat to dharmic ways of living, to dharma, the ritam, cosmic harmony. And please remember that the very purpose of the incarnation of Krishna is protection of dharma by destroying adharma.
paritraanaaya saadhoonaam vinaashaaya cha duahkritaam
dharmasamsthaapanaarthaaya sambhavaami yuge yuge Gita 4.8
The Mahabharata describes in some detail the level of adharma the Yadavas had sunk into in the Mausala Parva. Krishna is beyond mamata and does not distinguish between others doing adharma and his own people doing adharma. For him adharma is adharma. And that needs to be destroyed.
Please also remember Gandhari and her curse. There is a beautiful story in the Mahabharata about a woman whose name is not given but only her gotra, so I call her Angirasi, by her gotra name. In a moment of great grief a drop of tear falls from her eyes and the epic tells us that the entire forest in which she was standing rises up in flames that soon turns into a roaring forest fire. Angirasi is just an ordinary woman, about whom we know really nothing. But Gandhari – she is a woman of awesome power. Great self-denial is a form of tapas. Of course, Krishna does not approve of such tapas, calling it tamasic tapas because such tapas usually generates negative power. Gandhari had generated an enormous amount of negative power through her self-denial, power that she directs at Krishna in the form of a curse on him and his people, the Yadavas. The Mahabharata points out that too as a reason for the destruction of the Yadas, thirty-six years after the Mahabharata war, exactly as she had cursed.
I just want to add one more small thing here. Rather than trying to assess whether Krishna’s actions are dharma or not, we should try to understand what dharma is through his actions.
For Krishna is dharma.