Bhagavad Gita: "Shut off your conscience and kill..."

My friend Shalagram Prabhu, who is about the most yogic of all the bhaktas I know, once told me that there is some debate amongst the yogis about which chakra is the most important, with some claiming precedence for the heart chakra over the more familiarly lauded sahasrara.

I have a strong tendency to associate mental speculation with spirituality. So, I tried to counteract that tendency today by meditating on the heart chakra while chanting japa. I was just trying to concentrate on the feeling of love and spreading it outward. Seeing my heart as the heart of a gopi.

{Oh my God! I’ve gone New Age! I feel a gag reaction setting in... Such things are best kept private...}

...but this really is what I have been intellectually moving toward. I repent that I never became a kirtaniya. Like a crab with an overdeveloped claw, I was obliged by my nature to cultivate a single part of my faculties, and have thus been deprived of wholeness due to that distortion. And this is why I say that one must seek out balance in the Other, for it is only given to the rarest individuals to find it within themselves.


I went last night to the temple for the first time in at least a fortnight. The temple room was empty and the tape of Prabhupada that usually loops round and round came to a stop only a few minutes after I arrived. So I could sit in still silence for an hour of meditation. I sat next to Prabhupada and had something of a conversation with him, as I often do. Of course, I told him that I intended to go ahead in my own stubborn way, despite his objections... But I thanked him for the powerful atmosphere; I felt extremely conscious that over the years thousands of devotees have cried out the names of Krishna in this hall, and those prayers have seeped into the walls and penetrated them until the bricks could be said to be made of Harinam. The floor itself exudes Harinam like the lava oozing from a subterranean fire. I thanked Prabhupada for this.

After japa, I chanted the second chapter of the Gita, because I have been feeling it was time to revisit this book again, which has been such an important part of my life. It is a thing that is seen differently each time one approaches it. The Gita is, I have decided, about decision. But as Kierkegaard says, decisions in the matter of everlasting happiness cannot be made objectively. Matters of ultimate concern are always anchored in the subjective and reason will always bring us to doubt and approximations only.

My personal question has become multidimensional now, something of a twisted ball of yarn. In a recent post, I was asking the question, "What is my message?" My purpose was to inquire into whether I had discovered something so high and glorious that it would warrant rejecting the relative and mundane existence to which I am tied. If I am to reject the dharmas to which I find myself committed, then I must go to a higher dharma. If I am to make some kind of leap of faith, I must at least be able to argue the following: the obligations I leave behind, indeed, the suffering that I cause, will be compensated by a greater good. This is the rational argument that I am unfortunately obliged by my nature to try to answer. And, what we must guard against is the possibility of rationalization.

The basis for Hindu ethics lies in one word--ahimsa. Do not do injury to others. But, this principle can be deceptive. The Gita itself is a call to battle; Krishna calls on Arjuna to overcome "petty weakness of heart" (kshudram hridaya-daurbalyam), "impotence" (klaibyam), generally treating his carefully argued reluctance to do battle as unbecoming a warrior (naitat tvayy upapadyate).

It is quite reasonable to ask what is the difference between Krishna's attempts to persuade Arjuna to behave in a worthy manner and Heinrich Himmler telling his SS minions to fight the tendency to human sympathy and "stick it out" in the extermination of the Jews? No doubt, we have to judge the merits of the end result. Krishna tells Arjuna that his is a "dharma-yuddha." What a loaded phrase! Do we here in the West have any sympathy for those who proclaim Jihad, which is, after all, simply the Arabic version of dharma-yuddha? However inspired by their God the Jihadis may be, we who are deprived of their faith, see it as something that must be resisted with all the conviction of anyone who would resist evil. What child of the 60's does not remember Bob Dylan's caustic repetition of the refrain "with God on our side"? Should we not be cynical about this claim, wherever it rears its head?

In a little book called Ahimsa: Non-violence in the Indian Tradition (London: Rider and Company, 1976), Unto Tähtinen makes a distinction between "Vedic" ahimsa, which permits "sacrificial" violence, and "ascetic" (namely Jain and Buddhist) ahimsa, which allows no such exceptions. Prabhupada was clearly a proponent of Vedic ahimsa and often criticized Gandhi, who believed deeply in the ascetic kind of non-violence. But even the Jains and Buddhists admitted on occasion that intent makes the essential difference in the import of violent acts.

Krishna's argument begins with an attempt to change the framework of the discussion by insisting that our real identities are distinct from the bodies, so that dying and killing are a kind of illusion. If the suffering one causes another is not related to his essence, then the injury one does is, in a sense, not real. In fact, later exponents tell us that Krishna gave liberation to those he killed, and something similar takes place when a devotee, following the purpose of the Lord, takes someone's life.

In a dharma-yuddha, one is simply acting in harmony with ṛta, the universal order, of which death and dying are an integral part, under the governance of Time. And, since life itself unavoidably involves violence to others (jīvo jīvasya jīvanam), if we acquiesce to the role that God intends for us, then no negative result or sin accrues from the violence so caused.

Arjuna, however, is not convinced that his fight is clearly on the side of right. He argues precisely that political power is not a worthwhile aim. "Let Duryodhana and the others have it!" he says generously. We assume, on faith, that the Pandavas would be worthier rulers than Duryodhan, but does Krishna actually say that anywhere in the Gita? He simply says that he is "Time" and that his will is unfolding in this particular way, and that Arjuna should be his agent. This is a kind of fatalistic attitude that causes a profound ethical malaise. George W. Bush in his deepest conviction fights against the "Axis of Evil" to establish the Divine Good of democracy, while Bin Laden in his war against the "Great Satan" believes with absolute conviction that he fights on the side of God. Are their actions, for all their conviction, nothing more than than those of puppets in the hands of Time, diminishing the "burden of the Earth"?

If fighting is what we are meant to do, then fight we must and hanged be the ahankar. "Ours is not to question why, ours is but to do and die." God's plans are obscure and we can only know that somehow we are impelled to do, according to the best understanding of the moral law. So Heinrich Himmler argued that the affront to conscience and human goodness that he asked his lieutenants to engage in was an unfortunate necessity to rid the world of the Jewish scourge. Had he argued that the Jews were spirit souls who were never born and never died and that no one truly kills or is killed, and had he invoked God's name, does that mean they would have incurred no sin? The events of the Second World War have had a profound influence on human thinking: no one buys that line any more.

A sociopath has no conscience; how can we say that being without a conscience is the clue to happiness? Is that what Krishna is telling Arjuna: "Shut off your conscience and kill. You will not be affected by the evil of your acts. Say they are done in my name and your conscience will be salved!"? Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Bin Laden, the Grand Inquisitioner--every one of them had their "higher" purpose that made it possible to justify their evil acts, their himsa. So, why am I looking for a higher purpose to similarly justify an apparent evil, minor though it may be in comparison to these Gargantuas of Gehenna?

Indeed, my "mission" can only be resumed in something that objectively looks like something selfish. On the most charitable level, it is related to my own spiritual or self-fulfillment. In my mind I argue that I need to correct a series of mistakes I made along the line in my life: I abandoned the company of devotees. I lost my faith and allowed myself to be surrounded by forgetfulness of Radha and Krishna. Now I say, "Prema prayojana"; that is very nice, but do not all religions say the same? Are my Christian and Catholic brothers and sisters not saying the same? And do they not say, love those here and now, who are beside you and in need of you? And do not the Gita and Bhagavata say the same? Why go looking for God in far away places when you and I know that he is present here, present in the hearts of those whom God has given into your care? What mission can be greater than this? And are you not doomed to fail any mission proclaiming love when you fail in this first small step? The great journeys start with little steps; if you trip here, missing the universal principle of love, then how will dressing yourself in the trappings of a sectarian religion, quoting Sanskrit texts and engaging in esoteric rituals help you or anyone else?

I cannot tell you how my heart hungers for Vrindavan, how it hungers to be freed from this barren world of blank walls and unceasing, sterile entertainments. I am in a bubble of Radha-Krishna, unable to find anyone to share them. It is not enough to find some nourishment in a few minutes of spiritual infusion in the temple, I need to be fully absorbed in that world. If I have to admit that I am the most kanishtha of kanishtha adhikaris, if I must renounce forever any pretensions to being any kind of guru, if I must save myself first, then let me run to this salvation even if I have to leave others behind to flounder in the shipwreck that I have been unable to forestall. It is a great shame; such a shame, indeed, that I still cannot admit that I should not have failed in this first small duty, and want to run off to start again somewhere else.

My sister said to me this week, quoting one of those banal snippets of popular wisdom, "The real heroes are those who get up every day and live their lives." Peter Anon said, "The highest sacrifice is to sacrifice your own spirituality to render service." How depressing these words are to me now.

In my frantic, haphazard readings of the past few weeks, I came across Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript. I cannot find a single quote that adequately pinpoints what I get out of this article, nor do I feel entirely convinced by him, but I felt a distinct glimmer of hope on reading it. In the spirit of our tradition, Kierkegaard rejects "objective" attempts to know truth, which will only ever reach approximation. Those who would realize Christianity's promise of eternal happiness, who have an "infinite interest" in this goal, must recognize that it is found exclusively in subjectivity. And, "since all decisiveness... inheres in subjectivity, it is essential that every trace of an objective issue should be eliminated. If any such trace remains, it is at once a sign that the subject seeks to shirk something of the pain and crisis of the decision..."

"The existing individual who chooses the subjective way apprehends instantly the entire dialectical difficulty involved in having to use some time, perhaps a long time, in finding God objectively; and he feels this dialectical difficulty in all its painfulness, because every moment is wasted in which he does not have God. That very instant he has God, not by virtue of any objective deliberation, but by virtue of the infinite passion of inwardness." "Subjectivity culminates in passion."

In Rupa Goswami's description of the degrees of advancement, nowhere is knowledge mentioned. One advances in the intensity of one's subjective experience of the relationship with God. And the Bhagavata says that if you run on this path of "infinite passion," even with your eyes closed, you shall neither trip nor fall. And yet the dharma vyadha Mrigari stepped around the ants, avoiding doing them any injury, even as he rushed towards his guru.

Ah, but I am weary of my inability to know God's will, but worse, of my inability to rush off with my eyes closed.


Anonymous said…
I am very happy you are writing again.

Forgive me if I was a bit rude to you in my previous comments.

Wishing you the very best for 2007 !


Jagadananda Das said…
Thanks for your best wishes. I do not consider that you have been rude. In fact, if you show any interest, then I consider it a sign of friendship.

The only thing that I regret is that I never responded to your football analogy, which I found completely inappropriate. When I get a little more time, I may be able to do so.

So, Happy New Year to you also, and to everyone who is reading this blog.

Jai Radhe! Jagat.
Anonymous said…
I am looking forward to your refutation of my football analogy.

Don't hold back, if it is crushable, then it needs to be crushed.
Anonymous said…
Namaskar Jagat

I found your blog again. I really enjoy reading it. Though I do not not believe or like some of the aspects of your emphasis, I am picking something of value.

Keep on blogging !
Keep well
Malati Dasi, (Myrla), Australia
there are a few Malatis so...
Jagadananda Das said…
Dear Myrla Malati (and all the other Malatis), (as well as all Anuradhas), (what to speak of the Anonymi)

Thank you for writing. My emphasis is one: Prema prayojana. Even I can't see the wood for the trees sometimes. Not very helpful, I realize.

Jai Radhe,

Unknown said…
Thank you very much for these candid words and honest wisdom! I have just registered as a "follower" in order to read your blog. I look forward to the journey and inspiration. Blessings to you, Jagat, and walk in Beauty.

- Scott Roby (in Potomac, Maryland)
Parikshit said…
As relevant today as when it was penned, a decade ago.

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