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Gita - Gita Articles

sva-dharmam api caveksya
na vikampitum arhasi
dharmyad dhi yuddhac chreyo 'nyat
ksatriyasya na vidyate


Considering your specific duty as a ksatriya, you should know that there is no better engagement for you than fighting on religious principles; and so there is no need for hesitation.||2:31||

Swadharma default potential
People are not equal, equal opportunity
varna
Four basic divisions
Caste system in Christianity and islam
Connect with cycle of birth
Might is right.

It is interesting that soon after Kishna puts forward his insights of Gyan Yoga, he starts talking about very mundane aspects of the life of maya loka. He has just talked about Sat, Asat and Atma and suddenly changes gear and is talking about the Swadharma of a Kshatriya. This to my mind is the applied aspect. As I have pointed out in my earlier writings, the schooling is over, now it is time to practice. There is a real patient in front of the doctor. The patient has an acute illness. The doctor has to decide whether to operate or not. Discussions of options of management will not do, management has to be done right now. The enemy is in front of Arjuna; Arjuna is a soldier and he has to make his decision now.

Krishna is not going to run away from the inevitable nor is he going to become indifferent. He understands the heights of the Brahmaloka and shares that with Arjuna, but the playing field right now is the maya-loka and the actions (be it drama or real) is going to take place in this space and in this time. So, the question is how do you apply the higher experience and knowledge to this playing field. From outside, there may be no difference between Duryodhana and Yudhistir, but the bhavana (state of being) of the two is entirely different.

When Krishna talks about Sum-Bhava, he is talking about the bhavana, when he talks about swadharma of a Kshatriya he is talking about actions. He talks about more mundane things in the follow up shlokas, but there lies the importance and understanding of the higher principles. Most readers of Gita will skip these few verses and jump on to the verses on Karma yoga. But to me these few verses sandwiched between the gyan yoga and karma yoga are crucial to understanding Krishna. Mayaloka is not trivial; it does not need to be trivialized. We all have our potentials, we all come face to face with opportunities and we all pay a social price if we do not live up to expectations. We will take these issues in our next column, but will focus our discussion here on the issue addressed in this shloka, the issue of Arjuna being a Kshatriya. This shloka is seen by many to support the varna system which forms the basis of the caste system.

My discussion here about the varna system is not meant to support the caste system as it is in India today. The caste system of today in my opinion is not as it was intended to be. There may be exploitation of any system. Democracy, which is the preferred governing system by the majority freedom loving countries, also has its drawbacks. In many places in India democracy simply means mobocracy. Similarly varna system has been exploited over a long period of time. I do not claim to know the real value nor do I have the key to unlock this system. But, I am going to make an attempt to understand this system in a different light.

Krishna in the verse 2:31 is talking to Arjuna in the language of Mayaspace and at Arjuna’s level. This is not a spiritual talk. Krishna is doing a very practical talking to Arjuna. Krishna and Gita has been criticized much because of this and some subsequent verses mainly because Krishna appears to be supporting the caste system. Caste system is under the attack not only from the outside but also from educated world of India. While some believe that it is the root cause of all evils in the Hindu system, the others feel that Varnashram is the core of Hindu Dharma. And the debate continues.

Recently, Prof V.V. Ramana wrote in an egroup discussion that there are two aspects of the caste system:

  1. What makes the matter difficult is that caste has both social and religious components to it. Most (modern) Hindus have no difficulty abolishing hierarchical caste system as a social institution.

  2. But it very difficult for the vast majority of practicing Hindus to renege on, repudiates, or disowns their ancestral caste and associated gotram, which do have religious dimensions. Indeed, one could argue that there is nothing wrong or evil in a caste affiliation in so far as it preserves genealogical tradition and group cohesion.

V. V. Raman,February 20, 2001

As we mentioned earlier, these statements belong to the mayaspace. Krishna is being practical here. This is not adwaita talk, this is what I like to call a part of applied adwaita. Adwaita is an understanding; all applications in the mayaspace have to be in dwaita. Arjuna has to decide whether to fight or not. He cannot escape both. He has to choose. Krishna is saying to Arjuna to understand his true nature (Swadharma).

Let me start with a quote from Marvin Minsky:

"It often does more harm than good to force definitions on things we don’t understand. Besides, only in logic and mathematics do definitions ever capture concepts perfectly. The things we deal with in practical life are usually too complicated to be represented by neat, compact expressions. Especially when it comes to understanding minds, we still know so little that we can't be sure our ideas about psychology are even aimed in the right directions. In any case, one must not mistake defining things for knowing what they are."

Marvin Minsky, from The Society Of Mind, 1985

Having thus said, it is difficult to explain, understand or criticize a system (varna system) with what limited understanding we have of our universe and the cycles of births and rebirths associated with it. While some schools believe that this life is a one-chance deal the others understand it a never-ending cycles of births and rebirths, which is self regulated by the karmic theory. While the former system believes that we start with a clean slate the latter insists that we carry with us a collection of virtual baggage (samskaras) from one life to the other. While the physical body dies the astral body along with this fresh virtual baggage starts on the journey of looking for another physical body. This astral body although un-manifest to our senses is indeed a reality that science is as yet to find means to recognize. This journey from life to life, which sounds mystical and unrealistic today to many of us, was a well-known fact to Krishna. In Krishna’s time and before that the cycle of incorporeal being (unmanifest to our senses) to physical being (manifest) to incorporeal bodies again was a much more obvious happening than what it is today. When devising a social system, those people did not only take into account the manifest, but also had to consider the unmanifest. Otherwise, it ould be a social injustice. In fact, not considering the whole picture would not have occurred to them. Because, they could see the problems an incorporeal being was facing in how to take a corporeal existence. It has to be fully comprehended because without understanding this, varna system will never make sense. There are more of incorporeal bodies in the universe than the physical being.

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