For those of us who have endeavored to understand the Sanskrit texts of Hinduism and especially the Bhagavad Gita, ‘The Betrayal of Krishna’ may be the most important book we will ever read. Thousands of people in the west have been in awe of, deeply drawn to, and profoundly influenced by the timeless, life changing, metaphysical understandings in the eternal wisdom of India. Many of us have at one time devoted our lives to gurus and teachings based on the Sanskrit texts only to discovery that we had been fooled, misled, and used emotionally, psychically, and financially.
For the past two and a half years I have spent most of my time extensively reading translations of the Sanskrit texts and what has always been both perplexing and overwhelming to me is how contradictory and vehemently argumentative these writers can be. While I have room for the spirit of Truth to evolve through time, there were many occasions when I simply felt dumbfounded and would mutter to myself, ‘Well, this is after all not my culture’ and move on to another text.
The brilliant Indian scholar Krishna Chaitanya/KK Nair has rocked my world and given me the solid-gold gift of his sage insight. I would recommend to those of you who have been reading books on Hindu metaphysics to read Krishna Chaitanya. The only intelligence I can think of comparing him to is that of Arthur Koestler, in the sense that these are men who read and understood all the knowledge of mankind. In Krishna Chaitanya you have the added bonus of his knowledge of the Sanskrit texts; Shri K.K. Nair has it all, east and west.
With this admission of my complete awe and gratitude to a man who left this world in 1994, I will do my best to honor him by sharing with you his astute razor-edge dissection of the Betrayal of Krishna, a betrayal that followed in the years after Vyasa’s Bhagavad Gita in the Mahabharata, from 150 B.C. on.
Vyasa is the name given to the poet who wrote the great epic poem, The Mahabharata, which contains The Bhagavad Gita. Even though the Bhagavad Gita has been extracted as an external distinct book, it is pivotal to the greater epic and Vyasa’s metaphysics are to be found throughout the Mahabharata. Krishna Chaitanya, (from here on) KC/KK Nair, states that Vyasa chose the form of a poem for a meaningful reason. Krishna’s teachings are not in the form of a dogmatic treatise or philosophical argument. Krishna speaks Sanskrit in rhyme and thus belongs to the world of poetry and aesthetics, and not a particular creed or denomination. According to KC/KK Nair, Vyasa’s genius was rational and therefore beyond and totally against cultism.
Vasudeva-Krishna had already emerged as a cult before Vyasa’s time and most scholars agree that Krishna the man was a popular tribal hero. It was Vyasa that gave Krishna the voice to reveal perhaps the most subtle and authentic metaphysics of all time.
Vyasa ‘rejected the withdrawn, mindless, near-void that was the Absolute of transcendental monism.’ He did not intend for Krishna to become ‘a cultist God of gods’ and Vyasa’s Krishna ‘did not want a Krishna cult.’ In the Bhagavad Gita (Book XI, 20-40), Krishna identifies himself with the world, not just as the deity Vishnu, but also as the wind, Time, the lion, the hermit Kapila, the Gayatri mantra, and many other splendors, even Vyasa himself. God is all pervading and thus Krishna in identifying with the God within the heart of All, is not limited even to the Gods of gods.
Krishna is ‘not remote and withdrawn transcendence but immanent in the world.’
God is close, within our hearts as ‘our deeper self’, and we can form a partnership with God to assist in the unfolding splendor of this world. According to KC/KK Nair, God relies on us for the ‘fulfillment’ of the grand design. The freedom that we have is to choose to align our consciousness with the God within us, or reject it.
KC/KK Nair is Indian and I am not. Only a person born and living in India could have a lifetime of experience that provides the inherent indigenous perspective to evaluate the religious expressions that followed Vyasa’s Bhagavad Gita through the centuries. I could and would not. As an esteemed and respected scholar, KC/KK Nair says that the primary concern of Bhagavatism ‘is for making Krishna a cult-god’ and elaborating the doctrinal ‘world-denying attitudes which Vyasa had rejected.’ Ritualistic fundamentalism is revived.
‘… now there is regression again to ritual. One becomes pure by repeating the very names of the deity because they have sanctifying power. We see here the beginning of a bemused musing on serious metaphysical problems which will harden in the course of centuries into a national characteristic; there is a vast appetite for system building but little interest or ability to ensure that concepts interlock rationally and the whole structure of thought has a secure enough base which will enable it to rise to a spire of clear meaning.’
Krishna’s message is not one that promises reward for dogmatic beliefs or the endless repetition of words. Krishna’s message is far more subtle in that we have the opportunity to align our consciousness with that part of God that is within our hearts and learn to live, be, and act in partnership with that to the fullest extent that we are capable. That conscious partnership will allow us to grow and Become a greater expression of our Creator. Krishna does not promise Arjuna victory; he may even be killed in the ensuing war. But if after choosing out of his own free will, he decides to fight, he will be acting in accordance with the Divine Intention.
‘… we have to live with provisionality and can only strive always for increasing precision in the alignment of concept and actuality. We have to leave it to time, which ever reveals fresh and often unsuspected aspects of reality, to decide whether a doctrinal system is sound or unsound.’
This is a paradigm of fluidity and movement, of continual vigilance and learning an ever-increasing self-mastery - skill in action, as opposed to a fundamentalist formula or ritual that purports to guarantee results. Krishna forces us to think and re-think, and evaluate and re-evaluate our lives, our consciousness, and our place in the world. Fundamentalism is like a saccharine pill that says, hey, here’s the one-truth, the only-truth you’ll ever need, guaranteed. Now turn off your brain and follow …
KC/KK Nair uses the word exorcise to describe Vyasa’s rejection of the transcendental monists which he views as a ‘mindless void that could not even be said to exist in any real sense.’ Krishna says that he is working incessantly for the well-being of the world which implies that the world is an intentional valued design – not merely an illusion to be transcended and escaped from.
When we think of the Creator as omnipotent, we inevitably ask the question: Why is there so much suffering? If God is all-powerful, the surely he can eliminate suffering, or does he not chose to? But what if God is more of an artist, a poet say, and we are meant to participate in the Design of the World, the poem and its architecture.
Isn’t it is our freedom to choose to align our consciousness or to reject the God in our heart that makes life so amazing, endlessly fascinating, and intriguing? If God simply interfered and performed miracles, yes the world would be perhaps perfect, but it might be one big bore and we would never have the adventure of Becoming the God-within us and sharing in the creation of possible futures.
Krishna is not the only incarnation of God. We, through hard work on our consciousness and constant endeavor in real life, can ‘gain similitude (sadharmya) with deity’ and Become an instrument, an incarnation of the portion of God within. We don’t need to fear and distrust the world, and blindly worship a remote deity with endless rituals ‘which make the mediation of an officiating priesthood indispensable.’
You see, the realization that God is within you - SARVASYA CAHAM HRDI SAMNIVISTO, I dwell in the Heart of everyone - releases us all from the potential vagaries of avaricious priests, gurus, and political consultants. We don’t have to pay money and wait in line to get into the temple or cathedral to be blessed by the officiating priest caste. We carry God in our hearts 24/7! The House of God is in our very own Heart.
KC/KK Nair poses some of the same questions I asked myself when I had achieved certain states of consciousness – in particular what I call the state of no qualities, nirguna. If I have always been perfect Isness, then why would I bother to put forth so much effort to realize what I had always been? If God had nothing to learn and nothing more in mind than a return to origin, then why undertake such an immense effort? As we all know self-realization is not a cakewalk!
However, if Isness had in mind evolving an instrument, a sort of protégé artist in-the-making, then the process of transmigrating through eons and yugas as various embodied expressions, creating new formats, blueprints, and arrangements of DNA, in order to expand Creation through a sublime and sweet partnership with you and me – that I can grok.
Liberation is not extinction!
Liberation is in the here and now, in your body. Liberation is accepting this partnership with all the responsibilities, uncertainties, and perils implied - even guaranteed - with the portion of God that is patiently waiting within our very own Heart.
I must admit I found the concept of grace confusing. When I had certain experiences, indeed I felt I was being given Gods’ grace. But was it God giving me something in an arbitrary manner or was this always something I earned. As one Swami put it – Is grace earned, grace at all?
According to KC/KK Nair, when Vyasa’s Krishna says that he is the Self that dwells within the heart of every being, this does not imply that we give up our freedom. It is the God within us that gave us this freedom and wants us to have it, even if we choose to betray him. We have to make our consciousness open and available to grace.
‘Grace thus has to be understood as the antecedent action of deity in creating the world and life, in creating conditions hospitable and benign to the strivings of man. It cannot be conceived as redemptive mercy arbitrarily bestowed on some, withheld from others.’
We can win grace or turn away from it and we can increase our capacity for grace through our thoughts, our words, and our deeds. KC/KK Nair defines salvation as our understanding of God’s grand design and our continual and persistent efforts to act in harmony with that design, ‘here and now, in this world, for its progress and man’s progress too.’
We Become All.
We identify with all creation – SARVABHUTATMA-BHUTATMA. (Bhagavad Gita V.7) J.A.B van Buitenen translates it thus: ‘Armed with yoga, pure of soul, master of self and senses, identifying himself with the selves of all creatures.’
Sound like a tall order? Isn’t it better - a certainly more challenging, interesting, fun even - than reruns of sitcoms or passively watching the world’s ecology disintegrate, as greed has been extolled as the highest good and integrity has been lost to a level of corruption, degradation, and mendacity surpassing all previous standards.
The truth is that we have the world we deserve. Our own individual actions have allowed precisely what is taking place today. And I am not just pointing at others, as I know very well that I myself am guilty. I see clearly how in my life I allowed anger to confuse me and how I made wrong choices at crucial moments that led nowhere.
Karma is of our own making. Begin today by taking responsibility for your own life, wherever and whatever – you did it all. The sooner you stop blaming your mother or lover or god-knows-who, the better for you!
As KC/KK Nair says: ‘the consequences of actions cannot be exorcised so easily …What is open to the individual is to recognize their justice.’
My friends, you do not create your own reality! This is new age hogwash, pure and simple. Even when you become a master of your self, your thoughts, the gunas and their impulse/compulsions, you will still have to deal with the warp and weave of the rest of the world. You will have to practice the divine art of Skill in Action with – as Thomas Jefferson said about the price of freedom – constant vigilance.
Vyasa’s Krishna did not advocate a nirguna extinction into nothingness, a capriciously unknowable predestination, or an arbitrary grace, nor did he reject this world. Rather he saw the world as splendor and offered us a partnership – as opposed to a bow-down-and-worship – with our Creator, who is so close to us as to be constantly dwelling in our own Heart and, as it turns out, is in fact our deepest Self.
Krishna Chaitanya/K.K. Nair
Clarion Books, 1991, New Delhi
[Available at exoticindiaart.com]
The Mahabharata, A Literary Study
Clarion Books, 1985.1993, Delhi
The Bhagavadgita in the Mahabharata
A Bilingual Edition
Translated & Edited by J.A.B. van Buitenen
The University of Chicago Press, 1981
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