Betrayal of Krishna - Part 4 – The Texts & Schoolmen
Chaitanya/KK Nair explores the betrayal of Krishna in the texts and men who
taught the schools that grew up after 150 BC and Vyasa’s Bhagavad Gita.
These are the areas he investigates:
The Capture by Court Poets
The Vishnu Purana
Krishna in Sangham Poetry
Krishna and Alvar Poetry
The Bhagavata Purana
Jayadeva’s 12th century poem The Gita Govinda
Chaitanya (1486-1534) and Bengal Vaishnavism
Vallabha (1479-1531) and Pure Monism (Suddha-Advaita)
I will limit this analysis to only four of these. It should be understood that
KC/KK Nair sees this progression of betrayal beginning with the early (1st-3rd
century) court poets who were catering to the tastes of their patrons, the rich.
Because the common man could not read Sanskrit, naturally Sanskrit poetry was
usually written for patricians, princes and princesses, as entertainment of
those who were no doubt involved in romantic intrigued, usually nurtured by
fertile insulated environments of wealth, power and boredom.
Along with being a philosopher and thinker, KC/KK Nair is also an art historian
and critic. He wrote four books on Indian Art, and is obviously deeply
appreciative of the arts and poetry; but he feels that these poems were ‘the
elegant but amoral eroticism of court poetry’ and led peoples' perception of
Krishna in a less than purely metaphysical and sacred direction.
He says, ‘A prime motive in writing this book (The Betrayal of Krishna) is to
show that while Krishna of the Gita had revealed to us the true nature of
religious experience, we have betrayed him because of our fantastic obsession
with sex.’ One need look no further than the bewilderingly fabulous Khajuharo.
The Bhagavata Purana
The Bhagavata Purana, also known as the Srimad Bhagavatam, is considered to be a
sacred text by millions of Hindus. This is a lovely work and I urge you to read
it for yourself because of the many wonderful stories and imaginative images,
and in this Puranic text you will find the Uddhava Gita. The author of the
Bhagavata Purana is unknown and the dates submitted by scholars vary from 1200
BC to 1300 AD according to the G.V. Tagare five-volume version published by
Motilal Banarsidass in Delhi.
Early or mid-ninth century is the date given by KC/KK Nair as he offers up some
clarity on this text and its pervasive consequences. He says that the Bhagavata
Purana ‘is a holdall of the most diverse kinds of doctrine’ and while he
appreciates the beauty of its poetry, he emphatically states that ‘trying to
evaluate its philosophy is a waste of time. It is a text of Krishna cult…’
Based on my own experience, I have observed the subtle snares in Bhakti Yoga.
Where do you draw the line between devotion and fantasy? Using human emotions to
concentrate your thoughts on the God within is powerful and useful, but as KC/KK
Nair points out, ‘this poet’s way of devotion leads us into many meandering and
messy alleys’ and can produce a kind of disturbed emotionalism more concerned
with the fulfillment of our fantasy than in the true experience of our Oneness
With no one to guide me, I innocently read the Bhagavata Purana extensively and
honestly enjoyed these charming adventurous stories. For example, Krishna is
said to have 16 thousand wives all of whom he keeps happy by a sort of magical
and fortuitous ‘cloning’ of himself. The wives live in separate palaces and each
imagines herself to be his favorite by some trick of the power of his illusion/maya.
The kings in the Bible also have numerous wives. At some point don’t all heroes
seamlessly drift into myth and most of us have no need to fit such
larger-than-life characters into any semblance of our everyday reality.
However there was one moment where the Bhagavata Purana’s poet went too far for
even me and I began to feel quite uncomfortable and question the purpose and
intent of these descriptions of Krishna’s sexual prowess. The Tenth Book (or
Skandha or Canto, depending on which version you read) has the most fantastic
Krishna tales and I would imagine this book is also the most loved!
In this very popular Skandha X, Chapter 90 is 'The Song of Queens: Resume if
5. Lord Krishna who was the sole beloved consort of 16,000 queens, assumed as
many various attractive forms as he had queens and severally sported with them
in their separate resplendent palaces of surpassing affluence.
6. The swimming pool in each of these mansions was full of crystal clear water …
7. Sri Krishna … entered the waters of those (swimming) tanks and sported
freely. His bosom (lit. body) was smeared with the saffron paste applied to the
breasts of his queens as they embraced him (during the water sports).
8. His glory was sung by Gandharvas … gleefully playing on musical instruments …
9. Sri Krishna was being drenched with jets of waters discharged through
syringes by his consorts who were laughing all the while. He, in return,
profusely sprinkled water on them …
10. Their thighs and breasts became prominent to view through their wet Saris
(garments) … Due to a thrill of passionate desire (at the touch of Krishna’s
person) their countenances beamed with great pleasure and they appeared
brilliant and beautiful.
KC/KK Nair suggests that the poet used sex to gain readership. ‘The Krishna of
the Gita gets forgotten; the libidinous gain the support of a prestigious text
for their rationalization and cults celebrating sex begin to emerge.’ Nair sees
that the primary theme of the poet here is a romantic dalliance that cannot be
the foundation of an authentic devotion to God. Its ‘primary motivation is
cultist’ and reveals an ‘emphasis on mixed-up myth, irrational faith, and
For KC/KK Nair the Bhagavata is ‘very specifically a text of the Krishna cult.’
‘All the monumental work done by Vyasa in cleansing the conceptualization of
Krishna of the accretions of low myth was undone by the Bhagavata and the Indian
psyche has not been able to cleanse itself of the resulting confusion to this
Neither does KC/KK Nair think much of Uddhava’s Gita, which he feels is but ‘a
grotesque caricature of the Gita in Vyasa’s poem.’ He points out that Uddhava is
concerned with a mass of instructions for ritual adoration, whereas the Krishna
in Vyasa’s Bhagavad Gita is content with a leaf or a flower offering.
The stories of Krishna in the Bhagavata Purana are enchanting, lovely and
mesmerizing. But the road to wisdom and freedom is narrow, the Razor’s Edge as
it has often been called, and confusing emotionalism and sexual fantasy with
subtle inner awakening is perilous indeed.
KC/KK Nair reminds us we do not need palaces and garish wealth when real wealth
is integrity and virtue. Hell is more often right here on earth when we realize
our excessive appetites only lead us further down in consciousness. Our scholar
suggests that the poet who wrote the Bhagavata Purana might have said ‘that
Krishna went in for sex on a Gargantuan scale’ to get men to read the text so
that he could then instruct them on salvation, perhaps a somewhat dubious
In a ‘kindly last word’ he quotes a passage he obviously agrees with from
Bhagavata Purana, III.29.22:
Stupid and foolish is the life of the man who worships idols forgetting deity
who indwells all things.
Subversion by Sankara
One of the major works of Sankara, who died in 820 AD at the age of 32, is his
commentary on Vyasa’s Bhagavad Gita. KC/KK Nair is not fond of Sankara and feels
that he ‘became bookish to the point of ceasing to be human.’ For Nair the
conversation that took place between Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield is
one that we should all have with the God that dwells in our own hearts . This
conversation occurs because of the terrible pressures placed upon Arjuna to
fight and kill members of his own family to preserve the righteous and protect
Dharma. This moment in time was produced by the specter of an enormous world
conflagration and thus takes place because of the circumstances that occur in
our very material and physical real world.
‘But for Sankara, the world is an illusion, action is anathema … and man himself
is a phantasm without any authentic identity. And he goes all out to subvert the
Gita and annex it as annotation to his nihilistic philosophy.’ Sankara’s view
was that ‘the self has no identity with the body.’ KC/KK Nair wryly observes
that Sankara ‘argued at length to demolish Jaimini and Patajali. If they were
unreal, why did he bother?’
Sankara has lack of feeling for others and his dismissal of our lives is at odds
with Vyasa’s idea that we can attain a similitude with the Creator that dwells
within and act as an instrument for the well-being of this world, the world
which for Sankara does not exist. KC/KK Nair is quite amusing in exposing
Sankara’s line of thinking and many self-contradictions.
‘But if Sankara’s Brahman exists, it must be a very impoverished existence of
the solitary One with nothing to relate to or commune with, since the world and
the Many are illusions. And what is the content of its consciousness? If nothing
else exists, will it not be an utterly impoverished consciousness?’ If this
Brahman is totally insubstantial, the ‘what is it blissful about?’
For Sankara the world is utterly absurd and a lie; but Vyasa’s Krishna says that
he is the world and works incessantly for the well being of the world. KC/KK
Nair considers Sankara’s philosophy as nihilistic and antihuman, a ‘misadventure
of thought … common sense should not be disparaged, for ultimately it may be the
only thing that can save us from philosophers.’ Nair has an subtle sense of
Sankara’s nihilism is opposed to Vyasa’s Krishna who embraces the idea of
redemption through self-knowledge and work. Krishna says that he who does not
work here in the world to help turn the wheel thus revolving, leads a sinful
life and thus lives in vain. (Bh.Gita III.16)
KC/KK Nair prefers Ramanuja to Sankara. Ramanuja has 'human warmth in this
thinking and ardor in his faith,' as opposed to Sankara's bookish and cold
approach; and Ramanuja sees the world as real and does not indulge in the
romantic sexual fantasy of the 6th century Alvar poets or the Bhagavata Purana.
But in KC/KK Nair's view, Ramanuja does not understand Krishna's message of
self-reliance to Arjuna.
Vyasa's Krishna offers us the freedom to choose a partnership and friendship
with the God that dwells within All. This is common sense logic if you think of
it in terms of your own personal life: Would anyone want a friend or a beloved
who was forced into such a relationship? A tyrant's coercion can never bring
about a superb, delightful and spontaneously genuine true love, imbued with
respect and loyalty. Are not the rich are always fearful of being loved only for
their money? Who wants a love that is coerced whether by fear or funds?
So God offers us the choice freely to turn to, and Become One with, that which
we have always been, our Source - or to reject the offer and go on merrily about
our way, in constant craving, moving deeper and deeper into the temporal
illusory holographic matrix, until at long last, perhaps in another manvantara,
we are ready to come Home. We are of the essence of God, we have a portion of
the eternal Oneness within us. We are a sort of metaphorical combination of
Sleeping Beauty and the Prodigal Son; we await our Awakening, the recognition of
and return Home.
This freedom to accept God as partner is misread by Ramanuja, according to KC/KK
Nair, and Ramanuja confuses 'the concept of dowered [our God-given share]
freedom' with the deity's permission.
Ramanuja - Sri Bhashya II.3.40-41:"... action is not possible without permission
on the part of the highest Self. ... The Lord, recognizing him who performs good
actions as one who obeys his commands, blesses him with piety, riches, worldly
pleasures, and final release ..."
As Nair says, 'Ramanuja's thought has already begun to adjust to conventional
religiosity which expects rewards for virtue and abstains from transgression
only due to fear of punishment.' Of course the argument has always been made
that this is the only kind of religion that the so-called common man can
understand. But this is not what Krishna says and it is his subtle and elusive
thinking that has made the Bhagavad Gita endure and remain a monument to the
dignity and inherent potential greatness of all men - and of course, women!
KC/KK Nair: 'In the Gita, Krishna makes the startling statements that deity does
not connect action with it fruit, does not take cognizance either of sinful or
of meritorious actions of anyone one and that it is nature (the structure of the
world) that is at work here.' (Bh.G. 5.14-15)
JAB van Buitenen translates this verse thus: 'The Lord has not created into
people either authorship of acts, or acts themselves, or the concatenation
(union by linking together) of act and fruit: that is the doing of Nature. The
lord (Atma) does not take on any act's evil or good karman...'
The big picture is that the Creator has set the wheel of the Universe in motion
within the perimeters of Divine Metaphysical Intention, the architectural rules
that lie beneath the 'curtain of each atom.' We, as pieces and portions of the
Creator transmigrate and move through the cycles of time, throughout all the
yugas, manvantaras, and kalpas, in our individual bodies each with its own
particular kind of balance of Nature (the three gunas of Maya's Prakriti), which
express the accumulated experiences as DNA. While the Creator remains untouched
and loving and always offering us partnership and the return Home.
KC/KK Nair perceives the subtle nuances apparent in the profound thought that
God does not behave in an expectation of rewards and thus if we wish to 'reach
similitude' with our Creator, we must come to the understanding that it is
greater, more God-like, to act without the expectation of reward simply because
when we Become the All, what need is there for reward? Becoming One with God is
the only real reward there is, because everything else in the world is temporal,
and subject to the polarity of pleasure and pain, the Sanskrit sukha-duhkha.
But Ramanuja not only makes deity the direct administrator of 'rewards and
punishments' but shows him as 'influencing, really interfering with, the very
springs of man's motivation.' If God only rewards the good, how will those who
have missed the boat and committed evil deeds find redemption? Vyasa's Krishna
sees these men as 'self-betrayers' and promises that even that worst criminal of
them all can and will eventually cross over all villainy with just the lifeboat
of knowledge. (Bh.G 4.36)
'Vyasa believes in man's ability to defy deity and also gain the insight to
align with him.' We do have free will. And once again I believe that the
metaphor of the enforced friendship is relevant. Perhaps God wants to be
recognized and loved in the same way that so many of us dream of finding the
perfect love, a sort of 'some enchanted evening', where once you have found him
or her, you will know, become as one and never let them go. Is it not logical
that our deepest dreams would in some way reflect our Creator? Isn't it just
possible that God would cloak Itself in this forgetfulness, the miasma of
amnesia and delusion, all for the purpose of finding Itself once again?
But Ramanuja has left us to the whims of a deity who rewards and punishes and
worse, needs ritual sacrifices. Here come the priests! '... ritualism returns in
a flood. Sacrifices are claimed to be the means for a steady remembrance and
ultimate knowledge of deity; sacrifices performed day after day ...' But Krishna
in the Gita is happy with the smallest offering, a leaf or a flower, and is
critical of those who sacrifice for reward. Krishna sees knowledge as the
greatest sacrifice and through such knowledge asks Arjuna (Bh.G 4.36) to 'see
all creatures without exception within yourself and then within him, as the
Creator that dwells in the Heart.
KC/KK Nair: 'A great text ... is being changed into a primer for pious,
conventional religiosity ...'
Nair also finds fault with Ramanuja's acceptance of the idea that the world is
'sport' and as he says, 'No merciful divinity would create a world so full, as
our is, of evils of all kind ...' Vyasa's Krishna would say that it is we who
have created or allowed the world to become unbalanced. It is our rejection of
partnership with the God within our heart that fill us with fear and greed until
we are beginning to reach the limits of earth's capacity and we are consuming
the world's resources to the point of our own extinction.
Even Ramanuja himself questions the concept of the world as sport and writes,
"What need is there of sport for a being of infinite bliss?"
Ramanuja also accepted the idea of grace as a kind of 'divine absolutism' and
'even the love for God does not emerge spontaneously in man ... deity will
decide on granting or withholding grace ... and deity seems to demand abject
surrender.' This is not consensual partnership and forgets Krishna's saying that
man redeems himself by himself, man is his own sole redeemer, for oneself alone
is one's friend or enemy. This is our freedom, the freedom to chose to align our
consciousness with God or not, and in this context we create our own reality but
only to the extent that if effects us and certainly not the rest of the world.
If our reality interfered with and altered the world without its consent, then
we would be tyrants and no man would have the possibility of freedom.
'Ramanuja transfers the entire work to deity' by interpreting the verse where
Krishna tells Arjuna to abandon all works and come to him (Bh.G. XVIII.66) as
meaning the abandonment of all action. But KC/KK Nair explains that there is a
difference between Samnyasa, the abandonment of action, and Tyaga which is 'the
surrender of personal advantages from action, and even the expectation of the
sure fruition of action as basis of motivation.' In fact Krishna tells Arjuna
that to renounce any action that should be done because it is painful or
difficult is not right and is Tamasic delusional. (Bh.G.XVIII 7-9)
KC/KK Nair sums up his idea of the true meaning of the Gita thus: ' ... the best
way ... is for us to identify with and serve the many who are being crucified in
myriad ways in today's world that has gone homicidally, omnicidally mad. Only
prayer that is work too, only surrender that involves, not transfer of burden,
but the acceptance of even greater burdens, can redeem us.'
My way of seeing this a that whatever separates us from the God within our Heart
is suspect. This includes worshiping idols, having to pay priests for
forgiveness and blessings or a ticket to heaven, and the use of fear as a tactic
to make us obedient to any man who usually turns out to be nothing more than a
tyrant. While I am in awe of God, I need to feel connected and loved. My
strength comes from my relationship, or as KC/KK Nair puts it, my partnership
with the God that dwells in my very own Heart. God is my best friend!
Chaitanya and Bengal Vaishnavism
Chaitanya (1486-1534) is the founder of Bengal Vaishnavism. KC/KK Nair opens his
chapter on Chaitanya with this: ‘Besides being subject to epileptic fits, he was
almost pathologically sensitive to Krishna lore, especially the erotic current.’
When most westerners think of Krishna, it is more often in association with the
ecstatic practices born from Chaitanya’s life, practices which Nair refers to as
Chaitanya excelled in the public experience of ecstasy, a kind of divine madness
(dvyonmada) which for him and his followers is ensues from any proximity to
Krishna. The devotees become preme pagal or love mad. Thus the life of Krishna
as described in the Bhagavata Purana, his heroic deeds and romantic trysts are
reenacted as ritual in order to achieve certain states of consciousness. The
favorite of these is that of Krishna’s love for the cowherd girl Radha - not his
wife Rukmini; because Krishna is not married to Radha, their love is said to be
Radha is never mentioned in the Bhagavata Purana; however, she has become over
time a very popular reincarnation of the goddess and is widely worshipped in
Perhaps this ritual reenactment of Krishna’s life as the amorous cowherd in the
happy pastoral lands of Vrindavan can be compared to certain Christian practices
where dedicated devotees reenact the Passion of Christ, or even the charming
elementary school plays depicting the birth of the Christ child in the manger.
People are acting out their faith.
David L. Haberman has written an insightful book on the Gaudiya Vaishnava
tradition called ‘Acting as a Way of Salvation’ which sheds some light on
Chaitanya. Haverman reminds us that northern India was ‘under Muslim political
domination from the beginning of the 13th century.’ The Muslims were sometimes
repressive and other times not; but regardless they disrupted Hindu life because
in India the church and state were not perceived as separate and ‘Hinduism had
been dependent on political control.’
So one might imagine that a colorful street ritual made up of music, song, and
dancing by an emerging Hindu cult would be perceived by the young men of the
time as not only a source of spiritual sustenance, but also of happy rebellion.
According to KC/KK Nair, the Bengal Nawab (Muslim ruler) banned Chaitanya’s
preme-pagal processions, and so Chaitanya and his followers adopted what we call
In the Muslim court at Gauda, there were three high ministers, the Gosvamins,
who were asked by the ruler Husain Shah to accompany him on an expedition to
Orissa where they would be expected to join him in desecrating Hindu temples and
breaking images of Hindu gods. This drove the brothers to leave their respected
positions at court and become ‘apathetic towards worldly life.’ Their apathy
probably resulted as a reaction to a hopeless future of the suppression of their
considerable talents, and led them to accept the advice of Sri Chaitanya and
renounce the world.
Chaitanya never wrote anything and thus the brothers were responsible for the
texts, such as Sanatana Gosvamin’s Brhad-bhagavatamrta and Rupa Gosvamin’s
Bhaktirasamrtasindhu. Thus by the end of the 12th century the Krishna story had
been completely altered, as the scholars W.G. Archer and David L. Haberman point
The Krishna as hero and metaphysical advisor to the world’s greatest warrior,
Arjuna, in the Mahabharata’s Bhagavad Gita became Krishna the prince in the
Bhagavata Purana, whose goal is to destroy demons and tyrants and ‘sport’ with
his innumerable wives. Now under the enthusiastic embrace of Chaitanya’s emotion
based mysticism, Krishna is transmuted once again into the cowherd lover - whose
sole purpose is to exemplify, through his Rasa Lila or ‘play’ with Radha, the
passionate union with God.
What is important to keep in mind is that the perception of Krishna changed over
the centuries throughout the Kali Yuga. These changes reflect the consciousness
and the needs of people living in their particular circumstances created by the
forces of Time, or as it is said in the Mahabharata, “cooked in time”!
KC/KK Nair: 'The egregious Vaishnavite failure here is due to the utter failure
in the right understanding of aesthetic doctrine which, in the case of Vyasa,
took into account all the problematics of existential living, including the
incidence of the tragic.’
Life is perhaps not just about seeking endless ecstasy. For KC/KK Nair the
profound metaphysical insights of Vyasa’s Krishna in the Gita have been allowed
to shrink ‘into erotics in the hothouse culture of the court.’ The healthy
balance between experiencing and tasting the sweetness of Divine Union, and yet
at the same time remembering God’s majesty is imperative.
KC/KK Nair: ‘... if it is good to get close to deity, there is such a thing as
getting too cloyingly close and that can happen if the relation to God is
thoughtlessly assimilated to the relation to one’s partner in love, especially
with a component of sexuality nursed to appalling excess.’
Throwing our highly charged intense emotions at God and reenacting the preme
pagal relationship between Radha and Krishna may create temporary euphoric highs
in consciousness. But ‘the magic wand of devotion’ will not sweep away all the
problems of man or the world. Vyasa’s Krishna talks of controlling the self and
through that self mastery, we may Become Illuminated. KC/KK Nair asks the
question: ‘Is there anything “divine” about this madness? Is it devotion that is
actually involved in the cult of emotionalism?’
It is intriguing that KK Nair took the pen name of Krishna Chaitanya.
I have been reluctant to write up Part 4 with its stark criticism of so many
cherished beliefs. It is not my wish to destroy the heartfelt faith of anyone. I
fell in love with Krishna when I first began to understand the Bhagavad Gita -
he’s wonderful! But I feel that KC/KK Nair does shine the light of truth on some
very foggy and confusing areas and I hope you will read the book for yourself.
As a westerner I have sought to understand these ideas with an open heart and
mind. Surely many will not hear what our Indian scholar has to say anyway.
I can only hope that there are those out there who need to read his words, those
who are ready to see more deeply into the weakness of repetitive rituals, and
those who have felt the painful regret of seeing their pure intentions drown in
the confusion of emotional and sensual indoctrination.
Ask yourself this question: If you knew that God was in fact dwelling with you,
in your Heart as Krishna clearly says, why would you need any priest/guru,
rituals, rites, and religious doctrine? Imagine your consciousness as it was in
the Satya Yuga, the Golden Age - and Become the ALL. The Truth does set you
The Betrayal of Krishna
Vicissitudes of a Great Myth Krishna Chaitanya
Clarion Books, 1991, Delhi
Acting as a Way of Salvation
A Study in Raganuga Bhakti Sadhana David L. Haberman - 1988
Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2001, Delhi
Caitanya Caritamrta of Krsnadasa Kaviraja A Translation & Commentary by Edward C. Dimmock, Jr.
Harvard University Press, 1999, Cambridge, Massachusetts
The Bhaktirasamrtasindhu of Rupa Gosvamin Translated with Introductory Notes by David L. Haberman Gandhi Center for
the Arts, New Delhi
Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2003, Delhi
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