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Hi fellow dharma2gracers!
This is a renewed effort at a message forum. This time I believe I will be able to get rid of Paul's broccoli, and hopefully everyone can get to it.
After spending well over an hour going through your well-written, though quite provocative, essay on the baselessness of the arguments people give in order to needlessly draw similarities between Krishna and Christ, I felt I had to chime in and correct what I view, predictably, since I am Indian, as a poor, Western view of the Mahabharata and the Bhagwad Gita, all things considered.
I will not quote any mythological references or scholarly text that make them; what I would invite you to do is view the philosophy of it all. That is indeed one area where a country of 1.2 billion people, 70% of them poor, can claim to be superior, if less published, than their Western counterparts. Allow me to explain.
I am with you on the basic tenet: Christ and Krishna were not similar, and should never be considered similar.
Christ had come to deliver, as you had indicated, a message of peace and love, which then had to be perpetuated at the point of a sword (I am referring of course to the countless Crusades) as the stupid Pagans simply didn't get the message. Once Christianity had been spread around the globe, which, at that point of time, consisted primarily of Europe, the Middle East, and some of Africa, came the grave question of how to administer the faith from one location. With Christ no longer around, we had to create the Holy See. But human beings being human beings, inquisitive by nature, began to find out that maybe what Christ taught was not in line with what the Pope said. And so the inquisitions began, and the burnings started. The Catholics burnt the Lutherans; the such-and-such sect impaled another, et cetera.
People had embraced Christianity because some of them had grown quite bored with Judaism. Poeple were just beginning to grow weary of Sunday sermons, when there came an Arab religion that claimed to reconcile Moses with Jesus; and offer yet another Prophet of peace - the very last one, and dare you question that.
Surprisingly, while Moses was contemplating Mt. Sinai; or centuries later, Christ was being led to his unfair death, or even centuries after that, the Archangel was revealing God's final word in Arabia,the message of Krishna was enduring, and spreading.
What was so special about what he had taught in his lifetime? He was, after all, only a lustful warmonger who seemed unable to outgrow his fascination for the caste system!
Here comes the plethora of bad translations, by Indians and Westerners alike; misinterpretations, and even unfair comparisons!
Jesus styled himself as the Son of God. Krishna said that he was none other than God himself, in mortal form: the same God who must perform the painful duty of maintaining balance in this Universe, where matter must be complemented by anti-matter; good and evil must both exist, and in perfect balance. It is the same sombre duty that another God performs by hurling meteors on Sodom, because of the corruption that existed in their society (which I believe included their unusual sexual preferences), or washes the world away in a flood, for it is God's privilege to destroy what He creates.
Hinduism, for the most part, would let you question its foundations: so one may ask why had Vishnu descended as Krishna? Or as Rama in another birth? Or as the Vamana? Or even the war-like Parashurama? Why does God descend at all?
To kill demons? Well, yes. But is there an ulterior motive?
Dharm-sansthapanarthaya... To re-establish humanity in man, to restore him to a way of life fitting to the age in which he belongs. Where the law of the jungle exists, and a strict moral code has to be established, he descends, or is imagined, as Rama. When the moral code becomes so **** immovable that it allows evil to breed in its shadow, it is time for the rule-breaker, Krishna.
There was once a king who was very generous. He had all the wealth in the world, and was never averse to giving it all away to anyone who asked. His riches never exhausted, and instantly made billionaires out of paupers. Wasn't it a great society, where men did not want for anything?
The only problem was that the King started priding himself on his benevolence, and to challenge its limits, began to call the gifts of nature his own, only so he could give them away. He began to think that the sky belonged to him, and the the birds lived on his benefaction. He though of the rivers as his personal possessions, and thought of all marine life as his debtors. The sun was his, as was the moon, and all who benefited from their existence were his subjects.
One day, at a grand giving-away feast, where everyone was welcome to enjoy the delicacies created in his vast kitchens, a small, dwarfish Brahman appeared and begged for the King's kindness. What is that a puny man like you could want, he asked. 3 million gold coins? Fifty thousand elephants?
Just as much earth as I can cover in three paces, replied the Brahman.
Are you jesting with me, insolent Brahman? Why three, then thirty thousand steps, and the land you cover will be yours.
And then the Brahman covered the entire earth with one step, and the heavens with another. Where do I place my third step, he asked of the King. What else do you have to give?
And so the King fell on his knees and said, place your third step on my body. I give myself to thee.
The Brahmana placed his gigantic foot on the king's head and forced him down into the netherworld.
I, for one believe this to be a cock-and-bull story, but appreciate the profound philosophy behind it: that even a virtue expressed in an extreme is dangerous.
Krishna would tell us much later, and the Chinese after that, that there is no act that does not have some good results and some evil ones.
If you are so incredibly charitable that you feed all the food cooked in your kitchens to beggars, you satisfy the hunger of fellow humans, but you keep your own family hungry. If you are the very opposite of that, you fail to fulfil your duties as a responsible member of society. Which duty, then, is greater: to feed one's family, or to give away one's food to feed the hungry?
What he invites us to do is to do what will maintain the balance, not what our castes indict us to do, as you seem to have grasped from some dubious translation.
Krishna's birth, or that of the ideology of Krishna, was not to end Kamsa. Nor to free one of the cycle of births and deaths, though he makes a direct reference to it in the Gita.
it was to end a world of corruption that bred in the shadows of moral righteousness, which had grown so excessively strait-jacketed that it caused more harm than good. It was to be a symbolic end of man's whole understanding of dharma, as it had been preached by Rama.
No wonder Krishna did everything Ram would not have done, except descend from Vishnu. He married 16K times, but that could be interpreted as the anti-thesis of Rama's treatment of his chaste wife. He stole butter and milk and cheese, for he though he had a greater right on them than Kamsa, who received them as payment in lieu of protection extended to the cow-herding society. He prayed to no God, unlike Rama, and invited man to celebrate the bounties of nature even above god. He prevented people from honouring Indra, a god in his own right. He thwarted Indra again when he advised Arjuna to burn down the Khandaprastha forest, home to serpents who were under Indra's protection, in order to build their capital there.
Again, he had not taken the trouble to be born as human to preach love and peace - love and peace could not flourish in a society where honour was made too much of any more than it could in one where violence was the way of life. His mission was not to preach love that would later have to be spread by genocide. His mission was to put an end to a corrupt humankind and people the earth with a better one.
He met with quite a challenge: a brother who thought nothing of wanting to kill his sister, and actually killing her children. And on the other hand there was this unbeatable, unconquerable, brave, honest, righteous warrior who made a terrible oath against nature: to not be king himself, nor produce kings, so that his father could have a jolly good time with a fisherwoman. Again the two results of human action: through his terrible oath, Bhishma had made his father very happy indeed, so much so that he gave him the boon of dying at will, but deprived the world of a great king, leaving it open to far inferior specimens of royalty. And he would staunchly stand, honour-bound, with the evil side, when he might have rebelled; for had he done that, the war would not have taken place.
The purpose of Krishna was to remind man of his duty towards society - greater good.
Then there was Drona, who had let his love for his son turn himself into an emotional slave to him. Is it wrong to love your own children? No. But to let that love cloud your judgement, your ability to protest against the public molestation of a girl, is criminal.
The purpose of Krishna was to remind man of the pitfalls of blind love.
There was poor Karna, a demi-god condemned to lead the life of a charioteer, although his interest was in archery. He lied about his caste to learn the skill of weaponry from one of the best teachers. But then, he was denied a contest with the princes. Overcome by self-pity, we let gratitude enslave him to the man who showed him some kindness, and remain forever an accomplice to his designs.
The purpose of Krishna was to remind man of knowing right from wrong, even at the cost of ingratitude.
And when Arjuna was momentarily weakened by the love for his cousins, his grandfather, and teacher, Krishna took on his celestial form to pass but a simple message: Your actions, as heinous or generous as they may be, will bear fruits that are both evil and good at a personal level, but do not ponder on those. Do what is necessary for the society. Not as Kshatriyas, for none of the Pandavas were Kshatriyas - they were demi-gods.
And thus the great war happened.
Krishna knew exactly how to manipulate the circumstances to add advantage after advantage to the Pandava side, though victory came at a terrible price: all of the Pandava's sons were killed.
In the end, the world was free of flawed humans to be re-built by slightly less flawed divine beings.
That was the purpose of his existence. But all the terrible things he did in his mortal Avatar caught up with him when he died a slow death from gangrene.
This is what I often say of the Mahabharata: it was the story of a great war and God taking sides and bending all the rules and leaving behind a philosophy which is not a glorification of war but duty: a message that man has been passing to fellow man peaceably for millennia.
All other Western faiths are the very opposite: messages of love and peace that need the medium of violence to be spread, for which Rome must be sacked and Mecca attacked; for which Romans and Turks have to engage in war, until eventually the creeds started by the prophets of the same God annihilate themselves.
Needless to say, the situation is grim. It is perhaps time for Vishnu to take an Avatar.
PS: Oh by the way, about Radha and adultery - yes, an unacceptable practice. But what if it is to be interpreted not as lust but an all-consuming love for the Almighty, like perhaps the legend of St. Katherine dreaming that she was married to the infant Jesus. And yes I agree that he should not have stolen the clothes that he did, unless he was trying to say that you could have no secrets from God, that Adam and Eve needed no clothes before Him.
Thank you for writing a pleasant essay, but I thought you might want to know that the Gita should be considered in the context of the Mahabharata, and that Sanatana is a school of thought, where you are free to draw your own conclusions from scriptures and debate on them, unlike some of the Western religions, where I would get burnt at the stake for blasphemy if I questioned their texts. The Crucifix has hardly evolved over time. As I said, time for an avatar...
[I cannot resist finishing with an anecdote. I met this American couple - Catholics - who were visiting Greece with me. They wrinkled their noses at the thought of Zeus having married his own sister, Hera. And I almost died of laughing, reminded of Genesis and the propagation of mankind from Adam and Eve and their many children. You are right, some people are just plain ignorant!]