Why Is the Bhagavad Gita So Upsetting At First? (Gita Talk 3)

Via Bob Weisenberg
on Sep 4, 2011
get elephant's newsletter

This week we are discussing Chapters 1-2, thru p. 60.

Reading for next week is Chapters 3-4, thru p. 80.

Many people who love the Bhagavad Gita were frustrated or turned off when they first tried to read it.

One reason is often the translation. Some versions are very hard to read—stilted, unnatural English, and lots of Sanskrit terms that have you jumping down to the footnotes every other word.

Another problem can be the commentary, which is sometimes harder to understand than the text itself and can get very technical.

This, of course, is fine and appropriate for someone approaching the Gita from a scholarly perspective.  But it can be a serious obstacle for many readers, especially new readers.

The Mitchell version overcomes these obstacles. It reads easily and naturally, with no footnotes at all. And the commentary is thoroughly enlightening.

But it still has a third common problem which comes from the content itself. Within a few pages of starting the Gita, the reader is told:

–Women who are allowed to marry outside their caste are “corrupt”. (D)

–If the caste system is violated, society will collapse and those responsible will suffer in hell. (D)

–Men who refuse to fight will be disgraced forever as unmanly cowards. (D)

–Reincarnation will be our reward or punishment for our actions. (M)

–God thinks it’s a great idea to cajole the hero into fighting a bloody war against his relatives. (M)

–We should be indifferent when someone dies. (E)

–There is no real distinction between good and evil. (E)

–We should cut ourselves off from all sensual desires and pleasures. (E)

Is it any wonder that many readers stop right there and say, “I don’t need this. I’m going to find something more uplifting to read”? It certainly doesn’t live up to the promise of “Falling Head-Over-Heels-In-Love With The Universe”.

It takes a little effort and insight to be able to handle these and other jarring issues that come up in the text. Eventually, for each unacceptable or repugnant idea, you have three choices:

1) Decide to simply ignore it. (Mitchell is right up front about this in a way few other translations are. On page 209 he writes, “the Gita contains passages that are culture-bound and should be disregarded by readers who are serious about its deeper teachings”, and he goes on to list the specific stanzas this applies to.)

2) Turn it into a metaphor. For example, war can be seen as a metaphor for whatever big challenges we face in life.

3) Further explain the troublesome idea in a way that it eventually turns out to make sense.

Each of you will have a different way to work this out. There is no correct way.  For example, some people believe in literal reincarnation and some do not.

The Gita hits us hard with a lot of these problem passages right up front. The effort to overcome them will be richly rewarded. (I’ve coded my own personal decisions on the issues above with “D” for “Disregard”, “M” for “turn into a Metaphor”, and “E” for “makes sense when Explained”. But that’s just me.)

You’ll be encouraged to know that Arjuna, at the beginning of chapter 3, pretty much says to Krishna, “Are you crazy or something”. He has some of the the same problems we do!

Now, before this turns into a lecture instead of a discussion:

–Tell us what you think about the first two chapters.

–What did you love? What did you hate?

–Does this relate to your life yet? If so, how? What questions would you like to ask?

–What insights can you bring us from other versions you might have read?

We would like to hear from all of you, even if it’s just to let us know you’re out there!

Reading for next week is Chapters 3-4, thru p. 80.

Please help spread the word about Gita Talk by clicking
on the social media icons at the top and bottom of this page.

~

Previous Blogs In This Series (latest first):

It’s Showtime. Please Start Talking All At Once! (Gita Talk 2)

Falling Head-Over-Heels In Love with the Universe. (Gita Talk 1)

Ten (mostly funny) reasons to read the Bhagavad Gita.

Ongoing Resources:

Gita in a Nutshell: Big Ideas & Best Quotations

The Original Sixteen Session Gita Talk

Yoga Demystified (free eBook)

~

Join Gita Talk Facebook Group for weekly notices
and to meet fellow participants.


2,427 views

About Bob Weisenberg

Bob Weisenberg: Editor, Best of Yoga Philosophy / Former Assoc. Publisher, elephant journal / Author: Yoga Demystified * Bhagavad Gita in a Nutshell * Leadership Is Like Tennis, Not Egyptology / Co-editor: Yoga in America (free eBook) / Creator: Gita Talk: Self-paced Online Seminar / Flamenco guitarist: "Live at Don Quijote" & "American Gypsy" (Free CD's) / Follow Bob on facebook, Twitter, or his main site: Wordpress.

Comments

67 Responses to “Why Is the Bhagavad Gita So Upsetting At First? (Gita Talk 3)”

  1. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  2. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  3. Nicole says:

    The same could be said of the Christian or Jewish Scriptures, or the Koran, that much is culturally-bound, metaphorical or needs to be explained. Why then are so many so scornful of these while working so hard to appreciate the Gita? I am genuinely puzzled here. Thank you.

  4. Emily Perry says:

    I tend to dismiss that which clearly is culture-bound to a certain extent. I recently read a blog post by Christina Sell where she mentioned how one of the classic teachers in her teacher training teaching reminded the students that it is not their job to fight the teachings but get inside them. I though that was brilliant, and so I am trying to keep that in mind here.

    What I enjoyed about these chapters was the explanation of the yoga of skillful action, and the kurmasana metaphor (tortoise) to explain essentially pratyahara (YS II.29)- sense withdrawal.

  5. Emily Perry says:

    I like your comment "it's not really that Arjuna would be a coward if he did not fight, but his enemies would think he is, and would therefore mistake his generosity for fear, effectively negating his good intentions." That's a great way of seeing it, and it helps me clarify that section. Thanks!

  6. I think the examples of controversy listed here are good ones. For me, I own 5 other copies beside the MItchell version of the Gita. I was so frustrated by the time I got my hands on it, I read maybe through the introduction-that promised just like the other versions all of these wonderful things, and was immediately discouraged so I walked away. That was probably the best thing I could have done. Personally I didn't have trouble with the controversy. In fact, to me, I could apply many of the controversies to our life right now. For example, yes you can choose to disregard "women who are allowed to marry outside their caste are corrupt"-but even now, thousands of years later while women are allowed to marry whomever they choose (in some places) just because they are "allowed" doesnt mean they arent persecuted for it (inter-racial, pretty woman, etc). "Men who choose not to fight will be disgraced forever as unmanly cowards" The men who ran from the draft during Vietnam were thrown in jail or forced to fight if caught, not to mention the social issues between young men if they back down from a fight–my point is that these contentions are things we are faced with outside of the Gita, and for me were not a turn off.
    What did turn me off, was that when I first tried to read the Gita I was expecting to, within the first chapter, have some sort of greater knowledge about my life and how to live it. Using the various metaphors for what the Gita really is (i.e. the battlefield is life, the comparisons to the Gita and the human body) I was trying to understand it in a way that wasn't very personal. It was only after I walked away and consciously decided to make the Gita my own personal experience when picking it back up, that I enjoyed it and was able to understand what I thought to be the meaning of it. That new perception coupled with the last Gita talk series was really an amazing turning point in my life, and now it happens to be one of my favorite books, I keep it on my bedside table. Sometimes walking away and taking a break is a blessing, for whatever reason.

  7. I am always looking for new translations to read–now that I have gotten over my initial discomfort, which like you, for me I was able to apply the arguments to life today-which Italian translation are you talking about, and is it available in English?

  8. I think for some people, it is not easy to look past these things, especially if they have experienced it in some form in their own lives, or those of their loved ones-that is just my opinion. Many many people have many negative things to say about the other scriptures you mentioned-and many of those people are of those religions related to them. I think as human beings it is in our nature to never be genuinely happy off the bat with something we are presented with. Defensiveness is a coping mechanism, and sometimes makes things more personal and easier to understand maybe even relatable. I am not so sure it is a bad thing that people discuss these disputes not just from a learning perspective but because it makes the Gita reachable-like it is not this blemish free text we are all unworthy of.

  9. H, Nicole. Speaking for myself only, I have spent many more years of my life with the Catholic and Jewish scriptures than I have with the Gita (so far), so I'm with you. There is great wisdom in all of them, as well as great difficulties. (see Exodus: The Rest of the Story—What Do You Think They Did After They Were Freed?)

    You'll be pleased to know, if you don't already, that the Gita itself takes a universalist point of view–that all spiritualities in their purest forms lead the the same spiritual place. We will be discussing that when we get there, but if you want to look ahead, see Yoga is Universal Truth, Embracing All Gods and All Paths (GN #14)

    Thanks for your comment.

    Bob

  10. chiara ghiron says:

    Hi Jennifer
    the Italian translation I referred to is actually on the web: http://www.guruji.it/bhagavadgita/gita.htm
    I will certainly have re-interpreted when re-traslating it back into English for this comment, but what worked is that reading it in Italian, and then conveying the message to the group here, I thought even more about the stanza.
    With regards to your post later in this thread I guess the Gita for me came at a time of my life when I was looking for answers, and I almost did not know of its existence before my teacher training (I had previously bought the Indian Mahabarata DVD series and found it so heavy that I did not even make it to chaper 6… which is the Gita!) and when I read it my yoga was clear in front of me.

  11. Angela says:

    Perhaps I am viewing this too simplistically, but what I love about the first two chapters, which I have read several times, along with 2 readings of the introduction, is the encouragement to ACT. Do something. In the case of Arjuna it is fighting, but it can be viewed as an metaphor for positive action or change or even for belief itself. And that is how I feel it relates to my life.

    I didn’t find these chapters upsetting. I would rather either ignore or look for the deeper meaning. This is not the first time I have been introduced to the idea that there is not much difference between good and evil, and I am hoping that will be further expanded upon.

  12. Amanda says:

    "…if you do not participate in this battle against evil, you will incur sin."
    – is this a validation for war? isn't every warrior or soldier fighting for what they believe is their evil? how can he say if one doesnt participate, it is a sin? this confused me greatly UNTIL bob mentioned that you can use it as a metaphor. once i thought of this, my eyes opened. if i relate it to battling my own demons, and furthermore tie it in to the ego/greed argument, it all changed for me. the quote about sense objects and attachment leading to utter waste has been a major recent struggle of mine. i can relate this to my yoga practice and meditation- i am constantly battling my ego on (and off) my mat and i DO feel if i dont push through, or warrior through, it would be a sin, or utter waste of my life to continue on. i know when i grow old, i want to look back and say i fought like a warrior against my "evil" ego…however, this is so much harder than i realize.

  13. Amanda says:

    krishna goes on to talk about not engaging in action for the sake of reward. i fear this is all i know. i believe this is the way i, and my generation, has been raised. in a perfect world, i wish i didnt care about money, beauty or attention- but at least one of these evils tempts me daily- a maxed out credit card, a visit to the tanning salon, a comment on facebook- how do i let go of these attachments if theyre all i know? how do i fight through as a warrior?

  14. I think for me I had not made the decision firmly enough to really appreciate the Gita, so I was naturally defensive and discouraged. Walking away and taking a second look (really what was like 2-1 in a series of 1-100 lol) was just what I needed. The information can be overwhelming at times and hard to digest for all sorts of reasons. I also think this group really helped me, to see I was not alone in my thoughts was comforting and drove me further. I still feel like I don't know exactly how the Gita applies to my life in particular, but I understand better the whole picture.

  15. Emily Perry says:

    I love viewing this as an invitation to act! Yes! Simple but perfect! Thanks for the insight!

  16. I like that–I din;t even think of it "there is not much difference between good and evil"

  17. Emily Perry says:

    I agree that it is so hard to act without attachment to outcome— it is the nature of being human, i think. My take here to is that the bravest thing we can do is act from this space of allowing & detachment. =)

  18. Hi, Amanda. The big breakthrough for me was when I realized the Gita is not telling us not to strive for results, but not to be too attached to the results. These are two very different things.

    Obviously Arjuna is going to go out and try to win that battle. Krishna is urging him to do so. And we should all go out and try to achieve whatever we want to achieve.

    But just don't be so attached to winning or losing that it's all that matters. The action itself, and in fact, just BEING HERE, is far more important than the results.

    I've been watching a lot of U.S. Open tennis this week. If Krishna were advising one of the players, he would not say, "Forget about trying to win this tournament, don't bother striving to achieve your dreams."

    In contrast he would say, "Knock yourself out trying to win this tournament, just don't value yourself or your life based on the results."

    You can see that the Bhagavad Gita is the ancient source of all modern sports psychology, and all modern notions of mental health.

    Bob

  19. ARCreated says:

    I think I am now remembering why I point down that first copy of the BG all those years ago and why my teacher training reading was so perfunctory. and I was thrilled to read the title of this because I had that "why am I reading this" reaction.

    I love how it talks about not being attached to results I get that… a lot. but yeah otherwise I was still struggling and found myself just wanting to skip ahead and see if I could get to the inspiring stuff ;0

  20. Thanks, Phil. The link works fine. It would be great is someone would like to write an Elephant reviewing this article. I'll read it carefully for new ideas to add to Gita Talk.

    Our next Gita Talk next Monday will deal directly with this issue. For a preview, please see:

    Gandhi’s Bible or a Call to War? (GN #6).

    Plus, Gandhi's famous and brilliant essay on the Bhagavad Gita is included as an appendix to the Mitchell Gita. That's how important Mitchell considers it to be.

    Bob

  21. BOB!! You took the word right out of my mouth–or fingers? It was when I decided that I need not worry that results from reading the Gita would manifest, I was finally able to let go of the chains that bound me to my misconception. "JUST BEING HERE' may sound like such a simple thing to do from the outside, but trying-or not trying to just be is not such a simple thing at all.

  22. ARC
    I have heard a lot about teacher training and reading the Gita. How big of a part would you say the reading and understanding of the Gita has played and continues to play into the role of being an instructor-Do you use it in class, or give examples to students? If so, how? Just wondering if approaching it from a different angle may help.

    And I did skip ahead…a lot, then doubled back as well….

  23. jennifer logan says:

    "As unnecessary as a well is to a village on the banks of a river so unnecessary are all scriptures to someone who has seen the truth" pg 29 After spending many years reading many various sacred texts from different religions one eventually sees the simple truth of themselves and no longer needs to cling to the written word of others for you have become your truth.

  24. jennifer logan says:

    I was first introduced to the Gita through my yoga teacher who was an SRF monk. Now that I am a yoga teacher I use the Gita as one of many sources of alternative thoughts to the ones my students have walked into class with. It is important in class to be able to give your students new thoughts to replace the thinking that may not have been working out for them thus far.

  25. Jennifer
    I have yet to attend a Yoga class, I practice at home, my schedule as a stay at home mother of three thus far has not given me the time to do so. I always assumed that class was strictly asanas, but it sounds like I am mistaken. What do you do in your class beside asanas?

  26. PhilAmerVeda says:

    It’s good to dip into the Gita again in a different translation. I have several translations handy, and I compared them to Mitchell's version of key verses in chapter 2. There are some interesting differences, like (v. 17) he uses "presence" when others use That, the One, or Spirit. In v. 40, he uses "great sorrow" when most others use "great fear." Different nuances. There is one I think bears attention though: the word "indifference," as in v. 38 (a very important verse). It gives me pause because indifference suggests a kind of attitude that can easily turn into apathy or lack of interest and concern. Over the years I have seen many people mess up their lives by adopting a mood of non-concern thinking that’s what non-attachment is. I think they are two very different things. One is an attitude, the other is a deep state of being. As Bob said, Krishna would not advise a warrior to go to battle with a ho hum attitude about how things might turn out. Other translations use terms like "Be in peace in gain or loss…" "Having evenmindedness in gain or loss…" "Having attained equanimity in gain or loss…" These point to yogic preparation prior to performing action, i.e., developing an inner state of being, not just adopting an attitude during the action. I hope this doesn't sound like academic nitpicking. Some word choices can make a difference in the lessons one draws from these great teachings.

  27. Thanks, Phil. I don't think this is nitpicking at all. In fact I think that the translation as a whole, especially with the very pointed inclusion of Gandhi's essay at the end, completely supports your interpretation–passion in action and purpose, but eventual equanimity in results.

  28. Thanks for your very interesting comments, Kate. The very next Gita Talk on Monday will be entirely about this issue of war and peace. If you want to look ahead, see Gandhi’s Bible or a Call to War? (GN #6)

    Much more coming on "ecstatic union with the universe", too. The Gita kind of moves from the practical toward the sublime, then mixes them altogether.

    Bob

  29. Thanks for this very interesting analysis, Will. Great to have you here.

    Bob

  30. Hi, missbernklau.

    I've read the Pabhupada version repeatedly myself (just because I'm a Gita Geek). It has it's value, but I can assure you that reading the Mitchell version will be a completely different experience.

    If you want to get a quick feel for how different, just browse Gita in a Nutshell. If you click on any of the main points you will get a sampling of Mitchell.

    Let me know what you think.

    Bob

  31. Will Price says:

    My honor, Bob. Thanks.

  32. Will Price says:

    Thank you Chiara, and all aspirants I may have offended, perhaps I was too harsh. Everyone has to start somewhere. I apologize. I hope you continue on your path. God Bless.

  33. Hi, Will. I don't mind you stirring up the pot. Glad to have your provocative comments and ideas.

    The purpose of a 200 hour program is generally to learn to teach asana. Philosophy, as much as I personally love it, is not critical to the competent teaching of asana.

    If I go to an asana class, I don't really care how much the teacher knows about the Bhagavad Gita. I want the teacher to be good at teaching asana.

    Any hours taken out of the 200 hours to study philosophy would mean that teacher was that much less well educated in what I'm in that class for.

    So, as long as these teachers are not presenting themselves as Yoga philosophy teachers, I don't see where there is a problem.

    Bob

  34. chiara ghiron says:

    well said missbernklau and I will add something else which may be more strictly related to the Gita discussion.
    I, like you, started practicing Yoga not so long ago (ca seven years). It also changed my life, and for better I think. I have worked as a manager in the pharmaceutical industry for many many years and my goal in life is to improve human health. I realised that Yoga may do that. I took a teacher training, started teaching, and obviously I continue to study because I also know that my RYT certification is just a beginning. The Gita, only briefly touched during the training, made me see that my path is karma yoga. That I need to act for what I believe is a just cause with all my energies. It made me see that many of my internal battles may come from attachment. It gave me courage to take a different path and fight for what I believe from a different battlefield. It was pivotal in my decision to leave my (beloved) corporate job to teach Yoga full time and take a further course of study in Yoga Therapy. Today it was my last day at work and the beginning of a new life, like the caterpillar having reached the end of a blade of grass.

  35. Hi, embodyjoy. Thanks for writing and sharing your inner thoughts with us.

    I'm not sure if you saw this previous comment I made, but either way, I'll repeat it here, because it is so directly relevant to your questions above:

    *****

    The big breakthrough for me was when I realized the Gita is not telling us not to strive for results, but not to be too attached to the results. These are two very different things.

    Obviously Arjuna is going to go out and try to win that battle. Krishna is urging him to do so. And we should all go out and try to achieve whatever we want to achieve.

    But just don't be so attached to winning or losing that it's all that matters. The action itself, and in fact, just BEING HERE, is far more important than the results.

    I've been watching a lot of U.S. Open tennis this week. If Krishna were advising one of the players, he would not say, "Forget about trying to win this tournament, don't bother striving to achieve your dreams."

    In contrast he would say, "Knock yourself out trying to win this tournament, just don't value yourself or your life based on the results."

    You can see that the Bhagavad Gita is the ancient source of all modern sports psychology, and all modern notions of mental health.

    Bob

  36. chiara_ghiron says:

    Hi PhilAmerVeda.
    I am not sure I understand your question, I always thought the teaching applied both in the general sense and for our own. For me, the 'do not grieve' teaching seems to apply. I like to think that we are something beyod these material bodies of ours, which is one and the same for all of us and therefore do not need to grieve. I must admit though, that not feeling particularly emotional about loss, including the one of people I loved dearly, had often made me feel very uncomfortable. I guess it is our Western culture, but feeling that I was not feeling, if you know what I mean, feels wrong. I think ultimately detachment is a protective measure that we adopt to avoid suffering, and am still not sure whether this tactic is a good and healthy one or ultimately makes things worse. It certainly works though!

  37. Shelly4earth says:

    Whether viewing this battle as real or metaphorical, I found Krishna's teaching a bit contradictory. I like the call to action because I believe on many levels (especially on my job) the only wrong decision is indecision. However, his preachings (for lack of a better word) about non-attachment, in my very humble opinion, contradict what he says when he is trying to push Arjuna into action:
    "But if you refuse the call to a righteous war, and shrink from what duty and honor dictate, you will bring down ruin on your head. Decent men, for all time, will talk about your disgrace, and disgrace, for a man of honor, is a fate far worse than death."
    Attachment to the outcome?? Just sayin…

    I did like what Krishna said about religion and scripture: "Foolish men talk of religion in cheap, sentimental words, leaning in the scriptures: 'God speaks here, and here alone.'..As unnecessary as a well is to a village on the bank of a river, so unnecessary are all scriptures to someone who has seen the truth." (yes, the second part of my quote has already been discussed a few times) – this just spoke volumes to me in my occasional confusion on my spiritual path.

    Anyway, I am probably only making sense to my self, but there is so much to be learned in the BG. I am finding a lot of comfort and wisdom already. I just have to chalk some of the disturbing parts up to cultural and temporal differences and look beyond them to the essence of the lesson.

  38. Shelly4earth says:

    Thank you for sharing this view. I do not believe grief is an invalid emotion either, and I have witnessed the effects of suppression. I have had a Buddhist try to impose on me the view of, "Oh well…it's part of the cycle." I get THAT, but like you stated, it is natural to feel grief when someone you love dies.

  39. Will Price says:

    Point taken, Bob. Slowly, Westerners are waking up more to the big picture of what Yoga is, beginning with the physical culture portion. Yes, it's a good start. Thank you all for sharing.

  40. I actually think it's kind of the reverse, in reality. Westerners have just started getting into asansa more in the last fifty years, whereas their fascination and love affair with Yoga philosophy goes back to the founding fathers. Jefferson had the Bhagavad Gita in his library.

    Phil Goldberg, who has graced us with several comments here, would tell you that Yoga spirituality has had a far stronger and deeper influence on America than Yoga asana, to the extent we don't even recognize it anymore. See:

    True or False? Physical Yoga Has Influenced America More than Spiritual Yoga.

    How Yoga Has Transformed American Spirituality: An Interview with Phil Goldberg, “American Veda”

    Bob

  41. Mark says:

    To live your life without expectation – without the need for specific results – that is freedom. That is Godliness. – Neale Donald Walsh

  42. My teacher has a great way of discussing these philosophical points that are seemingly contradictory to the everyday lives we lead on this planet. She offers the philosophical teaching and then says "and yet" and goes on to discuss the struggles we may face in applying this in everyday life. So, yes, in the Big Picture of the Universe the cycle of life and death is something that should not be mourned AND YET we, as humans living in this world have to deal with the emotions and feelings that go along with living a worldly life. I have always found comfort in the fact that this way of looking at these contradictory situations leaves room for both the philosophical teachings and the ups and downs of a modern day life. Just thought I would offer up that way of framing these things in case it helps you as it has helped me.

  43. Yes, the old fashioned cultural remarks and the call to war can be a bit of a turn off in the opening chapters but then I come to the following stanza:

    On this path no effort is wasted,
    no gain is ever reversed;
    even a little of this practice
    will shelter you from great sorrow

    And I let out a sigh of relief, a smile comes to my face, and I remember the great awesomeness of the text I'm about to read.

  44. Thanks, Phil, Shelly and Meaghan. This is a critical point, so much so that there will be an entire blog on it. For a preview of its content, it will be similar to Is the Gita Asking Us to Repress Our Emotions? (GN #7)

    Bob

  45. From Facebook:

    Aminda: I just watched a video about "the shadow effect" and it was interesting because Deepak Chopra quoted the gita many times and I don't know if it would have been as meaningful without this little group 🙂 It's crazy how complete the gita really is..

    Bob Weisenberg: Hi, Aminda. Chopra has chosen to market himself more broadly, but almost everything he teaches comes directly from the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, even his Tweets. Most recent Tweet: "Detachment means being passionate about your work but dispassionate about its rewards."

  46. Victoria says:

    Thx for recommending this article. I found it excellent.

  47. Kathy says:

    Great discussion…your passion and honesty will reward you, and all others you inspire, greatly. Continue on your quest!

  48. John_Newman says:

    [PART ONE:] Surveying this second run-through of the Gita was breathtaking. Trying to figure out a good point of entry had me scratching my head for some time today. In the end, I decided to pick up on Bob's list of items that are upsetting to many readers. I think this is really important and I would like to hone in on the caste system and the overt comment on how the corruption of women leads to the “intermingling of castes” (1:40-41). In my view there is a lot more going on than meets the eye at first. The authors of the Gita are finding a subtle way of criticizing what the caste system had become in India at the time of composition. First, notice how these verses are attributed to the confused Arjuna, and not to Krishna. Here we need to pay attention to what the author(s) of the Gita are actually doing. Here it is Arjuna who is reflecting Indian culture of the first century BCE. This is not the same as the culture of the much more ancient Indus Valley Civilization and the more ancient yoga that thrived there and preceded the Vedas. The Gita’s author(s) will have Krishna address that in Chapter 4.

  49. John_Newman says:

    [PART TWO:] Second, notice how Arjuna’s discussion about the intermingling of casts proceeds from the previous two verses (1:39-40) where is Arjuna is addressing his concern about “evil due to decay of families” and his fear articulated in the previous two verses (1:36-37) that killing his own kinsmen will lead to “sin.” Thus the context of Arjuna’s comment on the intermingling of casts is clearly the intermingling of his own kinsmen with the opposing forces of the house of the Kauravas. Here we should pause to see what the author(s) of the Gita are up to: they have Arjuna using the preservation of the caste system as it existed at that time (first century BCE) as an argument against fighting his kinsmen. [I have much more about this on my website but this is enough for now.] Chapter Two ends with Arjuna’s sorrow over this situation as he casts away his bow and arrows (1:47). Krishna has not yet answered these concerns; that is the subject of Chapter Two.

  50. John_Newman says:

    [PART THREE:] It’s interesting the Bob tagged this item with a D for “disregard” for that is exactly what Krishna does in Chapter Two to Arjuna’s concern about intermingling. Krishna’s response clearly decouples Arjuna’s reference to the intermingling on castes from the decision about whether or not to fight. Krishna not only says nothing about intermingling castes but also instead makes crystal clear that the decision to fight or not to fight should be made upon its own merits. Krishan berates Arjuna’s dejection as “disgraceful” and “mean faint-heartnedness” (2:2-3). When Krishna, much later in Chapter Two, does mention the caste system, he is quick to point out that Arjuna is lucky for, being a Kshatriya, he is duty bound to fight (2:31-32). Krishna is not defending the currently existing caste system; rather, he rejects it as a basis for not fighting and further excoriates Arjuna for not realizing that, unlike the other casts, the kshatriyas are lucky when it comes to fighting (2:31-32). Krishna turns Arjuna’s logic—that to fight his own kinsman is a sin—upside down and argues that by not fighting Arjuna incurs sin (2:33 and 2:38).

Leave a Reply