It is the ancient teaching of sages and scriptures that our mental state at the time of death determines our next birth. If at the time of death, we fully surrender to the Lord, the Universal Being, then we merge in God and are freed from all sorrows.
We usually think of that at the time of death what we have loved and thought about during life. Hence the purest souls who have devoted their whole life to serving the God of Love merge in that Universal Love immediately at the time of death and achieve complete liberation.
na jaayate mriyate vaa kadaachin-
naayaM bhuutwaa bhavitaa vaa na bhuuyaH |
ajo nityaH shaashwato.ayam puraaNo
na hanyate hanyamaane shariire ||
The Self is never born, nor does It ever die;
never It came into existence nor will It cease to be –
It will not take rebirth, It is unborn, eternal and changeless;
It is timeless and is never killed when the body is killed (BG 2.20)
Several Gita sources for English transliteration of the sanskrit, for English translation of the words and purport are utilized to create these Holy Gita Inspirations. It includes an eclectic yoga, as it were, among several sources, Swami Chinmayananda, Swamy Gambiranda, Prabhupada, and Swami Sivananda, each coming from slightly different traditions, fueled by One Spirit. If you go to the links, you can find additional articles there to enhance your appreciation and understanding of this shloka or verse from the Holy Gita.
Most of us have had the experience where someone tells us, “You are two faced” or “you are speaking from both sides of your mouth”. I recall from watching the old western movies that there was a saying among American Indians in America. Something like, “one should not speak with a forked tongue”.
Being two faced, speaking with a forked tongue, speaking from both sides of the mouth, etc., essentially mean the same thing. It means that the person saying this to us feels we are being tricky and sneaky in some way. The suggestions to act with integrity and honor exist in all cultures.
Interestingly, we perceive much wider gaps between the words and actions of others than ourselves. There is generally a tendency to view our own behavior in a more favorable light than that of others. That is not good or bad but simply one manifestation of the root instinct to survive by avoiding cognitive dissonance.
Psychologists tell us that our perceptions about the world and others in some way are meant to be self-serving. Given the ambiguity present in the world of politics, business, organizations, and our personal life, multiple interpretations of events, situations, and people are possible. We tend to pick those views and outlooks which in some way satisfy or confirm our biases. That is just how it is.
Philosophically, when we accuse others of being duplicitous, two faced, wearing a mask, and lacking integrity in their actions, we are essentially trying to say something meaningful about our perceptions. The assumption that our perceptions are objective, free from error, and right on mark is always taken for granted.
If we reflect carefully, we find that we can only see the masks of others through our own mask. Just as others are prisoners of their conditioning which affects their outlook, the same is true of us. Even with the most minimum observation and basic analysis, we can conclude that the illusion of freedom only covers up the puppet like and predictable behavior that is common to human beings.
Having said all that, my observation is that there are indeed tangible differences between human beings that are inherent in their nature. According to ancient yogic psychology, people’s behaviors are influenced by the three mental forces that act on them. These three forces are known as “Gunas” in Sanskrit. The theory of Gunas is part of classical Hindu literature and embedded in texts on yogic psychology. Sri Krishna mentions to Arjuna the nature of Gunas and how the combination of various Gunas affect human behavior.
When Sattva Guna predominates in a person, the individual tends to be honest, straightforward, rational, calm, and thinks of the good of others. When Raj Guna (Rajas) dominates, the person tends to be passionate, hard working, goal oriented, excitable, quick of temper, and eager to confront opponents and fight. When Tamo Guna (Tamas) predominates, the person’s behavior tends to be thoughtless, uncaring of others, and there is avoidance of personal responsibility, and the inability to think rationally and logically.
Yogic psychology explains why some some people are more cunning, deceitful, and violent than others. One can infer the nature of persons from their actions and behaviors. So although we are all conditioned in some way to perceive reality through our own special personality lenses, the refinement of our conditioning certainly differs according to the mental forces or gunas that are influencing us.
We do not have to look far in the world of business, politics, and world affairs to find suitable examples of grossly unethical, immoral, and violent actions and decisions. In face of such things, how should a person act or react?
How should we deal with individuals who we perceive as crooked, deceptive, dishonest, cunning, scheming, and bent on causing harm to us or others. This is the most difficult question that perpetually faces us at a personal and national level.
I believe the answer to that is that we face such people or situations by being authentic and true to our nature. When we are grounded in certain basic principles firmly, these influence our actions and bring stability in our life.
In the beginning of the Bhagavad-Gita, Arjuna refuses to fight in the Mahabharata war. Krishna tells Arjuna that his very nature would compel him to fight. Given the circumstances, once the arrows started flying, the warrior in Arjuna would come alive.
So Krishna’s advice to Arjuna was to engage in action but without anger or fear or expectations. Simply do the right thing and leave the rest to the higher power.
Self-Realization makes our actions spontaneous and straight forward. After all, who are we trying to impress? And what will we get if someone is temporarily impressed with us? Surely, the admiration and even adoration of others, like all things, is transient with a beginning and an end.
That is why it is best to ground oneself in the Truth of Being and abide in the authenticity of one’s own self. That is all we can do.
Truth is utterly simple. Sometimes it is difficult to see what is so close, what one actually is. That is why we call Self-Realization a Radical Understanding. Seeing the obvious clearly as the obvious as one’s own Self is the way. Abiding in That, one is consumed by That, and becomes That, and sees One has always been That.
To be totally and utterly free is possible, because Freedom is our very nature.
Love and light to all
Posted by Swami Sadasivananda at http://blog.spiritualpracticeofbhagavan.org
Sri Muruganar, a close disciple of Sri Ramana Maharshi, read from the scriptures before Bhagavan:
“There is a secret language of silence and smiles understood by mutual lovers, but not noticed by onlookers. The operation of grace is secret and not spectacular.”
There is so much that can, and should, be said about the smile of a human. Indeed the exaltation and upliftment of a smile is essential even for saints. Saint Francis de Sales once said: “A saint that is sad, is a sad saint!” Yes, smiling opens the heart and lets your light shine into the world. Scientist say that it makes you healthy. It takes away stress, increases the endorphin flow (the inner happy drugs in the blood) and it is contagious. When people smile others are attracted – for unconsciously they think – “gosh that person is happy” – maybe I can become happy too by association with such happy folk. We learn from those who have unlocked the secret – and have found some "stillness, peace, happiness, and positive energy" and we know that this is God shining through them – because it’s all down to a "heart connection with the Divine.” A friend once conveyed to me that at a lecture at Alexander Palace in London some15 years the Dalai Lama was the keynote speaker.
After the talk he was walking along the park with all his bodyguards to get into his car and she just happened to be there by the car and he turned and gave her this huge smile – at once she received this amazing flow of loving kindness from him – she still remembers that his smile was absolutely full of grace, genuine and a huge gift. It was like he was carrying all the smiles of his linage.
Mother Teresa said: "Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing." (Mother Teresa’s smile upon mankind was seen through the compassionate labor of her hands!)
Everyone understands, in a totally intuitive way, what a smile means. It transcends language and cultural barriers. It is the clearest, simplest manifestation of the joy that lies within us. It is the quickest and most direct way to connect with another human being by touching that place of joy within them. A smile is shorthand for "I recognize and acknowledge the God within you.”
These truths are undeniable, and beyond the reach of debate. With a clear understanding of the ability of every human to communicate “stillness, peace, happiness, positive energy and uplifting compassion", let us attempt to consider what actually happens to humans when God, or someone whose complete awareness is saturated with the Presence of God, smiles upon them!
There is a beautiful saying from the scriptures of India:
Devi priya prahasant.
Devi prahasant priya.
The love of the Devi manifests as a smile,
therefore She loves to smile!
It is said in the Holy Bible: “God is glorious in His saints”. God is even more glorious in His smile!
The most learned scholars who have sought to plumb the depths of the Bhagavad Gita universally agree that the actual teaching from Lord Krishna begins in the eleventh verse of Chapter Two: The Blessed Lord spoke:
“You have mourned those that should not be mourned,
and you speak as if with wisdom;
The wise do not mourn for the dead or for the living.
Many of the very wisest of these scholars, those who strive to comprehend the Gita in its highest mystical sense, profoundly declare that the Lord’s teaching to mankind actually begins with the tenth verse of Chapter Two. They boldly go further and declare that the Gita’s entire message is actually conveyed by the very first action Sri Krishna makes before Arjuna – and us!
As if assuming the manifestation of Lord Dakshinamurti, Sri Krishna being named as the “Lord of the Senses” (Hrishikesha), responds to the despondency of Arjuna in silence. From the uncompromisable position between the two opposing armies drawn for battle, the Lord smiles!
“The advanced devotee – who has found himself in an uncompromisable position between the sense soldiers of the ego and the discriminative warriors of the soul, which is lamenting the necessity for renouncing sense habits, and who has therefore become indecisively inactive, “The advanced devotee – who has found himself in an uncompromisable position between the sense soldiers of the ego and the discriminative warriors of the soul, which is lamenting the necessity for renouncing sense habits, and who has therefore become indecisively inactive, surrendering himself passively to the infinite – beholds the Spirit, come to dispel the gloom of doubt with the gentle light of His smile and His voice of wisdom heard through intuition.
“Those devotees who, during the invasion of doubt, completely give themselves up to the Spirit in inner silence and submission are able to perceive the indescribable, all-purifying Light of God playing across the firmament of their inner perception.”
“This indescribable “Smile of the Spirit” is fully perceived only by those devotees whose spiritual lives are directed by ‘right action’. For as the Buddha demonstrated, through ‘right action’ alone does one cultivate ‘right perception’. There is little mystery, and even less theory (for the Buddha was not a theorist) behind this proclamation. It is simply a definitive declaration that one must lead a clean spiritual life; proper eating, right moral behavior and deep meditation!”
Arjuna was the epitome of a devotee on the verge of the highest spiritual revelation and attainment, for he had chosen the Lord Himself to direct the horses of his chariot, to be his Guiding Power. The name “Arjuna” mystically symbolizes self-control. The means of achievement of this is demonstrated by Arjuna’s ‘right action‘ of choosing Sri Krishna to hold the reigns that guide the five horses (five senses) of his chariot (his mind). (above quotes and paraphrases are excerpts from The Bhagavad Gita, God Talks with Arjuna, Paramahansa Yogananda, Yogoda Satsanga India Press 2002.)
Thus Arjuna’s mind was under control and still. His surrender was active and provocative, in that he was now fully empowered to arouse and encounter the sense solders of the ego. Furthermore, he was ready to fight under the shadow of the monkey-ensigned banner signifying devotion and discipleship. In response to his submission and devotion he was transformed through the illuminating smile of the Lord, which attuned him to have “an ear to hear” the still small inner Divine voice of his Soul!
In our modern era, during the sojourn of Sri Ramakrishna, another soul was transfixed and transformed by a slight smile from the Face of a Living God.
Girish Chandra Ghosh was considered to be one of the closest and dearest disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, and unmistakably he was the most flamboyant and rowdy. In addition to having become irrevocably attached to Sri Ramakrishna, he was addicted to alcohol and frequent visits to houses of ill repute. On one occasion he was fully inebriated and reeling his way to visit one of his “ladies of the night” when instead he changed his mind and turned around to make a visit to his Lord and Master. Upon arrival at Sri Ramakrishna’s room he attempted to bow at the Master’s feet, only to collapse in a heap of reeking ‘pickled’ flesh. Sri Ramakrishna began to give him advice in a manner to persuade him to correct his behavior.
The truth is well known that “the Lord works in mysterious ways”, and what happened next ascended such heights of “mystery” that all present fell to their knees and wept. Girish, too drunk to stand, half-raised himself and tried to focus on the face of Sri Ramakrishna. His mind, his reasoning and his entire personality were numbed into oblivion. But upon beholding the living face of Sri Ramakrishna his heart burst forth with an all-consuming silent prayer for mercy. As the Master’s sweet words rained upon him even as nectar, Girish raised his hand up and said: “Stop! Don’t give me any advice, it will do no good. Please do something to change my life!”
In response to this soulful plea, the Master smiled!
All in the room said they saw only a very slight smile play across the lips of the Master. But the power and sweetness of that slight smile was so indescribable that in a wondrous flash, Girish Chandra Ghosh was completely transformed and purified.
Only at a later date could Girish attempt to speak of the wondrous event. And in doing so he proved that though now a completely changed being, he still retained a vivid sense of humor. All he could say was: “If I had known that there existed in the Master such a big pit that I could cast all of my sins into; I would have committed a lot more!”
In our own times divine embodiments of Grace have come forth to grant the heartfelt prayers of many who yearn to live a higher life.
Sri Anandamayi Ma was given the name “Joy–permeated Mother” mainly due to her lustrous smile that transformed onlookers by a mere glance.
As a young baby, the women in her village would line up early every morning to take turns holding her. They longed for a smile from the baby Goddess, which always came. From that smile, the women could endure the day’s bitterest hunger and direst labor, for their hearts were satiated with bliss and the love of God.
It was said of Sri Ramana Maharshi that he had “A look that pierced.” Such was the case that people had to avert or close their eyes when his look fell upon them. Nevertheless, when his look couched his divine smile, all were transfixed. Many have tried to communicate the wondrous experience of beholding the smile of Bhagavan; they all finally admitted that their words fell far short of the wonder. Here are a few instances of those who attempted to convey the smile that seemed to” burst open the very gates of heaven”.
“You can imagine nothing more beautiful than his smile. There is no way of describing the radiance of his smile.”
A simple woman said: “I don’t understand the philosophy but when he smiles at me I feel safe, just like a child in its mother’s arms. I had never yet seen him when I received a letter from my five- year-old daughter: ‘You will love Bhagavan. When he smiles everyone must be so happy’.”
“And he would explain that it is the Guru not the disciple who sees the progress made; it is for the disciple to carry on perseveringly with his work even though the structure
being raised may be out of sight of the mind. It may sound a hard path, but the disciples’ love for Bhagavan and the graciousness of his smile gave it beauty.”
“The Maharshi with an ineffable smile which lit up His Holy Face and which was all-pervasive, shining upon the coterie around him, replied in tones of certainty and with the ring of truth; “Divine Grace is essential for Realisation. It leads one to God-realisation. But such Grace is vouchsafed only to him who is a true devotee or a yogin, who has striven hard and ceaselessly on the path towards freedom.” Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi #29
“He sat motionless with a sparkling smile on his face like the foam on the waves of the ocean of ananda.”
“His gentle smile shone like the cool rays of the moon. His words simply rained amrit. We sat there like statues without consciousness of the body.”
“I saw him looking at me with large penetrating eyes, wreathed in smiles rendered divinely soothing by their child-like innocence.”
At the time of Bhagavan’s Mahanirvana (leaving the physical body: “Unexpectedly, a group of devotees sitting on the veranda outside the hall began singing ‘Arunachala-Siva’ (Aksharanamanamalai). On hearing it, Sri Bhagavan’s eyes opened and shone. He gave a brief smile of indescribable tenderness. From the outer edges of his eyes tears of bliss rolled down. One more deep breath, and no more. There was no struggle, no spasm, no other sign of death: only that the next breath did not come.”
Gita Chapter 12: The Path of Devotion to God Realization
The path of devotion communicated during the conversation between Sri Arjuna and Lord Krishna is highlighted by providing answer to the following key questions:
(1) Should One Worship a Personal or an Impersonal God?
(2) What are the four Paths to God Realization explained in this chapter?
(3) Why Karma-Yoga is recommended to be the Best Starting Point for God Realization?
(4) What are the Key Attributes of a Devotee that we can gather from this Chapter?
(5) Finally why One Should Sincerely Strive to develop Divine Qualities?
Arjuna asked: Which of these has the best knowledge of yoga; those ever-steadfast devotees who worship personal aspect, or impersonal aspect (the formless Absolute)?
Lord Krishna said – “I consider the best yogis to be those ever steadfast devotees who worship with supreme faith by fixing their mind on Me as their personal God.”
This is a restatement of what He said in chapter 6, verse 47. True devotion is defined as the highest order of love for God. True devotion is motiveless intense love of God to attain Him. It is seeking God’s grace and serving with love and dedication to please Him . Thus, devotion is doing one’s duty as an offering to the Lord with love of God in one’s heart.
It should be also understood that devotion is granted by the grace of God. A loving relationship with God is easily developed through a personal God. The faithful followers of Rama, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Christ, and Muhammad are considered the steadfast devotees. All spiritual practices in the absence of steadfast devotion will become useless. The pearl of Self-knowledge is born on the nucleus of faith and devotion only.
What Lord Krishna has said with respect to those who worship the impersonal God? He assures that they also attain Me who worship the unchangeable, the inexplicable, the invisible, the omnipresent, the inconceivable, the unchanging, the immovable, and the formless. Their worship of the impersonal God come in the form of change in their attitude to life by restraining all the senses, even-minded behavior under all circumstances by engaging in the welfare of all creatures. A person who is competent to worship the formless aspect of God must have a complete mastery over the senses, be tranquil under all circumstances, and be engaged in the welfare of all creatures.
Lord Krishna implicitly points out that worshiping the personal God is relatively easier than worshiping the impersonal God. One must be free from body-feeling and be established in the feeling of the existence of the Self alone, if one wants to succeed in worship of formless Absolute. One becomes free from the bodily conception of life when one is fully purified and acts solely for the Supreme Lord. Attainment of such a state is not possible for the average human being, but only for advanced souls. Therefore, the natural course for the ordinary seeker is to worship God with a form. Thus the method of worship depends on the individual. One should find out for oneself which method suits one best. It is quite fruitless to ask a child to worship a formless God, whereas a sage sees God in every form and does not need a statue or even a picture of God for worship.
At the starting point there are likely differences between these two approaches to the worship of God. But those practice with steadfast devotion the differences get melted away. Then there will be no real difference between the two paths. – the path of devotion to a personal God and the path of Self-knowledge of the impersonal God – as they attain full spiritual maturity. In the highest stage of realization they merge and become one. The personal and the impersonal, the physical form and the transcendental form, are the two sides of the coin of ultimate Reality. A person must learn to focus the mind with the one and only thought on a personal God with a form. After succeeding therein by fixing their mind, their mind get purified and they are able to transcendent all attachments to names and forms. The highest liberation is possible only by realization of God as the very Self in all beings, and it comes only through maturity of devotion to the personal God and by His grace.
First is the path of meditation (See Chapter 6 for greater details) for the contemplative mind. Thinking of a chosen form of God all the time is different from worshiping that form, but both practices are the same in quality and effect. In other words, contemplation is also a form of worship. If you are unable to focus your mind steadily on Me then long to attain Me by practice of any other spiritual discipline; such as a ritual, or deity worship that suits you. (12.09).
Second is the path of ritual, prayer, and devotional worship recommended for people who are emotional, have more faith but less reasoning and intellect (See also 9.32). Constantly contemplate and concentrate your mind on God, using symbols or mental pictures of a personal God as an aid to develop devotion. If you are unable even to do any spiritual discipline, then dedicate all your work to Me, or do your duty just for Me. You shall attain perfection by doing your prescribed duty for Me – without any selfish motive – just as an instrument to serve and please Me. (12.10)
Third is the path of transcendental knowledge or renunciation, acquired through contemplation and scriptural study for people who have realized the truth that we are only divine instruments. Lord Himself guides every endeavor of the person who works for the good of humanity, and success comes to a person who dedicates his or her life to the service of God. If you are unable to dedicate your work to Me, then just surrender unto My will and renounce the attachment to, and the anxiety for, the fruits of all work by learning to accept all results with equanimity as God’s grace. (12.11).
The fourth is the path of Karma Yoga, the selfless service to humanity, discussed in Chapter 3, for householders who cannot renounce worldly activity and work full-time for God, as discussed in verse 12.10, above. The main thrust of verses 12.08-11 is that one must establish some relationship with the Lord; such as the progenitor, father, mother, beloved, child, savior, guru, master, helper, guest, friend, and even an enemy. Karma Yoga, or the renunciation of the selfish attachment to fruits of work, is not a method of last resort; as it may appear from verse 12.11.
Karma Yoga is the Best Way
The transcendental knowledge of scriptures is better than mere ritualistic practice; meditation is better than scriptural knowledge; renunciation of selfish attachment to the fruits of work (KarmaYoga) is better than meditation; because peace immediately follows renunciation of selfish motives. (See more on renunciation in 18.02, and 18.09) When one’s knowledge of God increases, all Karma is gradually eliminated because one who is situated in knowledge thinks he or she is not the doer but an instrument working at the pleasure of the creator. Such an action in God-consciousness becomes devotion ¾ free from any Karmic bondage. Thus, there is no sharp demarcation between the paths of selfless service, spiritual knowledge, and devotion.
What are the Key Attributes of a Devotee?
One is dear to Me who does not hate any creature, who is friendly and compassionate, free from the notion of “I” and “my”, even-minded in pain and pleasure, forgiving; and who is ever content, who has subdued the mind, whose resolve is firm, whose mind and intellect are engaged in dwelling upon Me, and who is devoted to Me. (12.13-14) To attain oneness with God, one has to become perfect like Him by cultivating moral virtues. Virtues and discipline are two sure means of devotion. A list of forty virtues and values are provided through verses 12.13 to 12.19 by describing the qualities of an ideal devotee, or a Self-realized person. The true devotee is fully committed to these forty noble qualities. It should be pointed out the true devotion implies “COMMITMENT” without “ATTACHMENT.”
One is also dear to Me who is free from joy, envy, fear and anxiety and does not agitate others and also not agitated by them. (12.15)
One who is desireless, pure, wise, impartial, and free from anxiety; who has renounced the doership in all undertakings – such a devotee is dear to Me. (12.16)
One who neither rejoices nor grieves, neither likes nor dislikes, who has renounced both the good and the evil, and is full of devotion is also dear to Me. (12.17)
One who remains the same towards friend or foe, in honor or disgrace, in heat or cold, in pleasure or pain; who is free from attachment; who is indifferent to censure or praise; who is quiet, and content with whatever one has, unattached to a place, a country, or a house; who is tranquil, and full of devotion, that person is dear to Me. (12.18-19)
It is said that divine Controllers with their exalted qualities, such as the knowledge of God, wisdom, renunciation, detachment, and equanimity, always reside in the inner psyche of a pure devotee. Thus, perfect devotees who have renounced affinity for the world and its objects and have love for God are rewarded by the Lord with divine qualities. They are dear to the Lord.
What about those who are imperfect, but trying sincerely for perfection? Lord Krishna answers this question in the very the next verse suggesting that One Should Sincerely Strive to Develop Divine Qualities:
But those faithful devotees are very dear to Me who set Me as their supreme goal and follow — or just sincerely strive to develop — the above mentioned nectar of (forty) moral values. (12.20)
One may not have all the virtues, but a sincere effort to develop virtues is most appreciated by the Lord. Thus the one who strives is very dear to the Lord. The higher class of devotees do not desire anything, including salvation from the Lord, except for the boon to permanently be at the lotus feet of a personal God, birth after birth. Lower class devotees use God as a servant to fulfill their material demands and desires. The development of unswerving love and devotion to the lotus feet of the Lord is the ultimate aim of all spiritual discipline and meritorious deeds as well as the goal of human birth. A true devotee considers oneself the servant, the Lord as the master, and the entire creation as His body.
The path of devotion is a better path for most people, but Devotion does not develop without a combination of personal effort, faith, and the grace of God. Nine techniques for cultivating devotion which is an intense love for God as a personal Being – based on Tulasi Ramayana are:
(1) The company of the holy and wise,
(2) Listening and reading the glories and stories of Lord’s incarnations in the religious scriptures,
(3) Seva or serving God through service to the needy, the saints, and society,
(4) Congregational chanting and singing of the glories of God,
(5) Repeating the Lord’s name and mantra with firm faith,
(6) Discipline, control over the six senses, and detachment,
(7) Seeing your personal God everywhere and in everything,
(8) Contentment and lack of greed as well as overlooking others’ faults, and
(9) Simplicity, lack of anger, jealousy, and hatred.
The best thing a person should do is to develop love of God. Lord Rama said that one needs to follow any one of the above methods with faith to develop love of God and become a devotee.
Good company of saints and sages is a very powerful tool for God-realization. It is said that friendship, discussions, dealings, and marriage should be with equals or those who are better than oneself, not with persons of lower level of intellect (MB 5.13.117).
A person is known by the company he or she keeps. According to most saints and sages, the path of devotion is very simple and easy to perform. One can begin by simply chanting a personal mantra or any holy name of God. There is no restriction on the correct time or place for chanting the holy name of God. The process of devotional service consists of one or more of the following practices: Hearing discourses, chanting the holy name of God, remembering and contemplating God, worshipping Him, praying to Him, serving God and humanity, and surrendering to His will.
The four inter-connected paths of yoga discussed in the first twelve chapters of the Gita may be summarized as follows:
The practice of Karma Yoga leads to purification of the mind from the stain of selfishness that paves the way for knowledge of God to be revealed. Knowledge develops into devotional love of God. Constant thinking of God, the object of our love due to devotion, is called meditation and contemplation that eventually lead to enlightenment and salvation.
Is there Only One Right Way to God?
Lord Krishna has been talking about both manifest and unmanifest aspects of God in the previous chapters (See for example 9.4 and 9.5). Arjuna’s question has been answered in great detail in this chapter, but people still argue that one method of worship or certain religious practices are better than others. Such persons will continue to argue and will be only able to understand half the truth.
From what is presented in Chapter 12, it is clear that the method of worship depends on the nature of the individual. The person or the person’s guru should find out which path will be most suitable for the individual, depending on the person’s temperament. To force his or her own method of worship on other people is the greatest disservice a guru can do to disciples. The most important thing is to develop faith in and love of God. God has the power to manifest before a devotee in any form, regardless of the devotee’s chosen form of worship. What has worked for one may not work for all, so what makes you think your method is universal? There was no need for the Lord to discuss different paths of yoga if there was one path for all. If the chosen path of spiritual discipline does not give one peace or God-realization, then it must be understood that one is not practicing correctly or the path is not right for the individual. It should be kept in mind that a drop of water, no matter what route it takes, will eventually reach the ocean.
Note: It should be pointed out that the recipes presented in this chapter are quite useful for cooks who want to prepare tasty meals for seekers who like the flavors of Dwaita or Visistadwaita or Advaita! That may explain why this chapter is well-liked by the followers of different schools of thought.
Sri Ramana used to say that of all the yogic rules and regulations, the best one is taking of Sattvic foods in moderate quantities. This view is consistent with that expressed in the Bhagavad Gita, and indeed most of the Yoga Shastras.
The logic is that since food consumed has a major effect on the body and the mind, a Sattvic diet should be adhered to in order to enhance both the health of the body as well as purity, strength, and calmness of the mind. An agitated person will find it difficult to sit quietly and meditate.
A disciplined and one pointed mind is an aid to ones’ learning and education as well as having success in business and other worldly affairs. A clear, pure, and a reflective mind is, of course, essential to self-enquiry which leads to Self-Realization.
The question then becomes, “What is a Sattvic diet? What is the authority for saying that certain foods are Sattvic and lead to good health, mental clarity, poise, and spiritual advancement, while other foods do not?”
There is much yogic literature on this topic and also some disagreement among experts depending on their school of thought and background. Since most Hindus generally accept the Bhagavad Gita as the final word, I will refer to that as my primary source on the Sattvic diet.
We should keep in mind that Sri Krishna, who speaks in the Bhagavad Gita with complete spiritual authority, is also considered the model of exceptional and abundant physical health and perfect mental poise. He is depicted in the ancient writings as slim, active, energetic, graceful, and attractive.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna demonstrates profound insight into not just the spiritual nature, but also human nature and physical nature. By inference, Sri Krishna’s words on food and the Sattvic diet carry much weight for those who study the Bhagavad Gita.
What foods should one minimize according to the Bhagavad Gita?
In Chapter 17 (verses 8, 9, 10), Sri Krishna makes clear the type of foods to be avoided by those who seek good physical and mental health, worldly success, and progress on the spiritual path.
According to the Bhagavad Gita, foods which are too bitter, sour, salty, pungent, dry, and hot can lead to pain, distress, and disease of the body. Further, Sri Krishna says that foods cooked more than three hours before being eaten, foods which are tasteless, stale, putrid, decomposed and unclean should be avoided by spiritual aspirants and those who seek excellent physical and mental health.
What foods should be eaten according to the Bhagavad Gita?
In Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna states, “If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it:” (Bg.9.26). To me this seems to suggest that Sri Krishna is sanctioning a diet based on leaves and fruits and water as the best one for spiritual growth. I am no scholar on the Bhagavad Gita, but my liberal interpretation of this verse would be that the Sattvic diet is generally plant based and includes all or most vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, etc.
Because Sri Krishna gave cows sacred status similar to that of a human mother and favored raw butter for personal consumption as a child, one could reasonably argue that dairy products (such as yogurt, milk, kefir, lassi, sour cream, etc.) belong to the Sattvic food category.
Many yogis hold the view, however, that dairy products can only be considered Sattvic if these are obtained respecting the cows and goats who are shown kindness, love, and humane treatment. According to the principle of Ahimsa (nonviolence), any food procured through violence to living beings cannot be considered Sattvic.
Yogic Sattvic Diets
Some yogis that I have met favor a completely raw vegetarian diet with a primary focus on sprouted grains and beans (such as Garbanzo, Blackeyed peas, etc.) along with raw fruits and vegetables. Their diet is essentially vegan and contains no animal products. However, modern science teaches us that since vitamin B12 is missing from a purely vegan diet, supplementation is necessary.
A number of medical and scholarly references can be found on this issue on the web.
Other yogis have felt that a raw vegetarian diet is too limiting and include cooked foods as well as dairy products (milk, yogurt, lassi, etc.) in their diet. This diet, known as the lacto-vegetarian diet, is probably the most wide spread among Indian Hindus and Jains.
A few well known yogis have also traditionally included not only dairy but also eggs and egg products in their otherwise vegetarian diet. This is known as the lacto-ovo vegetarian diet.
Although very few Indian yogis include any kind of fish, fowl, or meat in their food, there are exceptions. Buddhist yogis, for example Dalai Lama, do eat meat. A few Hindu yogis also eat meat pointing out that some ancient scriptures sanction meat eating for certain religious rituals.
For most Hindu and Jain yogis, however, there is no convincing argument for eating meat if one wishes to uphold the supreme principle of Ahimsa and follow the philosophy of nonviolence.
What is the best Sattvic Diet?
The general answer from my study is that foods which cause the body to gain health and for the mind to be calm and peaceful constitute the Sattvic diet. To some extent, this requires knowing the needs of one’s own body and being sensitive to the effects of various foods on our system. Foods which are very suitable and nutritious for one person may not be right for another. Common sense and wisdom are the essential ingredients to find the best Sattvic diet for yourself.
In terms of particular foods to be eaten, the yogis and sages have answered this question, but the answers have different variations. One common element of a yogic Sattvic diet is that it is primarily vegetarian. This is true at least for Hindu and Jain yogis.
Within the broad framework of vegetarianism, a number of dietary systems are possible where certain foods are included and some are excluded. In the most liberal vegetarian diets, eggs and dairy products are included. Some people include dairy in their vegetarian diet but not eggs. Some include eggs but not dairy. In the most strict vegetarian diet, eggs and milk are excluded. Supplementation through certain vitamins is needed in such diets, according to modern medical opinion.
My personal experiences
Having experimented with a variety of diets for decades, I feel that a vegetarian diet can be healthy or unhealthy depending on many factors. For example, if I am a lacto-vegetarian and eat too many pizza pieces, the feeling of discomfort is likely to follow. In fact, after experimenting with eating pizzas thousands of times in my younger days, I am fairly certain that this is indeed true. I believe this also holds if one eats bucket loads of ice cream on a frequent basis. So, is lacto-vegetarian diet healthy? It depends on how lacto you are and how often you go lacto with heavy fat and fried lacto foods!
The point is that a vegetarian diet can be either healthy or unhealthy depending on the nature of food eaten as well as the quantity of food consumed.
In Chapter 6, verse 16, Sri Krishna specifically emphasizes moderation in eating and sleeping. He states, “There is no possibility of ones’ becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.”
Clearly, overconsumption of food leads to problems and one can logically conclude that the quantity of food consumed is probably an important element in a diet being considered Sattvic.
Sattvic diet is also a matter of degree. Some diets may be very Sattvic, while others may be moderately Sattvic.
Finally, the thoughts and the emotional balance while eating the food have an effect on our system. This is why in many religions, prayers and showing of gratitude for the food being consumed is offered. This mental state while eating helps the diet become more Sattvic.
What does it all mean?
So what does it all mean and what are the lessons from Bhagavad Gita and our discussion of the Sattvic diet? Here is what I think some of the lessons are. See if you agree.
1. Whatsoever you eat, eat in moderation.
2. Educate yourself on proper nutrition, be sensitive to your body, and see what foods work for you.
3. Emphasize fresh vegetables and fruits and eat a diet which is mostly plant-based.
4. Do not eat foods which are too salty, bitter, or have gone stale and putrid.
5. Regardless of the food being eaten, eat with gratitude, prayerful attitude, and with mental poise.
6. Chew the food carefully and taste it deeply without rushing.
There are literally thousands of great sources on the web and hundreds of books in stores to help you educate yourself on the Bhagavad Gita, vegetarianism, and nutrition. Go do some research and find out for yourself!
That’s my homespun wisdom for today. Like Captain Planet used to say, “The Power is yours!”
Given below are some pictures of plant based dishes that I made keeping the principles of Sattvic food in mind. Wishing you all abundant physical, mental, and spiritual health. Namaste.
“Because, whatever noble persons do, others follow. Whatever standard they set up, the world follows.”
(3.21) Bhagavad Gita
A version of this paper was presented at the 2005 Academy of Management Meetings in Hawaii under the title: Transformational Leadership and Self-Awareness in Hinduism: A Role Model for Creating Adaptive Organizations. It was part of an Academy of Management Symposium entitled Leadership for Adaptive Organizations: Models from the Christian, Hindu and Buddhist Traditions-Spiritual Leadership. Krishna images can be found throughout the Internet, including the site http://www.vishvarupa.com/vishnu-krishna.html and http://www.krishna.com. All images reproduced here in the spirit of fair use. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/.
We have given acknowledgement of photographers and artists to the best of our ability. Please contact us if you feel we have missed an acknowledgement.
Charismatic leadership behavior of Krishna is examined in the Hindu epic Mahabharata just prior to the start of the Mahabharata war. Using modern theories of leadership, it is suggested that Krishna’s leadership style fits both the servant-leader and the transformational models of leadership based on situational contingencies. This approach adds to the stream of literature wherein scholars have examined the leadership of various historical religious figures including Jesus of Nazareth, Nehemiah, and Mahatma Gandhi and have analyzed the implications of spiritual leadership for modern life and organizations. The paper initiates an important stream of literature since no one has yet looked at Krishna’s leadership style from the modern perspective of transformational and servant-leader models.
In this paper, I look at one of the major characters in the Hindu epic Mahabharata, namely Krishna, and analyze the leadership behavior of Krishna to see how it fits the modern management thoughts on transformational and servant-leadership models. Taking this approach is consistent with recent literature wherein scholars have examined the leadership of Jesus of Nazareth (Sendjyaa and Sarros, 2002), the leadership of Nehemiah (Maciarello, 2003), and in general explored the characteristics of spiritual leadership (Cavanaugh, 1999; Covey, 1996) and its implications for modern life and organizations.
The sociologist Max Weber (1947) conceptualized a leader as a charismatic personality whose exercise of power was rooted in the followers identifying with the leader and their strong belief in him or her as an authority. According to scholars, charismatic leaders have extraordinary characteristics which allow them to inspire their followers and gain their commitment to shared ideals and a common vision (Conger & Kanungo, 1998; Hellriegel, Slocum, and & Woodman, 2001; Smith, Montago, & Kuzmenko, 2004). In suggesting the importance of the charismatic leadership as a root model, Graham (1991) reasoned that charismatic leadership lays the conceptual foundation for understanding transformational (Burns, 1978) and servant-leader models (Greenleaf, 1977) as both of these are inspirational and moral in nature. Similarly, Farling, Stone, and Winston (1999), have concluded that the notion of transformational leadership and servant leadership have a fundamental commonality to them.
This is the first paper looking at Krishna’s charismatic leadership and how it manifested in Krishna’s playing the role of a transformative servant-leader before and during the Mahabharata war. Although the charismatic leadership of many religious leaders and prophets and even Jesus of Nazareth has been examined (Barnes, 1978), Krishna has been left out of this analysis by modern western scholars. The reasons for this are unclear, although it is possible that many traditional western scholars have viewed Krishna as a fictional character and, like Barnes (1978), tend to focus on a contemporary figure like Gandhi as being a more representative leader of Hinduism.
However, hundreds of millions of Hindus view Krishna as being quite real and historical; exactly in the same way that Christians view Jesus to be a real and historical figure. Further, Indian scholars such as Raghavan (1969), a mathematician and an astronomer, have conducted analysis on the large number of detailed astronomical references (the relative positions of planets, the stars, the sun, and the moon in the sky) found in the Mahabharata literature and have argued that the strong internal consistency of these data from the ancient skies establishes the historicity of Mahabharata and places the Mahabharata war as having occurred around 3067 B.C.
B. N. Narahari Achar (2003), a Professor of physics at the University of Memphis, used the astronomical references in Mahabharata and experimented with various simulations employing very sophisticated tools of modern technology. Using a variety of planetarium software programs (such as Skymap Pro and Red Shift) that allow the exact picture of the sky for any given day and time from any part of the earth to be recreated (from 4000 B.C.E to 8000 C.E), Achar came to the same conclusion that Raghavan had arrived at earlier. Based on various streams of evidence, a significant number of Indian scholars believe that Mahabharata war is historical in nature and actually took place around 3000 B.C. (The IGNCA Newsletter 2003 Vol. I (January – February).
Krishna’s place in Hinduism
Hinduism is a broad umbrella for many different schools of philosophy and religious thought. The common bond among Hindus is that they all accept the central truths proclaimed by the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita. However, interpretations of these truths diverge depending on the lens of the particular Hindu tradition under which these truths are viewed. It is in the Bhagavad Gita that Krishna speaks to Arjuna about the meaning of life and how to attain the goal of life. The term “Bhagavad Gita” translates literally into English as “The Song of God”. The Bhagavad Gita is sometimes called the fifth Veda, and it is embedded in the epic civil war of Mahabharata.
The Mahabharata war was a battle between two dynasties of princes (Pandavas and Kauravas) who were cousins (Kane,1958; Pusalker, 1996). The father of Pandavas, Pandu, who had been the king, had died when his sons were still young. The kingdom, thereafter was looked after by his brother Dhritrashtra (who had been blind since childhood), until it could be passed on to the rightful inheritors, the Pandavas. However, Dhritrashtra’s sons, the Kauravas, schemed to have the Pandavas killed so that the entire kingdom would fall into their hands. When the many methods and plans employed over the years to destroy the Pandavas failed, the issue came to a head and the dispute between Pandavas and Kauravas became open. With various neighboring Kings choosing either one side or the other, the conflict escalated into a major national battle for the control of Bharata (the old name for India). Krishna played a critical leadership role in attempting to stop the war. Having failed in diplomacy, Krishna took the role of the charioteer for Arjuna in the Mahabharta war.
While the scholarly debate on the historicity of Mahabharata and the date it started is likely to continue, for most Hindus, the reality of Krishna has never been in question. Indeed, stories about Krishna as a mischievous child, a playful boy, a young man, a lover, a friend, and a warrior, who became the ruler of Dwarka in Western India, have captivated the Indian imagination since time immemorial. Krishna could be well described by Max Weber’s notion of ‘charisma.’ Weber defined charisma as a special quality in the personality of the leader by which he, “…is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional qualities.” (1947: 48).
In Hinduism throughout the ages, Krishna has remained as the clearest example of one of the most charismatic and transformational leaders who with his great power of intuition adapted himself to every situation and inspired his followers to do their duty and achieve the goals and objectives that had been set forth. We see Krishna taking a variety of leadership roles both before and during the Mahabharata war. The two most prominent roles Krishna takes are that of a servant-leader and the transformational leader.
Krishna as a Servant-Leader
In the servant-leader model, the goal of leadership is viewed primarily as service. Servant-leaders take into account the interests of those they lead and put the interests of the followers above their own self-interest. Servant-leaders facilitate the growth and development of their followers, promote community, share power and resources, and provide the support needed to help achieve the goals that lead to the common good of individuals and the community as a whole (Greenleaf, 1977; Spears and Lawrence, 2002). In the context of this perspective, we see that Krishna meets the criteria of a servant-leader.
The following background of Krishna helps us to assess this aspect of his leadership style.
Krishna’s reputation was well established by the time of the Mahabharata war and he was revered and adored by the people he ruled along with his older brother Balarama in the city of Dwarka. Krishna and Balarama were known as the protectors of the weak and helpless in society. In particular, Krishna had great reverence for Brahmins and the Rishis (religious monks and spiritual scholars and teachers) and enjoyed helping and serving them in a variety of ways to facilitate their spiritual practices.
Krishna himself had gone through a formal religious training period with his spiritual teacher and understood the importance of maintaining age old traditions. Therefore, he had little tolerance for those who harassed the Rishis and the Brahmins in any way. Many of Krishna’s fights had evolved from attempting to protect the innocent from harm. Both Krishna and his brother Balarama were known to be superb warriors who had been through many battles. Krishna’s enemies, for good reason, had a great fear of him, although Krishna never fought without a just cause and often patiently waited to determine if aggressive action was necessary.
The Mahabharata fight between Pandavas and Kauravas posed a dilemma for Krishna and his brother Balarama as Krishna and Balarama were related to both the Pandava princes and the Kaurava princes. Krishna knew that the leader of Kaurava princes, Duryodhana, was a wicked person who had relentlessly pursued the Pandavas for years to have them killed so that Pandavas would have no claim to the throne.
The Pandavas were still alive and well due to the protection Krishna had secretly extended them through a variety of means. The Pandavas had great love for Krishna and the five Pandavas brothers and their families were dear to Krishna as well. In particular, Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers was Krishna’s best friend since his youth. He was also married to Krishna’s sister Subhadra. Arjuna is a supreme archer and a major character in both the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna and Arjuna are inseparable during the Mahabharat war as Krishna takes the role of his charioteer and counselor.
Krishna Acts as a Diplomat
In order to avert the Mahabharata War, Krishna, although himself the ruler of the kingdom of Dwaraka, took the humble role of a mediator and negotiator to try to bring peace to the community. The Mahabharata epic details Krishna’s activities and the crucial role he played as a diplomat by attempting to achieve a last minute negotiated settlement in the conflict between Pandavas and Kauravas.
Here we see Krishna in his characteristic role of the servant-leader, not exercising his authority and power which he had in abundance, but instead trying to broker a peace by listening to both sides, empathizing with their suffering, attempting to persuade them to peace, offering them consolation and healing for the past wrongs that they may have suffered.
Even though Krishna knew the Kaurava princes to be wicked, he left no stone unturned and made a special visit to the Kaurava kingdom to speak with them and get them to agree to some minimal rights of property and conditions of fairness for the Pandavas.
In the modern management leadership literature, the servant-leader model has been recognized as important by Greenleaf (1977) and many authors have viewed this style of leadership as having a moral and a spiritual dimension (Wicks, 2002). Spears (1998), based on Greenleaf’s writings, identified ten major attributes of servant leadership that included, listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to growth of people, and building community.
Several writers such as Covey (1996) and others have added more attributes including, vision, integrity, empowerment, teaching, etc., and with minor variations in the terms used, these are generally consistent with Greenleaf’s original conceptualization of the servant-leader. In the Mahabharata epic, we see Krishna engage in most of these activities in his role as a mediator and peace maker in attempting to negotiate a fair settlement between the Pandavas and Kauravas so that a civil war and the resulting bloodshed can be avoided.
Krishna’s choice to serve Arjuna as his Charioteer
When all of Krishna’s diplomacy to avert the war fails, due essentially to the evil intentions of the Kaurava princes and their oldest brother and leader Duryodhana, war becomes unavoidable and is forced upon the Pandavas. The war preparations now start in earnest and within about a month’s time, both sides have built camps and colonies to support their respective armies with weaponry, food, and places of rest and shelter in the Kurukshetra field where the battle takes place.
With the civil war being imminent, Krishna’s older brother, Balarama, decides not participate in a war where there is family on both sides and leaves the area going on a religious pilgrimage. Krishna, however, when asked by his Pandava cousin Arjuna, who is also his best friend, to be by his side in the war, feels duty bound to take the side of righteousness and justice and agrees. But he does so on the condition that he, Krishna, will not take an active part in the war and engage in battle and spill any blood.
Instead, Krishna offers to serve Arjuna and be his charioteer in the battles of the Mahabharata war. Normally, it would not be common for a great King like Krishna to play a support role for another in battle. However, by becoming Arjuna’s charioteer in the war, Krishna actively takes on and embraces the support role and demonstrates that an act of service for a just cause is, in fact, an act of leadership.
The Starting Scene of Bhagavad Gita
Krishna and Arjuna have been through many experiences together and are about the same age at the start of the Mahabharata war, both being in their mid forties (derived from Raghvan, 1969; and Achar, 2003). As the appointed hour of the war gets closer, the two massive armies face each other and conch shells are being blown on both sides. Arjuna asks Krishna, now his charioteer, to take their chariot in the middle of the two armies so that Arjuna can have a good look at the opposing army and its leaders.
Krishna then drives the chariot between the two armies and stops in the middle. Arjuna starts to carefully observe the great warriors on the opposing side, all of whom he knows well.
As Arjuna looks at his foes on the other side, he experiences a deep life crisis and along with it panic, anxiety, and confusion. Arjuna’s body starts trembling and his mouth goes dry.
Arjuna sees his cousins, uncles, and even his revered teacher Dronacharya and great grandfather Bishma, all on the other side of the war, duty bound to their evil leader Duryodhana and ready to do battle with Arjuna and his Pandava brothers.
While the oldest member of the family, his great grandfather, is on the opposing side, one of the youngest warriors of Mahabharata is on the side of Arjuna, and it is his own son Abhimanyu. Abhimanyu is 16, a talented and brave fighter who has just gotten married and unknown to him, his wife is pregnant.
Abhimanyu, simply by being around his father Arjuna, watching him and listening to him, and practicing with him is on his way to becoming a great warrior himself. Abhimanyu is full of strength and confidence that is natural to youth.
Arjuna, however, is concerned that he has not had time to complete his son’s training in the art of war strategy and the tactics of survival within enemy formations. But now there is no more time left for training and to prepare. The great war is upon them.
All of a sudden, the horrific reality of what is about to happen overwhelms Arjuna and he is thrown into great sorrow at the prospect of death and destruction of families on both sides. He understands that the ground of Kurukshetra will be turning red with the blood of warriors who will leave behind their weeping widows and children.
This is what battles bring and Arjuna has seen it all before. Perhaps the words of his oldest brother Yudhishtara and his reservations regarding this war haunt him. “Even though we are duty bound by our caste as warriors to conduct this battle, everyone should remember that war is evil in any form. To the dead, victory and defeat are the same,” Yudhishtara had said to his brothers with great sadness.
Now the Mahabharata war is about to ensue, and Arjuna, the supreme archer and veteran of many battles, experiences deep uncertainty and questions whether this is the right thing to do.
The following verses from the first chapter of Bhagavad Gita describe Arjuna’s mental state (Translations by Dr. Ramanand Prasad).
Arjuna was overcome with great compassion and sorrowfully said:
O Krishna, seeing my kinsmen standing with a desire to fight (1.28), my limbs fail and my mouth becomes dry. My body quivers and my hairs stand on end (1.29).
The bow, Gaandeeva, slips from my hand and my skin intensely burns. My head turns, I am unable to stand steady and, O Krishna, I see bad omens. I see no use of killing my kinsmen in battle (1.30-31).
I desire neither victory nor pleasure nor kingdom, O Krishna. What is the use of the kingdom, or enjoyment, or even life, O Krishna? (1.32).
Because all those for whom we desire kingdom, enjoyments and pleasures, are standing here for the battle, giving up their lives and wealth (1.33).
Teachers, uncles, sons, grandfathers, maternal uncles, fathers-in-law, grandsons, brothers-in-law, and other relatives (1.34).
I do not wish to kill them, who are also about to kill, even for the sovereignty of the three worlds, let alone for this earthly kingdom, O Krishna (1.35).
O Lord Krishna, what pleasure shall we find in killing the sons of Dhritaraashtra? Upon killing these felons we shall incur sin only (1.36).
Therefore, we should not kill our brothers, the sons of Dhritaraashtra. How can we be happy after killing our kinsmen, O Krishna? (1.37).
Though they, blinded by greed, do not see evil in the destruction of the family, or sin in being treacherous to friends (1.38).
Why shouldn’t we, who clearly see evil in the destruction of the family, think about turning away from this sin, O Krishna? (1.39).
With the destruction of the family, the eternal family traditions are destroyed, and immorality prevails due to the destruction of family traditions. (1.40)
Indeed, how does one fight evil without becoming evil? How does one fight a wicked enemy, who is intent on destruction, without becoming wicked? This is the most difficult and an age old question for humanity.
Arjuna puts it bluntly when he asks Krishna, “Though our enemies blinded by greed do not see evil in the destruction of the family, or sin in being treacherous to friends, why shouldn’t we, who clearly see evil in the destruction of the family, think about turning away from this sin, O Krishna?”
Arjuna, whose arrows have always found their mark in the past, now lays down his bow and tells Krishna that he would prefer to be slain not resisting rather than kill his cousins, uncles, and relatives on the other side, many of whom he admires, respects, and loves no matter how wicked and evil their leaders are.
We all understand that this is a natural reaction in the given context. However, in light of current scientific information, Arjuna’s question acquires a modern relevance. Scientists now tell us that all persons alive today had common ancestors. Somewhere in our deep biological evolutionary past, there is a super great grandmother that we all share. So, if we view all human beings, regardless of their nationality, religion, color, race, and ethnicity as part of our larger family, we must also understand that when nations conduct wars against each other, it is essentially distant cousins who have to battle and either kill or be killed.
The dilemma of Arjuna is not new. Arjuna admits to Krishna that he is very confused and asks for his guidance.
Krishna as a Transformational Servant-Leader
Given the unexpected change in the mood of Arjuna, it falls upon Krishna, acting as his charioteer, to counsel him. Sensing the critical urgency of the situation, with the opposing side getting ready to strike, Krishna with his immensely charismatic personality immediately transforms himself into an authority who speaks with power and conviction to inspire Arjuna to do his just and righteous duty.
Modern leadership literature documents the association between crisis and manifestation of charisma in political leaders (House, Spangler, and Woycke, 1991). Scholars have reasoned that a crisis allows charismatic leaders with the opportunity to display their personality to a fuller extent (Bryman, 1993) and an uncertain situation enhances the leader’s ability to appear charismatic. Seen in this context, acting as a charismatic transformational leader, Krishna inspires Arjuna to have a new vision of life and empowers him to act according to his Dharma (duty) as a warrior.
Krishna does this by focusing on the immediate psychological needs of Arjuna in order to bring him out of his sorrow and confusion and offers himself (Krishna) as a role model whose ideal conduct is worth emulating. Krishna’s approach is consistent with the classic strategy of transformational leadership (Smith et al., 2004), using which, leaders are able to uplift their followers and enable them to share and follow a powerful vision of the future.
We can examine in depth Krishna’s response to Arjuna using the four components of transformational leadership behavior that are mentioned in the modern literature as idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration (Bass, 1985, 1996; Bass & Avolio, 1994a, 1994b). Krishna’s goal is to pick up Arjuna’s spirits by explaining to him the nature of life, death, and the immortal spirit, and the way to overcome mental obstacles that stand in the way of doing his duty.
Given below are a few sample verses from the Bhagavad Gita to demonstrate Krishna’s use of the four behaviors commonly accepted as belonging to the realm of transformational leadership.
1. Individualized Consideration: In the following verses, we see Krishna addressing Arjuna’s personal duty as a warrior and advising him what he needs to do to achieve his goals. Specifically, Krishna points out that Arjuna, given his background as a warrior prince, cannot shirk from a battle that is just and righteous. The words used are meant to remind Arjuna that his people are depending on him to protect them from harm, and if Arjuna now retreats, there will be chaos and very serious consequences undermining his past achievements, reputation, and hindering his future potential and growth as a warrior and a person.
Krishna says to Arjuna:
If you will not fight this righteous war, then you will fail in your duty, lose your reputation, and incur sin (2.33)
The great warriors will think that you have retreated from the battle out of fear. Those who have greatly esteemed you will lose respect for you (2.35).
Your enemies will speak many unmentionable words and scorn your ability. What could be more painful than this? (2.36).
Further, as part of his individualized consideration for Arjuna, Krishna later advises Arjuna that he can develop his potentially divine nature and become an evolved soul by doing his duty as a warrior without attachment to whether it will bear fruit or not.
Treating pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat alike, engage yourself in your duty. By doing your duty this way you will not incur sin (2.38).
You have jurisdiction over your respective duty only, but no control or claim over the results. The fruits of work should not be your motive. You should never be inactive (2.47).
Therefore, always perform your duty efficiently and without attachment to the results, because by doing work without attachment one attains the Supreme. (3.19).
2. Intellectual Stimulation: Another component of transformational leadership is for the leader to open the followers up to new ideas and different ways of understanding so the followers can integrate this new knowledge into their behaviors and actions. Krishna demonstrates this approach in the following selected verses when he explains to Arjuna the nature of life and death of the body and the eternal nature of the Atma (Soul – Self -Spirit).
You grieve for those who are not worthy of grief, and yet speak the words of wisdom. The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead (2.11).
There was never a time when I, you, or these kings did not exist; nor shall we ever cease to exist in the future (2.12).
The Atma is neither born nor does it die at any time, nor having been it will cease to exist again. It is unborn, eternal, permanent, and primeval. The Atma is not destroyed when the body is destroyed (2.20).
O Arjuna, how can a person who knows that the Atma is indestructible, eternal, unborn, and imperishable, kill anyone or cause anyone to be killed? (2.21).
Just as a person puts on new garments after discarding the old ones, similarly Atma acquires new bodies after casting away the old bodies (2.22).
Weapons do not cut this Atma, fire does not burn it, water does not make it wet, and the wind does not make it dry (2.23).
3. Idealized Influence: In this aspect of transformational leadership, the leader offers himself/herself as the ideal role model whose high ethical and moral conduct is worth emulating. We see Krishna use this approach in the following verses emphasizing that although he, Krishna, needs nothing and has nothing to obtain, yet he still does not give up action and does his duty to set an example to others.
Because, whatever noble persons do, others follow. Whatever standard they set up, the world follows (3.21).
O Arjuna, there is nothing in the three worlds (earth, heaven, and the upper regions) that should be done by Me, nor there is anything unattained that I should obtain, yet I engage in action (3.22).
Because, if I do not engage in action relentlessly, O Arjuna, people would follow My path in every way (3.23).
These worlds would perish if I do not work, and I shall be the cause of confusion and destruction of all these people (3.24).
As the ignorant work, O Arjuna, with attachment (to the fruits of work), so the wise should work without attachment, for the welfare of the society (3.25).
Works do not bind Me, because I have no desire for the fruits of work. The one who understands this truth is (also) not bound by Karma. (4.14).
4. Inspirational Motivation: The last essential facet of transformational leadership is the ability to inspire and energize the followers to act on the shared vision of the leader and empower the followers with the ability to carry it out. The next few verses are examples of Krishna’s inspirational motivation and the divine touch that removes Arjuna’s confusion about the right course of action.
Both you and I have taken many births. I remember them all, O Arjuna, but you do not remember (4.05).
Whenever there is a decline of Dharma and the rise of Adharma, O Arjuna, then I manifest (or incarnate) Myself. I incarnate from time to time for protecting the good, for transforming the wicked, and for establishing Dharma, the world order (4.07-08).
Dedicating all works to Me in a spiritual frame of mind, free from desire, attachment, and mental grief, do your duty (3.30).
Those who always practice this teaching of Mine, with faith and free from cavil, are freed from the bondage of Karma (3.31).
O Arjuna, I am the Atma abiding in the heart of all beings. I am also the beginning, the middle, and the end of all beings (10.20).
The Supreme Lord said: O Arjuna, behold My hundreds and thousands of multifarious divine forms of different colors and shapes. (11.05).
Therefore, you get up and attain glory. Conquer your enemies and enjoy a prosperous kingdom. All these (warriors) have already been destroyed by Me. You are only an instrument, O Arjuna (11.33).
After Krishna had explained many mysteries to Arjuna he asked:
O Arjuna, did you listen to this with single-minded attention? Has your delusion born of ignorance been destroyed? (18.72).
Arjuna answered: By Your grace my delusion is destroyed, I have gained knowledge, my confusion (with regard to body and Atma) is dispelled and I shall obey your command (18.73).
Arjuna then went on to lead his armies into the battle that has become known as the Mahabharata war, with Krishna acting as his charioteer and guide.
A ferocious and a hellish battle followed in which large numbers of armies were destroyed on both sides.
Arjuna’s worst nightmare came true when his son Abhimanyu, trapped behind a cunning enemy formation, lost his life fighting valiantly while Arjuna was preoccupied in a different field of battle and unable to reach him in time.
After experiencing the insanity and destruction that war brings to both sides, Arjuna, along with his Pandava brothers, with the counseling and support of Krishna, were victorious. Yudhishtara, the oldest Pandava prince, with some convincing from his brothers and Krishna, reluctantly took over the reigns of the new kingdom.
In this paper, I examined the charismatic leadership behavior of Krishna just prior to the start of the Mahabharata war to demonstrate that it fits both the servant-leader and the transformational model of leadership. This approach adds to the stream of literature wherein scholars have examined the leadership of various historical religious figures (Barnes, 1978) including Jesus of Nazareth (Sendjyaa and Sarros, 2002) and Nehemiah (Maciarello, 2003). With the growing general trend to explore the characteristics of spiritual leadership (Cavanaugh, 1999; Covey, 1996) and its implications for modern life and organizations, the paper fills a gap in the literature because no one has looked at Krishna’s role in Mahabharata in the context of modern leadership theories.
Many scholars who have analyzed both the servant-leader model and the transformational model have suggested that these models have many common elements as they are both rooted in theories of charismatic leadership and are moral and inspirational in nature (Graham, 1991; Farling et al., 1999; Smith et al., 2004).
An examination of Krishna’s leadership in Mahabharata shows that Krishna as a charismatic leader was able to potentially adapt and shift between the servant-leader and transformational leadership styles based on situational contingencies, and that this led to successful outcomes. The possibility that such adaptability can be developed by charismatic leaders in organizations would have implications for organizational survivability and prosperity and should be explored by scholars in the future.
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Bass, B. M.; Avolio, B. J., (1994b). Transformational leadership and organizational culture. International Journal of Public Administration, 17(3/4), 541-552.
Burns, J.M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper & Row.
Cavanagh, GF. (1999), “Spirituality for managers: context and critique”, Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 12 No. 3, pp. 45-53.
Conger, J.A., Kanungo, R. N. (1998). Charismatic leadership in organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage publications.
Covey, S. R. (1996). Three roles of the leader in the new paradigm. In Hesselbein, F., Goldsmith, M., & Beckhard, R. (Eds.), The leader of the future (149-159). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Farling, M.L., Stone, A.G., & Winston, B.E. (1999). Servant Leadership: Setting the stage for empirical research. The Journal of Leadership Studies, 6 (1/2), 49-72.
Graham, J.W. (1991). Servant leadership in organizations: Inspirational and moral. Leadership Quarterly, 2 (2), 105-119.
Greenleaf, R.K. (1977). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
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IGNCA Newsletter 2003 Vol. I January – February. (http://ignca.nic.in/nl002503.htm)
Kane, P. V., History of Dharmasastra, BORI, (Poona, 1958) Vol. III.
Maciariello, J. (2003). Lessons in leadership and management from Nehemiah. Theology Today, 60: 397-407.
Prasad, Ramanand, The Bhagavad Gita (1988), American Gita Society, Freemont CA; http://eawc.evansville.edu/anthology/gita.htm
Pusalker, A. D., “Traditional History from the earliest Time to the Accession of Parikshit”, in The Vedic Age, Majumdar, R. C., Pusalker, A. D., and Majumdar, A. K. (ed.) Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, (Mumbai, 1996)
Raghavan, K. S., The Date of the Mahabharata War, Srirangam Printers, (Srinivasanagar, 1969).
Sendjaya, S. and Sarros, J.C. (2002). Servant leadership: It’s origin, development, and application in organizations. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies. Vol. 9, Iss. 2; p. 57.
Smith, B.N. Montagno, R.V. Kuzmenko, T.N. (2004). Transformational and Servant Leadership: Content and Contextual Comparisons. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies. Vol. 10, Iss. 4; pg. 80, 12 pgs
Spears, L.C. (Ed.). (1998). Insights on leadership: Service, stewardship, spirit, and servant leadership. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Spears, L.C. (1998). Creating caring leadership for the 21st century. The Non-for-Profit CEO, 5 (9), 1-3.
Spears, L.C., Lawrence, M. (Eds.). (2002). Focus on leadership: Servant leadership for the 21st century. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
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Wicks, J. (2002). Table for Six Billion Please. In Spears, L.C., Lawrence, M. (Eds.). Focus on leadership: Servant leadership for the 21st century (pp. 269-283). New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Yukl, G. (1999). An evaluative essay on current conceptions of effective leadership. European Journal of Work & Organizational Psychology, 8(1), 33-48.
Please note that there are numerous translations of The Bhagavad Gita, many of which can be found on the Internet in addition to that of Dr. Prasad cited herein. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagavad_Gita; http://www.gitasupersite.iitk.ac.in/
The fervent devotion to Krishna of the celebrated milk-maids (Gopis or Gopikas) of Brindavan, and particularly of RadhA the most prominent of them all, is the best example of mAdhura-bhakti (Devotion through Love) for all time. There is a large variety of legends and representations of this bhakti in painting and sculpture that spreads through every part of India. The first poetic expression of the RadhA-Krishna story was in the Gita-GovindaM of Jayadeva (12th century A.D.). The principal character in that poem is RadhA, the beloved of Krishna. She spoke no word except prayer. She moved no step except towards Krishna. She saw and heard only Krishna. She spoke only of Him, to Him, for Him, whoever might be in her vicinity. Krishna filled her heart entirely. This magnificent poem is held in high respect and is sung all over India particularly in congregatory singing of Bhajans, the singers often reaching heights of ecstasy. This lyrical extravaganza of Jayadeva is delightful poetry without inhibitions. It is at the very center of religious poetry in the Bhakti tradition, though it may be considered erotic from a Victorian viewpoint. It is venerated as God’s own writing. The singing and dancing associated with this poem are so absorbing not only in its music and rhythm but also in its lyric that describes the love-sport of Radha and Krishna.
What is the origin or source of all this? Is it Jayadeva’s imagination, fancy or invention? No. It all goes back to Shrimad BhagavataM of Vyasa. In the tenth skanda of Bhagavatam, there are five chapters (#s 29 to 33) known as ‘RAsa-panchAdhyAyi’. These five chapters describe the Raas LeelA of Krishna with the Gopis of Brindavan. But wait, before we come to that, we must tune our minds the right way in order to appreciate it all.
So let us go back to the famous story of Krishna’s theft of the clothes of the Gopis while they were bathing in the river. (Bhagavatam, Skanda X, Ch.22). It looks like an immoral story, with a child of six as the central figure. It is spoken of as though he were a full-grown man, insulting the modesty of women. Look at Annie Besant’s handling of this story. She writes:
‘The Gopis were Rishis, and the Lord Supreme as a babe is teaching them a lesson. But there is more than that. There is a profound occult lesson behind the story. When the Soul is approaching the Supreme Lord at one great stage of initiation, it has to pass through a great ordeal. Stripped of everything on which it has hitherto relied, stripped of everything that is not its inner self, deprived of all external aid, of all external protection, of all external covering, the soul itself, in its own inherent life, must stand naked and alone, with nothing to rely on save the life of the Self within it. If it flinches before the ordeal, if it clings to anything to which it has hitherto looked for help, if in the supreme hour, it cries out for friend or help, or even the Guru himself, the soul fails in that ordeal. Naked and alone it must go forth, with absolutely none to aid it save the divinity within itself. And it is that nakedness of the soul as it approaches the supreme goal, that is told of in that story’.
This defence of the conceptual fabric of Hindu spirituality is important for the proper understanding of the Raas LeelA of Krishna. In addition, there is another perspective that should never be missed in any discussion of the Raas LeelA. It is the divinity of Krishna himself.
The first description of His birth comes to us from the pen of Vyasa himself in his famous Bhagavatam. It was on that Ashtami day after Shravan Poornima, when the moon was in the asterism Rohini that Krishna was born in that famous prison of Kamsa of Mathura. According to the hair-raising description of that birth in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, tenth canto, third chapter, it was in the dense darkness of that fateful night, the Lord appeared – mark the word, appeared, not born – as an unusual child from the womb of Devaki, just like the moon rising on the eastern horizon! Oh, what a sight it was! Continues the BhagavataM: (X – 3 -9,10):
catur-bhujaM shankha-gadAry-udAyudhaM /
pItAmbaraM sAndra-payoda-saubhagaM //
tvishhA parishhvakta-sahasra-kuntalaM /
virAjamAnaM vasudeva aikshhata” //
meaning, Vasudeva saw that wonderful child with four hands, holding a conch, a mace, a chakra and a lotus; with Srivatsa emblem on His chest; with Kaustubha gem on the neck; with cloth of golden hue; as beautiful as the blue water-filled cloud; with dense hair flowing around amidst the adornments of crown and ear-rings radiant with precious gems; and excellently brilliant with bracelets around the hip and arms.
Either you believe in all this or you don’t. If you don’t believe in all this then Raas LeelA of Krishna is also a fiction in the imagination of Vyasa and there is nothing more to discuss except some poetry in the literature. If you believe in all this, then Raas-LeelA of Krishna should also be believed to be true. Not only should it be believed to be a true happening but you also get a justification for it. So when doubts arise as to the good or bad of Raas LeelA, remember, you have accepted that the birth of Krishna in the above manner is true and that means Krishna is the all-powerful Absolute Divine.
A discussion of Raas-LeelA thinking that Krishna was an ordinary person like you and me is a misnomer and a non-issue. We shall not enter the discussion of Raas-LeelA that way. We shall only discuss Raas-LeelA, with the full conviction that Krishna is the Absolute Transcendental Divinity that is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. Lacking this conviction we would have denied ourselves the fundamental eligibility to discuss Raas LeelA, and more so the prerequisites to be able to appreciate it.
Now let us come to the actual story part. Remember Krishna was a ten-year old boy at that time. Probably even less. The Gopis of Brindavan did a month-long Katyayani vrata. The purpose: To get Lord Krishna as their husband (pati, in Sanskrit). The vrata itself was a very complicated one: Bathing in the Yamuna at daybreak, making an image of the Goddess Parvati with sand on the river bank and worshipping Her with all the formalities. It was at the end of this month-long worship, the incident (as described earlier) of the robbing of their clothes by the Lord happened. The Lord chastised them that they had no business to bathe naked in the river, particularly when they were supposed to be engaged in this Katyayani vrata. After telling them that his treatment of them was in punishment of their misbehaviour, he gave them back their clothes; but also promised them that very soon their desire for sporting with the Lord, for which they did the Katyayani vrata, would be fulfilled. And in this context, he makes a very important statement which is significant for our understanding of the Ras Leela:
‘In the case of whomsoever that has turned their minds towards Me, the desire or lust that thereby arises in them would not result in bad, just as a fried or baked seed would not sprout again’ (X -22 – 26):
na may-yAveshita-dhiyAM kAmaH kAmAya kalpate /
bharjitA kathitA dhAnA prAyo bIjAya neshhyate //
Note: Recall that all books of Vedanta tell us how a man of wisdom (Brahma-jnAni) has no karma chasing him, because they are like a fried seed in his case and it will not sprout!
The night of that fulfillment arrived in the autumn following. The requisites for the divine play were all created by Him by His mAyA. “yogamAyAm-upAshritaH” (resorting to His yoga-mAyA) says the text (10-29-1). On that moonlit night, His melodious note on His flute, played in the woodlands adjoining the Yamuna, went all the way to the ears of the gopis and enraptured them. It pleasantly distracted every one and everything from normal activity and enchanted them to revel in ecstasy. Even shrubs and trees, flowers and leaves, birds and animals ‘stood enchanted’ with that rapturous divine musical rendering.
No sooner the Gopis heard the music of His flute, than they were all captivated by the symphony of joy that emanated from it. They came from all sides to the spot where He was playing the flute. Some were milking their cows, some were serving food to their husbands, some were keeping busy with their cosmetics, some were cleaning their houses, — but all of them dropped their work just where it was and ran towards Krishna. Their husbands, brothers and parents did try to stop them but of no avail. The minds of the Gopis had been lured away by the music of the flute and by the thought of Lord Krishna and they forgot all about themselves.
Some of the gopis, however, could not manage to get out of their houses, and instead they remained home with eyes closed, meditating upon Him in pure love. For these gopis the intolerable separation from their beloved caused an intense agony that burned away all impious karma (“tIvra-pApa-dhutA-shubhAH” – X-29-10). By meditating upon Him they realized His embrace, and the ecstasy they then felt exhausted their material piety. Although Lord Krishna is the Supreme Soul, these girls simply thought of Him as their lover and associated with Him in that intimate mood. Thus their karmic bondage was nullified and they abandoned, as it were, their gross material bodies.
At this point, King Parikshit asks a pertinent question to Sage Suka who is narrating the story: O sage, the gopis knew Krishna only as their lover, not as the Supreme Absolute Truth. So how could these girls, their minds caught up in the waves of worldly love, free themselves from material attachment? And the Rishi replies: Since even Sisupala, who hated Krishna, achieved perfection, then what to speak of the Lord’s dear devotees. The Supreme Lord is inexhaustible and immeasurable, and He is untouched by Prakrti because He is its controller. His personal appearance in this world is meant for bestowing the highest benefit on humanity. Persons who constantly direct their lust, anger, fear, protective affection, feeling of impersonal oneness or friendship toward Lord Hari are sure to become absorbed in thought of Him. You should not be so astonished, Oh King, because you are the unique one who had the benefit of seeing His beatific presence even while you were in your mother’s womb. (X-29-13 to 16).
Krishna saw them all coming, and when they had gathered, he told them to go back. He waved them back saying that their first duty was in their home with their husbands and relatives. He says: “I know you have ties of attachment for Me. It is but proper. All creatures in the world will find delight in Me (‘prIyante mayi jantavaH’ : X-29-23). But your duty is elsewhere. For a woman from a respectable family, petty adulterous affairs are always condemned. They bar her from heaven, ruin her reputation and bring her difficulty and fear”. And He ends this sermon by making a famous declaration (X-29-27) which He himself repeats later:
shravaNAt darshanAt dhyAnAt mayi bhAvo’nukIrtanAt /
na tathA sannikarshheNa pratiyAta tato gRhAn // meaning,
“Transcendental love for Me arises by the devotional processes of hearing about Me, seeing My Deity form, meditating on Me and faithfully chanting My glories. The same result is not achieved by mere physical proximity. So please go back to your homes”.
But the Gopis don’t listen. To his argument that their duty is to their husbands and families, they reply that He is the pati, the husband of the entire world and therefore of them all, and so their first duty is to Him. “Not only that, Oh Lord, our minds which were all along with our families and our work have now been totally captivated by You. Our hands and feet are not ours. Our minds are not ours. They are all yours. They refuse to do any work which is not directed at You. So don’t throw us back. Deign to accept us as your servants”. And they were steadfast in this determination. Seeing their steadfastness, Krishna decided to please them.
iti viklavitaM tAsAM shrutvA yogeshvareshvaraH /
Prahasya sadayaM gopIH AtmArAmo’pyarIramat // X-29-42
Smiling upon hearing these despondent words from the gopîs, Lord Krishna, the supreme master of all masters of mystic yoga, mercifully satisfied them, although He is Himself Self-satisfied.
He was Himself AtmArAma, that is One who is fulfilled in Himself, by Himself for Himself. He has nothing to obtain which He does not already have. (cf. nAnavAptam-avAptavyam, … Gita III-22). When He thus moved in intimate terms with the Gopis, very soon they thought highly of themselves. They thought they were the greatest women on Earth. And the Lord became aware of their pride and arrogant thought, and intending to bless them with the right kind of spirituality, immediately vanished!
And then begins a long wailing and searching, by the Gopis. They could not stand this separation from the Lord. They lose their head and become really mad for Him. This is called the experience of ‘viraha’, separation. It is said by all exponenets of bhakti that the highest form of bhakti is the experience of this viraha from the Lord. We think we are all very devoted to God. But do we feel the pangs of separation from Him as the gopis felt?
People say God does not take the offering we give Him ; but do we offer it the way Sabari offered Him? [ “lok kahte hai bhagwAn khAte nahiM; kyA haM shabarI kI taraH khilAte haim?” ].
People say that God does not come to our rescue; but do we call Him with that conviction and pangs of anxiety that was characteristic of Draupadi’s call? [ “lok kahte hai bhagwAn Ate nahiM; kyA haM draupadI kI taraH bulAte haiM?”].
People say that God does not bless us; but do we love Him with that intensity of Radha’s love? [“lok kahte hai bhagwaan prasAd karte nahiM; kyA ham rAdhA kI tarah pyAr karte haiM?”].
To continue our story. The Gopis keep roaming about in the woods, searching for Him. In the process of this roaming, they identify the footsteps of their Lord and try to follow those footsteps. Lo and behold! They do not find their Lord but they find one more pair of footsteps side by side with the Lord’s footsteps! And they look at it carefully. They recognize it as a woman’s footsteps. Their jealousy knows no bounds. How come!
One of their own group, has found it possible to be with the Lord and is now enjoying the privilege of His company all alone! What a supreme fortunate circumstance for her! She must be the most beloved of Krishna among all of them!
On the other hand that single gopi who was with Krishna had an interesting experience. She certainly enjoys the company of the Lord, all alone. But that very enjoyment puffs up her head and she tries to aspire for more of the Lord than the others. Instead of walking up along with the Lord, she suggests to Him that He may carry her on His shoulders, and to her great satisfaction the Lord agrees to do that. He says “Alright, get up on my shoulders” and he poses for her. But when she attempts to climb up on His shoulders, He is no more there – He has vanished! That was the end of her puffed up pride! And the rest of the company joins her now and together they all search for the Lord.
Incidentally, this single gopi is perhaps the Radha of later literature. The name Radha does not occur in the Bhagavatam.
When finally the moon went behind the clouds and there was no more moonlight, they all returned to their starting place and spent their time talking about Krishna. Their minds absorbed in thoughts of Him, they conversed about Him, acted out His pastimes and felt themselves filled with His presence. They no more remembered their homes as they loudly sang the glories of Krishna’s transcendental qualities: The shloka which says this, namely,
tad-guNAn-eva gAyantyaH nAtmAgArANi sasmaruH // X-30-43
is one of the most famous quotes from Shrimad Bhagavatam, because it characterises the supreme prema-bhakti of the Gopis. It is considered to be at the apex of all bhakti forms. In fact, it reflects exactly what Krishna himself describes in the Gita (V-17):
gacchanty-apunar-AvRttiM jnAna-nirdhUta-kalmashhAH //
Those who have their intellect absorbed in That, whose Self is That, who are steadfast in That, who have That as their supreme Goal-they attain the state of non-returning, their dirt having been removed by Knowledge.
This kind of total absorption in God is the ultimate in Bhakti. That is why the Gopis are cited as the supreme example of self-effacing bhakti. There have been several types of devotees all over time and all over the world. But the Lord values only such selfless bhakti. The bhakti of the gopis is unique in all of history, because, they did not achieve that kind of superlative approbation from the Lord by any of the usual means of spiritual living, namely, charity, ritual sacrifice, ritualistic vrata, religious discipline, penance, philosophical speculation, or yogic practice. None of these they had. None of these can give that kind of union with the Lord as the constant mental association with Him that they did have. (Narayaneeyam: 94-10):
tvat-sangenaiva gopyaH kila sukRti-tamAH
bhakteSh-vanyeShu bhUas-svapi bahu-manuShe bhaktim-eva
tan-me tvad-bhaktim-eva dRDaya hara gadAn kRShNa
That state of supremely blissful union with Thee, which is difficult to obtain through (disciplines like) charity, (ritual) sacrifices, observance of vows, self-control, austerities, knowledge (sAnkhya), and yoga, was attained by the blessed gopikas of Brindavan, through just personal attachment to Thee as their own beloved. Numerous are Thy other devotees, but it is this loving personal devotion of the gopikas that has received Thy highest appreciation. Therefore Oh Krishna, Oh Lord of Guruvayoor, May Thou strengthen devotion in me and destroy my ailments.
In fact this underscores the importance of personal involvement with the Lord in intimate terms, from the heart of hearts. All the formalities of our religious observances pale into insignificance before such a personal relationship with God. Whatever we may do, we must strive to see that this innate feeling of love for the Lord becomes the undercurrent. This is the only thing He asks from us. More than intellectual understanding of the various nuances of scriptures and philosophy, what He expects from us is this self-negating love for Him and all that stands for Him, namely, the universe. One may recall here Gita IX – 34:
manmanA bhava madbhakto madyAjI mAM namaskuru /
mAmevaiShyasi yuktvaivaM AtmAnaM mat-parAyaNaH //
meaning, Saturate your mind with me; be devoted to me; work for me; bow down to me; having thus united your whole self with me, taking me as the supreme Goal, you shall come unto me. This self-negating love has been defined by Narada in his bhakti-sutra, as follows (Sutra 54):
guNa-rahitaM kAmanA-rahitaM pratikShaNa-vardhamAnaM
avicchinnaM sUkShma-taram anubhava-rUpaM.
Meaning, (This pure love is) without attributes, without the poison of desire, every moment increasing, unbroken, subtlest, and of the nature of sheer immediate experience. In fact almost every exponent of bhakti says the same thing.
Let us come back to the story. The Gopis, having lost track of Krishna in the physical world, spend their time now singing about Him in all ecstasy. This singing as told in 18 delightful verses of Shrimad Bhagavatam is called “gopikA-gItaM”. It is chapter 31 of Skanda 10. In traditional India these 18 verses are usually taught to young girls for them to obtain the fullest grace of God, particularly with respect to their marriage. Jayadeva’s Gita Govindam derives inspiration from this. Let us see just three shlokas out of the 18. In the practical performance of the dance of gopikA-gItaM it is common to use the word ‘kRshhNa’ repeatedly to keep the beat:
jayati te’dhikaM (kRshhNa) janmanA vrajaH
shrayata indirA (kRshhNa) shashvad-atra hi /
dayita dRshyatAM (kRshhNa) dikshhu tAvakAH
tvayi dhRtAsavaH (kRshhNa) tvAM vicinvate // (X-31-1)
O beloved, Your birth in the land of Vraja has made it exceedingly glorious, and thus Indirâ, the goddess of fortune, always resides here. It is only for Your sake that we, Your devoted servants, maintain our lives. We have been searching everywhere for You, so please show Yourself to us.
na khalu gopikA (kRshhNa) nandano bhavAn
akhila-dehinAM (kRshhNa) antar-Atma-dRk /
vikhanasArthito (kRshhNa) vishva-guptaye
sakha udeyivAn (kRshhNa) sAtvatAm kule // (X-31-4)
You are not actually the son of the gopî Yas’odâ, O friend, but rather the indwelling witness in the hearts of all embodied souls. Because Lord Brahmâ prayed for You to come and protect the universe, You have now appeared in the Sâtvata dynasty.
tava kathAmRtaM (kRshhNa) tapta-jIvanaM
kavibhir-IDitaM (kRshhNa) kalmashhApahaM /
shravaNa-mangaLaM (kRshhNa) shrImad-AtataM
bhuvi gRNanti te (kRshhNa) bhuridA janAH // (X-31-9)
The nectar of Your words and the descriptions of Your activities are the life and soul of those suffering in this material world. These narrations, transmitted by learned sages, eradicate one’s sinful reactions and bestow good fortune upon whoever hears them. They are filled with spiritual power. Certainly those who spread the message of Godhead must have been munificent.
At the end of it all, Krishna reappears. The Gopis are agog with excitement. It was as if their lives returned to them (“tanvaH prANaM iva AgataM” X-32-3). All the varieties of human emotions that can arise at such an event are described here without inhibitions. It is a no-holds-barred description. At the end of it all, Krishna, whose seat is in the hearts of great yogis, now sits encircled by these gopis on an elevated sand dune on the bank of Kalindi, lit up splendidly by the abundant autumnal moonlight and starts talking with them in very intimate terms. It is said that each gopi had the feet of the Lord on her lap.
Mark this statement. Here starts the full sway of the mAyA of the Lord. There were at least a hundred gopis. In fact the numbers that are mentioned in the Bhagavatam will make our heads reel. Anyway there were several of them. If each one had the feet of the Lord on her lap, and if each one was having the feeling that the Lord was talking to herself with His feet on her lap, the Lord must have replicated himself as many times as there were gopis there. This point is mentioned when the actual Raas Leela starts, but even here the magic of the mAyA has started!
Now Krishna starts talking. In fact they have raised an important question for Him to answer. Some people reciprocate the affection only of those who are affectionate toward them, while others show affection even to those who are indifferent or inimical. And yet others will not show affection toward anyone. Dear Krishna, please properly explain this matter to us.(X-32-16), say the Gopis. And He explains very patiently, in shlokas 17 to 22:
So-called friends who show affection for each other only to benefit themselves are actually selfish. They have no true friendship, nor are they following the true principles of religion. Indeed, if they did not expect benefit for themselves, they would not reciprocate. Some people are genuinely merciful or, like parents, naturally affectionate. Such persons, who devotedly serve even those who fail to reciprocate with them, are following the true, faultless path of religion, and they are true well-wishers.
Some people, being spiritually self-satisfied, do not reciprocate others’ affection because they want to avoid entanglement in mundane dealings. Other persons do not reciprocate simply out of envy or arrogance. And still others fail to reciprocate because they are materially satisfied and thus uninterested in new material
I do understand that simply for My sake you had rejected the authority of worldly opinion, of the Vedas and of your relatives. But I acted as I did only to increase your attachment to Me. Even when I removed Myself from your sight by suddenly disappearing, I never stopped loving you.
Therefore, My beloved gopîs, please do not harbor any bad feelings toward Me, your beloved. I will not be able to repay My debt for your spotless service, even within a lifetime of Brahmâ.
(na pâraye ‘ham niravadya-samyujâm
sva-sâdhu-krityam vibudhâyushâpi vah) X-32-22
Your connection with Me is beyond reproach. You have worshiped Me, cutting off all domestic ties, which are difficult to break. Therefore please let your own glorious deeds be your compensation.
This passage speaks volumes about the love of the gopis towards Krishna and how he acknowledged it. It is the charter that gives the universally glorified sanctity to the spotless Krishna-Bhakti of the Gopis. Great devotees are not great because they call themselves so (if at all), but because the Lord calls them great!
And now begins the Raas LeelA, the most enchanting of all His leelAs. They all linked their arms together and thought they were encircling Him. But actually between each pair of gopis there was a Krishna. Each Gopi felt the left hand of Krishna on her right shoulder and the right hand of Krishna on her left shoulder. She was thinking therefore that Krishna was dancing in front of her, facing her with His hands on her shoulders. But what was happening was that she had one Krishna on her left and another Krishna on her right! The yogeshvara that Krishna was, he had enveloped the entire assembly of Gopis in His mAyA and their minds were not their own now. They thought whatever He wanted them to think! But they all enjoyed an eternal bliss in the play of Raas LeelA! There were actually three such plays.
One in water (‘jala-kRIDA), one in the woods (‘vana-kRIDA’) and one on open ground (‘sthala-kRIDA’). The night itself got extended because the elements had all halted. Heaven and Nature watched this magnificent divine romantic dance of the several Krishnas with the several Gopis. And the beauty of it all was, that, back home, in every house of the gopis, the gopi’s husband did not miss his wife; as far as he knew she was there with him!. The whole world was in trance, as it were! That was the greatness of the Raas dance!
Well, let us come down to terra firma. When this whole thing had been narrated by Suka, King Parikshit asks the most relevant question: “Well, let me take it that Krishna had nothing to achieve, because He is always self-fulfilled. But what he did does not appear to be ethical, from any worldly angle. Why, then, did he do that? Should He not set the right example?” (X-33 – 27 to 29).
Note that Parikshit’s question is not the question we ourselves raised at the beginning of this article. We said that we shall not be discussing this issue if it had the assumption that Krishna was an ordinary human being. King Parikshit postulates his acceptance of the divinity of Krishna. But his question is: Why does the Lord set a bad example for mankind?
And Suka answers: (X – 33 -30 to 38): The status of Ishvara is not harmed by any apparently audacious transgression of morality we may see in Him, for He is just like fire, that devours everything fed into it and remains unpolluted. We ordinary people should never imitate the behavior of such ruling personalities, even mentally. If out of foolishness an ordinary person does imitate such behaviour, he will simply destroy himself, just as a person who is not Rudra would destroy himself if he tried to drink an ocean of poison. It is the words of Ishvara which we should follow, not those of His actions which are inconsistent with those words. When these great persons who are free from false ego act piously in this world, they have no selfish motives to fulfill, and even when they act in apparent contradiction to the laws of piety, they are not subject to sinful reactions. How, then, could the Lord of all created beings have any connection with the piety and impiety that affect His subject creatures?
Material activities never entangle even the devotees of the Supreme Lord, who are fully satisfied by serving the dust of His lotus feet. Nor do material activities entangle those intelligent sages who have freed themselves from the bondage of all fruitive reactions by the fact that they have disassociated themselves with their body, mind intellect. Then, how could there be any question of bondage for the Lord Himself, who assumes His transcendental forms according to His own sweet will?
The Actionlessness of the Lord is well-known from his statements in the Gita:
By Me was created the four varNas, in accordance with their GuNas and karma. Know Me as its doer and know Me also as the imperishable non-doer. (Gita IV-13)
Those works do not bind Me. I sit, indifferent as it were, unattached to those actions. (Gita IX – 9)
In fact Actionlessness is a central concept in the understanding of the actions of a man of wisdom (brahma-jnAni). The nAhaM kartA (I-am-not-the-doer) attitude is the core of all of Krishna’s advice to Arjuna. For more on this, go to http://www.geocities.com/profvk/livehappily_11.html
He who lives as the sAkshhI (overseeing witness) within the gopîs and their husbands, and indeed within all embodied living beings, assumes forms in this world to enjoy transcendental pastimes. When the Lord assumes a humanlike
body to show mercy to His devotees, He engages in such pastimes as will attract those who hear about them to become dedicated to Him.
For us, devotees of Krishna, we are told by Suka himself, that those who listen to these stories of this great Raas LeelA of Krishna, will not only become great devotees of the Lord, but would be able to conquer the ingrained lust in the human psyche!
LokAs samastAs sukhino bhavantu.
It is said that Raadha was given a promise by the Lord
that for all time to come, Her name (Radha’s) would be taken first
before His own (Krishna’s) is taken!!
Artwork courtesy of
The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, Inc.
Prof. V. Krishnamurthy M.A. of Madras University and Ph.D, of Annamalai University, is an ex-Director of K.K. Birla Academy, New Delhi. Formerly he was Dy. Director and Prof. of Mathematics at Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani for two decades. While at Pilani he was one of the top-ranking academic administrators who were responsible for the multifarious academic reforms for which BITS is now well known. His wide and varied interests in teaching and research include assignments at the University of Illinois, Urbana, Ill., U.S.A. and University of Delaware, Newark, DE., U.S.A. His mathematical research contributions are in the areas of Functional Analysis, Topology, Combinatorics and Mathematics Education. He has been President of the Indian Mathematical Society, President of the Mathematics Section of the Indian Science Congress Association, Executive Chairman of Association of Mathematics Teachers of India, and National Lecturer and National Fellow of the University Grants Commission. He has been Leader of the Indian team for the International Mathematical Olympiad, held at Bombay in 1996. His books in Mathematics include: Combinatorics: Theory and Applications; Introduction to Linear Algebra (jointly with two others); The Culture, Excitement and Relevance of Mathematics; Challenge & Thrill of Pre-College Mathematics (jointly with three others)and, The Clock of the Night Sky. and What is Mathematics? – An explanation through two Puzzles (In Tamil).
Prof. Krishnamurthy was also trained systematically in the traditional Hindu scriptures by his father Sri R.Viswanatha Sastrigal, a scholarly exponent who was himself a living example of the ideal Hindu way of life. Prof. Krishnamurthy has given several successful lectures on Hinduism, the Ramayana, the Gita, the Upanishads, and Srimad Bhagavatam to Indian and American audiences. His expositions are known for their precision, clarity and an irresistible appeal to the modern mind. His books on religion include: Essentials of Hinduism; Hinduism for the next Generation; and, The Ten Commandments of Hinduism. He has also authored a series of 18 poster-size charts on Hinduism, entitled SADHARMA (= Sanatana Dharma Ratna Mala). These are unusual expositions with visual support, on the concepts ideals and traditions of the Hindu way of life, presented by an incisive scientific mind in a totally novel manner never before tried by any exponent of religion formally or informally.
A number of writings of his on Religion and Philosophy are on the web at http://www.geocities.com/profvk/ entitled: Science and Spirituality and Gems from the Ocean of Hindu Thought, Vision and Practice .
His recent books on religion are Kannan sorpadi vaazhvdeppadi (in Tamil) with an appendix on Dhruva-Stuti – An Upanishad Capsule (Published by Alliance Co., Mylapore, Chennai) and Science and Spirituality – A Vedanta Perception (Published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan).
“Live Happily the Gita Way – An Advaitic approach” is under publication.
He was given the Distinguished Service Award by the Mathematics Association of India in 1995, the Seva Ratna award by the Centenarian Trust, Chennai, in 1996, and the Vocational Service Award for Exemplary Contributions Education by the Rotary Clubs of Guindy and Chennai Samudra in September 2001.