The Gita’s Message of Love
Love is one of the most spoken and least understood words. Love is commonly equated with sensual enjoyment, but does such superficial titillation offer substantial satisfaction to the heart? The suffering of the stomach hungry for food is well-recognized, but the agony of the heart hungry for love is often overlooked.
In our love-starved society, the conclusion of the Gita’s philosophy – its hidden message of love – is a much-needed healing balm. The Bhagavad-gita has been acclaimed as a philosophical masterpiece by intellectuals like Albert Einstein, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Hesse and Mahatma Gandhi.
Krishna starts His message of love by enlightening Arjuna: we are all souls, spiritual beings (Gita 2.13), entitled to rejoice in eternal love with the supremely lovable and loving God, Krishna. When our loving nature is contaminated by selfishness, we start loving things more than persons – especially the Supreme Person. This misdirected love forges our misidentification with our temporary bodily coverings and impels us to exploit others for our self-centered desires. The virtuous Arjuna exemplifies the pristine loving soul, whereas the vicious Duryodhana exemplifies the perverted soul afflicted by selfishness. A well-wishing doctor who doesn’t want to cause any pain to anyone may still have to carry out a painful amputation to save a patient. Similarly, Krishna exhorts, Arjuna too has to surgically heal Duryodhana and his allies on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
In addition to the historicity, the mentalities exemplified by Arjuna and Duryodhana are present in our own hearts too. The battlefield setting of the Gita beckons all of us to become spiritual warriors and conquer the selfish lower self with the selfless higher self. Just as the wisdom of the Gita empowered Arjuna, it can empower us, too, for heralding the reign of love in our hearts -– and in the world at large.
Krishna, the speaker of the Gita, is an enigma for many. The sporting, loving cowherd youth Krishna of Vrindavana seems to contrast starkly with the philosophical, analytical diplomat-warrior Krishna of Kurukshetra. Can the two be reconciled?
In the Gita, Krishna offers a concise overview of the various paths for spiritual progress – karma-yoga, jnana-yoga, dhyana-yoga and bhakti-yoga. Simultaneously throughout the Gita, he drops clues that there is a secret message; a secret that only a heart filled with love can fathom (Gita 4.3). That is why at the end of almost every chapter He emphasizes bhakti-yoga. Consider the following:
1.The sixth chapter explains dhyana-yoga quite elaborately, but concludes that the bhakti-yogi is the topmost yogi (6.47). That bhakti-yoga is the safest and the most successful form of yoga is also established through comparison at the end of the eight chapter (8.26-28)
- The fourteenth chapter provides a systematic analysis of how all souls are trapped by the three modes of material nature – an analysis typical of jnanis, but then Krishna concludes in the penultimate verse of the chapter (14.27) that the only way to transcend the three modes is by unflinching devotional service. That the successful jnani becomes a bhakta is also stated in 7.19 and 18.54.
- The fifth chapter presents nishkama karma-yoga, but concludes that the acceptance of Krishna as the only proprietor, benefactor and enjoyer – an implicit tenet of bhakti - is the way to lasting peace (5.29). That the devotional offering of karma to the Lord is the culmination of karma-yoga is also indicated in 3.9 and 3.30.
Finally at the climax of the Gita (18.64-66), Krishna bares his heart’s love in a disarmingly sweet revelation, “Because you are My very dear friend, I am speaking to you My supreme instruction, the most confidential knowledge of all. Hear this from Me, for it is for your benefit. Always think of Me, become My devotee, worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend. Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.”
Before the unequivocal finale, the message of love is both concealed and revealed. It is concealed because Krishna lovingly accommodates those not yet ready to love Him by delineating other paths for their gradual spiritual growth. All souls in this world have come here due to their envy of the Lord (7.27), due to their desire to enjoy like Him instead of with Him in the spiritual world. Indeed, Krishna reveals this most secret knowledge to Arjuna primarily because he is non-envious (9.1). If Krishna reveals His opulences to envious souls, that revelation will only increase their envy and make it more difficult for them to return back to Him. So He accommodates them by seeming to offer other paths that will make them slowly detached from material enjoyment and eventually able to become attracted to Him by hearing His glories. But, for those who are open-minded and willing to give up envy and accept the path of devotion – made easy by associating with His devotees, Krishna also reveals the supremacy of the path of love. He does so not only at the end, but also in the ninth and twelfth chapters as well as in several other places (2.61, 3.30, 11.54, 12.6-7, and 13.18). Ultimately, Krishna is longing for our love – because he knows that is the only way we can become fully and eternally happy. Srila Prabhupada makes this secret of the Gita open in his preface itself, “By the spell of illusion one tries to be happy by serving his personal sense gratification in different forms which will never make him happy. Instead of satisfying his own personal material senses, he has to satisfy the senses of the Lord. That is the highest perfection of life. The Lord wants this, and He demands it. One has to understand this central point of Bhagavad-gita. Our Krishna consciousness movement is teaching the whole world this central point”
Krishna advocates, not sectarian religious belief, but universal spiritual love. He not only teaches this love, but also demonstrates it. He happily accepts the menial role of a charioteer to assist His devotee Arjuna in the battle. The unique nature of the spiritual master-servant relationship is that just as the devotee serves Krishna, Krishna also serves the devotee. Srila Prabhupada points out that this relationship is completely different from its exploitative mundane counterpart and is “the most intimate form of intimacy.” The culmination of this divine love is revealed in the Vrindavan pastimes, where Krishna happily takes a subordinate or intimate role to reciprocate love with his servitors. Thus Kurukshetra does indeed point to Vrindavana. The Kurukshetra message, its battlefield backdrop notwithstanding, is essentially a gospel of pure spiritual love. And the Vrindavana pastimes, their pastoral romantic context notwithstanding, are a demonstration of that gospel.
This world of love is not restricted only to the pure devotees. Krishna assures the sincere aspirants of pure love that He will guide them through this world of misdirected, short-lived love back home to the world of reclaimed, endless love: “To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me. To show them special mercy, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance.” (10.10-11)
Krishna is, as the Beatle George Harrison penned, the “God who loves those who love Him”. When we choose the path of love revealed by Krishna, He will in turn illuminate our heart with divine wisdom and spiritual love. The easiest way to express our love for Krishna and experience his love for us is by chanting the holy names like the Hare Krishna mahamantra (10.25).
Thus the Gita is essentially a revelation of divinity’s love for humanity as well as a love call for humanity’s reciprocal love for divinity. Let us therefore tread the path of love revealed by Krishna. Let us love and be loved.
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