13.05 – A call to visionary obedience

by October 11, 2012

The idea of obeying someone often seems repellant to the contemporary mind: “I can think for myself; why should I obey anyone?” This repulsion to obedience seems all the more justified in the religious field where terrorists, in the name of obeying scripture, attack innocent people. But in fairness to religion, the secular field has also seen fanatics like Hitler’s Nazis or Stalin’s Communists who, in the name of obeying their leaders’ ideology, have killed innocent people in millions.

So the actual problem is not religion or even obedience, but blind obedience – be it of religious or secular dogmas. Why do people become blind followers? It’s often due to their unwillingness to accept responsibility for their own actions. Such intellectually irresponsible people seek the easy way out by following faithful-seeming religious zealots who swear by an ancient book but also interpret it according to their own political purposes.

A similar individual irresponsibility makes other people obey secular leaders who promise that their godless ideologies will solve all problems.

The Bhagavad-gita doesn’t subscribe to such an ethos of blind following and intellectual irresponsibility. Its presentation of multiple options for spiritual advancement, its sober and sensitive response to intelligent questions, its carefully reasoned arguments to substantiate its concluding call for devotional activism as the best pathway to individual and global well-being – all these set the scene for obedience that is not blind but is visionary.

The basis of this visionary obedience is Krishna’s extraordinary example. Despite being God himself, he doesn’t demand obedience merely on the authority of his divinity. Despite being Arjuna’s spiritual master (guru), he doesn’t demand obedience based on his spiritual stature, but quotes (13.5) scripture (shastra) and past saintly teachers (sadhu) to authenticate his message.

This tripartite foundation (guru-sadhu-shastra) for our thinking makes our obedience visionary: “I can think for myself; that’s why I choose to obey Krishna.”


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