If the Gita is a manual why is it so confusing? Why couldn’t it have been clearer?
From Mrigank Sharad
Edited by: Shashi Bhushan – firstname.lastname@example.org
Question: If Bhagavad Gita is a revelation, whichis meant to be a manual for life, then why it is containing contradictory things? Why it could not be clearer? Why should we need 100 different commentators to help us understand it? God’s words should have been 100% clear and should have left no questions in a spiritual seeker’s mind. But I don’t think that really happens!!
Answer: The Gita is a manual, but we have to understand that, it is not like one manual for one machine, which is standard for everyone. The Gita is a user friendly book, and its user friendliness, is that, it is customised according to different levels.
The idea is the Bhagavad Gita gives different levels of teachings to different levels of people. If one wants to know, what is Bhagavad Gita’s conclusive recommendation, there is very little ambiguity about that. When Krishna says in the end of the Bhagavad Gita, “sarva-dharmān parityajya, mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja” (BG 18.66), few things can be clearer than that. Krishna is very categorically telling, just give up everything else, and surrender unto me. Very few things can become clearer than that. It’s like a teacher telling, forget everything else that you have learnt, and just do this.
So, the Bhagavad Gita, if you want to let it speak for itself in its conclusion, it is very clear. It is not that this conclusion suddenly pops out of the blue, in the end. The preceding verse, 18.65 describes surrender, “man-manā bhava mad-bhakto” and the same has been mentioned in 9.34.
I have other answers on this website, explaining how bhakti is a consistent stream of thought. In the Bhagavad Gita there is a question, is there some spirit who has spoken through Krishna? Did Brahman speak through Krishna? And when Krishna says “mām ” is it referring to that Brahman, and not to Krishna?
In that I have answered right from the 1st chapter to the 18th chapter of Gita, how and where Krishna refers to “mām and ahaṁ”. And how it is a consistent an insistent message of Gita, of rendering devotional service to a personal absolute truth. I will not repeat that answer here, but that is the 1st point
If one wants to look at Bhagavad Gita’s call for action, It is very clearly and unambiguously there at its conclusion. It is categorical and rhetorical. Categorical means very clearly said and rhetorical means don’t worry about anything else, just do this.
As far as the preceding verses are concerned, as I said Gita is user friendly, because the Vedic culture itself is user friendly. The Abrahamic religions, simply offer my way or the highway. You are following my way, you are going back to God, or if you don’t follow my way, you are going back to hell forever.
The Bhagavad Gita doesn’t endorse anything like this. It offers multi level spirituality. If somebody cannot practice Bhakti, then there is Jnana, Karma, Dhyana. If somebody cannot worship Krishna, then there is Impersonal Brahman, then there are so many devatas (demigods).
The Vedic culture offers flexibility of “Sadhan (methods) and Sadhya (attainable/goal)”, and this is reflected in Bhagavad Gita. But some people may think that, this flexibility of Sadhan and Sadhya, is a source of contradiction. But the Bhagavad Gita explains, how it is the part of a progression. How there are things which are moving forward one by one, till Bhagavad Gita reveals conclusively that the topmost Sadhya is Krishna, and the topmost Sadhan is Bhakti. This happens progressively and for those who can’t realise this progression immediately, there may seem to be contradiction.
That means, Bhagavad Gita can be seen at 2 levels. One is, if somebody wants the conclusion, then it is very clear, “sarva-dharmān parityajya”. But, if somebody wants to practice something else, that person can take certain sections from the Gita, and say that, this is what the Gita teaches. The Bhagavad Gita allows that, because that is the part of the ecumenical Vedic culture that offers user friendly multilevel spirituality.
The various commentaries are needed on the Gita, not because Gita itself is ambiguous in its conclusion. But because of the Vedic culture, which offers multilevel spirituality, can appear sometimes contradictory. E.g. Just like the sun in itself is effulgent but when there are clouds, the clouds don’t cover the sun, but the clouds cover our perception of the sun.
Similarly, all of us when we come to the study of the Gita, we come with certain preconceptions. We think that, “this is what is I think is most important. This is what I think is the goal of life. This is what I want to-do” and like that we superimpose our conceptions on Gita, and latch on to those things which confirm our preconceptions.
So, when the acharyas (preachers) give commentaries, then what they are doing is, they are removing the clouds so that we can see the sun. They address various misconceptions that we have. They remove those misconceptions, so that we can clearly understand “who is Krishna, and what is Sadhya and Sadhan of the Gita”.
When I say, the Acharyas give commentaries, there are many others also who give commentaries, and essentially their commentaries are impositions of their ideas on the Gita. So, there are people who have commented on Gita, they may be great thinkers or esteemed leaders in modern society, but some people are trying to conclude that, e.g. non-violence is the conclusion of Gita. Non-violence is definitely the aspect of Vedic culture and it is especially recommended virtue of Brahmans, but non-violence is not the conclusion of the Gita.
Gita is neither the book of violence or non-violence. The Gita is the book of transcendence. In different situations, different people may have to choose different courses of action towards transcendence. A Brahman may have to choose silence and non-violence as the way to transcendence, and a Kshatriya may have to choose violence as a way to transcendence.
These are the examples of people imposing their own conceptions on Gita. Gita being a manual that is meant for different people at different levels, and because it is a manual, it integrates the Vedic culture. Vedic culture itself is a vast manual, custom made for people at different levels of consciousness. The Gita gives different levels of teachings to different people and that’s why, it may seem confusing and contradictory at times. But if we with open mind study it and look at its intrinsic flow, then we will be able to see that its conclusion, as far as it’s concluding and practical call for action, is unambiguously clear.