The Betrayal of Krishna, Vicissitudes of a Great Myth
Krishna Chaitanya/K.K. Nair
Clarion Books, 1991, New Delhi
In the first half of ‘The Betrayal of Krishna’, the eminent Indian scholar, Krishna Chaitanya/K.K. Nair, elucidates the metaphysics of the hero and deity Krishna presented in the Bhagavad Gita, which is within the epic Sanskrit poem, The Mahabharata. The remainder of Nair’s book delineates in detail the misunderstanding and thus betrayal of the eternal wisdom in Krishna’s Gita by such luminaries as Sankara, Ramanuja, and Madhva, the Alvar poets, and the Sanskrit texts, the Harivamsa, the Vishnu Purana, and the Bhagavata Purana (also known as the Srimad Bhagavatam).
Krishna Chaitanya/K.K. Nair seems to have possessed a profoundly insightful keen sense of humor and I’m sure he enjoyed his pen name, Krishna Chaitanya for many reasons. But unfortunately, these two names make it difficult to separate him from the hero-god Krishna in the Mahabharata/Bhagavad Gita, and likewise from the saint Chaitanya (1486-1534) founder of Bengal Vaishnavism. Therefore from now on in order to hopefully avoid confusion, I will shorten both his pen name, Krishna Chaitanya, and his actually name, K.K. Nair, and refer to him as KC/KK Nair.
Before going into a detailed discussion of the book, I will here with sincere humility attempt to sum up, and thus give the reader a general idea of KC/KK Nair’s interpretation of Krishna’s metaphysics in my own words:
We as human beings do have freedom. God has given us the freedom to choose to align our consciousness to the God-within us and thereafter to work in harmony with the Creator’s Grand Design. We also have the freedom to ignore the God within our heart and the eternal intentional plan, the cosmic blueprint, the Santana Dharma of Hinduism, and to merrily go our own way with the inevitable consequences.
Yes, everything is God – God is ALL – and through us, God does move this world with Divine Intention. If God were consciously continually intruding on our freedom as divine intervention, the world would be a perfect place - but there would be no freedom, no ‘oh, let’s see what happens next’, no adventure and no fun. There is the mechanistic side to creation and the universe is apparently proceeding inexorably on its own, a sort of ‘on auto’. This is what we in today’s language might call the Matrix, or Sanskrit’s Prakriti, or Krishna’s water wheel, the YANTRA RUDHA, which is preprogrammed like the autonomous systems of our body or Nature’s miraculous mysterious workings.
However, because of our God-given freedom, there is also the possibility of Becoming connected to and living in harmony, in a sweet alignment, with the Creator. By this Becoming we have the possibility to go beyond our own limited nature, our habitual proclivities and compulsions, which are the result of previous actions. We can gain control over our impulses, mental and sexual, and recondition ourselves to turn off the incessant noise in our mind, as well as the television and the monopoly media, and learn to think for ourselves in peace, and perhaps a little solitude, before we join the fray to help the Creator to make the world a better place.
KC/KK Nair uses the term ‘weal’, meaning the well-being of the world. After our consciousness is reconnected with the God-within us, we are feel empowered to go out into the world and work altruistically for the weal of the world and for others. Nair interprets Krishna’s use of the Sanskrit word sacrifice (YAJNA) to mean altruism.
Because we cannot know the Creator’s full intent, we can only work without attachment to the results of that work and we do our best in whatever way is made available to us. We find joy in working for the good of others, realizing the knowledge of our Oneness - we know that they are us! What we do for anyone, we essentially do for ourselves. This partnership, as KC/KK Nair calls it, is the true source and goal of our greatest fulfillment.
There is no ego aggrandizement here because, first of all, the evidence accumulated by the wisdom of experience is conclusive that such personal greed never ever leads to any lasting happiness. And more importantly, we Become the world. Our consciousness expands out into the farthest reaches of this world, to the smallest and most insignificant creature, the most mysterious alien culture, the depth of the oceans, and endless deep space - the All.
In KC/KK Nair’s way of understanding Krishna’s metaphysics of the Bhagavad Gita, we are not here to find the bliss filled Void and escape from sharing in the responsibilities of the Creator. Rather we Become the fresh, exciting, creative expansion of Divine expression. This is somewhat in line with the ideal of the Bodhisattva and some of the teachings of Jesus.
“Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.” -Matthew 25: 31-46
Find first your Source, your bliss, your Home - the God-within, and Become a force for good.
"… seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." -Matthew 6:33
Poet as Radical Thinker
The author of the Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad Gita within it, is Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa. Vyasa means the compiler, sorter or editor, and nothing beyond what is written in the Sanskrit text is known about him.
KC/KK Nair dates the Mahabharata about 150 BC. The Mahabharata is an epic poem of 18 books and over 200,000 lines. It is 8 times as long as the Iliad and the Odyssey put together. It is rightly said of the Mahabharata that: “Whatever is found here may be found somewhere else, but what is not found here is found nowhere.” In others words, all the stories of mankind, the gods and other beings, are in this fantastic great poem. The Bhagavad Gita plays a crucial and pivotal role in The Mahabharata, even though sadly most people here in the west have only known the Gita as a separate stand-alone text.
There have been many additions included into the Mahabharata and KC/KK Nair is unable to accept some of these, like the Anugita, because they can be detached from the main story and therefore do not play into the integral whole. In Nair’s view, the great poet Vyasa would be incapable of such aesthetic inelegance.
KC/KK Nair holds the poet Vyasa in the highest esteem and shows how Vyasa was a radical thinker who through Krishna’s words moved on from previous traditions, which were purely transcendental and therefore denied any meaningful reality to this world, to embrace a deeper metaphysical understanding. In the hands of a creative genius like Vyasa, the poetic form with its infinite possibilities to encompass human experience was superior to the treatise or philosophical argument.
Vyasa’s vast intelligence was saturated with a deep understanding and compassion for the human experience, along with the wisdom to discern and evaluate our existential predicament and offer the potential of profound solutions. Krishna comes across with answers. It is the opinion of KC/KK Nair that the views and words spoken by Krishna in the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita are the views and words of Vyasa. Krishna in effect does say that he is Vyasa as sage in Book X, Verse 37 of the Bhagavad Gita.
I am fully aware that most Indians consider the words of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita as the words of God and I would respectfully surely concur that the Bhagavad Gita is one of the most supernal, inspired, and holy books ever written. I deeply revere this book and hold the Gita as my personal lifeboat.
Krishna is considered by most Hindus to be an avatar, the incarnation of the god Vishnu. KC/KK Nair is a scholar and a modern man, thus his view is based on a lifetime of research via the world of reason. My own feeling is that since Krishna himself tells us that he dwells within the heart of everyone (SARVASYA CAHAM HRDI SAMNIVISTO), there is no problem for me to accept the sublime utterances of Vyasa - who must have been one of the greatest thinkers, sages, and seers ever - as that of deity, the God within the Heart.
In focusing on Vyasa’s radical rejection of the absolutist transcendental, which has no use for the reality of the world, KC/KK Nair seeks to shine some light on the harm that has been done by those who say the world is unreal, and thereby shed their responsibility to work for its well-being.
Equally he makes us aware of the disastrous consequences that have been the result of those minds that have embraced empirical science, which he often refers to as mere ‘scientism’ to the exclusion of metaphysical wisdom. Modern man has opted for the ‘how’ of things and neglected the ‘why’ to the detriment of the integrity of our soul and the health of the environment so essential to life itself. Nair’s understanding of the message in the Bhagavad Gita is today immanently relevant in light of the overwhelming and life-threatening condition of our world, as we face the very real possibility of total extinction.
Knowledge is abused without wisdom, and invites chaos and inevitably Armageddon. As KC/KK Nair says, ‘Because we ignored the ‘why’ of the world, we may be destroyed by our know-how.’ It was no accident that the creator of the atom bomb, Robert Oppenheimer, chose to quote Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita when he fully realized the catastrophic and sinister consequences of the weapon he had helped to create: “I am Time grown old to destroy the world.” (Bh.G XI.32)
We must learn to temper science with wisdom, physics with metaphysics. In the Bhagavad Gita (VII.2) Krishna tells Arjuna that he will teach him the understanding that ‘uses empirical knowledge to reach beyond it to wisdom’ - SAVIJNANAM, meaning knowledge with understanding and discrimination. This reminds me of the descriptions of the ancient Druids who spent many years learning every aspect of knowledge, history, science, astronomy, philosophy, with the understanding that all knowledge is based ultimately upon and in the wisdom of metaphysics. The external is a reflection of the internal.
As a radical thinker, Vyasa’s Krishna totally rejected fundamentalism. Knowledge must be integrated with meaning, insight and intuition, and not allowed to descend into dogmatism. As Thomas Jefferson said: The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Fundamentalist dogmatism is the result of a specious laziness; vigilance requires energy and attention. Until you learn to reason for yourself, to think independently with your own discernment, no matter how many books you read, you will not find the peace and power of your own integrity.
The Kali Yuga was well under way in 150 BC and Vyasa’s Krishna realized that the religion of his time had ‘decayed into ritual’. There are passages in the Gita that can shock you with their forthright rejection of sacred traditions. Krishna ridicules rituals directed at fulfilling desires and material success, or that lead to temporary sojourns in the many illusory heavens. (Bh.G II.42-44) Krishna is equally direct in his evaluation of the Vedas’ usefulness to one who is enlightened, when he compares them to a well when water overflows on all sides. (Bh.G. II 45-46)
‘Vyasa’s primary concern was to refute the position of those who denied authenticity to the world and to incarnate existence.’ KC/KK Nair states that Sankara in the 9th century misinterpreted the Gita as ‘a text which regarded the world as illusion.’ Sankara, who is described by Nair as ‘being bookish to the point of ceasing to be human’ and who died in 820 at the age of 32, is discussed in detail later on and I will share that with you.
The ideal of the transcendental is appealing. Who eventually doesn’t long to escape the horror, boredom, and loneliness of ordinary life? In the 1960s my generation followed that Pied Piper into oblivion and while there were many dedicated activists, there were more who fell into the short-term comforts of smoke or took to dealing drugs to avoid the corporate world. The appeal of a far away misty never-never land, one can never quite reach, is seductive until you actually get there. Once you have arrived in the nirguna (without qualities) Void, yes you will find bliss and peace, but there is nothing.
Why would the Creator divide Itself into multiplicity and cloak its bliss-filled power in density to journey through the pain and joys of this world if at the end we are only back to square one, even if it is blissful? As KC/KK Nair says, this ‘would make our spiritual striving senseless …the liberation of pure nothingness is no less absurd than its enslavement.’
Thus in spite of many traditions who claim that the Bhagavad Gita affirms that the world is unreal and should be rejected as such, KC/KK Nair insists that Vyasa’s Krishna was in fact offering a revelation of the real meaning of life, accepting and rejecting previous doctrines as he saw fit. Vyasa used the old traditions to give his revelations credibility. Vyasa ‘expresses the certitude that arrives when a man has thought and felt deeply.’
Vyasa’s Krishna performs few miracles and even though Krishna does reveal his God form to Arjuna, he returns - at Arjuna’s panic stricken urging - to his human form (manusham rupam), as friend and close comrade. The conversation between Arjuna and Krishna before the great war exemplifies the idea that God ‘does not run the world by direct, intrusive action, but acts only by inspiring men and to the extent that they accept his inspiration.’ Krishna asks Arjuna to listen to his counsel and evaluate it for himself and then, and only then, to act on his own conscience. Krishna does not even guarantee the outcome for Arjuna; he may be killed or lose the war. But he asks Arjuna to act, to participate in the Divine Intentionality of the world – inferring that God does have such intent as opposed to being a coldly detached eternal nothingness.
In fact Krishna’s description of God is that he dwells within the heart of each and every man, woman, and child. SARVASYA CAHAM HRDI SAMNIVISTO.
God is close to us all and is ‘in some respects one’s own deepest self.’ Krishna tells Arjuna that man saves himself by himself. (Bh.G VI.5-6) Knowing that God is within you and every other living being, and simultaneously pervades the entire world, who can help but become kind, caring, compassionate, and respectful not only to all the living creatures, but to Nature, the planet Gaia herself and the universe. All the problems of our time would be solved. Our primary concern would be look for solutions and begin to heal.
‘… the wills of man and God are now in accord.’
We Become the ALL.
The Betrayal of Krishna, Vicissitudes of a Great Myth
Krishna Chaitanya/K.K. Nair
Clarion Books, 1991, New Delhi
The Mahabharata, A Literary Study
Clarion Books, 1985.1993, Delhi
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