Betrayal of Krishna - Part 4 – The Texts & Schoolmen
Krishna Chaitanya/KK Nair explores the betrayal of Krishna in the texts and men who taught the schools that grew up after 150 BC and Vyasa’s Bhagavad Gita. 
These are the areas he investigates:
The Capture by Court Poets 
The Harivamsa
The Vishnu Purana
Krishna in Sangham Poetry
Krishna and Alvar Poetry
The Bhagavata Purana
Jayadeva’s 12th century poem The Gita Govinda 
Chaitanya (1486-1534) and Bengal Vaishnavism
Vallabha (1479-1531) and Pure Monism (Suddha-Advaita)
I will limit this analysis to only four of these. It should be understood that KC/KK Nair sees this progression of betrayal beginning with the early (1st-3rd century) court poets who were catering to the tastes of their patrons, the rich. Because the common man could not read Sanskrit, naturally Sanskrit poetry was usually written for patricians, princes and princesses, as entertainment of those who were no doubt involved in romantic intrigued, usually nurtured by fertile insulated environments of wealth, power and boredom. 
Along with being a philosopher and thinker, KC/KK Nair is also an art historian and critic. He wrote four books on Indian Art, and is obviously deeply appreciative of the arts and poetry; but he feels that these poems were ‘the elegant but amoral eroticism of court poetry’ and led peoples' perception of Krishna in a less than purely metaphysical and sacred direction.  
He says, ‘A prime motive in writing this book (The Betrayal of Krishna) is to show that while Krishna of the Gita had revealed to us the true nature of religious experience, we have betrayed him because of our fantastic obsession with sex.’ One need look no further than the bewilderingly fabulous Khajuharo.
The Bhagavata Purana
The Bhagavata Purana, also known as the Srimad Bhagavatam, is considered to be a sacred text by millions of Hindus. This is a lovely work and I urge you to read it for yourself because of the many wonderful stories and imaginative images, and in this Puranic text you will find the Uddhava Gita. The author of the Bhagavata Purana is unknown and the dates submitted by scholars vary from 1200 BC to 1300 AD according to the G.V. Tagare five-volume version published by Motilal Banarsidass in Delhi.
Early or mid-ninth century is the date given by KC/KK Nair as he offers up some clarity on this text and its pervasive consequences. He says that the Bhagavata Purana ‘is a holdall of the most diverse kinds of doctrine’ and while he appreciates the beauty of its poetry, he emphatically states that ‘trying to evaluate its philosophy is a waste of time. It is a text of Krishna cult…’ 
Based on my own experience, I have observed the subtle snares in Bhakti Yoga. Where do you draw the line between devotion and fantasy? Using human emotions to concentrate your thoughts on the God within is powerful and useful, but as KC/KK Nair points out, ‘this poet’s way of devotion leads us into many meandering and messy alleys’ and can produce a kind of disturbed emotionalism more concerned with the fulfillment of our fantasy than in the true experience of our Oneness with God. 
With no one to guide me, I innocently read the Bhagavata Purana extensively and honestly enjoyed these charming adventurous stories. For example, Krishna is said to have 16 thousand wives all of whom he keeps happy by a sort of magical and fortuitous ‘cloning’ of himself. The wives live in separate palaces and each imagines herself to be his favorite by some trick of the power of his illusion/maya. The kings in the Bible also have numerous wives. At some point don’t all heroes seamlessly drift into myth and most of us have no need to fit such larger-than-life characters into any semblance of our everyday reality. 
However there was one moment where the Bhagavata Purana’s poet went too far for even me and I began to feel quite uncomfortable and question the purpose and intent of these descriptions of Krishna’s sexual prowess. The Tenth Book (or Skandha or Canto, depending on which version you read) has the most fantastic Krishna tales and I would imagine this book is also the most loved!
In this very popular Skandha X, Chapter 90 is 'The Song of Queens: Resume if Krishna’s Sports':
5. Lord Krishna who was the sole beloved consort of 16,000 queens, assumed as many various attractive forms as he had queens and severally sported with them in their separate resplendent palaces of surpassing affluence.
6. The swimming pool in each of these mansions was full of crystal clear water …
7. Sri Krishna … entered the waters of those (swimming) tanks and sported freely. His bosom (lit. body) was smeared with the saffron paste applied to the breasts of his queens as they embraced him (during the water sports).
8. His glory was sung by Gandharvas … gleefully playing on musical instruments …
9. Sri Krishna was being drenched with jets of waters discharged through syringes by his consorts who were laughing all the while. He, in return, profusely sprinkled water on them …
10. Their thighs and breasts became prominent to view through their wet Saris (garments) … Due to a thrill of passionate desire (at the touch of Krishna’s person) their countenances beamed with great pleasure and they appeared brilliant and beautiful.
KC/KK Nair suggests that the poet used sex to gain readership. ‘The Krishna of the Gita gets forgotten; the libidinous gain the support of a prestigious text for their rationalization and cults celebrating sex begin to emerge.’ Nair sees that the primary theme of the poet here is a romantic dalliance that cannot be the foundation of an authentic devotion to God. Its ‘primary motivation is cultist’ and reveals an ‘emphasis on mixed-up myth, irrational faith, and excessive emotion.’
For KC/KK Nair the Bhagavata is ‘very specifically a text of the Krishna cult.’
‘All the monumental work done by Vyasa in cleansing the conceptualization of Krishna of the accretions of low myth was undone by the Bhagavata and the Indian psyche has not been able to cleanse itself of the resulting confusion to this day.’
Neither does KC/KK Nair think much of Uddhava’s Gita, which he feels is but ‘a grotesque caricature of the Gita in Vyasa’s poem.’ He points out that Uddhava is concerned with a mass of instructions for ritual adoration, whereas the Krishna in Vyasa’s Bhagavad Gita is content with a leaf or a flower offering. 
The stories of Krishna in the Bhagavata Purana are enchanting, lovely and mesmerizing. But the road to wisdom and freedom is narrow, the Razor’s Edge as it has often been called, and confusing emotionalism and sexual fantasy with subtle inner awakening is perilous indeed. 
KC/KK Nair reminds us we do not need palaces and garish wealth when real wealth is integrity and virtue. Hell is more often right here on earth when we realize our excessive appetites only lead us further down in consciousness. Our scholar suggests that the poet who wrote the Bhagavata Purana might have said ‘that Krishna went in for sex on a Gargantuan scale’ to get men to read the text so that he could then instruct them on salvation, perhaps a somewhat dubious rationale. 
In a ‘kindly last word’ he quotes a passage he obviously agrees with from Bhagavata Purana, III.29.22:
Stupid and foolish is the life of the man who worships idols forgetting deity who indwells all things. 
Subversion by Sankara
One of the major works of Sankara, who died in 820 AD at the age of 32, is his commentary on Vyasa’s Bhagavad Gita. KC/KK Nair is not fond of Sankara and feels that he ‘became bookish to the point of ceasing to be human.’ For Nair the conversation that took place between Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield is one that we should all have with the God that dwells in our own hearts . This conversation occurs because of the terrible pressures placed upon Arjuna to fight and kill members of his own family to preserve the righteous and protect Dharma. This moment in time was produced by the specter of an enormous world conflagration and thus takes place because of the circumstances that occur in our very material and physical real world.
‘But for Sankara, the world is an illusion, action is anathema … and man himself is a phantasm without any authentic identity. And he goes all out to subvert the Gita and annex it as annotation to his nihilistic philosophy.’ Sankara’s view was that ‘the self has no identity with the body.’ KC/KK Nair wryly observes that Sankara ‘argued at length to demolish Jaimini and Patajali. If they were unreal, why did he bother?’
Sankara has lack of feeling for others and his dismissal of our lives is at odds with Vyasa’s idea that we can attain a similitude with the Creator that dwells within and act as an instrument for the well-being of this world, the world which for Sankara does not exist. KC/KK Nair is quite amusing in exposing Sankara’s line of thinking and many self-contradictions.
‘But if Sankara’s Brahman exists, it must be a very impoverished existence of the solitary One with nothing to relate to or commune with, since the world and the Many are illusions. And what is the content of its consciousness? If nothing else exists, will it not be an utterly impoverished consciousness?’ If this Brahman is totally insubstantial, the ‘what is it blissful about?’
For Sankara the world is utterly absurd and a lie; but Vyasa’s Krishna says that he is the world and works incessantly for the well being of the world. KC/KK Nair considers Sankara’s philosophy as nihilistic and antihuman, a ‘misadventure of thought … common sense should not be disparaged, for ultimately it may be the only thing that can save us from philosophers.’ Nair has an subtle sense of humor.
Sankara’s nihilism is opposed to Vyasa’s Krishna who embraces the idea of redemption through self-knowledge and work. Krishna says that he who does not work here in the world to help turn the wheel thus revolving, leads a sinful life and thus lives in vain. (Bh.Gita III.16)
KC/KK Nair prefers Ramanuja to Sankara. Ramanuja has 'human warmth in this thinking and ardor in his faith,' as opposed to Sankara's bookish and cold approach; and Ramanuja sees the world as real and does not indulge in the romantic sexual fantasy of the 6th century Alvar poets or the Bhagavata Purana. But in KC/KK Nair's view, Ramanuja does not understand Krishna's message of self-reliance to Arjuna.
Vyasa's Krishna offers us the freedom to choose a partnership and friendship with the God that dwells within All. This is common sense logic if you think of it in terms of your own personal life: Would anyone want a friend or a beloved who was forced into such a relationship? A tyrant's coercion can never bring about a superb, delightful and spontaneously genuine true love, imbued with respect and loyalty. Are not the rich are always fearful of being loved only for their money? Who wants a love that is coerced whether by fear or funds? 
So God offers us the choice freely to turn to, and Become One with, that which we have always been, our Source - or to reject the offer and go on merrily about our way, in constant craving, moving deeper and deeper into the temporal illusory holographic matrix, until at long last, perhaps in another manvantara, we are ready to come Home. We are of the essence of God, we have a portion of the eternal Oneness within us. We are a sort of metaphorical combination of Sleeping Beauty and the Prodigal Son; we await our Awakening, the recognition of and return Home.
This freedom to accept God as partner is misread by Ramanuja, according to KC/KK Nair, and Ramanuja confuses 'the concept of dowered [our God-given share] freedom' with the deity's permission.
Ramanuja - Sri Bhashya II.3.40-41:"... action is not possible without permission on the part of the highest Self. ... The Lord, recognizing him who performs good actions as one who obeys his commands, blesses him with piety, riches, worldly pleasures, and final release ..." 
As Nair says, 'Ramanuja's thought has already begun to adjust to conventional religiosity which expects rewards for virtue and abstains from transgression only due to fear of punishment.' Of course the argument has always been made that this is the only kind of religion that the so-called common man can understand. But this is not what Krishna says and it is his subtle and elusive thinking that has made the Bhagavad Gita endure and remain a monument to the dignity and inherent potential greatness of all men - and of course, women! 
KC/KK Nair: 'In the Gita, Krishna makes the startling statements that deity does not connect action with it fruit, does not take cognizance either of sinful or of meritorious actions of anyone one and that it is nature (the structure of the world) that is at work here.' (Bh.G. 5.14-15)
JAB van Buitenen translates this verse thus: 'The Lord has not created into people either authorship of acts, or acts themselves, or the concatenation (union by linking together) of act and fruit: that is the doing of Nature. The lord (Atma) does not take on any act's evil or good karman...'
The big picture is that the Creator has set the wheel of the Universe in motion within the perimeters of Divine Metaphysical Intention, the architectural rules that lie beneath the 'curtain of each atom.' We, as pieces and portions of the Creator transmigrate and move through the cycles of time, throughout all the yugas, manvantaras, and kalpas, in our individual bodies each with its own particular kind of balance of Nature (the three gunas of Maya's Prakriti), which express the accumulated experiences as DNA. While the Creator remains untouched and loving and always offering us partnership and the return Home.
KC/KK Nair perceives the subtle nuances apparent in the profound thought that God does not behave in an expectation of rewards and thus if we wish to 'reach similitude' with our Creator, we must come to the understanding that it is greater, more God-like, to act without the expectation of reward simply because when we Become the All, what need is there for reward? Becoming One with God is the only real reward there is, because everything else in the world is temporal, and subject to the polarity of pleasure and pain, the Sanskrit sukha-duhkha.
But Ramanuja not only makes deity the direct administrator of 'rewards and punishments' but shows him as 'influencing, really interfering with, the very springs of man's motivation.' If God only rewards the good, how will those who have missed the boat and committed evil deeds find redemption? Vyasa's Krishna sees these men as 'self-betrayers' and promises that even that worst criminal of them all can and will eventually cross over all villainy with just the lifeboat of knowledge. (Bh.G 4.36)
'Vyasa believes in man's ability to defy deity and also gain the insight to align with him.' We do have free will. And once again I believe that the metaphor of the enforced friendship is relevant. Perhaps God wants to be recognized and loved in the same way that so many of us dream of finding the perfect love, a sort of 'some enchanted evening', where once you have found him or her, you will know, become as one and never let them go. Is it not logical that our deepest dreams would in some way reflect our Creator? Isn't it just possible that God would cloak Itself in this forgetfulness, the miasma of amnesia and delusion, all for the purpose of finding Itself once again?
But Ramanuja has left us to the whims of a deity who rewards and punishes and worse, needs ritual sacrifices. Here come the priests! '... ritualism returns in a flood. Sacrifices are claimed to be the means for a steady remembrance and ultimate knowledge of deity; sacrifices performed day after day ...' But Krishna in the Gita is happy with the smallest offering, a leaf or a flower, and is critical of those who sacrifice for reward. Krishna sees knowledge as the greatest sacrifice and through such knowledge asks Arjuna (Bh.G 4.36) to 'see all creatures without exception within yourself and then within him, as the Creator that dwells in the Heart.
KC/KK Nair: 'A great text ... is being changed into a primer for pious, conventional religiosity ...' 
Nair also finds fault with Ramanuja's acceptance of the idea that the world is 'sport' and as he says, 'No merciful divinity would create a world so full, as our is, of evils of all kind ...' Vyasa's Krishna would say that it is we who have created or allowed the world to become unbalanced. It is our rejection of partnership with the God within our heart that fill us with fear and greed until we are beginning to reach the limits of earth's capacity and we are consuming the world's resources to the point of our own extinction. 
Even Ramanuja himself questions the concept of the world as sport and writes, "What need is there of sport for a being of infinite bliss?"
Ramanuja also accepted the idea of grace as a kind of 'divine absolutism' and 'even the love for God does not emerge spontaneously in man ... deity will decide on granting or withholding grace ... and deity seems to demand abject surrender.' This is not consensual partnership and forgets Krishna's saying that man redeems himself by himself, man is his own sole redeemer, for oneself alone is one's friend or enemy. This is our freedom, the freedom to chose to align our consciousness with God or not, and in this context we create our own reality but only to the extent that if effects us and certainly not the rest of the world. If our reality interfered with and altered the world without its consent, then we would be tyrants and no man would have the possibility of freedom.  
'Ramanuja transfers the entire work to deity' by interpreting the verse where Krishna tells Arjuna to abandon all works and come to him (Bh.G. XVIII.66) as meaning the abandonment of all action. But KC/KK Nair explains that there is a difference between Samnyasa, the abandonment of action, and Tyaga which is 'the surrender of personal advantages from action, and even the expectation of the sure fruition of action as basis of motivation.' In fact Krishna tells Arjuna that to renounce any action that should be done because it is painful or difficult is not right and is Tamasic delusional. (Bh.G.XVIII 7-9)
KC/KK Nair sums up his idea of the true meaning of the Gita thus: ' ... the best way ... is for us to identify with and serve the many who are being crucified in myriad ways in today's world that has gone homicidally, omnicidally mad. Only prayer that is work too, only surrender that involves, not transfer of burden, but the acceptance of even greater burdens, can redeem us.' 
My way of seeing this a that whatever separates us from the God within our Heart is suspect. This includes worshiping idols, having to pay priests for forgiveness and blessings or a ticket to heaven, and the use of fear as a tactic to make us obedient to any man who usually turns out to be nothing more than a tyrant. While I am in awe of God, I need to feel connected and loved. My strength comes from my relationship, or as KC/KK Nair puts it, my partnership with the God that dwells in my very own Heart. God is my best friend!
Chaitanya and Bengal Vaishnavism
Chaitanya (1486-1534) is the founder of Bengal Vaishnavism. KC/KK Nair opens his chapter on Chaitanya with this: ‘Besides being subject to epileptic fits, he was almost pathologically sensitive to Krishna lore, especially the erotic current.’ When most westerners think of Krishna, it is more often in association with the ecstatic practices born from Chaitanya’s life, practices which Nair refers to as ‘pathological excitability.’
Chaitanya excelled in the public experience of ecstasy, a kind of divine madness (dvyonmada) which for him and his followers is ensues from any proximity to Krishna. The devotees become preme pagal or love mad. Thus the life of Krishna as described in the Bhagavata Purana, his heroic deeds and romantic trysts are reenacted as ritual in order to achieve certain states of consciousness. The favorite of these is that of Krishna’s love for the cowherd girl Radha - not his wife Rukmini; because Krishna is not married to Radha, their love is said to be more intense.
Radha is never mentioned in the Bhagavata Purana; however, she has become over time a very popular reincarnation of the goddess and is widely worshipped in India.
Perhaps this ritual reenactment of Krishna’s life as the amorous cowherd in the happy pastoral lands of Vrindavan can be compared to certain Christian practices where dedicated devotees reenact the Passion of Christ, or even the charming elementary school plays depicting the birth of the Christ child in the manger. People are acting out their faith.
David L. Haberman has written an insightful book on the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition called ‘Acting as a Way of Salvation’ which sheds some light on Chaitanya. Haverman reminds us that northern India was ‘under Muslim political domination from the beginning of the 13th century.’ The Muslims were sometimes repressive and other times not; but regardless they disrupted Hindu life because in India the church and state were not perceived as separate and ‘Hinduism had been dependent on political control.’
So one might imagine that a colorful street ritual made up of music, song, and dancing by an emerging Hindu cult would be perceived by the young men of the time as not only a source of spiritual sustenance, but also of happy rebellion. According to KC/KK Nair, the Bengal Nawab (Muslim ruler) banned Chaitanya’s preme-pagal processions, and so Chaitanya and his followers adopted what we call civil disobedience.
In the Muslim court at Gauda, there were three high ministers, the Gosvamins, who were asked by the ruler Husain Shah to accompany him on an expedition to Orissa where they would be expected to join him in desecrating Hindu temples and breaking images of Hindu gods. This drove the brothers to leave their respected positions at court and become ‘apathetic towards worldly life.’ Their apathy probably resulted as a reaction to a hopeless future of the suppression of their considerable talents, and led them to accept the advice of Sri Chaitanya and renounce the world.
Chaitanya never wrote anything and thus the brothers were responsible for the texts, such as Sanatana Gosvamin’s Brhad-bhagavatamrta and Rupa Gosvamin’s Bhaktirasamrtasindhu. Thus by the end of the 12th century the Krishna story had been completely altered, as the scholars W.G. Archer and David L. Haberman point out.
The Krishna as hero and metaphysical advisor to the world’s greatest warrior, Arjuna, in the Mahabharata’s Bhagavad Gita became Krishna the prince in the Bhagavata Purana, whose goal is to destroy demons and tyrants and ‘sport’ with his innumerable wives. Now under the enthusiastic embrace of Chaitanya’s emotion based mysticism, Krishna is transmuted once again into the cowherd lover - whose sole purpose is to exemplify, through his Rasa Lila or ‘play’ with Radha, the passionate union with God.
What is important to keep in mind is that the perception of Krishna changed over the centuries throughout the Kali Yuga. These changes reflect the consciousness and the needs of people living in their particular circumstances created by the forces of Time, or as it is said in the Mahabharata, “cooked in time”!
KC/KK Nair: 'The egregious Vaishnavite failure here is due to the utter failure in the right understanding of aesthetic doctrine which, in the case of Vyasa, took into account all the problematics of existential living, including the incidence of the tragic.’
Life is perhaps not just about seeking endless ecstasy. For KC/KK Nair the profound metaphysical insights of Vyasa’s Krishna in the Gita have been allowed to shrink ‘into erotics in the hothouse culture of the court.’ The healthy balance between experiencing and tasting the sweetness of Divine Union, and yet at the same time remembering God’s majesty is imperative.
KC/KK Nair: ‘... if it is good to get close to deity, there is such a thing as getting too cloyingly close and that can happen if the relation to God is thoughtlessly assimilated to the relation to one’s partner in love, especially with a component of sexuality nursed to appalling excess.’
Throwing our highly charged intense emotions at God and reenacting the preme pagal relationship between Radha and Krishna may create temporary euphoric highs in consciousness. But ‘the magic wand of devotion’ will not sweep away all the problems of man or the world. Vyasa’s Krishna talks of controlling the self and through that self mastery, we may Become Illuminated. KC/KK Nair asks the question: ‘Is there anything “divine” about this madness? Is it devotion that is actually involved in the cult of emotionalism?’
It is intriguing that KK Nair took the pen name of Krishna Chaitanya.
I have been reluctant to write up Part 4 with its stark criticism of so many cherished beliefs. It is not my wish to destroy the heartfelt faith of anyone. I fell in love with Krishna when I first began to understand the Bhagavad Gita - he’s wonderful! But I feel that KC/KK Nair does shine the light of truth on some very foggy and confusing areas and I hope you will read the book for yourself. As a westerner I have sought to understand these ideas with an open heart and mind. Surely many will not hear what our Indian scholar has to say anyway.
I can only hope that there are those out there who need to read his words, those who are ready to see more deeply into the weakness of repetitive rituals, and those who have felt the painful regret of seeing their pure intentions drown in the confusion of emotional and sensual indoctrination.
Ask yourself this question: If you knew that God was in fact dwelling with you, in your Heart as Krishna clearly says, why would you need any priest/guru, rituals, rites, and religious doctrine? Imagine your consciousness as it was in the Satya Yuga, the Golden Age - and Become the ALL. The Truth does set you free.
The Betrayal of Krishna
Vicissitudes of a Great Myth
Krishna Chaitanya
Clarion Books, 1991, Delhi
Acting as a Way of Salvation
A Study in Raganuga Bhakti Sadhana
David L. Haberman - 1988
Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2001, Delhi
Caitanya Caritamrta of Krsnadasa Kaviraja
A Translation & Commentary by Edward C. Dimmock, Jr.
Harvard University Press, 1999, Cambridge, Massachusetts
The Bhaktirasamrtasindhu of Rupa Gosvamin
Translated with Introductory Notes by David L. Haberman Gandhi Center for the Arts, New Delhi
Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2003, Delhi

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