By Kishor Kulkarni
June 19, 2018
Does the Bhagwad Gita present some contradictory concepts? For example, in verse 4:7, Krishna says that whenever dharma decays, he reincarnates for getting rid of Adharma and for re-establishing dharma. However, in verse 18:66, he exhorts Arjuna to discard all Dharmas – ‘Sarva Dharman Parityajya’ – and surrender to him alone and then he will liberate Arjuna from all sins. Now, this does appear contradictory because in the former verse, dharma is glorified while in the latter, it is almost dismissed out of hand.
But this is not a contradiction and here is why. The Gita is a spiritual philosophy addressed to all and we know that there are all kinds of people, each kind differing quite significantly from the other. Hence the Gita offers different advice to different kinds of people so that it suits their nature and situation. In the context of the above-referred two verses, dharma is regarded as necessary for the well-being of individuals and society in which the individuals have to peacefully coexist as a collective. So dharma is basically a code of conduct to serve this objective.
But, human nature being what it is, dharma will tend to gradually deteriorate over a period of time, causing human life to degrade. That is when the Lord will have to reincarnate to re-establish dharma. So dharma is important and essential for human societies.
The exhortation to discard all dharma is not meant for all people, but only for a few sincere seekers of liberation. For them, Krishna is giving a simpler and more effective means, namely, surrendering completely to him. This surrender is basically dissolution of the limited bodily identity and merging with him by remaining god conscious always. For such a seeker, worldly dharmas are of no relevance. That is what is meant by discarding all dharmas.
Some are ignorant of this aspect of the Gita’s philosophy while some others are so attached to the idea of dharma that they cannot accept the exhortation to discard all dharma. In the process, they often twist the meaning of the words so that it suits their line of argument. For example, one school of thought argues that the word “dharman” in the verse 18:66 should actually be understood as “karman” meaning that Krishna is exhorting Arjuna not to discard dharma, but rather karma! For this, they have to present many different interpretations of the word dharma and show how it leads to karmas.
But then it raises the question as to why the word “karman” couldn’t be used and why was “dharman” used in verse 18:66. Besides, they also argue that the Gita should not be interpreted in bits and pieces, but rather “as a whole”. But what they mean by this is that they will accept the concept at one place that agrees with their beliefs and reject the contradictory one at another place because they have understood the Gita as a whole! That is neither necessary nor justifiable.
Arjuna expresses confusion after hearing Krishna talking about Jnana Marga and Karma Marga to attain liberation and requests him to recommend one. Then Krishna makes it clear in verses 3:1 to 3:3 that there are different paths and they suit different people. But their destination is the same.
DISCLAIMER: Views expressed above are the author's own.