In my first blog about the Bhagavad Gita, I mentioned how I’d struggled with the idea of reading about war as a spiritual matter, but that in the spiritual life we need to integrate our own shadow as part of our growth. While I believe this is true, as I read the second chapter of the Gita, I became perplexed by the basic idea expressed by the God-representative (Krishna) to Ajuna, who has refused to do battle with his relatives, and sunk into despair. God (Krishna) tells Ajuna that it is his nature as a warrior to do battle, that is his dharma (his basic nature), and furthermore there is no death, because life is an eternal stream. A friend told me Hitler used this concept of eternal life to justify the extermination of millions of people.
With this in mind, I reread the second chapter of the Gita. It became apparent to me that the Gita is not talking about integration of the shadow, but about waging war against evil. Krishna says, “For a warrior, nothing is higher than a war against evil (64).” This is evil external to the self, and is in harmony with the Biblical idea of evil as separate from God in the form of Satan.
One of the things I learned from this study is that it is all too easy to become a literalist. I think of those who picket military funerals to protest gays in the military because they believe they fully understand the Bible; I think of women who never cut their hair because the Bible says not to; I think of people in a religious frenzy handling snakes because the Bible says to be truly one with God is to be immune from harm. Such understanding is shallow, as surely as my initial reading of the Gita is also shallow. I think of Mahatma Ghandi, who I greatly admire, and remember he was a Hindu with broad understanding of the Gita, and also a student of Jesus. He certainly waged war against the evil of British imperialism, but he did it nonviolently. He not only understood the humanity of all people, including the enemy, he practiced compassion for them by not reacting to their anger with more anger. We would do well to understand this within our lives as individuals, and as a nation.
It is too easy to grab a fact and run with it. We all need, myself included, to read comprehensively. I am once again reminded that study of the Bible is a life-long enterprise–full of surprises, multi-faceted. Clergy people, laymen and scholars are often in disagreement. So how can I, a Westerner, possibly grasp the wisdom of a Hindu spiritual classic when I am not immersed in Hindu culture? What I can do, though, is respect its teachings, read it carefully, think about its implications for the creation of a better world, and not run at the mouth about ideas I do not fully appreciate because they are addressed to people with a different cultural bias.
I am unsure what else I will learn as I continue my reading and reflection on the Gita, but clearly I need to read the whole thing without superficial judgment. Clearly, it is important to respect the religions of other cultures. Not only might they be in accordance with our own religious ideas in many ways, they may also teach us new truths that deepen our lives.
Ajuna, the warrior, wants to know what people who are completely in touch with God are like. Krishna responds, “They live in wisdom who see themselves in all and all in them, who have renounced every selfish desire and sense craving tormenting the heart (67).”