Four Laughable Misinterpretations Of Bhagavad-gita

[Bhagavad-gita]“You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.47)

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कर्मण्य् एवाधिकारस् ते
मा फलेषु कदाचन
मा कर्म-फल-हेतुर् भूर्
मा ते सङ्गो ऽस्त्व् अकर्मणि

karmaṇy evādhikāras te
mā phaleṣu kadācana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr
mā te saṅgo ‘stv akarmaṇi

The acharya explains that you can’t learn everything from just reading the book. The reference is to the original text, not a translation and commentary put forward for the time and circumstance. There was a different culture back then. So many stories and incidents known only to the insiders. Those immersed in the culture would understand, but not so much someone just glancing at the words for the first time.

Parampara is necessary. The knowledge descends through a chain of teachers. Otherwise, you get misinterpretations. The severity in deleterious impact ranges from innocent to truly harmful, based largely on the intent of the author.

It is for this reason that someone in the devotional line, bhakti-yoga, can confidently add the suffix, “As It Is,” to their published translation of Bhagavad-gita. They consider some of the widely disseminated interpretations to be so ridiculous that the immediate reaction is laughter.

1. God came to teach that there is no God

The speculators won’t openly admit this, but there is no other conclusion to be reached from their presentation. The idea is that Shri Krishna is God. That is the reason for the weight of importance associated with Bhagavad-gita to begin with. The less intelligent will say that He is a Hindu deity, falling into the category of faith, with the corresponding followers living in a certain area of the world.

Never mind that the word “Hindu” is not found anywhere in the text, and neither is there a reference to faith or blind allegiance. The principles presented are scientific in nature, no different than the law of gravity or the rules of mathematics. The work is essentially a transcript of a discussion between teacher and student. In the end the recipient of the words has the choice of whether to accept or not, with the opportunity to pose additional questions for clarity’s sake.

कच्चिद् एतच् छ्रुतं पार्थ
त्वयैकाग्रेण चेतसा
कच्चिद् अज्ञान-सम्मोहः
प्रणष्टस् ते धनञ्जय

kaccid etac chrutaṁ pārtha
tvayaikāgreṇa cetasā
kaccid ajñāna-sammohaḥ
praṇaṣṭas te dhanañjaya

“O conqueror of wealth, Arjuna, have you heard this attentively with your mind? And are your illusions and ignorance now dispelled?” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.72)

One class of cheaters says that there is no God. The idea is that everyone is Divine, a fragment of the Brahman energy. Krishna is merely an elevated version of Brahman. He is a realized soul speaking to someone who is in ignorance. A God-like person is taking the time on a battlefield to teach that there is no God. If everyone is Divine, then it means that no one is, as there is a lack of a distinguishing leader or superior figure.

2. Learn about passion in life from someone who was dispassionate

Another class of individuals gets inspiration from the student, Arjuna, in following through with their specific passion in life. The interpretation goes something like this:

“Follow through with your desires in life, but do so without fear of the outcome. That is the central message of the Bhagavad-gita. Don’t be afraid. Krishna is like the teacher to the golfer on the course. Don’t worry about where the next shot will land. Trust yourself. Live without fear.”

There is certainly the verse confirming the need to abandon interest in the result to work, karma-phala. Yet the real meaning of karma is prescribed duty, i.e. that which should be done based on the sanction of a higher authority.

Moreover, if passion in personal desire were the ultimate message, why would Krishna choose to speak to someone who was dispassionate to begin with? Arjuna did not want to proceed in the war. He was not interested in ruling over a kingdom, especially if it meant hurting people on the other side, the rival party. There would be no need for God to teach someone to develop an interest in material life, since that is the starting point for everyone anyway.

3. The only person to show the virata-rupa says that all gods are the same

This is one of the more audacious misinterpretations due to the fact that there is direct contradictory evidence from specific verses. A person reading Bhagavad-gita does not want to surrender to the Supreme Lord and abandon all dharmas, as recommended in the concluding verses.

सर्व-धर्मान् परित्यज्य
माम् एकं शरणं व्रज
अहं त्वां सर्व-पापेभ्यो
मोक्षयिष्यामि मा शुचः

sarva-dharmān parityajya
mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo
mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.66)

There is nothing unique or extraordinary with such a position, as the maya energy works to hide the true identity of the individual as part and parcel of God, who is the ultimate object of service, the reservoir of the activity associated with dharma. Yet to try to support an opinion based on mental speculation with verses from the Bhagavad-gita is the highest form of cheating.

Though it was not necessary, Arjuna asks Krishna to see the virata-rupa. This is the universal form, and it is the visual confirmation of Divinity insisted upon by the skeptics. If every deva, or god, were equal in stature, then any one of them could have arrived and displayed the same vision. They had the opportunity to travel to the scene and teach Arjuna. Moreover, we do not find any other references in Vedic literature to such a display by someone who is not equivalent with Krishna.

[virata-rupa]Again, the only logical conclusion from the opinion would be that someone who claims to be God teaches that every important divine figure of the Vedic tradition is God. It does not make sense, and neither is there supporting evidence. The root cause is cheating, opposing service to the Supreme Lord, which contradicts the purpose of Vedic literature.

4. The distinct person named Krishna teaches to worship the Krishna inside all of us

The concluding verses of the Bhagavad-gita are difficult to ignore, so one class of teachers tries to redefine who Krishna is. They say that every person has the Supreme Lord inside of them, and so the interpretation is that everyone should worship this aspect of God rather than the separate person named Krishna.

There is a hint of truth to the claim, as the Supreme Lord does expand to reside within the heart of every living being. Yet Krishna is the superior realization, not the inferior. Otherwise, Paramatma, the Supersoul, would have taught Arjuna everything he needed to know. Moreover, Paramatma was there in the hearts of the enemies, those fighting on the other side. Why did they not follow dharma, then? Where was Paramatma to help them?

The proper interpretation is not difficult to decipher. The Sanskrit word aham appears many times throughout the work. This refers to a distinct person. It is a direct reference to Krishna, who is also described as Bhagavan.

राजन् संस्मृत्य संस्मृत्य
संवादम् इमम् अद्भुतम्
केशवार्जुनयोः पुण्यं
हृष्यामि च मुहुर् मुहुः

rājan saṁsmṛtya saṁsmṛtya
saṁvādam imam adbhutam
keśavārjunayoḥ puṇyaṁ
hṛṣyāmi ca muhur muhuḥ

“O King, as I repeatedly recall this wondrous and holy dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, I take pleasure, being thrilled at every moment.” (Sanjaya, Bhagavad-gita, 18.76)

[Bhagavad-gita]Those who receive the valid meaning and accept it will be benefitted by the work to the point of liberation in the afterlife, with the transformation process triggered immediately. They will always fondly remember that conversation in the way that Sanjaya felt a thrill in living it through the blessing of Vyasadeva.

In Closing:

Krishna is not God you see,

Only elevated Brahman is He.

Or with passion go full thrust,

In this interpretation trust.

Or that all devas are the same,

Though Govinda specifically came.

Real meaning to acharya known,

That conclusion of bhakti alone.

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