“Thus I have explained to you the most confidential of all knowledge. Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.63)
इति ते ज्ञानम् आख्यातं
गुह्याद् गुह्यतरं मया
यथेच्छसि तथा कुरु
iti te jñānam ākhyātaṁ
guhyād guhyataraṁ mayā
yathecchasi tathā kuru
“Hear me out on this one. I love Bhagavad-gita. I love Bhagavata Purana. I am desperate for any kind of Vedic literature to get my hands on. Everything makes sense. At least to me. It wasn’t necessarily that way at the beginning, but I never challenged. I accepted everything, and I sort of knew that it was my immaturity showing when I didn’t fully believe in a specific teaching presented to me.
“That being said, you have to admit that there are some striking similarities with other religious traditions. At least in the social aspect, wherein people congregate, meet on a regular basis, and how they are concerned with attendance.
“To fully convey my idea, let’s wipe the slate clean. Pretend that I am starting my own religion. It doesn’t have to be labelled as such. It could be a society or group. Some might call it a cult. I have a book or two that I deem sacred. I have a person that we worship. If not a person, then at least a concept.
“I constantly tell people that they need to be with us. They have to be on our side. Then everything will be alright. They will be saved, for lack of a better term. Everyone else is bad. The others are collectively known as the bad guys. Don’t spend too much time with them.
“Make sure that you have proper attendance. Show up to the meetings. Then we will know that you are with us. If you suddenly stop showing up, it means that the bad guys have got ahold of you. You are in bad sorts. We will pray for your return to sanity. We hope that you will one day come back to us.
“Do you see what I am presenting? Anybody can create this system. The good guys against the bad guys. It might reach the extreme where the bad guys get physically removed from society. How dare they offend the good guys by not joining their group? You get what I am saying.
“When a person is familiar with such distinctions, with these battle lines of good and bad, the cult-like adherence, how are they going to be seriously interested in the bhakti-yoga presentation? How is it going to make sense to them? How is it any different from what they see around them?”
Every person accepts some kind of authority. If they claim otherwise, they are lying. Therefore, to accept a book or savior as the highest authority is not anything out of the ordinary. Such acceptance falls fully within standard behavior.
Take the case of the skeptic. They immediately reject all authority. They say that there is no God. Religion is opium for the masses. Everything came together randomly. There is no higher meaning to life.
The irony is that the skeptic is trying to establish themselves as authority. If they say that books are a waste of time, then why would we listen to anything the skeptic has to say? Books are nothing more than recorded thoughts and observations. If thoughts and observations are a waste of time, then there is no reason to take the thoughts and observations of the skeptic seriously.
In an honest assessment of the landscape, there is nothing inherently wrong with accepting an authority figure. That leaves the question of which one to choose. To where do we go? Which group is actually the good guys? Is it possible for more than one group to be correct?
Within the bhakti-yoga tradition, one of the revered texts is Bhagavad-gita. This is both a philosophical presentation and an account of historical incidents. Krishna speaks Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna, but the same Krishna had previously shared the content with others. The instruction is as timeless as Krishna Himself.
इमं विवस्वते योगं
प्रोक्तवान् अहम् अव्ययम्
विवस्वान् मनवे प्राह
मनुर् इक्ष्वाकवे ’ब्रवीत्
imaṁ vivasvate yogaṁ
proktavān aham avyayam
vivasvān manave prāha
manur ikṣvākave ’bravīt
“The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku.” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.1)
There are certainly elements of faith and allegiance. The conclusion is that the struggling Arjuna should abandon interest in every other kind of religious system, dharma, and follow the lead of Shri Krishna. There is no reason to fear in such a decision.
माम् एकं शरणं व्रज
अहं त्वां सर्व-पापेभ्यो
मोक्षयिष्यामि मा शुचः
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)
At the same time, there was no insistence. Arjuna was not to be immediately condemned if he did not accept the words. As per etiquette, the teacher looked for confirmation. The spiritual guide was ready to repeat the entire instruction, for as many times as necessary, in order to remove the doubts of the student.
Krishna’s presentation covers five primary topics. The material nature, the living entity, time, fruitive activity, and the Supreme Controller. Each category has seemingly endless nuance and detail. Vedic literature is continuously expanding, like an infinite scroll, precisely because there is no end to the glories of the Supreme Controller, Ishvara, who is the source of everything.
This means that a person can make their own sober and rational assessment. For that person who claims to be with the “good guys,” are they knowledgeable into the twenty-four elements of the material world, the workings of time, how the mind gets carried away by attachment to sense objects, how happiness and sadness should be tolerated like the change of seasons, and so forth?
Is there more to their presentation than an appeal to avoid eternal condemnation? Is there a way to experience the promised benefits prior to the end of life? Or is everything based on a hope and a prayer, a promise for something better, but only after the end?
Infinitely to extend,
With those benefits to send.
In following that presentation,
In dharma with fixed determination.
Such that for myself can see,
Not simply hope and prayer to be.
Krishna explained before another time,
Eternal relevance in that wisdom to find.