The Meaning of Man in the Bhagavad Gita

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The Meaning of Man in the Bhagavad Gita

The Meaning of Man
in the Bhagavad Gita

by Emerson W. Shideler

Source: Journal of Bible and Religion, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Jul., 1960), pp. 308-316
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1459451


The Meaning of Man in the Bhagavad Gita

One of the great dangers of summaries of cultural traditions is the temptation to impose more harmony than in fact exists. The greater one's ignorance the easier it is to find non-existent harmony. This is amply illustrated from the popular fallacy that basically all religions are alike, that all are making the same fundamental assertions, that all hold the same truths, that all have the same goal. My intention in this paper is to show that while there is a common stream in Indian philosophic and religious thought, it is running in different channels than does ours and the current is carrying us into different seas.

The Bhagavad Gita does not cover the entire spectrum of oriental thought. But it is a characteristic statement of the Oriental answers to the question of the meaning of man. It is the most widely read piece of Indian religious literature, and Hindus find in it much the same kind of inspiration and guidance which Christians find in the New Testament. Gandhi ranked it with the New Testament of Christianity as a prime source of his own religious inspiration, and those who would like to baptize Gandhi into Christianity or adopt his non-violent political strategy as the full expression of the Christian ethic should remember that he identified himself with the Hinduism of the Bhagavad Gita.

Critical opinion is divided as to whether the Gita is an integral part of the epic, the Mahabharata, in which it appears, or whether it is an independent piece, which was later added. Its authorship is unknown, as is that of the rest of the Mahabharata which seems to be a collection of diverse materials from many hands and periods detailing a series of wars between the Pandava and Kaurava clans. The Gita is dated variously between 500 and 100 B.C. and probably was combined with the Mahabharata by 100 B.C. There is probably some history behind the wars described, and Krishna may have been an early hero, an historical person. The Gita itself purports to be a conversation between Arjuna, a prince of the Pandava clan, and Krishna, his charioteer, as they sit in his chariot drawn up between the armies just before the battle begins against Arjuna's relatives, the Kauravas.


I

As soon as these critical questions are raised a significant difference between the Indian approach and our own becomes apparent. Our inclination is to establish first the exact nature of the specific phenomenon or piece of literature before us because we tend to make the truth it can convey depend upon that nature. This is our mood when certain pieces of our sacred literature or certain truths are declared exempt from investigation because they come from God. Thus they are given a precise character which defines our response or behavior toward them and controls the meaning they can convey. The case is the same when a skeptical scholar denies that the sacred literature could have this special character. He is only defining a different nature for the document and establishing a different kind of meaning. Not even a devotional reading of the New Testament escapes this attitude. If God appeared and acted in history in Jesus called the Christ, then that event has a necessary determinable factuality which cannot be divorced from the truth these acts hold for us. If it then becomes the case that the only essential truth lies in certain facts about the person or event or the documents which convey the events to us, we have a complete scientific objectivity which is concerned only with facts about things or writings.

The Hindu does not operate this way. The first question he asks and almost the only one -- until he is contaminated with western influences -- is what does this tell me about the meaning of life? What does it tell me about who I am and what my existence means? The answer to these questions does not depend upon who wrote, or when, or whether the actors are historical or not.

From this point of view truth is without time or date or place. The nature of ultimate reality and truth does not change. Only the fleeting phenomena in which it is manifested change. For the Oriental the eternal truth transcends the many forms in which it comes. Both Christ and Krishna in their different ways are avatars, descents of Vishnu who is the personification of Brahman, that which is behind all things and is all things, the eternal unchanging Atman which manifests itself in all changing and transitory lives. In our view history is a movement from a beginning to an end, from creation to the Kingdom of God. In the Hindu view history is a great turning of the wheel, the flowing forth of the manifestations of Brahman and its return to itself.

This difference in the estimate of the significance of things and events in the world prompts Arjuna's question with which the Gita begins. Seeing his relatives who will soon die in the ensuing battle, he asks Krishna the eternal question, what does life mean? What is my duty, and what is the meaning of victory which must be purchased with fratricide [I, 28-31] ? Of course we all know of persons in western history --- and one or two in the Old Testament --- who were not deterred by such considerations. Instead their own direct self-interest was the ruling factor which justified obliterating any opposition.

Krishna offers three basic answers to Arjuna's and our question of the meaning of life and the nature, purposes and duties of man. One answer lies in a certain kind of knowledge implied by the philosophic basis of Hinduism, both Vedanta and Sankhya. The second answer is the yoga of works, action, duties which are the functions of the several castes, which makes the whole social system of India a means of celebrating the meaning of life and participating in the process of salvation. The third answer of the Gita is Bhakti, devotion to the deity whose grace will save. While superficially these seem to be different paths the fundamental meaning of the Gita is that these are alternative ways to the same saving knowledge. One can reach this knowledge directly or through fulfilling his caste duties or through worship and devotion. But these must not be so concretized or made final in their significance that one is saved because he has done certain things or fulfilled certain duties. One is saved by the knowledge these duties or devotion lead him to.


II

Krishna states the main thesis in his first reply. The real clue to man, to Arjuna's problem, is that behind the specific identities of persons, things, and events, even God's, is a reality, the Atman or Brahman which binds them all together and gives them a common ground. It is the source of their individual being but is itself changeless because it contains all change within itself. Arjuna's mistake was to think that his action was tied to his own identity as a separate self, as if he were killing, and to think that the fate of his slain kinsmen was their individual fate, as if each of them must die [II, 11-18].

The Gita does not assert pure Vedanta philosophy. Individual existence or experience is not for the Gita an illusion of a clouded mind which will disappear when the mind is enlightened. The school of Sankara and the Buddhist Madhymika School of Nagarjuna do go this far. In their view the individual is an illusion and behind everything there is Nothing [Eliot, Hinduism and Buddhism, vol. II, Ch. 21].

The Gita presents a double truth about man's nature. On the one hand a man shares the ultimate nature of Brahman and is not himself in any sense ultimate. On the other hand Arjuna, his enemies, all things and events are real. Their experiences occur. Each occupies a place in the total social structure which imposes upon him certain duties which he cannot evade. Arjuna's error was to think that his own being and that of his fellows was itself final as if throughout all time and space he would continue to be his own separate self with a continuing self --- identity in --- destructibly set apart from all other selves. The problem of life is so to live the demands of real individual existence that the living gives full and appropriate expression to the more ultimate truth about the identity of all selves and beings in Brahman. All things come forth from Brahman and when the cycle is ended they return to him who speaks through the voice of Krishna [X].

As Arjuna saw himself, he was caught in the error of tending to make his selfhood and his experiences of things final and ultimate, as if they were unchanging elements which go to make up the universe [I, 40-43].

In terms of this error, Brahman must become something other than the universe of beings which flows forth from him. But one is not in his present state a portion of Brahman in truth, although one is because he participates in Brahman. To realize this fully is the final knowledge which will bring release from the round of existence with all its pains, pleasures and transitoriness [IX, 11 ff.]. Yet

identification between this individual self and the ultimate Self, Brahman, is not of the kind which simply equates the two. This would be the pantheism which limits the divine to the specific manifestations it takes in the several things and events in the natural order. The Bhagavad Gita is not pantheistic, for no individual thing is a valid clue to the nature of the Brahman nor is the Brahman in purity.

How does one attain this knowledge? Here a firm distinction must be made between knowledge and information. You already have the information that all things are Brahman and that Brahman is in all things. But the world looks and sounds no different than it did. Each thing of your experience is still just as specifically what it uniquely is as before. Your own separateness from other beings is not less than before. The reply is simply that information is not knowledge.

The knowledge that one's self is also Brahman, and that one's true meaning and destiny is in losing one's selfhood in return to Brahman comes only after the senses have been quieted and one comprehends with the inner eye with direct, unmediated vision, not by the mediation of experience [IX, 2]. It is the knowledge which transforms experience. Those who obtain it have their lives changed in the round of existences until at last their existences. Those who fail to find it continue in the round of existences until at last their minds are illuminated [II, 1-3]. More is at stake than data which can be stated or a proposition which can be affirmed. When we reply by asking to have the content of this knowledge made specific we are still caught in the error it identifies which is to assume that in some sense one may stand apart from Brahman to establish his nature and one's relationship to that nature independently and objectively. Here in a most thoroughgoing fashion is the God behind God. One knows that reality only by an immediate apprehension which transcends individuation by an insight opened to the contemplative mind. To attain this knowledge is the first answer to man's problem of meaning.


III

What follows from the direct and unmediated appropriation of one's identity with Brahman and Krishna? If the Gita were of the nihilistic schools of Vedanta or Madhyamika the result of this insight would be extinction of the individual self. But here the Gita affirms the doctrine of works. The second great answer is that one now is to act with non-attachment, that is without concern for the result of'the act or without anxiety for one's fate in the act [V, 7-13].

The doctrine of works in non-attachment bridges the apparent contradiction between the dissolution of the individual implied by Vedanta monism on the one side and the whole structure of rituals and obligations of society described by the caste structure on the other side [V, 4-5]. This doctrine reflects the influence of Gautama's reform, although with him the whole structure of society embodied in caste and its accompanying responsibilities and activities tended to disappear. It may be that the Gita represents an attempt to accept Gautama's teaching while rejecting its social consequences, so that the Gita may be a way by which Buddhism was reconciled with orthodox Hinduism and ultimately reabsorbed.

Non-attachment must be seen in two ways. It is both a teaching about the nature of man and a teaching about the nature of his duty [XV, 1-5]. As a teaching about the nature of the person its meaning is to detach the self from its identification of its nature with its sense experiences, with its emotions, with its desires, its good fortune or ill.

The normal, almost we would say natural and proper way for one to conceive himself is in terms of his experiences which he has from the external world. Man is made by his response to the external world, especially to his human environment, we tend to say. But the consequence is to make man an object determined by his external world as it impinges upon him. The Indian view expressed in the Gita is quite the reverse [II, 60-63].

The error which the Gita identifies in sense experience is not that the senses deceive or that our information about the external world must come by some other means not specified. Instead the error is in what it does to man himself. Sense experience makes him a separated individual and leads him to concentrate upon the content of his particular sense data. They give him pleasure or pain and he becomes the one who possesses these experiences. They determine his life. Ultimately they define his life as he strives to obtain some of them or to avoid others, and he can have only the peace they can give him, which in the end is none at all [V, 22].

Whatever comes from the senses represents that phenomenal Prakriti world, which while it flows forth from Brahman, is not Brahman in purity [IX, 4-10]. One must therefore reject pleasure and quench the desire for its possession, and likewise reject the desire to be released from pain. In either case to be concerned for whatever happens is to grant to that event and to one's self an ultimacy and finality, a permanence and significance which not only is false to one's true nature but also more firmly binds one into that world of events to make escape more difficult than ever [II, 14-16; XIV, 22-25, 14-15].

Non-attachment breaks the bondage of the senses over the self. One knows that he is not the actor. Only his embodied nature is the actor, and he is not involved in the actions which occur. They no longer bind him to the wheel of existence so that he comes to the same goal as those who reach Brahman by pure knowledge only [V, 7-13; XIV, 19-20, 26-27].

The first meaning of non-attachment is to divorce the self from its seemingly natural ties to the world of sense and sensation, of desire and emotion, so that these become merely surface phenomena without significance or impact upon one's self [V, 22]. They continue to happen for they are not imaginary, but they are now without meaning or importance. Their power to push or pull the self has been denied so that they and the events from which they arise flow over the self without touching or influencing him [XIV, 22-27].

This release is not based upon any mindbody dualism in which the mind is turned toward higher things away from things of the body, despite the implicit dualism of Brahman and nature in the Sankhya terminology which the Gita uses [IX, 7-10, XIII, XIV]. In the Sankhya system of the Gita the mind is part of the phenomenal world of the senses and is not synonymous with the true self. Mind also is an instrument which must be disciplined and controlled and is not the locus of the true person. The conception of the higher life of the mind popular among us fails to reach the level of true non-attachment Krishna describes [II, 52-53, 67; III, 42; V, 22; VI, 33-36].


IV

The other meaning of non-attachment specifies the manner in which one must carry on his duties and activities now having come to know that his real nature is not sense or passion or experience. The apparent implication of this kind of knowledge would seem to be complete asceticism. Ordinary life ought now to cease to exist at all, for having become enlightened caste duties and daily affairs should drop away. This kind of ascetic abandonment of life is implied by the Vedanta teaching and by Gautama. It is embodied in the traditional Hindu pattern of the four stages of life of the twice-born man. The first and second stages as student and house-holder represent the ordinary obligations of life [Sacred Books of the East, vol. VII, 114, 189 ff.].

The Gita's position is that these stages can and must be lived with non-attachment, thus affirming the possibility of attaining the goal without taking on the full asceticism of the third and fourth stages of the twice-born's life [Sacred Books of the East, VII, 276- 291]. Yet asceticism as such is not denied. The alternative of action in non-attachment replaces it as a better way [V, 2].

But to see complete asceticism as the only proper expression of non-attachment is to see the problem in terms of our understanding of the function of asceticism. Our view, reflecting Zoroastrian and Manichean influences supporting a mind-body dualism, tends to say that this material existence of the individual is sufficiently real and evil that the only way to release life from its bondage to these experiences and obligations is to suppress them. To abstain from these things is to admit that what one abstains from is dangerous enough that the only thing one can do is to drive these things out of his life. But when he drives them out he still takes them with him [II, 59]. Asceticism is the wrong road because by suppression one only ties himself more firmly to the transient world he seeks to escape. But insofar as asceticism represents the rejection of the relevance of life's duties, it is again the wrong road for this solution makes the circumstances of life entirely illusory and grants to the individual self only the reality of error [V, 2; VI, 1].

The Bhagavad Gita advocates another way. One cannot escape by refraining from acting. One can escape only by acting, by fulfilling his duties in a certain way. This is the second meaning of non-attachment, not ascetic withdrawal or denial, but non-attached participation which does not involve one in what he does [IV, 13-24].

The basis of the Gita's position is that one cannot avoid acting in some fashion or other and upon some basis or other. The only real question is what is the proper basis for action since one must act [III, 4-9]. The necessity for action comes from one's own nature. One is an embodied being and this embodiment, his nature, Prakriti, has a dynamic, a power, tendencies and necessities which cannot be denied [III, 33]. Here the Gita asserts the Sankhya dualism which gives to the Prakriti individualization and materialization of the Brahman a genuine reality without beginning [XIII, 19]. But the Gita does not seem to accept the full implications of this position [cf. VIII, 19-20; XIII, 12]. Instead Prakriti flows forth from Brahman as the form in which necessarily Brahman manifests itself [IX, 4-10; cf. ch. XIII, XIV].

Man's nature comes into being through karma as the working out of the consequences of past deeds. In turn the actions performed now have their karma which determines one's future state and nature. Bad karma will return one to existence to continue his struggle for release. If one acts now in the way his nature requires, but from the basis of non-attachment, his karma will be good and he will not return to existence [III, 4-9, 37-43]. Accordingly if Arjuna thinks he can escape his duty he is only deceiving himself. He can choose only the end for which he acts. He cannot choose the means, nor the path of action. These are already determined by his nature [XVIII, 59- 60]. Arjuna is a Kshatriya, a warrior, a commander of armies. For him the path of enlightenment, knowledge, non-attached action, leads to the battle field.


V

Action in non-attachment which does not involve the actor does not as it might seem rob actions of their moral content. The Bhagavad Gita is not advocating moral chaos. On the contrary the established obligations and functions of the several castes are made morally obligatory as the appropriate and necessary expression of the nature one has earned. But the locus of moral evaluation shifts from the act itself or its consequences for the social welfare to the kind of self-understanding it expresses [Hiriyanna, Essentials of Indian Philosophy, Allen and Unwin, 1956, pp. 54-55]. If the action expresses the right self-understanding it is good. It will have good karma and will lead to release from existence. If the action expresses the wrong self-understanding it will have bad karma and will generate future consequences which further existences must work off [III, 17-19].

Again the main theme returns. Those actions are good which arise from the understanding that one's self is not the real doer but instead it is his nature which acts. Therefore he acts without involvement in his act or its consequences. Such control of action is possible only if one understands his real nature, only if one understands and controls the gunas or qualities which compose his nature [cf. XIV].

On an objective level to fulfill one's caste duties is good. One thus does what his nature which determined his caste requires him to do. The differentiation of caste is a differentiation of natures, a different balance of the gunas or qualities which compose man's nature. Accordingly each caste has appropriate duties [XVIII, 42-44]. In this way the stratification of society in castes which were defined by the time the Bhagavad Gita was written was solidified by making the traditional duties and privileges of each caste a means of celebrating the ultimate truth about man. To be a dutiful member of one's caste is to be on the way to salvation. One who follows out his caste duties incurs no sin because he follows his nature [cf. Hiriyanna, pp. 54-55].

The last chapter of the Gita specifies the operation of the gunas or qualities in one's nature. The highest is satwa or wisdom. Actions on such a basis are good. Such actions fulfill caste duties, perform the sacrifices and other acts of worship, all without really involving the self. If one rejects these necessary actions he chooses out of tamas or ignorance, and this is the lowest and worst of acts for this is the blindness which fails to recognize what one is and what goal actions should be directed toward. If one refrains from any action for fear of pain or because it is disagreeable, he acts from rajas or passion. From such abstinence he will reap no benefit for the real goal in action in passion is either the desire for some sense experience or the desire to escape from some other sense experience. The only good is in renunciation of the fruits or consequences of all actions. Renunciation is not an intrinsic good in itself. It is good because it exhibits the understanding that one acts according to the pattern of his duties without interest in any consequences which follow for him self because he is not the real actor [XVIII, 5- 10, 17].

But routine performance is not enough. One's duties must be an act of worship. Thus one attains perfection even though performance may not itself be perfect. One may not take over the duties of another person or another caste as if perfection in performance were itself the goal. Instead one must fulfill his own nature, not another's, and that nature is defined by gunas and caste position rather than by some profile of individual skills or capacities. One must live the life which he has earned. But he must also control the living of it so that he can make it an offering to Brahman by so detaching his real self from all involvement in what he does that his unity with Brahman is unbroken by the events of daily activity [XVIII, 45-59].


VI

If the whole matter were left here we would have only a karma yoga, a works interpretation of the Gita. There is a third element in the Gita, the road to enlightenment and return through devotion to Krishna, which makes the Gita the testament of theistic Hinduism and Vishnaism especially. Those who love him will find the way of return [VII, 1]. This is the bhakti solution to the problem of the meaning of man, the dedication of the heart which turns any offering into a gift of love [IX, 26]. In this answer the important thing is the attitude of devotion itself. If one is devoted to Krishna, if one loves Krishna, it matters not what the gift. If it expresses one's single-minded love for Krishna it is enough to replace all the other gifts of obedience or duty and brings all the reward of enlightenment and release which come by other paths [VII, 1-2; IX, 22-25].

If these lines are separated from the rest of the Gita then we have the notion that man is saved simply by trust in a divine power which takes him from this existence to bliss. Thus the meaning of man would become only that he devote himself to the deity, and to whatever deity he devotes himself he will go [IX, 22-25]. In the total context of the Gita devotion takes a different turn. The love which one bears for the God clarifies the mind, focuses it, excludes distractions and errors. Thus one finds the deity and through him Brahman by the concentration of the self upon the God [VII, 29-30]. Here also the whole pantheon of Hinduism enters the picture because the devotee goes to the deity whom he worships. In principle all Gods are Brahman, just as is Krishna. But Krishna is the true path to Brahman for those who are devoted to him go to him, and his identity with Brahman is the foundation of the Gita's interpretation [VII, 20-22]. He is the true object of devotion and love which makes him the sole center of one's life is superior to pure knowledge which comes from concentration or meditation [XI, 55; XII, 2].

Such devotion is no simple emotion. It is instead the complete concentration of the self upon Krishna [VIII, 5-7, 14-16]. It is not affection, and I do not see that it expresses the Christian view in I John 4:19. The entire passage in I John expresses a quality of divine concern for specific individuals and an intensity of human response to God's act in Christ which seems foreign to the Gita despite statements of Krishna near the end of chapter XVIII in which he speaks of his love for Arjuna [XVIII, 64, 65, 69].

Krishna's coming to earth is but one of many avatars or descents of Vishnu. When virtue declines and men must again be taught in order to be saved Vishnu returns [IV, 7-8]. Why does Krishna come to each age? There is no clear answer such as Christianity offers in terms of God's concern for his erring creatures. The implied answer of the Gita is man's need of a teacher to lead him into truth and understanding for few men find the truth unaided. A student needs a guru or teacher, and Krishna's real function is to be a teacher to disclose the truth to those who can appropriate it [XVIII, 72- 73].

The reason for Krishna's coming can hardly be any personal love he holds for men. It is not his concern for men which brings them to Brahman. Instead he is the channel through which they return to Brahman. Krishna does not save; he is the occasion through which men come to the realization of their nature and it is this which saves them [IX, 27-28]. His attitude toward men is neutral. He holds the same attitude of non-attachment toward men which he has advised Arjuna to take toward his own actions [IX, 29]. All men are equal to him, both sinner and good man, and it is man's devotion to Krishna which itself works the change in him from sinner to holiness. In the end it is one's identification of himself with Krishna which saves him from the necessity of rebirth. It is no act or attitude of Krishna himself which ensures his worshipper's reunion with Brahman [IX, 29-34].

Krishna is available to all those who will love him. But there is no slightest hint that he will be either disappointed or overjoyed at the response of any person to his availability. It is up to each one to decide whether he will by loving Krishna escape from the round of existences or return to it again and again until at last he finds wisdom and true knowledge of his being [XVIII, 63].

When we speak of incarnation we mean a being who has a specifiable character and a historicity sufficient that we can truthfully, and not just metaphorically, say that in this man God has come to us. For this reason it matters crucially whether the faith of the Christian can find a locus in a historical person and the events of his life. Unless God revealed himself in the Jesus the Christ who came in history as the creed says, Christianity has no special truth for man about the nature of God, man's status before him and his way of love with man. If the Christian's faith about the function of the Christ as revealer can find no base in history then Christianity has lost its claim that men are saved by the act of God in Christ. The Christian then becomes but the spectator of a timeless cosmic drama of the impersonal relations of ultimate power to men, and the form of the drama speaks effectively only to those who share the cultural tradition which produced it.

It is precisely this cosmic drama which Krishna represents. It is precisely this cultural conditioning of Krishna for Hindus and Christ for Westerners which Hinduism today affirms, and it can be so affirmed because in the end for Hinduism no revealer really reveals at all. He is only the occasion through which those with true insight can find the truth which is not to be identified with the specific object or occasion of discovery [VII, 24].


VII

This is no chilly gospel despite its austerity, for the Gita holds forth hope for all men. In one way or another every person can find the way. Some are capable of knowledge and this will enable them to serve with non-attachment in the role they have earned. Others who cannot attain such knowledge or who fall short of worship by action in non-attachment can still love. They can with single minds devote themselves to Krishna him-self and thus be led to the goal of release from individual existence in return to Brahman [VII, 1-2; XII, 9-11; XVIII, 65-66].

What then is the meaning of man? The Gita proclaims Hinduism's view that men are Man and that Man is identical with the Ultimate. But men feel their separateness and individualness. They think that this is the real meaning of their existence. From this error comes the suffering which life inflicts upon creatures. Our very being is tied up with the experiences of our existence so that with every shift of sense our lives are rocked. When storms of disappointment, and fear and loneliness of death come upon us, like houses built on sand, our lives collapse. Then comes the answer of Krishna: this is not the end; this is not the meaning of life. This is the delusion of sense which must be set right by knowledge or by devotion to him so that we may know that we are not really separate selves at all, and knowing this may be reunited to Brahman and released from this transitory world of relative things [VII, 26-30].

On this basis what happens today is of no great import so long as it is not permitted to disturb our identification with Brahman through Krishna. Some people are in pain, others are in joy, some have ease, and others must labor long, some live to old age, and others are snuffed out before their proper time --- or so it seems to the unenlightened. But all reap the lives their karma built. To try to set things right is only to intrude our own feeble insight, to substitute it for the wisdom of the universe itself. And not even the impersonal forces of nature remain to be the eternal arbiters of men's fates. In time all things return to Brahman from which they came. Why then are you concerned for yourself, for another, for war, or peace, or prosperity, or food, for all these, too, shall pass away. In the silence of Brahman there is peace at the last for the undifferentiated can know no joy nor sorrow.


VIII

What is one to make of this? To call it false is to be only trivial. There are those who maintain that this is the perennial philosophy which is fundamental to religion, and that every authentic religion teaches this philosophy to its adepts. So Aldous Huxley in his "Introduction" to the Mentor edition of the Bhagavad Gita.

Suffice it to say that the meaning of man in the Gita is not Christian despite the enthusiasm of many present day Christians who knowingly or unknowingly hold views essentially similar to what I have been describing. The kind of irenic compatibility which Hinduism expresses toward all differing faiths including Christianity as variants of its own basic teaching is also not Christian. From the Hindu point of view both Hinduism in its several forms and Christianity are equally true. From the Christian point of view both cannot be true. If man is what Christianity says he is: a willful creature who asserts his autonomy by rejecting the covenant relationship God offers to him, and needing therefore to be redeemed by God himself who by becoming man took to himself the burden of man's sin and brokenness, thus to heal and restore his erring children to fellowship with himself, then man cannot be what Hinduism and the Bhagavad Gita says he is.

Which then is man ? A self to live in restored covenant with God, and in this relationship to find the full meaning of selfhood, or a self which by losing itself in absorption in the ultimate Self finds release from the burdens of selfhood? Both cannot be true. Which you will call true depends upon the kind of release you seek. Is it to find your-self in the fullness of your selfhood as one related to Another? Or is it to find yourself by losing that identity which is you by being drawn into the source of all being there to disappear? Does God speak through Christ or Krishna? Which message you call true depends upon what you believe man's history is: the promise of the Kingdom or the turning of the wheel.

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