In the previous article we studied how Upanishadists elevated Guru Krishna to the position of Lord of beings in order to protect their revolution and to reform corrupt Brahmins and Kshatriyas. In this article we will study the last stage of the Upanishadic revolution and how, shortly thereafter, the Gita became the battlefield on which Brahmins on one side and the Upanishadists and Bhagavathas on the other fought a great Sectarian War for the Soul of Sanatana Dharma (11:18). The story of that sectarian war, hidden in plain sight from the public thus far, is revealed in this article for the very first time in the history of the Bhagavad Gita. But first, let us briefly review the final stage of the Upanishadic revolution.
1. The Final Stage Of The Upanishadic Revolution
In the final stage of the Upanishadic revolution in the Gita, Upanishadists elaborated on various Upanishadic concepts (Chapter Eight, Thirteen and Fifteen). They gradually converted genderless Brahman into Parama Purusha (Super Man, 8:8-9) and then Parameshwara (the Great Lord, 13:22). They countered every pro-Guna and Karma shloka in the Arjuna Vishada with opposing Upanishadic shlokas: 2:37 versus 2:38; 3:5 versus 3:7; 3:27 versus 3:28-29; 14:5-18 versus 14:22-25; 18:59-60 versus 18:61-63, etc. They explained the fundamental purpose of the Upanishadic revolution:
13:34: They who perceive with the eye of wisdom (Jnana) this distinction between Kshetra (Prakriti, 13:1), and Kshetrajna (Atman/Brahman), and deliverance of beings from Prakriti (by Yoga), they go to the Supreme (attain Self-realization here on earth and Nirvana hereafter).
Note here the operative phrase: Bhuta Prakriti Moksham -being liberated from Prakriti (the divinity of Brahmanism). Finally they incorporated Prakriti into the Upanishadic ideology as the lower entity (13:5-6, 19-23).
Countering Brahmanic Krishna’s stern message that one is totally helpless before the force of the Gunas of Prakriti and Law of Karma (18:60), Upanishadic Krishna delivers the ultimate message:
18:63: Thus I have declared to you more profound wisdom than all profundities. Reflect upon it and act as you choose!
At the end of Upanishadic revolution, Arjuna Vishada became: The Gita-Upanishad: The Doctrines of Knowledge of Atman/Brahman and Buddhiyoga as the Tool for Liberation from the Gunas of Prakriti and Law of Karma.
Basically all this meant ending Brahmanism rooted in the darkness of the Vedic Age and beginning a new Dharma appropriate for the enlightened Upanishadic Age.
2. The Secret Code of the Upanishads
The Gita-Upanishad thus finally revealed the essence of the all the Upanishadic wisdom as well as their revolutionary intent, which had appeared in the form of a Sutra in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad several centuries earlier. A Sutra is a highly compressed statement. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: 1:3:28:
Asato Ma Sat Gamaya: Lead me from the Unreal to the Real,
Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya: Lead me from Darkness to Light,
Mrityor Maamritam Gamaya: Lead me from Death to Immortality.
Lead me from Asat (the Unreal) to Sat (the Real).
Asat stands for the Unreal, Prakriti, Brahmanism’s ultimate divinity, and its various manifestations such as sense objects, the body, the Senses and the Guna (13:1-6). These are considered as perishable parts of a person (Kshara Purusha, 15:16). Asat, in this context, does not mean untruth.
Sat means The True or The Real. It stands for the Ultimate Reality of Upanishadism -Atman/Brahman. These are considered as imperishable or immortal entities (Akshara Purusha and Purushotthama) (15:16-17). In this context, Sat does not mean Truth, as many Hindus mistakenly believe.
Guru Krishna explains to Arjuna the difference between the Asat (body, Prakriti), and Sat (Atman):
2:16: Asat (the Unreal, the body and other things made up of Prakriti) has no (permanent) existence; Sat (the Real, Atman) never ceases to be (it is immortal). The perceivers of this truth (Tattva) have realized the certainty of both these propositions.
So the real meaning of this line is: Lead me from Asat (Prakriti) to Sat (Atman/Brahman).
To Upanishadists Tamas (Darkness) meant ignorance (Ajnana, Avidya) of Atman due to one’s desire for, attachment to and possessiveness of sense objects engendered by the Gunas (7:13). It does not refer to any generic ignorance.
Jyothi (Light) stood for Knowledge of Atman, not just any generic knowledge. This concept is explained by the following shlokas of the Bhagavad Gita:
13:17: The Light of lights (Jyothisham api taj Jyothis), Atman is beyond Tamas (darkness, ignorance); it is Knowledge, Knowable, the goal of Knowledge, which is seated in the hearts of all.
3:39-40: The insatiable fire of desire (the Gunas, 3:37), which is the constant enemy of the wise, covers the Knowledge (of Atman). By occupying the Senses, the Mind and the Intellect, it deludes man’s Knowledge of Atman.
5:15-16: Knowledge (of Atman) is veiled by Ajnana (engendered by the Gunas); mortal are thereby deluded. But those in whom the Jnana of Atman destroys the Ajnana, his Supreme (Atman) shines like the sun.
We read in the previous article how one could overcome the delusion of the Gunas by means of Jnanayoga (detachment from sense objects). So the real meaning of this line is: Lead me from the Ignorance of Atman engendered by the Gunas to Knowledge of Atman.
Lead me from Mrithyum (mortality) to Amritham (immortality).
The word Mrithyum here stands for death of the body followed by Atman entering into another body as per the Law of Karma.
2:13: As the indweller (Atman) in the body experiences childhood, youth and old age, he passes on to another body. The serene one (who has Knowledge of Atman) is not affected thereby. 2:22: As a man casting off worn-out garments puts on new ones, so the embodied, casting off worn-out bodies enters into others that are new. 2:27: Death is certain to that which is born; birth is certain of that which is dead.
Amritham literally means Immortality. To Upanishadists, this word meant Brahman state (Brahmanirvana, 2:72): Katha Upanishad: 2:5:8: That, indeed, is the Bright, that is Brahman, that alone is called Immortal. Attaining immortality meant one’s Atman uniting with Brahman after leaving the perishable body made up of Prakriti. This is also known as Nirvana (6:15). It simply means Atman would not have to go through another cycle of death and rebirth (Samsara).
To achieve Nirvana, one must avoid earning Karmaphalam when he acts. This is accomplished by acting with Buddhiyukta mind, that is, without Dwandwam (I want this, I don’t want this; I gained this, I lost this) engendered by attachment (2:14). Thus released from the bondage of Law of Karma one attains immortality.
2:15: That man is fitted for immortality (Amritham) whom Dwandwam does not torment when he acts and who is balanced in pain and pleasure and is steady-minded (Buddhiyukta when he acts).
2:51: The wise, acting with Buddhiyukta mind, renouncing Karmaphalam in their actions, are freed from the bondage of the cycle of birth and death and they attain painless state (immortality).
We read in the previous article how Karmayoga (giving up fruits of action) led to the end of Samsara. So the real meaning of this line is: Lead me from Samsara to Nirvana.
By means of these three lines, the Upanishads spelled out the formula to overthrew the very foundation of Brahmanism: Prakriti (Asat), the Gunas of Prakriti (Tamas), and the Law of Karma (Mrithyum). So the hidden message of this entire Sutra was:
Lead me from ignorant Brahmanism to enlightened Upanishadism.
3. Conflict Spills Over Into The Public Arena
Until now Brahmanism and Upanishadism had fought their battles privately in Shruthis. Upanishadists did not suffer fools and they never missed an opportunity to express their disgust with Brahmanic ritualists obsessed with Vedic sacrifices:
Mundaka Up: 1:2:7-8: Fools who praise this (Yajna) as the highest good, are subject again and again to old age and death (for they earn Karmaphalam). Fools dwelling in darkness (engendered by the Gunas), wise in their own conceit, and puffed up with vain knowledge (of the Vedas), go round and round (the sacrficial altar) staggering to and from, like blind men led by the blind. (Also Katha Up: 1:2:5)
Upanishadists condemned Vedic ritualists’ habit of delighting in the flowery words disputing about various Vedic doctrines embellishing Kamya Karma:
Brihadaranyaka Up: 4:4:10: All those who worship what is not knowledge (Avidya) enter into blind darkness (Tamas=they become ignorant of Atman). Those who delight in knowledge (the Vedas), enter, as it were, into greater darkness (they become even more ignorant). (Also BG: 2:42).
Occasionally they even ridiculed priests who were obsessed with food while performing Yajnas:
Chandogya Upanishad: 1:12:1-5: Now follows the Udgita of the dog. Vaka Dalbhya, or as he was also called, Glava Maitryea, went out to repeat the Veda (in a quiet place). A white dog appeared before him, and other dogs gathering around him, said to him, “Sir, sing and get us food, we are hungry.” The white dog said to them, “Come to me tomorrow morning.” Vaka Dalbhya, or as he was also called, Glava Maitryea, watched. The dogs came on, holding together, each dog keeping the tail of preceding dog in his mouth, as the priests do when they are going to sing praises with the Vahishpavamana hymn. After they had settled down, they began to say hymn: “Om, let us eat! Om, let us drink! Om, may the divine Varuna, Prajapati, Savitri bring us food! Lord of food, bring hither food, bring it, Om!”
Brahmanism’s response to all these ridicule and put downs was to interpolate pro-Brahmanic verses into the Upanishads whenever opportunity arose, which made the Upanishads ever more inscrutable and unintelligible. They insisted that to qualify to gain Knowledge of Atman, one must first master the art of Yajna. From time to time they made peace with their Upanishadic critics as evidenced by such verses as the one below: in
Katha Upanishad: 2:6:19: May He protect us both! May He enjoy us both! May we acquire strength together! May our knowledge become bright! May we never quarrel! Om! Peace! Peace! Peace!
4. Yoga Cannot Fill One’s Stomach!
When their conflict finally spilled over into the public arena -the Gita- it must have created incredible amount of anxiety and anger among Brahmanic loyalists. They had no problem accepting Brahman or Parama Purusha or even Parameshwara as the Supreme God. They already had dozens of gods and one more god would not make much of a difference. However, they had serious issues with Yoga as modus operandi because Yoga’s main goal was to transcend the doctrines of the Gunas and Karma on which rested the whole farce of Brahmanism. Brahmins made their living by deluding people with the promise that worshipping gods by Yajnas on earth one obtains quick success in this world of men (4:12) and gains one heaven hereafter (9:20). They maintained their high status in the society (14:6, 11, 14; 17:23; 18:42) by shoring up Varna Dharma resting on the Gunas and Karma (4:13), and by discouraging admixture (Varnasankara) of the classes (1:38-44).
Upanishadic Krishna’s advice to Brahmins was that they should perform Knowledge Yajna (Jnanayoga) dedicated to Brahman (4:24) instead of material Yajna (4:33) dedicated to the Devas. In Jnana Yajna there was no fire, no oblation, and no burnt offerings (4:24-33), and above all, no food or fee for service! Instead of craving gold, cows, land, clothes, and food as fee, they were told to be satisfied with knowledge and wisdom and look at gold as if it is no different than clod of earth or stone (6:8); and be satisfied with the Bliss of Atman (5:21)! The idealistic Upanishadists apparently did not realize that Brahmins could not fill their stomach with clod of earth! It was like President Obama telling fat cat Bankers living high on the hogs to sleep on the cold floor in a tent and eat carrots for dinner. Ultimately stomach, not the brain, dictates all behaviors.
5. Brahmanic Fruit Growers Cooperative Is Threatened
Yoga as the tool of worship meant the Vedic gods would be in the doghouse and thousands of extremely complex and ostentatious rituals (16:16-17), which Brahmins had cleverly contrived to fleece royals as well as ordinary people on the pretext of bringing them fruits of Yana (Karmaphalam) would be obsolete. It was like President Obama telling the U. S. Air Force top brass that their billion-dollar-a-piece supersonic aircrafts flown by hotshot pilots, who cost them 10 million per pilot to train, will never be allowed to fly from now onwards, as the tiny unmanned Drones would do the job just as well and more safely. This would mean their Military-Industrial complex would be dismantled, and a lot of workers building these useless aircrafts for a living would be unemployed. Giving up the doctrines of the Gunas and Karma, Yajnas, Varna Dharma and supremacy of Brahmins meant certain death for the ancient Dharma dominated by Brahmins, which was the very fabric of the increasingly decadent Aryan society for nearly 1800 years. This would be catastrophic for Brahmins who made their living by deluding the naïve public and keeping them in a zombie-like state, no different than what the fraudulent Babas, Swamis and Gurus are still doing in India and abroad 2500 years later. Go to any of the Hindu gatherings around these Babas and triple Sri Swamis and all you see are zombies who have lost almost all their critical thinking faculties.
6. Brahmins Strike Back
Now Brahmins faced a serious challenge: How could they continue to perform Yajna against the ordinances issued by Upanishadic Lord of beings? How could they reintroduce the doctrine of the Gunas? How could they neutralize Yoga?
Brahmanic loyalists knew they could not destroy the anti-Brahmanic shlokas from the Upanishadic Gita as the latter declared that the Lord of beings himself delivered them. However, just as Upanishadists revealed their doctrines in Arjuna Vishada, Brahmanism decided to reinstate their doctrines in the Gita-Upanishad. They accomplished this by resorting to a subterfuge.
A. First they introduced the doctrine of the Gunas in shlokas 14: 5-18 claiming that that knowledge led to Moksha (14:2)!
B. Next, they made Arjuna ask Krishna two duplicitous questions regarding Yajna. The intent of the these two questions was to introduce the Yajnas in the mode of three Gunas:
17:1: Arjuna asks Brahmanic Krishna: What is the nature of Shraddha (Faith) of those, O Krishna, who though disregarding the ordinance of Shastras (meaning the Upanishadic injunction), perform sacrifice with Nista (dedication)? Is it one of Sattva, Rajas, or Tamas?
This is like a robber, who has been lectured to by a stern judge to faithfully follow the Law and not rob people anymore, asking him: “Your Honor, what is the nature of the Faith of those robbers who, disregarding the Law, rob people with dedication? Is it good, bad or the ugly?”
Now they made their Krishna answer this question with pro-Yajna shlokas (17: 2-4; 7-28). He describes in these shlokas various aspects of Yajna performed in the mode of three Gunas. Forget what Upanishadic Krishna said about transcending the three Gunas.
C. Next, they made Arjuna make the following duplicitous statement to Krishna:
18:1: I desire to know severally, O mighty armed, the truth of Sanyasa, O Hrishikesa, as also of Tyaga, O slayer of Kesi.
This statement suggested that whatever Upanishadic Krishna said so far about Sanyasa and Tyaga was false. In response, their Krishna assigns Gunas to various aspects of Yoga, thus effectively canceling it out.
D. Next, to decry Varnasankara they surreptitiously inserted 3:24 between two Upanishadic shlokas. This made Upanishadic Krishna come across as if he was constantly working to keep people from falling prey to class admixture! Upanishadists never worried about Varnasankara. To them all people were equal due to equal distribution if Brahman in them.
To promote Varna Dharma they inserted shloka 18:46 between two pro-Varna Dharma shlokas. This Upanishadic-like shloka told people to dedicate their Varna Dharma-based deeds to Brahman, completely disregarding the fact that for one to dedicate his deeds to Brahman, he must first transcend the Gunas (5:10).
E. Furthermore, they destroyed the true meanings of the word Sat and Asat. Now Sat meant “Yajna performed for the Lord.” (17:27). Asat meant Yajna performed without Shraddha (17:28).
F. They rededicated their Yajnas to Vedic gods (17:4, 14) disregarding Upanishadists’ injunction that they should be dedicated to Brahman (3:15; 4:24).
By the time they were through with the Gita-Upanishad, every single aspect of Upanishadic revolution had been destroyed.
7. The Gita Becomes A Jumble Of Contradictions
The Gita now became the battleground on which opposing factions settled old scores. All these manipulations simply made the Upanishadic Gita a jumble of Brahmanic and Upanishadic shlokas contradicting each other. Even astute scholars of the Gita, unaware of the battle between Brahmins and Upanishadists, must have felt completely bewildered by the confusing and contradictory shlokas, which attempted to cancel-out each other. Krishna came across saying one thing from one side of his mouth now and exactly opposite from the other. For example, Upanishadic Krishna told Brahmins and Kshatriyas to abandon Yajna (3:17-18; 4:24-34) and take up Yoga instead. Brahmanic Krishna openly acknowledged this (18:3) but told them not to abandon Yajna but to keep performing it (18:5).
8. Bhagavathas Enter The Fray
At this critical point in the battle between Upanishadists and Brahmins, the adherents of the monotheistic sect known as Bhagavathas, complete outsiders to Brahmanic culture, entered the fray on the side of the Upanishadists. The Bhagavathas and Upanishads had a lot in common. Upanishadists were monists; Bhagavathas were monotheistic. Upanishads faithfully worshipped their Lord with Yoga; Bhagavathas devotedly adored their god with Bhakthi. Upanishads as well as Bhagavathas hated rituals. In fact, Bhagavathas’ dislike for Brahmanism was even greater than that of Upanishadists!
Bhagavathas attacked Brahmanism and Vedic ritualists with greater vehemence than Upanishadist ever dreamed of. They attacked every single Brahmanic shloka with such ferocity that poor Brahmanic editor scattered Bhagavatha shlokas all over the text to dilute their impact, and hid some of them in the innocently titled Chapter Sixteen. The Bhagavathas declared the three Gunas as “three gates to hell” (16:21). They called Vedic ritualists by every bad epithet in Sanskrit language as possible: Evildoers and deluded (7:15), ignorant (7:20), dullards (7:23), unintelligent (7:24), fools (9:11), of vain hopes, vain knowledge, deluded, demoniacal (9:12), hypocritical, arrogant, desire-ridden (16:10), conceited, arrogant (16:17), insolent, malicious (16:24), worst among men (16:19), so on and so forth. They forbade Brahmins from performing Yajnas against the ordinances of scriptures (16:20-24). They declared that one couldn’t attain Moksha by means of the Vedas, Yajnas, Tapas, Dana, etc. (11:48, 53); worshipping Vedic gods was wrong (9:23); and Krishna was the Lord of all Yajna (9:24). They declared that their God of gods Vaasudeva was Krishna (7:19; 10:37), and Krishna was Parameshwara himself (11:3), who offered himself as a refuge for one to transcend the Gunas of Prakriti (7:13-14) and Law of Karma (9:28; 18:66). They said the Prakriti was Krishna’s lower aspect (7:5). They pronounced Krishna as the Dharma (14:27). They introduced Bhakti, adoring devotion (9:26), as the new mode of worship. They countered every single shloka of resurgent Brahmanism in addition to promoting Bhagavatha Dharma. Finally they made Krishna utter the most profound of all shlokas in the Bhagavad Gita:
18:66: Abandon all Dharma (Brahmanism and all its sub-Dharmas) and take refuge in Me alone; I shall liberate you from all evil (Shokam, Dwandwam and Karmaphalam arising from the doctrines of the Gunas and Karma). Do not grieve (for the demise of Brahmanism)!
By the time Bhagavathas were through with the re-Brahmanized Upanishadic Gita, it became: The Bhagavad Gita-Upanishad: A Treatise on the Doctrines of Lord Krishna and Bhakthiyoga as the Tool for Liberation from the Doctrine of the Gunas and the Law of Karma.
If you now read commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita by the great and not-so-great commentators it will become evident to you that none of them was aware of this battle between Brahmanism on one side and Upanishadism and Bhagavathism on the other. These commentators tried to explain these blatant contradictions by means of long-winded, illogical and duplicitous commentaries, besides stupidly applying them to Arjuna’s dilemma on the battlefield. When two diametrically opposite views must be explained as perfectly compatible and complementary, the inevitable result is utter nonsense. To make bad matters even worse, they even interpreted blatantly anti-Brahmanic shlokas as pro-Brahmanic. We will examine some of these obviously ignorant and laughable interpretations in a future article.
9. Lessons For Rationalists
Rationalist should note here the genius of Upanishadists. They did not merely attempt to discredit and dismantle the archaic ideology (Prakriti/Gunas) and its outmoded modus operandi (Kamya Karma), but also they gave people a whole new ideology (Brahman/Atman) to transcend and replace the old one, and a new modus operandi (Buddhiyoga) to replace the old one (Kamya Karma). Ideology and modus operandi are two railings of the rickety bridge of human behavior over the river of life.
A. New Ideology (Dharma): Rationalists and Atheists attempting to discredit and dismantle religion in India must impress upon people that the Constitution of India is their new ideology or New Dharma, which was conceived to guarantee them liberty, equality and security to fulfill their desires; and protect them from evil by means of justice system. This Dharma should gradually replace Hinduism. It is important to impress upon Indians that what they practice today as Hinduism is nothing but antiquated Brahmanism in disguise, riddled with thousands of superstitions, Jatis, gods and rituals, all of which were designed to solve some pressing societal problems three thousand years ago, and that these relics of their past are albatross around their necks in the modern world. Clever and greedy Brahmins have perpetuated this evil system to modern times purely for selfish reason.
B. New Modus Operandi: Rationalist should point out to people that their new modus operandi should be to constantly exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens of an independent modern nation to protect, defend and promote the Constitution of India. This is consistent with the ancient wisdom: Dharmo Rakshathi Rakshatah (Law will protect him who protects Law). Using this single slogan Rationalists could gradually change the perspective of Hindus. It is important to impress upon the people that their current modus operandi, such as performing mindless Poojas, Yajnas, Abhishekas and the like are relics of Brahmanism more suitable to three thousand years ago than to the modern times, and they are the evidence of loss of critical thinking needed for peaceful life in the new age. It is the job of the activist to point out to people the fact that it is not enough if one walks around with a huge Nama over his forehead as a sign of one’s religiosity; what is important is how he behaves in the society and relates to his fellow beings. This is what Upanishads, Buddhists and Ashoka the Great told Indians in the ancient times.
10. Upanishadists’ Mistakes In Hindsight
A. Too complex ideology: In hindsight, the mistakes Upanishadist made were their new ideology, Atman/Brahman was too complex even for knowledgeable people to understand (2:29; 12:5).
B. Their new modus operandi, Buddhiyoga, was extremely difficult even for highly motivated people to practice (6:32-36). It required people to give up attachment to people, power, money, title, etc. Few could practice this advice. When the modus operandi is too hard to follow, people give it up quickly.
C. Initially Atman and Brahman were conceived merely as negative images (Nirguna) of the Gunas and Prakriti. However, these “negative entities” gradually grew into positive entities of greater complexity, attributes and powers: Atman (“the size of the thumb residing in the cave of the heart”), Paramatma (Supreme Atman), Akshara (Imperishable) Purusha (“from whom streamed forth the Eternal Activity”), Parama (Highest) Purusha, Purushotthama (Supreme Purusha), Brahman, Param Brahman, Ishwara, Prabhu, Parameshwara (13:22). Obviously things got pretty much out of hand.
D. They introduced Maya (magic) by which Krishna subjugated Prakriti, and Shraddha (Faith) by which people related to Upanishadic concepts. Both these concepts were needed at that time to counter Brahmanism. However, Brahmanism latched on to them and liberally abused them to delude people.
Thus, that which started out as an ideology and modus operandi to counter the doctrine of the Gunas of Prakriti and Law of Karma ended up as inscrutable and esoteric theology few ordinary people could relate to. In the next article, we will study in detail how Bhagavathas engineered a robust revolution to uproot resurgent Brahmanism and establish in its place a new Dharma centered on Krishna.
(To be continued)
Dr. Prabhakar Kamath, is a psychiatrist currently practicing in the U.S. He is the author of Servants, Not Masters: A Guide for Consumer Activists in India (1987) and Is Your Balloon About Pop?: Owner’s Manual for the Stressed Mind.