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Following command versus taking responsibility & more

Following command versus taking responsibility

Sometimes, one sub-division of normative ethics is called ‘divine command ethics’. And it is probably just what you think it is. It is called ‘command’ and it is decisive. Well, Bhagavad Gita is not that simple. If it was so simple then Bhagavad-gita could end with chapter two, when Krishna calls Arjuna to fight, and then one could just jump to the end where He says, 

sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam sharanam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo mokshayishyami ma shuchah

But there is a lot in between because Krishna is not just commanding, ‘Just do it!’ Krishna is encouraging Arjuna to think. And this is why Bhagavad-gita is not comparable to the situation that was argued in the Nuremberg trials after World War 2 and the actions of those who were involved in the holocaust where the plan has been made by the defense for killing so many people, that ‘I was simply following orders’. Then the judges determined that that was not a valid argument. Someone might argue that in the Bhagavad-gita Krishna says, ‘Just stand up and fight’, so this is the same thing as when someone might do any horrible acts and say, ‘Well, Krishna told me to do it’. But this would be an extremely superficial understanding—actually a misunderstanding—of Krishna’s message.

Yes, Krishna is making a command, but He says further to Arjuna, ‘Deliberate on what I have said, and then decide what to do’. He leaves the responsibility to Arjuna.

—From BG-class by Krishna Kshetra Swami on May 9, 2023 in Simhacalam, Germany


Wrong investment

These days we generally don’t hear people being troubled about idolatry, much as they don’t bother with religion one way or another. But if we think about it, we can see that they have just shifted their faith in other directions. Maybe they don’t believe in or have faith in the existence of God, but their rejection is based on a very limited conception of God. But we always have some sort of faith, even if it is faith that there is no God! Nowadays people invest their faith in lots of things that may not be in their best interest, and this could be another way of understanding idolatry in modern terms, as “investing one’s faith in that which is not in one’s best interest” or things that don’t bring ultimate fulfillment. 

—From Krishna’s Wonderful Form: A Guide for the Perplexed by Krishna Kshetra Swami, the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust


Seeing with understanding
There’s a Sanskrit word, darshana, which can simply mean “seeing.” But there is literal seeing and there is metaphorical “seeing,” like when I explain something abstract to you and ask you, “Do you see what I mean?” In India, this use of “seeing” is so prominent that darshana (or, in modern Indian languages, darshan) has become the word for “philosophy.”

Jake: I guess what you’re saying is that there is something like “philosophical seeing”—that this is what you do when seeing an image of Krishna in the temple?

KRKS: Well, yes, you’re partly right. “Philosophical seeing” can be a way of saying “seeing with understanding.” My point is actually kind of obvious when you think about it: We don’t see with only our eyes; we also, maybe more importantly, see with our understanding, and this is practically always the case. And yes, this applies to seeing an image of Krishna in a temple or wherever he’s honored in a physical form. There’s a learning process involved in this, and it’s about learning a special kind of seeing.

Jake: In my journalism courses, they say we’re supposed to learn to see how to make an event into a “story.” Do you mean something like that?

KRKS: Something like that. Later we can also talk about Krishna’s ongoing story. But also, here’s another point: Whatever we see, or think we see as we go through life (whether just physically seeing or seeing with our understanding), we’re generally forgetting—or ignoring—the real seer, the supreme seer: God. And if we take it that God is “all-pervading”—present everywhere—it stands to reason that his seeing is with complete understanding. This is a major point for understanding this practice of bhakti-yoga: we want to learn to shift ourselves to an awareness that there is always a higher perspective to whatever we experience.

Jake: And this “higher perspective” is represented by the images of Krishna that we can see in Krishna temples?

KRKS: You wouldn’t be wrong to say that. But I want to emphasize that bhakti is a process, a practice that, if we do it conscientiously, can bring us to this shift in perspective. And one important component of this practice is the honoring of Krishna in his physical form. There is another Sanskrit term that nicely describes this aspect of bhakti-yoga—a practice called murti-seva.

Jake: Murti . . . ?

KRKS: Murti seva. Murti means “anything that has definite shape,” and seva means “attentive service.” The idea is that the supreme person, who is the real, ultimate seer, facilitates our engaging in his service with careful attention by showing, or revealing, his definite divine form to our very limited power of sight.

—From Krishna’s Wonderful Form: A Guide for the Perplexed by Krishna Kshetra Swami, the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust