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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Bhagavad Gita Commentary

Most of us have heard the story of the centipede who, when asked how he managed to walk with so many legs, could no longer do so, but tangled his legs hopelessly in the attempt to intellectually figure it out and ended up on his back, helpless. This is not unlike the person who attempts to plumb the depths of oriental scriptures. Right away it becomes evident that they consist of incalculable layers, nearly all symbolic in nature. Furthermore, the meanings of the symbols are not consistent, changing according to the levels on which they occur. For example, on one level water symbolizes the mind, on another level the constant flux of samsara, and on another the subtle life-currents known as prana. This being the case, our Western linear mode of thought becomes as entangled and disabled as the fabled centipede. Knowing this to be so, I have decided to avoid the Lorelei of subtle symbolism and concentrate instead on the obviously practical side of Krishna teachings in the Bhagavad Gita. Having stated this, in complete consistency with oriental thought, I shall contradict myself and consider the symbolism encountered in the first chapter of the Gita.

We find ourselves on Kurukshetra, a field of impending battle. It is not as vast as our Hollywood-epic-shaped minds might imagine, as can be seen for oneself by a visit to Kurukshetra, now also a sizeable modern city in Northern India, not very far from Delhi. At one end is a hillock topped with a great tree under which the visitor finds a life-sized reproduction in marble of the type of chariot used in the battle. This is the vantage point from which Arjuna, the great warrior, and Sri Krishna looked out over the field. Today its tranquillity is charming, despite the strong feeling in the air that something tremendously momentous occurred there in the distant past. It is both awesome and soothing.

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