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Monday, December 11, 2006

What Krishna Meant

posted by on December 11 at 12:57 PM

The third movement of the third chapter of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets ,”Dry Salvages,” comes to end with this:

“O voyagers, O seamen, You who came to port, and you whose bodies Will suffer the trial and judgement of the sea, Or whatever event, this is your real destination.’ So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna On the field of battle. Not fare well, But fare forward, voyagers.

The passage references the main section of the “Bhagavad Gita,” which is part of the epic poem Mahabharata. In this section, two prominent families are on the battlefield, ready to fight over the throne. On one side, is the archer Arjuna and his army; on the other side, the enemy, the Karavas. Before giving the command for the battle to start, Arjuna looks across the battlefield, sees his relatives, people he has grown up with, on both sides of the war, and begins to wonder if the battle (if the fight for power and glory) makes any sense: What good can come out of brothers killing brothers? Krishna, disguised as Arjuna’s chariot driver, sees the archer is in a moment of doubt and begins giving him advice. The advice turns out to be bad advice.

Krishna points out the Arjuna is a soldier and so it is his job, his karma, to fight. Not to fight is to go against his nature, his duty to his nature. Krishna also points out that Arjuna must act. He is in the world, and world demands action. Worst of all, Krishna tells Arjuna that the men about to kill each other on the battlefield are inconsequential; they are only the masks of reality and not reality itself. What is final is God, the all, the substance of reality, and not its manifestations, humans.

Arjuna was right to hesitate and recognize the waste of human life that his command would cause. His hesitation was human hesitation—only a considerate human could recognize the seriousness of the situation and provide it with serious thought. Arjuna was thinking forward, thinking about what matters most to the present, the future. In that moment of doubt, Arjuna was pro-life, pro-human.

Which brings me to the poem “Dry Salvages.” Why does Eliot repeat Krishna’s bad advice in the modern world of “periodicals and business letters”? Ancient Krishna was not looking forward but backward. His was a world dominated by forces outside of the world of human experience. Humans were mere victims of what Hegel would call “the cunning of history.” Eliot studied Eastern philosophy and so very well knew the substance of Krishna’s advice: The actual world has no real value, individuals are just illusions, death is an illusion that dissolves an illusion, and a man must act not in his own, particular interest but in the interest of the universal mind. Krishna was anti-human, anti-life.

There are sites in cyberspace that transport visitors back to medieval times—to the age of kings, bishops, and knights. The prototype of this virtual technology is surely Eliot’s Four Quartets: By means of modern English, he sent readers back to a time when God (Brahmin, the prime mover unmoved) dominated the past and the future and society was obedient, managed by strict customs, and properly cemented (serfs, church, castle). Eliot hated humans.

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Good thing you didn't include the tag: This one's for you Levin. Otherwise, you would not have had to use your brain and simply post an inane video.

I like Eliot. I'm sure Josh does as well, knowing The Jam have a nice little song called "Wasteland".

I hope Josh and Hannah both will acknowledge your thought provoking message. Thanks.

Posted by last days sucker | December 11, 2006 1:27 PM

My favorite of the past week.

Posted by mirror | December 11, 2006 1:48 PM

I am afraid that you have misunderstood the Gita. Krishna never once indicated that these people or humanity is incounsequential. Indeed he takes his compassion further to say that all living entities including cows, chickens and trees are part of him and thus dear to him. He said that the living entities on the battle field are eternally existent and thus cannot actually be killed. After trying to do everything he could to try and stop the war he finally saw that the Kaurava were intent on fighting. He thusd encouraged Arjuna to fight in order to defeat the power mongers that were ruling and abusing their power. Arjuna hesitated because he was thinking only about enjoying in this world when he should have been acting out of knowledge of the eternal self.

Posted by Eric Rush | December 13, 2006 12:43 PM

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