The Bhagavad Gita: is it the “New Testament” of Hinduism?

Image of 18th-19th century picture  with illustration from the Gita

Krishna and Arjuna at Kurukshetra, 18–19th century

I heard the Bhagavad Gita described as the “New Testament of Hinduism” on the radio. I have now seen that this description is quite common. Of course all analogies break down at some point, and there are a number of ways in which this is inaccurate.

Since this analogy could really give totally the wrong impression of the Gita to a Westerner who did not know Hinduism, I will write about some of the main differences.

The Gita does not bring a “new covenant”

Christians believe that the New Testament represents the end of an old covenant between God and the Jewish people and the beginning of a new covenant with the followers of Jesus. The “covenant” is seen as an agreement that shapes the relationship between God and Humanity.

Even the Hindus who rate the Bhagavad Gita as the highest scripture say that the same knowledge is in the Vedas. They often see the Gita as an interpretation of the Vedas for the Kali Yuga, simpler and more direct for a this era, when people are further from God and the Devas.

Not all Hindus see the Gita as a holy book

The Gita is not part of the scriptural canon of many Hindu lineages. Saivites (devotees of Shiva) and Shaktas generally see the gita as an epic. They respect it as the holy book of many Vishnavas (devotees of Vishnu), but don’t see it as scriptural themselves. Vishnavas acknowledge that some Hindus don’t see the Gita as scripture, but still count them as Hindus. Even among Vishnavas there are some who would rate the Gita as secondary to the Ramayana or other books.

In contrast someone who did not see the New testament as scripture would not be a Christian. Even groups which put other books above the New testament (for example the LDS) are generally seen as not Christian by most denominations.

Hindus can criticise the Gita and still be Hindus

Some great swamis have called the Bhagavad Gita the kolai nul or “book of carnage”. They may appreciate the clear messages on dharma, samskara, and bhakti, but think that it could also be interpreted as a call to violence. Though followers of the Gita would probably disagree with this assessment and argue strongly against it they would not see it as a “non-Hindu” viewpoint.

This again is different to the Christian view of the New Testament. Anyone who argued that the New Testament was bad or negative would not be seen as a Christian. It is universally accepted as the essence of Christianity.

One commenter has pointed out that I am a little ambiguous here, because it is possible for Christians to criticise parts of the New Testament, for example some Christians believe in the gospels but don’t take everything in St Paul’s letters to be scriptural. For clarity, its possible for a Hindu to say that the Gita is a negative book over all, whereas a Christian cannot do that with the New testament. In particular any Christian who rejected the story of the gospels would not be considered Christian.

So, unlike the New testament the Bhagavad Gita is scripture to some Hindus, and just an epic story to others. It does not bring a change in the covenant or relationship between humanity and God, though some Hindus believe that it provides a clearer interpretation for this era. Finally it is perfectly possible to Criticise the Gita, even see it as a problem, and still be a Hindu.

Aum


Image from Wikipedia and is free to use as the copyright has expired.

44 responses to “The Bhagavad Gita: is it the “New Testament” of Hinduism?

  1. Namaste Tandava. Another excellent post. I think that many Westerners simply have trouble understanding that some faiths are not based upon a single revealed text as is theirs. And so, in an attempt to help them understand, the Gita is often held up as some sort of equivalent to the New Testament. Your post here does an excellent job explaining why the Bhagavad Gita and the Christian New Testament are ultimately not analogous. Nice work.
    Aum Namah Shivaya.

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  3. hearing the Gita compared to the testament is new for me.that only shows how superficially Hindu thought gets interpreted in the West.[excluding you,of course :)]I really don’t get how they call it a new testament when most commentaries on the Gita call it the “Essence of Vedas”.They must have missed that one & thought it as a replacement of the Vedas.

  4. Hare Krishna,

    I’m surprised to see this topic ” The Bhagavad Gita: is it the “New Testament” of Hinduism?”. Well the truth is, it isnt the “New Testament” of Hinduism”, the answer & reason is there in Srimad Bhagavad Gita itself.

    I would like to quote the following from Bhagavad-Gītā 4.1

    śrī-bhagavān uvāca
    imaḿ vivasvate yogaḿ
    proktavān aham avyayam
    vivasvān manave prāha
    manur ikṣvākave ‘bravīt

    SYNONYMS

    śrī-bhagavān uvāca — the Supreme Personality of Godhead said; imam — this; vivasvate — unto the sun-god; yogam — the science of one’s relationship to the Supreme; proktavān — instructed; aham — I; avyayam — imperishable; vivasvān — Vivasvān (the sun-god’s name); manave — unto the father of mankind (of the name Vaivasvata); prāha — told; manuḥ — the father of mankind; ikṣvākave — unto King Ikṣvāku; abravīt — said.

    TRANSLATION

    The Personality of Godhead, Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvān, and Vivasvān instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikṣvāku.

    PURPORT

    Herein we find the history of the Bhagavad-gītā traced from a remote time when it was delivered to the royal order of all planets, beginning from the sun planet. The kings of all planets are especially meant for the protection of the inhabitants, and therefore the royal order should understand the science of Bhagavad-gītā in order to be able to rule the citizens and protect them from material bondage to lust. Human life is meant for cultivation of spiritual knowledge, in eternal relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and the executive heads of all states and all planets are obliged to impart this lesson to the citizens by education, culture and devotion. In other words, the executive heads of all states are intended to spread the science of Kṛṣṇa consciousness so that the people may take advantage of this great science and pursue a successful path, utilizing the opportunity of the human form of life.

    In this millennium, the sun-god is known as Vivasvān, the king of the sun, which is the origin of all planets within the solar system. In the Brahma-saḿhitā (5.52) it is stated:

    yac-cakṣur eṣa savitā sakala-grahāṇāḿ
    rājā samasta-sura-mūrtir aśeṣa-tejāḥ
    yasyājñayā bhramati sambhṛta-kāla-cakro
    govindam ādi-puruṣaḿ tam ahaḿ bhajāmi

    “Let me worship,” Lord Brahmā said, “the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Govinda [Kṛṣṇa], who is the original person and under whose order the sun, which is the king of all planets, is assuming immense power and heat. The sun represents the eye of the Lord and traverses its orbit in obedience to His order.”

    The sun is the king of the planets, and the sun-god (at present of the name Vivasvān) rules the sun planet, which is controlling all other planets by supplying heat and light. He is rotating under the order of Kṛṣṇa, and Lord Kṛṣṇa originally made Vivasvān His first disciple to understand the science of Bhagavad-gītā. The Gītā is not, therefore, a speculative treatise for the insignificant mundane scholar but is a standard book of knowledge coming down from time immemorial.

    In the Mahābhārata (Śānti-parva 348.51-52) we can trace out the history of the Gītā as follows:

    tretā-yugādau ca tato
    vivasvān manave dadau
    manuś ca loka-bhṛty-arthaḿ
    sutāyekṣvākave dadau
    ikṣvākuṇā ca kathito
    vyāpya lokān avasthitaḥ

    “In the beginning of the millennium known as Tretā-yuga this science of the relationship with the Supreme was delivered by Vivasvān to Manu. Manu, being the father of mankind, gave it to his son Mahārāja Ikṣvāku, the king of this earth planet and forefather of the Raghu dynasty, in which Lord Rāmacandra appeared.” Therefore, Bhagavad-gītā existed in human society from the time of Mahārāja Ikṣvāku.

    At the present moment we have just passed through five thousand years of the Kali-yuga, which lasts 432,000 years. Before this there was Dvāpara-yuga (800,000 years), and before that there was Tretā-yuga (1,200,000 years). Thus, some 2,005,000 years ago, Manu spoke the Bhagavad-gītā to his disciple and son Mahārāja Ikṣvāku, the king of this planet earth. The age of the current Manu is calculated to last some 305,300,000 years, of which 120,400,000 have passed. Accepting that before the birth of Manu the Gītā was spoken by the Lord to His disciple the sun-god Vivasvān, a rough estimate is that the Gītā was spoken at least 120,400,000 years ago; and in human society it has been extant for two million years. It was respoken by the Lord again to Arjuna about five thousand years ago. That is the rough estimate of the history of the Gītā, according to the Gītā itself and according to the version of the speaker, Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa. It was spoken to the sun-god Vivasvān because he is also a kṣatriya and is the father of all kṣatriyas who are descendants of the sun-god, or the sūrya-vaḿśa kṣatriyas. Because Bhagavad-gītā is as good as the Vedas, being spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, this knowledge is apauruṣeya, superhuman. Since the Vedic instructions are accepted as they are, without human interpretation, the Gītā must therefore be accepted without mundane interpretation. The mundane wranglers may speculate on the Gītā in their own ways, but that is not Bhagavad-gītā as it is. Therefore, Bhagavad-gītā has to be accepted as it is, from the disciplic succession, and it is described herein that the Lord spoke to the sun-god, the sun-god spoke to his son Manu and Manu spoke to his son Ikṣvāku.

    As indicated above, Srimad Bhagavad Gita existed from time immemorial, its not fair to call Srimad Bhagavad Gita as recently written ” New Testament of Hinduism”, Hinduism as you maybe already aware is not the original term, its original term is Sanatana Dharma – Eternal Religion. Followers of Sanatana Dharma lived by vedic code of living called Varnashrama Dharma.

  5. Srimad Bhagavad Gita’s message to human beings born in this material world is as good as the Vedas, hence its called the Essence of all the Vedas. In this present quarrelsome age of Kaliyuga, in which human life duration is very short, reading Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, reading scriptures by vaisnava acharyas, associating with devotees of the Supreme Personality of Godhead & most importantly chanting the holy mahamantra ” Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare ” is sure is the path for liberation which is prescribed in Manu Smriti as well as in other important authentic vedic scriptures.

  6. And there’s the Iskcon message of the day ;D

    • I have accepted the above two messages because they are relevant to the topic, However I have removed a third one which does just appear to be an ISKCON message.

      To Acyuta-āśrayaḥ,
      I welcome relevant comments but general posts about ISKCON and its beliefs are not really relevant. You have your own blog, which is now linked via your name in your comments for anyone who wants to follow. I would expect the same treatment at your blog; comments giving a saivite perspective on your topic to be permitted but general posts on saivite topics and adorations to Shiva to be considered off topic.
      Aum

      • To Tandava,

        I welcome & appreciate the feedback.

        On the whole, there’s a general misconception of Srimad Bhagavad Gita & its speaker Supreme Lord Sri Krishna.

        Hope people in general interpret the correct meaning & message of Supreme Lord Sri Krishna’s Srimad Bhagavad Gita.

        Thought, I, as an humble servant of the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna, would take a little initiative to clear misconceptions prevailing about Srimad Bhagavad Gita & its speaker Supreme Lord Sri Krishna in this good blog of yours.

        Hare Krishna !!! Hari Bol !!!

  7. You are indirectly trying to compare abrahamic faiths with dharmic faiths. This blog post’s title can only be raised by those who bracket both these faiths under a simple name called “religion”.

    Abrahamic faiths are Dogmatic. You cannot call it a “religion”.

    Dharmic faiths can be anything as long as it it not dogmatic. ANYTHING! You can disregard the entire vedic texts and still be “dharmic” simply because you are still open to new ideas and answers. The minute you declare that god XYZ is the only and ONLY god, you become non-dharmic. The great secret wisdom is that we do not have the capability to know for sure that god exists. What we are capable of is making peace. So agree to the possibility of everything for the sake of making peace but always remember the great secret wisdom.

    This “idea of possibility” is the main religion of dharma. Hinduism/sikhism/buddhism/jainism are just extensions(by-products) of this core idea. Focus on the core idea and all the contradictions in the dharmic belief system will start to make sense.

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  9. Namaste Tandava,
    Hope you’re doing well. Your second point about some Hindus not seeing the BG as a holy scripture or as the most important of scriptures is right on the mark. Within our tradition (Nandinatha Sampradaya), the Vedas and Agamas are the highest scriptural authority, and other books, such as the Tirukural and Tirumantiram, take precedence over other scriptures like the BG. I do appreciate the message of the Gita (with the central message as a metaphor explaining the struggle between one’s mind and the soul, not literally) and have read it several times, but I would not place it on the same platform that Christians place the New Testament or Muslims place the Qur’an. It’s not as important to me as it is to Vaishnavas, and Gaudiya Vaishnavas in particular. I have seen one person describe the BG as the “Hindu Bible” before– which is grossly inaccurate, the Vedas and Agamas are the only scriptures which could be called such, and not everyone would agree with that. This is why we need more people to teach Hindu Dharma in a non-sectarian, informative manner instead of just giving them nice analogies that they can relate to. We need to teach people that Hinduism is a wide and diverse religion, and not everyone believes the same things, and I think you have done so with this blog entry. Many thanks!
    Shanti,
    Ricky

    • Thanks Ricky,
      I agree, people need to learn about the diversity within Hinduism
      Aum

    • an ISKCON devotee

      A bit of disagreement here, if you’ll forgive me, on this bit: ” .. and Gaudiya Vaishnavas in particular” – the vast majority of Vaishnavas from *all* sects of this spiritual tradition have accepted the Bhagavad Gita as critically important, especially due to its central message of devotional love and service unto Bhagavan Shri Krishna as the highest goal. There is a small minority who may have a greater preference for another Vaishnava scripture, but that is based mainly on personal taste and not actual relative importance of message – e.g., a devotee whose preferred/chosen ishta-deva (preferred form of worship of the Lord) is Lord Ramachandra may have special attraction to the Ramayana because it details Sri Rama’s pastimes; the Brahma-Madhava-Gaudiya, Kumara, and Rudra Sampradayas – all of which worship Shri Krishna, especially, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, place particular emphasis not only on Srimad Bhagavad Gita, but also on Srimad Bhagavatam (Srimad Bhagavata Purana) which especially details Shri Krishna’s pastimes well. As Lord Ramachandra IS a form of Lord Shri Krishna, after all, the central message of the Bhagavad Gita is equally relevant to both classes of Vaishnavas (and all others), and thus its message is regarded as supremely important, albeit the personal emphasis of a particular individual (or set of individuals) within a certain (especially minority) Vaishnava group may place less emphasis on it.
      The Gaudiya Vaishnavas, however, are indeed the most prominent – and perhaps that gave the impression that only (or mainly) they place the highest importance on the Bhagavad Gita – notably because their members have most taken to heart the goal of teaching its glorious message worldwide, especially in the modern era. Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad Gita As It Is is the most popular edition of it sold currently, and members of His own ISKCON have made much progress in bringing it to worldwide prominence and recognition. And yes, Gaudiya Vaishnavas do place very heavy stress on the Bhagavad Gita, accepted in its entirety, “as it is”, and its central message of pure Krishna-bhakti; but they are not the only ones.

  10. Hi Tandava,
    I am a devotee of Shiva & Durga, but I try to follow teachings of Buddha in my life. I consider myself half hindu & half buddhist. Do not listen to these Isckon people, they think Lord Shiva is only a demi god & only asuras worship him & to reach heaven we have to worship only krisna. I know this because i have read isckon books & even my parents are isckon devotees.
    My parents makes fun of me because I eat non veg food & tells me I am going to hell. Isckon has destroyed my relationship with my parents.
    Om Namah Sivaya.

    • Aum,
      It sounds like your parents are not very good ISKCON members. I have a friend who is well respected in ISKCON and I can assure you that they don’t believe that someone worshipping Shiva and Durga would go to hell. Many of them would believe that you have to worship Krishna in the final incarnation before attaining moksha, but they would see a good life devoted to Shiva and Durga leading to a reincarnation in the realm of Shiva and Durga, which they see as a heaven compared to this world, but still not the final destination. Similarly they would see vegetarianism as conducive to a spiritual advancement, but not being vegetarian not leading to hell, but possibly the next incarnation being less than it would have been. If I had to make one criticism of ISKCON it would be that it often does not do enough to change the attitudes of its less advanced members from the attitudes of the exclusive Abrahamic religions to a dharmic attitude. Many of them come with a Christian attitude (I’m right and everyone else will go to hell) and keep it for a long time.

      Also, desparaging Vishnavas because they see Shiva is a demigod is really not a Hindu attitude – in fact I would go as far as to say it is a Christian attitude. We understand and respect the different beliefs. After all a Vishnava with this attitude could be just as offended by the Saiva belief that Vishnu is only one of five aspects of God – Siva the five-fold manifestation: Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver; Rudra, the destroyer; Maheshvara, the veiling Lord, and Sadashiva, the revealer.

      As Saivas we look at things from one angle, and yes we believe that this is the best – but other angles could be right for people in other stages of spiritual growth. Finally, can we really be offended by someone saying that Shiva is a demigod when we know that this is the way it looks from our angle. After all, from our view we would readily say that the demigods are Shiva at the ultimate level.
      Aum Shivaya

    • an ISKCON devotee

      Yes, Vaishnavas – by very definition of that word – worship Krishna as the Supreme Lord. But Vaishnavas are not to be inimical to Shiva, his family and his devotees. Shiva is a pure devotee of the Lord – would he not, then, wish to lead his own devotees to the shelter of the Lord’s lotus feet? Vaisnavas always have great respect for the servants of servants of the Lord. It is only, specifically, those who are *inimical* to the Lord and His devotees – regardless of whom they worship – who must be condemned. There is no greater crime than to be offensive to the Lord’s devotee, which even the Lord Himself is not inclined to forgive.
      Whether or not one goes to hell or heaven is entirely based on one’s impious and pious merits. It is stated in the shastras, yes, that meat is murder, and consequently one who eats meat must suffer the punishments for the sin of murder – which could involve a trip to the hellish regions, and even worse pains. Not only Vaishnavas, but many Shaivas and devotees of other dharmic paths – including Buddhists and Jains – also avoid meat, for this very reason that meat is murder. One will suffer the karmic reactions of his/her sinful deeds – that is without doubt, regardless of one’s devotional path. But even then, one who has tasted meat is not necessarily automatically condemned. One who develops compassion for the animals, and learns to willingly give up their slaughter for selfishly seeking to satisfy the tongue, is already on the path to rectification. And devotional service unto the Lord purifies one of even the very worst sinful reactions.
      The position of a Vaishnava is that of tolerance and “equal vision” (Bhagavad-gita). ISKCON does not have a need to employ any particular targeted methodology of eliminating the lack of it, as they already have a superior means – devotional service is the very best purifier of all material contaminations, including arrogance and intolerance. Unfortunately, we conditioned souls have many layers of such material conditionings that we must be purified of to come to that exalted platform, and thus it may take time; but for one who faithfully executes devotional service unto the Lord, someday it will come – without fail, and without any doubt.
      Aum Namah Shivaya
      Hare Krishna

      • Namashkar,
        Thank you for clarifying the ISKCON position. There is one thing that you say that I would like to expand on. You say that the punishment for eating meat could be a time in a hellish realm. I don’t think that is anything that we can predict. Yes, it could be, but the destiny of karma will depend on many things. For someone who gives no thought to their diet it could be a reasonable life in theis world, but ended in an accident caused by someone’s thoughtlessness. For those who have to eat meat to live, like the traditional Inuits there may be no significant karmic reactions; they show great respect to the spirit of the creatures, kill only what they need, and waste nothing. Also, as an ex meat-eater I hope that if we change then through bhakti some of the karmic debt can be paid.
        Aum Shivaya
        Hari Krishna

        • an ISKCON devotee

          That’s why I specifically said “could” and not “will” 🙂 There are vivid descriptions in the shastras of punishments in the hellish regions for meat eaters; however – with not only meat-eating, but any sinful crime – the type and severity of punishment one has to face is entirely variable, based on one’s own karmic profile – yes, that includes the act itself, but also the circumstances and motivations behind the act. As in the very example you cited, meat-eating for survival is *very* different from meat-eating for sheer satisfaction of the dictates of the tongue.
          The Vaishnava tradition teaches that most certainly through Krishna-bhakti one will be lifted of one’s karmic debt; as Krishna Himself says: “Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.” (Bhagavad-gita, 18.66).

  11. It’s becoming a very interesting debate. I agree with Tandava that ISKON devotees who think Shaivites &Smarthas[called ‘Mayavadis’ by them] go to Hell do bring in their Christian or rather the ‘Dogmatic’ Baggage.There is also a factor called Attitude in play here.
    Today ,in the Times Of India,an article on Spirituality was on this topic of ‘Attitude’ of Spirituality/Humility.the author was saying that people think to become spiritual one must do a fashion make-over ,giving up on the ‘fun’ things & taking to the ‘boring’ or ‘dull’ things like clothes,activity etc[in various degrees] while forgetting about giving a makeover to our thinking patterns &attitudes which is actually the most important &Basic requirement.I find this to be true.Many people ,I find,[generally speaking],think spirituality is in the change of clothes or diet or even repeating slokas,or reading the scriptures,alone while forgetting that change in our thinking habits are the basics which will lead them to wherever they wish to go.
    On The Shiva -Vishnu -equation:
    In the medieval[Indian]Agecirca 6-8 centuryC.E., there were lots of debates on Whether Shiva was the Supreme or Vishnu was the Supreme.I thought that debate had been settled when the invasions Started.So its rather [in one way] funny to see this debate here..There have also been a lot of stories of Thiruvilayadals[Shiva’s] &Bhaktha-Vijayams[Vishnu’s](Parable-like if that’s the word) which teach us that Hari & Haran are 1 & the Same[A Tamil saying goes :”ariyum aranum onru;ariyAthavar vAyil maNNu” meaning those who don’t know that Shiva & Vishnu are one are eating dust / sand (pardon the language,but that’s the idiom).In fact many Puranic stories are there to teach us this interplay of Shaivism & Vaishnavism.The Story of Basmasura,The Story of How Vishnu Got the name ‘Aravinda-lochana’ and also his Discus the Sudarshana are examples of this thinking.May be its the Smartha in me talking,for all I know.
    In India ,Shiva-Vishnu Koils abound especially in areas were there is a considerable Tamil Population.Here this fight is more about the interpretation given by the Gita [which is mainly between Advaita[Smartha],Visishtadvaita[Sri Vaishnava] &Dvaita[Madwa] Schools. Though I’m familiar with the Panniruthirumurai of Tamil-Shaivism,I don’t think Thirukural is considered a part of it.Thirukural is not considered as ‘Religious’ but as a ‘Vazhikati’ Nool.As a guide to our conduct.If it was part of the ‘Thirumurai’,then our successive govts.[ in TamilNadu] & ‘Rational” Political parties would have been the first to debunk it .Here the current joke [well a few years old,actually] is that ‘ThiruVachakkam ‘ is influenced by the ‘Bible’ or is ‘Christian’ or somethng to that effect.

    • Namashkar Sita,
      Thank you for a very interesting comment. I think that the identity of Shiva-Vishnu is settled in many Hindu schools, we have the image of Harihara:
      Harihara - half Shiva half Vishnu
      Some Vishnava schools, including ISKCON don’t believe in the one identity though.

      Thirukural is not considered as ‘Religious’ but as a ‘Vazhikati’ Nool.As a guide to our conduct.

      Having read the English translation I tend to agree that it is primarily a guide to conduct. Having said that Dharma is the foundation of spirituality, so I am not sure how it is seen. The Nandinatha Sampradaya, which I follow, is a Sri Lankan Tamil saivite school, I will have to ask for clarification on exactly how it is viewed. I too have heard the Christian propaganda that Thiruvalluvar was really a Christian!
      Aum

  12. To the Isckon devotees.
    Firstly buddhists are not vegetarian. Buddhism does not teach vegetarianism. I have read the teachings of buddha.
    Secondly Lord Shiva is the real god he accepts everybody vegeterians as well as non vegetarians as his devotees. Unlike krsna, the pseudo god who only accepts vegetarians. Vegetarianism started in India only a 1000 year back, historians in India all agree on this.
    I am from eastern India where every hindu is non vegetarian. In nepal , bangladesh & bali hindus are all non vegetarians.
    Aum namah Sivay.
    Jai Ma Durga.

    • Namashkar,
      Many Buddhists are vegetarian, especially in the Mahayana schools. Also its clearly not true that all Hindus in Eastern India are non-vegetarian, your parents are living proof of that! Even in Nepal there are some vegetarians. Also your assertion that vegetarianism only started in India 1000 years back is clearly wrong, just look at the Thirukural.

      I really don’t appreciate comments disparaging other Hindu paths. I will leave it here this time but will edit other comments.
      Aum

    • an ISKCON devotee

      Many Buddhists are in fact vegetarian, for religious reasons – as Tandava correctly cited, especially, but not only, in Mahayana schools.
      To state that all Hindus in any region are non-vegetarian is entirely erroneous – some may be, but a great number of them are not. The Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition – of which ISKCON is a part – did in fact come from Bengal, which is in the *eastern* part of India, and its adherents are strict lacto-vegetarians.
      Krishna is not a “pseudo god”, and in this connection it may be wise to note that even Shiva devotees and Hindus of other non-Vaishnava paths do not believe He is anything of the sort – just as Vaishnavas do not believe that Shiva is a “pseudo god”, but only a dedicated servant and pure devotee of the Supreme Lord, Shri Krishna.
      The Lord may accept anyone – even the most fallen sinner – as His devotee; the only qualifier is the depth and sincerity of our love and devotional service. But frankly, if one truly loves another, s/he would do wise to accept what his/her beloved likes, and reject what s/he doesn’t like. What the Lord likes and does not like is clearly delineated in the shastras. Simply put, God does not like murder.
      Hare Krishna.

      • an ISKCON devotee

        Additionally, historians do not agree that vegetarianism is a recent concoction in the spiritual history of India – and such a thought would be quite absurd, given the very fact that those same historians acknowledge much more ancient dates of writing for numerous of the very shastras that speak against meat-eating …
        What you do, in any case, is your choice; but whether one worships Shiva or Krishna, or is even an atheist, one will always get the fruits of one’s actions, without fail.
        Hare Krishna.

  13. This is a good article thank you, but I disagree though that criticising the NT makes someone not a Christian. Many theologians do it all the time, particularly on the Catholic side, I know I certainly do. It would be better phrased as ‘rejecting *all* of the NT’. You can reject the epistles and still be a Christian because you accept the gospels. Here is a distinction that you missed- that the Gita is one book whereas the NT is a anthology of books.

    Moreover, it is a collection that was not completed until the late fourth century at the earliest, so all the Christians before then are Christians who didn’t believe in the NT- because it didn’t exist.

    • Thank you Peter,
      I take your point about being able to criticise part of the NT. I have certainly heard some Christians criticising some things St Paul says. You are right I was thinking more about the general criticism of the whole thing.
      Tandava

  14. About the Thirukural- only the first 10 verses of the 1330 speak of God as AdiBagavan in a non-denominational way. & yes there is some claim by Christians especially Catholics & the CSI, that Valluvar was a Christian as he is also from the same place as or close to the place where Thomas was believed to have been martyred,but the ‘Thiruvachagam claim is even more recent. but has now died down or is muted.You see, the British scholars like Pope who had studied Tamil & did extensive translation of Tamil scriptures which they call religious poetry,couldn’t believe that the sublime devotion and description of the Almighty seen in these writings and also the high moral standards emphasised in the Kural could have been achieved without Christian or Western influence.this is the reason also for Hindus to fight the appropriation of their symbols & thought by Christians[especially in India] which may spill over onto westerners adopting Hinduism or the way of life.That Christians have successfully appropriated & absorbed Pagan Rituals into their lifestyle is something of which we are very conscious.But that is digressing from the topic.

    • Sita Ji,
      I have asked about the Tirukural and a fellow student of the Nandinatha Sampradaya directed me to the introduction to an English translation by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, a guru of our lineage. He says:

      … It is called Tirukural in the Tamil language. Tiru means “holy” or “sacred,” and kural describes a brief verse or literary couplet.

      The poetic masterpiece you are holding in your hands is one of the most revered scriptures in South India, where every child learns to recite its verses by heart. Hindus there regard it with the same reverence that Buddhists regard the Buddha’s Dhammapada and Christians regard Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” In fact, other religions also claim it as their own. The Jains proclaim it theirs, saying it expresses precisely their ideals of nonviolence, of dharma, of asceticism, vegetarianism and other aspects of Jainism. The Christians have argued that the Tirukural is so profound and filled with such compassion that it must have been influenced by the Christian missionaries who, their legends say, came to South India in the first century ce (300 years after native historians assert it was written). Many are surprised to find that the Tirukural is still sworn upon in the courts of law in South India’s state of Tamil Nadu, just as the Christian Bible and Muslim Koran are sworn on elsewhere. …

      It is clear that we do count it as a scripture. Having said that, it doesn’t really matter what we call it or how we classify it. It is what it is, a guide to dharmic living which can be used as the foundation of yoga and spiritual growth, or simply as a guide to life.
      Aum

  15. “As Lord Ramachandra IS a form of Lord Shri Krishna, after all”

    Whoa Nelly! I just would like to point out the views of ISKCON are only that of ISKCON, and the above is not a widely held belief for those who are new to Sanatana Dharma. As this topic has already gone well off it’s course I will hold my tongue on this. Besides, we all know Sri Krishna and Sri Ramachandra are full and glorious manifestations of Srimannarayana to restore Dharma.

    As for the original topic, yes within Vaishnava Vedanta the Gita plays a major role in our philosophies, just certain sects like to play with the names a wee bit to expound upon their particular view. As for the Ramayana, while there are many versions of it, including Tulsidas’ famous Ramacharitamanas, only the one transmitted by Valmiki is/should be considered as scripture. In it Brahma himself reveals that Sri Ramachandra is the manifestation of Srimannarayana

    I agree with “If I had to make one criticism of ISKCON it would be that it often does not do enough to change the attitudes of its less advanced members from the attitudes of the exclusive Abrahamic religions to a dharmic attitude.” whole heartedly. and this leads me to my next point:

    “Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad Gita As It Is is the most popular edition of it sold currently, and members of His own ISKCON have made much progress in bringing it to worldwide prominence and recognition. ”

    I respect this, but harassing walkers by with the in your face evangelical methods is not the right way. I am a Sri Vaishnava and devotee of Sri Ramachandra and when I see salmon coloured robes coming my way I dart across the street. I do not mean to snub a fellow Vaishnava, I just want to avoid the evangelical, abrahamic elements that are so prevalent within ISKCON. And honestly, as a Sri Vaishnava, and one who read many Gita’s and their commentaries, I accept the “Bhagavad Gita, … in its entirety, “as it is”” But within my Tradition and personal view its central message is not of pure Krishna-bhakti, but of the means to Prapatti to Srimannarayana, as when Krishna speaks his “I’s” and “Me’s” he is speaking as the Supreme Lord himself, beyond his Avataram. If one notices, is most translations of the Gita that the names and methods in which he addresses the Lord changes as his manifestations are revealed. While in his most divine and cosmic form Arjuna refers to Krishna as Vishnu. I may be wrong on this point as I heavily rely upon translations into english and will admit I do not play at being a Sanskrit Scholar, I am but a simple devotee to the Lord.

    Adiyen Ramanuja Dasa

    • Is there any difference between Sriman Narayana and Sri Krishna? Not at all; They are One and the Same. Sri Ramachandra is His avatara as well, and thus He is also non-different from both of Them. Yes, even Gaudiya Vaishnavism accepts that Sri Ramachandra came as an avatara of Sri Vishnu; only, the additional distinction is made that Sri Vishnu Himself is an avatara of Sri Krishna, that’s it. This is accepted not only in Gaudiya Vaishnavism (including ISKCON), but also within the Hamsa (Kumara) and Rudra Sampradayas, amongst other Vaishnava schools. But in any case, They are the same Supreme Personality of Godhead. There is no difference. That is a fact accepted by all Vaishnavas.

      Sri Brahma Samhita makes a beautiful analogy in this connection: “The light of one candle being communicated to other candles, although it burns separately in them, is the same in its quality. I adore the primeval Lord Govinda who exhibits Himself equally in the same mobile manner in His various manifestations.” (Brahma-samhita, 5.46)

      Yes, Sri Tulasidasa’s Ramayana – although a very beautiful work – is not authoritative as Sri Valmaki’s Ramayana. Srila Prabhupada, Founder-Acarya of ISKCON, fully agrees with this: “Tulsidas’s Ramayana (Ramacharitmanasa) is but a partial representative of Srimad-Bhagavatam. The real Ramayana is Valmiki’s Ramayana. Tulsidas was a devotee of Lord Rama and he has given his thoughts in his book Ramayana.” (Letter to: Professor Kotovsky)

      It is not “abrahminical” at all to spread the glories of the Lord, and teach and encourage others to worship Him. In fact the shastras recommend exactly this: “For one who explains this supreme secret […] pure devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me. There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear.” (Bhagavad-gita, 18.68-69)
      Countless souls have in fact been saved from the vicious cycle of birth and death, through abandonment of such sinful activities such as meat-eating and illicit sex, as well as by cultivating Krishna-bhakti, through these means of “evangelism.” It is doubtless that Sri Krishna, Sriman Narayana, is immensely pleased with this.
      Yes, admittedly, a few overenthusiastic neophyte preachers go about their preaching in the wrong way, and perhaps even inadvertently drive away souls from Sri Krishna in the process. That is unfortunate, yes, but it certainly does not mean that all preaching must be stopped! Rather, those well-meaning devotees must simply be properly trained in how to preach. There is a right way to do it, and it has been done. Bhakti cannot – and must not – be forced on anybody; rather, it should be naturally awakened, then gradually encouraged to grow.

      Prapatti as a necessary physical, ritualistic act is a concept exclusive to the Sri Sampradaya specifically. But the literal meaning of “prapatti” – and the very purpose behind that act – is “surrender” unto the Lotus Feet of Sriman Narayana, or Sri Krishna. The pledge made during the Sri Vaishnava act of Prapatti – which may in this sense be considered analogous to the diksha (initiation) given in other traditions of Sanatana Dharma – is one of total surrender unto the Lotus Feet of the Lord. Yes, this mindset of total surrender is exactly what Sri Krishna teaches in Srimad Bhagavad Gita: “Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.” (Bhagavad-gita, 18.66)
      But can one truly and sincerely offer full surrender unto His Lotus Feet without pure bhakti? It is not possible.

      —-

      I understand and respect that Vaishnava devotees from different schools of thought may have differing opinions on certain philosophical points. My own comments simply reflect my humble presentation of what I have been taught from the shastras and acharyas. I certainly didn’t mean any offense to a fellow devotee; and if I’ve offended, please forgive me.

      vāñchā-kalpa-tarubhyaś ca
      kṛpā-sindhubhya eva ca
      patitānāḿ pāvanebhyo
      vaiṣṇavebhyo namo namaḥ

      Hare Krishna.

      • N.B. I especially appreciate how Srila Prabhupada’s translation, Srimad Bhagavad-gita As It Is, comprehensively translates and thorough explains each verse, not only with a verse-by-verse translation, but even with a word-by-word translation for each verse, as well as relevant purports (commentary) with citations from other shastras and the writings of previous acharyas. There isn’t a translation like it. Especially for this reason; that’s a large reason how it rose to popularity, and gained recognition even in academia.
        http://vedabase.com/bg/
        The online Bhaktivedanta VedaBase version provides an interactive (clickable) Sanskrit glossary, wherein each Sanskrit word from the word-by-word translations in the Bhagavad-gita – as well as Srimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana) and Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita, which were translated similarly – is linked to a page citing every use of that Sanskrit word in a verse – as well as the particular translation, used in that particular context – found in those three works. A very handy tool for non-Sanskrit scholars 🙂

        The shastras really develop a profoundly deeper meaning when one comes to understand the precise language used in the Vedic literatures, particularly in their original and proper contexts. So much is unfortunately lost in translation – especially to Western/European languages like English, which lack the precise terminologies used in Sanskrit to refer to a number of things.

        That’s also, largely, why there had been so much of confusion about certain points on the beliefs of “Hinduism” or Sanatana Dharma, as well as why so many lingering related misconceptions continue to exist today.

        But that’s perhaps best reserved for the subject of another discussion … all of this has gone WAY off the original topic of this post! (Apologies, Tandava!)

  16. ” to find that the Tirukural is still sworn upon in the courts of law in South India’s state of Tamil Nadu” .This I think might be true,though iots the first I’ve heard.It might be the ‘rationalists and ‘Dravidian’ -minded people who agitate against things considered ‘Hindu’ & ‘Aryan’.,as they might baulk at swearing on the ‘Gita’.The Thirukural is claimed by the Jainas too which may or may not be valid.In Indian literature ,we have a branch that is called Dharma Shastras & both The ‘Kural’ & the ‘Gita’ fall in that Catergory.[Needhi nool’ in Tamil].Though the Gita is worshiped as coming from SriKrishna,it isn’t used in Prayer as the Suktams or the Thevarams or the Prabhandams are used,which is what distinguishes them mainly.The Tamil word ‘Thiru’ is synonymous with the Sanskrit ‘Sri’ and is used for all texts that are revered.In fact ThiruMoolar’s ThiruManthiram also falls under this category.
    A Note on History : In TamilNadu,the fist half of the last century saw the rise of anti Aryan movements & political parties under varied Leadership of both religious & areligious [mostly anti Hindu] People.It was against use of sanskrit Language in T.N. by theists as well as anti Hindu by atheists.There was a also a movement which wanted to change our NewYear from Chithirai to Thai.This was done by the previous DMK govt[who claim to be ‘Rational’]through a high-handed G.O. 2 years back.The Saiva Siddhantha School,especially the followers of Maraimalai Adigal, played a prominent role in this movement.This decision promptly was changed by the succeeding AIADMK Govt. by another G.O. citing other historical sources & practices.
    I give these details to explain the context in Tamil Nadu’s Politico-Socio-Cultural Milieu.Maybe because the Kural was not taught to me as a sacred literature [I studied in a Convent run School for Anglo-Indians;my mother was keen that we learnt ‘good’ English & could speak it,too].By the way the Kamba Ramayana was taught similarly.I don’t know if that was the reason.I know of People who treat the Kamba Ramayanam as sacred as the Valmiki Ramayanam,too.& a different set who holds the ‘ThiruPugazh’ equally sacred .
    So there are many texts & each of them is holy & none less so than others,and they all teach us in different ways.
    By the way, some years back We had the oppurtunity to meet one Sri.Patrick Harrigan who gave us a talk on the Kathirgamam Temple and his pilgramage from Yazhpanam to Kathirgamam was very inspiring for us to listen.His link at http://murugan.org/PatrickHarriganResume.htm. Another inspiring person ,you might know of is Sri.Wilson who is now called Swami SivaKalki http://kataragama.org/sivakalki.htm. God reaches out to us in so many ways & we are all blessed to know of Him through his Devotees.He is still playing his ‘ThiruvilayAdal’ !

    • Sita Ji,
      I have not had time to read this comment fully, but I just want to tell you that the software mistook it for spam, and after recovering it I deleted your following comment that repeated the URLs linked.
      Aum

  17. Thank you Thandava;I thought I had forgotten to press ‘Post’ &had closed the pager by mistake..Also sorry for all the typos &careless typing.
    P.S.: ‘anti Aryan movement’ This should be anti-‘Aryan’ movements . They were based on the Aryan-Dravidian/Aryan Invasion theories that were current then. Though these Theories are being questioned now1)the questioners’ motives are questioned ;2) this theory is still used to derive political benefits & vote banks for the political parties,here in Tamil Nadu ;3) they are still taught in schools.

  18. There are deep and undoubtable similarities between the monastic and ascetic traditions of Hinduism (Yoga, Buddhism, and Jainism), AND the monastic and ascetic traditions of Christianity, especially in its Eastern and Oriental forms (see: the prayer of the heart [a.k.a. the Jesus prayer, or the unceasing prayer], prayer ropes, hesychasm, theosis, dispassion, divine energies, apophatic theology, peri[en]choresis, panentheism, fasting and abstinence, mysticism, etc). Christ Himself was the culmination of the Old Testament Prophets, all of whom internalized the Mozaic Law (ie, proposed a deeper, more spiritual, and more meaningful interpretation thereof).

  19. Dear tandav
    Gita s nt seen by any1 just as epic, its the summary of all Vedas, so by knowing Gita we dnt hav to study Vedas.
    Bt its a summary of Vast Vedas, so its neither a new thng. We don’t have testaments or any such thngs.
    I ALSO PERSONALLY APOLOGISE TO ALL WESTERN HINDUS, For comments against them made by some ill informd indian bros.
    And i call up on all Indians , its true their ancestors did much harm to us but they arent responsible for what s done by their ancestors.
    Indian Majority accepts others in our temple, bt sum temples do hav rules that u should be hindu , proven with sufficient evidence like from ISKCON etc we r trying to change it.
    And its nt Racial as those temple neither allow Indian nön – hindus too without sufficient evidence.

    • Yep that’s true. ISKCON has been fighting for years to allow its non-Indian devotees into the Jagannatha Puri temple which is very sacred. The funny/sad thing is that I have heard even foreigner Indian-bodied persons who are not “Indian” enough (e.g. don’t speak Hindi, don’t have enough of an Indian accent, etc.) have been rejected from the temple! That’s even over race discrimination!

  20. Pingback: Is Bhagwat Gita a book of carnage? - Religious Education Forum

  21. BHAGAVAD GITA
    If we delve deep into the Mahabharata, it is only a story of a war between two families. It remained a story for several centuries. During the Hindu kingdoms of Gupta, Vijayanagar and Mahratta the story aspect of the Mahabharata alone was etched in the minds of the people. There were no philosophical discourses in temples. Devotees worshiped the idols of gods and goddesses. All Hindu scriptures remained mnemonic and there were no manuscripts, for it was considered sacreligious to produce manuscripts or to print books of the sacred scriptures. A prayer like the Gayatri mantra could be recited only by Brahmins. If a non-Brahmin had accidentally heard the recital by a Brahmin, molten led would be poured into his ears. The Asiatic Society was founded in 1784 by William Jones. While still on board of the frigate Crococlile carrying him from England to India, he prepared a long list detailing his plan of study. This included “the laws of the Hindus and Mahomedans; Arithmatic and Geometry and mixed sciences of Asiaticks; Medicine, Chemistry, Surgery and Anatomy of the Indians etc.,.” So even before landing in India, Jones was bent upon establishing the fact that ancient Indians were well versed in philosophy, mathematicas, science and medicine. But there were no manuscripts of Hindu scriptures and no original sources about Indian knowledge of science and medicine. The preferred method of Jones and other British scholars was to sit in the company of Sankrit-knowing Brahmins’s and other Hindus, and to ask them to recite from memory Hindu scriptures. Scientists say that memory loss begins at the age of 40. How could the old Brahmins recite by heart century-old Scriptures? Recital by Brahmins contained many contemporary ideas. William Jones and other Orientalists syncretised Sanskrit with Classical and Biblical narratives, to establish transcultural correspondences by means of often crude conjectural etymologies. There were Brahmins such as Pundit Ramlochan, Balachandra Siromani, Rajendralala Misra, Bala Sastri of Benares, Radhakanta Sarman who were allowed to produce their own versions of Hindu scriptures. Many fake manuscripts were produced. Brahmin scholars could get easy access to Christian scriptures and western literature from Fort William College and Sanskrit College in Calcutta established by the British. Another scholar, Francis Wilford, claimed that he had discovered the relationship among Hindu traditions, the Bible and the ancient British antiquities. Jones and other scholars, in collaboration with Brahmins, produced Sanskrit manuscripts with these fake claims. Krishna’s narration of creation in the Bhagavad Gita and the creation account in the Manu smriti produced by Jones are modified reproduction of the creation account in the Bible. Krishna’s instructions in the Gita are patterned on the book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in the Bible. As the modern translation of the Bhagavad Gita indicates, the work is in poetic form and in many places it is metrically exact parallel to Biblical literature. Sir Charles Wilkins translated the Bhagavad Gita into English in 1785, and he had used the Sanskrit manuscript produced by Asiatic Society scholars with so many interpolations and deletions. It was the English translation that gave worldwide publicity for the Bhagavad Gita. Deception and forgeries can be detected in the manuscripts produced by them. In 1788, Wilford, claimed to have found innumerable references to ancient Egypt, its Kings and holy places in Puranas by publishing a long text of baroque complexity in Asiatic Researches. However, Wilford was forced to admit with a humiliating note in the same journal that he had been systematically duped by his head Brahmin Pandit between 1793 and 1805. Probably the modernized version of the Bhagavad Gita was interpolated during this period.

  22. “There were no philosophical discourses in temples. Devotees worshiped the idols of gods and goddesses. All Hindu scriptures remained mnemonic and there were no manuscripts, for it was considered sacreligious to produce manuscripts or to print books of the sacred scriptures. A prayer like the Gayatri mantra could be recited only by Brahmins. If a non-Brahmin had accidentally heard the recital by a Brahmin, molten led would be poured into his ears. ”
    A lot of conjectures & opinions & deliberately motivated propaganda against indus & Hinduism are being passed of as Truth in the above comment.
    How does he know/come to the conclusion that we had discourses or not in temples in earlier times.He obviously doesn’t know Hindu traditions & its method of transference,that he comes to such a conclusion.
    The author has obviously not heard of Palm leaf manuscripts.Beech Bark was similarly used in the North.
    What comes clearly through is his back handed way of appropriating the Wisdom mentioned in the Gita & other Hindu Scriptures .Here this author is saying Hindus are copying from the Bible & interpolating it into the Bhagavad Gita &,Puranas & ManuSmriti etc .At other other places I found Christians are using the same Puranas to Justify Christ & Christianity,saying its been Prophesied in the Puranas,and Therefore We must all become Christians.They also use ‘OM’ ,’Shri’ etc in their prayers & abuse Shiva & Vishnu in the same breath.
    As for Molten Lead being poured in a person who says the Gayatri Mantra,its sheer nonsense &a kind of ‘Blood Libel’ indulged by Christians to promot anti-Hindu sentiments amongst themselves,to prevent people going back to their parental religion!
    “How could the old Brahmins recite by heart century-old Scriptures? ”
    He also doesn’t know how are scriptures are recited,taught or discussed. We can’t teach this kind of kbnowledge through a comment in a blog! He has to make an effort to learn by first losing his prejudiced opinions learnt through his church!

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