Last Sunday, the nuclear physicist who gave the discourse at my temple spoke on the topic of darshan. He mentioned what the actual definition of it is, as well as how loosely the term is tossed around these days. In his discourse, he mentioned that in the middle of the Bhagavad Gita, which is pulled from the middle of the Mahabharata, Arjuna received Vishwaroopa-darshan by means of Sri Krishna. He also noted that darshan typically doesn’t (or shouldn’t in its original meaning) apply to being in the presence of holy people. No matter how revered your guru might be, that individual is still a human person and as such is no more a part of God than you or I. I suspect that this knowledge plays a big part in why Hinduism is the only major world religion which doesn’t point back to one human founder. In reality, when we do things like guru-pada-puja we’re not technically worshipping the guru or his/her paduka/sandals. As with all other Hindu worship, what is actually worshipped is what the image represents, the Presence it holds during the puja. But all of that is truly neither here nor there.
Not long ago, I was reading a newly-bought version of the Bhagavad Gita with verse-by-verse commentary provided by Swami Chinmayananda. Chinmayananda is a really great teacher, I think. I’ve seen videos of his live speeches and read some of his works, and his approach to Self-Realization seems to be really balanced. On that note, I really enjoy the format/layout of this particular Gita, although I’m typically not fond of Gitas like this one or the purport-full one so popular with ISKCON because I find them to be more than a little slanted. The interpretations offered in these purports reminds me of the bias found in differing versions of the Christian Bible. With that in mind, I’ve usually resorted to collecting various translations of the Gita as well as Sanskrit dictionaries and when I do a study of a shloka, it usually involves pulling numerous books from my shelves and cross-referencing like you wouldn’t believe. The result, which I’ve grown to trust increasingly over time, is that the Guru usually guides me instead of relying on a guru. But that also is just about neither here nor there.
Right now I have literally twenty different Gitas from twenty different backgrounds/sources.
While reading the Swami Chinmayananda translation with commentary, I discovered an idea that I’d missed until now. Arjuna was a really messed up individual. In many circles, whenever he’s mentioned, it’s usually in reverence. Usually Arjuna is presented in a bhava of compassion. He’s so bothered by the sight of seeing family and friends on the opposing side of the war that he literally crumbles before it all.
I don’t buy it. I mean, yes, he crumbles, but Arjuna is emotional and out of control with those emotions. That’s it in a nutshell. Chinmayananda suggested that Arjuna is delusional and filled with immense levels of attachment. According to the swami, Arjuna physically exhibits symptoms of psychological imbalance and unrest -as much is mentioned by Arjuna himself in the Bhagavad Gita. Although it escapes me, modern psychology actual has a word/diagnosis for Arjuna’s psyche/body exhibition. The man was not well.
Arjuna may well have been a fabulous Kshatriya, but aside from being a skilled and respected killer of humans, he was a veritable mess. The scientist giving the discourse I mentioned earlier is far more knowledgeable than I am on the Gita and the Mahabharata, and he was of the mind that Arjuna had good reason to know that Krishna was more than “special.” And yet he was pretty much blind to this. He received counsel from Sri Krishna and repeatedly argued with it. Then, after explaining so much to him, Sri Krishna gives Arjuna “second sight” and revealed His universal Form, Vishwarupa. I’m pretty sure Arjuna requested this, and when he received what he said he needed to supposedly dispel his doubt for good, what happened? He begged the Lord to “put it away.”
I think after all this nonsense and back-and-forth with him, I’d be like, “Arjuna, you clearly aren’t ready for all this. I think you need to spend the next 4,000 years as an insect” and be done with it. A person with his depth of delusion and attachment needs major help. And major help he received!
Claiming that Arjuna was crippled by compassion bothers me. Compassion never cripples. To assign something as noble and beneficial as compassion or kindness to Arjuna is simply making excuses. Krishna continues to work with Arjuna through the rest of the Gita. He offers His student even more wisdom and comfort… and after all this, clear into the very last chapter of the Gita, Krishna says that Arjuna is still filled with pride and is foolish. But at least he’s no longer scared, right?
I mentioned earlier that I have 20 different versions of the Gita. These different Gitas are “by” the likes of Hindu leaders such as Swami Rama, Swami Swarupananda, Swami Chinmayananda, Winthrop Sargeant, P. Lal, Sri Krishna Prem, Edgerton, George Thompson, Prashant Gupta, Kim and Chris Murray, P. S. Mehra, Acharya Vishnu K Divecha, Paramahansa Yogananda, Swami Satchidananda, and Srila Prabhupad. Some come with commentary and some don’t. And while I do think the commentary is naturally slanted, I’m thankful for the different perspectives they present for looking at this scripture. They definitely give the inner Guru something to chew on.