When in doubt, I turn to my ishta deva, my guide and god, Krishna. So in these divisive times, when India is wracked with a modern-day Mahabharata of ideologies, I turn to the Bhagavad Gita for answers.
And my book turns open to the page when Krishna reveals himself to Arjuna in all his terrible greatness. Overwhelmed by the vision, Arjuna says: “I behold Thee without beginning or middle or end, of infinite Force, of numberless arms, Thy eyes are suns and moons, Thou hast a face of blazing fire and Thou art ever burning up the whole universe with the flame of Thy energy.” (Chapter 11, verse 19)
Arjuna’s description and exaltation becomes grander with each stanza, until he begins to see the darker side of Krishna’s true form:
“Thou lickest the regions all around with Thy tongues and Thou art swallowing up all the nations in Thy flaming mouths; all the world is filled with the blaze of Thy energies; fierce and terrible are Thy lustres and they burn us, O Vishnu.” (Chapter 11, verse 30)
And this is where I pause as a student. So the supreme god is not all comfort and radiance and love? So the beloved lord is also a fire of destruction and fury? So one must accept the negative with the positive, as parts of the same whole that make up the universe? So we are to be nurtured, but we are also to be burnt in our seeking? That the creator and sustainer and destroyer are one?
All through the Gita, Krishna counsels Arjuna to do his dharma, to stand up and do his duty even if it hurts him to fight his kin, and to be fearless in this fight: “Be a doer of My works… become My bhakta, be free from attachment and without enmity to all existences; for such a man comes to me, O Pandava.” (Chapter 11, verse 55)
Suddenly, I begin to see.
The one who propagates divisibility is deluded, for we are all one in Krishna. The one who shies away from fighting injustice is wilfully blind, for we all have a dharma, our purpose in this lifetime. And the one who sees the Truth but still stays back in silence and inaction is committing an adharma, going against one’s purpose, karma that sows pain and destruction (there is nothing as simplistic as ‘sin’ in the Gita).
Bhakti means unquestioning devotion but the true bhakta has to be discerning and courageous. Just raising the lord’s name is not bhakti, following the lord’s teaching is. Flaunting one’s love for the guru is not dharma, standing up for the guru’s guidance is. Shouting one’s god’s name is not religion, following its principles is.
I happen to be born into – and choose – the religion of Krishna, of courage, of oneness, of fearlessness, of standing up to injustice even if it hurts me to confront my kin.
Kin, who in modern India, invoke Krishna’s name to do the exact opposite of what he stood for, to spread hatred and disunity, to incite fear and loathing of ‘the other’, to torture the weak and draw a false sense of power by subjugating the powerless.
“In the egoism of their strength and power; in the violence of their wrath and arrogance they hate, despite and belittle the God hidden in themselves and the God in man.” (Chapter 16, verse 18)
I hereby reclaim the word bhakta. The true bhakta does not need an identity card, a religion, a caste, a place of birth, a parent, weapons of lathis and tear gas, or a cancerous government that devours its own citizens.
The true bhakta only needs her Krishna. To see the divinity in all, and – despite that knowledge, despite the cost – to stand up and fight when the bugle is sounded. God is a verb.
First published in eShe’s January 2020 issue