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What is the Right Perspective on Scriptures?

veda scripturesA continuation of an analysis of the correct place of scriptures in spiritual life discussed in When Rites Go Wrong

Krishna has more to say about materially oriented scriptures and religion (though he just mentions the Vedas):

“The Vedas are such that their scope is confined to the three gunas; be free from those three gunas, indifferent toward the pairs of opposites, permanently fixed in reality, free from thoughts of acquisition and possessiveness, and possessed of the Self.

As much value as there is in a well when water is flooding on every side, so much is the value in all the Vedas for a brahmin who knows”
(Bhagavad Gita 2:45, 46).

Again, by “the Vedas” Krishna means the ritualistic portion of the Vedas, the karma-kanda in contrast to the upanishads, the jnana-kanda, which embody the highest spiritual wisdom and vision ever set down by human beings. They are really two opposing poles, one external and material, the other internal and spiritual. The karma-kanda insists that ritual is the only way to spiritual attainment; the upanishads affirm exactly the opposite.

Krishna, continuing the theme of the previous verses, insists that however sacred the karma-kanda may claim its rituals to be, they really deal with nothing more than Prakriti, material nature, involvement with which produces only ignorance and bondage culminating in rebirth.

The gunas

According to Sankhya philosophy, material energy behaves in three modes, or gunas (qualities). We will be considering them at length in chapter fourteen, which is entitled “The Yoga of Distinction Between the Three Gunas.” For now we need only think of them as three forms of material consciousness.

Whereas the karma-kanda does nothing more than entangle its adherents in the three gunas, Krishna tells Arjuna that he must overcome the three gunas, that materiality must be transcended by entry into consciousness of the Self (Atman).

But it is no easy matter, to be free from the bonds of matter. Rather, the gunas must be overcome. This entails a struggle, and not an easy one, either, for Krishna later says to him: “Maya, made up of the three gunas, is difficult to go beyond” (7:14).

The pairs of opposites

The dwandwas, the pairs of opposites, are also material phenomena, such as pleasure and pain, hot and cold, light and darkness, gain and loss, victory and defeat, love and hatred. Usually people think that the ideal is to eliminate one of the pairs and cultivate the other. This is the common attitude of religion throughout the world: seek the “good” and avoid the “bad.”

But the sages of India discerned that real wisdom is to be established in the state in which the pairs of opposites cannot affect us. We neither seek one nor shun the other, but see them for the momentary appearances they really are, only mirages cast by our own mind.

The word nirdwandwas means “untouched by–indifferent to–the pairs of opposites,” and also “without the pair of opposites.” At first we are indifferent to them when they insinuate themselves into our experience. But in time we are simply without them–they will have ceased to even exist for us. Then we will not need to endure them: they will have vanished like the dream they are.

Further Reading:


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