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To know Krishna truly is more than knowing the entire universe - that is held in the Bhagavad Gita. "I exist, supporting this whole world by one part of myself." [Bhagavad Gita 10:42]" Given that premise and some others, going for knowing your Self is good. Juan Mascaró writes:

Brahman in the Universe, God in his transcendence and immanence is also the Spirit of man, the Self in every one and in all, Atman. Thus the momentous statement is made in the Upanishads that God must not be sought as something far away, separate from us, but rather as the very inmost of us, as the higher Self in us above the limitations of our little self. In rising to the best in us we rise to the Self in us, to Brahman, to God himself. Thus when the sage of the Upanishads is pressed fora definition of God, he remains silent, meaning that God is silence. When asked again to express God in words, he says: 'Neti, neti', 'Not this, not this'; but when pressed for a positive explanation he utters the sublimely simple words: 'TAT TVAM ASI', 'You are That'.

According to the Upanishads, the reality of God can only be apprehended in a consciousness of joy that is beyond ordinary consciousness. (Mascaró 1965, p. 12)

If you don't know your Self, you don't know Krishna all the way through. And how is your Self? The First Shankaracharia, Adi Shankara, tells:

Study of the scriptures is fruitless as long as Brahman [God] has not been experienced. And when Brahman has been experienced, it is useless to read the scriptures. [Shankara]

When the Great Reality is not known, the study of the scriptures is fruitless. When the Great Reality is known, the study of the scriptures is also fruitless. [The same, in another translation]

Shankaracharya Brahmananda Saraswati says succinctly: "Spiritual teachings . . . cannot throw light on the inner Self, for the Self is Light."

The gist of it: You don't get it before you reach it. After you experience it, you are free to describe it by allegories or metaphors too, but the main thing to bear in mind is that words will not suffice.

A word to the wise will suffice: "Sit down, keep on." For example to improve the odds in life:

Out of many thousands of men hardly one endeavours for the perfection of self-realization, and of those so endeavouring hardly one has achieved the perfection of self-realization and of those hardly one knows me in truth. - Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita 7:3

Questions abound, for example:

  • Are the Gita estimates above useless? Meditation success depends on the method, tells Buddha. Equipped with a bad method, do not expect much. Find the good and fit method for you, and make way accordingly; take that into account too.
  • Is the Gita saying of "one in millions" found in the basic Bhagavad Gita of some eighty verses? No, the verse was added centuries after the Gita was first made, Dr Phulgenda Sinha finds.
  • A saying that is added to an old poem after centuries, may it still hold water? It depends on what is told in the saying, and in part on the translation. [Make the best out of the Gita]

And that takes us to Shankara and the Gita. Klaus Klostermeier:

The Bhagavadgita in its present form constitutes chapters 23 to 40 in the Bhismaparvan of the Mahhabharata, one of the numerous philosophico-theological interpolations in the Great Epic. Since we possess Shankaracarya's commentary on the Bhagavadgita, which presupposes the same text that we possess today, we know with certainty that the Gita has not been changed in the last twelve hundred or more years. (2007, 74)

Krishna Sources

What is held to be Krishna's old capital Dwarka (Dvaraka) was found under water in the early 1980s. It gave rise to

marine archaeological investigations conducted by the Marine Archaeology Unit of the National Institute of Oceanography and the Government of Gujarat. The final inference of these marine under water investigations is that "there was really a city which got submerged in Dwarka in 1500 BC and that the "architectural evidence and antiquities such as a seal and inscriptions go to indicate that it was the city of Mahabharata age". [WP, "Dwarka"]

There is also a many-sided artistic "Krishna production" in the world - teachings and tales.

The basic sources of Krishna's mythology are the epic Mahabharata and its appendix from the 400s, the Harivamsa; and the Puranas - particularly Books 10 and the Uddhava Gita (Book 11) of the Bhagavata-Purana (Srimad Bhagavatam). The Mahabharata with its famous Bhagavad Gita is another source.

  1. In the Mahabharata, Krishna is a hero king who manipulates events. Krishna refuses to bear arms in the great war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas but offers his personal attendance to one side and his army to the other. The Pandavas choose him, and Krishna thus serves as charioteer for Arjuna. The entire Mahabharata poem was translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli in twelve volumes. (1981).

  2. The influential teachings poem Bhagavad Gita is a slim part of the Mahabharata epos. The Gita is studied by Swami Chidbhavananda (2012).

  3. There are many tales about Krishna in the Srimad Bhagavatam (The Bhagavata Purana or simply Bhagavatam), and teachings too.

  4. And then there is the Harivamsa, which is believed to be a supplement to the Mahabharata. (Dutt 1897)

In the first part of the Edwin F. Bryant-edited Krishna: A Sourcebook (2007, 23-136), the same four "handles" are used, with a chapter for each.

In the old Upanishads, there are just a few lines about Krishna. Poets and others later made a lot about him, as the Bhagavatam lays bare. Here is a briefing based on Dimmitt and Buitenen [1978, 101-5]:

Krishna Was Shot

As a child, Krishna is beguiling and naughty, steals milk and butter, overturns wagons, and kills his wicked nurse maid by sucking her.

After puberty he gets noted for great charm and amorous adventures. The youth sings and plays seductive and irresistible music on his flute to lure the cowherd women out of their beds at night to come and dance with him, lost in love, each getting their desires gratified. His love-play and the act of love with his favourite partner among them, Radha, is described in affectionate detail.

Then he leaves her and all the others to go and kill his evil uncle. With his brother Balarama he sets off on his heroic duty, working wonders such as straightening out a hunchback girl on his way. After killing his uncle, Krishna kidnaps a wife, Rukmini, for himself, and then 16,000 or 18,000 more apsara wives [sources differ], and becomes the father of a horde of sons. But he allows the members of his own family and clan by to kill each other towards the end of his life. Soon after he gets accidentally shot in the foot by a hunter in his one vulnerable spot, the heel, and dies. Last of all the ocean floods and submerges his city Dvaraka at the end of the story.

The exploits of Krishna in the Bhagavatam look different from those of Krishna the king in the Mahabharata, but, "If they have anything in common, it is a tendency to trickery and deceit," writes Dimmitt and Buitenen. The trickster and lover conceals his purposes through charm, and may ignore rules. [Dimmit and van Buitenen 1978, 102, 105].

Further, after the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, the Srimad Bhagavatam is the most authoritative of the Hindu scriptures. The teachings poem Uddhava Gita is in it (in Book 11). The Uddhava Gita consists of teachings of Krishna to his dear look-alike and disciple Uddhava.

To what degree is Sri Krishna a product of art which is laden with symbolism? It can be difficult to tell:

  • HISTORICALLY: Ancient Sanskrit Upanishad lines tell of what could be a historical Krishna. The epic poem Mahabharata also tells of Krishna, among others.

    Remains of a well-fortified township claimed to be Krishna's capital Dwarka (also called Kathiawad and Dwaraka) were found in 1981 under water on the coast of Gujarat in western India. The findings conform with Mahabharata descriptions. Some think the findings along with the epic descriptions are valid proof that Krishna existed. The findings are of immense cultural and religious importance to India. The archeological evidence of the site is also found compatible with the Mahabharata tradition when it comes to dating.

  • OUTPUT-WISE: It is pointed out by such as Professor Poul Tuxen (1962) that sayings of the poem Bhagavad Gita - not all of them - are put in his mouth through centuries of formation or gestation.

    Bhagavadgita is a religious-philosophical teaching poem incorporated in the Mahabharata of 100 000 couplets - the most voluminous work of its kind - a storehouse of brahmanic knowledge and thought. [Tuxen 1962, 8]

    Among the historical sources that refers to Krishna, the grammarian Panini (4:3,98), dated no later than the fourth century BC, refers to a worship that involves Krishna as the God. [Tuxen 1962, 10]

    In many cases in the text it is evident that there was later additions; and it is very possible that large parts originally belonged to some other context, just as some verses are fetched from Upanishadic literate. [Tuxen 1962, 12]

  • SYMBOLICALLY: There is also the a symbolic Krishna, a figure that yogis put meanings into by interpreting symbolic features and gestations related to the Bhagavan (person-god). The inner sound of a flute is spoken of as hearing Krishna's flute, for example in Kundalini Tantra.

  • FROM ANCIENT TALES AND ART: Much that is handed over about Sri Krishna reflects a many-sided artistic production over time. There can also be good lessons inherent in some old tales, perhaps also accurate historical references.

Worth noting

Professors Cornelia Dimmitt and J. A. B. van Buitenen assess that many stories of the Hindu tradition may be difficult to understand for the non-specialist. [Dimmit and van Buitenen 1978, xi, 3-11 ff, passim].

To find out what is true, or at least best, eat mangoes, says Ramakrishna:

You have come to the orchard to eat mangoes. . . . What is the use of your calculating how many mango-trees there are, how many millions of branches, how many billions of leaves? I have come to the orchard to eat mangoes. Let me enjoy them. [Gupta 1942, Chap. 43, "Nature of "I"]

Eating mangoes is a figurative expression.


Sri Krishna, Krsna, Bhagavan Krishna, Hare Krishna, Sri Krisna, Literature  

Bryant, Edwin F., ed. 2007. Krishna: A Sourcebook. New York: Oxford University Press.

Chidbhavananda, Swami. 2012. The Bhagavad Gita. Tirupparaithurai: Sri Ramakrishna Tapovanam, 2012.

Dimmitt, Cornelia, ed., and J. A. B. van Buitenen, tr. 1978. Classical Hindu Mythology. Philadelphia: Temple University.

Dutt, Manmatha Nath. 1897. A Prose English Translation of Harivamsha. Calcutta: M. N. Dutt. ⍽▢⍽ The first book of Harivamsa Parva leads up to the birth of Krishna. Vishnu Parva recounts the history of Krishna up to the events before the Mahabharata. — The Harivamsha has been regarded as an important source of information on the origin of Visnu's incarnation as Krishna. [WP, "Harivamsa"]

Ganguli, K., tr. 1981. The Mahabharata, Vols 1-12. 4th ed. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.

Gupta, Mahendranath. 1942. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Tr. Swami Nikhilananda. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center.

Klostermaier, Klaus K. 2007. A Survey of Hinduism. 3rd ed. Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press.

Mascaró, Juan, tr. 1965. The Upanishads: Translations from the Sanskrit. London: Penguin.

Tuxen, Poul, tr. 1962. Bhagavadgita. Herrens Ord. København: Gyldendal.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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