Bhagavad-Gita And Dante’s Inferno: A Religious Comparative
Some say that Bhagavad-Gita and Dante’s Inferno are among the most popular scripts supporting a detailed account of the Hindu way of life. Others argue that Dante’s Inferno is characterized by ideas of Catholicism, a likely illustration of Dante’s Italian background. Most debatable are the concepts of Dharma (world maintenance), Karma (“what comes around goes around”), and Samsara (rebirth) as found in Bhagavad-Gita in comparison to the strict Catholic beliefs of Dante’s upbringing. Both beliefs deal with critical ideas of the afterlife, hell, and more importantly, the concepts of sin, justice, and divine retribution. The pair has striking parallels as well as differences in their portrayal of the afterlife.
The concepts of Dharma, Karma, and Samsara are significantly important for understanding Bhagavad-Gita and how the Hindus are expected to live, including their predetermined fate. For example, Dharma contains three paths to salvation; one of these paths is known as the “path of duties,” or simply put, the inescapable social obligation or duty that must be fulfilled before death (Basham). At the beginning of Bhagavad-Gita, in a fight for the land owned by Dhritarashtra (the king) and his people, Arjuna has to kill Duryodhana, despite being cousins. Family members and friends are on both sides of the battlefield, and Arjuna realizes he is not ready to kill his family members. Krishna quickly reminds him that he must fulfill his obligation by destroying his enemy, Dhritarashtra (Arnold). Here, we can see that Arjuna’s “duty” is to kill the King – a predestined fate. According to Krishna, it would be dishonorable to disrespect Dharma. Plus, killing, in this case, is not a sin, since both the murdered and the murderer will live better lives after death; the death of the enemy would restore the power of good.
Dante is undergoing similar struggles to the extent that he is willing to forfeit the bigger divine mission. Dante is lost, confused, and suffering in a “dark woods,” a personification of his fears, nonetheless. His journey, however, is meant to be the same path every human being takes to understand his or her sins and find peace with God. It’s important to note, too, that to gain an understanding of the afterlife, the duo (Arjuna and Dante) experience guardianship. Virgil and Beatrice both lead Dante through his several encounters while Krishna acts the role of a guide in Bhagavad-Gita. In Bhagavad-Gita, it is explained that people are reborn according to one’s actions and the lives they lived. Throughout Dante’s Inferno, there are similar views of rebirth and events that prove there is life after death. After all, Dante places people in different levels of Hell according to the severity of the sins they committed; the punishments fits the crime, nonetheless. For example, those that have committed suicide are sent to the Woods of Suicides where they exist as trees; since they took their life into their own hands on Earth, they have absolutely no control over their body in Hell (Alighieri).
Though this epitomizes the Hindu belief of Karma, it also exemplifies the Catholic religion, where committing suicide is equally as sinful as killing another person; similarly, Catholicism helped dictate what sins qualified someone to spend eternity in Hell and what sins were worse than others. In fact, the sins represented in this written Hell parallel the ‘Seven Deadly Sins,’ which is commonly taught in Christian teaching to define sins that typically lead to other immoralities. For example, Dante chose five of the seven sins, the worst according to Catholic faith, to be represented in his version of Hell: level two represents lust, level three represents gluttony, level four represents greed, and level five represents wrath and sloth. Dante also chose other sins that exemplified his Catholic faith, or at least those surrounding him. For example, the souls in Limbo were all upstanding citizens in life, but they did not believe in God; that means they were not saved and would, therefore, end up in Hell.
The Catholic faith also views going against the Lord in any form is a serious sin. Thus, he had special punishment for those that openly spoke out against the Christian religion in the deeper levels of Hell. The traitors against the Lord were punished in the lowest level of Hell, level nine. Bhagavad-Gita and Dante’s Inferno both address, in detail, the consequences of human actions – good and bad that must be faced in the afterlife and somehow envisioned heaven and hell in a way that was similar in almost all aspects of their conceptual framework.
Both texts, despite being so far apart in time and space makes these coincidences all the more remarkable. Though both stories detail the Hindu way of life, Dante’s religious upbringings seem to contribute to the tale. In fact, the vast majority of people found in Dante’s Inferno committed a sin in contrast to the views of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the two scripts reveal the most debatable mysteries about predestination and life after death. As evident from the description of the text, the two articles differ theoretically more specifically on the concepts of Dharma, Karma, and Samsara as found in Bhagavad-Gita. Still, the articles share similarities that prove there is a life after death, which is determined by the way we live our life. Even after this analysis, it is debatable whether Dante’s Inferno embodies the three Hindu concepts or is based solely on the Catholic belief of the author’s upbringing. This explains why the scriptures will continue being most sought by future generations.
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