Common Theme Within The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Bhagavad-Gita And Antigone
Mortality is a common theme within The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Bhagavad-Gita, and Antigone. The main characters in each of these texts respond uniquely to the question of death. Gilgamesh wishes to conquer death, Achilles decides to seek revenge, Arjuna accepts the inevitable, and Antigone stays loyal to her family against the odds. However, while they are different, comparisons can be made within texts. Gilgamesh, Achilles, Arjuna, and Antigone link together in their outlook and behavior towards mortality.
Gilgamesh begins his quest for immortality as a result of the death of his friend, Enkidu. The death of Enkidu caused Gilgamesh to realize his mortality because he saw Enkidu as his equal in power. It scared Gilgamesh when Enkidu died on his bed as opposed to in war (Gilg. 9.1-6). It is not the way any warrior wishes to die, not in battle, but at home due to an illness. As a result, Gilgamesh travels to find Utanapishti and discover how he reached immortality. Utanapishti tells Gilgamesh about the Deluge and how Ea saved his and his wife’s live. When Gilgamesh attempts to reach immortality by fighting Sleep for seven days, he fails immensely. Gilgamesh ends up sleeping the entire seven days. The failure does not stop Gilgamesh on his quest. He goes to the bottom of the ocean to retrieve the rejuvenation coral. After he manages to retrieve the coral, a snake then comes and steals it. Now Gilgamesh’s chances of finding immortality are lost. Gilgamesh realizes the inevitably of death.
Gilgamesh’s reaction to mortality was fear which caused him to run away from Uruk and towards immortality. When Gilgamesh fails the test of immortality, it is important to note that Sleep is similar to Death in that a person is vulnerable in sleep as one is when they are facing Death. So by not being able to defeat Sleep, there was not a possibility that Gilgamesh would be able to defeat Death. Gilgamesh faced a harsh truth at the death of Enkidu, and he was not able to fully accept it, or the possibility of his own.
The death of a beloved friend can be linked to Achilles and his realization of mortality. Achilles has always known the parameter of his Fate. In Book Nine Achilles states that:
if on the one hand I remain to fight
around Troy town, I lose all hope of home
but gain unfading glory; on the other,
if I sail back to my own land my glory
fails – but a long life lies ahead for me
In the same book, Achilles says he will go home and die, peacefully. However, after the death of Patroklos in Book 16 Achilles promises to avenge his death, even though he knows it’ll mean he shall die soon after he kills Hector (Iliad 18.98-101). Achilles goes and fights, even though he knows it will lead to his death because it is his duty to his friend to avenge his death. Achilles does not care about his death anymore as he feels responsible for the death of Patroklos and will do his duty in making sure that he is forever avenged. Between the moments that Achilles hears about Patroklos’s death and until Hector is killed, Achilles refuses to eat (Iliad 19.230-236). He is so overcome with grief and anger for the death of his best friend that Achilles, like Gilgamesh, is not acting rationally. He is also anxious to go fight and almost went into battle without any armor (Iliad 18.227-252).
Achilles and Gilgamesh have a sudden realization when their respective best friend dies. They are overcome with grief and put all of their focus into one thing. For Gilgamesh, it was the quest for mortality that drove him. For Achilles, the thought of revenge was finally what got him to start fighting and to drop the petty feud between him and Agamemnon. By avenging the death of Patroklos, Achilles was then able to honor his friend and provide a proper burial for him.
As Achilles honors Patroklos, the need to honor the dead connects to Antigone. When Antigone decides to honor her brother, even though she knows that she will face death, she does so knowing that she is breaking the law. Antigone deliberately goes against Creon’s order to leave the body of Polyneices, her brother, alone because she does not agree with his law (Antigone 509-534). She faces her mortality in order to fulfill her duty to her brother head on. When confronted by Creon, Antigone does not lie or attempt to avoid her punishment. She accepts the consequences that came with her decision in honoring her brother.
When Antigone’s time to die comes nearer, she cries out about how her tomb has now become her bridal chamber (Antigone 997). She will join her family with the hope that they will be pleased to see her (Antigone 1006-1009). Anitgone’s coping mechanism was to remind herself that she was doing the right thing and that she will be joining her family soon. Antigone speaks to Polyneices when she says, “But now, Polyneices, this is my reward for covering your corpse” (Antigone 1011-1012). However, Antigone did not regret her actions. Antigone remained loyal to her brother, even with the knowledge of her imminent death.
Loyalty to family connects to Arjuna because when he first faces mortality it is regards to killing them. Antigone and Arjuna both wish to be loyal to their family. Krishna tells Arjuna that it is his duty to fulfill his warrior tasks. Krishna also explains to Arjuna that he is not killing his family because their soul will not be harmed (Gita 2.18). The only thing killed would be the desire that they are experiencing, leading them to want to fight. Krishna also states:
Death is certain for anyone born,
and birth is certain for the dead;
since the cycle is inevitable,
you have no cause to grieve!
This quote explains why the Gita differs from the other texts mentioned. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, and Antigone death is the end of life. While Antigone alludes to an afterlife, this does not adequately show that death is an actual continuation life. In the Gita death is a necessary step to reach Krishna and Heaven. The people in the Gita are not afraid of death and its unknown. If they reach their end then, they have been granted the privilege to be with Krishna.
Through the teachings of Krishna, Arjuna comes to learn that death should not cause one to worry. Gilgamesh did not understand this teaching until he went on his epic journey. Gilgamesh had to face his fear in order to accept the inevitable. Achilles did not wish to die. Even when he joins the battle, Achilles is still in turmoil about his forthcoming death. It is his loyalty to Patroklos that keeps Achilles fighting. Antigone reaches the same realization the Arjuna did, but for different reasons. It is her loyalty to her brother, and her beliefs, that keep her from fearing death. She buried her brother with the full knowledge of what would happen to her. Death is not to be feared.
Main Themes in Bhagavad Gita
Renunciation and Asceticism in the Bhagavad Gītā
The Indian mystic and controversial teacher Chandra Mohan Jain, also known as Osho, in reference to renunciation once said, “Dropping the idea of ownership is renunciation. Renunciation is not dropping the possessions but possessiveness.” While the “Rolls-Royce Guru” may have been regarded by many as a fraud or cult leader, his insight into the nature of renunciation reflects those of the Bhagavad Gītā with astonishing accuracy. The themes of renunciation presented in the Gītā are then closely tied to its presentation of asceticism which the Gītā portrays as perhaps the antithesis to Osho’s notions of renunciation. The goal of this essay then will be to summarize the Gītā’s themes of renunciation and asceticism in the context of individual duty or sva-dharmaḥ
In the opening verses of the Gītā, the predicament of Arjuna can clearly be seen as a conflict of duties; his individual duty (sva-dharmah) and his universal, human duty (sanatana dharmah). While it eventually becomes evident that sva-dharmah supersedes sanatana dharmah, there is much more the Gītā has to say on the subject. One of the primary aspects of dharmah that is discussed and is useful to the topic of renunciation is the attitude or posture with which we are called to perform our dharmah. The Gītā makes it clear that it is not sufficient to simply perform our dharmah but that we must also perform it with detachment to the results or “fruits” of our actions; we must relinquish all attachment to the outcomes of our actions to Krishna. This can clearly be seen in 18.6,”But even these actions should be done by relinquishing to me attachment and the fruit of action – this is my decisive idea,” and 2.51,”Wise men disciplined by understanding relinquish the fruit born of action.”
Furthermore, we see that attachment to the fruits of our action leads only to a chaotic state of happiness and sadness. As long as we take ownership of the fruits of our actions, we are directly tied to their “goodness” or “badness”. We are told in 2.48 to “be impartial to failure and success.” However, the only way to detach ourselves from the fruits of our actions is, as we have already seen, to relinquish them to Krishna. What does it mean exactly however to relinquish the fruits to Krishna? This question is answered in 3.30 and 3.31 when we are told, “Surrender all actions to me,” and “men who always follow my thought, trusting it without finding fault, are freed even by their actions.” Thus, the only way for us to escape the roller coaster of disappointment and false satisfaction is to perform our duties to please Krishna; not for our own fulfillment but rather for our relationship with Krishna.
This idea that we are to perform our dharmah with detachment to its outcomes and with the intent of deepening our relationship with Krishna is directly related to the Gītā’s presentation of renunciation. As the proper fulfillment of dharmah has been established as the performance of actions solely for Krishna, it would be a logical step to conclude that proper fulfillment of dharmah requires that we renounce all claims to the fruits of our actions. Indeed, because according to the Gītā all things emerged out of Krishna, are sustained by Krishna, and will be destroyed (or transformed) by Krishna, we cannot claim any ownership to the fruits of our actions. Therefore, it is not that we must actively renounce the fruits of our actions to Krishna, but rather that we must realize that we never actually could claim ownership over the results. The issue of renunciation can then better be perhaps understood as realization as to our actual situation; it is an issue of renouncing our attempts to control. In the analogy of life as a theatrical play where we are the actors, trying to claim control over our actions and their results is like the actor trying to re-write the script when they should be listening to the director. Thus, if our actions are performed as the result of duty and we renounce claim to the results, our actions can be seen as neither good nor bad because we are not the ones who chose the outcome. Indeed, if we renounce control to Krishna, our actions are neither good nor bad, but rather beyond.
With this idea of renunciation primarily defined as the renunciation of perceived ownership and control, the ideas of asceticism and material renunciation can now be analyzed. Many ascetics find support for their worldview in the Vivarta-vāda Vedānta, or Illusionist School which argues that this world is merely an illusion and that consequently, all desire must be eliminated. This renunciation of desire is taken up in a pursuit of inaction and of knowledge. As knowledge of the atman and Brahman is achieved, the unity of the two becomes realized and the ascetic achieves liberation or moksha. This process of material renunciation, acquiring knowledge, meditating, and realization is a long and arduous process taking place over a long portion of one’s life. In response to this path of moksha, the Gītā has the following to say in 12.12, “Knowledge is better than practice, meditation better than knowledge, rejecting the fruits of action is better still – it brings peace.” Thus, two paths to peace can be seen. The first, the path of the ascetic, is long, arduous, and not guaranteed success; the second, the path of the renouncer, leads directly to peace. This is iterated in 5.5, “Men of discipline reach the same place that philosophers attain; he really sees who sees philosophy and discipline to be one.”
Having seen the comparison between the paths of asceticism (the path of the philosopher) and the path of renunciation (discipline), several very important things can be said regarding world renouncers, sādhu’s, sannyasin’s and the like. It must first be addressed that the Gītā fully rejects the idea that one can fully renounce action. This can be seen in the first half of 5.4, “A man cannot escape the force of action by abstaining from actions,” So we see that inaction is impossible; for even inaction is a conscious choice and thus inaction entails the action of choosing inaction. Thus, the goal of many yogis and other aesthetics to cease action is ultimately futile. To achieve ultimate peace then, it is not enough to renounce action and material possessions. If the action of material renunciation is to succeed, it must be coupled with the renunciation of claims to the fruit of our actions and the devotion of all our actions unto Krishna.
This concept of two modes of renunciation, simply futile material renunciation and successful material renunciation and possessive renunciation, raises an important distinction which is at the heart of many conflicts within all religions. That is the distinction between piety and religiousness. While the exact definitions of these words may be quite similar, they will be used presently to represent concepts rather than definitions. Piety can be understood as the practice of determining the underlying reasons for religious rules and applying them to all areas of life whereas religiousness can be seen as following the specific, laid out doctrine of a specific interpretation. Thus, with these two styles of religion, four possible combinations are possible. A person can be pious and religious, pious and non-religious, non-pious and religious, or non-pious and non-religious.
The Gītā then seems to be supporting two of these combinations, while condemning one and pitying the other. It can clearly be seen again in 12.12 that the pious path of renouncing control and devoting oneself to Krishna is the best path. However, 12.12 also says that while the path of the philosopher-ascetic is less preferred, it is just as valid. This path of the philosopher-ascetic can be seen as the pious and religious person. The condemned path, that of the non-pious, non-religious person, corresponds to individuals who do not renounce control unto Krishna and who do not follow religious rules. The Gītā identifies these people as caught up in the roller-coaster of the self-ego. The last possibility then, of a non-pious, religious person, is the path that the Gītā expresses pity toward. This is because whereas the non-pious, non-religious person does not know they are on the wrong path, the non-pious, religious individual thinks that they are on the right path; when in reality, their actions are completely futile and misdirected.
While the Bhagavad Gītā has far more to say on the topics of duty and renunciation, the above discussion is informative in regards to renunciation and its relation to asceticism. Out of this discussion of the relation of the two in the context of dharmah, sever important conclusions can be drawn. First, successful performance of dharmah is conditional upon the renunciation of the fruits of action. And second, that attainment of ultimate peace is dependent on piety (or in terms more familiar to the Gītā, devotion) but can also include religiousness. This leads to two acceptable paths, one admittedly better than the other. These two ideas lead us to a final conclusion; that the goal of material ascetics to eliminate desire is not wrong, but rather misguided. That desire in and of itself is not wrong, but desire directed toward ourselves, for our own fulfillment, for the satisfaction of the false self-ego, is wrong; that we are not to eliminate desire, but desire for our own sake. Instead, the Gītā tells us that we are to renounce self-seeking desire for desire to satisfy Krishna. For indeed, the Bhagavad Gītā tells us that renunciation of ourselves unto Krishna is the only way to be delivered from all sinful actions, not simply withdrawal from the world.
Hinduism in Bhagavad Gita
Hindu View of Human Self
The ideals and concepts of life vary immensely for each religion. From the approximately twenty different religions that exist, each religion consists of its own perceptions and beliefs of life and the human self. The Bhagavad Gita strongly emphasizes a majority of the Hindu’s conceptions of the human self. Hindu religion believes that God remains a part of the human self and most of the actions that one performs are of God’s doing. Additionally, a human needs to work to receive happiness and eternal bliss similar to many other religions. Disobedience and poor behavior result in no endless peace in that lifetime. It appears as though humans tend to possess bad behavior and to reach a state of yogi, or peace, they need to overcome it. Overall, it seems that human beings are not worth anything unless they work to conquer their sins and rise above.
To begin with, in Hindu religion, God remains a part of every single being that he creates. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains the presence of God in all creatures:
“I am the Spirit seated deep down in every creature’s heart; from Me they come; they live; at My word they depart!” (Page 50)
Each human contains a part of God and God influences many of the decisions and actions that a human takes. Many of the activities of mind, actions, and emotions are a result of God’s behavior.
Additionally, in Hinduism, those who do not try to better themselves will remain in their current state and never reach eternal peace. Those who attempt to follow God’s wishes and better their behavior will eventually reach a state of never-ending bliss:
“Vowed to the Infinite. He who thus vows his soul to the Supreme Soul, quitting sin, passes unhindered to the endless bliss of unity with Brahma.” (Page 32)
Followers who abide God and rid themselves of sin will easily reach a state of bliss with Brahma. Brahma remains the highest known power and being in the Hindu religion:
“I Brahma am! The One Eternal God, The Soul of Souls! What goeth forth from Me, causing all life to live.” (Page 39).
Brahma, the one supreme God, remains the level of eternal harmony that people work to reach. Brahma emphasizes in the Bhagavad Gita the standards the one needs to be in order to reach eternal bliss:
“He who with equanimity surveys luster of goodness, strife of passion, sloth of ignorance, not angry if they are, not wishful when they are not; “These the Qualities!” He unto whom – self-centered – grief and joy sound as one word; to whose equal heart holds the same gentleness for lovely and unlovely things, firm-set, well-pleased in praise and dispraise; satisfied with honour or dishonor; – he is named Surmournter of the Qualities! And such – with single, fervent faith adoring Me, passing beyond the Qualities, conforms to Brahma, and attains Me!” (Page 75-76)
The ones who follow Brahma’s standards of staying selfless along with the characteristics mentioned above will be the ones who reach everlasting tranquility with Brahma. Those that do not follow Brahma’s standards will keep going through different lifetimes and never reach endless bliss:
“He who should fail, desiring righteousness, cometh at death unto the Region of the Just; dwells there measureless years, and being born anew, beginneth life again in some fair home amid the mild and happy.” (Page 33)
Reincarnation, the rebirth of a soul into a new body after death in the previous one, remains a strong concept in Hinduism. If one does not reach Brahma in their first lifetime, they will continue to be rebirth until they finally follow the ideals requested. Those that exhibit qualities of evil, or sin, will not attain Brahma and be rebirth in degraded places:
“Deceitfulness, and arrogance, and pride, quickness to anger, harsh and evil speech, and ignorance, to its own darkness blind, – These be the signs, My Prince! Of him whose birth is fated for the regions of the vile.” (Page 81-82)
Furthermore, in the Hindu religion, the human being is given the impression of being evil or impolite from the start and they need to improve from this stage. To reach the highest level, one needs to work to advance themselves. In the Bhagavad Gita, the three kinds of faith that exist consist of two evils ones along with one good, untainted one:
“Threefold the faith is of mankind, and springs from those three qualities, – becoming “true,” or “passion-strained,” or “dark,” as thou shalt hear!” (Page 85)
Two out of the three different faiths associate with wrong ideals, passion-strained and dark, according to the Bhagavad Gita. This depicts that human faith leans towards wickedness. One needs to work hard to reach the only one pure faith of true.
Overall, Hindus believe that to earn endless freedom and happiness one needs to free themselves of sin. Those who fail to do so will continue living in the cycle of birth and death. As they work off their karma in each lifetime, they will become closer to reaching Brahma. Once a person works off all of their karma, sins or bad deeds, their soul will join with the greater power and they will reach enlightenment. If one acts selfishly, they will keep accumulating bad karma and keep remaining the cycle of birth and death. Their soul will continue to move from one lifetime to another. Like many other religions, Hinduism focuses strongly on human beings following the orders or standards of God to reach happiness.
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.
The view of the presence of personal uniqueness as explained by Bhagavad Gita
Does individuality exist according to the Bhagavad Gita? From the onset of the text, Arjuna is placed as a limited mortal and Krishna as the supreme infinite other. These dualisms are a leitmotif throughout the text and offer light into the definition of one’s individuality in the context of a larger presence. From these dualism in the text, human beings are made self-aware of their own individuality, and it is in this “individuality” that lies the basis of the concept of a supreme infinite spirit and it’s distinct relationship between itself and the true infinite spirit. This true individualistic essence of the “self” is essential to the validity of the Bhagavad Gita and provides a dualistic approach to the text that reflects the hierarchical difference between Krishna and the individual “self.”
To define individuality in a living being is to assign a it a distinct essence that is distinguishable from other being, for a lack of a better term – a “self.” In the Bhagavad Gita, this idea of a “self” is described as a double spirit, one that is “transient and eternal” and the other as “the supreme spirit of man” (125, 15.16). Outside of the individual “self” that each living being encases, is a larger spirit that is manifested as Krishna. Krishna describes himself and his vast being as the “seed-giving father” (119, 14.3) from which all forms had come to be. Granted that this manifestation of Krishna defends this transcendent idea of a supreme infinite spirit, it challenges a dualistic reading of the Bhagavad Gita and the “individuality” of every living being. Is Krishna inherently synonymous with the “self” or are they separate?
Should the Bhagavad Gita suggest that the individual “self” is inherently synonymous with the supreme infinite spirit Krishna, it poses a large contradiction to the foundation of the Bhagavad Gita and challenges the validity of Krishna’s expanse and power. If the “self” and Krishna are synonymous, then by extension, every living being holds a part of the deity and divine essence within, and is therefore deified to a level of Krishna, or close to. This not only invalidates the influence and power of Krishna, but it also questions the “beginningless” of the divine spirit. Krishna claims that “since I transcend what is transient/and I am higher than the eternal,/I am known as the supreme spirit of man/in the world and in sacred lore” (126, 15.18). This claim serves as a huge ellipses that Krishna is the manifestation of the Divine. Yet this portrayal is a double-edged sword. Granted that this manifestation of Krishna defends this divine infinite spirit, it challenges the idea and extent of every living being’s individuality. If there is a portion of Krishna in all beings, and the ultimate goal, according to the Bhagavad Gita, is to become detached from our physical bodies and mind in order to free our “self” into the Divine, then it is suggestive of there being a true beginning-a time where Krishna existed as a large expanse before dividing parts of itself to be infused into all beings-and an end-a time when each living being has reached nirvana and returned back to the infinite spirit. This interpretation also demolishes the religious purpose of the Bhagavad Gita as a religious text.
By assuming that a nondualistic, rather monistic, reading of the text is an incorrect interpretation, one can only then assume that people have an innate individuality to their self. This allows the idea for a Diving being, like Krishna, to exist and a spiritual hierarchy and division to exist between Krishna and living beings. This distinction between the Krishna and the “self” is expressed when Krishna says to Arjuna, “I am not in them, they are in me” (74, 7.12). With a dualistic perspective to the Bhagavad Gita, it allows the text to be fully read and understood as an education guide for living beings to progress and evolve out of their dualistic state to a nondualistic existence with the infinite spirit. Arjuna is a limited being, while Krishna is the infinite spirit. Attachment to sensual attachments lead to delusion while devotion to Krishna leads to nirvana. It is in the dualisms, that the larger concept of nirvana is able to be sustained. One cannot possibly understand the existence of this infinite spirit through temporal means, but rather through disciplined action. To reach Krishna, one must see “the self through the self” (116, 13.24) somehow elevating one’s being from a dualistic relationship between the “self” and the infinite spirit, to one where the “self” can transcend reality and become synonymous with the Divine. This eventual nondualism between a living being and the Divine is based on a union, but not on an interchangeable level. However by acknowledging this initial individuality is the beginning of developing a greater consciousness.
Individuality must exist for the Bhagavad Gita to function as a religious and philosophical guide for a larger “truth.” The Bhagavad Gita emphasizes a movement of consciousness from a dualistic perspective to a nondualist perspective where the text begins on the premise of individuality and serves as a guide to attain oneness with the infinite spirit. “Human” and “supreme infinite spirit,” for “self” and “Krishna,” cannot and will not, be interchangeable terms, but the substance of their essential nature is one.
Bhagavad Gita’s Notion of Freedom of One’s Self
A fundamental conflict in the Bhagavad Gita is the notion of whether or not the “self” is independent of, or synonymous with the larger supreme spirit, (or “Self”), manifested in Krishna; it is the main distinguisher between reading the text from either a monistic or dualistic perspective. In other words, does an individual’s “self” truly belong to itself – or is it a part of a larger entity? The idea that the self is independent of Krishna is essential to the foundation of the validity of the Bhagavad Gita, for it supports the validity of Krishna’s existence, and the concepts of dharma, karma, and reincarnation.
To define individuality in a living being, in the context of the Bhagavad Gita, is to assign it an essence that distinguishes one being from another, some sort of a “soul” or a “self” at the core of one’s being. The text addresses three levels of one’s being being synthesized to:  the physical body that is ephemeral,  the mind and the ego, and  the “self” that is eternal and indestructible in nature. This “self” lives multiple lifetimes in multiple bodies in the endless cycle of death and rebirth until one relinquishes attachment and performs unrelenting devotion to Krishna, for only he can rescue them “from the ocean/of death and rebirth” (110, 12.7). Those who have mastered the worldly world, will then exist in the infinite spirit, be illuminated by the knowledge of the self, which will illuminate the ultimate reality of existence, and find true release in something infinite and euphoric that no other worldly experience could ever compare. As presented in the text, this “self” is described as a double spirit, one that is “transient and eternal” and the other as “the supreme spirit of man” (125, 15.16). Outside of the individual “self” that each living being encases, is a larger spirit, manifested in Krishna. Krishna claims that “since I transcend what is transient/and I am higher than the eternal,/I am known as the supreme spirit of man/in the world and in sacred lore” (126, 15.18). This claim serves as a huge ellipses that Krishna is to be the sole real “self” and is presented as the manifestation of the “Self”. Yet this portrayal is a double-edged sword. Granted that this manifestation of Krishna defends this transcendent spirit of a Divine, it challenges the idea and extent of every living being’s individuality.
Should the Bhagavad Gita suggest that the individual “self” is a part of Krishna, it poses a large contradiction to the foundation of the Bhagavad Gita; it challenges the validity of Krishna’s power, and the “beginningless” of the supreme “Self” (117, 13.31). As Krishna describes himself and his vast being, and within his “womb is the great infinite spirit;/in it I place the embryo,/and from this, Arjuna,/comes the origin of all creatures/the infinite spirit the great womb/of all forms that come to be/in all wombs,/and I am the seed-giving father” (119, 14.3). This passage could be interpreted as that there is a portion of Krishna in every living being, for he is the “seed-giving father” (119, 14.3). Should the “self” and Krishna, as a manifestation of the divine spirit that is all encompassing, be synonymous, then by extension, every living being holds a part of the deity and divine essence within. Every living being, therefore, must be deified and divinised by extension. This suggests that the there is a beginning and an end, a before and after, where the “Self” has given parts of himself to be infused into all living beings, and as these living beings reach nirvana, they will eventually go back to the “Self” until no more “selfs” remain on earth. This then invalidates the influence and power that Krishna holds, the “beginningless” of the supreme “Self,” and therefore provides the assumption that all living beings holds an innate individuality that is separate from Krishna.
By assuming the former is an incorrect interpretation of the text, one can preserve the idea that there is a deity who is above transient living beings, and that people have an innate individuality to their self. Therefore, Krishna is a separate entity, while being a manifestation of the supreme infinite spirit, is the ultimate “Self.” This distinction between the “Self” and the “self” is made clear when Krishna says to Arjuna, “knowing me in reality/he enters into my presence” (143, 18.55), “I am not in them, they are in me” (74, 7.12). This asserts the idea that the “Self” is real, and in comparison the world and the body are nothing. However, to an extent, it risks the validity of the existence of Krishna in temporal reality. When Krishna reveals his true form to Arjuna, temporally, it seems rather impossible to comprehend such a being to exist in the physical world. However, the Bhagavad Gita states that to completely understand Krishna and his expanse, one cannot reach him through temporal means, but rather through faith, by seeing “the self through the self” (116, 13.24). One must put aside their empirical human ego, for only with the help of Krishna’s guidance, can one transcend reality and reach nirvana. However, very few beings will reach nirvana. Krishna says that “he is the rare great spirit who sees/‘Krishna is all that is’” (75, 7.19). Though intense introspection, and devout devotion to Krishna, one must gaze into the self to truly see the “Self.”
The true individualistic essence of the “self” is essential to the validity of the Bhagavad Gita and provides a dualistic approach to the text that reflects the hierarchical difference between the “Self” and the individual “self.” However, this individuality is not an individualism. This individuality is an essential part to society and reality, as well as in spirituality, however each being is constantly working to elevate itself to the supreme “Self”hood. Though individual, each living being does not exist for itself, but rather existing for everything else, and this is the beautiful message that this Song of the Lord sings.
Dante Aligheiri’s Bhagavad v’s Inferno: assessment of the good and bad
The “Bhagavad Gita” and “Dante’s Inferno” are among the most popular scripts considered to provide a detailed account of the above Hindus way of life. The Bhagavad Gita is a 700-verse Hinduism scripture. Also known as Gita, the scripture is considered as the 6th book of Mahabharata. On the other hand, Inferno is a divine poem based on Hinduism explaining the journey of Dante through the hell under the guidance of virgin Roman poet. Most debatable are the concepts of Dharma, Karma, and Samsara as found in Bhagavad Gita. The concepts try to explain; in the most convincing manner about the predestination and life after death. But most interesting how these concepts relate or differ when compared with Dante’s concept of spiritual hierarchy.
As earlier stated, the concepts of Dharma, Samsara, and Karma were significantly important for understanding how the Hindus were expected to live and how their fate was predetermined. For instance, Dharma refers to “duty” of life, which means everyone has a duty to fulfill before death. Still, Gita explains that people were reborn in accordance of the lives they lived (Karma). In other words, the rebirth is an accumulation of one’s actions. Lastly, the Samsara refers to how the material world is bound to the cycle of death and rebirth. The concept of Dharma is captured at the beginning of the Bhagavad Gita whereby Arjuna has to kill Duryodhana despite being his cousin. Arjuna and Dhritarashtra (King) are like enemies in a way that, Arjuna and his people wanted to forcibly claim the land resided by Dhritarashtra and his people. Both the sides the was littered with family grandmothers, fathers, uncles, brothers and friends and so on. This means that family members and friends were to fight and kill each other on the battle field. Nevertheless, Arjuna is not ready to kill his family members. But then again, Krishna reminds him he must fulfill his obligation by destroying his enemy Dhritarashtra. At this point, we see that only Arjuna was to be responsible for the death of King Dhritarashtra. This was “duty” of his life. Here we can as well say that Arjuna was predestined to kill Dhritarashtra. This was fate that he could not walk away from.
The concept of Karma can be captured from Krishna advice to Arjuna. According to Krishna, it would be of great dishonor to disrespect Dharma. According to Krishna, killing is not a sin in this case. This is because both the killed and the killer will have a better life after the death. “The body is just a merely a flesh, and we should not limit what we must do (Dharma) jut because of the superficial body.” The death of any of the party would restore the power of good. He also states, in heaven, it will be the enjoyment of the earth with no pain. This simply mean that people will be reborn according to the life they lived (Karma). On the concept of Samsara, the Krishna makes it clear that material world in bound to the cycle of life and death. This is explained by the distinction between soul and superficial body. According to Krishna, the body after death is a reminder of the material world they lived in. Nevertheless, unlike the earthly body, the newly reborn body consists majorly of soul and simple senses. The bound explains why people should not live to gratify their selfish gains and ego.
As found in the Bhagavad Gita, human was predestined their fate which determines how they live and will be reborn as explained by the three concepts. Similarly, throughout the Inferno, there are series of facts to tell there is life after death. What differs significantly between the two scripts is that Dante offers a concept of heaven and hell. The aspect of rebirth is not captured. Still, the script presents Dante bound world of evil spirit for his transgression in the world. Unlike in Gita, the Inferno does not indicate that the human life has been predestined. However, having visited hell and back on earth several times, Dante notes that the way you live on earth determines your life after death. Although there is still heaven, Dante offers one of the most debatable concepts that, going to heaven or hell are not simply a matter of good and evil. Simply put, Dante’s poem is full of uncertainties about life after death. This can also be captured from a story in which both the Dante and Farinata are in hell suffering. Dante asks Farinata why his soul is not able to see the future. She answered him in hell someone cannot see distant things as an indication of uncertainties about life.
One of the major distinct issues captured in the Inferno is the spiritual hierarchy. Notably, after death, people will be rewarded or punished depending on the sins committed while on earth. Still, the spiritual position held while on earth will significantly determine the magnitude of the punishment. For instance, Dante tells us that Farinata was supporting the Holy Roman Emperor who in turn was leaning on the Pope. This is symbolic to what happens in the real world. The idea here is not the question whether Pope can sin; instead, it is an indication that in hell there is a spiritual hierarchy. However, there are still those in top hierarchy living contemporary life like that of Dante. Nevertheless, the concept behind spiritual superiority is hell is disputable. One of the major question in relation to this is why the spiritual hierarchy should be directly exercised in hell.
Another major difference between the two scriptures can also be drawn from the fact that, in Bhagavad Gita, the physical body (flesh) dies to leave behind the soul and senses. In Dante’s Inferno, there I no account of this. Instead, the poem describes the physical suffering of the human body upon the death. Still another major difference, it is the Karma that gives birth to the new soul after death in Bhagavad Gita. Because there is no account of the hell, it is believed that the person who died with bad Karma will return to earth after the Karma is exhausted. Therefore, there is no suffering as is in the case in Dante’s Inferno. Far different, the Dante’s Inferno gives an account of endless suffering.
Dante’s account is a vivid description of how the hell is like. Therefore, unlike Gita, the Inferno presents life after death in a scary manner. All this description is covered in what can be referred to as “12-stage programs.” By going through the 12 steps, we are able o grasp almost a complete picture of the hell. Throughout these steps, Dante was helplessly battling to get out of hell. While in hell Dante imagines the life he lived at his middles ages; an indication that there is a close relationship of life in fresh and life after the death. Therefore, while the Bhagavad Gita may be using Dharma to warn to do their duties, Dante’s Inferno emphasis on the need to be freed from all kinds of sins. It could therefore be inappropriate in accordance with this scripture for Arjuna to kill Dhritarashtra (King).
Conclusively, the “Bhagavad Gita” and “Dante’s Inferno” are among the most popular Hindu scriptures. These divine scriptures draw the attention of the modern historians in for the manner in which they present the ancient Hindu cultural and religious believes. Remarkably, the two scriptures reveal the most debatable mysteries about predestination and life after death, the topic that has gained more analytical value in the 21st century. As evident from above discussion, the two articles differ theoretically more specifically on concepts of concepts of Dharma, Karma, and Samsara as found in Bhagavad Gita. But still, the two articles have similarity in a way that, they approve there is life after death; which will be determined by the live lived today. Although the above divine thinking is based on Hinduism, it is undeniably true that they still find their way into other religions such as Muslim and Christians. This explains why the scriptures will continue being most sought; even by the future generations.
The Bhagavad-Gita Reflection
The original Bhagavad-Gita was written somewhere between 400 and 200 B.C. Despite its age, it is still a relevant Hindu text that is studied and lived by today. It can easily be applied to one’s everyday life, even for one who is not Hindu. The text is full of lessons from the Hindu entity, Krishna, when Arjuna, a prince, comes across difficult questions about war and life. The Bhagavad-Gita covers Arjuna’s dilemma and how Krishna helps him make a decision about it; this is a fine example of how one’s worldview can affect decisions made.
In the beginning of the Bhagavad-Gita, Arjuna, one of the main characters, introduced the dilemma of war and killing his kin. Arjuna is the leader of the small Pandava army that is about to fight Duryodhana’s larger army. The reason Arjuna wants to battle is because King Dhritarashtra is trying to pass the kingdom down to Duryodhana when the rightful ruler is Arjuna’s brother, Yudhishthira. (Miller, 1986, Ch.1, Lines 1-20). However, in the first teaching, Arjuna is upset that Duryodhana’s army is full of his family, “I do not want to kill them even if I am killed, Krishna; not for kingship of all three worlds, much less for the earth!” (Miller, 1986, Ch.1, Line 35). In other words, Arjuna does not want to win a kingdom if it means killing his family. He goes on asking, “How can we ignore the wisdom of turning from the evil when we see the sin of family destruction, Krishna?” (Miller, 1986, Ch.1, Line 39). He sees destroying family as sinful and does not want to be a part of that. Despite Arjuna’s lack of fighting spirit, Krishna insists that he continue into battle.
Krishna, an entity fighting with Arjuna, is the one who counsels him through this dilemma. He convinces Arjuna to fight by speaking about his faith and wisdom. Krishna first states that Arjuna is being a coward and that if he turns back he will lose his honor. He says in the second teaching, “Our bodies are known to end, but the embodied self is enduring…” (Miller, 1986, Ch.2, Line 18). Krishna is talking about reincarnation. He basically tells Arjuna that it is okay to kill people in this war because they will simply reincarnate. There are plenty of other lessons that Krishna goes through, but one of the most prominent is the one about having faith in Krishna and the supreme god. He insists in the seventh teaching, “practice discipline in my protection, with your mind focused on me…” (Miller, 1986, Ch. 7, Line 1). In order to be apart from the material world and get a good afterlife, Arjuna must devote his life to Krishna and the Hindu religion. With these and many other lessons, Krishna persuades Arjuna that it is okay for this battle to happen.
The Bhagavad-Gita is a valuable text from the Hindu religion, and therefore accurately represents how a worldview can affect decisions. Everyone has their own way of viewing the world. In the case of Arjuna, he views the world through a Hindu worldview. At first, Arjuna did not want to carry through with the war. However, Krishna, an entity of the Hindu religion, persuaded him otherwise. Arjuna says after all of Krishna’s lessons, “Krishna, my delusion is destroyed, and by your grace I have regained memory; I stand here my doubt dispelled, ready to act on your words.” (Miller, 1986, Ch. 18, Line 73). Arjuna decided to continue into battle because he believed what Krishna was saying. Other world views are exactly like this. People make decisions and take actions based on what they believe. World views have a huge impact on how decisions are made.
In conclusion, the Bhagavad-Gita is an influential piece of religious text. Arjuna was faced with the problem of going to war with family members he did not want to kill. However, Krishna persuaded him to continue into battle to be honorable. He claimed that death was not going to be the end of these people, but rather they would be reincarnated into another body. Among other lessons, Krishna told Arjuna to follow him wholeheartedly and to put the material world aside in order to reach true purpose. In a way, this represents the way world views affect the way decisions are made. People, like Arjuna, will always make decisions based on what they believe.
Miller, B. S., (1986). The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna’s counsel in time of war. New York: Columbia University Press
The Fundamental Role of Discipline in the Bhagavad Gita’s Moral Teachings
The Bhagavad Gita presents a unique system of moral teachings that characterized the “…sociopolitical and religious reality of South Asia…” in early first century AD (Flood, Martin, pg. xiii). It involves an interaction between two characters: Arjuna, a powerful warrior, and Krishna, a supreme deity who acts in human form. Arjuna faces a challenging dilemma when he perceives that his duty as a warrior will eventually lead him to slay his kinsmen who fight for his enemies. Krishna uses this conflict to remind Arjuna of the importance of fulfilling his prescribed duty, also referred to as his dharma. The idea of dharma is a foundational aspect of Krishna’s teaching throughout the Bhagavad Gita. A person’s dharma dictates the way they must act and varies depending on their social class. It is not limited to mere completion of responsibilities but rather extends to the individual’s mindset and intentions as they act upon their tasks. To achieve the highest form of dharma, the individual must focus on action alone without becoming attached to its consequences or results. Krishna emphasizes this teaching by encouraging Arjuna to disregard the impending deaths of his kinsmen and to concentrate on his job as a warrior. The ultimate goals of fulfilling dharma without attachment include a deep relationship with Krishna and eternal purification. As Krishna states, “One who, in acting, consecrates / all of his actions to Brahman / shed of attachments, is unstained / like a lotus leaf by water” (5.10). While dharma is the ideal of human behavior, it cannot be achieved without the consistent exercise of discipline. As a fundamental element of the Bhagavad Gita’s teachings, discipline involves both physical action and mental detachment from action’s results as a means of achieving liberation from the cycle of reincarnation.
The practice of discipline begins with physical action. As demonstrated by Krishna’s dilemma, a person’s dharma may include tasks that they find challenging to complete. It is in these situations that discipline is paramount, driving the individual to prioritize their duty over their emotions. They must accomplish their tasks regardless of their feelings. In addition, discipline in action is a defining quality of one’s daily behavior. Krishna outlines a model for disciplined behavior throughout the Bhagavad Gita. According to his teaching, a disciplined person is “…solitary, lightly eating / controlled in body, speech and mind, / meditating, doing yoga, / finding refuge in dispassion…” (18.87). As they practice these things, they achieve the highest form of discipline by dissolving all attachment to their actions’ effects. This is defined as “…karma yoga: the practice of detached action rooted in virtue in which the results of that action are surrendered to God” (Flood, Martin, xii). Based on this reasoning, an individual’s actions serve as a means of glorifying Krishna and fulfilling dharma, rather than achieving a goal. Acting according to the practice of discipline plays a crucial role in this process. As Krishna tells Arjuna “One disciplined by higher mind / here casts off good and bad actions; / therefore, be yoked to discipline; / discipline is skill in actions” (2.50). Man learns this skill by consciously practicing action without thought for attachment and by fighting against his natural tendency to derive motivation from external results. Krishna continues to reiterate the importance of discipline in action throughout the text, stating that “…he whose mind controls his senses, / who undertakes the discipline / of action by the action-organs, without attachment, is renowned” (3.7). In this manner, discipline acts as the virtue that leads man to a purified form of physical action. Therefore, as man practices it through action, he is able to more fully detach from his work’s consequences and legitimately fulfill his dharma.
In addition to physical action, discipline extends to the activity of the mind. Krishna acknowledges the steady stream of thoughts that compete for man’s attention. However, he teaches that these distractions must be ignored because they often lead to attachment to action. Throughout the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains that the mind is often a wild scene where a person’s perceptions of their external reality challenge their core convictions. If discipline is employed, then these perceptions will be subdued and redirected in a positive manner. Krishna explains the practice of mental discipline by counseling Arjuna that, “When, unvexed by revelation / your higher mind is motionless / and stands fixed in meditation / then you will attain discipline” (2.53). Discipline, for the purpose of gaining wisdom, is practiced by keeping one’s mind in a harmonious state of equilibrium where these perceptions have no effect on mental processes. This discipline is not man’s natural predisposition and thus requires concerted practice. As Krishna states, “…having utterly restrained / the many senses by the mind, / Gradually let him find rest, / his intellect under control, / his mind established in the Self, / not thinking about anything” (6.24-25). He emphasizes yoga as the best form of mental exercise in which man consciously works to focus his thoughts on a single point. By using discipline to train his mind, man draws closer to Krishna and learns to absolve all attachment from his works. Mental discipline complements physical discipline, and both depend upon the other in order for man to advance in his process toward eternal purification.
Discipline of the body and mind yields eternal rewards despite the obstacles that oppose it. The first benefit is the ability to know Krishna more deeply and to establish a stronger bond with him. By learning to exist with a steady mind detached from action, a person shifts the focus of their desires and decisions toward Krishna. This leads to discipline’s second reward: advancement in the process of eternal purification. This process occurs through the cycle of reincarnation where man dies and is reborn until he reaches a state of perfection. Discipline is the key to liberation from this cycle because, as Krishna states, “…having freed oneself from ego, / force, pride, anger, lust and grasping, / serene and without selfishness, / one is fit for the absolute” (18.53). Through a perfected practice of discipline, a person advances toward a state of unchanging existence. This in turn grants them the reward of experiencing Krishna more completely. Throughout the Bhagavad Gita, “Liberation (moksha) from the cycle of reincarnation (samsara)…” defines the ultimate goal of existence: to assume an absolute, rather than transient, state of being (Flood, Martin, xviii). This goal is only accomplished through discipline of the mind and body. The two primary rewards of discipline, union with Krishna and absolute existence, form the pinnacle of man’s life. Thus, the value of these rewards merit the effort one must exercise to attain them.
An argument may arise that perfect discipline in unattainable in the context of day-to-day reality. In their occupations and relationships, people face situations that may cause them to feel “…anger, fear, and passions…” (2.56). These emotions are the obstacles that Krishna deems as detrimental to the practice of discipline. Many individuals appear to be trapped in a dilemma: avoid these feelings or fulfill their dharma which may cause these emotions to arise. Because everyone’s dharma differs, not all people are granted the luxury of the yogi lifestyle, one in which duty includes secluded meditation and constant prayer to Krishna. In contrast, a majority of people are called to more common occupations as peasants, warriors or merchants. In these roles, emotions often run high: the peasant feels frustration over his servitude, the warrior experiences the passion of battle, the merchant becomes excited after making a hefty profit. In light of the correlation between these occupations and emotions, the discipline that Krishna commands may seem unrealistic.
However, Krishna refutes this argument by stating that the differing natures of people’s duties are not preventative to the practice of discipline. As he teaches, “By worshiping with one’s own actions, the Origin of all Beings by whom the cosmos is pervaded, perfection is achieved by man” (18.46). He recognizes the differences that arise as certain classes act according to their dharma. Discipline, as he explains, can still be practiced in these situations if a person surrenders his actions as a form of worship. Krishna illustrates this through several examples. In the case of the peasants, he teaches that they may exercise discipline in the midst of their “Plowing, trade, and cattle-herdings…” by releasing their connection to their work and replacing it with a mindset of worship toward him (18.44). This applies to other classes of people, including the warriors who must use their “Valor, majesty, firmness…and lordliness…” to glorify Krishna rather than themselves (18.43). In the midst of action, Krishna commands his followers to work with their minds fixed upon him while absent from attachment to consequences. In this manner, they master perfect discipline and advance toward absolute purification.
Demonstrated throughout the Bhagavad Gita, discipline is a fundamental element of Krishna’s teachings on how his followers must think and act throughout their lives. The practice of this virtue involves both the external action of the body and the inner thought processes of the mind as man accomplishes his dharma. Krishna teaches this through the counsel he offers to Arjuna as he faces his battlefield dilemma. In the midst of a tumultuous world, the obstacles to maintaining discipline are high, including the forces of emotion, passion and tension. Nonetheless, regardless of a person’s position in life, discipline can always be practiced by absolving all attachment to action and using it as a means of glorifying Krishna. Through discipline, man is released from reincarnation and enters into eternal union with Krishna. This virtue leads to the greatest of all rewards. As Krisha teaches, one “whose senses, mind and intellect / are firmly fixed upon release / shed of desire, fear and rage / will soon attain bliss forever” (6.28).
Flood, Gavin, and Charles Martin. “Introduction.” The Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation. Norton Critical Edition. Trans. Gavin Flood and Charles Martin. New York: Norton, 2015. vii-xviii. Print.
The Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation. Norton Critical Edition. Trans. Gavin Flood and Charles Martin. New York: Norton, 2015. Print.
Questions of the Hereafter in Gilgamesh, the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Bible
Questions like these that baffle the human mind, and have done so for centuries: what happens after we die? Is there truly life after death? Such riddles can never be known to those who have not crossed over “to the other side”, so to speak, and the only ones that do know the answer can never reveal it. As the saying goes, dead men tell no tales. It is a question central to the identity of every civilization, dating back before the common era. In the ancient epic of Gilgamesh, the afterlife is nothing but darkness and dust. In the Bhagavad-Gita, there is only a cycle of reincarnation that may or may not lead to “enlightenment”. And in the book of Job, there is a belief that God-fearing, righteous people may one day enter paradise.
Gilgamesh was a man scared to death of dying. He felt like this since his beloved friend Enkidu had a vision of the underworld on his deathbed. Enkidu describes it as “the house whence none who enters come forth” (Tablet XII, line 134) and “the road from which there is no way back” (line 135). Both of the descriptions haunt Gilgamesh severely. Furthermore, Enkidu sees “crowns in a heap” (line 142), the crowns of past kings. Not even a royal bloodline can save Gilgamesh from the one certainty in life. Gilgamesh is deeply distressed, and cries out, “Shall I not die too? Am I not like Enkidu?” (Tablet 8, line 3). He begins a frantic search to find a source of immortality, to stay the hand that all man are dealt. He fails…but, in a ironic sense, he also succeeds. No, he does not live on forever, but in a way he does. He lives on through his his accomplishments, such as his wall that be built and his story, which has been passed down through the ages. In the culture of his day, that is the closest anyone could come to being immortal.
Arjuna was a confused man . His everyday quest to fulfill the wishes of the gods and achieve enlightenment was under attack by his morality and opposition to war. He speaks to Krishna and cries out, “I foresee no good resulting from slaughtering my kin in war!” (Chapter 1, stanza 31). He, like many of his day presumably, has no desire to engage in war and conquest because he sees no benefit from killing his kinsmen and countrymen. He dreads the bad karma that is associated with such acts. But Krishna tries to relax him, saying that “Death is assured to all those born, and birth assured to all the dead; you should not mourn what is merely inevitable consequence” (Chapter 2, stanza 27). In essence, death and birth and just two sides of a never ending cycle. Krishna also says to Arjuna “Nor should you tremble to perceive your duty as a warrior” (Chapter 2, stanza 31). It is Arjuna’s “sacred duty” to be a warrior and to kill his enemies, family or not. In effect, life is just one constant reincarnation after another, with “enlightenment” being the only true afterlife. Krishna goes on to say that “When, unvexed by revelation, your higher mind is motionless and stands fixed in meditation, then you will attain discipline” (Chapter 2, stanza 53). In other words, enlightenment is only attainable by those who have learned to act without any feelings. This is the duty of all.
Job was a submissive man, and a righteous one. The writer of Job said that he “was blameless and upright and feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). He was the best example of a “man of God” of his day. Even when God allowed Satan to come and destroy Job’s family, possessions, and health, he did not sin. After his wife told to him to curse God and just die, he replied, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10). His whole world revolved around honoring God, whether with having plenty or nothing. Job acted the way he did because of his respect for God and his vision of the afterlife, or heaven. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21). Whats the point of holding on to the things in this life if, in the end, we have to give them up anyway? Only one thing is eternal: God. Job is remembered to this day for realizing that possessions mean nothing without the One who gives them to you. This is the ideal Jewish and Christian way of thinking about life after death.
The three cultures discussed above have three very different views of the afterlife. One was trying to immortalize oneself in actions and monuments, one was about reaching action without feeling and enlightenment, and one was about giving up the things of this world to focus on the God from whom all things come. Maybe we, as humans, can never truly understand the concept of life after death. But, then again, maybe we should be more focused on the things we do in life instead.