What is happiness? It’s hard to define but we all know what it is. We have all experienced it. In fact, we experience it every day – when we eat our food, when we work on a project that we are passionate about, when we smile at someone on the street, when we spend time with a hobby, or when we sleep.
Krishna had the qualities of a good statesman – be it eloquence, integrity, intelligence, wit, or the ability to take quick decisions. One can imagine he was a soft-spoken person. He spoke words that were at once pleasant and honest (see BG 17.15). While his words were practical, they were never devious. He never forgot a promise, he never broke a promise. And yet, for the sake of dharma, he was willing to abandon a hundred promises. Krishna had dharma drishti (vision of overall goodness) and the Gita is full of that.
Which is the oldest religion in the world? Nobody knows. Ask the foremost historian or the greatest saint but they will not have an answer. We know so little about the earliest humans who inhabited our planet. But we can take an educated guess about the first god. Keep aside for a moment the view that god created the universe and just consider how humans visualize god. Most probably, the first god that humans recognized and worshiped was the sun.
The agnishomiya vyuha – the Agni-Soma formation – is the cosmic structure, the eternal arrangement. It is the eternal establishment that binds the consumer and the consumed. This concept has been discussed in the Upanishads and the Yogavasishtha. Krishna speaks about this in the Gita when he identifies himself with the sun, the moon, fire, energy, sap, thought, etc. (BG 15.12-15).
Do you love your spouse? Do you love your child? Do you love your parents? Do you love your wealth? Do you love wisdom? Do you love power? Do you love god? Most of us would answer with a yes to at least a few of these questions, but according to a famous story in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (2.4.1-5) the answer is no.
While Krishna praises the trait of detachment and contentment, he emphasizes the need for hard work. At the risk of sounding paradoxical, he says in the Gita – I’ve achieved everything, yet I continue to work (BG 3.22); If I fail to work tirelessly, humans will blindly follow my example and sit idle (BG 3.23); If I didn’t work, the worlds would perish and I would become the cause of chaos (BG 3.24).
The uniqueness of sanatana dharma is its universality. Three cardinal features confer upon it its universal character. These three are however not mutually exclusive; they, in fact, nourish one another.
In the Bhagavata Purana, there is the moving episode of Kuchela’s visit to Krishna’s palace. Kuchela and Krishna were classmates in the gurukula of Sandipani. Kuchela leads an impoverished life while Krishna is a king. Kuchela visits his old friend with a view to ask him for help but when he actually meets him, he is unable to bring himself to ask for a favor.
Whenever I'm asked to speak about Hinduism to a Western audience, who is typically unfamiliar with our tradition, I like to use a simple acronym to highlight the core values of sanatana dharma, the eternal truth. But before that, I usually mention these four important points about our tradition:
Krishna speaks about bhakti so often in the Gita. He goes as far as to say – sincerely worship the supreme in any form you like; I will strengthen that faith (BG 7.21). But what of Krishna himself? Is he a devotee? Or is he an arrogant god?