Recently I wrote a post related with my view about some of the purports by Prabhupad in his book 'Bhagavad Gita As It Is'. I particularly discussed his comments about women and mentioned lines from purport where he said that women are more prone to degradation compared to men and also quoted Chanakya's statement about women to support his views. Some readers were unhappy because of this and said that it was not Prabhupad's view but Arjun's. They also said that actually Arjun expressed his concern about women in related verses of Bhagavad Gita and Prabhupad just explained it to us in better way in his purport. So let's try to see whats really going on in those verses of Bhagavad Gita.
The scene is from great epic Mahabharat when both the armies (Kaurav and Pandav) are ready to fight war and are assembled on battle field. Just before the war is about to start, Arjun expresses his desire to have one last look at opponent army. Krishna takes his chariot closer to Kuru army and there this conversation starts between him and Arjun. Arjun sees many of his relatives, cousins, teachers and friends standing there. He has to kill/defeat them to win the war, thought of killing his loved ones for the sake of kingdom makes him feel emotional and nervous. He is expressing these feelings to his mentor Krishna in many of these verses. Here is translation of few verses before and after the verse 1.40 (chapter 1, verse 40). I am going to reproduce two translations here for the sake of comparison.
Dr. S. Radhakrishnan's translation,
(26) There saw Arjuna standing fathers and grandfathers, teachers, uncles, brothers, sons and grandsons as also companions.
(27) And also fathers-in-law and friends in both the armies. When the son of Kunti (Arjuna) saw all these kinsmen thus standing arrayed.
(28) He was overcome with great compassion and uttered this in sadness:
(29) My limbs quail, my mouth goes dry, my body shakes my hair stands on end.
(30) (The bow) Gandiva slips from my hand and my skin is burning all over. I am not able to stand steady. My mind is reeling.
(31) And I see evil omens, O Kesava (Krsna), nor do I foresee any good by slaying my own people in the fight.
(32) I do not long for victory, O Krsna, nor kingdom nor pleasures. Of what use is kingdom to us, O Krsna, or enjoyment or even life?
(33) Those for whose sake we desire kingdom, enjoyments pleasures, they stand here in battle, renouncing their lives and riches.
(34) Teachers, fathers, sons and also grandfathers; uncles fathers-in-law, grandsons and brothers-in-law and (other) kinsmen.
(35) These I would not consent to kill, though they kill me, O Madhusudana (Krsna), even for the kingdom of the three worlds how much less for the sake of the earth?
(36) What pleasure can be ours, O Krsna, after we have slain the sons of Dhrtarastra? Only sin will accrue to us if kill these malignants.
(37) So it is not right that we slay our kinsmen, the sons of Dhrtarastra. Indeed. How can we be happy? O Madhava (Krsna), if we kill our own people?
(38) Even if these whose minds are overpowered by greed, see no wrong in the destruction of the family and no crime in treachery to fiends:
(39) Why should we not have the wisdom to turn away from this sin, O Janardana (Krsana), we who see the wrong in the destruction of the family?
(40) In the ruin of a family, its ancient laws are destroyed: and when the laws perish, the whole family yields to lawless-ness.
(41) And when lawlessness prevails, O Varsneya (Krsna), the women of the family become corrupted and when women are corrupted, confusion of castes arises.
(42) And to hell does this confusion bring the family itself, as well as those who have destroyed it. For the spirits of their ancestors fall, deprived of their offerings of rice and water.
(43) By the misdeeds of those who destroy a family and create confusion of varanas, the immemorial laws of the caste and the family are destroyed.
(44) And we have heard it said, O Janardana (Krsna), that the men of the families whose laws are destroyed needs must live in hell.
(45) Alas, what a great sin have we resolved to commit in striving to slay our own people through our greed for the pleasures of the kingdom!
(46) Far better would it be for me if the sons of Dhrtarastra, with weapons in hand, should slay me in the battle, while I remain unresisting and unarmed.
(47) Having spoken thus on the (field of) battle, Ariuna sank down on the seat of his chariot, casting away his bow and arrow, his spirit overwhelmed by sorrow.
Translation from Bhagavad Gita as it is,
When the son of Kunti, Arjuna, saw all these different grades of friends and relatives, he became overwhelmed with compassion and spoke thus.(1.27)
Arjuna said: My dear Krsna, seeing my friends and relatives present before me in such a fighting spirit, I feel the limbs of my body quivering and my mouth drying up.(1.28)
My whole body is trembling, my hair is standing on end, my bow Gandiva is slipping from my hand, and my skin is burning.(1.29)
I am now unable to stand here any longer. I am forgetting myself, and my mind is reeling. I see only causes of misfortune, O Krsna, killer of the Kesi demon.(1.30)
I do not see how any good can come from killing my own kinsmen in this battle, nor can I, my dear Krsna, desire any subsequent victory, kingdom, or happiness.(1.31)
O Govinda, of what avail to us are a kingdom, happiness or even life itself when all those for whom we may desire them are now arrayed on this battlefield? O Madhusudana, when teachers, fathers, sons, grandfathers, maternal uncles, fathers-in-law, grandsons, brothers-in-law and other relatives are ready to give up their lives and properties and are standing before me, why should I wish to kill them, even though they might otherwise kill me? O maintainer of all living entities, I am not prepared to fight with them even in exchange for the three worlds, let alone this earth. What pleasure will we derive from killing the sons of Dhrtarastra?(1.32-35)
Sin will overcome us if we slay such aggressors. Therefore it is not proper for us to kill the sons of Dhrtarastra and our friends. What should we gain, O Krsna, husband of the goddess of fortune, and how could we be happy by killing our own kinsmen?(1.36)
O Janardana, although these men, their hearts overtaken by greed, see no fault in killing one's family or quarreling with friends, why should we, who can see the crime in destroying a family, engage in these acts of sin?(1.37-38)
With the destruction of dynasty, the eternal family tradition is vanquished, and thus the rest of the family becomes involved in irreligion.(1.39)
When irreligion is prominent in the family, O Krsna, the women of the family become polluted, and from the degradation of womanhood, O descendant of Vrsni, comes unwanted progeny. (1.40)
An increase of unwanted population certainly causes hellish life both for the family and for those who destroy the family tradition. The ancestors of such corrupt families fall down, because the performances for offering them food and water are entirely stopped.(1.41)
By the evil deeds of those who destroy the family tradition and thus give rise to unwanted children, all kinds of community projects and family welfare activities are devastated. (1.42)
O Krsna, maintainer of the people, I have heard by disciplic succession that those who destroy family traditions dwell always in hell. (1.43)
Alas, how strange it is that we are preparing to commit greatly sinful acts. Driven by the desire to enjoy royal happiness, we are intent on killing our own kinsmen.(1.44)
Better for me if the sons of Dhrtarastra, weapons in hand, were to kill me unarmed and unresisting on the battlefield.(1.45)
Better for me if the sons of Dhrtarastra, weapons in hand, were to kill me unarmed and unresisting on the battlefield. It is the custom--according to ksatriya fighting principles--that an unarmed and unwilling foe should not be attacked. Arjuna, however, decided that even if attacked by the enemy in such an awkward position, he would not fight. He did not consider how much the other party was bent upon fighting. All these symptoms are due to soft-heartedness resulting from his being a great devotee of the Lord. Sanjaya said: Arjuna, having thus spoken on the battlefield, cast aside his bow and arrows and sat down on the chariot, his mind overwhelmed with grief.(1.46)
Don't bother about the numbering of highlighted verse (1.41 vs 1.40) as they are slightly different in both translations (one has 47 verses in first chapter and other only 46), numbering is not important here. One can clearly see that both translations are not that different from each other. Now lets read the purport for verse 1.40,
Purport for verse 1.40 from Bhagavad Gita As it is,
Good population in human society is the basic principle for peace, prosperity and spiritual progress in life. The varashrama religion’s principles were so designed that the good population would prevail in society for the general spiritual progress of state and community. Such population depends on the chastity and faithfulness of its womanhood. As children are very prone to be misled, women are similarly very prone to degradation. Therefore, both children and women require protection by the elder members of the family. By being engaged in various religious practices, women will not be misled into adultery. According to Chanakya Pandita, women are generally not very intelligent and therefore not trustworthy. So the different family traditions of religious activities should always engage them, and thus their chastity and devotion will give birth to a good population eligible for participating in the varashrama system. On the failure of such varashrama -dharma, naturally the women become free to act and mix with men, and thus adultery is indulged in at the risk of unwanted population. Irresponsible men also provoke adultery in society, and thus unwanted children flood the human race at the risk of war and pestilence.
To get a clear picture of what's going on its necessary to read all this. Situation of Arjun and his dilemma is described here. After seeing all his close relatives, teachers and other dear ones Arjun is feeling emotional here. His love towards his relatives and his memories of time which he spent with them compels him to think whether this war is worth fighting or not. Arjun was very celebrated warrior and war was not a new thing for him, he fought many of them before coming to fight this one.
Arjun is feeling emotional weakness and want to explain Krishna his situation. Along with his emotional dilemma he also want to tell Krishna 'effects of war on society'. He is a clever guy and want to make a very solid argument for not fighting the war. One can not walk away just like that from such a important battle of their life, there has to be a very strong reason to do that and Arjun is trying to put very strong argument here. In that respect he mentions all these bad things which war can bring to society and its people. He expresses his concern about destruction of dynasties, destruction of law which might lead to total lawlessness in families and henceforth in society. Because of prevalence of irreligion or lawlessness in family (society) women of family might become corrupted or polluted resulting in further problems. Here it seems he is mainly concerned about sexual exploitation of women in male dominated society. After any big war (like world war) where lots of lives (mostly men) are lost on the battle field, society's structure and composition might change drastically. Huge difference in male to female ratio can create lot of problems. Arjun's concerns are very legitimate.
One might accuse Arjun for taking escapist route here, he doesn't want to fight war that's why he is giving reasons, but its not out of fear, he is not a coward. He wants to question necessity of fighting this war which might lead to heavy loss to both the sides fighting the war. He want to show how war is 'evil' and how it can prove disastrous for whole society. He is more emotional here because this particular war involves people from his own family fighting from both sides. He can see destruction of his own family and kingdom (which they want to acquire). His all concerns and questions are very serious, that's is the reason Krishna gave him such a detailed reply which we call 'Bhagavad Gita'.
Physical abuse or sexual exploitation of females by victorious army men was very common in those days (and it happens even now) and in that regard Arjun is expressing his concern. Nowhere, Arjun talks about character of women, them being more prone to degradation compared to men or women being not very intelligent and therefore not trustworthy. I feel that all these points are unnecessarily discussed in purport, they are not at all related with verse. If Prabhupad wanted to blame he should have blamed males (or men) for polluting women, forcing such a big scale war on society, but for some reason his focus is all on women. Women can not be held responsible for rape or other physical abuse forced on them. How come one can blame women for unwanted child after rape? I found these views about women expressed in purport totally biased.
We all know that women have very important role to play in any family but entire family's traditions or its chastity and faithfulness doesn't depend only on them but depends on all elders of family. Why to put entire burden on shoulders of women? If the verse doesn't talk about women's nature or compares them with men, then why purport for this verse deviates from main subject (disastrous effect of war on society) so much? Why to blame women for no fault of theirs?
At the end of purport Prabhupad also blames 'irresponsible men' for provoking adultery in society, notice the use of term 'irresponsible' here, but when he commented about women, he was not talking about 'irresponsible women' but women in general, that's where I have objection and I think scholar like him should have been more careful before passing such a general remark against women. And I don't think even women of the era of Mahabharat were any less intelligent than men. His opinion about women can be his personal opinion and he has full right to express it but to deliver it in such way (in the name of Gita) is wrong according to me.
In preface of the book, Prabhupad writes "The Krishna consciousness movement is essential in human society, for it offers the highest perfection of life. How this is so is explained fully in the Bhagavad-gita. Unfortunately, mundane wranglers have taken advantage of Bhagavad-gita to push forward their demonic propensities and mislead people regarding right understanding of the simple principles of life."
He claims that importance of Krishna conscious movement is explained in Gita, isn't it a direct marketing of his movement (ISKON) under the name of Gita as it is? Isn't he pushing his own agenda and advertising his organization here? This is same thing for which he accused other authors. He has right to do it, nothing wrong in it but then at least please don't say something bad about others for doing the same thing. One can understand if he wrote this book as a manual for ISKON followers, interpretation of Gita exclusively for his movement and its members (which is what that book is). I am not against his book, against his translations or against his movement but I am surprised by his claim that he is presenting Bhagavad Gita 'As it is'. He is clearly trying to push his own philosophy and beliefs under the name of purports. I still use this book along with others to read translation of Bhagavad Gita, the book nicely presents each verse in Devanagari script, a Latin transliteration, word-for-word meanings (Sanskrit-English) and English translation of the verse, but unfortunately the major part of the book are Prabhupad's purports and be careful while reading them. It's up to readers to decide what they think about authors intentions in this book, I have expressed my opinion here.
I just mentioned this book as an example as I am reading it currently, I am not saying that this is the only book where author tries to push his agenda (beliefs) in the name of some ancient scripture. There must be many other scriptures which might have been used by different authors for the same purpose, I think this is just one example. Readers should be careful while reading these type of books. They should try to differentiate between the actual translation of the text and authors own opinion. It's always better to read more than one translations of any text (from other language) to get the general idea about the meaning of that text. I think this post should explain my views which I expressed in previous post about Bhagavad Gita as it is.
Thanks a lot for reading and please share your views.
1. Bhagadvad Gita-As it is or As it is NOT..
1. Bhagadvad Gita-As it is or As it is NOT..
2. http://www.hknet.org.nz/seX-Vedic-view-of-women.html (for so called Vedik view of women)
3. Why Krishna delivered Bhagavad Gita to Arjun not to someone else?
(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing)
(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing)