Why does Krishna reject spiritual practices and methods?

The following is an excerpt from a samvaad (dialogue) session with Acharya Prashant.

नाहं वेदैर्न तपसा न दानेन न चेज्यया ।

शक्य एवंविधो द्रष्टुं दृष्टवानसि मां यथा ।। 53 ।।

nāhaṁ vedair na tapasā na dānena na chejyayā

śhakya evaṁ-vidho draṣhṭuṁ dṛiṣhṭavān asi māṁ yathā

Neither by the Vedas, nor by austerity, nor by gifts, nor by sacrifice, can I be seen as thou have seen Me.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 11, Verse 53

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भक्त्या त्वनन्यया शक्य अहमेवंविधोऽर्जुन ।

ज्ञातुं द्रष्टुं च तत्त्वेन प्रवेष्टुं च परन्तप ।। 54 ।।

bhaktyā tv ananyayā śhakya aham evaṁ-vidho ’rjuna

jñātuṁ draṣhṭuṁ cha tattvena praveṣhṭuṁ cha parantapa

But by single-minded devotion, I may be in this form, be known, O Arjuna, and seen in reality, and also entered into O scorcher of foes.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 11, Verse 54

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मत्कर्मकृन्मत्परमो मद्भक्त: सङ्गवर्जित: ।

निर्वैर: सर्वभूतेषु य: स मामेति पाण्डव ।। 55 ।।

mat-karma-kṛin mat-paramo mad-bhaktaḥ saṅga-varjitaḥ

nirvairaḥ sarva-bhūteṣhu yaḥ sa mām eti pāṇḍava

He who does work for Me alone and has Me for his goal, is devoted to Me, is freed from attachment, and bears enmity towards no creature-he entereth into Me, O Pandava.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 11, Verse 55

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Questioner (Q): Does the realization of Truth happen only by Grace, and is it not in the sadhaka’s control irrespective of the sadhaka’s efforts?

Also, why has Sri Krishna categorically made a distinction between single-pointed devotion to Him, and Vedas, austerity, gifts, sacrifices? Because to me, devotion to Krishna meant the latter only.

Acharya Prashant (AP): Where is it written that the work put in by the sadhaka or the seeker (the practitioner) does not matter? The verse very clearly says, “But by single-minded devotion, I may be in this form, be known, O’ Arjuna, and seen in reality, and also entered into, O’ scorcher of foes.” Nowhere has it been said that realization of the Truth happens only by Grace. What basis do we have to speculate, or imagine, or raise this kind of a concept?

He is saying here, “Have single-minded devotion to Me, that is the only way I can be known, Arjuna.”

What does it mean to have single-minded devotion to Krishna? It means to have devotion towards Truth and indifference towards falseness. The application is straightaway practical.

In your moment-to-moment life, be indifferent to all the falseness. Don’t be attracted and captivated by them, and be devoted to what you know to be the Truth.

Will you be devoted to the absolute Truth? There is no guarantee. But at least be relatively devoted to Truth instead of falseness. If you cannot do the Ultimate, at least do your best.

Do not say, “But I do not know the Ultimate Truth, so how do I factor the Ultimate Truth in my day-to-day decisions?” Even if you do not know the Ultimate truth, at least begin by rejecting the false. That much you can certainly do. That’s what is being said here.

Q: Why has Sri Krishna made a distinction between single-pointed devotion to Krishna and Vedas, austerities, gifts, and sacrifices?

AP: Because chanting of mantras and performing austerities and sacrifices etc., these are all very peripheral, very external, very secondary parts of spiritual practice. They may have some benefit, some importance, but that importance is not great, not central. The central thing is having Krishna at the center of your life. Full stop. Without having Krishna at the center of your life, if you keep doing all these things, “Oh, I read a lot, you know, holy books; oh, I perform sacrifices, I do this, I do that…”, none of that matters.

And that is why in my teachings I emphasize so much on the quality of your day-to-day life, your decisions. See what you are doing. See what you are rushing towards. See what you are avoiding. That will tell you of your center. If your center is right, then a lot would be automatically set right. And if your center is wrong, then you keep doing all your spiritual or religious practices, and you will get no results from it. You will just be further deluded by all your practice.

Do you not see people who have been religious and spiritual for many years, and yet you look at their life, you look at their personality, and there is no vigor, no power, no depth? Very easily they get terrified; very easily they get shaken up; they cannot stand their ground; they just run away — and then they claim that they are deeply spiritual.

It merely means that their religious practice has been very dishonest; without having the Truth at the heart, they have been doing all kinds of peripheral things. And doing those peripheral things is quite attractive because you get, in your own esteemed opinion, a double benefit. What’s the double benefit? One: you get to be called a spiritual man. Secondly: along with being called a spiritual man, you get to preserve your own inner, personal, rotten core.

You will say, “What more can one ask for? Externally I am so spiritual you see; I practice, I meditate, I read books, this, that, lot of things. Internally I remain who I am, so I get the best of both worlds!” It is not the best of both worlds; you’re getting the worst of both worlds. But then, you are deciding not to be honest to see your rotten state; you just want to avoid the Truth.

Look at the candor with which Krishna has clarified it: “Neither by the Vedas, nor by austerity, nor by gifts, nor by sacrifice can I be seen as you have seen Me.” None of these will work. You keep reading your books, they won’t help you. How have they helped you so far? Have they? You are just escaping away from reality. Books are a great help only to those who first of all honestly want to be helped.

Tell me, you are sick and you are at the doctor’s place, and instead of talking to the doctor, you pick up the book of medicines kept on his table and start reading it. Are you even desirous of health? But you are telling yourself, “Look at me, how sincere I am! I read so much!” You are reading just to avoid the doctor. The doctor is there. Instead of speaking to the doctor, what are you doing? You have picked up the fat medical book kept on his table and you are burying your face into it. It is not the book that you like; it’s the doctor that you are afraid of.

Why you are afraid of the doctor? Because you are in love with your weakness, you are in love with your sickness. You are not accidentally weak and sick, you want to remain weak and sick.

Books can act both ways. When the teacher is no more available, then the books offer whatever support can be offered. But the same books become a very sinister defence against the teacher when you are clinging to the books, even in the presence of the teacher.

That is why Sri Krishna is saying here, “Neither by the Vedas, nor by austerity, nor by gifts, nor by sacrifice can I be seen as thou have seen Me.

Think of it: Krishna is by Arjuna’s side — and Arjuna is reading the Vedas. You find that amusing, right? But that happens every day. Even Krishna had to loudly clarify this to Arjuna, “Arjuna, I am here, keep the Vedas aside! Arjuna, I am here, and if I am telling you to fight, fight!

This is no time for havana and Yagya. This is no time for sacrifices and austerities. This time Dharma does not lie in vrata-upavās(fasting), dān-yagya and havana; at this point, Dharma lies in yuddha(war). But you are afraid of fighting because you are body-centered, so you just run away and you happily hide in a cave reading your book.” That’s what Sri Krishna is warning against.

Whenever you feel attracted towards a spiritual book, visualize this: Krishna is narrating the Gita, and Arjuna has buried his face in the Vedas — because the Vedas are harmless, you see. Krishna, he is ferocious; look at his Virāṭ-rūpa! Arjuna starts trembling, “Vedas are fine! I can comfortably read something that is written here!”

So, there can be no rule as such.

The same Gita that was narrated to Arjuna, later on turns into a book, and that book will be greatly useful to many. But that book itself will become a tool against Krishna, if even Gita is used as a substitute to Krishna.

Gita is great, but when it comes to choosing between Gita and Krishna, you should know what to choose, whom to choose.

Fast comes the argument: “But when I have the Gita, then I already have what Krishna said! Why cannot I just limit myself to the Gita? If I go to Krishna, what will he give me? Gita. So I can just make do with Gita.”

Sir, if you go to Krishna, he will give you your Gita. That’s the difference. That’s the benefit. The Gita that you have in your hand is the Gita that was told to Arjuna. You go to Krishna, you will get the Gita that you need, and the Gita that you need will have exactly the same essence as the Gita that was narrated to Arjuna, but the form will be very-very different; the form will be suitable to you; the form will be customized to you.

The Gita, really, does not contain anything that is not already there in the Upanishads. Why did Krishna have to narrate a fresh song, a fresh set of verses to Arjuna then?

Why didn’t Krishna just direct him to the existing body of spiritual literature? Because every moment is fresh, and hence, every moment demands a fresh Gita.

Though the essence of all gitas is bound to be the same, but the form has to be different because the moment is different, the occasion is different; the persons involved are different, their tendencies are different, the words that they will appreciate have to be different; the form has to be different, the teaching style has to be different, the examples that are being given have to be different.

Already you see in this age that people find it a bit difficult to relate with the examples that are given in the Bhagavad Gita. Though the essence of Gita is absolutely timeless, the form is becoming outdated now; especially the new generation finds it difficult to relate.

They can still relate because at the core of Gita lies timeless wisdom, so it will always remain relatable. But the form — it’s the form that I am talking of — the form becomes outdated, and therefore you require a fresh Gita that can come from a living source to you.

And all Gitas will have variously different forms. You cannot say that today’s Gita will just be a modern addition to the ancient one. No, it would be very very different in form, but absolutely identical in spirit.

Watch the full video here.

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Author and Vedanta Teacher | acharyaprashant.org