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Sunday, April 29, 2012

More on Reinterpreting Sacred Texts




I was supposed to publish this earlier. But forgot! This is a follow up of 2 other essays on this subject.
Book 10 Chapter 69 of Bhagavatha Puranam starts with Sage Narada wanting to see how Krishna can marry 16,000 wives and live with each one of them in their separate houses, doing different things, at the same time. (yekena vapusha yugapath pruthak gruheshu dvyashtasaahasram sthriya yeka udaavahat). Therefore, Narada goes from house to house and sees Krishna in each house engaged in various human activities.
Perplexed, Narada asks Lord Krishna: “Is this your glory? Is this your maya?” Lord Krishna answers: Brahman dharmasya vakthaaham kartha thad anumodhita, thad shichayam allokam imam aasthithah putra, maa kidhah, Which translates as : “Do not be perplexed, my son. I am not only the teacher of dharma, but I practice it myself and support those who practice it.  I follow the path of dharma in order to teach the world”.
In essence, Krishna says that He is the One in the many.  But, there are two portions to this. Each and every Krishna seen by Narada is the Lord Himself and the gopis (the milkmaids) full of Bhakthi (devotion) know that He is fully with each one of them. They are too intoxicated enjoying His presence to wonder whether He is with any other “lover” of His! Also, the Lord as Krishna is performing different duties in different houses to show the dharma of a householder (grahasta).
Those who do not look into the metaphorical meaning will make fun of those who worship an amorous and promiscuous God. But metaphorically,  Lord Krishna represents, symbolizes the One Supreme. The 16,000 wives are indicative of the thousands of lives (jiva) on this earth. The houses are the physical bodies (sarira). He lives in each and every live body all the time, responsible for all “we” do – all at the same time.
That is the problem with reading old texts. When do you read literal meaning of the words? When you do, do you know what the meaning of that word was in olden days? When do you look for metaphorical meaning?
Adi Sankara has some answers. He says that correct comprehension (of Vedas and puranas) lead to well-being and erroneous notions lead to evil (Brahma Sutra I-3-8). When literal meaning is inappropriate, no authority can make you accept such a meaning. But, when literal meaning makes no sense in the context or to the purpose of the treatise, then metaphorical meaning is to be looked into (Bhashya for Prasnopanishad).