By Urmila devi dasi
Asvatthama, son of the Brahmana guru, had murdered Draupadi’s sons in their sleep, after the war was over. Arjuna was going to execute him as he had promised his grieving wife. But now Draupadi pleaded for mercy. His brother, Bhima urged the death penalty, and the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa said: A friend of a brāhmaṇa is not to be killed, but if he is an aggressor he must be killed. All these rulings are in the scriptures, and you should act accordingly. You have to fulfill your promise to your wife, and you must also act to the satisfaction of Bhīmasena and Me. (SB 1.7.53-54)
Prabhupāda comments, “The solution was awarded by Kṛṣṇa.” Doesn’t sound like a solution does it? Kṛṣṇa says, “You need to kill him; but you can’t kill him. You have to make Me happy, and you have to make Bhīma happy, and you have to make Draupadī happy. Instead of just saying, “Your wife,” Kṛṣṇa says, “priyaṁ,” — those who are dear to you. You have to make your dear wife śānta, meaning peaceful.
So, you have to satisfy your wife, you have to satisfy Bhīma, you have to satisfy Me, you have to follow the scripture. Oh, but the scripture gives contrary instructions. As Prabhupāda is saying here in the purport that you don’t kill a brāhmaṇa; even a brāhmaṇa bandhu cannot be killed. So, if someone is even in the family of a brāhmaṇa you don’t kill them. But, Manu says that if someone is an aggressor, even if they are a real brāhmaṇa, what to speak of a brāhmaṇa bandhu, they must be killed. Prabhupāda gives the example of Dronācārya, who, he says, was a real brāhmaṇa, but because he was standing on the battlefield he had to be killed. And here Aśvatthāmā, who is not acting as a real brāhmaṇa, is, in one sense a worse aggressor because on the battlefield there are rules and so forth whereas here he’s just killing boys in their sleep, so certainly he would be killed. But, even though he is an aggressor, he is bound up; he doesn’t have any weapon, and you cannot kill an aggressor in such a circumstance. Then you also have Draupadī’s points that he is not just a friend of a brāhmaṇa. He is the son of their teacher to whom they have a debt of gratitude. Gratitude is also a śāstric injuction; it’s one of the items of knowledge. And he’s the only son of his widowed mother. His death would put her into grief, so out of compassion for the mother he should not be killed.
So, you have all these contrary things, how do you adjust them? You can ask an authority. Here God is standing next to Arjuna. The Sanskrit says, Śrī Bhagavān uvāca, this is God. Kṛṣṇa is not an ordinary counsellor. He’s not some self-help guru or somebody with a PhD in mediation or psychology. Not only is he the Supreme Lord, He is the most full and ultimate expression of the Supreme Lord. He’s described as akhila-rasāmṛta-mūrtiḥ (CC Madhya 8.142), ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ/kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam (SB 1.3.28), īśvaraḥ paramaḥ kṛṣṇaḥ (CC Ādi 2.107), mattaḥ parataraṁ nānyat (Bg 7.7).
So, you will not find any higher authority than Kṛṣṇa even among Viṣṇu tattva, what to speak of Śiva tattva, or jīva tattva. You might think, “I’ll go to God, I’ll get some definitive answer.” But you may say, “Well, He answer just makes it worse.” Kṛṣṇa is saying you have to do everything. You can’t take this OR this; you have to take this AND this. And it was a lot of ands, it wasn’t even two ands, it was many ands. You have to not kill a brāhmaṇa but you have to kill an aggressor, and you have to not kill an aggressor who has no weapons, and you have to satisfy Bhīma who wants him killed, and you have to keep your promise in the beginning to kill him, and you have to pacify Draupadī who is now asking for compassion, and you have to satisfy Me who said he should be killed.
Yet Arjuna understood how to accommodate everything. Perhaps he remembered Kṛṣṇa’s instructions that for one who has been honoured, dishonor is worse than death. He realized that if he dishonored Aśvatthāmā that would be more than killing him, and yet it would not killing him. Arjuna, in order to come to that solution, had to do what we call today “think out of the box.” He had to get out of a paradigm that sees things as black-and-white. Even many modern so-called gurus and decision-making people who work in the corporate world or personal-life coaches, will often say that when we’re thinking “this or this?” instead we should think, “Is there some way we can do this AND this?” That’s exactly what Arjuna did by cutting off Asvatthama’s hair and jewel, and then exiling him.
This section is about, among many other things, dharma, or the right path that leads to success. Many of us think that understanding dharma is something like figuring out a huge bureaucracy where everything is according to rules with a lot of layers of hierarchy and authority. A machine bureaucracy is a highly centralized mechanical system. There is one ultimate leader who makes the decisions and everyone has to follow more-or-less without question. As any organization grows in time and space it encounters many permutations on similar situations and for each new situation it creates a new rule, so that the rule book gets bigger and bigger and bigger. At one point even the leaders don’t know all the rules. They have to hire people who become familiar with all of the rules and how to apply them. We may think that this is how the universes run. We may think that dharma means there is this very big book of rules which just keeps getting bigger over time for different circumstances, and the demigods know the rules and apply them, and on the top is Kṛṣṇa who just tells everybody what to do. Everybody simply follows that instruction like a machine and then everything works.
However, that is not reality and that is not dharma. It is quite interesting that Śrī Prabhupāda said on a number of occasions, “Stop this centralization and bureaucracy.” Similarly, Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī in a lecture about Pūtanā, the false guru, says, “The original purpose of the established churches of the world may not always be objectionable, but no stable religious arrangement for instructing the masses has yet been successful.” A machine bureaucracy is very stable.
He goes on to say, “The Supreme Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya in pursuance of the teachings of the scriptures enjoins all absence of conventionalism for the teachers of the eternal religion. It does not follow that the mechanical adoption of the unconventional life by any person will make him a fit teacher of religion. Regulation is necessary for controlling the apparent worldliness of conditioned souls but no mechanical regulation has any value even for such a purpose.
“The bona fide teacher of religion is neither any product nor the favorer of any mechanical system. In his hands no system has likewise the chance of degenerating into a lifeless arrangement. The mere pursuit of fixed doctrines and fixed liturgies cannot hold a person to the true spirit of doctrine or liturgy.
“The idea of an organized church in an intelligible form indeed marks the close of the living spiritual movement. The great ecclesiastical establishments are the dykes and the dams to retain the current that cannot be held by any such contrivances. They, indeed, indicate a desire on the part of the masses to exploit a spiritual movement for their own purpose. They also unmistakably indicate the end of the absolute and unconventional guidance of the bona fide spiritual master.
“The people of this world understand preventive systems. They have no idea of the unpreventive positive eternal life. Neither can Earthly contrivance for the permanent preservation of the life eternal on this mundane plane on the popular scale.”
And Prabhupāda, said very similar things. “You say ‘they mistake.’ Who are they? You say, ‘you do mistake’ don’t say ‘they.’ This is bureaucracy, ‘they.’ You are all ‘they.’ (conversation in ‘76 in Hyderabad). In a letter to Karandhar in ‘72, “You want to make big plans for centralization of management. I do not at all approve of such a plan. Do not centralize anything. … The movement is for training men to be independently thoughtful and competent in all types of departments and action not for making bureaucracy. Once there is bureaucracy the whole thing will be spoiled. There must be always individual striving and work and responsibility…”
So, why are Śrīla Prabhupāda, and Bhaktisiddhānta saying these things? Because Kṛṣṇa’s way of managing is not centralization and bureaucracy. Dharma is not about a mechanical rulebook. Dharma is about a relationship with Kṛṣṇa. It’s personal. We are personalists. Personalists doesn’t just mean that I’m a separate spark from you in the sense that there’s some space around me. That’s not what personality means. Personality means that I have my intelligence and desires and preferences as do you. And what Kṛṣṇa wants is a relationship with persons. That is ultimately what dharma is.
Even if you want to say that dharma is given in the śāstra, which is true, and that the śāstra has certain rules, which is true, how are those rules understood and applied, and what is the essence of the rules? Arjuna has to figure out what is the essence of the law and how to juggle the so-called opposite instructions to keep the spirit of the law. Doing that is a very personal thing.
Here Kṛṣṇa is urging personal relationships. He is saying follow the scriptures, and your dear wife, your priyaṁ, make her śānta, your dear wife has to be peaceful. The word priyaṁ is used also for Bhīma and Kṛṣṇa. All who are dear to you have to be happy. They have to be satisfied. That is the essence of dharma. Kṛṣṇa and the vaiṣṇava are satisfied. The world becomes peaceful. People become happy. As Prahlāda Mahārāja said, “Let there be all good fortune for the universe.” That’s the point. That’s dharma. Dharma isn’t just, “Well, I did the right thing according to the rules.”
Even finding the right rules is hard because śāstra gives apparently opposite instruction in different places. One cannot say, “I gave the medicine off the shelf; it’s not my fault if the patient dies.” No, the point is to keep the patient healthy. And for that one has to look at the particular person. The point of all the rules and regulations is to always remember to become attached to Kṛṣṇa. And if you do that, Prabhupada says, the rules will come naturally.
So, it’s sort of the reverse of how we think of it. We think of it as “I’ll follow the rules and I’ll become attached to Kṛṣṇa. That’s true, of course. But it’s much more a question that you become attached to Kṛṣṇa and then you’ll know how to follow the rules. Out of a desire to please Kṛṣṇa and a desire to please Draupadī and Bhīma, Arjuna could figure out how to follow the rules. That’s dharma. Not, “I follow the rules and, if everybody’s miserable, that’s dharma.”
So, that dharma is about our relationship with Kṛṣṇa.
mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo
mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ
[Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.
Instead of thinking, “I have to do this,” think, “How can I surrender to Kṛṣṇa?,” and then all the other dharma is included. And one will get intelligence.
aham ajñāna-jaṁ tamaḥ
[To show them special mercy, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance.
In this story with Arjuna and Asvattama, we see Kṛṣṇa as being as He is. Playful. The Absolute Truth, Śrī Bhagavān. The Absolute Truth. The Highest.
mattaḥ parataraṁ nānyat
kiñcid asti dhanañ-jaya
mayi sarvam idaṁ protaṁ
sūtre maṇi-gaṇā iva
[O conqueror of wealth, there is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread.
He is a young boy. He’s not an old man. Young boys are playful. Kṛṣṇa is 16-20 years old. It isn’t that Kṛṣṇa just looks young. He has the wisdom of the oldest man, He has the power of the original man but He has the playfulness of a young boy. He’s not a bureaucrat. Kṛṣṇa doesn’t go to Arjuna and say, “Okay. Here’s exactly what you do. Now Arjuna you just be my hand to do it.” The demons want followers who simply extend the power of their senses. It’s interesting in the 13th chapter of Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa says that the Supersoul has His hands and legs and eyes are everywhere. And the ācāryas and Śrīla Prabhupāda comment that these hands and legs and eyes can be understood as the jīvas. Our hands and legs and eyes are the hands and legs and the eyes of the Lord everywhere. And this is remembered in the 13th chapter of the 10th Canto.
But it’s not that we are the hands and eyes of the Lord in the sense that the Lord just says, “Okay. This is exactly what I want you to do, now do it.” Sometimes that may be, but not always. Here Kṛṣṇa is being playful. “Okay Arjuna do this and this and this and this… all these things that are contradictory and you figure it out.” He’s not just giving a direct final instruction. He’s giving an indirect instruction. Kṛṣṇa also does this with Bhīma in the battle with Jarāsandha. There Kṛṣṇa doesn’t even speak. He just takes a blade of grass and divides it in half. He just gives a hint as to how to accomplish the purpose. Kṛṣṇa wants the devotees to use their intelligence. Would it be fun to have all your family be robots? Do we really want our relationships to be with machines? That’s not pleasing. And Kṛṣṇa has no desire to enjoy matter. He doesn’t enjoy the material energy. Kṛṣṇa’s enjoyment is with relationships with persons. Persons means they can say, “No, I’m not going to do that.”
It’s explained that Kṛṣṇa didn’t want the cowherd boys to enter into Aghāsura’s mouth but they wanted to. They thought, “Here’s another opportunity for Kṛṣṇa to show His proweress and He likes that. Kṛṣṇa told Rukmiṇī, “I didn’t want you to faint. I wanted you to argue with Me.” But He was still pleased by her fainting.
Kṛṣṇa wants relationship with people who take initiative and have intelligence. There’s a reciprocation between the Lord and the devotees of love. That is ultimate dharma. What’s real dharma is that our love for Kṛṣṇa and our love for the devotees increases. Kṛṣṇa is satisfied and Kṛṣṇa’s devotees are satisfied. One has to follow śāstra. Certainly Kṛṣṇa also says that here to Arjuna. You have to follow the śāstra, you have please Me, please the devotees, follow the śāstra. Because what pleases Kṛṣṇa and the devotees is given in the śāstra but it’s not like following something bureaucratic. It’s not what dharma is. It’s not what reality is. It’s not what God is. God is not a bureaucrat, thankfully. Would we really want that? Does anyone enjoy working in a machine bureaucracy? Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī said it kills everything. He says an organization has to be living, has to be organic. Kṛṣṇa is the ultimate life. He says He’s the life of all that lives.
We know we are following dharma by the result. Prabhupāda said to judge a tree by its fruits. What are the fruits? Our relationship of love and respect and peace and satisfaction, satyam, truth, are increased internally for ourselves and others. The result that we are looking for is that everyone comes closer to truth and peace and satisfaction. That’s our result. Then we go to sādhu, śāstra, and guru with that in mind. Our action has to be within sādhu, śāstra, guru. We can’t make something up. Which means, of course, we have to know śāstra. We can’t just say, “Well, I think that this will bring me more peace so I can do this.” It has to be within the purview of śāstra, it has to be within the purview of the sādhu, within the purview of guru. But the result has to be that Kṛṣṇa and the devotees are pleased. Otherwise if you say that we are following the śāstra and everyone becomes disturbed, that’s not dharma.
So, we need to judge by the fruit in ourselves and in others. That is the essence. And if Kṛṣṇa is pleased, if the devotees are pleased, if peace and satisfaction and joy and rāsa is increased within the circle of sādhu, śāstra, guru, that is dharma. And dharma may mean AND, not OR. It may be out of the paradigm. We are meant to use our intelligence and our individuality in our relationship with Kṛṣṇa. The ultimate reality is a dance, not a corporation. Dharma is not a mechanical rulebook of a centralized bureaucracy. Dharma is Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, an ocean of loving, devotional, tasty nectar of service; that is dharma. Rūpa gosvāmī doesn’t call his book of ultimate dharma “The centralized bureaucracy of bhakti.” He calls it Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu. Rāsa — relationships. Liquid. Liquid essence. Rāsa is liquid essence taste. Amṛta — nectar without death. Life. am ṛta — mṛta is death. Amṛta — full of life. Sindhu — ocean. A flow and waves and currents going in different directions at different times. Not always predictable. An ocean of life. An ocean of life that is full of liquid tastes, a variety of taste. Bhakti of love and devotion.
Dharma is a dance, not a bureaucratic corporation. And if you try to impose a bureaucratic centralized corporation on a dance…can you imagine that? Okay, time for rāsa dance. Where’s your punch card? What are the rules of the dance now? Then everything is spoiled. Rather, “the aim of this Krsna consciousness movement is to enable us to approach Radha-Krsna and associate with the Supreme Lord in His sublime pleasure dance.” (Purport to Manah-siksa) Even for a beginner, such a personal approach to spiritual life enables us to “become increasingly enlightened, and enjoy life with a thrill, not only for some time, but at every moment.” (purport Bg 18.76)