Bhagavad Gita

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How is Krishna's speech in the Bhagavad Gita paradoxical?

Lord Krishna's teachings in the Gita reflect His paradoxical nature. The central conflict in the narrative, Prince Arjuna's reluctance to go to war with his kinsmen, precipitates his moral dilemma into which Krishna intervenes and reminds the prince of his obligation to a higher ethical system. The ninth teaching, in which Krishna reveals to Arjuna "the sublime mystery," gives another prime example of paradox, in which Krishna explains that while His essence permeates all existence, existence is empty of Him.

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It is Krishna’s self-contradictory nature as illustrated in the Vedas that makes him such an enduring subject of philosophical and religious commentary, as well as popular fascination and devotion. For example, Krishna is associated with discipline and detachment from the illusory physical and sensory world, while also remembered for his sexual relationships with the Gopis and Radha. In addition to these famous consorts, Lord Krishna is also credited with sixteen thousand wives and many children. This paradox, between Krishna’s eternal, formless, omnipotent Self and the regality, carnality, and wantonness of his earthly existence suggests that Krishna’s generative capacity as a creator of life extends beyond the heavenly realm and that the irresistibility of the truth he represents, as revealed to Arjuna in the Gita, transforms into his beauty and seductive charm.

The dilemma central to the Gita’s main narrative is that Arjuna is receiving Krishna’s counsel because the Pandava warrior prince is distraught and indecisive about the prospect of war with his kinsmen. Krishna initiates their subsequent dialogue in order to address Arjuna’s personal, moral concerns as subordinate to his divine obligation to his royal status. While Arjuna’s humanity and commitment to peace are noble virtues, of greater spiritual value still is the discipline to renounce earthly morality in order to fulfill a higher duty for his people and to free himself from his cycle of rebirth.

This is the first major paradox contained in Krishna’s lessons for Arjuna, and the Gita’s ninth teaching, “The Sublime Mystery,” presents another of Krishna’s essential contradictions. The god explains that while His “unmanifest” form pervades the universe and contains all creation, creation does not contain Him. Krishna disavows His omnipresence in all existence that is well-established in the literature, negating Himself and His role in cosmological cycle. Such is the unknowable power of Krishna’s majestic discipline, which gives life and sustains existence yet cannot be forced or measured.

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