There were two birds. One sitting on a lower branch and another sitting on a higher branch. The branch was not that high, the lower bird could still decipher the expressions on higher bird’s face clearly. The eyes of the higher bird appeared like a puddle of water. Not the one which appears in rainy season. This one had no ripples. The lower bird could see the bottom of the puddle but it had still no idea about the depth. Maybe there is some light and fog illusion, it wondered. But still it could not help staring. For a moment, it locked its gaze and gets mesmerized.
It attributed this tranquility to immense peace and joy. It started dreaming- “How nice it would be to drop all worries. This must be the very definition of happiness. To be quite, so quiet, peaceful and serene. All its friends talk about food, shelter, taking care of eggs blah blah. No one sits quietly for a second. But not this bird. This one seemed totally content with it’s state of being. This kind of peace is certainly underrated. How long will it take me to hop up a couple of branches? It does not look too much effort. Sure I can do it and I will do it, who will stop me?”
And then suddenly its mother calls for food. 🙂
सर्वधर्मान्परित्यज्य मामेकं शरणं व्रज |
अहं त्वां सर्वपापेभ्यो मोक्षयिष्यामि मा शुच: || १८.६६ ||
Translation: Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.
The above shloka originated from the Bhagavad Gita, the song of Lord, a collection of 700 verses that motivated billions through ages. Some say you can find answer to every life’s problem in this book. To others, this verse along with its counterparts are archetypes of Krishna’s arrogance. One of the seminal works in explaining the essence of Gita is “Bhagvad Gita As It Is” which gives detailed commentaries by Swami Prabhupada. Anyone who reads this treatise may picture Krishna as pompous and boastful who not only desecrates all other religions but also points out he is the only one who can help get rid of all “sins”. This is eerily similar to one of the core principles of Christianity.
When Swami Vivekananda was asked about “Who is an atheist” during one of his speeches in London, 1896, he said:
The old religions said that he was an atheist who did not believe in God. The new religion says that he is the atheist who does not believe in himself.
Now someone not familiar with the Vedanta’s idea of non-dualism will instantly point out the difference in philosophy of the old and new religion. However if you see this from Vivekananda’s perspective, he regards God and self as same. Not metaphorically but literally! So talking about old and new religion is just superficially chronologizing the definition of atheist in different ways.
This idea of non-dualism beautifully explains the conundrum the lower bird faces. It keeps on wondering who is this higher bird when in reality it is looking at its own image as “higher” bird. There is only one bird but lower bird’s ignorance gets in the way. This ignorance makes it see someone apart from itself sitting on a higher branch.
Let us interpret the shloka in this context. Someone who views Krishna as a so called “Supreme Personality of Godhead” and different from himself, is essentially either ignorant about non-dualism or disregards the idea altogether. This ignorance makes him see Krishna as arrogant. However, Krishna is just directing Arjuna to believe in “himself”. “Himself” refers to Arjuna, not because Krishna resides inside Arjuna, but because they are one and the same, two sides of the same coin, two birds sitting on the same tree!