On the poetry of Krishna’s names in the Gita

While we followed Eddie Stern’s lead and proclaimed Monday as Gita Jayanthi, others have it as today.

The Bhagavad Gita in beautiful Sanskrit

Given the way Moon Days seem to move about, I’m neither surprised nor worried by this. (I’m much more concerned that the next Moon Day supposedly falls this Saturday, meaning no day off this week. Although, truth be told, Thursday may end up a day off, anyway, as I land back in Los Angeles from a trip at about 11:15 p.m. Not sure I’ll be getting up six hours later for practice, but we’ll see.)

The extra day of Gita Jayanthi does provide a chance to offer a few more thoughts on Krishna, in part as a counter to the Maya-based coverage of the Bikram lawsuit. (Although I suppose if it is a lawyer’s dharma to be a lawyer…)

I direct you to this piece from Exotic India on Krishna’s names in the Gita:

In the Bhagavad Gita there are forty different names used by Arjuna to call upon Shri Krishna. Each of these names describes an attribute or quality of god, reverberating with the potentiality of an inner, philosophical echo, leading to a realization of the deeper meaning of the dialogue between the two.

The different epithets used by Arjuna to address Krishna are not just there for the sake of variety but meaningful to the context. This is one of the enriching features which make the study of Gita a relishable exercise rather than it being a mere pursuit of a dry philosophical treatise.

It goes on — for a while, until it reaches this conclusion:

The ‘nameless’ has a thousand names and it is through these names that the ‘nameless’ is to be realized. Just as the forms of the divine are unlimited, so are its attributes, excellencies, glories and the names that express them. All things, all persons, all phenomena, identifiable by their names, are in fact manifestations of the Supreme. Each name signifies an excellence. The purpose of meditating on the god’s forms, names and lilas is to get rid of our obsession with the name-and-form world. The world is too much with us. It prevents us from realizing the truth of the non-dual reality which is its basis. As one thinks of the divine forms, and utters the sacred names, one’s sense faculties get sublimated.

Between name and form, the former is even superior to and subtler than the latter. While ‘form’ stands for the physical features of the world of phenomena, ‘name’ signifies the psychical characteristics, a much more potent tool for creative meditation.

Part of me finds this a wonderfully simple, but evocative, way to understand and think about the Gita. Another part, however — the part that took too many critical theory classes as an English graduate student — is slipping on this primacy given to names — ultimately to words and language. If Krishna’s names are so important, what does it mean that I’m one, two, three steps perhaps removed from those names as they originally appear in Sanskrit? Even Krishna is an English translation of a word that can’t be written in our language.

The answer, I think, is that it is all Maya, and that you’ve got to have faith. Which raises a whole other series of questions, of course. And which perhaps are best left for rumination.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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