Of means of keeping order, I am fear of punishment
I really enjoy reading different versions of the same thing, and different commentaries on the same verse. My very kind and learned instructor, Sripad Dhanurdhar Swāmī , often talks of true “scriptural conclusions” as being those “arrived at after examining the same issues from many different angles – just as one sharpens an object by cutting it from all sides.”
Sometimes very interesting dynamics arise between Prabhupāda’s purports and the commentary of those on whom he based his purports – which was mainly Srila Viśvanātha Chakravarti Thakur, unless I am mistaken. That happened in 10.37, it was very fascinating.
In today’s text, 10.38 it is the different editions of Srila Prabhupāda’s own text that are fascinating. The current edition of Bhagavada Gita As It Is translates this verse as:
Among all means of suppressing lawlessness I am punishment, and of those who seek victory I am morality. Of secret things I am silence, and of the wise I am the wisdom.
The original version of Bhagavad Gita As It Is, has the verse translated as:
Among punishments I am the rod of chastisement, and of those who seek victory I am morality. Of secret things I am silence, and of the wise I am wisdom.
As you can see the main difference is in the first half of the first sentence. The Sanskrit for this sentence is:
daṇḍo damayatām asmi
Danda literally means a “rod” or a “stick” or “wand” or “staff.” Damayata literally means “domination.” So one very literal way to translate this line is: Among methods of dominating I am the stick. That would be sort of leaving off the connotations of the words, however. In Vedic culture, danda is one of the six ways that Ksatriyas get what they want and deal with one another. It refers to “punishment” – a stick is used to punish. One who carries a stick carries authority. Damayata also has a connotation specific to Vedic Ksatriya culture (remember, Kṛṣṇa is speaking to Arjuna, a Ksatriya) – it means the method of keeping law and order.
So the best way I can think of to express the meaning of this line is, “Among means of keeping law and order, I am punishment.”
All the modern-trained politically aware sensitivities in us might be curling in distaste to hear this. But, yo, that’s the way things work in the world. Ksatriyas (warriors and politicians) are a reality – as much as progressive intellectuals would wish otherwise. There is no more powerful way to keep law and order than fear. Fear of punishment. 90% of religion and government is based on this principle, and it’s not because it doesn’t work, that’s for sure.
The power that is in the fear of punishment is one of the wonders of Kṛṣṇa’s power. It might not be something you like to think about, but the world is not all kisses and flower garlands. It is actually a nasty place. The tenth chapter is about how to see the presence of God in this nasty place – therefore some of the examples given are nasty and disagreeable to our higher, finer sensitivities.
In Victory I am Morality
Here is a more agreeable, nice way to appreciate God in the world around us.
nītir asmi jigīṣatām
In fact Kṛṣṇa purposely put this sentence following that previously rather gruesome sentence about the power of punishment. As I mentioned in my attempt to explain that line, danda (punishment) is one of six methods (“niti”) employed by Vedic rulers (kshatriyas) to suppress lawlessness. I am not a political scholar by any means, but If I remember correctly from learning about how the Vedic ruler Vāsudeva attempted to deal with the other ruler, Kaṁsa when Kaṁsa threatened to kill Vāsudeva’s wife (Kṛṣṇa’s mother), danda is the sixth principle, the final option. In other words, when all other niti fails, then one has to resort to physical violence, punishment, danda. One must try the other 5 options first.
I believe that Kṛṣṇa begins this next half line of the text with the word “nīti” to reference that fact and counterbalance the rather brutal sound that the first half of the line had.
Here he is saying that if you want to successfully establish law and order and be victorious over chaos that would undermine you – the most important thing is not merely danda or the ability to punish – it is actually the ability to be moral and follow moral principles – which are called the niti and which for ksatriya ettiquite has 6 divisions, ending in danda as far as I know. The principle here is that if you are not moral, you have no authority to hold a danda! You have no authority to punish! Therefore if you are immoral, even if you try to punish others and scare them into following your rules – you will ultimately fail.
Because reality is stronger than any king or champion or warlord. If one is not harmonious with reality, then quite soon reality comes along and demolishes whatever temporary gains once makes from recklessly scaring people into following their rules and doing what one wants them to do.
In a spiritual group of people, leaders are also required to some small extent. It is important to note that it is a small extent. For the most part, spiritualists should be on a brahminical platform, which means that they can take care of policing themselves. Brahmanas are not subject to the punishment of Ksatriyas under any circumstance – because Brahmanas keep themselves in line as a result of their strong morality. Therefore in a spiritual community there should be minimal need for leadership in a governmental sense. Whatever need there is, the leadership will be ineffective unless it is achieved on the principle of Morality. That is to say, a person who takes authority and enforces rules that are not morally sound will not be allowed by reality to remain an authority for long.
Whatever we want to achieve, we have to take pains to ensure that we employ no immoral means to achieve it. Otherwise the immoral means will undue and ruin whatever successful end we temporarily seem to achieve. This is in direct opposition to the Machiavellian concept of “ends justify the means.” The Vedic morality is that “The means create the ends.” If the means are corrupt, therefore, the end cannot be sound – it will crumble.
Of secrets I am silence
This is such a cool line, I really love this one.
maunaḿ caivāsmi guhyānāḿ
Maunam is one principle of renunciation and yoga. Renunciation and yoga is meant to allow us to directly perceive the hidden occult reality behind the illusions of the world. If you want to have a direct vision of occult principles, remain absolutely silent for some time. The longer your silence, the more profoundly you will see into the secrets of the world.
Why is this?
As long as we talk we are not listening. The less we listen the less sensitive our perception is. To perceive the secret, occult things of the world, our perception must be heightened, not diminished. By being silent, we listen more carefully – heightening our perception.
Many devotees try to qualify this line a million times. I note that Srila Prabhupāda did not do so in the translation or his purport. For a Vaishnava trying to follow Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu silence is essential, just as it is in every yoga. Our silence is to listen with great attentiveness to the sound of Kṛṣṇa’s name, form, pastimes, and qualities. That is our practice of silence. When we break our silence, we do so to vibrate the name, form, pastimes and qualities of Kṛṣṇa – so as to serve others allowing them to be silent and listen. We observe silence by hearing Kṛṣṇa katha and by speaking nothing but Kṛṣṇa katha.
It is also very potent just to hear the phrase “of secret things I am silence.” It has a riddle like quality that inspires great and sweet awe and reverence for the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
I am the Wisdom of the Wise
jñānaḿ jñānavatām aham
What is wisdom? Prabhupāda’s purport mainly addresses this angle. Wisdom is to know the difference between what is real and what is not. That which exists is real. That which ceases to exist is not truly real. This is wisdom. This is Kṛṣṇa. The ability to see that the only real things are the spirit soul, God, and the relationship between them. All else ceases to exist and therefore is not real. The ability to see this is Kṛṣṇa’s vibhuti – his power. To make initial progress in spiritual life, we all require to be empowered by Kṛṣṇa to see this truth.