The Gita centers on neither rituals nor doctrines but on a love affair

The Bhagavad-gita (18.66) concludes with the radical call to abandon all dharmas and just surrender to Krishna alone. What is the rationale for this call?

To grasp the rationale, let’s first understand what the word dharmas may refer to in this context. The Vedic tradition outlines three broad paths: the path of ritual religiosity (karma-kanda), the path of doctrinal speculation (jnana-kanda), and the path of worship (upasana-kanda). All these paths comprise various dharmas.

The Gita asks us to abandon all other paths for the sake of the path of devotional worship. Thus, it implies that we reject rituals and doctrines, and make our life into a love affair with Krishna.

We may wonder: “But the path of devotion also has its rituals and doctrines. Are they to be abandoned?” No, because those rituals and doctrines are not alternative paths; they are assistants on the path of devotion.

At the same time, they may become obstacles on the devotional path if we get caught in their technical details and forget their essential purpose. This verse sharply reminds us that the ultimate purpose of all the doctrines and all the rituals is to help us love Krishna. The doctrines can tell us why to love Krishna and the rituals can tell us how to love him, but we alone have to choose to love him. The Srimad Bhagavatam (1.2.8) echoes this theme when it asserts that we gain nothing but labor if we merely proclaim the doctrines or enact the rituals but don’t learn to love Krishna. Only when we consciously desire to love Krishna will the doctrines and rituals assist us on our devotional journey.

Thus, the radical conclusion of the Gita inspires us to make love for Krishna our exclusive aspiration.

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 18 Text 66

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.”

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