The Gita is a dharmic book that asks us to give up dharma – or does it?
The Bhagavad-gita (18.66) concludes with an intriguing call: Give up all religions (sarva-dharman parityajya).
This begs the question – why would a religious book ask its readers to give up all religions? After all, the Gita (04.08) has earlier stated its intent: to re-establish dharma (dharma samsthapanarthaya).
The answer lies in recognizing the many meanings of the word ‘dharma’. It can refer to both outer socio-religious obligations and inner spiritual nature. Based on our social roles, we have various obligations. But based on our essential identity as souls, eternal parts of Krishna, our nature is to love him purely and perennially. All religious obligations are meant to help us attain that love.
This verse stresses that love (mam ekam sharanam vraja) by enjoining the shedding of those socio-religious duties that impede surrender. Implied is the call to accept those socio-religious duties that promote surrender. This dynamism is evident in how Arjuna surrendered – by doing Krishna’s will (Gita 18.73). For him, surrender meant fighting the impending war against irreligion. Arjuna faced a conflict between his kshatriya-dharma (professional duty) that required him to fight against wrongdoers and his kula-dharma (family duty) that required him to protect his relatives. His conflict was: What to do when the wrongdoers were relatives? Do what is best for one’s and others’ devotional evolution, answers Gita wisdom. For Arjuna, that meant persevering in his kshatriya-dharma and fighting the war.
Thus, surrender is not an abstract conception or an amorphous emotion – it is expressed through tangible and practical action. What surrender would mean for us today will depend on our time-place-circumstance. The Gita places the onus on each one of us to become intellectually responsible, seek sage advice and embrace those socio-religious duties that help us surrender, thereby stimulating our spiritual growth.
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