75. God as the Punishing Rod of the Punishers


by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. I am currently working on a revised edition with even more in-depth commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V

In the tenth chapter of the Bhagavadgita, Lord Krishna says, “dando damayatam asmi,” which means he is the punishing rod (danda) of the punishers. The symbolism has great philosophical significance. It suggests that in rewards and punishments God serves as an agent or instrument only. He creates the system of rewards and punishments and the laws which govern them, but does not directly reward or punish anyone or sit in judgment.

The punishing rod does the same. It delivers the punishment, but does not decide who shall be punished or in what manner. That is left to the people who attract punishments, the laws which govern their conduct, and to the guardians of law who interpret such laws and deliver the punishments. The punishing rod facilitates the punishment as an instrument of punishment.

In creation, God does the same. He delivers the punishment serving as the force or the authority behind the punishment, without becoming involved. Although all laws and thereby all the rewards and punishments flow from him only, he does not decide whom to punish or reward and to what extent. That is determined by one’s own karma or the choices and actions, which one makes. From the symbolism of God as the punishing rod in all punishments, we can draw a few inferences. They are stated below.

1. God is equal to all

This is stated by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavadgita (5.19), “Brahman alone is without defects and equal to all.” He further said that he was established in sameness and those whose minds were established in sameness conquered rebirth. Thereby, they too would become established in Brahman. In the ninth chapter (9.29) he stated “I am equal to all beings. None is hateful to me, and none is dear. However, those who worship me with devotion, they exist in Me and I in them” From this it is very clear, all the jivas in creation are entitled to God’s love and commitment. While karma determines the progression of beings upon earth, the possibility or the opportunity of liberation is within the reach of every living being just as God is.

Even wicked people with effort can earn God’s love and mercy. It is up to the devotees whether they live righteously and qualify for liberation or remain deluded and bound to samsara, pursuing worldly enjoyments and performing desire-ridden actions. Thus, God is impartial, equal and indifferent. Through the eternal, universal laws (Dharma) which he creates and upholds and which are enforced equally by his shaktis throughout the universe, he ensures that beings are rewarded or punished according to their actions and essential nature.

2. God does not participate in the karma of jivas

In the Bhagavadgita (5.14) Lord Krishna clearly states that he is responsible for neither the doership (kartrtvam) nor actions, and he does not have any attachment towards any actions. Actions arise from Nature only. In the next verse, he also stated that the Supreme Lord would not accept the sins (papam) or the merits (sukrutam) of anyone. Their actions arise from the gunas which in most cases are enveloped by the impurities of ignorance and delusion. Our scriptures also confirm it. They suggest that although the Supreme Lord is the source of all he neither participates in the actions of the jivas nor induces them to perform such actions. Actions are induced by the gunas or Nature, while as the indweller of all, he remains a passive witness.

The Bhagavadgita clearly states that although all the material things exist in him and he pervades them, he does not exist in them and is not touched by them. It confirms that karma does not arise from actions, but from the desires which propel the jiva to engage in actions. Actions cannot be renounced since without actions life is not possible. Besides, no one can remian without performing actions at all even for a minute. Therefore, Lord Krishna recommends the yoga of selfless actions over the renunciation of actions. When actions are performed by offering the fruit of such actions to God, actions do not produce the fruit of karma. By that one remains happily in the body, neither performing actions nor causing them, just as God himself.

3. God does not interfere with our lives or actions

Although God is the supreme controller and upholder of all, he does not directly interfere with our lives or our actions. As the indweller of all, he remains a passive witness, while his shaktis translate his will according to the eternal laws which he establishes and govern our lives and actions. They ensure that the laws are universally and equitably applied to all and people are punished or rewarded according to their actions and intentions. Actions arise in the field of Prakriti, of which God is not a part, but which is his dynamic aspect only. He is not in Prakriti or any of its tattvas although Prakriti exists in him and depends upon him to execute his will.

The Bhagavadgita clearly states that all types of actions are performed by the triple gunas which manifest in the field of Prakriti. “Deluded by the ego, beings think, ‘I am the doer.’” Those who know it are not deluded by the gunas. Renouncing the fruit of their actions to God, they become free from karma. They attain the austere state of inaction in action. Thus, it is not God but our own nature which determines our fate and progression upon earth. Divine interference happens rarely through his partial or full incarnations. They manifest when Dharma is on decline and evil forces are on ascendance. On such occasions, God manifests directly or indirectly to restore order and regularity. God may also rescue his devotees on rare occasions, which will be explained later.

4. God is not responsible for our happiness or suffering

The Supreme Lord makes possible all existence, including our lives. He sets the stage and establishes all the laws to govern our lives, but does not directly influence our thoughts or actions. Although he is the source of all rewards and punishments, he does not cause them to happen. He is not directly responsible for our happiness or suffering. They arise from our own thoughts and actions due to the impurities to which we are subject. We may blame him for our problems or suffering, but the truth is, they arise from our actions, not from God. Through our thoughts, actions and intentions, we attract rewards or punishments. We become responsible for our karma, suffering, rebirth and liberation.

However, it does not mean God remains indifferent or makes no difference to our lives. In the Bhagavadgita he clearly states that he responds to our love and devotion. He does not illuminate all (7.25), but those who contemplate upon him with single minded devotion and supreme devotion, they are dearer to him. (7.18). The purer our devotion is, the more direct is his response. The scripture also states that the Supreme Lord strengthens our faith in whatever manner we worship him. Those who worship other gods go to them, while those who worship him attain him only. In the same chapter Lord Krishna gives the assurance that those who worship him with exclusive devotion, he takes care of their welfare (yoga kshema). Thus, although God is indifferent and disinterested, we can invite him into our lives through love and devotion. Just as Arjuna did, we can hand him over the reigns of our minds and bodies and make him the charioteer of our lives

5. Ultimately, you are responsible for your life and destiny

From the above it is clear that God’s response to your devotion depends entirely upon you. You can worship him with devotion or ignore him entirely to be on your own. As he said, “He who remembers him constantly and uninterruptedly, without thinking anything else, for that one, he is easy to attain.” In other words, your faith, resolve and the purity of your devotion are important. If you believe in him and worship him with exclusive devotion, he strengthens your faith and helps you resolve your karma and bondage. If you disbelieve in him, he does not punish you. He becomes unattainable, as he withdraws from your life to honor your wish and strengthens your faith in his nonexistence, leaving the fruit of your actions and thereby your life and destiny to yourself.

Therefore, if things are not working out or if God is not responding to your prayers, do not blame God. Look into yourself and find out the cause or causes and address them. Until you overcome desires and attachments and surrender your will to God, your karma is the driving force of your life and destiny. It is through that your life happens. Rewards and punishments arise from that only, and so also your happiness and suffering. They tell you how well you are doing in your life and whether you are making right choices and progressing in the right direction. Whether you live on your own and manifest the life you desire or whether you consecrate your life to God and manifest his will, it depends entirely upon you and your faith and devotion.

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