Chapter 17: Don’t Imitate, Just Be Yourself
Buddha is speaking to seekers; his listeners are all seekers of truth. They are very different from Krishna’s solitary listener, Arjuna. It is essential for a master to ask his disciples, the seekers of truth not to accept anything, not to believe just because he says it. If they believe something as true, they cannot go on the quest for truth. And if Buddha cites authorities in his support he is laying a precedent for coming generations to cite him as an authority. So he steers clear of all previous authorities and says plainly, “I say to you what I have known, but don’t accept it until you know it for yourselves.”
But Krishna speaks to an altogether different kind of person, his listener is not a seeker of truth, he is not on an adventure to find truth. Arjuna is quite different from the disciples of Buddha. Arjuna is not seeking truth, he is confused and deluded. The situation of imminent war has overcome him with weakness and fear. So Krishna is not interested in unveiling and exposing truth to its roots - he only tells him what truth is.
Arjuna has not come to him for truth; he wants Krishna to dispel his confusion and fear. Therefore Krishna says that what he is saying has been said by many others in the past. If Arjuna happened to be a seeker, Krishna would certainly ask him to prepare himself for an encounter with truth. But Arjuna wants only to understand what reality is; he is not prepared to go in search of truth. He is not in an ashram or a monastery to learn truth from a master; he is preparing to wage war. And being confronted with the special conditions of the Mahabharata he is frightened and depressed. So Krishna, in order to dispel his despondency and bolster his morale, tells him that what he is saying has the support of many wise men of the past, that it is the eternal wisdom.
This kind of teaching has relevance and meaning for Arjuna. If Arjuna had come to him on his own with a desire to find truth, it would have been altogether different. But this is not the case. That is why Krishna explains to him the long tradition of truth so that Arjuna can grasp it properly.
There is yet another reason for Krishna’s taking this approach.
If a person goes to Buddha, he goes as a disciple, as one surrendered to him. Arjuna is Krishna’s friend, he is not surrendered to him. Much depends on particular situations and relationships. While Buddha’s disciples accept what he says, his own wife refuses to take him at his word. When Buddha returns home after twelve years - during which time he is widely known as the Buddha, the awakened one, and people from all over have come to his feet in search of the truth he has known and proclaimed - his wife Yashodhara, on meeting him, refuses to accept him as Buddha. She takes him to be the same person who had left his home stealthily in the dead of night twelve years ago. And she resumes the argument from that very point. She is as angry as she was the following morning when she had come to know how her husband had deserted her, and she vehemently accuses Buddha of betraying her.
Buddha’s wife has her own characteristics. If Buddha tells her straight off that he is now a buddha, she would say, “Don’t talk nonsense, I know who you are. Nobody is a buddha.” If Buddha has to communicate with his wife he will do it very differently, because she is altogether different from his devotees and other seekers. There is a sweet story related with this episode.