The Gita is the product of a particular situation; and this has to be borne in mind, otherwise there is much room for misunderstanding. Buddha’s situation is different from Krishna’s. He can afford to say, “What I say is truth; I am not concerned with what others say about it. And I also urge you not to accept it on my authority. You need to come to it on your own.” And it is not an egoist’s statement. An egoist would insist on being accepted as an authority. Buddha is simply stating his individual experience to stimulate the thirst for truth in his listeners. He tells them again not to take it as a belief, but go on their own search for truth. But he is also clear that what he says is his own experience. This is simply a statement of fact.
We are aware that what Buddha says has been said by others too. We know that the Vedas and Upanishads have already said what Buddha says. But why doesn’t Buddha say so? There are reasons for it, and the reasons are inherent in the conditions of Buddha’s time. By the time of Buddha, the tradition of the Vedas and Upanishads had completely degenerated and decayed, it was really corrupt and rotten. To say a word in favor of these old scriptures was tantamount to providing support to a decadent and rotting tradition. Knowing well that the Vedas and the Upanishads contained the same truth, Buddha could not take their support. Because it was with their support that a monster of falsehoods, superstitions and crass hypocrisy was stalking the land, mercilessly exploiting and oppressing the people. That is why he kept quiet about them.
It is not that Buddha is not aware that the Vedas and Upanishads contain the truth. But it often happens in history that when a new buddha comes he has to fight and uproot many old truths, because being old they get so badly mixed up with falsehoods that to support them would automatically strengthen those lies.
Krishna did not have to face such a situation. In his time the tradition of the Vedas and the Upanishads was very much alive. It was really at the height of its glory, absolutely unpolluted and pure. For this very reason we say Krishna’s Gita is the quintessence of the Vedas and the Upanishads. In fact, we can say Krishna himself is the embodiment of the great culture which had come out of these scriptures. Krishna reflects all that is essential and basic to that culture; he comes at a time when the Vedic civilization was at its zenith. Buddha comes when it had touched its nadir. It was the same culture, but Buddha had to witness its utter decadence and degradation, when the brahmins had ceased to be knowers of truth and instead were busy exploiting people in the name of God and religion. Every conceivable filth and ugliness, corruption and depravity had entered this culture, which now had nothing to do with religion.
Krishna represents the summit of Upanishadic teachings. In his times the Upanishads have touched the pinnacle of attainment and splendor. The light of knowledge emanating from them is spreading in all directions, and their perfume is everywhere in the air. The Upanishads are not a dead thing, they are fully alive and youthful and their music can be heard even in the bushes and shrubs of the land. So when Krishna talks about them, he is not talking about something old and dead; he is talking about something which is in the prime of its youth.
But by the time Buddha comes, twenty-five hundred years after Krishna, the whole tradition is dying and rotting, only its corpse is lying before him. Clearly, Buddha cannot invoke their support. It is not out of any arrogance that he declares his truth on his own.