As a student of Hinduism, for me scholars are always a blessing. But several times their scholarship become a problem too when they try to iron out several contradiction in philosophy/theology to fix them all within a frame of their thesis on particular topic. For example, in order to justify Krsna’s character, which according to Matilal ‘comes under serious criticism’ as the ‘concept of God’ which ‘must include a reference to morality and justice’ as it is ‘the dominant Hindu conception of God’, he brings various Hindu philosophy/theology within his topic of ‘Krsna: In Defence of a Devious Divinity’.
And to support his thesis, Matilal says:
According to the received doctrine, God is supposed to be omnipotent and he should also see that justice is done in the end. But Krsna in the Mahabharata did not always claim to be omnipotent. Apart from certain inspired speeches (e.g. in the Gita) he acknowledged his human limitations….
Krsna’s own admission that he did not have any power to stop the battle or devastation either of the Kauravas or of the Yadavas (his own race) is an important evidence to show that the Hindu conception of God does not always include the attribute of omnipotence. I believe this constitutes an important difference between Judaeo-Christian theology and Hindu theology….…God in Hindu theology is not always a creator God—that is, he is not a Creator ex nihilo. Nor (p.99) is the Hindu God always a personal being….Of course, it has been claimed that Krsna (or Rama) was mightier than anybody else, had intelligence superior to that of anybody else, but this is hardly equivalent to the claim of omnipotence or even omniscience.—pp. 99-100
What Matilal talks above, as if there exists only one ‘Hindu theology’ (p.99) raises several question in my mind. Even what he says within the context of Mahabharata too is bit complicated, as it accommodated all kinds of thoughts considering its encyclopedic nature—which gave space for anyone to insert their thought through the characters. However it is an interesting thesis (In Defence of a Devious Divinity) to reconcile various contradicting philosophies/theologies (—God is supposed to be omnipotent; justice is done at the end; Krsna is not omnipotent; God is not always a creator God, that is he is not a Creator ex nihilo; not omniscience etc.,) what Matilal proves is that he faithfully follow the long cherished Indian philosophical tradition of keeping contradicting views side by and giving a new twist by a cleaver scholarly presentation of creating his own philosophy.
But even those few speeches in the Gita, which Matilal acknowledges as ‘inspired’ ones, claims all Matilal denies (see below). It is important to note that Bhagavadgita, which contains the inspired speeches of Krsna, along with Brahma-sutra and Upanishads is the cannon for any Hindu theology and not Mahabharata.1 Though Gita is part of Mahabharata, the latter was not taken as authority for Hindu theology.
Without scholars thankless job, a student like me cannot understand Hinduism in its totality. At the same time, unless we are aware of the scholarly twist, we cannot understand what Hinduism intended to say than what scholars wish to say.
(The following points are taken verbatim from (R. C. Zaehner, The Bhagavad Gita, Oxford, 1966.)
I. The Absolutely Supreme: Krsna is God, the Supreme Being `highest Brahman’ (10:12), `highest Self’ (13:22;15:17), the `Person (All)-Sublime” (13:22;15:17). He is the base supporting Brahman (14:27) and in Him nirvana subsists (6:15). He is, then, as much the source of the eternal world, Brahman, as He is of the phenomenal world… (He) is eternally active–creator, preserver and destroyer (11:32).
God, as we have seen, transcends both the phenomenal and the eternal, the perishable and the imperishable. He is both wholly immanent and wholly transcendent. Beyond both perishable and imperishable He is the `(All-) Highest Self’; the three worlds He enters and pervades, sustaining them–the Lord who passes not away…(15:17-18).
God is the One; but He is not a One who obliterates and nullifies the manifold; rather He binds the many together in a coherent whole since the whole is His body and a body is an organism in which all the parts are interdependent (11:13 cf. 11:7; 13:16; 18:20)…In a very real sense the material world and the individual selves that inhabit it, whether `bound’ or `released’, form the `body’ of God; in this at least Ramanuja is faithful to the central insight of BG.
Krsna is also a God of grace, always ready to save those who are devoted to Him (9:26ff, etc.), yet implacable to those who willfully turn their back on Him (16:7-20)….
(a) Hid Creative Power and Activity:3:21-24; 4:6,13,14;
7:4-6,10,12-15,25; 9:4,5,8-10,17-19; 10:7,8,34,39-41;
11:33,43; 12:6-8; 14:3,4;16:19; 18:61.
(b) His Incarnation: 4:6-8;7:24;9:11.
(c) His Attributes:5:29;7:26; 8:4,9;9:11,16-18,24;
10:15,21-28,30,32-34; 11:9-45,16,19,32,40,43; 13:2.
(d) The Changeless Source of Change: 4:6,13;
7:7,13,18,19,24; 8:21; 9:4-6,9-10,13,19,29; 10:2,3;
(e) The One in the Many:9:15; 11:7,13;13:30-33.
(f) His Transcendence:6:15;8:22;10:12,13,42;11:37,38;
(g) His Immanence:7:8-11;10:20;15:12-15;16:18;17:5,6;18:61.
(h) Knowing the Unknown God: 7:3,26,29,30;9:17; 10:2;
Dayanand Bharati.. January 25, 2013
1. “When Gita along with Upanishads and Vedantasutras became the Canon called ‘prasthanatrayi’ (the Trinity of Systems)…all religious opinions or cults which were inconsistent with these three works or which could not find a place in them, came to be considered as inferior and unacceptable by the followers of the Vedic religion. The net result of this was that the protagonist acharyas of each of the various cults which came into existence in India after the extinction of the Buddhistic religion had to write commentaries on all the three parts of the prasthanatrayi (and, necessarily on the Bhagavadgita also)”.— Tilak, B.G, Tr. by A.S.Sukthankar, Srimad BhagavadGita-Rahasya, Seventh Edition, Tilak Brothers, Poona, 1986, p. 17