The Teachings of Christ and Krishna

Prof. Francis X Clooney, Harvard Divinity School
Photo source: Harvard Divinity School faculty webpage

Last week, we explored commonalities in the lives of Jesus Christ and Krishna, the central figures in Christianity and Hinduism, respectively. This week, we will pick up on this subject, focusing this time on the similarities in the content of their teachings, again connecting this to past common themes we have covered in our Weekly Wisdom series. This will conclude our week-long series of newsletters dedicated to my friend, Father Francis X. Clooney, the inspiring Jesuit priest who also teaches courses on Hinduism and comparative theology at Harvard Divinity School.

Love

Lord Krishna and Jesus Christ both emphasized the importance of love and compassion in their teachings.One important phase of Krishna’s life is with the goddess Radha and 16,000 Gopis, his chief consort and secondary wives, respectively, with these relationships being symbolic of Krishna’s universal love for everyone. The relationship between Radha and Krishna is often seen as the highest form of divine love. Radha’s love for Krishna is considered selfless and unconditional, symbolizing the love between the individual soul (Atman) and the Supreme Being (Brahman) in Hindu philosophy. In other words, it symbolizes the union of the individual soul with the divine. Radha represents the embodiment of pure devotion (bhakti) to Krishna. Her unwavering love and devotion to Krishna serve as an example for devotees to surrender themselves completely to God with love and devotion, renouncing their egos.

Krishna’s most famous discourse is found in the Bhagavad Gita, where he imparts profound spiritual wisdom to Arjuna. He stresses the importance of selfless love, devotion, and the path of righteousness. In one of his teachings, Krishna states, “Whenever there is a decline in righteousness and an increase in unrighteousness, O Arjuna, at that time I manifest myself on Earth.” This concept is reminiscent of Jesus’ message of love and redemption. Jesus Christ’s teachings in the New Testament similarly revolve around love and compassion. His Sermon on the Mount, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, includes the Beatitudes, which highlight virtues like humility, mercy, and peacemaking. Jesus famously taught his followers to “love your neighbor as yourself” and emphasized forgiveness and non-judgment.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
—The New Testament (5:34-48), Christian text

“This supreme Lord who pervades all existence, the true Self of all creatures, may be realized through undivided love.”
—The Bhagavad Gita, Hindu text

Holy Water

Krishna is often depicted as playing with his friends on the banks of the Yamuna River, and in one incarnation he took the form of a fish. Christ is baptized in the Jordan River and a few of his miracles are associated with water, such as walking on water and turning water into wine. Across religions, water is often seen as a symbol of purification and new beginnings, and it is fitting that both Krishna and Christ infused this element into their teachings.

“Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
—The New Testament (John 4:13-14), Christian text

“Those who surrender to Brahman all selfish attachments are like the leaf of a lotus floating clean and dry in water. Sin cannot touch them.”
—The Bhagavad Gita (5:10), Hindu text

Service and Justice

Both Krishna and Christ preached the importance of service and justice as part of righteous living. Recall that the whole point of Krishna’s words in the Bhagavad Gita is to motivate the hero Arjuna to snap out of his state of immobilizing doubt to carry out his duties on the battlefield. In Hinduism, there are three yogas, or mārgas, paths toward devotion and spiritual attainment. In the Bhagavad Gita, which details all three, the role of service and justice that Arjuna is called toward is the Karma-mārga. Service and justice was also central to Christ’s own mission on Earth, serving the sick and poor and downtrodden, as well as his teachings for his disciples, who were taught to emulate Jesus’ way of life as much as possible.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
—The New Testament (1 Peter 4:10), Christian text

“Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. Do your work with the welfare of others always in mind.”
—The Bhagavad Gita (3:19-20), Hindu text

In closing, I want to once more thank Father Clooney for his writings that he shared with us, as well as the wisdom he has shared with me personally on many occasions.

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