Most religious teachings go into detail on the multifaceted relationships between gods and humans in which the latter are sometimes able to find solace and peace of mind and sometimes are scorned and neglected. At that, the union of a god and a human is usually not one of equality since the divine Absolute has more control than a person of limited capabilities. This paper will discuss Krishna’s guidance of Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita and Siduri’s guidance of Gilgamesh in the Epic of Gilgamesh and outline similarities and differences.
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Krishna’s Guidance in the Bhagavad-Gita
The part of the Bhagavad-Gita that introduces Krishna and Arjuna and their close relationship is written in a conversational format with the said personalities being the main speakers. Arjuna is a warrior who fights for the right cause on the side of Pandavas against the forces of evil represented in the sacred text by Kauravas. At some point, despite his mastery and rich experience in battles, Arjuna finds himself unable to continue his righteous path as he freezes in the face of his arch enemy and cannot proceed to attack (The Norton Anthology World Literature 1275). In his thoughts, he pleads Krishna for help and guidance, incapable of facing the adversity himself.
The passage where Krishna’s power compels Arjuna to follow his calling as a warrior without doubts or second thoughts might seem specific and more realistic in the context of the described epoch. However, what a careful reader should conclude from the conversation between two characters is that the nature of their relationship is universal and inferential for other human beings seeking spirituality.
Arjuna represents a person who is lost and sees no other way out except asking the higher power to control his life. At the same time, Krishna is the Absolute who holds eternal wisdom and can share it with those who struggle. What is interesting about their bond is that Krishna is Arjuna’s inner voice and, hence, part of his psyche. This fact shows that each human has a divine side to them that as opposed to earthly desires, guides them through life and allows them to put things in greater perspective.
Siduri’s Guidance in the Epic of Gilgamesh
In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the main character, Gilgamesh seeks immortality, for which he does not fear life’s numerous trials nor death. He wishes to cross the callous see to Utnapishtim, which alone would have him confront many challenges. Gilgamesh meets Siduri at a tavern where she draws him into a conversation with her. With her worldly wisdom and quick wit, in the context of the literary work, Siduri is one of the Epic’s sensual and sexually ripe female characters – and a divine one at that.
Siduri is skeptic about Gilgamesh’s self-imposed life mission: she is convinced that when gods created humans, they denied them access to eternal life. Moreover, the creators gained all the power to meddle with their lives – something that no one can overcome. Thus, instead of wandering the world in pain and fear, Gilgamesh could devote himself to simple pleasures.
Contrasting the Bhagavad-Gita and the Epic of Gilgamesh
It is not exactly possible to compare the universe of the Bhagavad-Gita and the Epic of Gilgamesh. However, one may dare to assume that when contrasted, as a divine entity, Krishna would be of much greater importance than Siduri. Even though both are not the only gods in the respective teachings, Krishna is a major deity whereas Siduri is a minor female divinity. In the Bhagavad-Gita and Mahabharata as the whole, many parts are dedicated to Krishna, his deeds, and relationships with the human world whereas there is not much known about Siduri. For all that, I do not think that Siduri’s guidance and advice are less significant than those of the Hindu God.
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What makes both approaches convincing is their viability in real life. It is true that sometimes a person needs to let go of his earthly commitments and devote time to bonding with the divine. At the same time, simple joys of life should not be dismissed either as they also contribute to happiness and satisfaction. To me, it seems that if a religious teaching fails to present a divine entity with enough persuasion, the worshippers and potential adherents might start having doubts about the validity of the teaching’s contents. In the long run, such uncertainty might result in a decline of the said religion and its importance in a given region or country.
It is possible to draw a parallel between how Gilgamesh and Arjuna are guided in the books. Both characters are aware of the dominance of the gods and that they could change their lives dramatically on a whim – Krishna and Siduri emphasize this point throughout the narration. For this similitude, the differences in mentorship are more striking: Krishna is internalized by Arjuna’s psyche whereas Siduri remains an external entity. Krishna meets Arjuna halfway in his search for spirituality and supports his aspirations. The Epic of Gilgamesh’s goddess, on the other hand, capitalizes on the human nature of the main character and offers him an alternative.
Similarities and Differences Between the Cultures
I believe that in order to gain a better understanding of relationships between god and men in Hinduism and the Sumerian religion, they need to be examined in the context of respective cultures. In Hinduism, the relationship between gods and humans are far from egalitarian, and yet, individuals are free to choose how they wish to build their relationship with the divine. It is argued that people are born ignorant and blind to the eternal wisdom; however, one is able to embrace knowledge through prayer and worship, which is highly recommended.
Depending on a person’s deeds during his or her lifetime, they could undergo reincarnation and commence a new life, striving to cleanse their soul and act out of pure intentions, or go straight to Nirvana. The Sumerian religion is similar to Hinduism in terms of its recognition of the existence of multiple divine entities. Akin to Hindus, Sumerians believed in the final judgment after a person dies; however, in their teaching, the only destination the dead souls could follow was the deep dark cavern beneath the earth.
For thousands of years, the humankind has relied on religion to find an explanation for the inexplicable, seek help, and have spiritual insights. In the Bhagavad-Gita, renowned warrior, Arjuna, asks Krishna for support and mentorship as he fights the evil. Krishna’s guidance is internalized by the main character, and thus, a human is capable of discovering the godlike side to them. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Siduri highlights the gap between gods and humans and persuades Gilgamesh to quit his ways and succumb to earthly pleasures. Both examples point out the power that divine entities have over humans. The Hindu and Sumerian cultures can be characterized as pantheistic.
The most significant difference between them is in their beliefs about what happens to a person after death. While Hindus were sure about reincarnation and several attempts at living life righteously, Sumerians saw ending up in the underground cavern as the only option for the soul of a deceased.
The Norton Anthology World Literature. Vol. 1, 3d ed., W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2013.