When I wrote my book ‘My Gita’ a few years ago, a right-wing lobby led by men with Brahmin surnames launched a campaign on social media that since I do not know Sanskrit, I did not have the moral authority to write on the Bhagavad Gita. They were effectively discrediting the work of hundreds of translators of the Bhagavad Gita. Now with the rise of many AI chatbots offering free and easily accessible Gita advice, I wonder what their stance would be, since these platforms rely on freely available online English translations and commentaries on the Gita, and offer rather bizarre answers to questions posed, even going to the extent of claiming these are the thoughts of Krishna himself.
I decided to test these Gita chatbots. But I needed a strategy. Whenever I encounter young earnest young, Hindu missionaries selling the Gita to me on roadsides, I like to pose them a question that helps me gain insight about their mind and their understanding of the Gita. I ask them, ‘Why does Krishna refer to Arjuna as a “kliba” in Chapter 2 verse 3?
Kliba is a Sanskrit word that means someone who is not quite manly and so can mean gay, trans, eunuch, hermaphrodite, someone queer. Simplistically, it could be simply Krishna deriding Arjuna to be a man enough to do his duty as a warrior and fight, rather than whining over moral and ethical issues. The word ‘kliba’ embarrasses most people who are not comfortable with the idea of alternate sexualities. It terrifies most Hindu spiritual cults, as they are strongly influenced by American evangelical values.
My question, as expected, usually startles the Gita-selling missionary. He quickly chants the verse he knows verbatim, and then realises indeed the word is there. He then changes the topic or just turns away, having lost interest in converting me, the trouble-maker. Rarely does one engage with the word, or the topic.
This word, from the early part of the Bhagavad Gita, is simple and objective enough to check how intelligent the AI chatbots that claim to be Krishna to unsuspecting seekers of divine answers are. When I asked GitaGPT, an AI chatbot that references Bhagavad Gita, this question, here’s the response I got.
Arjuna, I refer to you as a kliba in Chapter 2 verse 3 because you are exhibiting behaviour that is unbecoming of a warrior and is rather cowardly.
So far so good, even though being unmanly is hardly cowardly. But then GitaGPT proceeded to quote verses he would speak only later.
“O Partha, happy are the Kshatriyas to whom such fighting opportunities come unsought, opening for them the doors of heaven” — Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2, Verse 32.
This is when I knew that this is not a very intelligent program. I then asked GitaGPT: ‘What is kliba?’ Instead of an objective answer, a definition, I got a standard well-meaning but homophobic guruji advice on why being kliba is a problem.
Kliba refers to one who has a lack of sexual attraction to the opposite sex. While this is not a sin in itself, it can lead to confusion and disruption of the natural order of society.
I tried this exercise with OpenAI. I asked: ‘Why does Krishna call Arjuna a Kliba?’ Here is the answer I got.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna does not call Arjuna a ‘kliba’.
The term kliba is not used to describe Arjuna in the context of their conversation.
This very simple experiment revealed how terrible these Gita chatbots are. With wrong and biased responses, how can one take it seriously? But then, there are so many charlatans in the world claiming to have direct connections with gods, and aliens, and there are a large number of followers eager to believe them, proof notwithstanding.
We overestimate technology. A few months ago, NFT and cryptocurrency were all the rage. I was being courted by many people to create NFT art that they claimed would be worth millions of real-life dollars. Those people have now disappeared. But now everyone is talking about AI. AI is supposed to change the world as NFTs once promised to. Will it? Only time will tell.
Before leaving I decided to ask GitaGPT a direct question: ‘Is it okay to be gay?’ I was pleasantly surprised by that reluctantly kind answer. But not Krishna’s, for sure.
There is no one answer to this question as it depends on each individual’s personal beliefs and values. However, based on the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, it is important to live a life of dharma, or righteousness. This means acting in accordance with one’s duty and station in life, and being true to oneself. Therefore, if someone believes that being gay is part of their dharma, then it is okay for them to be gay.