- Even in 1888-89, when I first became acquainted with the Gita, I felt that it was
not a historical work, but that under the guise of physical warfare, it
described the duel that perpetually went on in the hearts of mankind, and
that physical warfare was brought in merely to make the description of the
internal duel more alluring. This preliminary intuition became more
confirmed on a closer study of religion and the Gita. A study of the
Mahabharata gave it added confirmation. I do not regard the Mahabharata as
a historical work in the accepted sense. The Adiparva contains powerful
evidence in support of my opinion. By ascribing to the chief actors
superhuman or subhuman origins, the great Vyasa made short work of the
history of kings and their peoples. The persons therein described may be
historical, but the author of the Mahabharata has used them merely to drive
home his religious theme.
- The author of the Mahabharata has not established the necessity of physical
warfare; on the contrary he has proved its futility. He has made the victors
shed tears of sorrow and repentance, and has left them nothing but a legacy
- In this great work the Gita is the crown. Its second chapter, instead of
teaching the rules of physical warfare, tells us how a perfected man is to
be known. In the characteristics of the perfected man of the Gita, I do not
see any to correspond to physical warfare. Its whole design is inconsistent
with the rules of conduct governing the relations between warring parties.
- Krishna of the Gita is perfection and right knowledge personified; but the
picture is imaginary. That does not mean that Krishna, the adored of his
people, never lived. But perfection is imagined. The idea of a perfect
incarnation is an after growth.
- In Hinduism, incarnation is ascribed to one who has performed some
extraordinary service of mankind. All embodied life is in reality an
incarnation of God, but it is not usual to consider every living being an
incarnation. Future generations pay this homage to one who, in his own
generation, has been extraordinarily religious in his conduct. I can see
nothing wrong in this procedure; it takes nothing from God's greatness, and
there is no violence done to Truth. There is an Urdu saying which means,
"Adam is not God but he is a spark of the Divine." And therefore he who is
the most religiously behaved has most of the divine spark in him. It is in
accordance with this train of thought that Krishna enjoys, in Hinduism, the
status of the most perfect incarnation.
- This belief in incarnation is a testimony of man's lofty spiritual ambition. Man
is not at peace with himself till he has become like unto God. The
endeavour to reach this state is the supreme, the only ambition worth
having. And this is self-realization. This self-realization is the subject
of the Gita, as it is of all scriptures. But its author surely did not write
it to establish that doctrine. The object of the Gita appears to me to be
that of showing the most excellent way to attain self-realization. That
which is to be found, more or less clearly, spread out here and there in
Hindu religious books, has been brought out in the clearest possible
language in the Gita even at the risk of repetition.
- That matchless remedy is renunciation of the fruits of action.
- This is the centre round which the Gita is woven. This renunciation is the
central sun, round which devotion, knowledge and the rest revolve like
planets. The body has been likened to a prison. There must be action where
there is body. Not one embodied being is exempted from labour. And yet all
religions proclaim that it is possible for man, by treating the body as the
temple of God, to attain freedom. Every action is tainted, be it ever so
trivial. How can the body be made the temple of God? In other words how can
one be free from action, i.e. from the taint of sin? The Gita has answered
the question in decisive language: "By desireless action; by renouncing the
fruits of action; by dedicating all activities to God, i.e. by surrendering
oneself to Him body and soul."
- But desirelessness or renunciation does not come for the mere talking about it.
It is not attained by an intellectual feat. It is attainable only by a
constant heart-churn. Right knowledge is necessary for attaining
renunciation. Learned men posses a knowledge of a kind. They may recite the
Vedas from memory, yet they may be steeped in self-indulgence. In order that
knowledge may not run riot, the author of the Gita has insisted on devotion
accompanying it and has given it the first place. Knowledge without devotion
will be like a misfire. Therefore, says the Gita, “Have devotion, and
knowledge will follow.” This devotion is not mere lip-worship, it is a
wrestling with death. Hence the Gita’s assessment of the devotee’s qualities
is similar to that of the sage’s.
- Thus the devotion required by the Gita is no soft-hearted effusiveness. It
certainly is not blind faith. The devotion of the Gita has the least to do
with externals. A devotee may use, if he likes, rosaries, forehead marks,
make offerings, but these things are no test of his devotion. He is the
devotee who is jealous of none, who is a fount of mercy, who is without
egotism, who is selfless, who treats alike cold and heat, happiness misery,
who is ever forgiving, who is always contented, whose resolutions are firm,
who has dedicated mind and soul to God, who causes exultation, sorrow and
fear, who is pure, who is versed in action and yet remains unaffected by it,
who renounces all fruit, good or bad, who treats friends and foe alike, who
is by praise, who does not go under when people speak ill of him, who loves
silence and solitude, who has a disciplined reason. Such devotion is
inconsistent with the existence at the same time of strong attachments.
- We thus see, that to be a real devotes is to realize oneself. Self-realization
is not something apart. One rupee can purchase for us poison or nectar, but
knowledge or devotion cannot buy us either salvation or bondage. These are
net media of exchange. They are themselves the thing we want. In other words
if the means and the end are not identical, they are almost so. The extreme
of means is salvation. Salvation of the Gita is perfect peace.
- But such knowledge and devotion, to be true, have to stand the test of
renunciation of fruits of action. Mere knowledge of right and wrong will not
make one fit for salvation. According to common notions, a mere learned man
will pass as a Pandit. He need not perform any service. He will regard it as
bondage even to lift a little lota. Where one test of knowledge is
non-liability for service, there is no room for such mundane work as the
lifting of a lota.
- Or take bhakti. The popular notion of bhakti is soft-heartedness,
telling beads and the like and disdaining to do even a loving service, lest
the telling of beads etc. might be interrupted. This bhakta therefore
leaves the rosary only for eating, drinking and the like, never for grinding
corn or nursing patients.
- But the Gita says: "No one has attained his goal without action. Even men like
Janaka attained salvation through action. If even I were lazily to cease
working, the world would perish. How much more necessary then for the people
at large to engage in action?"
- While on the one hand it is beyond dispute that all action binds, on the other
hand it is equally true that all living beings have to do some work whether
they will or no. Here all activity, whether mental or physical, is to be
included in the term action. Then how is one to be free from the bondage of
action, even though he may be acting? The manner in which the Gita has
solved the problem is, to my knowledge, unique. The Gita says: "Do your
allotted work but renounce its fruit—be detached and work—have no desire for
reward and work."
This is the unmistakable teaching of the Gita. He who gives up action falls. He
who gives up only the reward rises. But renunciation of fruit in no way
means indifference to the result. In regard to every action one must know
the result that is expected to follow, the means thereto, and the capacity
for it. He, who, being thus equipped, is without desire for the result, and
is yet wholly engrossed in the due fulfillment of the task before him, is
said to have renounced the fruits of his action.
- Again, let no one consider renunciation to mean want of fruit for the renouncer.
The Gita reading does not warrant such a meaning. Renunciation means absence
of hankering after fruit. As a matter of fact, he who renounces reaps a
thousand fold. The renunciation of the Gita is the acid test of faith. He
who is ever brooding over result often loses nerve in the performance of his
duty. He becomes impatient and then gives vent to anger and begins to do
unworthy things; he jumps from action to action, never remaining faithful to
any. He who broods over results is like a man given to objects of senses; he
is ever distracted, he says goodbye to all scruples, everything is right in
his estimation and he therefore resorts to means fair and foul to attain his end.
- From the bitter experiences of desire for fruit the author of the Gita discovered
the path of renunciation of fruit, and put it before the world in a most
convincing manner. The common belief is that religion is always opposed to
material good. "One cannot act religiously in mercantile and such other
matters. There is no place for religion in such pursuits; religion is only
for attainment of salvation," we hear many worldly-wise people say. In my
opinion the author of the Gita has dispelled this delusion. He has drawn no
line of demarcation between salvation and wordly pursuits. On the contrary,
he has shown that religion must rule even our wordly pursuits. I have felt
that the Gita teaches us that what cannot be followed out in day-to-day
practice cannot be called religion. Thus, according to the Gita, all acts
that are incapable of being performed without attachment are taboo. This
golden rule saves mankind from many a pitfall. According to this
interpretation murder, lying, dissoluteness and the like must be regarded as
sinful and therefore taboo. Man's life then becomes simple, and from that
simpleness springs peace.
- Thinking along these lines, I have felt that in trying to enforce in one's
life the central teaching of the Gita, one is bound to follow truth and
Ahimsa. When there is no desire for fruit, there is no temptation for
untruth or Himsa. Take any instance of untruth or violence, and it will be
found that at its back was the desire to attain the cherished end. But it
may be freely admitted that the Gita was not written to establish Ahimsa. It
was an accepted and primary duty even before the Gita age. The Gita had to
deliver the message of renunciation of fruit. This is clearly brought out so
early as the second chapter.
- But if the Gita believed in Ahimsa or it was included in desirelessness, why did
the author take a warlike illustration? When the Gita was written, although
people believed in Ahimsa, wars were not only not taboo but nobody observed
the contradiction between them and Ahimsa.
- In assessing the implications of renunciation of fruit, we are not required to
probe the mind of the author of the Gita as to his limitations of Ahimsa and
the like. Because a poet puts a particular truth before the world, it does
not necessarily follow that he has known or worked out all its great
consequences, or that having done so, he is able always to express them
fully. In this perhaps lies the greatness of the poem and the poet. A poet's
meaning is limitless. Like man, the meaning of great writings suffers
evolution. On examining the history of languages, we notice that the meaning
of important words has changed or expanded. This is true of the Gita. The
author has himself extended the meanings of some of the current words. We
are able to discover this even on a superficial examination. It is possible,
that in the age prior to that of the Gita, offering of animals in sacrifice
was permissible. But there is not a trace of it in the sacrifice in the Gita
sense. In the Gita continuous concentration on God is the king of
sacrifices. The third chapter seems to show that sacrifice chiefly means
body-labour for service. The third and the fourth chapters read together
will give us other meanings for sacrifice but never animal-sacrifice.
Similarly has the meaning of the word Sannyasa undergone, in the Gita, a
transformation. The Sannyasa of the Gita will not tolerate complete
cessation of all activity. The Sannyasa of the Gita is all work and yet no
work. Thus the author of the Gita by extending meanings of words has taught
us to imitate him. Let it be granted, that according to the letter of the
Gita it is possible to say that warfare is consistent with renunciation of
fruit. But after 40 years' unremitting endeavour fully to enforce the
teaching of the Gita in my own life, I have, in all humility, felt that
perfect renunciation is impossible without perfect observance of Ahimsa in
every shape and form.
- The Gita is not an aphoristic work; it is a great religious poem. The deeper you
dive into it, the richer the meanings you get. It being meant for the people
at large, there is pleasing repetition. With every age the important words
will carry new and expanding meanings. But its central teaching will never
vary. The seeker is at liberty to extract from this treasure any meaning he
likes so as to enable him to enforce in his life the central teaching.
- Nor is the Gita a collection of Do's and Don'ts. What is lawful for one may be
unlawful for another. What may be permissible at one time, or in one place,
may not be so at another time, and in another place. Desire for fruit is the
only universal prohibition. Desirelessness is obligatory.
- The Gita has sung the praises of knowledge, but it is beyond the mere intellect;
it is essentially addressed to the heart and capable of being understood by
the heart. Therefore the Gita is not for those who have no faith. The author
makes Krishna say:
entrust this treasure to him who is without sacrifice, without devotion,
without the desire for this teaching and who denies Me. On the other hand those
who will give this precious treasure to my devotees will by the fact of this
service assuredly reach Me. And those who, being free from malice will with
faith absorb this teaching, shall, having attained freedom, live where people
of true merit go after death."
Young India, 6-8-'31