Talks on the Gita by Vinoba Bhave - Synopsis
Of all the books by Vinoba Bhave, his talks on the Gita have been the best. An introduction to this book in his own words is as under:
`The Talks put the essence of the Gita into simple language and so bring it within the reach of the common man. They present the Gita from the standpoint of Samyayoga, so far as I have understood it. In the course of time my other services to the world may be forgotten, but I believe that Talks on the Gita will continue to give service. I say this because when I gave the Talks on the Gita, I did so in a state of Samadhi, in that state of consciousness which transcends the worlds.
Talks on Gita or (Gita-Pravachane) is a very lucid and logical interpretation ofGita, with remarkable precision. It is a record of talks (Pravachans) Vinoba gave to jail inmates in Dhule from February 1932 to June 1932, on every Sunday. It was taken down verbatim by Sane Guruji. It has a very remarkable, directly appealing and simple style of its own. The most important concept he expounds in it is Pure action (Akanna). That is his personal contribution. His own explanation of this concept is as under :
`When I was studying the meaning of the Gita, it took me several years to absorb the fifth chapter. I consider that chapter to be the key to the whole book, and the key to that chapter is in the eighteenth verse of the fourth chapter : 'inaction in action, and action in inaction'. 'The meaning of those words, as it revealed itself to me, casts its shadow over the whole of my "Talks on the Gita"'.
Vinoba has given a running commentary on all the 18 chapters of Gita but has chosen a different interpretation.Thread of discussion starts from Frustration - a means to spiritual growth, Non-conventional definition of Performance of duty (Swadhanna), Skill of Action - (Karmayoga), Inward effort - Basic parameter ofKarmayoga, Action without activity - Akarma, One pointedness of mind - Akagratha, Devotion (Bhakti) - Redefined, Pure state of mind - SamskarMukti, Self-surrender - Basis of spiritual experience, Looking for God, The Vision of the Cosmic Form, Devotion with and without Form, The Self and the Non-self, Building up and Breaking down, Completeness of Vision, Conflict Between Divine And Demonic Tendencies, Programme for the Seeker, and ends with Grace of the Lord.
As mentioned in the introduction, these talks on Gita were given once a week in the prison at Dhule, one of the eastern districts in the state of Maharashtra where Vinoba was a political prisoner. Hardly there was a man of distinction in India who had not commented on the Gita. Vinoba was under a strong Gandhian influence and hence he worked out a different interpretation of this sacred text in line with the freedom movement that was in full swing at that time.
Although there are number of commentaries on Gita by distinguished scholars from India and abroad, Vinoba did not write such commentary. As mentioned earlier, his talks on Gita in Jail taken down verbatim by his jail inmate Sane Guruji were found so useful that printed version originally in Marathi was widely appreciated in his home state and popularity of the Marathi version attracted people from other Indian states to translate this book in their own languages. We will now look to this interpretation chapter by chapter.
In the background of Gita is a war, between two families, ready to start. Arjuna the main hero on one side, looks at the family members, elders and friends on the other side and experiences a strong sense of frustration for infighting in the family. Although he was a great warrior, he merely broke-down by thinking on the utter futility of this war and in that moment of depression he asks his mentor about what he should do. The answer given by Shri Krishna is equally unexpected. He says your present reluctance to fight is illusion. Your problem is not regarding fight but the fight against my relatives, my brothers, my friends. Krishna says that your real fight has to be against 'I' and 'My') rather than the fight outside. It is in this context of how to come out of our ego i.e. 'I' and the result of the ego i.e. 'My' that all the seventeen chapters have been commented upon.
The chapter deals with non-conventional definition of Performance of duty - Swadharma. This concept of swadharma in India of 1932 was largely interpreted as Hindu dharma or its sects and sub-sects along with the rituals and signs on the forehead, a mala or a rosary, a particular type of dress or the naming, caste and sex. Vinoba's contribution to the interpretation of swadharma is unique when he says that our swadharma comes to us with such ease and naturalness that we should cherish it without effort. But because of many kinds of illusion, this does not happen; or else, it is performed with great difficulty; or even if it is practised, it gets corrupted with many sorts of faults.
There are many external forms assumed by the illusion but, if we examine them, only one thing is at the bottom of it all, namely, a restricted and shallow identification of one self with the body. Myself, and those related to me through the body, sets the limits of my expansion. Anyone outside this circle is to me a stranger or an enemy. This identification with the body builds a wall around me and cuts me off, and I regard only the bodies as "me" and "mine". Falling into this double trap of identification of oneself and one's people with the body we start putting up all sorts of little walls. Almost everybody is busy doing this. One man puts up an enclosure called "attachment to family" and lives in it; another builds and lives in an enclosure called "attachment to nation". But what is the result of this ? Only one thing : the germs of base thoughts multiply, and the health which is swadharma is destroyed.
The practise of swadharma or the duty towards oneself, family, society and nation is to be progressively achieved by converting the intelligence or budhi to discriminating intelligence (vivekbudhi) which is also called Wisdom or Pragna.
Towards the end of this long chapter in the Gita are described the qualities of the man of steadfast mind (sthitaprajna) the embodiment of self-control i.e. controlling the organs of perception and action (indriyas). This control is not easy. But to do as the tortoise does, drawing in its limbs in times of danger, and using them when it is safe; to draw the senses away from objects, and to use them for higher services - this discipline is difficult but can be achieved by effort. A person established in 'Pragna' or 'Wisdom' becomes more balanced or equanimous and experiences his higher self which is beyond passion, greed and arrogance.
The third chapter on 'Karma-Yoga' or 'Yoga of Action' was interpreted in context of then prevailing life in India People in towns and villages were in high state of inactivity. Many of them had taken to addiction to tobacco opium or country liquor. Men were most of the time gossiping, and most of the manual work was thrust upon women. In the name of religion high class Hindus had developed a strong dislike towards poor members of society and were treating women as second class citizens. In large cities, men had taken to English education and life style as the highest aim of life. Manual work was to be avoided and white collar generation came into significant existence. People became 'intellectuals' rather than intelligent. There was 'inactivity' in villages and 'fruitless activity in cities'.
In this context, Vinoba like his predecessor Tilak once again draws the attention of Hindu society that Gita is not for Sanyasis but for House-holders and swadharma is to act. Dignity of labour and maintaining health by simple natural means was already established by his mentor Gandhi as a part of swadharma. Vinoba adds to the list the concept of 'bhavana' or 'love' as important ingredients of work.
Work has to be done for maintaining health, tilling and harvesting of land or craftsmanship of an artisan or merchandising of goods by merchants etc. All this should be directed towards growth of soul by adding love and earning money by fair means in return for work as a house-holder is expected to do.
As he illustrates this chapter, he says that 'result of karma-yogi's (skilful worker) action is that while his life goes on smoothly, his body and mind are radiant; and society too prospers. Besides these two benefits, he also receives the great gift of 'chitta-shudhi' or purity of mind ....,The Karma Yogi's work is a form of prayer (japa). His mind is purified by it, and the clear mind receives the image of 'jnana' or 'true knowledge'.
Illustrating this concept further, he gives example of Sena the barber. As he cleaned other people's heads wisdom came to him, 'Look, I remove the dirt from other's heads, but have I ever removed the dirt from my own head, from my own mind?' The language of the spirit came to him through his work. Again he says that as we weed the field, the karma-yogi (skilful worker) gets the idea of removing the weeds of habit and passion from his heart. He concludes that karma-yogi acting thus, through the terms of his own trade or occupation gains knowledge of perfection.
Chapter IV brings in another new concept of 'Vikanna' or Inward Effort as the key to Yoga of action. Without this key the lock of ultimate purity or self-knowledge will not and cannot open. This state has been defined as 'Desirelessness', It is a quality of mind. As a means of creating this, the pursuit of 'Swadharma' is not enough, other aids are needed. For this, we need to purify the mind. By self-examination, we have to cleanse the mind of its dirt.
When 'Vikarma' or the action of the mind and heart enters into 'Karma' or outward action desirelessness (purity) grows within us little by little. Without inward effort he illustrates a case of social worker like this 'To serve people who are poor or lame or are unhappy and in difficulties and to make them happy is the duty that falls to us in the ordinary course'. But we should not conclude, therefore, that all social workers have become karma-yogis. If the attitude of mind (bhavana) in social service is not pure it can become a terrifying thing.
If the outward action is not moistened by the heart's affection then the performance of swadharma would remain barren, it would not bear the flower and the fruit of 'desirelessness'. Moreover, where the heart is not engaged egoism too would show its head. Sick men are usually peevish - and those who nurse them without the true spirit of service will only be disgusted.
When the inner feeling goes with the action, the latter is transformed into something unique. The power that karma develops at the touch of vikarma is indescribable. The infinite power of the practice of swadharma lies latent. Touch it with vikarma, and see what work it can do! In the resulting explosion desire and anger are destroyed, and the way made clear for the attainment of supreme wisdom. When you apply vikarma to karma, the latter begins to acquire divine radiance. The mother strokes her child's back. A hand moves up and down a back, and no more. But who can describe the feelings arising in the hearts of the mother and the child from this commonplace action?
What do we mean by saying that, by pouring vikarma into karma, it becomes akarma. If we mean that, while acting, we seem not to act, we do not feel the burden of action. Though we act, we are not the doer. By vikarma, by inner purity, karma ceases to be karma. An action performed with pure heart does not attach itself to us. It leaves no residue of sin or virtue, paap or punya; else, what a heavy pressure of action would our hearts and minds have to bear! We feel that action crowds in on us from all sides, we feel that it has caught us by the throat. Just as the waves of the sea dash with force against the land and make channels into it, the complexity of action (karma) enters the mind and agitates it. The quality of pleasure and pain, sukh and dukh, develops; all peace is lost. The action takes place and is over, but its force remains behind. Action corrupts the mind, and destroys sleep.
But if, with karma we combine vikarma, then, however much work you do; you will not feel its strain. The mind becomes still steady and radiant, like the polestar.
Saints, though engaged in a thousand action, do not allow a ripple to arise in the still waters of their mind. One can never understand this miracle until one goes to a saint and sees it. Though surrounded by libraries and reading rooms, man everywhere still remains a monkey without culture or knowledge.Though knowledge spreads so rapidly, how does man's mind manage to remain still empty? One man says that human memory is getting weaker; another, that men are losing the power of concentration. Lord Krishna said to Arjuna, 'You have been listening to so far too may things, and your mind is dazed. Till it gets steady, you will not see the way clearly. Stop reading books and listening to people, and now take sanctuary with the saints. There you can read the book of life. There, silent speech clears all your doubts. By going there you will understand how utterly serene the mind can be while performing continuous service; you will understand how, though action rages without, the heart can be turned to produce unbroken music.
Vinoba spent several years to absorb this chapter which he considers key to the whole book. Summary of his deep study is the final goal of yoga and Sanyasa 'Action without activity'. These two traditions of spiritual seekers in India - large majority of house-holders engaged in social and economic activity and making themselves fitter for experience by constantly adding inward effort of purity to their external work and a minority group who do not get married and consequently cut themselves off from social and economic activity, get absorbed mainly in inward effort doing minimum external work to keep life going. Both these groups ultimately come to the same result. 'Action without fatigue, without stress with very high value adding power, power which move mountains, revolutionise societies - Power of Buddha, Jesus or Gandhi.'
Although both traditions lead to same result, the path of action is preferred because it is safe. To my mind, the reason why it is safe is that it can be practised successfully from the humblest to the mightiest. Indian History has many actual examples of men who got the results of self-realisation in this way. Potters, weavers, merchants and kings who reached the goal in this way are illustrated in the book. Explaining the beauty and spiritual purpose of action Vinoba explains that external actions reveal the real quality of our minds.He says a man becomes angry because anger was within and external action created circumstances by which it came out. If we do not act, we cannot test our mind that it has anger, jealousy, hatred etc. Our action talks. Our action is a mirror which shows us our true form.
When we act and discover our own defects, we are impelled to employ 'Vikarma' or inward action to remove them. When actions do not distort the mind, when it becomes natural and normal (sahaja), it becomes 'Akarma' - action with intense results.
Example of Sun is taken to illustrate this final result - 'Akarma' - the goal of all spiritual practices. It shines, gives life to the whole world. As sun rises, people get ready for work, birds start coming out of nest, but Sun is just shining, it is normal and natural for Sun to shine. All activity is inspired by his presence but still he is the witness. Doing nothing though doing all things, to do all things by doing nothing, both alike are 'Yoga'. However to reach the goal of doing nothing by doing all things - the path of Karma-Yoga - Yoga of Action is to be preferred, because it is both the way and the goal - where the path ends, goal is there.
There is room in Karma yoga for effort and practice. Through this path of action, one can learn to control the senses little by little.Ease in practice distinguishes 'karma yoga ' or the path of action from 'sanyasa' path of renunciation but in the state of perfection, both are the same. This is 'Akarma ' action without activity.
Concepts like Swadharma (Performing one's duty), Karma (Action), vikarma (Inward action) and Akarma (Stress-less Intense action) having been well explained in the preceding chapters, Vinoba now turns to the means for attaining this perfect state of action. One of the important tool in this direction is one-pointedness of mind, an integrated state as opposed to fragmented one.
Before explaining the contents of the chapter, Vinoba once again emphasises that Gita is a scripture intended for ordinary men, living daily life in the world. It may be useful to the ascetics but the main thrust of the discourse has common-man in the centre. He says that Gita is prepared to go to the lowest, the weakest, the least cultured of men. And it goes to him not to keep him where he is, but to grasp him by the hand and lift him up.
This Chapter which deals with the technique of meditation, points out three important parameters to obtain the result, one is one-pointedness of mind, second is setting bounds to one's life to achieve this and third is evenness of vision or a state of equanimity. For achieving this we need practice and objective outlook towards family, society, nation and the world. One-pointedness can be achieved by stopping the wheel of thoughts in the mind by coming out of the habit of brooding on trifles. If the mind incessantly (?) keeps on moving, the man's whole strength is lost. There is no kind of discipline. Our actions should be progressively purer by adopting the technique of Karma and Vikarma. To support the concentrated state of mind, he says that 'Let us turn away not only from bad things, but also from excess of even goods things'. Such disciplined conduct is called 'setting bounds to life'.Third parameter is a balanced outlook. So long as we cannot experience that the whole creation is auspicious, the mind will not be one-pointed. As long as we think that some-thing is wrong with the world, we look at all things with suspicion. If one looks at the world with friendly eyes, a perennial stream will spring in the heart, divine stars will shine in the inner firmament.
He sums the chapter by concluding remarks like this - For dhyana-yoga (the way of meditation), it is thus seen that one-pointedness of mind, disciplined living and a friendly and balanced outlook are necessary. Besides these, two other aids, detachment and practice, are mentioned. The first is a negative, destructive method, the other, positive and constructive. To uproot and throw away the weeds from the field is destructive work and this is vairagya detachment. To sow seeds in the field is constructive work. To think good thoughts again and again is abhyasa - practice. vairagya is negative, abhyasa is positive.
Although Vinoba has given this name to the chapter, as I studied Talks on the Gita, I was tempted to give another name 'Bhakti' or 'Devotion re-defined'. To understand why I reached this conclusion, let us have a look at India of 1932.
India like many other Christian countries had well-defined system of temple worship with its attendant rituals. In the early part of this century these practices had been monopolized by high class Hindus and their priests.All poor and low class Indians were not allowed entry into temples. This was done in the name of preserving the sanctity of the religion. Whereas majority of Indians did not have one square meal to eat, leave alone clothes and other amenities, this minority used to spend many hours in the worship, arrange sumptuous feasts for their caste bretheren and were providing for the indulgent and luxurious standard of living of the priest. All this went in the name of surrender to God or Bhakti.
In contrast to this and from the actual text Vinoba deals with common manifestations of life and interprets them as the play of Divine. He says the anger of the angry man, the love of the lover, the agony of the sufferer, happiness of the happy one, the drowsiness of the idler, the activity of the worker, all these have an in-built divinity in them. He shows that man's pleasure hunt is because there is no joy in his life and this condition in turn is because he is unable to experience divinity in ordinary things of life as taught by Gita. Once we have seen the true nature of the universe and tasted its joy, we shall find these other pleasures insipid.
The best way to discover this joy is 'Bhakti' or Devotion. Even if we have to beg, there is greatness in begging from the God rather than from the world and this begging is Bhakti. Citing his own version of Devotion he says, 'If on seeing the great rivers, if one can feel the river as compassion of God flowing before us, such a man is a true devotee'. If man's heart-beat leaps at the sight of the rain-bow, dances at the sight of the daffodils, he is a true devotee. It starts with desire or 'Sakam Bhakti' and ends with joy without external stimulation which Gita calls 'Nishkam Bhakti ' or end of all material desires.
Describing three kinds of Bhaktas, Gita says first kind looks at the whole world through eyes of love, the second kind through the eye of discovery, and the third from the point of view of the world's welfare. There is also a fourth type of perfect devotee. His method is to see God in the ugly as in the handsome, in the beggar as in the king, in men, women, animals and birds, everywhere he sees the presence of God. This pure devotee sees the grandeur of God in majestic ocean, the mother like tenderness of God in cow, in the earth he sees His presence, in the clear sky His purity, in Sun, Moon and Stars, His brightness and beauty, His softness in flowers, and in the evil man the God who tests and tries us. Thus he practices the art of seeing the one God at play everywhere and in doing so, one day the seer-saint merges into the Lord. This was what Vinoba understood as devotion with all its variegated tools and this is the result of surrendering one's ego to God.
For my own purpose, I gave the name 'Sanskar Mukti' to this chapter i.e. Freedom from good as well as bad tendencies, so that pure existence can be experienced. It is this purity of existence which can get in tune with God during and at the end of the life. 'Eating, drinking, sitting, sleeping, wandering, a little work...likes and dislikes, honour and dishonour, pain and pleasure in endless variety! And they all leave associations, impacts and build up tendencies in the mind. Hence if someone asks me, what life is, I should explain it as an aggregate of 'Sanskaras' or tendencies.
Important and distinct actions leave a deep impression on the mind; other actions fade away from memory. However, a single powerful 'sanskara' alone remains at last as the essential thing. All the efforts of life should be guided by the idea that this final fruit should be full of sweetness, that the last moment should be blissful. When the end is sweet, all else is sweet.
In order to achieve this, we should aim to conquer the fear of death. Thinking of death - not brooding over it - is a means of avoiding sin. With constant awareness of death, with what strength can man commit sin? Man has become so frightened of death that he cannot bear ever the thought of it. Only thing which consoles us for our miseries is diversion, and yet this is the greatest of our miseries. For it is this which makes us ruin ourselves. Diversion amuses us and leads us unconsciously to death.
Therefore remembering that death is the crown of life, we should constantly practice the means by which we can make our last moments holy, pure and sweet. To create such good 'sanskara', let noble thoughts course through the mind. Let the hands be busy doing deeds of goodness. Thoughts of God within, and the performance of Swadharma without, these should go on constantly. When the hands perform acts of service till the last breath, the full moon of Bhavana shines brightly, the mind's sky is free from desire, and the intellect is bright and keen - when a man dies in this state, we may take it that he has merged in God. In order to make such an auspicious ending, one must watch day and night and wage skilful war. Not even for an instant, should an evil tendency be permitted in the mind. And in order to gain strength necessary for this, one should remember His name, and meditate on His truth.
In this chapter is described the rare power of the name of God. There is an art in chanting this name and experience gained thereby is beyond words and that is why it is sweet. Though this knowledge is a hidden secret, Lord Krishna opens it out for all to understand with ease.
The Gita is the twice-distilled essence of the Vedic Dharma and the name of the Lord is the essence of the Vedas. It is certain that through 'Ramnama' one can attain 'moksha' which means that moksha becomes easy for women, children, the rustic and the poor, the weak, sick, lame and indeed for everyone. In whatever action, the man is engaged, through that natural action alone he is able to reach supreme by considering every human form as manifestation of God - such is this method. Another aspect is to dedicate whatever we do to him. Relate to him every act of yours.
There is no question of fitness - no pre-qualification. Any body who does this with pure heart gets the result. When learned men who say 'I'. 'I' are left behind, innocent and devout women go forward. When the mind is pure and heart full of simplicity and holiness, moksha or liberation is not difficult to attain. If the action is filled with pure 'bhavana', with the attitude of service, it becomes 'yagna'-dedication.
The essence of practice is to dissolve our Ego at the feet of the Lord by dedicating our base tendencies like lust, greed, anger etc. with sincere heart and we become pure as a result. Our senses are no longer our enemies. Their power for good is boundless. Therefore the best and the noblest way to use every one of the senses with the intellect surrendered to the Lord.This is called 'Raja-Yoga'.
How pure and holy the food will be when it is cooked with the 'bhavana' of pleasing the Lord. The moments of our daily life may appear commonplace, but in reality they are not so, they carry enormous significance. Life is dark, ugly and full of sorrow. But just for a while, let the mind consider that all our actions are for the sake of the Lord. Then we will realise how full of beauty and value our lives become. Do not say what good can the word 'Rama' do. Just try saying it and see what happens.
Creation is but a mirror. What you are and what you bring to this mirror, the image of this, you see in this world. Therefore approach all creation with the feeling that it is good - that it is pure. Carry the same 'attitude' to all your ordinary actions. Then you will see a miraculous change. If you have the 'bhavana' that Lord is always by your side, then you, His servant will know no fear even if the whole world turns up-side down. Therefore turn your heart towards God. Attain his grace. Dedicate all actions to Him. Become altogether His. If you strengthen the attitude that all actions should be offered upto the Lord, this sordid life will become divine, the commonplace will become beautiful. Such actions are not illogical but beyond logic. Where logic ends, spirituality begins.
Life as it is today, our best brains are busy in creating food for all because many lack even food. In such strange times, something as simple as dedication to the Lord becomes difficult. In this situation, Vinoba takes the example of child learning alphabet - big letters first and as the practice develops make the same letters small and recognise them. Alternatively easy letters first and complex after a little practice.
The immense being which we see in the ocean is also present in the little drop of water. God who is in 'Rama' is also in 'Ravana', what is found in the gross is present in the subtle. What is found in the simple, is also in the complex. This vast creation is God's book. In this book of creation, God is written down everywhere in beautiful letters. But we do not understand it. It is this sick mind that stands as an obstacle to our seeing God. It is essential to get rid of this state of mind.
Hence because our minds are sick, let us experience God in our father, mother, Guru, a saint, pure children like Dhruva and Prahalada. After one learns to see God in serene and holy human forms, then we turn our eyes to sublime and beautiful aspects of nature. Beauty of sunrise and sunset, this art divine - lovely and majestic waters of Ganges which carries away in her course all the uncleanliness of our mind and body, wind the messenger of God whispering in our heart, fire which burns our impurities etc. We now look to God in creatures, cow full of tenderness and love, the swiftness of horse, majesty of lion, cleanliness of serpent.
Now turn to couples - love of father and son, mother and child, love of brothers, love of husband and wife, love between Rama and monkeys 'Nara and Vanara'. Then the birds majestic peacock with thousand eyes and many coloured brightness in its feather, sweet melodious voice of cuckoo and great municipal service of nature in crow. We just think of fables of Aesop based on child's lively interest in objects of creation. In it, foxes, dogs, crows, deer, hares, tortoise, snakes, worms all talk and laugh.
The truth of the matter is that God is present in all the forms of creation. As holy rivers, mighty mountains, the majestic ocean, the tender-hearted cow, the noble steed, the magnificent lion, the sweet voiced cuckoo, the beautiful peacock, the pure hermit snake, the crow flapping its wings, the restless flame, the still stars - in all this; He is present. Gross and subtle, pure and mixed simple and complex - learn all this and realise in the end that there is no place where God is not. In every atom, He alone is present. From the ant to the universe, He spreads. The Lord who cares equally for all, the compassionate one who is all knowledge, tenderness, skill, holiness and beauty - He stands on all sides everywhere.
In this chapter the Lord reveals His visible form and so His Grace. Arjuna said "Lord, I wish behold with these eyes your complete form, the form in which is manifest all the power of your glory". What he really prayed for was the vision of cosmic form was to see all at once the Omnipresent Lord, who pervaded all time past, present and future and all space here, above, below and everywhere.
Vinoba says verses describing the cosmic form of God cannot be commented. We can only recite the verses describing it and cleanse the mind of sin, purify it only at one point Lords tells Arjuna that this cosmic form cannot be grasped permanently until you dissolve the Ego and become the instrument in the hands of God for all your actions. To achieve this, the qualifying characteristics are: "He who bears enmity towards none, he who stands impartial and is free from attachment, and serves me selflessly, he who dedicates to me all that he does, he who is filled with devotion to me, all enduring, free of passion and desire, full of love, such a devotee becomes an instrument in the hands of the Lord, This is the essence of Gita's teaching."
In this chapter, Arjuna asks the question that there are two types of devotees - one who worship the image to grasp and experience spiritual thought and the other grasp the thought directly and act accordingly in search of an experience. Which of the two is better? Vinobaji says that question of Arjuna is similar to asking the mother - which of your two sons are dearer to you? What can the poor mother reply? If at all a reply is pressed for, she would say the younger son because he needs the presence of mother more than the elder one. Similar answer is given by Shri Krishna that if at all answer is needed, one with form is closer to me.
Vinobaji has illustrated this answer by referring to the famous epic 'Ramayana'. When Rama is going to the forest for fourteen years, his younger brother Laxman pleads that he too wants to accompany him. When Rama disuades him not to do so by an argument, Laxmana puts stop to the argument like this 'O Rama I have grown up nourished by your love. I am only a child. I cannot bear the burden of living here without you.' He accompanies Rama for 14 years. This is worship with form or image.
However, Tulsidasji describes that when Rama left for forest, Bharat his other younger brother was not in Ayodhya. When he reached home, his father had died and Royal Guru Vashishtha advises him to assume the rule of the state. But Bharata answers that 'first I must see Rama before I decide this question'. He makes arrangements for running the administration. His line of thinking is 'Kingdom belongs to Rama. To arrange for the administration is like doing Rama's work. Devotion to Rama means carrying out his work; else what good is the devotion?' This is the devotion without form.
This classical example of Formless Devotion ends with following dialogue between the brothers. Bharat says, 'Rama my Lord, I shall humbly do your bidding. Whatever you say, I shall not doubt or question'. But as he prepares to leave, he turns to Rama and says, 'Sir, my heart is yet unreconciled. I feel as if I have lost something'. Rama at once understood his yearning and gave him one of his personal effects as symbol in place of Rama. Though Bharata was firm in his loyalty to duty and principle, he too needed the living warmth of the symbol. This is Devotion without Form.
The chapter ends with following words from Shree Krishna 'Arjuna, it does not matter whether you are devotee with or without form. More important is to become a devotee with all your heart'.
Here the most important aid to Swadharma - a discriminating insight - to separate the bran from the wheat or smelting gold from the ore - is discussed and the steps are shown how to get the gold and remove the impurities. For this Vinoba gives the example of Coconut where the hard exterior shell is to be broken to reach and taste the pulp. Similarly to taste the sweet juicy pulp of jack-fruit, the rough sharp exterior has to be carefully removed.
There is a clear message here for inward journey. One must understand that 'I' am altogether distinct from the body, separate entirely beautiful, bright, holy and free from even a trace of imperfection. As we proceed inward the self illuminates the body and puts joy, power, fearlessness self-control etc. As we move inwards, attachment to the body slowly decreases, one experiences genuine freedom and power. No true safety is possible so long as there is attachment to body and consequent fear.
In this inward journey, we progressively experience God - first as an impartial witness. When the life of morality begins, He encourages us when good things take place through us. During further inward journey. When the devotee discovers that his own efforts are inadequate to cleanse the subtle impurities of his mind, when he is on the point of break-down, He becomes the Helper of the helpless and rushes to his aid. After that we see that He also is the enjoyer of the fruit of action. His presence only makes us experience the sweetness of the fruit. From this point we start experiencing our divinity. When our ego surrenders totally to the inner self- the inner master - we reach the ultimate goal. During this long, arduous, at times risky and dangerous inner journey, the tools which are helpful and therefore essential are action and devotion ultimately blending into action with devotion.
Vinoba says to achieve this firm foundation of morality is indispensable. We should discriminate between essential and non-essential and hold fast to the essential. This discriminating experience which is called 'jnana' or realisation should pervade every fibre of our body. It should flow through one's heart. It should express itself through the hands and the feet, the eyes and the ears. One should attain a state when all the organs of perception and action work with this consciousness. Our symptoms of this realisation have been narrated by twenty virtues like humility, sincerity, non-violence, straightforwardness, forgiveness etc. The substance is that we should make our lives grow more and more by distinguishing the body from the spirit and thus feel ourselves with the presence of God within.
This chapter is essentially a supplement to thirteenth, Self and the Non-self. Here, there is an analysis of non-self. Entire material body including mind-intellect consciousness and ego-system consists of subtle particles and electrical charges broadly divided into Gross called Tamas. Subtle called - Rajas and subtler one called sattva or pure manifestation. These three modes of nature are called Gunas.
Chief characteristic of Tamas is Laziness - inability to do anything fruitful. It is an enemy which destroys peace and happiness of individual and society. It corrupts every one from the lowest to the highest. When the body is lazy, the mind and the intellect are lazy too. Under the effect of Tamas (Laziness), men grow rusty and useless; the limbs and senses of the rich are eaten with rust because they are never used.
Educated and intelligent men become victims of various diseases because under the effect of Tamas, they never do any physical work. To shake off laziness, one must perform bodily labour. This is the only way to conquer laziness. If we fail to do this, we cannot but receive due punishment from Nature. We have to endure it in the form of sickness and other miseries. The time spent on the bodily labour is not wasted. It does yield result. We have sound health. Our minds become bright and keen and pure. This is one of the methods to overcome the Tamas or Laziness.
Chief characteristic of Rajas or hyper-activity is desire to do all sorts of things - a limitless desire for action with all consuming greed. As a result, we are unable to control the rush of our instincts and passions. Another sign of Rajas is absence of steadiness. The man of Rajas is ever busy taking up and abandoning things. All actions under its effect are restless and uncertain. The way to come out of restlessness is to combine action with inward effort. This results in inner purity. Keep on acting constantly and surrender the fruit of action to God. Acting this way, slowly Rajas is destroyed. It is necessary to destroy this demon of every rising greed and desires. This is the Karma-yoga of Gita.
If these two are conquered, we are left with Satva or a pure state of our existence - peaceful and bright, full of creative energy. However, even this is to be conquered not by killing but by wounding. Constantly making an effort to remain in this state, it becomes our nature to remain pure. Pride of purity slowly goes away. Any negligence by the seeker due to pride in this state, is likely to drag him down to the state of hyper-activity and further down to laziness. Constant vigilance till it becomes our nature to remain pure is an absolute necessity of this state.
Thereafter, the seeker tries to cross-over the material self consisting of all these three modifications. The tool here is to seek His grace with all the heart. It does come. Having reached this state, no further effort is required to remain pure.
In this chapter, all the ideas of the Gita find their fulfilment. Shri Krishna calls this particular Chapter 'Shashtra'- a scripture because in this chapter science and philosophy of life that have been taught till now find completion. The function of Vedas is to awaken in man awareness of his own power to know everything, guide everything. This is called 'Parmartha': Because this is done in this chapter it has been called 'Vedasaara' the essence of the Veda.
In the last chapter, Shri Krishna says that for Self-realisation, Bhakti is the ultimate tool; without it realisation is not possible. This chapter starts with the description of the world as mighty tree with huge branches nourished by three 'gunas'. This tree is to be cut with the axe of desirelessness and detachment. With Bhakti or devotion this effort becomes easy. This devotion is a blend of action, love, and knowledge. All difficulties on the path of realisation get converted to pleasure with the touch of this devotion.
Differentiated concept of Purushottama - the Supreme Self which Sri Krishna is, the individual self which is non-perishable and has to be realised and tools of Bhakti or devotion which are perishable are dealt with here. There is deep significance in the perishable nature of the tools. This is not the fault of the creation; it is its glory. Because of this, creation is ever new. Yesterday's flowers will not do for to-day's worship. New flowers are required and are available. In the same way new bodies will be provided every now and then to give freshness and life to the worship. Because the body is transient, it is beautiful. Because the instruments are ever new, the enthusiasm for worship grows; the habit of service develops. This is the essence of 'Bhakti' or devotion.
This conceptual reality of Purushottama or Supreme Self to whom our ego can surrender so that purusha or self within us can awaken and ultimately be realised. The ever new, ever changing tool of worship is a necessity from the beginning to the end of the path. However worship does not mean only offering flowers and consecrated rice or Vermillion (Kumkum). This is there but it is to be supported by our day-to-day actions. To keep house-hold utensils clean and polished is a worship. To clean a lamp is also a worship. To whet the scythe and make it ready for reaping is a worship. To lubricate the rusty hinge of the door, this is worship too. All our actions from morning to evening - all are worship of the God. To a king of scriptures like Gita, a daily half our worship or puja yields no satisfaction. Its keen desire is that the whole of life should be filled with the Lord and be a form worship. And this worship is to surrender our 'I' at the feet of Supreme reality 'Purshottama' so that we ultimately transform ourselves from perishable to imperishable 'Self- the 'Purusha'.
Fifteenth chapter completes the purpose of Gita i.e., how to come out of human weaknesses, establish firm support by worshiping ashtadeva or Purushottama and that by offering ever changing ever new modes of worship. However, before the sun rises, light starts spreading, similarly a little before the seeker starts on the path the dawn of good qualities starts shining.
This chapter describes the qualities needed to be perfected in the life of accomplished seeker and also describes the darkness with which seeker has to fight before getting established. In essence it describes the conflict between the divine and the demonic qualities. Kurukshetra is both outside us and within us. When we observe it carefully, it is the battle raging within that we see assuming shape in the world without. To speak the truth, the battle is only within ourselves.
As there are good qualities on one side and bad qualities on the other, both the armies are well arranged. Commander of good qualities is 'abhaya' or fearlessness. Fearlessness has been given first place in a long list of twenty-six qualities. This is not an accident. In an atmosphere charged with fear, good qualities cannot grow. While in front fearlessness stands alert, humility guards the rear. This is an excellent arrangement. If we have first twenty five qualities mentioned in this chapter but no humility, 'ahamkar' or Ego principle will attack the army from the back and destroy it. In the absence of humility, there is no knowing when victory will turn into defeat. Osther qualities between fearlessness and humility are compassion, tenderness, forgiveness, serenity, patience, non-violence, loyalty etc.
On the other side, there is an army of ignorance, vanity, power and wealth. Under the effect of these negative qualities, one says that 'I am the only person fit to hold all the wealth of the world. The whole world should come under my control'. Desire, anger and greed are the sources from where negative qualities multiply. Way out is the control of the senses. This is the path laid down by 'Shashtras'. 'Shashtras' are made up of the experience of the saints gained through their efforts. Hence to overcome negativities, 'Self-control' as advised by 'Shashtras' is inevitable.
Waging this incessant war between divine and demonic qualities, there may be temporary defeats in the battle but in the end, war is won by the divine qualities. Hence doing good to the world is to show the man-kind the pure and beautiful path of virtue. Thus demonstrating victory of divine over the evil forces.
Vinoba says that only when our life proceeds within bounds and in an accepted, disciplined way that the mind can be free. The Sun is free and independent. He is regular. It is in this regularity that the essence of his freedom lies. Hence in this chapter Shri Krishna sets down a programme of action.
The programme of Yagna (Regeneration), Dana (Sharing with society) & Tapa (purification of body and mind) is described as the debt to the nature. Nature is pure and it is polluted by human beings; hence we have to regenerate by yagna (Regeneration). Regeneration is to replenish loss, and to purify things. Society has supported a part of our existence; we have to repay the debt. Dana (Charity) for various social purposes is repaying the debt. Rays of Sun in summer destroy plenty of morbid matter on the earth and purify saline water of the sea to provide sweet water through rain. This is tapa which is also yagna or regeneration by removing or destroying impurities.
In fact three orders of nature, society and the body are not distinct. Society is not outside creation and not so the body. The creative effort we make, charity we give and japas we perform, all these can be called Yagna in the comprehensive sense. There is no question of receiving any fruit because we have already received this. What we have taken, we must now return. Through yagna (regeneration), we maintain equilibrium in nature, through dana (charity) in society and tapa (purification) in the body. Again Yagna, Dana and Tapa are divided into 'Satvik', 'Rajasik' and 'Tamasik'. If there is expectation of fruit in Yagna it is Rajavik; if it is fruitless it is Tamasik. Disorderly actions become lifeless. Into such actions Tamas enters. Through it, no noble thing can be created. From it no fruit will grow. Even though there is no desire for fruit in performing 'yagna', it ought to yield noble fruit.
In this way, fruitful action purifies our mind and heart, same classification applies to Dana (charity) and Tapa (purity). When it is fruitful, it leads to Beauty & Grace which is the result of purity.
After the sermon in the fifteenth chapter, no new concepts are introduced. Sixteenth and Seventeenth chapter details the inner fight and the programme for the seeker. In this chapter, whatever we have learnt is being concluded.
First thing we learnt in Gita is that we have to act - keep on acting but surrender the fruit of our actions to God. These actions are of three types Satvic - which bring noble fruit, Rajasic - which gives mixed fruit of pleasure and pain, and Tamasic or fruitless activity / activity which bears painful fruit. Out of this, Shri Krishna advises that fruitless activity should be totally curbed and mixed fruit activity to be progressively purified by surrendering its fruit to God.
Resultant Satvic activity has also some defects, but this should not be given up. As inward purity grows, the effort in the action becomes less. From effort to gentleness, from gentleness to subtlety, from subtlety to nothingness, the activity tends to zero and action towards infinity.
After having said this, Sri Krishna tells Arjuna, 'You have heard with attention, all that I have been saying. Consider my words fully and do what you think right'. Thus Shri Krishna generously sets Arjuna free. In the same breath, in the next verse he says, 'Arjuna, give up everything and take refuge in Me'. What does this mean? It means as long as there is Ego, there is danger in becoming free; let not any desire of your own arise in your heart. Be an observer of all the waves of desire. 'Not my, but HIS Will' - 'Not my but His Will'. "I" am not, "He" is. As you learn to subdue your ego thus, your 'Rajsik action will become pure and what will be left will be infinite action without the 'doer'. Every action coming from God - making one a vehicle of His 'divine will' No 'I', No 'My' - all His. Starting with 'I' and frustration leading to no activity in the first chapter to destroying the illusion of 'I' in the second chapter, Gita progresses to the way of action, inward action to support outward action, leading to state of egoless activity in fifth chapter. Rest of the chapters mention the tools of concentration, devotion, surrender, cosmic vision etc. to support egoless activity, and last comes total surrender to obtain His Grace which is the final tool. 'His grace having been established, no effort is needed to remain pure'. Purity becomes not only our second nature, but it becomes our first nature, our nature itself. This is the aim and end of Bhagvat-Gita.