The Reverence Accorded to the Bhagavad-gītā - Part 2

Adherence to Sahaja-karma

It is evident that the central teaching of the Gītā is the performance of sva-dharma. The Gītā also speaks about the varṇa system, which came into being as a function of an individual’s guṇa and karma.[1] It is not merely for the well-being of the society that Kṛṣṇa expects all people to be rooted in their sva-dharma; it has a more philosophical background to it. While presenting sahaja-karmai.e., the work attuned to one’s nature—he suggests that its importance is not solely linked to birth. Every individual’s nature is a result of the actions of his/her previous birth. Although the present birth and the situations in one’s life play an important role, they are not the deciding factors. It is due to one’s innate nature that one performs karma. It is due to the play of the three guṇas that the kind of activity that one takes up gets decided. The activity taken up by an individual as a corollary reflects his sva-bhāva. It is in this perspective that the concept of sva-dharma is held high in the Gītā and not merely to encourage one to perform hereditary professions. And it is not blindly said for the sake of the upliftment of the society. The fundamental principle is that the daily outer life and activities undertaken by a person should be aligned to his inner nature. This is the path for the society’s growth and development. All activities must be undertaken with full awareness – this is the suggestion here.[2] The message of the Gītā that is relevant even to this day is that when there is disturbance in the equilibrium of the society, one might have to resort even to waging a war in order to re-establish the balance.

Kṛṣṇāvatāra

Our tradition has believed that Śrīkṛṣṇa is a pūrṇāvatāra (holistic personality, literally ‘complete incarnation’). We see in the life of Śrīkṛṣṇa how an avatāra-puruṣa (a great person) established ātyantika-dharma (universal welfare, lit. ‘eternal dharma’) in the face of distortions and crookedness in human actions. We find these words of Śrīkṛṣṇa in the Bhāgavata

brahman dharmasya vaktāhaṃ kartā tadanumoditā |

tacchikṣayaṃllokamimam āsthitaḥ putra mā khida ||[3]

 

I speak about brahman and dharma;

I tread that path and I am its advocate;

I stand here to teach this to the

people of the world; my son, don’t fret!

 

“I stand here to give instruction to the people of the world,” tells Kṛṣṇa to Nārada. That teaching has crystallized in the Bhagavad-gītā. The life of Śrīkṛṣṇa is filled with several incidents and is multi-layered. Even if one were to keep aside all his myriad achievements in his life, the Bhagavad-gītā alone suffices to grant him, without hesitation, an exalted position of a brilliant torch-bearer of Illumination. V S Sukthankar has said, “The Gītā is…the heart’s heart of the Mahābhārata…”[4] He also exclaimed that it would not be incorrect if one were to claim that the Mahābhārata was composed merely to give the world the Bhagavad-gītā.[5]

            It is the Supreme himself who has been called by the appellation of Śrīkṛṣṇa. Keeping Arjuna’s dilemma merely as an excuse, Śrīkṛṣṇa has offered solutions to some of the most fundamental questions of human life, with a view to uplift the life of the people of the world. This can be deemed as a conversation between the manas (mind) and the ātman (Self) if one wishes to see it that way. It is because of this all-weather relevance of the work that in recent times there have been attempts at applying some of the fundamental principles of the Gītā to economics, business, management, and so forth.

The Holistic View of the Gītā

These days, in the name of personality development, people are being taught things like how to obtain a prestigious job, how to get promotions, and so forth. There’s nothing wrong with it but that is not a holistic approach. Personality development in the true sense is an all-round development of body, mind, and intellect. Gītā shows us the way for such holistic growth.

            Svarga-naraka (loosely ‘heaven and hell’), life after death, greatness of adherence to sva-dharma, the relationship between jñāna and karma, the means of manifestation of the Supreme, a yogi’s vision of universal welfare, the various forms of upāsanā (worship, invocation) and sādhana (focussed practice), and other such aspects are most certainly present in the Gītā. However, we find several instances in the Gītā that give direct instruction on aspects that are necessary for competent leading of daily life such as rules about eating and sleeping, the gentleness and tact needed while interacting with other people, and so forth. The Bhagavad-gītā doesn’t look down upon on worldly growth and material prosperity. On the contrary, it denounces the neglect of worldly life. What the Gītā says is that all development, all growth should happen within the framework of dharma. In the West, material prosperity and spiritual reflection were separate. Thus a war erupted between the two. The Bhagavad-gītā has brought about a samanvaya (harmonious reconciliation) between the outer life and the inner life, and so there’s no dichotomy. When we deem the whole of life as a worship of the Supreme, life becomes more elevated and also more competent. In this manner, the counsel we get from the Bhagavad-gītā is not just about vairāgya (detachment) but also the means of leading a fulfilled life. This is the reason why the Gītā is loved by people of all persuasions and schools of thought.

The Literature that Attracted even the Westerners

A few might aver that Indians respect the Bhagavad-gītā merely out of faith in the tradition and respect for our heritage. However, when we observe that the Gītā has attracted towards itself countless Western thinkers who have no background in either Indian culture or tradition, we realize the uniqueness of the work. Let us take a look at a few examples.

The first person to have translated the Bhagavad-gītā into English was one Charles Wilkins. The background for that is interesting. It took place around two and a half centuries ago. Having heard about the Gītā from the Indians, the first Governor-General [of British India] Warren Hastings was so influenced that he inspired Charles Wilkins to learn the Sanskrit language. And so Wilkins learned Sanskrit and translated the Gītā into English under the title Bhăgvăt-Gēētā, or Dialogues of Krĕĕshnă and Ărjŏŏn. It was published in London [by C. Nourse] in 1785. This was the first translation of the work into a non-Indian language. After this was published, it was translated into the main languages of Europe. Governor-General Warren Hastings himself wrote the preface to the translation by Wilkins. In his preface, he writes – “The writers of the Indian philosophies [Gītā, in particular] will survive when the British dominion in India shall long have ceased to exist, and when the sources which it yielded of wealth and power are lost to remembrance.”

Due to the tremendous influence of the Bhagavad-gītā on the European mind, within a short time the prominent works of Sanskrit were translated into European languages.

In a letter to Nathaniel Smith, Warren Hastings writes these words, rich in meaning: “...I hesitate not to pronounce the Gēētā a performance of great originality; of a sublimity of conception, reasoning, and diction, almost unequalled; and a single exception, among all the known religion of mankind, of a theology accurately corresponding with that of Christian dispensation, and most powerfully illustrating its fundamental doctrine.”

To be continued...

 

Footnotes

[1] cāturvarṇyaṃ mayā sṛṣṭaṃ guṇakarmavibhāgaśaḥ | – Gītā 4.13

(चातुर्वर्ण्यं मया सृष्टं गुणकर्मविभागशः।)

“I have brought forth the four varṇas (basic traits), a classification based on guṇa (inherent quality of a person) and karma (work attuned to that quality).”

[2] It is only when an individual undertakes activities aligned to his/her natural strengths and interests does he/she attain personal happiness and becomes valuable to society as well.

[3] ब्रह्मन् धर्मस्य वक्ताहं कर्ता तदनुमोदिता।

तच्छिक्षयंल्लोकमिमम् आस्थितः पुत्र मा खिद॥ – Śrīmad-bhāgavatam 10.69.40

[4] Sukthankar, V S. On the Meaning of the Mahābhārata. Bombay: The Asiatic Society of Bombay, 1957. p. 119.

[5] Sukthankar says, “...the Mahābhārata is a sort of a necessary commentary on the Gītā... The philosophy of the Gītā had to be expounded by application, if it was to be of any use to the mass of the people for whom it was primarily intended. And that is just the raison d’être of the Mahābhārata. It visualizes the teaching of the Gītā, by projecting the ideal on to the background of generalized history.” (On the Meaning of the Mahābhārata, p. 119).

It is noteworthy that Dr. Vishnu Sitaram Sukthankar should say these words; he spent a greater part of his life producing the Critical Edition of the Mahābhārata.

Author(s)

About:

Dr. S R Ramaswamy is a renowned journalist, writer, art critic, environmentalist, and social activist. He has authored over fifty books and thousands of articles. He was a close associate of greats like D. V. Gundappa and Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma. He is currently the honorary Editor-in-Chief of Utthana and the Honorary Secretary of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs.

Translator(s)

About:

Hari is a writer, translator, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, Carnatic music, education pedagogy design, and literature. He has worked on books like The New Bhagavad-Gita, Your Dharma and Mine, Srishti, and Foggy Fool's Farrago.

About:

Arjun is a poet, translator, engineer, and musician. He is a polyglot, well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, Hindi, English, Greek, and German. He currently serves as Assistant Professor at Amrita Darshanam - International Centre for Spiritual Studies at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Bangalore. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature.