Section 20 / Conclusion
We had a second look at the Gītā. What did we gain for our own use?
Whatever be the śāstra or art that we set out to learn, there are two approaches towards its study. The first one is a theoretical approach - marked by reasoning and reaching an intellectual conclusion. The second is a practical approach - the experimental realisation of the subject of study. Just as we need both feet to walk, we need both theory and practice to gain knowledge. Both of them must occur in tandem. Even then, in a few fields of study, the practical aspect becomes more important than the theoretical for most. Consider the example of music. A student does not need to know the frequency in Hertz of the notes sa or ri or the exact duration of a half-beat or quarter-beat before singing. Theoreticians measure and calculate all of these after the singer has sung. The same applies to prosody. Maharṣi Vālmīki did not compose poetry after counting the number of syllables and fixing a metrical pattern. He composed it as he saw fit. Experts in prosody later identified the metrical patterns and defined them as such. Maharṣi Vālmīki never realised that the words he uttered formed a śloka. He did not utter those sounds after counting metrical time. It was left to Brahmā to tell him - “O Ṛṣi! what was uttered by you is a śloka. It conforms to a metrical rhythm.”
śloka eva tvayā baddhaḥ…|
Creation is always first. Then comes definition.
In the terminology of the śāstra - lakṣya (the illustration) comes before lakṣaṇa (definition). Tradition is that which extracts the definition from the illustration.
Let us look at another example: the art of cooking. Culinary science does not precede food. The food that we eat and enjoy everyday was not cooked by experts well educated in chemistry; but by those who learnt from experimenting with food. Our electrical fittings at home were installed by a moderately experienced electrical contractor; not by a Ph.D in electrical engineering. Expertise in every directly perceived field of knowledge is gained through practical experience. One intent on learning swimming will not insist on a degree in hydrostatics before entering the water. Such a person falls in water, kicks out his limbs, and understands the practical nature of water without needing to study hydrostatics or fluid mechanics. The knowledge of the tattva is similar. I believe that it is practice that makes one eligible for such knowledge. We at the Gokhale Institute believe in the pre-eminence of practice. Our goal is not the theoretical knowledge of a specific śāstric work that is primarily driven by logic and dialectic.
Our ancients held three practices as necessary for the attainment of self-knowledge - “Śrotavyo mantavyo nididhyāsitavyaḥ”. Śravaṇa refers to hearing through one’s ears. Manana refers to reflection upon the principle. Nididhyāsana refers to the constant remembrance of the principle and practicing it in one’s own behaviour. “Śravaṇaṃ lavaṇavat” is a statement from our ancestors. The position of śravaṇa in the attainment of self-knowledge is as important as salt in a meal. Reflecting upon its meaning is more important. More important than that is practicing it in one’s life. In the study of the Gītā, it is not just the literal sentence that is important but also its experience in the mind. All of us in this institution have desired to study this work from a practical perspective. Our goal in the study of this work is not from a purely theoretical perspective. Neither is our goal to master the work entirely. Our goal is restricted to the part of the work that is applicable to our circumstances and suits our capabilities. Bhagavān’s words give us encouragement.
yāvānartha udapāne sarvataḥ samplutodake |
(When there is a flood all around, will one go looking for wells and tanks for drinking water?)
The village is surrounded by lakes and ponds filled with water that is either sweet or hard or soft. Do we, however, use all of it? We take only what we require for our cooking or our ablutions.
The śāstras give us innumerable instructions and discuss countless principles. Not all of them are attainable by us, given our limitations. Though there is enough water in the lake to submerge us thousands of times over, we drink only whatever is needed to quench our thirst. Only one or two of the thousand instructions might apply to us. If we try to understand that much and realise it, we might gradually become eligible to attain more. We need not fret that our attainments are meagre. On the contrary, we should feel encouraged that we have at least attained this much.
If we are not after logic and reasoning, we are not after mokṣa either, not now at least. We are all in saṃsāra - engaged in worldly duties. If we realise what we need to do in our given circumstances and act accordingly, eligibility for mokṣa will arise by itself in time. It is sufficient if the gardener digs out a trench for the plant, waters it, and removes the weeds. He does not have to work more for fruits and flowers. Seasonal changes cause fruit and flowers. They arise by themselves when conditions are right. Mokṣa too arrives in the same way. With the perfection of the practice of dharma comes the fruit of mokṣa. To start with, our śraddhā and inclinations have to be nurtured through practice. Practice requires patience. Haste may disrupt practice. There is no eligibility for mokṣa without the constant practice of dharma.
How do we bring the teachings of the Gītā to practice in our daily situations? Our society and circumstances are considerably different from those of Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna. The primary differences are these four:
- The deterioration of the system of the varṇa-quartet
- The complex web of professional relationships
- The position and duties of women
- A questioning attitude
Though the varṇa system is not fully dead, it has weakened significantly. There are no promising signs that it will survive. The occupations of yore do not exist now. Gainful employment has become a big problem. There was a tradition from the time of the Mahābhārata to around two hundred years ago that considered a certain specified position for women acceptable. Now the hold of that tradition has loosened. Women work in schools and factories. They truly care for their families. We can see this in all countries. Can we say that it is wrong? It is said that princesses of old had not even seen the sun! They were referred to as "asūryaṃpaśyā". They grew up in inner apartments reserved for womenfolk. Is that possible now? No. The fourth point is the attitude of questioning. If one is told to sit in padmāsana (cross-legged), we ask why. If we ask one to drink coffee after their bath, we ask in turn - “why can’t we bathe after having our morning coffee?” Didn’t our ancestors have this questioning attitude? They did. But after a certain stage, they would accept what was told without further questions. Today’s questioning attitude insists upon a demonstration of the cause and effect relationship for everything.
It might be argued that all these changes are results of our country’s contact with Europe. But such an argument will not help decide our current course of action. One cannot object to the growth of contact between India and Europe. Many such incidents have happened in the histories of other countries. Numerous are those unpremeditated, seemingly random events that have occurred in man’s rush towards intellectual progress and adventurous achievements. We can call these acts of providence. Be it due to divine will or the karmic debt between different nations or the blooming of man’s adventurous ambitions, we have come into contact with other countries. It is also true that this contact has brought a change to our people’s attitudes and traditions. It is only pragmatic to accept this reality of admixture of European and Indian thought. There is no use of grumbling; neither is it apt. We do not know divine will. But faith in it is our duty.
It does not look like there will be an end to contact with other countries. We should realise that it is inevitable. It is not possible for India to stay insulated from the rest of the world anymore as our Rājaratnam’s Puṭnanja exclaims.
ಇದ್ದದ್ರಲ್ ಹಾಯಾಗಿ ನಮ್ಮಷ್ಟಕ್ ನಾವಾಗಿ
(Comfy with what is there; us by ourselves)
The pressure of influence on India from other countries is increasing. We have to accept it.
If the Bhagavad-Gītā cannot give us a solution in such a quandary, it appears to us that no other work can do so either. We have to rationally examine the relationship between this treatise and our present behaviour. If the instruction of the Gītā has to apply to all humankind, even India has to utilise this contact with other countries as an opportunity to spread the message of the Gītā. It is impossible to escape foreign contact, but it is not impossible to correct and adjust foreign attitudes for our own welfare. It is possible, but with great difficulty. The prerequisite for this is our mental resolve about the utility of the Gītā.
To be continued...
The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.