The Vision of Equality (Sama-darśana)
This is a famous śloka. What does – sama-darśana - the vision of equality mean? Does equality imply that both the elephant and the cow be offered the same food? The word “equal” is one of the most misused words of our times. Politicians use this word ad nauseam. It is not uncommon for this word to be used without knowing its actual meaning or with an erroneous understanding. Equality is giving to each being what is best for it. A feast for a Brahmaa and grass for the cow – showing the same love across beings is viewing all equally. Teachers might rebuke a student and reward another with a sweet. This too is equality from the perspective of the students’ needs and abilities.
The vision of equality requires two things – the seer and the seen. The well-being of the seen has to result from the seer’s vision of equality. The vision of equality has to conclude in a consideration of the welfare of the seen. A uniform perspective of benefiting all is the vision of equality. This instruction pertains to the sameness of love for all. The same love for all beings finds different expressions based on the needs of its recipients.
What is the relation of equality to this instruction about knowledge? The mark of true knowledge is seeing all with equanimity. The chief characteristic of the seer of the Self is equanimity. He does not hate anybody and has the same love for all. He constantly thinks about the well-being of all, not just about the pleasure of a few. In spiritual matters, well-being is more important than pleasure. It is all fine to help others find pleasure as long as it is not in opposition to their eventual well-being. Pleasure and well-being need to be separated out.
Knowledge and humility together are described as the characteristics of a Brāhmaṇa. Seldom are these fine qualities seen together. There are many knowledgeable people but not all of them are humble. Similarly, not all humble persons are scholars. It is rare for knowledge and humility to combine. Arrogance and egoism have to be rooted out from us. The first words of Śrī Śaṅkara’s prayer are –
avinayam apanaya viṣṇo
(O Viṣṇu, take away arrogance)
Humility is “amānitvam-adambhitvam” (not being arrogant, not being deceitful). Humility is something of a rare quality in a democracy. A humble person gets nothing there. The one desirous of thriving in a democracy has to constantly be a rabble rouser. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. The one without a voice suits a ruined well. If one desirous of living a good life waits for recognition and an invitation from others, he might as well wait forever. Even when nobody wants to listen, hustlers rush forward to claim, “Hear me. Don’t listen to others. I’m the only one who can redeem the country; others will despoil it. I’m your only confidante. All others are your enemies. I’m the only truthful one; others are cheats,” and manage to get good positions. Where is the encouragement for humility in such an environment? The Gītā quoted by politicians and Rāvaṇa’s renunciation are the same.
Equanimity is stated in another way.
ihaiva tairjitaḥ sargo yeṣāṃ sāmye sthitaṃ manaḥ
nirdoṣaṃ hi samaṃ brahma tasmād brahmaṇi te sthitāḥ (BG 5.19)
They, whose minds are steadfast in the experience of Brahma that is uniform everywhere, obtain mokṣa (or liberation) ihaiva (in this world only). The statement that Brahma is uniform everywhere just means that it is impartial. Not that it appears the same to everybody. Just as the sky is uniform everywhere, Brahma is uniformly omnipresent. It does not have any inequality or cruelty. This is the purport of the statement “śuni caiva śvapāke ca” (in a dog and in a dog-eating caṇḍāla). The intent of a jñānī is to do whatever it takes to uplift any jīva. The intent of upliftment is the same across all beings. What is equality from a judge’s viewpoint? To give everyone their just due according to the law. We need practice for such a temperament to reside in our minds. Our selfish desires and infatuation must go. As long as these exist within us, this practice of equanimity will not be possible.
śaknotīhaiva yaḥ soḍhuṃ prākṣarīravimokṣaṇāt
kāmakrodhodbhavaṃ vegaṃ sa yuktaḥ sa sukhī naraḥ (BG 5.23)
(One must face the onslaught of Desire and Anger here, while alive. The one who can bear it and win over them is a yogi. He indeed is happy.)
In this chapter, yoga refers to karma-yoga. Yogis are sarvabhūtahiteratāḥ (engaged in the welfare of all beings). They experience their own Self everywhere and thus everyone is non-different from their own Self. The practice of welfare for all is an expression of the love for the Self. The practice of omni-welfare is an action too. That action is performed to please Bhagavān.
bhoktāraṃ yajñatapasāṃ sarvalokamaheśvaram
suhṛdaṃ sarvabhūtānāṃ jñātvā māṃ śāntimṛcchati (BG 5.29)
This is one of the most beautiful statements that Śrīkṛṣṇa has made about himself. “I am the friend of all beings. I am the protector of all. Perform your duties knowing that I am there”. Whom do all our yajñas and other meritorious works and austerities reach? It reaches Bhagavān. Whoever constantly experiences this divine greatness attains tranquility. This statement enables the contemplation of the divine Incarnation.
Reflection upon the Principle of Equality
The Gītā has numerous mentions referring to equality – sama, samatā, sāmya, samāna, samadarśi – which have been used in two kinds of meanings that are not opposed to each other but are closely related.
- The first meaning is seen in phrases such as “sama-duḥkha-sukhaṃ dhīram” and “samatvaṃ yoga ucyate”. In these situations, equality refers to an attitude of indifference to opposites such as profit-loss, like-dislike, and friends-enemies.
- The second meaning can be seen in statements such as “samaṃ sarveṣu bhūteṣu” and “paṇḍitāḥ samadarśinaḥ”. The purport here is that the Self uniformly exists in all beings.
Both of these meanings have to be considered according to the context.
As Śaṅkarācārya had criticised the path of action, Bal Gangadhar Tilak endeavoured to establish the primacy of action. Tilak was not interested in re-establishing the aśvamedha and the vājapeya rituals. He was more concerned with action in this world. Śaṅkarācārya was not opposed to that either. In fact, Śaṅkara was least interested in it. From his perspective, nothing needed to be said about worldly action as it was self-evident that everyday action was imperative. Manu’s testimony, that was considered to be of prime importance by Śaṅkara, is relevant here. Śaṅkarācārya quotes profusely from Manu. “Ṛṇāni triīṇi apākṛtya mano mokṣe niveśayet” (Having paid the three-fold debt, the mind must be engaged in liberation), and others are relevant quotes here. Buddha’s chief instruction was about moral action. Śaṅkarācārya insists on fulfilling all these moral prerequisites before holding a Vedānta treatise in one’s hands. Only those endowed with the wealth of the śama-sextet [ śama, dama, uparati, śraddhā, titikṣā, samādhāna] are qualified for the knowledge of Vedānta . Only those are fit to even touch the Gītā. Therefore Śaṅkara implicitly agrees that worldly dharma is essential. His issue is only about the rituals of the śruti and smṛti. For us in this era, due to the influence of the times, this is completely irrelevant. Our paṇḍitas repeatedly debate about ‘karma’. Due to this irrelevant debate, this already complicated matter becomes even more complicated. Neither Śaṅkarācārya nor the other ācharyas have any issue with the fact that worldly dharma has be performed. Even if Śaṅkarācārya forbids them, those actions will not stop as Bhagavān Krṣṇa himself has extolled the performance of karma.
Śaṅkarācārya is chronologically the first amongst the ācāryas of the three schools (Advaita, Dvaita and Viśiṣṭādvaita). When he could raise an issue, how could the teachers of the other schools remain quiet without having a say on it? Thus grew this literature of disputation. We can keep that aside.
What is relevant to us is not the question of śrauta rituals but that of everyday worldly actions. There are dos and don’ts as well as dharma and adharma and virtue and vice in everyday life. Is the Gītā relevant for the issues of everyday life that are out of the pale of Vedic eligibility? If not, the Gītā is a work that stands to become irrelevant with the passage of time and is not worthy of our respect and submission.
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.