Myth and Reality in ‘Myth and Reality’ – Bhagavad-Gita and Brahmanism

Kosambi accuses the Bhagavad-Gita of being a perverse tool used by brahmanas to justify their actions:

“The main conclusion is surely the following: Practically anything can be read into the Gita by a determined person, without denying the validity of a class system. THE GITA FURNISHED THE ONE SCRIPTURAL SOURCE WHICH COULD BE USED WITHOUT VIOLENCE TO ACCEPTED BRAHMIN METHODOLOGY, TO DRAW INSPIRATION AND JUSTIFICATION FOR SOCIAL ACTIONS IN SOME WAY DISAGREEABLE TO A BRANCH OF THE RULING CLASS upon whose mercy the brahmins depended at the moment. That the action was not mere personal opportunism is obvious in each of the cases cited above. It remains to show how the document achieved this unique position.”
(M&R, p.19)

The message of the Gita is clear and unambiguous if studied end to end and reflected upon. Quite simply, it advocates action without attachments, self-control, purity, and tolerance. As for the class system, we shall discuss about it a little later in the article.

[contextly_sidebar id="3Vk9Un5u2UxLR26qjAVD65Bh85VGH26B"]Contrary to what Kosambi claims, the Gita is often opposed to the orthodox brahminical ideas of ‘study of scriptures as the highest goal’ and ‘strict adherence to rituals.’ The Gita denounces mindless study of scriptures and rituals. It downplays people’s obsession with the karma kanda (ritualistic) aspects of the Vedas. Varna plays a cameo while guna and karma take centre-stage. Personal development is consistently the focus while society/social action is a mere footnote. The Gita is a highly inclusive text that tries to find harmony in diversity.

Kosambi himself accedes to the fact that Vedic rituals were the power of the brahmanas. Now, if the Gita was sung for upper classes like Kosambi claims, why are the rituals condemned? Why does Krishna rate a yogi higher than a mere ritualist? Here are a few striking examples from the Gita –

Those who lack proper insight
delight in the letter (and not spirit) of the Vedas;
they proclaim in flowery words:
“There is nothing else other than this!” (2.42)

They are full of desires and
reaching heaven is their supreme goal.
They perform many elaborate rituals
to attain pleasure and power.
Their actions eventually result in rebirth. (2.43)

Those attached to pleasure and power
are led astray by that flowery language.
They never attain the firm intellect
of a contemplative mind. (BG 2.44)

Those who work craving for worldly success
offer ritualistic worship to the gods.
Indeed, in the world of humans,
one attains material success quickly. (4.12)

By just being on this path of yoga
one transcends the rewards gained
by reading the scriptures and performing rituals (6.44)

A yogi is superior to an ascetic,
he is also superior to the learned,
and is far superior to a ritualist. (6.46)

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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.