Gita–An antidote for life in Kali

Radhamohan Das
On the day of Gita Jayanti, Lord Sri Krishna preached the virtues of the Bhagavad-Gita to Arjuna on the battlefield at Kurukshetra about 5000 (3000 BC) years ago. But unfortunately many a modern scholar has claimed that the context of the battle of Kurukshetra is highly unrealistic and so must have been an interpolation. But, then many many scholars have given verdicts that the context is extremely important and apposite which is surely one of the reasons why the Gita has fascinated millions of saints and sages, prophets, scholars and illuminates. They have acclaimed it all as a marvellous song of songs–a scriptural verdict of dharma against wickedness. The believers’ thesis is that the Gita is apauruseya, that’s, a Revelation of the highest mystic Truth. In other words, what Lord Krishna had spoken in the Gita are different from that of a person and these words are called apauruseya. It is a lofty Truth harmonizing action, knowledge and devotion (karma, jnana and bhakti) a magic evangel or, shall we say, Krishna’s clue to Light in the dark labyrinth of life. We, His devotees and many many more strongly subscribe to this view accepting in toto the historicity of Krishna and the Kuru-Pandava war which symbolized the immemorial tussle of righteousness with gross injustice, justice with injustice, truth with falsehood. Such a tussle has begun from the dawn of time and comes intermittently to a head in crucial moments of history.
The Mahabharata is the greatest Indian epic of wisdom and wonder, a real encyclopaedia of dharma and ethics, knowledge and wisdom – an inspiring drama of nobility and manliness at war with ill-will. Indeed, the discourse in the Mahabharata, the epic Sanskrit history of the ancient world, is one of the greatest philosophical and religious dialogues known to man. This long history may not be highlighted here due to limited space. But, the dramatic scene of the Gita which Lord Krishna chanted to Arjuna in the battlefield of Kurukshetra is highly required to remember again in the present context.
Arjuna, before sounding the final war conch, requested Krishna to place His chariot in between two armies confronting one another so that Arjuna could take final stock of the situation and survey Duryodhana with his henchmen in battle array. Thus, Krishna complied, and the great dialogue of the Gita began–a drama par excellence !
Sanjaya, the blind King’s Minister as well as charioteer while sitting together with the king Dhritarastra side by side in the royal palace graphically described to his master everything what happened on the battlefield. Sanjaya began his recital of the first Act of the great drama by reporting verbatim how Arjuna’s chariot flashed roaring in the battlefield and in what context the Lord sang immortal Gita or a marvellous synthesis of the three Yogas–of action, knowledge and devotion (karma, jnana and bhakti).
Lord Krishna first instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god (Vivasvan), the sun god instructed it to Manu (the father of mankind), and Manu in turn instructed it to Iksvaku (Gita 4.1). So, Gita was spoken in the human society some 2 million years ago. When it was lost, Krishna again chanted it to Arjuna, a Kshatriya.
When the Kshatriyas disappeared, the Gita was solely interpreted by the Brahmins. Here, Sri Aurobindo said that the Brahmins have laid stress in the goal, but they have not echoed Lord Krishna’s emphasis on the necessity of action as the one sure road to the goal. He further expressed that we are not to plunge into the vortex of scientific atheism and the breakdown of moral ideals which is engulfing Europe.
Aldous Huxley said, “The Gita is one of the clearest and most comprehensive summaries of the Perennial Philosophy ever to have been made. Hence its enduring value, not only for Indians, but for all mankind ……. The Bhagavad-gita is perhaps the most systematic spiritual statement of the Perennial Philosophy.” (Introduction to the Bhagavad-gita by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood : 1945).
Swami Vivekananda said : “The concept of the practical Vedanta is what is found in the Gita which teaches us unattached action with spiritual anchorage. No better commentary on the Vedas has been written or can be written.”
Thomas Merton, Catholic Theologian said : “The Gita can be seen as the main literary support for the great religious civilization of India, the oldest surviving culture in the world ……….”
The Gita Mahatamya states, “All the Upanishads are the cows, the cowherd’s son Krishna is milking the cows; Arjuna is the calf, the ambrosial Gita is the nectarean milk and the pure minded people of the world are the consumers and enjoyers of that milk. The milk provides spiritual nourishment and everyone is invited to drink it.”
The Gita which is definitely a work of the pre-Christian era having eighteen chapters form the Bhisma parva of the Mahabharata for its chapters from XXIII to XL.
Commentators on Gita :
Samkara : Of all the chief commentators of Gita, the commentary of Samkara (AD 788-820) is the most ancient of the existing ones. He affirms that Reality or Brahman is one without a second. According to him, the entire world of manifestation and multiplicity is not real itself and seems to be real only for those who live in ignorance (avidya).
After Samkara, other commentators are Anandagiri (AD 1300), Sridhara (AD 1400), Madhusudana (AD 1600), Ramanuja (AD 1100).
Ramanuja (AD 1100) : According to Ramanuja, Brahman, the highest reality, is spirit, but not without attributes. The world and God are one as body and soul are one. The ego (jiva) is not unreal and is not extinguished in the state of liberation. “tat tvam asi”, “that art thou” means that “God is myself” even as my soul is the self of my body. As God indwells and penetrates the soul, God and soul are one. The Creative is distinct from the Creator.
Madhva (AD 1199 to 1276) : He wrote two works on Gita, called Gitabhasya and Gitatatparya. He said, soul and God must be regarded as eternally different from each other and any unity, partial or entire between the two is untenable. He interprets the passage ‘tat tvam asi’ ‘that art thou’ as meaning that we must give up the distinction between mine and thine, and holds that everything is subject to the control of God. Madhva contends that devotion is the method emphasized in the Gita.
Nimbarka (AD 1162) : He holds the theory of dvaitadvaita (dual-non-dual doctrine). He says the soul (jiva), the world (jagat) and God are different from each other, but the activity and existence of the soul and the world depend on the will of God. Devotion to the Supreme is the principal theme of Nimbarka writings.
Vallabha (AD 1479) : He develops what is called suddhadvaita of pure non-dualism. Souls are particles of God like sparks of fire, they require the grace of the Supreme for obtaining the release.
B.G. Tilak, Sri Aurobindo and Srila Prabhupada are the other chief commentators on the Gita. Gandhi has his own views. The different views are complementary and indeed are not contradictory. The sages have described in various ways the essential truths.
Krishna, the Teacher : The following discussion is according to the Bhagavad-gita by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna says that He is not expressing any new view but is only repeating what has been preached by Him to Vivasvan and by Vivasvan to Manu and by Manu to Iksvaku.
Krishna is not a bygone Personality but the indwelling Spirit (Paramatma or Supersoul), and an object for our spiritual consciousness. God is never born in the ordinary sense. Krishna is the human embodiment of Vishnu. He is the Supreme and He has descended or created Himself to lift the world whenever abuse of unrighteousness increases. Out of Krishna’s love He is born again and again to renew the work of creation on a higher plane. An Avatara (incarnation) is a descent of God into man and not an ascent of man into God. When the Divine birth takes place, the Supreme Lord abides in the heart of every creature. We hear the Divine voice, receive the Divine light, act in the Divine power. The incarnation of Krishna is not so much the conversion of Godhead into flesh as the taking up of manhood into God.
Lord Krishna as the teacher slowly guides His pupil Arjuna to attain the status which he has, mama sadharmyam. Arjuna, the pupil is reflected as the type of the struggling soul who is fighting with the forces of darkness, falsehood, limitation, and mortality which bar the way to the spiritual or higher world. Then, he takes refuge in Krishna, the teacher for the world and appeals for the grace of enlightenment. Indeed, every individual is also a pupil to Krishna and he must be an aspirant for perfection, a seeker of God. If the pupil seeks earnestly, with faith, then God the goal becomes God the guide.
The Status of the World and the Concept of Maya : In the Bhagavad-gita, there is no antithesis between eternity and time. Prakriti or nature is a reflection of the self, is subordinate to the self. In the cosmic process between the interaction of two principles of being and non-being, God is the upper limit in complete control of non-being, and prakriti or matter is the lower limit. The non-being is dependent on being. Non-being which is responsible for imperfections is a necessary element in the world. The purpose of the Supreme is that the whole world is delivered from bondage and restored to its origin in pure Being above all distinctions. Arjuna sees the whole world, Visvarupa in one vast shape. He sees the form of the Supreme Lord (Divine) bursting the very bounds of existence, filling the whole sky and the universe, worlds coursing through it like waterfalls. (To be contd)