GITA An Epitome of Perennial Philosophy
(Every year, the Hindus all over the world celebrate Gita Jayanti, the birthday of Bhagwatgita, on the 11th day of the bright half of the lunar month of Margashirsa. This year it falls on Monday, December 21. On this occasion, Gopinath Raina explains the background that led to the dialogue between Krishna, the divine teacher, and Arjuna, the warrior. The author also dwells on various aspects of the eternal message of the Song Celestial.—Editor)
“Gita is the most beautiful, perhaps, the only true philosophical song existing in any known tongue, perhaps, the deepest and loftiest thing the world has to show. I feel a sense of overwhelming gratitude to God for having let me live to read it in original.”
Karmanye Vaadhikaaraste, Maa Phaleshu Kadaachana
This single verse from the song celestial should be one of the fundamental drivers in our lives. It gives us a direction that will never give rise to despondency. It is universal in its scope and it revolves round the attitude toward work. We have a right to action only but not to the fruit there-of. All work, whether it is that of a student, a farmer, a factory worker or a merchant, is equally and vitally important. Gita would want us to do our duty but remain indifferent or unattached to the results of the works we undertake. At the same time Gita insists that we cannot run away from action.
Gita’s Abiding Value
Long before Buddha, Krishna propounded the psychological truth that ignorance of one’s nature lay at the root of all troubles in the world. That explains why the divine teacher discusses in Gita the nature of man, composed of the transient body and the eternal soul. He says, the wise man adopts an attitude of equanimity to all external objects and obtains Internal calm not by stopping sense activity altogether but by engaging in action without any idea of a result. Action has to be performed. The whole universe is in motion, ever evolving and ever moving. The cosmos is an organism with the principle elements and forces like the sun, moon, air, water, fire, electricity and magnetism at work. We must recognize this fundamental truth underlying the mechanism of the universe.
Shri Krishna tells us that action performed in a spirit of detachment leads to true wisdom, to the knowledge of what is behind action, behind all life. And with the growth of this knowledge, the need for further action will gradually fall away and the law of Karma will then cease to operate. Whenever one is confused, feeling low or very happy, you can pick up any verse from the Gita and it will show you the way.
Since the dilemma that enveloped Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra is the one that can afflict any cultured or refined mind anywhere, anytime, the Gita has an abiding value for all, irrespective of place and time.
Allegorically, Arjuna represents man in a great crisis in his life. He typifies the struggling individual who feels the burden and mystery of the world. He does not know what is right and what is wrong. The mood of despair in which Arjuna finds himself in is what the mystics call the 'dark night of the soul', an essential step in the upward path.
In his ‘Essays on the Gita’, Sri Aurobindo says: “What the Bhagwadgita urges us to kill is not the physical bodies before us — those are mere symbols, outward expressions. It is our inner obstacles — habits, ego, desires, greed, and attachment and so on.”
For the great Saiva philosopher of Kashmir, Abhinavagupta, the battle between Kauravas and the Pandavas was simply a conflict between the forces of knowledge (Vidya) and those of ignorance (Avidya).
The ‘Song Celestial’ reveals a way of life by which the so-called worldly actions themselves become means for inner spiritual growth. One need not leave one’s field of action with all its intrinsic conflicts and pains to start the divine trek to subjective illumination.
Gita & Law of Conservation
Gita predated Physicist Lavoisier of the late 18th century in his discovery of the well-known Law of Conservation of Matter which states: “Matter can neither be created nor destroyed.” One of the interesting verses of the Gita “What is not will never be, what is will never cease to be …” (2/16) can be regarded as the mother of all conservation laws. Gita goes further and says that “Only the forms (bodies) of this everlasting (eternal) indestructible (thing) called Brahman are destructible…”(2/18) “…Brahman is the origin as well as the dissolution of the entire universe.” (7/6)
The climax of the Gita is its 11th Chapter in which Krishna appears to Arjuna in His Supreme Form. It is a terrifying theophany, a glimpse into a level of reality that is more than the ordinary mind can bear. Arjuna sees “The whole universe unfolded with countless billions of life forms, gathered together In the body of the God of gods. (11-15). Krishna dazzles his sight, blazing In the measureless, massive, sun-flame Splendor of (his) radiant form, a vision of pure energy. (11-17)
Oppenheimer, Nuclear Arsenal & Gita
Robert Oppenheimer, the American theoretical physicist, famously known as the father of the atomic bomb uttered the words 'Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds', after he had seen the fireball glowing after the bomb had been dropped. He was in effect quoting from verse 32 of Chapter 11 of the Gita.
Although raised in a Jewish environment, Oppenheimer was deeply influenced by Vedic philosophy. He never converted to Hinduism nor did he ever refer to himself as a Hindu but he did take up Sanskrit lessons so as to better understand the Gita.
He always gave Gita as a present to his friends and kept a copy on the shelf closest to his desk. At Franklin Roosevelt's funeral, he read a passage from the Gita which says, "Man is a creature whose substance is faith. He is what his faith is." (17/3). In 1963, the Christian Magazine asked him to list his 10 most influential books, he chose the Bhagavad-Gita as one of them.
He admitted himself that he had blood on his hands but was adamant that he had done the right thing. He believed that the bomb would save more lives by stopping the carnage that was World War II in that the bomb would frighten other would be aggressors thereby, in theory, preventing many future conflicts.
Yato Dharmah Tato Jayah
History bears witness to the fact that various forms of evil have manifested in the world from time to time, like caste-ism in India, apartheid in South Africa, Nazism in Germany and slavery in America. Its latest manifestation, terrorism, is the most sinister contemporary evil that has bedeviled the entire world in modern times.
The civilized world continues to seethe under the threat of spontaneous acts of terror on civilian targets as evidenced by the recent attacks in Paris and California. Pakistan's reputation as a breeding ground for terrorism again came up for scrutiny after US authorities found the perpetrators of California carnage to be supporters of Islamic State, who, in turn, called them martyrs.
Faced with challenges from fundamentalists and extremist organization like ISIS, humanity needs to be guided by a larger vision and wisdom. It is here that we must turn to the religion of the Bhagwadgita, which is catholic in its message, comprehensive in its outlook and universal in character. And it is time that we rouse Arjuna in us, wake up to our potential and free the world of terrorist menace. And for this, we have the necessary assurance from Gita in the dictum “Yato Dharmah Tato Jayah” meaning wherever there is righteousness, there will be victory.
Gita-What they say about it?
Regarded as a work of impeccable integrity, Gita occupies a highly significant place in the intellectual, ethical and spiritual life of modern man. What follows is what the greats of the world have to say about it.
When I read the Bhagavad-Gita and reflect about how God created this universe everything else seems so superfluous.
I find a solace in the Bhagwadgita that I miss even in the Sermon on the Mount. When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face and I see not one ray of hope on the horizon, I turn to Bhagwadgita and I find a verse here and a verse there to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow.”
"In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad-gita, in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial."
Henry David Thoreau
Bhagavad-Gita is the manifest quintessence of all the teachings of the Vedic scriptures."
The Bhagavad-Gita is a true scripture of the human race a living creation rather than a book, with a new message for every age and a new meaning for every civilization.
The marvel of the Bhagavad-Gita is its truly beautiful revelation of life's wisdom which enables philosophy to blossom into religion."
"I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad-gita. It was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
"In order to approach a creation as sublime as the Bhagavad-Gita with full understanding, it is necessary to attune our soul to it."
"The Bhagavad-Gita is one of the most clear and comprehensive summaries of perennial philosophy ever revealed; hence its enduring value for all of humanity."
Gita can be seen as the main literary support for the great religious civilization of India, the oldest surviving culture in the world. Our highly activistic and one-sided culture is faced with a crisis that may end in self-destruction because it lacks the inner depth of an authentic metaphysical consciousness. Without such depth, our moral and political protestations are just so much verbiage.
No work in all Indian literature is more quoted because none is better loved in the west than Bhagwadgita. Translation of such a work demands not only knowledge of Sanskrit but an inward sympathy with the theme and a verbal artistry. For the poem is a symphony in which God is seen in all things.
Dr. Geddes MacGregor
If truth is what works, as the pragmatists insist, there must be a kind of truth in the Bhagwadgita since those who follow its teachings display a joyous serenity usually missing in the bleak and strident lives of contemporary people.
Dr. Elwin H. Powell
*A journalist by profession, a scholar by temperament and a writer by choice, Gopinath Raina was inclined to study of religion from very young age. It was Vivekananda’s dynamic exposition of Hindu thought that fired his imagination while he was still at school. By the time he entered college, he had been drawn to the writings of Gandhi, Aurobindo, Narayana Guru, Radhakrishnan and Bertrand Russell.
After retiring from Indian Information Service in 1983 after completing 35 years as an editor and a correspondent in All India Radio, he edited AICC Journal, Varnika, (Jan.'84-Dec.'90), Koshur Samachar (March '91-Oct '95), Sanatana Sandesh,(1997-2005) and KASHEER (2003-2004), He has since been writing on various aspects of Hindu thought, particularly on saints and sages. Presently he lives in Miami spending his time writing personal memoirs.