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  • The Central Theme of the Gita
    The Central Theme of the Gita admin
    admin on Tuesday, January 27, 2015
    reviews [0]
    Karma & Dharma [9]

    In Praise of Knowledge

    Life, at every step, raises problems, and it is the business of philosophy to find solutions to them. To this end, philosophy seeks a knowledge of truth, which alone can give lasting solution to all the problems of life. Philosophical solutions are not in the nature of promises to be realized when life has ebbed away. Truth cannot be of much consequence to us if it cannot be realized in this life. A solution is no solution in the absence of the problem itself. Truth, as the Upanishads say, is to be realized here and now:

    "For one who has realized it here (in this world), there is true
    life. For one who has not, great shall be the loss."
        -Kena Upanishad 2-5

    Truth is simple enough and can enter life, silently, without elbowing out any of its other contents, and transform it imperceptibly. This, and not a baggage of outworn and meaningless creeds and dogmas and set rules, is what Sri Krishna offers us when we are at our wit’s end.

    To go through life steadily and surmount all its obstacles, what is required is a measure of self-confidence. In the words of Swami Vivekananda, "We must have faith in ourselves first, before having faith in God." The knowledge of the Atman (Self) which is our true nature is the basis of all manly endeavour and achievement. With this end in view, Sri Krishna shows Arjuna the way to the realization of his true self, leaving Arjuna to apply that knowledge and the faith derived therefrom to the solution of his many problems. This is clear from the 63rd verse of the eighteenth chapter, where Sri Krishna says thus:

    "Thus has wisdom more profound than all profundities been
    declared to thee by Me; reflecting over it fully, act as thou likest."

    That this teaching had its desired effect on Arjuna’s mind is
    clear from what Arjuna says in the 73rd verse of the 18th
    chapter and from his subsequent conduct. Arjuna says:

    "Destroyed is my delusion, and I have gained my memory through thy grace, O Achyuta (Krishna); I am firm; my doubts are gone; I will act as thou sayest."

    The Nature of the Self of Man

    The two important problems which absorb the attention of Sri Krishna are the nature of the Self and the problem of conduct.
    Of these, he proceeds first to a consideration of the former and disposes of the latter afterwards.

    The ego in man is the cause of all errors and the origin of all false values. It is that to which we refer all our judgements regarding everything in our experience; and being itself limited and circumscribed, it cannot confer infallibility upon its judgements. Hence the errors. Hence also doubts, which demand further inquiry. Deeper inquiry reveals the totally unreal character of this ego, thus shifting our sense of self-hood to a deeper reality. Here we come upon the great Vedantic conception of the sakshin (witness or ultimate observer). That the ego is unreal, that man’s individuality or self-hood does not consist in the ego, is the central truth in Buddhism.

    The two important characteristics of the Sakshin are detachment and universality. It marks the highest point of perfection in the process of de-personalization. Thus, it is the fulfillment of the scientific attitude and outlook. That it is the fulfillment and aim of the ethical, and to a large extent of the religious discipline also will be shown in the sequel.

    When Sri Krishna tells Arjuna that the true Self of man is unborn, immortal, and eternal, he is referring to this Sakshin (vide Gita 2-16, 13-22, 15-10, 18-17).

    The Gita conceives Reality as that which never changes. The ego, being subject to change, is unreal; so also are all its objects. Hence Sri krishna asks Arjuna to transcend the dualities of experience like heat and cold, pain and pleasure, and identify himself with the permanent and unchanging Being, the Sakshin (witness).

    The sakshin being the ultimate subject or observer, the difficulty of comprehending it truly is well expressed by Sri Krishna thus:

    "Some look upon this Self as marvelous; others speak about It as wonderful; others again hear of It as a wonder. And still others, though hearing, do not understand It at all."

    -Gita, 2-29.

    The Philosophy of the Atman (Self):
    Its Ethical Implications

    Thus does Sri Krishna impart to Arjuna a Knowledge of the philosophy of the true Self (Sankhya-Yoga). Next he proceeds to draw the ethical implications of his metaphysics. Sri Krishna recognised long ago that a rational ethics must be based on the highest metaphysics. Mankind has been searching for a sanction for ethical discipline. Prophets and philosophers have offered various theories regarding ethical life. All religions and philosophies unanimously teach that unselfishness is the highest virtue for all. But whereas religions seek its explanation in the words of an inspired prophet or a revealed scripture, philosophers like Kant find it in the Categorical Imperative. Both these are unsatisfactory. In Vedanta and the Gita we have a metaphysics which explains the rationale of all ethics and morality.

    Ethics has to solve the conflict between the rival demands of self and society, selfishness and altruism. When ethics teaches the suppression of ego as the essence of moral life, it asks us merely to transcend the unreal and find our being in the Real. Since realization of Truth requires the attainment of the detached viewpoint of the sakshin, ethical discipline must be combined with scientific and intellectual discipline for its fullest realization. To the discipline of the intellect which science insists in its pursuit of truth must be added a discipline of the whole life, covering every moment of one’s existence. This is Yoga as understood in Vedanta and Buddhism.

    Life is a continuous struggle characterized by ceaseless activity. How to order life and its activities so that it may yield its fruit in the shape of the knowledge of Truth- is the great problem and the nameless quest for all mankind. How to make work conducive to individual and social welfare? To this perennial problem, Sri Krishna gives a solution, which is at once original, and unique in the history of thought- I refer to the Gita teaching of Karma-Yoga.

    Before inquiry, untutored man takes his ego as real, and all actions and events are judged from that standpoint. At this stage, man works with various motives, and one of such motives at the time of Sri Krishna was the attainment of heaven, which had attained the status of a creed in the Vedic period. But philosophic inquiry in the Upanishads destroyed the basis of this doctrine by showing the impermanence and unreality of the ego. The Upanishads and Buddha taught the unreality of all desire-ridden existence, earthly or heavenly. Sri Krishna and Buddha showed that sacrifices and rituals are not the essence of an ethical life. Moral evolution is to be measured not by outward transference to higher planes of existence, but by an inward penetration by the reduction of the ego. The Gita, through its teaching of Karma-Yoga, helped to transfer the guidance of life from theology to philosophy (Gita 2-39 and 40):

    "The wisdom of Self-realization (Sankhya) has been declared unto thee. Hearken thou now to the wisdom of Yoga (practical spirituality), endowed with which, O Arjuna, thou shalt break through the bonds of action." -Gita, 1-39.

    "In this (Yoga) there is no waste of unfinished attempts, nor is there production of contrary results. Even a little of this Dharma saves one from great fear." -Gita, 2-40.

    We have already seen in a previous paragraph that the two characteristics of the true Self or sakshin are (1) its detachment and (2) its freedom from limited or circumscribed vision. We have also seen how scientific inquiry helps in a measure to attain this exalted viewpoint. We shall now proceed to inquire how ethical endeavour also finds its meaning and completion in this consummation. A converging life-endeavour towards the conquest of the false self or ego- is the sine qua non for the realization of one’s true Self.

    Duty: The First Stage of Ethical Discipline

    To this end, The Gita gives a twofold advice. Firstly, all work, whether pleasant or unpleasant, should be performed in the sense of duty. What does this imply? That work by itself is neither high nor low, but the preferences of the ego evaluate all work according to its whims. It is at this stage that man seeks for a comfortable life and a comfortable religion. The sense of duty teaches us to disregard the false values, which the ego has attached to life and work. This negation of the ego and its values is also the transcendence of the ego itself. This helps us to realize the second characteristic of the sakshin, namely, freedom from limited vision, or, what amounts to the same thing, getting universality of outlook.

    Secondly, by not caring for the fruits of our actions or by being unattached to them, we are asked to realize the first characteristic of the sakshin, namely, detachment. The only condemnation the Gita makes of those who work with various selfish motives is that they are men of small understanding, and defines Karma-Yoga as dexterity in action: "Yogah Karmasu Kausalam." The Gita extols this attitude in these words:

    "The wise possessed of this evenness of mind, abandoning the fruits of their actions, freed for ever from the fetters of life, attain that state which is beyond all evil."
    -Gita 2-51.

    The spontaneity of Human Life Beyond Duty

    Thus, duty is the first stage in ethical and spiritual discipline.
    There is a still higher phase of life taught in the Gita which has witnesses among the sages and saints of every religion, but which does not find any serious treatment in any system outside Indian thought. Duty is the hard school where man learns to crucify his ego. This phase is characterized by ceaseless struggle and tension. But when one succeeds in shifting the centre from the ego to the sakshin, duty fulfils itself, and the individual works from the highest standpoint. The urge to break all bondages and fly into the free air of freedom compels one to criticize and evaluate, at a higher stage, the concept of duty itself. Duty is certainly high as compared with the plane of passions and desires. The moral man transcends the vegetative man. But there is an element of compulsion in it. We may call it inner compulsion (Categorical Imperative) or external compulsion (scriptural or state injunctions and prohibitions), but compulsion it is. Hence it must be transcended. The call of freedom is insistent; all bonds must be broken. The man of duty is at best a disciplined slave.

    Hence the Gita teaches man to rise above even this duty and work as a free being. Loving another because of the mandate of scripture or teacher is good; doing so as a result of a compelling prompting from within is better; but it is best when love becomes a spontaneous expression of one’s whole being. In the first and second stages, there is a possibility of error and a dilution of selfishness. But with the transcendence of the ego and elimination of self-love, life and love assume an eternal and pure aspect. Life becomes natural and love becomes spontaneous. Such a one can no more stop loving than a rose can stop sending out its sweet smell. For here we are no more on the plane of commands or law, but on the plane of Nature or Expression. The Gita devotes many passages to describe this stage beyond duty – the plane in which Buddhas and Christs live (vide Gita, chapter.2-71, ch.3-17, ch.4-18, ch.6-18, ch.12-13, ch.12-14, ch.12-18 and ch.12-19.)

    When one attains the sakshin—consciousness, he finds life in an entirely new perspective. All the false values which the ego had attached to life and its functions get destroyed, and they reveal themselves in their true forms. Such a life is the acme of ethical perfection. Man leaves far behind him all the struggle and joys, hates and competitions, and sorrows and miseries, which is life to every one of us, and learns to view life as a grand harmony- everything in tune with everything else and with himself. Then words of love alone fall from his lips, all his thoughts make for the good of the world, and all his actions seek the welfare of mankind as a whole. They are, in the words of the Gita (Sarvabhutahiteratah) ‘ever interested in the good of all beings’, and their actions and thoughts have always only one reference (Lokasangrahartham), ‘the welfare of mankind’. Truly has been said by Jesus that such men are the salt of the

    The Grand Spiritual Synthesis by Sri Krishna

    In this philosophy and in this ethical teaching, we have the meaning and explanation of all life’s activities. Here, I must mention one important feature of the Gita teaching –its synthetic note. Under the hegemony of his comprehensive philosophy of life, Sri Krishna synthesizes all the aspects of spiritual life- aspects broadly known in India as the paths of Work, Devotion, Meditation, and Knowledge, (Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga) and whatever other paths there be – by emphasizing the essential nature and common feature of all of these. Whether we are asked to surrender ourselves to God or work without any attachment, whether we are asked to calm the mind or analyze our thoughts, what we in essence do and achieve is the elimination of the ego, which is the mask that Truth wears in every one of us. Whatever religious practices we do, whatever phase of life we may live, if once we shift our centre of individuality to the sakshin, we go beyond all the dualities and struggles of life, and attain universality of outlook and breadth of heart. Not only that, all measure of large-heartedness and breadth of outlook we see in the world bespeak only of this attainment in various degrees.

    We have here, in broad outline, the Gita teaching and its implications. One thing strikes us, and that is its non-sectarian and non-creedal character. In whatever position of life we may be, to whatever creed or religion we may belong, the Gita teaching is unlimited in its scope. It has only one message- the message of strength- a message that raises man to higher and higher levels of self-expression. It never seeks to make a Jew a Gentile, a Christian or a Muslim a Hindu, a Westerner an Easterner, or vice versa. It appeals to every man and woman to apply its teachings to his or her circumstances and march towards the citadel of Truth, with only one warning, that is, not to rest content on the way. There is no crying quarter in the search for truth.


    Today, the world as a whole is passing through a supreme crisis in all its history. The Old World with its thoughts, opinions and institutions is in a state of rapid dissolution; none can yet see clearly the shape of thing to come. Deeply imbedded in the modern consciousness is the desire for the creation of a stable civilization. Thinkers in the East and the West give expression to this urge when they speak of the future world order. If the future is to witness the emergence of a world civilization, the collective wisdom of mankind has to be utilizes for its realization. The greatest contribution shall come not from sects and creeds or parties and leaders, but from the spiritual benefactors of humanity, like Krishna, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed.

    The present world context, with its gushing passions and high aspirations, somewhat resembles the conditions that obtained in India in the age of the Mahabharata war when the message of the Gita was delivered. In these days of conflict, struggle and confusion, we can have no better guide to show us the path to freedom and peace than the message of the rational, universal, and comprehensive spirituality which Krishna taught in the Gita over 3000 years ago. It is God’s message to man- eternal, ancient and ageless. Momentous problems are there before us, which stagger the wisdom of the earth’s bravest and best. Let us hope and pray that the new interest that is evident in many quarters in the ‘Song Celestial’, as Edwin Arnold called the Gita, may be productive of real and lasting benefit to humanity at large.

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