(Spoken during Gita Jayanti in 1972)
We can study a text as a historical document come to us from ancient times, forming a link in the development of human culture and civilisation, and we can also study a text as a piece of psychology of the author, a stage in the development of the human mind, so that the particular text to be studied gives us an idea of our present psychological relation to it, and vice versa. The scripture also can be studied as a piece of literature. For example, the Bible and Shakespeare’s writings are considered to be magnificent English literature available to us.
So from what angle of vision are we to study a book, especially when we take up a text like the Bhagavadgita, the Sermon on the Mount, or the Dharmapada? When we study these, we generally introduce into the context our own personality, viewpoints, and the nature of the interest we have at a given moment of time. The structure of the context also depends to a large extent on the mental constitution of the student. A grieved person who is sinking in sorrow due to the weight of samsara, buffeted from all sides with pains of every kind – if such a person reads the Bhagavadgita or the Sermon on the Mount, one particular meaning will come out of it. But a person who has been born with a silver spoon in the mouth and who has never seen pain and never known suffering has another interest altogether, and sees a different meaning in it.
This scripture, the Bhagavadgita – that which is the subject of our worship, prayer and study today – may be taken as a typical representation of religious literature among the many that we have in the world. It is studied, commented upon by countless people, scholars galore, and each one has spoken truths which are not whole truths and yet not untruths because, as I mentioned, the context in which we study the scripture, the circumstances which impel us or direct us to the study and, above all, the state of our mental evolution determine the extent of knowledge or the meaning that we can extract out of such literature as these.
There is a little difference between writings of scholars, poets, literatures, and writings of this kind such as the Bhagavadgita. Kalidasa has written Raghuvamsa and Kumarasambhava, and Vyasa has written the Bhagavadgita. We cannot say that they are on a par even from the point of view of literary merit because scriptures such as the Bhagavadgita contain words which are more than mere linguistic expressions. We are often told, perhaps the Christ himself mentioned it somewhere, that the words he spoke were not words, but spirit expressing itself. It was spirit that came out from the mouth of Christ. They were not words of language. If that was spirit which came out as the wondrous teaching in the New Testament, similar is the case with the words of the Bhagavadgita. It was spirit that was gushing forth, spirit coming in torrential forms and concretising itself through the stages of para, pashyanti, madhyama and vaikhari into visible audible form.
Thus, when spirit manifests itself as force of language and words of wisdom, it becomes a comprehensive manifestation. Spirit is comprehensive. It is not one-sided in any way. While we can speak one aspect of a matter without touching other aspects because of the incompetency of language and the limitations of words, when spirit speaks, it speaks all things at one stroke because spirit and life are identical. Life has no aspects. It is the one thing that we cannot define in our language. What is life? We cannot define it because it eludes the grasp of definitions through linguistic formulae. And if spirit manifests itself as these scriptures, it covers all ranges of thought.
Today when we were doing the sacred svadhyaya of the Bhagavadgita, the 700 verses, I was trying to glance through the meaning of every sloka, and it appeared to me that there is no subject which is not touched there. The only point is, we should have a little time to think over it deeply. Every aspect of human character, human aspiration and human context is touched on in one verse or the other. But if we read it in a hurry just because it is Gita Jayanti and we have to finish it in two hours, we will make little meaning out of it.
The more we study it in an impersonal fashion, the more meaning does it seem to convey to us. As days pass, the more is the depth into which we can enter. Every aspect of psychological question, every philosophical problem, everything that we can call scientific in its strict sense of the term, everything spiritual, social, political, economic, moral, all these subjects are touched on in some verse of the Gita so that, as Mahatma Gandhi used to say, some verse or the other would come up like a ray of light before his mind when he was drooping in a dark cloud covering the sun. There is no verse which will not throw light on some question of life. It may be my question, it may be your question, but it shall have an answer to every question because the Bhagavadgita is supposed to solve the question of mankind. It is not merely the question of Arjuna that was the point of discussion. The Arjuna was only a type of human nature which was taken as symbolic, representing mankind’s foibles as well as longings.
If Arjuna was taken as symbolic of human character in general, seeking its destination which it has lost in the oblivion of ignorance, Krishna would represent the cosmic answer to the individual problem of man. It is actually Iswara-jiva Samvada, Krishna-Arjuna Samvada, Narayana-Nara Samvada, the universe and the individual commingling with each other in a concourse which is deeper than physical sensory perception. What was actually the intention of the Bhagavadgita, we mortal intellects cannot easily explain because, as I tried to point out, if it was divinity that actually manifested itself as the force of the Gita gospel, it should have had intentions beyond the limitations of, and exceeding the borders of, mere human convenience and need.
Human nature, in its completeness and totality, was what was the object of address in the Gita. When we address human nature, we cannot speak merely to its nose or eyes or physiological organs. Human nature eludes the grasp of pure scientific understanding in its logical sense. Divine character, or divine perfection, was addressing human nature in its eternality. Human nature is a type that is eternal; it will not come to an end. Though Mr. so-and-so, Mrs. so-and-so may come to an end one day or another, their types of human nature will not end. There is a difference between logical types and physical patterns. The physical patterns of individuality have a beginning and an end. They die because they have a beginning; they have a birth. But the types of human nature are perpetually there. We have Duryodhanas, we have Krishnas, we have Arjunas, we have every blessed thing always in some part of the world. The psychological pattern of human nature, which cannot be said to have a beginning or an end, which is there as long as the universe lasts, that perpetual figure of human character and human nature was the recipient of this knowledge coming down from the supreme perfection of a blend of eternity and infinity. Thus viewed, the Bhagavadgita becomes a gospel of eternity.
While students of Indology, Sanskritists and grammarians see in the Gita a historical document of linguistic peculiarity, and political historians see in it a feature of the Indian nation in ancient times, people with a more comprehensive vision see in it an eternal gospel for man as such so that it is a gospel for me and for you, for one and all, at all periods of time and in every place or circumstance. The spiritual connotation of a scripture is, therefore, transcendent to the limitations of spatial, temporal and personal idiosyncrasies or peculiarities. It is not meant only for this place, for India only. It exceeds the limitations of space or place. It is not meant only for that particular age in the Mahabharata. That means to say, it exceeds the limitations of time. It was not meant only for Arjuna. It exceeds the limitations of personality. Space, time and individuality do not limit the significance of an eternal message. It is in this context that we are to look upon the Bhagavadgita, especially as sadhakas, seekers. We are not here as students of history or Indology, or politicians or social reformers who are concerned only with a particular given context at a given moment of time. As seekers of truth, we have to see the gospel of truth in the Bhagavadgita.
One of the remarkable features of the Gita is that while each of its verses can be taken as an independent gospel by itself, and even a single verse gives us enough knowledge to ponder over for months together, yet with all these variegated verses which apparently give us independent conclusive messages for humanity, they form a beautiful architectural pattern of beauty and wholeness. There is a pattern of development of the verses of the Gita, like the limbs of a human body. While each limb of the body can be studied independently – eye surgeons study only the eyes, ENT specialists are concerned with only certain parts of the body, there are heart specialists, brain specialists – we cannot forget the context of this part of the body in the setup of the whole organism. The brain is not somebody else’s; it is of the very same person who has also a heart, who has eyes, who has entrails, and so on. Likewise, each verse of the Gita can be taken independently as an object of study or a subject for our thesis, and an object of meditation, psychological analysis, moral self-discipline. For all these purposes we can take every sloka as a guiding light. Yet, all these slokas go together to perform a beautiful fabric of perfection so that we can take the Gita as a single gospel, or we may take it as a variegated gospel for every level of life.
How many rays has the Sun? They say he is sahastra girna or eka girna; we may say he has thousands of rays, or millions of rays, or only one ray. So is the Bhagavadgita. It is a masterpiece not merely of literature but a masterpiece of spiritual profundity and divine magnificence. If Sri Krishna in his cosmic form, or on the eve of his manifestation of the public, spoke the Gita, it was recorded for us by an equally great person, Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa. That is a wonder. The author of its present literary form is as great and as competent in every way as the speaker himself. So we have a beautiful blend of masters – the great master spirit of divinity Krishna speaking the Gita, and the mastermind of Vyasa writing it.
The comprehensiveness of the significance or meaning of the Gita gospel as a spiritual treatise for humanity can be gauged from an oft-quoted verse: krsno janati vai samyak, kincit kunti-sutah phalam vyaso va vyasa-putro va (Sri Vaisnaviya-tantra-sara, Gita Mahatmya 3): The meaning of the Gita is known wholly only to Krishna. Nobody else knows it. Arjuna knows a little bit, and Vyasa knows it, and perhaps his son Suka knows it. The others only hear.
We can make out only the word meaning of a scripture, but that is not the real meaning. It is not only one meaning that comes to the surface if we study a verse of the Gita. It has got many implications, connections and relations; thus, it differs from works such as the Raghuvamsa, the Kumarasambhava or even the Panchadasi. They have only a single meaning, because they are written for a special purpose. But scriptures such as the Gita, the Upanishads, the Veda Samhitas, the Ramayana of Valmiki or even the Mahabharata taken as a whole are not ordinary messages given by writers that we see in the world in plenty. They are not simply writers; they are ambassadors of the spirit who speak in the language of perpetual significance. And thus, we have force and energy induced into us when we study the Gita – much more when we actually contemplate its meaning, and if it is studied in the context in which it ought to be studied.
Sarva shastramayi gita is another oft-quoted saying: Every scriptural meaning we will find in the Gita. Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Mimamsa, Vedanta, theism, acosmism, pantheism, transcendentalism, absolutism, devotion, knowledge, concentration, meditation, action, what not – everything we will find there. I don’t think that any one of us here had the patience or the time to read the Gita in such depth. Most people study the Gita as a routine of svadhyaya, parayana, or some people keep it only for worship. They keep it in the puja room and do not open it, keep a tulsi leaf on it and prostrate before it every day. That is also good, wonderful, but that is not enough. It has to be made a part of our life. The Gita is a gospel of life. It is a universal gospel given to Man, capital ‘m’, Man as such, human nature, the type of human character which Arjuna represented. It was not one person that spoke the Gita to another person, Krishna speaking to Arjuna. As I mentioned, the gospel of the Gita exceeds the limits of personality significance. That is why it is sometimes also known as Narayana-Nara Samvada and Brahma-vidya Yoga Shastra.
When we take the whole Gita as a complete gospel it becomes a systematic exposition of the sadhana which we have to perform as seekers of God – the various stages through which we have to pass right from the oblivion of the dark night of the soul, as the mystics generally call it, the condition in which Arjuna was as described in the first chapter of the Gita. The soul gropes in darkness, knowing not where it is and what is happening to it. Right from that condition of oblivion, we are taken systematically to the wondrous vision of the Supreme Being as described in the eleventh chapter of the Gita. From oblivion and ignorance, we go to omniscience and mastery in absoluteness. That is the eleventh chapter. Many things are said which we have to study in detail.
No single commentary on the Gita can be said to touch all the aspects which the Gita must have intended, so it is profitable to read at least half a dozen masters so that we may have an adequate knowledge of the various viewpoints with which the Gita can be studied. One of the most beautiful presentations of this spiritual message of the Gita is the work of Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita – most beautiful. He is one of those who have gone to the very depths of the Gita and given its spiritual message, not merely its historical or political or social message, but the spiritual message for all time. And among the ancient authors, we have the great commentaries of Acharya Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhava, and of later authors also who have written in modern languages. All these are wonderful expositions.
What is the message of the Gita? No one can answer this question in one sentence because we do not know how to express an answer to this moot question. It is like asking what Swami Atmananadaji is. We cannot say he is something in one sentence because there are so many aspects of a human being. Likewise, what is the message of the Gita? If you actually deeply think over the answer to this question, your mouth will be shut. Your silence is the message of the Gita, because you cannot say anything. It is everything and anything. When God speaks, you cannot say what He spoke. What He spoke, how can you say? He spoke everything because it was the Infinite that spoke.
However, beginners as we are on the path of the spirit, we would do well to choose a few verses for our daily contemplation such as ananyāś cintayanto māṁ ye janāḥ paryupāsate, teṣāṁ nityābhiyuktānāṁ yogakṣemaṁ vahāmy aham (Gita 9.22); manmanā bhava madbhakto madyājī māṁ namaskuru, mām evaiṣyasi yuktvaivam ātmānaṁ matparāyaṇaḥ (9.34); sarvadharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja, ahaṁ tvā sarvapāpebhyo mokṣyayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ (18.66); karmaṇy evā ’dhikāras te mā phaleṣu kadācana, mā karmaphalahetur bhūr mā te saṅgo 'stv akarmaṇi (2.47); ajo nityaḥ śāśvato ’yaṁ purāṇo na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre (2.20). Such verses can be taken as objects for contemplation, themes for meditation.
Or we may take the whole gospel as a single eternal message to us, God beckoning man: “Come to Me.” Sarvadharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja: Abandoning all relativistic modes of conduct which hang one on the other, not independent by themselves, come to the supremely independent root of all beings. Yadā bhūtapṛthagbhāvam ekastham anupaśyati, tata eva ca vistāraṁ brahma saṁpadyate tadā (13.30). When we recognise the rootedness of all variety in that single Being, we have attained to perfection: brahma saṁpadyate tadā.
But how could we contemplate this rootedness of all variety in that single Being? For that, various touches of sadhana are given to us in various slokas of the Gita. There is the moral or ethical side of it, there is the social aspect of it, there is also the political aspect of it, there is the psychological aspect. We cannot simply suddenly jump into it, ignoring these aspects. When we speak to a person, we consider the situation from all angles of vision; then only can we know how to speak, what to speak, and to what extent to speak.
Thus, when we contemplate the context of spiritual sadhana in relation to the gospel of the Bhagavadgita, we have to take all sides into the picture. Otherwise, we shall be one-sided, which is not the teaching of the Gita. Yuktāhāravihārasya yuktaceṣṭasya karmasu, yuktasvapnāvabodhasya yogo bhavati duḥkhahā (6.17). This is a very necessary caution given to us in the Gita as spiritual seekers: Don’t go to extremes. Extreme is not yoga. Extreme in any respect – extremely talkative or not saying anything at all, too much eating or not eating anything at all, always sleeping or not sleeping at all. Neither this nor that can be taken as a part of yoga. We must be normal. Normalcy is yoga. Abnormality is not yoga. We must be normal in every situation in which we are placed.
Bhagavan Sri Krishna himself is a concrete example as to how such a balanced life has to be lived. We cannot say how he lived and how he conducted himself and what attitudes he had in respect of things in general. It was all-sidedness, touching every aspect. There was nothing which he would ignore from his consideration. He was a master statesman, master yogin, master in knowledge, omniscient incarnate, and centre of attraction, love and affection, yet a relentless master who could terrorise even the terrific gods themselves. What God is, no one can say. God is all things combined – mātā dhātā pitāmahaḥ, vedyaṁ pavitram oṁkāra ṛk sāma yajur eva ca (9.17); gatir bhartā prabhuḥ sākṣī nivāsaḥ śaraṇaṁ suhṛt (9.18). What is He not? Everything He is.
So when such a being is the background of the message of the Gita, we could imagine what it has given to us. It has given to us everything. But the only thing is, we must be able to receive the message of the Gita as Arjuna received it. For that we have to place ourselves in the humble position of Arjuna himself. Neither should we be adamant and stick to our guns in saying “I will not fight,” nor should we imagine that we know things well. We have to put on, assume an attitude of humility in the way in which Arjuna himself did. Kārpaṇyadoṣopahatasvabhāvaḥ pṛcchāmi tvāṁ dharmasaṁmūḍhacetāḥ (2.7): I am confused. I don’t know what is truth. When we actually, in this spirit of self-abnegation, surrender ourselves to the eternal source of wisdom, it shall come to us as a Guru. The Guru will come to us.
So on this very blessed occasion of the Jayanti of the Bhagavadgita which, to speak from purely a historical point of view, was given to us perhaps some 5000 years ago at a place called Kurukshetra, that message is echoing in the ears and the minds and the hearts of all students of yoga and aspirants of truth for all time to come. The Bhagavadgita is, therefore, the central text of religious consciousness. It is not the text of the Hindu religion. It is not a text of this religion or that religion. It is a text of the religious consciousness, the spiritual attitude to things, the comprehensiveness of approach that we have to adopt in our conduct in life. Such is the gospel of the Bhagavadgita.
It is well said that the Bhagavadgita is the milk taken out of the cow of the Upanishads. Sarvopaniṣado gāvo dogdhā gopāla-nandanaḥ, pārtho vatsaḥ sudhīrbhoktā dugdhaṁ gītamṛtaṁ mahat (Gita Mahatmya 4). The science of being is given to us in the Upanishads, and the art of living is given to us in the Bhagavadgita. The art of living naturally depends on the science of being. How things are – that must be known first. This the Upanishads tell us: what things are in themselves. Then on the basis of this knowledge of what things really are, we know how to conduct ourselves in practical life. That is the science, the technique, the methodology of living in the world. So the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita form a group of complementary texts. Both are equally important for study and meditation. They are also known as the Sruti and the Smriti – the Upanishads is the Sruti, the Bhagavadgita is the Smriti.
The Bhagavadgita, located in the context of the Mahabharata, is also an epitome of the Mahabharata teachings. Just has we have 18 chapters of the Bhagavadgita, there are 18 Parvas or sections or books of the Mahabharata. There is some sort of a similarity of theme treated in these 18 Parvas of the Mahabharata and the 18 chapters of the Bhagavadgita – though not entirely, in some respects. It may be that we are not able to understand it properly. The soul’s incipient stage of ignorance and helplessness is described in the first chapter of the Gita and also the beginning Parva of the Mahabharata, the Adi Parva. In the Adi Parva the Pandavas are like children, knowing nothing, kicked from all sides, suffering all kinds of pains and woes, wandering hither and thither like unwanted children. What a pity! This is mankind in its incipient stage. Then there is a temporary rise into prosperity as in the second chapter of the Gita and the Sabha Parva of the Mahabharata. It is only a temporary rise; it is not a complete rise. When we take a series of vitamin pills, we suddenly feel energised, but afterwards will again droop when the pills are stopped. So such energy is suddenly infused in the Sabha Parva of the Mahabharata when Yudhishthira is crowned king after the Rajasuya sacrifice, but all for his woe and suffering later on. That prosperity of Yudhishthira after the Rajasuya was not real prosperity. It aroused the jealousy of Duryodhana and many others, and we know what happened then. In the Vana Parva he fell down once again. We go into the wilderness, suffer, search for light. The human soul is in samsara in this way.
Sadhakas are of this way. When we come to ashrams, we come in this very fashion. In the beginning there is all oblivion, confusion at home; nobody knows what it is. “We shall go to monasteries.” And suddenly there is an enthusiasm. “Oh, now I have entered a monastery, and now I shall take up the practice of yoga.” The second chapter has come. Yudhishthira has become the crowned king, but afterwards it is all gone. There is nothing. In the Vana Parva we are in the wilderness once again, in the jungle. “Oh, God, where it is nobody knows. I have lost everything – lost the kingdom, lost help from people.” But yet, well-wishers come and speak to us, “Don’t bother. It will be all right in the course of time.” In the Vana Parva Sri Krishna himself comes and speaks, “Don’t bother. The time will come, God willing, that justice will be reinstated.” And in the Virat Parva and the Udyoga Parva of the Mahabharata preparations are made for the coming battle with nature which has not yet started.
The actual battle of life has not yet started. When you enter the ashram, the battle has not yet started. There is only an enthusiastic emotional mood, which will bring you down after some time. But when you are ready, after the proper education that is given to you in ashrams – that education was given in the Vana Parva and the Virat Parva – then divinities come to your aid. All the masterminds came to the aid of Yudhishthira. They didn’t come before that. The battle starts from Bhishma Parva onwards. Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Salya – these Parvas are the Parvas of battle, and they are wonderful things. They are not simply descriptions of a Hitlerian war or any such thing. It is a battle of the spirit allegorically and metaphorically described in epic style – Bhishma representing one character, Drona one character, Karna another character, and Duryodhana a fourth character altogether. This is a battle of characters, types, natures, rather than persons.
Who was Bhishma? Who was Drona? What was their specialty? What was the specialty of Duryodhana? You will study this if you read these Parvas, and how difficult it was to face these people. Different techniques had to be adopted to face each one of them. The same technique could not be used with all people, because Bhishma was different from Drona, and Drona was different from Karna. They were not the same. Likewise, kama, krodha, loba, they are different things, and to deal with them you have to use different techniques. You cannot use a uniform method to deal with every situation. That will not work. You must be a very shrewd person, a very good psychologist, and also a very patient person in this respect. Then comes the real crowning glory of Yudhishthira installed as emperor and blessed with the wisdom of the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata. Very interesting! All this is to be studied in great detail with a dispassionate mind.
In this wonderful garland of the 18 Parvas of the Mahabharata, the Bhagavadgita hangs like a beautiful pendant. The Bhagavadgita is the epitome of the whole Mahabharata, and we may say the Mahabharata as a whole is a vast commentary on the secret esoteric teachings of the Bhagavadgita. It is said that the Mahabharata is a Veda by itself – pañcamaṃ vedā. The four Vedas are Rig, Yajur, Sama, Artharva, and the Mahabharata is the fifth Veda, perhaps equal to them. Sometimes it is said the Mahabharata weighs heavier than the Vedas themselves. Such is the Kashna Veda, as they call it. Kashna Veda means the Veda written by Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa.
So we should use all our opportunities, the blessed field created by Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj here for us by his own compassion, in gaining this wondrous knowledge of our culture, this world gospel of the Bhagavadgita, and utilise every moment of our time in this only meaningful duty of aspiring for God-realisation. God bless you all.