Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)
The Bhagavad Gita brings to us the essence of all the experiences and teachings found in the Upanishads and Vedas. Just as the Upanishads mark a culmination or fruition of Vedic knowledge, the Gita is considered as another grand synthesis of all Upanishadic and Vedic knowledge.
सर्वोपनिषदो गावो दोग्धा गोपालनन्दनः।
पार्थो वत्सः सुधीर्भोक्ता दुग्धं गीतामृतं महत्॥
The Upanishads are like the herd of cows, the son of the cowherd (Krishna) is the milker, Partha (Arjuna) is the suckling calf, and men of purified, subtle intellect the drinkers, enjoyers of the supreme nectar, the milk of the Gita.
This month our photo-feature is a special one, presented in three parts. It highlights a few selected kernels of truth from this great Divine-Song which has the power to liberate the humanity from its bondages of ego and egoism.
These kernels beautifully expressed through an exquisite dance-drama performed recently at Bharat Niwas, Auroville were captured on camera by Suhas Mehra, which are shared here with our readers. Invoking the grace of Sri Krishna and taking guidance from the relevant explanations and passages from Sri Aurobindo’s ‘Essays on the Gita’ we present here a few summary notes – based on our limited intellect and capability – of selected parts from the Gita.
Humbly we offer this work at the feet of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, and the Eternal Flute Player and the Divine Teacher of Kurukshetra, Lord Sri Krishna.
On the battlefield of Kurukshetra when Arjuna, the representative man of his age, is overcome with dejection and sorrow at the most critical moment of his life, he raises a fundamental question regarding human life and action, a question that confronts every human being at some point of time, in varying intensity.
In the words of Sri Aurobindo, Arjuna represents
“the type of the struggling human soul who has not yet received the knowledge, but has grown fit to receive it by action in the world in a close companionship and an increasing nearness to the higher and divine Self in humanity.” (Essays on the Gita, CWSA, Vol. 19, p. 20).
Seeing his cousins, uncles, grandfathers, gurus and elders all lined up against him in the battlefield Arjuna is confronted with some practical questions regarding his duty as a Kshatriya, the duty to fight the enemy. He is also faced with the question of his right as a prince, the due right to his kingdom. All he sees is an unsurmountable conflict between his right and duty on one side and Dharma on the other. Led by this sense of utter disgust, dejection and revolt, he declares, “I will not fight.”
Both in chapter 1 as well as in chapter 2 of the Gita, we see Arjuna defending his position using different arguments: sensational (the elemental feeling of horror, pity and disgust), vital (the loss of faith in the recognised and familiar objects of action and aims of life), emotional (the recoil of the ordinary feelings of social man, affection, reverence, desire of a common happiness and satisfaction, from a stern duty outraging them all), and moral (the elementary sense of sin and hell and rejection of “blood-stained enjoyments”).
Sri Aurobindo explains that Arjuna’s crisis is not the questioning of the thinker.
“It is the sensational, emotional and moral revolt of the man hitherto satisfied with action and its current standards who finds himself cast by them into a hideous chaos where they are in violent conflict with each other and with themselves and there is no moral standing-ground left, nothing to lay hold of and walk by, no dharma. That for the soul of action in the mental being is the worst possible crisis, failure and overthrow.” (pp. 25-26)
The whole exposition of the Gita thus revolves and completes its cycle around this original crisis of Arjuna, a very practical crisis in the application of ethics and spirituality to human life.
The complete inner bankruptcy embracing his entire being compels Arjuna to take refuge as a disciple with Sri Krishna. Feeling completely bewildered in his heart and mind, he surrenders himself and says, “give me…that which I have lost, a true law, a clear rule of action, a path by which I can again confidently walk. He does not ask for the secret of life or of the world, the meaning and purpose of it all, but for a dharma.” (p. 26).
It is significant to note that the starting note of the teaching of Bhagavad Gita is surrender, and that again is its last note. Now that Arjuna has surrendered himself completely to Sri Krishna and is asking him to teach him the clear rule of action, Sri Krishna shows him the path to pursue.
“There is no real contradiction; the two passages (‘Deliver the self by means of the Self’ (Gita, Ch. VI, 5); and “Abandon all dharmas” (Ibid., Ch. XVIII, 66)) indicate in the Gita’s system two different movements of its yoga, the complete surrender being the crowning movement. One has first to conquer the lower nature, deliver the self involved in the lower movement by means of the higher Self which rises into the divine nature; at the same time one offers all one’s actions including the inner action of the yoga as a sacrifice to the Purushottama, the transcendent and immanent Divine. When one has risen into the higher Self, has the knowledge and is free, one makes the complete surrender to the Divine, abandoning all other dharmas, living only by the divine Consciousness, the divine Will and Force, the divine Ananda.”
In one of the earliest teachings that Sri Krishna gives to Arjuna on the battleground of Dharmakshetra Kurukshetra (धर्मक्षेत्रे कुरुक्षेत्रे) he speaks of the ideal of Kshatriya-hood as envisaged by the noble Aryan culture. Sri Krishna reminds Arjuna that to battle for the right is the true object of Kshatriya’s life, and to find a cause for which he can lay down his life or by victory win the crown and glory of the hero’s existence is his greatest happiness.
“Battle, courage, power, rule, the honour of the brave, the heaven of those who fall nobly, this is the warrior’s ideal. To lower that ideal, to allow a smirch to fall on that honour, to give the example of a hero among heroes whose action lays itself open to the reproach of cowardice and weakness and thus to lower the moral standard of mankind, is to be false to himself and to the demand of the world on its leaders and kings.” (p. 65).
By gradually revealing to him the higher knowledge of self and the world, Sri Krishna shows the direction in which Arjuna must proceed; where his social duty and the ethical standard of Kshatriya-hood point him. Arjuna must rise to a higher and not sink to a lower ideal.
In the next several verses is expounded Gita’s teaching of the Buddhi-yoga, the Yoga of the Intelligent Will. This teaching builds upon the Vedantic Sānkhya of the Upanishads and the Yoga as the large idea of a principally subjective practice and inner change necessary for the finding of the Self or the union with God. Sri Krishna assures Arjuna that even a little of this Yoga brings deliverance to the sincere aspirant.
“When you have once set out on this path, you will find that no step is lost; every least movement will be a gain; you will find there no obstacle that can baulk you of your advance.” (p. 95).
For our own efforts and practice on the path of Buddhi-yoga, it is important to understand the large philosophic sense in which the word buddhi is used in the Gita. Buddhi here is:
“the whole action of the discriminating and deciding mind which determines both the direction and use of our thoughts and the direction and use of our acts; thought, intelligence, judgment, perceptive choice and aim are all included in its functioning: for the characteristic of the unified intelligence is not only concentration of the mind that knows, but especially concentration of the mind that decides and persists in the decision, vyavasāya, while the sign of the dissipated intelligence is not so much even discursiveness of the ideas and perceptions as discursiveness of the aims and desires, therefore of the will. Will…and knowledge are the two functions of the Buddhi,” (pp. 95-96).
The Gita then speaks of the spirit of equality with which all work must be done. This equality is not mere disinterestedness but a state of inner poise and wideness, and is the foundation of spiritual freedom. And in that freedom one must do the “work that is to be done,” a phrase, as Sri Aurobindo reminds us, used by the Gita with the greatest wideness including in it all works, and which far exceeds, though it may include, social duties or ethical obligations.
The yogin who has united his reason and will with the Divine, even while present in this world of dualities, casts away from him both good doing and evil doing,
“…for he rises to a higher law beyond good and evil, founded in the liberty of self-knowledge. …action done in Yoga is not only the highest but the wisest, the most potent and efficient even for the affairs of the world; for it is informed by the knowledge and will of the Master of works.” (p. 103).
But it must be remembered, as Sri Aurobindo explains,
“what is the work to be done is not to be determined by the individual choice; nor is the right to the action and the rejection of claim to the fruit the great word of the Gita, but only a preliminary word governing the first state of the disciple when he begins ascending the hill of Yoga.” (p. 36).
When Arjuna demands to know of some signs by which such a yogin may be recognised, Sri Krishna says that equality is the “great stamp of the liberated soul. He is “a man with mind untroubled by sorrows, who has done with desire for pleasures, from whom liking and wrath and fear have passed away, such is the sage whose understanding has become founded in stability.” Possessed of his self and ever-stationed in his true being, such a person is “without the triple action of the qualities of Prakriti, without the dualities.” (p. 102).
But the kind of self-control, control of the senses and mind, that such a Yoga demands cannot be done perfectly by the act of the intelligence itself, by a merely mental self-discipline. It can only be done by union, Yoga, with something which is higher than itself and in which calm and self-mastery are inherent.
“And this Yoga can only arrive at its success by devoting, by consecrating, by giving up the whole self to the Divine…. the Liberator is within us, but it is not our mind, nor our intelligence, nor our personal will,—they are only instruments. It is the Lord in whom….we have utterly to take refuge. And for that we must at first make him the object of our whole being and keep in soul-contact with him.” (p. 101).
In this way, in Chapter 2, the Gita subtly unifies Sānkhya, Yoga and Vedanta, and lays down the first foundation of its teaching. By teaching Arjuna, and through him, the entire humanity, Sri Krishna here speaks of the
“first indispensable practical unity of knowledge and works with a hint already of the third crowning intensest element in the soul’s completeness, divine love and devotion.” (p. 104).