A Series Inspired by India’s Rebirth – 14

Author: Beloo Mehra (2020). Published under the title ‘When Young India Awakes’ in Sri Aurobindo’s Action, Vol. 51 (4), April 2020, pp. 8-10


Indian youth

When Young India Awakes


As the car sped on the road to Somnath, Yuvaan relaxed on the back seat and felt a great sense of gratitude for the time he spent at Dwarka. He smiled thinking of the wonderful Gujarati meal he had at Gopal’s home the previous night and especially meeting his mother. It was Gopal only who had arranged this car and driver, and also told Yuvaan about several places of interest he could stop by on the way.

But for some reason Yuvaan was not interested in ‘visiting’ any other place as a tourist. He felt a certain pull toward Somnath and that’s where he would head directly, he decided.

His mind went back to what he had read in Essays on the Gita the previous night. The particular essay titled ‘The Core of the Teaching’ was quite an intellectual challenge. But more than that it made him see how little he knew about the deep spiritual-philosophical-intellectual truths that form the basis of Indian civilisation.

Something in him was moved by the realisation that he was and is a part of all this rich knowledge, all this rich culture! And it filled him with a such a sense of pride, but also a deeper sense of reverence, a sense of responsibility, almost a duty to understand and live by these truths to whatever extent possible. He felt this was about being a true Indian in heart.   

So far, he had only heard some casual remarks about how great the Gita is as a scripture, how it teaches about disinterested action, about focusing only on our action and not on result etc. etc. But he never asked or was even interested in asking why people thought so. He never wondered what disinterested action means!

That was back then. Something in him had shifted, he could clearly see that now. And he was thankful for this shift, for this new curiosity and seeking. He was now equally intrigued by what he had read the previous night about how the Gita with its rich and many-sided thought, its synthesis of different aspects of the spiritual life and the fluency of its argumentation style has been so prone to one-sided misrepresentations “born of a partisan intellectuality.”[1]

This is also because of certain tendencies of the modern mentality, he recalled reading it the previous night. He opened Sri Aurobindo’s book again on his phone and started re-reading the same chapter. He needed to grasp the argument with greater understanding.

“Undoubtedly, the Gita is a Gospel of Works, but of works which culminate in knowledge, that is, in spiritual realisation and quietude, and of works motived by devotion, that is, a conscious surrender of one’s whole self first into the hands and then into the being of the Supreme, and not at all of works as they are understood by the modern mind, not at all an action dictated by egoistic and altruistic, by personal, social, humanitarian motives, principles, ideals. Yet this is what present-day interpretations seek to make of the Gita… the Gita is not a book of practical ethics, but of the spiritual life.[2]

“…the modern mind has exiled from its practical motive-power the two essential things, God or the Eternal and spirituality or the God-state, which are the master conceptions of the Gita. It lives in humanity only, and the Gita would have us live in God, though for the world in God; in its life, heart and intellect only, and the Gita would have us live in the spirit; in the mutable Being who is “all creatures”, and the Gita would have us live also in the Immutable and the Supreme; in the changing march of Time, and the Gita would have us live in the Eternal. Or if these higher things are now beginning to be vaguely envisaged, it is only to make them subservient to man and society; but God and spirituality exist in their own right and not as adjuncts. And in practice the lower in us must learn to exist for the higher, in order that the higher also may in us consciously exist for the lower, to draw it nearer to its own altitudes.”[3]

While he wasn’t able to grasp what phrases such as “the Gita would have us live in the spirit,” “mutable Being who is all creatures,” “Immutable and the Supreme” really meant, there was still something so powerful in these words that Yuvaan felt he could somehow connect with the essential idea of the passage. He felt as if his inability to not grasp such things was also being understood by Sri Aurobindo in his wide and embracing compassion; after all he is a part of what Sri Aurobindo describes as the “modern mind” which has exiled two essential things from its practical motive-power – the God and the God-state! But what are these things?

“God or the Eternal and spirituality or the God-state…” Yuvaan was once again amazed at this description. He felt that there could be no other more perfect intellectual formulation.

He decided that he must study the original text of Bhagavad Gita closely with the help of a teacher. As his eyes closed a small prayer formulated in his heart that he would someday meet such a teacher who could guide him, who could not only explain to him the subtleties of the text, but also what Sri Aurobindo spoke of as a “developing argument.”

“The Gita can only be understood, like any other great work of the kind, by studying it in its entirety and as a developing argument.” [4]

Parthasarthi by Nandalal Bose

Yuvaan opened the note-taking app on his phone and decided to paste some key passages which he felt needed much pondering. Perhaps a more appropriate word here would be ‘meditating’, he felt. Yes, he needed to meditate on what he was reading, letting the truth of the words be slowly revealed to him. But how to meditate? For now, all he could do was highlight the selected passages, paste them on his notepad, and re-read after pasting. That was one modern way to begin meditating on the words, he smiled to himself.

“…it is a mistake to interpret the Gita from the standpoint of the mentality of today and force it to teach us the disinterested performance of duty as the highest and all-sufficient law… In human life some sort of a clash arises fairly often, as for instance between domestic duties and the call of the country or the cause, or between the claim of the country and the good of humanity or some larger religious or moral principle. An inner situation may even arise, as with the Buddha, in which all duties have to be abandoned, trampled on, flung aside in order to follow the call of the Divine within. I cannot think that the Gita would solve such an inner situation by sending Buddha back to his wife and father and the government of the Sakya State, or would direct a Ramakrishna to become a Pundit in a vernacular school and disinterestedly teach little boys their lessons, or bind down a Vivekananda to support his family and for that to follow dispassionately the law or medicine or journalism. The Gita does not teach the disinterested performance of duties but the following of the divine life, the abandonment of all dharmas, sarvadharmān, to take refuge in the Supreme alone, and the divine activity of a Buddha, a Ramakrishna, a Vivekananda is perfectly in consonance with this teaching.[5]

“We must remember that duty is an idea which in practice rests upon social conceptions. We may extend the term beyond its proper connotation and talk of our duty to ourselves or we may, if we like, say in a transcendent sense that it was Buddha’s duty to abandon all, or even that it is the ascetic’s duty to sit motionless in a cave! But this is obviously to play with words. Duty is a relative term and depends upon our relation to others. It is a father’s duty, as a father, to nurture and educate his children; a lawyer’s to do his best for his client even if he knows him to be guilty and his defence to be a lie; a soldier’s to fight and shoot to order even if he kill his own kin and countrymen; a judge’s to send the guilty to prison and hang the murderer. And so long as these positions are accepted, the duty remains clear, a practical matter of course even when it is not a point of honour or affection, and overrides the absolute religious or moral law. But what if the inner view is changed, if the lawyer is awakened to the absolute sinfulness of falsehood, the judge becomes convinced that capital punishment is a crime against humanity, the man called upon to the battlefield feels, like the conscientious objector of today or as a Tolstoy would feel, that in no circumstances is it permissible to take human life any more than to eat human flesh? It is obvious that here the moral law which is above all relative duties must prevail; and that law depends on no social relation or conception of duty but on the awakened inner perception of man, the moral being.”[6]

“There are in the world, in fact, two different laws of conduct each valid on its own plane, the rule principally dependent on external status and the rule independent of status and entirely dependent on the thought and conscience. The Gita does not teach us to subordinate the higher plane to the lower, it does not ask the awakened moral consciousness to slay itself on the altar of duty as a sacrifice and victim to the law of the social status. It calls us higher and not lower; from the conflict of the two planes it bids us ascend to a supreme poise above the mainly practical, above the purely ethical, to the Brahmic consciousness. It replaces the conception of social duty by a divine obligation. The subjection to external law gives place to a certain principle of inner self-determination of action proceeding by the soul’s freedom from the tangled law of works. And this, … the Brahmic consciousness, the soul’s freedom from works and the determination of works in the nature by the Lord within and above us, — is the kernel of the Gita’s teaching with regard to action.”[7]

What exactly is ‘Brahmic consciousness’? Yuvaan’s curious mind wondered for a minute, but soon the joy of slowly re-reading the chapter with frequent breaks in between and gazing out the car window letting the force behind the words do its work on his heart and mind overtook his curiosity.

He sat in the back of the car calmly, almost unaware of the road on which the car was smoothly making its way to its destination. Two planes, two different laws of conduct, higher and lower planes, inner self-determination of action, the soul’s freedom from works…these words kept repeating themselves in his consciousness. And yet everything felt so quiet within. It was as if he was able to slowly see the truth of their meaning. He felt a bit sleepy.

“Sir, shall we stop for some tea?” That was the driver’s voice, breaking Yuvaan’s reverie.

“Oh, what time is it…I mean yes, yes, …you have been driving non-stop for how many hours it has been now…two, three…you must have some break,” Yuvaan looked at his phone for the time.

“We are half-way now, so I thought….”

“Yes, sure, absolutely! Let’s have some tea.”

“There is this small restaurant nearby which also sells some good Gujarati snacks.”

“Great! Let’s go there…my mouth is already watering,” Yuvaan suddenly felt cheerful and content. 


[1] CWSA, Vol. 19, p. 29

[2] CWSA, Vol. 19, pp. 30-31

[3] CWSA, Vol. 19, p. 32

[4] CWSA, Vol. 19, p. 35

[5] CWSA, Vol. 19, pp. 32-33

[6] CWSA, Vol. 19, pp. 34-35

[7] CWSA, Vol. 19, p. 35

Read earlier parts in the series:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8a, Part 8b, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12 , Part 13a, Part 13b, Part 13c

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