Gita’s Double Jeopardy
Bhagvad-Gita, often referred to as the Gita, comprises eighteen chapters, which, in all, contain seven hundred slokas (verses) that is not counting the unnumbered opening number of its thirteenth chapter. Though it has gained prominence on its own steam, in fact it is a part of the epochal Mahabharata, which, with over 100,000 slokas, is the longest tome in the world of letters. Moreover, this epic, probably compiled around the third century BCE, whose authorship is attributed to Vyāsa, is regarded by the Hindus as the panchama veda (the fifth Veda) and the Gita, its divine part, is celebrated by the world as an unrivalled philosophical work.
Yet it is a safe bet to aver that while most (mainly Hindus) might have heard about it, hardly any would have read it (much less appraised it) though it contains no more than seven-hundred verses, excluding the above cited unnumbered one! Not only that, possibly, this classic could be the only epic in the world that is admired without application of mind and debunked with reasonable misgivings as it, as it is, sanctions the inimical caste structure in the Hindu polity that is as opposed to the Torah, the Bible, and the Quran, which seek to inculcate emotional unity amongst their respective adherents!
Whatever, on one hand, William von Humboldt, the philosopher of yore, eulogized it as “the most beautiful, perhaps the only true philosophical song existing in any known tongue …. perhaps the deepest and the loftiest thing the world has to show”, and on the other, Vijay Mankar, the Ambedkarite of the day, debunks it is as a rotten work deserving to be thrown into a dustbin for “it advocates inequality of man based on caste, stigmatizes women as an inferior kind, and legitimizes violence.” Equally significantly, neither Humboldt was alone in lifting it to the skies for he had the illustrious company of many a Western thinker such as Arthur Schopenhauer, Albert Einstein, Aldous Huxley, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, only to name a few, nor Mankar lacked company to castigate it as a book of bigotry, for Ambedkar the Dalit intellectual colossus, who piloted the Indian Constitution, was unsparing about it.
It is possible that the Western intellectuals, who could have internalized the Semitic religious notion of the Lord God’s alleged partiality towards his chosen peoples, might have seen nothing perverse in Krishna’s creation of the caste inequity in the Hindu spcial fold sanctified in the Gita thus:
chātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛiṣhṭaṁ guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśhaḥ
tasya kartāram api māṁ viddhyakartāram avyayam
It is I who engineered the division of men into four varna (castes) based on their guna (innate nature) and karma (earthly duties) but yet although I am the creator of this system, know me to be the non-doer and eternal,
Or, maybe, they would have simply concerned themselves with its fascinating philosophical postulations, bypassing its alleged espousal of the caste inequities in an alien polity the nuances of which they were unfamiliar with.
However, in contrast, the improbability of their progenitor Krishna, the architect of the Gita, relegating his own ilk to the social margins failed to dawn upon the Shudras that it supposedly slights, even to this day! Thus, their intellectuals, instead of seeking to reclaim their priceless heritage, albeit after ridding its interpolative garbage, tend to rubbish it a la throwing the baby with the bathwater.
Well, if only they apply their mind, bearing Krishna’s advice to Arjuna in mind,
That thee heard of this wisdom
For task on hand now apply mind
iti te jñānam ākhyātaṁ guhyād guhyataraṁ mayā
vimṛiśhyaitad aśheṣheṇa yathechchhasi tathā kuru,
then, it would be apparent to them that their ancestral work was infested with umpteen interpolations that sanctify their social inferiority and further the Brahmanical religious interests, which together muddy its pristine philosophy besides affecting the sequential conformity and structural economy.
However, to be able to discern the Gita in proper perspective, and to be able to visualize its fouling interpolations, one must appreciate its context in the epic of Mahabharata that is at the threshold of the battle royale between the estranged cousins, Pandavas ‘n Kauravas, when Arjuna, the spearhead of the former, suffers from qualms about the prospect of slaying his kith and kin for power and pelf.
In this urge to usher in Gita’s votaries, as well as the sideliners, into its ancient granary so as to enable them to segregate its grain from the interpolative chaff, the quotes in verses are excerpted from the author’s eBook, Bhagvad-Gita: Treatise of Self-help, which, as already stated, is in the public domain, and the interpolations (in boxes) are obtained from other sources, however, in both cases with the Sanskrit slokas of the in vogue text.
Thus spoke Arjuna:
Disturb kinsfolk here gathered
Feel I parched, it nauseates too.
dṛiṣhṭvemaṁ sva-janaṁ kṛiṣhṇa yuyutsuṁ samupasthitam
sīdanti mama gātrāṇi mukhaṁ cha pariśhuṣhyati
See I no gain by their end
Why then kill our kith ’n kin?
tasmān nārhā vayaṁ hantuṁ dhārtarāṣhṭrān sa-bāndhavān
sva-janaṁ hi kathaṁ hatvā sukhinaḥ syāma mādhava
Blinded by greed, bent on deceit
Fail they foresee, war ruins the race.
yady apy ete na paśhyanti lobhopahata-chetasaḥ
kula-kṣhaya-kṛitaṁ doṣhaṁ mitra-drohe cha pātakam.
Wiser for the woes of wars
Why not Lord we rescind now.
kathaṁ na jñeyam asmābhiḥ pāpād asmān nivartitum
kula-kṣhaya-kṛitaṁ doṣhaṁ prapaśhyadbhir janārdana
Ch 2, V4
Adore as I, how dare I
Make Bhishma ’n Dron target?
kathaṁ bhīṣhmam ahaṁ sankhye droṇaṁ cha madhusūdana
iṣhubhiḥ pratiyotsyāmi pūjārhāvari-sūdana ,,,
Better I go with begging bowl
Than earn disgrace slaying them,
Would the scepter ever glitter
In the bloodstained hands of mine?
gurūnahatvā hi mahānubhāvān
śhreyo bhoktuṁ bhaikṣhyamapīha loke
bhuñjīya bhogān rudhira-pradigdhān
Those us oppose
We hate hurting,
What use war
Who victors are?
na chaitadvidmaḥ kataranno garīyo
yadvā jayema yadi vā no jayeyuḥ
yāneva hatvā na jijīviṣhāmas
te ’vasthitāḥ pramukhe dhārtarāṣhṭrāḥ
About my duty I’m in doubt
Tell me kindly what is right.
pṛichchhāmi tvāṁ dharma-sammūḍha-chetāḥ
yach-chhreyaḥ syānniśhchitaṁ brūhi tanme
śhiṣhyaste ’haṁ śhādhi māṁ tvāṁ prapannam
Besides, Arjuna was also concerned about,
Die aged en masse dharma’s votaries
Won't that let go youth ours haywire?
kula-kṣhaye praṇaśhyanti kula-dharmāḥ sanātanāḥ
dharme naṣhṭe kulaṁ kṛitsnam adharmo ’bhibhavaty uta
Sex ratio adverse that war ensues
Turns women soft on caste barriers.
adharmābhibhavāt kṛiṣhṇa praduṣhyanti kula-striyaḥ
strīṣhu duṣhṭāsu vārṣhṇeya jāyate varṇa-saṅkara
Fallen women all go to hell
What is more their bastards rob
Posthumous rites of forebearers.
saṅkaro narakāyaiva kula-ghnānāṁ kulasya cha
patanti pitaro hy eṣhāṁ lupta-piṇḍodaka-kriyāḥ
Liaisons low of women wanton
Set our race on ruinous course.
doṣhair etaiḥ kula-ghnanaṁ varṇa-saṅkara-karakaiḥ
utsadyante jati-dharmaḥ kula-dharmash cha shashvataḥ
and this is understandable for Arjuna, who was a Kshatriya, seated next only to the Brahmins on the Hindu High Caste-table
So, Lord Vishnu, the Creator, in his avatar as Krishna (lo as Shudra), donning the role of Arjuna’s charioteer, set out to motivate the doubting tom to fight the just war on hand, beginning with a taunt that is –
Averring as knowing
Worried over trivia!
Reckon never wise
Dead and alive both
śhrī bhagavān uvācha
aśhochyān-anvaśhochas-tvaṁ prajñā-vādānśh cha bhāṣhase
gatāsūn-agatāsūnśh-cha nānuśhochanti paṇḍitāḥ
You and Me
As well these,
Have had past
Future as well.
na tvevāhaṁ jātu nāsaṁ na tvaṁ neme janādhipāḥ
na chaiva na bhaviṣhyāmaḥ sarve vayamataḥ param
Wise all realize
Embodies selfsame spirit in one
From birth to death, in every birth.
dehino ’smin yathā dehe kaumāraṁ yauvanaṁ jarā
tathā dehāntara-prāptir dhīras tatra na muhyati
Perish all bodies, Spirit not therein
Know this truth, and take up arms.
antavanta ime dehā nityasyoktāḥ śharīriṇaḥ
anāśhino ’prameyasya tasmād yudhyasva bhārata
With no slayer, nor one slain
Whoso feels that he might kill
It's in delusion that he harps.
ya enaṁ vetti hantāraṁ yaśh chainaṁ manyate hatam
ubhau tau na vijānīto nāyaṁ hanti na hanyate.
Unbound being ever unborn
Ageless since it’s endless too
Goes on Spirit, beyond life-span.
na jāyate mriyate vā kadāchin
nāyaṁ bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥ
ajo nityaḥ śhāśhvato ’yaṁ purāṇo
na hanyate hanyamāne śharīre
Spirit as entity hath no birth
How can thou kill what’s not born!
vedāvināśhinaṁ nityaṁ ya enam ajam avyayam
kathaṁ sa puruṣhaḥ pārtha kaṁ ghātayati hanti kam
Change as men fade if clothes
So doth Spirit as frames are worn
vāsānsi jīrṇāni yathā vihāya
navāni gṛihṇāti naro ’parāṇi
tathā śharīrāṇi vihāya jīrṇānya
nyāni sanyāti navāni dehī.
Prima facie if thou feel
Subject Spirit is to rebirths
Why grieve over end of frame?
atha chainaṁ nitya-jātaṁ nityaṁ vā manyase mṛitam
tathāpi tvaṁ mahā-bāho naivaṁ śhochitum arhasi.
Dies as one
For like rebirth,
Why feel sad
Of what’s cyclic
jaatasya hi dhruvoo mrityu dhruvam janma mritasya cha
tasmaadaparihaaryerthe na tvam shoochitumarhasi.
Dies not Spirit as die beings
What for man then tends to grieve!
dehī nityam avadhyo ’yaṁ dehe sarvasya bhārata
tasmāt sarvāṇi bhūtāni na tvaṁ śhochitum arhasi
Being a warrior dharma thine
That thee fight with all thy might.
swa-dharmam api chāvekṣhya na vikampitum arhasi
dharmyāddhi yuddhāch chhreyo ’nyat kṣhatriyasya na vidyate.
At that, had Arjuna picked up the Gandiva, his divine bow, and said “here we go,” perhaps the Gita would have ended then and there, but as he remained unmoved Krishna had continued –
Shed thy sentiment, guilt unhinge
Eye not gain as wage thou war.
sukha-duḥkhe same kṛitvā lābhālābhau jayājayau
tato yuddhāya yujyasva naivaṁ pāpam avāpsyasi
It's this knowledge that liberates
And helps thee act, with no restraint.
eṣhā te ’bhihitā sānkhye
buddhir yoge tvimāṁ śhṛiṇu
buddhyā yukto yayā pārtha
Obviously privy to the Vedic ritualistic regimen, the bedrock of the Hindu religiosity that comes in the way of man’s liberation, Krishna affirmed in the same vein:
Unwise use all enticing
Flowery language to further
Rituals Vedic in their scores
Not the knowledge of Vedas.
yāmimāṁ puṣhpitāṁ vāchaṁ pravadanty-avipaśhchitaḥ
veda-vāda-ratāḥ pārtha nānyad astīti vādinaḥ
Eyeing heaven with mind mundane
Go for ceremonies such in hope
Of having best of both the worlds.
kāmātmānaḥ swarga-parā janma-karma-phala-pradām
kriyā-viśheṣha-bahulāṁ bhogaiśhwarya-gatiṁ prati.
Pursue if thou wants with zeal
Instincts then would spin thy mind.
vyavasāyātmikā buddhiḥ samādhau na vidhīyate.
Stands as firm mind thy clear
Steer thou clear of path rituals.
śhruti-vipratipannā te yadā sthāsyati niśhchalā
samādhāv-achalā buddhis tadā yogam avāpsyasi.
It was then that Arjuna broke his silence with the query –
How to spot the yogi true
Were he there ever in the crowd?
sthita-prajñasya kā bhāṣhā samādhi-sthasya keśhava
sthita-dhīḥ kiṁ prabhāṣheta kim āsīta vrajeta kim.
Later, having heard Krishna’s exposition of the virtues of self-restraint that was after having goaded him to wage the just war without suffering any qualms about killing his kith and kin, Arjuna, in confusion, quizzed Krishna again thus:
Capping wants, if betters action
How come Thou then push for war!
jyāyasī chet karmaṇas te matā buddhir janārdana
tat kiṁ karmaṇi ghore māṁ niyojayasi keśhava and then said,
Find I hard to grasp all this
Thou be forthright, what is right.
vyāmiśhreṇeva vākyena buddhiṁ mohayasīva me
tad ekaṁ vada niśhchitya yena śhreyo ’ham āpnuyām
The discourse between Krishna and Arjuna that follows is a treatise of self-help containing the cumulative wisdom enshrined in the Upanishads, Brahma sutras and Yoga sastra, however marred in the latter-period by 110 inane interpolations.
Be that as it may, did Krishna share ‘higher caste’ Arjuna’s ‘lower’ caste concerns?
Seemingly not since he averred that –
Skies in rooted wind as spreads
Dwell in Me though disperse all.
yathākāśha-sthito nityaṁ vāyuḥ sarvatra-go mahān
tathā sarvāṇi bhūtāni mat-sthānītyupadhāraya
But the interpolartor(s) thought differently,
māṁ hi pārtha vyapāśhritya ye ’pi syuḥ pāpa-yonayaḥ
striyo vaiśhyās tathā śhūdrās te ’pi yānti parāṁ gatim
Surely, O Paartha, even those who are born of sinful origin – women, traders, and also Shudras (labourers), they attain the supreme state by taking refuge in me
Had Arjuna heard Krishna aver the above that dented his concept of kula-striyaḥ (high caste women) aired in Ch1,V41 (quoted before), he would have been truly flabbergasted, and might have even dismissed him (Krishna) from service, for at that stage, the latter hadn’t shown his Vishvarupa (the Universal Form) to him as in Ch10.
Then, what about Arjuna’s concern for the posthumous rites of forebears?
Wind as carries scent of flowers
While leaving them as is where,
In like fashion Spirit from frames
Moves its awareness to rebirths,
śharīraṁ yad avāpnoti yach chāpy utkrāmatīśhvaraḥ
gṛihītvaitāni sanyāti vāyur gandhān ivāśhayāt.
So, seemingly Krishna inferred the futility of the Vedic rituals for the dead, the bread and butter of the priestly class of Brahmins?
But then, notwithstanding their meager numbers, as the Brahmins acquired an unrivalled domination over the rest, they even came to believe that they had the power to control the gods as expostulated in the Nārāyana Upanishad!
daiva dēnam jagat sarvam
mantrā dēnantu daivatam,
tan mantram brāhmanādēnam
brāhmano mama dēvata.
It’s on god that hinges all
Mantras rein in that godhood
Controlled are those by Brahmans
Making them our own angels.
Not just that, going by the purānās, not only the Brahmin sages and saints through yagnās ‘n yāgās ordained the gods to fulfill theirs as well as their clients’ wishes but also were wont to curse them when offended.
Needless to say, the Gita’s pristine text, besides being at odds with their religious practices and social prejudices had the potential to undermine their temporal power and social preeminence for all time to come, and so they set out to dispose that Krishna proposed.