What modern India can learn from the Gita


The Gita and the cow are two concepts inextricably intertwined in the national psyche. Krishna, the charioteer and teacher of Arjuna, who expounded the Gita in Kurukshetra is the cowherd and a flute player for the beloved of the Gopis in Brindavan. The intimate association between the two has been very well thought out throughout a beautiful imagery in the invocatory versus thus; “The Upanishads are the cow; Lord Krishna is the one who milks the cow; Arjuna is the calf; and the Gita is the milk – the nectar of immortality.”

The allied concepts of the Gita and the cow have been consistently nourished by generations of Indians to carry on an interrupted national existence for ages. The Gita symbolizes our culture and the cow our agriculture, the two basic aspects of any successful social life. The Gita nourishes our soul and a cow our body – the two together constituting a well-founded, healthy and prosperous national life. Though centuries have passed, and much has changed, the relevance and significance of the two have not diminished one bit. On the contrary, they have multiplied manifold.

The Gita has played a vital role in sustaining us through the centuries, through innumerable vicissitudes, social and political. At every critical turn in our collective life, the Gita has given us succor. Krishna who expounded the Gita is an avatar. Following him, many a nation builder, cultural leader, spiritual master and political leader have interpreted and reinterpreted the Gita to fulfil a crying need and to suit the changing situation. Whoever wanted to influence the collective mind and mobilise social energy of the people could do it most effectively if he could make his appeal to the authority of the Gita. The acceptability of any school of philosophy or any cult of worship depends upon its allegiance to the Bhagvad Gita. Sometimes it might appear text-torturing, but all the same it proves how strong the hold of the Gita is on the popular mind. Shankara and Ramanuja, Madhava and Nimbarka, Sridhara and Madhusudana, all have written commentaries on the Gita. Not only Sanskrit but all the regional languages also have  commentaries of the Gita, over and above literal and liberal translations. Of all the Indian Scriptures, none has been rendered into so many languages and so profusely commented upon all over the world as this. None had a deeper and a more pervasive impact than the Bhagavad-Gita, in our country or outside.

In modern times,  it has again become the virtual source book of national renaissance and a guidebook for freedom struggle.  Tilak, Aurobindo, Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave were keen students and masterly interpreters of the Gita. It was not only their source of inspiration and unfailing guidance but also the most potent and dynamic weapon in their armoury. Swami Vivekananda was never tired of stressing the importance of this message in our national and personal lives.

To Swami Chinmayananda goes the glory of carrying the Gita to all the corners of the world and also of rendering the signal service of making it immensely popular within India, making its study almost fashionable with the educated elite and the upcoming generation.

The Gita is verily the scripture universal. It is addressed to man beyond time and clime. Human nature in its totality is taken into consideration by Lord Krishna. No aspect is left out. The setting of the Gita is real; but it is also allegorical. The battlefield of Kurukshetra is not confined to that particular geographical spot. It is human life – everyone’s life. Each one of us is an Arjuna facing the same predicament, the same dilemma, and the Gita prescribes the remedy to successfully face it. Whether you wage a war or negotiate peace, whether you meditate in a pooja room or answer a question paper in the examination hall, the Gita is the surest guide because it teaches you how to face the situation with courage and composure.

Regarding the universality of the Gita, Sri Aurobindo says in his Essays on the Gita:

In the Gita there is very little that is nearly local or temporal and its spirit is so large, profound and universal that even this little can easily be universalized without the sense of the teaching suffering any diminution or violation; rather by giving ampler scope to it than belonged  to the country and epoch,  the teaching gains in depth, truth and power. Often indeed the Gita itself suggests the wider scope that can in this way be given to an idea in itself local or limited. 

At the turn of the century, when the world situation has dramatically changed, do we still need the Gita? If you do, how and in what spirit do we approach the Gita? Again Sri Aurobindo says:

Our object, then, in studying the Gita will not be a scholastic or academical scrutiny of its thought, nor shall we deal with it in the manner of the analytical dialectician. We approach it for help and light and our aim must be to distinguish its essential and living message, that on which humanity has to seize for its perfection and its highest spiritual welfare.

No wonder a grateful nation paid it prayerful reverence to the Gita by calling it the mother – Ambathwam anusandhadhami Bhagvath Gite bhawat dweshineem.

December 2 is the day of Gitopadesha, observed as Gita Jayanti all over the world. But what we often forget in the enthusiasm of the celebrations is that celebration is not an end in itself, and is no substitute for practice. In fact, the Hindus have been speaking and writing voluminously on the greatness and glory of the Gita but they have been very poor practitioners of its teachings. Swami Vivekananda is stated to have said that the decline and downfall of India is due to the Hindus not taking Krishna‘s teachings seriously. On the other hand, the West has been practising the spirit of the Gita better thereby achieving power and prosperity. They cared very little for the teachings of Christ. Westerners never showed their left cheek, when they were slapped on the right. But the Hindu had been doing precisely that, forgetting the heroic teachings of Lord Krishna. Gita Jayanti, if it is to be meaningful, should instil in us a firm resolve to act according to the principles of Karma Yoga as told by the Bhagavad Gita.

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