The Bhagavad-Gita (BG) contains divine songs, the songs sung by God Himself. It is part of the Mahabharata, the greatest and the best epic of the world. Chronologically speaking, it is the second ancient epic, the Ramayana being the first one. How ancient is this epic is occasionally debated. It must not be post-Buddhistic (not later than 600 BCE), since it has no allusion to Gautama Buddha and the religion preached by him. Buddhism had a gigantic socio-religious movement in India and Asia. A great epic like the Mahabharata could hardly ignore such a movement of great significance. We propose a tentative date as the fifteenth century BCE in which this epic might have been written. Some scholars, basing on their astronomical research, date the Mahabharata era as the fifth or the fourth millennium BCE. We adhere to the idea that the Mahabharata-War could not predate the Harappan civilization whose period has been ascertained by carbon-dating. Moreover, we have to consider comparative philology with reference to the language used in the Vedas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas, the Upanisads and the Epics.
Some scholars claim that the BG is a later insertion in the Mahabharata epic. They try to substantiate their opinion by the argument that such a long dialogue like the BG could not possibly be held in a battlefield. Such an argument in favour of credibility in the context of the place and time would seem to be plausible for the common folk, but not for God. If all possibilities are cast into a common die, it would be a mechanical reductionism. A big volume of a book can be copied by a computer in an instrantaneous flash. When Lord Vasudeva desired to know the perplexity of Arjuna and communicated with the latter with a view to bringing him to the right path, He must have done it within a few minutes through mental flashes. Secondly, the conversation between Lord Vasudeva and Arjuna was not electronically recorded. Vyasa wrote the epic after the War was over. The subject matter of this epic was based on fact rather than fiction. Even if it was a fact, we have to bear in mind that Vyasa, the great poet, must have given his poetic touch to his narration of facts. After all, a poet, in all ages, is not a scribe. The dialogue between Lord Vasudeva and Arjuna, as depicted in the BG, has become a superb, literary excellence. The writer of this dialogue was Vyasa, and not Lord Vasudeva. This poet was a great seer (drasta) and a great creator (srasta). He dictated the Mahabharata to Lord Ganesha. The past events of the War were revealed to him. He dictated whatever was revealed to him. “He who could grant the power of divine vision (clairvoyance, divya-drsti) and divine audition (clairaudience, divya-sravana) to Sanjaya to narrate the happenings of the War to the blind king, Dhrtarastra, could not get the power of revelation to write the epic.” Such an idea is ludicrous. To place Vyasa on par with the common folk is outrageous.
Let us accept the fact that true could be revealed to Vyasa. What is the certainty that he recorded the truth? Vyasa, the great seer, was not only a genius of rare talent, but also a person of the highest standard of morality and integrity. He was committed to truth (satya-nistha). His father was Rsi Parasara and mother was Kali (later renamed as Satyavati). Kali was born in a fisherman’s family. Her father was a dasa chieftain whose tribe was living on the bank of the Yamuna River. Kali was ferrying a boat on which Parasara was to cross the river. It happened to be a boat-trip of two person only, Parasara and Kali. The seer feel in love with the black beauty who was still unmarried. They had consensual intercourse. Thus was Vyasa born of Kali and Parasara. The child was a racial hybrid, 50 per cent aboriginal and 50 per cent Arya. Who, other than Vyasa, could reveal this fact about his parenthood? The quality and importance of the Mahabharata could not be diminished at all, had Vyasa suppressed this truth about his birth and lineage.
And what did Vyasa write in his epic? He narrated the incidences of his sons and grandsons. King Vicitravirya was the son of Santanu and Satyavati. Vicitravirya had a premature death, leaving his two widow-queens childless. There was an old custom of niyoga. Satyavati, by getting advice from Bhisma (son of Santanu and Ganga), requested her son, Vyasa, for temporary sex-relation with the widow-queens to get two successors to the royal family. Ambika and Ambalika were the widow queens who became the mothers of Dhrtarastra and Pandu, respectively. The queens were averse to the black colour and ugly face of Vyasa. The eldest son was born blind and the other was jaundiced. Circumstantially, due to the repulsion of the queens, Vyasa had intercourse with the royal maid who became the mother of Vidura, a learned person of high morality. All the Kauravas and the Pandavas were the grandsons of Vyasa. Did the seer eulogise the actions of all his sons and grandsons? Seer Vyasa was not an ordinary human being. To measure such a rare Great Man with a common yardstick is the greatest folly and blunder. India still dabbles in casteism. This great nation is yet to learn that Indian wisdom could hardly be living with luster and brilliance, by the exhibition of definite proofs, in the hypothetical absence of the original and compilatory work of Vyasa. (In this regard, we pay our obeisance to Rsi Valmiki too).
It would not seem to be an over-simplification if one says that reading other scriptures after the svadhyaya of the BG is redundant. Such a statement may not be the whole truth; but, in essence, it is not totally untrue. We get the quintessence of the Vedas, the Upanisads, the Sankhya, the Yoga, all the systems of Indian philosophy and many other scriptures in the BG. In addition, it has its own synthetic, holistic philosophy, based on a strong foundation. It provides solutions to all types of human problems. After all, the BG has its birth from human predicament, dilemma, agony and dejection. The long dialogues in eighteen chapters of this scripture are mainly meant for providing solutions to the problems of life.
If the BG is considered as a religious book, it has a special feature. It does not contain commandments. It does not say “Do this” and “Don’t do that.” It advocates for free will. Towards the end of the last chapter of the BG, Lord Vasudeva says to Arjuna: “After intense deliberation on the knowledge you have gained, take your own decision and do as you like.” Earlier in the BG, the Lord has said to Arjuna: “Question and cross-question me to clarify your doubts.” In fact, the BG is not a religious book. It is a philosophy on spirituality. In the language of Aldous Huxley, it is a Perennial Philosophy given to mankind.
Many commentaries on the BG are already available. One may question: “Is there any need for another commentary?” Had the answer to this question been negative rather than affirmative, this book would not have been written. The Vedas say: “Truth is verily one only. The wise talk about it in different ways” (satyamekam vipra bahudha vadanti). By virtue of the inscrutability of Truth, light thrown on it again and again is not likely to befutile. Every time Truth retold would show some of its newer facets.
The present exposition on the BG is an updated one on the basis of modern thoughts in general and newer scientific discoveries in particular. As the title indicates, interpretation has been done in a newer vision in a broader spectrum.
The BG is universal in character. It does not belong to any particular religion or sect. it does not preach any specific philosophy too. In spite of this cosmic nature of this own fold to explain their own doctrine at the exclusion of others. Some others have seen the BG in the light of their own ideologies. As for example, Mahatma Gandhi and Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak interpreted the Gita in favour of karma-yoga (the yoga of action). The acaryas of the Vaisnava sects presented sectarian interpretations, basing on their religious philosophical systems. They favoured the system of dualism and vehemently rejected any non-dualistic interpretation. Acarya Sankara rigidly adhered to his own school of non-dualism. Further, being influenced by his grand-teacher, Gaudapada, he did not extricate himself from illusionism, although mostly he is not an illusionist Dr. S. Radhakrishnan’s commentary seems to be inadequate. Sri Aurobindo’s book, Essays on the Gita, is not a systematic commentary. It comprises a number of essays and presents the reflections of the learned author on the Gita philosophy via-a-vis his own philosophy. Many others have written very good commentaries on the BG. In a prologue like this, we have no scope to exhaustively mention their names and their works. We have mentioned a few of them in the bibliography.
Every author has his own subjectivity. There is nothing like full objectivity in philosophy, literature and some other subjects. It is rather a fact that there is nothing like full objectivity in any subject with any individual. The present author is a great admirer of Sankaracarya. In spite of this fact, on certain philosophical topics, he does not agree with the acarya. Notwithstanding this fact, his reverence for the acarya is not diminished at all. In general, he is reluctant to blindly deify anybody whosoever he may be.
The present exposition has some special characteristics. It has eighteen chapters in conformity with those of the BG. A varying number of essays have been written on each chapter. A few essays clarify some philosophical concepts or some special features of the BG, without any direct allusion to any verse. Nothing has been written on a very few verses of the BG. They serve in the scripture as links or possess less significance. Most verses of the BG have been commented upon in the essays. In addition, the reflections of the author have been presented on the flowing subject matter of the BG. The exposition on the BG does not contain the original Sanskrit text, although it does contain the English rendering of the verses.
The original Sanskrit text, with Roman transliteration, has been appended to the English text of the book at the end. This has been done, keeping in view the probable need of some readers who may be interested in a critical study of the original text and the author’s English rendering.
The BG is not parochial and sectarian. It is not a book for any single religion. In fact, it is not a religious book at all. It is a book on spirituality of the highest order. With the rapidly changing vision of humankind, the whole universe is very soon (“soon” in the cosmic scale of time) going to be a family. The ancient Indian seers chanted a maxim: vasudhaiva kutumbakam (the world is verily a family). The Sanskrit word vasudha refers to the “earth.” The English word “world” generally means the “Earth,” with rare reference to the “universe.” The Sanskrit word jagat (one ion motion or change) or visva (all) and the English word “universe” are synonyms. With the rapidly changing concepts on the cosmos, we dream to update the maxim by saying: jagadeva kutumbakam (the universe is verily one family). We don’t thin that we are day-dreaming in a domain of Utopia. We indulge in practical optimism. The cosmic citizen of tomorrow will read the BG to sequentially elevate himself from the state of animality to that of humanity, from the state of humanity to that of divinity, and finally from the state of divinity to that of Brahman-hood. Then only will the declaration of Aldous Huxley that the Gita is the Perennial Philosophy of mankind be translated into action. Religions saved man from barbarism and savageness. It is unfortunate that religions have created problems too, and are still creating. It is time for man to transcend religions and adopt spirituality. It is only the spiritual man who would make attempts and would succeed to attain to the summit state of Brahman-hood. We are not speaking of the total transformation of Homo sapiens to Brahman or Gnostic Beings (Brahmans). We visualize a spiritual state in which more and more persons would elevate themselves to Brahman-hood, with the continuation of the cyclic samsara or metempsychosis.
We hope this book would help the process of humanization and divinization. Our source is One. Our goal is One and that One which is our source. In the vast Ocean of Cosmic Consciousness (Pure and Fundamental), we are virtual bubbles, foams, surfs, ripples and waves. Nevertheless, it is also a fact that the bubble is not essentially different from the original Ocean. How can there be phenomena without the underlying noumena? The Upanisadic statement, aham brahmasmi (I am Brahman) is the hub of the non-dualistic philosophy.
We hoe this book would help the process of humanization and divinization. Our source is one. Our goal is One and That One which is our source. In the vast Ocean of Cosmic Consciousness (Pure and Fundamental), we are virtual bubbles, foams, surfs, ripples and waves. Nevertheless, it is also a fact that the bubble is not essentially different from the original Ocean. How can there be phenomena without the underlying noumena? The Upanisadic statement, aham brahmasmi (I am Brahman) is the Hub of the non-dualistic philosophy.
Back of the Book
This Exposition on the Bhagavad-Gita is an exception to the traditional translation of and commentary on the scripture. It covers all the eighteen chapters of the Gita in the form of essays, with English translation of almost all verses and commentaries thereupon. In addition, the essays do contain the reflections of the author who has analyzed the topics in the light of modern thought in a broader spectrum. The Sanskrit text in Devanagari script, with Roman transliteration, has been appended to the main text.
The Gita is not a religious book. It does not belong to any single faith. In the language of Aldous Huxley, it is the perennial philosophy of mankind. Keeping this context in view, the book has been addressed not only to the present citizens but also to the whole mankind which will inhabit the earth in the future.
This scripture had its birth in a battlefield. Symbolically speaking, everybody’s life is a battleground. Arjuna represents all members of the human species. In a situation of agony and dejection, being utterly perplexed, he could not decide what to do any what not to do. The Gita provides practical solutions to the problems of life and leads the path to liberation. It humanizes and divinizes man. The present book gets success if it helps man ascend humanely and spiritually.
Nrusingh Charan Panda is the 1929-born Scientist Emeritus - having retired from the Orissa University of Agriculture & Technology from the post of a Dean. For his M.Sc. and Ph. D. degree, he studied at the University of Missouri, Columbia, USA. He is indeed a versatile personality-combining in him the endowment of a scientist, a Sanskritist, a philosopher, a psychologist, a litterateur (novelist, story-writer, poet, essayist), a yogi and a tantrist. His philosophy, being both analytic and synthetic, can be termed Neo-Advaita Vedanta, with a holistic approach to cosmology and cosmogony.
Professor Panda is internationally reputed for his scientific interpretations of the Vedas, the allied Vedic literature and the Advaita Vedanta. He has also authored a number of widely acclaimed books like Maya in Physics, The Vibrating Universe, Mind and Supermind (2 vols.), Cyclic Universe (2 vols.), Meditation, Yoga-Nidra (Yogic Trance) and Japa-Yoga. His approach is truly integral, synthetic and holistic.
Brahma Sutras (81)
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