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The Ethical Philosophy of The Gita (A Comparative and Critical Study of The Interpretaions of Tilak and Ramanuja)

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Item Code: NAI203
Author: Madan Prasad Singh
Language: English
Edition: 1996
ISBN: 8185094969
Pages: 266
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 370 gm
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Book Description
About The Author

This book is scholarity and systematic attempt at the synthesis of the ethics and metaphysics of the Gita which is one of the triple foundations of Vedanta and represents the quintessence of the Hindu Weltanschauung.

The author of the Gita himself consistently and emphatically maintains that its teachings holding the doctrine of the performance of action or one’s duty in a selfless spirit invests karma or action with cosmic significance, meaning and value visargah, karma sanjinitah and vigorously and repeatedly asserts that the self man is the dynamic agent behind all its activities. The author is of the opinion that ethics cannot be separated from metaphysics.

His disputes and challenges Tilak’s interpretation of the Gita which inconsistently makes out that it teaches karma-yoga but adopts the metaphysics of Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta propounding the passivity of the spirit and the falsity of the world.


About The Author

Dr. Madan Prasad Singh is presently a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy of Sant Sandhya Das Mahilla College, Barh in Patna District in Bihar State. He obtained his Master’s degree in philosophy from Magadh University in 1993 and was place in first class.

Having worked for about three years under the supervision and guidance of Dr. Rama Prasad Prof. and Head of the department of philosophy of Chatra College and the well known author of the book Ramanuja and Hegel, and also studied Indian philosophy in original Sanskrit texts with Dr. P.B. Degree in 1998 from Ranchi University.

This book enshrines the results of his penetrating and critical study of the ethical philosophy of the BHAGAVAD GITA.



It goes without saying that the Bhagavad-Gita is an ethical treatise which claims to provide a metaphysical basis for its doctrine of human conduct. It is the philosophy of action claimed to be phrase brahmavidyayam yoga-sastre i.e. ethics in the background of metaphysics.

The question, therefore, that inevitably confronts us is whether the ethics which is irrevocably maintained to be its teaching is consistent with its metaphysics. In the academic world. There is no doubt at all that the Gita Teaches the gospel of action without any selfish attitude to the fruits of actions that one performs. Therefore, there is no question as to what its teaching is so far as its ethical ideal is concerned. The commentary which Tilak wrote on the Gita has proclaimed Karma yoga as the universally acknowledged teaching of the Gita.

Judging the validity of the emphatic assertions of Tilak in historical perspective, his improvement on the ethics of the Gita as understood by Sankaracarya is certainly a landmark in the history of the Gita exegetics. But the question that still remains to be answered is what theoretical framework is furnished with which Tilak’s Contentions can be supposed to be Compatible. In this connection, it may be admitted that whereas Tilak makes it unambiguously clear that according to the Gita performance of action is its teaching. It is made by hi, dependent upon the metaphysics of Advaita in which the self is not an agent of actions. The self in Advaita is pure consciousness which is neither a subject nor an agent of actions. It is clear, Tilak accepts the metaphysics of Advaita but rejects its ethics as being incompatible with the teaching of the Gita; Tilak himself admits that he wrote his monumental work the Gita Rahasya under the inspiration and influence that he derived from the life and teachings of the great. Maharashtra saint jnaneshwar Maharaja. Tilak intimates to us that in Maharashtra there had been a long tradition of Bhakti-marga grounded on Advaita. He therefore states at the very outset while embarking upon this adventure that the teaching of the Gita. Speaking from the standpoint of ethics is karma yoga but from the point of view of metaphysics it is Advaita or monism pure and simple in which there is no room at all for the freedom and individually of the moral agent, the reality of the world and for the personal God.

This obvious contradiction between its metaphysics and ethics, therefore, is the point of departure for the present thesis. The scope of the multi-dimensional character of the teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita is such that it invites interpretation from a many points of views as are possible. Man is a microcosm of the macrocosm. All the forces of nature interest in him. Therefore, the study of the world cannot be complete without the study of man. Though man is not the product of nature he is nevertheless not separate from it. The Gita, it has been admitted on all the dimensions of man. No a scripture that it touches on all the dimensions of man. No wonder, therefore, that the commentaries on the Gita are of varied nature. As a requirement of the prevailing convention of imparting the stamp of sancity and authority to their philosophical doctrines the proponents and exponents of the different Vedantic schools were obliged to write commentaries on it. Sankara’s was the first commentary on it in which the made a systematic and elaborate attempts to establish his thesis that it teaches the doctrine of renunciation which is the ethical corollary of the metaphysics of Advaita in the absolute non dualism of which everything else than the absolute is declared unreal.

This view sponsored by Sankaracharya is now outmoded and is not borne out by the texts of the Gita which aims at repudiating the very view which had been in vogue at the time when it was written and which Sankara preached in his commentary. The Gita was not addressed exclusively to the ignorant only imprisoned in the snares of avidya but to the enlightened as well. The style of the texts of the Gita is such that it altogether rules out the possibility of endorsing the school of renunciation for one can come across such statements as Karmabhirna sa badhyate: (IV,14); kurvannapina lipyate : ( V.7) na mam karmani Limpanti (IV.14) ;yajnayacaratak karma samagram Praviliyate (IV.23) ; yat Samkhya prapyate sthanamtadyyogairapin gamyate (V.5) and so on in which the prevailing view that karma forges chains of bondage is sought to be repudiated. The view that the Gita supports the doctrine of renunciation rather than karmayoga may be the view of Sankaracharya or of his followers or of a mahadevan or of a saroja but by no means of the Gita. There has been too much of the begging of the question of this issue.

Tilak rightly attacked sankara’s interpretation of the Gita and established his thesis that it teaches karmayoga. On the other hand it is made clear in the colophon at the end of each of the chapters of the Gita that its ethics is in perfect conformity to its metaphysics. But Tilak does not seem to be quite alive to the contradiction between the ethical doctrine the ascribes to the Gita and metaphysics he thinks can be the theoretical basis of it. Tilak maintains instead that while on its ethical side the Gita teaches karmayoga its metaphysics is the same as that of Advaita. Such a view is self-contradictory.

The thesis, therefore, aims at unveiling the contradiction inherent in the adore said view and to establish the validity of the thesis that it is only in the framework of the thesis of visistadvaita that karmayoga can be consistently understood. Karmayoga is quite unintelligible without its background in Visistadvaita. The tremendous significance and value of this standpoint I have taken up cannot be underestimates as, so far as I am a aware, there has not been any attempt up till mow to dissolve this contradiction between the ethics and metaphysics of the Gita. To this end I have arranged my argument step by step in five chapters.

The first chapter is the statement of the problem. It seeks to set forth somewhat extensively the problem of duty with which every individual is confronted. I have pointed out that taking into account the context in which the discourse on duty was conducted by the lord; there is no gainsaying the fact that the Gita raises the basis problem of duty and of one’s moral obligations. The Gita is basically and ethical treatise, a gospel of duty. The ethics and metaphysics of Sankara’s Advaita constitute the subject-matter of the second chapter. I have tried to defend the view that there can be no ethics without its presuppositions in metaphysics. The metaphysics of Advaita has been analyzed.

The treatment of the ethics of the Gita in the light of Tilak’s interpretations is the theme of the third chapter. I have tried to show that only karmayoga can be acknowledged to be the ethical teaching of the Gita.

In the fourth chapter the metaphysics of Tilak claimed to be the same as that of the Gita has been analyzed. The postulates of morality and the underlying metaphysical assumptions of the ethics of karmayoga have been explained. Emphasis has been laid on the unresolved contradiction between the ethics of the Gita and its metaphysics assumptions which for both Tilak and Sankara can by no means by traced in the Gita.

In the fifth chapter adequate light has been thrown as far as has been possible, within the limits of the scope of the present thesis on Ramanuja’s Interpretation of the Gita. The synthetic character of the metaphysics of Visistadvaita as a system o philosophy, religion and ethics has been explained. I have endeavored to maintain the view that only in a structure of thought such as is provided in Visistadvaita, karmayoga as the ethical teaching of the Gita can be consistently understood.

In the sixth chapter a detailed treatment of the metaphysics of Visistadvaita has been attempted. In fact, the fundamental ideas put forward as preliminary consideration in the fifth chapter have been amplified and elaborated as the foreground of the content of chapter six. Special stress has been laid on the personality of individual self and of god. Karma, jnana and bhakti are not mutually contradictory as in the Advaita of Ramanuja has been instituted with a view to lend support to the theoretical basis that alone can be the presupposition of karmayoga. It has been found that such a basis can be traced in Visistadvaita alone. The conclusion has been reached that the standpoint of Ramanuja is the same as that of Gita.

The last chapter sums up the conclusions reached as a result of the present study. These conclusions are first that all actions or duties prescribed for all the stations of life in which we are placed, whether after liberation or before it, have to be performed purely out of the sense of Duty without any attachment to the results of them not indifferently but with all vigour and enthusiasm at one’s command and secondly that actions as such, do not exercise any binding effect on the moral agent. The second conclusion pertains to the attainment of peace and happiness in this age of agony, tension and anxiety. The advice of the Gita is that peace and happiness are assured and guaranteed to man if the performs all his duties without thinking in the least of their results. One should think of performing one’s duties instead of ruminating unnecessarily on the expected results. The salutary results are bound to accrue to the agent of themselves if they are performed in the way they ought to be performed. The fourth lesson has its bearing on man’s membership of the community or group, nation, race or country to which he belongs. The Gita tells us that actions done for social welfare are not binding at all.

Fifthly, the Gita does not advocate stoic morally. According to the Gita one’s natural desires, instincts, drivers etc. should not be crushed but are rather required to be brought under the control of the mind. The best way to enjoy the pleasures of the senses is by bringing them under one’s control and by harmonizing the different powers and demands of the human personality so that the Gita view of conduct is the only basis of harmonious social life. If in one sense society is prior to the individual in the other the individual is prior to the community. Stability in social life cab be ensured only by individuals who are perfectly integrated in their personal lives. Its teachings are consequently meaningfully relevant to the modern age of science and technology.

I take this opportunity to thank all my elders and friends who have inspired and encouraged me in manifold ways to take up this subject for my research. My father, Sri Ram Briksha Prasad Singh who is a devoted student of the Bhagavad-Gita has always been asking me to undertake such a subject of research in the field of the Gita exegetics as may rightly appear to be marked by a sound and correct approach to its true spirit and it is with the intention to fulfill his wishes that I elected to work on this advice of my guide Dr. Rama Prasad Head of Department of Philosophy of Chatra college, who for this reason has always been taking keen interest in the completion of this thesis. It is not possible to express in words my profound sense of gratitude to my father who is a religious man to the core and who has made me what I am. Even from the earliest days of my student life he initiated me into the study of the Gita and whatever interest I could pick up in the studies of the Gita is due to him.

I am no less indebted to Dr. P.B. Vidyarthi, university Professor and head of the Department of philosophy of Ranchi university for the approval of the subject of research, the correction of my English and for his exposition of some Of the crucial stanzas of the Gita.

It gives me immense pleasure to record my indebtedness also to my mother Smt. Kusum Devi who with her motherly love and affection took keen interest in my work and inspired me always for a deep study of the Gita with a view to extracting such gems of truth as might not have been within the intellectual grip of the scholars so far. I am no less gratefully thankful to shri Ram Parikshan Singh of the Accounts Depatment Of Magadh University, Bodh Gaya who has been my mentor from my student days and who helped me in manifold ways in completing my thesis in the shortest possible time.

My thanks are also due to my elder brother who exhorted me always to complete the work as soon as possible. Last but not least my thanks go to Shri Umeshwar Lal, Personal Assistant to the Finance Officer of Ranchi University, Ranchi for this neat, elegant and flawless typing.

To Shri S.K. Bhattacharya, the proprietor of Punthi-Pustak goes my thanks for publishing the thesis.




Preface XI
Chapter 1 : Statement of the Problems 1--73
1. The Universal Appeal of the Bhagavad-Gita 3
2. Philosophy : Theory and Practice 8
3. Philosophy : as the Guide to humanity 26
4. Integration of the Four Values in Indian philosophy 33
5. Philosophy Past and present 38
6. Indian philosophy and the Bhagavad-Gita 43
7. The problem of Duty 49
8. The problem of the Gita 59
9. The modernity of the teaching of the Gita 65
Chapter 2 : Ethics and metaphysics in Sankara's Advaita 75--117;
1. Summary of the Principal Commentaries on the Gita 77
2. Free Will versus Determinism 94
3. Sankara's Refutation of jnana karma-samuccayavada 104
Chapter 3 : Tilak's interpreatation of the Gita 119--138
1. Tilak's Claims Considered 119
2. The Metaphysics of Tilak 129
3. The Meaning of the Term 'Saguna' 134
4.Anthropomorphic heresy 136
Chapter 4 : Metaphysics of Tilak's Karmayoga 139---157
1. Philosophy and Interpretation of Experience and being 141
2. The Dogmatism of the Sciences 144
3. Presuppositions of the Sciences 147
4. Evaluation of Tilak's Ethics of Karmayoga 148
Chapter 5 : Ramanuja's Interpretation of the Gita 159--177
1. Difference of Standpoint Between Advaita Of sankara and visistadvaita of Ramanuja 161
2. The Unqualified transcendense of Sankara's Absolute 163
3. Ethics, Religion and Philosophy in Advaita and Visistadvaita 166
Chapter 6 : Metaphysics of Visistadvaita 179---194
1. Meaning of the term 'Visistadvaita' 181
2. Synthetic Genius of Visistadvaita 182
3. Visistadvaita as Value philosophy 184
4. Karmayoga as the Art of life 186
5. The dynamic nature of the Self in Visistadvaita 188
6. The Moral Law and karmayoga 191
7. The True Meaning of the Passivity of the Self 193
Chapter 7 : Concluding Remarks
1. the Excellence of Tilak's 203
2. Contradictions in Tilak's Approach 204
3. Nature, man and god 206
4. Review of some of the important Modern Studies on the Gita. 208
5. The multi-dimensional Appel of thGita 212
INDEX 241-254


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