My father had entrusted a hand-written manuscript of his ‘Introspections on the Gita’ to my daughter when he accompanied her back from Woodstock School Mussoorie, saying ‘in your hands this is not likely to get lost!’ He was right. Many years after his passing away she found it while unpacking after a transfer and handed it over to me urging that I edit it and have it published as was his wish.
Throughout his life when I had a chance to be with him he would inevitably launch into philosophical discussions on the amazing spectrum of Indian thought, culture and civilization, illustrating with vivid accounts from the myths and Puranas’. My earliest childhood memories are of quiet enjoyable evenings in his prayer room before a splendid silver idol of lord Vishnu1 almost two feet tall and exquisitely sculpted. There he would read passages from the tulsi Ramayan about the marriage of Lord Shiva and Parvari with great zest and vigour, bringing to life the ascetic bridegroom and his unlikely retinue. I would long for evening to arrive so we could resume the stories he would recount with the incense wafting and the wicker lamps casting their magical light, as his sonorous voice boomed theatrically.
My father was a real ‘Karma Yogi’ throughout his chequered life as a Raja, a politician, a mystic and a philosopher. He survived numerous calamities, traumas and upheavals of circumstances but with faith and equanimity soldiered on. In his youth he lost the guiding hand of a dynamic father, having lost a mother in infancy Suddenly he found himself saddled with overwhelming responsibilities of the kind most of us would quake to bean Six younger brothers and two sisters to educate, marry and settle though he was still in his teens himself. Suddenly his hopes of pursuing higher education under the umbrella of a strong and wise parent were shattered.
When he married somewhat unconventionally, the most beautiful woman the land had possibly produced, his life acquired a new meaning and was filled with new-found happiness, helping him to bear the awesome responsibilities towards his siblings. But life delivered yet another cruel blow and in less than a decade she succumbed to the scourge of the times, tuberculosis - a slow and harrowing ailment which compounded the tragedy of inevitable death, ironically on the eve of the invention of streptomycin. He was devastated with the additional burden of having to handle the grief and trauma facing the three children she bore him. For some time he lost his balance. Later when he recovered he never forgot her and as we grew up were surrounded by her magnificent portraits and photographs everywhere we looked, never letting her memory pass away.
Later as a politician he came to be acclaimed as a ‘Dev - Purush’ by one and all for his selfless services to the people, his childlike simplicity, uncommon compassion, humour and friendliness, loyalty and incorruptibility. Even today, decades after his active political life, scarcely a day passes when someone unknown, be it a fellow politician, clerk, civil servant, neighbour, academic or villager does not recount some anecdote about him when I happen to inform them that I am his son. I have yet to come across another politician being called ‘Dev - Purush’ and wonder sometimes whether it is only a cynical comment and a euphemism for someone naive and rather unworldly who didn’t have a clue how to feather his own nest. Most however who call him that, surely mean it earnestly I would like to believe. He was gentle to a fault and we children were quite capable of bullying him. If we picked up something valuable and said we wanted to keep it, he just didn’t know how to say no. When he passed away thousands upon thousands of villagers from the region flocked to the funeral at our village - people on roof-tops, people jostling everywhere and as we carried him to the pyre, the villagers shouldered us out saying he was theirs.
Being mystical, he told me he had visions in his teens of a blue form in a white halo. The silver statue which he commissioned he said remarkably matched the form in the Vision. The Gita was his constant companion and he found all answers he sought in facing the challenges of fife within it. His love and devotion towards his ‘Isht Dev’, the form of God he cherished, was inspired by Arjun’s8 for Krishna. He always spoke of Him as a friend and guide he could trust with utmost faith. God was both mentor and companion and he would sometimes talk of him in lighter vein as if pulling His leg.
Yet near the end that friendship faltered. When confined to the bed wracked by pain and unable to exercise control over bodily functions, in anger and frustration he said to me in a voice reduced to a whisper “ there is no God’. I knew from the look on his face that he was lying and like Arjun in pain and frustration he had cast away his bow. Later that evening sitting on the terrace we saw a bright shooting star traverse the sky I knew then that he had left. Now his face had relaxed in sublime peace and like a distant dawn, a trace of a smile had appeared in death at last his face was cast in faith.
While earlier he had published commentaries on the Upanishads and the Gita in chaste scholarly Hindi, together with some on eat- plays on characters in our epics, in his final years he sought to complete the manuscript on the Gita in English. The full weight if his varied and flying experiences, his knowledge and scholarship and his deep faith and love for God made him a worthy commentator on the Gita. His presentation is unique and makes reading. The introspections bring out the essence of each chapter lucidly and imaginatively. I have read several commentaries tat are verbose, dialectic and pedantic which leave one exhausted, if not confused. But his presentation helps one to grasp the essence of the Gita with facility and enjoyment, enabling one to understand how its message may help in one’s time of crisis.
Finally I must confess that I have been fairly Liberal in the editing, filling gaps where they needed to be filled on the basis of his conversations with me, simpli4ng the language when it tended to get archaic and seeking to provide a sequence which would feel easier on the mind. My intention in this was to present the sum and substance of his introspections rather than a literal presentation. The language had to be modified to suit the requirements of present-day readership. The commentary is important for its content rather than a literal rendering. My editorial effort, I have no doubt, will facilitate a more lucid understanding of his introspections on the Gita.
My Introspections on the Gita’ in English was written after my ‘Gin Manan’ * in Hindi which however only went up to the ninth discourse. According to some analysts the next nine chapters are basically a further elucidation of the central philosophy of the Gita, though in my view not entirely. The eleventh, for instance, portrays the Cosmic Self, conceived rather imaginatively, which dispels thoughts of a gory nihility after death and provides hope of the existence of a benign universal force. Likewise the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters dwell on the embodiment of the soul and its progress through many life times to ultimate liberation. Chapter twelve dwells on the advantage of worshipping a God with form as against worshipping Him as unman fest and formless. Despite some repetition every chapter has something important to say
Personally what inspires me most in the Gita is the urgings to Bhakti Yoga, the Yoga of utter faith and concentration. This is not to neglect the virtues of Gyan Yoga, Yoga of knowledge, equally important in discriminative concentration on the mysteries of life and ultimately Karma Yoga the path of action.
The central philosophy of the Gita teaches us how to face a catastrophic situation in life with equanimity and courage and a stable and settled mind. It helps us to develop a personality in the physical outer- self reflecting the perfect harmony of our innermost self, the soul or Atma; a personality that would make the outer-self completely conform to it, to be able to face the dire circumstances with wisdom and courage.
The Gita after thus preparing the individual allows him a glimpse of a cosmic being, one that is dynamic, life suffusing and eternally energetic, reflected in our own timeless physical universe. The Cosmic’ being thus visualized is the source of all its fragmentations and the fragments therefore are imbued with all the qualities of the progenitor, however dormant. The Gita thus projects the fundamental Hindu beliefs of divinity within us and the ubiquitous presence of divinity in every being and atom of creation which is apparently divided but in essence united by transcendental divinity; unity in diversity. Western scholars have called this Transcendental Monism as contrasted with the Dualism of the Judaic faiths where the creator and his creation remain separate and distinct.
Thus the Gita urges its votaries to develop ‘same-sightedness’ (Sam Darshinah) in recognition of the divinity both within and around us, in every category of person and being and even in inanimate nature. This is a call to treat every person with equal respect and compassion, a plea to extend such compassion to the animal world and beyond the animate to inanimate nature, marching our ecological concerns of today.
The Gita also propounds in chapter four the unique concept of Avatar; divinity incarnate on the material plane. Not only do souls as fragments of divinity reincarnate time and again on account of their acquired Karmic compulsions but the supreme Godhead itself reincarnates, though in His case voluntarily, from age to age to correct the errors that develop in His atrophying creation, as Avatar.
In chapter seven and nine the Gita emerges as the epitome of tolerance towards diverse faiths and beliefs emphasizing the need to allow different categories of people to worship in the manner they please undeterred, for “ whatever divine form any devotee with faith wishes to worship, the same faith in him I make unwavering.’
The Gita also speaks in detail about our corporeal self and the Self within it. This deepest Self is described as the Karta or innermost dynamic of the field of our corporeality. The Gita defines and develops the concept of the soul and the manner of its transmigration and rebirth. It speaks of the importance of engaging in righteous action for purification of the personality to eventually match the perfection of the soul that inhabits it and rejects obsessive ritualism and the misconceived abandonment of action and temporal duty through reclusive asceticism as false renunciation and hypocritical inaction. It stresses that the altruistic ideal of dispassionate and selfless action is the single most important goal of life, leading to liberation.
The central purpose of the Gita is to enjoin one to. realize one’s true nature ‘Svabhava’, the Self within; which once grasped would create an intuitive intelligence in every performance of worldly actions.
The dialogues in the Gita are divided into eighteen chapters, each called Yoga. The first is called Arjun Vishad Yoga; Arjun’s despondency. The next is called Sankya Yoga and so on. The word Yoga suffixed to each title can be loosely interpreted as Science. Thus Karma Yoga would imply the science of action, Dhyan Yoga, the science of meditation etc.
As the Gita is not a treatise or commentary, we cannot expect a logical and evolutionary flow of ideas. The discourse being in the form of a dialogue, several issues recur from chapter to chapter as they are re-emphasized. While certain themes dominate the dialogues in a chapter, they are not presented exclusively. Thus there is a free flow of ideas with considerable repetition, back and forth in the presentation and the given title of a chapter does not encompass them all. In the interests of clarity and to enable a proper grasping of the essence of the message I have sought to present the essential themes emerging in each chapter in some logical sequence together with an analysis based on my introspections and I have given the chapters my own titles to highlight the most important theme of a chapter.
To illustrate the central message and context of each chapter I have also selected several key verses and placed them immediately after the chapter, this time with the original title in Sanskrit for the chapter from which the excerpts have been taken. A mere commentary and analysis would become academic and tiresome. It is like writing endlessly about a person without ever showing his photograph. The original verse, even in translation carries its own force and gives one a feel of the original message which then makes the commentary more legitimate. I have also given a synopsis before each chapter listing the important issues discussed in it.
Finally at the end of the book, after the eighteenth chapter, I have highlighted what I believe are the major themes and unique features of the Gita. Here again I have painstakingly selected a collection of verses which together go to support my presumption regarding the substance of a theme and placed them immediately after that theme, something like a reference to context. The reader after reading the verses would have the conviction that what is being claimed about the theme is indeed so.
I do hope that all these aids to understanding will help the reader to grasp the essence of the Gita. It would be useful to have a copy of the Gita’s translation at hand, so that after reading the commentary the reader can refer directly to the entire text of the verses relevant to the chapter thus enabling him to understand its hill import. At the end, I have no doubt that the whole process will have a transforming effect on the reader.
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