The Song Supreme

An invite from Chinmaya Mission for a five-day programme on Bhagavad Gita kindled my spirit. If this profound document can do this to a lay, spiritual ignoramus like me, small wonder it has provoked the imagination, intellect and inquisitive instincts of more enlightened and kindred souls over many millennia.

Therefore there is nothing new that I can say about it given the profusion of exalted expositions by teachers, preachers and practitioners who have all revelled in its timeless revelations. Any account of the Gita can therefore be only intensely personal, of an experimental and experiential nature. Here is mine.

As a religious treatise it has offered much wisdom, much of which had failed to penetrate my thick head hardened by so-called modern education. So when Lord Krishna declares himself, pardon Himself, as the supreme Godhead, the creator, preserver and destroyer, who dwells inside as atman and pervades as paramatman, the proposition is attractive and comforting more as a genetic bias and of course, as a son of this holy, hoary land. Still, I cannot deny that what little seeped in, particularly the different kinds of yogas that will suit the character of the individual and the three gunas with their permutations and combinations, helps handle and understand worldly situations and people who create them when visible logic fails to be, well, logical!

The concept of surrender, saranagathi, to the Lord is perhaps the last and lasting punch in the Gita, that comes as a welcome piece of log to those floating painfully and aimlessly in the ocean of life. And that incidentally covers the whole of humanity. The prescribed surrender, mind you, is not about giving up, or a sign of weakness or escapism. On the contrary, it explains the inevitability of misery, that there is an invisible undercurrent the workings of which we cannot fathom and so swimming with the tide to the best of ability could take us ashore. But swim, we must. Mind you, such surrender is not easy as it sounds because it has to be absolute, insulated from changing fortunes of life. And I vouch, it cannot be in instalments either. Even more difficult is to shed the sense of ‘doership’ and still do.

But let us put theology apart for by now it must be apparent that I am not qualified. I have always been fascinated by the sheer variety and volume of literature and interpretations that Gita has spawned. It transcends religious sects and even religions, nations and languages. In Gita Lord Krishna has milked the essence of Sanatana Dharma. Sanatana means universal; And Dharma is order. Universal should not be mistaken for ‘uniform’; quite the opposite rather. Just as the U contains planets as diverse as Earth and Saturn, each with its own orbit, Dharma varies across periods, place and persons, albeit with a common denominator of dos and don’ts. And that is as pluralistic as one can get, a pluralism that is a civilisational and cultural order and not a Constitutional ordainment. Indeed, Lord Krishna is the ultimate secularist.

From Shri Shankara to Shri Ramanuja of yore to Swami Vivekananda, Swami Chinmayananda and Swami Dayananda Saraswati of recent vintage, supreme sages and scholars have drawn and delivered succour from it. Most of the celebrated Western thinkers, whom our colonised minds always prefer to seek ratification from, have held Gita as the greatest guide for mankind. Even our own secular lamp-post Nehru concedes that he often falls back on BG for the occasional pep up. Not that Lord K needs endorsements, but coming as they do from exponents, experts and some exceptions alike, it does dwarf our own ego which is driven by new fangled artificial intellect.

And that in my view is a key lesson of Gita that I, we and all should imbibe: annihilation of the ego! But what perversion that this pious land is infested by petty and pompous personalities! It is understandable for common folk to be engrossed in daily grind of personal survival but what of public personalities who are well provided just to serve those who provide for them? Indeed, Gita is a manual that every politico should read. And every aspirant of power, prosperity, popularity and all that goes with a material life. But reading is not learning, and learning is not practising. But that’s good for a start. Life will take care of the rest.

Gita baffles with cosmetic contradictions. It cuts off your moorings but somehow remains a herald of hope. It is common to get disillusioned by it and find it pulling us back to senses. It ruthlessly exposes reality only to make us realise what is what and how. It reduces the individual to nothing and then elevates him as the deathless atman: The limited ‘I’ is now limitless. It appears to stress the finality of fate and the futility of free will, but actually advocates the judicious use of free will to determine fate; choice and not chance is the clincher. No mincing of shastras in declaring we reap what we sow. It seems to diminish effort but actually exhorts duty as the core purpose of human existence. It underplays reward and result only to prepare us for eventualities and the unknown beyond control. Impermanence and detachment are pitilessly repeated only to bore into our psyche that attachment and illusions of permanence are even more painful.

One can go on. To me the most attractive takeaway from Gita is its offer of true freedom … From all bondage. Savour that for I-day.

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Jawahar T R