The speaking tree
Times of India
The speaking tree
Times of India
By Ved Prakash Saxena
In common parlance, bhakti is conceptualized by such acts as going to a temple, making offerings to God as part of religious worship, observance of fasts on specified days, chanting prayers in the praise of God, going on pilgrimages of holy places, performing religious rites and rituals, etc. Any person who performs such bhakti defining acts is called a bhakta. Just as a dance form is not separate from the dancer, bhakti is not separate from the bhakta. However, Gītā’s take on bhakti and bhakta is entirely different.
The term bhakti appears in Gītā in seven Slokas (7.17, 8.22, 11.54, 13.14, 14.26, 18.54, and 18.68). Of these, only Sloka 18.54 provides a hint of the Gītā view of bhakti: “One who has acquired oneness with Brahma (God), has an undisturbed and cheerful disposition, who neither grieves nor craves for anything, and has the same regard for all beings, acquires supreme bhakti, that is, the highest order of bhakti (param bhakti) of God. So Gītā’s ‘supreme bhakti’ has nothing to do with the acts associated with it in common perception. Instead, it is characterized by those attitudes and attributes which bring peace to self and other beings.
The term ‘bhakta’ appears in Gītā in fifteen Slokas of which eight Slokas bring out the characterizing features of a bhakta (and, of bhakti by logic). According to Sloka 11.55, “The bhakta who performs action only for God’s sake, is free of attachment (to worldly entities), and is free of animus for all beings, attains God (which is the highest reward of bhakti, of course).
Slokas 13, 14,15,16,17,18, and 19 in Chapter 12 describe the attributes of bhaktas that God holds dear to him. These attributes are bearing no sense of ‘mine-ness’ and egotism; equipoise to dualities such as pain and pleasure, friend and enemy, praise and blame; absence of expectations; purity of body and mind; staying un-distressful and beyond affliction and worry; renunciation of (that is, indifference to) favourable and unfavourable; being ever content and self-controlled; having unwavering mind and firm determination; and the mind and intellect dedicated to God. According to Sloka 12.15, one who is not agitated by anyone, nor causes anyone to be agitated, and who is free from glee, envy, fear, worry, and excitation is dear to God. So, it is these features and not those that are commonly associated with bhakti that define the Gītā concept of bhakti.
Many other Slokas in Gītā indirectly point to some other features of bhakti. One very important feature is constant remembrance of God even while engaged in an action and dedication of both mind and intellect to Him (Sloka 8.7) which surely makes the devotee reach God. [In this Sloka, Krsna advises Arjuna to remember God at all times while fighting the war]. Yet another feature of bhakti is to perceive God existing everywhere and in all beings and all beings existing in God which perception makes the devotee and God inseparable from each other (Sloka 6.30). According to Sloka 3.19, by performing duty-based actions without attachment (to actions and to their fruits), a person attains the Supreme which is the ultimate aim of bhakti.
All this makes it obvious that the Gītā concept of bhakti is not even remotely related to any regime of rites and rituals. It encompasses all aspects of love and dedication to God and to his creation of sentient beings. It is encapsulated in Gītā’s sublime dictum “sarvabhūtahitey ratāh which means to remain engrossed in the welfare of all beings with the same regard for all which attitude brings the bhakta to God (Sloka 4, Chapter 12). It does not involve any repetitive actions mechanically performed without the application of mind and intellect. And, Gītā’s bhakti is an all-time affair involving body, mind, and intellect, and total dedication of all activity to God, and not a sporadic activity involving body alone.
Practicing bhakti the Gītā way will bring peace, harmony, and happiness at all levels of mankind for sure.
घर–घर गीता, सस्वर गीता | हर उर गीता, सुमधुर गीता ||
I request the esteemed readers of this blog to kindly post their valuable comments on its contents – Ved Prakash Saxena
By Ved Prakash Saxena
Everyday newspapers and TV news channels pour out chilling tales of crime and corruption of all sorts. Everyone feels disturbed, distressed, and insecure. The rave and rant against corruption grows louder by the day. The irony is that those suffering one kind of corruption themselves commit some other kind of corruption causing distress to others. Everybody is a victim of corruption and, surprisingly, everybody is a perpetrator of corruption. Tentacles of corruption have clutched people of all description–-educated and uneducated, rich and poor, teachers and traders, businessmen and bureaucrats, politicians and policemen, litigants and lawyers, young and old, … . Crimes committed by juveniles are rising alarmingly (police data show that at least six crimes are committed every day in Delhi alone by juveniles!). Corruption has erased the demarcating line between saints and sinners.
Authoritarian measures to curb crime and corruption -– legislation, policing, and punishment -– have no record of success anywhere and at any time. As Plato famously observed, “Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws”. These measures fail to achieve their objective because they deal with the effect and not with the cause; they treat the disease without addressing what caused the disease. The hope that the institution of Lokpal and Lokayukta will eradicate the all pervading corruption, too, is just pie in the sky. It is a gross reality that people holding these august offices may themselves breed corruption. A case in point is that of the former Lokayukta of Karnataka, Dr. Justice Y Bhaskara Rao, whose son, Ashwin Rao, was found conducting an extortion racket from the Lokayukta’s office itself! Ashwin Rao was arrested by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) along with other Lokayukta officials. Laws are blatantly transgressed and law-enforcement officials themselves are seduced into corruption which continues to thrive unabated.
Gītā’s approach to tackle crime and corruption is to eradicate the underlying cause. According to Gītā’, any act of crime or corruption originates in ‘kāma’ (desire) which pushes the person into wrongdoing for its gratification. The Gītā’ way to eradicate crime and corruption is to overpower desire. In Sloka 3.36, Arjuna asks Krsna, “Impelled by what does a person commit sinful acts despite themselves not wanting to commit them as if driven by some unassailable force”? Krsna answers that the force in this context is verily the unappeasable desire having its abode in the senses, mind, and intellect which fogs knowledge (discrimination between right and wrong) and bewilders him and the wrath arising from the nonfulfillment of desire (Slokas 3.37, 3.39, 3.40 paraphrased). A man obsessed with a desire is deterred neither by fear nor by shame in committing any kind of crime or corruption for its gratification (kāmaturānām nā bhayam nā lajjā). What is the way out, then? Krsna counsels Arjuna to first bring the senses under control, then subdue the mind by reason, and then slay this hard-to-win enemy– the desire (Slokas 3.41, 3.43 paraphrased). He further advises Arjuna to subdue the fickle and unsteady mind by bringing it back from wherever it has wandered around under the control of self by means of practice and detachment from the objects of sensual pleasures (Slokas 6.26, 6.35 paraphrased), and by dwelling upon the reality that the pleasures born of the sense-object contacts are all transient and surely the cause of suffering in the end (Slokas 5.22). This is one way to eradicate corruption: disciplining the unbridled mind by imbibing Gītā’s teachings and cultivating the noble attributes of self-control, mental purity, austerity, truthfulness, ‘non-anger’, compassion, non-violence, modesty, forgiveness, sense of shame in transgressing social norms, etc., listed in Slokas 16.1, 16.2, and 16.3. For this, the teachings of Gītā need to be introduced in early childhood first at home and then at school, and continually reinforced by parents, elders, and teachers. Thus the children shall grow up with a disciplined mind which will not be led astray by any passionate desire. It is not that desires cease to arise in the disciplined mind but they disappear without driving the person into the pursuit of their objects of gratification just like the sea that abides in itself despite being filled with the waters of rivers entering it from all sides (Sloka 2.70 paraphrased). People in control of their senses, mind, and intellect rise above the level of instinct-driven behaviour to the level of reason-based moral behaviour, and thereby they stay away from crime and corruption in thought, word and action.
The other Gītā way of eradicating corruption is to lead people by example. In Sloka 3.21, Krsna tells, “Common men conduct themselves after the manner of persons holding positions of authority and eminence, and the generality of men naturally conform to the standards of conduct set by them”. The import of this statement is loud and clear: if the noblemen are righteous and upright in their actions and dealings, so will be the common men; if the noblemen indulge in crime and corruption, so will the common men. Moral values, like fluids, flow from top downwards. At home, the parents and elders should set examples of honesty, integrity, and uprightness in their behaviour for children to emulate and imbibe. Children learn far more readily by example than by precept.
Anyone who has imbibed the teachings of Gītā identifies himself with all beings and feels the pleasure and pain of others as of his own (Slokas 6.30, 6.32). He is compassionate, friendly and forgiving towards one and all and bears animus against none (Sloka 12.13). He is ‘Sarvabhoothitey Ratāh (Slokas 5.25, 6.30, 12.4); that is, he is always selflessly engaged in the welfare of all beings. He is transformed from a self-centric being to a community-centric being. His actions are not directed towards serving self-interest but toward the good of all beings, and he considers his selfless actions as his humble offerings to God who dwells as much in him as in all sentient beings. Such an enlightened person who sees God in all and all in God (Sloka 6.30) can never even think of an act with the faintest hint of crime or corruption of any kind. He will never even think of harming or exploiting anyone.
Corruption can only be wiped out by striking at its root -– the all–consuming desire -– by elevating man from the level of an instinct-driven beast to the level of a knowledge–driven human and this possible transformation can be brought about by instilling and imbibing Gītā’s timeless teachings. Legal measures are no remedy for eradicating the canker of corruption. We certainly can have a corruption-free society if people, by and large, imbibe Gītā’s timeless teachings and reflect them in their actions and behaviour. It shall be a long process for sure but a sure success, nevertheless.
घर–घर गीता, सस्वर गीता | सुमधुर गीता, हर उर गीता ||
By Ved Prakash Saxena
Chapter 2 of Gītā presents the persona of an ideal person designated as ‘sthitpraggya’. Practicing any particular religion is no prerequisite to elevating oneself to become sthitpraggya. Any Muslim can rise to the level of a sthitpraggya and become, thereby, a better Muslim and any Christian can become a sthitpraggya and a better Christian for that without compromising any tenet of their respective faith. Gītā’s ‘dharma’ or religion, if it must be so translated, is the only true religion of mankind. It shows the way to elevate oneself from the level of a self-centred beast to the supreme level of Brahma or God who cares for all beings without attachment, discrimination, or any expectations in return. The hallowed portals of Gītā’s religion are open to all humans and not restricted to any particular section of mankind. Even the most wicked people may enter and be transformed into virtuous people in no time (Sloka 9.32). Adoption of Gītā’s ‘dharma’ provides for the peaceful coexistence of all beings despite their outward differences of a myriad kind, and diverse faiths. In fact, it is the subtle influence of Gītā’s ‘dharma’ on Hindu psyche that has allowed all the different faiths, even the most inimical ones, to flourish unhampered in India. And, this liberal influence is eloquently reflected in the peaceful and non-violent way Hindus take recourse to protest against any affront to their beliefs, Gods, sacred symbols, etc.
Gītā’s ‘dharma’ is manifested in living in the service of others without harbouring expectations of any reward, and setting examples of righteous action for others to follow. Gītā’s lofty message of ‘sarvabhutahitey ratāh’ is to gain one’s happiness in making others happy and in relieving the suffering of others through selfless action to the best of one’s ability. Could there be any precept more secular, more humanitarian, more universal, and more conducive to inter-faith harmony than this? Gītā’s sublime teachings transcend the boundaries of cultural and geographical divisions and encompass the whole mankind. They elevate man to the stature of a world citizen. Gītā’s teachings are even more relevant today than ever when religious fundamentalism is rearing its ugly head all over the world. They come forth as balm to the troubled humankind vivisected by different religions.
Today, with so much at hand for a comfortable living, nobody is happy and at peace with either themselves or with others. People are living a stressed life and, the higher the level of material comfort, the higher is the level of mental stress. It is only the Gītā’s ‘dharma’ that shows the way to live a peaceful, relaxed, and stress-free life. Gītā’s teachings are directed towards bringing about a change in our outlook on self and others, freeing ourselves from delusion by inner transformation, and taking our consciousness to higher and still higher levels through selfless action, that is, nishkām karmayōga. Gītā wakes up every one to realize that he is not an isolated individual but a vital component of the human community and, as such, it is his prime duty to perform his duty-bound actions to keep the community harmoniously integrated by going beyond the narrow confines and concerns of ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘mine’. Religions are all communal and divisive of people; Gītā’s ‘dharma’ – the true religion of mankind – is secular and unifies people. It may also be noted and keenly realized that religion can be (and is often) used for extra-religious ends; ‘dharma’ can never be used for any non-dhārmik (immoral) purpose. A mix of religion and politics makes a toxic cocktail that kills social order and generates turmoil; ‘dharma’- infused politics is a sure cure for all social ills and brings about social cohesion.
In my Gītā commentary in Hindi, ‘Shrimadbhagwad Gītā : Jiwan Path Pradipika’, I had raised the demand for the first time in 2014 that Gītā be declared as the National Book of India. Declaring Gītā, the epitome of real secularism and inter-faith harmony, as the National Book of India will go a long way towards making the world free of strife and conflict of all kinds. Any opposition to this demand on the ground that Gītā’s teachings are venerated by Hindus is as absurd and silly as denouncing the cardinal virtue of Truth for the reason that Hindus venerate Truth and deify it as ‘Satya Nārāyan’, or discarding the sublime virtue of contentment only because Hindus have deified it as Santoshī Mātā.
I implore all right thinking people to join me in my call for declaring Gītā as the National Book of India which will restore its lost glory as ‘Jagadguru’.
घर घर गीता, सस्वर गीता | हर उर गीता, सुमधुर गीता ||
By Ved Prakash saxena
Much misunderstanding has been caused by the misinterpretation of ‘dharma’ as religion. A rigorous scrutiny of the term ‘dharma’ used in Gītā conclusively establishes that Gītā’s ‘dharma’ is not what the term ‘religion’ stands for. The term ‘dharma’ appears in Gītā as many as 17 times as such and 16 times with a qualifying prefix or suffix such as ‘swadharma’, kuladharma, dharmyamrit, dharmayuddha, etc. in various contexts. Nowhere does ‘dharma’ mean the same as religion. Gītā’s ‘dharma’ refers not to a codified religion but to an ideal way of life based on the identification of all components of the world–biotic and even abiotic–with the self and the performance of duty-based action for the welfare of one and all. The Gītā way of life or the Gītā’s ‘dharma’ respects and sustains the natural interdependence of all beings and ensures harmony in togetherness. A few examples will be enough to bring out how utterly different is the purport of dharma from that of religion.
In Sloka 2.7, “Kārpanyadoshopahat swabhāva…..”, Arjun submits to Krsna with these words: “My sense of judgement has been smitten by faint-heartedness and I am completely baffled in respect of my dharma; I now approach you as a disciple and beseech you to tell me whatever is decidedly good for me”. Here, what is that ‘dharma’ about which Arjun is so severely baffled? ‘Dharma’ here refers to the right course of action–to slay one’s evil doer kin and their supporters in a war or to stay out of war. ‘Dharma’ is not a religion but the right action in response to the call of one’s duty. In Sloka 4.7, “Yadā yadā hi dharmasya…...”, Krsna, says “Whenever there is a mounting apathy to ‘dharma’ and an upsurge in ‘adharma’ or ‘non-dharma’, I make my appearance in a physical form”. Here, too, ‘dharma’ does not stand for any religion, but to the righteous way of life and, likewise, ‘adharma’ does not stand for non-religion or anti-religion but to the unrighteous way of life that leads to progressive degeneration and disintegration of the society. In the very next Sloka, 4.8, Krsna says: “Paritrānāya sādhūnām……..”, that is, “For the protection of the virtuous people and the annihilation of the wicked ones, and for the re-establishment of ‘dharma’, I appear again and again in age after age”. Here, too, the re-establishment of ‘dharma’ does not mean revival of any extinct religion, but refers to the moral values which were being eroded by the unethical conduct of the evil-doers. Gītā’s ‘dharma’ is righteous conduct based on cardinal virtues; ‘adharma’ is unethical and immoral conduct in contravention of cardinal virtues. And, whenever there is an upswing in ‘adharma’, ‘dharma’ is revived by safeguarding the virtuous people and annihilating the wicked ones.
Sloka 2.31 in Gītā refers to ‘dharmyāt yuddhāt’ which means holy war for the cause of upholding the tenets of ‘dharma’ and Sloka 2.33 is about ‘dharmyam sangrāmam’ which also means the same. Gītā’s ‘dharmayuddha’ or ‘dharma-sangrām’, however, is not the same as ‘Jihād’ which is a war against the followers of a different faith; to kill, convert, or enslave them; ‘dharma-sangrām’ is a war against the evil-doers who, by their immoral acts set examples which bring in corruption and disharmony in the society making life miserable for the virtuous people. Dharmayuddha is aimed at the restoration of the deteriorated moral values, and it is waged only when all other means to reform the wicked ones have failed. Gītā’s dharma is no religion; it is a code of moral values and conduct for all people whatever be their modes of worshipping God, and it aims at transforming a person from being self-centric to becoming community-centric. Gītā’s dharma is non-sectarian and an epitome of secularism in thought, word, and deed. In Sloka 11 of Chapter 4, “Ye yathā mām prapadyante……..”, Krsna tells Arjun that “in whatever manner or way people approach me, in that very manner I resort to them since all people, from all sides, tread the path that leads to me”. In Sloka 7.21, “Yo yo yām yām tanūm bhaktāh……..”, Krsna says that whatever image of God a favour-seeking devotee chooses to worship, in that very image I firm up his faith.
Gītā’s ‘dharma’ is no ordained path to worship God; instead, it gives freedom to worship Him in any way one may choose. What could be a louder proclamation of secularism than these pronouncements? Is there any religion that grants so much unfettered freedom to people? To hold Gītā as a Hindu Scripture is a gross and wholly unacceptable devaluation of this most profoundly secular text of all times. Religions divide mankind and sow the seeds of sectarian strife. Gītā’s ‘dharma’ unifies mankind into one harmonious family radiating love, compassion, and mutual goodwill all around. This is the sublime concept of ‘Loksangraha’– integration of all beings into one unified group–brought out for the first time in Bhagwad Gītā. If Gītā must be called a Book of Religion, its religion is certainly not Hinduism (which, in itself, is not a codified religion but a way of life) but the universal religion of the entire mankind for the welfare of one and all. Gītā’s religion is based on the realization that in the grand web of life all sentient beings are interconnected through God–the creator and preserver of all. Gītā’s universal religion instils a sense of brotherhood among all human beings despite their apparent differences. It envisages a human society in which no one fears anyone and all live together in perfect harmony.
So, Gītā is not a book of religion, that is, a ‘dharmagrantha’; it is a treatise on righteous action–a ‘karmagranth’. The ‘dharma’ of Gītā is selfless action which is performed not for satisfying personal desires or for sensual gratification but for the welfare of other beings. Selfless actions of individuals integrate the society into one harmonious family, World Brotherhood. In Gītā, selfless action has been specified as ‘Nishkām Karma’, that is desireless action performed without attachment to its fruit or reward, without the sense of doership, and as an offering, along with its fruit, to the Lord. Nishkām karma bonds one to God and becomes ‘Nishkām Karmayōga’. Most species of higher animals perform action for the preservation and good of self and the offspring; one who practices nishkām karmayōga transcends the ‘I-sense’ and ‘My-sense’, that is, ego and attachment and progresses from individual consciousness to cosmic consciousness, and acts for the welfare of others. He is not self-centred but community-centred. However, to practice ‘Nishkām Karmayōga’, one must acquire the vision to perceive the same God in all beings as dwells in him. With this vision he realizes his oneness with God and, through him, oneness with all beings. Identifying himself with all beings, he is friendly, compassionate, and forgiving to all and bears no ill will against anyone. He has the same vision of empathy for his friends and foes. However, the vision of non-differentiation or ‘samattva bhāva’, is not innate for most people; it is cultivated by inculcating the ‘divine attributes’ or ‘daivī sampadā’ and discarding the ‘demonic’ attributes or ‘āsurī sampadā’ enumerated in Chapter 16. Anyone of any faith can thus acquire the lofty vision of non-differentiation; Hinduism is no prerequisite.
घर घर गीता सस्वर गीता | हर उर गीता सुमधुर गीता ||
It is a grave misconception that Srimad Bhagwadgita, Gita in short, is a religious text of Hindus. The reality is that Gita is neither related to any religion, nor does it propound a new religion; it is an unparalleled manual of social harmony and of human elevation to higher reaches of consciousness, and not a religious text.
That Gita is an absolutely different genre from religious texts is established by a dispassionate comparison. Unlike the religious texts, Gita does not bring in any messenger of God, nor does it prescribe a system of worship, rites and rituals, pilgrimages, particular prayers at designated times, fasts and festivals on specified days, and a host of other dos and don’ts for the followers, which set them apart from the followers of other religions. Religious texts denigrate the non-adherents as kafirs, heretics, apostates, etc.; who must be converted or killed. As such, religious texts are divisive of humankind. In glaring contrast, Gita’s precepts are absolutely non-discriminatory and all inclusive. They relate to the entire mankind – polytheists, monotheists, idolaters, worshippers of formless God, agnostics, and even atheists. Anyone, irrespective of their faith, caste, creed, color, gender, or any other distinction can imbibe and practice them for elevation of the self to higher levels of consciousness and for fostering social harmony.
In Chapter 12 of Gita, Krsna exhorts everyone to harbor no ill feelings towards anyone; have friendly, compassionate, and forgiving disposition towards one and all, and rise above all kinds of attachment and ego. Again, Chapter 16 emphasizes cultivation of the divine attributes of non-violence, truth, compassion, humility, non-anger, pleasant speech etc., and discarding the demonic attributes of lust, anger, arrogance, avarice, etc.
All this is rational and certainly, non-sectarian. Gita’s precepts aim at transforming an individual from the self-oriented state to the community-oriented state for social integration (stated as lok sangrah in Gita). Gita’s supreme ideal is ‘others before self’.
The most outstanding feature of Gita that puts it apart from religious texts is that unlike the latter, which demand blind faith from the adherents, Gita encourages thorough scrutiny of its precepts before accepting them. In the last Chapter of Gita Krsna asks Arjuna, his friend and disciple, to thoroughly reflect upon his teachings and then act as he should deem proper – no foisting of an ideology and no demand for blind faith. That is Gita. Surely, not the way of a religious text. Probably, it was this realization of Edwin Arnold, the English poet that made him translate Gita under the very appropriate title ‘The Song Celestial’.
The sublime teachings of Gita for self-elevation and social harmony shall never face the threat of being dated; they are for all times. They are valid for all the diverse sets of people – the scholar and the layman, the erudite and the ignoramus, even the believer and the non-believer!
घर-घर गीता, सस्वर गीता | सुमधुर गीता, हर उर गीता ||