Sunday, October 10, 2010

Gita : Chapter 5- Renunciation of Actions

This chapter opens with a doubt raised by Arjuna. It is almost similar to, but not the same as, the one he raised in the beginning of the third chapter. At the end of Krishna's discourses in Chapter II, the disturbed mind of Arjuna could not definitely come to a decision whether action had any place at all in the life of Spiritual-seeking. Here, in this chapter, the Pandava Prince only asks which of the two --- renunciation-of-action or participation-in action --- is the nobler and the greater. The very construction of the question indicates how far Arjuna has been persuaded rightly by Krishna's advocacy of "right-action and conscious resistance to all positive evil." The great Acharya had, to a large extent, hauled Arjuna out of his inward psychological disaster. He had regained a certain amount of equilibrium and had understood and accepted that action, intelligently pursued, was the right way for progress and self-development.

To Arjuna, Karma meant Vedic ritualism such as Yajnas, Yagas and Homas, etc., and Samnyasa meant renunciation of everything and total retirement to a quiet Himalayan jungle, living there in constant inactivity, a strange life of self-denial and, perhaps, conscious self-persecution. When this was the type of misunderstanding in the mind of an educated, intelligent member of royalty of those times, we can easily imagine how much more pathetic must have been the general condition of desperate ignorance into which the Hindus of that age had sunk!

Krishna's attempt is to re-vitalise these dead terms in our scriptural tradition and bring about a rehabilitation in the understanding of the Hindus (II-61). We have already found, in the previous chapter, how the elaborate ritualisms called Yajnas, have been brought out from their glass-houses of secrecy and cellars of artificial sanctity to the broad daylight of everyday activity. The secret wealth of the Vedas, which was enjoyed by only a choice few, was "nationalised" to become a free heritage to be enjoyed by all seekers among mankind. With this subtle missionary work, Krishna brought Hinduism and its scientific methods within the life of every man living in the world.

After thus describing Karma Yoga (Chapters III and IV), Krishna had to describe how one should intelligently renounce Karma and enter a nobler spiritual technique for completing the pilgrimage to Perfection. To whip man out of his sleepy inertia, vigorous activity is advised here as the first step. Activities are, at this stage, necessarily motivated by the individual's ego-centric desires. Inertia (Tamas) is thus invigorated into the "agitations of dynamic activity" (Rajas). This state is again to be transcended through the process of "non-ego-centric Divine activities undertaken in a spirit of good-will and love for all," especially termed in the Gita as Yajna. Thus sublimated, the individual reaches a certain amount of tranquillity and peace, purity and joy (Sattwa). In this mental composure alone, can one meditate properly to reach the frontiers of the finite and experience the State of the Infinite.

This theory of self-development in three definite stages, of desire-prompted activities, of desireless activities, and finally, of pure meditation, is not an original contribution of the philosopher-poet Vyasa, the author of the Mahabharata and the Gita. Even here, we find that it is only an intelligent re-interpretation of the technique already indicated in the Vedas. In Vedic literature too, we find a systematic development of the technique of Self-Perfection. If the "Mantra" portion of the Vedas expresses an all-absorbing sense of wonderment of the deluded at the sight of Nature's vastness in strength and beauty, the "Brahmana" portion prescribes ways and means by which ritualistic activities can be undertaken for the satisfaction of one's material desires. After the "Brahmana" portion, there is, in all the text-books of Vedas, a clear section called the "Aranyakas," which prescribes varieties of worship-methods called the Upasanas, which are to be undertaken by pure minds uncontaminated by any desire. These desireless activities (Yajnas) make fine adjustments in the mind-and-intellect-equipments of the seekers and provide them with a pair of wings with which they can fly across the finite straight into the realms of the Infinite.

This same technique is confirmed by the Gita, with slight adjustments, here and there, in the word-meaning. In fact, the technique remaining the same, only the garb of language has been re-modelled to appeal to the available fashions of thought at the time of the Mahabharata. This change has often been characterised by enthusiastic critics as a total revolution, which has mischievous suggestions. Revolution is a term that is generally used when the old scheme of things is totally destroyed and is replaced by an entirely new set-up. For example, the Industrial Revolution completely replaced the patriarchal scheme of social living that the West had before their wind-mills started revolving. No such destructive revolution has taken place with the introduction of the Gita by Vyasa, or by the acceptance of it as a Scriptural text-book by the AcharyAs.

And yet, the Gita represents a revolution. When a flower matures into a fruit, certainly it is a destruction of the flower as such, but in the fruit, the essence of the flower, namely, its fertilised ovary, has found fulfilment. Those who do not know the science of plant life may mourn the destruction of the flower when they see the fruit standing where the flower stood before. But a botanist clearly understands that only the unnecessary aspects in the flower have withered away and that the essential in the flower has grown to its fulfilment in the fruit.

Similarly, the elaborate ritualism, its show and mystery, its detailed preparations and arrangements, which constitute the bulk of Vedic books, have all withered away, but the essential technique, which lies almost imperceptibly in the Vedic volumes, has found a perfect fulfilment, inasmuch as it has been brought out as a complete and self-evident science in the Gita.

Lord Krishna, after indicating the Supreme Goal of Perfection, exhausts himself in the following two chapters enunciating the methods of true activity. Activity in life, intelligently undertaken, is a means to reach the highest spiritual consummation. Primary education is as unavoidable as higher secondary education for a student to fulfil his ambition to become a doctor or an advocate, an engineer or an economist. Just as a student, after his primary lessons, must enter the higher secondary classes, and after the fulfilment of which, he must again strive hard to pass the early college lessons before he can hope to enter any of the specialised branches of education, so too, from desireless activities undertaken with a Yajna Spirit, a seeker must change over to the Path of Meditation.

Chapters III and IV have described the 'Yajna' and Chapter VI will explain the Path of Meditation. Therefore, this chapter has been rightly named "the Yoga of Renunciation of Action." What is the spirit of renunciation, how the "Yoga of Renunciation of Action" can be practised, what would be the result of practising this way of activity in this special mental attitude, and how far that could contribute to the inward development and growth of the human personality --- all these are discussed in this chapter. In fact, Chapter V stands as a bridge between Karma Yoga and Pure Meditation. In the Vedas this subtle point in the chain of discussions is almost missing. Chapter V of the Gita rediscovers for us this 'missing link' in the Vedic thought. I have said 'rediscovers,' and not 'deliberately created' or 'originally supplied.'

As Shankara puts it, in many places the Lord has spoken of the renunciation of all actions and at the close of the chapter, Krishna has advised Arjuna to engage in Yoga in the "performance of actions." When thus viewed, there is, in the last chapter, a perceptible inconsistency according to Arjuna. Hence the doubt with which he opens his discussion with Lord Krishna in this chapter.

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