Sri Aurobindo's Light
Sri Aurobindo's Light

Essays on Gita


                                    Our Demand and Need from the Gita

THE WORLD abounds with scriptures sacred and profane, with revelations and half-revelations, with religions and philosophies, sects and schools and systems. To these the many minds of a half-ripe knowledge or no knowledge at all attach themselves with exclusiveness and passion and will have it that this or the other book is alone the eternal Word of God and all others are either impostures or at best imperfectly inspired, that this or that philosophy is the last word of the reasoning intellect and other systems are either errors or saved only by such partial truth in them as links them to the one true philosophical cult. Even the discoveries of physical Science have been elevated into a creed and in its name religion and spirituality banned as ignorance and superstition, philosophy as frippery and moonshine. And to these bigoted exclusions and vain wranglings even the wise have often lent themselves, misled by some spirit of darkness that has mingled with their light and overshadowed it with some cloud of intellectual egoism or spiritual pride. Mankind seems now indeed inclined to grow a little modester and wiser; we no longer slay our fellows in the name of God’s truth or because they have minds differently trained or differently constituted from ours; we are less ready to curse and revile our neighbour because he is wicked or presumptuous enough to differ from us in opinion; we are ready even to admit that Truth is everywhere and cannot be our sole monopoly; we are beginning to look at other religions and philosophies for the truth and help they contain and no longer merely in order to damn them as false or criticise what we conceive to be their errors. But we are still apt to declare that our truth gives us the supreme knowledge which other religions or philosophies have missed or only imperfectly grasped so that they deal either with subsidiary and inferior aspects of the truth of things or can merely prepare less evolved minds for the heights to which we have arrived. And we are still prone to force upon ourselves or others the whole sacred mass of the book or gospel we admire, insisting that all shall be accepted as eternally valid truth and no iota or underline or diaeresis denied its part of the plenary inspiration.

It may therefore be useful in approaching an ancient Scripture, such as the Veda, Upanishads or Gita, to indicate precisely  the spirit in which we approach it and what exactly we think we may derive from it that is of value to humanity and its future. First of all, there is undoubtedly a Truth one and eternal which we are seeking, from which all other truth derives, by the light of which all other truth finds its right place, explanation and relation to the scheme of knowledge. But precisely for that reason it cannot be shut up in a single trenchant formula, it is not likely to be found in its entirety or in all its bearings in any single philosophy or scripture or uttered altogether and for ever by any one teacher, thinker, prophet or Avatar. Nor has it been wholly found by us if our view of it necessitates the intolerant exclusion of the truth underlying other systems; for when we reject passionately, we mean simply that we cannot appreciate and explain. Secondly, this Truth, though it is one and eternal, expresses itself in Time and through the mind of man; therefore every Scripture must necessarily contain two elements, one temporary, perishable, belonging to the ideas of the period and the country in which it was produced, the other eternal and imperishable

and applicable in all ages and countries. Moreover, in the statement of the Truth the actual form given to it, the system and arrangement, the  metaphysical and intellectual mould, the precise expression used must be largely subject to the mutations of Time and cease to have the same force; for the human intellect modifies itself always; continually dividing and putting together it is obliged to shift its divisions  continually and to rearrange its syntheses; it is always leaving old expression and symbol for new or, if it uses the old, it so changes its connotation or at least its exact content and association that we can never be quite sure of understanding an ancient book of this kind precisely in the sense and spirit it bore to its contemporaries. What is of entirely permanent value is that which besides being universal has been experienced, lived and seen with a higher than the intellectual vision. I hold it therefore of small importance to extract from the Gita its exact metaphysical connotation as it was understood by the men of the time,—even if that were accurately possible. That it is not possible, is shown by the divergence of the original commentaries which have been and are still being written upon it; for they all agree in each disagreeing with all the others, each finds in the Gita its own system of metaphysics and trend of religious thought. Nor will even the most painstaking and disinterested scholarship and the most luminous theories of the historical development of Indian philosophy save us from inevitable error. But hat we can do with profit is to seek in the  Gita for the actual living truths it contains, apart from their metaphysical form, to extract from it what can help us or the world at large and to put it in the most natural and vital form and expression we can find that will be suitable to the mentality and helpful to the spiritual needs of our present-day humanity. No doubt in this attempt we may mix a good deal of error born of our own individuality and of the ideas in which we live, as did greater men before us, but if we steep ourselves in the spirit of this great Scripture and, above all, if we have tried to live in that spirit, we may be sure of finding in it as much real truth as we are capable of receiving as well as the spiritual influence and actual help that, personally, we were intended to derive from it. And that is after all what Scriptures were written to give; the rest is academical disputation or theological dogma. Only those Scriptures, religions, philosophies which can be thus constantly renewed, relived, their stuff of permanent truth constantly reshaped and developed in the inner thought and spiritual experience of a developing humanity, continue to be of living importance to mankind. The rest remain as monuments of the past, but have no actual force or vital impulse for the future. In the Gita there is very little that is merely local or temporal and its spirit is so large, profound and universal that even this little can easily be universalised without the sense of the teaching suffering any diminution or violation; rather by giving an ampler scope to it than belonged to the country and epoch, the teaching gains in depth, truth and power. Often indeed the Gita itself suggests the wider scope that can in this way be given to an idea in itself local or limited. Thus it dwells on the ancient Indian system and idea of sacrifice as an interchange between gods and men,—a system and idea which have long been practically obsolete in India itself and are no longer real to the general human mind; but we find here a sense so entirely subtle, figurative and symbolic given to the word “sacrifice” and the conception of the gods is so little local or mythological, so entirely cosmic and philosophical that we can easily accept both as expressive of a practical fact of psychology and general law of Nature and so apply them to the modern conceptions of interchange between life and life and of ethical sacrifice and self-giving as to widen and deepen these and cast over them a more spiritual aspect and the light of a profounder and more far-reaching Truth. Equally the idea of action according to the Shastra, the fourfold order of society, the allusion to the relative position of the four orders or the comparative spiritual disabilities of Shudras and women seem at first sight local and temporal, and, if they are too much pressed in their literal sense, narrow so much at least of the teaching, deprive it of its universality and spiritual depth and limit its validity for mankind at large. But if we look behind to the spirit and sense and not at the local name and temporal institution, we see that here too the sense is deep and true and the spirit philosophical, spiritual and universal. By Shastra we perceive that the Gita means the law imposed on itself by humanity as a substitute for the purely egoistic action of the natural unregenerate man and a control on his tendency to seek in the satisfaction of his desire the standard and aim of his life. We see too that the fourfold order of society is merely the concrete form of a spiritual truth which is itself independent of the form; it rests on the conception of right works as a rightly ordered expression of the nature of the individual being through whom the work is done, that nature assigning him his line and scope in life according to his inborn quality and his self-expressive function. Since this is the spirit in which the Gita advances its most local and particular instances, we are justified in pursuing always the same principle and looking always for the deeper general truth which is sure to underlie whatever seems at first sight merely local and of the time. For we shall find always that the deeper truth and principle is implied in the grain of the thought even when it is not expressly stated in its language. Nor shall we deal in any other spirit with the element of philosophical dogma or religious creed which either enters into the Gita or hangs about it owing to its use of the philosophical terms and religious symbols current at the time. When the Gita speaks of Sankhya and Yoga, we shall not discuss beyond the limits of what is just essential for our statement, the relations of the Sankhya of the Gita with its one Purusha and strong Vedantic colouring to the non-theistic or “atheistic” Sankhya that has come down to us bringing with it its scheme of many Purushas and one Prakriti, nor of the Yoga of the Gita, many-sided, subtle, rich and flexible to the theistic doctrine and the fixed, scientific, rigorously defined and graded system of the Yoga of Patanjali. In the Gita the Sankhya and Yoga are evidently only two convergent parts of the same Vedantic truth or rather two concurrent ways of approaching its realisation, the one philosophical, intellectual, analytic, the other intuitional, devotional, practical, ethical, synthetic, reaching knowledge through experience. The Gita recognises no real difference in their teachings. Still less need we discuss the theories which regard the Gita as the fruit of some particular religious system or tradition. Its teaching is universal whatever may have been its origins. The philosophical system of the Gita, its arrangement of truth, is not that part of its teaching which is the most vital, profound, eternally durable; but most of the material of which the system is composed, the principal ideas suggestive and penetrating which are woven into its complex harmony, are eternally valuable and valid; for they are not merely the luminous ideas or striking speculations of a philosophic intellect, but rather enduring truths of spiritual experience, verifiable facts of our highest psychological possibilities which no attempt to read deeply the mystery of existence can afford to neglect. Whatever the system may be, it is not, as the commentators strive to make it, framed or intended to support any exclusive school of philosophical thought or to put forward redominantly the claims of any one form of Yoga. The language of the Gita, the structure of thought, the combination and balancing of ideas belong neither to the temper of a sectarian teacher nor to the spirit of a rigorous analytical dialectics cutting off one angle of the truth to exclude all the others; but rather there is a wide, undulating, encircling movement of ideas which is the manifestation of a vast synthetic mind and a rich synthetic experience. This is one of those great syntheses in which Indian spirituality has been as rich as in its creation of the more intensive, exclusive movements of knowledge and religious realisation that follow out with an absolute concentration one clue, one path to its extreme issues. It does not cleave asunder, but reconciles and unifies. The thought of the Gita is not pure Monism although it sees in one unchanging, pure, eternal Self the foundation of all cosmic existence, nor Mayavada although it speaks of the Maya of the three modes of Prakriti omnipresent in the created world; nor is it qualified Monism although it places in the One his eternal supreme Prakriti manifested in the form of the Jiva and lays most stress on dwelling in God rather than dissolution as the supreme state of spiritual consciousness; nor is it Sankhya although it explains the created world by the double principle of Purusha and Prakriti; nor is it Vaishnava Theism although it presents to us Krishna, who is the Avatara of Vishnu according to the Puranas, as the supreme Deity and allows no essential difference nor any actual superiority of the status of the indefinable relationless Brahman over that of this Lord of beings who is the Master of the universe and the Friend of all creatures. Like the earlier spiritual synthesis of the Upanishads this later synthesis at once spiritual and intellectual avoids naturally every such rigid determination as would injure its universal comprehensiveness. Its aim is precisely the opposite to that of the polemist commentators who found this Scripture established as one of the three highest Vedantic authorities and attempted to turn it into a weapon of offense and defense against other schools and systems. The Gita is not a weapon for dialectical warfare; it is a gate opening on the whole world of spiritual truth and experience and the view it gives us embraces all the provinces of that supreme region. It maps out, but it does not cut up or build walls or hedges to confine our vision. There have been other syntheses in the long history of Indian thought. We start with the Vedic synthesis of the psychological being of man in its highest flights and widest ranging of divine knowledge, power, joy, life and glory with the cosmic existence of the gods, pursued behind the symbols of the material universe into those superior planes which are hidden from the physical senses and the material mentality. The crown of this synthesis was in the experience of the Vedic Rishis something divine, transcendent and blissful in whose unity the increasing soul of man and the eternal divine fullness of the cosmic godheads meet perfectly and fulfil themselves. The Upanishads take up this crowning experience of the earlier seers and make it their starting-point for a high and profound synthesis of spiritual knowledge; they draw together into a great harmony all that had been seen and experienced by the inspired and liberated knowers of the Eternal throughout a great and fruitful period of spiritual seeking. The Gita starts from this Vedantic synthesis and upon the basis of its essential ideas builds another harmony of the three great means and powers, Love, Knowledge and Works, through which the soul of man can directly approach and cast itself into the Eternal. There is yet another, the Tantric,1 which though less subtle and spiritually profound, is even more bold and forceful than the synthesis of the Gita,—for it seizes even upon the obstacles to the spiritual life and compels them to become the means for a richer spiritual conquest and enables us to embrace the whole of Life in our divine scope as the Lila2 of the Divine; and in some directions it is more immediately rich and fruitful, for it brings forward into the foreground along with divine knowledge, divine works and an enriched devotion of divine Love, the secrets also of the Hatha and Raja Yogas, the use of the body and of mental askesis for the opening up of the divine life on all its planes, to which the Gita gives only a passing and perfunctory attention. Moreover it grasps at that idea of the divine perfectibility of man, possessed by the Vedic Rishis but thrown into the background by the intermediate ages, which is destined to fill so large a place in any future synthesis of human thought, experience and aspiration. We of the coming day stand at the head of a new age of development which must lead to such a new and larger synthesis. We are not called upon to be orthodox Vedantins of any of the three schools or Tantrics or to adhere to one of the theistic religions of the past or to entrench ourselves within the four corners of the teaching of the Gita. That would be to limit ourselves and to attempt to create our spiritual life out of the being, knowledge and the nature of others, of the men of the past, instead of building it out of our own being and potentialities. We do not belong to the past dawns, but to the noons of the future. A mass of new material is flowing into us; we have not only to assimilate the influences of the great theistic religions of India and of the world and a recovered sense of the meaning of Buddhism, but to take full account of the potential though limited revelations of modern knowledge and seeking; and, beyond that, the remote and dateless past which seemed to be dead is returned upon us with an effulgence of many luminous secrets long lost to the consciousness of mankind but now breaking out again from behind the veil. All this points to a new, a very rich, a very vast synthesis; a fresh and widely embracing harmonization of our gains is both an intellectual and a spiritual necessity of the future.

But just as the past syntheses have taken those which preceded them for their starting-point, so also must that of the future, to be on firm ground, proceed from what the great bodies of realizing spiritual thought and experience in the past have given. Among them the Gita takes a most important place. Our object, then, in studying the Gita will not be a scholastic or academical scrutiny of its thought, nor to place its philosophy in the history of metaphysical speculation, nor shall we deal with it in the manner of the analytical dialectician. We approach it for help and light and our aim must be to distinguish its essential and living message, that in it on which humanity has to seize for its perfection and its highest spiritual welfare.  







THE PECULIARITY of the Gita among the great religious

books of the world is that it does not stand apart as a

work by itself, the fruit of the spiritual life of a creative

personality like Christ, Mahomed or Buddha or of an epoch of

pure spiritual searching like the Veda and Upanishads, but is

given as an episode in an epic history of nations and their wars

andmen and their deeds and arises out of a critical moment in the

soul of one of its leading personages face to face with the crowning

action of his life, a work terrible, violent and sanguinary, at

the point when he must either recoil from it altogether or carry it

through to its inexorable completion. It matters little whether or

no, as modern criticism supposes, the Gita is a later composition

inserted into the mass of the Mahabharata by its author in order

to invest its teaching with the authority and popularity of the

great national epic. There seem to me to be strong grounds

against this supposition for which, besides, the evidence, extrinsic

or internal, is in the last degree scanty and insufficient. But

even if it be sound, there remains the fact that the author has

not only taken pains to interweave his work inextricably into

the vast web of the larger poem, but is careful again and again to

remind us of the situation from which the teaching has arisen;

he returns to it prominently, not only at the end, but in the

middle of his profoundest philosophical disquisitions. We must

accept the insistence of the author and give its full importance

to this recurrent preoccupation of the Teacher and the disciple.

The teaching of the Gita must therefore be regarded not merely

in the light of a general spiritual philosophy or ethical doctrine,

but as bearing upon a practical crisis in the application of ethics

and spirituality to human life. For what that crisis stands, what

is the significance of the battle of Kurukshetra and its effect on

Arjuna’s inner being, we have first to determine if we would grasp the central drift of the ideas of the Gita.

Very obviously a great body of the profoundest teaching

cannot be built round an ordinary occurrence which has no gulfs

of deep suggestion and hazardous difficulty behind its superficial

and outward aspects and can be governed well enough by the

ordinary everyday standards of thought and action. There are

indeed three things in the Gita which are spiritually significant,

almost symbolic, typical of the profoundest relations and problems

of the spiritual life and of human existence at its roots;

they are the divine personality of the Teacher, his characteristic

relations with his disciple and the occasion of his teaching. The

teacher is God himself descended into humanity; the disciple is

the first, as we might say in modern language, the representative

man of his age, closest friend and chosen instrument of the

Avatar, his protagonist in an immense work and struggle the

secret purpose of which is unknown to the actors in it, known

only to the incarnate Godhead who guides it all from behind the

veil of his unfathomable mind of knowledge; the occasion is the

violent crisis of that work and struggle at the moment when the

anguish and moral difficulty and blind violence of its apparent

movements forces itself with the shock of a visible revelation on

the mind of its representative man and raises the whole question

of the meaning of God in the world and the goal and drift and

sense of human life and conduct.

India has from ancient times held strongly a belief in the

reality of the Avatara, the descent into form, the revelation of

the Godhead in humanity. In the West this belief has never really

stamped itself upon the mind because it has been presented

through exoteric Christianity as a theological dogma without

any roots in the reason and general consciousness and attitude

towards life. But in India it has grown up and persisted as a

logical outcome of the Vedantic view of life and taken firm root

in the consciousness of the race. All existence is a manifestation

of God because He is the only existence and nothing can be

except as either a real figuring or else a figment of that one

reality. Therefore every conscious being is in part or in some

way a descent of the Infinite into the apparent finiteness of name and form. But it is a veiled manifestation and there is

a gradation between the supreme being1 of the Divine and the

consciousness shrouded partly or wholly by ignorance of self

in the finite. The conscious embodied soul2 is the spark of the

divine Fire and that soul in man opens out to self-knowledge as

it develops out of ignorance of self into self-being. The Divine

also, pouring itself into the forms of the cosmic existence, is

revealed ordinarily in an efflorescence of its powers, in energies

and magnitudes of its knowledge, love, joy, developed force of

being,3 in degrees and faces of its divinity. But when the divine

Consciousness and Power, taking upon itself the human form

and the human mode of action, possesses it not only by powers

and magnitudes, by degrees and outward faces of itself but out

of its eternal self-knowledge, when the Unborn knows itself and

acts in the frame of the mental being and the appearance of

birth, that is the height of the conditioned manifestation; it is

the full and conscious descent of the Godhead, it is the Avatara.

The Vaishnava form of Vedantism which has laid most stress

upon this conception expresses the relation of God in man to

man in God by the double figure of Nara-Narayana, associated

historically with the origin of a religious school very similar in

its doctrines to the teaching of the Gita. Nara is the human

soul which, eternal companion of the Divine, finds itself only

when it awakens to that companionship and begins, as the Gita

would say, to live in God. Narayana is the divine Soul always

present in our humanity, the secret guide, friend and helper of

the human being, the “Lord who abides within the heart of

creatures” of the Gita; when within us the veil of that secret

sanctuary is withdrawn and man speaks face to face with God,

hears the divine voice, receives the divine light, acts in the divine

power, then becomes possible the supreme uplifting of the embodied

human conscious-being into the unborn and eternal. He

becomes capable of that dwelling in God and giving up of his

whole consciousness into the Divine which the Gita upholds as

the best or highest secret of things, uttamam˙ rahasyam. When this eternal divine Consciousness always present in every human

being, this God in man, takes possession partly4 or wholly of the

human consciousness and becomes in visible human shape the

guide, teacher, leader of the world, not as those who living in

their humanity yet feel something of the power or light or love

of the divine Gnosis informing and conducting them, but out

of that divine Gnosis itself, direct from its central force and

plenitude, then we have the manifest Avatar. The inner Divinity

is the eternal Avatar in man; the human manifestation is its sign

and development in the external world.

When we thus understand the conception of Avatarhood, we

see that whether for the fundamental teaching of the Gita, our

present subject, or for spiritual life generally the external aspect

has only a secondary importance. Such controversies as the one

that has raged in Europe over the historicity of Christ, would

seem to a spiritually-minded Indian largely a waste of time; he

would concede to it a considerable historical, but hardly any

religious importance; for what does it matter in the end whether

a Jesus son of the carpenter Joseph was actually born in Nazareth

or Bethlehem, lived and taught and was done to death on a real

or trumped-up charge of sedition, so long as we can know by

spiritual experience the inner Christ, live uplifted in the light of

his teaching and escape from the yoke of the natural Law by

that atonement of man with God of which the crucifixion is the

symbol? If the Christ, God made man, lives within our spiritual

being, it would seem to matter little whether or not a son of

Mary physically lived and suffered and died in Judea. So too

the Krishna who matters to us is the eternal incarnation of the

Divine and not the historical teacher and leader of men.

In seeking the kernel of the thought of the Gita we need,

therefore, only concern ourselves with the spiritual significance

of the human-divine Krishna of the Mahabharata who is presented

to us as the teacher of Arjuna on the battle-field of

Kurukshetra. The historical Krishna, no doubt, existed.Wemeet the name first in the Chhandogya Upanishad where all we can

gather about him is that he was well known in spiritual tradition

as a knower of the Brahman, so well known indeed in his personality

and the circumstances of his life that it was sufficient to

refer to him by the name of his mother as Krishna son of Devaki

for all to understand who was meant. In the same Upanishad

we find mention of King Dhritarashtra son of Vichitravirya,

and since tradition associated the two together so closely that

they are both of them leading personages in the action of the

Mahabharata, we may fairly conclude that they were actually

contemporaries and that the epic is to a great extent dealing

with historical characters and in the war of Kurukshetra with

a historical occurrence imprinted firmly on the memory of the

race. We know too that Krishna and Arjuna were the object

of religious worship in the pre-Christian centuries; and there is

some reason to suppose that they were so in connection with a

religious and philosophical tradition from which the Gita may

have gathered many of its elements and even the foundation of

its synthesis of knowledge, devotion and works, and perhaps

also that the human Krishna was the founder, restorer or at the

least one of the early teachers of this school. The Gita may well

in spite of its later form represent the outcome in Indian thought

of the teaching of Krishna and the connection of that teaching

with the historical Krishna, with Arjuna and with the war of

Kurukshetra may be something more than a dramatic fiction. In

the Mahabharata Krishna is represented both as the historical

character and the Avatar; his worship and Avatarhood must

therefore have been well established by the time—apparently

from the fifth to the first centuries B.C. —when the old story

and poem or epic tradition of the Bharatas took its present

form. There is a hint also in the poem of the story or legend

of the Avatar’s early life in Vrindavan which, as developed by

the Puranas into an intense and powerful spiritual symbol, has

exercised so profound an influence on the religious mind of

India. We have also in the Harivansha an account of the life of

Krishna, very evidently full of legends, which perhaps formed

the basis of the Puranic accounts. But all this, though of considerable historical importance,

has none whatever for our present purpose. We are concerned

only with the figure of the divine Teacher as it is presented to

us in the Gita and with the Power for which it there stands in

the spiritual illumination of the human being. The Gita accepts

the human Avatarhood; for the Lord speaks of the repeated,

the constant5 manifestation of the Divine in humanity, when He

the eternal Unborn assumes by his Maya, by the power of the

infinite Consciousness to clothe itself apparently in finite forms,

the conditions of becoming which we call birth. But it is not this

upon which stress is laid, but on the transcendent, the cosmic

and the internal Divine; it is on the Source of all things and the

Master of all and on the Godhead secret in man. It is this internal

divinity who is meant when the Gita speaks of the doer of violent

Asuric austerities troubling the God within or of the sin of those

who despise the Divine lodged in the human body or of the

same Godhead destroying our ignorance by the blazing lamp of

knowledge. It is then the eternal Avatar, this God in man, the

divine Consciousness always present in the human being who

manifested in a visible form speaks to the human soul in theGita,

illumines the meaning of life and the secret of divine action and

gives it the light of the divine knowledge and guidance and the

assuring and fortifying word of the Master of existence in the

hour when it comes face to face with the painful mystery of the

world. This is what the Indian religious consciousness seeks to

make near to itself in whatever form, whether in the symbolic

human image it enshrines in its temples or in the worship of its

Avatars or in the devotion to the human Guru through whom

the voice of the one world-Teacher makes itself heard. Through

these it strives to awaken to that inner voice, unveil that form

of the Formless and stand face to face with that manifest divine

Power, Love and Knowledge.

Secondly, there is the typical, almost the symbolic significance

of the human Krishna who stands behind the great action

of the Mahabharata, not as its hero, but as its secret centre and hidden guide. That action is the action of a whole world

of men and nations, some of whom have come as helpers of

an effort and result by which they do not personally profit,

and to these he is a leader, some as its opponents and to them

he also is an opponent, the baffler of their designs and their

slayer and he seems even to some of them an instigator of all

evil and destroyer of their old order and familiar world and

secure conventions of virtue and good; some are representatives

of that which has to be fulfilled and to them he is counsellor,

helper, friend. Where the action pursues its natural course or

the doers of the work have to suffer at the hands of its enemies

and undergo the ordeals which prepare them for mastery, the

Avatar is unseen or appears only for occasional comfort and

aid, but at every crisis his hand is felt, yet in such a way that all

imagine themselves to be the protagonists and even Arjuna, his

nearest friend and chief instrument, does not perceive that he is

an instrument and has to confess at last that all the while he did

not really know his divine Friend. He has received counsel from

his wisdom, help from his power, has loved and been loved,

has even adored without understanding his divine nature; but

he has been guided like all others through his own egoism and

the counsel, help and direction have been given in the language

and received by the thoughts of the Ignorance. Until the moment

when all has been pushed to the terrible issue of the struggle on

the field of Kurukshetra and the Avatar stands at last, still not as

fighter, but as the charioteer in the battle-car which carries the

destiny of the fight, he has not revealed Himself even to those

whom he has chosen.

Thus the figure of Krishna becomes, as it were, the symbol

of the divine dealings with humanity. Through our egoism and

ignorance we are moved, thinking that we are the doers of the

work, vaunting of ourselves as the real causes of the result,

and that which moves us we see only occasionally as some

vague or even some human and earthly fountain of knowledge,

aspiration, force, some Principle or Light or Power which we

acknowledge and adore without knowing what it is until the

occasion arises that forces us to stand arrested before the Veil. And the action in which this divine figure moves is the whole

wide action of man in life, not merely the inner life, but all this

obscure course of the world which we can judge only by the

twilight of the human reason as it opens up dimly before our

uncertain advance the little span in front. This is the distinguishing

feature of the Gita that it is the culmination of such an action

which gives rise to its teaching and assigns that prominence and

bold relief to the gospel of works which it enunciates with an

emphasis and force we do not find in other Indian Scriptures.

Not only in the Gita, but in other passages of the Mahabharata

we meet with Krishna declaring emphatically the necessity of

action, but it is here that he reveals its secret and the divinity

behind our works.

The symbolic companionship of Arjuna and Krishna, the

human and the divine soul, is expressed elsewhere in Indian

thought, in the heavenward journey of Indra and Kutsa seated

in one chariot, in the figure of the two birds upon one tree in the

Upanishad, in the twin figures of Nara and Narayana, the seers

who do tapasy¯a together for the knowledge. But in all three it

is the idea of the divine knowledge in which, as the Gita says,

all action culminates that is in view; here it is instead the action

which leads to that knowledge and in which the divine Knower

figures himself. Arjuna and Krishna, this human and this divine,

stand together not as seers in the peaceful hermitage of meditation,

but as fighter and holder of the reins in the clamorous field,

in the midst of the hurtling shafts, in the chariot of battle. The

Teacher of the Gita is therefore not only the God in man who

unveils himself in the word of knowledge, but the God in man

who moves our whole world of action, by and for whom all

our humanity exists and struggles and labours, towards whom

all human life travels and progresses. He is the secret Master of

works and sacrifice and the Friend of the human peoples.





The Human Disciple




SUCH then is the divine Teacher of the Gita, the eternal


Avatar, the Divine who has descended into the human consciousness,


the Lord seated within the heart of all beings,


He who guides from behind the veil all our thought and action


and heart’s seeking even as He directs from behind the veil of


visible and sensible forms and forces and tendencies the great


universal action of the world which He has manifested in His


own being. All the strife of our upward endeavour and seeking


finds its culmination and ceases in a satisfied fulfilment when we


can rend the veil and get behind our apparent self to this real


Self, can realise our whole being in this true Lord of our being,


can give up our personality to and into this one real Person,


merge our ever-dispersed and ever-converging mental activities


into His plenary light, offer up our errant and struggling will


and energies into His vast, luminous and undivided Will, at


once renounce and satisfy all our dissipated outward-moving


desires and emotions in the plenitude of His self-existent Bliss.


This is the world-Teacher of whose eternal knowledge all other


highest teaching is but the various reflection and partial word,


this the Voice to which the hearing of our soul has to awaken.


Arjuna, the disciple who receives his initiation on the battlefield,


is a counterpart of this conception; he is the type of the


struggling human soul who has not yet received the knowledge,


but has grown fit to receive it by action in the world in a close


companionship and an increasing nearness to the higher and


divine Self in humanity. There is a method of explaining the


Gita in which not only this episode but the whole Mahabharata


is turned into an allegory of the inner life and has nothing


to do with our outward human life and action, but only with


the battles of the soul and the powers that strive within us for


possession. That is a view which the general character and the


actual language of the epic does not justify and, if pressed, would


turn the straightforward philosophical language of the Gita into


a constant, laborious and somewhat puerile mystification. The


language of the Veda and part at least of the Puranas is plainly


symbolic, full of figures and concrete representations of things


that lie behind the veil, but the Gita is written in plain terms


and professes to solve the great ethical and spiritual difficulties


which the life of man raises, and it will not do to go behind


this plain language and thought and wrest them to the service


of our fancy. But there is this much of truth in the view, that


the setting of the doctrine though not symbolical, is certainly


typical, as indeed the setting of such a discourse as the Gita


must necessarily be if it is to have any relation at all with that


which it frames. Arjuna, as we have seen, is the representative


man of a great world-struggle and divinely-guided movement


of men and nations; in the Gita he typifies the human soul of


action brought face to face through that action in its highest


and most violent crisis with the problem of human life and its


apparent incompatibility with the spiritual state or even with a


purely ethical ideal of perfection.


Arjuna is the fighter in the chariot with the divine Krishna


as his charioteer. In the Veda also we have this image of the


human soul and the divine riding in one chariot through a great


battle to the goal of a high-aspiring effort. But there it is a pure


figure and symbol. The Divine is there Indra, the Master of the


World of Light and Immortality, the power of divine knowledge


which descends to the aid of the human seeker battling with the


sons of falsehood, darkness, limitation, mortality; the battle is


with spiritual enemies who bar the way to the higher world of


our being; and the goal is that plane of vast being resplendent


with the light of the supreme Truth and uplifted to the conscious


immortality of the perfected soul, of which Indra is the master.


The human soul is Kutsa, he who constantly seeks the seerknowledge,


as his name implies, and he is the son of Arjuna or


Arjuni, the White One, child of Switra the White Mother; he is,


that is to say, the sattwic or purified and light-filled soul which


is open to the unbroken glories of the divine knowledge. And


when the chariot reaches the end of its journey, the own home of


Indra, the human Kutsa has grown into such an exact likeness of


his divine companion that he can only be distinguished by Sachi,


the wife of Indra, because she is “truth-conscious”. The parable


is evidently of the inner life of man; it is a figure of the human


growing into the likeness of the eternal divine by the increasing


illumination of Knowledge. But the Gita starts from action and


Arjuna is the man of action and not of knowledge, the fighter,


never the seer or the thinker.

To be continued from page 22



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