Bhagavad-gita-rahasya (or Karma-yoga Shastra)

by Bhalchandra Sitaram Sukthankar | 1935 | 327,828 words

The English translation of the Bhagavad-Gita Rahasya, also known as the Karma-yoga Shastra or “Science of Right Action”, composed in Marathi by Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1915. This first volume represents an esoteric exposition of the Bhagavadgita and interprets the verses from a Mimamsa philosophical standpoint. The work contains 15 chapters, Sanskri...

Mr. Tilak on the Gītārahasya

Let me begin by telling you what induced me to take up the study of Bhagvad Gita. When I was quite a boy, I was often told by my elders that strictly religious and really philosophic life was incompatible with the hum-drum life of every day. If one was ambitious enough to try to attain Moksha, the highest goal a person could attain, then he must divest himself of all earthly desires and renounce this world. One could not serve two masters, the world and God, I understood this to mean that if one would lead a life which was the life worth living, according to the religion in which I was born, then the sooner the world was given up the better. This set me thinking. The question that I formulated for myself to be solved was: Does my religion want me to give up this world and renounce it before I attempt to, or in order to be able to, attain the perfection of manhood? In my boy- hood I was also told that Bhagvad Gita was universally acknowledged to be a book containing all the principles and philosophy of the Hindu Religion, and I thought if this be so I should find an answer in this book to my query; and thus began my study of the Bhagvad Gita.

I approached the book with a mind prepossessed by no previous ideas about any philosophy, and had no theory of my own for which I sought any support in the Gita. A person whose mind is prepossessed by certain ideas, reads the book with a prejudiced mind; for instance, when a Christian reads it, he does not want to know what the Gita says but wants to find out if there are any principles in the Gita which he has already met with in the Bible, and if so the conclusion he rushes to is that the Gita was copied from the Bible. I have dealt with this topic in my book Gita Rahasya and I need hardly say much about it here, but what I want to emphasise is this, that when you want to read and understand a book, especially a great work like the Gita–you must approach it with an unprejudiced and unprepossessed mind. To do this, I know, is one of the most difficult things. Those who profess to do it may have a lurking thought or prejudice. in their minds which vitiates the reading of the book to some extent. However I am describing to you the frame of mind one must get into if one wants to get at the truth; and however difficult it be, at has to be done. The next thing one has to do is to take into consideration the time and the circumstances in which the book was written and the purpose for which the book was written. In short, the book must not be read devoid of its context. This is especially true about a book like Bhagvad Gita. Various commentators have put as many interpretations on the book, and surely the writer or composer could not have written or composed the book for so many interpretations being put on it. He must have put one meaning and one purpose running through the book, and that I have tried to find out. I believe I have succeeded in it, because having no theory of mine for which I sought any support from the book so universally respected, I had no reason to twist the text to suit my theory. There has not been a commentator of the Gītā who did not advocate a pet theory of his own and has not tried to support the same by showing that the Bhagvad Gita lent him support.

The conclusion I have come to is that the Gita advocates the performance of action in this world even after the actor has achieved the highest union with the Supreme Deity by Jnana (knowledge) or Bhakti (Devotion). This action must be done to keep the world going by the right path of evolution which the Creator has destined the world to follow. In order that the action may not bind the actor, it must be done with the aim of helping His purpose, and without any Attachment to the coming result. This I hold is a lesson of the Gita. Jñāna-Yoga there is, yes. Bhakti-Yoga there is, yes. Who says not? But they are both subservient to the Karma-Yoga preached in the Gita. If the Gita was preached to desponding Arjuna to make him ready for the fight–for the Action–how can it be said that the ultimate lesson of the great book is Bhakti or Jnana alone? In fact, there is a blending of all these Yogas in the Gita; and as the air is not Oxygen or Hydrogen, or any other gas alone, but a composition of all these in a certain proportion, so in the Gita all these Yogas are blended into one.

I differ from almost all the commentators when I say that the Gītā enjoins Action even after the perfection in Jñāna and Bhakti is attained and the Deity is reached through these mediums. Now, there is a fundamental unity underlying the Logos (Ishvara), man, and world. The world is in existence because the Logos has willed it so. It is His Will that holds it together. Man strives to gain union with God; and when this union is achieved, the individual will merge in the mighty Universal Will. When this is achieved, will the individual say: "I shall do no Action, and I shall not help the world"–the world which is, because the Will with Which he has sought union has willed it to be so? It does not stand to reason. It is not I who say so: the Gita says so. Shri Krishna himself says that there is nothing in all the three worlds that He need acquire, and still He acts. He acts because if He did not, the world will be ruined. If man seeks unity with the Deity, he must necessarily seek unity with the interests of the world also, and work for it. If he does not. then the unity is not perfect, because there is union between two elements out of the three (man and Deity) and the third (the world) is left out. I have thus solved the question for myself and I hold that serving the world, and thus serving His Will) is the surest way of Salvation; and this way can be followed by remaining in the world and not going away from it.

(A summary of the speech of Mr. Tilak, re: Gītā Rahasya).

The Karma-Yoga which I preach is not a new theory; neither was the discovery of the Law of Karma made as recently as today. The knowledge of the Law is so ancient that not even Shri Krishna was the great Teacher who first propounded it. It must be remembered that Karma-Yoga has been our sacred heritage from times immemorial when we Indians were seated on the high pedestal of wealth and lore. Karma-Yoga or to put it in another way, the law of duty, is the combination of all that is best in spiritual science, in actual action and in an unselfish meditative life. Compliance with this universal law leads to the realisation of the most cherished ideas of man. Such was the doctrine taught by our forefathers, who never intended that the goal of life should be meditation alone. No one can expect Providence to protect one who sits with folded arms and throws his burden on others. God does not help the indolent. You must be doing all that you can to lift yourself up, and then only may you rely on the Almighty to help you. You should not, however, presume that you have to toil that you yourself might reap the fruit of your labour. That cannot always be the case. Let us then try our utmost and leave the generations to come to enjoy that fruit. Remember, it is not you who had planted the mangotrees the fruit whereof you have tasted. Let the advantage now go to our children and their descendants. It is only given to us to toil and work. And so, there ought to be no relaxation in our efforts, lest we incur the curse of those that come after us. Action alone must be our guiding principle, action disinterested and well thought out. It does not matter who the Sovereign is. It is enough if we have full liberty to elevate ourselves in the best possible manner. This is called immutable Dharma, and Karma-Yoga is nothing but the method which leads to the attainment of Dharma or material and spiritual glory. God has declared His will. HE has willed that self can be exalted only through its own efforts. Everything lies in your hands. Karma-Yoga does not look upon this world as nothing; it requires only that your motives should be untainted by selfish interest and passion. This is the true view of practical Vedānta, the key to which is apt to be lost in sophistry.

(Poona Sarvajanik Sabha Quarterly).


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