MESSAGE OF THE GITA (Holy Book of the Hindus)
We present here Gandhiji?s message on the Bhagvad Gita in his own words.
1. Even in 1888-89,
when I first became acquainted with the Gita, I felt that it was not a
historical work, but that under the guise of physical warfare, it described
the duel that perpetually went on in the hearts of mankind, and that physical
warfare was brought in merely to make the description of the internal
duel more alluring. This preliminary intuition became more confirmed on
a closer study of religion and the Gita.
A study of the Mahabharata as a historical work in the
accepted sense. The Adiparva contains powerful evidence in support of
my opinion. By ascribing to the chief actors superhuman or subhuman origins,
the great Vyasa made short work of the history of kings and their peoples.
The persons therein described may be historical, but the author of the
Mahabharata has used them merely to drive home his religious theme.
2. The author of
the Mahabharata has not established the necessity of physical warfare;
on the contrary he has proved its futility. He has made the victors shed
tears of sorrow and repentance, and has left them nothing but a legacy
3. In this great
work the Gita is the crown. Its second chapter, instead to teaching the
rules of physical warfare, tells us how a perfected man is to be known.
In the characteristics of the perfected man of the Gita, I do not see
any to correspond to physical warfare. Its whole design is inconsistent
with the rules of conduct governing the relations between warring parties.
4. Krishna of the
Gita is perfection and right knowledge personified; but the picture is
imaginary. That does not mean that Krishna, the adored Darling of his
people, never lived. But perfection is imagined. The idea of a perfect
incarnation is an aftergrowth.
5. In Hinduism, incarnation
is ascribed to one who has performed some extraordinary service of mankind.
All embodied life is in reality an incarnation of God, but it is not usual
to consider every living being an incarnation. Future generations pay
this homage to one who, in his own generation, has been extraordinarily
religious in his conduct.
I can see nothing wrong in this procedure; it takes nothing
from God?s greatness, and there is no violence done to Truth. There
is an Urdu saying which means, ?Adam is not God but he is a spark
of the Divine.? And therefore he who is the most religiously behaved
has most of the divine spark in him. It is in accordance with this train
of thought that Krishna enjoys, in Hinduism, the status of the most perfect
6. This belief in
incarnation is a testimony of man?s lofty spiritual ambition. Man
is not at peace with himself till he has become like unto God. The endeavor
to reach this state is the supreme, the only ambition worth having. And
this is self-realization. This self-realization is the subject of the
Gita, as it is of all scriptures. But its author surely did not write
it to establish that doctrine. The object of the Gita appears to me to
be that of showing the most excellent way to attain self-realization.
That which is to be found, more or less clearly, spread out here and there
in Hindu religious books, has been brought out in the clearest possible
language in the Gita even at the risk of repetition.
7. That matchless
remedy is renunciation of the fruits of action.
8. This is the centre
round which the Gita is woven. This renunciation is the central sun, round
which devotion, knowledge and the rest revolve like planets. The body
has been likened to a prison. There must be action where there is body.
Not one embodied being is exempted from labour. And yet all religions
proclaim that it is possible for man, by treating the body as the temple
of God, to attain freedom. Every action is tainted, be it ever so trivial.
How can the body be made the temple of God? In other words how can one
be free from action, i.e. from the taint of sin? The Gita has answered
the question in decisive language: ?By desireless action; by renouncing
the fruits of action; by dedicating all activities to God, i.e. by surrendering
oneself to Him body and soul.?
9. But desirelessness
or renunciation does not come for the mere talking about it. It is not
attained by an intellectual feat. It is attainable only by a constant
heartchurn. Right knowledge is necessary for attaining renunciation. Learned
men possess a knowledge of a kind. They may recite the Vedas from memory,
yet they may be steeped in self-indulgence. In order that knowledge may
not run riot, the author of the Gita has insisted on devotion accompanying
it and has given it the first place. Knowledge without devotion will be
like a misfire. Therefore, says the Gita, ?Have devotion, and knowledge
will follow.? This devotion is not mere lip-worship, it is a wresting
with death. Hence the Gita?s assessment of the devotee?s qualities
is similar to that of the sage?s.
10. Thus the devotion
required by the Gita is no soft-hearted effusiveness. It certainly is
not blind faith. The devotion of the Gita has the least to do with externals.
A devotee may use, if he likes, rosaries, forehead marks, make offerings,
but these things are no test of his devotion.
He is the devotee who is jealous of none, who is a fount of mercy, who
is without egotism, who is selfless, who treats alike cold and heat, happiness
and misery, who is ever forgiving, who is always content, whose resolutions
are firm, who has dedicated mind and soul to God, who causes no dread,
who is not afraid of others, who is free from exultation, sorrow and fear,
who is pure, who is versed in action and yet remains unaffected by it,
who renounces all fruit good or bad, who treats friend and foe alike,
who is untouched by respect or disrespect, who is not puffed up by praise,
who does not go under when people speak ill of him, who loves silence
and solitude, who has a disciplined reason. Such devotion is inconsistent
with the existence at the same time of strong attachments.
11. We thus see,
that to be a real devotee is to realize oneself. Self-realization is not
something apart. One rupee can purchase for us poison or nectar, but knowledge
or devotion cannot buy us either salvation or bondage. These are not media
of exchange. They are themselves the thing we want. In other words if
the means and the end are not identical, they are almost so. The extreme
of means is salvation. Salvation of the Gita is perfect peace.
12. But such knowledge
and devotion, to be true, have to stand the test of renunciation of fruits
of action. Mere knowledge of right and wrong will not make one fit for
salvation. According to common notions, a mere learned man will pass as
a pandit. He need not perform any service. He will regard it as bondage
even to lift a little lota. Where one test of knowledge is non-liability
for service, there is no room for such mundane work as the lifting of
13. Or take bhakti.
The popular notion of bhakti is soft-heartedness, telling beads and the
like and disdaining to do even a loving service, lest the telling of beads
etc. might be interrupted. This bhakta therefore leaves the rosary only
for eating, drinking and the like, never for grinding corn or nursing
14. But the Gita
says: ?No one has attained his goal without action. Even men like
Janak attained salvation through action. If even I were lazily to cease
working, the world would perish. How much more necessary then for the
people at large to engage in action??
15. While on the one hand it is beyond
dispute that all action binds, on the other hand it is equally true that
all living beings have to do some work whether they will or not. Here
all activity, whether mental or physical, is to be included in the term
action. Then how is one to be free from the bondage of action, even though
he may be acting? The manner in which the Gita has solved the problem
is, to my knowledge, unique. The Gita says: ?Do your allotted work
but renounce its fruit - be detached and work - have no desire for reward
This is the unmistakable teaching of the Gita. He who
gives up action, falls. He who gives up only the reward rises. But renunciation
of fruit in no way means indifference to the result. In regard to every
action one must know the result that is accepted to follow, the means
thereto, and the capacity for it. He, who, being thus equipped, is without
desire for the result, and is yet wholly engrossed in the due fulfilment
of the task before him, is said to have renounced the fruits of his action.
16. Again, let no
one consider renunciation to mean want of fruit for the renouncer. The
Gita reading does not warrant such a meaning. Renunciation means absence
of hankering after fruit. As a matter of fact, he who renounces reaps
a thousand fold. The renunciation of the Gita is the acid test of faith.
He who is ever brooding over result often loses nerve in the performance
of his duty.
He becomes impatient and then gives vent to anger and
begins to do unworthy things; he jumps from action to action, never remaining
faithful to any. He who broods over results is like a man given to objects
of senses; he is ever distracted, he says goodbye to all scruples, everything
is right in his estimation and he therefore resorts to means fair and
foul to attain his end.
17. From the bitter
experiences of desire for fruit the author of the Gita discovered the
path of renunciation of fruit, and put it before the world in a most convincing
manner. The common belief is that religion is always opposed to material
good. ?One cannot act religiously in mercantile and such other matters.
There is no place for religion in such pursuits; religion is only for
attainment of salvation,? we hear many wordly-wise people say.
In my opinion the author of the Gita has dispelled this
delusion. He has drawn no line of demarcation between salvation and worldly
pursuits. On the contrary, he has shown that religion must rule even our
worldly pursuits. I have felt that the Gita preaches us that what cannot
be followed out in day-to-day practice cannot be called religion.
Thus, according to the Gita, all acts that are incapable
of being performed without attachment are taboo. This golden rule saves
mankind from many a pitfall. According to this interpretation, murder,
lying dissoluteness and the like must be regarded as sinful and therefore
taboo. Man?s life then becomes simple, and from that simpleness springs
18. Thinking along
these lines, I have felt that in trying to enforce in one?s life
the central teaching of the Gita, one is bound to follow truth and ahimsa.
When there is no desire for fruit, there is no temptation for untruth
or ahimsa. Take any instance of untruth or violence, and it will be found
that at its back was the desire to attain the cherished end. But it may
be freely admitted that the Gita was not written to establish ahimsa.
It was an accepted and primary duty even before the Gita age. The Gita
had to deliver the message of renunciation of fruit. This is clearly brought
out as early as the second chapter.
19. But if the Gita
believed in ahimsa or it was included in desirelessness, why did the author
take a warlike illustration? When the Gita was written, although people
believed in ahimsa, wars were not only not taboo, but nobody observed
the contradiction between them and ahimsa.
20. In assessing
the implications of renunciation of fruit, we are not required to probe
the mind of the author of the Gita as to his limitations of ahimsa and
the like. Because a poet puts a particular truth before the world, it
does not necessarily follow that he has known or worked out all its great
consequences, or that having done so, he is able always to express them
fully. In this perhaps lies the greatness of the poem and the poet. A
poet?s meaning is limitless.
Like man, the meaning of great writings suffers evolution.
On examining the history of languages, we notice that the meaning of important
words has changed or expanded. This is true of the Gita. The author has
himself extended the meanings of some of the current words. We are able
to discover this even on a superficial examination. It is possible, that
in the age prior to that of the Gita, offering of animals in sacrifice
was permissible. But there is not a trace of it in the sacrifice in the
Gita sense. In the Gita continuous concentration on God is the king of
The third chapter seems to show that sacrifice chiefly
means body-labour for service. The third and the fourth chapters read
together will give us other meanings for sacrifice but never animal-sacrifice.
Similarly has the meaning of the word sannyas undergone, in the Gita,
a transformation. The sannyas of the Gita will not tolerate complete cessation
of all activity. The sannyasa of the Gita is all work and yet no work.
Thus the author of the Gita by extending meanings of
words has taught us to imitate him. Let it be granted, that according
to the letter of the Gita it is possible to say that warfare is consistent
with renunciation of fruit. But after 40 years? unremitting endeavour
fully to enforce the teaching of the Gita in my own life, I have, in all
humility, felt that perfect renunciation is impossible without perfect
observance of ahimsa in every shape and form.
21. The Gita is not
an aphoristic work; it is a great religious poem. The deeper you dive
into it, the richer the meanings you get. It being meant for the people
at large, there is pleasing repetition. With every age the important words
will carry new and expanding meanings. But its central teaching will never
vary. The seeker is at liberty to extract from this treasure any meaning
he likes so as to enable him to enforce in his life the central teaching.
22. Nor is the Gita
a collection of Do?s and Don?ts. What is lawful for one may
be unlawful for another. What may be permissible at one time, or in one
place, may not be so at another time, and in another place. Desire for
fruit is the only universal prohibition. Desirelessness is obligatory.
23. The Gita has
sung the praises of knowledge, but it is beyond the mere intellect; it
is essentially addressed to the heart and capable of being understood
by the heart. Therefore the Gita is not for those who have no faith. The
author makes Krishna say:
?Do not entrust this treasure to him who is without sacrifice, without
devotion, without the desire for this teaching and who denies Me. On the
other hand those who will give this precious treasure to My devotees will
by the fact of this service assuredly reach Me. And those who, being free
from malice, will with faith absorb this teaching, shall, having attained
freedom, live where people of true merit go after death.