Speech at the inaugural function at a discourse on 13th chapter of Shrimad Bhagwat Geeta and Adi Shankaracharya’s Atma Bodh by Swami Chinmayanand Indore dated 9-3-1986
We are the inheritors of a wonderful civilisation and ours is a very rich heritage. This great legacy was handed down to us, by a unique kind of people, the hermits of the past who had dedicated their lives wholly to the pursuit of knowledge, renouncing everything ephemeral. They, thus, above the world and worldly things, and attempted to understand the mystery of nature. A faithful record of their observations in their quest for truth and knowledge, the rituals they wanted us to follow to lead a good life, and their spiritual experiences constitute what we call our heritage. rose
I refer to the Vedas, the Upanishads, the two epics-in one of which is enshrined the Geeta-and the Puranas.
The epics, as we all know, are a happy mixture of history and legend presented as a simplification of the vision of life which ultimately is what we call religion. The Puranas are mostly stories, allegories, myths and legends intended to simplify religion for the common folk. The Vedas with their Smritis, Shrutis and Upanishads, the epics in one of which is enshrined the great Bhagwad Gita, and the Puranas constitute our heritage; and it is out of these that our civilisation has grown. Just as the Ganga is the life-line of India, the life-line of our civilisation is this heritage and central to it, we have the Bhagwad Gita.
Looking at Bhagwad Gita from a layman’s point of view, I see everyman before his God, with his problem: the problem of life. This problem has been discussed in many religious books under different circumstances. I see a similar
description in The Book of Job in the Old Testament of the Bible. The Book of Job is also an allegory, in which man tries to understand the meaning of suffering. Here is a profound attempt to understand life and the problem before man. “Every man” I would call Arjuna. He is posed with a problem and the answer is ultimately given to him. Detach yourself completely from desire and rise above everything: then you will find yourself to be an instrument of the Divine Will’.
Bhagwad Gita thus happens to be the quintessence of our philosophy, and this message has been influencing the course of our history. When we trace our history up to Mahavira and Gautama, legend and history, get a bit mixed up. From then onwards there is more of history and less of legends, and all through our people have been influenced by the teachings of Gita. I would say that the very thought stream, which has been developed by Mahavira and Gautama Buddha, have been influenced by the profound philosophy enshrined in this great book. How old it is, I cannot tell. How old are the Vedas ? Probably, they are the earliest attempt of man to understand the meaning of life.
We find Shankara, Ramanula, Tulsidas, Nanak and coming to modern times, Dayanand Saraswati, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Vivekananda, Ravindranath Tagore, Gandhiji, O sceptic like Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter. Indira Gandhi and Subhashchandra Bose-have all drawn strength from our philosophy. They have all been influenced by the philosophy which this great storehouse contains. So I would consider Gita to be India’s legacy to humanity.
Now, this legacy has to be understood against the background of the times and the people. It has to be interpreted correctly. I would venture to say that only
people who are able to rise above the present and delve into the past can interpret great religious books. It is true not only of Bhagwad but of the Bible, the Quran or any great religious book. Therefore, it should be interpreted by persons who can rise above the present, and look at it with the utmost objectivity. We have never lacked such persons; indeed, we have had many eminent ones and Swami Chinmayanandji belongs to that great tradition of detatched persons, who can rise above the present, who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of knowledge and who have had spiritual experiences. With their profound knowledge and deep spiritual experiences, they are capable of interpreting these great books.
Religion devoid of humility, renunciation of desires and of universal brotherhood, is really oppressive and can even become a cause for discord. Religion should overcome selfishness, greed, bigotry and hatred. Only people who renounce the world, are detached, and free from mundane cares, can look at the world in right perspective and interpret it correctly. They alone can bring harmony and brotherhood into the lives of the people by upholding the universal truth, the universal philosophy of life that is enshrined in a great book like Bhagwad Gita. I would consider Mahabharata a goldmine in the midst of which you have a vein of diamonds in Bhagwad Gita. Just as gold has to be extracted by melting it and removing the dross, diamond has to be extricated by breaking the bed rock in which it is embedded. Interpretation of our great storehouse of wisdom, the Bhagwad Gita is a similar exercise.