In course of my years gone, I discussed the ideas that I got in the Bhagavad-Gita with my parents, teachers, savants and many others. These ideas pertain to : (a) the acquisition of the art of getting over Fear, (b) the resolution to shun Greed, (c) the acquisition of the well cultivated capacity to understand and evaluate all the demands on our duty, (d) the acquisition of right ‘character’ without which the grammar of life cannot work. A few comments on these are set forth thus:
(a) The factor of Fear must go from life
In human history, ‘Fear’ has worked as the most paralyzing and asphyxiating of all factors. It robs one’s competence to analyze and evaluate the challenges; it robs one of one’s capacity to visualize things in right perspective, and to take actions with courage and imagination, unfaltering even when storms rage, and lightning strikes. Fear undermines what we call ‘human specifics’, and makes the victims mere fragile beach balls tossed hither and thither with heads held low.
We had suffered bouts of ‘fear’ in our remote past, both when nature inflicted on us acute sufferings, and when the greedy hordes of robbers and imperialists defiled our land and succeeded in subjugating our fiery people for centuries to servitude. ‘Fear’ is taking toll on us even now when thousands and thousands of our people die of starvation, when inequality and injustice make us fear return to servitude, when we fear to lose our culture and the way of life which has maintained us over centuries. Edmund Burke had rightly said: “No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.” It is well said that when Fear governs, prudence goes on a holiday, and imagination gets shackled. Nehru portrays what had happened, and can happen again: it is an excellent portrait of Fear at work before World War I;
“So fear reigned in Europe and fear is a terrible thing. Each country went on preparing for war and arming itself to the uttermost….The big private firms which made armaments – that….- naturally reaped a rich harvest and waxed fat.”
(b) GREED must be conquered by individuals and the nations:
Krishna explained in the Bhagavad-Gita (in Chapter XVI shlokas 12-15) the traits dominant in the persons of ‘demonic’ nature. Nowhere in the world literature I could get better comprehension of the human traits (of all the three broad types of the humans) than in the Gita: these traits are called Sattwik, Rajasik and Tamsik. The description of the attitudes and assumptions of the ‘demonic’ people, as stated in theBhagavad-Gita, is most graphic description of the exploiters and looters, fraudsters and crooks, self-servers, time-servers, go-getters and the economic gladiators busy in pursuing their limitless greed. Such persons claim to have supreme power to realize their ever increasing desires: They claim even to be ‘god’ (Ishwar). :
“For I am the Lord,
I enjoy, I am successful,
Perfect, powerful, and happy.”
Imperialism works as a most important vector of Greed. The demonic persons deify mighty capitalists. The Medicis of Italy were the great bankers in Italy during the Renascence. Botticelli celebrated them in his Adoration of the Magi as the wise men in the service of Jesus. “The painting was commissioned by the head of the Bankers’ Guild as a tribute to that family. It should perhaps have been called The Adoration of the Medici. Having once being damned, bankers were close to divinity.” This ‘Rogue Finance succeeded in establishing good relation on the principle of ‘give and take’ amongst the power wielders and the financiers to promote their common GREED.
(c) One must develop the capacity to understand and evaluate all the demands on one’s duties in the changing contexts of life.
The evaluative and judging agency is buddhi (pure Reason) that manifests itself through one’s viveka. One decides one’s kartavya-karma in life’s changing contexts in accordance with one’s viveka. But this process requires high level of character with developed intellectual and spiritual capacities. The situation in the Bhagavad-Gita illustrates this point. Arjuna never ceased to be a free agent. And Krishna never tried to become authoritative. As a good teacher He helped Arjuna remove his mental cobwebs; and as a good teacher he explained to him the grammar of the cosmos, and his own position and role in life in the larger context of the society. He counsels Arjuna to acquire the highest skill, even to develop the competence to act by both hands (the Bhagavad-Gita XI.33). Arjuna ascended the chariot to wage the Mahabharata War when his viveka made him think that alone was his duty. This is how we live our life. We must develop competence to decide what is what. Democracy requires this quality most. When the citizenry cease to be the free explorers of ideas, and free decision-makers in every demanding moment, rot always sets in.
(d) Krishna’s attitudes towards ‘Property’
The Oriental philosophy, whether Hindu, Muslim, or the pristine Christianity, never considered ‘property’ the fruit of an individual’s acquisitiveness. Social purpose was always most dominant. ‘Property’ could not be a matter of an individual’s greed. Certain stories in the Srimad Bhagavad Purana are the metaphors expressing Krishna’s philosophical ideas we get so clearly stated in the Bhagavad-Gita:
(a) The Srimad Bhagavad Purana tells us the story of Dhenukasur who had asserted his monopoly over all the fruits and trees in the area of land where he controlled all the resources with his brute might. He prevented umans, birds and beasts from an access to the natural resources of that area. Krishna fought with him, and destroyed him in order to make the social resources available for all. Mahatma Gandhi pleaded for the Trusteeship concept underscoring what the Gita had said: “acquisitive pursuit for property without considering others’ demand is thieving only” Perhaps, when Gandhi was asking the acquirers of property to treat property a matter of public trust, he was stressing what Krishna had said. ‘Property is for the weal of all’.
(b) It is narrated in the Bhagavad Mahapurana (Canto V. Chapter 56) that Satrajit acquired Shyamantak, a precious stone which could beget a good quantity of gold every day. Krishna advised him that such a property should go the State for the benefit of all. He refused, and ridiculed Krishna. But he could not keep that precious stone safe. His brother, while roaming in a forest, lost not only that but lost his life also. He was killed by a tiger. When he did not return, a canard was spread against Krishna that he had got that person killed to snatch away that precious stone. Krishna saw to it that the precious stone was traced out, and brought back to the King’s court. Satrajit was called to face it. He realized his folly. After examining Krishna’s ideas about ‘Property’, Dr. Kiran Tandon observes: Krishna was all for social justice and egalitarian ideas.
(c) Krishna had resorted to a revolt against tyranny and exploitative order, as Jesus had done against the Herodian establishment and the callous moneychangers (the ancestors of the present-day bankers, the arch-priests of the neo-liberalism) of Jerusalem. Krishna fought to put an end to exploitative impeium of Indra and Kamsa.
(d) Krishna held in the Bhagavad-Gita that ‘property’ acquired merely for acquisitiveness and greed is clearly a sinister ‘THEFT’ (Chapter III.12). It reminds us of the French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon who had said:
“Property is theft.” But Proudhon’s, and Marx’s, ideas about ‘property’ are markedly different from Krishna’s. Marx taught class conflicts, Krishna stressed on social harmony. Marx believed that the votaries of his ideology would destroy those who were the thieves of ‘property’. Krishna stressed on the weal of all by teaching people the right way of acquiring ‘property’, and the right purpose for holding it. He stressed on the change of attitudes: one’s propensity towards acquisitiveness must be got rid of by realizing the right course of action. It is amazing to see how close Gandhi goes to Krishna in formulating his ideas of ‘trusteeship’ to which I would come soon.
(e) We get in the Bhagavad Mahapurana and the Mahabharata recurrent assertions that national wealth should be preserved for people’s weal. Bhisma, in that epic, advised the King:
“The King should strive to augment the wealth of people to be used in the moments of emergent needs. He should treat such wealth as the wealth of the nation.”
It is for our people and for government to consider the propriety of allowing I would revisit this point later in this Memoir. But in this context I must point out that Chanakya had instructed in his Arthashastra that those who amass their wealth in foreign lands deserved to be killed even without notice. Chanakya had prescribed severe punishment for tax evaders.
(e) Krishna’s ideas of the Welfare State
The idea of the Welfare State had been best expressed in the concept of lokasamgraham explained in the Bhagavad-Gita (Ch. III.20)
Lokasamgraham eva pi
Sampasyan kartum arhasi
[You should do work with a view to the maintaining the world.]
Krishna illustrated the principle with reference to the deeds of the great Janaka. Good deeds for the weal of all deserve to be done with total involvement [the Bhagavad-Gita III.25]. The cardinal principles of ‘social justice’ and ‘equality’ are stressed again and again in the Gita. No jurist or court anywhere in the world has stated the operative norm of the Right to Equality better than what Krishna did in the Bhagavad-Gita by requiring the authorities to be samdarshi (saumdarshin: seeing all without prejudice). Article 14 of our Constitution wants all the organs of the State, including our courts, to be samdarshi (the seers of the same atman in all) though the decisions would only be context-specific depending on the nature of the deeds done and the provisions of the law involved. In the Bhagavad-Gita (and our Constitution) the driving force is lokmangal, welfare of all. It rejects Hegelian and Marxist dichotomies reflected in their theories of dialectics, to which I would refer in Chapter 24 of this Memoir.
The Bhagavad-Gita and our Constitution contemplate no class conflict or class struggle. They do not recognize dialectics which is central to the thought of Hegel and Marx. Our Constitution commits our polity to social justice under a system in which all live and work without discrimination. We have rejected Marx’s dictum: “The [written] history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle”. Our society over centuries has believed in co-existence and harmony. A Muslim poet, Maulana Zaffar Ali Khan Punjab says:
If the teachings of Krishna are shared by all,
The fissiparous hawks would exist no more.
In my considered view, Krishna is of great contemporary relevance for us. I agree with Acharya Rajneesh that
“Krishna has a great relevance for future. In future there would be a growing realization of his value. When creeds would fade, dialectical religions would pass into the oblivion of history, Krishna would emerge even more resplendent.”
Shiva Kant Jha’s ON THE LOOM OF TIME The Portrait of My Life and Times Chapt. 20 at pp. 263-272