Question: What is the relevance of this, in today’s existence of Knowledge and Action as you just expounded the relevance in Arjuna’s time? What would it be in today’s world?
Today, our situation has greatly changed. Today when we speak of sannyāsa, when we speak of karma, we are neither aware of one meaning or the other meaning: it is a mixed condition. The confusion is more confounded today. Because for the last thousand years, we have come out of our tradition greatly, and all kinds of notions have been allowed to be spread. At the same time, the idea of renunciation also has become very prominent, while an emphasis on action has also become very prominent.
Question: So also Knowledge?
Knowledge also has become very prominent. So, when you speak today of the Bhagavad Gita, because our ideas of action, renunciation, and Knowledge, we are apt to miss the great deal of the teaching of the Gita. That is why there is a need to constantly define the words, and to tell the people as to what is meant by what.
So, let us, since you have raised this question, let us now answer this question squarely. Since the time of late 19th century, a very powerful trend has arisen in Indian spirituality. This is the result of two great influences: one, Dayananda Saraswati; another, Swami Vivekananda. In different ways, both of them have emphasised that true spirituality is not in renunciation but in action: these two great influences. As Vivekananda said that you can do Yoga better by playing football than going into the cave. That means he emphasised upon an action, and said that spirituality, which is devoid of action is not true spirituality. Dayananda Saraswati also laid down that action…to be engaged in action is the most important thing. So, because of these two influences, there is a great tendency in India today to appreciate any spiritual teacher who emphasises action.
There is a third influence. And the third influence has come from the West, to the extent that we are all, in one way or the other, greatly influenced by the western dynamism. The West is today nothing but a culture, which is based upon constant work: work ethos. There is a limit of leisure, but basically the western civilisation, western culture is greatly rooted in ‘work ethos’: you must constantly do work; apply yourself to work; it is by work that wealth is produced; it is by wealth that further wealth is produced, and it is by further wealth that the further wealth is produced. And therefore, you should be constantly engaged in action.
Now, this message of action has also gone into the sinews of energy of our country. Therefore anybody says that, “you rest and you do not do any action”, is not appreciated by the intelligentsia of India. So, these are three influences at work.
At the same time the philosophy of Renunciation has been at the back ground very powerfully. So, if you analyse the psychology of the modern Indians, even those who are engaged in work, you will find in them a double attitude: you do work as duty, and you must work as duty, but ultimately, it is of no meaning in this world. Meaning is in renunciation and give up…ultimately you should prepare yourself to give up action. Now, this last sentence is not pronounced very boldly today. But in psychology of India, it is so much rooted that people do not go in their action beyond the idea of duty. If there was a real attachment to action, if there was a real teaching of action, then one would not confine action only to duty: you are working because it is a duty to work; but the rest, rest of life, apart from duty is nothing but preparing yourself to renounce the life. The idea that the world is meaningless, that saṁsāra is full of misery, it will continue to be miserable. In the mean time we do our duty, do as much as you can, but remember that ‘this world is like this, and therefore, try to release yourself from this, prepare yourself from release’. Now, this kind of psychology is prevalent today.
The teaching of the Gita is very relevant because of two factors: the first factor is that whether we like it or not, we are called upon to do more than duty in our life. A time is coming when the concept of duty itself is getting evaporated because of the tremendous rush of action of all sides. The idea of duty thrives best when each one’s field of action is limited within boundaries, in which you can say: “This is my duty, and I will do it, and that is the end of my work.” Now, this is applicable, this ‘thrives best’, when the field of action is limited. So, you can say: “My duty is within this limit and afterwards I have no duty”.
Now, this idea that your field is limited is getting bombarded: your field is extended all the time, and duties are multiplied today. It is not more possible for a mother to say: “My duty is only to look after my children and my home”. All workingwomen have now a larger sense of duty that they have to go to the office, and they have duty to their office work: this itself is an expansion of the idea of duty. And then there is an idea that you have duty to the call of the country; there is also a duty, at one time the ‘call of the country’ had a limited demand on you. If you are a Kshatriya, you must fight, but if you are not a Kshatriya, even if there is an invasion, there was no duty on you to go to the battlefield. But today, there is no such concession given. And if there is a war, in every country today, everybody is supposed to go to the war: his duty is not only to do whatever he is doing up till now: everybody has to enter into the army. So, there is a greater extension of the idea of duty, and then with the coming of the television and so on, the more the knowledge you acquire, the greater the sense of duty as a consequence on it. If you know something, and if you do not do according to your knowledge, that also is not correct: the more you know, the greater is your sense of duty. So, that ordinary idea of duty, which was only confine to a small field, is bombarded.