Essays on the Gita

Track Running Track 201

We are still in the first chapter, where Sri Aurobindo presents to us the approach that we should have while studying the Bhagavad Gita today in our present times. And as we saw last time, Sri Aurobindo starts by saying that today we have just emerged from a stage where people used to kill each other in the name of religion, and that although we are now not killing each other in the name of religion, we still have the psychology in which we feel that our religion is somehow superior to other religions. Although other religions may be also good, they may also have value but our religion has something very special and it is superior to the others. And on account of this, there is still a conflict.

It is in this climate that we are poised today and therefore, when we take up the Bhagavad Gita, a similar attitude may be manifest among many people in which we try to see that Bhagavad Gita, among all the Scriptures, is the best. Even though others may be quite good but Bhagavad Gita is the best, this can be an attitude. Secondly that, while understanding the Gita, you should take every word as if it is unalterable, that being the divine revelation,  there could be nothing which can be altered that we have to understand it in the same way in which it was understood at the time when it was composed or revealed and we should therefore recover that sense, that meaning, and not even an iota of punctuation even can be changed in regard to that particular text. Many people have this attitude while trying to understand the Bhagavad Gita or even the Vedas, or Upanishads, or all the Scriptures.

It is in that context Sri Aurobindo explains to us the psychology of revelation, and points out that that what is revealed is of course true, but the expression of revelation is dependent upon the language in which that revelation is expressed. And the inadequacies of that language very often cannot be cured because the language sometimes does not have even the words for the content of that revelation. Secondly, a revelation is expressed not only through certain language, but also through a certain atmosphere which is prevalent at a given time. And in that time there may be certain specific ideas which are current at that time; therefore the atmosphere influences the expressions. therefore, while we have to express the real content of the revelation, we should not bind ourselves to the language, or to the atmosphere of the ideas which were current at that time.

That is why Sri Aurobindo says that we have to make a distinction between that which is of `permanent' value and that, which is of a `transitory' value, something that is 'local', something that is `pertaining to that epoch'. Sri Aurobindo takes an example to explain this distinction – at least two concepts, which are a striking example. One is, Sri Aurobindo says, that Gita uses the word yajna, sacrifice. In both the 3rd and the 4th chapter of the Gita, we have exposition of the doctrine of yajna, and if you read it superficially, then  you may feel that this word yajna was used in the sense in which it was used in the earlier times, where it had a `ritualistic' meaning. Sri Krishna tells Arjuna that, "Every action binds you, except the action that is done as a yajna", Isn’t it? Therefore, whenever you do any action, you do as yajna. This is the specific statement that Sri Krishna makes. Now from there, it may be inferred that you have to perform sacrifices every day `havan' and `yajna', `mantras' and so on, and no other action, or other activities will bind you, excepting the yajna that you do; and this could be one meaning that you can derive out of it.

Now, Sri Aurobindo points out that when you have problems of this kind, this is only an example – at present that whole system of sacrifice has become almost obsolete. Even the modern yajnas, which are done are `Puranic' and not `Vedic'. So, some of the Vedists might insist that Sri Krishna says that unless you do Vedic yajna, you get bound. This can be one interpretation, and therefore there can be a case, under the influence of the Bhagavad Gita, taking this sentence as our guideline, to preach the whole country that you should revert back to the kind of a system of sacrifices which were done in the Vedic times, and tell people that they need not do anything else because all of their activities will bind you, and you just do yajnas and as in that system, there were five types of yajnas, atithi yajna and all these kinds of yajnas.

Now this can be one of the ways by which the word yajna can be interpreted and can be given and that can be told that according to the Bhagavad Gita, Karma Yoga consists only of this and nothing else, because the sentence is very clear: "All action binds you except the work which is done as sacrifice."

Now, how are we to interpret words like this?

Therefore, Sri Aurobindo says that we have to go into the `spiritual truth' of words of this kind. We should not bind ourselves to the words as they meant at a given epoch – it is temporary meaning of yajya. But is it the real meaning of yajna? But, if you go to the Veda itself, is it a fact that even there, the word yajna was used only in ‘this' sense? Even that is an open question. Besides, Sri Aurobindo points out that even in the Bhagavad Gita itself, when you come to the 4th chapter, there is a very remarkable sentence which gives an altogether different interpretation of yajna made by Sri Krishna himself, in which the Vedic idea of that kind of sacrifice is itself altered by Sri Krishna himself in the Bhagavad Gita when he says, "There are many kinds of sacrifices". And among the sacrifices, `those sacrifices which are done by  dravya….   

śreyān dravyamayāt yajñāt jñāna–yajñaḥ (IV, 33)

Better than the sacrifice done with oblations to the fire, the greater is the sacrifice of wisdom', jnanayajyam .

This whole concept of jnanayajna is a new concept in the Bhagavad Gita. And He says ‘That only that Karma which is done by jnana, when you offer your wisdom'...and how do you offer your wisdom? You can offer samagrees of various kinds, the fuel and the ghee, and many other things, but how do you offer jnana? How do you sacrifice jnana itself? So first of all you should have jnana, then you should apply it, while doing karma. That means that karma here does not mean merely act of offering on the fire. Whatever action you are doing, while doing that action, have the true knowledge. And not only that, but when you do that yajna, with that knowledge, and you sacrifice it, then the highest knowledge manifests itself:

sarvaṁ karmākhilaṁ jñāne parisamāpyate (IV, 33)]

`All actions when they are really done (all actions means: all actions done as sacrifice)

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