Wednesday, September 2, 2009

II: 51

Chapter 2, Verse 51

"The wise ones whose insight is firm,
Relinquishing the fruits of action,
Are freed from the bondage of rebirth.
Their abode is that place beyond sorrow."

Mahatma Gandhi:

"Even in 1888, when I first became acquainted with the Gita, there was the feeling that it is not a historical work, but that, under the guise of physical warfare, it describes the duel that perpetually goes on in the hearts of humanity and that physical warfare is brought in merely to make the description of the internal duel more alluring.

Let it be granted that, according to the letter of the Gita, it is possible to say that warfare is consistent with the renunciation of the fruit of action. But after forty years' unremitting endeavor 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 nonviolence in every way, shape and form.

The deeper you dive into the Gita, the richer the meanings you find. Since it is meant for the people at large, there is pleasing repetition. With every age, the important words will carry new and expanded meanings. 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. Seekers are at liberty to extract from this treasure any meaning they like so as to enable them to enforce in their lives the central teaching. But the central teaching will never vary. Desire for the fruit of action is the only universal prohibition."

[Near the beginning of Chapter Two I commented: "Arjuna's enemy on the battlefield symbolically represents the enemy within, those old tapes that run in our minds, keeping us out of the moment, the eternal now."

Daniel Clark responded: "For the peace-loving, it's easier to make this into a metaphor than to accept that Krishna is really ordering Arjuna to go ahead and kill his friends, relatives, and indeed his guru (Drona). I had to struggle with this for years, because I feel the Gita is both metaphorical and historical. That is, it describes an actual incident that has mythic depth. So I can't avoid the militarism, the violence, of the Gita. I only came to a conclusion satisfying to myself when I decided that even though Krishna is beyond the material world, when he advents himself, he does so in terms of the society of that time and place. In the India of 3000 BC (the traditional date), warfare was a well-respected political policy, with a moral and even spiritual dimension. In the chapters of the Mahabharata leading up to the Gita, we find that Krishna arduously pushed for peace. But when that failed, he was for war. In terms of Vedic culture, that was not immoral. But of course we do not live in a Vedic culture. We don't have to affirm Krishna's militarism. Personally, as a 21st Century American, I do not. But the rest of what Krishna says in the Gita has been 'the bedrock of my faith' for decades. In other words, I winnow out the social, cultural, economic, political, and ritualistic portions of the Gita and get my spiritual nourishment from the rest. I agree that they can be understood metaphorically. But I tend to read the Gita as a historical account - it makes for a more exciting story!"

[I also feel that both aspects are to be honored...that the evolving Dharma has both a collective component (outer battle) and an individual one (inner battle). As you point out, there are those who feel and have felt (Mahatma Gandhi for instance) that the battle on the field of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago is to be understood only as a metaphor. Regardless, of more significance is Krishna's presence in the consciousness of students and the transformative quality of that presence as it inspires them and the collective to further the evolving Dharma.]

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