Indian Culture Based On The Bhagavad-Gita
The essence of true culture lies in its being based upon a spiritual sense of values and a spiritual outlook on life. The assertion of the essential divinity of man is the heart of Indian culture. The civilisation of India rests on inner refinement, on the nurture and unfoldment of the spiritual spark in man. India is a land of spirituality and the aspiration of every true Indian is for Atma-Svarajya or freedom in the highest divinity of the Self attainable through the conquest of the internal and the external nature. Self-realisation is the goal of the people of India. The Bhagavad-Gita is a universal scripture and it is the true articulate expression of the genuine cultural heritage of India. The Gita is a gospel of non-attachment, the immortality of the Soul and the ultimate freedom of the Self in the Absolute. It is the sacred teachings on the all-inclusive inwardness of the Spirit. The indispensability of non-attachment follows from the fact of the oneness of existence. Sri Krishna asserts that second to Him naught else exists (VII. 7). The truth being an undividedness of life, attachment to outward forms obviously means clinging to falsehood and a breach of truth, the inevitable result of which is misery. “Those pleasures which are contact-born are only wombs of pain” (V. 22). Anaasakti marks the spirit of real renunciation and right activity that does not bind the doer to its fruits. Real culture tends to freedom and it is the glory of the seers of India that with their deep wisdom they realised the freedom of the immortal Self within and proclaimed this truth to the world.
Desirelessness and inward peace mark the distinctive features of culture in India. Knowledge which characterises real culture is not mere learning but wisdom with an ethical background. The extent to which one has succeeded in moral discipline determines the quality of his knowledge. Knowledge does not end with mere understanding but culminates in realising the deepest truth of life. Such a cultured life is not possible without freedom from prejudice and attachment in thought and action. “As the ignorant act with attachment to action, so should the wise act without attachment, with a view to promote the welfare of the world” (III. 25). Perfect detachment is not possible without the knowledge of the ultimate unreality of things which one generally comes in contact with and which act as the causes of attachment towards them. The Indian mind has detected the error in the commonplace view of life held by those who yield to the dictates of their mind and the senses and has brought into light the fact of the transitoriness of physical life amidst the objects of sense. All philosophy starts from the consciousness of pain and suffering and the inadequacy of life in the sense-world. The Viveki seeks emancipation from imprisonment in earthly life and does not pin his faith to things that perish. The Gita points out that this world is ‘Anityam’, ‘Asukham’, ‘Duhkhalayam’ and ‘Asasvatam’. When this discrimination dawns in a person, he becomes desireless and is not attached to anything. The fullness of God within reveals the pettiness of life outside, and the seeker of perfection clings not to fleeting appearances. Culture in India is synonymous with the blossoming of the faculty of religious and spiritual consciousness without which man is very little superior to creatures with mere instinct. The Gita enjoins renunciation of belief in and desire for outward forms and exhorts that no man who is mindful of eternal peace should think or act with a selfish motive or with any particular phenomenal end in view. “Established in Yoga, perform actions, casting off attachment” (II. 48). To act, thus, without ‘Sanga’ and to be inwardly unified with God even while acting in the world is what the Gita stresses upon as the art of right living and the way to peace both here and hereafter. Every bit of effort that is put forth towards the achievement of this end has its own indestructible effect. “There is no destruction of effort here; nor is there the production of contrary result. Even a little (practice) of this Dharma delivers one from great fear” (II. 40). No attempt is a waste; every effort shall lead to a corresponding effect, for the Soul is essentially immortal.
The Immortality Of The Soul
The great truth to which the Indians hold on and which they can never forget or disbelieve is the immortality of the Soul and the continuance of life after death. The Gita, at the very outset, declares that the Atman cannot be destroyed. “Know That to be indestructible by which all this is pervaded. None can cause the destruction of That, the imperishable. He is not born, nor does He ever die; after having been, He again ceases not to be; unborn, eternal, everlasting and ancient, He is not killed when the body is killed” (II. 17, 20). Nothing can be more glorious than the recognition of this supreme fact. This saving knowledge is the very life-breath of the Indian nation, the solace of mankind and the realisation of which the Absolute in the form of Sri Krishna speaks to Arjuna who is the representative of humanity itself. The culture of India is permeated throughout and thoroughly influenced by the indubitable belief in the immortality and divinity of the Spirit in man. To the Hindus, the world of empirical experience is not the reality, but the Atman or Brahman is the Reality. They have no faith in the unstable universe, but they have full faith in the Eternal Being. God is their aim and the world is only a passage or a step, a mere means and not the end or finality of experience. The Gita is the message of the Life Transcendent which embraces within itself the entire universe which is seen in it in an altogether new light. Every individual can have this experience and even the wicked and the sinner has a hope. “Even a man of bad conduct, when he worships Me with singular devotion, should be regarded as righteous, for he has rightly resolved” (IX. 30). “Even those who are born in sinful wombs, taking refuge in Me, go to the Supreme Abode” (IX. 32). There is no such thing as ‘original sin’ or innate evil in man, for the Soul of man is immortal and “even as blazing fire reduces fuel to ashes, so does the fire of knowledge reduce all actions to ashes” (IV. 37). Here knowledge stands for the realisation of the imperishable Self. As the ultimate destiny of man is identity with God, he passes from one life to another, from one body to another, according to his desires and actions, until he exhausts all experiences resulting therefrom, and attains identity with God. Reincarnation cannot stop until Self-realisation is attained, for the immortal Self asserts itself every moment and the individual cannot find rest anywhere except in its realisation, which, again, is not possible unless all Karmas are burnt up or exhausted. The Hindu theory of rebirth and immortality is unparalleled in the religious history of the world, and it is the only scientific and satisfactory explanation of the meaning of life. Without the fundamental acceptance of the immortal Self, no experience can be explained or understood and the theory of Karma is only a corollary to this basic truth which is the central pivot and theme of philosophy and religion.
The Ideal Of Social Life
The individual in society has to adapt himself to his environment in the light of the unity of life in the Divine. The stages of life differ in different persons and their Dharmas or duties in life are based on these stages of individual development. The Bhagavad-Gita recognises the temperamental diversities among individuals and the consequent classification of duties suited to their evolutionary stages which determine their Guna and Karma. In all countries there are the philosophical and the spiritual, the active and the militant, and business-loving and the trading, and the work-a-day populace naturally inclined to manual work. These distinctions are not artificially created with any motive behind, but these represent the outward social system revealing the inner aptitudes of human beings. Svadharma is the duty prescribed to a person in accordance with the stage of life in which he is placed, not by any other person or persons, but by his own inner characteristics which he manifests in his daily behaviour and actions. The fourfold social classification is meant to ensure a happy and loving union and fellowship among all people, who, due to their inherent tendencies show their fitness for varying activities in life and not a general equality in thought and deed. It is not possible for all men and all women to think alike and act alike. This kind of equality is not ingrained in the very essence of life in the world. Life is a display of heterogeneous species of beings and the fourfold grouping of persons is a broad division of mental dispositions and abilities for knowledge and action. The social good depends upon the proper regulation of the society, not merely by the force of the administrator, but by a loving understanding of one’s own position, each for himself, and placing oneself in that particular status for which alone he is meant according to the inner law governing his nature. The members of society are interdependent and their welfare is sought by their social classification relative to the qualities and the actions corresponding to them (Guna-karma-vibhaga). The preservation of the hoary culture of India may be attributed to this wise scheme of life based on natural laws and sanctioned by the promptings of the inner nature in man.
The Gita is, no doubt, a great exponent of the ideal of social and universal brotherhood. It notes, however, in this respect, that individual life, family life, social life, universal life and divine life cannot be ultimately separated from one another, but these represent only the stages of the growth of the individual towards the realisation of Divine Perfection. Brotherhood has a meaning only when it is grounded in Selfhood or oneness. Dharma or righteousness determines the good of the society and the universe is a big society of beings inhabiting its different parts. He who seeks the well-being of the society cannot do so by forgetting the fact that the society is within the universe which is the integral whole, a conforming to the laws of which is necessary both for the individual good and the social good. The universe, too, is not a self-explained truth in itself, but is the expression of the harmony and reality that is in the highest Divine Being. “When one realises that the diversity of beings is centred in the One, and has spread from That alone, then, he attains to Brahman” (XIII. 30). The Dharma of this Reality is the standard with which the Dharmas of the universe, the society, the family and the individual are fixed. As the reality of Brahman is indivisible, universal love and absence of selfishness and attachment become the Dharmas of the universe and all its contents. All beings are to be loved impartially and without infatuation, because the fact of the existence of all beings is the one Absolute Self. The virtues to be cultivated as enumerated in the Gita, especially in its Thirteenth and Sixteenth Chapters, are the sine qua non of leading a happy and good, noble and spiritual life individually as well as socially. Through the possession of divine virtues, more stamina and inner spiritual strength, the brute in man is overcome and the immortal principle within is unveiled.
The ideal of the social ethics of the Gita is Loka-sangraha, the well-being and solidarity of the world. This is brought about by each individual through the performance of Svadharma in the spirit of non-attachment and self-surrender and with the knowledge of the immutable nature of the Atman. Svadharma aims, at the same time, at Sarvabhutahita or the good of all beings. The fabric of society is to be so constituted as to aid its members to realise the supreme Ideal of life. As all beings share the one Life which is the whole and of which they are parts, their development lies in their being in harmony with that Life. The perfection of the part is the unity of the whole. Mutual love and the execution of duty in loyalty to the whole is the means to the blessedness of the individual and the society. When each one does his own duty without reluctance or desire in his mind, the welfare of the society is ensured, for wherever action commingles with the knowledge of the Divine Purpose that is behind this visible universe, there shall be “prosperity, victory, glory and firm policy” (XVIII. 78). The Gita declares that the Sastras should be taken as the authority in determining human conduct, which shows that society rests on the basis of the eternal principles of morality and spirituality.
Life is essentially a divine worship. Activity in this world is really the adoration of the Virat of the Visvarupa of the Lord. The individuals are ‘Nimittamatra’ or mere instruments in the fulfilment of the divine Law. Life is a Yajna, a holy sacrifice, and the world which is the Dharmakshetra or the field of righteous action is the altar at which the individual offers himself to God-Being. Dharma which is the ethical value governing the individual exalts him to Moksha which is the Infinite Value and the Goal of life. Everyone should conform to Dharma which supports life and which shall protect him who protects it through dispassionate practice. God Himself is ‘Sasvata-dharma-gopta’ or the protector of the eternal Dharma. Dharma is the source of material and spiritual good. Artha, Kama and Moksha have their basis in the observance of Dharma. God-realisation is the highest Dharma of all beings and all other Dharmas are subservient to this. This ultimate unity of all in God has to be realised in the entire universe (VI. 29, 30). The whole existence is the one conscious living truth of God who pervades it inside and outside and second to whom nothing can ever be (IX. 4, 5). All thoughts and actions should conform to this absolute ideal. Only when life is lived with this noble spirit of the dedication of the self to the one common and supreme good which is to be realised in God alone and nowhere else, the weal of the society is secure. When the Goal is forgotten, life becomes a misery. When life is founded on virtue and knowledge and the consciousness of the Highest Reality, it becomes Divine Life.
The Man Of True Culture
The Gita ideal of the man of true culture is the Sthitaprajna, the Bhagavata or the Gunatita. He is the ripe fruit of the fine flower of culture. He is the perfected man who does not follow the course of the senses, but, “casts off all the desires of the mind and is satisfied in the Self by the Self (II. 55). He is the sage of steady wisdom, who has neither love nor hate, whose longings have turned away on account of the vision of the Supreme, whose day is the night of the ignorant, into whom all desires enter as waters enter the ocean which, filled from all sides, remains unmoved, who has attained to Peace and who rests in the Brahmi Sthiti (II. 55, 57, 59, 69, 70, 72). His happiness is within, relaxation within, light within; he sees the One in the all and the all in the One and his equal vision does not make a distinction between high and low. He is ever conscious of the Divine Presence and he is never separated from the Divine. Though he has nothing to achieve for himself, he works for the good of the world, in order to set an example to others. An idea of the goal of culture can be had from the towering example of the man of realisation whose characteristics are described in the Second, the Fifth, the Sixth, the Twelfth and the Fourteenth Chapters of the Gita, and who serves as the pattern into which every man of culture strives to mould himself in order to reach his perfection and blessedness in the homogeneous Brahman (Samam Brahma).
The Message Of The Gita
The Gita is a wonderful message of hope, consolation, peace and above all, the Divinity of man. It solves all problems of life, gives fearlessness to everyone, and lifts the individual from the depth of penury and misery to the height of immortality and eternal bliss. It presents in a concise form the Hindu view of life. In spite of the disturbances that appear on the surface of man’s life, India has at its heart a tendency to harmony and unity. The Indians are a peace-loving and God-loving people. The greatest men of India are the saints, the sages and the Avataras who are the great torch-bearers of its culture. All the grand religious ideals that have moulded the character of men, the loftiest tenets of ethics and morality that have raised human beings to the magnanimous height of supreme perfection, and all the sublime truths of spirituality that have raised man to Divinity and directed the spiritual life of nations, first arose in India. India’s spiritual culture is that it is responsible for the survival of the Indian nation even in the midst of calamities that have threatened it in the course of history. The Bhagavad-Gita which is the cream of the teachings of the Upanishads is the practical gospel of life of India and India gives this unique recipe to the whole world for the solidarity of all beings. Sri Krishna is the ideal perfect man, God Himself in form, crystallised Satchidananda, the Purna-Avatara, the apex of culture, wisdom, power and delight, and He gives the Gita, the message of the highest culture and realisation. It is to the immortal glory of India and the world at large that the Gita heartens all with the magnificent ideal of the union of man with God even while living in the world and discharging his duties in a spirit of self-sacrifice, non-attachment and surrender to God.