Bhagavadgita -Radhakrishnan 1

The Bhagavadgita -S. Radhakrishnan

1. Importance of the Work

The Bhagavadgita is more a religious classic than a philosophical treatise. It is not an esoteric work designed for and understood by the specially initiated but a popular poem which helps even those "who wander in the region of themany and variable." It gives utterance to the aspirations of the pilgrims of all sects who seek to tread the inner wayto the city of God. We touch reality most deeply, where men struggle, fail and triumph. Millions of Hindus,[1] for centuries,have found comfort in this great book which sets forth in precise and penetrating words the essential principles of aspiritual religion which are not contingent on ill-founded facts, unscientific dogmas or arbitrary fancies. With a long history of spiritual power, it serves even today as a light to all who will receive illumination from the profundity of its wisdom which insists on a world wider and deeper than wars and revolutions can touch. It is a powerful shaping factor in the renewal of spiritual life and has secured an assured place among the world's great scriptures.

The teaching of the Gita is not presented as a metaphysical system thought out by an individual thinker or school of thinkers. It is set forth as a tradition which has emerged from the religious life of mankind. It is articulated by a profound seer who sees truth in its many-sidedness and believes in its saving power. It represents not any sect of Hinduism but Hinduism as a whole, not merely Hinduism but religion as such, in its universality, without limit of time or space,[2] embracing within its synthesis the whole gamut of the human spirit, from the crude fetishism of the savage to the creative affirmations of the saint. The suggestions set forth in the Gita about the meaning and value of existence, the sense of eternal values and the way in which the ultimate mysteries are illumined by the light of reason and moral intuition provide the basis for agreement in mind and spirit so very essential for keeping together the world which has become materially one by the universal acceptance of the externals of civilization.


References and Context

  1. The Gita has exercised an influence that extended in early times to China and Japan and latterly to the lands of the West. The two chief works of Mahayana Buddhism, Mahayanasraddhotpatti (The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana) and Saddharmapundarika (The Lotus of the True Law) are deeply indebted to the teaching of the Gita. It is interesting to observe that the official exponent of "the German Faith," J W. Hauer, a Sanskrit scholar who served for some years as a missionary in India, gives to the Gita a central place in the German faith. He calls it "a work of imperishable significance." He declares that the book "gives us not only profound insights that are valid for all times and for all religious life, but it contains as well the classical presentation of one of the most significant phases of Ind-Germanic religious history. . . . It shows us the way as regards the essential nature and basal characteristic of Ind-Germanic religion. Here Spirit is at work that belongs to our spirit." He states the central message of the Gita in these words : "We ate not called to solve the meaning of life but to find out the Deed demanded of us and to work and so, by action, to master the riddle of life."(Quoted in the Hibbert Journal, April 1940, p. 341.) The Gita, however, bases its message of action on a philosophy of life. It requires us to know the meaning of life before we engage in action. It does not advocate a fanatical devotion to the practical to the disparagement of the dignity of thought. Its philosophy of the practical is a derivative from its philosophy of spirit, brahmvidyantargatakairrayogasastra. Ethical action is derived from metaphysical realization. 8. urges that the essential purpose of the Gita is to teach us a way out of bondage and not merely enjoin action, sokamohadisamsarakarmanivrtt gitasastram, na pravartakarm.
  2. Aldous Huxley: "The Gita is one of the clearest and most comprehensive summaries of the Perennial Philosophy ever to have been made. Hence its enduring value, not only for Indians, but for all mankind. . . . The Bhagavadgita is perhaps the most systematic spiritual statement of the Perennial Philosophy." Introduction to the Bhagavadgita by Svami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood (1945).