THE TEACHING IN BRIEF: SELF-KNOWLEDGE AND EQUANIMITY
5. The Gita’s Terminology
1. Brothers, last week we discussed Arjuna’s state of despondency (vishad). Whenever there is Arjuna-like honesty, straightforwardness and total surrender to God, even a state of despondency attains the character of yoga. It is the churning of heart which brings this about. The First Chapter of the Gita has been called Arjuna-vishad-yoga. I prefer to call it simply Vishad-yoga, as Arjuna provided only an occasion for the discourse. The Lord did not take the form of Pandurang for the sake of Pundalik alone. Pundalik provided only a pretext for His descent on earth. We see that the Lord is standing for thousands of years at Pandharpur to redeem us all, ignorant creatures as we are, held captive by the bonds of this-worldliness. Similarly, although Arjuna provided an immediate cause for the overflowing of the Lord’s compassion in the form of the Gita, it is really intended for all of us. That is why the general term vishad-yoga is more befitting for the Gita’s First Chapter. Beginning from this vishad-yoga the Gita’s teaching keeps on growing like a magnificent tree, finally bearing the fruit of prasad-yoga (God’s grace) in the concluding Chapter. God willing, we too would reach that destination during the term of our imprisonment.
2. The Gita’s teaching begins from the Second Chapter.At the very outset, the Lord enunciates the cardinal principles of life. The idea is that once the fundamental principles, which are to form the foundation of life, are wellgrasped, the way ahead would be clear. In my view, the term sankhya buddhi in the Second Chapter stands for the basic principles of life. We have now to take up the consideration of these principles. But before that, it is better to have a clear understanding of the Gita's terminology. The Gita has a penchant for using old philosophical terms in new senses. Grafting new meanings on to old terms is a non-violent process of bringing about revolution in thinking. Vyasa is adept in this process. This is the secret of the great potency and strength of the language of the Gita and its everfreshness and vitality. Different thinkers could therefore read different meanings in the terms used by it in the light of their experiences and according to their needs. In my view, all those interpretations could be taken as valid from their respective standpoints and yet we can have a different interpretation of our own without ruling out any of them.
3. There is a beautiful story in an Upanishad which is worth recounting here. Once gods, demons and human beings went to Prajapati (the Creator) for advice. Prajapati gave all of them only one word of advice: the single syllable ‘द’ (da). The gods said, “We are given to passions and sensual pleasures. So, Prajapati has advised us ‘daman’ (दमन) (subduing and conquering them).” The demons said, ‘‘We are given to anger and cruelty. So, Prajapati has advised us to cultivate ‘daya’ (दया) (compassion).” The human beings said, “We are greedy and are always hankering after possessions. So, Prajapati has advised us to practise ‘dan’ (दान) (charity and sharing).” Prajapati approved all these interpretations, as all of them had arrived at their interpretations through their own experiences. We should bear in mind this story while interpreting the Gita’s terminology.
References and Context
- Yoga means union or integration. It entails detachment from suffering and perverse propensities and, in fact, from all outside interests and integration with the Divine. Different types of yoga are different means or processes to achieve such integration or, in other words, spiritual liberation. Yoga can also be defined as the art of practising the fundamental truths of life for this purpose.
- The story of Pundalik has been described in detail in 9.17 of this Chapter.
- It means the wisdom in accordance with the Sankhya. Sankhya is one of the six systems of the Indian philosophy. (Please also see Chap. 2.13 and the footnote in Chap. 7.2). However, the Gita uses the term here in a different sense.
- The words daman (दमन), daya (दया) and dan (दान), all begin with the Nagari syllable द.