Wednesday 22 May 2024

Gita And Modern Problems

 – P. Parameswaran JI (Yuva Bharati, 50th Year Special Commemorative Volume, Dec 2000)

To say that the Bhagavad Gita is a solution to modern problems does not mean that it is a readymade panacea for all our present troubles. The Gita serves to enlighten a person with a philosophy by which he can find solutions to current problems. The book has not lost its relevance with time since it is rooted in eternal truths - truths which are fundamental to humans and to the laws of nature. The Gita is not just a religious book. Nor is it just a scientific treatise. It is a comprehensive worldview. It does not reject spirituality as does Communism. Nor does it deny the realities of worldly existence and material needs. It balances the dual needs of spiritualism and materialism.


Another unique feature of the Gita is that it does not concentrate solely on individual 'Moksha'. It seeks to offer itself as a guide to society as well. The symbiotic relationship between the individual and the society is recognized by this book. The Gita exhorts the individual to carry out his duty - 'Karma' - so that it serves himself as well as the society around him. There is no scope for spiritual enlightenment of an individual who turns away from society and the material world.

The Gita provides a multifaceted outlook. Different 'Darsanas' reveal different paths to spiritual enlightenment. The path of Action - Karma Yoga, the path of Knowledge - Jnana Yoga and the path of Devotion - Bhakti Yoga. In the Gita, all these different methods are integrated. In this integrated approach, the different facets of the individual are given due importance. Thus the Gita serves as a blueprint for overall personal development.


Though the Gita was delivered at a particular period of time at Kurukshetra, its relevance has not been limited by time or space. The battlefield of Kurukshetra and the despair of Arjuna are phenomena of eternal recurrence in the human mind. The confusion and despair among the present-day youth is similar to Arjuna's dejection. The weakness which drives our people to suicide when confronted with the simplest of failures, the withering away of ideology and ideals, the arrogance born out of ignorance, the cynicism which rejects as hopeless every effort to reform the society are all but manifestations of an inner despair. A feeling of hopelessness is apparent in the face of the present-day youth who refuses to look at problems squarely in the eye. Arjuna too was in such a predicament. The Bhagavad Gita which once saved Arjuna from his dire predicament is the answer to the demoralization of the present generation. The Gita starts with an exhortation against weakness. It calls on Arjuna to abandon his despair as despair in no way suits such a brave warrior. This psychological approach is relevant to the youth of India who face a crisis of confidence and identity. It serves as a bulwark against the weakness of spirit which prompts modern day Arjunas to abandon hope and opt for the suicide solution.


It is not sufficient to reject despair. A positive alternative is required. Here too, the Gita shows the way. Self-help and self- sufficiency is the Gita approach. It is not advisable to depend upon others for self- development. Each individual and each society should develop by independent effort. What happens, otherwise? Each one becomes a burden to oneself and to others. Next time the Gita thus provides a model which cautions against the dependence of the present-day youth on foreign help, goods or inspiration.

The book calls on us to be independent and self-sufficient. Do your duty - it says - each one has his own duty. Without this, one cannot even support one's own body.

The attitude of our youth which prompts them to desist from dirtying their hands by an honest day's work, an attitude which makes him take the lazy way out. The Karma Yoga is an answer to this destructive work ethic.

The Gita elaborates on the concept of duty. It calls on us to fulfil our 'Karma' with an attitude of devotion - 'Yagna Bhavam'. When the Karma - duty - is done with an attitude of devotion and for the society as a whole it becomes 'Yagna'. One who performs his duty, only for himself, misses this exalted concept. In that case there is no devotion. Even when one cooks food for only oneself, it is considered to be a sin by the Gita philosophy. The Gita calls upon us to give the fruits of Karma to the society and to partake only what is essential for oneself such a doer is free from all sin


So the doer is not free to accumulate all the fruits of his own labour. He can take what is needed. Yet he is only a Trustee of the wealth. The owner is the Almighty. The owner is the Society. The doer deserves only the remnants of his offerings. This relationship between Karma and the fruits of Karma is a quantum leap from the ideas of surplus value, and exploitation of labour as enunciated in this classical communist / capitalist dogmas.

Perhaps the most striking part of the Gita philosophy is the idea of Co-operative Development. The scripture rejects the idea that conflict and competition are the methods of achieving the highest good. Instead the emphasis is on co- operation. Competition ensures the survival of the fittest. Yet, the vast majority is marginalized in this rat race. Co-operation on the other hand ensures all-round development. Thus the Gita philosophy takes under its wings the society as a whole. If all of us are but parts of the Almighty, then, is not co-operation the natural path of development? Is not competitive conflict a denial of this holistic concept? Is it not denial of Godliness? Rejecting the western concept of the survival of the fittest as ungodly, the Gita emphasizes on the path of spirituality with co-operative development it details this idea of wealth distribution.

The model of co-operative development is not confined to man alone. The relationship between man and nature is also part of this model. The scripture calls for co-operation, not just between man and man but between man and the Devas. By 'Devas, the Gita seeks to personify the force of nature. This, it says, can be achieved through Yagna. Yagna i.e. devotion should be according to the laws of nature. When we deviate from its path, we tread through danger, as we go against nature itself the environmental destruction undertaken by the modern society in the name of development is thus opposed to the teachings of the Gita. The Gita shows the golden mean which ensures the protection of environment along with the pursuit of 'development'.


The Gita is not against the creation of wealth or the pursuit of material happiness. In fact it encourages wealth creation and material enjoyment. But both activities should be based on 'Dharma' and aimed at 'Moksha'. In that mental and other actions that a man performs do not create the after effects in him. It is only the ego of the doer and his sense of owning the rewards of his action that bind a man. Therefore a man can continue to act unfettered so long as he is free from ego and a sense of possession. These are called in the scriptural language ahamkara and mamakara.

For those who, over a number of births have not learnt to perform actions without ego and a sense of possession, the impact of their own actions are left on their awareness at a fine level. These impacts and impressions add up to present them with a fund of tendencies and aptitudes because of which their natural inclinations for actions get limited to particular fields. This tendency or vasana is a limiting factor in their life. It restricts their field of action and defines the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual dimensions of their personality. The type of parents who will give birth to a person, the type of education he will get and the type of work he will render to the society are all defined by his vasanas. Though apparently this limitation is a drawback, it is indeed a blessing for him. It saves him from the botheration of too much choice and makes him useful and relevant to his immediate family, community, society and the nation. The tendency and the duty by which the person is linked to the society around him is called his swadharma. The specific duty is called his swakarma. His specific emotional gifts are his swabhava; the totality of a person's nature is swadharma.

Emotions (swabhava) and work (swakarma) fix a person in his social grid, in an unmistakable and inescapable position and relevance. He has to discharge a specific duty to the society. A particular job useful to the society has to be done only by him. He and his duty are made for each other.

Arjuna was born a fighter. By instinct, he was a warrior and by choice too he was a warrior. He went to the best teachers of his age, such as Bhishma, Drona and Kripa and learnt from them the art of archery. When Lord Shiva appeared before Arjuna, the warrior in him prompted him to ask not for spiritual liberation but for the Pashupata weapon. In the battle at the end of the Virataparva, Arjuna had single-handedly defeated all the warriors of the Kuru army. It is very clear that Arjuna's tendencies, training, experience and proven merit go to show that his social duty was to take up arms to protect Dharma from the forces of evil. But overcome by a temporary weakness and sentimentality, Arjuna offered to withdraw from the battle-field in which he had to fight with his own kith and kin. In the war arena of real life the line of division between the friend and the foe, the relative and the enemy are very blurred. As a person's life progresses the enemies are identified, nearer at home. At last at the highest level, one finds his enemies lurking within himself. Therefore there was no way for Arjuna to escape from the battle - the battle of life. If he runs away, his life will be irrelevant to the society and the job of weeding the evil forces out of the society will remain undone. Shri Krishna was able to perceive this double vacuum that would ensue if Arjuna were to abandon his swadharma. That is why Shri Krishna argued with Arjuna, strengthened his will power, showed his intense love for him and trained him in the real art of work. Shri Krishna went to the extent of threatening Arjuna with the terrible sight of Vishwarupa. But the most persuasive argument was based on swadharma.

That is the universality of the message of the Geeta Each of us is related to our immediate family, community, society and the nation by a well-defined duty. Making use of this duty the society gives us an identity, food, shelter, clothing and all the social relations. It requires a genius of Shri Krishna's dimensions to remind us of such a simple thing as our own duty.


The proper application of one's own swadharma in the social context is lokasam-graha. All social organisations are built on the social awareness of individuals and groups. The father or a mother working selflessly builds a family. The leader or a group of socially conscious persons build a meaningful society, which becomes efficient, self- reliant and emotionally sustaining. Without a society to make a person's life and work meaningful the individual will be functioning in a vacuum.

An experiment done in the field of education proves this point. When some of the letters of a sentence were written indistinctly, the readers were able to make out the missing or unclear letters because they could understand the meaning of the sentence. Therefore a letter gains a meaningful identity when it is part of a sensible sentence. Similarly an individual adds to his worth and identity, when he becomes a contributing member of a productive team. Similarly a community is related to a large society or a nation. Every unit is relevant because of its participatory role in a larger unit, itself being at the same time a combination of a number of smaller components. Therefore Indian tradition envisages a series or levels of expansion: (1) an individual, (2) the family, (3) the community, (4) the society, (5) the nation, (6) the entire creation etc.

By giving the utmost importance to lokasamgraha in the Geeta, Shri Krishna has tried to present a larger and larger identity for the individual. The work of lokasamgraha endows the individual with the moral and material support of the entire society.  

It is the duty of the talented, gifted, intelligent individuals to contribute their might to build up the society. Such individuals have to make up for those who cannot even pull their own weight.

Therefore it is not enough for a worker to pull only his share of the social load. In every society there are people who cannot even carry their share of the burden e.g. children, old people, the sick, and those who are engaged in other fields. Therefore an individual and the society go to make a beautiful pair, the one strengthening the other.

In his enthusiasm the individual may overstep his limitations and try to do all sorts of work. Such a person will be stepping on the toes of other people and prevent them from doing their own work. Therefore the Geeta attempts to restrain such individuals by warning them about the dangers of others' duties - paradharma.

To neglect one's own duty is to commit the error of being tamasic - lazy. To engage oneself in all sorts of undefined and greedy activities is to be rajasic. The rajasic person loses his focus and gets lost. He is like the proverbial well-digger who wastes his time in digging a number of shallow pits. He does not strike water. A man performing his swadharrna is like a well -digger who concentrates all his energies to dig a deep well to get water.

Swadharma has two limiting factors (1) it has to be useful to the society. And secondly it has to rise out of ones own enthusiasm. Such an action will be personally satisfying and socially productive.

By presenting this pair of concept. (1) Swadharma and (2) Lokasamgraha, Shri Krishna has made every work a perennial source of joy and productivity.

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मुक्तसंग्ङोऽनहंवादी धृत्युत्साहसमन्वित:।
सिद्ध‌‌यसिद्धयोर्निर्विकार: कर्ता सात्त्विक उच्यते ॥१८.२६॥

Freed from attachment, non-egoistic, endowed with courage and enthusiasm and unperturbed by success or failure, the worker is known as a pure (Sattvika) one. Four outstanding and essential qualities of a worker. - Bhagwad Gita : XVIII-26

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