In Appreciation Of An Ancient Guide Book
Edwin Arnold translated the Bhagwad Gita as ‘The Song Celestial’ in English. Technically, Gita is part of the last major Sanskrit epic, The Mahabharata, written by Maharishi Veda Vyas. For the devout believer, the Gita is the word of God, teachings of Krishna imparted to Arjuna when he lost his nerve on the battlefield at Kurukshetra when he found himself facing his own kin. The Gita has come to be seen as a guide book worldwide, to analyse the conflicts in the human mind, social behaviour and philosophical nuances.
The father of the atomic bomb Oppenheimer, at the time of the first atomic test in the Nevada desert quoted Krishna from the Gita after seeing the nuclear mushroom cloud rise up. “Kaloasmi Lokkshyakrit Praviraddha” – I have become death.
The Gita is a scripture to be read, understood and internalised. It cannot be taught, though in the first instance it was a lecture. For the cognoscenti it is a treasure house of pearls of wisdom, for believers it is an article of faith, for the learned it is the ultimate in learning. But for sceptics it is just religious mumbo jumbo from the past, irrelevant to the modern world.
Whether the Gita is a religious scripture and should be taught in schools is a question which can be clearly and categorically answered by simply quoting some shlokas from the Gita itself.
It is clear that in different chapters the Gita defines, explains and expounds different forms of yogas, tapasya and yajnas, their practice, importance and effects. Above all, in the end, Krishna reveals himself to Arjuna in his virat swaroop – celestial form – and directs him to leave all dharmas and worship only Krishna.
In the last chapter he directs Arjuna: “Sarva dharma parityaga Mamakam Sharnam vraj.” You should renounce (or discard) all other religions (dharmas) and seek refuge only in me.
In the concluding verse there is explicit prohibition from passing on the arcane teachings of Gita to four types of persons: atapaskaya, those who lack tapasya; abhaktaya, those who lack devotion; ashushruva, those who are not interested and abhyasuyati, those who find fault with it.
Therefore, any move to make the Gita a compulsory inclusion in school curriculum will expose it to some hostile and undeserving elements.
I had a very sad experience with such experiments a few decades ago in Los Angeles. The bhaktas and followers of the Hare Krishna Hare Rama movement, in their zeal to propagate the Gita’s message among Mexicans in LA, got translations in Spanish printed and bound in a very attractive cover. Then they started distributing the copies free among the Mexicans of downtown areas in Los Angeles.
In the back alleys of Pershing Square I came across sidewalks littered with shining brand new unread copies of the Srimad Bhagwad Gita. Nonbelievers did not care for the sanctity of the scripture. As Jesus has said in the Bible, “Do not throw your pearls before swine lest they trample upon them.”
It will be in the best interest of a secular democracy to keep religion separate from day-to-day education, whether in science, humanities or vocational studies. Ralph W Emerson called the Gita “the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us”. Today also the new intelligentsia will listen to the old, for the rest, as the Bible says, why waste pearls by casting them... ?