Bhagavad Gita And Modern Life

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Bhagavad Gita And Modern Life
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Kanaiyalal Maneklal Munshi's versati- lity and achievements are in a way unique. He is an eminent lawyer, one of the framers of India's Constitution and a seasoned statesman. Coming under the inspiring influence of Sri Aurobindo during his student days, Munshi has been an ardent fighter for India's freedom working at different stages in close association with Jinnah, Tilak, Besant, Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and Pandit Nehru. His achievements as Home Minister of Bombay in 1937, as India's Agent-General in Hyderabad before the Police Action, as India's Food Minister and as Governor of Uttar Pradesh have been characterised by rare courage and decisive

Acknowledged as the foremost writer in modern Gujarafi literature, he has to his credit a vast and varied literature including novels, dramas, memoirs and history in Guiarati, as also several historical and other works in English. notably "Gujarat and Its Literature", "Imperial Gurjaras", "Creative Art of Life", "To Badrinath", "The End of an Era" and "Krishnavatara.



The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan-that Institute of Indian Culture in Bombay-needed a Book University, a series of books which, if read, would. Serve the purpose of providing higher education. Particular emphasis, however, was to be put on such literature as revealed the deeper impulsions of India. As a first step. it was decided to bring out in English 100 books, 50 oi which were to be taken in• hand almost at once. Each book was to contain from. 200 to 250 pages and was to be priced' at Rs 2.50.

It is our intention to publish the books we select, not only in English but also in the following Indian languages: Hindi. Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam.

This scheme, involving the publication of 900 volumes, re- quires ample funds and an all India organisation. The Bhavan is exerting itself to the utmost to supply them.

The objectives for which the Bhavan stands arc the reintegration of Indian culture in the light of modem knowledge and our present-day needs and to resuscitate its fundamental values in their pristine vigour. Let me make our goal more explicit:

We seek the dignity of man, which necessarily implies the creation of social conditions that allow him freedom to evolve along the lines of his own temperament and capacities; we seek the harmony of individual efforts and social relations, not in any makeshift way, but within the frame-work of the Moral Order; we seek the creative art of life, by the. Alchemy of which a human limitation are progressively transmuted, so that man may become the instrument of God, and is able to see. Him in all and all in Him.

. The world, we feel, is too much with us. Nothing would uplift or inspire us so much -as the beauty and aspirations which such books can teach. In this series, therefore, the literature of India, ancient and modem will be published in a form easily accessible to all.

Books from other literatures of the world, if they illustrate .the principles we stand for, will also be included.

This common pool of literature, it is hoped, will enable the reader, eastern or western, to understand and appreciate cu rents of world thought, besides the movements of the Indian mind, which, though they flow through different linguistic channels, have a common urge and aspiration.

Fittingly the Book University's first venture is the Mahabharata, summarised by one of the greatest living Indians,C. Rajagopalachari; the second work is on a section of it, the Gita, by H. V. Divatia, an eminent jurist and a student of philosophy. Centuries ago, it was proclaimed of the Mahabharata "What is no! in it is nowhere." After twenty-five centuries, we can use the same words about it. He who does not know it does not know the heights and depths of the soul and misses the trials and tragedy and the beauty and grandeur of life.

The Mahabharata is not a mere epic: it is a romance telling the tale of heroic men and women and of some who were divine; it is a whole literature in itself. Containing a Code of life, a philosophy of social and ethical relations, and speculative thought on human problems that is hard to rival: but, above all, it has for its core the Gita, which is, 'as the world is beginning to find out, the noblest of scriptures and the grandest of sagas the climax of which is reached in the wondrous Apocalypse in the Eleventh Canto.

Through such books alone, the harmony. Underlying true culture, I am convinced, will one day reconcile the disorders of modem life.

I thank all those who have helped to make this new branch of the Bhavan's activity successful.


Foreword To The First , Second and Third Editions

Some of these lectures were delivered as Bhagavad Gila lectures in the Gita Vidyalaya, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, during the years 1944 -45,1945-46 and form the first part of the 'series I have no pretentions to being a scholar or a deep student of philosophy or even "of Gila literature which is as vast as the ocean. I have used the Gita together ~th Patanjali'sYogasut", as a scripture, or, to be accurate, a svadhyaya, a sacred text for recital. I have tried to study yogic methods, and retreated from them possibly because I 'could never• develop the necessary strength to pursue them with concentrated viaour. And yet these two scriptures have, helped me throughout, life, in trials, in suffering,' in defeat and in success. These lectures are merely the result of a lifetime of testing the principles of the .Gila' on the touchstone of the experience of a man of whom It could be truly said that the world 'was too much with him.

Three years ago I collected quotations from my diary and published them under the heading "Bhagavad Gita- an. Experimental Approach". These lectures, however, cover a different and much wider field. I have not only tried to explain my point of view about the Bhdgavad Gita but added what I have learnt from the continuous study of yogic methods and the scrutiny of the lives of great men in the light, of the truth which I havefound in the Gita. I believe that unless the eternal truth underlying the Bhagvad Gita is utilised to shape life in all its modernity and richness it will be impossible to bring the modern mind to appreciate the beauty and grandeur, of the 'absolute integration of human personality, for which the Gila provides the perfect guide. .

. Tune permitting, I hope to complete this series of ' lectures.


Foreword To The Fourth Editions

This is the fourth edition of this book.

The contents of this edition have been revised. Certain chapters dealing with the history of Chaturvarnya and its dynamism have been omitted from this edition. I felt that though the discussion was germane to the central theme of this book, elaborate treatment of the different stages through which the Caste System passed was unnecessary in this Volume. I hope to revise those chapters bringing them up-to-date and publish them later.

In this edition I have also added Chapters I to IX. of Part VI, which in a .sense amplify the original approach and at the same time, as I have found by experience, bring it nearer the heart of the problem.

. . There have been other formal changes also. What were lecture have cow' been revised and recast as chapters. In a sense, therefore, this is a completely revised and in part rewritten edition of the original book. I hope it will be found a useful by those who are interested in this 'subject.


Foreword To The Fifth Editions

This, the Fifth Edition, is thoroughly revised and in part rewritten or added to. Several additions are entirely new and represent a further elaboration of the subject in the light of new thought and experience.



There are different ways of reading books, journals, detective stories, classics and the scriptures. But all serious reading particularly of the scriptures has to 'be done earnestly. I Will tell you how our scripture, the Gita, has to be read; as a matter of fact, what I say about the Gila Should apply to any book if you want it to be a source of inspiration.


Readers of the scriptures are of various sorts. I had a friend who was fond of collecting books by purchase or by loan from friends and libraries. From. a first impression, he -seemed almost an encyclopedia. He appeared' to know practically everything about every book you could name and be could give you a list of good books about any subject on the slightest provocation. At the same time, he seemed not to care to reap anything at all out of his apparently vast reading and he never wrote anything but trivial and friendly letters. Nevertheless he was a good talker and could easily lead you to confess that you did not know a tithe of what he did.

We were in jail together for a few weeks, during which time he saw me reading the Gita every day. Once, when we were together for an hour or two, he told me of the editions of the Gita of which I knew nothing, and when we parted, he gave me the latest book on the Gita to read. He had glanced through die prefaces and tables of contents of several books and' had armed himself like a salesman with all the good points of the ware he was exhibiting!

Talking of readers. One of my companions in jail. Sri Y-was a wonderful reader of, or rather listener to, the Gila. Though a Hindu, be had never read the Gita; he knew nothing of Sanskrit, and cared hardly at all for inspiring literature. As we talked-on diverse topics, - I discovered that jail life bad worn out his nerves, induced irritability and deprived him of sleep. He had come to the conclusion that, through no fault of his 'Own, of unwavering peace and asked him to read the Gila. Suddenly he snapped his fingers and said: "Come just tell me what this Gita is like." I went to his cell and talked to him generally of Sri Krishna's message. Next day he said: "Munshi, last night I got some sleep. You must read the Gila to me every day." So we fixed a special Gila class for 4 p. m. daily.

Needless to say, my friend would not read the Gita for him- self, but listened attentively as I read and explained the verses to him. His dialectical mind soon became interested. "How can you have titiksha-endurance?" he asked. "If you forego pleasure, your senses will be dulled; you will lose your susceptibilities; the capacity to enjoy will be lost."

When we came to the verse "Duty is your right," he commented, "Pure nonsense! He is only playing on words:” When I explained to him the words "Dedicate an action unto me and fight," my friend promptly came out with the comment, "Your Krishna demands slavery."

In this way we went from canto to canto, day after day, to the great enjoyment of Sardar Patel, who was also a prisoner the same ward, for he walked to and fro on the verandah during the time we were busy with our reading.

One day Sardar said: "Munshi, you have not read the last canto of the Gita properly. Sri Krishna says, "do not give my message to the man who is not devoted to me, nor to one who is not prepared for self-discipline or who ridicules me.' Why are you doing this?"

"The reason is simple," I replied. "Y. tries to show that in reading the Gita daily I am more or less a fool and if I am a fool, then all of us- who read the Gila are fools also. That gives him happiness and sends him to sleep every evening. Why should I deny him his sleeping-draught?"

Some readers of the Gila find the world dreary; others, interesting. Some, again, find the world satisfactory without worrying about any higher values, Success is all that they' seek; they never consider what others are feeling. Their sole object is to get as much pleasure out of life as they can. As they read the Gila, they think- they are entering into a bargain with God: "Give me money, prestige and enjoyment, my dear Sri Krishna," they say. "In return I will spare ten minutes every day from my absorbing worldly activities to read Your message." Such a reader is interested first and last in himself; to him the Gila is a race-card with which to secure winnings on the race-course of life.

There are many who cannot read the Gila except to feel satisfied with themselves. They close their eyes to things, because they are afraid of pain and sorrow. They do not trouble their heads with any or the rusher aspects of life. They read' the Gila to acquire the prestige which a nodding acquaintance with God generally gives


The person who reads the Gita as a piece of literature is a careful reader. His object is to study the language; to find out what words are used how many times; to trace the ideas which conflict and those which coincide; to ascertain how many interpretations are possible; to decide which was the original Gila and what were the later interpolations. Such a reader reads the Gitu anatomically. He reads it to criticise or to analyse. He pursues some social aspect of the scripture as if it were a human limb he was dissecting. He has no special love ior the Gita; he would find equal pleasure in a dissection of Kama Sutra, the Manual of Erotics, or Shringara Manjari, the text-books for hetaerae. Such reading is my abomination. It may bring knowledge of" a kind, but it can never convert knowledge into light.

When a pandit reads the Gita he is not concerned with deriving any benefit for himself, but with gaining admirers. He only develops the cruel desire to give you endless quotations from: different Shastras. His aim is to over him you by a bewildering weight of authorities.

There is, of course, the philosopher who peruses 1bo Gita in order to follow some line of thought: to discover some particular region of the mind about which he wants to know all that can be known. His aim is to develop a clear and definite. Mind along that particular line and he compares, expounds and uses his utmost ingenuity to complete his theory of what the Gila has to say.

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