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How I came to write the "Gita Rahasya"

by Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak

Reproduced from Bhavan's Journal
 Vol XIX No. 7, Diwali Number 1972,  pp. 131-135

It is now nearly 43 years since I made my first acquaintance with the Bhagavadgita. In 1872, during the last illness of my father, the task of reading out to him a Prakrit commentary on the Bhagavadgita called Bhasavivrtti fell to my lot. At that date, that is, when I was only 16 years old, it was not possible for me to fully understand the import of the Gita.

Still, as the impressions made on the mind in young age are lasting, the liking for the Bhagavadgita, which then came into existence, did not die out; and when I had later on made further studies in Sanskrit and English, I had occasion to read time to time the Sanskrit commentaries and other criticisms, as also the expositions by many learned scholars in English and in Marathi on the Gita.

I was then faced by the doubt as to why the Gita, which was expounded in order to induce Arjuna, who was dejected by the idea that it was a sin to war with one's own relatives, to fight, should contain only an exposition of the manner in which Release could be obtained by knowledge (jnana) or by devotion (bhakti), that is to say, of the moksa-marga; and that doubt gradually gained ground because I could not find a satisfactory answer to that question in any commentary on the Gita.

Quote Begin
Gita doesn't preach Renunciation. Gita preaches Action!
Quote End

It is quite possible that others too might have felt the same doubt. One cannot say ``no" to that. When a person is engulfed in commentaries he cannot find a different solution, though he may feel that the solution given in the commentary is not satisfactory.

I, therefore, put aside all criticisms and commentaries, and independently and thoughtfully read the Gita over several times.

I then got out of the clutches of the commentators and was convinced that the original Gita did not preach the Philosophy of Renunciation (nivrtti), but of Energism (Karma Yoga); and that possibly, the single word yoga used in the Gita had been used to mean Karma Yoga.

Though my opinion that the creed preached in the Gita was one of Action became quite definite, and though I decided to reduce it to writing, many years went by. And I thought that a considerable amount of misunderstanding would arise if I merely published in a book form this moral of the Gita, which had not been accepted in the commentaries, criticisms, or translations now commonly available, without assigning any reason as to why I was unable to accept the conclusions arrived at by the former commentators.

No Time

At the same time, as the work of dealing with the opinions of all the commentators, and exposing their incompleteness with reasons, and of comparing the religion expounded in the Gita with other religions or philosophies was one entailing great labour, it was not possible for me to satisfactorily complete it within a short period of time.

And later on, when, in the year 1908, I was convicted and sent to Mandalay, in Burma, the chance of this book being written came practically to an end.

But when, after some time, Government was pleased to grant permission to take books and other things essential for writing this book from Poona to Mandalay, the draft of this book was first made in the Mandalay Jail in the winter of 1910-1911 (between Karttik Shuddha 1st and Falgun Vadya 30th of the Saka Year 1832); and thereafter, the draft was improved upon from time to time, as things suggested themselves to me; and those portions which had remained incomplete as the necessary books had not been available, were completed after my release from jail.

It is true that this work was completed in the Mandalay Jail; but it had been written with a lead pencil, and it contained corrections and deletions on many places; so, when it was returned to me after inspection by Government, it was necessary to make a fair copy of it for printing; and if I myself had to do that work, who knows how many months more would have passed before the work was published!

The Gita was not preached either as a pastime for persons tired out after living a worldly life in the pursuit of selfish motives nor as a preparatory lesson for living such worldly life; it was preached in order to give philosophical advice as to how one should live his worldly life with an eye to Release (moksha) and to teach the true duty of human beings in worldly life.

My last prayer to everyone, therefore, is that one should not fail to thoroughly understand this ancient science of the life of a householder, or of worldly life, as early as possible in one's life.

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