Gandhi on Bhagavadgita
by Jyotsna Kamat
First Online: June 01, 2004
Page Last Updated: June 13, 2013
The Bhagavad-Gita or the sacred song, is a Hindu poem with deep philosophy,
spirituality and divinity embodied in it. It primarily is a wartime
counsel between Krishna and his disciple/relative warrior Arjuna.
Gandhi has often acknowledged its profound effect on his life.
It is strange but interesting that Gandhiji's first introduction to Gita was in England and through two English brothers. Gandhi at that time was studying law. The brothers read Gita regularly and asked Gandhi to join in. Perhaps they thought that they may get to know the text in
Sanskrit better. But Gandhi felt sad, because of his lack of Sanskrit knowledge. He read English version by Sir Edwin Arnold as recommended by his English friends, and was captivated for life by Gita's message. He specially liked the last
nineteen verses of the Chapter II. He felt, his concept of dharma was summarized
in those verses. He took to reading Gita everyday, later, in the original
Sanskrit language. During his imprisonment years, he studied the book in detail. Due to
insistence from his friends, he translated it into Gujarati, his
mother-tongue. Later English translation appeared.
Many language versions and interpretations of Gita are in vogue. The three great
acharyas, Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhwa, interpreted it to advocate their stand of monism, qualified dualism and dualism, respectively. Besides, upholding spiritual knowledge, devotion and renunciation seem to be the
favorite stand of great many teachers. In modern times, Lokamanya Tilak advocated that action
(karmayoga) was the real message. Gandhi however interpreted that action without expectation of fruit
(anasaktiyoga) was the essence or quintessence of the entire work.
The Mahabharata war in this great book was only a pretext, he felt. It was an allegory. In fact, it represented a battle going on, within every individual. Mahabharata war might not be historical as it exists today. Poet
Vyasa, used it as background to preach real dharma. This dharma according to Bapu was self-less action.
Even winning the war did not bring happiness. Along with tremendous losses, it brought only regret and remorse to all. It proved that mere material gains never brought peace within.
Krishna of Bhagavad-Gita is wisdom personified, to Gandhi. He might or might not be an incarnation of God. That point was immaterial. A person who thinks or acts ahead of his times and who is a deeply religious person, is considered
'avatarapurusha'. Bapu, saw complete emancipation in Lord Krishna.
Self realization or liberation may be the goal of Hindu philosophy. But for Gandhi, Gita's stress is on attaining liberation through selfless action. Renunciation of all desire of action was ultimate message, he writes.
Gandhi on BhagawadGita:
The Gita is the universal mother. She turns away nobody. Her door is wide open to anyone
who knocks. A true votary of Gita does not know what disappointment is. He ever dwells in
perennial joy and peace that passeth understanding. But that peace and joy come not to
skeptic or to him who is proud of his intellect or learning. It is reserved only for the
humble in spirit who brings to her worship a fullness of faith and an undivided singleness
of mind. There never was a man who worshipped her in that spirit and went disappointed. I
find a solace in the Bhagavad-Gita that I miss even in the Sermon on the Mount. When
disappointment stares me in the face and all alone I see not one ray of light, I go back
to the Bhagavad-Gita. I find a verse here and a verse there , and I immediately begin to
smile in the midst of overwhelming tragedies -- and my life has been full of external
tragedies -- and if they have left no visible or indelible scar on me, I owe it all to the
teaching of Bhagavad-Gita.