By Bal Gangadhar Tilak
We are republishing an essay written by Tilak on his book Gita Rahasya and the reasons he wrote it.
Let me begin by telling you what induced me to take up the study of Bhagavad Gita. When I was quite a boy, I was often told by my elders that strictly religious and really philosophic life was incompatible with the hum-drum life of every day. If one was ambitious enough to try to attain Moksha, the highest goal a person could attain, then he must divest himself of all earthly desires and renounce this world. One could not serve two masters, the world and God. I understood this to mean that if one would lead a life which was the life worth living, according to the religion in which I was born, then the sooner the world was given up the better. This set me thinking. The question that I formulated for myself to be solved was: Does my religion want me to give up this world and renounce it before I attempt to, or in order to be able to, attain the perfection of manhood? In my boyhood I was also told that Bhagavad Gita was universally acknowledged to be a book containing all the principles and philosophy of the Hindu religion, and I thought if this be so I should find an answer in this book to my query; and thus began my study of the Bhagavad Gita. I approached the book with a mind prepossessed by no previous ideas about any philosophy, and had no theory of my own for which I sought any support in the Gita. A person whose mind is prepossessed by certain ideas reads the book with a prejudiced mind, for instance, when a Christian reads it he does not want to know what the Gita says but wants to find out if there are any principles in the Gita which he has already met within Bible, and if so the conclusion he rushes to is that the Gita was copied from the Bible. I have dealt with this topic in my book Gita Rahasya and I need hardly say much about it here, but what I want to emphasize is this, that when you want to read and understand a book, especially a great work like the Gita---you must approach it with an unprejudiced and unprepossessed mind.
To do this, I know, is one of the most difficult things. Those who profess to do it may have a lurking thought or prejudice in their minds which vitiates the reading of the book to some extent. However I am describing to you the frame of mind one must get into if one wants to get at the truth and however difficult it be, it has to be done. The next thing one has to do is to take into consideration the time and the circumstances in which the book was written and the purpose for which the book was written. In short the book must not be read devoid of its context. This is especially true about a book like Bhagavad Gita. Various commentators have put as many interpretations on the book, and surely the writer or composer could not have written or composed the book for so many interpretations being put on it. He must have but one meaning and one purpose running through the book, and that I have tried to find out. I believe I have succeeded in it, because having no theory of mine for which I sought any support from the book so universally respected, I had no reason to twist the text to suit my theory. There has not been a commentator of the Gita who did not advocate a pet theory of his own and has not tried to support the same by showing that the Bhagavad Gita lent him support. The conclusion I have come to is that the Gita advocates the performance of action in this world even after the actor has achieved the highest union with the Supreme Deity by Gnana (knowledge) or Bhakti (Devotion). This action must be done to keep the world going by the right path of evolution which the Creator has destined the world to follow. In order that the action may not bind the actor it must be done with the aim of helping his purpose, and without any attachment to the coming result.
This I hold is the lesson of the Gita. Gnanayoga there is, yes. Bhaktiyoga there is, yes. Who says not? But they are both subservient to the Karmayoga preached in the Gita. If the Gita was preached to desponding Arjuna to make him ready for the fight--for the action--how can it be said that the ultimate lesson of the great book is Bhakti or Gnana alone? In fact there is blending of all these Yogas in the Gita and as the air is not Oxygen or Hydrogen or any other gas alone but a composition of all these in a certain proportion so in the Gita all these Yogas are blended into one.
I differ from almost all the commentators when I say that the Gita enjoins action even after the perfection in Gnana and Bhakti is attained and the Deity is reached through these mediums. Now there is a fundamental unity underlying the Logos (Ishwara), man, and world. The world is in existence because the Logos has willed it so. It is His Will that holds it together. Man strives to gain union with God; and when this union is achieved the individual Will merges in the mighty Universal Will. When this is achieved will the individual say: “I shall do no action, and I shall not help the world”---the world which is because the Will with which he has sought union has willed it to be so? It does not stand to reason. It is not I who say so; the Gita says so. Shri Krishna himself says that there is nothing in all the three worlds that He need acquire, and still he acts. He acts because if He did not, the world’s Will will be ruined. If man seeks unity with the deity, he must necessarily seek unity with the interests of the world also, and work for it. If he does not, then the unity is not perfect, because there is union between two elements out of the 3 (man and Deity) and the third (the world) is left out. I have thus solved the question for myself and I hold that serving the world, and thus serving his Will, is the surest way of Salvation, and this way can be followed by remaining in the world, and not going away from it.