Some Loud Thinking About the Bhagavadgita

G. Ramakrishna

Karl Marx pointed out that truly human liberation is to achieved only by breaking every kind of bondage that mankind has been subjected to in the course of the evolution of society through different social formations. Emancipation has its philosophers even as oppression has its agents and defenders. Marx as the most thoroughgoing scientific analyst of society has also indicated that the roots of religion are essentially earthly and hence the tent of heaven cannot be pulled down by remaining in the clouds. From the point of view of the emancipation‑seekers, therefore, Marx is the most profound philosopher and guide. In the specific context of Indian philosophy and class struggles the Bhagavadgita has been the most formidable weapon for the ruling classes and remains a significant document to be countered by Marxism whose polaric opposite the Bhagavadgita is.

Mystification and awe‑inspiring pronouncements are the stock in trade of the philosophy of the oppressors and the Bhagavadgita abounds in such apparently invincible final truths. That irrelevancies hardly bother the hardcore votaries of idealism is amply illustrated by the method and design of the Bhagavadgita. A more pernicious text in the field of Indian philosophy is almost impossible to come by. Such is the character of this text in the range of Indian religion.

The most unalloyed idealistic merchandise is made to appear quite glittering and glamorous by the author of Gita who is the most sophisticated janitor that. the ruling classes have found among the intellectual justifiers of the horrors of oppression and crime. Milton wrote the epic Paradise Lost to justify the ways of god to man. The most powerful shield that the ruling class has possessed in history is the mood of acceptance among the masses, for, if an idea that grips the minds of the masses is a material force, it does not really matter whether  it is the idea of submission or revolt that so grips the minds; each will have  its own hold on the minds and also act as the motivating force for further action or inaction, as the case may be. The clever rationaliser that the author of the Gita is induces inaction. Paradoxically enough, this message of inaction is couched in the language of dynamic action in the Gita. Even some scholars devoted to dialectical and historical materialism have averred at times that the impact of the Gita is fundamentally that the lethargic and astounded Arjuna was made a violent resister, and so on. But all this facile deduction may be tantalising as a rhapsody only for those who like to excel the falsifiers of philosophy by adding their own contribution to the act of falsification.

Take any ancient treatise and there is room for discussion from various angles mainly because different shades of opinion are usually reflected in these treatises. The Veda and Upanisads belong to this category. The Veda and Upanisads are not texts with a single track, and a blind track at that. Phases of the changing society are recognisable therein. The dialogues among the philosophers of the Upanisads are not the despair of a scientific socialist for the simple reason that those philosophers consciously admit the possibility of the materialist point of view as a basis for discussion. The Buddhist texts and texts of later philosophical schools, especially the later, may take pains to discredit materialism, but they don't dismiss it offhandedly and abrasively. That is the extraordinary prerogative the Gita enjoys.

The author of the Gita is the official spokesman of the ruling class in the sphere of philosophy and it is his speciality that he gives fine finishing touches to a sordid philosophical junk. Take an average teacher of Indian philosophy in an Indian university of today. Chances are that he is blissfully ignorant of the dichotomy between idealism and materialism in the stream of philosophical disquisition through the ages even in India. He is the ‘justifier' and ‘rationaliser' of the system for which ideal ism is the typical philosophy An enlightened observer of our society today cannot miss what the professor of philosophy so schemingly misses. And that is why he is the official spokesman. To put it rather bluntly, a painstaking journalist is more relevant and useful than such an official spokesman. In the context of the professor of philosophy, namely the author of the Gita, it is necessary to look for the enlightened journalists of the period to which the Gita belongs so that the distortions and manipulations of the official spokesman may be recognised.

The Dharmasastrakaras are better and more honest chroniclers than the author of the Gita in so far as they present their crude formulas about social structure and social stratification without any inhibitions. They are mercenaries straight and simple. Their spots are thus easy to discover and guard against. But the polished tongue of the author of the Gita conceals the venomous trick that he is out to perform in favour of his masters. His armoury of wisecracks provides the smokescreen for the vicious role that he has chosen to play as the voice of the oppressing class. How else can we understand the Gita's enunciation of the caste system as a divine ordinance, but based on ‘guna' and ‘karma', as opposed to the brazen‑faced declaration of the Dharmasastrakaras that it is a division entirely based on the criterion of birth? Practice is the litmus test for ascertaining the credibility of these differing claims of the Gita and the lawgivers; that the law‑givers are nearer the truth is obvious. Still, the Gita speaks of the ennobling criterion and gives the padding of svadharme nidhanam sreyah, etc.

A close look at the first chapter of the Gita reveals to us that it is the best part of the Gita as that is the only scientific part of it. The forceful and inevitable questions that the supposedly panic‑stricken Arjuna raises are the questions of a responsible sociologist. The next seventeen chapters are the answers of a windbag in that nowhere do we find the least evidence that the author has any sensible answers to the fundamental questions raised in the first chapter. The questions are real and they cannot be ignored by the philosophers of the ruling class. His answer, however, is full of rationalisations and obscurantism.

This can well be demonstrated:

Gita 1.28 tells us that Arjuna was overcome with feelings of concern for his fellowmen. He was frustrated with thoughts of destruction. It was ethical consciousness which pervaded the mind of Arjuna (1.36). There was, of course, also a sense of egoism, presumptuousness and arrogance in him when he together with his preceptor described himself as the illumined (1.39). But the main question was: Svajanam hi katham hatva sukhinah syama madhava? (1.37) The philosopher's agony was that the well settled order of hierarchy was going to be disturbed. Varnasamkara is the menace that threatens him. But there is some mild joke here when the author of the Gita puts the question like one of the orthodox brahmins might put it today. Utsadyante jatidharmah kuladharmasca sasvatah, he says. If they are really ‘sasvatah', then where is the fear of their collapsing in a war crisis? The social catastrophe, with the old order displaced, is round the corner for the author and he must stall it. His next seventeen chapters are there to perform this feat.

How does the author achieve it? His first appeal is to fame, dignity, and prestige of Arjuna (BG. 2. 2‑3). But Arjuna again comes up with the doubts of his success in war. Moreover, there are pujarhah among the opponents; they are not just tribals like Hidimba! But the climax of it is that the author creates the ideological framework for his class by first creating a halo round the head of the preceptor of Arjuna (2.7).

Look at the concrete questions of Arjuna and the abstract answers of his preceptor beginning with 2.11. The scientists of Los Alamos are put to shame by Krsna who non‑chalantly speaks of the stupidity of those who grieve over the dead! Immediately thereafter we have some inane declarations none of which are great discoveries made by Krsna for the first time (2‑13: dehino'smin yatha dehe kaumaram yauvanam jara, etc). But the analogy is supposed to corroborate something said in 2.12: Na tvevaham jatu nasam na tvam neme janadhipah; na caiva na bhavisyamah sarve vayamatah param. Arjuna becomes gullible with these verbal gimmicks. If it is true that there is no existence prima facie, as Krsna wants to suggest and prove, then where is the need to fight? If there is no killer and killed, a fight is as meaningless as reluctance to fight. And yet Krsna is all the time proving to Arjuna that a fight is more natural and hesitation unnatural. If there is no killer and killed, it follows that there is no victor and vanquished. So, why indulge in the luxury of a fight? And ultimately, when Krsna does induce Arjuna to fight, it is not a fight against any known social evil, it is against one's fellow‑beings. Giving some allegorical meaning to the Gita will not help us much in this regard because the basic question of philosophy tackled here does not vary. The attempt of the author is to confound those who seek right answers to social questions. Thus he starts off with a puzzling and mystifying 'Na jayate mriyate va kadachit. . .'; unfortunately, the question of Arjuna was not that at all. Where is Krsna's reply to the query of Arjuna: Aho bata mahatpapam kartum vyavasita vayam; yadrajyasukhalobhena hantum svajanamudyatah (1.45)? It is a sociological quandary to which a mystifying high philosophy dish is served by Krsna. The totally uncalled for jugglery of ‘nainam chindanti sastrani . . .' is the awe‑inspiring chain that the philosopher, as the defender of the ruling class is presenting to the masses. If Arjuna averred that war is evil and thereby betrayed some sign of a civilized approach, Krsna the divine declared that it is muck and colossal ignorance to think so. Justification?—Acchedyoyam adahyoyam akledyoyam asos yoyam, etc. He reinforces this philosophical obscurantism with the legend that you must be a slave to your duty (2.31: Svadharmamapi caveks ya na vikampitumarhasi; dharmaddhi yuddhacchreyo' nyat ksatriyasya na vidyate). It is almost like the dictum and the homily administered to the GI's by Nixon and Johnson during the crusade against communism myth in Vietnam. As if this were not enough, he makes Arjuna feel intimate with heaven also because 'sukhinah ksatriyah partha labhante yuddhamidrsam' (2.32). What a shame really that there are crazy people who decry war as a scourge on mankind! They must take their first lessons in morality and duty from Sri Krsna Bhagavan!

The foulness of the design of the author of the Gita is quite unmistakable. Look at 2.33 to 38. Arjuna dear, if you don't fight, your dharma and kirti will be gone. You are a sambhavita and that position will be lost. And dread it you must because it is worse than death. Those who look upon you as a man of greatness and integrity will look down upon you. They will make a scandal of it, etc., All Goebbelsian talk. Why should Krsna want Arjuna to worry about all these things if as he had said earlier the soul of man is acchedya, etc.?

The voluble preceptor has held the mind of Arjuna captive with fine abstract mystifying words and concepts; so much so, at the end of the preceptor's discourse in which there is not a word by way of a direct answer to the questions raised by the pupil. Arjuna asks the master to hold forth a little more about the character of the sthitaprajna instead of simply reiterating his earlier question by pointing out to the master that his question had not been answered at all. Self‑abnegation is made the most virtuous value in the course of the next discourse on sthitaprajna. (It is not without reason then that the Gandhian hypocrites have found in this part of the Gita their gospel.) Joy in status quo, helplessness, submission, illusory happiness, aversion for fulfilment and the like are extolled in hyperbolic language. The result is that the enquirer's mind is stunted in its growth, its virility is gone, and it meekly surrenders to the ‘great and the noble'. It is needless to say that all this is rich with the potential to check social change and class struggle. The best fortress for the ruling class is the inert mind of the oppressed people. The Gita has for its purpose the transformation of a questioning mind into a dead mind. And that is precisely the reason why the misleading importance of the Gita needs to be exposed fully in our fight against idealism. There is no text in the whole range of Indian Philosophy which is replete with naked idealism and obscurantism so grievously as the Bhagavadgita. It is no surprise, therefore, that it is extolled as the text par excellence by all the footmen of feudalism and the staunch brokers of capitalism.


SOURCE: Ramakrishna, G. “Some Loud Thinking About the Bhagavadgita,” in Marxism and Indology, edited by Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya (Calcutta; New Delhi: K. P. Bagchi & Company, 1981), pp. 216-221.


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