Evolution of the Vedic Spirit: A Psychological Perspective- III-M.S. Srinivasan

The Synthesis of the Gita

We have become so familiar with the Gita’s message we think we have “understood” this profound spiritual classic.  While lauding its “eternal message which is relevant for all time” we have missed its specific relevance for the future of mankind.

Here  it would be interesting to narrate a traditional Indian lore  about Gita,  which  like  all ancient lores,  hold  within  a  web  of hyperbolic exaggeration, a great truth about Gita.  This traditional lore asks who knows  the  whole message of the Gita and goes on to say  that  Lord  Krishna knows  the entire truth of Gita, Vyasa who has composed it knows much of  it, Arjuna to whom its message is revealed knows a little bit of it and others  no nothing of it.  Perhaps all the great illustrious commentators of the past  on the  Gita  knew like Arjuna only a little bit of its message.   But  as  Gita itself points out, even a little bit of its immortalising Dharma can save  man from  the  “great fear” so even if a fragment of the truth of  Gita’s  message which  comes  through the commentaries of the great spiritual minds  of  India could  be  made a part of human consciousness, it will guide  humanity  safely towards  its evolutionary future.

The most glaring lacuna in the past commentaries of Gita is the lack of appreciation of the importance of Gita in understanding some of the central intuitions of the Vedas.  For example, the inner meaning of the Vedic concept and practice of Sacrifice was revealed in the Gita with a luminous intellectual clarity and its philosophic and psychological significance laid bare divested of all mystic, symbolic and ritualistic veils. Gita gives  an  entirely philosophic  and  psychological  meaning to the concept  of  sacrifice,  yagna.  “With sacrifice” says the Gita “the Lord of creatures of old created creatures and said, by this shall you bring forth fruits, let this be your milker of desires.  Foster by this the gods and let the gods foster you; fostering each other, you shall attain to the supreme good.  Fostered by sacrifice, the gods shall give you desired enjoyment; who enjoys their given enjoyments and has not given to them, he is a thief.  The good are those who eat what is left from the sacrifice, and they are released from all sin; but evil are they and enjoy sin who cook (the food) for their own sake.”  And in another verse  Gita  describes  the spiritual  significance  of sacrifice: “Brahman is the giver, Brahman  is  the food-offering, by Brahman it is offered into the Brahman-fire, Brahman is that which is to be attained by samadhi in Brahman-action”.  These two verses bring out clearly the Law of unity and mutual Interdependent of existence which is the spiritual and psychological rationale of sacrifice.

But the greatest contribution of the Gita is that it gives a simple but very effective psychological discipline by which the Vedic concept of sacrifice can be lived inwardly and the whole of life can be made into a living and devoted sacrifice to the Eternal.  In the Gita’s disciplines of karma yoga  we have  a simple, non-ritualistic, easy-to-understand method of  self-discipline which can be practiced by any one with a minimum of intelligence and can  give a  total  spiritual  motivation  and  direction to  the  entire  life  of  the individual.   To be more specific, Gita provides the most effective and powerful discipline for the spiritual transformation of the dynamic will in man, which is turned towards action, and driven by desire.  In otherwords, the Vedic Spirit acquires a new form and discipline accessible  to and  realisable by the vital will in man and creates the possibility  for  the spiritual  light  and power to descend into and  take possession of  this  part  of human nature.

So, if Upanishad opens the possibility for the spiritual light and power to descent into and spiritualise the intelligence, in Gita’s karma yoga this possibility descends further down into the dynamic vital will.  But the vital being in man is not only a being of desire and action but also the seat of feelings, emotions and sensations.  No real spiritual transformation is possible without the transformation of this emotional being in man.  This is the aim of the Bhakthi Yoga of Gita.  If the aim of karma yoga of the  Gita is to turn the vital will in man to God, the aim of Gita’s yoga of devotion is to turn  he  emotional being to God.  This is sought to be done by turning the feelings and emotions with a deep love and adoration to the Godhead as the divine dwelling within the heart of every human being.  There is an element of devotion in the Vedic and Upanishadic Yoga.  But it is mainly made of worship and submission.  The Gita  brings  in  the element  of  deep  and intimate adoration of the  indwelling  Godhead  and  an enlightened surrender of the whole being, especially the dynamic being in  man driven by desire and the urge for action, to the divine Person and His Will.

The Path of Vaishnava Yoga

But only in the Vaishnava Yoga, the concept of Bhakthi attains a concentrated intensity by bringing in the element of intense personal intimacy and richness to the relations between man and God.  This spiritual potentiality or possibility of an intimate personal relation with the indwelling godhead revealed in Vaishnavism was further explored by the later bhakthi schools in India in the form of a many-sided relationship with the Divine as Father, Mother, Friend, Lover, Child, turning all these human relationships and the corresponding emotions Godward.

Vaishnavism lacks the dynamic integrality and comprehensiveness of Gita’s Yoga it is only a specialised and exclusive cut-view or by – paths of Gita’s vast and integral synthetic vision.  But Vaishnavism explores certain new spiritual possibilities of the emotional being in man which remained either unexplored or underdeveloped in the earlier spiritual systems.   One  of  this  possibility  is  the  complete  spiritual transformation  of  the  emotional being of man by turning  all  his  emotions including some of his negative emotions like anger, hatred, iealousy, sex etc. towards  God.

This is to a certain extent a revolutionary spiritual innovation.   In the earlier yogas, the leading power of yoga is either the will or the higher thinking intelligence.  The emotional being is  stilled and  subjected  to  the control of Buddhi, the thinking  intelligence;  it  is allowed  to  have  only those feelings permitted by the Buddhi.   But in the vaishnava yoga the situation is riversed.  The emotional being is made the leading power of yoga and the Buddhi is subordinated to it.  The emotions are allowed free play in the entire range of its feeling from the sublime, not-so-sublime and the lower passions, but all directed to the indwelling Divine with the faith that this will purify and transform the emotions.  How far and to what extent this faith and the method is valid or effective in the transformation of the emotional being is a controversial question.   There is a deep psychological insight behind the Vaishnava yoga.  But in applying this insight to practical sadhana we cannot say that the Vaishnava yoga succeeded entirely in transforming the emotional being.  But from an evolutionary perspective, the attempt of the Vaishnava yoga to spiritualize the emotional being, by turning even the negative emotions towards the Divine is a great experiment in the spiritual history of humanity.

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