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From: biswa@watisit.uwaterloo.ca (Biswa Patnaik)
Subject: on reading The Gita
Message-ID: <Cq6BKv.FE3@watserv2.uwaterloo.ca>
Sender: news@watserv2.uwaterloo.ca
Organization: University of Waterloo
Date: Sat, 21 May 1994 22:24:30 GMT

Source: Essays on The Gita
by Sri Aurobindo Ghosh

			      Chapter I
		  Our Demand and Need from The Gita


It may therefore be useful in approaching an ancient Scripture, such
as the Veda, Upanishads or Gita, to indicate precisely the spirit in which
we approach it and what exactly we think we may derive from it that is
of value to humanity and its future.  First of all there is
undoubtably a Truth one and eternal which we are seeking, from which
all other truth derives, by the light of which all other truth finds
its right place, explanation and relation to the scheme of knowledge.
But precisely for that reason it can not be shut up in a single
trenchant formula, it is not likely to be found in its entirety or in
all its bearings in any single philosophy or Scripture or uttered
altogether and for ever by any one teacher, thinker, prophet, or
AvatAr.  Nor has it been wholly found by us if our view of it
necessitates the intolerant exclusion of the truth underlying other
systems; for when we reject passionately, we mean simply that we can
not appreciate and explain.  Secondly, this Truth, though it is one
and eternal, expresses itself in Time and through the mind of man;
therefore every Scripture must necessarily contain two elements, one
temporary, perishable, belonging to the ideas of the period and
country in which it was produced, the other eternal and
imperishable and applicable in all ages and countries.  Moreover, in
the statement of the Truth the actual form given to it, the system and
arrangement, the metaphysical and intellectual mould, the precise
expression used must be largely subject to the mutations of Time and
cease to have the same force; for the human intellect modifies itself
always; continually dividing and putting together it is obliged to
shift its divisions continually and to rearrange its syntheses;  it is
always leaving old expression and symbol for new or, if it uses the
old , it so changes its connotation or at least its exact content and
association that we can never be quite sure of understanding an
ancient book of this kind precisely in the sense and spirit it bore
to its contemporaries.  What is of entirely permanent value is that
which besides being universal has been experienced, lived and seen
with a higher than the intellectual vision.

I hold it therefore of small importance to extract from the Gita its
exact metaphysical connotation as it was understood by the men of the
time,-- even if that were accurately possible.  That it is not
possible, is shown by the divergence of the original commentaries
which have been and are still being written upon it; for they all
agree in each disagreeing with all the others, each finds in the Gita
its own system of metaphysics and trend of religious thought.  Nor
will even the most painstaking and disinterested scholarship and the
most luminous theories of the historical development of Indian
philosophy save us from inevitable error.  But what we can do with
profit is to seeking the Gita for the actual living truths it contains,
apart from their metaphysical form, to extract from it what can help
us or the world at large and to put it in the most natural and vital
form and expression we can find that will be suitable to the mentality
and helpful to the spiritual needs of our present-day humanity.  No
doubt, in this attempt we may mix a good deal of error born of our own
individuality and  of the ideas in which we live, as did greater men
before us, but if we steep ourselves in the spirit of this great
Scripture and, above all, if we have tried to live in that spirit, we
may be sure of finding in it as much real truth as we are capable of
receiving as well as  the spiritual influence and actual help that,
personally, we were intended to derive from it.  And that is after all
what Scriptures were written to give; the rest is academical
disputation or theoretical dogma.  Only those Scriptures, religions,
philosophies which can be thus constantly renewed, relived, their
stuff of permanent truth constantly reshaped and developed in the
inner thought and spiritual experience of a developing humanity,
continue to be of living importance to mankind. 


Like the earlier spiritual synthesis of the Upanishads this later
synthesis at once spiritual and intellectual avoids naturally every
such rigid determination of as would injure its universal
comprehensiveness.  Its aim is precisely the opposite to that of the
polemist commentators who found this Scripture established as one of
the three highest Vendantic authorities and attempted to turn it into
a weapon of offense and defense against other schools and systems.
The Gita is not a weapon for dialectical warfare; it is a gate opening
on the whole world of spiritual truth and experience and the view it
gives us embraces all provinces of that supreme region.  It maps out,
but it does not cut up or build walls or hedges to confine our vision.


We of the coming day stand at the head of a new age of development
which must lead to such a new and larger synthesis.  We are not called
upon to be orthodox Vedantins of any of the three schools or Tantrics
or to adhere to one of the theistic religions of the past or to
entrench ourselves within the four corners of the teaching of the
Gita.  That would be to limit ourselves and to attempt to create our
spiritual life out of the being, knowledge and nature of others, of the
men of the past, instead of building it out of our own being and
potentialities.  We do not belong to the past dawns, but to the noons
the future.  A mass of new material is flowing into us;  we have not
only to assimilate the influences of the great theistic religions
of India and of the world and a recovered sense of the meaning of
Buddhism, but to take full account of the potent though limited
revelations of modern knowledge and seeking;  and , beyond that, the
remote and dateless past which seemed to be dead is returning upon
us with an effulgence of many luminous secrets long lost to the
consciousness of mankind but now breaking out again from behind the
veil.  All this points to a new, a very rich, a very vast synthesis; a
fresh and widely embracing harmonization of our gains in both an
intellectual and a spiritual necessity of the future.  But just as the
past syntheses have taken those which preceded them for their starting
point, so also must that of the future, to be on firm ground, proceed
from what the great bodies of realized spiritual thought and
experience in the past have given.  Among them the Gita takes a most
important place.

Our object, then, in studying the Gita will not be a scholastic or
academical scrutiny of its thought, nor to place its philosophy in
the history of metaphysical speculation, nor shall we deal with it in
the manner of the analytical dialectician.  We approach it for help and
light and our aim must be to distinguish its essential and living
message, that in it on which humanity has to seize for its perfection and
its highest spiritual welfare.


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