Saturday, 3 February 2018

The Gita, Gandhi - Vidyashankar Sundaresan

(via Vidyasankar Sundaresan's thread)
- In any act of killing, or even just plain old uninteresting death due to old age, it is the body that dies, not the AtmA. However, that is not license to kill as one wills! Every teaching of the Gita revolves around the notion of sva-dharma. What I also left unsaid was that Godse killed Gandhi's body, but not the ideas and concepts that Gandhi stood for. They will endure for a long time to come, no matter whether I or anybody else agrees or disagrees with his interpretation of the Gita!
- Krishna also repeatedly tells Arjuna "Yuddhysva vigatajwarah" etc and urges him to fight and kill in the cause of Dharma. Dharma is not decided by one's own thinking or else any clever lawyer can justify any action! "Tasmaat shastram pramaaNam te kaaryaakarya vyavasthitau" cautions the Lord indicating that Shastra is the standard by which actions good or bad are to be measured,
- I find it quite fascinating that so many Hindus are ambivalent apologists for political assassination of an unarmed old man for his ideas by one who could not compete with the ideas. And like the Bible, The Gita too was written by human beings over several centuries. Hindu progandist website promote the idea that the phrase "Ahimsa Paramo Dharmaha" was coined and promoted by Mahatma Gandhi. The phrase seems to have its origins in the Mahabharata itself. But perhaps the wily old man inserted it there: 
अहिंसा परमॊ धर्मस तथाहिंसा परॊ दमः।
अहिंसा परमं दानम अहिंसा परमस तपः।
अहिंसा परमॊ यज्ञस तथाहिस्मा परं बलम।
अहिंसा परमं मित्रम अहिंसा परमं सुखम।
अहिंसा परमं सत्यम अहिंसा परमं शरुतम॥ 
The Phrase is also in the Adi Parva itself. There is also the statement by Yudhistra in the Mahaprasthanika Parva: 
I never give up a person that is terrified,
nor one that is devoted to me,
nor one that seeks my protection,
nor one who is afflicted or destitute,
nor one that is weak in protecting oneself,
I shall never give up such a one till my own life is at an end.
- Interesting viewpoint, Shankar. The phrase ahiMsA paramo dharmaH is indeed ancient, but those ancient texts also didn't call upon all human beings to adhere to this parama dharma all the time. There is no one size fits all prescription here. The text that defines ahimsA as the highest dharma is also an epic poem that describes some of the goriest himsA around! This is because any talking of parama dharma in it is balanced out by a finely tuned sense of sva-dharma. Of course, today, any talk of sva-dharma gets bogged down in the intractable issue of caste and the Arundhati Roys of India and her admirers will jump up with accounts of Gandhi vs. Ambedkar on that front.
It is unfortunate that only a lunatic fringe in Hindu society is highly vocal about differing from Gandhi on the Gita. However, I think those Hindus who are ambivalent about Mahatma Gandhi's insistence on his personal view of ahimsA, at the cost of all else, are not necessarily apologists for his assassin. One can objectively analyze the Mahatma's interpretation of the Gita and even disagree with it, without thereby somehow casting one's lot with Godse automatically. Interpreting the Gita in widely differing ways has been going on for at least two millenia and will go on for more millenia to come, so Mahatma Gandhi's take on the text is by no means the definitive end of it. As for Godse, his interpretation of the Gita doesn't bear any serious scrutiny. People remember him as a murderer, but he too martyred himself, at least in the eyes of a small section of people.
All this talk of martyrdom is itself quite alien to Hindu thinking. If I want an Indian translation of the word martyr, I can't come up with a single Tamil or Sanskrit origin word for it. A vIra is a hero, not exactly a martyr. I can only use the word shahid, which came to us from Arabic, a thousand or so years ago. I think it would be far better for both Gandhi-ists and Godse-ists, not to base their notions of martyrdom on the Gita!
Rahul Banerjee The Gita is a mixed bag and its justification of killing in chapter three is extremely specious.
Vidyasankar Sundaresan Not to enter into a discussion of the Gita, but seriously, standing there between two mighty armies, but faced with an Arjuna who was willing to cut and run, after all the history that went behind the war, what other kind of advice should Krishna have given there? It is not a justification for killing, it is about searching for the correct reasons, the higher principles and about being willing to stake one's all for them.
Rahul Banerjee the Quraan also talks of killing due to the special adverse circumstances in which the early Muslims under Prophet Mohammad found themselves in. One should not read too much into the context in which something is said in the scriptures as an excuse for condoning specious argumentation in support of killing as a general principle. If there is greed then there will be killing also both in aggression and defence. it is as simple as that. but that does not in any way justify killing as a principle. Instead it is greed that has to be reined in. The Gita towards the end of chapter two from verse 47 onwards gives an excellent exposition of how to avoid greed of all kinds and those verses to my mind are unparalleled in global philosophical exposition.
Aparna Krishnan Though every human foible is clearly addressed in the Mahabharatha, regarding the war itself there is also the fact that the demand was brought down to five villages, to avert war. After that when upholding dharma demands himsa, I suppose it takes that path. Sama, dana, bheda, danda. Gandhi could have differed in his interpretation - that is Gandhi's own choice, thats all.

S R Suryanarayanan This article appeared in Young India.
Gandhi's idea on Ahimsa was broad and also in consonance with Bhagvat Gita.

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