VI. THE GITA. Asceticism and Renunciation (II)

 

In the preceding essay it has been said that the Discipline (Dharma) spoken of in the Gita can be followed by everyone; it is open to all. And yet the supreme status in this Discipline is not a whit less than that of any other. The Discipline of the Gita is the Discipline of desireless works. In this country with the resurgence of Aryan Discipline a flood of asceticism has spread everywhere. A man seeking Raja-yoga cannot rest content with the life or the work of a householder. For the practice of his yoga he needs to make tremendously laborious efforts to be able to meditate and concentrate. A slight mental disturbance or contact with the outside upsets the poise of meditation or completely destroys it. Difficulties of this kind one meets abundantly in home-life. Therefore it is quite natural for those who are born with an urge for yoga, derived from past lives, to turn towards asceticism. When such souls with an inborn yogic urge begin to increase in number and by contagion to spread among the youthful generation a strong movement to asceticism, the doors are opened indeed for the good of the country, in one sense; but also along with the good there arise causes for apprehension. It is said that the ascetic discipline is the very best, but very few are competent to follow it. The incompetent who enter the path go a certain distance and then in the midway stop short through a kind of satisfaction arising from lethargy and inertia. One can in this way pass one’s life upon earth in ease, but then one does no good to the world and also it becomes very difficult for such a one to rise to the higher reaches of the world. The time and the circumstances in which we are at present demand that we awaken the qualities of dynamic energy (Rajas) and luminous poise (Sattwa), that is to say, activity and knowledge, discarding the qualities of inertia and devote ourselves to the service of the country and the world so that we may rejuvenate the moral and spiritual strength of our land. This is our foremost duty today. We have to re-create an Aryan people rich with knowledge and power and wide catholicity, from out of the womb of this people weak and worn out, weighed down with inertia, narrowed into selfish bounds. It is for this reason that so many souls, full of strength and yogic power, are being born in Bengal. If such people attracted by the charm of asceticism abandon their true law of life and their God-given work, then with the destruction of their true law the nation too will perish. The younger generation seems to imagine that the stage of the student (Brahmacharya) is the time fixed for the acquisition of education and character. The next stage as fixed is that of the householder. And when one has assured the preservation of the family and the future building of the Aryan race and thus freed oneself from the debts to the ancestors and also when one has paid off one’s debts to society by the acquisition of wealth and by useful service and when one has paid off one’s debts to the world by spreading knowledge and beneficence and love and strength and finally when one has been able to satisfy the Mother of the worlds by one’s unstinted labour and high service for the good of Mother India, then it will not be amiss to retire from the world into the forest (Vanaprastha), and take to the ascetic life. Otherwise there arises confusion of social values and growing dominance of the wrong law. I do not speak of young ascetics who have been freed from all debts in a previous life; but it would be wrong for one who has not made himself ready for asceticism to take to it. Great and magnanimous Buddhism has done no doubt immense good to the country, yet no less harm, because of asceticism spreading everywhere and the warrior class (Kshatriya) renouncing their appointed function; and in the end, itself was banished from the country. In the new age the new dispensation must not admit this error.

In the Gita Sri Krishna has time and again directed Arjuna not to follow asceticism. Why? He admits the virtue of Sannyasa and yet, in spite of the repeated questionings of Arjuna overwhelmed as he was with the spirit of asceticism, abnegation and altruism, Sri Krishna never withdrew his injunctions with regard to the path of action. Arjuna asked, “If desireless Intelligence, founded in Yoga, is greater than karma, then why do you engage me in this terrible work of slaying my elders?” Many have repeated the question of Arjuna, some even have not hesitated to call him the worst Teacher, one who shows the wrong way. In answer, Sri Krishna has explained that renunciation is greater than asceticism, to remember God and do one’s appointed work without desire is far greater than freedom to do as one likes. Renunciation means renunciation of desire, renunciation of selfishness. And to learn that renunciation one need not take refuge in solitude. That lesson has to be learnt through work in the field of work; work is the means to climb upon the path of yoga. This world of varied play has been created for the purpose of bringing delight to its creatures. It is not God’s purpose that this game of delight should cease. He wants the creatures to become his comrades and playmates, to flood the world with delight. We are in the darkness of ignorance; that is because, for the sake of the play the Lord has kept himself aloof and thus surrounded himself with obscurity. Many are the ways fixed by him which, if followed would take one out of the darkness, bring him into God’s company. If any one is not interested in the play and desires rest, God will fulfil his desire. But if one follows His way for His sake, then God chooses him, in this world or elsewhere as His fit playmate. Arjuna was Krishna’s dearest comrade and playmate, therefore he received the teaching of the Gita’s supreme secret. What that supreme secret is I tried to explain in a previous context. The Divine said to Arjuna, “It is harmful to the world to give up work, to give up work is the spirit of asceticism. And an asceticism without renunciation is meaningless. What one gains by asceticism one gains also by renunciation, that is to say, the freedom from ignorance, equanimity, power, delight, union with Sri Krishna. Whatever the man worshipped by all does, people take that as the ideal and follow it. Therefore, if you give up work through asceticism, all will follow that path and bring about the confusion of social values, and the reign of the wrong law. If you give up the desire for the fruit of action and pursue man’s normal law of life, inspire men to follow each his own line of activity, then you will unite with my Law of life and become my intimate friend”. Sri Krishna explains furthermore that the rule is to follow the right path through works and finally at the end of the path attain quietude, that is to say, renounce all sense of being the doer. But this is not renunciation of work through asceticism, this is to give up all vital urge to action involving immense labour and effort through the rejection of egoism and through union with the Divine — and transcending all gunas, to do works as an instrument impelled by His force. In that state it is the permanent consciousness of the soul that he is not the doer, he is the witness, part of the Divine; it is the Divine Power that works through his body created for action by his own inner law of being. The soul is the witness and enjoyer, Nature is the doer, the Divine is the giver of sanction. The being so illumined does not seek to help or hinder any work that the Divine Power undertakes. Submitted to the Shakti, the body and mind and intellect engage themselves in the work appointed by God. Even a terrible massacre like that of Kurukshetra cannot stain a soul with sin if it is sanctioned by God, if it occurs in the course of the fulfilment of one’s own dharma (Inner Law), but only a few can attain to this knowledge and this goal. It cannot be the law of life for the common man. What then is the duty for the common wayfarers? Even for them the knowledge that ‘He is the Lord, I am the instrument’ is to a certain extent within their reach. Through this knowledge to remember always the Divine and follow one’s inner law of life is the direction that has been given.

“Better is one’s own law of works, swadharma though in itself faulty, than an alien law well wrought out; death in one’s own law of being is better, perilous is it to follow an alien law.”[1]

One’s own law of life (swadharma) means the work governed by one’s own nature (swabhava); one’s own nature evolves and develops in the course of time. In the process of Time man develops a general nature of his own; the works determined by this formulation of nature is the law of that age. In the process of a nation’s life-movement the nation’s own nature is built up and the works determined by that nature are the nation’s law of life. And in the course of the life-movement of an individual, the special nature he develops, determines the work that becomes the individual’s law of life. These various laws of life are united together, organised in a common ideal which is that of the Eternal Law. This law is one’s own law for all who seek to follow the true law. As a spiritual student (brahmachari) one follows this law to gather knowledge and strength. As a householder also one follows this law. And when one has completely fulfilled this law, then one becomes eligible for the final stages, Vanaprastha or Sannyasa. Such is the eternal movement of the eternal law.

(Dharma, No. 3, September 1909)

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  1. Gita: III. 35.[]