Thematic studies of गीता

Since every chapter of गीता has been assigned a name or title in गीता itself, one is left to wonder why one finds books on गीता, seeming to be thematic studies. Let me explain, what I mean by thematic studies.

Typical examples of studies, which appeal to me to be thematic studies are (1) लोकमान्य तिलक’’s commentary, to which he has assigned the title as कर्मयोगशास्त्र (2) Essays on the गीता by योगी श्रीअरविंद (3) ध्यानगीता or ध्यानोपकारिणी गीता by श्रीगुरुदेव रानडे (4) गीता as a Philosophy of God-Realization, this one also by श्रीगुरुदेव रानडे

A friend of mine gave me a compilation called as “तस्मात्-गीता” ! It is a compilation of all those shlokas, where the first line or the second line starts with the word “तस्मात्” ! Here, though the approach is novel, no specific theme is obvious or तस्मात् itself is the theme.

A book કર્મનો સિદ્ધાંત by શ્રી હીરાભાઈ ઠક્કર has already been translated in many languages. It is based on गीता only.

I also have with me a booklet “Discourses on The Gita” compiled from 18 letters on the 18 अध्याय-s of गीता, in Gujarati sent by Bapuji from Yeravda jail to Sabarmati Ashram. I call this a booklet, because all the letters on the 18 अध्याय-s together make just 73 pages of A5 size, approximately four A5 pages per अध्याय. Obviously there is no श्लोक-by-श्लोक interpretation. Each letter is like a short essay on each अध्याय. Curiously, he dwelt on the 12th अध्याय in his first of the 18 letters.

Discourses on The Gita is of course not the only writing of Bapuji on गीता. In the list of publications of नवजीवन प्रकाशन I also notice other booklets, especially, अनासक्तियोग and Message of the गीता.

Examples (1) (3) and (4) have specific themes – कर्मयोगशास्त्र, ध्यान and God-Realization, respectively. I am including Essays of योगी श्रीअरविंद also in this list, since every essay has a specific theme.

These examples make an interesting study, because they don’t give meaning and interpretation श्लोक-by-श्लोक, which is the style common in most other books on गीता.

Whereas these studies stand out different from other books on गीता, can they be considered extra (standing out different from) -ordinary (those having common, rather, commonplace approach) ?

Actually गीता-प्रवचने by आचार्य विनोबाजी have some scent of being thematic. The approach is not श्लोक-by-श्लोक. But the sequence of प्रवचन-s is by the chapter-numbers only. Yet there are 108 paras, if I may say so, serially numbered and every para has a thematic title or subtitle of its own.

कर्मयोगशास्त्र by Lokamanya Tilak has an alternative title as गीतारहस्य. However, for this write-up on Thematic Studies , I would like to call it by its title कर्मयोगशास्त्र, since this title declares its theme being कर्मयोग, i.e. more the कर्मयोग than any other योग. कर्मयोगशास्त्र has actually one main section. Then it has an appendix on गीतेचे बहिरंग-परीक्षण followed by meaning and interpretation श्लोक-by-श्लोक.

In the main section in कर्मयोगशास्त्र there are thoughts on different topics, which is similar to योगी श्रीअरविंद’s essays. Hence it should become interesting to make a comparative study of these two. It should be good to first list just the titles of chapters.

Titles of chapters in कर्मयोगशास्त्र – (1) विषयप्रवेश (2) कर्मजिज्ञासा (3) कर्मयोगशास्त्र (4) आधिभौतिक सुखवाद (5) सुखदुःखविवेक (6) आधिदैवतपक्ष व क्षेत्रक्षेत्रज्ञविचार (7) कपिलसांख्यशास्त्र किंवा क्षराक्षरविचार (8) विश्वाची उभारणी व संहारणी (9) अध्यात्म (10) कर्मविपाक व आत्मस्वातंत्र्य (11) संन्यास व कर्मयोग (12) सिद्धावस्था व व्यवहार (13) भक्तिमार्ग (14) गीताध्यायसंगति (15) उपसंहार

योगी श्रीअरविंद’s essays are in two series. Titles of essays in First series are – (1) Our demand and need from the Gita (2) The Divine Teacher (3) The Human Disciple (4) The Core of the Teaching (5) Kurukshetra (6) Man and the Battle of Life (7) The Creed of the Aryan Fighter (8) Sankhya and Yoga (9) Sankhya, Yoga and Vedanta (10) The Yoga of the Intelligent Will (11) Works and Sacrifice (12) The Significance of Sacrifice (13) The Lord of the Sacrifice (14) The Principle of Divine Works (15) The Possibility and Purpose of Avatarhood (16) The Process of Avatarhood (17) The Divine Birth and Divine Works (18) The Divine Worker (19) Equality (20) Equality and Knowledge (21) The Determination of Nature (22) Beyond the Modes of Nature (23) Nirvana and Works of the World (24) The Gist of the Karmayoga

The second series of essays is in two parts. Part 1 “The Synthesis of Works, Love and Knowledge”. Titles of essays in this – (1) The Two Natures (2) The Synthesis of Devotion and Knowledge (3) The Supreme Divine (4) The Secret of Secrets (5) The Divine Truth and Way (6) Works, Devotion and Knowledge (7) The Supreme Word of the Gita (8) God in Power of Becoming (9) The Theory of the Vibhuti (10) The Vision of the World-Spirit – Time the Destroyer (11) The Vision of the World-Spirit – The Double Aspect (12) The Way and the Bhakta.

Part 2 “The Supreme Secret” of the Second Series of essays have titles – (13) The Field and its Knowee (14) Above the Gunas (15) The Three Purushas (16) The Fullness of Spiritual Action (17) Deva and Asura (18) The Gunas, Faith and Works (19) The Gunas, Mind and Works (20) Swabhava and Swadharma (21) Towards the Supreme Secret (22) The Supreme Secret (23) Core of Gita’s Meaning (24) The Message of the Gita.

ध्यानगीता or ध्यानोपकारिणी गीता by श्रीगुरुदेव रानडे also has 12 अध्याय-s – (1) ईश्वरस्वरूपवर्णनम् with 31 श्लोकाः (2) ब्रह्मस्वरूपवर्णनम् with 22 श्लोकाः (3) जीवस्वरूपवर्णनम् with 28 श्लोकाः (4) निस्त्रैगुण्यविचारः with 38 श्लोकाः (5) प्रधानरिपुनिर्दलनम् with 17 श्लोकाः (6) सद्गुणसमुच्चयः with 57 श्लोकाः (7) कर्मयोगः with 31 श्लोकाः (8) ज्ञानयोगः with 21 श्लोकाः (9) ध्यानयोगः with 43 श्लोकाः (10) भक्तियोगः with 35 श्लोकाः (11) विश्वरूपदर्शनम् with 26 श्लोकाः (12) भगवदाश्वासनम् with 16 श्लोकाः That makes a total of 365 श्लोक-s out of 700 in गीता. It seems there are enough number of श्लोक-s in each अध्याय, so that one can develop 12 essays from these twelve अध्याय-s.

गीता as a Philosophy of God-Realization by श्रीगुरुदेव रानडे appeals to be the most scholarly among all the thematic studies. A glance at its Contents-list is sufficient to endorse this observation. There are five parts. Part 1 The Relation of the भगवद्गीता to ancient philosophical systems (3 chapters) Part 2 Vedantic and mystical interpretations of the भगवद्गीता (2 chapters) Part 3 The Labyrinth of Modern Interpretations (9 chapters) Part 4 The Clue through the Labyrinth (6 chapters) Part 5 Conclusion (1 chapter)

I may as well note the titles of all the 21 chapters. But immediately interesting to note should be the titles of the 9 chapters in Part 3 –  

  • Ch. 6 Interpolationism
  • Ch. 7 Devotionalism : Bhandarkar
  • Ch. 8 Christianism
  • Ch. 9 Buddhism : Buddhiraja
  • Ch 10 Activism : Tilak This seems to take note of कर्मयोगशास्त्र by लोकमान्य तिलक.
  • Ch. 11 Detachment : Gandhi. This seems to take note of अनासक्तियोग by Gandhiji
  • Ch. 12 Other Modern Prominent Interpreters.
  • Ch. 13 Numenism : Otto.
  • Ch. 14 Divinisation : Aurobindo. This seems to take note of Essays on the गीता by योगी श्रीअरविंद.

It seems that since गीता as a Philosophy of God-Realization by श्रीगुरुदेव रानडे has chapters taking note of other thematic studies, study of this book would save one the trouble of going through other studies. But I would rather not recommend this to myself, because it would mean getting a bias in my mind by श्रीगुरुदेव रानडे’s assessment of the other studies.

Not having a bias is useful. By that one can explore by oneself. Sometime back I was searching for the definition of कर्म in गीता. Since the third अध्याय has the title कर्मयोगः, I thought the definition should be there. But I came across a good definition, only in the eighth अध्याय, in भूतभावोद्भवकरो विसर्गः कर्मसंज्ञितः  I contend that this line in 8-3 is the exact place, where one gets definition of कर्म in गीता.

There would be any number of viewpoints to explore what गीता says or whether गीता is relevant in different contexts. All those explorations would require thematic studies.

  • Way back in 1979 in the silver jubilee convention of Bombay Productivity Council, I made an observation that in the context of industrial productivity, one generally finds the workers to be not as well tuned up to the corporate goals as the management staff. If this be due to lack of adequate motivation of the workers, it would be helpful to study गीता as a digest of the science and philosophy of motivation, because, गीता is all about motivation only.
  • In 1989 I was invited to give a talk on Management Challenges in the Third Millennium. I thought of applying the concept of statistical extrapolation to a database of Management Thought. I hit upon श्लोक 18-13 सांख्ये कृतान्ते प्रोक्तानि सिद्धये सर्वकर्मणाम् Of course सिद्धये सर्वकर्मणाम् means “for fulfillment of tasks”. Then I asked myself, “What is Management if not fulfillment of tasks ?”. So this श्लोक evidences Management thought in गीता. This श्लोक also evidences that this management thought is much older than गीता itself. It was being quoted in गीता from the सांख्य-philosophy, which dated back to कृतान्त, i.e. to end of कृतयुग. So this database of management thought is old enough to use for statistical extrapolation.

Certainly, such thematic studies is an interesting approach not only for a student of गीता, but to get guidance from this great ancient wisdom, especially, in the face of problems . But it cannot be an approach for a novice. Only a student, who has read through the entire गीता and somewhat assimilated the interpretation of all श्लोक-s can explore this wisdom to seek guidance in the face of problems. One needs to never think that गीता is so ancient. Can it offer solutions to modern day problems ? Basically problems are problems of the human mind. गीता resolves problems of the mind. Nine out of ten or rather ninety-nine out of hundred times, there would be a solution available in गीता.

शुभमस्तु !

Books mentioned in this article –

  1. गीतारहस्य/कर्मयोगशास्त्र by लोकमान्य तिलक
  2. Essays on the गीता by योगी श्रीअरविंद
  3. ध्यानगीता or ध्यानोपकारिणी गीता by श्रीगुरुदेव रानडे
  4. गीता as a Philosophy of God-Realization, this one also by श्रीगुरुदेव रानडे
  5. तस्मात्-गीता author unknown
  6. Discourses on The गीता by Mahatma Gandhi
  7. કર્મનો સિદ્ધાંત by શ્રી હીરાભાઈ ઠક્કર
  8. गीता-प्रवचने by आचार्य विनोबाजी
  9. अनासक्तियोग and Message of the गीता by Mahatma Gandhi