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Why we need to remember Krishna & the Gita's teachings

August 10, 2012 17:07 IST

The decline in society began when we reduced the message of Gita to fatalism. We are forever waiting for a messiah to come and rescue us as promised in Gita. But we have forgotten the central message of Gita to do our 'karma' or duty without the attachment to rewards and its fruit, says Colonel (retd) Anil Athale.

Being a confirmed agnostic (one who is not sure about existence of God) almost bordering on an atheist, I have been often questioned as to why I fast on Janmashtami! The answer to this has been that Krishna was possibly the greatest human being that strode on this earth and it is in fitness of things that he is remembered at least once in a year!

There have been many prophets and sages in the course of human history but none as versatile as Krishna! His genius is truly multifaceted, being a philosopher, warrior, a diplomat, a great lover and musician/dancer. The Bhagvat Gita that encapsulates his philosophy of life has been an inspiration for the mankind not just in the Indian subcontinent but in many countries of South East Asia.

The first British Governor General Warren Hastings was instrumental in introducing his philosophy to the Western world by commissioning the first translation of Gita into English. In a very erudite preface to that work Hastings wrote on December 3, 1784 that long after the British rule has ended, the Gita will continue to be a source of inspiration for Indians. Later in life as he faced impeachment he found great solace in the basic philosophy of Gita that extols performance of duty as the highest form of worship.

Many readers would justly wonder as to why this author is inflicting his beliefs on others since that is the private matter of each individual. Some may also question as to why be it necessary to quote Warren Hastings to establish the validity of the 'Karma yog'. The answer to that is twofold. One, even 65 years after the British left, many Indians, including even the highest in the land still seek legitimacy and endorsement from the West and second, contrary to the expectation of Warren Hastings, Indians seem to have ceased to value their civilisational  heritage.

This author travelled to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia in the last two years. The one thing common to all these countries is the very low rate of 'street crime'. As a tourist one feels absolutely safe at all times in even the remotest areas of the country. None of these countries are rich and there is widespread poverty yet muggings, petty thefts or harassment of women is almost unknown.

Interestingly the first three are countries that are almost 90 percent Buddhist while Indonesia is largely dominated by Islam. In the case of Indonesia, the moment one talks of Indian/Hindu influence, Indians generally assume it to be confined to Bali. This is not true. The impact of Indian philosophy and way of life is as pervasive in Java (with 90  percent Muslims) as elsewhere. It is common to hear an Indonesian talk about 'Good Karma and Bad Karma'. The societal sense of right and wrong has been kept alive by these countries based on their shared heritage of Indian philosophy of life although they follow different religions.

Two incidents in recent past ought to be a wakeup call for the society. Some days ago a group of hooligans molested a girl in Guwahati while hundreds of onlookers passively watched. In Mumbai a few days ago, a girl was mercilessly hacked to death, again in full view of the onlookers. Corrupt 'leaders' are welcomed by large crowds on release from jail and treated like heroes. Seems like the country and society at large has lost its moral compass.

At this rate we will rapidly exhaust our social capital and lose our civilsational heritage. This seems to be happening as our value system has changed and we go on chasing material goods without the adoption of the Protestant or Calvinist work ethic of hard and honest work.

In some sense the decline began when we reduced the message of Gita to fatalism. We are forever waiting for a messiah to come and rescue us as promised in Gita. But we have forgotten the central message of Gita to do our 'karma' or duty without the attachment to rewards and its fruit. While we wait for the Lord to take birth to rescue us (when ever there is excess of evil, I will take birth) but have conveniently forget that it is also to our duty to destroy the evil.

The Gita clearly professes that all humans have a divine soul and have the potential to achieve divinity. Yet the followers have divided the society on caste and creed and high and low. Casteism and untouchability are against the basic teaching of the Gita but have been so imbedded in society that many equate this with Hinduism.  Instead of dealing with the essential equality of all, we seem to have degenerated to dynastic principles to govern our social life.

Under false notion of secularism we have jettisoned the concept of 'dharma' and 'karma'.  There is no exact equivalence of Dharma in English language. Translating this as religion has done immense harm to social fabric of India. Dharma is a many splendoured concept. There is the concept of 'Rashtra Dharma' or patriotism, 'Putra Dharma' or son's duties, Raj Dharma or obligations of a ruler Manav Dharma or humane-ness and so on so forth.

Dharma is thus an obligation as well was a right path dictated by one's own consciousness (voice of atma or soul). Under constant assault by the half educated anglicised elite we are on the verge of losing our most precious heritage that kept the country alive despite conquests and colonial rule. It is the 'aam admi's' adherence to Dharma and hard work that has kept the country going despite inept or non existent leadership.

On the occasion of celebrations of greatest son of India, Krishna, it is time to remember and imbibe the teachings of Gita. These, incidentally, are totally 'secular' concepts and not in opposition to any other faiths. 

Image: A monument dipicting Gita Upadesh at the central Merdeka Square in Jakarta, Indonesia. Photograph: Col Anil Athale

Colonel (retd) Anil Athale