Shocking! The Gita is not what we Thought It Was.

Via on Jan 6, 2012

Why is it that India, having such vast resources of land and intelligence, still sinks into poverty and lack of education? I must do something to help it!

Imagine saying that out loud?

Author Phulgenda Sinha did, and he is not just affecting those people of Indian nationality that may be reading his book, he is affecting me.

Sinha assumes that a people come to be and act in a way that is in accordance to the brightest thinkers of its time and radius of influence. And of those India has had a few. For example in Kapila (author/compiler of the Samkhya philosophy), Patanjali (compiler of the Yoga Sutras) and Vyasa (the writer of the Gita).

The brightest people define the thinking mechanism and then the people follow.  The most influential book in India is, the Gita.

But what if the Gita was not what we thought it was?

In his search for truth, the author does an extraordinary job at weaving the thoughts of these influential thinkers (and others like Buddha, and Mahavira).

He notes how because of their particular circumstances,  they were truly free-thinkers,  how their philosophies were conceived without any restriction by religious inclinations and in their more pure and rational form, while pursuing the biggest quest of all.

Kapila, the mind behind Samkhya

What is the biggest quest of all? That of coming out of suffering and being happy, of course.

We hear how in the system compiled by Kapila (Samkhya) God played no part. And in the system of Patanjali, well, perhaps you heard all the controversy around his Yoga Sutras and how they include Isvara (God). The book refutes it:

It should be noted that the concept of God entered into Indian literature at the time of the revival of Bahmanism around 800 A.D. In our present study it has been shown that from the earliest time to the time of Patanjali, there is no mention of isvara as god in any Indian Literature. How then could Ptanjali talk of isvara, when the concept was unknown? [my emphasis]

Patanjali, compiler of the Yoga Sutras

Something Missing

The Gita, was written (following the book recollection) by Vyasa, who thought that it was all nice and good with Samkhya and its encouragement that we should seek right knowledge, and it was all nice and good with Patanjali who added a healthy body and mind to the mix, but he believed that there was still something missing. [Yes I am way oversimplifying Patanjali and Kapila]

What was missing was that in every day life sometimes we come across situations that are very difficult to resolve. The type where we are doomed if we do and doomed if we don’t.  What then?

He then set a stage in a Kingdom of North India where two cousins who had been brought up as brothers came into conflict with each other. Due to jealousy, one of the cousins was deprived of its land (for him and his people) after being promised such a thing if we went on exile for 11 years. Which he did. He then came back. And no land. So there was no way out, battle had to ensue.

What Krishna told Arjuna before the battlehas been manipulated by lobbyist interestssince the year 800

Krishna, as you know, sides with the conflicted Arjuna who is confronted with the very ugly reality of having to kill those he grew up with, and the Gita starts.

But it is a very different Gita when the verses we read relate only to Samkhya and The Yoga Sutras. For starters it only has 86 verses which can be found within only the first three chapters of the versions widely available.

Going over it from this perspective it becomes very clear what verses are real Gita and which ones are not.  Because those that do not relate at all to Samkhya or Patanjali’s (like “Chapter VII… talks about God, faith, Maya (illusion), Brahman and spirituality…“)  are, well, ‘added’.

He provides an impressive list of verses that have been “interpolated”, meaning adding verses that are not so far off as to not seem authentic, yet with the intent to control the thinking and lead it towards a particular point of view, example:

“Chapter IV is entitled …Yoga of Knowledge Action, and Renunciation. The title suggests that one can expect to find some philosophical deliberations, but there is not a single verse which … containing any rational or philosophical thought. The whole chapter is concerned with the idea of incarnation, maya (illusion)… fourfold caste system, yajna (sacrifices), sin, faith…”

How did the caste system or the idea of sacrifices (related to Vedic ceremonies) come into play through Samkhya and Patanjali?  There is no mention of either in them.

What Went Wrong

India has a caste system, five of them.  I met a woman in my last trip to Mysore who belonged to the lowest of them. She did not know how old she was, she never looked me in the eye or accepted my thanks. She came, cleaned the floor and went back to her two sons and the depth of her poverty.

Brahmans in their quest for domination and maintaining their cast superiority added verses to the Gita to introduce Vedantic notes. According to the book this happened around the year 800 and on.

The only religious connotation in any of the major yoga philosophies, according to the book, was added then by a power struggle from the caste that rules India, the first, that of the Brahmins.  It was done to maintain the lower castes in their own status quo, without letting them raise.  You just continue doing what you do and leave all fruits to God, never question, lower your head, keep going.

This is how the author describes the national thought pattern of India today (book was first published in 1986):

  1. Work without caring for the results
  2. Act, but do not look for the fruits of action
  3. Desires cause sorrow therefore do not have them
  4. You only get what fate dictates
  5. Material wealth is inferior, spiritual life is superior
  6. You should strive to achieve unity with God for a happy life, to go to heaven and not be reincarnated
  7. Man is predestined and cannot do anything unless it is willed by God
  8. Sorrow, pain and misery can be removed only by God, not by human effort
The book provides a deep exploration at the issue of letting go of desires, and points out how desires are not bad, and actually striving for happiness IS part of the Samkhya philosophy and the Yoga Sutras, and even the Gita, when seen in the right light and read without modifications.  Action for the betterment of society must happen. But for the betterment, not just for action without having any say. In this light action does include looking towards a result, not being totally hopeless and reduced to whatever some external preconceived destiny dictates.
Consider the last line of the Gita As It Was 
… Arjuna!, Mighty-armed, destroy this enemy which, like passion, is difficult to conquer
Which the author concludes means:
…Krishna advises Arjuna to fight the war and conquer the enemy who, like passion, is obscuring his knowledge and deceiving his wisdom” [my bold]
Just like the newest (post year 800) version of the Gita seems to do!

 

Fascinating read.  Why does Amazon sell it for over one hundred and ninety dollars? I would not know. Good thing there are used copies available for fifteen!

Other Articles:

The Book Every Student and Teacher of Yoga Must Read

32 Best Ashtanga Yoga Blogposts of 2011

About Claudia Azula Altucher

Claudia Azula Altucher has studied yoga for a long time. Her only focus these past eight years has been on Ashtanga through which she studied at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India (three study visits so far), and at Centered Yoga in Thailand (focus on practice, philosophy and pranayama). Currently she studies at Pure Yoga in NYC. She has taught yoga classes in both Spanish and English. She is also the Author of: 21 Things To Know Before Starting an Ashtanga Yoga Practice (you can get a free PDF at her blog). She writes daily at ClaudiaYoga.com And you can follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ClaudiaYoga

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19 Responses to “Shocking! The Gita is not what we Thought It Was.”

  1. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    190 bucks? Whaaat? :-) Thank you for a great review – interesting!!

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

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    • Claudia says:

      I know, wonder why??? 190 is a steep price! thank you Tanya

      • molly says:

        there are many books on amazon that are absurdly priced, I think it might have to do with some sort of scheme (insurance maybe?), but it is common

        • Claudia says:

          No idea Molly… I have no clue how it works when it comes to pricing, the book was printed a long time ago, might that have something to do? anyway, there are some used copies more affordable, I got one of those…

  2. Patrick says:

    The text is available online at scribd.com, fro free.

  3. Madhu says:

    Strange this foreigner to indian religion, culture, traditions and the gita takes this intense subject and tears it apart in just a few words. How daring! The first mistake she makes is language. It is yog and not yoga and it is Krushna and not Krishna. This is how the outsiders who know nothing about hinduism, the gita and the caste system, destroy someone else' EVERYTHING in just a few words. Disgusting???? Ignorant???? Shameful???? What else shall I say! Hmmmm.

  4. [...] The Gita is not what we Thought It Was. [...]

  5. Craig Williams says:

    This is perhaps one of the most poorly written and inaccurate articles I have ever read. In short, complete garbage.

  6. Interesting–looks like a Gita version of the Jesus seminar, which for more than half a century has used historical sources to try and figure out what parts of the Gospels are actually based on the life and words of Jesus of Nazareth (some of the teachings) and which were added later (all of the miracles). And, as is clear from some of the comments here, it stirs up similar controversy.

    • Claudia says:

      Hi YogaForCynics, yes, it seems to be a very political argument indeed… It is taugh having our thoughts and deep beliefs refuted… There is a book on that which you mention, about the real Jesus that I started readig recently, I found out that he had not actually said "forgive them lord for the know not what they are doing" while at the cross… Now, I could be wrong, it may have been another one, I just arrived in India and I am totally jetlagged… BUT

      The point is, I remember how disappointing it was…

      Good to read from you

  7. Madhu says:

    Why dont outsiders leave India alone and stop distorting everything according to their values? Why dont you stay out of hinduism? Hinduism is not a proselytising religion. Why do others want to destroy our beliefs? Why do we have to live according to your values? What is so great about your values that you criticize hinduism and mutate it according to your knowledge or ignorance? Leave hinduism and India alone. Someone will rise from India and fix it. You stay out of it. Hinduism has not come to convert you so that you can find fault with it. Leave India alone. Stay out of it. You can never understand it. this is my kind request to all those foreigners who go to india and come back wanting to change everything in India. But can you look at yourselves in the mirror first?

  8. Sasank says:

    These are not the only mistakes that Sinha makes, either. He asserts that Chapter 4.13 promotes casteism, even though Krishna specifically states that this fourfold division is based on guna (inner qualities) and karma (actions), meaning that Krishna is actually repudiating birth based casteism. Indeed, though he mentions the four varnas, he does not mention any kind of hierarchy between them. Sinha claims that Chapter 18.41-48 promote casteism because 18.41 states that individuals are born with certain gunas. However, this too repudiates casteism. Krishna states that people’s varnas are based on the qualities that they are born with, not what family they happen to be born in. Thus, is someone is born into, say, a vaishya family but possesses “heroism, exuberance, determination, resourcefulness, without a trace of cowardice in battle, generosity, and leadership” as described in Chapter 18.43, then he would be of the kshatriya varna. The same would go for anyone born in any other family but having been born with qualities that make them more suitable for another profession. Thus, when Krishna says “One’s righteous duty imperfectly done is better than another’s duty done perfectly” in Chapter 18.47 and “Actions prescribed according to one’s nature must not be given up” in Chapter 18.48 he is calling for people act according to their own inner gunas, and not according to what family they were born in. Thus, if someone was born into a family of carpenters, and could build houses very well, but actually possessed a strong interest in the sciences as a result of the gunas he was born with, Krishna would encourage him to pursue science. Sinha also states that Chapter 9.32 states that women shudras, and vaishyas are inferior by birth. In reality, the verse actually separates people born of “degraded womb” (papa yonayah) from women, vaishyas, and shudras. Krishna is saying that all people, including those born of degraded wombs (the children of prostitutes and rape victims, for instance) along with women, vaishyas, and shudras can all achieve moksha should they take shelter in him. These verses, again, all preach the exact opposite of casteism, but Sinha mischievously perverts the meaning to mean the exact opposite to serve his own biased agenda. Sinha also claims that the word “Brahma” mentioned in Chapter 4.24, 4.31, and 4.34 are all in fact references to the Brahmins themselves, indicating that the Brahmins twisted scripture to make themselves living gods! This is, of course, simply more nonsense that Sinha, unsurprisingly, provides no evidence at all to support this ludicrous notion. Indeed it is, yet again, quite the opposite. Chapter 4.24 mentions both “brahmana” and “brahma” because it speaks of Brahmins (brahmana) attaining the Ultimate Truth (brahama) by way of oblations. So how could brahmana equal the Ultimate Truth here when they are both described as separate? Chapter 4.31 mentions neither Brahmins, nor brahma, so this is simply sloppy referencing on Sinha’s part, and illustrates his eagerness to baselessly malign the Gita. Chapter 4.34 does say that individuals seeking spiritual knowledge should find a spiritual master and learn from him through queries and devotional service, but what exactly is wrong with this? In Hindu culture, the relationship between the guru and the shishya is a sacred bond of trust, devotion, and love. Students generally lived in their teacher’s house for years until they reached adulthood. They did chores and helped around the house as they learned the sacred texts, thus developing an intimate bond with their teachers rivaling that which they shared with their own parents. It is not for nothing that in his famous prayer, “Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo Maheshwara. Guru Sakshath Parambrahma, Tasmai Shri Gurave Namaha. (Guru is the creator Brahma, Guru is the preserver Vishnu, Guru is the destroyer Siva. Guru is directly the supreme spirit — I offer my salutations to this Guru.) Shankaracharya equates his guru with God. For Sinha to see something sinister in something as innocent as a parental bond between teacher and student, shows his own bigoted insistence on seeing the Gita through the narrow prism of caste.

  9. Claudia says:

    Yes, it is difficult ton really know, agreed. I think the Gita from this perspective also entices us to work for thevgood of all, to act, and as you say, to ultimately reach the state of yoga. Appreciatebyour comment.

  10. lincolnbriant says:

    Thank you Claudia, I appreciate your review.

  11. I think he's a paid comic. :) )

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