January 6, 2012

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

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

Read 19 Comments and Reply

Read 19 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Claudia Azula Altucher  |  Contribution: 5,160