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LG’s Speech on Centenary of the Birth Sh. Swami Chinmayananda

Wednesday, December 10, 2014







10th December, 2014


Respected Swamiji, Mr. Piramal, Mr. Sachdev, delegates who have arrived from across the globe, respected leaders of industry, friends from different NGOs and other sectors, friends from the media, Ladies and Gentlemen. I have no words to thank the organizers for thinking of me to speak at this forum on such a special occasion, on the completion of the centenary of the birth of a special son of Mother India. A person who tirelessly shared the knowledge of the Vedanta through his repeated messages on the Bhagwat Gita and the Upanishads; a person who had the ability to transcend the ocean of knowledge and convert it into simple words making it possible for the common man to understand the mysteries of life and the meaning of eternal existence. Swami Chinmayananda was a glittering example of the human mind having the ability to contain a cosmos of knowledge and the unique ability to transcend religions, cultures, territories, and put before us the message of the Gita.

On a hot summer afternoon in a mango orchard of Bijnor district in Western Uttar Pradesh, a group of Maulanas were discussing aspects of different religions. The period was somewhere in the 1940s when India, struggling to achieve her independence, was like a mother caught between the crossfire of two disagreeing sons – Hindus and Muslims. Speaking here, Dr. Abdur Rehman Bijnori, a reputed scholar of Islam, freedom fighter and a great personal friend of Gandhiji said…”India has been fortunate that it received the Bhagwat Gita which is a divine book presented by God to our country.”

Dr. Bijnori’s statement found utterance in the words of Gandhiji when he said…”This is a work which persons belonging to all faiths can read. It does not favour any sectarian point of view. It teaches nothing but pure ethics.” Over the centuries as we read and re-read the texts we discover deeper and deeper philosophical content. Each stanza provides scope for a variety of meanings and interpretations by scholars, savants, pundits, philosophers from across the globe. In the 18th century while reading the Gita, Wilhelm von Humboldt, the Prussian Minister of Education said…” I read the Indian poem for the first time when I was in my country, a state in Silesia. While doing so, I felt a sense of overwhelming gratitude to God for having let me live to be acquainted with this world. It must be a most profound and sublime thing to be found in the world.”

I first read the Gita as a young student just out of school. And even then, to a young mind, I found it a clear and comprehensive summary of eternal philosophy – and, therefore, its enduring value is subject not just for India but as we have repeatedly seen in the works of people like Humboldt, Aldous Huxley, Einstein, Sigmund Freud and many others – its eternal value is just not for India but for the world.

When Mr. Anil Sachdev asked me to speak at this very important function, and in the midst of such prominent people who would have more knowledge than me on the subject, I had moments of self-doubt. I repeatedly asked myself whether I was competent to speak at such a gathering, before people such as yourselves and the speakers that are to follow. And my thoughts went to the plight of Arjuna besotted with a heightened nervousness on beholding his gurus, cousins and the vast Kaurava army arrayed in front of him. I thought of the concept of self-doubt that is so much the basis and indeed the crux of human life. And here commenced Lord Krishna’s entire Gita lesson – an attempt at the re-education of Arjuna. As his favourite disciple besotted with a nervous heightened emotion says “The gandiva bow slips from my hand and my skin burns all over; I am also unable to stand and my mind is wandering around as it was”. Here Krishna begins to explain his concept of mental equipoise clearly enunciating that he alone is fit for obtaining mortality who is not afflicted or disturbed by circumstance of pleasure or pain.

But before I turn to the kernel of the Gita – that the matchless remedy for self-realisation is the renunciation of fruits of action – I must once again hark back to a quote from Gandhiji that in very simple words explains the universality of this book…”The Gita is the universal mother. She turns away nobody. Her door is wide open to anyone who knocks. A true votary of the Gita does not know what disappointment is. He forever dwells in perennial joy and peace that passeth all understanding. But that peace and joy comes not to the sceptic or to him who is proud of his intellect or learning. It is reserved only for the humble in spirit who brings to her worship a fullness of faith and an undivided singleness of mind.”

The quintessence of the Gita revolves around the twin concepts of renunciation and devotional surrender, on the underlying substratum of faith. This, indeed, is true of all the great spiritual texts of the world. Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa, one of the greatest saints who lived in the 19th century, always emphasized on renunciation and devotional surrender as the core essence of the Gita as also the guiding principle of the spiritual life of any aspirant. He also emphasized that the path of renunciation and surrender can only be trodden by those who are strong in faith.

This is the kernel round which the Gita is woven. As Gandhiji writes, this renunciation is the central sun, around which devotion, knowledge and the rest revolve like planets. The body is like a prison. There must be action where there is body. But then how can one be free from action, i.e., from the taint of sin? The Gita answers the question decisively….”By desireless action, by renouncing fruits of action, by dedicating all activities to God, that is by surrendering oneself to Him body and soul.”

Because from such action – man provides the necessary tonic to the Atman and then one revels in Atman for as the Gita says….”But the man who revels in Atman, who is content in Atman and who is satisfied only with Atman, for him no action exists – he has no interest in anything done, nor in anything not done, nor does he need to rely on anything for personal ends.” This is a completely sublime state as Ghalib in one of his philosophical couplets said, “Main adam se bhi pare hun.” “I am beyond the beyond.”

Therefore, we see a struggle to achieve self-realization, and this struggle has to stand the test of renunciation of the fruits of action. Mere knowledge of right and wrong will not suffice for achieving salvation. The Gita is clear…”No-one has attained this goal without action.”

So while we know that action binds, it is equally true that human beings need to work. But then how is one to be free from the bondage of action? Here then is the formula offered by the Gita…”Do your allotted work but renounce its fruits – be detached and work – have no desire for reward of work.”


Alongside this exhortation, the Gita is equally emphatic in cautioning against inaction and urging that action is the basic temperament or innate nature of living beings, and it is selfless action that one should strive for as part of social and spiritual evolution of man. Swami Vivekanand has very aptly said that you will understand Gita better by your biceps.

This is the ultimate sublime message of this divine book. He who works without the desire for the result and is wholly engrossed in the due fulfillment of the task before him is said to have renounced the fruits of his action. Renunciation clearly implies absence of the hankering after the fruit of labour. You would notice that the message gets repetitive. But then again this is so in all philosophical books if the true message has to be drilled into the minds of ordinary folks.

So let me take a break from the classical quotes of the Gita and bring in a couplet from Ghalib…This is highly Persianised and I will translate.

“Asad ham vuh junun jaulan gada e be sar-o-pa hain

` kih hai sar panja (h) mizhgan-e ahu pusht khar apna”

“Asad I am such a wondering faqir, who wanders in sheer madness in the forest that only the eyelids of the deer have the ability to see my back.”

The idea of the whirling darvesh who is lost to the world, who has achieved the state of “fana”, that is losing oneself in the Almighty. This is also the renunciation of the Gita which is the acid test of faith. He who is worldly or concerned over the activities around him or the result of his own activities will lose nerve in the performance of his duty. He would become impatient and angry. He would be distracted and willing to let go his principles. A perfect example is the life of Gandhiji himself where his repeated actions exhibited his strong belief in these principles. Please recall the incident at Chauri Chaura when the Congress smelt success, but the burning of the police station and the consequent deaths of policemen led the Mahatma to unilaterally call off the agitation much to the grief and disgust of fellow Congressmen including Jawaharlal Nehru, Patel and Rajendra Prasad. For Gandhiji the ultimate outcome could not negate the path that he had chosen. And here lies the advantage of following this path – that one remains bound to follow the truth.

I am recounting this episode to emphasize one important point which is relevant in the modern context - that of the conflict between ends and means. Influential social philosophies across the world, including Marxism and various other ideologies, have thrived on the dichotomy between ends and means, holding that ends justify the means. Gandhiji used the ethics and insight of the Gita to get over this dichotomy in political as well as personal life by holding that the division between ends and means itself was artificial and should be abandoned. The path to truth is only one; it does not admit of a division between ends and means which gives rise to ethical dilemmas. This harmonizing aspect of the Gita makes it very much a contemporary and a living philosophy.

Here I wish to add one more thing. There is seemingly a contradiction when we link work without reward (?) to renunciation and then link that to the concept of infinite love with the Almighty. The contradictions arise because to my mind we are trained to think and interpret words as we hear them although the simple meaning of the word is a limitation in itself and it encapsulates the entire deep thought process. Often the older languages such as German or Latin or our own Sanskrit, therefore, provide greater clarity in evolving thought processes. Action without worry for the fruit of the action leads to a mind without fear. A direct corollary then is a mind which has not bound itself within constraints of reward etc. and this is a final renunciation. And if there is renunciation of this kind it also comes from divine love and indeed also leads to divine love. Therefore, to get into the deeper thought processes of the Gita we cannot limit one thought process to the literal meanings of words in a young language like English or for that matter Hindi or Urdu. Understanding of the deeper meanings fortunately not through an intellectual process but through repetitive hearing has become part of the Indian ethos.

Coming now to the theme of devotion the Gita is clear…”Have devotion and knowledge will follow.” But this devotion is no soft-hearted effusiveness. It is certainly not blind faith. Rosaries, prayer marks on the forehead, a dress code, are no barometers for true devotion. A true devotee is jealous of none, who is a fount of mercy, who is without egotism, who is selfless, who is alike in cold and heat, happiness and misery, who is ever forgiving, who is always contented, whose resolutions are firm, who causes no dread, who is not afraid of others, who is free from exultations, sorrow and fear, who is pure, who is versed in action and yet remains unaffected by it, who renounces all fruit, good or bad, who treats friends and foes alike, who is untouched by respect or by disrespect, who is not puffed up by praise, who does not go under when people speak ill of him, who loves silence and solitude, who has a disciplined reason. This is how Gandhiji had defined a true devotee.

This concept of complete surrender is also the nectar of faith in all religions. The Sufis in Islam, the priests and nuns devoting their entire lives in seminaries, the sadhus wandering the forests have always followed this precept of “complete surrender” or selfless love without extending the belief in God to an extended logic of the hows and whys of existence. Intellect has no space here – it is the complete surrender of the lover unto the beloved. The surrender of the moth to the candle flame.” Or as they say in farsi - “fana hona.”

And it is with this concept of surrender comes the awakening of the Kundalini – the coiled serpent, master of all knowledge, to uncoil itself and rise through the chakras to burst through the sahasrara chakra unfolding hidden mysteries and knowledge to us. The concept of complete surrender and thereby the acquisition of hidden knowledge has been beautifully described by an Urdu poet, Siraj Deccani. I will read the words in Urdu and translate it subsequently…

“Woh ajab ghadi thi mein jis ghadi,

Liya dars nuska-e-ishq ka

Ke kitab aql ki taaq main,

Jyun dhari thi tyun hi dhari rahi.”

“What a moment that was.

The moment when I took lesson from the book of love.

The book of reason that was on my shelf

stood where it was never to be picked again.”

And he goes on to say…

“Kiya khak aatish-e-ishq ne dil-e-benawa-e-Siraj ko

Na khatar raha na hazar raha, magar aik be-khabari rahi.”

“The flames of love turn into ashes

the voiceless heart of Siraj,

no danger, no fears remain,

all that remained was utter absorption.”

The Gita is not a simple narrative. It is a great religious poem. The deeper you dive into it, the richer the meanings you get. Of course, as I said earlier that since it is written for all people there is a lot of repetition. This is necessary for all religious texts as they speak to the masses and, therefore, making repetition necessary.The Gita sings praises of Knowledge, it is beyond mere intellect; it is essentially addressed to the heart and capable of being understood by the heart. Therefore, I say the Gita is not for those who have no faith. The author makes Krishna say…”Do not entrust this treasure to him who is without sacrifice, without devotion, without the desire for this teaching and who denies me. On the other hand, those who will give this treasure to my devotees will by the fact of this service assuredly reach me. And those who being free from malice, will with faith absorb this teaching, and shall, having attained freedom, live where the people of true merit go after death.”

Like all great spiritual treasures of the world, the Gita is not only a spiritual text but has great societal significance; aiming also at mass welfare and social harmony. The very fact that it uses the thick of the battlefield as its context clearly shows that the battlefield is used here as a metaphor for life, with all its struggles and conflicts. It is thus not a theoretical exposition by a saint in a hermitage. It is meant to be a living beacon for those who strive through real life, but at the same time aspire to evolve internally, on the way. Another of the great harmonizing concepts of the Gita is that of “dharma” which is the concept of duty encompassing the aptitude and action of the individual on the one hand and the normative order of the society on the other. Thus it strikes a balance between individual aspiration and societal expectation and order.The concept of trusteeship, albeit in a spiritual context, is also enshrined in the Gita. This deeply influenced Gandhiji in his definition of relationship to public assets and resources. That concept remains relevant to this day for reviving the true spirit of public service where one holds power or assets in trust for public welfare. Another striking aspect of the Gita is its non-prescriptive nature and its strong emphasis on freedom of the individual to realize his destiny. This aspect makes it stand apart from various mass philosophies which aspire to a common, single goal. Each individual is free to understand the Gita in his own way and adapt and follow it for his personal benefit and evolution. In modern life, particularly for professionals who are exposed to tremendous stress at workplace, and perhaps home, the Gita gives a very practical way out for stress management. As Swami Vivekannd advised the youth of the country, since external environment cannot be managed, one should manage the internal environment and cultivate equanimity and equipoise as the Gita repeatedly teaches us.

As I wind up all I can say is that once again I am truly humbled and honoured by this opportunity given to me to speak at this eminent gathering. I remain grateful to the organizers for I am but a humble student of this magnificent work and the talk here today does not contain a miniscule of the wealth of wisdom that it contains. I wish the Chinmaya Mission Trust, all its centres, its Acharayas all the very best and pray that the mission will continue to impart Gurudev Chinmayanands’s great desire to see the Bhagwat Gita permeate all spheres of our life. May the Almighty give you the strength to carry on with your mission! Once again thank you all very much.

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