More on Gita:Agehananda Bharati
Comment on Bazaz post
Here are some comments about the Bhagavad Gita by an Austrian born Sanskrit scholar and anthropologist, Agehananda Bharati.
Bharati eventually became an ordained sanyassi in the Shankara Dasanami Bharti lineage. Prior to that, he had spent 2 to 3 years as a novice in the Ramakrishna Order and was kicked out, among other things, for catching preceptors in textual errors and refusing to let them get away with it.
Bharati discovered that Hinduism as presented to Westerners and learned by many Indians, is all too often filtered through the biases of the Hindu reform movement, of which Vivekananda was a prime exponent. The Bhagavad Gita has become the favorite text of that movement, almost a badge of identity. Gita classes were compulsory each morning at the Ramakrishna monastery.
Bharati did not approve of that, one bit. Concerning the Bhagavad Gita, he writes:
“I view this particular piece of scripture with much reserve…My gravest misgivings about the poem derive from its inane eclectism and its blatant moral contradictions.
“It preaches violent Junkerism in one place, and extols complete withdrawal from worldly affairs in another; it propounds a half hearted absolutism, avoiding offense to the monistic teachers who seem to have dominated the theological academies of the time, and then it disports a naive theological dualism with a strong sectarian flavor as its doctrinal consummation. Samkaracharya had a hard time to explain away the fundamentally dualistic purport of this scripture and he did not really succeed.
‘Later rationalizations were legion and today the apologetic tells us that the recipient of this teaching starts off as a crude mind and is taken into the deepest truth step by step, so that the doctrines of the later sections supersede the earlier ones. This is an argument that I find not only unhelpful but decidedly nauseous, for if the earlier teachers, especially the ones entailed in such a charming deal as – ‘if you are killed in action, heaven will be your lot; if you survive, you will rule the world, hence fight!’ –are directed to a crude mind, why should they (that is, these very same lines?) be quoted as profound wisdom whenver they are expedient?
‘Finally the Bhagagadgita is not a canonical text in teh strict sense, but it has become one of the emblems of the Hindu Renaissance, and it is hardley any use resenting its popularity. Politicians and saints (Bhartis term for professional religious in India), philosophers and secular teachers have been editing it, rendering it into their own idiom, commenting on it, emphasizing those aspects that corroborated or condoned their particular interests.
‘That is the main difficulty. the text lends itself to any theological slant.’
Later, Bharati referred to an annoying evasion tactic his preceptors resorted to when he caught them in textual or logical errors:
“The moment discursive arguments would jeopardize the axiomatic perfection of the text, the critic is given a simple line:
“Your argument may be valid, but what of it? Only those who have seen the light can see the consistency of the text. Only those who have experienced the truth from within can see that intellectual argument is to no avail in the end…’
Bharati commented, ‘This would hardly be objectionable were the atmosphere among Indian theologicans purely non discursive. But this is not true. They avail themselves of refined discursive scholastic argument all the time and jettison it, the moment their axioms are impugned.’
(Bharati, The Ochre Robe page 131-133)
In his native Austria, our author had witnessed the Nazi occupation, seen its moral corruption and knew fascism from the inside. Only the good luck of having a single Jewish ancestor saved Bharati (nee Leonard Fischer) from being compelled to join the Hitler Youth movement. He survived the war and emigrated to India. Later, he was horrified when in India to discover that a good number of people considered Hitler an avatar, on the ground that anyone who attained so much power had to have earned fortunate karma in previous lifetimes. Power equalled legitimacy.