★What then is the message of the Gita and what its
working value, its spiritual utility to the human mind
of the present day after the long ages that have elapsed
since it was written and the great subsequent transformations of thought and experience?
The human mind moves always forward, alters its viewpoint and enlarges its thought substance, and the effect of these changes is to render past systems of thinking obsolete or, when they are preserved, to extend, to modify and subtly or visibly to alter their value. The vitality of an ancient doctrine consists in the extent to which it naturally lends itself to such a treatment; for that means that whatever may have been the limitations or the obsolescences of the form of its thought, the truth of substance, the truth of living vision and experience on which its system was built is still sound and retains a permanent validity and significance. The Gita is a book that has worn extraordinarily well and it is almost as fresh and still in its real substance quite as new, because always renewable in experience, as when it first appeared in or was written into the frame of the Mahabharata. It is still received in India as one of the great bodies of doctrine that most authoritatively govern religious thinking and its teaching acknowledged as of the highest value if not wholly accepted by almost all shades of religious belief and opinion. Its influence is not merely philosophic or academic but immediate and living, an influence both for thought and action, and its ideas are actually at work as a
powerful shaping factor in the revival and renewal of a nation
and a culture. It has even been said recently by a great voice that all we need of spiritual truth for the spiritual life is to be found in the Gita. It would be to encourage the superstition of the book to take too literally that utterance. The truth of the spirit is infinite and cannot be circumscribed in that manner. Still it may be said that most of the main clues are there and that after all the later developments of spiritual experience and discovery
we can still return to it for a large inspiration and guidance.
Outside India too it is universally acknowledged as one of the world’s great scriptures, although in Europe its thought is better
understood than its secret of spiritual practice.
★What is it then that gives this vitality to the thought and the truth of the Gita?
The central interest of the Gita’s philosophy and Yoga is its
attempt, the idea with which it sets out, continues and closes,
to reconcile and even effect a kind of unity between the inner
spiritual truth in its most absolute and integral realisation and the outer actualities of man’s life and action. A compromise
between the two is common enough, but that can never be a final and satisfactory solution. An ethical rendering of spirituality is also common and has its value as a law of conduct; but that is a mental solution which does not amount to a complete practical
reconciliation of the whole truth of spirit with the whole truth
of life and it raises as many problems a indeed the starting point of the Gita; it sets out with an ethical problem raised by a conflict in which we have on one side the dharma of the man of action, a prince and warrior and leader of men, the protagonist of a great crisis, of a struggle on the physical plane, the plane of actual life, between the powers of right and justice and the powers of wrong and injustice, the demand of the destiny of the race upon him that he shall resist and give battle and establish even though through a terrible physical struggle and a giant slaughter a new era and reign of truth and right and justice, and on the other side the ethical sense which condemns the means and the action as a sin, recoils from the price of individual suffering and social strife, unsettling and disturbance and regards abstention from violence and battle as the only way and the one right moral attitude. A spiritualised ethics insists on Ahinsa, on non-injuring and non-killing as the highest law of spiritual conduct. The battle, if it is to be fought out at all, must be fought on the spiritual plane and by some kind of non-resistance or refusal of participation or only by soul
resistance, and if this does not succeed on the external plane,
if the force of injustice conquers, the individual will still have preserved his virtue and vindicated by his example the highest ideal. On the other hand a more insistent extreme of the inner spiritual direction, passing beyond this struggle between social duty and an absolutist ethical ideal, is apt to take the ascetic turn and to point away from life and all its aims and standards of action towards another and celestial or supracosmic state in which alone beyond the perplexed vanity and illusion of man’s birth and life and death there can be a pure spiritual existence. The Gita rejects none of these things in their place,—for it insists on the performance of the social duty, the following of the dharma for the man who has to take his share in the common action, accepts Ahinsa as part of the highest spiritual- ethical ideal and recognises the ascetic renunciation as a way of spiritual salvation. And yet it goes boldly beyond all these
conflicting positions; greatly daring, it justifies all life to the spirit as a significant manifestation of the one Divine Being and asserts the compatibility of a complete human action and a complete spiritual life lived in union with the Infinite, consonant with the
ighest Self, expressive of the perfect Godhead.
All the problems of human life arise from the complexity of
our existence, the obscurity of its essential principle and the secrecy of the inmost power that makes out its determinations and governs its purpose and its processes. If our existence were of one piece, solely material-vital or solely mental or solely spiritual, or even if the others were entirely or mainly involved in one of these or were quite latent in our subconscient or our superconscient parts, there would be nothing to perplex us; the material and vital law would be imperative or the mental would be clear to its own pure and unobstructed principle or the spiritual self-existent and self-sufficient to spirit. The animals are aware of
no problems; a mental god in a world of pure mentality would
admit none or would solve them all by the purity of a mental rule or the satisfaction of a rational harmony; a pure spirit would be above them and self-content in the infinite. But the existence of man is a triple web, a thing mysteriously physical- vital, mental and spiritual at once, and he knows not what are
the true relations of these things, which the real reality of his life and his nature, whither the attraction of his destiny and where the sphere of his perfection.
‘Matter and life are his actual basis, the thing from which he
starts and on which he stands and whose requirement and law he has to satisfy if he would exist at all on earth and in the body. The material and vital law is a rule of survival, of struggle, of desire and possession, of self-assertion and the satisfaction of the body, the life and the ego. Alll the intellectual reasoning
in the world, all the ethical idealism and spiritual absolutism of which the higher faculties of man are capable cannot abolish the reality and claim of our vital and material base or prevent the
race from following under the imperative compulsion of Nature its aims and the satisfaction of its necessities or from making its important problems a great and legitimate part of human destiny and human interest and endeavour. And the intelligence of man even, failing to find any sustenance in spiritual or ideal solutions that solve everything else but the pressing problems of our actual human life, often turns away from them to an exclusive acceptance of the vital and material existence and the reasoned or instinctive pursuit of its utmost possible efficiency, well-being
and organised satisfaction. A gospel of the will to live or the
will to power or of a rationalised vital and material perfection becomes the recognised dharma of the human race and all else
is considered either a pretentious falsity or a quite subsidiary thing, a side issue of a minor and dependent consequence.
‘Matter and life however in spite of their insistence and great
importance are not all that man is, nor can he wholly accept
mind as nothing but a servant of the life and body admitted to
certain pure enjoyments of its own as a sort of reward for its
service or regard it as no more than an extension and flower of,
the vital urge, an ideal luxury contingent upon the satisfaction of, the material life. The mind much more intimately than the body and the life is the man, and the mind as it develops insists more and more on making the body and the life an instrument an
indispensable instrument and yet a considerable obstacle, otherwise there would be no problem for its own characteristic . satisfactions and self-realisation. The mind of man is not only a vital and physical, but an intellectual, aesthetic, ethical, psychic,
emotional and dynamic intelligence, and in the sphere of each of its tendencies its highest and strongest nature is to strain towards some absolute of them which the frame of life will not
allow it to capture wholly and embody and make here entirely
real. The mental absolute of our aspiration remains as a partly
grasped shining or fiery ideal which the mind can make inwardly very present to itself, inwardly imperative on its effort, and can even effectuate partly, but not compel all the facts of life into its image. There is thus an absolute, a high imperative of intellectual
truth and reason sought for by our intellectual being; there is
an absolute, an imperative of right and conduct aimed at by the ethical conscience; there is an absolute, an imperative of love, sympathy, compassion, oneness yearned after by our emotional and psychic nature; there is an absolute, an imperative of delight and beauty quivered to by the aesthetic soul; there is an
absolute, an imperative of inner self-mastery and control of life
laboured after by the dynamic will; all these are there together
and impinge upon the absolute, the imperative of possession and pleasure and safe embodied existence insisted on by the vital and physical mind, And the human intelligence, since it is not able to
realise entirely any of these things, much less all of them together, erects in each sphere many standards and dharmas, standards of truth and reason, of right and conduct, of delight and beauty, of, love, sympathy and oneness, of self-mastery and control, of self-preservation and possession and vital efficiency and pleasure,
and tries to impose them on life. The absolute shining ideals
stand far above and beyond our capacity and rare individuals
approximate to them as best they can: the mass follow or profess to follow some less magnificent norm, some established possible and relative standard. Human life as a whole undergoes the
attraction and yet rejects the ideal. Life resists in the strength of some obscure infinite of its own and wears down or breaks down any established mental and moral order. And this must be
either because the two are quite different and disparate though meeting and interacting principles or because mind has not the clue to the whole reality of life. The clue must be sought in something greater, an unknown something above the mentality and morality of the human creature.
‘The mind itself has the vague sense of some surpassing factor of this kind and in the pursuit of its absolutes frequently strikes against it. It glimpses a state, a power, a presence that is near and within and inmost to it and yet immeasurably greater and
singularly distant and above it; it has a vision of something
more essential, more absolute than its own absolutes, intimate, infinite, one, and it is that which we call God, Self or Spirit. This then the mind attempts to know, enter, touch and seize wholly, to approach it or become it, to arrive at some kind of unity or lose itself in a complete identity with that mystery, ācaryam.
‘The difficulty is that this spirit in its purity seems something
yet farther than the mental absolutes from the actualities of life, something not translatable by mind into its own terms, much less into those of life and action. Therefore we have the
intransigent absolutists of the spirit who reject the mental and
condemn the material being and yearn after a pure spiritual
existence happily purchased by the dissolution of all that we are in life and mind, a Nirvana. The rest of spiritual effort is for
these fanatics of the Absolute a mental preparation or a com-
promise, a spiritualising of life and mind as much as possible.
‘And because the difficulty most constantly insistent on man’s mentality in practice is that presented by the claims of his vital being, by life and conduct and action, the direction taken by this preparatory endeavour consists mainly in a spiritualising of
the ethical supported by the psychical mind or rather it brings in the spiritual power and purity to aid these in enforcing their absolute claim and to impart a greater authority than life allows
to the ethical ideal of right and truth of conduct or the psychic
ideal of love and sympathy and oneness. These things are helped to some highest expression, given their broadest luminous basis, by an assent of the reason and will to the underlying truth of the absolute oneness of the spirit and therefore the essential oneness of all living creatures. This kind of spirituality linked
on in some way to the demands of the normal mind of man, persuaded to the acceptance of useful social duty and current law of social conduct, popularised by cult and ceremony and image is the outward substance of the world’s greater religions.
These religions have their individual victories, call in some ray of a higher light, impose some shadow of a larger spiritual or semi spiritual rule, but cannot effect a complete victory, end flatly in a compromise and in the act of compromise are defeated by
life. Its problems remain and even recur in their fiercest forms even such as this grim problem of Kurukshetra. The idealising intellect and ethical mind hope always to eliminate them, to discover some happy device born of their own aspiration and made effective by their own imperative insistence, which will annihilate this nether untoward aspect of life; but it endures and is not eliminated. The spiritualised intelligence on the other
hand offers indeed by the voice of religion the promise of some
victorious millennium hereafter, but meanwhile half convinced
of terrestrial impotence, persuaded that the soul is a stranger and intruder upon earth, declares that after all not here in the life of the body or in the collective life of mortal man but in some immortal Beyond lies the heaven or the Nirvana where alone is to be found the true spiritual existence.
It is here that the Gita intervenes with a restatement of the truth of the Spirit, of the Self, of God and of the world and Nature. It extends and remoulds the truth evolved by a later thought from the ancient Upanishads and ventures with assured steps on an endeavour to apply its solving power to the problem of life and action. The solution offered by the Gita does not disentangle all the problem as it offers itself to modern mankind; as stated here to a more ancient mentality, it does not meet the insistent pressure of the present mind of man for a collective advance, does not respond to its cry for a collective life that will at last embody a greater rational and ethical and if possible
It is here that the Gita intervenes with a restatement of the truth of the Spirit, of the Self, of God and of the world and Nature. It extends and remoulds the truth evolved by a later thought from the ancient Upanishads and ventures with assured steps on an endeavour to apply its solving power to the problem of life and action. The solution offered by the Gita does not disentangle all the problem as it offers itself to modern mankind; as stated here to a more ancient mentality, it does not meet theinsistent pressure of the present mind of man for a collective advance, does not respond to its cry for a collective life that will at last embody a greater rational and ethical and if possible
even a dynamic spiritual ideal. Its call is to the individual who
has become capable of a complete spiritual existence; but for the rest of the race it prescribes only a gradual advance, to be wisely effected by following out faithfully with more and more of intelligence and moral purpose and with a final turn to spirituality the law of their nature .