Speaking on the subject Dr. Beni Prasad Agarwal first corrected the popular impression that the Bhagwadgita in its present form is as old as the story of the Mahabharat War. The period of Mahabharat War according to Western scholars is between 1000 BC & 800 BC while according to Indian tradition it is about 5000 years ago i.e. 3rd millennium BC. The story has come down verbally and was recorded much later in the Puranas. He said that the classical Sanskrit in which Bhagwadgita is written came into being between 5th century BC and 2nd century AD. It became refined after the famous grammarian Panini, who was born in 4rth century BC, wrote his Ashtadhyayi or eight-part grammar and reached perfection in early Gupta period i.e. 4th century AD. The final editing of Gita was done by Adi Shankaracharya, who lived in 7th century AD and did a lot to revive Hinduism, including establishment of 4 Major Centers for Shankaracharyas: in North, Badrinath, in South, Rameshwaram, in West, Dwarka and in East, Jagannnath Puri.
Shakespeare wrote his play Julius Caesar in 1599 though the story related to 1rst century BC Rome. Poet Kalidas wrote Abhigyan Shakuntalam in 4rth century AD though story of Dushyant marrying Shakuntala and birth of Bharat after whom our country was named Bharatvarsh was ancient and a part of the Mahabharat, Similarly, author -cum- Editor of Bhagwadgita, Saint Vyas picked an old story which had come down orally for centuries and had undergone changes in the process for some Political & Philosophical aims. The Gita is not the spoken words of Krishna because he probably spoke Prakrit or a very early form of the language. Moreover it is impossible that 18 chapters of Politics & Philosophy were recited on the battle- field after all the Conches, Bugles & War-Drums had been sounded on the battlefield as narrated in Chapter One. It is also clear that the Gita is not the work of one author but different chapters were written by different people as there is a great deal of repetition all over and also some contradictions. For example Chapter 14 entitled “Yoga of Division of Three Gunas” talks of three properties in Nature, while Chapter 16 entitled “Yoga of Division between Divine & Demoniacal Properties” talks of two.
Buddha was born in 563 BC and died in 483 BC i.e. 5th Century BC. He had not heard of the Bhagwadgita or Karmyoga (doing one’s normal duty without worrisome attachment to fruits of action) the main theme of it. Buddha's idea spread slowly but became well known by 3rd century BC. Emperor Asoka, grandson of Chandagupta Maurya whom Chankya helped, became Emperor in 268 BC and converted to Buddhism in 260 BC after the Kalinga war, as he was horrified at the carnage.
Two Emperors, neither Chandragupta nor Ashoka had heard of the Bhagwadgita because it did not exist then. If Ashoka had known about the Gita he would have realized that warfare was a part of the duty of a Kshatriya and that Karmyoga is superior to Sanyas (Monkhood or leaving one’s normal duty due to worry about attachment to pleasures and to fruits of action), which is what a distorted form of Buddhism preached. Ashoka ruled for almost 50 years and spread Buddhism all over his Empire and even sent his own son and daughter to spread it outside India. He built many Stupas & rock-edicts for Buddhism. These are all in Pali language and not in Sanskrit. At this time the Vedic form of Sanskrit was confined to the priestly privileged class of Brahmins.
Buddha himself never envisaged the form Buddhism took and the spread of Buddhism under Ashoka and after him led to some weaknesses in Indian society. Since Buddha said he was not sure there was a God, faith in the Supreme Being, which was an integral part of Hindu faith, was undermined. The warrior classes shunned warfare and defence of the country. More and more working population found escape in monk-hood and went round begging for food etc. instead of contributing to the economy. Further, breakdown of the caste-system led to confusion and disruption in the society.
Within 50 years of death of Ashoka, the Mauryan Empire disintegrated and between 180 BC and 200 AD, there was a series of invasions from outside including by the Indo-Greeks of Gandhara left behind by invasion of Alexander, the Sakas from Central Asia, Parthians and Kushans.
Seeing all this, Rishis of that time, Chief among them Vyasa, tried to counter the deleterious effect of Buddhism and created the Mahabharata and the Bhagwadgita. Mahabharat was initially just Bhaarat with 20000 verses, the story of the land of Bharat and later grew into Mahabharata of about 100000 verses. Faith in God was restored by making an incarnation of God the central figure of the story. To revive the fighting spirit of Kshatriyas several arguments are given in the first two chapters of the Gita, including that killing for sake of establishing Righteousness and Justice is not wrong and that the soul being immortal what is killed is only the body. A total of 29 verses (from 10 to 38) in Chapter 2 are devoted to various arguments by Krishna to convince Arjuna to fight a just war.
Bhagawadgita does not question the basic premise of The Buddha about existence of suffering and cause of it i.e. Trishna or Craving. Nor does it say anything against the eight-fold path. In fact the Gita has incorporated Buddha’s eight-fold path fully and verses 54 to 71 of Chapter 2 about the “Sthitaprajnya” (person of tranquil & stable mind) elaborate further on the same theme. This part and verses 36 to 41 of Chapter 3 also examine in detail the psychology of human behaviour as to how desire leads to anger & suffering. Even the great modern psychologist Freud could not have improved upon this analysis. However, to prevent people from simply becoming monks to get rid of Trishna, a contrast is made between "Sanyas'' or monkhood and “Karmyog” (doing one’s duty without worrisome attachment to fruits of action) and the book argues throughout that “Karmyog” is superior to “Sanyas”. This point is made again and again in different ways and from many different angles. Mere “Sanyas” is even characterized as delusion and hypocrisy (Chapter 3 verse 6) and those consuming without producing are called thieves (3/12).
On the issue of the caste-system, there are several verses in different chapters. Verse 35 of Chapter 3, 13 of Chapter 4 and verses 41 to 47 of the last i.e. 18th Chapter try hard to be persuasive on the legitimacy of the system while making it based on personal qualities, competence and performance rather than on birth and heritage. Dr.Agarwal said even Greek philosopher Plato copied the Indian 4-fold Division of Society in his classic book "Republic". While correcting Buddhism, the Bhagawadgita was equally critical of the ancient Hindu Scriptures and exhorted discreet selection of what was worthy of it (verses 45 & 46 of Chapter 2) While Gita refrained from directly criticizing Jainism or Buddhism, it was very blunt in attacking wrong ideas in Hindu scriptures. (Chapter 2/ 41 to 44, 52, 53).
It is well-known that Buddhism which was wide-spread in India for a few centuries and right up to the time of Shankara in 7th century AD disappeared totally from India while it survived outside in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, South-East Asia, Tibet, China, Japan and Korea etc. The philosophy of Karm-Yoga (doing one’s duty without worrisome attachment to fruits of action) propounded by Gita played a big role. The innate strength of Hinduism also helped the great majority of population in India to withstand the efforts of many invaders for almost a thousand years at conversion to other faiths by force or temptations of various kinds.
Gita's Karmyog was the main source of inspiration for Mahatma Gandhi when he successfully challenged the mighty British Empire. Gandhi in fact further developed the Gita by proving that Non-Violence can be a potent weapon in a war for Justice and establishment of Righteousness. His success in India unleashed the era of decolonization.
The lamp lit by “Vyas of grand intellect”, with the oil of Indian wisdom, in the form of the Bhagawadgita, is now available to guide the World in an era of crisis.
(8 May 2015).Dr. Beni Prasad Agarwal, Former Indian Ambassador & Professor of Political Science,
Chairman, Association for Asian Union & Asia-Pacific Cooperation, www.au2010.org
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