Chandran, Nanda (NBC) Nanda.Chandran at NBC.COM
Tue Dec 23 07:00:55 CST 1997

This article appeared in The Hindu today. Thought the netters might be
interested :

THE SOCIAL MESSAGE OF THE GITA - Symbolised as Lokasamgraha: Dr. Satya P.
Agarwal; Urmila Agarwal, 11293, Ridermark Row, Columbia, Maryland-21044,
U.S.A. Copies can be had from C 157, Anand Vihar, Delhi-110092. Pounds

The title of this book, like the title of its companion book The Social Role
of the Gita may seem somewhat unusual. The word ``social'', instead of the
customary ``spiritual'' may provoke some surprise and in some quarters, even
indignation. It may be asked ``What has the scripture got to do with the
society's secular activities?'' On the contrary, it may be well to remember
that a scripture, be it of any religion or faith has to function, inevitably
and necessarily in a society. The notion that spiritual activity or ends
should be kept hermetically sealed and apart from the strictly social
activities of individuals and society is a total misreading and even a
repudiation of the very idea of a scripture. Religion is a way of life
functioning in the sphere of the world based on a conception of what is
wholly beyond - Heaven and God. The separation between the ``Vyavaharika''
and the ``Paramarthika'' is a separation of convenience and should not be
regarded as sanctioning two different codes of human conduct in the two
apparently different spheres of human activity. ``Secular'' does not mean
rigorous exclusion of the ``sacred''. Secular connotes what concerns the
state. The state by its very nature cannot have a religion. The phrase
``secular state'' is an exercise in sheer tautology. A state cannot be but
secular. Secularism has been vulgarised, quite deliberately to permit
activities in the social sphere which are wholly opposed to or out of accord
with the teaching of one's religion. In a country like India comprising men
of very different faiths, the state has inevitably to be true to its
institutional nature and function and deal with social and economic
activities, maintenance of law and order, enabling the various faiths to
live up to their tenor, without conflict with one another. The state should
be utterly impartial towards all faiths, even while enabling men of
different faiths to practise the teaching of their respective faiths.

Agarwal's earlier book, The Social Role of the Gita was a brilliant
historical narrative of the massive impact of this unique scripture in the
promotion of humane living, humane social institutions, humane approaches to
human problems and, above all else, a humane reverence for God as the
Father-Creator-Protector of all His creatures. From Ram Mohan Roy in the
early 19th century in India onward to Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave, the
Gita has been the inspiration and sanction for every step in social
evolution. Gandhiji said in particular that it replaced his dead mother
absolutely and completely, signifying the maternal tenderness and compassion
of its message in his heroic pursuit of ideals of life which place him
beside the great Buddha himself.

The author has done wonderful service to his fellow human beings by bringing
out this second book, no less significant than his earlier massive effort.
The book under review consists of three parts, each equally important and
particularly valuable in the context of pseudo- secularism.

The first part deals with the social concerns of the Gita. It tells the
story of how Ram Mohan Roy auspicated a Nava Yuga, a new era in the Hindu
society, arresting its rapid degeneration and neutralising the role of
foreign missionaries who were bent on destroying the faith of the people in
the value of their spiritual heritage. The rapid degeneration of a society
with a rich moral and spiritual heritage, aided by missionary agencies with
their own axes to grind, had to be arrested and the teaching of the Gita
brought into dynamic functioning and operation in humanising, yea,
divinising the social customs and practices and bringing them into real
harmony with the implicit and explicit teaching of a scripture like the
Bhagavad Gita. Child marriage and its accompaniment, child widowhood, and
the denial to widows of their rightful share of ancestral property,
suppression and subjection of women by denying them education, drowning of
children in the river Ganga and a multiplicity of monstrous but mind-
befogging superstitions - these are only a few of the social horrors that
afflicted the Hindu society. And there were degenerates among the priestly
guides who cited religious and scriptural sanction for them. Because of the
prevailing ignorance of the actual teaching of the sacred scriptures, the
priestly conspiracy against an enlightened handling of these matters had to
wait for a legislation to put an end to them. Incidentally it was Warren
Hastings who declared in his introduction to Charles Wilkins' translation of
the Gita, that the Gita would outlast the Empire, that its teachings were
imperishable. Besides it is necessary to bear in mind that the literal
meaning of the slokas of the Gita cannot help one to grasp the full import
of its teaching. Sri Aurobindo says that there are, in the theatre of life,
two struggles to be waged, the inner, against inner enemies like desire,
ignorance and egoism, and the outer against the massive seemingly all
pervasive forces of Adharma.

Agarwal quotes Gandhiji's answer to those who ask why there is so much
Adharma in a world governed by a compassionate God. ``In the midst of
darkness, light persists. In the midst of death, life persists. There is
therefore a higher law than that of destruction and death.'' Chapter four of
the first part explains: ``Svalabhatparam Svajanahitadapi Param.'' All
escapism is an exercise in futility. Action is unavoidable, says Lord
Krishna. But action must be disinterested action, action with detachment,
indifferent to the fruits of action. The sixth and last chapter of part one
affirms that Lokasamgraha is indispensable to true bhakti.

In part two, dealing with the applications of the teachings of the Gita to
society the author, in five chapters, gives the inspiring stories of Ram
Mohan Roy's compassionate endeavours in the cause of women's welfare,
Vivekananda's emphasis on social service as service to God, Tilak's
relentless struggle against evil in the political sphere, Sri Aurobindo's
emphasis on ``Sarvamukti'' (salvation for all), and Gandhiji's perfectly
characteristic but entirely legitimate interpretation of ``Yudhasva''
meaning ``fight evil but without hatred of the evil- doer in your heart or a
thought of individual gain.'' Dharmayuddha is not a contradiction in terms,
any more than the use of the surgeon's lancet is himsa.

In the last part the author outlines new aspects of Lokasamgraha, like
non-violent modes of fighting injustice and social discrimination, new modes
of Yajna and Tapas, Dana, the harmonising of the fundamental values of life,
Dharma as the starting point of the journey to Moksha, the need for a sense
of social responsibility on the basis that what touches or harms one touches
all, and harms all and finally, the conquest of the ego which he describes
as the enemy of Lokasamgraha. The book is a treasure house of wisdom set
forth with a wealth of vigorous thought and masterly lucidity.

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