Translated fron the Original Gujarati by : Valji Govindji Desai

Discourses on The Gita


Table of Contents

About This Book

Written by : M. K. Gandhi
Translated fron the Original Gujarati by : Valji Govindji Desai
First Edition : 510,000 copies, April 1960
ISBN : 81-7229-066-7
Printed and Published by : Jitendra T. Desai
Navajivan Mudranalaya,
© Navajivan Trust, 1960


Chapter XVIII

Even after he had pondered over the teaching in all the previous chapters, there was still a doubt in Arjuna's mind. So he said, 'The sannyasa of the Gita seems to be different from renunciation as currently understood. Are sannyasa and tyaga really different?'
While resolving Arjuna's doubt in answer to this question, the Lord summarized the Gita doctrine in a concise manner: 'Some actions are motivated by desire. Various activities are indulged in by men with a view to fulfill various desires. These are called kamya actions. Then again there are certain necessary and natural actions such as -breathing, eating, drinking, lying down, sitting, etc., with a view' to keep the body a fit instrument of service. And thirdly there are actions done with a view to serve others. Giving up kamya actions is Sannyasa, and renunciation of fruits of all actions is tyaga as recommended to you all along.
'Some people maintain that there is evil, no matter how little, in all actions whatever. Even so, a man must not give up actions done with a view to yajna (sacrifice), that is to say, the service of others. Alms-giving and austerity are included in yajna. But even while serving others, a man should act in a spirit of detachment. Otherwise his activity is likely to be mixed up with evil.
'Renunciation owing to ignorance of duties that must be done is said to be inspired by tamas. Giving up any action merely because it involves physical suffering is said to be rajasa. But service rendered to others because of a feeling that it must be done and without the desire for the fruits is real sattvika tyaga. In this tyaga therefore there is no giving up of all actions, but only of the fruit of duties that must be. done, and of course of other, that is, kamya actions. When a wise man acts in such a selfless spirit, all his doubts are dispelled, his motives are pure and he has no thought of personal comfort and discomfort.
'He who does not abandon the fruits of action must enjoy or put up with the natural consequences of his own acts, and is thus a bond-slave forever. But he who gives up the fruits of action achieves freedom.
'And why should a man feel attachment for action? It is idle for anybody to imagine that he himself is a doer. There are five causes for the accomplishment of all actions, namely, this body, the doer, the various instruments, efforts, and last but by no means the least, providence.
'Realizing this, a man should give up pride. He who does something without egoism may be said to be not doing it in spite of his doing it, for he is not bound by his action. Of a humble man who has reduced himself to zero it may be said that he does not kill though he kills. This does not mean that the man in spite of his humility may kill, and yet be unaffected by the killing. For no occasion can arise for such a man to indulge in violence.
'There are three things that inspire action: knowledge, the object of knowledge and the knower. And there are three constituents of action: the organ, the deed and the doer. The thing to be done is the object of knowledge; the method of doing it is knowledge and he who knows it is the knower. After he has thus received an impulse to action, he performs an action in which the senses serve as instruments. Thought is thus translated into action.

"That by which a man is able
To see one changeless Life in all the lives"

(Edvin Arnold)

and to realize the essential unity that underlies all diversities is sattvika knowledge. In rajasa knowledge one holds that there are different souls in different creatures, while in tamasa knowledge a man does not know a thing and imagines that everything is mixed up without rhyme and reason.
'Similarly there are three kinds of action. Action in which there are no likes and dislikes and no desire for personal gains is sattvika. That in which there are a desire for enjoyment, egoism and restlessness is rajasa action. And tamasa action is one in which no thought at all is given to personal capacity and consequential injury or violence and which is undertaken through delusion.
'So also there are three classes of doers. A sattvika doer is free from attachment and egoism and yet firm and enterprising and is neither elated by success nor worried by failure. A rajasa doer is impassioned, greedy and violent,

"slave by turns of sorrow and of joy"

(Edvin Arnold)

and of course desires to obtain the fruit of his actions. And a tamasa doer is unsystematic, procrastinating, obstinate, malicious and indolent; in short, without an iota of self-culture.
'Intellect, firmness and happiness also are said to be of three kinds.
'The sattvika intellect is able properly to distinguish between action and non-action,

"What must be done, and what must not be done, What should be feared, and what should not be feared,
What binds and what emancipates the soul."

(Edvin Arnold)

The rajasa intellect tries to draw these distinctions but generally fails to do so correctly, while the tamasa intellect

"looks upon wrong as right and sees all things contrariwise of truth."

(Edvin Arnold)

'Firmness is the power of taking up something and sticking to it through thick and thin. It is more or less inherent in all things; otherwise the world could not subsist for a single moment. Firmness is sattvika when there is a constantly maintained balance between the activities of the mind, the vital airs [pranas) and the senses. The firmness by which a man holds fast to duty, pleasure and wealth from attachment and with a view to personal advantage is rajasa. And firmness is tamasa,

"wherewith the fool
Cleaves to his sloth, his sorrow and his fears, His vanity and despair."

(Edvin Arnold)

'Sattvika happiness is the

"pleasure that endures, Banishing pain for aye, bitter at first As poison to the soul, but afterwards Sweet as the taste of Amrit."

(Edvin Arnold)

It arises from true self-knowledge. 'Rajasa happiness arises from sensual enjoyment.

Sweet As Amrit is its first taste, but its last Bitter as poison."

(Edvin Arnold)

And tamasa happiness is that

which springs From sloth and sleep and oolishness."

(Edvin Arnold)

This threefold classification is thus applicable to all things. The duties of the four varnas (classes in ancient Hindu society) are fixed by reason of the dominance or recession of the qualities planted in each.
'A Brahmin's conduct is characterized by calmness, self-discipline, austerity, purity, forgiveness, uprightness, wisdom, experience and faith in God. The characteristics of a Kshatriya are velour, splendour, firmness, resourcefulness, not flying from battle, open-handedness and leadership. A Vaishya's task is

"to till the ground, tend cattle, venture trade"

(Edvin Arnold)

and service is the Shudra's work. This is not to say that a member of any one of these classes may not be endowed with qualities characteristic of other classes or is not entitled to cultivate them in himself. But qualities and work as mentioned above serve as signs for the recognition of a man's varna. If the qualities and tasks of each caste are recognized, there is no undesirable competition or feeling of hatred among them. There is no question here of high and low. But if each does his duty selflessly according to his nature, he will reach perfection.
Therefore one's own duty, though it appears to be valueless, is better than the duty of another which seems to be easy. A man may remain free from sin when he performs the task naturally allotted to him, as he is then free from selfish desires; the very wish to do something else arises from selfishness. For the rest, all actions are clouded by defects as fire by smoke. But the natural duty is done without desire for its fruit, and thus loses its binding force.
'The calm yogi who has been sanctified by thus performing his own duty, who has his mind under control, who has given up the five sense objects, who has overcome likes and dislikes, who lives in solitude, i. e., whose eyes are turned inward, who achieves mastery of his mind, body and speech by abstemiousness, who is ever conscious of the living presence of God, and who has given up pride, desire, anger, acquisitiveness and the like - that yogi is fit to be united with Brahma. He is equiminded towards all men. He neither rejoices nor indulges in grief. Such a devotee has true knowledge of God and is absorbed in Him. Thus taking refuge in Me, he gains the eternal place.
'Therefore dedicate your all to Me, regard Me as the supreme object of your love, and with discrimination, fix your mind on Me. As you do this, you will overcome all difficulties. But if out of egoism you do not listen to Me, you will perish. The one thing needful is that abandoning all conflicting views; you should come to Me alone for shelter, and thus be freed from sin.
'Do not tell this truth to anyone who is not a devotee, austere in life, and hating Me, does not wish to listen. But one who communicates this great secret to My devotees will surely come to Me in virtue of his devotion.'
After having thus reported to Dhritarashtra the dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna, Sanjaya said, 'Where there is Krishna, the prince of yoga, and Arjuna with his bow and arrows, there are prosperity, victory, happiness and fundamental morality.'
Krishna to whom the epithet 'prince of yoga' has here been applied means pure knowledge based on spiritual experience, and by referring to Arjuna as an archer it is suggested that where there is action in accordance with such knowledge, the doer obtains every wish that is not contrary to lofty morals.