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


To The Reader

I would like to say to the diligent reader of my writings and to others who are interested in them that I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent. In my search after Truth I have discarded many ideas and learnt many new things. Old as I am in age, I have no feeling that I have ceased to grow inwardly or that my growth will stop at the dissolution of the flesh. What I am concerned with is my readiness to obey the call of Truth, my God, from moment to moment, and, therefore, when anybody finds any inconsistency between any two writings of mine, if he has still faith in my sanity, he would do well to choose the later of the two on the same subject.

M. K. Gandhi
29-4-'33, p. 2

Translator's Preface

Gandhiji's Gujarati translation of the Gita was published on March 12, 1930, the never-to-be-forgotten day on which he marched to Dandi from Sabarmati. A member of the Ashram who read it found it very difficult to understand and complained about it to Gandhiji who was then in Yeravda prison. Thereupon he wrote a series of letters to the Ashram in which he devoted one letter to each chapter of the Gita, dealing with Chapter XII in the first letter written on November 4, 1930. These letters are here translated into English.

V G. D.
St 2016, Pausha vadi 3

Translator's Note

'Whenever I meet anyone who knows the Gita by heart, he or she commands my respect.... I would, however, like the reciters to realize that the mere recitation is not an end in itself. It should be an aid to the contemplation and assimilation of the meaning and the message of the Gita. By patience even a parrot can be taught to recite it by heart. But he would be no wiser for the recitation. The reciter of the Gita should be what its author expects him to be - a yogi in its broad sense. It demands from its votaries balance in every thought, word and deed and a perfect correspondence between the three. He whose speech and action do not accord with his thoughts is a humbug or a hypocrite.'
(M. K. Gandhi: Hindu Dharma, Navajivan, 1950, pp. 170-1)
'Devotion is not mere lip-worship; it is a wrestling with death....
'[It] is no soft-hearted effusiveness. It certainly is not blind faith. [It] has the least to do with externals. A devotee may use, if he likes, rosaries and forehead marks or make offerings, but these things are no test of his devotion....
'The popular notion of [devotion] is soft-heartedness, telling beads and the like and disdaining to do even a loving service lest, the telling of beads might be interrupted. This [devotee] therefore leaves the rosary only for eating, drinking and the like, never for grinding corn or nursing patients.
'But the Gita says, "no one has attained his goal without action...." '
(ibid., pp. 160-1, paragraphs 9, 10, 13).
In Vrindavan Shri Krishna Prem saw a vaishnava dying of typhoid. All round, coming and going were vaishnauas with rosaries in their hands, but there was no one to give him even a glass of water. 'What can be the value of such worship as this?' he asked.
See his The Search for Truth, p. 26.
'I regard Duryodhana and his party as the baser impulses in man, and Arjuna and his party as the higher impulses. The field of battle is our own body. An eternal battle is going on between the two camps.... Krishna is the Dweller within, ever whispering in a pure heart. Like the watch the heart needs the winding of purity; or else the Dweller ceases to speak.' (ibid., p. 156).
'English friends made me read the Gita....They placed before me Sir Edwin Arnold's magnificent rendering of the Gita. I devoured the contents from cover to cover and was entranced by it. The last nineteen verses of the second chapter have since been inscribed on the tablet of my heart. They contain for riie all knowledge. The truths they preach are the "eternal verities.". . .
'Those verses are the key to the interpretation of the Gita' (ibid., p. 152).
'The Message of the Gita is to be found in the second chapter where Krishna speaks of the balanced state of mind, of mental equipoise. In nineteen verses at the close he explains how this state can be achieved. It can be achieved, he tells us, after killing all your passions. It is not possible to kill your brother after having killed all your passions.' (ibid., p. 179).
'I have endeavoured to show that its message consists in the performance of one's duty with detachment. The theme of the Gita is contained in the second chapter and the way to carry out the message is to be found in the third chapter. This is not to say that the other chapters have less merit. Indeed every one of them has a merit of its own.
'I hope that those who take part in the... celebration [of Gita-jayanti] will approach it in the proper spirit and with a fixed intention to live up to the message of the noble song.' (ibid., p. 182).
A fittingly anonymous article in The Times of November 17, 1956 will serve as a fine commentary on the Gita doctrine:
'In the collect for tomorrow (the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity) prayer is offered that those who "bring forth the fruit of good works" may be "rewarded by God". There seems to be a conflict between morality and religion at this point. For while the former is emphatic that good actions must be done without the thought of reward and makes its motto "duty for duty's sake", the latter insists that God makes a distinction between good and evil, so that one meets with his approval while the other is condemned, and uses to express this the common language of reward and punishment.
'Did not Jesus himself ask, "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" Yet his life is clear evidence that the only service of God he valued was one that is free from any taint of self-interest. His fidelity was unshaken even when it "became clear that it would lead him to abandonment by his friends and death at the hands of his enemies. The cross is a reminder that devotion to God and love to man, if they are rewarded at all, must find their reward elsewhere than in popular approval or material advantage.
'What then are the rewards of which the collect speaks? The answer is to be found in the words: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." The reward of service is not something attached to the service to make it worthwhile; it is of the same order as the service itself. Inner dedication to God leads to admission into his fellowship and deeper knowledge of his will: the love of God makes possible ah ever closer likeness to him. The vision of God, the enrichment of one's whole being, the joy of co-operation with him in the enterprises of his kingdom - these are the rewards that God bestows on his servants.
'Yet that is not all. While it is true that the primary rewards to the life of the spirit are in the realm of the spirit, it is also true that character and uprightness may bring substantial advantages at a lower level. There have been cases in which public opinion has rallied to a leader just because he was known to be entirely honest and disinterested, giving him power and office that it would not entrust to a meaner person. To be scrupulously fair and absolutely reliable in business may bring advantages that do not fall to the lot of those who think only in terms of immediate profit.
'Not, of course, that action is to be for such gains. The maxim that "honesty is the best policy" is a dangerous one. He who chooses honesty for the returns it yields may be tempted to abandon it when circumstances arise in which it looks likely to be unprofitable. The paradox is that a virtue such as honesty leads to esteem and success when it is practised for its own sake, without any thought either of esteem or of success. Religion and morality are alike injured by any appeal to self-interest; the reward God gives is the vision of himself, and this is for those only who serve him without thought of what will be lost and what will be gained thereby.
'Perhaps this paradox that the rewards of God's service are for those only who serve him with no thought of reward lies behind the saying of Jesus that he who would save his life will lose it while he who is prepared to lose it will find that he has in fact preserved it. God receives into the choicest company of his servants those who follow truth and right simply because they are truth and right, and do not ask what the outcome of their fidelity will be. In the great words of Ignatius Loyola, they labour and do not ask for any reward save that of knowing that they do God's will.'