The Bhagavad Gita is no stranger to the West. Nor is Vinoba Bhava, the author of these talks on the 'Song Celestia'. Since the death of Gandhi, one name that has sent, if not a wave, a ripple of hope throughout this frightened world is that of Vinoba.
During Gandhi's life Vinoba's name was not much known even in India. Today, however, the remotest villages resound with the words 'Vinoba's and Bhoodan. Even outside India, well-informed circles have sat up to take notice of the 'walking saint' and his land-gift mission. Many thinkers in the West have seen in Vinoba's message a solvent for that war of ideologies that has become the despair of the human race.
Vinoba was born in a Brahmin family of Maharashtra (Bombay) in September 1895. From his childhood he showed a remarkable lack of interest in worldly affairs. A brilliant undergraduate, he gave up College because that sort of education was not what his soul craved for. The idea of utilizing his education in order to make money never entered his head. So, he went to Banaras (India's holiest city and acknowledged as the premier seat of Sanskrit scholarship) to study Sanskrit and Philosophy and to live a life of contemplation and brahmacharya (self-discipline in the most comprehensive sense).
Through he gave up College, Vinoba has remained a student all his life. Unlike Gandhi, he is an erudite pundit of Sanskrit, Philosophy and religious literature of the world. He has studied the Koran in Arabic, which language he learnt only to be able to read that holy book in the original. He knows the Bible and Christian religious literature as well as perhaps as a Doctor of Divinity.
I shall not forget the occasion when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, the leader of the Montgomery, Alabama movement of non-violent resistance to racial segregation, met Vinoba with his wife. Jim Bristol of the Quaker Centre, Delhi, it was, I think, who while introducing Mrs. King spoke of her proficiency in music and suggested that she might sing some hymns and Negro spirituals for Vinoba. Everyone was delighted at the suggestion. I looked at Vinoba and wondered loudly if he knew what the Negro spirituals were. We were all startled, most of all the Americans, when Vinoba, as if in answer, raised his ever-downcast eyes towards Mrs. King and intoned softly, 'Were you there, Were you there, when they crucified my Lord?' When Mrs. King sang that spiritual, it had an added poignancy for us.
Vinoba is a linguist. Besides Sanskrit, Pali and Arabic, he knows English well; reads French; was recently learning German; knows all the major Indian languages. He loves mathematics. His quest for knowledge is insatiable. But it is not knowledge as ordinarily understood. Most knowledge he regards as superficial and is interested in seeking after the fundamental truths of life. He has an uncanny capacity for separating the chaff from the grain and going to the root of a question. I have not met another person with as keen, razor-like a mind as Vinoba's.
'Vinoba literature', i.e. the collection of his writings and speeches, is already a voluminous affair and is ever-growing. It deals mostly with Philosophy and the theory and practice of non-violence.
To go back to his early days again. There were from the beginning two urges, or rather two tributaries of a single stream of urge that impelled Vinoba onward. The one came from his identification with his fellow-creatures and impelled him, naturally, to work for the freedom of his country. Due to this urge he felt strongly attracted by the courage, dedication, sincerity (whom the British unjustly called 'terrorists').
The other urge pulled him towards the Himalayas-the traditional home of spiritual seekers-for a life of meditation and spiritual fulfillment. While torn between these urges (whose essential unity was not yet clear to him), Vinoba came in touch with Gandhi, who seemed to synthesize beautifully the two urges in his own life. Therefore, he threw in his lot with that newcomer from South Africa who was saying strange and doing what was even stranger. That was way back in 1916. Vinoba the textile city of Ahmedabad. It was from there that Gandhi directed the freedom movement till the beginning of the famous salt stayagraha of 1930.
From that first of contact Vinoba remained steadfast in his loyalty and devotion to his chosen master, though it would be doing an injustice to him to regard him as a disciple in any narrow sense of the term. It was clear to those who came to know him even during Gandhi's lifetime that he possessed a mind and character, an originality, and above all, a spiritual quality, that were destined to take him beyond the limits of a mere follower-no matter how brilliant-and make him a master in his won right. Those who have followed closely Vinoba's work and thought know how great have been his own 'experiments with truth' and how significant his contribution to human thought. Particularly significant has been his development of the theory and practice of satyagraha beyond the stage where Gandhi left them.
When Gandhi was assassinated at the beginning of 1948, he was about to launch upon an even greater undertaking than the winning of India's freedom. Gandhi had his own vision of the future India and, as he used to say jokingly, he wanted to live till the age of 125 years in order to make that vision a reality.
That vision was of a new social order-different from the capitalist, socialist, communist orders of society; a non-violent society, a society based on love and human values, a decentral-ized, self-governing, non-exploitative, co-operative society. Gandhi gave that society the name of Sarvokaya-literally, the rise of all, i.e. a society in which the good of all is achieved.
To bring about his grand social revolution, Gandhi had conceived of different means from those followed in history-the means of love. He had used the same means in his struggle against the British. But Gandhi did not live to put his concept into practice. Nothing was more natural than that the task should have devolved upon Vinoba.
This is not the place to write about the Bhoodan movement. But this much must be said, that it is the first attempt in history to bring about a social revolution and reconstruction by the means of love Vinoba is doing a path-finding job in this field. The results of his experiment may have a far-reaching impact on a world that is so torn with hatred and charged with violence.
One final word about Vinoba is essential so that he may be truly understood. Vinoba is not a politician, not a social reformer, nor a revolutionary. He is first and last a man of God. Service of man is to him nothing but an effort to unite with God. He endeavours every second to blot himself out, to make himself empty so that God may fill him up and make him His instrument.
The talks of such a man of Self-realization on one of the profoundest spiritual works of all times should be of inestimable value to all-irrespective of race, creed or nationality.
Note from the Translator
Vinoba's 'Gita Pravachane's or the 'Talks on the Gita' is a work unique and wonderful in many respects. It not only interprets the Gita in a novel and refreshingly different way and brings out the quintessential message of the Gita in a language that is simple, lucid and intelligible even to ordinary readers, but also lays bare before us the essence of true spirituality that includes whatever is the best and the most enduring in the religious traditions of the world and still transcends all of them. Needless to say, its power of purifying the hearts and the lives of the readers and elevating them spiritually has few parallels. That it has been translated in 24 languages and around 2.5 million copies have been sold is a testimony to its popularity and potency.
The work had also been translated in English as well and the English translation has run into 14 editions totaling 74000 copies. An edition had also been published by George Allen and Unwin Ltd., London.
It was about four years ago that Shri Ranjeet Desai of Paramdham Prakashan (publishers of Vinoba's works in Marathi) asked me to go through a copy of the 'Talks on the Gita' wherein a few changes and corrections had been suggested by a well-wisher. I had, of course, read the 'Gita Pravachane' in Marathi original quite a few times but had no occasion to read the English translation. As I went through it, I felt that it needs thorough revision. The pains taken by the translator were indeed praiseworthy. But I felt that as he obviously lacked the knowledge of Marathi, in which the talks were given, the content, particularly the subtle nuances had not been properly communicated at a few places. Moreover, the translation had neither a glossary of Marathi and Sanskrit words used in the text nor footnotes explaining important philosophical concepts as well as various references to individuals and incidents from Indian mythology and epics which are certainly essential for the ordinary readers not conversant with them.
I, therefore, set but to revise the translation. However, it has turned out to bean almost new translation, although I have drawn liberally from the earlier one done by Shri Swaminathan and derived full benefit from it.
The task should have been done much earlier by persons more competent and knowledgeable than me. However, it fell to my lot and I tried my best. I am fully aware that I lack an adequate command over English, nor I can claim to have made a thorough study of the Gita. Moreover, a work like 'Gita Pravachane' deserves the best possible translation and the task should, therefore, have involvement and cooperation of as many of those who have thoroughly studied the Gita, who are well-acquainted with Vinoba's mind and who have good command over the English language. The draft of the new translation was, therefore, sent to several such persons. Dr. Ramjee Singh, Dr. B. G. Bapat and S. S. Pandharipande read the draft and gave their opinion. The draft was also read, fully or partially, by my father, late Jaidevbhai of Pavnar Ashram, Dr. V. N. Tandon, Ms. D. D. Karkare, Ms. M. Bhalerao, Kishor Deshpande and Rajan Chandy whose opinion and suggestions were also valuable. Special mention must be made of Shri Sarvanarayandas, a dedicated Sarvodaya worker and Shri Vasant Palshikar, an eminent intellectual who went through the draft with a rare thoroughness, suggested many changes and made valuable comments. Shri Palshikar was kind enough to spare around eight days when we sat together and read the whole draft to make the final revision. I am deeply indebted to all of them. It is their contribution, which is responsible for whatever good is there in this translation. I am also grateful to Ms. Vimala Thakar, one of the tallest living spiritual guides, who read the draft and blessed it. The responsibility of the faults and the shortcomings in the translation is, of course, solely mine.
As the saying goes, 'the proof of the pudding is in the eating.' The Talks do not need any introduction. However, it will not be out of place to narrate briefly the historical background. These talks were delivered in the jail at Dhule in northern Maharashtra in 1932. In the year 1932 the Civil Disobedience movement started by Mahatma Gandhi with the famous Salt Satyagraha was at a low ebb and the repression by the British Government was in full swing. Vinoba who used to run an ashram at Wardha at that time was invited to Dhule for some programme. He addressed quite a few meetings there and openly criticized the repression. He also visited a center of constructive work near Dhule, which had been declared illegal. On that pre-text he was arrested, sentenced to six months' imprisonment and was lodged in the Dhule jail.
There were hundreds of political prisoners lodged in that jail. How Vinoba transformed the jail life and the jailor, who was a strict disciplinarian, became his admirer is a fascinating story, but the temptation to recount that story here must be desisted for paucity of space. Prison inmates expressed a desire that Vinoba should speak on the Gita. Vinoba agreed to give a talk every Sunday. He delivered 18 talks on the 18 Chapters. P. S. Sane, well-known as Sane Guruji, a great writer and freedom-fighter, who was among the political prisoners, wrote them down in long hand. There was no question of their being taped and their publication was also not thought of. In fact, Vinoba had given talks on the Gita many times in the past, but none of them had been published. However, Sane Guruji preserved the notebooks and later published them serially in the weekly 'Congress' edited by him in 1938-39. They were published in the form of a book in 1940 when Vinoba was in jail even before he could find time to go through them for necessary editing. It was only thereafter that Vinoba edited the talks.
As has already been mentioned, these talks were written down from the notes taken by Sane Guruji, perhaps partially from his memory also. The language and the literary style, as and discerning reader conversant with the writings of both Vinoba and Sane, Guruji can immediately note, are Sane Guruji's at many places. The spirit, of course, has been kept intact, and that is perhaps why Vinoba put his seal of approval on their publication after going through them thoroughly.
An anectode recounted by Shri Dattoba Dastane, a student-disciple of Vinoba is worth mentioning here. Dastane found Vinoba reading the two Chapters of these talks published in the monthly journal 'Sevak'. He asked Vinoba, "Baba it was you who gave these talks; how is it that you are reading them so intently?" Vinoba replied, "Yes, it is true that I gave these talks. But I was in a different state of consciousness at that time and do not therefore remember what I spoke.
That these talks were taken down by a man like Sane Guruji had a special significance for Vinoba. Vinoba and Sane Guruji enjoyed a special kind of relationship characterized by deep respect and love for each other, although their personalities were markedly different. Unlike Vinoba,. Sane Guruji was extremely emotional; so much so that he ultimately ended his own life by swallowing sleeping pills when he found corruption and moral degeneration in post-Independence India. His emotional nature is reflected in his literary style, and also in these talks. Vinoba's feeling seems to be that Sane Guruji's touch must have contributed to the purifying power of these talks.
As a translator, I must say that the translation has become somewhat more difficult because of Sane Guruji's literary style. Even otherwise, to translate a work like this is a testing experience. I have strived to make the translation as testing experience. I have strived to make the translation as authentic and in tune with the words and the spirit in the original as was possible for me. With this aim, I have taken liberties with the text only sparingly, and that aim, I have taken liberties with the text only sparingly, and that too only when it was thought absolutely necessary to take them to convey the meaning to the words in the original without being abstruse and literal. The communication of the content has been given priority over the flow, flavour and lucidity of the language, which is anyway difficult to catch. However, editing had to be done at a few places, a few words or a sentence or two have been added to make some statements clear. A few minor changes have also been made. For example, a couple of sentences have been left out from paragraph 15 of Chapter 2 and paragraph 8 of Chapter 18. it may be added that the talks are replete with analogies and examples and sometimes they may appear a bit out of place to the modern rational mind, which may also fail to grasp some of them because of their milieu. This is inevitable. What is important is the spirit and the essence.
It is not an academic treatise on the Gita. These are the talks given before ordinary individuals from different walks of life. It was Vinoba's firm conviction that the Gita is meant to spiritualize human life. That is exactly what these talks too are meant to bring about. Their success is doing so in good the work has been amply testified. That is why Vinoba looked upon this work as a main vehicle for the propagation of his Bhoodan (Land-gift) movement; in fact, for the revolutionary transformation of the individual and social life.
At the end, I would like to thank all those who contributed to this task and request the reader to convey their comments and suggestions so that necessary changes could be made in the next edition.
From the Jacket:
" I cannot describe the state of my being while delivering these talks. If it could be assumed that God does speak at times through human beings, then these are such words."
' Talks on the Gita' interprets the Bhagavad-gita in a novel and refreshingly different way; and while doing this it shows to all, irrespective of their caste, creed, race or religion, how life could be made divine.
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