One Objective, Two Approaches

Dr. Indhulekha. B


The Bhagavad Gita, often referred to as the Gita, is a classic, wonderful and miraculous piece of work in world literature. It is the sum and substance of Upanishadic wisdom. The Gita is only such a work that can show the way that leads to perfection, which can claim Universal Value. The main factor which gives the Bhagavad Gita its sublime position among Philosophical texts is that it aims at the perfect blossoming of one’s life. The Gita, which forms the chapters 25th to 42nd of the Bhishmaparvam of the greatest Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata, provides an essence of the entire Vedanta philosophy, which has been extracted from all the Upanishads. As the colophon ‘Bhagavadgitasu Upanishadsu’ indicates, the Bhagavad Gita is metaphysics and ethics, brahma vidya and yoga sastra, the science of reality and the art of union with reality. The Gita gives not only a metaphysical interpretation Brahma vidya, but also a practical programme Yoga sastra to transform knowledge into experience.


The Bhagavad Gita is so popular that it has more than fifty commentaries in Sanskrit and more than two hundred and fifty commentaries in other languages. The foremost among them is Sankara bhashya by Sankaracharya. Sankara possessed super human qualities. His voice is the proclamation of Advaita Vedanta. He is a person who has contained and connected the entire Cosmos in the one string of Advaita darsana. It can be stated without any doubt that among all the Acharyas born in India, Sankaracharya has carried out this task of revealing the secret of the Gita in a manner which no one else could.


The ‘Jnaneswari’ is the first commentary to have come up in a vernacular language, ‘Marathi’. Jnaneswara is the spiritual guru of the ‘Marathi’ language. It was just at the age of 15 that he wrote the commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. There are more than 9000 verses in the Jnaneswari. Jnaneswara conducted spiritual discourses wherever he went, without any preparations. On all those occasions he offered ex tempore commentary on the Gita. The world renowned Jnaneswari is the compilation of all these commentaries on the Gita. The Jnaneswari is written in the popular and famous Ovi metre of Marathi language. This is a popular metre which is poetical and musical similar to folk songs. Ovi is characterised by rhyming three lines portion with changing vowels followed by an unrhymed short fourth line. This metre has the excellence of prose and the beauty of verse. The Jnaneswari has been translated into English, French, Spanish and Persian languages and to Indian languages like Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam, Bengali and Gujarati too.


Jnaneswara, who was a devotional poet in Marathi language played a vital role in shaping the righteousness in man. The Jnaneswari has been written in that sweetness which can be found in a folk song and is as simple as could be understood by even a child. Being written while he was a teenager, bhakti is the predominant mood in it. It can be inferred that the simple style was selected in order to create inroads into the common public. Jnaneswara has carried out the composition revealing the child-like state achieved at the summit of devotion. The sweetness of devotion made Jnaneswara simpler. Jnaneswara had only a very short life. But in this short span he secured a place in everyone's heart. Jnaneswara didn't lead a worldly life. Hence he didn't have the support of the experience of a life in the worldly plane. This too is one reason for the simplicity of the Jnaneswari.


In the opinion of Jnaneswara, the way to liberation is bhakti. It can be understood that Jnaneswara has tried to instil the sweetness of bhakti into the hearts of his listeners throughout the commentary. But in the view of Sankara, it is knowledge which one should pursue to attain liberation. Sankara's keen interest in knowledge has made him quite a serious person. Both the commentators have a noble lineage. Sankara accepted Govindabhagavadpada and Jnaneswara accepted his brother, Nivrittinadha as their preceptors. The difference in the nature of the preceptors may be perceived in the disciples too. Throughout Jnaneswara's commentary, one can perceive the sweetness of the relation between a mother and her child. Sankara too has realized the greatness and sweetness of this relationship that he has considered the Gita as Gitamatha.


Sankara has written all his works in the divine language Sanskrit condensing all his knowledge. Jnaneswara has chosen his mother tongue, Marathi, as the medium for his commentary. He has stated through his commentary that he has tried to follow the path tread by Sankara. But one can easily find glaring differences in their style. Jnaneswara gave more importance to bhakti than dry philosophizing. Sankara has given word to word commentary in his work and has given the commentary for only 638 among the 700 slokas. But Jnaneswara has offered it for all the slokas.


Bhakti or loving devotion is the fruit of right knowledge and the spring of right actions.  This is the message of the Gita and Jnaneswara proclaims it in words that are so sublime, so lucid and so enchanting. The object of the Jnaneswari is to spread spiritual bliss, to eliminate dearth of discrimination and to enable any aspirant to have the glimpse of Divine Knowledge. The Jnaneswari has also been the source of inspiration to people interested in different categories.


According to Sankara, the aim of the Gita is the refinement of mind and realization of Brahman. The one who owns the right knowledge actualizes that the Highest Reality is one without a second. All eminences of subject and object disappear in him and thus the true Self, Atman shines in him.


Sankara's attitude towards Karman is most revolutionary and emphatic. It has been stated that Karman is meant for purification of mind, not for comprehending the nature of the Ultimate Reality. The Ultimate Reality can be attained only by reflection, not even a little bit of it can be known by performing even a crore of Karmas. Sankara deals about these Dharmas in the beginning of his commentary.


Sankara declares that the fangs of Karman can be extracted and the snake made useful and beneficial. Karman can be turned into "Karmayoga”. What was conceived as Pravritti can be made to reverse its direction and be converted into Nivritti karman. The result is purification of mind. It is the first step towards the highest spiritual attainment. The cause of bondage is ‘Kama’ or desire. So, the real enemy of man is Kama, not Karman. Karman originates from Kama and results in bondage. Who acquires the equanimity in regard to failure or success in action, he is clever.


By bringing the message of the Gita to the people amidst their daily life, Jnaneswara consolidates the Bhagavata Dharma. It teaches that one can attain liberation not by Nivritti but by Pravritti. Here "Nivritti” means the renunciation of social duties and religious obligations. Seeking renunciation of the reward within the social duties and religious obligations means "pravritti”. Jnaneswara synthesized the Absolute Monism of the Vedanta and Pure Bhakti of the Bhagavata tradition.


Jnaneswara accepts " Brahmasatyam’' - the doctrine propounded by Sankara. However Jnaneswara rendered a theological bend to the doctrine and hence he accepted the reality of the Universe. He considers Universe is the form of God. The Jnanibhakta experiences that he is one with the Universe. According to Jnaneswara, there is Bhakti in the state of Advaita. This state cannot be described in words. It's a matter of personal experience. Atman becomes one with the Lord and hence becomes steady.


In the entire commentary by Sankara, the exposition of Advaita Vedanta is what is projected most. Moreover there are numerous references from the Vedas, Puranas and Itihasas. Sankara has given detailed commentary on slokas which are difficult to understand and left the simpler ones with brief description. As there were so many lovers of the Sanskrit language in that time, Sankara wrote in the most sublime style in Sanskrit. It is clear from the commentary that he has got a good education and a better preceptor. He didn't write his commentary coming down for the masses. On the other hand, he tried to bring them up to his level. The freshness of Sankara's commentary can be traced to this fact.


The Vedas themselves have three portions of Jnana Kanda, Upanishat Kanda and Karma Kanda, aimed at fulfilling this objective of integrating the three planes of actions viz. thought, word and deed. So both these Avataric personalities should also be properly utilized in integrating an aspirant's three planes of actions and thus evolve towards Brahman rather than try to find the difference in their different approaches towards one of the most sublime spiritual texts that has been handed over to humanity down the ages to the eternal future.


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