Thursday, October 6, 2011

Book Review

The Bhagavadgita As A Synthesis
(by M.R.Yardi, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona, 1991)

reviewed by Dayanand Bharati

One man's blessing becomes another man's problem. This is especially true in the field of academic scholarly works on scriptures. Scholars may be a blessing to society in some ways, but their scholarship at other times becomes a problem to the layman who tries to practice his faith in day to day life with less intellectual but more experiential (or existential) understanding. The subtle problems that scholars can create for the lay people are due to the fact that they can write with pre-conceived ideas (even with some prejudice) and yet impose their views on the layman as the Truth about the Scripture which exercises great influence in the latter's life. Thanks be to God that in most cases the lay people (of every faith under the sun) pay more attention to the brahmajnanis not to the brahmavadins.

Here is one more book on a scholarly level on the Gita, about which the writing of books is never going to end. M. R. Yardi has two major divisions, the first (Introduction) dealing with the topic of the book (the Gita as a synthesis) and the second giving the Gita in Sanskrit text and English translation. As this book has been published by Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute of Poona we assume that Yardi is a profound scholar. But the largest of a number of problems with the book is that for Yardi to say what he wants to say on his theme he could have written an article alone on the subject. Though it is granted that extra information about the subject in discussion will help the reader, yet on the Gita in particular there is already volumious information widely disseminated.

Regarding the subject of his book, "Gita As A Synthesis", Yardi gives little helpful insight in the meager eleven pages devoted to this point. He gives the usual delineation of influences seen in the Gita, i.e. Vedanta philosophy, Sankhya with its allied system Yoga, the Pancaratra religion and the Lokayata system. Regarding the teaching of the Gita no two scholars are going to agree with each other, as Yardi himself says: "The illustrious commentators of the Gita, however, lost sight of this syncretic approach and tried to prove that it fully endorsed only the philosophical doctrines held by them" (p.74). Yardi comes very close to agreeing with Tilak's karmayoga as the central teaching of the Gita, while boldly refuting Sri Sankara's views on several points ("It is true that in order to bolster up his case, Sri Sankara interprets certain words in a manner which one may find it difficult to accept..." p. 121). Yet one suspects that Yardi at times is himself guilty of what he has said about the "illustrous commentators", i.e. has himself tried a bit too hard to prove his preconceived thought that the Gita is a synthesis.

An objection must also be raised to Yardi's yielding to speculation regarding the date and authorship of the Gita. Yardi goes against standard theories and suggests that Krishna was indeed a historical figure who is responsible for the Gita; Krishna passed it to Sauti who is the inscriber. That this suggestion will not win approval from a consensus of scholars goes without saying; why do scholars commit themselves to impossible theories? This can set a trend for lesser mortals also to engage in insubstantiable guess work.

Just this is evident again from a new ministry ("Let's Reason Together") in south India, in which Dr. Alexander Harris is writing some tracts with a completely negative approach and in an unreasonable way, which is going to help no one including himself to harvest anything. The main problem in such writings is that they are clearly propaganda, obviously influenced by prejudice. The vision for ministry among high caste and educated people (for example in the tract "Brahmins Awake") embarrass others in sincere encounters with these caste and educated people. Dr.Harris has read Nirad C. Chaudhuri's highly speculative thesis regarding the late date of the Gita and other Sanskrit literature, and without noting the fact that few if any scholars agree with Chaudhuri he puts forth his views as undeniable facts.

Now Yardi gives another extreme from Chaudhuri; he quite definitively dates the Gita at 450 B. C., based on evidence that was soundly refuted by P. V. Kane decades ago. (Kane's study raises serious questions about aspects of Yardi's synthesis thesis as well; one would expect at least a footnote reference to other opinions and an effort at demonstrating why earlier esteemed scholars were wrong.) The point here is, one should not impose his own ideas on lay people based on mere assumptions, intellectual guess work or tentative accounts, when there is no strong historical proofs; and particularly this is the case in comparing one religious scripture with another as by Christians.

So though this book gives a lot of valuable information about the Gita and subjects related to it, it deserves not serious attention except from scholars who may use it as one more pearl added in the crown of the Gita.

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