A certain Father Dominic Emmanuel seems to have taken it upon himself to educate the Honourable Justices of the Bhopal high court about whether the Bhagavad Gita is a philosophical book or a religious book. What is it with the preachers of Prophetic religions who seem to possess an itch-powder, the main effect of which is to interfere with the followers and teachings of other religions? What or who gives them the right to tell people of other faiths what their books mean, their Gods mean, their practices mean, and how they should regard their holy people? Anyway, the power of the itch-powder being very…powerful, Father Dominic (Hereinafter referred to as Fr Dom. Don’t think dirty, you filthy sinners!) does what the itch-powder directs him to do. And we do have Itch Guard. Okay, bad joke.
This is the specific phrase in the Bhopal high court’s judgement that got Fr Dom’s frocks in a twist:
Surprisingly, however, there was no reaction from anyone when the Bhopal high court recently ruled that the Gita “is essentially a book on Indian philosophy and not a book on Indian religion”.
The reason, in Fr Dom’s own words is:
The bench of justices, Ajit Singh and Sanjay Yadav, held this view while dismissing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the spokesperson of the Catholic Church, Father Anand Muttungal, seeking to include summaries of sacred books of all other religions in the academic curriculum following the BJP state government’s announcement to include a summary of Bhagvad Gita in school curriculum.
I bet you already guessed that it had something to do with the BJP. Right? So how does Fr Dom go about educating the judges? By claiming that he did his “own research,” and that his said research
…suggests that the honourable justices themselves need a thorough re-reading on the origin of the Holy Book and its contents through the many commentaries on it, including that of Adi Shankaracharya.
Lord! I bet feels heady to stand on that High Pulpit delivering suggestions to high court judges! Only, the reality is that courts in India don’t deliver judgments based on what ill-informed Fathers spout as the findings of their research.
Father Dominic’s Research Revealed
Let’s look at Fr Dom’s research in full.
Hindu scriptures in India come under two categories: the Sruti and the Smriti. It is true that the Gita technically does not belong to Sruti, acknowledged by the Hindu tradition as eternal (the sacred texts comprising the central canon of Hinduism, the Vedas and the Upanishads), but to Smriti (literally, that which is remembered), as it is a section of the Mahabharata.
Awesome! Tell us something we don’t already know, Fr. Dom.
Gispert-Sauch, an emeritus professor of Indology and a well- known scholar of Indian religions in Delhi, holds, “Adi Shankaracharya himself and the Indian tradition in general include the Gita among the prasthana-traya of the Vedanta tradition (i.e., the Upanishads [Veda], the Gita [smrti] and Badarayana’s Brahma Sutras, which may be considered ‘philosophy’, although they summarise the teachings of the Upanishads). These three ‘foundational’ texts are often appealed to as authoritative in religious, legal, ritual and philosophical texts.”
Who is Gispert-Sauch and why should we take his word as authority? Quoting unheard-of scholars with fancy titles next to their name makes not a black crow white. I’m surprised Fr Dom didn’t quote Wendy Doniger who called the Bhagavad Gita a “dishonest book.”
In the introduction to his commentary of the Bhagvad Gita, Shankaracharya tells us that it was declared in the Kurukshetra by the Supreme Lord and Creator (Bhagvan and Iswara) to ensure the sustenance and well-being of the “brahma” world and all its people. Mahatma Gandhi considered the Gita as the summary of the whole Vedic revelation.
Gispert further avers, “In my opinion, the ‘Song of the Lord’ or, more accurately according to the traditional colophons at the end of each of the 18 chapters, the Gita Upanishad sung by the Lord is primarily a religious text, but it is also simultaneously a great philosophical text, even if it is not sruti but smriti. After all, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, no less than the six darsanas, are all smritis, and they are the foundation of most religious life, both in South and North India. The Gita is not a mere philosophical text as, for example, the bhashyas of Shankara or Ramanuja are. It is much higher, authentically religious and I would add, mystical.”
Ah! Now we thank Fr Dom for introducing us to the brilliance of this Indology-ignoramus-Emeritus, Gispert. More on that in a bit.
So this is the full extent of Fr Dom’s “research” on the Bhagavad Gita. Let’s look at what some other folks have said about the Gita:
"The Bhagavad-Gita is the most systematic statement of spiritual evolution of endowing value to mankind. It is one of the most clear and comprehensive summaries of perennial philosophy ever revealed; hence its enduring value is subject not only to India but to all of humanity." ~ Aldous Huxley
"The Bhagavad-Gita is a true scripture of the human race a living creation rather than a book, with a new message for every age and a new meaning for every civilization." ~ Rishi Aurobindo
"In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad-Gita, in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seems puny and trivial." ~ Henry David Thoreau
"The Bhagavad-Gita is an empire of thought and in its philosophical teachings Krishna has all the attributes of the full-fledged montheistic deity and at the same time the attributes of the Upanisadic absolute." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Fr Dom wants us to hold the utterances of an obscure and ill-informed scholar over and above what these eminent men have said about the Gita? Everybody in the aforementioned list have unfailingly called it a philosophical work. But you could argue that I’m appealing to authority. However, I’m merely doing what Fr Dom has done. Bad idea no? So let’s discard all this and look at the issue as is.
How Not to Understand the Bhagavad Gita
If you look at it, the Bhagavad Gita is everything to everybody. To Adi Shankara, Madhva and Ramanuja, it was a philosophical work of the highest order and reverence. So lofty that they dedicated their tremendous intellects to write elaborate commentaries upon it. To a Wendy Doniger and spurious scholars like her, it is a work that preaches war. A woman is a woman: whether you look at every woman as a mother or a whore tells a lot about how you think.
The whole “debate” of religion versus philosophy was largely limited to a very narrow sphere within “Sanskrit studies” (later known as Indology) dominated by Western scholars roughly till the first half of the previous century. It became more widespread in Indian academic and intellectual circles when Macaulay’s intellectual progeny who obtained tertiary knowledge about their own country and traditions from their Western Masters began to gain prominence in the public space.
Religion vs Philosophy always means the Christian Religion versus Philosophy. Purely within the realm of Hinduism, there is no equivalent of the word “religion” in the same sense as it’s used in Western discourse. The darshanas that Fr Dom mentions are actually philosophical schools, each school trying to seek answers to the Ultimate Truth in their own way. Which is where our Ignoramus-Emeritus comes in.
“Adi Shankaracharya himself and the Indian tradition in general include the Gita among the prasthana-traya of the Vedanta tradition (i.e., the Upanishads [Veda], the Gita [smrti] and Badarayana’s Brahma Sutras, which may be considered ‘philosophy’, although they summarise the teachings of the Upanishads). These three ‘foundational’ texts are often appealed to as authoritative in religious, legal, ritual and philosophical texts.”
The fact that this Ignoramus-Emeritus says “which may be considered philosophy” and puts ‘philosophy’ in quotation marks displays his ignorance. Every single work dealing with Indian philosophical traditions over at least 2000 years by thousands of scholars unambiguously terms these works as works of philosophy. Yet to this obscure ignoramus, it’s doubtful whether it deals with philosophy! And Fr Dom appeals to his authority. Also, Ignoramus-Emeritus needs to show us exactly one ritual text, which appeals to the Bhagavad Gita. Exactly one ritual text. And further,
“In my opinion, the ‘Song of the Lord’ or, more accurately according to the traditional colophons at the end of each of the 18 chapters, the Gita Upanishad sung by the Lord is primarily a religious text, but it is also simultaneously a great philosophical text, even if it is not sruti but smriti.”
The first person to decipher the meaning of this piece of textual confoundedness gets a grand dinner treat from me. Not content, Gispert pounds away at his ignorance with unstoppable fury:
The Gita is not a mere philosophical text as, for example, the bhashyas of Shankara or Ramanuja are. It is much higher, authentically religious and I would add, mystical.”
This line is again a classic manifestation of Western scholarship on Hinduism: it simply cannot look at philosophy as is: that is, separate from the Christian religion. If something falls beyond the pale of these two categories, a third category is brought in: mysticism. Traditional schools of Indian philosophy actually warn against mysticism saying it’s a dangerous path to tread upon. Indeed, Swami Vivekananda rather charitably, calls Mohammed a misguided Yogi. Now, the bhashyas of Shankara et al are related to their own specific school of Indian philosophy: Advaita, Vishishtadvaita and Dvaita—and all these schools unanimously uphold the greatness of the Bhagavad Gita as an exalted philosophical work. If this is the case, Gispert’s claim that “The Gita is not a mere philosophical text as, for example, the bhashyas of Shankara or Ramanuja are” is utterly ignorant. This is like writing a paper on particle physics without being aware of such a thing as particle physics. And the fact that he makes this claim with the Emeritus title is proof of my claim that he’s Emeritus-Ignoramus. And what does this make Fr Dom?
The Power of Ignorance
The answer is found here, in his own flippant statement calling upon the honourable judges to
…consider Lord Krishna a mere philosopher and the festival of Janmashtami (the birth of Lord Krishna) to be celebrated in universities?
Why not? Hindus are perfectly content to consider Krishna as a philosopher. Forget philosopher: Hindus are okay to call him a cunning goatherd, a thief of women’s clothes, and a deceiver, and still worship him with the same reverence. And why stop at only Krishna? Millions of Hindus worship that Ultimate Beggar and Graveyard-Dweller, Shiva in much the same way as Brahma, a God who doesn’t have a visual representation at all. The point, Fr Dom, is that one of the basic tenets of Hindu philosophy is this: all life and even non-life is sacred and worthy of celebration, worship, and reverence. Almost every major Hindu philosophical school regards life as a unified whole: from birth to death. Ever wonder why there’s a festival and/or celebration when a child is born, or its head is shaved for the first time, or when a girl attains puberty, or marriage or the nuptial night, or childbirth? Or why when someone dies, he or she is said to attain immortality? Or why harvest is celebrated? Or why Holi or Vasant-utsav is celebrated? Or why even have the festival of lights? You name the occasion in a person’s or a community’s life, there’s a festival attached to it. The philosophical underpinnings of these celebrations are exactly the same: the unity and sanctity of life and creation.
Which is why on the one side Hindus worship Krishna as the Giver of he Celestial Song and in the same breath, a Purandara Dasa castigates the same Krishna by asking him, “Show me one person who has been happy by believing in You?” Which is why Hindus can easily say that the fierce evil demon, Hiranyakashyapa was doing the same thing that his son did: constantly chanting Vishnu’s name albeit in a different way. Which is why the “Problem of Evil,” which has exerted thousands of Western philosophers finds nary a mention in any school of Hindu philosophy.
Dear Fr Dom: the secret of why Hinduism has survived for so long without resorting to conversion by force and/or fraud is this: it personalizes the concept of God by giving it a human or any form. Why is it that the Son of God has to be spoken in nothing but the most Glowing, Reverential and Holy terms, especially if he’s all-powerful? Why does one need to fear an all-merciful God? Why is it that He must be born immaculately? And if he is indeed born immaculately, why the need even for a human..err…Mother? And granted even that, why should the Mother be a virgin? Why deny the pleasure of sex to both the Holy Mother and Holier Son? Why do you feel a need to maintain that “holy” distance? I mean, don’t you find it too tedious: Human—> God’s Son –> God? Why can’t there be more than one Son of God given that there are millions of souls to be saved? Why doesn’t the Son of God and the Holy Father have a sense of humour? Even the most Faithful sometimes need to vent out their anger generally against life: can’t they even say Damn you God! at least once without incurring a sin and then coming over to Fathers like you on Sunday for Confession?
Oh wait, you’re not done yet, Fr Dom. You further ask in that self-righteous tone that characterizes your ilk:
Would the justices then please explain why the temple worshippers at Vrindavan deify Lord Krishna?
Why is it the job of these justices to explain why temple worshippers at Vrindavan deify Lord Krishna? That wasn’t the case brought to their court. Fr Dom might have as well asked why isn’t it raining in Kolkata.
And why on earth do our courts ask witnesses to place their hand on the Gita to swear, if it is not a religious book?
This is completely hilarious and downright ignorant. One wonders if Fr Dom has ever stepped into a courtroom. I suppose he’s been watching too many B-grade Hindi movies featuring highly-charged courtroom scenes. No religious or other book is ever given: all you need to do is swear that you’ll speak nothing but the truth: whether you swear on God or no doesn’t matter.
Would they also hold that Meera Bai’s experience of total mystical union with Lord Krishna was just a moment of philosophical delusion?
Again, is it the job of these judges to rule on Meera Bai’s mystical experiences? Even if it was her philosophical delusion, how is it related to the nature of the Bhagavad Gita? And why isn’t she allowed to have her delusions when some human being 2000-odd years ago claimed stuff like the following:
- I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life!
- Blessed is he who is NOT offended because of Me
- I AM the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life
- I AM the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies
What’s even more delusional is the fact that you, Fr Dom actually believe that this is true. No wonder, your conclusions are similarly confounded:
It is a little more than surprising and indeed intriguing that neither the religious leaders nor the philosophers or indeed the secularists of our country expressed their views on this ruling of the Madhya Pradesh high court.
Because they’re not Fr Dom. That’s the only way to say it.
Like I said, the Bhagavad Gita is everything to everybody. It is primarily a philosophical work for the puny minds that think that religion and philosophy are separate. It is also a religious work for the same puny minds that want a readymade but incomplete definition of religion is. In much the same way, Hindus worship Krishna not just because he gave the Bhagavad Gita but for countless other reasons, the chief of which is the fact that his life is a study in and demonstration of upholding Dharma.
Now going by that other Father Anand Muttungal’s petition “seeking to include summaries of sacred books of all other religions in the academic curriculum,” I’m all for it. I mean, why just stop at teaching children the good stuff in the Bhagavad Gita. Why don’t we teach schoolchildren the Bible? You know, the stories of how:
- Cain slept with his own sister
- Abraham married his half-sister, Sara
- Nachor, Abraham’s brother, married his own niece
- The two daughters of Lot had sex with their father to preserve their family line
- Amnon tried to have sex with his sister, Thomar and when she tried to defend herself, was raped by Amnon.
Postscript: Father Dominic Emmanuel, before you try and research stuff about other faiths to suit your foregone conclusions, remember this Biblical advice:
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)