The Bhagavad Gita is a metrical interpretation of the instructions of the Upanishads in their bearing on social life. The Gita accepts the four types of duties fixed for the four classes, brahmana, kshatriya, vaisya and sudra, respectively, as study and sacrifice; fighting and the royal task of protecting subjects ; looking after economic welfare, agriculture, and trade; and service and the menial duties.
It also accepts the final instruction of the Upanishads regarding the nature of the self as the ultimate reality, and the means of the highest moral perfection as leading to it. But at the same time it enjoins on all persons that the moral and social duties should be strictly followed. It argues, therefore, that, having attained the highest moral perfection by cleansing
himself of all impurities of passion, such as greed, antipathy, self-love, and the like, having filled the mind with a spirit of universal friendship, compassion, and charity, and having attained perfect stability of mind, so as to be entirely unaffected by pleasures and afflictions of any kind, and being attached to God through bonds of love which also unite man with his fellow beings, the true seer should continue to perform the normal duties that are allotted to his station of life in society.
Even if he has no self-interest in the performance of his duties, no end to realize, no purpose to fulfil, no fruition of desire to be attained, he must yet continue perform all normal duties, just as an ordinary man in his station of life would.
The difference between the seer and the ordinary man in the sphere of performance of actions is that the former, through the attainment of wisdom, the conquest of passions, the wasting away of all inner impurities, through the bonds of love with God and fellow beings, and through the philosophical knowledge of the ultimate nature of the self, though dissociated and detached from everything else, yet takes his stand in the common place of humanity as represented in society and continues to perform his duties from a pure sense of duty in an absolutely unflinching manner.
The ordinary man, however, being engrossed with passions and bound down with ties of all kinds, cannot take a true perspective of life, and while performing his duties can only do them from motives of self-interest. His performance of duties is thus bound to be imperfect, and vitiated by self- seeking tendencies and the promptings of lower passions.
The aim of transcendent philosophy is thus not merely theoretical, but is intensely practical. However high a man may soar, to whatsoever higher perspective of things he may open his eyes, he is ultimately bound in ties of social duties to his fellow beings on earth in every station of life.
A high and transcendent philosophy, which can only open itself through the attainment of the highest moral perfection and which leads one through the region beyond good and evil, again draws him the sharing of common duties with the other members of society.
The attainment of the highest wisdom, which makes one transcend all others, is only half of the circle. The other half must be completed by his being on an equal footing with his fellow beings. The philosophy of ‘beyond good and evil’ does not leave a man in the air, but makes him efficient in the highest degree in the discharge of duties within ‘good and evil’.
The illusoriness of good and evil has to be perceived only for the purpose of more adequately obeying the demands of duties in the common social sphere. Almost all systems of Indian philosophy, excepting the followers of the Sankara School of Vedanta, agree in enjoining the perfect performance of normal duties on the part of a seer.
Though the chief emphasis of the Vaiseshika and Nyaya systems of thought may ordinarily appear to be placed elsewhere, yet keener analysis would show that in their case also the ultimate aim is fundamentally the same-the attainment of salvation through moral perfection.
A large number of sub-schools associated with various religious sects developed in India through a form of eclectic admixture of Vedanta, Sankhya, and Yoga together with the Bhagavata theory of love. But in all these systems the central idea is the same, the attainment of transcendent moral perfection and of the perfect social behaviour induced by it.
There is another vein of thought which runs through Indian minds, probably from pre-Buddhist times, and which may be regarded as being in some sense a corollary and in another sense a supplement to the attitude and perspective of life described above. This attitude consists in the lowering of emphasis on one’s limited self-sense as egoism or selfishness, in the consequent experience of equality with all men, and in the development of a spirit of love towards them and towards God, who manifests himself in the persons of all men.
The cultivation of love of humanity was one of the dominant characteristics not only of the Gita and Buddhism and Jainism, but also of Yoga and most systems of Indian theism, such as those of Ramanuja, Madhva, Nimbarka, and others.
The Vishnu-Purana says that to look upon all beings as equal to one’s self and to love them all as one would love one’s own self is the service of God; for God has incarnated himself in the form of all living beings. The Christian principle of love and equality is anticipated in Buddhism and Bhagavatism, which flourished in India long before Christ; but the force of innate sin is not emphasized as it is in traditional Western Christianity.
Limitations of space forbid me to enter into the various logical concepts and philosophical creeds, criticisms of thought, and dialectic developed in the semi-logical and logical epochs of the evolution of the history of philosophy in India, which could be demonstrated as anticipating similar doctrines and modes of thought in medieval and modern philosophy. Philosophy developed in India continuously for about 3,000 years over a wide tract of the country, and a large part of it still remains unexplored and unexplained in any modern language.
A careful reader of Indian philosophy who is fully acquainted with Western philosophy is naturally agreeably surprised to see how philosophic minds everywhere have traversed more or less the same path and how the same philosophical concepts which developed in later times in Europe were so closely anticipated in India.
But it is impossible to dilate on this here. My chief effort in this chapter has been show the Indian conception of the bearing of philosophy to life, which has been almost uniformly the same in almost all systems of Indian philosophy and which has always inspired all philosophy and all religion.
That philosophy should not remain merely a theoretic science, but should mould our entire personality and should drive us through the hard struggles of moral and spiritual strife on the onward path of self-realization and should ultimately bring us back again to the level of other men and make us share the common duties of social life in a perfected form and bind us with ties of sympathy and love to all humanity-this is the final wisdom of Indian thought.