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No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar First published 18th March, 2007 Gudhipadwa First Reprint 19th April, 2007 Akshaya Truteeya Second Reprint 26th July, 2007 Ashadhi Ekadashi Third Reprint 7th May, 2008 Akshaya Truteeya Š 2008, Ravin Thatte ISBN 978-81-906683-0-9 Cover Design Achyut Palav Price : Rs. 750.00 Published by Vikas Walawalkar B.K.L. Walawalkar Hospital Diagnostic and Research Centre Dervan, Dist. Ratnagiri Maharashtra, India. Printed by Madhav D. Bhagwat Mouj Printing Bureau Khatau Wadi, Girgaum Mumbai 400 004.

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The author expresses his gratitude to the trustees of the Mahalaxmi Temple Trust and the Y.B. Chavan Pratishthan of Mumbai for their generous support in printing this manuscript. The author acknowledges with thanks the permission given by Dinkar Gangal of Granthali, for allowing him to include portions of one of his earlier works published by them. This book would not have been possible without the following source material. The titles of books which are not in English are translated into English for convenience and are marked by an asterix. 1. Dnyaneshwari. Ed. S.W. Dandekar, published 1953 by Swanand in Pune (Poona).* 2. Dnyandevi. Ed. A. Mangrulkar and V.M. Kelkar. Compilors Mrs. S. Vaidya, V.R. Karandikar, K.S. Arjunwadkar and R. Patwardhan. Dept. of Marathi, Mumbai University, 1994, Mumbai.* 3. Encyclopaedia in Marathi. Ed. L. Joshi. Published by Literary and Cultural Centre and the State of Maharashtra, 1976. Mumbai.* 4. Encyclopaedia of Indian Culture. Ed. M. Joshi. Associate Ed. Mrs. P. Hodarkar, G.V. Sahastrabuddhe. Published by S.M. Hodarkar for the Centre for Encyclopaedia of Indian Culture, Pune (Poona).* 5. The Students’ Sanskrit English dictionary by V.S. Apte. Publishers Motilal Banarasidas 1971, Delhi, Varanasi, Patna, Bangalore, Madras. Originally published in 1890 in Poona (Pune), name of publisher not mentioned.* 6. All the words in Dnyaneshwari. Ed. R.N. Velingkar. Published by the Centre for research in Marathi, a publication of Kalnirnay, Mumbai. First published in 1959.* 7. A Dictionary of old Marathi. Ed. S.G. Tulpule and Anne Feldhaus. Assisted by M.P. Pethe and lexicographer Ms. Jayashree Gune. Popular Prakashan, 1999. (Old Marathi into English.) 8. Indian Philosophy by Radhakrishnan, New York. The Macmillan Company, London, George Allen Unwin. First published, 1923. 9. The Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus. Ed. Ms. Sara Tulloch. Oxford, Melbourne, Oxford University Press (in conjunction with Reader’s Digest, 1994). Other sources are cited within the text. Editorial Assistance: Akshar Consultants: Author’s Photograph: Veena Gokhale: v




Chapter 1 : Aum The Sound of the Universe Chapter 2 : ‘That Thing’ Chapter 3 : Elephant God By history, tradition and thoughts Chapter 4 : The Metaphor Chapter 5 : Laws of the Land Chapter 6 : The Loaded Metaphor Chapter 7 : The Classical Language Chapter 8 : The Tinkling Bells Chapter 9 : Theory and Substance Chapter 10: The Editors Chapter 11: The Final Frontier/Philosophy Chapter 12: The Six Hands of Ganesha Chapter 13: The Trunk of Ganesha Chapter 14: The Colour White Chapter 15: The Final Words Again Chapter 16: ‘First there was the Word’ Chapter 17: Saraswati (Sharada) Chapter 18: Guru Chapter 19: Mahabharat Chapter 20: The Sage ‘Vyas’ Chapter 21: The Geeta Chapter 22: The War The courtier and the King Chapter 23: The War Within Chapter 24: Nietzsche’s ‘Overman’ Ebb and Tide Chapter 25: ‘That thing’ and the Nature of Things Chapter 26: The Sensorium/Plato’s Cave Chapter 27: Death of Death That thing, the source, soul, Brahma, the eternal spirit, God (!) vi

5 7 9 12 14 16 18 19 20 21 22 24 27 29 31 33 35 38 42 44 48 56 60 69 75 81 85 85

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Chapter 28: From the Unknown to the Known Chapter 29: ‘On with the act’ Chapter 30: Steady and Content Chapter 31: The Content Man (continued) Chapter 32: A Diversion/ Despondent Arjun Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis Chapter 33: Karma Chapter 34: Religion without Rituals Chapter 35: Man as a Social Creature Chapter 36: Nature and Man Brahma ➝ man ➝ scriptures ➝ yadnya ➝ (karma) ➝ rain ➝ food ➝ man Chapter 37: Social Contract/Leading by Example Chapter 38: Man at Work Chapter 39: Passion, Desire, Greed and Lust Chapter 40: Introduction to Chapter 4 Chapter 41: The Forest of Faith/The Trail of Reason Chapter 42: The Coming of the World Of Karma Chapter 43: Behavioural Modification The problem of duality/ Yadnya as a metaphor The new yadnya Chapter 44: Contemplation or Action Chapter 45: There is no ‘activist’ God Chapter 46: The Power of Words Chapter 47: India The idea, the icon, the idol and reality Chapter 48: Spinoza’s Brahma Emotions, passions, will and reason Chapter 49: The Silkworm and the Bird Chapter 50: Poetic Chatter (!) Chapter 51: Alternate Pathways ‘The Kundalini’ Chapter 52: Back to the normal and the traditional Chapter 53: Familiar territory/(Self) Education Chapter 54: Rebirth (!) Chapter 55: The external world From within to without Chapter 56: Ancestry Mine but not me Chapter 57: ‘Not him but me’ Chapter 58: He not me Chapter 59: In the Classroom Chapter 60: Reasoned Speculation/God as a technique Chapter 61: Death Approaching Chapter 62: ‘Zero’ and ‘Old Light’ Chapter 63: Death Arrived


92 100 110 116 123 128 134 140 145 151 156 163 171 177 186 194 205 217 232 240 245 252 259 265 287 295 301 310 319 326 332 342 349 355 362 370


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Chapter 64 : Dnyaneshwar as Dnyaneshwar Chapter 65 : The Guru and his Disciple Chapter 66 : The Stage Nothing ventured, nothing gained Chapter 67 : Something out of Nothing Chapter 68 : Idol Worship Chapter 69 : All is Well Chapter 70 : Where is God? Chapter 71 : The Sinner and the Saint Heaven and hell Chapter 72 : The Subject So Far Introduction to Chapter 10 Chapter 73 : Vibhooti/An Extraordinary Occurrence Chapter 74 : From the unusual to the cosmic Chapter 75 : God as Cosmos Chapter 76 : Back to Square One Chapter 77 : Devotion Chapter 78 : Debate Chapter 79 : Randomness and Order The Kapil Construct Chapter 80 : The Inherent Contradiction The Material Man and Virtue Chapter 81 : Non-Violence Chapter 82 : Patience, Forbearance and Forgiveness Chapter 83 : Simplicity and Openheartedness Chapter 84 : The Adoration of the Guru Chapter 85 : Purity Chapter 86 : Restraint Chapter 87 : Asceticism Chapter 88 : Lack of Pride and Conceit Chapter 89 : Detachment Chapter 90 : Undivided Faith (and solitude) Chapter 91 : Brahma Realization/Final destination Chapter 92 : Spiritual Destitution Chapter 93 : Brahma, Nature and Man Vedantic Synthesis Chapter 94 : Introduction to Chapter 14 Chapter 95 : Consciousness and Creation Chapter 96 : The World of Matter and the Temper of Man Chapter 97 : Return to Gurubhakti Introduction to Chapter 15 Chapter 98 : The Inverted Tree The Myth and the Reality Chapter 99 : The Perishable, the Imperishable and the Third Chapter 100: Introduction to Chapter 16

376 383 389 396 405 415 423 430 451 459 477 490 523 528 541 549 558 562 570 572 574 582 585 589 591 600 602 604 606 623 647 652 662 684 688 704 727

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Chapter 101: Fear, Fortune and Freedom 737 Chapter 102: Spiritual Destitution Revisited 754 The Fallen Man 754 Chapter 103: The Clearing House 771 Chapter 104: Aum, That Thing, and Now This 798 AUM, TAT, SAT Chapter 105: Introduction to Chapter 18 809 Chapter 106: Karma Classified and Explained 826 Chapter 107: The Inevitability of Karma 833 Chapter 108: Cause and Effect/ Reason and Purpose 851 Chapter 109: The Soul/ Atma 863 Chapter 110: First You See, Then You Do 876 Chapter 111: The Nature of Perception (or knowledge) 885 Chapter 112: The Nature of Karma 893 Chapter 113: The Doer or the One who Acts 898 Chapter 114: Reason and Fortitude (or Courage) 906 Chapter 115: Pleasure, Joy and Bliss 914 Chapter 116: Four Types of Mankind 920 Chapter 117: The Martial Rulers (The Kshatriyas) 927 Chapter 118: Karma leading to Liberation 930 Chapter 119: Ignorance ➝ Karma ➝ Realization ➝ Brahma 934 Chapter 120: The Sequence and the Evolution 943 Chapter 121: Brahma, Nature, Karma, Man, God, 961 Shrikrishna Chapter 122: In praise of Shrikrishna/the Geeta/ 980 and the Guru Chapter 123: The Prayer and the Entreaty 1002 The Life and Times of Dnyaneshwar


About the Portrait Philosophy, which must perforce be theoretical (as opposed to the sciences) is at least to some extent subject to the rigours of logic. Faith allows no such intrusion except perhaps to suggest that since it (faith) is empirically known to improve the human condition it must have a rational basis. Founders of old religions, prophets, incarnations or icons appeared at a time when records were either not kept or what little was kept has been lost to posterity. Their contemporaries also probably did not realize in their time that these founders of religions etc. were to become the objects of veneration over the millennia that followed. Yet, religion survives not so much by scholarly scrutiny as it does by the faith of the multitudes who need an object for their veneration. And this object could be a book if the religion frowns on idol worship. Dnyaneshwar certainly did not reveal a new religion but the effect of his collective work which dealt with philosophy and religion (the Indian tradition does not encourage their bifurcation) was to produce a momentous effect on a huge population in a part of India the landmass of which is larger than most individual western European states. While his work was first perpetuated through the oral tradition and later in print through centuries, alas, no pictorial record of his face or general appearance is available today. Many of the current paintings and their photographs or statuettes of Dnyaneshwar are based on the facial appearance of actors who played the role of Dnyaneshwar in movies or plays. This is both disturbing and amusing, but the author himself is guilty of this trespass of keeping such a statuette at his home. Such is human nature. In this connection there is a curious story of a man who lived in the early part of the last century who became blind in his infancy yet went on to become a great scholar of all Indian philosophical systems by merely listening to all the ancient texts. He knew the whole of the Dnyaneshwari by heart. This information is verifiable. However according to a legend, Dnyaneshwar is supposed to have appeared to him in a vision and a portrait of Dnyaneshwar was then made according to his instructions by rote by a well-known painter who belonged to a well-established art school. That portrait is reproduced on the opposite page. Dnyaneshwar’s attire in this portrait is certainly that of a 13th century preacher. But if that face is his, may remain an enduring mystery at least for the sceptics. x

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The Geeta is by far the most well known of India’s contribution to the philosophical/religious literature of the world. The word ‘geeta’ means a song (or something that can be sung). The proper name Geeta is of the feminine gender in which the ‘t’ is soft. According to tradition she (the Geeta) was narrated or sung by one man to another approximately 2,500 years ago on the backdrop of an impending almost fratricidal1 war. However, the Geeta in the form that she is read today, was probably compiled and edited a thousand years later. The Geeta is in Sanskrit, a classical language. The original narrator of the Geeta, Shrikrishna, was a king of a Western port kingdom in India and is considered an incarnation of God by the faithful. The man to whom the Geeta was narrated was Arjun, an exceptionally talented prince of a kingdom in northwestern India. The Geeta was narrated because Arjun, the prince, found it difficult to face the war that he had to wage. In broader terms he sought answers to fundamental issues that his life brought to bear on him at the time of this war. The Geeta, in a manner of speaking, is a canvas on which several shades of the then extant 2 Indian philosophical and religious thoughts were painted by different philosophers. But the final painting is not only an extraordinary product on its own but is also unquestionably the most recognized and revered3 piece of literature in the mind of India as a country and her people. Because she is in a classical language (Sanskrit), reading, reciting and understanding the Geeta has always been a formidable proposition for the lay people. On the one hand the laity4 revered her out of faith and reason, yet on the other she (the Geeta) could not be properly understood by these very people. Approximately 800 years ago a man called Dnyaneshwar Vitthal Kulkarni at a very young age (when he was only eighteen years old) narrated nearly 9000 verses on the Geeta to a lay audience in their


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

own dialect5 so that she (the Geeta) could be understood by them. That narration in verse is popularly called ‘Dnyaneshwari’. The ‘Dnyaneshwari’ is in the ‘prakrit’ dialect, a predecessor of Marathi, a language of nearly seventy million people, mainly in western India. The Marathi people revere the Dnyaneshwari as much as they do the Geeta. Most editions of the Dnyaneshwari include a Marathi translation in prose, a few have Marathi adaptations in verse and there have been at least three full-fledged verbatim6 English translations of the Dnyaneshwari without a commentary. As we enter the 21st century, leave alone understanding the prakrit dialect, young Indians with Marathi as their mother tongue find it difficult to understand what Dnyaneshwar had to say in terms of philosophy and religion. With the advent of English, most nations whose populations do not have English as their mother tongue are now entering an unsettling period in which they are losing touch with their own language but are not yet adept7 or proficient8 in English. India is probably a classical example of this transition and because of her size, presents a huge problem. It was felt that a book of this nature was therefore needed not only for those who speak Marathi, but for Indians in general, as well as for the Indian diaspora all over the world, not to mention people from other cultures. The emergence of English as a universal language can now also be turned into an advantage. So much that lay hidden amongst various cultures can now be made available to large populations across the globe and the world’s cultural and literary riches can now be re-discovered. The current work has a modern idiom both in its verse as well as in the introductory prose at the beginning of each chapter. An attempt has been made to give it a rational scientific temper. Western philosophy and scientific achievements have been included when in context. Parts of this book might appear heretical9 but contrary to what is believed by the world, all three religions that India has given to the world have strong atheistic10 and/or agnostic11 tendencies. Approximately fifteen per cent of the original has not been translated for fear of repetition or because it contained some obscure mythology which would have needed long explanatory notes. This book has taken almost six years to write because it is not easy to translate from an old language. What is even more difficult is to effect a cultural makeover, because each culture and its language

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has a distinct coherence13. But as the translation progressed it became clear that human aspirations and experiences have a common thread running through them notwithstanding extremely divergent geographical locations. During these five years I have remained active in my profession (plastic and reconstructive surgeon) and have been involved in environmental causes through public trusts. There was of course my family who needed my time. Looking back, this is how Dnyaneshwar would have wanted me to do it. Dnyaneshwari repeatedly advises man to practise moderation and lead a balanced proactive life. A large part of the credit for this book goes to Soniya Khare and Meenal Joshi. Soniya is the daughter of a well-known playwright and a delightful homemaker. Soniya has a Masters in English, a diploma in Journalism and has handled editorial work in a multinational publishing company. Meenal Joshi’s father is a Management Consultant and her mother is very prominent in the women’s movement and works for their empowerment. Meenal has a Masters in History, and a graduate degree in the Russian language. She has an ear for meter.14 Soniya concentrated on the prose. Their help was invaluable. They represent the younger generation and therefore were more perceptive of the needs of the emerging India with her (India’s) broken English. After our work began the question arose as to what kind of English the book should be written in and I convinced them that the formal version of English would be more appropriate. Dnyaneshwari after all deserved better than a ‘ready to cook’ ‘fast food type’ translation. They also agreed that this book could make available a large number of English words which are not used in normal conversation but with which Indians must be familiar to equip them to deal with the English-speaking world. The idea of giving the contextually appropriate meanings of some words at the end of each chapter was therefore implemented and the process enriched all three of us. Towards the end Sandeep Oke helped with great enthusiasm and diligence15 and his electronic expertise and machines proved to be a boon. These five and odd years were turbulent in my professional and social life but all that paled before the worst thing that a man could suffer and which I had to face. I lost my only son in a trekking accident high up in a snowy mountain during an avalanche in another country. As the family clung to each other in sorrow, Dnyaneshwar and his work were a source of strength and courage. It was after all


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

he who was teaching me all about life and death. This book is dedicated to Dnyaneshwar and to my son Abhay and his spirit of adventure. The process of writing this book was very complicated because of the background reading that was necessary. But this never appeared to be a task or a burden. To read, translate, rectify and read again was a joyous experience. I was already introduced to Dnyaneshwar’s work having written several books on the Dnyaneshwari in the preceding five years but slowly and surely Soniya and Meenal also took to him. We have not quite become the detached souls that Dnyaneshwar suggests a man should become and therefore are filled with certain anticipation as to the fate of this book. But anxious we are not, nor filled with trepidation.16 Because as Dnyaneshwar would have it Do not aspire for heaven Nor be afraid of hell, Do not criticize others, Nor fear for self, Joyously travel in peace, And you surely will be well Ravin Thatte 46, Shirish 187 Veer Savarkar Marg Mumbai-16, India email:

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 13. 14. 15. 16.

fratricidal – involving killing of one’s brothers or sisters extant – still existing or surviving revere – hold in deep religious respect laity – lay people not of priestly class dialect – a form of speech peculiar to a particular region verbatim – word for word adept – skilled proficient – skilful heretical – free-thinking, unorthodox agnostic – a person who believes that nothing is known about god atheist – non-believer in god coherence – orderly, consistent, organized meter – related to forming proper lines in poetry diligence – careful and persistent effort trepidation – feeling of fear or alarm

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


Chapter 1

Aum The Sound of the Universe Does the universe have its own sound beyond the cacophony1 of our world? And can one imagine sound without what we call an atmosphere? And what percentage of this universe has an atmosphere like the earth has? Most of outer space is empty and therefore supposed to be devoid of sound or so it was thought, till recently, a spacecraft collected (!!) space (!!), crunched it, then fed the crunched thing into a computer, which in turn was ordered to vocalize it and this resulted in a certain sound. This sound is supposed to represent the background radiation that formed when our universe came about after an enormous explosion, called the ‘big bang’, in popular scientific lexicon2 (see Chapters 16 and 104). That explosion is supposed to have occurred several billion years ago. Man has been preoccupied with sound and light ever since he evolved on this earth. They (sound and light) were already here before man arrived but it was only after man arrived that ‘bird song’ and ‘sunrise’ came to be appreciated. Of the two, man felt closer to sound and had an almost intimate relationship with it because man could himself make sounds. He could also mimic sounds in nature and with these two abilities he made a language, via letters, words and grammar. Light appeared to belong to a higher echelon3. It came from far, man could not produce it except by way of a fire much later and it is only in the last couple of centuries that man has been able to grasp the nature of light. He has called it electromagnetic waves and decided that these waves do not need a medium to travel. And wonder of wonders, light is invisible till it falls on an object which then gets lighted. The thing that allows you to see, cannot be seen itself. More than 2,000 years ago this imponderable thing which was responsible for creating vision was called ‘the eye of the eye’ by a Sanskrit philosophical aphorism4. Things have not changed much. A well-known encyclopaedia of knowledge in the ’70s admitted that


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

light is difficult to define precisely because it is too far back in the history of the universe to be defined by human language, which is only a few thousand years old. It is perhaps because of man’s infirmity in the face of light that he has tried to identify the whole of this universe and its predecessor with a sound. And that sound according to the Indian philosophical and religious tradition has three letters, A, U and M pronounced as ‘AUM’. It is the sound or the hum that preceded and accompanied the dense singularity which burst forth to form the universe. Notice that the word AUM is constructed with the help of the first and the last vowels A and U and is followed with M, a consonant which is not to be pronounced fully but used only to embellish it with nasal resonance. The word or the sound ‘AUM’ is not flat but reverberatory, representing the reverberations of the birth of the universe. Dnyaneshwar follows the tradition and custom in India of beginning anything worthwhile with the sound AUM before he embarks on his Dnyaneshwari, a commentary on the Geeta. 1. 2. 3. 4.

cacophony – harsh discordant mixture of sounds lexicon – dictionary or vocabulary echelon – level or rank aphorism – brief statement of a principle

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dnyaneshwari Verse 1


Chapter 2

‘That Thing’

If there is a sound at the beginning, then there must also be something that produces it and is therefore the source of this sound. Or the sound and the ‘thing’ are two faces of the same ‘thing’. And those two faces are enough for everything that is to follow. All other numbers or forms or symbols are now ready to be manufactured or to happen. This is the essence, we are told, of binary1 numbers where only a zero and number one are needed to build a whole series. This may be true of cosmogony2 as well, a branch of philosophy. It is interesting on this background how Dnyaneshwar pens his first verse about the source of our universe. To ‘that thing’ the first I bow ‘That’ about which the scriptures Speak and aspire to know Hail ‘that thing’ Which only ‘that thing’ knows It is the spirit from which The ‘knowable’ world flows …1 This verse is an example of Dnyaneshwar’s adroitness3 with words to reveal his philosophical outlook. By calling ‘that thing’ as the first, he cleverly and purposely avoids the word ‘creator’. All that is indicated is that this entity occupies the first position in the chronology4 of events in the happening of this universe. What follows in the verse is man’s attempts to understand ‘that thing’. Dnyaneshwar restricts the scope of man’s attempt to know about this ‘primal’ or ‘first thing’ by suggesting that man only aspires to dwell on the subject of this ‘first thing’. He quickly follows it up by suggesting that this attempt is likely to be futile because only ‘that


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

thing’ can know itself. The last two lines in the verse clinch the issue. The knowable world where language is commonly used to describe things has come to flow from this spirit (which itself is unknowable or indescribable). Language consists, in the main, of three things. A verb, a noun, and an adjective. All three encounter difficulties while describing the source of this universe. A verb is known to denote a certain action or a movement. When the source or the primal thing is contemplated it is not thought of ‘as hanging in space’. Because in that sort of arrangement there would be two things, space, and ‘that thing’. If on the other hand the source of this universe is the only thing preceding everything that happened afterwards including the creation of space, then ‘that thing’ fills everything and is therefore incapable of movement and so cannot be described by a verb. The same argument applies to a noun or an adjective. An adjective is utilized to make comparisons, the occasion for which does not arise because ‘that thing’ is all by itself. And lastly, nouns which are used to label objects are also superfluous because there is only one object at hand (!). The indescribable nature of ‘that thing’ is therefore both because it is too far in the past as well as because of the insufficiency of the human language which evolved very very recently in relation to the time that has elapsed since the universe began. Dnyaneshwar is by no means averse to the flow of the world with which he will deal with throughout the 9000 verses most of which this translation will cover. There is only a subtle distinction that he makes, that there is such a thing as a world perceived and there is another which forms its basis, the spiritual world, which must be kept in mind while dealing with this visible world. As modern physics would have it, the pen with which these words are written, the hand that pushes the pen, the mind and intelligence and memory that guide the hand are all nothing but cells and molecules and atoms in which matter becomes energy and vice versa, in a dance, the steps of which man has not been able to fathom completely. Indeed, ‘that thing’, which only to itself is known! 1. 2. 3. 4.

binary – arithmetical system using two as a base cosmogony – a theory about the origin of the universe adroitness – skilfulness chronology – arrangement of events in a certain order

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dnyaneshwari Verse 2


Chapter 3

Elephant God By history, tradition and thoughts

Ganesha you are the Lord, the God You enlighten All that there is for me Listen, says Nivrutti’s servant That is me …2 From ‘that inscrutable primal thing’ Dnyaneshwar suddenly in the very second verse descends (!) to an animal God, Ganesha, half elephant and half man, a popular icon1 if there is, not only in India but all over the East. Even the West is catching up with Ganesha, out of curiosity if not adoration. This second verse is pregnant with history, tradition and the Indian thought streams and is explained below point by point. • India’s literary tradition has a history going back to almost three and a half thousand years. It was originally in Sanskrit, first preserved by an oral tradition and later by way of a script. • Sanskrit is an Indo-European language and like all things in the past, it is impossible to make out how much of this language was Indian (Indo) and how much European (and from what part of Europe). • It had been a long-held view that most of the thoughts enshrined2 via the Sanskrit language had their antecedents outside India and were brought to the Indian subcontinent by successive waves of alien (!) people, that is people not indigenous to the subcontinent. • That view has taken several knocks in the recent past by way of archaeological evidence which supports the theory that the indigenous populations in the northwest of India were capable of the thoughts conceived in the then literature in Sanskrit. • Even here on the Indian subcontinent, progress in literary or


• •

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

philosophical thoughts appears to have occurred not only in the northwest but in the east and south of India as well. The main texts in Sanskrit dealing with philosophy or religion are called the Vedas, from the root ‘vid’ to mean ‘to know’ in Sanskrit. There are four main Vedas, the last of which is Atharva, which is perhaps the most modern because it deals with a variety of subjects, for example, cosmogony3, the nature of this world, marriage, agriculture, politics, medicine, war, witchcraft and occult practices. It was because of the last three that it remained shunned by the then priestly class and was only later assimilated in the main body of the Vedas. The Atharva Veda from its internal references was certainly articulated in the east or south or both in India. These parts were covered by dense forests unlike the northwest which had vast plains. The Atharva, for example, mentions elephants while the other Vedas mention other animals, mainly horses. The elephants, to an emerging agricultural community (and even otherwise because of their size and wild habitat), were a scourge4 if not a nuisance. It was therefore customary to propitiate5 this animal as an animistic God. Even a tiger was so propitiated. It was only later when man learnt to use the elephant to do his work that its value came to be realized. This is how a half-man halfelephant idol probably came to be constructed. According to a tradition in India the elephant is the most intelligent of the terrestrial animals and its head (thus fitted) served a purpose. This then is the Ganesha. It is in the Atharva that one finds a long hymn praising the elephant God Ganesha, which is used as a model to describe the various branches of knowledge then existent. Dnyaneshwar uses this reference in the Atharva to eulogize Ganesha at the beginning of his narration. Dnyaneshwar picks up this reference because he belongs to the Atharva school, the more indigenous of the four Vedas, though by the time he narrates his commentary on the Geeta, at least 1200 years have elapsed since the Geeta was compiled and all the four Vedas had become one body of work. But traditions, schools, cults persist. And as Dnyaneshwar gets ready to speak on the Geeta which attempts to summarize almost all that there was in terms of knowledge, culture and customs he reminds his listeners to what school he belongs and who his guru

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is. The name of the guru is Nivrutti, who incidentally is also his elder brother. • The school to which Dnyaneshwar belongs believes that ‘Guru is God,’ and what is more, once in that school it is customary to mention your lineage not in terms of your parents or other ancestors but by way of a succession of your gurus. That is why the mention in the verse ‘Nivrutti’s servant’. • Now let us look at the verse again Ganesha you are the Lord, the God You enlighten All that there is for me Listen, says Nivrutti’s servant That is me …2 Here the last two lines are addressed to those who have assembled to listen to the Dnyaneshwari. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

icon – an image or a statue enshrined – preserved or cherished cosmogony – a theory about the origin of the universe scourge – a thing seen as punishing on a large scale propitiate – to appease, to please, to make amends


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verse 3

Chapter 4

The Metaphor1

Taking a cue from the Atharva Veda (see Chapter 3 for an explanation) Dnyaneshwar now starts describing the Ganesh idol and uses the idol in a long metaphor1 over several verses. The first verse refers to its dress and then to the idol’s body. Here is the verse The world of words is your dress Which on your body sits perfect But your body within Is the faultless alphabet …3 As can be seen from the verse Dnyaneshwar is dividing our oral and written communication into words, grammar and language on the one hand and the alphabet or the raw expressed sounds which form letters, on the other (consonants and vowels). There is a reason for this. Language and its grammar can change like a dress however perfect it might appear in the contemporary sense. Fashions change and so does grammar. A language is subject to mongrelization2 as compared to what is called the classical language. The accents, dictions3 and delivery vary from region to region. There can be more than one language and languages can perish in the course of history. Not so the sound that forms letters. The A or B in English is not different from the A or B in Sanskrit. A language, however perfect, can be faulted for the way it is used in its construct. Not so the letters or the alphabet which are drawn from nature where sounds originate. They are the ‘given’ as far as language is concerned. They constitute the body on which language is mounted, as the verse clearly sets out. Dnyaneshwar who sets great store by the beauty of language, as we shall see when we proceed with his narration, is reminding his

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readers at the very beginning that languages are made by man as opposed to sounds, letters and the alphabets (and even the arrangement of the alphabet by man is different in different languages). The verse at a very fundamental level is about nature (sound and letters) as opposed to creature (grammar and language). The first is the ‘given’, the latter is derived.

1. metaphor – imaginative application of word, phrase or term 2. mongrelization – of mixed origin, nature or character (not pure) 3. diction – the way a speech is delivered


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verse 4

Chapter 5

Laws of the Land

India as an ancient cradle of civilization had to have its own ethical values, a certain legal code and a system of justice. These three together were called the ‘Smriti’. The word smriti in Sanskrit literally means memory but can also be construed to mean ‘historical’ or ‘out of experience’. The ethical code or the law of the land was therefore labelled as ‘Smriti’ because it had evolved in history. Another Sanskrit word that needs to be introduced here is ‘Shruti’, to mean ‘what was heard’. The Shruti literature occurred to man through sheer inspiration and dealt with the nature of this world, cosmogony1 and the role of man vis-à-vis his environment. The ‘Smriti’ on the other hand dealt with social affairs albeit based on what the ‘Shruti’ envisaged about the cosmos in general. The Shruti, for example, stated that there is an inherent logic in all that happens in our universe but the source of this universe is likely to remain beyond human comprehension. The Smriti therefore based itself on evolved logic and belonged to the temporal2 world. Dnyaneshwar refers to the Smriti in Verse 4 having briefly glanced at the Shruti in Verse 1, Chapter 2. The fourth verse is as under and again addresses the idol of Ganesha in a metaphor. Your body limbs and sinews3 Are the laws that abide Their shape and curves tantalize4 But their motives are the real delight …4 That laws shape a society is brought out in the first two lines, the word sinews3 being crucial. That the society is aware and awed by the laws is brought out in the third line but Dnyaneshwar attempts to clinch the issue in the fourth line of the verse by referring to the motives behind the laws. If a law can be misused notwithstanding

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


its lofty motives then it fails. Laws therefore need to adapt to circumstances brought on by changing perceptions. The motive must be to bring about justice and that according to Dnyaneshwar is what the source of delight is in the Smriti. As in the preceding verse the core value is stressed in this verse as well. The Indian Smriti is exceptional in one respect. It speaks less about privileges and more about duties. It was perhaps prone to misuse for its division of people into four groups according to their abilities, leading to what is known as the caste system. True, it became fossilized, resisted change and in fact Dnyaneshwar himself though a Brahmin was to be ostracized5 by the priestly class for a violation of a certain code by his parents. But that does not take away the greatness of the Indian Smriti. It was elaborate and precise for its time and perhaps the only such document in the then contemporary world. Its motivation was to bring order to an emerging society and it is this motivation that Dnyaneshwar lauds, and therefore says ‘the Smriti’s shape and curves tantalize4, but the Smriti’s motives are the real delight.’ The verse in a way is a tribute to Dnyaneshwar’s magnanimity. He praises the Smriti for its motives despite his personal tribulations6 occasioned by this very Smriti and its faulty interpretations (please see ‘The Life and Times of Dnyaneshwar’ in the annexure). 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

cosmogony – a theory about the origin of the universe temporal – of the world as opposed to spiritual sinew – tendon, tough fibrous tissue joining muscle to bone tantalize – tease by way of appearance ostracize – exclude from society tribulation – oppression


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verse 5

Chapter 6

The Loaded Metaphor1

Dnyaneshwari was meant for the laity2, was told in their own tongue (as opposed to Sanskrit which was and is a classical language) and a vast majority of its 9000 verses are extremely friendly and replete with descriptions of the natural surroundings of the then society, its customs and traditions as well as mythological figures with which the laity was familiar. This is however not true of the first 20 verses which encompass the literary, philosophical and historical traditions of India. They have no direct connection with the Geeta or her author (Shrikrishna) who is not even mentioned till her fiftieth verse. These verses are not theistic3 (in the sense of lauding a personal God), are delivered in pregnant or loaded words and phrases and make very slow reading. It is not as if they need contemplation4 in the spiritual sense but they need to be read and studied by gathering information. It is said that great souls speak little and that too mysteriously and use an economy of scale (to use a modern expression). Be that as it may, it is left to those who follow, those who have an enquiring mind and consider these great souls as gurus, to pursue the objective of unveiling the meaning of these rather taciturn5 and abrupt literary creations. What follows is such an attempt. It will need sympathetic and patient reading, and also certain empathy6. As in all other ancient cultures Indian literature too is full of mythology, lore7 and legends. For example, there is a separate God for creation, another for looking after the universe and a third for destruction and death and the last includes the death of man as well as the universe. There are other characters as well, minor Gods and demons, diplomats, moneybags, sages full of penance and therefore with extraordinary powers to curse and offer boons. The stories also serve another purpose. They offer a genealogy8 of important families and when actors in these stories travel, geography is unveiled with descriptions of landscapes, rivers, oceans, forests and fauna9. There are ghosts and magical musicians and witches. Also included are

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


battles and wars, rules of martial conduct, logic and an archaic10 religion. The content of Indian mythology is rich and diverse but its central theme is to convey messages wrapped in stories which the lay people can easily grasp. Virtue always wins over vice, a devoted wife or queen ultimately wins over her man or king. Jealousy and revenge are often portrayed, so is greed and charity. But the use of the story is always educational about how best one can go about this world and what this world is and how it came about. In this verse, the metaphor of the Ganesha idol which began with his dress and his body is continued, the ornaments on the body are now being described in some detail. The verse reads The body is laden With precious stones They are mythology Legends and lore Their setting is neat But the stones Have prophetic11 ideas At their core …5 The reader is advised to look for these precious stones while surveying this body of literature and pick up what they signify. In a laudatory reference to legends, lore, and mythology, a Sanskrit saying goes as follows ‘a scholar might be well-versed in philosophical literature and its substance but he is worthless if he is unable to relate with the laity through their literature (i.e. mythology, legends and lore)’. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11.

metaphor – imaginative application of word, phrase or term laity – lay (ordinary people) as opposed to priests theistic – based on the idea of God contemplation – a survey with eye or in the mind taciturn – reserved in speech empathy – to identify with a person or a thought lore – tradition of a particular group genealogy – a study of a family tree fauna – the animal life of a region archaic – primitive/no longer in common use prophetic – from prophet, who predicts what is to come in future


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verse 6

Chapter 7

The Classical Language

Having stressed the importance of lay literature in the previous verse Dnyaneshwar refers to the classical language in the next. This verse refers to the cloth which covers the idol. Refined language Has him covered In beautiful forms Everyone adores The cloth in texture Is fine for sure And shine it does With brilliant colours …6 Here, unlike the hidden wisdom of the previous verse, everything is obvious. The forms are beautiful and adorable, the texture is fine and the cloth shines brightly. This is the language of pure philosophy, of scholars and the wise, the language of the court and of large urban centres. It is in this language that poems and plays are to be written, in which knowledge must be disbursed and it is this language which formed the basis of aphorisms1, dissertations2, law, medicine and cultural exchanges. 1. aphorism – a brief statement of a principle 2. dissertation – a detailed description of a subject

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dnyaneshwari Verse 7


Chapter 8

The Tinkling Bells

Perhaps the first station of a language is poetry as well as plays. But in the eyes of Dnyaneshwar they are low down in the order as compared to philosophical literature. They (poetry and plays) therefore are placed on the toes of Ganesha’s idol. Traditionally, the feet and toes of Ganesha are decorated with tiny bells which make lilting sounds when the idol is moved. Here is the verse Tiny bells on his toes Listen to their sounds with care They the bells, are plays and verse Their meaning is worthy and clear …7 Here too the reader is advised care, that is to pay attention to the sounds that poems and plays make. By the rules that existed in ancient India, literary works were prohibited from depicting vulgarity, use of profane1 language, exhibition of naked bodily passion and gratuitous2 violence. The literature had to have a noble purpose, and if vice was displayed the literary work had to lead to a conclusion that vice did not pay. The purpose of writing plays and poems was to salute the human spirit by way of describing human affairs, in an inferential 3 manner. It is for this reason that Dnyaneshwar exhorts his readers to listen with care lest they miss the wood for the beautiful trees. Says he, listen to the sense that the tinkling bells make. 1. profane – vulgar, obscene 2. gratuitous – uncalled for, lacking good reason 3. inferential – coming to a conclusion by way of logic


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verse 8

Chapter 9

Theory and Substance

From mythology and verses and plays (sometimes called light literature) Dnyaneshwar now moves to the more weighty forms of literature in which worthy ideas are presented which are then subjected to discussions and later proved or disproved or from which a compromise is reached. There is a very old Indian tradition in this regard and a similar western model would be that of thesis1, antithesis2 and synthesis3. This kind of literature has theorems and riders, arguments and counter-arguments, proofs or lack of it and the writing is often voluminous and abstruse4. But it is here in this kind of literature that important conclusions and principles about life emerge. Here is the verse. When his precious clothes You see from close They are a design Of theories and puzzles Worthy words and phrases too In which precious stones snuggle ‌8 Notice the exhortation. Look for the precious things in the philosophical treatises. They are safely and warmly embedded (snuggle) in the dress. 1,2,3. 4.

thesis, antithesis and synthesis – a proposition to be proved, opposition to the proposition, then a conclusion from these two abstruse – difficult to understand

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dnyaneshwari Verse 9


Chapter 10

The Editors

Except for the most inspired of creators, editors play a very important role in compiling literature so that a readable and cogent1 manuscript emerges for the benefit of readers. Not only is a second look needed for what is already written but when a compendium2 or a multiauthored book is to be produced an editor is invaluable. More often than not an editor is an author in his own right but he also has the responsibility of judging and selecting material that he thinks would help the future generations. The legendary Vyas is supposed to have epitomized3 all these qualities according to the Indian tradition. Dnyaneshwar narrates specific verses about Vyas a little later but here in this verse refers to ‘Vyas and the others’ who helped organize and assemble the existing literature for the benefit of the readers. Here is the verse. Vyas’s reason and genius And those of the other editors The cummerbund4 on the idol’s waist Its beautiful laces aflutter …9 The idea of the cummerbund is worth a comment (the word has its roots in the Indian languages). The encircling nature of the garment is a clincher and suits the role of the editor. The laces on show that are ‘aflutter’ are a minor but important reminder of the role that the other editors play in addition to Vyas. 1. 2. 3. 4.

cogent – convincing, compelling compendium – a summary or abstract of a larger work epitomize – be a perfect example cummerbund – a belt around the waist (cummer) (bund = band)


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verse 10

Chapter 11

The Final Frontier / Philosophy

The Sanskrit word for philosophy is ‘Tattwa–dnyan’. Tattwa meaning the principle and Dnyan to mean knowledge. The word dnyan is from the Indo-European root ‘gn’ (to know; gnosis, diagnosis etc). That founding principle or ‘Tattwa’ has been a source of debate in cultures everywhere as in India, and in India the debate seems to have been very active between 1000 BC to about AD 500 and has provided six different streams of thought. While arguing against each other they also borrowed and depended on each other. Their dates of origin are not clear though their proponents are usually identifiable by names. A lot of this material is dialogical, that is between a teacher and student, between two wise men, sometimes between a father and a son or even between a king and a scholar on a visit to a royal court. However, a majority of their discussions are shown to have taken place in the quietude of forests away from the bustle of the cities and courts. Two more Sanskrit words need to be introduced here. Vedant and Upanishads. The word Ved (from the Sanskrit root Vid=know) has been already introduced and the Vedas are the philosophical texts. The word Vedant is a compounded word. Those philosophical texts that offered the concluding remarks of the ‘Ved’ are Vedant (Ved + ant). This part of the literature is also called Upanishad which literally means ‘sit near’ and its derived meaning is ‘(sit near me, and let us discuss)’. The Upanishads form one of the six streams of Indian philosophy and it is this stream that Dnyaneshwar believes in. Dnyaneshwar does not believe in two entirely different philosophical streams of India—Jainism and Buddhism which deny the primacy of Vedic literature, and have been called materialistic. More about them later. The idol of Ganesha which Dnyaneshwar is describing and using as a model (to mount his metaphors) is a Nepalese version and has six hands. The verse is as follows:

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


Six hands hold things Each different in appearance Six streams of thoughts Somewhat lack coherence1 ‌10 1. coherence – sticking together


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verses 11 – 13

Chapter 12

The Six Hands of Ganesha

(1) The Atomic Theory – This might come as a surprise to readers but one of the oldest theories about the nature of this world, described in India is the atomic theory. The words such as atoms, molecules and their spatial arrangement vis-à-vis the space within them as well as on their outside are quite clearly enunciated and it is specifically stated that the qualities of a substance depend upon how the atoms within that substance are assembled (referred to in the verse as a hook). (2) The School of Logic – This is said to have followed the atomic theory though such was its profundity that its principles of logic were ultimately applied to prove the atomic nature of things. Indian logic had terms such as preamble, proof, arguments and conclusions and nothing could be discussed unless these four criteria could be properly fulfilled. Arguments were classified as supportive, destructive, or rambling and it was specifically mentioned that the one who practised and/or presided over logical deliberations had to empty himself of all emotions and passions. Interestingly, it was also stated that what follows these deliberations is the logical conclusion and not necessarily the truth (referred to in the verse as an axe). (3) The Theory of Creation – This is a very elaborate theory and has been lauded as one of the most well rounded ideas that India has offered to the world. This theory basically states that natural forces are supreme and evolve by way of 36 factors. The unleashing of the natural forces occurs by way of impregnation by spirits which are many in number (discussed at length in Chapter 79). (Referred to in the verse as a flowers.) (4) The Yogic School – The word yog is akin to the word yoke usually used in relation to animals when they are leashed or are bound together for a purpose. When the mind, which is mercurial on account of the variety of impulses it receives and sends out, is

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


put to rest and rendered quiet and is drawn near its spiritual origin, a yogic state is supposed to have been achieved. This state enables man to deal with this world more effectively (referred to in the verse as the hand that blesses). (5) The Liturgical School – believes that a variety of sacramental1 and liturgical2 acts together with man’s normal vocation are the sole requirements for his passage through this world and if done effectively the possibility of a rebirth in this world is eliminated and man thus merges once for all with the spirit. This school makes extensive use of logic (referred to in the verse as a broken tooth). (6) The Vedant School – The word Vedant has been explained in the previous chapter and means the culmination of Vedic thought, the Vedas being the philosophical literature. This school is perhaps the most rational of the six and borrows from the others to justify its conclusions but also stands on its own. Its premise is simplicity itself. This universe is energy or spirit to begin with. It is also this very energy or spirit throughout its course and also at its culmination. For some unexplained reason this spirit takes on forms or substance. The natural world and man are parts of this formation. Man is special because he happens to have a superior intelligence (referred to as the ‘sweet’ in the verse). None of these six schools of philosophy are classically theistic3 in that God as a motivator or a creator is never used in their exposition and none of them support a theory of a caring, creating and a killing God. Here is the verse with numbers put for each school as described in the prose. The atomic theory is the hook1 Logical analysis is the axe2 The lotus and its petals3 Show how things were made The blessing hand is the yogic text4 And liturgy the broken tooth5 But the hand with the ‘sweet’6 Is the ultimate truth …11 The use of the word axe to denote logical analysis as well as a hook which is sharp and pointed to indicate the atomic theory are more than appropriate. The blessing hand for the Yogic School signifies the peace that will prevail in the human heart if yogic


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

methods are practised. The lotus is a symbol for the creationist theory because it employs 36 principles for creation and the petals of the lotus flowers are several in number. The broken tooth carried by Ganesha in one hand has been a subject of speculation for long. Its broken nature probably indicates that the liturgical school is incomplete. The Ganesha has in one of his hands a sweet, used to indicate the final word, the Vedant, with a hint that the preparation is now complete and ready to eat. 1. sacramental – religious and ceremonial 2. liturgical – related to public worship 3. theistic – based on the idea of God

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dnyaneshwari Verse 14


Chapter 13

The Trunk of Ganesha

Vedant1 states that this universe is in essence spirit or energy. And matter as well as life appears to be mounted on that foundation. The quality that is required for man to discern ‘Vedantic essence’, is called ‘Vivek’ in Sanskrit. The Vek as a part of this word comes from the root ‘Vich’ to mean to sift, to choose or to select. The prefix2 Vi lends strength to the word and therefore finally means a special or sharp ability to discern the ultimate truth or the spirit from which flow things. It must be noted here that the word discern means ‘to distinguish by intellect or vision’ and the word essence means the substance by which ‘a thing is what it is’. It would seem from the above that however different things might appear in different cultures, languages speak with one tongue when it comes to the ultimate reality. More to the point is what Dnyaneshwar thinks about ‘vivek’ or ‘discernment’ when he looks at the idol of Ganesha. He compares ‘vivek’ to Ganesha’s ‘trunk’ . The verse reads The straight solid trunk Of the elephant’s head Is the key To illusion and truth The one which Leads to bliss And from where Divine joy ensues …12 The choice of the trunk as the organ of discernment is significant in two respects—it is a large organ and it also encloses the nose of the animal. The latter hints at the act of ‘smelling out things’ and his choice of a large organ shows the respect Dnyaneshwar had for


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

‘vivek’ or discernment between the spiritual and the material world. Unless the spiritual component of our life is recognized, one is likely to be trapped by the needs of our body presided over by a mercurial mind by way of the tantalizing3, sensual4 world. 1. 2. 3. 4.

Vedant – the culmination of the Vedic texts prefix – an element placed at the beginning of the word to qualify its meaning tantalize – tease by way of appearance sensual – related to bodily pleasures

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dnyaneshwar Verse 15


Chapter 14

The Colour White

From the trunk Dnyaneshwar moves on to the elephant’s ivory tusks (teeth) and his eyes. The choice of the white tusks for what Dnyaneshwar wants to convey is fascinating to say the least. As physics would have it when a substance reflects almost all the rays of light (or in other words almost all waves irrespective of their frequency), man perceives white (colour!). Not so with the other colours. Leaves appear green because some rays are absorbed and only some are returned. The sky is blue or dark depending upon how much and what parts of light waves are reflected. The English expression ‘colourful language’ signifies a distorted view of things or ‘to state in a exaggerated or in an impressive or even a ribald1 manner’. The other colours therefore don’t tell the whole truth while the colour white is impartial. Let us now look at the fifteenth verse When passions ebb And ‘things’ get resolved What shines Is the ivory white tooth Tiny eyes In the elephant’s head Ward off evil With their visionary look …13 Dispassionate discourse, without any bias whatsoever, are therefore the shining white tusks. The mention of small eyes in such a huge head is no less significant. In most cultures large eyes are a sign of beauty while deeply set small eyes denote intelligence. When you peer at a thing closely you tend to narrow your eyes to think and to gauge the significance of what you are observing. It is on this judgement that the future is contemplated. The eyes therefore are


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

symbols of a certain vision and they are referred to as instruments to ward off impending bad times. 1. ribald – coarse, disrespectful, vulgar and immodest

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dnyaneshwari Verses 16–18


Chapter 15

The Final Words Again

If the spirit manifests as matter (and what we call living things) should it (the spirit) be considered as a distinct entity? This is a debate which will probably never abate till the mind speculates on matter or an object is viewed by a subject. The nature of man being what it is, the world without, appears to him more knowable than what is within him. This trait in man can be used cleverly to concentrate on something outside himself which also necessarily has to be an embodiment1 of the universal spirit. Idol worship, the churches with their crosses, the mosques with the faithful facing Mecca or the huge pagodas with Buddhas enshrined in them are all methods by which man can focus on tangible things. To put it irreverently, this places man at a distance from what he worships and sometimes also places man against man (as history shows us). This is the basis of the dualistic theory. To put it the other way round the dualistic theory facilitates ‘worshipping’ faiths. As opposed to dualism there is monism where it is stressed that the only principle or thing (!) that matters (!) is single or one, universal, immanent 2 as well as transcendental3 and when man becomes aware of this situation, all else falls by the wayside (!). This principle in Vedant is called Brahma (from the Sanskrit Brih to mean to spread). Brahma is present at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end (of this universe) and is present even when what we call the universe does not exist. Dnyaneshwar belonged to the monistic school and here is what he says in Verses 16, 17, 18 to uphold this theory. Is ‘that thing’ (Brahma) Different from man Or are they One and the same If they are different Must be the two convex parts


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Of your forehead And so, they are the same Is what the Upanishads claim The Upanishads are the fragrant flowers Which adorn your head …14 The Upanishads as explained earlier are the concluding parts of the Vedic literature (Vedant). The elephant’s head indeed has two distinct parts to its large forehead and the idol of Ganesha is usually decorated with fragrant flowers, and is also worshipped by placing flowers on its head. Look at the irony of this writing. The worshipper of an idol is being told of a single universal principle. But that is what Dnyaneshwar will do throughout his long narration on the Geeta. He talks to man, whom he understands with all his weaknesses and tries to convince him that the visible forms of religion are like a toy in the hands of a child. In a simile4 that is repeated time and again man is depicted as dreaming when he pursues these external forms of religion till he wakes up to the reality of a single universal principle and then gets released. Thus concludes Dnyaneshwar’s poetic and metaphorical5 narration of the Ganesha which began with tinkling bells on its toes and ends with flowers on his head. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

embodiment – provide the spirit with a bodily form immanent – indwelling and inherent transcendental – existing beyond the material world simile – comparison of one thing with another metaphorical – imaginative application of word, phrase or term

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dnyaneshwari Verses 19, 20


Chapter 16

‘First there was the Word’

The title of this chapter is one of the earliest things that the New Testament says. I am told that the meaning implied in the Bible may be quite different from the word AUM discussed in the first chapter of this book. Be that as it may, it makes for a catchy title and therefore is used here without any irreverence. As explained earlier, AUM is the auditory component of this universe at large and its predecessor ‘the primal’ ‘that thing’ or ‘Brahma’ (from the word Brih in Sanskrit to mean to spread). Dnyaneshwar now fits this principle to the whole idol of Ganesha and narrates the following verse (please also see Chapter 104): A is for your legs U for your belly Like a rounded keg And M is for your Circular head …15 The verse looks silly at first glance but is in fact not silly. Dnyaneshwar is an astute craftsman and borrows from past literature while writing about the word AUM. This verse too is rich in content. There is a part of Vedant1 devoted to the word AUM. It is said therein that a man can only experience three states. His waking hours when his mind and body are active (the letter A in AUM), when he is dreaming as in sleep, when the mind somewhat overcomes the body (the letter U). Or lastly, he might be in deep sleep where as far as he is concerned everything is extinguished except his soul (the letter M). Good restful sleep is also experienced but only after one wakes up (post-facto2). This is the state in which the material body and the mind are merged with the soul to be replenished for the next day with its (‘soul’s’) energy. Look at the choice of letters by Dnyaneshwar for each of these states. ‘A’ is for the legs (denoting


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

activity), ‘U’ for the idol’s potbelly, a reservoir of memories of which dreams are made and ‘M’ for the circular head where the cycle is complete and the brain is replenished after a rest. This is exactly what the Vedantic essay said about AUM and is used with great finesse by Dnyaneshwar. But he does not stop there. True to his school he remembers his Guru at this stage and narrates the following verse: Where these three letters gather The world of words is embraced To this seed of space and time I bow with Guru’s grace …16 AUM has two components— it is the seed of everything and also encompasses man’s world of knowledge. It is an expression of the spirit or Brahma and Dnyaneshwar admits that he can bow to AUM because of his Guru’s grace. 1. Vedant – the concluding portion of Vedic literature 2. post-facto – after the event

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dnyaneshwari Verse 21


Chapter 17

Saraswati (Sharada)

To Goddess Saraswati Of Magical words Goddess you are You enchant the world With architecture and the arts I bow to you With all my heart ‌17 The proper name Saraswati has fascinating roots. The word Saras in Sanskrit means a body of water. There is another Sanskrit root ‘sru’ to mean to move. The suffix1 -wati makes a proper name Saraswati and is of the feminine gender rendering this proper name into a river (water that flows). A similar Indonesian name is Megawati. The word Meg was originally Megh (Sanskrit) meaning a cloud. The word Megawati probably therefore means a maiden of dusky complexion because in the east a cloud is usually dark, certainly in Indonesia a country partly covered by a rainforest. The river Saraswati is one of the most frequently mentioned rivers in ancient Sanskrit literature. It has been placed anywhere between Afghanistan (in the west) to Himachal Pradesh (a northern subHimalayan state in India, to the east). The river is now extinct, though recent satellite images have shown a linear body of subterranean water in parts of Rajasthan and Punjab (both states in western India). Sanskrit literature dating back to 2500 years mentions the bounty of nature along the banks of this river, the human settlements that formed along these banks and the culture that flourished. The arts, crafts, music and language, therefore, owed their existence to this river and over the years, this river slowly came to be portrayed as a goddess of creativity. If the variety and diversity in this world came out of a singularity


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

(the Brahma2) then there was a goddess who shaped the matter that followed creation. She is a female deity and therefore suited to creation, nurture and culture. She is described as the consort3 of Brahma. In the original verse by Dnyaneshwar she is referred to as Sharada, an alternate name for Saraswati. In Sanskrit, the word Sharad refers to the two months of autumn when the monsoon rains have receded and nature is in full bloom and natural creation is at its peak. That is why the name Sharada*. In the verse under discussion she is also referred to as Mohini, which translated into English, implies a bewitching, fascinating, hypnotising or enchanting beauty. The words are apt because nature in its full bloom is indeed enchanting. But it is as the Goddess of creation through human endeavour that she is now popularly recognised. She presides over words (vocabulary, Sanskrit ‘vacha’, Latin ‘vacca’), arts and music and is regarded as the goddess of learning, as opposed to the goddess of wealth (Laxmi – another goddess in the Indian pantheon4). She is depicted as sitting on a white swan or a lotus. She has four hands. One hand holds a book, the other an ornament of white stones and the remaining two hands hold a stringed musical instrument called veena. The veena is one of the three oldest Indian musical instruments (dating back to 2500 years), the other two being the flute, made out of bamboo and the mridangam, which is a percussion instrument (a drum). According to tradition, when important hymns7 were chanted by the priest in high octaves8, his wife either accompanied him or followed him by strumming on the veena. Saraswati, as an idol, conveys an ethos of dignity, seriousness and also calm and is invoked before any project involving knowledge, words and intellect is undertaken. This is why Dnyaneshwar invokes Saraswati in this verse before he embarks on the main body of his work. * There is another story regarding the origin of the word Sharada. A great debate took place between Shankar Namboodri, the proponent of the monistic5 theory and Mandan Mishra of the liturgical6 school around the seventh century which Shankar Namboodri won. The debate was presided over by Sharada, the wife of Mandan Mishra. Sharada was considered a scholar in her own right and was given a boon that on the ninth day of the autumnal season of Sharad, she would be bestowed with all the knowledge of the world. That is why Sharada. 1. 2. 3. 4.

suffix – an element added to the end of the word to form a derivative Brahma – ‘that thing’ from which the universe formed consort – husband or wife, companion pantheon – all the deities of a people, collectively

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar 5. 6. 7. 8.


monistic (theory) – where everything in this universe is attributed to one source liturgical – related to public worship of an idol etc. hymn – a song in praise of a God or an exalted thing octave – a series of musical notes


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verses 22–27

Chapter 18


Dnyaneshwar now arrives at his next destination, a very important one, as will be seen towards the end of this chapter. He now arrives at the feet of his guru having travelled from the goddess of learning. At the beginning of these three verses, he avers that his guru is within his heart and therefore, says he of his guru The buffeting waters of this life I could take in my stride because he showed me the truth beneath the turbulence of this life and thus parted the waters of this dreadful strife …18 The word guru is almost certainly derived from the Sanskrit word gariman which has various connotations1, viz.2 importance, dignity, greatness, worth, excellence or heaviness. The word gariman in turn is derived from the Indo-European root gr or grr, meaning heavy, later in Latin gravitas or in English gravity or great. It is interesting to note that the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter, is called Guru in Sanskrit and in almost all Indian languages as well. Also notable is the fact that the planet Guru is a benefic planet capable of bestowing benefits (as opposed to malefic) according to Indian astrology. The word for gravity in Sanskrit is gurutvakarshan (guru + aakarshan) probably vaguely implying a relationship between mass and attraction, (note the similarity between the words attraction and aakarshan). The word guru has therefore travelled from weighty, great, dignified, to venerable and a preceptor or teacher. The system of ‘taking’ a guru is typically Indian in the sense that once you accept someone as a guru, he remains your guru throughout your life. The system is fashioned so as to check a student from

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


getting too full of himself and drowning himself in his own words and insolence3. The word Guru was one of the earliest of the Indian/ Sanskrit words to have entered into the English language. Dnyaneshwar has written a verse elsewhere, in which he compares his guru to ‘that singularity or Brahma’ from which the universe forms. There are other verses in this group about the Guru The ‘immortal’ I find When the Guru drives The chariot of my mind …19 The mind is forever on the move, on some conquest or the other as it responds to the various senses. What it achieves belongs to this world which is ever-changing or dying. The real truth, the spirit is immortal which the guru helps find by driving the chariot of the mind of the disciple. Or When water reaches the roots The trees grow branches, leaves and fruit The pilgrim centres Along the rivers To the oceans Finally deliver …20 The theme of both the verses is the same. To be devoted to the guru means to water the roots, the rest follows automatically. In the case of rivers, which are many, they must finally pour into the sea, the ultimate meeting point. All important roads lead to the Guru. There are several other verses written about the Guru Unchanging and indescribable ancient and indestructible …21 10

Pure joy and fervour Nivrutti my succour4 and saviour …22


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

The threshold to your house Let me be So that you walk over me …23 At your feet let me be Or even better Your feet themselves Let me be …24 It cannot be denied that devotion has great merits, because experience and analysis have shown that devotion drives away dejection and despair from a devotee’s heart. The mention in the first verse of the guru showing the truth behind this dreadful strife and turbulent waters revolves around the word ‘vivek’ used in the original verse. This word is from the Sanskrit root ‘vich’ which means to sift and then to arrive at the truth. If there is stress and strife in this world it is the characteristic of this world. The truth or the spirit is hidden behind this turbulence, that this spirit is serene, constant and ancient while the turbulence is transient or temporary is the message that the guru imparts to the student. It is this message that equips the student to cross the waters of life. The original verse uses the expression ‘to swim across this water’. In the English verse here, the expression ‘parting of waters’6 is used to draw attention to the story of Moses in the Old Testament, common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, in which Moses parts the waters to save his followers from strife. In the end Dnyaneshwar says ‘to follow the guru is to water the roots of a tree so that the tree thrives’ Shady leaves And a bounty of fruit Has to do with Watering the roots …25

NOTE: In addition to what has been written so far there is, what appears on the first impression, an obscure segment in these verses. This segment, when translated

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


into prose, says ‘when the eye meets ‘anjan’ you can visualize hidden wealth’. This has reference to getting guidance from the guru. The word anjan in common Indian parlance today is used to mean an astringent or an ointment to be put in the eye. But a careful scrutiny of the word reveals that amongst many of its meanings there is one which says, ‘when a word has many meanings “anjan” allows you to choose the correct meaning’. The English verb ‘anoint’, which sounds similar to anjan is relevant here because the word ointment comes from ‘anoint’. To anoint is to consecrate7 a priest where spiritual sanction is accorded. When Dnyaneshwar therefore uses the word ‘anjan’ to allow a certain vision, he is only using a metaphor9, which is convenient as well as practically relevant. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

7. 8. 9. 10.

connotation – that which is implied by a word in addition to its main meaning viz. – namely insolence – rude and disrespectful behaviour succour – aid and assistance, especially in times of need discretion– prudence, good judgement parting of waters – Moses led his followers across the Red Sea when its waters parted. They were thus saved from worldly misfortune by their spiritual leader Moses consecrate – make or declare sacred, dedicate formally to a religious or divine purpose baptism – a ceremony in which a person is admitted to a church or a religious order metaphor – imaginative application of a word, phrase or term fervour – passion, zeal, a glowing condition


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verses 28–31

Chapter 19


Mahabharat is the longest epic in the history of mankind and was narrated in verse. Originally with the title ‘history of a victory’, it contained about 10,000 verses and was about a major war fought west of today’s New Delhi about 2500 years ago. The combatants were cousins, who fought over a kingdom, the inheritance of which was disputed. The cousins had a long lineage of kings who were named Manu (as in man) or Puru (as in purush, also meaning a man in Sanskrit). The ‘history of a victory’ was later named after an important king called ‘Bharat,’ who had lived five generations earlier and was one of the most successful in expanding his kingdom. The epic expanded over the next several centuries to include several tales, fables, legends, and also incorporated the history of the progeny of those who had fought the original war. Because the scope of the epic thus got wider it came to be called Mahabharat (the word ‘maha’ in Sanskrit means huge). India’s name in her constitution is ‘Bharat’ and this name is used to denote her (India) in all Indian languages. Human nature constitutes the core of this epic. The multiple simultaneous narrations of different characters over centuries, in the Mahabharat, contain noble and vile deeds, devotion and infidelity1, friendship and betrayal, crude instincts and majestic ideas, heroic deeds and treachery, greed and charity, anger and peace, jealousy and love, infatuation2 and seduction3, strong sexual urges, tendency to war, steadfast bachelors and virtuous as well as fallen women. All this forms a rich tapestry4 of an extraordinary human drama. It has been said that there is nothing in human experience to date, which has not been covered by this epic narrated in exquisite Sanskrit. Most importantly, almost all the characters discuss questions of life and death, ethics, beauty, the origin of all that is, as well as science, sociology, armaments, economics and art. The questions of philosophy are dealt with in a concise form in a separate section of

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


the epic, called the Geeta. More of the Geeta later because it is the Geeta that Dnyaneshwar will elaborate on. For the present let us not disturb Dnyaneshwar’s chronology5. This is what Dnyaneshwar says about the Mahabharat Hear, listen of this account, and its description A source of popular art and its admiration Where gardens grow of prudence6 and discretion7 The very root of happiness and consummation8 Of theories and theorems9 a collection An ocean full of sweet compositions The seat of knowledge and information A collection of scientific formulations A home for all religious aspirations Of the pious, their most intimate devotion Sparkling, lustrous jewels in an exquisite10 formation Sharada* herself for everyone’s adoration11 …26 *See Chapter 17 (Saraswati) 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 8. 9. 10. 11.

infidelity – unfaithfulness, especially to husband or wife infatuation – intense transitory fondness or admiration and passion seduction – the act of tempting or enticing somebody into sexual activity tapestry – interwoven events or circumstances (with reference to this text) chronology – the arrangement of events in the order of their occurrence & 7. prudence and discretion – good judgement consummation – a desired end or goal, perfect fulfilment theorem – a proposition (not self-evident) proved by a chain of reasoning exquisite – extremely beautiful or delicate adoration – great love or worship


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verses 32–49

Chapter 20

The Sage ‘Vyas’

Vyas is the name of an ancient sage who authored or compiled the document called ‘history of a victory’ (please refer to the earlier chapter, Mahabharat, Chapter 19). Of the several meanings that the word ‘Vyas’ came to convey in Sanskrit, there are two which are relevant here: 1. an arranger or a compiler, 2. a Brahmin who narrates ancient history from a public platform. The dais at public meetings in India is therefore called ‘vyaspeeth’. The word ‘peeth’ means a seat or a centre in Sanskrit. The original 10,000 or so verses of the ‘history of a victory’ have been held to be an epitome10 of excellence, creativity, and beauty in the Indian mind. The expanded version of this history, of about a 100,000 verses, was complied over the next several centuries by a process of accretion1, through what can be described in modern parlance, as a coat-tail effect2 by numerous contributors. The great Indian war had occurred on the threshold of a then modern civilisation. Its description by Vyas was a classic and several regional histories, tales, legends, and stories of adjoining kingdoms and their politics then conveniently got added on to the original. The additions also had an undercurrent of design. The expanded document was something that the collective Indian psyche3 could look up to, revere and identify with. The authorship, however, remained stuck to a single individual, ‘Vyas’. Over the years he came to be revered as a ‘writer or editor perfect’. Dnyaneshwar pens the following verses on Vyas’s creativity, authority and his prophetic4 genius: The bloom of youth Caressing a lass5 Showers and spring Nature aglow Colours awash

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


Words and phrases Touched by Vyas …27 Every event or tale Of any worth Yearned to enter Vyas’s world …28 Each twist each turn The future will take Will be and was Of Vyas’s pen and make …29 Dnyaneshwar continues Touched by the genius of Vyas Saraswati* came to pass …30 *Please see Chapter 17

In Vyas’s hand, in the Mahabharat Greatness reaches its limits Poetry climbs its summit …31 In the Mahabharat because of Vyas Words derive elegance and merit Softness envelops philosophical spirit …32 The clever become wise Dry truth with sweetness ties Joy grows and thrives …33 Sweetness becomes sweeter The erotic turns neater The popular becomes proper …34 The pure glows with splendour The artistic into art is rendered …35


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Beauty is now exquisite6 And virtue forged out of merit …36 On the effects of Vyas’s pen on language, Dnyaneshwar has to say the following: Seeds sown in fertile earth Grow and spread without dearth7 Here all words and phrases Richly rise in their worth …37 A bright sun Has the world awash Here too all is clear and shine Touched by the genius of Vyas …38 And lastly City folk become Urbane8 and refined With Vyas’s touch Meaning and matter Get clearly defined …39 Dnyaneshwar is now to arrive at his final destination, the Geeta, where he will stay for the rest of the Dnyaneshwari. The Geeta is a philosophical document narrated at the beginning of the war in Mahabharat. Of the Mahabharat and Geeta Dnyaneshwar says Bharat the lotus By its petals framed She the Geeta Its pollen9 grains …40 1. accretion – organic growth, to be added on by an organic process; organized, systematic, coherent, orderly 2. coat-tail effect – where small things (people) hold on to the tail of a more weighty, successful person’s coat to achieve reflected glory 3. psyche – mind 4. prophetic – that which accurately predicts the future

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.


lass – a girl, a young woman exquisite – extremely beautiful dearth – scarcity, lack, sparseness urbane – courteous, refined, elegant, suave pollen – fine dusty grains from a flower, the male gamete that fertilizes the female ovule 10. epitome – perfect example


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verses 50–84

Chapter 21

The Geeta1

The war depicted in the Mahabharat can be described as a family feud2 between cousins, removed several generations from their ancestral dynastic3 founder ‘King Bharat’. Irrespective of the actual size of the armies which fought this war, it has some important features. For one, the war was fought between city-states, a comparatively new feature of India’s history till then. By implication, an urban social order was in existence, as also a certain formal economy. Cities usually mean a certain egalitarian4 order amongst citizens with formal education, who have acquired some refinement. Dnyaneshwar has already referred to this phenomenon in the last chapter (Chapter 20). However much a modern man might yearn for his pastoral5 and somewhat rustic6 past, there is no denying that it is the cities with their refinements, which have propelled civilizations in general. To civilize means ‘to bring out of a barbarous34 or primitive35 state’, a state characterized by human exchanges in the raw. This rawness includes violence, to be later called ‘wars’ when fought between civilized (!) states. Throughout history and certainly from the time of the Mahabharat, wars have been fought with monotonous regularity. The expressions ‘in peace time’, ‘in times of peace’ or ‘wartime’ and ‘in times of war’ are evidence of this recurring history. Every war produces ‘doves’ and ‘hawks’ but there is a third category as well, the professional soldier or general (to wit even a common man) who does not have any great perceptive ‘world view’ but has a loyalty to his mate (or fellow citizen), his company (or his social group), his regiment (or his society in general), his state or his kingdom. What if such an individual was to suddenly develop cold feet, was to be wracked7 by conscience, and was to be transfixed8 by a moral dilemma9? What if such a man was to raise questions of peace, death, violence, ethics36, humanity, love, and brotherhood when the battle is about to be joined?

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


The answers to such questions can be given by way of cognitive10 therapy, that is, the questioner needs to be explained how this universe came about, his role on this earth, and in his social order, how he is structured and what is the essence of this structure and lastly how he is buffeted11 by intelligence on the one hand and emotions on the other. Having thus given this information he must be left to his choice. He must be reminded that this war is only a specific occasion and that in fact little wars are fought in his mind at all times. For example, Tukaram, a poet philosopher in the tradition of Dnyaneshwar, says With each passing day and night I find A war of some kind Rages in my mind ‌41 The Geeta is not entirely new in content nor is she suddenly revealed. She is more collective than unitary. The Geeta is supposed to have been narrated to a prince, gone wretched12 and indigent 13 , just prior to the beginning of this great Indian war and it appears certain from several internal references that indeed a portion of the Geeta was so told. But like the epic Mahabharat (Chapter 19) she too grew by accretion14 over several centuries, to reflect the collective philosophical wisdom of the ages in which she grew in content. The Geeta as we have today is probably about 1500 years old, which means she was in the process of growth for a thousand years. The most important feature of the Geeta is in its giving. It was given or told by one man to another. The giver is portrayed in the Mahabharat as a king, a philosopher, an activist, a mediator, a man of the world, even a pragmatist,15 a general who knew when to retreat. He was a popular figure, popular enough for people to believe that what he was saying was prudent and proper. He is a bit of a Renaissance man,16 certainly not a brahminical sage come out of a forest. Over the ages he was to be raised to Godhood, even called an incarnation of God and such references were to be included in the text of the Geeta. But this is what man is prone to do and the Geeta surprisingly discusses this tendency as well. According to tradition and faith (buried in the dimness of history, but recently bolstered37 by undersea excavations off the coast of Gujarat, a state in western India) the author of the Geeta was Shrikrishna, a man


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

come to deliver man anew. And therefore Dnyaneshwar says of the Geeta The Gods of yonder 17 Read the Geeta and ponder And are forced To praise and wonder …42 Or As a God explains the Geeta To his queen Says this God To his queen …43 Each time I see you You appear different and new Each time I read the Geeta She renews my mind anew …44 This is no ordinary King and Queen. For one, they, Shankar (God) and Parvati (the Goddess) truly belong to the oldest lore38 in India. What is more, this pair of Shankar and Parvati have been metaphorically depicted as the male and female principles of the universe, as well as matter and energy, or substance and its creativity. While describing the Geeta, this God (Shankar) is being held captive by his own counterpart, his creativity (who is his consort). Dnyaneshwar has written a long metaphorical poem on this pair as an independent work, and this is touched upon at the end of this book in the annexure ‘Life and Times of Dnyaneshwar’. Having prepared this background, Dnyaneshwar is humility personified Placed against the Geeta All knowledge pales Fool and small as I am I am sure to fail …45 That I can reveal the Geeta This mine silly notion

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


The little plover18 and its beak Trying to drain the ocean …46 I don’t know For Heaven’s sake, why Yet I try Like a gnat19 To grasp the sky …47 For this task I am not wrought20 Yet I venture Without a thought The sun in all its splendour Me, a firefly Trying to blot …48 But, says Dnyaneshwar When the Guru blesses, So do the sages …49 From my Guru, mentor and master I draw my strength and muster …50 With the blessings And light of ancient sages And when Saraswati* herself blesses Even the dumb can write essays …51 *See Chapter 17, Saraswati

It is they who will pull the strings And from me words will spring …52 Says Dnyaneshwar of his attempts to reveal the Geeta If I am deficient Be patient


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Ignore me If I act proficient …53 Treat me, he says, as parents would treat their toddler A gurgle, a babble Even a senseless cry An apple21of the parents’ Wistful22 eye …54 Dnyaneshwar salutes the Geeta thus She is for the ears Of the devoted In this world She is the first to be saluted …55 23

She is the ascetic’s hope And desire and wish For the sages She is experienced bliss24 …56 And for the more advanced Those who know ‘I am it’25 Are joyfully engrossed In her every bit …57 Dnyaneshwar then narrates how the Geeta must be taken The lotus, swollen With its pollen With skill and in silence The bee has it stolen …58

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


The moon as it shows its face The lotus blooms at a languorous26 pace And only the lotus knows Of this loving embrace …59 Like the fable It would seem Where the partridge feeds27 On moonbeams …60 Dnyaneshwar adds Feel her without touching Converse with her Without speaking Within a gentle quiet heart …61 The preceding verses need some discussion. Is the Geeta a subject for the brain or for the heart? In other words is she a province of intelligence or emotion? What is Dnyaneshwar conveying through his similes39 and metaphors of the lotus and the partridge? What indeed are the mechanics of the transfer of philosophy? Are they words? Here, Dnyaneshwar enjoins us to converse with the Geeta without speaking, the very Dnyaneshwar who is to unleash a cataract28 of a hundred thousand words on us, the very same Dnyaneshwar who is to admit later that he has indeed caused a stampede of words and phrases. Without doubt, Dnyaneshwar, in the last four verses, is hinting at contemplation40 as the best resort for understanding the Geeta. But even ‘contemplation’ is a word. Dnyaneshwar is aware of the power of words; he knows that man would be nothing without language. We are after all the creators, masters, servants and victims of our language. In a verse not translated into English for this chapter because of difficulty of expression, Dnyaneshwar refers to a philosopher’s stone29 (a predecessor of alchemy30) by which iron is transformed into gold by its mere touch. The bee, the lotus, the partridge and even alchemy are in the natural zone, a zone devoid of language. Dnyaneshwar is not rejecting language, he admits it as a tool, and lays great store by


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

it, but implores you to enter the natural, silent and pristine31 zone beyond, for your redemption32. Is there a touch of mysticism here? Or is logic asking you to go beyond logic? Perhaps these questions will be answered as we walk with Dnyaneshwar through this forest of philosophy. ‘Silence might be golden’ but the word ‘silence’ has to be spoken. This group of verses ends with a verse by Nivrutti addressed to Dnyaneshwar. Says Nivrutti* You say too much This that and all this prattle33 Give us forthwith The Geeta and its matter …62 Indeed! And thus Dnyaneshwar announces ‘Here comes the matter’ …63 Note: * Nivrutti is Dnyaneshwar’s guru and mentor, please see Chapter 18. 1.

2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17.

Geeta – From Geet = song, Geeta – feminine gender. A philosophy rendered in Sanskrit verse, the word Geeta implying that she can be sung; celestial song feud – prolonged hostility (particularly between families) dynastic – from dynasty = a line of hereditary rulers egalitarian – based on the principle of equal rights and opportunities for all pastoral – portraying country life, usually in a romantic or idealised form rustic – unsophisticated, simple, not refined wracked by – destroyed by, to be affected by extreme mental (or physical) pain transfixed – paralyzed dilemma – a state of indecision between two difficult alternatives or situations cognitive – from cognition = to perceive without emotion buffeted – struck or knocked repeatedly wretched – unhappy and miserable indigent – needy, poor (here not in the context of money but of help in general) accretion – organic growth added on by an organic process which is organized, systematic, coherent and orderly pragmatist – one who evaluates assertions by their practical use Renaissance man – a person with many talents or interests yonder – over there, on the other side

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


18. plover – a plump, short-tailed wading bird (typically found near the water) with a pigeon-like beak 19. gnat – a small two-winged biting fly 20. wrought – shaped (by hammering) 21. apple of one’s eye – a person one is extremely fond and proud of 22. wistful – yearningly expectant 23. ascetic – one who practises severe discipline, leads a simple life and abstains from all pleasures for religious or spiritual reasons 24. bliss – perfect joy, rapture, ecstasy 25. ‘I am it’ – the spiritual principle that I am that singularity or the all-sustaining primal energy 26. languorous – a soft or tender mood or effect 27. the partridge feeds –a Greek fable that the Greek partridge feeds on moonbeams 28. cataract – waterfall 29. & 30. philosopher’s stone and alchemy – the mythical stone that caused objects or elements to change from, for example, iron to gold. It later evolved into a complicated chemical system, alchemy (primitive by today’s standards) 31. pristine – pure, fresh, spotless 32. redemption – deliverance (from sin) 33. prattle – inconsequential talk 34. barbarous – uncivilized and unrefined 35. primitive – at an early stage of civilization 36. ethics – the subject of morals and human conduct 37. bolster – prop up 38. lore – traditions of a particular group 39. simile – comparison of one thing with another 40. contemplation – survey with eyes or mind


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verses 85–174 Geeta Chapter 1

Chapter 22

The War The courtier1 and the King

Notwithstanding the scale on which the Mahabharat is written and the hundreds of characters that dot the epic, its core, the final war, has a familiar ring about it. There is a kingdom ruled over by a certain family, who in a manner of speaking have usurped16 power, and they refuse, in any which way, to share their kingdom with their cousins. In a famous quote from the Mahabharat, the deprived cousins are told that they will not get land, even the size of the tip of a straw. The aggrieved cousins, disadvantaged by size, lack of power and having tried for a compromise, ultimately decide to resort to war. The party in power is larger in number, is shown to be inclined to oppress and its leaders are portrayed as suffering from a ‘complex’17 and insecurity. The smaller dispossessed party, on the other hand, is shown to be confident and convinced of the strength and morality of its case. It would, however, be unfair to paint this scenario with two distinct colours, good and bad. The larger party, the ones who are in power, is full of good and noble men and generals who have stayed put and have decided to fight on the side of the unfair oppressors because of old loyalties, unpaid political debts, personal feuds2 and a lack of will to choose what appears to be a better moral alternative. The patriarch of the clan in power has hundred sons from a single queen. The sons are the vanguard3 of his army. But this king has been blind from birth. It is repeatedly alluded to in the Mahabharat that he is not just physically (or visually) blind but that he lacks ‘vision’ and therefore he disregards the good, the proper, the just and the moral and repeatedly falls prey to the villainy4 of his wild sons. To compensate for his blindness he has a confidant, a palace courtier put in charge of the king’s horses, who has an extraordinary ability, that of being able to see and hear at very long distances. It is this courtier who is going to relate to the king the details of what will transpire during the war fought at some distance. There is,

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


however, a catch5. The courtier who the king assumes to be his confidant has his heart sold to the enemy and particularly to Shrikrishna who will narrate the Geeta. They make an interesting pair. And it is with this pair that the prelude6 to the Geeta begins. Asks the blind king of the courtier, in the words of Dnyaneshwar, Caught in a web of emotions Love and expectations For his sons The king asks the courtier1 How far has the war come Has it begun What has so far been done …64 And the courtier tells the king The sounds have begun Conches7, trumpets and drums The air and earth are riven8 And so loud is the sound to some They fear the end has come Like rubbish the weak have been flung And the strong clatter with their teeth and gums Mountains shake and swing Undersea fires burn The seas are churned, are risen But to vapour they turn The earth is pelted with stars As the heavens convulse And a fire rises to heaven …65 Yet The tusker9 and the warrior With rage are tight Itching and eager for a fight Their sinews10 swollen with might …66 Be that as it may The God of Death Feared for his job


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

And the creator himself Is shocked by the mob …67 Then God in heaven Sat up and took notice And implored man For some restful peace …68 This kind of versification11 is the stuff of legends, fables12 and mythology. Yet, who knows? Little did we realise, till recently, what the Egyptians were capable of several thousand years ago or the Mayans a couple of thousand years ago. The Mahabharat describes rocket-like arrows carrying fire and potent armaments capable of huge destruction. Either way, truth or tale, the verses in the original are fascinating, even intriguing.13 The courtier also describes to the king every important persona arrived to do battle. He speaks of their demeanour14, their visage15, their strengths, their lineage, their chariots and charioteers, the banners that fly atop their chariots, and also their individual conches and bows with proper names. All this cannot spring just out of imagination. The courtier however, is reserving for the end that scene on which a civilisation has sustained in India, even in southern and southeast Asia for well over two thousand years. He describes Shrikrishna as a king and as a king of philosophy as well, not dressed to wage war but dressed as a charioteer, driving Arjun’s chariot. Arjun is the valiant prince, an ace marksman, a general of proven ability, a scholar in his own right, and a man of unimpeachable moral character who is to lead the army of the smaller aggrieved party. And thereby hangs history. Before the war both parties had approached Shrikrishna for help, Shrikrishna had tried for peace but had failed and then offered to help. Said he to the two parties, ‘I have decided not to wage war for either side but my advice is available. As an alternative, my army is available and it can fight for either side. The choice is left to you.’ The larger party, the one in power, goes for the army and it is thus that Shrikrishna comes to counsel the other party and in the process drives Arjun’s chariot. The courtier now, in a classic case of understatement, narrates the entry of Shrikrishna and Arjun on the battlefield.

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


Says Arjun to Shrikrishna All these warriors With all their might In wide formations Eager for a fight Spread so wide Yonder left and right Drive me to a point To have them in my sight I want to know With whom I fight …69 And then Shrikrishna nods And has the horses spurred And the chariot moves To the vantage,18 turned …70 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18.

courtier – a companion or adviser to a king or queen feud – prolonged hostility (particularly between families) vanguard – the foremost part of an advancing army or fleet villainy – wicked behaviour or a wicked act (or acts) catch – an unexpected or hidden difficulty or disadvantage prelude – the introductory part of a poem, etc conch – a seashell, also used as a bugle in India (mainly historic and prehistoric but rarely used now) riven – split or torn violently tusker – elephant with well-developed tusks ( = long teeth) sinews – muscles versification – the style in which verse is written fable – myth or legendary tale, a story, supernatural, not based on facts intriguing – arousing curiosity, especially because unusual or mysterious demeanour – outer bearing or appearance visage – a face, a countenance usurp – seize or assume wrongfully complex – a feeling of inferiority vantage – a place offering a good view or prospect


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verses 175–275 Geeta Chapter 1

Chapter 23

The War Within

How does a talented boy feel, when he is brought to live with his cousins, by his mother after his father’s death? And this boy is no ordinary boy nor are the cousins. They are to inherit the Bharat dynasty (please see Chapter 22), the reins of which are being presumably held only temporarily by a visually impaired king, the father of this boy’s cousins and his paternal uncle (please see Chapter 22). From a modern psychological point of view this situation was not ideal for normal psychological growth. Did the boy’s environment generate a feeling of deprivation? Were there subtle hints, dropped in conversations? Was there an occasional insult? Did his mother have the same status at all times as compared to the queen of the blind king? Did he receive the same encouragement as his cousins did? Childhood can be a wonderful time, certainly in a royal household. There would be so much to do and so much that could easily be done that these psychological pinpricks would have paled before the wonder that was childhood. It was an innocent world in which brothers and cousins were not segregated. That segregation and even the debriefing1, to use modern terminology, would come later when adulthood dawned. For now, here in the palace, there were mentors and servants, uncles and aunts, a school and a playground, holidays and picnics. Royal guests were received in the court and spiritual masters, during their occasional sojourns2 were honoured and heard. All boys cannot, of course, be the same. Some are smart, others strong, some show wicked streaks, an occasional exception leans towards philosophy. Yet tired at the end of the day, they lapse into peaceful sleep. The ghosts of titles, rights, perceived and actual insults, jealousies and seeds of envy are yet to sprout and haunt. As mentioned earlier, all this waits till adulthood dawns. In this context, the recipient of the Geeta, our prince, Arjun, by all evidence, the most blue-eyed of all the boys in the extended family

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has thoroughly enjoyed his childhood. As the Mahabharat would have it, such was his personality and poise that he was least affected by the psychological tribulations3 that his childhood might have heaped on him. He is therefore shown to be serenely confident when ushered into the theatre4 of war amidst much fanfare. It is in passing that he requests that he be shown the armies of the enemy. Shrikrishna, his charioteer (and the Lord), obliges by turning his horses but the Mahabharat account states that a bell does ring in the Lord’s mind and indeed the sound of the bell does turn out to be ominous29, even momentous.30 In the words of Dnyaneshwar, this is what happens Arjun says to Shrikrishna I see them Who my enemy are My family and my teachers Mentors and benefactors That is what They are …71 And Shrikrishna, Lord31 as he was, Kept his counsel5 For the time being He knew what was In the offing He being in the hearts Of all beings …72 What Arjun saw was this His cousins, his uncles And their young His teachers, his peers6 And then some To wage war on him They had come …73


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This is what the courtier saw next, and describes Arjun’s state Depressed and despondent7 Is how he felt His heart was stricken And began to melt …74 Mercy seeped Into the scabbard8 of his heart Valour left him Calling mercy ‘a tart’9 …75 Seduced as he was By this tart9 By the wayside fell His noblest parts …76 Duty and deeds Of long years Rendered into figments10 By ghostly fears …77 The courtier then uses the metaphor of exorcism


An exorcist11 errs While treating a curse And the hapless victim Turns for the worse …78 Continues the courtier A war seemed to rage In his troubled mind His heart became a cage For the tender and kind …79 Then says Arjun Keen as they are For this dreadful war Let me pause And think afar …80

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What is this? Is this war? My mind and thoughts Are not on par32 …81 My body shakes And shivers My limbs are limp And they dither12 …82 To move my limbs Somehow I want Helpless as I am I just can’t …83 With pimples my skin is riddled With sorrow my mind is rippled …84 Holding my bow Is now a task It slithers down From my grasp …85 Says the courtier He was so wrung13 With emotion That he knew not Of this slithering motion …86 Strong and dense Like a diamond was his heart Yet this strange emotion Had torn it apart …87 He had laid low in the past God, demon and man But this strange delusion Had turned him weak and wan33 …88


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Then comes a metaphor of the bee A black bee can burrow Through branch, bark and wood But it is trapped and lost By the flowery petals and their hood …89 The courtier now makes a philosophical statement This indeed is the mystery of creation Which even the creator cannot solve That is why this prince Melts in his resolve …90 Now says Arjun to Shrikrishna If I must kill my cousins Why not kill my own (brothers) Give me some reasons Lest gruesome34 sins I own …91 35

By killing all these kin What will I earn Even in my dreams Not this sin Let this kingdom fall and burn …92 It is for them and us as well That we struggle, toil and earn This nasty deathly knell14 Life’s vicious twists and turns …93 If I kill and brook no ties And have this battle won I can never look in your eyes I will lose you when all is done …94

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When the river and lake are dry The partridge36 is ready to fly When forests are on fire The cuckoos hasten to fly When the good in me is gone And my sins are ready to fry However much I try You too will be ready to fly …95 With pride my cousins are full Come to war with their tools But we must not act like fools We must rely on ethical37 rules …96 If a lion Was to cross your path Avoid it you do And take another path …97 How can I kill My own Drink this poison On my own …98 When light beckons you aloft15 Choose you cannot a darkened bog16 …99 When they are dead After this war is done With what sanctity17 Can their rituals be done …100 A spark is enough to light a forest fire Sins will mount tier18 on tier …101 A generation will die Of talented men Women will fornicate19 With lesser men …102


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This war is The surest way to damnation38 Vultures overhead In sinister formations …103 Even a nail be bitten With a poisoned fang The body is stricken With mortal pangs …104 Even the thought That they be killed Is an invitation For hell to be filled …105 This is madness Not war I would rather surrender And lay down my arms …106 It would be better That I be dead Than win this war Where my cousins bled …107 This is where the first chapter of the Geeta ends, when an accomplished and powerful prince is transformed into a pitiable, pauper-like figure, beggared because of the loss of his will and id20. As the readers can well imagine the stage is now set for his resurrection through a reconstruction of his intellectual and emotional being. As the story will reveal, he will then be set on his way, of his own volition21 and pursue what he was meant to do and this he will do with a clear conscience. This account has sustained billions on this earth over the last two millennia.

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Dnyaneshwar says of this resurrection Now Shrikrishna the lord of his heaven Having seen Arjun so craven22 Will reveal to him Things beyond the heavens …108 And This curious account, full of wonder Nivrutti’s servant will render. …109 Note: The preceding text, notwithstanding its comprehensive nature, bears some dissection and scrutiny. Verses 72,73,74 constitute an excellent prelude to what Arjun’s body is to suffer soon after. The metaphor of the loyal wife and the tart is remarkable for that age considering what the feminists are saying now (Verse 75, 76). Verse 77 is a realistic description of how even great men fall suddenly. Verse 78 mentions an exorcist who is doing something mysterious and is likely to make a mistake. He is to be counter-posed against a logical philosophical teacher in the verses to follow. Verse 79 states that his mind is already occupied by misplaced kindness though he thinks that a logical debate is still on. Verse 80 obliquely blames his opponents but then disregards them as he takes to a moral high ground. Verse 81 admits that his mind is not working in tandem23 with his thoughts leading to Verses 82 to 87, a classic portrait of a man suffering from what is today called an ‘acute panic disorder’. Verses 88, 89 clearly show that all great men have an Achilles heel24. The metaphor of the black bee trapped in a delicate flower is clinching. Verse 89 is the occasional philosophical statement that the courtier cannot resist. Verses 91,92,93 describe the age-old turmoil that results when self and family ties stand against each other. Verses 94 and 95 betray, on the other hand, an anxiety for losing his confidant, Shrikrishna. Verses 96,97,98,99 are an argument, ‘not to be fooled by fools’, and include an animal, the drinking of poison, and the so-called light of wisdom. Verses 100 to 105 are a social argument, relevant, (perhaps only as an argument), for all times. This group includes a very androgenic25 poser (Verse 102) of how women will be taken by other lesser men. Verses 106,107 are the final melodramatic statement, almost a denouement26 . All in all the arrangement is such that the sequence is logical where physical, mental, sociological, philosophical and filial27 strands make a sinister web. The verses also show that man likes to compare himself with animal and bird, both being products of nature (though on a different scale). There are two verses that stand out for entirely different reasons. Verse 72 describes Shrikrishna as being present in everybody’s heart. This puts him on a pedestal, indicating perhaps that the earlier Gods were more extraneous28 than him. This verse mentioning ‘something being in one’s heart’ is similar to the one in the chapter ‘Guru’ (Chapter 18) where Dnyaneshwar says that his guru is in his heart. Verse 108 mentions that Shrikrishna is in his heaven (called Vaikuntha in Sanskrit) but that he will reveal things beyond the heavens (the words used are


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

param [Sanskrit] = ultimate, arth [Sanskrit] = meaning, ultimate truth). There is perhaps an early hint here that heaven is not the ultimate truth. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25.

26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38.

debriefing – interrogation about a completed mission or undertaking sojourn – temporary stay tribulation – great trouble or suffering theatre – a scene or field of action keep counsel – not confide in others peer – contemporary, a person who is equal to another in rank, age, status or ability despondent – dejected, in low spirits from loss of hope or courage scabbard – sheath for the blade of a sword or a dagger tart – a prostitute figment – a thing believed to be real but existing only in the imagination exorcism – expulsion of an evil spirit dither – to hesitate about what to do, to be unable to decide wrung – twisted forcibly knell – the sound of a bell, rung after a death or at a funeral aloft – high up, overhead bog – wet, soft ground sanctity – sacredness tier – rows or levels placed one above the other fornicate – to have sexual intercourse with someone one is not married to id – inherited unconscious instincts and impulses volition – the process of using one’s will craven – cowardly, abject in tandem – one behind another Achilles heel – a person’s weak point androgenic – from androgen = a hormone, less in females, the most important difference between man and woman. A hormone leading to aggression and the sexual impulse denouement – the final unravelling or scene in which the plot is resolved. Here, qualified by the word almost, implying that it is not so. filial – of, relating to a daughter or son extraneous – not belonging to or directly connected with the subject or matter being dealt with ominous – indicating disaster or difficulty momentous – of great importance Lord – usually used for master or God par – equal to or average wan – pale, exhausted, weak, worn gruesome – horrible, disgusting kin – relatives or family partridge – any game bird ethical – the subject of morals in human conduct damnation – eternal punishment (in hell)

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dnyaneshwari Verses 1–80 Geeta Chapter 2


Chapter 24

Nietzsche’s ‘Overman’ Ebb and Tide

Though as the saying goes, ‘ the greater you are the harder you fall‘, in the very fall of great men lie hidden the seeds of resurrection8 and resurgence. Neitzsche1 (1844–1900, German philosopher) called this ‘the recurrence of the “overman”, a man who has overcome himself, the passionate man who is a master of his passions, a creator who excels both in passion and reason and is able to employ his powers creatively.’ But this resurgence is not easy to achieve and involves a certain suffering. Before Nietzsche’s ‘overman’ emerges there are dark waves of remorse, despair and self-flagellation2 and hope, promise and expectations are yet some way from coming. This ebb in the tide in a creature’s mind needs to be handled with care. What is needed for the seed of the ‘overman’ to sprout is advice and support, given at the appropriate juncture. The early part of the second chapter of the Geeta deals with this low tide in our prince’s mind. The tide is sure to turn and roar but for the present what he hears is an incessant melancholy3 drone9 of a recessed depressed mind at low ebb. This is how Dnyaneshwar describes the prince’s melting heart His very salt gone to water Or The wind has the clouds scattered … 110 Dnyaneshwar also evokes the image of a flamingo4 to describe the prince The regal elegant bird Colours, wings and span Drooping, listless and wan10 Stuck in the bog as it ran …111


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Shrikrishna now appears to make a tentative beginning of the dialogue that will later evolve into formal philosophy. Says he to the prince Think, who you are What you are And now here Up to what you are …112 What has happened to you What is it That is yet left To be done by you …113 For what Is this sorrow How come your vision has gone Small and narrow …114 You are the citadel11 of fortitude12 Why this despairing attitude …115 Look at you In the midst of this mob Bent head And pitifully you sob …116 Then Shrikrishna poses some inverse logic Can darkness envelop the sun and its light Can clouds put the wind to flight Can a creature by itself put poison to blight13 When a lion is within a fox’s sight Will a fox choose to fight …117 Can fuel swallow fire Salt dissolve water A frog swallow a huge constrictor5 …118 Fling these foolish thoughts afar Pick up your bow and climb your car

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Mercy, never at the time of war Act wise and play your part …119 If not Your greatness on earth will be demolished Your chances of heaven will vanish …120 See here What indeed has happened to you Is war new to you This is silly and timid of you Who your enemy is, you already knew …121 The prince or the knight With all their might Are wedded to war and fight This is your life, your duty and right Yet you solicit this miserable plight …122 The prince comes out with a counter and mentions a sage who was also his mentor14 in archery who happens to be in the army of the opposition The warrior that I am Is all because of him A monster I am not To kill him …123 The sea is quiet I hear But even the sea is violent within This guru of mine I revere6 Is serene without and within …124 Even a diamond will break and shatter With the passage of time But not him, he will never totter Serene forever and will also shine …125


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Says the prince, This Guru of mine is Home to kindness A sea of knowledge A fountain of goodness To kill him is an outrage …126 Sharpened arrows will sink and sting His blood will stain this treacherous win …127 I would rather beg Than wage this war I would rather run And choose wilderness afar …128 When Shrikrishna did not show any reaction whatsoever to his pleadings, Arjun was alarmed and then went on to say This friend and lord of mine (Shrikrishna) Does not listen to me What I had in my mind I have spoken to him …129 And then says to Shrikrishna My friend, my lord, my mentor14, my protector …130 How can the sea Forsake the river How can a child Live without its mother And then asks Why indeed have you abandoned me …131 Arjun, the prince, continues his lamentation A seed burnt to ashes Can never ever sprout A broken life about to end Will not mend Whatever potion you may grout15 …132

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I am so distraught With these emotions The kingdom of this whole earth Is not even a temptation …133 Says the courtier to the blind king, in the words of Dnyaneshwar The serpent of delusion Has bitten him near his heart But now that he is bidden the lord The lord will play his part …134 The prince was like the sun Hidden by a cloud The lord will soon enter And rip apart the shroud7 …135 In the following verses Dnyaneshwar turns the metaphor of the cloud on its head. Shrikrishna, who according to the Mahabharat was dark in complexion, becomes the cloud and Arjun is compared to a mountain burning with a bush fire. Dark as the lord was He resembled a cloud Ringed with lightning He rumbled deep and loud …136 Filled with water as he is He is soon going to pour The fire will die, the earth will quench A sprout of wisdom will soar …137 16 Thus the backdrop is lit, the scene is set, the prelude has been sung, and the preamble 17 has been said. What will follow is philosophy and religion, cosmogony, social conduct, human structure, the way this structure functions, ethics, morality and most importantly, reality, not as it is perceived but as it is. We follow this long trail beginning with the middle of the second chapter of the Geeta. It is a winding trail, difficult and arduous18, through a forest of philosophy but it is a precious trail, that of the Geeta made poetic and fascinating by Dnyaneshwar.


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1. 2. 3. 4.

Nietzsche – German philosopher flagellation – flogging, self-flagellation – self-criticism melancholy – pensive sadness, depression flamingo – a tall, long-necked, web-footed wading bird with pink, scarlet and black plumage. The word used by Dnyaneshwar is ‘hans’, described in Apte’s Sanskrit-English dictionary as a swan or flamingo constrictor – as in boa constrictor, a large non-poisonous snake which strangles a prey by constricting it and then swallowing it revere – hold in deep and affectionate respect, usually in the religious sense shroud – anything that conceals, usually a sheet, also used for covering a corpse (a dead body) resurrection – revival (rising from the dead) drone – a deep humming sound wan – exhausted, weak, worn and pale citadel – a fortress fortitude – courage in adversity blight – an obscure, harmful cause for destruction mentor – an experienced and trusted advisor grout – provide or fill with a substance prelude – introduction preamble – preliminary statement arduous – difficult

5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18.

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dynaneshwari Verses 81–110 Geeta Chapter 2


Chapter 25

‘That thing’ and the Nature of Things

Arjun is now all set to utter what he thinks is his final word. And he says to Shrikrishna, somewhat adamantly Whatever you may say I refuse to enter this fray5 Come what may My answer, a resounding Nay …138 In response, Shrikrishna starts speaking. According to the Geeta, Shrikrishna speaks with a smile on his face but it is also hinted that he shows a trace of feigned2 annoyance. Dnyaneshwar while narrating the Geeta, expands on this theme and uses metaphors of a scolding mother and a bitter pill used to treat a patient. The lord seemed to ponder And thought of several tricks To blot out this canker1 The medicine man’s final flick To avert this mortal danger He then smiled But also feigned2 some anger A mother forced to scold her child Without a hint of rancour3 A bitter coating for the final pill To make a man of this stranger …139 To start with, Shrikrishna uses sarcasm bordering on ridicule to put our prince in his place. Says he


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You act like a ‘know it all’ In fact you act like a fool I try to put some sense in you And you talk of ‘ethics6 and rules’ …140 When the blind Lose their heads They run From place to place The wisdom That comes from your head Is like blind men Running a race …141 The Geeta and Dnyaneshwar’s verse then introduce the idea that the universe and all that goes into it is not entirely known to human perception. Arjun is certainly shown to be at sea about what is going on Do you know what you are That you should grieve for them Do you think that you make and mar This universe and its games …142 Three crucial questions follow to put things in perspective and indirectly indicate to Arjun that he is at the most a very marginal player in this drama that is the universe. Is it not true…that this world is very old And that it is…in some primal’s hold And it is ‘that’…which makes the young and old …143

The word ‘that’ is still not fully elaborated. A very important philosophical doctrine is also introduced at this point. Our perceptions of what we do or do not do, what we achieve or fail to achieve are shaped by our pride, which deludes7 us into

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imagining things. The delusions7 are portrayed as fanciful shadows and imaginary plays. Pride and delusion7 Have their say That you can save Or that you will slay8 Fanciful shadows And fancier plays …144 Attention is also drawn to the transitory nature of things that we observe and a point is made that sorrow for passing things is not justified. There is also a hint that sorrow too has no permanence. All this comes And all this goes It is the nature of things It always comes In time it goes Why grieve for passing things …145 Arjun is also called a fool for adopting a haughty9 and moral posture in the face of this trivial thing called sorrow Fool that you are You imagine what is not And talk you back With this moral posture, on top …146 Having castigated Arjun, Shrikrishna introduces the subject of ‘forms’ or what in common usage are called objects. It is explained that objects can perish and this disappearance has something to do with how we see objects in our mind. Having thus dealt with objects or ‘things’, the principle of ‘that thing’ or ‘the basic primal energy’ or ‘substance’ is then put forward. That this basic ‘thing’ appears as forms (or transforms into forms) is also emphasized. This energy is explained to be always present. To take a familiar example, electricity


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is always present in the wires but can be observed or seen only when we switch it on in a bulb, which has a form. You and me And all these things Will perish or seem To be born It’s all in your mind With all its kinks They are just A matter of form …147 That things are formed And then are gone Is just a matter Of forms Only ‘that one thing’ Is always ‘on’ …148 A simile is then given of wind, water and the waves (incidentally, a very popular simile found in ancient Indian philosophical literature). To elaborate, water is seen to be adorned by waves when the wind strikes it but is flat when the wind falls. The question asked is, ‘what has happened during this transformation?’. The answer not given in the verse is deduced by sympathetic inference, i.e. water, the holding substrate, remained unchanged in its choppy and flat stages. The wind paves water With waves And when the wind rests Water looks like a slate Who can say Was something born? Or has something gone? …149 This transformation in water is then compared to changes like youth, middle and old age in a human body. This is an intriguing,

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even slightly deceiving simile12 but for the present let us read it. You are born Or you are young And then you grow Worn and old But young or old Both are within the body’s fold …150 This verse then leads on by progression to put the body too in its transient perspective and again introduces ‘that thing’. An important point is also introduced here towards the end of the verse. This concerns the connection between two passing things – sorrow (or more generically4 emotions) and the body or flesh It’s ‘that thing’ Which wears the flesh And bodies come and go This withering flesh Is a sorrowful web That you must always know …151 The questions and the possible answers concerning matter and energy have endured ever since man started thinking. Even when thinking came to be called philosophy, arguments persisted. Religion solved the problem somewhat, but only superficially, by abdicating, so to say, and passed on the mantle to an idea called God who symbolised both matter and energy. As philosophy furrowed10 its own path and also dabbled in science, God took a backseat but continued to lurk in the background. Enter modern physics and an entirely new and fresh chapter began on the nature of matter, which was shown to be ‘transformed energy’. The basic units, as shown or rather theorized by this new physics, were particles and waves, the former representing matter and the latter, energy. The fun part was, the new physics said, that the two were not mutually exclusive but were in fact two states of the same thing at different times. What is more, this duality was only indirectly evident at the minutest level. As matter builds up, it seems to fill human perceptions relegating energy to a secondary role. Matter tantalizes11 man because it is


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easier to grasp in a variety of ways. Our prince, Arjun, is thus tantalized11, little realizing that matter is built brick upon brick by way of energy. Unlike matter, energy does not perish. As some physicists would have it, matter is recent; energy is old, primal, basic and the source. Arjun is shown to be moved by the temporary and perishable, and is being told to put matter in its proper place. Shrikrishna is also about to alert Arjun about the peculiar dangers that various qualities of matter present to man. The details will be elaborated in the verses that follow. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12.

canker – a corrupting influence feign – pretend, indulge in pretence rancour – resentment generic – shared by or including a whole group or class, not specific fray – conflict ethics – the subject of morals in human conduct delusion – false belief slay – kill haughty – arrogantly self-admiring furrow – a narrow trench in earth made by a plough tantalize – tease by way of appearance simile – compare one with the other

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dnyaneshwari Verses 111–138 Geeta Chapter 2


Chapter 26

The Sensorium1/ Plato’s Cave

What if we were chained inside a cave, from our childhood, always facing a wall, and shadows were to fall on this wall of the outside world because of a light that came from behind us? Could we deduce what was actually happening outside? Or would the reality be quite different from what we were assuming? These are the questions that the Greek philosopher Plato (428–348 BC) asks after narrating his famous allegory2 of the cave. In his time, Gautam Buddha (563–1483 BC), a predecessor of Plato by a few decades, was telling Indian audiences that not only ‘what we conclude from the sensations that we get’ was meaningless, but even the idea that ‘we are’ is a false assumption. In times recent, it was Locke (1623–1704, English), who made his well-known statement that we are born with a clean slate and that over time, matter writes on this slate (for us to make sense of this world). Later Berkeley (1685–1753, Irish) was to go a step further and say that whatever be the ‘matter’, it is only sensations that really matter. The play on the word ‘matter’ is not accidental but inevitable because matter is the source of sensations. The Scotsman Hume (1711–1776) was even more radical. He denied the existence of the mind (Locke’s slate) because it cannot be proved, and therefore concluded, somewhat shockingly, that only sensations constitute our life. Emanuel Kant (1724–1804, German) who by all evidence laid the foundations of modern Western philosophy was to prove by some extremely complicated arguments, that even ‘time and space’ on which man bases all his experiences are mere convenient ideas. Some of the Upanishads4 almost certainly predate Plato and Gautam Buddha. But they began to be usefully consolidated in the form of the Geeta probably around the same time that Plato and Buddha were active philosophers. This chapter has to do with what Shrikrishna has to say about sensations, by way of the Geeta, in the words of Dnyaneshwar (for Upanishads4 see Chapter 12, Geeta and


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Shrikrishna, see Chapter 21). This is what Dnyaneshwar says We follow our senses On their devious path And when passions are aroused They encircle our heart …152 Pleasure or pain Is the name of the game A constant exchange Never the same …153 With ears to help Sounds are raised Words in a maze Censure7 or praise …154 With the dreadful or the beautiful Our mind gets full It is by our eyes This trick is pulled …155 Fragrant or odorous The nose will tell Sweet or bitter The tongue will yell The senses are meant To ring these bells …156 The skin will opt For the hard or the soft Pain or pleasure Is then willingly sought …157 And then adds, A dream full of elephants On the march Shimmering5 water Of a mirage …158

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Note here the animal that Dnyaneshwar chooses. It is a huge animal. So is the mass of sensations that occupies our little mind. The metaphor of the mirage is self-explanatory. The shimmering5 water of the mirage best exemplifies our world of sensations. From here on, the subject of the ultimate principle begins to be broached in the Geeta. If birth and life are so full of sensations, then without them, both are unimaginable. Yet says the Geeta, Of these sensual6 clutches When a man is shorn To ‘that’ he is rendered Never to be born …159 The word ‘clutches’ is not used here in a derogatory or a pessimistic sense. That sensations clutch at us or that our existence is a clutch of sensations, there is no denying. That the primal* lives without being born is only indicative of the fact that it does not have qualities of matter and therefore has no formal sensations and is also therefore not chronologically born, and therefore does not die. The theme is then expanded further The wise know And also sense Not the senses But the essence …160 Or as an Upanishad4 says Not what you hear and see But ‘that’ which allows you To hear and see …161 That primal* is then described further That from which The world expands Neither name nor colour Without an expanse Neither does it die Nor is it born …162


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

And then a punchline3 is delivered You think that you will kill Or that they will die Because on their bodies Your thoughts rely …163 In this group, there are verses not translated in which the images used are very Indian. In one, chaff is separated from grain with the help of wind, in another, butter is separated from curds (sour cream) by a slow circular manual stirring action using a wooden implement. An example is given in the third verse of a legendary bird, which has the ability to separate water from diluted milk. These images evoke the ability to perceive (!) or to extract ‘that thing’ (the soul of a substance) from the rest. A verse from the same group is somewhat like this From its impure form Gold is got Fire and spark Remove the blot8 …164 Note: Primal The use of the word primal is a mere convenience. Primal as the first, or the first cause or as the source, may be misnomers because ‘that’ is the only thing in the universe. All else is appearance in time, which is born out of our imagination. Also it is not primal because there is no second or third. Here too, the blot is the manifested world and gold is ‘that thing’ which is extracted. Fire and spark are both related to heat or energy and signify reason or intelligence (Verse 164). 1. sensorium – the sensory apparatus including the system of nerves 2. allegory – a story (or a poem, a play, a picture, etc) in which the meaning or message is represented symbolically 3. punchline – a punch (as in boxing) which knocks down an opponent. A punch line is a sentence, which knocks out the argument of the opposition and wins the said argument 4. Upanishad – the culmination of the Vedic literature 5. shimmering – shine tremulously with faint light 6. sensual – dependent only on senses (not on reason) 7. censure – criticize 8. blot – impurity

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dnyaneshwari Verses 139–171 Geeta Chapter 2


Chapter 27

Death of Death That thing, the source, soul, Brahma, the eternal spirit, God (!)

When a dog returns a man’s gaze, both are looking. It is true that the interpretation of what each is seeing may be different but that is only because the dog stopped at being a dog, while a monkey did not and evolved into a man. This evolution involved the development of a brain, which was somewhat different from that of other animals and therefore, intelligence emerged. Man, therefore, could make an inquiry if the dog could be somehow domesticated, used, even exploited. It is difficult to clearly state what a dog thinks but experience shows that the dog can indeed be trained to be a friend of man, albeit1 with some limitations. Is there interdependence in this relationship or is the world of a dog quite distinct from that of a man? The world might appear differently to man and a dog or for that matter to any beast, but what about interdependence and sustenance2? Is there a common thread in what we call nature? Do animal and man have equal rights? Or is the world based on an anthropic3 principle, by which the evolution of man was inevitable and was its goal, that the development of man’s intelligence was a foregone conclusion, and that even after our solar system ultimately switched off, human intelligence would persist in some form? The idea that somehow man is central to this universe is certainly appealing but also probably appalling4. Sir Fred Hoyle (English astronomer and physicist, 1915–2001), thought that this anthropic argument smelt of a grand design, and no need to speculate on what he thought of the smell, because he thought, that the Universe has always been. And in what way does the universe function or structure itself, irrespective of whether 1) it was consciously created, 2) it came to happen or 3) it has always been? Physics seems to suggest with some finality that the activity (function) at the subatomic level (structure) is uncannily5 similar in the living (!) and the non-living (!). As Schrodinger (Austrian physicist, 1887–1961) would have it, the difference is a matter of the


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exchange of heat that characterizes a structure. True, the living do reproduce but even here according to Schrodinger, heat is responsible for mutation or duplication of genetic material. As the Mundak6 Upanishad would have it in paraphrase, It is with heat That the Brahma7 expands Then comes food* And lastly mind and man …165 *food = matter

Man was not around when ‘that thing’ expanded but however late his entry on the world stage, now man ‘is’ and he thinks. But how does he describe heat except by the effects that the heat produces? The laws of thermodynamics8, crucial as they are, are observable only by way of dynamics produced by the heat which remains an elusive9 subject. And if there is a problem with heat, the problem gets confounded when one talks of that singularity, that thing, or the Brahma. If space comes out of expansion, then Brahma, before expansion, is all by itself and there is no such thing as space. Does or can the Brahma move in the absence of space and if it cannot then what verb to apply to it? Verb, by definition signifies a word which describes activity, occurrence or a state. ‘That thing’ cannot be active for lack of space; an occurrence is still to happen to it and what of its state? We don’t know its past state to describe its ‘then’ present state. A verb therefore fails and an adverb is doomed with the demise of the verb. An adjective fares no better. Can we call it black when there is no white for comparison? Or call it dense or small when a comparable non-dense large thing is not available to facilitate a description? This business of ‘that thing’ or ‘the singularity’ is confounding10 to the parameters11 of human language. Yes it is, must have been, and where can it go? It lurks everywhere, forever, and in the process it has killed death or rather it does not know death, a word used by man. That singular thing has no use for man’s words. It cares not. Man thinks and cares, but his language here is a ‘non’ and so Wittgenstein (1889–1951), Austrian philosopher an understudy of the English philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872– 1970) says unwittingly in another context, ‘Whereof we cannot speak thereof we must be silent’.

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Be that as it may, man must express and this is what Dnyaneshwar has to say about this singularity, which is explained rather tersely in the Geeta by Shrikrishna. A dream is real Till you wake When you are awake You know It is false and fake …166 You cannot fell a body By striking at its shadow And of the everlasting soul The body is only a shadow …167 The sun seems to shine In the water in the pot But in an empty pot The image is ‘not’ Yet the sun shines Bright and hot …168 Within four walls and a roof Is what is space When the house crumbles There is still that space A body might crumble But the soul remains …169 The sequence of the preceding verses is interesting. First there is only a dream, then comes the body and its shadow, progressing to the idea of the soul, then Dnyaneshwar uses images in nature, like the sun reflecting in a pot of water and lastly uses a not-so-discernible thing called space. The constancy of spirit is thus brought out through metaphors12, beginning with a dream, which is an unreal reality (!) and lastly with space, which is taken for granted because it is not directly felt. Dnyaneshwar then copies a verse from the Geeta.


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Childhood, middle age and growing old Is life wearing different clothes …170 Dnyaneshwar now expands on the theme of the soul, in several verses as compared to only two in the Geeta Pure, untainted and forever Not some matter For sword and cleaver13 …171 The Geeta specifically mentions an armament as incapable of cleaving that ‘eternal’. It cannot burn, dry or drown though Fire, wind and water may surround (it) …172 The eternal is impervious14 to the elements, all of which came later. And this eternal spirit is Not amenable to logic and instruments Or meditation15 and sacraments16 …173 The four standard methods that man employs to solve riddles are inoperative with reference to the soul Not something that mind can seize It is timeless, beyond its chronological17 reach …174 The element of time so crucial to human thoughts does not apply to the spirit It is ancient and older Than things that flow It is not tainted By qualities you know This its nature Once you know Lament and sorrow On their own will go …175

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At this point Shrikrishna changes tack18 and acts like a logician rather than a divine figure. He offers an alternate scenario, just in case. Says Shrikrishna, in the words of Dnyaneshwar Even if that thing Was to die or live There is no need For you to grieve …176 Birth, life and death March hand in hand Whatever you do They will not stop or stand …177 The river must begin And must reach the sea But her flow in its middle Never ceases to be …178 Whatever is born is soon to be gone Whatever is gone is soon to be born A watering wheel19, Round and round, always on. …179 Dnyaneshwar also mentions sunrise and sunset and then remembers the great flood, an occurrence that is fixated in our minds and the mythology of most religions. The world was lost In the great flood of the past But in its time It got recast …180 Then the argument reverts back to the original philosophy of spirit and form That thing from where One comes from Has no substance Nor shape and form When back to that thing You lose your form …181


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You know in your dreams You see shapes and forms You know on water Waves form Even without water A mirage forms Maya and mirage Maya and mirage …182 The word ‘Maya’ has been used for the first time by Dnyaneshwar, though it is still to appear in the Geeta. In classical Indian philosophical terms, the word Maya means unreality, the illusion by virtue of which one considers the unreal universe as really existent and as distinct from the supreme spirit. In common parlance, Maya means magic or illusion. Dnyaneshwar is using the word Maya in the latter context because a lot is to be said about ‘Maya’ in the Geeta in later chapters. Maya will then be unveiled (!) in its full philosophical connotation20. The Geeta and Dnyaneshwar now relate the effects that this philosophy has on people who understand and digest it. Those who are thus informed Become quiet in their heart From their minds Cast their bodies apart That is how asceticism21 starts Of this idea of the eternal They become parcel and part When a river pours Into the sea Their waters cannot be Told apart She can neither return Nor depart …183 1. 2. 3.

4. 5.

albeit – though sustenance – nourishment and support anthropic principle – the cosmological principle that theories of the universe are constrained by the necessity to allow human existence or anthropocentric – a system regarding mankind as the centre of existence appalling – shocking uncanny – seemingly supernatural, mysterious and slightly frightening

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12.

13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19.

20. 21.


Mundak – Mundak as in head in Sanskrit, therefore an important Upanishad Brahma – a word commonly used to describe the singularity from which the universe formed. From Brih (Sanskrit) – to spread thermodynamics – science of the relationship between heat and other forms of energy, for example, mechanical elusive – difficult to find or catch confounding – confusing parameter – a constant factor, scale metaphor – the application of a word, phrase, or descriptive term to an object or action to which it is imaginatively but not literally applicable (to show that they have the same qualities and to make the description more forceful) cleaver – heavy chopping tool used by butchers impervious – unaffected meditation – think, ponder, study sacraments – ceremonial, religious objects chronological – arrangement of events in a certain order tack – the general tendency or direction of a person’s actions, words or thoughts watering wheel – an old contraption, prior to the development of the pump, usually placed near an open well, or river, with several buckets attached to it, which goes round and draws water. The heavier buckets at the top, full of water, help their descent and this descent also helps to pull up other buckets. Needed less energy, was efficient and could draw large quantities of water. connotation – suggestion asceticism – severe self discipline and abstinence from all forms of pleasure


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verses 172–229 Geeta Chapter 2

Chapter 28

From the Unknown to the Known

In 1929, the late Sir Arthur Edington (1882–1944), the British physicist and astronomer, said the following about the subatomic world: ‘Something unknown is doing we don’t know what’ according to John Gribbin, also a physicist himself, in his book ‘In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat’. Then Gribbin follows it up with an obscure verse by Lewis Caroll, (1832–98, English, real name Dodgson, Charles Lutwidge, author of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, also a mathematician). The slithy toves Did gyre and gimbal in the wabe Except the pronoun ‘the’ and the verb ‘gyre’ (to rotate, gyrate), all else is not quite proper in this verse. ‘Did gyre’ might pass but the word ‘gimbals’, which is actually a noun describing ‘a contrivance … for keeping instruments such as the compass and chronometer in a horizontal position while at sea or in the air’, is used here in this verse as a verb. ‘Slithy’ is probably slithery and ‘wabe’ is almost certainly a web. But what is a tove (a dove or a tadpole or what)? Be that as it may, this slithy (!) verse still makes sense. What is conveyed is a slithery thing somehow balanced in a web. Gribbin continues with the following prose (!) : ‘Eight slithy toves gyre and gimbal in the oxygen wabe, seven in nitrogen if one of its toves escapes, oxygen will be masquerading in a garb properly belonging to nitrogen.’ Note Gribbin’s use of the word ‘garb’, similar to the much older verse from the Geeta, ‘the life wearing different clothes’ (Chapter 27, Verse 170)’. Whatever may be the nature of the subatomic world, or its spirit so to say or ‘the spirit’ as a word used in philosophy or ‘that thing’ the eternal, man must encounter with nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide, in this world. Nitrogen is considered inert1 up to a point, to

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


the human organism, oxygen is life-giving and carbon dioxide is noxious2. But here too according to medical science, too much of oxygen in certain forms, or too little of carbon dioxide are also considered dangerous to man according to the medical science. The nature of the way the universe runs must remain in the background of one’s mind as one encounters the world. But this world is a world in itself and its rules too need to be adjusted to, if one is to survive successfully. This world is ruled by certain rules, however mysterious its essence might be. Shrikrishna is about to descend on this world, albeit3 slowly, and makes a beginning by getting irritated at this juncture with Arjun our prince. In the words of Dnyaneshwar he says to Arjun, You already have been told How the universe unfolds Yet About the universe You act so perverse …184 In the modern context, the word perverse seems to have been reserved for some kind of deviant (!) sexuality. But the meaning of the word perverse is basically ‘to show a deliberate or stubborn desire to behave in an unacceptable or unreasonable manner’ and also ‘persist in error’. A succession of verses then follow You have forsaken your way of life* That is why this dreadful4 strife5 …185 Assume that your enemy die Or at worst you too may die Or even the world will end How will it help, if you bend …186 Pity might be a noble thought But use it here, you cannot …187 Milk might be The perfect food But for every illness It cannot be good …188


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

A beaten path Is your only way A lamp in hand Shows the way …189 A beaten path is the path of his forebearers6. The lamp is his ‘way of life’*. This is your life This your war This the only way Fight you must Keeping your Emotions at bay Heavens await Or fame is on its way …190 There is nothing to think The future or the past Pick up your arms And make this war …191 You call this war This is heaven itself Bravery has come calling For your sake …192 Besotted by you Eager and willing Fame has come calling To wed you herself …193 Run from war A warrior cannot A wretched blot Perish the thought Vultures tearing A corpse** apart …194

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


** This is a rare occurrence when Dnyaneshwar takes recourse to morbidity. Perhaps he has strong feelings about a man who does not stand up and fight and therefore compares him to a corpse. An unprofessional man, in Dnyaneshwar’s eyes is dead.

It is your fortune That you fight this war A fortune That your forbearers brought They will be shamed If you run from this war …195 This kind of shame Forever will stick If you retreat Will forever prick …196 Noble you may act But the enemy will not Surround you they will And you will be lost …197 And if you survive And lead your life Death will be welcome Than that life …198 They will say Afraid that he was Thus he ran And then will call you A timid man …199 But where is the need to run? Man is wont To gather fame Lose limb and life For a better name Fame is already Your second name …200


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

The sky is unique And so are you Kings of yonder7 Are in praise of you The god of death Is in fear of you The enemy know They will succumb to you The water of the Ganges That is you …201 The mention of the river Ganges (the river is actually called Ganga and flows in the north and northeast of of India) is important. The banks of the Ganga have been the seat of civilisation in India from times immemorial and so the river is thus revered, like the now extinct river Saraswati (Chapter 17, Dnyaneshwari Verse 21). Dnyaneshwar evokes the breadth, expanse and the purity of the Ganga (in the original verse in Dnyaneshwari) to describe Arjun. Dnyaneshwar adds They know in their bones A diamond cuts Even a stone …202 Elephants flee as the lions roar Fearful they To their innermost core …203 The enemy cowers and also shakes Like when pounced by an eagle Does a snake …204 These pairs are to indicate how superior Arjun is to his enemy. From this enemy You cannot run You will be caught And at your cost They will make Merry and fun …205

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Then your heart Will tear apart And all their taunts Forever haunt …206 If you win this war The earth is yours to take If you lose and die Heavens wait …207 What else on this earth Except a way of life* Anything else Is sorrow and strife5 …208 This way of life You willingly chose This sinless life And all options closed This way of life Like a boat Which will help you Keep afloat …209 The verse stresses that indecision does not go well for a person once a certain course is chosen willingly and after proper deliberation. A certain ‘way of life’* once accepted is compared to a boat which helps a man cross the waters of life. Milk is pure as we said But with poison it will kill These timid thoughts are poison pure Which a sinful death will ensure Pleasure and pain are to be cast away Once you are set on your way Loss and gain come and go Don’t let them have a say …210


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Whatever comes is bound to come Let a win or loss be done Bear with it, whatever comes Or you succumb to a sinful run …211 These verses are appealing in a realistic kind of way. They encompass a world we encounter in which conflict is inevitable because of the very nature of man or other living creatures. We cannot pity the typhoid bacillus, though it is prudent to behave in a manner so as to avoid it. But once in our body we need to take medicine to kill that organism. An anecdote about Shankar Namboodri (8th century Indian philosopher), who interpreted Indian philosophy as pure ‘monism’8 is revealing. Once in the forests of Kerala (a state in India) an elephant charged at him and he had to run for his life. He was asked later what difference would it have made if he had been trampled because Brahma, that eternal thing, would have gone on in any case and his body and the world were mere ‘maya’ or a mirage. His answer was cryptic. He said ‘I did not want an elephant to prove my philosophy’. English philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) was similarly asked as to ‘what philosophical doctrine9 would he think about if he was to be thrown in the cold northern seas?’ and he too had said, ‘My first thought would be to find out which side the nearest shore was and then plan to swim towards it.’ All in all, philosophy, however lofty it might be, is a matter for the human mind, human life and human society, however inscrutable10 the nature of the very essence of this universe. As opposed to that we live a regulated life, albeit with the help of unreliable sensations and limited intelligence. And yet we must make the best out of our lives. More of this practical wisdom is to follow in the second and the next, the third chapter of the Geeta. NOTE: * ’Way of life’ The frequent harping on the ‘way of life’ is pertinent in the Indian context of the time when the Geeta developed. Arjun belonged to the ruling ‘Kshatriya’ clan whose duty it was to protect and/or acquire kingdoms or land by an act of war. They, the kshatriyas, were reared for that purpose from their early childhood. They thus become ‘professionals’ to put it in the modern context. The objections that Shrikrishna raises are to the unprofessional conduct based on faulty reasoning. ‘Love and mercy’, for example, cannot interfere with their professionalism in the face of other overwhelming considerations. ** Immediately after the verse about a warrior running away from war, being compared to a corpse (Verse 192) there is a verse which compares such a

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


person to a wife subject to ridicule when abandoned by her husband. In today’s context it is an unpleasant verse but in the context of Dnyaneshwar’s time, it is apt. Dnyaneshwar is not supporting this social conduct but only using it to describe a situation. He is being realistic not judgemental. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.

inert – inactive noxious – poisonous albeit – though dreadful – fearful strife – conflict forbearer – ancestor yonder – at some distance monism – where the universe is sourced to one thing doctrine – a principle of religious or political belief inscrutable – only mysterious


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verses 230–284 Geeta Chapter 2

Chapter 29

‘On with the act’

In Verse 39 of the second chapter of the Geeta, Shrikrishna tells Arjun something to the following effect: So far I have told you The thought (behind your acts) Let me now tell you How to act (with that thought) …212 The words within brackets, in the verse translated above, are derived by inference. The original verse blandly1 states ‘so much for knowledge-based yog’, let me now tell you about the ‘actionbased yog’. The word ‘yog’* is explained towards the end of this chapter, where its meaning becomes more clear (also dealt with earlier in Chapter 12). It might be convenient to summarize what has been said so far in the Geeta and the Dnyaneshwari: 1. The coming of the universe might not be a ‘consciously designed act’ 2. The ‘core constituent’ of the universe is inscrutable2 3. Matter, in a discernible3 accumulated form, behaves according to some laws which can be ascertained 4. Man is made up of matter though its core constituent is the same as that of the universe (energy) 5. Man exhibits two important faculties, intelligence and emotions 6. That these two, intelligence and emotion, are frequently in conflict 7. This conflict is detrimental to man and by extension to the society 8. To prevent this detriment, a calm intelligent analysis is needed 9. This analysis must take into account that the ‘never born’ and ‘never going to die’ spirit must be placed ahead of ordinary human experience, by way of cognitive4 therapy as given by a

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


guru or understood by way of reading about it (see Chapter 21 for cognitive therapy). Let us now take up Dnyaneshwar’s relevant verses, including the one cited at the beginning of this chapter. So far I have told you The thought behind your acts Let me now tell you How to act with that thought …213 With these thoughts When you act In spite of your acts Your freedom is intact …214 Freedom from what? From the entanglements5 of the reward that the act is likely to bring in. This thoughtful act is then described as an armour. Against this armour and mail6 Weapons will surely fail You will be on a victorious trail And will remain Unscathed, hearty and hale …215 Unscathed from what? The entanglements mentioned earlier. Interestingly, such a man is active and involved in this world, but is already liberated. The world remains in hand Liberation too at hand …216 What is needed Must be done Empty your mind Of what is to come …217 ‘What is to come’ are rewards or failures. They are to be removed from the mind and once they are removed, they cannot touch you. For example, An exorcist7 drives away the devil Yet he is untouched by its evil …218


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

That is because he is aware of what the devil is. Elaborating on this thought Dnyaneshwar says, Tiny and small This idea and this thought But can light up The whole of your heart …219 Worldly fears, big and small Will be vanquished once for all …220 And then says further that this tiny flame is actually the eternal flame or ‘that thing’, or the Brahma, or ‘the spirit’ This little flame and the eternal flame Are in fact one and the same Like the Ganga** pours again and again (into the sea) They are waiting to meet again …221 * We are after all a microcosm8 of the whole. ** Known as Ganges in the Western world.

Are any other thoughts possible? Indeed there are, when man acts for rewards. And what is the highest reward that a man can aspire for? Of course the heavens! And what does a man do to ensure heaven? Indulge in rituals, take help of a priest, divide afterlife into paradise or heaven and also hell. He therefore also analyses virtue and sin, and in the process makes false judgements. Let us see these ‘other’ thoughts from the Geeta in Dnyaneshwar’s words. All other thoughts Are evil thoughts They grow weird These very thoughts In the mind Heaven and hell Start playing An ominous game In these disparate9 Divisive thoughts Eternal bliss10 Can never be got …222

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And what is the rationale for these acts that follow? A description of people mired11 in rituals then follows: They quote the scriptures for these acts Expect the heavens from these acts Little realizing what are the facts …223 Further Pleasure is their only aim Rewards their only game Rigid rituals again and again This is religion only in name …224 But They make a big mistake In what they put at stake The sacrifices that they make Are not for the ‘eternal’ sake …225 Here, the word ‘sacrifices’ stands for the ritualistic, sacramental12 token sacrifices in formal religious ceremonies. And what do these acts resemble? To collect camphor In a pyre13 And then light it up In a senseless fire …226 Camphor is used by Dnyaneshwar as a simile or a metaphor14 on more than one occasion. In his time, camphor was extracted from trees, was not easy to obtain in quantities, and was therefore precious. Today, it can be produced in large amounts synthetically. It has an aroma, is white and can be burnt easily (is inflammable) and is still frequently used for rituals. The verse is an oblique irony15 about how a precious item was burnt senselessly in large amounts to seek favours from God. It also probably implicates the rich idolator16 who is in a hurry to please God. Dnyaneshwar then evokes the image of a dutiful mother or a housewife who is a good cook, and who has gone astray by selling the food that she has made for her family. Once afterlife is objectified as a heaven full of pleasure, it is but natural that bargains will be struck in this world. Even a mother will succumb to bargains. In fact, says Dnyaneshwar


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Morality, merit and virtuous life What more is to ask in this life …227 And yet people who hanker17 after heaven behave differently Of rituals their minds are made Selfish thoughts thus pervade …228 And why (for heaven’s sake) does this mentality develop? Because of what is given in the older scriptures, before the Upanishads were elaborated (please see the note at the end of the chapter). Are the older scriptures all wrong? No they are not. You have to choose from them with prudence. And therefore Scriptures may be wide and vast But they belong to the past …229 Between wise ideas and the rest You must choose what is best …230 For example, With the rising sun Daylight breaks This breaking light Shows you ways Choose you cannot And cannot take All those different ways …231 Or Water is plenty On this earth You drink enough For your thirst …232 Again Many a thought Are found in texts The wise will choose What is the best …233

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And therefore After giving careful thought I give you this final fact You cannot give up Your decreed act …234 And When you act Forget the rewards And banish those Unwanted thoughts Yoke18 your mind To this decreed act And with a noble heart Go and act …235 And remember With some luck after you act If success follows some of your acts Drown in joy you must not That is where lies the tact …236 Or For some reason if you fail, There is no reason for you to wail19 …237 If you succeed Well and good If you fail Also good …238 Whatever you do Give it to ‘that’ Done your bit That is what …239 Dnyaneshwar adds ‘Failure and success without sorrow and joy are always appreciated by those who know the Upanishadic philosophy.’ When reason and mind In tandem20 act


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Peace will dwell in your heart That is the surest sign Of a yogic act* …240 * Mind is the seat for the sensorium, and when intellect or reason sits on judgement, the sensorium is relegated to its proper place. The two, intellect and mind are now in tandem and thus they are properly yoked and what results is a yogic act. Yog is derived from the word ‘yuj’ in Sanskrit, which means to join or harness, similar to the word ‘yoke’ as in tying an animal. The mind with its sensorium is a mere animal, but with reason it evolves and with dispassionate work ethic, it becomes philosophical, practical, useful and constructive.

Dnyaneshwar emphasizes that these Upanishadic thoughts and actions are twins. The ideas and theory Of these lofty thoughts Might seem higher Than these acts But these decreed* Or ordained acts* Will unveil The yogic acts …241 * What is expected by society

When your acts Have no sinful parts Pleasure or pain Birth or death Will surely depart …242 The idea that one is born and then dies, the fear of death, the joy of birth, the pleasures and the pain in between and the entanglements, all fall off when you offer everything to ‘that’ which always is. Thus the following will happen Then you will get A special place Way beyond this worldly race With your mind In excellent health, You, from that place

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Cannot be displaced …243 With these acts Greed will lapse And a blissful calm Will come to pass …244 Without a taint And also deep Realisation will Slowly creep And the mind by itself Will be calm and neat …245 Then there is nothing to get Nothing to remember or forget And all will end And will regress21 …246 The mind and its extensions Are emotions and sensations Only a single sensation Will then remain …247 Thoughts will remain still and Reconciliation22 will distil …248 Some important points need to be emphasized before this chapter is concluded: a) The mention of old scriptures (Vedas), an advice to put the Vedas in the proper perspective, their obvious tendency to lay stress on afterlife (heaven and hell) and this (then) new idea called the ‘Upanishads’, together appear like the old and the new testament (to use Christian terminology). But this thought process, at least here in the second chapter, is pure psychology and scientific philosophy. It does not take recourse to a personal god, uses intelligence to describe a possible ‘core constituent’ of the universe and then explains human nature on this background and exhorts man towards action. b) In at least two original verses from the Geeta and the


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari, on which this chapter is based, the older scriptures or the Vedas are described as tainted by human nature, as in a ‘quid pro quo’23. For example, I do this for God and therefore God will return something to me. Both verses criticize this aspect of the Vedas or at least underrate them indirectly. c) In one verse it is stated that dispassionate action can, in fact, take man beyond the watershed24 of his nature. This is difficult but also an ideal. Passion can be destructive, productive or caring. But even a caring disposition can lead to entanglement. This is a vast subject (the one concerning human nature) and is dealt at length in a later chapter of the Geeta. The Geeta herself mentions it only in passing at this stage. d) This part of the Geeta breaks new ground in terms of religious philosophy, if there is such a thing as religious philosophy. According to some, the idea of god can be discussed in philosophy but can philosophy figure in ideas given by an assumed god? More of this conflict later as the Geeta unfolds and Dnyaneshwar dwells on her. NOTE: Upanishads — philosophical texts towards the end of Vedic literature which discuss creation, reality etc (‘Up’ = near, ‘nishad’ = to sit, indicating a dialogue rather than a lecture.) 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18.

bland – mild, gentle and tasteless inscrutable – mysterious discernible – clearly seen cognitive – to know without an emotional basis entanglement – to be snared, to be caught in difficulties mail – body armour made of metal rings or plates linked together, worn by soldiers in former times exorcist – the one who expels evil spirits microcosm – mankind viewed as the epitome of the universe disparate – entirely different bliss – perfect joy, state of blessedness mire/ mired – involve in difficulties, sink in mud, dirt, swamp sacramental – ceremonial, religious pyre – a heap of combustible material metaphor – imaginative use of word, phrase or term irony – an expression with two meanings idolator – one who worships an idol hanker – to long for, to crave yoke – to tie, to harness

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24.

wail – high-pitched cry of grief or pain in tandem – one behind the other regress – return to former state reconciliation – resolution, bringing together quid pro quo – made in return watershed – a turning point



The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verses 285–320 Geeta Chapter 2

Chapter 30

Steady and Content

At this stage in the Geeta, Arjun, who has been ‘all attention’, suddenly breaks into speech and asks several questions. To sum up the questions in the words of Dnyaneshwar, What are the signs of a man ‘content’ Who is composed, calm and collect In what way does he manifest I want to know at the earliest …249 Such questions and answers are now to continue throughout the Geeta. The ‘persona‘1 that Arjun is enquiring about is called ‘Sthitapradnya’ in Sanskrit and that is the word Arjun uses. The word is in two parts, ‘Sthit’, as in ‘steady’ and ‘pradnya’ which means intelligence or reason or awareness. (The full break-up of the word is given in a note at the end of the chapter.) Before revealing Shrikrishna’s reply to Arjun, Dnyaneshwar interposes a verse to describe Shrikrishna. He says The Lord will now begin to speak The very incarnation2 of spirit (So to speak) …250 The addition ‘so to speak’ in the verse above, is because everything in this world is an incarnation of ‘that spirit’. Dnyaneshwar, however, for some reason is using this occasion to indicate to the readers that Shrikrishna is special, a special product, a supreme living embodiment 3 in flesh, of ‘that spirit’. In the same verse, Dnyaneshwar mentions that Shrikrishna is embellished with six sterling qualities. Dnyaneshwar comments at length on the nature of these qualities while introducing the sixth chapter of the Geeta (Chapter 47) of this book, reproduced here only as a preview. The six qualities are:

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


Work, wealth and charity Realization, asceticism4 and serenity5 Please note that the first three belong to this world, which later result in realization, asceticism and ultimately lead to serenity (please see Chapter 47). Let us now take up what Shrikrishna has to say to Arjun’s questions about the ‘sthitapradnya’. Listen to this my prince It is greed as well as desire That gets the inner joy in a mire6 …251 When greed and desire are ousted Lust and the sensuous7 are busted Joy and harmony come to be rooted In the heart 252 And when this happens emerges a man who In the face of sorrow is calm Against greed and desire His spiritual strength is a balm Passion and anger have totally gone And fear for him is an absolute ‘non’ This content man …253 And this in turn causes the following He is limitless Always in a steady state On his mind The world does not grate Such a sage …254 And he appears to be with Kindness in his heart Like a full moon without parts He allows all to bask In his light in equal parts Never once a change in his heart …255


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Free from sorrow and pleasure Filled with that perfect joy That ever content man …256 He is like The tortoise and its arms In and out move these arms When joyous it spreads its arms Pulls them in When he espies8 Even the slightest harm This steady content man …257 The simile of the tortoise is from the Geeta, and is carried forward by Dnyaneshwar. The Geeta rarely takes recourse to the natural world for similes9 or metaphors10 to elucidate philosophy. On the other hand the Dnyaneshwari is full of them. The Geeta and Dnyaneshwar, then comment on the sense organs which are an impediment to realisation. There are some Who restrain their eyes and ears But when it comes to food They are gluttons11 without fear …258 When the senses are subdued Only in parts By the senses then Are they torn apart …259 Citing the technique of uprooting a tree, Dnyaneshwar says that a tree will not die if You clip only the visible shoots But continue to water the hidden roots …260 The water here is no different from the food mentioned in Verse 258. Watering a tree actually has an opposite effect With the power of this water The tree will grow wide and broad It is the tongue and taste That really matter

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Then the other senses too Grow wild and broad ...261 And food is the last obstacle when it comes to overcoming the power of the senses The eyes and ears The nose and the skin Can be kept on a leash But appetite and taste Are beyond our reach Because life without food Reaches its lowest niche …262 But there is hope Senses too subdue themselves When the idea ‘eternal’ meets the self …263 The idea of the eternal or the spirit disjoins your mind from your body. When the spirit becomes the self The senses disappear by themselves …264 Dnyaneshwar adds a rider There is no other way By which The senses end their sway …265 There is also a warning Those who use Habit custom or practice Or fence their mind by Restraint control or by curbing By penance devotion or taming Or fist their mind As if by an act of clenching Only end up agonising Such is the strength of the senses Such is their bonding …266 The senses, which experience the so-called pleasures, are very deceptive and Dnyaneshwar says, with each stroke of fortune and


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

success, the senses Like the devil tricking the exorcist12 In your mind they come to exist And then, your body cannot resist These senses …267 They defy habit, custom and practice Such is the strength of temptation and its lattice13 …268 Then Shrikrishna summarises it all for the time being The man who destroys temptations And his dependence on sensations Gets ready for yogic redemption14 …269 But, warns Dnyaneshwar It is not enough To turn away from temptation Your heart too Must be rid of temptation Or the world will tantalize With its sensations Like a drop of poison The smallest of temptations Is enough to kill And end any chance of redemption …270 And then When the mind Is not swayed by temptation It will fill With tides of realisation And from his heart ‘I’ will not be subject to relegation15 …271 That Shrikrishna cannot be relegated from the heart of a content man, who has become a yogi is somewhat differently expressed in the relevant verse in the Geeta. It says quite directly in the words of Shrikrishna that ‘the mind should be focused on Him’. The difference between the two verses is subtle, perhaps not even intentional and as in all older languages may be just a matter of interpretation. And this difficulty arises in all philosophic-religious texts. If a certain

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


person is to give directions or teach, or reveal, the question arises as to whether this should lend to raising this person to the status of a God or prophet. *NOTE : The word Sthitapradnya is made up of two words, ‘Sthit’, as in ‘steady’ which has an Indo-European root ‘st(n)atis.’ Note the similarity in the three. There is a Sanskrit word ‘Sthiti’, which means ‘state’ as in ‘in what condition is the thing’. The other word is ‘pradnya’. The operative root in ‘pradnya’ is ‘dnya’, as in ‘to know’ but even here the barest root appears to be ‘dn’ similar to ‘gn’ (gnosis = to know in Greek), an Indo-European root. (Therefore ‘dnyan’ which means knowledge and ‘gnosis’ [as in diagnosis] have a dn, kn, or gn to begin with and are probably variations evolved over a period of time in different geographical zones.) When ‘pra’ is prefixed to ‘dnya’ (to know) the meaning of the resultant word (pradnya) becomes intelligence or muse or reason or awareness. The word muse classically means inspired genius. A person, for example, can have an unusual ‘pradnya’. Here, it would be interesting to note the proper name Dnyaneshwar. ‘Dnyan’ as in knowledge and ‘ishwar’ as in ‘supreme’ used together form this proper name, suggesting a person of exceptional intelligence. And it is around Dnyaneshwar’s ‘muse’, that this book revolves. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15.

persona – character incarnation – manifestation, living form embodiment – to form into a body, provide ( a spirit) with bodily form; to give a tangible or visible form to (an idea or quality) asceticism – abstinence from all forms of pleasure (for a spiritual or religious reason) serenity – tranquillity, calm mire – involve in difficulties, sink in mud, dirt, swamp sensuous – related to sensations as opposed to reason espy – sight, spy simile – compare one thing with another metaphor – imaginative application of word, phrase or term glutton – an excessively greedy eater exorcist – the one who expels evil lattice – a structure of crossed bars (laths) used as a screen or fence redemption – deliverance from sin and damnation relegation – consign or dismiss to an inferior or less important position; transfer, banish, send into exile


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verses 320–375 Geeta Chapter 2

Chapter 31

The Content Man (continued)

After drawing attention to himself very briefly, Shrikrishna continues with the matter in hand, the description of the ‘Sthitapradnya’ (see Chapter 30 for the meaning) or the ‘content man’. These are the remaining verses as narrated by Dnyaneshwar On the heels of lust, anger arrives And then greed speedily thrives …272 Greed under any circumstances will not allow realisation With greed, realisation remains in name A storm douses a flame …273 Here, the storm being that of greed and the flame symbolizes realisation. What remains is smoke and as if to continue with smoke, which blinds, Dnyaneshwar says Blinded completely by folly The mind is bewildered1 entirely …274 To carry the ideas of light and darkness further Sun swallowed by the night A misled soul in a wretched2 plight3 …275 The simile then goes on to a man who is born blind and has never seen light, a blindness that cripples completely. Blind from birth, And now in flight A pitiable sight Cannot choose Between wrong and right …276 Dnyaneshwar then veers towards identity, the real identity, or the realization that we are mere bodies around the eternal spirit.

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


When identity is forgot Thoughts are blocked And knowledge is lost That is what …277 Dnyaneshwar then pushes this idea even further and states that it is the soul that energises the body. The body, which is the seat of sensations, is worthless without a soul and is a mere corpse.4 A mere body After life has left A mind without intellect Barren and bereft …278 The mind as explained here is a mere organ of the body, intellect or reason being supplied by the eternal (the soul). Lust and temptation and greed are then compared to fire. Only a spark is needed to fuel a fire. A single spark and fuel Then a fire will swell The whole world then becomes a fuel And man is felled …279 Here the world itself becomes a fuel for temptation, greed and desire. And this fire can be sparked accidentally. When temptations come to dwell Even by mistake, for the shortest spell Doom comes hunting Sounding its knell5 …280 To repeat an earlier theme When temptations Are done away Anger and hatred Will end their sway …281 Then an unusual thing happens When anger and hatred End their reign The organs of sensations Are naturally tamed …282


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

The next comparison is between the earth and the roving sun, evoking the idea of light again. The earth is touched By the sun’s rays But the sun is not touched By her ways …283 The significance of the sun is in its detachment and independence. Here Dnyaneshwar describes a man with these qualities of the sun – independence and detachment. Of anger and hatred Not even a pretence Steady and sane Indifferent to every worldly sense Filled with the very essence* ...284 * Soul

And because he is the one with the very essence If water could drown water Or fire burn fire Then could temptation matter In his very steady state …285 In this state you can be sure He is by himself His steady self Steady as a rock His thoughts as well …286 His mind is immune to sorrow When his mind Brims with perpetual joy With his mind Sorrow will not toy6 …287 Dnyaneshwar writes in physiological terms When the immortal essence Oozes from his gut In thirst and hunger Will not rut …288

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


Then, giving the example of another sensitive organ, he writes, When his thoughts have become one With that eternal divine With full of joy his heart How can sorrow thrive …289 Then the theme of the flame reappears On a windless open plain An utterly steady flame ‘Steady’ realised yogi he ‘That’ becomes his name …290 The flame now shines, and is steady. But a warning is sounded When yogic finesse7 lacks Temptation will be back And peace will surely lag …291 And in the absence of peace If there is no peace in the heart Joy will depart And even by default Realisation cannot Live in this sinful heart …292 The warning continues An unchecked mind is the reason For all that is sad That is the only reason Why the mind ‘must be had’* …293 * to mean conquered

And then, a cautionary signal in maritime terms Even when the mind has been reined The journey does not end A storm can sunder8 a ship Ashore, though at journey’s end …294 Such a man, as in the ship of the previous verse is cautioned When the man thus arrived Plays with lust for fun


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Doom sends the man To a wretched fatal turn …295 A word of advice follows By itself The mind at rest Of ‘content’ That is the test …296 Next comes a very well-known verse from the Geeta When the world is asleep This man is awake And he sleeps When the world is awake …297 Here he sleeps through temptations to which the world falls prey. And when the world is ignorant about the dangers of temptations, he is aware and awake. He is not pulled By worldly pulls This man is content And full …298 And the word ‘full’ is described further, using a simile of the sea, which never crosses its limits With so much water pouring in The sea stays steady and serene …299 The fullness of the sea has nothing to do with the amount of water that is brought in by the rivers. When the summer is high And able to singe9 The rivers are thin And sucked in Yet the sea is full, Deep and serene …300 And then to apply the idea to the tides in a man’s life With fortune or without it And with failure and despite it

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


Not ruffled one bit Steady and serene …301 Dnyaneshwar having used the sun in his narration and also used ‘the flame’ to drive home a point, now brings them together. What will happen to the sun, he asks, if a flame was to approach it? Will the sun shine brighter? And if the flame withdraws, will the sun’s brightness lessen? And will it get darker? And he answers Would a flame brighten Or darken the sun Neither and none After all it is the sun …302 And our content man is like the sun He gives no thought If fortune smiles or not In divine joy as if lost All else is out of thought …303 Dnyaneshwar then equates heaven to the earth, particularly as they relate to our ‘content man’ He is the abode10 Of that joyous state Even a Godly palace Is hardly a bait What then Of the earthly gates …304 And to advance the idea further If heaven itself Is not a bait What of luck And achievements They don’t matter In his content state …305 In this state, his identity is lost into the eternal Desire is shed, Ego is shelved


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

And he becomes one With the universe itself …306 And finally Both within and without This is the Brahmic state And near the end Not rattled by death …307 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.

bewildered – confuse completely wretched – miserable plight – an unfortunate state corpse – dead body knell – the sound of a bell rung at the time of death toy – to play with finesse – refinement sunder – separate, sever, detach singe – to burn (superficially) abode – one’s home

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dnyaneshwari Verses 1–31 Geeta Chapter 3


Chapter 32

A Diversion/ Despondent Arjun Thesis1, Antithesis2, Synthesis3

The last verse in the preceding chapter, which describes a ‘sthitapradnya’ or a ‘content man’, evokes a certain image, which Arjun now mistakenly takes to be that of a man entirely bereft of any worldly activity. He therefore objects to Shrikrishna’s proposal that he (Arjun) should take up arms and fight the present war. As mentioned earlier, this is dialogical philosophy in the classic sense. Shrikrishna’s thesis1 is being challenged by Arjun (antithesis2) and it is expected that a synthesis3 will ultimately emerge. Arjun’s psychological confusion is touched upon rather briefly in the Geeta but Dnyaneshwar writes several touching verses on his mental state. For one, he (Arjun) indicates that Shrikrishna is a kindred4 soul, a reliable friend, a guide as well as a mentor and chides5 him for being difficult in the enunciation6 of his philosophical advice. At one point, he (Arjun) indicates that he is aware that Shrikrishna is divine, at another, he places Shrikrishna in the role of a mother and himself as a child. All in all, these verses carry the stamp of Dnyaneshwar, who is speaking to a lay audience about a difficult subject written in Sanskrit (a classical language), a language mostly in the hands of the priesthood and scholars and understood only to an extent, even by the ‘higher classes’. Dnyaneshwar’s narration (exposition7) is in Marathi, a local language and his treatment of the predicament8 of Arjun, runs parallel with the problems that the laity9 experienced in their time. In Dnyaneshwar’s words, this is what Arjun says If action and actor both subsume10 In this peaceful content state Then by what logic should I resume My war-like martial fate …308


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

On the one hand You aver That action is nothing In this content state And then on the other You ask That I enter these violent gates …309 Of all the people If you speak in this way For a fool like me Who will show the way I’m now almost sure That wisdom has lost its way …310 If this is what is ‘to lead’ Then pray tell me What is ‘to mislead’ …311 Eager as I was ‘to be led’ That thought now is almost dead …312 Dnyaneshwar then pens a complicated but interesting verse in which a doctor prevents a patient from being fed. Further, this doctor himself consumes poison and dies. A question is then asked here, ‘How can the patient now escape death?’. In short, Arjun has lost all hopes of being saved. Dnyaneshwar next compares Arjun to a blind man and a drunken monkey. The slightly convoluted verse goes somewhat like this A blind man led To a wrong path or line Or a monkey fed With plenty of wine To my already confused mind Then this your advice is fine …313 The verse indicates that Arjun is already completely lost and as if that is not enough, he is being rendered ‘this’ wrong advice. The lines in the verse ‘To my already confused mind, this your advice is fine’ smack of sarcasm.11

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


Dnyaneshwar continues To begin with I was perplexed And what you offer is so complex …314 12

You dole this stuff odd and fangled Words all so tangled


…315 What use can this advice be To an utterly confused me …316 I hang on your every word And you utter these circular words …317 If this is what your advice is Then these words are a cruel tease …318 Not only is my learning foiled And on top my heart is in turmoil …319 I really don’t understand you You mischievous you …320 14

You are vague and mystical What I seek is simple and rational …321 I agree I am all ignorance Now give me words That will banish my ignorance …322 For an illness, medicine is a need But it should be tasty and sweet …323 With a guru like you at hand My wishes cannot be dammed15 That is why I persist In these demands …324 After much effort I have reached the river


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Why should I endure thirst With water aplenty here …325 Prayed have I And have been made to wait Through cycles of life and death* At last you are at hand On this fortunate date How do you expect me to wait For my fate At this wondrous gate …326 What is best and only the best I want to know for sure For this life and ‘afterlife’ Advice proper and pure …327 At its will and on its time A baby will suckle the breast With love for you and with my will I am asking now For what is the best …328 *NOTE: Verse 326 tells us about Arjun’s ideas of a cycle of birth and death in which his identity was somehow preserved yet he had no occasion to be advised by Shrikrishna, who is being referred to as ‘God incarnate16’ and who was present during Arjun’s previous births but was not available to Arjun. Verse 327 clearly mentions afterlife. Verse 328 is on a more intimate level where Shrikrishna is referred to as a mother and Arjun refers to himself as an infant. On the whole, Arjun is somehow trying to get as much as possible from Shrikrishna by a variety of endearments. There are two verses in this part of the Dnyaneshwari, which are not translated here for difficulty of conveying the original simile. One concerns a mythical or a legendary cow, which gave enough milk at all times. (A cow constituted an important part of a pastoral17 culture in the then northwestern India, and what is Pakistan today.) A herd of cows was used as an exchange mechanism instead of money. The bull, together with the cow was a part of the fertility cult and the bull was also valuable in pulling the plough in an agricultural economy. This cow that Dnyaneshwar refers to was called ‘Kamadhenu’, ‘Kam’ meaning desire and ‘Dhenu’ meaning a milch cow.18 Thus this cow gifted everything that was desired. The verse states ‘if this Kamadhenu’s milk is available then why the fear that my desires will remain unfulfilled?’. Kamadhenu here being compared to Shrikrishna. The other verse employs a jewel called ‘Chintamani’, to explain a point. The

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


word is in two parts ‘Chint’ as in ‘to think’ and ‘Mani’ as in a precious stone. According to tradition, Chintamani when in hand would give to the bearer whatever he thought were his needs. The verse reads, ‘if this Chintamani is in hand/where is the question of not getting what one wants’. Both Kamadhenu and Chintamani are used to suggest that when Shrikrishna is on a person’s side there is nothing that will be wanting. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18.

thesis – a proposition to be proved antithesis – the direct opposite, contrast of ideas synthesis – bringing together separate ideas to make a connected whole kindred – one’s relations collectively chide – scold, rebuke enunciation – express in definite terms exposition – an explanatory statement predicament – a difficult or unpleasant situation, especially one in which it is difficult to know what to do laity – lay people subsume – include in the same category sarcasm – a wounding remark, a taunt dole – a charitable gift of food, clothes or money fangled – (slang) similar in meaning to tangled mystical – mysterious, beyond understanding dam – cause to obstruct, create a barrier incarnate – to occur (embody) in human flesh (usually in religions) pastoral – country life ( prior to or outside of urban development) milch – a domestic animal (mammal) kept for milk


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verses 32–63 Geeta Chapter 3

Chapter 33


The third chapter of the Geeta is devoted to Karma Yog. Yog, as has been explained earlier, is from the Sanskrit root ‘yuj’ as in ‘to yoke or harness’. This chapter, therefore, is about how to ‘harness’ oneself to karma. The word karma is actually a concept wherein it is assumed that prior to the evolution of the universe, karma was non-existent and the idea of a singularity1 or Brahma in Indian philosophy, cannot entertain the idea of karma within it. As has been seen in Chapter 27, human language fails to describe the spirit ‘behind’ or ‘before’ the universe and therefore no activity like karma can be a part of Brahma. The word ‘before’ has a special significance because it assumes ‘time’. Time began only after the universe evolved. The words evolve and evolution imply a change. And it is ‘change’ that we describe, with the help of time. Change involves movement, like in a pendulum clock, or in the spring of a clock. Even in an atomic clock it is change that is measured albeit far more precisely because the atomic vibrations are finer, more reliable and can be calibrated more accurately. This universe in its every dimension, every nook and corner, in its depths, middle and on its surface, is ‘change personified’ and this occurs over time. This change is karma. It started with what is called the ‘big bang’ in physics and since then has never stopped. It is a chain of cause and effect, the effect becoming a cause for the next change. In its purest, pristine2 meaning, karma is therefore ‘a chain of an inexorable3 change’. But this ‘chain of change’ in its most manifest form, appears to man as ‘activity’ and it is from the word ‘activity’ that the multiple meanings of the word karma are derived. Let us look at some of the meanings of the word karma — action, work, deed, execution, performance, business, duty, office, moral duty, religious rites, result, product, natural or active property, fate, the object of an action, motion or movement. Each one of these meanings either has an action or a result thereof. On this background Arjun is in double

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


jeopardy4. He has given up his work or in other words, he is refusing to fight. On the other hand, he is unable to comprehend cosmic reality, which Shrikrishna is trying to explain to him. What is more, Shrikrishna is juxtaposing5 cosmic reality against the ‘content man’ (Chapters 30, 31). No wonder Arjun is disturbed, upset, lost, angry and prone to sarcasm 6 as revealed in the preceding chapter. Shrikrishna realizes this and starts to make amends, in Dnyaneshwar’s words For a moment The Lord7 was taken aback But then quickly said Let me answer what you ask …329 The thoughts behind the act Or those thoughts which are facts Have confused you for a fact …330 But that system of thought Was told to you in passing Out of turn As we got talking …331 It’s natural you got upset Let me now put everything straight …332 Both the systems Of what to think And how to act Have risen from me In the distant past …333 A deeply thinking man Can seize the spirit He surely can …334 But a normal active man Will take time To mature and scan


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

And only then See the spirit He can …334 In a way they are the same (Food) cooked and uncooked only in name Both satisfy all the same …335 Rivers might flow East or west In the end In the sea they rest …336 Both the systems Have a common aim Their way of doing Not the same …337 A bird can fly and grab a fruit A man is slow in what he moots …338 Step at a time And in his time He finds his way To the sublime8 …339 A thinking man like a bird in flight A working man trudges left and right …340 A realised soul may forgo work But ordinary men depend on work …341 That if you stop your work Realisation will dawn Is a worthless thought A canard9 and a sham10 …342 Cross a river If you must To give up the boat Is a thought unjust

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To end your hunger, You must eat And if you have to eat, Cook you must And the food that you cook, Eat you must For all your needs, Work is a must When needs are over, Work gets bust …343 For those who want Work to be finished They must work With constant relish …344 This verse about relishing your work makes an important and interesting point. Whatever you do, you must relish it. It is then that work is not a burden. When the burden is no more the work is relishing. If work, duty or a task is a thorn, then the only way to remove it is by a thorn. Only work is an antidote to what appears to be drudgery.11 Karma is not a thing That you leave or take It by itself Makes or breaks …345 It is foolish to stop the march of nature Work is part of a living creature …346 And suppose you plan To stop your work Will the body Cease to work …347 Will your body cease to breathe Will you not hear, see or speak Will the heart stop its beat …348 Will hunger and thirst vanish Will the mind be banished …349


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Will you not wake and sleep And in your sleep Will dreams not creep …350 Will your legs forget to walk And will birth and death possibly stop …351 If all these things cannot be stopped How can work be made to stop These here silly thoughts They indeed must be stopped …352 Karma just happens The foolish think They make it happen …353 Climb your chariot Sit still in place When the horses pull Dragged at their pace …354 A falling leaf Flung by the wind Lifeless though Roams with the wind …355 Nature and mind Karma’s grind If you empty your mind It will enter from behind …356 Karma is our nature Of each creation and creature You cannot beat This, our nature …357 This part of the Geeta in the third chapter emphasizes the incessant and the inevitable nature of activity in this universe. Man cannot escape this inexorable karma. The example of the dry falling autumn leaf and the man in the chariot may be mistaken to be suggestive of a lack of choice and will. But they are not. The leaf is dead, yet is in

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


the vortex12 of nature. The man in the chariot is alive and is advised that he might as well get hold of the reins ‘ to get hold of himself’ so to say, so that he can direct the beast in the direction he prefers. The reins are the emotions, which must be ‘held’ and then reason is free to plan one’s moves. Note here the reappearance of the word ‘moves’. This is a dynamic world, and to be static and to refuse to participate is to do so at one’s own peril. How to hold those reins and then to drive the chariot is the subject of the next chapter in this book. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

singularity – that thing by itself from which the universe came about pristine – in its original condition inexorable – relentless, impossible to change or prevent (in) jeopardy – (to be in) danger, peril, risk, hazard juxtapose – to place people or things next to each other or very close together, especially to show a contrast 6. sarcasm – a wounding remark, a taunt 7. Lord – usually God, or master 8. sublime – grand, supreme, heavenly, high, lofty 9. canard – an unfounded story 10. sham – pretend, counterfeit 11. drudgery – slog, donkey-work 12. vortex – a mass of water or air that spins round and round so fast that it pulls objects into its centre


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verses 65–94 Geeta Chapter 3

Chapter 34

Religion without Rituals

This part of the Dnyaneshwari is exceptional for two reasons. While the Geeta on which Dnyaneshwari is based, takes half a step against rituals in religion, Dnyaneshwar takes a longer stride in the same direction and advises against the necessity of the traditional forms of propitiating1 God. Dnyaneshwar also boldly introduces the subject of human nature in relation to a man’s stock, his race and his milieu2, though the Geeta is yet to broach the topic. This is a controversial subject and though it will be dealt with at length later, a small note is included in this chapter on this subject. But as this subject appears in the Geeta, the subject of karma, decreed3 (as advised by socio-religious law) karma and attempts to abandon karma altogether are discussed first. Says Shrikrishna in the words of Dnyaneshwar, To resist your nature And your karma To avoid and rid yourself Of your decreed karma Will not banish karma In fact The mind will bristle4 with karma …358 And therefore, in a forthright statement, Shrikrishna avers For sure you must know That all this is only for show …359 5 This verse is an assault on hypocrisy and also perhaps on the all and sundry holy men who do nothing but preach a hollow religion. Once it is accepted that karma is inevitable and that decreed karma is desirable, to take a stand that anyone is beyond this world and its karma is being indirectly labelled despicable6. And to continue on

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


the nature of those hypocrites it is quite clearly stated in the Geeta In fact they are steeped in the mire7 Of avarice8, pleasure and desire …360 A man who effortlessly does his decreed karma, is then described by Dnyaneshwar in several verses and this man is called quite ‘similar to an average citizen’. Firmly absorbed in the eternal (spirit) When he deals with the world external An ordinary citizen he resembles …361 And to describe him further, Fearless of desire The body is, as if on hire Of his karma He never tires …362 In the original verse Dnyaneshwar alludes to this man being in control of his body and he is seen to be sending orders to his body. The expression ‘hire’ in the above verse carries the meaning a little forward. Not only does it hint at a master-servant relationship, but also implies a temporary arrangement between the soul, mind and body. The desires of the body are therefore distanced from the spirit of the individual. And the karma during its execution becomes so much the spirit of the individual that desires though present are relegated to another domain.9 Dnyaneshwar then uses a popular simile10 frequently used in Indian philosophical texts. A lotus leaf in water Yet not wet by that water …363 Without expectation or despair Not dragged by desire …364 Like everyone else in his manner Acts his part in worldly matters Lotus leaf in water The sun’s image in water …365


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

The metaphor11 of the sun is to recur from Dnyaneshwar’s pen throughout the Dnyaneshwari. The sun is aloof, majestic, and selfsufficient like the spirit. Yet like the spirit, which dwells in the body, the sun too appears as a reflection in water yet is untouched by it. The lotus leaf too is untouched by water. Shrikrishna offers an entreaty This is what A yogi is Become one If you may please …366 And then gives a direction Let peace be within Rein12 in your mind What is to be done Let the body find …367 The body is now an automaton and then a promise is made Your way of life if you follow Liberation is sure to follow …368 This liberation involves the body doing its own thing without corrupting the mind. The verses that follow echo somewhat the English proverb ‘An idle mind is a devil’s workshop’ Karma is your sacrifice* The surest way to prevent vice13 When you lose your way of life Mind is rife with forbidden vice Thoughts haunt of death and life The mind full of turmoil and strife …369 * The word sacrifice bears an explanation. In the Indian tradition tokens of rice, butter, grain etc are consigned to a sacramental fire as sacrifices. This is a way to return to nature what one got from nature. The fire with its heat represents the eternal and man returns things to the eternal. The simile 10 of the sacrifice in the verse refers to karma as a sacrifice, the karma having being acquired from the eternal. When the mind is not occupied with karma it goes haywire14. It thinks of consequences of actions and is also haunted by the ideas of death.

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


Dnyaneshwar says in summary Forever follow Your way of life Then bonds don’t form Nor does vice …370 Once your way of life becomes systematic and continuous, that system becomes the ‘all in all’ and every associated thing becomes subsidiary. Events or people involved in those events don’t bind you and there is no time for vice. Shrikrishna then tells Arjun, what his (Arjun’s) problem is Karma it is This world and self This you forget About yourself Karma as a burden Is therefore felt (by you) …371 Shrikrishna then harks back to mythological history (!) When this world came about Every creature was shown a way of life The way was obscure15 and prone to doubt So this confusion in man’s life …372 Then man went to the God of creation And asked for ways of salvation16 …373 And what did God say? God mentioned nature and trait And asked that he work with that trait …374 The original verse in the Dnyaneshwari clearly uses the word colour (varna) to identify a racial group and also a compound word ‘varna vishesh’ to mean a characteristic of a racial group (according to colour). It is then explained in the verse that a man must act according to his characteristic or according to his trait (a word used in the verse here). Here are some points to explain the background on which the verse is constructed. 1. It is known that civilizations rise and fall.


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

2. In the past, civilizations were at least partly created by a racial group. 3. It is known that all races do not develop uniformly. 4. When races mingled together by movement and/or war, one race emerged as victorious. 5. As a consequence, social status was determined by who won and who lost. 6. Important professions in due course were the privilege of the victors. 7. The less developed and the conquered had to make do with other professions. 8. It is thus that race and colour came to be identified with certain specific professions and this system carried on till another cultural, social upheaval took place either through a political or a military event. 9. India, which was the recipient of waves of immigrations in the Indo-Gangetic plains was a crucible17 for social admixture. What the verse is saying is ‘you have a certain trait, a way of life, an aptitude, a circumstance by virtue of your history, your culture, your race and therefore accept the situation and get on with it as you deem fit’. The operative phrase is ‘ get on with it’. But it must be admitted that this social stratification though efficient in a manner of speaking, was also prone to, and ultimately led to fossilization18, exploitation and was to degenerate into the caste system in India. But here in this specific verse, the accent is on the decreed karma, an action, work, duty. Arjun is not raising social questions but arguing about a personal and emotional dilemma and at this stage we will let it remain at that. What follows is crucial, even revolutionary. Dnyaneshwar is constructing this verse in the early thirteenth century in India where ritualistic religion was in full sway. With a bold sweep he puts these words in the mouth of the God of creation. Meditation19 or adoration20 Vows, worship or contemplation Amulets21 and incantation22 Religious rites and their execution Penance and pilgrimage and their completion Need not be done for salvation In fact except for your karma

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


Don’t look to any gods for directions Your decreed karma Do with relish and satisfaction …375 23

Honestly follow your natural traits Like a devoted wife serves her mate*

…376 * By today’s standards, this is a sexist statement in the absence of a corresponding mention of a husband helping or serving a wife or her cause. But one must realise that this is in thirteenth century India.

Your way of life will give Whatever you want If you give up your way Vices will haunt …377 The next chapter will take into account a certain social order, hierarchy24 so to say, which needs to be adhered to for the concept of karma to be practised properly. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24.

propitiate – to appease, to win the favour of somebody milieu – the social environment in which a person lives or works decree – an official order issued by a legal authority bristle – to be full of something hypocrisy – deception, deceit, here as in by the then social law despicable – detestable, mean, shameless mire – swamp, bog, mud avarice – greed domain – an area under one rule simile – compare one thing with another metaphor – symbolic imagery rein – to control or check vice – immoral conduct, evil, bad habit haywire – badly disturbed, disorganised, out of control obscure – hidden, not clearly understood salvation – saving from calamity, deliverance crucible – situation of severe test or trial, in which different elements interact to produce something new fossilization – to become fixed, to resist change or development meditate – reflect, think, ponder adoration – worship, idolise amulet – a small piece of jewellery worn to ward off evil incantation – use of a magical formula trait – distinguishing feature of a person hierarchy – a ranking system ordered according to status or authority


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verses 95–126 Geeta Chapter 3

Chapter 35

Man as a Social Creature

It has been said that nothing can work unless most of us put in some work. But it is also true that work would be worthless unless a certain system is in place. The fact that work (karma) is an inevitable necessity has been reiterated in previous chapters. However, concluding from that premise1 the worth of any work must be tangible2 both to the individual and the society in which he lives. What form a society should take, what rules should govern it and the kind of hierarchy3 that the society should adopt, are subjects that have been debated for millenia4. But at no time has the principle of ‘give and take’ ever been rejected. The quotient5 and quantum of who gives how much and who takes and for what are the pivot on which the wheels of society rotate. To put it simply too much oppression and exploitation sow the seeds of revolt and revolution. On the other hand, too much freedom, liberty and too few rules lead to disorder, chaos and invite a totalitarian6 regime. Between these extremes, most societies muddle through a middle path and live in tolerable peace. And this peace is the result of a certain stable edifice7 founded on historical, philosophical, cultural, religious and economic ideas. Preparedness for war is a historical necessity, importance of virtue may spring from philosophy; arts, crafts and customs constitute culture, ideas about God and how the world is managed, fall in the domain of religion and the nitty-gritty of ‘give and take’ are the bulwark8 of economics. Yet, in retrospect, no society has been considered ideal nor any civilization foolproof from decay. That too is a karmic cycle. * The only purpose of this note is to signal that some verses of this chapter give an insight into the nature of the society in which the Geeta was compiled. They, the verses, could easily invite criticism and caricature9, even contempt. But let us be reminded that posterity might judge the present in the same vein. As one of the verses notes it is best that we pay respect to our ancestors (because it is on their shoulders that we stand).

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


At the end of the last chapter Dnyaneshwar has connected work to God. In continuation of that theme he now talks of the effect that this work will produce. In this way When you pray Gods will happily help In many a way Love will blossom Between ‘you and they’ Whatever you say Will come to stay …378 Great abilities will dwell in you Your words will be treated like a cue10 Others will happily work for you …379 Like the beauty of a forest Waits for the spring Fate and fortune Will come to ring …380 While all this might appear to be a cause and effect relationship, the real state of affairs has a twist, a happy one at that. And that is, the recipient can be oblivious to the result of what he is doing. It is, therefore natural that whatever comes to him is more than what he has asked for. Also, when a man works beyond self-interest, it is easier for others to work for him or with him. But the crucial thing is the total abandon with which he works. For example Whatever you want When you get You are beyond What you get …381 But while this is the ideal state of affairs, a contrast is also painted by Dnyaneshwar just in case man forgets the correct path. If you are prey To passion and desire And by way of your karma Not offer to God and guest Guru, Brahmin11 and fire**


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

And from your neighbours If you retire And fill yourself with selfish desire Then you will face fortune’s ire12 And what is at hand Will wither and disappear …382 **See note at the end of the chapter

Your dharma*, your decreed13 karma, your way of life is your life. When they are gone so has life. (* Dharma, in the most general terms is the useful ordained14 way of life)

For example When a man is dead Life has fled From wretched homes Fortune fled When the lamp is doused Light has fled When your dharma has fled Happiness dead …383 And When dharma is shed Time deals with you Brands you a thief And seizes all from you …384 And then Every fault Will circle and daunt15 Like graveyard ghosts Come to haunt …385 Every known sorrow and sin Will come to live Till the end of time …386 And thus possessed No salvation Whatever you try

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


Into eternity You may cry …387 A reminder is also sent of how the body is likely to go astray and run away with its own agenda of passion and desire Your dharma You must not drop Not allow your body To gallop and trot …388 And as a counter to the long verse earlier in which prohibitions were promulgated16, now follows a long verse saying exactly what needs to be done Thus this karma Without expectations be done Your possession in part To guru and Brahmin Cow and fire Be forsaken** And to ancestors through remembrance Respect may be given Do your yadnya* And karma too What is left Is all for you Sorrow and sin Will leave you too …389 *See Chapters 36, 43 **See note at the end of the chapter

Like The philosopher and his wisdom Are not parted by thoughts at random ...390 Without sorrow and sin This man’s life Happiness his Without strife …391 And finally Whatever you get


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Others you give What is left Is for you to live This is a message That I fervently give …392 To society first You must remand17 What is left You can command This is all That I demand …393 ** The Guru and the Brahmin were important leaders of the society. All token sacrifices were consigned to the fire. The cow was considered valuable for her produce and later came to be called sacred. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11.

12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17.

premise – an underlying assumption, a statement or an idea on which reasoning is based tangible – definite, perceptible by touch hierarchy – a ranking system ordered according to status or authority millennia – plural of millennium (a period of a thousand years) quotient – a result obtained by dividing one quantity by another totalitarian – relating to a dictatorial form of government edifice – an impressive building bulwark – a principle, etc that acts as a defence caricature – a comic representation by exaggeration of certain characteristics cue – a signal Brahmin – the word denoting a certain class or caste of people proficient in philosophy, by virtue of their knowledge of Brahma (the singularity from which the universe came about) and also usually the presiding authority at religious functions ire - anger decreed – as ordered by a legal authority or by virtue of a social law ordained – also as in decreed; see above daunt – intimidate, to discourage or frighten promulgate – make known, proclaim remand – to return to (the custody of the society)

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dnyaneshwari Verses 126–150 Geeta Chapter 3


Chapter 36

Nature and Man Brahma ➝ man ➝ scriptures1 ➝ yadnya2 ➝ (karma) ➝ rain ➝ food ➝ man

As the subtitle suggests, the verses in the Geeta on which this chapter is based are difficult, even obscure when interpreted on a modern scientific background. To compound the problem, Dnyaneshwar is no great help either to begin with because his versification adheres to the Geeta almost verbatim without his usual penchant3 for expansive or metaphorical4 forays5. The Geeta seems to focus on food in these verses, food not only as a means of survival, as when we take a meal but also probably as objects of consumption in general and also as a representative of Brahma itself. Let us look at these verses about food to enter into the maze6 of obscurity that the Geeta presents. Food is not a simple object That you greedily devour and digest Food is in fact a symbolic subject Primal7, sacrificial, a social project This idea, they* foolishly reject …394 (*They = those whose way of life is not proper, who do not lead life according to the scriptures)

Food is not just anything It is ‘ that thing ‘ The Brahma itself Source of life, its intention and help …395 Man comes from food And food from rain And it is the yadnya That brings on rain …396


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Yadnya in fact Is karma’s picture And this evolves From the scriptures …397 From the scriptures come Ideas of how, what and when That is how the world becomes Brahma’s domain8 and reign …398 Yadnya is Karma’s essence Home of the scriptures And their sense …399 Of these, Verse 394 is easy to understand. It embodies the idea of ‘sharing’ in order that society survives. Verse 395 is also clear in its meaning. Everything comes from Brahma and so also food. But food is special because of its creational potential for life. In fact food itself is biologically alive (active). The first two lines of Verse 396 are the simplest but the third line about yadnya making rain is the most awkward, difficult and obscure. But more on that later. Verse 397 tells you that the yadnya is a manifestation of karma and that it is so because it is thus averred in the scriptures. This too we will take up later. Verse 398 describes the other attributes9 of the scriptures as to how the world came about etc. But the scriptures are not ‘manmade’, they owe a direct allegiance10 to Brahma. We have observed this in the first two chapters of this book while explaining the first verse of the Dnyaneshwari (‘Aum, the sound of the universe’ and ‘That thing’). That is why according to the scriptures this world is Brahma’s domain and reign11. Verse 399 again refers to the scriptures in which yadnya is sanctified as a part of man’s karma and that it is how yadnya becomes crucial in the philosophy of the Geeta. As mentioned earlier, the difficulties arise around the word ‘yadnya’ referred to in Chapter 25 as a sacramental12 ritual fire to which tokens of grain or butter are offered. The concept of the yadnya, however, needs greater clarification here in view of the difficulties that we have encountered. The root of the word yadnya is ‘yaj’, a verb and has a threefold meaning according to the late Sanskrit scholar P.D. Satawalekar. One of them is to be charitable,

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


the other to synthesize, collect, organize, unite or coordinate. The third meaning is more complex and that is ‘to offer to God, goodness or godliness’. And goodness, according to Sanskrit scriptures, involves fearlessness, sanctity, faith in the eternal, charity, tranquillity13, restraint, strength, introspection14, concentration, simplicity, non-violence, truth, peace, benevolence15 and detachment from material pleasure. When these three meanings are taken together, a picture emerges wherein people congregate with charity in their heart, a desire to share and to pray to God, goodness or Godliness. The congregation is around a fire to which symbolic sacrifices are offered, to remind themselves that from the Brahma came this world of karma of which the yadnya is a tangible 16, representative collective conscious expression. Once the ritual is over, people are fed around the fire and the ritual yadnya ends. So far so good! But the statement in the Geeta that yadnya brings rain still does not stand on its feet in the modern mind. That a sacramental public display of collective wisdom and goodness in front of a small fire, however elaborately executed, can bring on rain still flies in the face of modern science as we know it today. The Geeta might not be a scientific document but its content is rational. She has survived not because of people’s fancy but on account of her rationality. That in the time of her making with so few people and virtually no deforestation, rain would have to be beckoned by a ritual fire, appears incomprehensible. Could this be a general statement that like everything else in this world like the seasons, the waxing and waning of the moon, the sunrise and sunset, rain too is karma and falls from time to time? Could it then be that yadnya is karma, and so is rain and like everything else the two are related? Is it possible that it is an ecological statement to warn man that profligate17 consumptive behaviour against the principles of a proper yadnya or wholesome karma will lead to conditions of drought? And last but not the least, is this statement an ominous18, threatening but false warning by the Brahmin priestly class who officiated at the yadnya to benefit them? Sort of a mumbo-jumbo19 for the innocent proletariat20? But then why would Shrikrishna promote this? He was not a brahmin, not even of the warrior caste or class, he was the son of a mere (!) cowherd. Perhaps all that the Geeta meant was that the cosmic cycle itself was a natural yadnya in which rain occurred from time to time as a part of the cosmic karma. But Dnyaneshwar does have his say when he elaborates the


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

relevant sixteenth verse in the third chapter of the Geeta. The verse in the Geeta reads, Thus a man who behaves without taking cognizance21 of the cycles (of nature) in this world is full of sin and his life is futile. Dnyaneshwar constructs eight verses on this verse in the Geeta, the first one of which is This is the history in short That is how things came to pass The story of yadnya in the past …400 Is Dnyaneshwar hinting that Shrikrishna had to narrate a certain tradition per force, that you have to put the ritual sacramental fire in its proper perspective or in its proper place, that the yadnya is now a symbol? That it needs to be reinterpreted? That leading a good, sensible, active life full of decreed karma is in fact a yadnya? Perhaps this is true because the remaining seven verses are as follows Thus those who are Possessed, frenetic22 and mad Reject their elegant way of life Become sensuous23, hedonistic24 cads25 For this earth, a burden of sinful life …401 A life gone waste Unseasonal clouds Flying in haste …402 A goat’s extra udder26 on the neck An udder, yet an utter waste …403 If the body is a fact Then so is duty and work What is already come You cannot afford to shirk …404 Let karma happen Without a bother or burden …405 Karma is what you must be at Without a thought For reward or retribution27

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


And then the mind is firmly brought To eternal joy with contemplation28 …406 When an object is achieved The means then recede When inner joy is received Karma falls and recedes …407 That is why my prince In karma you must evince29 Till you get your inner peace Because karma alone is the means …408 That is why for sure Follow your karma pure Rewards you abjure30 Your duty you endure …409 Those who forsake desire And follow this way of life They then arrive At the essence that is divine …410 That ends this section of the Geeta and the Dnyaneshwari in the third chapter but there are some verses prior to this part in the Geeta, which deal with food and yadnya and karma. They were omitted to deal with the subject of yadnya at the beginning of this chapter. They are as follows. In the words of Dnyaneshwar this is how people who do not believe in proper karma come to behave. They have no concern for their soul The body and its desires their only goal In their lives sacrifice has no role They forget the world is one single whole Their ego and desire on a constant roll …411 When they cook and eat Their sumptuous feasts They in fact are eating Sinful deeds …412


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Remember that Whatever you earn By way of your life Must be given in turn To the cause of the divine …413 These are verses which build up to the subject of food, charity, yadnya, natural cycles, karma, Brahma and the scriptures. It is left to the judgement of the readers if indeed yadnya is that ritualistic sacrificial fire. Or if man’s life itself is a yadnya, a combination of charity, synthesis, collective effort and goodness. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30.

scriptures – religious and philosophical texts yadnya – a ritual sacrificial fire penchant – an inclination, liking, tendency (towards something) metaphorical – containing metaphors foray – a raid, a sudden attack maze – a complex network of paths, passages, a puzzle (designed as a puzzle) primal – first domain – an area under one rule attribute – a characteristic quality allegiance – loyalty reign – rule sacramental – (connected with) a religious ceremony, observance tranquillity – calm introspection – examination, one’s own mental emotional process benevolence – graciousness, kindness tangible – felt by touch profligate – reckless, extravagant ominous – indicating danger mumbo-jumbo – complicated language or ritual with no clear purpose or meaning proletariat – the working class cognisance – to take note of frenetic – frantic sensuous – from the sense organs as opposed to reason hedonistic – from hedonism, behaviour based on pleasure cad – a man who behaves dishonourably udder – mammary gland of cattle, sheep etc. retribution – punishment contemplation – survey with eyes or mind evince – make evident abjure – avoid, reject

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dnyaneshwari Verses 151–181 Geeta Chapter 3


Chapter 37

Social Contract1/Leading by Example

From the history of the sacramental 2 ritual fire, the yadnya, Shrikrishna in the Geeta and Dnyaneshwar in the Dnyaneshwari, now embrace the subject of a social contract and the need to lead by an example rather than preach to the undeserving. These verses include a real historical example, they distinguish between a leader and the rest of the men, restate how the flow of karma is a natural phenomenon and how man must participate in this flow. They also make a point that no less than Shrikrishna himself participates in this flow and the reasons for his participation. King Janak And other great men of the past Held to their social karma Steadfast And then merged with the eternal* At last …414 * eternal to mean Brahma or spirit

Note that here heaven is not mentioned in their afterlife. They just merged with the eternal. Shrikrishna then tells Arjun Lead from the front Bear the brunt Save this world From this dreadful crunch Show the world That you do your deeds To set an example Is a vital need …415 The next verse assumes that most people need guidance just like the blind and the old are led across a street by a boy scout. Arjun


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

is told that people must know how he leads his life so that an example is set for them to follow. The blind are led By the one who sees An example is set The people then know how to live …416 How will they know What is what What is to be done What must not …417 The deeds of the great Is what dharma* is An example is set And the people then say ‘Dharma* this is’ …418 * Dharma from the Sanskrit root ‘Dhru’ as in to hold together. To mean a social contract or religion or a way of life.

Dharma, in the most general terms, is the proper social way of life This is how the world is run Their duty and their dharma The great cannot shun …419 Then Shrikrishna describes himself Look at me What misfortunes Can befall me What needs Can there be for me There is nothing That is wanting in me And there is no one else Who matches me …420 Indeed and yet Yet I take part In this war

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


I have nothing to gain From this war In fact what I want From this war Is that people don’t throw Their dharma* afar And that they be saved From another war …421 * See note after Verse 418

And thus I manifest, because If I stay within My divine self How can people Save themselves …422 People must watch And follow me Lest this world Cease to be …423 Those who are great And in the know That ‘Karma’ is a must They must know …424 Fools are keen To reap rewards The wise must be earnest Without rewards …425 At this point the Geeta gets very categorical about what to say and to whom. She avers that advice must not be given to those who do not seek it or to those who do not, by their behaviour, deserve it. She clearly lays down the rule and emphasizes to ‘always lead by example’. Dnyaneshwar starts with a simile of an infant If a child will refuse Even to suckle at the breast What good will do To offer it bread …426


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Those who look To work for gains Never ever tell them What and when …427 Follow the example Of great men in the past Without a thought For gains or loss …428 And thus work done not for gains but to set a noble example, is not a burden. When you work Show them the way And it will bind you not In any manner or way …429 In an entirely different perspective, a point is made that karma occurs as a natural phenomenon. You happen to be its executioner and it is for nature to carry on the load of karma. If while executing the karma, you start imagining that you created this karma then you become insolent3 when you think you have succeeded and despondent4 when you think you have failed. Dnyaneshwar pens a few verses on this subject. When you happen to carry Other people’s load You are tired and sorry As you traverse the road …430 Work or karma Come to happen The fool avers ‘I’ made it happen …431 Such insolent fools Must never be shown Karma’s rules And its tools …432 The wise watch karma Notch upon notch

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


They witness karma’s Ticking watch …433 They are like the sun Not touched by the earth Like a witness to their bodies They watch it run …434 Nature in its course And man with his traits* Work comes to happen By way of these traits …435 But those who think It’s they who work and act Have twisted the facts And are riddled with their acts …436 * The word ‘trait’ has been briefly discussed in Chapter 24 and is related to man’s personality, a lot of which is inherited but which can be moulded by training to suit socially acceptable norms and also benefit the person himself. The three rough categories are 1) sublime, retiring and caring, 2) active, energetic, productive and interfering, and 3) lazy, ignorant and destructive. They are to be covered in later chapters 79, 96, 116.

To be riddled with one’s acts is not the best thing to happen to a man. He must act and then throw away the thought of the act and then start anew with another act. This is what nature demands. Nature provides man with a mind full of senses and compensates by giving man his intellectual abilities. The body acts, the mind seethes and is perplexed but intelligence intervenes and can set things right. 1. social contract – a term used in (political) philosophy to denote a certain (political) obligation. Concerns man’s behaviour in nature and his behaviour in and obligations to society. By western standards the roots of this philosophy are in Greek thinking. Here in the Geeta they are elaborated in roughly the same context and probably belong to the same time or earlier than the Greek period. The idea of ‘social contract’ is akin to the idea of ‘Dharma’ 2. sacramental – connected with a religious ceremony, an observance 3. insolent – arrogant 4. despondent – sad, dejected


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verses 183–223 Geeta Chapter 3

Chapter 38

Man at Work

This part of the Geeta continues to lay stress on work and work ethic and warns man against the tendency to seek rewards. The Geeta also reiterates that desire, passion and temptations are great impediments1 in the way of ultimate happiness. The first verse in this section is remarkable. Shrikrishna tells Arjun in the Geeta and the Dnyaneshwari Whatever is proper Do it unto me On the eternal Let the mind be …437 Shrikrishna as a mortal2 form of the eternal spirit is advising Arjun. He is Arjun’s teacher, philosopher and guide. It is from him that Arjun learns the way to live well. Therefore Arjun must do what has been taught to him and do it in the name of the teacher. But there is more. The eternal spirit is within Arjun as well. In that respect, however exalted3 Shrikrishna might be in this world, he is no different from Arjun. Part of Shrikrishna’s teaching, in fact most of it, is about the eternal spirit. He therefore advises Arjun to be aware of this spirit and not be carried away by the body and its demands and compulsions. The narration is carried forward in Dnyaneshwar’s words That ‘this’ here is work I will do it ‘thus’ Such unnecessary ado and fuss Avoid you must …438 The word ‘I’ is crucial here and indicates that one’s ego must be subsumed. To carry the theme forward To yourself you must not look Rewards you must not brook4

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


Whatever comes to happen Accept, without a second look …439 and then comes another reference to the spirit* Climb your car With your bow Embrace valour With that ‘inner glow*’ …440 and then to connect this world with the eternal spirit*, a sense of blessing is invoked. Let your fame be Bolstered by you May your karma Prosper under you May the weight of the villains (on this earth) Be rid by you …441 Then a clear direction is given Rid your mind of doubt Focus on this impending bout5 There is nothing else to do Without the slightest doubt …442 The teacher (Shrikrishna) tells the student (Arjun) With respect for tradition and me These my thoughts if you follow You will do your karma But in its effects you will not wallow6 …443 Those who fall prey To passion and temptation And deny my views with derision7 And call my thoughts full of pretension8 They suffer from intoxication With passions and temptations Are riddled with the poison of possessions They are mired9 in ignorance With no hopes of redemption10 …444


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

This kind of verse and its substance has appeared more than once earlier but a part of the verse hints that the philosophy that is being imparted to Arjun, was being criticized as pretentious (hypocritical?) even during Shrikrishna’s time. The following verses address the critics What use a diamond On the hand of the dead The sunrise to the blind Neither white, blue nor red For the crow blind at night No use of the moon and its rays …445 This philosophy is sparkling (a diamond), is bright (the sun) and gentle (moon’s rays) but is wasted on the dead, the blind and on the crow. In the Indian lore11, a crow cannot see at night. The same theme is continued further The insects of night Always shun the light These faithless men Hector12 my insight Give not a thought to them Even by oversight …446 Obviously, Shrikrishna’s critics are saying something diametrically different. They are telling man to wallow in pleasure and desire. But Shrikrishna warns Don’t be tempted by desire Even in fun don’t play with fire For sure it will spread The results will be dire13 …447 Dnyaneshwar again returns to the animal world How can you play with a snake Tickle a tiger for fun’s sake Poison after all is poison Whichever way you take …448 That the pleasurable needs of the body tend to overtake your essence is reiterated in more ways than one Why sway With the body

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And its harmful ways And lose your way …449 And regarding the future, the following verse is narrated For this mortal thing To struggle and to earn Then this mortal thing Will perish and burn And after you have left Those who will come Will have their fun From what you have earned …450 The theme of the mortal body is continued This body of clay And its mortal ways The attention you pay To its sensuous14 sway To torture and turmoil Is the surest way …451 The body is eager When pleasures come to ask The body is a robber In a civilized mask The respite is brief He is soon at its task Like a perfumed poison In an elegant flask The hook and the bait The fish will grasp …452 Then a warning is repeated for the umpteenth time Temptations and desire Mean death By their fire …453 Dnyaneshwar then changes tack and pleads against distraction Ugly may be your wife But she is for life


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Difficult as it may be You follow your way of life …454 Milk and sugar when mixed Surely taste great But with worms in your gut You must not take …455 The Indian system of medicine (Ayurved, Ayu = life, ved = knowledge exposition) prohibits sugar for patients with worms in their bowel. This verse does not transfer well into English but is included to show the variety of subjects that Dnyaneshwar touches upon in his narration. And to elaborate further on this mix And even if we take What good can it do And if forced to take Its effects you will rue15 …456 What for others is good Might not be good for you In fact it may do More harm to you …457 And in this war Your limb or your life Surely lose you might …458 In this life or after life This loss Is what is right …459 Dnyaneshwar reverts back to the subject of desire A hunter traps A deer in its trap Anger and desire Are a similar trap …460 Shun these two Whatever you do

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To your way of life Always be true …461 This may be difficult And hard to follow But there is nothing else That there is to follow …462 The subject of being tempted by other forms of behaviour is also addressed Some things look good When others happen to do But what is decreed for you Only that you must do …463 How can you do What is not proper How can you seek The improper How can you take the improper Even if proffered16 …464 Others might live In castles, white and tall Why wreck your hut Of straw, tiny and small …465 In this section of the Dnyaneshwari, there is an odd and apparently a very regressive verse which conveys the following meaning ‘however hungry a Brahmin (the highest caste) might be, how can he partake of feasts in the house of an untouchable (lowest caste)?’ There is no denying that the verse has an obnoxious social observation hidden within it. Even assuming that Dnyaneshwar was only being a realist in the context of his time (thirteenth-century India), the verse has a potential to raise a stink, which it has. This is one of the half dozen verses which have sullied the name of Dnyaneshwar though he wrote nine thousand and more verses of extraordinary value. That apart the readers are requested to address the following question, ‘have we today, in the twenty-first century really overcome economic, racial, ethnic, religious or gender-related prejudices to share a meal with all (and sundry!)?’.

162 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16.

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar impediment – obstruction mortal – subject to death exalted – elevated or raised in rank or stature brook – tolerate bout – wrestling match wallow – roll about in mud, indulge in excessive pleasures derisive – ridicule pretension – claim excessive importance mire – mud, bog redemption – deliverance from sin lore – tradition of a particular group hector – to bully someone dire – calamitous, dreadful sensuous – as from the sense organs as opposed to by reason rue – regret proffered – offered

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dnyaneshwari Verses 225–271 Geeta Chapter 3


Chapter 39

Passion, Desire, Greed and Lust

The third chapter of the Geeta is now drawing to a close. The colophon1 at the end of this chapter states that this chapter of the Geeta is devoted to ‘Karma Yog’, which has been dealt with earlier. But a brief recapitulation will not be out of place. Karma, an activity, work or duty or a social ethic is what man must be harnessed to, is what this part of the Geeta stresses. But this is easier said than done. Reward for work is a paramount need of man’s mind. But this feeling, however natural, can lead to complications. Too much focus on reward distracts man, might discourage or disappoint him, particularly if his estimate of what and how he should be rewarded is not fulfilled. But that is a minor problem as compared to its other fallouts, namely an increase in passion or greed or a sense of lust leading to a disproportionate feeling of constant desire. These four feelings are innate but rear their ugly heads with considerable ferocity when the technique of work with a certain sense of detachment is not practised. Arjun has been cajoled2, advised and even chastised3 while dealing with this subject and is now convinced but he poses a very interesting question and asks as to why great men, full of wisdom, are unable to practise detachment, while at work. Here is how he starts to ask questions. If to deviate from decreed karma is fraught with danger and is unwholesome, then Why do they stray To these dangerous ways Why do they choose to go By these unwholesome ways …466 Particularly, says Arjun When they are in the know And know whatever there is to know …467


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Arjun is not a young man, he has seen life and has also seen how people react and behave under difficult circumstances. One of the reactions peculiar to mankind is to suddenly throw up one’s arms, withdraw completely and announce what is called renunciation4. This, in fact, is far from renunciation. In reality, they are unable to face the world because of disappointments and because their ego is hurt. That is how anger comes about. When a certain desire for a certain thing is not fulfilled, anger arrives. In the lust for worldly things lies the seed of anger. Arjun asks why people suddenly give up They run from their normal life Abandon children and wife Yet are trapped by that very life …468 Some abandon their homes And make forests their home And then return to their homes* …469 * Please see note at the end of the chapter

What they fear Seems to rear5 What they avoid Comes to reside …470 For this there must be some reason says Arjun There must be some hidden force Or some sinister6 cause I want to know from you How these things come to pass …471 Shrikrishna then proceeds to give an elaborate answer. He says at the outset that the causes are not far to seek, and they are anger, desire, greed and lust. Lack of mercy and grace The very God of death With his mace7 Anger, passion and lust …472

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


Wisdom is surrounded By these snakes Killers of the devoted And their faith Passion, greed and lust …473 8

Boulders in castles of flesh Fences that separate Man from the rest Anger, greed and lust …474 Their toils have masks of benevolence9 Wickedness is their preference Born out of ignorance and vengeance10 Desire, anger and lust …475 Motivation of the achievers Favourites of the deceivers In their homes live Anger, greed and lust …476 They are the friends of death Enemies of our very breath …477 Their appetite is such When they sit to eat and crunch That the whole world is not enough Passion, desire and lust …478 Such is their thrall11 They mesmerise all They want to grasp The whole world like a ball Desire, anger and lust …479 As if food invites hunger And hunger demands food That is their hunger And the world is their food Desire, passion and lust …480


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Temptations give them their worth Ego fashions their world Anger, greed and lust …481 12

They gore out the truth Then stuff straws of untruth Thus insolence grows its roots By way of greed, passion and lust …482 13

They torture and gnaw at peace* And then dress her like a deadly witch** Then the faithful and virtuous fall Through anger, desire and lust …483 * In the original verse peace is portrayed as a pure religious woman ** And the word witch here is a substitute for an unkempt low caste woman in the original. This verse too has been controversial in recent times for obvious reasons.

Wisdom is uprooted Asceticism14 flagellated Patience is wrung15 By anger, greed and lust …484 The garden of bliss16 is wrecked The sapling of joy is messed Forts of fortitude17 crumble By anger, greed and lust …485 The alphabet of happiness is wiped Neat folds of wisdom are ripped The heart is set on fire By anger, greed and lust …486 It is in our bodies That they come to thrive Stuck to our lives Even Gods cannot hunt them For their life Anger, desire and lust …487 Notice the downgrading of Gods when it comes to natural forces. What follows is a crucial verse which indicates that in this manifested

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


world where the spirit nestles within material forms, they (desire, anger and lust) are a mere metamorphosis18 of the spirit, an evolved material form, which in turn imposes on the spirit. They sit next To our very essence And thus pervert19 Realisation and sense …488 And then follow another group of very astute verses, which traverse linguistic barriers across nations They Drown you without water Burn you without fire Bind you without a fetter20 …489 Do we not drown in our sorrow, or burn with jealousy and are we not hamstrung by our narrowness? Without a weapon they wound And strangle you without a sound …490 Are we not hurt when we think we have failed? The emotions that follow, do they not choke us, choke us enough to be rendered helpless and mute? They bog you down without a bog21 Ensnare you without a trap …491 Do we not get bogged down by selfish considerations and are not our nature and our self-centered attitudes the biggest trap in our lives? The greater that you are The harder you will fall Is what they bet Anger, greed and lust …492 Indeed this is a common experience. In the everyday world greatness is perceived as an external achievement but this is merely a house of cards. The greater and heavier you are with passion, lust, desire and anger and the resultant achievements, the harder and heavier is your fall. These enemies of man know this and that is why they can safely wager and bet.


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

And then follows a very clever verse Because they are you How can they be tamed It is you and yourself Together playing a game …493 ‘You‘ signifies the spirit,‘yourself’ is your present form, and then to explain their proximity to us these verses follow Snakes surround sandalwood roots The baby is surrounded by a membranous hood …494 A mirror is never without a layer of dust When the sun rises light shines first When there is a fire smoke is a must Life comes with anger, greed and lust The seed is covered with a shell and its crust …495 Except the simile of the sun and the sunlight, all other similes are clever juxtapositions 22 of the enchanting 23 and the ordinary. Sandalwood is both pleasant to smell and considered useful in worship, snakes in popular belief are repulsive, the baby is life itself, the membranes are dull and lifeless, a mirror shines, dust considered useless reduces the mirror’s shine, the seed is life but its cover is lifeless and fire is an important element but smoke its harmful suffocating product. After these verses Dnyaneshwar makes an important point. He says that the ‘impure’ (passion, greed, lust) have tied a knot around ‘that’ which is pure. Life and its true realisation is therefore not easy to achieve. But he does suggest ways. The most important thing to remember he says is that force will not work but observation will. The origin of passion and its recipient need to be observed by you as a witness would; so as to get away from them. This is what he says By using force they will not retire Force will mean adding fuel to fire …496 By using force you cannot win Against them only they can win They begin in the mind That is where you can win They play with the body

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


That is where you can win Demolish the senses Then you can win Then the mind will not run And you can surely win …497 The mirage will melt When the sun has set …498 When they* melt Brahma** is felt And within your heart Peace will dwell …499 * Passion, desire, anger ** The spirit

Thus ends the third chapter of the Geeta. It has been said by some scholars that the original Geeta almost ended here except for a few verses from later chapters and the rest of the Geeta was added on through later centuries. This hypothesis is difficult to prove or disprove. Even assuming that additions were made later, there is no absolute proof the other way around to conclude that the Geeta was indeed narrated on the battlefield and that nothing more was revealed before the battle was joined. In the last chapter of the Geeta for example, a vivid description is given in which Arjun, satisfied on all possible scores willingly and happily gets ready for battle. Also there is the question of tradition, which holds all eighteen chapters of the Geeta as sacrosanct24. Dnyaneshwar himself has narrated on all eighteen chapters. To sum up the third chapter 1. Karma or activity is incessant25 and we are born as a part of its incessant flow 2. We cannot cease to be active as long as we live 3. To be able to live in this world, a worldly attitude is necessary 4. Society frames certain rules and thus traditions evolve, within which most of us must act 5. To give up this decreed karma is unnatural and antisocial 6. Expectations and rewards for your karma constantly tantalise you 7. These in turn bring on passion, greed, anger, lust, desire 8. They are detrimental to a peaceful way of life


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

9. They are a part of you, cannot be banished, must be observed by you as a witness would and slowly modulated, even eliminated to bring out the ‘pristine’ you. Note on Verses 468–470: According to traditional history, Dnyaneshwar’s father not too long after his marriage left home, without an express or voluntary consent from his wife, to achieve spiritual solace. He travelled on foot from Western India (the Deccan) to the banks of the Ganga (the Ganges) in northeastern India. Some years later it was found by his guru that he was already married. He was therefore admonished26, asked to return to his wife which he did and then had four children. Dnyaneshwar was the second child. The family was ostracized (after the father’s return) by the society in which they lived, on the canonical27 orders of the then Brahminical hierarchy28, for this wayward behaviour of first abandoning his wife, accepting renunciation and then returning to raise a family. According to tradition, Dnyaneshwar’s parents were told that only death was their escape, and they committed suicide by drowning themselves not far from today’s Pune (the erstwhile Poona). 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28.

colophon – a tailpiece in a manuscript or a book cajole – persuade by flattery or deceit chastise – rebuke or reprimand severely renunciation – self-denial, giving up rear – rise itself (on hind legs) sinister – wicked, criminal, suggestive of evil mace – a large heavy metal club, formerly used as a weapon ( the traditional Hindu God of Death carries a mace) boulder – a large stone (gone smooth) benevolence – charity, desire to do good vengeance – revenge thrall – to be a slave of a person and under his influence gore – pierced with horn, tusk etc. gnaw – bite persistently, wear away by biting asceticism – severe self-discipline, and denies all forms of pleasure wrung – squeeze tightly bliss – perfect joy, state of blessedness fortitude – courage in adversity metamorphosis – a change of form by natural means pervert – apply wrongly, turn aside from its proper use or nature fetter – restraint, bond, shackle (tie up) bog – mud juxtapose – place side by side enchant – charm, delight sacrosanct – most sacred incessant – continuous, without stop admonish – warn, reprimand canonical – authoritative, standard, accepted hierarchy – a certain order

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dnyaneshwari Verses 1–40 Geeta Chapter 4


Chapter 40

Introduction to Chapter 4

We have already seen that Dnyaneshwar narrated a long introduction at the beginning of the first chapter of the Geeta but did not employ an introduction to the second and the third chapters probably because he considered them as a single body of (philosophical) work. He however narrates a small introduction to this, the fourth chapter of the Geeta and takes recourse to introductions to some later chapters in the Geeta as well. This suggests that he had, in his mind, divided the Geeta into sections. Some of these introductions are devotional, others are examples of his feelings for his guru and elder brother Nivrutti as well as for those who have come to listen to him. The introduction to the fourth chapter is about the Geeta herself, the unusually strong and loving bonds between Shrikrishna and Arjun, and quite clearly puts Shrikrishna on a transcendental1 and divine pedestal. He commences by suggesting that the revelation of the Geeta in Shrikrishna’s voice is a bountiful harvest for the ears and that for the ears this revelation is a dream come true. For the ears To hear this truth Their dreams have weighed in As the truth …500 He refers to Shrikrishna as the greatest guru and Arjun as a keen, evenly matched, student. Says Dnyaneshwar that this is a rare occasion when this guru explains the Geeta Speaks on the subject of wisdom And unfolds her substance and idiom2 …501


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwar adds, as Shrikrishna narrates the Geeta, it is as if Musical notes float with fragrance And a delicious taste joins this fragrance …502 Note that Dnyaneshwar excludes the eyes and the skin from this experience. Perhaps this celestial song, the ‘Geeta’ has to be heard but cannot be touched or seen. A little later, however, Dnyaneshwar makes a clever suggestion The eyes and the skin Must enter the ears So that this wondrous Geeta They can hear …503 From the time of Plato (427–347 BC) the Greek philosopher and of course from (probably) the same time when the Geeta was compiled, the debate has raged about the organs of perception and their ability to discern what is the truth. Modern times are no exception. Physics, for example, says that the very act of seeing has an effect on what goes on at the subatomic level leaving us with conjectures3 as to what we see. Russell (English philosopher, 1872– 1970) while explaining Plato makes a point that the mind can do things without the aid of sensory organs. Contemplation4, perhaps, belongs to this category. Dnyaneshwar indirectly participates in this debate and asks that the organs of sensory perception need to congregate and then understand what the Geeta says. When we perceive the sound of the Geeta through our ears, Dnyaneshwar says, we experience ‘a joyous exuberance5 that reverberates6’. However, Arjun is not the only one who is listening to the Geeta. Everyone who has come to battle is able to hear what is being said. Dnyaneshwar comments on their fortune and says that their penance has as if fructified and that the very river of wisdom and its immortality has descended at their doorstep. He then brings the courtier and the blind king into focus and reveals what the courtier is saying to the king about the ‘goings on’ between Shrikrishna and Arjun. Says the courtier Arjun must have a divine touch That Shrikrishna loves him so much …504

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


The courtier continues Even Shrikrishna’s wife has not seen Such love on His face Arjun alone is destined To receive this divine grace It must be his good deeds That result in this loving embrace …505 The courtier is struck by the loving bond that is so obvious between Shrikrishna and Arjun That for this love One would think The transcendental** Has become This human being** …506 ** transcendental and also a human being = Shrikrishna

The courtier then picks up the thread of how difficult it is to perceive the transcendental through this sensorium7. What is beyond Philosophy and adoration8 What is difficult For the scriptures and their elucidation9 What cannot be seized By contemplation That Brahma, the beginning Dense and firm without reverberation Shrikrishna its incarnation10 With love has arrived For adoration …507 That the transcendental is not conducive to adoration but the human form is suitable (and even necessary) for this adoration, is brought out by the courtier through this verse The courtier continues to look in wonder At Shrikrishna the embodiment11 of Brahma12 From the very distant universe Which cannot be observed He with love has arrived


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

To serve and to be served And love is subserved …508 Dnyaneshwar now leaves behind the courtier and returns to Shrikrishna who is saying to Arjun In the distant hoary13 past To Vivaswata I narrated these facts …509 Then Vivaswata the Sun Passed this to Manu In substance and sum …510 Vishwavaku then learnt this tradition That is how it has run …511 Then the tradition was taught To many a king and saint But at present It has become indistinct and faint …512 Because man has turned to passion Turned away from karma, soul and devotion He is so filled with temptation He has lost any chance of redemption14 …513 Shrikrishna continues in the words of Dnyaneshwar and asks What use of silken gowns For those who walk in their skin What use is the sun For those who are blind And for those who are deaf It’s futile to strum15 musical strings …514 16 Not even a quiver Of detachment in their life Ignorant and unwise These fools can never get God In their lives …515

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


In the ages that have passed Passion and greed have so ruled That is why This philosophy has been doomed …516 But now I tell you This secret from my heart Because I love you With all my heart …517 Because you are friendship personified Love and devotion sanctified17 I feel so bonded with you From you, this, how can I hide? …518 In fact I am in the midst of a war But this, here, I must play my part So that once for all All your ignorance is driven afar …519 Arjun is moved with emotion and says, A mother always loves her child Even more eager When it is a cripple of a child She toils through her life For this crippled child …520 Arjun adds You are a mother of the orphaned Succour18 to those who are tortured …521 The source of our life Is your love amd grace …522 So please listen to me And pay attention to what I say But do not be angry With what I say …523 And then Arjun gets bold and asks what he thinks is a rude and awkward question to Shrikrishna


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

This story that you weave That your word has always been When I see you here and now How can you be ‘a have been’? …524 So tell what I can fathom Not about the distant sun, at random …525 What you are I simply cannot make out Yet I cannot call you a liar Out and out …526 Thus Shrikrishna is now set to unravel the mystery of the permanence of his message. More of this and the messenger in the next chapter. It is pertinent to note here that the Geeta is moving from matter-of-fact dry philosophy to tradition and is also entering a loving phase, suitable for adoration of a living incarnate God. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18.

transcendental – existing beyond the material world idiom – the specific character of a language conjecture – a guess, form an opinion with incomplete information contemplation – survey with eyes or mind exuberance – liveliness, high spirits reverberate – echo repeatedly sensorium – sense organs (eyes, ears etc.) adoration – worship, idolise elucidation – explain incarnation – embodiment or form in (human) flesh embodiment – to take shape or form a body from the spirit Brahma – ‘that thing’ (singularity) from which the universe came about hoary – old redemption – deliver (as from sin) strum – play on a stringed instrument quiver – tremble, vibrate with a slight rapid motion sanctify – purify, make legitimate succour – aid

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dnyaneshwari Verses 41–75 Geeta Chapter 4


Chapter 41

The Forest of Faith/ The Trail of Reason

Of all the religions in the world, Christianity has perhaps been the most articulate1 and precise about the concept of faith. In part, this has been historical because the original interlocutors2 of Jesus Christ firmly believed in his unusual birth, his death on the cross and later his ascent to heaven to be with his father. The spread of Christianity in later centuries and recently the temporal3 power that European nations wielded over other parts of the world, no doubt added a certain non-religious political power to the beliefs that the Christians held. But Christianity too has evolved and the doctrine4 of faith has been diluted somewhat or to put it more charitably, the doctrine has become more liberal than before. Three or four steps in this evolution are noted below. Thomas Aquinas (Italian scholastic 5 religious philosopher, 1225–75), one of the foremost authorities on matters of faith in the Christian Church, has the following to say about faith: (in paraphrase) [1] an act of intelligence [2] which gives assent to divine truth [3] because (of the movement) of one’s will [4] which in turn is moved by (God’s) divine grace6. This description is circular and means, faith in God is created by God. Martin Luther (German religious reformer, 1483–1546) has more use for the word trust than for the word faith, which perhaps in his time, carried the stigma7 of dogma8. In his words the relationship between man and God is based on ‘a trust ‘attaching itself to ’that‘ which it (the trust) knows to be true. Here God is not the motivator but ’it‘ (the trust in man’s mind) somehow knows. Man thus assumes a certain position and is free and knows by his own volition9 the fact of God. In more secular10 terms, faith is described as different from knowledge and is firmer because unlike knowledge, it is not influenced by the vacillations11 of evidence and lastly, in what is in effect a factual description not necessarily about absolute faith, it is said that the relationship between man and God ultimately evolves


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

into a relationship between man and man. All this without doubt is centered on the historical figure of the Christ (on the cross), a figure that survives irrespective of the nuances12 and manipulation of language. The only other person to survive such long periods of history across continents is Gautam Buddha, who denied that there was a God. The Judea Christian and later the Islamic tradition, (there is no God but God and there is no other prophet but Mohammed) in which man’s fate is decided by God on the day of the judgement, is neat, precise and plausible to the laity13. On the other hand, Buddha snatches the initiative from God and hands over the baton to man to contemplate his own life. Even though the methods to contemplate one’s life and evolve a code of behaviour are different, the results appear to be the same. All religions advocate non-violence and love, moderation and a degree of asceticism14, and work ethic, which will benefit fellowmen. Two questions thus arise, 1. is faith the cause or reason for man’s emancipation15 or 2. is it that faith in reason can also lead to emancipation? And lastly, relevant to this book and the present chapter how does the Geeta appear in the above context and how does Dnyaneshwar interpret her (the Geeta)? To be fair and also frank, the Geeta speaks with two different tongues when it comes to faith and reason, because it is not dealing with a revealed religion but an evolved thought process. She is the culmination of the Upanishadic16 literature, which in turn was preceded by an early animistic17, nature-worshipping, idol-oriented sacramental18 way of life. She purports to be an Upanishad yet mentions and stands by the idea of incarnations19 of God or Brahma (‘that thing’, the primal source). The Upanishads, in fact, give little or no space to the idea of incarnations according to Dasgupta, an Indian Sanskrit scholar and philosopher. Her (Geeta’s) views on how the world could have come about (cosmogony20) and its nature in terms of the cause and effect relationship (the theory of karma) are reasonable, even reasoned, in the speculative mould. Her delving21 into human psychology and propagation of the ideas of types of human nature lean towards the sankhya (see Chapters 79, 96, 116) and Buddhistic thought, appear rational, even scientific. In her elucidation 22 on faith in the seventeenth chapter, she puts forward a radical view that man’s nature and level (!) will decide the kind of faith that he harbours, and gods, ghosts, ghouls23, witches and even animals could be the centre of faith. This is realistic and liberal. And the Geeta also understands man and the necessity of (somewhat blind) faith, so

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


that he is shepherded onto the right path. Verses 527–550 penned by Dnyaneshwar on the Geeta’s Chapter 4 reveal this mixed tapestry24. They are given chronologically but in the end a note is appended to classify them to show which category they belong to. Shrikrishna begins by answering Arjun’s questions as to how he participated in things from the past, by asking a rhetorical25 question. Do you think I was not around and about When the sun came about? …527 Shrikrishna then makes a startling statement You and me have been born Many a time But that memory does not shine In your mind …528 This is a clear-cut reference to the idea of rebirth. It is one thing to state that energy and matter are recycled and take forms and shapes but quite another to point at specific persons and say that they have had past lives. Shrikrishna goes further and puts himself in a special category. But unlike you I remember my every birth And in those births Who came last And who came first …529 And then he adds I am beyond death and birth It is by a trick of nature That I take birth …530 Though he (Shrikrishna) is special, he too is born by a trick of nature. This nature and its propensity to create forms is the concept of maya26, a creation apparent to our senses but which in fact is just ‘that thing’ or Brahma manifested as the world. The same sort of statement is repeated again. I am without a shape or form ‘That’ truth will never be torn


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

If I appear with a shape and form It is because of my nature That I am born …531 Maya, or the manifested world, or nature or the world as we know it is also a quality of or a part of the creative ability of Brahma. Therefore Shrikrishna who represents Brahma is born by his own Maya. The next step for him is to function as an individual within a certain society. Here his mortal form has limitations but they too are explained. I am free and eternal But appear bound To matters temporal and fraternal27 …532 And then Dnyaneshwar adds his bit The mirror Makes you see another In reality there is None of this that and the other …533 The mirror causes the confusion. That is the concept of Maya. It is Maya which allows dualism28 and further diversification. And then to take the analogy further In fact I have no shape Nature makes me wear ‘This’(its) gown and cape29 …534 In the natural world appearances seem to come to happen, represented here by the gown and cape. This is a recurring theme in the Geeta, for example, the soul wearing different clothes. What follows are several verses to arouse faith in man. That I should protect A certain way of life Has been a fact Since the beginning of life …535 Thus when truth and goodness are in danger, The shapeless eternal me Appears as the mortal me To help those with faith in me

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And restore goodness For people like thee …536 I restore power to the faithful Banish the darkness of ignorance Harness ethics30, virtue and religion So that the saintly and the virtuous Are restored And evil is destroyed …537 With my birth Mountains of sin and the sinful Are flattened And the sun rises Over a happy and contented society In which faith flowers In the hearts of men And the banner of good life Is unfurled in all its glory …538 Then there is an addendum, which suggests that such faith is the dawn of wisdom. That in this manner And for a certain cause I appear to have been born Is wisdom dawned (for the faithful) …539 The word ‘appearance’ still persists. The rise of great saviours in the tides of civilisations and fortunes of men is being described here. Lest man identify himself too much with these incarnations, the following verses are narrated I am eternal Yet I am born I am not tainted or touched Though I seem to have a form I do not act Yet I appear to act Those who believe In these facts Are absolved (from the vicissitudes31 of life) …540


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Note that ordinary men must digest these phenomena so as to escape from this worldly appearance and then find succour32 in the incarnation. And then these men who have absorbed this truth are described. For them They themselves or others This world or nether33 Are not relevant thoughts And anger is banished From their hearts …541 In the verses that follow, the spirit of the second and third chapters of the Geeta is recaptured They have only me in their hearts It is for me that they live To serve their parts Passion, greed and lust Thus depart And wisdom comes to dwell In their hearts …542 They thus become The powerhouse of penance The abode34 of realization Objects of veneration35 They and me Cannot be told apart …543 Dnyaneshwar adds When brass (Is forever) rid of its stains Then where is the brass It is only gold that remains …544 This is how the common man approaches the divine by removing the worldly stains. Dnyaneshwar then elaborates on the Geeta to make a very interesting point about faith. To mention Thomas Aquinas (please see first paragraph of this chapter) again, the movement of the will turns towards God (but worldly affairs interfere to stop this movement).

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In fact by nature Man is inclined to me And I respond in measure Depending on how they look at me* …545 But intelligence fails them Wisdom deserts them And though I am unique and one I appear fragmented to them …546 * That a man is inclined to faith may be a correct observation but what kind of faith and in what manner it springs is a crucial consideration. The fragmentation mentioned above, is then elaborated in the following verses.

Nameless though me They give names to me All that is, is me Yet many parts, they see in me Beyond description though me They call on gods To invoke36 me Though in fact In high and low, poor and rich I am supposed to be …547 When this happens faith does not flower but wilts37 and man degenerates. They pray to a variety of gods And offer them this, other and that And then receive their lot But what they have got Special it is not It is just the flow of karma That is what …548 And in this flow of karma entangled as man is, he forgets about Brahma or the universal soul represented here by Shrikrishna. He then leads a mundane38 karmic life. Says Dnyaneshwar What you sow So shall you reap


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A mirror will show you What your mind wants to seek …549 And I watch says Shrikrishna Actions recoil Just as an echo will Against a hill …550 The verses are summed up from the point of view of the underlying philosophy: Ideas about rebirth 527,528,529 Concept of maya 530 Brahma by its own quality producing the world and a special person (incarnation) 531–34 Religion, faith, incarnation 535 Nature of philosophical wisdom that saves man 536–539 Transformation in man 540–543 Nature of faith and its disruption 544–548 The manifested world runs on the theory of karma which is a pure cause and effect relationship 549–550.

1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20.

articulate – able to speak fluently interlocutor – a person who takes part in a dialogue or conversation temporal – of the world as opposed to spiritual doctrine – a principle of religious or political belief scholastic – relating to medieval scholasticism (scholasticism = the system of philosophy taught in universities in the Middle Ages, based on religious principles) grace – a divine influence stigma – a mark of disgrace or discredit dogma – a principle volition – process of using one’s will, discretion secular – non-religious, concerned with the affairs of the world, not bound by a religious rule vacillation – fluctuation in opinion or resolution nuance – a subtle or a fine difference in the meaning of a word, a colour, a feeling etc (often difficult to detect) laity – lay (ordinary) people as distinct from clergy (priests), (all the members of a Church who are not clergy) asceticism –from ascetic = a person who avoids pleasures for religious reasons emancipation – liberation, deliverance Upanishads – (plural), singular Upanishad, ‘Up’ = near, ‘nishad’ = to sit, indicating a dialogue rather than a lecture animistic – where the soul is related to plants or a supernatural power sacramental – religious, ceremonial incarnation – a living embodiment of a deity cosmogony – regarding the birth of the cosmos or the universe

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38.


delve – search energetically elucidation – explanation ghoul – an evil spirit, phantom, a person morbidly interested in death tapestry – a thick textile fabric in which coloured threads are woven to form pictures or designs rhetorical – assuming a certain answer when asking a question maya – the power by which the universe becomes manifest; the illusion or appearance of the phenomenal world fraternal – of brothers or of a fraternity dualism – where two basic principles are assumed e.g. mind/matter cape – a sleeveless cloak ethics – the subject of morals in human conduct vicissitudes – variation of fortune, typically for the worse succour – aid, help nether – the other lower world, hell abode – one’s home veneration – regard with deep respect invoke – call by way of a prayer wilt – droop, wither mundane – dull, routine


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verses 76–107 Geeta Chapter 4

Chapter 42

The Coming of the World Of Karma

How did this world come about? And this information about the coming of this world, should it have any bearing on how the constituents of this world should go about their business? The latter question can only apply to man. The non-living world (!) carries on, based on what we call the laws of physics. In the plant and animal world, sensations and their interpretations are confined to a narrow zone. It is only man, who seemingly, makes a wide variety of choices after deriving information from his senses. Man’s desires are basic but their manifestations become diverse and complicated, thanks to an ever-agile mind over which intelligence presides. An animal lives and plans (!) for a single cycle of seasons. Man does not. He pores over the past and plans for the future. He is capable of preparing for and postponing his gratifications1, the former by impulse and latter by way of reason. This change from animal to man, subtle, yet with radical consequences, must be addressed with prudence2 so that his desire for gratifications does not go haywire3 and does not pose a threat to his well-being. This issue has been the crux4 of philosophy and religion from time immemorial. If we take the hypothesis5 or speculative scenario which the Upanishads6 advocate—that the universe came to happen and evolve into tangible7 systems and later these systems were endowed with life and this life assumed complex mechanisms (man)—then is it fair to assume that the umbilical cord that stretches across enormous time frames has somehow snapped from that primal, the first, the source or the Brahma8? The answer ‘probably not’ is also in the speculative or hypothetical realm9. To take examples from the everyday world, what happens to a computer when its systems fail? Their subatomic constituents return and remain in their original phase. What happens to electrons in a copper cable connected to a light bulb when it is switched off. Their velocity drops and they too return to their original state whatever it

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


might be. The computer and a light bulb are artefacts10 mounted on a certain system. Could we assume in a similar vein that man is a temporary living object evolved over time on an all-encompassing primal system? Man is not a silicon chip that acts at the push of a button. He is both rational and emotional, intelligent and drawn by impulse and unlike a silicon chip is capable of a value judgement. Be that as it may, does he too constitute just an elaborate system? On this background, this is what can be asked. Will it help man, if he is constantly aware of the ‘primal’11 from which he has evolved as a living, feeling object? Will this great gift of life that man possesses become more meaningful, enjoyable, even beautiful by this awareness? According to the Upanishadic system, the answer to this question is a resounding ‘yes’, and according to Dnyaneshwar and the Geeta man must know that the beginning of the universe was the first karma, which man must understand for him to comprehend that the same karma has travelled though time to encompass man in the present. Karma therefore is everywhere. It cannot be avoided yet must be kept at a distance. You cannot do without karma yet it seemingly creates problems. Keeping karma at a distance does not mean not participating in it. That would be against the natural flow. ‘Karma must be allowed to happen in my hands but must not be understood to be done by me’ is how you can put it in the first person singular. The ‘me’ here is the source of ego and the recipient of gratification. Before going into the relevant verses of the Geeta in this section it must be mentioned even at the cost of sounding heretical12 that Shrikrishna, the incarnation13 (!), the living God (!) and the narrator of the Geeta identifies himself with the Brahma itself. While this serves a purpose for Arjun, so steeped as he is in faith, it is jarring from the point of view of pure philosophy. But as Thomas Aquinas, Italian religious philosopher (1225–1275) would have it, ‘faith moves the will of man’ and as Shrikrishna reveals, man is inclined to me (in faith) and this has been so since millennia. Here is how the verses begin It is because of me That people come to be And it is by me That they will be What they will be …551


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Note the first person singular in a verse in which Shrikrishna assumes responsibility for the universe, the world and man. This continues in the next verse in which he mentions that all people are not the same and that they are of four types. The elaboration of the types is to come several chapters later (see Chapters 96, 116). It is by me That the four types of men Come to be And their karma will depend On the type they will be …552 The first person singular (I, me) continues here. An important statement is also included here. The karma of an individual will depend upon what kind of an individual the person is. The ability, status, race, age and a variety of such considerations will determine how an individual will perceive the world and how he will act. So far so good or bad because the above verses contradict the Upanishadic theory of spontaneous causeless emergence of the universe from Brahma. In a spontaneous event a causative agent cannot be envisaged14. Shrikrishna therefore amends his earlier verses (551–552) and states It is from me That all this comes to be But to do or not to do Is not a quality of me …553 Notice, the words have changed from ‘because of me’ to ‘from me’. The Brahma does not have any attributes15 so the question of a purpose, an action or motivation does not arise. Shrikrishna now stops showcasing himself as Brahma and is pointing to the correct philosophical position. In the original verse Shrikrishna refers not only to creation in general, but also mentions that the classification (division) of man into several types was occasioned through natural forces that followed creation (please see Chapters 79, 96, 116). That subject of ‘types’ is taken up in the Geeta at a later stage and will be covered at that time. But the following verses allude to this subject fleetingly. The world of man is one But all men are not the same It is by nature and its make That these divisions came

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


And thus the nature of man And nature itself Came to reign16 (over this world) …554 What follows is a verse about those people who are adherents of this philosophy Those who know this About me Did their karma Thus knowing me And came to merge in me …555 Those persons, that is those who know this philosophy, worked in a manner similar to the spontaneity of the creation of the universe and then merged with Brahma (that is me = Shrikrishna). In short these persons were working, living, contributing spontaneously and they were not laden by their karma. Then comes a verse, which says that their actions or activities resembled seeds which had been burnt and were incapable of sprouting. This sprouting concerns rewards or retribution17. They had burnt their bridges, so to say, and had become oblivious18 to the consequences of their actions. Then Shrikrishna addresses the subject of karma in some detail and says Even the wise ponder Over what is this karma What it is To reject karma Or how to go beyond This karma …556 Even those who by their karma Create a veritable new world Are foxed and boxed By their karma …557 19 And then Dnyaneshwar lets in a metaphor A counterfeit and a real coin Perplex the mind Which is the real And which the other kind


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

The wise and the foolish Both are in this bind …558 Karma is difficult to understand even for those who are very creative. In fact there is a reference in the Dnyaneshwari, in a later chapter, which states that the creative are more vulnerable to the effects of karma. Dnyaneshwar now continues with what is obviously his own idea and not mentioned specifically in the Geeta. This verse is important Realize first That when came the world Karma occurred And happened first …559 Then the flow of karma began And in its flow and in its span Man swam …560 When in this karma You must know What not to do And how to grow Your status, station, and age You must know …561 Follow this karma Without fear of retribution Or reward or expectation …562 Your karma you must act But distance yourself from this act …563 Dnyaneshwar explains this technique, as only he can You stand by a pool of water And see yourself in the water But you know you are not The one in the water …564

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


As you row Down a river Trees seem to fly Up the river Only when you think You will know What is moving And what is where …565 The sun appears to rise and set From the east to the west In fact the sun is steady And at rest …566 The same applies to this man Who seems to work and act But in fact In his mind he is beyond The human act …567 The sun shines deep in the water But it is not drowned in this water …568 Verses 564 and 568 are metaphors involving images in water hinting that this world is like an image come out of Brahma. Verse 565 is more interesting because it employs an event not dissimilar to the one used by Einstein (German physicist 1879–1955) to explain the theory of relativity. Verse 566 is more startling because Dnyaneshwar says that the sun only appears to move, in fact it is at rest. These verses carry the following message: The moving trees, the images in the water, the apparent movement of the sun are all appearances. The man who understands the flow of karma understands the phenomena of this karmic world and stands aloof (though he is part of the karmic flow). Dnyaneshwar carries the theme forward He sees the world without seeing Does things without doing …569


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

He is sitting at rest Yet travels North and south, east and west …570 Without travelling the world In his mind he becomes ‘the world’ …571 When he works He is at ease The thoughts of rewards Do not arise …572 That I will do it thus And finish this I must Such silly things He never thinks …573 And Dnyaneshwar ends this section with the following verse This here in the fire of realisation He burns his deeds and expectations He is Brahma’s20 incarnation Indifferent to his body and its actions Entirely devoid of expectations Full of joy and in his sanctum21 Feasts on realisation His ego disappears in sublimation22 …574 RW Emerson (American essayist 1803–1822, poet and lecturer) had this to say two hundred years ago. To paraphrase, ‘The material world is merely a part of the spiritual wholeness … from which an individual derives his strength and freedom … this inner vitality must be cultivated through our character and abilities.’ 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.

gratification – satisfaction, reward, enjoyment prudence – careful, to avoid considered consequences haywire – badly disturbed crux – the decisive point at issue hypothesis – a proposition for reasoning without assuming it as truth Upanishad – the concluding part of the Vedic literature tangible – felt by touch Brahma – ‘that thing’ from which the universe evolved realm – sphere, kingdom, empire

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


10. artefact – a product of human art and workmanship (especially a tool or weapon of historical interest) 11. primal – first 12. heretical – atheistic (godless, non-believer); a person who believes in an opinion which is profoundly at odds with what is generally accepted 13. incarnation – form in flesh (human) from the spirit 14. envisage – to imagine something as a future possibility 15. attribute – a characteristic quality 16. reign – rule 17. retribution – punishment 18. oblivious – unaware, unconscious 19. metaphor – symbolic imagery 20. Brahma – from the Sanskrit root ’brih’ = to spread or expand. Brahma is a term used to denote that singularity from which the universe came to be 21. sanctum – an inner retreat, a person’s private room 22. sublimation – altered to a refined or purified state


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verses 114–222 Geeta Chapter 4

Chapter 43

Behavioural Modification The problem of duality1/ Yadnya as a metaphor2 The new yadnya In an earlier chapter (36) the word yadnya has been discussed at some length. Yadnya was originally a ceremonial, sacramental3, formal occasion, during which religious texts were chanted around a small fire. The ceremony is still performed in South and Southeastern Asia. As religion came to be superseded somewhat by philosophy and the ancient ritual yadnya had probably not consistently shown the results that were expected from it (for example, rain, as discussed in Chapter 36) yet because the yadnya was such a valued tradition, the Geeta made the beginning by symbolically portraying the yadnya as the universal flux4 of energy with which man could be shown to relate in a metaphor. If sacrifices (token) of butter and grain could be made to the sacred fire to express gratitude and also to ask for benevolence5, then in this metaphor of the new yadnya man could offer his baser instincts to the universal fire and his material self could be subsumed6 to this pure energy state to redeem himself. Earlier, Dnyaneshwar had touched upon the ‘old’ yadnya but had not yet elaborated on the ‘new’ yadnya. In this section of the Geeta and particularly, in the narration on this section by Dnyaneshwar, some extraordinary and enchanting7 yet very complex and intricate verses can be found on the metaphor of the ‘new’ yadnya. Unfortunately they are extremely difficult to translate into English. It has been said that some works of literature are best left in their original language and form. This is perhaps true and yet so that a very important philosophical thread is not broken in this book, some of them have been translated here. Dnyaneshwar begins this section by tackling the problem of duality in this variegated 8 world. This is an everyday problem, the confrontation between me and him, we and they or even we and the rest. Karma occurs in this world of duality and is a product of Brahma 9 and this duality associated with karma needs to be overcome in a particular way.

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


To be jealous One needs another How can one be jealous When in one’s view There is no ‘another’ …575 Free from another and else He is full of karma, yet ‘karmaless’ He has a form and shape Yet transcends10 everything and ‘else’ …576 He is the body itself Yet appears like the spirit Like ‘that thing’ the Brahma itself Clean as its spirit …577 With ease and élan11 He is at his work But such are his skills In himself dissolves all his work …578 Note his unitary nature in the above verse and also in the following verses which hints at the origin of karma. Unseasonal clouds Do not bring any rain The clouds dissolve Into from where they came …579 He is all in one And (by him) whatever is done Goes the way it comes To that thing the ‘only one’ …580 The idea that his self-centred individuality (as an entity) in opposition to others or other things has vanished, is vividly brought out in the following verse. It is me Who sacrifices thus That it is to God That give I must


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Such feelings in him Have gone bust12 That he, God, and his work Are together and one Is in his mind A deeply held trust …581 And then follows a metaphysical statement where the unity among Brahma, karma and man is reiterated. The Brahma itself is karma Though he is in the midst of his karma Because karma is Brahma9 He is rid of his karma …582 What follows is a set of verses woven around the sacrificial fire except that the sacrifices offered by man to the fire (conceived as Brahma) are in the nature of his ‘material instincts’ and not as materials such as butter and grain. In this man, who is conducting the ‘new’ yadnya Youth of indiscretion13 has passed Now married to asceticism14 And is steadfast The fire of yoga15 and karma He adores from his heart The word of guru, into the fire Is the sacrifice which is cast Realisation dawns Ignorance and the simmering mind Become a thing of the past And eternal joy, the ultimate wish Has arrived at last …583 First there is temperance16 Then comes asceticism The sun of detachment is thus risen All his desires then burn Mind and its perturbations17 are driven The smoke of past, present and future Remorse18 and rewards, is cleared

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


And thus comes the bliss19 Of a sheer single union …584 Dnyaneshwar then categorically states that this is what the real yadnya is This is what the real yadnya is But man does not realise And thus fails In this world as it is Then even heaven, wherefrom Will he attain or realise …585 And then extols the Upanishads or the last part of the Vedas, on which the Geeta is based. The older scriptures Are rough-hewn20 With formal ritual acts Wrought with the sole intention Of attaining the heavens But they are no match To this yadnya With awareness Of the Upanishadic21 metaphysical22 facts And like the bright sun risen Dims the stars and their light Is what happens To these old Vedic religious tracts23 …586 And says the following about the Upanishadic system of philosophy They, these Upanishadic21 thoughts Serve as astringents24 To the eyes of Pilgrims itinerant25 In search of Salvation and deliverance Where karma in its magnificence Though done Loses its mundane26 significance Where motivation is crippled Logic loses sight


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Body ceases to hanker27 After pleasure and desire The mind simmers no more And speech loses its voice As Brahma reveals Asceticism rewards itself With what else but asceticism Discretion28 and temperance29 Lose their sharp edge, if they have any Realisation beckons Without craving This then the state of worth If you aspire You should bow and pray To saints and your guru With all that is within you Because the very threshold Of the abode30 of the guru Should become you And with mind and body And without your pride Must be served by you And then the guru Will enlighten you About the world and its designs And plans, if you have any Will vanish with their attendant fears And you will awake to The realisation of ‘that thing’ the Brahma And lose all doubts So that, all that you see The men and this world And the world of men Rests in me. Forever. …587 You might be a sinful dump Or a sea of delusion31 Even a mountain, full of temptation But compared to this knowledge Of realisation All pales into insignificant trivialization32

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


This universe is so huge, yet a mere shadow A mere figment Compared to its (Brahma’s) illumination Such is Brahma And its realisation Mind is nothing with its vacillations33 And to speak in this manner and vein About the Brahma and mind Is sheer folly, a silly aberration34 …588 When the final fire will arise Water, earth and fire Will be dispersed across the skies Can a mere cloud survive And this final fire Fed by the wind Will ignite even water Can a weed, leave alone thwart35, Survive this inferno36 Such is this realisation Thoughts surrender before This thing called realisation It is by itself incomparable Pure, divine, and sublime Like the spirit Unique and by itself Like nothing else Can the sun’s image in water Have the real sun’s magnificence It’s incandescent37 luminescence38 And can you embrace the sky Get its measure And derive and deduct Any sort of cognisance39 Can the earth be weighed in a balance Such then is realisation There is not even a semblance40 Of a thing called resemblance When it comes to its narration …589


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Words of the mortals Cannot describe the immortal And one is forced To abandon words And only imagine the immortal …590 Having delivered these extraordinary verses about the realisation of the Brahma, Shrikrishna, in the words of Dnyaneshwar, takes a pause and says But let us not waste time I can see, in your mind You want to find What is this realisation …591 In the pursuit of this sweet realization He has come to loathe41 The world of sensations The body has lost all its importance His mind has no such thing As a preference Nature runs its course in him Without any significance And when faith mates with him And with joy he is resplendent42 To him realisation comes searching And peace reigns, incomparable …592 And when peace sprouts and grows Such is its vigour and scope That very instant it envelops And nothing else can appear It is everywhere Such is its envelope …593 The man who does not have A glimpse of this peace His is not a life But death it is An empty home, a body without life Temptation and strife43 Even a wish for this peace

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


Will support and suffice But if in his mind There is not this wish Then surrounded by the fire of doubt He will be sacrificed …594 If the immortal itself He does not wish for Then how can death be far And a man who resists This sublime44 realization With his desires and temptations Is riddled with doubt And vacillation And fails even in this shadow of a world Leave alone this realization His is a fevered body Not knowing hot from cold And a fire for him is the same As the gentle starlight What is wrong and right Is consigned45 to the world of doubt He cannot distinguish Between day and night And truth eludes Because more than doubt and lack of faith There is no greater sin A deathly trap For the human kind …595 46

Fickleness and lack of faith Must be driven Because they thrive In the absence of realization The darkness of ignorance Plays host to doubt Which overflows the heart And kills discretion And spreads its tentacles In this world …596


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

But armed with the weapon Of Upanishadic thought Its sharpness cleaves doubtful thought And the mind travels Beyond the worldly bogs47 …597 And so my prince Get rid of these doubts And these unnecessary thoughts Get up and go forth And make this war …598 Dnyaneshwar adds, and does not forget to mention his mother tongue Marathi with pride So said Shrikrishna The elder and the greatest Amongst the knowledgeable A lamp brightly lit For the intellectuals His words the very essence Of peaceful existence For even the moral and the devotional The very flavour of peace in words Deeper than the ocean In Marathi you will hear Please listen …599 Though the sun appears To be no more than the size of a fist Yet its rays Light the world And those who ask from The mythical ‘Kalpa’ tree In giving it is benevolent and free Such will be the wonder of these words …600 They will be few but expand To whatever you demand So listen with care Your attention I earnestly command A ravishing beautiful bride

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


Devoted to her man With love and pride Like such a union will be my style Words of philosophy and peace Will together preside …601 Soothing touch of a cool breeze Flowing down from the hills Will caress the skin A haunting sound Will follow its stream And the ears in answer Will themselves sing And with this living wind The body will dance and swing …602 For the ears my words will be a feast And with ease Salvation will come to you From your worldly tryst48 …603 If love itself Was to vanquish the foe Why carry a weapon in tow If milk itself can cure an ill Why drink bitter lime and gourd49 …604 Thus without hurting the body And bending the mind With my words Realization is at hand You will find Listen to the Geeta With joy in your heart Says Dnyaneshwar That is all …605 1. 2. 3.

duality – where two principles are assumed to be basis of everything e.g. mind and matter metaphor – imaginative use of word, form or phrase sacramental – religious and ceremonial

204 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49.

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar flux – continuous change benevolence – kindness subsume – include enchanting – charm, delight variegated – multicoloured, spotted, flecked Brahma – ‘that thing’ from which the universe evolved transcend – exist beyond the material world élan – dash, vivacity, verve bust – burst, break indiscretion – misstep, error, blunder, lapse asceticism – severe self-discipline and denying all forms of pleasure yoga – harnessing mind and body beneficially with awareness of the soul temperance – moderation perturbations – disturbance or agitation remorse – deep regret bliss – perfect joy, a state of blessedness hewn – chop, or cut into shape Upanishadic – the concluding portion of the Vedic literature metaphysical – visionary, based on abstract reasoning tracts – essays, article, paper, sermon, pamphlet astringent – severe, which causes contraction of bodily tissues itinerant – travelling from place to place mundane – ordinary, routine hanker – want, crave discretion – prudence, tact, care temperance – moderation abode – one’s home delusion – false belief trivialisation – belittle, rundown, underrate vacillation – fluctuate in opinion or resolution aberration – deviation from normal thwart – stop, obstruct, foil inferno – raging fire incandescent – glowing, shining brightly luminescence – emission or light by a substance cognisance – awareness, notice, perception semblance – resemblance loathe – detest, hate, dislike resplendent – brilliant, dazzling, bright strife – conflict, struggle, discord sublime – refined or pure consign – hand over, send fickleness – inconstancy, subject to change bogs – muddy ground tryst – a meeting (time and place, especially for lovers) gourd – climbing or trailing plant bearing fruit

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dnyaneshwari Verses 1–63 Geeta Chapter 5


Chapter 44

Contemplation1 or Action

How has man come about? If the Mundak Upanishad2 is to be believed then Brahma3, the singularity, expanded, creating space and only later matter formed. Matter then came to be endowed with what we call life. And in man intelligence followed, which allowed complicated and deliberate actions, which are carried out through our organs of execution. All actions are however not deliberate, there are some which (for all practical purposes) are instinctive. But even more subtle actions occur in our body which are under the control of the autonomic nervous system4. Digestion, respiration, the beating of the heart, even sweating are not really under our conscious control. Man, as compared to the rest of the animal world, is best identified for his ability to perform complex deliberate actions. These actions might involve selfishness or charity, destruction as in war or reconstruction in the war’s aftermath5. Man plans ahead, buys insurance, even plans for his funeral and leaves a will endowing his wealth to his family or friends, servants and colleagues and interestingly also to causes dear to his heart during his lifetime. Acquisition of wealth and thereby the ability to wield power, to take only one of the many thoughtful actions that man performs inevitably involves stress. Questions like will I get what I want and even further will I get what I deserve are constantly internalized in the process and though clear-cut answers are not forthcoming, the questions themselves, can produce demonstrable effects. These effects involve the autonomic6 nervous system. Digestion and blood pressure are affected as much by what you eat as by what you think, not to mention what you inherit. Of all the systems in the living world the autonomic system constitutes the very core, the very essence of that thing called nature, a product of ‘that singularity’ or ‘Brahma.’ What we call inanimate matter preceded the living world while the superimposition of ego,


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

intelligence and mind in man are only recent in the history of the evolving universe. In fact what we call inanimate matter is actually a living world judging by what goes on in its ‘inside’. The inanimate world might not have demonstrable nerves or chemicals but that world has an autonomic ‘hum’ of its own, represented by mathematical formulae (as in quantum physics) in the absence of demonstrable or discernible evidence which can be appreciated by our senses. Going further backwards in history from this so-called inanimate world we come to the singularity or the Brahma of the Upanishadic doctrine7. And what about the characteristics of ‘that thing’ the Brahma? It has none. As explained in an earlier chapter language fails here. In the absence of a witness, with no space around it, and comparisons impossible, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs have no meaning. Therefore, if the Upanishads are to be believed it does nothing though nature flows from it. It is passive yet gives birth to the active. In fact readers will be shocked to know that the Upanishadic literature describes the Brahma as being very old, crippled, passive, impotent and a neuter. This is a far cry from the popularly held views of an activist and a just God who more often than not is a male. True or false, that is certainly the Upanishadic theory. And how does man transcend the world of intelligence, ego, mind and the world of the stressful deliberative processes of life to reach across eons8 and eons of time to identify with that passive singularity? In fact is it necessary to reach across time if that thing nestles in everything that has flowed from it and therefore in man as well? How can one be passive and active simultaneously? How can one be a witness as well as an actor? And is it possible to contemplate and contribute at the same time? Is contemplation of this philosophical stream enough and if so, what of the world of activity, action, duty, karma or social responsibility? And by a rider9, if action alone is enough can this action occur in limbo 10 without its contemplative basis? And lastly and most crucially what is more suited to an ordinary mortal 11, the world of contemplative philosophy or the world of action to which most men appear to be naturally born? It is not as if these questions have been raised for the first time in the Geeta. But inductive12 logical texts have to be repetitive and must address the subject matter threadbare13 and from various angles to allow one to arrive at the most unblemished14 conclusion. These

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repetitions are a bit like the probe of the computerised tomography apparatus which revolves and hovers over an object to print a multidimensional image which purports15 to be as near the reality as possible. What is man except a product of his ancestry, both human and metaphysical16? How far can he overcome his genes or resist his environment, social and familial? And what of the hidden element, an element born out of the actions of so many and so much that happened before him and those which happen around him? Whatever may be the answers to these questions man is endowed with a will with which he may or can modify all the above to an extent. And if that is a logical statement then the next question is what is the nature of this will? Is it contemplative or creative (in the sense of oriented to action)? The answer to that question appears to be ‘most of humankind is more suited to the mundane17 and the ordinary world of activity or action’. And that is what the Geeta and the Dnyaneshwari stress. And this action-oriented life is based on the flow of contemplation as summarised in the preceding paragraphs. The basis of action is therefore a certain contemplation, not necessarily only by the actor but by his peers or his predecessors as well. One flows from the other and as man busies himself in action, realization can dawn. When action slowly sheds its component of expectation the stranger in you wakes up. But in fact he is no stranger. He is the real you drowned amidst the cacophony18 of the world. And again what is the nature of the will which moves man to action? Is it always noble or is it as in an average individual, run-ofthe-mill, focused on his own life or is it vicious and destructive? While it is true that an attempt must be made to move from the vicious to the noble, nobility itself does not rid you of the chains of the world of karma or activity. A chain made of gold is no different from one made of iron. Nobility too can enslave you because you imagine it to be an instrument to achieve heaven, which is in the nature of a reward. As is evident, this is how contemplation and action come to be twins and that is the subject of the fifth chapter of the Geeta which opens with a dozen verses in praise of Shrikrishna. But they are steeped in the Indian mythological lore, something that even an average modern English-speaking Indian may be unfamiliar with. Only one amongst them is reproduced here. Says Dnyaneshwar of Shrikrishna’s fondness for Arjun and his desire to answer all his questions


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Even the moon will be snatched Like a ball, from the sky For Arjun to play Such love and generosity He will display (Shrikrishna) …606 In fact Arjun opens this fifth chapter of the Geeta by asking a question What is best I still don’t get Should I engage the world Or just contemplate …607 And adds I want to stretch and relax And enjoy blissful sleep In a palanquin19 Yet overnight I must cross many a mile …608 Arjun wants to wade through the bog20 of this world and yet wants to avoid the mud. He wants to protect his mind from turmoil yet be active in this world. The bearers of the palanquin will be his body while the palanquin will cross the rivers of mental strife. Shrikrishna responds by saying That this world you engage By dint of your work Or you disengage From this world and your work And contemplate Both are of equal worth …609 But Shrikrishna makes it quite clear what he thinks is better, particularly for a man burdened with the complexities of the world. He compares man to a woman and child. For a woman and a child A boat as a choice When the waters are deep Is the better choice …610

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To engage the world With all your worth and work Is in tune with nature …611 Then realisation will evolve And arrive About Brahma and this nature …612 Work without expectations brings about detachment. And then the mind evolves to become the following in this man Like a mountain Steady is his mind What is past Has gone from his mind What he cannot get Is far from his mind This is me And this here is mine Such thoughts Are wiped from his mind And joy alone Overflows from this mind He does not give up Home or hearth21 Whatever comes Takes it for its worth Wishes as horses He does not ride22 If there are no wishes There is nothing to ride …613 When it is said that he does not ride, in fact he is not riding on passion and when this fire of passion is extinguished what remains are ashes, soft and harmless. The fire of passion Is doused from his heart And the ash Can be wrapped In a cotton sash23 …614


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Such is his mind Wishes nothing at all The body is thus Not tainted at all …615 Then Shrikrishna reverts back to the theme of ‘what is best, contemplation or action?’ In a derisive24 verse in the words of Dnyaneshwar, Shrikrishna says What do they know These ordinary fools About work and thoughts As philosophical tools …616 Ignorant as they are They are prone to say This is one and that is two In fact both are equally true …617 Many a lamp Can banish the night What each sheds Is not a different light …618 You might think Or you might work You can finally reach That which is worth …619 How and for what and why Would you want To separate Space and the sky …620 To suggest that all actions must derive from contemporary thoughts or from those buried in history, To contemplate and work A sure sign of man’s worth Such a man ascends A mountain of joy on this earth …621

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


And Karma wrenched25 From thought Without doubt Is a big nought Without skill And a basis for work Life is a waste And has no worth …622 There is salt And then there is the sea That is what we see Then when salt is put Into the sea We see only the sea ...623 Without such delusions26 Let the mind be With words of the Guru Wash it clean Then from desires Let it be free And with its spirit Let it merge With whatever is And then see it become Serene and free …624 Where then is the doer And what is there to do Without doing whatever A doer seems to do …625 When in his mind There is nothing such as ‘me’ Then there is nothing to do By this so-called ‘me’ …626


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

And then this man is rendered into the following state With his eyes he sees With his ears he hears With his skin he feels The nose continues to savour He eats and sleeps in bliss27 Rejects what is averse He walks as he wishes His heart regular in its beats He continues to breathe But he does nothing And works in peace …627 In the current fashion there is an expression called ‘laid-back’ for people who seem to take their work in their stride without being ‘hassled’, to use another modern expression. It might seem ridiculous to mention these expressions at this juncture after what was truly a heavy dose of philosophy and some intricate versification in its support. But philosophy must not reject anything that is on offer without weighing it. And the expression ‘laid-back’ which does not convey indolence or laziness but conveys an attitude to the ‘karma at hand’ requires to be lauded for its insight. Here it is the mind that is laid-back as nature takes its course, which includes karma. This modern expression ‘laid-back’ is no different from the metaphor of a man in a laid-back position in a palanquin (Verse 608) used by Dnyaneshwar nine hundred years ago. This attitude is described further by Dnyaneshwar by way of a simile of a dream Man savours in a dream A virtual reality But when he wakes He thinks he knows The real reality (!) And finally knows That he not the author Of all this activity …628 Therefore Not subject to both Delusions and dreams

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Wide awake Realized and supreme …629 Notice above how delusions during the day are equated with dreams in sleep With the senses five The body is a hive28 On the strength Of the primal29 and divine …630 A home comes alive When the lamp begins to shine So are the yogis30 Alive to the divine …631 That the body which is like a hive depends on ‘that thing’ the ‘Brahma’ or what we call in religious terms ‘divine’ is never forgotten by these yogis. All modern buildings function because they are lighted. When we return home at night, we put on the light and start setting things right. But as we get engrossed in our work we forget that we can work because there is light. That person is a yogi who is aware of this light and that it is this light that allows all the activity and these activities are possible by way of our sensorium and our organs of execution. As he goes about his work he disconnects himself with what he does and what goes on and is connected to that primal thing, the divine. Thus he is not touched by the material world. Dnyaneshwar repeats the metaphor of the lotus leaf. He is at his work But not touched by his work Lotus leaf in water Yet untouched by the water …632 Dnyaneshwar then takes the example of the innocence in a baby which when awake goes through its motions without a hint of design, planning or intentions. Intelligence is not availed Mind not allowed to squirm As life twists and turns …633


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

To put in simpler terms See a baby move and turn That is how a yogi With life, comes to terms …634 Dnyaneshwar then again returns to the world of dreams Even when the body Rests and sleeps Its wake31* The mind will keep And dreams will creep …635 * A track left on water by a moving ship

And what does this mind do? With its web of desire Bogs man in its* mire …636 * Its = mind’s

And how best to describe this mind Vast is the scope Of this mind It is the only one Of its kind The body gangly and big Is left far behind And the yogi overcomes The mind as well And all selfish thoughts Are left behind …637 From dreams Dnyaneshwar descends to the world of ghosts and ghouls32, sorcery witchcraft and devils but with a purpose Says he When the mind is home To witches and ghouls It falls prey To the weird and foul …638 Yet the fallen man’s mind Remains aloof

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Not really singing With the witches tune …639 These two verses are difficult to interpret. Dnyaneshwar is probably telling us that the mind will regain its clean slate when the evil leaves. So is the yogi Detached and aloof When the body and the mind Sing their tunes …640 And lastly Work might occur as a natural flow Or with clever deliberation it may glow And the yogi only appears To be in karma’s tow33 …641 But not really, because The yogi is moored34 Steady and sure With the Guru’s word Noble and pure …642 This (the yogi’s) world is strange but elegant. When sadness comes he does not think that he is sad but instead knows that what is happening to him is called sadness. He only seems to suffer, in fact he is just a witness. The so-called stranger is woken up in him but in reality he realizes that this stranger is the ‘real he’ and it is the world of sensations and appearances that is really strange. 1. 2. 3. 4.

5. 6. 7.

contemplation – survey with eyes or mind Mundak Upanishad – an important Upanishad(dialogical philosophy), mundak probably as in ‘head’ (in Sanskrit) Brahma – from the Sanskrit root ’brih’ = to spread or expand. Brahma is a term used to denote that singularity from which the universe came to be autonomic nervous system – as compared to the somatic nervous system as in nerve supply to muscles which are under man’s control. The autonomic nervous system also has distinct nerves and controls the viscera as in lungs, heart, stomach. Many of these nerves accompany blood vessels and also play a role in the peripheral circulation of blood and other fluids aftermath – after-effect autonomic – functioning involuntarily doctrine – a set of beliefs or principles

216 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34.

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar eon – an indefinite and very long period of time rider – a problem related to a theorem in limbo – in an unfinished or uncertain state, suspended, hanging mortal – subject to death inductive – based on a certain reason as opposed to observations threadbare – till all the threads of the matter are bared unblemished – without a fault purport – be intended to be seen metaphysical – visionary, based on abstract reasoning mundane – dull, routine cacophony – a mixture of harsh, discordant sounds palanquin – a covered couch for one passenger, carried on men’s shoulders or by beasts of burden bog – mud hearth – the place in front of a fire place / symbolising home wishes as horses – From an English proverb, ‘If wishes were horses, beggars would ride’ sash – a long strip of cloth derisive – ridiculing wrench – violent, tearing apart delusion – false belief bliss – perfect joy, state of blessedness hive – a busy swarming place primal – first yogi – the evolved man, from the root ‘yuj’ as in to join or harness (in Sanskrit) (harnessed to the Brahma or singularity consciously) wake – a track left on water by a moving ship ghoul – an evil spirit or phantom tow – pull, drag, draw, haul, lug moor – make fast a boat by attaching it by a cable or rope to the shore or to an anchor

Acknowledgement Some expressions in this chapter are drawn from Bhagavad Gita by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, Harper Collins, ‘97

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar Dnyaneshwari Verses 64–178 Geeta Chapter 5


Chapter 45

There is no ‘activist1’ God

All creative work is said to be the result of a struggle, a struggle of conflicting thoughts. As the Geeta frequently reminds man, conflicts are an enduring feature of this world and the most fundamental conflict is the one between the needs of the material man (because man is made of matter) and his spiritual calling (because man is a superimposition of matter (!) on an energy state). The nature of energy, which is ubiquitous2, is difficult to perceive in this world dominated by matter. And the struggle with the mystery surrounding this pair of ‘matter and energy’, constitutes the second most important conflict in the human thought culture, the first being that of sheer survival. The Geeta, whatever else she might be, is a portrait of these struggles or conflicts in the minds of the authors or editors of the Geeta and each stroke of the brush that paints this picture leaves its imprint. Verses 646 and 651 are two such bold strokes. One of them (651) states unequivocally that an entity like an activist God who creates, cares and ultimately kills, is a fantasy3, or a delusion4 born out of ignorance or to put in stronger terms, such a notion is nonsense. The other stroke deals with the ‘passive nature of the energy state’, an oxymoron5 if there was one, but the expression means to convey that this energy state has no perceivable motivation and is therefore passive in the common parlance6. As an extension of the above the Geeta and the Dnyaneshwari put forward the view in this chapter that if this passive (!) unmotivated (!) energy state was to be perceived as God then this is the kernel7 of philosophy which also paints man to be God, because he (man) harbours this energy state. The Geeta is not always so bold because it must bow to tradition and to a vital need in the creature called man to surrender, abdicate8 even prostrate9 before a superpower. But the Geeta is also not traditional in the sense of a conventional painting. It is an ancient


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attempt to draw a modern impressionistic10 work more amenable to a flurry11 of interpretations. To use a modern expression ‘she (the Geeta) is cool’, to use more conventional idiom12 she is ‘collected’ in the sense that she is ‘collective or inclusive’, not exclusive. In Dnyaneshwar, she finds an extraordinary man who is both correct and caring. Dnyaneshwar cannot help being repetitive in this section, the theme is such, but he does justice to the bold radical ideas presented in the Geeta. Here are Dnyaneshwar’s verses with very few comments by the author. The ‘bold’ (!) verses are in bold. When the real self dawns in him Desires fall from him And peace forces herself Into his heart To wed him …643 The exact antithesis is given in the next verse Karma chains him Expectations tie a knot Passions abound And in bondage He comes to rot …644 To go back to the ‘realised’ man He appears to work With a design and a plan But indifferent to results That his actions come to span Even a glance from this man Is a source of joy and calm That is what he can This man …645 This body of nine holes* Warts13 and moles But in his very soul He remains one single whole …646 * Eyes, ears, nose, mouth, genitalia, skin etc

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Like ‘that thing’ or call it God From which the world is formed But ‘that thing’ or God Is aloof passive and calm …647 ‘It’, ‘that thing’ or God Blissfully14 sleeps And karmaless it is But this world, and its expanse Somehow comes to form …648 It is the very life of this world Yet not touched by this world Unaware and unconscious Of the becoming of this world …649 It is near yet so far From the good or bad Not even a witness To what comes to pass …650 It seems to take a form And then plays with all that forms But to be formless Is its norm …651 That it creates, cares and kills Is what is said by all But that is nonsense (ignorance) Come to call …652 When the mind is rooted in the thought That karmaless is God Then ‘I too can be God’ Is the next logical thought …653 15

When this discerning thought Springs forth in his heart The world becomes one In all his thoughts …654


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The sun might rise in the east But the sky gets brightly lit North and south, west and east A brilliant feast And darkness comes to dissolve …655 With such thoughts When realisation comes to call Searching for his heart What else can happen But more such beautiful thoughts …656 Can the sun Stand apart And of darkness dream …657 Can fortune smile Yet bring Ominous16 times …658 17

Can the immortal hear Dying screams …659 Can the moon even imagine Fire, heat and steam …660 Elephant and gnat High priest or low caste That, there, someone And this here my son Cow or dog Low or high Not even in his dreams Will such thoughts pry …661 When ego is lost Differences too are lost …662

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Forever the same Whatever came ‘Brahma18’ the name Of these men …663 Passionate only in name The body in tandem19 …664 Involved with other men No different from them Appear the same But not ignorant Like them …665 Like a ghost Which roams the world Not known to the world The body is his host But unaware is the world …666 When water rides on water With the wind’s caress20 Water remains water But some call it waves …667 This then is the world Of names and forms But He is that Brahma (Nameless and unformed) Serene and calm …668 Water in a mirage Can it ever flood And move a mountain This spurious flood Passions in flood May roar through this man But the flood will not move This mountain of a man …669


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Steady and also far From this body of a bazaar Passions are forever Kept far from the bazaar …670 When his heart is filled With enduring peace Why stir abroad In search of bliss …671 At this stage Dnyaneshwar goes on a spree21. He evokes a variety of images to prove that the material world of passion, desire, avarice22 and lust (and an attempt at gratification23 through them) are the principal adversaries of spiritual emancipation24. To begin with, he revisits the partridge (Chapter 21) to tell his readers the attributes of a realised soul. Says he When it feeds on moonbeams Served on lotus leaves How can it lick sand Leave alone eat …672 And adds Because he is filled with ‘That’ inner calm Pleasures are not sought As a soothing balm …673 Pleasures cannot be equated with that inner contentedness. Dnyaneshwar elaborates Who is trapped by pleasure? He asks and answers He who does not have His own real measure …674 Pleasures are not grain But only chaff25 For the wretched And the hungry riff-raf26 …675

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Thirsty deer In their hurry Forget what is real In their frantic flurry27 Run helter-skelter silly After water in a mirage …676 Those without ‘that’ vision Cannot grasp their soul Passionate minds risen Find themselves in a gaol28 …677 How can lightning Usher a dawn …678 And as the day rises After the dawn If shadows could protect man Houses with brick and mortar Why would he plan …679 Pleasures are mere shadows. To be happy, content and stable one needs to build houses of bricks and mortar, stuff that is far more solid. Though desires and avarice are products of our own nature they are harmful to us. Dnyaneshwar turns to Indian mythology in which the planet Mars is considered the son of the earth yet is a malefic29 planet according to Indian astrology. The earth simple benign and giving But her son the planet Mars Will not give up his deadly arms …680 And then comes the animal kingdom in metaphors From the heat of the midday sun Hooded cobras Offering shade to the rat …681 The rat, in fact, is on the verge of being killed. For the fish A bait is good


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

As long as the bait And not the fish Is on the hook …682 A little earlier Dnyaneshwar visits the vegetable kingdom Mushrooms might be Sweet to taste But their poison Will make you Squirm30 and waste …683 And then to the world of pathology and medicine A full cherubic31 cheek and its charm Might be anaemia32 spreading its arms …684 Anaemia, particularly caused by the deficiency of iron gives the face a puffed-up pale look, which at first glance gives it a benign angelic33 appearance. Here anaemia is compared to the sensuous34 world which masquerades35 as health and happiness. These sensuous pleasures Are in fact pain But fools think They are their greatest gain …685 These fools Moved by sensuous charms Wallow36 in pus Maggots in swarms Frogs in mud And in swamps …686 But these men too serve a cause On who else can Avarice and sin spawn37 It is they who let The cycle of birth and death Spin on and on …687

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


It is with these notions Sinful and false The world comes alive With sensuous calls And appears to be true When in fact false …688 Avoid the way Of this sensuous call Stand erect firm and tall …689 To the stoic38, the evolved and the detached Poison, passion and pain Are all the same Only go by different names …690 In them Flesh is won over by flesh When truth overcomes the rest …691 To them Language of the outside fails When bliss within dwells …692 The ‘language of the outside’ has to do with external objects and the interaction between them and man. Dnyaneshwar now evokes a well-known Indian philosophical image of a bird eating a fruit That there is a bird And it is nibbling at a fruit That image does not hold When one realizes the truth …693 The bird, the fruit and nibbling are only one thing. When you are subsumed39 In this wonderful truth All ego is consumed And you embrace this blissful truth …694


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

This embrace Is without a brace40 Water into water Without a separate trace …695 When the mind is one with the sky And their unison itself calls Where, what and who will call The mind in a blissful thrall41 …696 When the language Of pairs is lost Who will witness who And that unified thought …697 This is Brahma’s call For those in whom Avarice, desire and lust fall Statues of equanimity42 Touched by that divine thrall Reflections of happiness Little sprouts of joy Soon to grow tall Temples of realisation To visit for one and all The ancient abode43 of reason The inner nature of Brahma Or what we call God The knowledge of its limbs and arms The purity of the pure Little parts of the primal44 for sure The ‘be it and all’ …698 As Dnyaneshwar approaches a literary frenzy Nivrutti, his guru, intervenes and lovingly admonishes Dnyaneshwar. Says Nivrutti Let that be all Remember your call For these discerning46 eager listeners 45

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In the temple of their heart You have come to light a lamp Don’t wander afar From those who have come and camped* * Dnyaneshwari was narrated on the banks of a river in what is today southern Maharashtra. Scores of people were supposed to have gathered at the site to listen to Dnyaneshwar’s narration. Many of them were enlightened and of a religious bent.

Nivrutti continues Your youth and fervour47 And these literary flavours Please have them recalled Dnyaneshwar responds by saying: ‘So be it.’ And adds ‘listen to what Shrikrishna had to say about these men who have received Brahma’s call’ With wisdom they are so laden That in this sea of bliss They settle at the very depth And merge with ‘that thing’ With their precious weight …699 And continues with his original fervour Drawn to that Beyond which there is nothing And that thing Without limits Where the dispassionate rule And divided as if in lots For saints and gurus And frequently travelled and stopped at By ascetics en route48 And which can be a bounty For those whose hearts Are not filled by doubts And conquered are their minds With no passions to bind By the world at large …700 We are now approaching the end of the fifth chapter of the Geeta, which is somewhat repetitive and marked in Dnyaneshwar’s hands by some very intricate constructions of great literary value. At this


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

stage, the Geeta issues a hint that emancipation49 or psychological stability bordering on beatitude50 can be achieved by voluntary manipulation (!) of one’s breath, physical postures, and by certain methods of concentration and awareness of the concealed physiological meridians51 in our body. There are three or four verses narrated by Dnyaneshwar on the subject at this stage but these are not covered here because Dnyaneshwar has narrated several dozen verses on the same subject while speaking on the sixth and next chapter of the Geeta. But the effects of the above techniques given by Dnyaneshwar are narrated here The gutters, the streams The rivers, even the Ganga* Will merge with the sea And when you see They cannot be told apart Even if you carefully see …701 * The holiest of the Indian rivers (the Ganges)

Note the word gutter as well as the rivers and the streams, all indicative of the nature of our fluid body. Then come air and space The mind is vanquished By controlling your breath And merges with the sky Across its breadth …702 Then comes the fate of perceptions The screen of the mind On which pictures are drawn Is tattered and torn When the pond is dry Images are gone In sum and substance When the mind is gone Where can the ego pry52 As the body merges with the sky …703

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


Dnyaneshwar adds that these men The vast seas Of habit, custom and discipline They sail across The mountains of Penance53 and restraint They climb and cross They contain their world By cleaning its dross54 …704 This has been heavy going and Arjun promptly asks the by now familiar question. Says Arjun, From my ignorant mind The contradictions in the paths Of contemplation55 and action Show no signs of retreat and retraction …705 You must tell me how and why Logical karma I must try Ignorant and feeble as I am I will learn by and by …706 Hear this my refrain Please tell me again …707 How, when and what must I do Contemplation or action What is true …708 Dnyaneshwar then interposes verses to describe what Shrikrishna felt about Arjun. Says Shrikrishna, it seems you favour the path of action Of this path of action When you are eager to listen I will be prompt And happy to hasten …709


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwar elaborates His (Shrikrishna’s) eyes showered Immortal sanction56 And they were filled With passion and compassion …710 And Arjun was intrigued By this passion show The roots of this passion He did not know …711 But God in his fullness Is unknown to God Then how was Arjun to know What is God …712 Whatever the mystery He was sure That God was moved By love very pure …713 And that is roughly how the fifth chapter ends. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19.

activist – someone who takes vigorous action for a cause ubiquitous – seeming to be present everywhere or in several places at the same time fantasy – a fanciful mental image delusion – false belief oxymoron – a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction parlance – a particular way of speaking or of using words kernel – the essential part of anything abdicate – give up prostate – lying face down in submission impressionistic – a style in art or literature that seeks to capture a feeling or experience rather than use an accurate description or systematic structure flurry – sudden burst of activity idiom – a specific character of a language wart – a tumour of the skin bliss – perfect joy or a state of blessedness discern – perceive clearly with the mind or the senses ominous – indicating danger immortal – not subject to death Brahma – ‘that’ single thing from which the world evolves tandem – one behind the other

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56.


caress – stroke gently or lovingly spree – a spell of lively unrestrained activity avarice – greed gratification – satisfaction, reward, enjoyment emancipation – liberation from political, legal or social restrictions chaff – worthless things, husk as opposed to seed or grain riffraff – disreputable or undesirable people flurry – sudden burst of activity gaol – variant spelling of jail malefic – causing harm squirm – wriggle, move with embarrassment cherubic – angelic, beautiful, innocent anaemia – deficiency of red cells in the blood, resulting in pallor (paleness) angelic – like an angel, pure beauty sensuous – dependent on senses not on reason masquerade – pretend to be someone that one is not, be disguised or present a false appearance wallow – roll about in mud, excessive indulgence in pleasure spawn – produce or generate, as in eggs (particularly in relation to fish, human or other offspring) stoic – a person who endures pain, discomfort or trouble without complaining or showing signs of feeling it, virtuous and in control of one’s feelings subsume – include brace – a pair, a team of two thrall – state of being held by a certain power or influence equanimity – mental composure abode – one’s home primal – first frenzy – a state of extreme excitement or wild behaviour discerning – having or showing good judgement or insight fervour – passion, zeal en route – on the way emancipation – release, liberation beatitude – supreme blessedness meridians – a line or a circle on a map, used here to describe certain physiological circles or lines as shown in ancient Indian yogic systems pry – look inquisitively penance – an act of punishment of self to be rid of sin dross – material without value or worth, rubbish contemplation – survey with eyes or mind sanction – approval, encouragement, confirmation


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Dnyaneshwari Verses 1–37 Geeta Chapter 6

Chapter 46

The Power of Words

That Upanishads1 are a philosophy born out of a dialogue, has been stated earlier in this book. Further, the Geeta, considered the most important compilation of several Indian philosophical systems and called an Upanishad as well, is also in the form of a conversation between Shrikrishna and Arjun (please see Chapter 21). But there is another conversation going along, on the side, as the Geeta is narrated. This conversation is between the blind king (the father of a hundred sons shown to be unworthy of ruling the kingdom) and his courtier who very much unlike the blind king is able to see far beyond the perimeter of normal human vision. (See Chapter 22, The War, the Courtier and the King.) Some more pairs emerged when Dnyaneshwar narrated his commentary on the Geeta (late 12th century) in Marathi, the local language (unlike Sanskrit, in which the Geeta is narrated). For one, there is Nivrutti, Dnyaneshwar’s Guru, who both inspires and restrains Dnyaneshwar from time to time. The other very important pairing is that of Dnyaneshwar and those who have come to listen to him. This audience is somewhat mixed, in that there are pundits2 and Brahmins in the front rows (!), but there is a fair sprinkling of the laity3 as well, sitting on the periphery. It is for the latter that the discourse is etched with metaphors4 abounding in nature. But for the pundits and the learned Brahmins, occasionally philosophy is laid out in a terser5 and purer form. This intermix is seen throughout the Dnyaneshwari. The purpose of these two paragraphs is to remind the readers of the background of this book in general, to mention that the Geeta will be changing its course slightly from this chapter and because in the first 38 verses of Dnyaneshwari in this chapter, most of the pairs mentioned above figure in passing. Here is how the introduction to the sixth chapter of the Geeta goes in the Dnyaneshwari. A note is appended at the end to explain the

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


context of the verses. As Shrikrishna starts to speak, the courtier says to the king Please listen my Lord The courtier tells the king About ‘yog’6 That most important thing …714 Flavoured by Brahma7 Is this feast We happen to be guests A fortunate tryst8 …715 Brahma is that thing from which the world comes about How great Is this God That as we thirst For mere water Are offered This immortal matter …716 Here God means Shrikrishna, the author of the Geeta because he explains Brahma. Ignorant as we are This matter will take us far …717 The king anxious about his sons Vents his anger, some Says, get this over and done Do not speak out of turn …718 The courtier was amused By the king’s torment for his sons But knew for the blind There is no use of the rising sun Lest he be rebuked He chose to keep mum …719 That of this audience He was a part Who heard the Geeta Made him happy in his heart


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

And with contentment in his heart What goes on With due respect to the king He will impart …720 Says the courtier, about the sixth chapter of the Geeta, in the words of Dnyaneshwar, The very essence of the Geeta Distant shores of prudence9 Yogic school’s treasure opened Where nature, unborn, is at peace Brahma’s silence speaks From where the Geeta springs Will be told with words divine Pay attention and be kind …721 And says Dnyaneshwar of his words My Marathi simple Will prove ample To wager and bet With this matter immortal …722 10 Such will be the softness and finesse of those words That musical notes will sound harsh and heavy And fragrance will lose its pride and savvy11 …723 Tongues will grow out of your ears And your senses will fight Amongst themselves to hear …724 It is for the ears That the words are made But the tongue will be tickled When they are said And the nose will say Of what loving fragrance These words are made Such will be the flow and the form The verses will claim ‘Behold their beauty’ The eyes will exclaim

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


When the verse is ready With its essence The mind will strain To free itself The limbs will be eager To feel and embrace The senses will fight Amongst themselves But this work Like the sun itself Will light one and all With its rays …725 Such will be the wonder Of these words Only the worthy Will know their worth …726 This wondrous meal With the immortal dressed Is for the stoic12 and the detached Who are blessed …727 For those in whom The core is alight And those who will put Their senses aside Only they can savour This divine delight …728 The listener will have to Shut his ears This is something Only the mind can hear …729 The words will be sheared13 From their chaff14 and shells And the immortal will ring Joyous bells …730


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Touch them you must With the gentlest touch Or it will be a pantomime15 Of the deaf and the dumb …731 Listeners needn’t be Counted and called They are for sure Prudent16 after all …732 Searching for the bliss17 Of the immortal soul For those who will give up Heaven and earth These words will be Of enormous worth …733 The crow cannot see In the dead of the night And the partridge feeds Only on the moon And its light Worthy as you are You already know The faithless and the ignorant Will never ever know Yet bear with me With my topical show …734 This is no ordinary matter This is beyond intelligent patter18 Here words don’t offer a clue But with the blessings of my Guru I will show what is true When the light of his wisdom Will shine through …735









The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

Marathi. It puts forth with conviction and confidence the view that Marathi is quite capable of matching Sanskrit in elucidating profound philosophy. This is revolutionary for its time and will involve the lay people in the understanding of philosophy. Sanskrit (like Latin and Greek) is not being demeaned but Marathi is to get her due. Verses 723 to 724 are about the sensorium21 and their ability to conceive only the ordinary. Dnyaneshwar’s words are to be of such quality that the sense organs will vie for their substance (the ear will grow tongues). The mind will, however, be the ultimate recipient. Verse 725 is about the Geeta, which will enlighten equally (in relation to the sense organs) like the sun does all parts of the earth. Verses 726 to 733 are about transcending the sense organs in order to be able to reach the very core of the sublime meaning of this work. This is not possible for all. Only some unfettered22 souls will fathom this philosophy. On this background, the images of the crow (which according to the Indian lore cannot see at night and therefore cannot by any chance see the moon) and the partridge (which according to the Greek tradition feeds on the moonbeams and is therefore the opposite of a crow) are evoked. Verse 734 also stresses that only some are suitable for this philosophy. Verse 734 therefore is about a technical problem. What to say to those who already know and to those who will never know. But Dnyaneshwar makes amends and suggests that now that everyone has assembled, he might as well go through with this exercise. This is modesty in contrast to his earlier pride in his mastery over words. And how is Dnyaneshwar going to achieve this? By the inspiration that he derives from his guru (Nivrutti) (Verses 735 to 738). The mention of alchemy referred to in an earlier chapter (18) wherein a chemical process can extract or alter an element from another is interesting. This has reference to a single basic source from which the rest of the things come out (reductionism)23. Truth or that single substance is the ‘be all’. The magician who only switches one thing for the other is downgraded. This alchemy is possible because of the guru’s technique or teaching. Verse 739 is the final denouement24. The guru has now equipped

The Genius of Dnyaneshwar


Dnyaneshwar and he says with confidence that it is with words that he will show what is beyond words. Dnyaneshwar is now ready to start his exposition of Chapter 6 of the Geeta. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24.

Upanishads – (plural), singular Upanishad, ‘Up’ = near, ‘nishad’ = to sit, indicating a dialogue rather than a lecture pundit – Sanskrit equivalent of scholar laity – ordinary people as opposed to priests metaphor – imaginative use of word, term or phrase terse – short, brief, compact yog – from the root ‘yuj’, to harness mind and body like in ‘yoke’ Brahma – from the Sanskrit root ’brih’ = to spread or expand. Brahma is a term used to denote that singularity from which the universe came to be tryst – a time and place of a meeting, particularly of lovers prudence –care and thought for the future, good judgement finesse – refinement, subtle, artful savvy –shrewdness, an understanding of the realities of life stoic – calm, philosophical, showing great self control in adversity shear – cut with scissors, take off by cutting chaff – outer covering pantomime – the use of movement and expression of the face and the body to indicate meaning or tell a story prudent – careful to avoid undesirable consequences bliss – perfect joy, state of blessedness patter – chatter, small talk alchemy – a process in which ordinary metals are turned into gold partisan –biased, prejudiced in favour of a particular cause, showing too much support for one person sensorium – the sensory apparatus including the system of nerves unfettered – not controlled or restricted reductionism – a practice of analysing and describing a complex phenomenon in terms of its simple or fundamental constituents denouement – the final part of a narrative in which matters are resolved or explained


The Genius of Dnyaneshwar

so that The villains of the world will Be rid of their evil designs And they do deeds That are benign and fine And all that lives May in love join And let the darkness Be dispelled of sin and I want A benevolent religious sun Over the universe risen And whoever wishes whatever Their wish by you be given I want people to meet men and women who are Gentle as the moon and moonshine Without its dark craters And without its oppressive heat Like the sun as bright as ever and I pray to you to see that The universe immerses in bliss And that people will pray to God As they go about with their deeds.

Dnyaneshwari - Part 1  

The famous commentary on the Gita by Dnyaneshwar, as translated by Dr Thatte

Dnyaneshwari - Part 1  

The famous commentary on the Gita by Dnyaneshwar, as translated by Dr Thatte