Now words can have power and some people say, Don Cupitt is one, that the words are everything and that you cannot think except by words ‘you think in words’ and so he says that words like God they are simply words, simply thoughts, they correspond to no reality.
Nothing extra mystique can be meaningful or can be understood, we think in language and we understand only language.
We think in language and we understand only language. Now I’ll just ask you to listen for a very short time and think how you would describe this in language.
The fact is we have no words at all. A trained musician has words he can visualise the score and he can describe it to some extent but for most of us there are no words whatever but that does not mean we can’t think about music and be profoundly moved by it. So some of these philosophers, including Professor Honderich has written seventeen books on philosophy but has never thought of this, it was put to him from the floor, he was putting forward the view of ‘we think only in words’ and it was put to him from the floor ‘no, we can think of a Chopin study and we are not thinking in words,’ and he said ‘he hadn’t thought of that and he was going to think about it.’
The Gita consists of words but it is to take us beyond words to an actual experience which is beyond words and cannot be put into words but words can lead us there with a text like the Gita in studying it, there are different ways of studying a text, scholars simply look at the text as a whole and they give a sort of catalogue of the contents and they pick out some things which they think are significant for the dating, or the authorship, or the current of ideas, but there is another way of studying -the spiritual way of studying, and that is to look and find out what the commentator says is the central part the central theme of the holy text and Shankara in places sums up the teachings of the Gita and in one of the places he says it teaches two paths. The first is the preliminary path of Karma yoga in which actions are done, not for selfish purposes, but by discarding, with a discarding of the selfish purposes, but nevertheless done as a duty and as a offering especially to the Lord, as a result of this there is a purification of the essence and then that leads to the rise of knowledge and that is part up to the rise of knowledge and including the rise of knowledge, this is the preliminary path.
Then the final path, deliberation, consists in establishment of that knowledge, the word for establishment of knowledge is jnana-nishtha, it comes fifty times in Shankara’s commentary on the Gita and unless this point of what is meant by establishing knowledge, unless this point is met, we can’t say that Shankara’s exposition of the Gita has been really understood and presented. It has to be noted that the Great Shankara wrote the Gita commentary by his own choice and the Gita is a commentary on yoga for Kings, that is to say for people who have great responsibilities in the world, it is not for monks primarily, and the Gita itself said this in chapter 3 this yoga is being transmitted by a King to someone in a royal line in order to give strength to the forces which can protect the world and we should notice carefully this is what the Gita himself says and what Shankara himself comments.
It is argued, it is said, that ,Oh well, Shankara has to follow the text because he was commenting on this text and he was saying things he didn’t agree with, but this is a very poor argument. Shankara chose this text. If you get a well known singer who joins the Bach choir, now outside these concerts he doesn’t sing Bach much so you can say he doesn’t really like Bach you know he hardly ever sings it outside the Bach choir and in the Bach choir he has got to sing it, doesn’t he, he hardly ever sings it but why has he joined? So we can’t say that Shankara’s commentary on the Gita represents anything that he didn’t fully agree with because he himself chose to write on this holy text and he wrote one of his most important commentaries on it and it is to say a path for Kings, that is to say the King was the hardest working man in the kingdom, he only got 3 hours sleep.
In the laws of Manu his programme is given and he only gets 3 hours sleep he has to be up at 3 a.m. listening to reports of the intelligence officers who come, he has got to review his troops, he has got to dispense justice from the throne, he gets three hours recreation in the afternoon, and he gets three hours for his religious practises, but he is the hardest working man in the kingdom so this Gita commentary is meant for people with responsibilities who are in the world, not for people who are running away from the world either into a cave in the Himalayas or into a comfortable flat.
© Trevor Leggett
Part 1: Beyond the tangle of words