Why Should The Bhagawad Gita Be Studied?

March 6, 2018, 2:00 AM IST Speaking Tree in TOI Edit Page | Edit Page, India, Spirituality | TOI
By Janki Santoke

Most scriptures are thousands of years old. But we know that old things tend to lose their relevance — old computers, machines and clothes, for instance. Then why are old texts still revered? What could they possibly tell us that could be relevant today? Life has changed so much. Many old values are not practical in today’s context.

A society needs periodically to discard its old values and get new, relevant ones. To place this in perspective, one needs to understand the concept of shruti and smriti. Shruti refers to what is heard. Shruti refers to those scriptures which contain sanatana dharma, eternal principles that are true for all people at all times. They are not dependent on time or space. They are eternal laws of life. Take for example the law of gravity. This is an example of an eternal law from science. It will always hold true. It doesn’t depend on who you are or where you are on earth.

Smriti is what is remembered. Smriti refers to those scriptures which are the opinions of sages and saints who gave out part of the shruti for the welfare of the people. If the knowledge gained from earning an MBBS can be compared to shruti, then smriti would be the prescription of the doctor for an individual. The doctor having the knowledge of medicine prescribes only what is immediately applicable to the patient. These opinions of the prophets were no doubt very useful for the people they spoke to. But to assume they will be relevant to all is akin to believing a good doctor’s prescription will be relevant to all sick persons. Smriti contains the dos and donts, the instructions the great men gave to benefit their particular people. These instructions may or may not be relevant to other people at other times or other places.

When Krishna tells Arjuna to fight, this is smriti. It is applicable to Arjuna at that particular time. It may or may not be applicable to the old granny at home! But when he tells Arjuna that ‘I am the kshetrajna, enlivening principle, in all kshetras, fields’, I am the same Enlivener in all, this is shruti. When Christ says if someone smotes thee on one cheek, lend him the other, this was relevant to the fishermen he spoke to. It might not have been applicable to others in a different situation. But when he says ‘the kingdom of heaven is within’ this is true for all people at all times.

So too all religions have this demarcation in all the scriptures. Humanity needs the sanatana dharma in all scriptures. The rest we can check for continued relevance. Some may or may not be relevant anymore. But to discard the eternal principles would be like reinventing the wheel. These principles are very useful to humanity. They function as the manual for life. They help us understand our world and ourselves in it.

As for the Bhagwad Gita, it is very useful because Krishna takes the trouble of informing us clearly whenever he gives out statements of opinions. The rest can be taken as shruti. This useful tip helps us in understanding the relevance of all scriptures.