From the Jacket
This book is a landmark in the wide panorama of Gita literature, the
universal nature of which is reflected in the use-in the form of prose as well
as poetry-of an increasing number of the world's languages. As the first book to
utilize original verses in modern Sanskrit to convey the social message of the
Gita, it not only fills a significant linguistic gap but also focuses attention
on social issues which call for urgent action by karmayogins.
Part one explains that Lokasamgraha or the holding together of the society
and the world-exemplified by Janaka in the Gita-is the correct ideal for all
human beings, particularly in times of social crisis.
Part two summarizes how selected leaders-Roy, Vivekananda, Tilak, Aurobindo,
Gandhi-applied the Lokasamgraha approach to tackle social, religious and
political problems during the last two hundred years.
Part three offers suggestions as to how the same karma yoga spirit can be not
only kept alive but also further invigorated by evolving newer and newer forms
of Lokasamgraha, the need for which is no less compelling now then than what was
in the past.
About the Author
Dr. Satya P. Agarwal is a Social Scientist with a brilliant academic record
as well as notable professional achievement as notable professional achievement,
in India, United States and United Nations. His academic honours include five
gold medals and numerous merit scholarships and research fellowships at various
universities. His Professional contributions include the writing of pioneering
books on the concepts and methodology of Manpower Supply and Demand. During his
assignment with the United Nations as Chief Technical Adviser, he prepared a
large number of technical reports in the socioeconomic field, and conference
papers for international gatherings of population and manpower experts. His
contributions to South Asia studies in the U.S. include professional help in the
setting up of Hindi-teaching facilities at the University of California,
Berkeley as well as in the teaching of Sanskrit and social problem-oriented
courses at the American Academy of Asian Studies.
The comprehensive book that he wrote in 1993-The Social Role of the Gita: How
& Why-confirmed his reputation as a Gita scholar and researcher specializing
in Lokasamgraha, the good of the society. The Governor of the State of Maryland
conferred upon him "The Governor's Citation", in recognition of his
pioneering books as also his contribution to social service.
I am delighted to present to the readers Dr. Satya Prakash Agarwal’s new book The Social Message of the Gita Symbolized as Lokasathgraha. Dr. Agarwal comes from a family which cherished the classical texts of the Gild and the Ramayana and transmitted this treasure to him since his childhood. His father, Shri Ram Swarup Agarwal, was a social worker and a scholar specializing in the Grid and the Ramayana. This unique combination has been especially significant for the modern evolution of India and Indian nationalism, where, for more than a hundred years, the active social workers, reformers, and patriots have sought inspiration and confirmation of their ideas and idealisms in the classical traditions. Whatever the original intent of these classical texts, it is clear that until the emergence of the modern period, the classical texts were interpreted more in the context of the devotional tradition of Bhakti and the ascetic-meditative traditions of Vedanta. Rarely does one find an activist interpretation of these classical texts. Thus, the activist interpretation of these texts needs to be understood as a relatively modern phenomenon, and one needs to study its contents, its textual and contextual sources, and its impact on its environment. Dr. Satya P. Agarwal has been busy expounding this activist interpretation for many years. He is not only a scholar of Sanskrit, but he also taught courses on Indian social problems, and his interpretation of the Gild now represents a synthesis of his manifold interests. While he had been giving lectures on the Gild for many years, his specific focus on the social role of the Gild has resulted in several recent publications. Among these, I should like to particularly mention his 1993 book: The Social Role of the Gild: How and Why.
His present book is unique for a number of reasons. Indeed, it continues his previous approach. However, it significantly adds to this particular view by succinctly putting its conclusions in the form of Sanskrit verses. Just as the tradition of Bhakti originated in vernaculars and then was ultimately Sanskritized, similarly the activist and the social interpretation of the Gita began with the writings of Aurobindo Chose and Lokamanya Tilak and is now being transported back to Sanskrit in the verses composed by Dr. Agarwal.
I am especially pleased to introduce this book because I have myself been advocating a somewhat similar interpretation of the Gild, though indeed for very different reasons. In my article “The Epic Context of the Bhagavad Gitã,” (in Essays on the Mahabharata, edited by Arvind Sharma, El. Brill, Leiden, 1991, pp. 334-348), I have shown that the Gild must be interpreted within its epic context and that the epic context of the Gild significantly shapes its philosophical arguments. Here is a conversation between two Katriyas on the battlefield. The starting point of the text is the resignation of Arjuna from the battle, and the conclusion of the text is his decision to join the battle once again. Whatever happens in the middle must be viewed as something that takes Arjuna from his resignation to his engagement in the battle. Any interpretation of the Gild which does injustice to this intrinsic directionality of the text has little chance of being close to the intended original message. In another article,” The Katriya Core of the Bhagavad Gita,” which should appear shortly in the Professor R.K. Sharma Felicitation Volume (Nag Publishers, Delhi), I have discussed the internal evidence in the text of the Gild and the Mahabharata to suggest that the textual layer advocating the doctrine of Karmayoga must have been historically the earliest layer in the text, and the Vedantic and the devotional layers in the text are probably later accretions. However, even in the Vedantic and the devotional layers, the Gild continues to maintain its insistence on being active in the world. In this sense, the Gild is a truly unique text advocating a middle ground between the rampant self-indulgent ritualism on the one hand and the escapist path of renunciation from the world on the other- It advocates selfless action for the betterment of the world as the essential factor of any and every path. It is clearly opposed to renunciation of the involvement in the world, but it incorporates the renunciation of the fruit of action. Even in the layer advocating the doctrine of Bhakti, the Gita is different from the devotional paths seen in the Bhaktisutras of Nãrada, the Bhagavata-Purana, or the devotional writings of the medieval saints like Mirãbái and Sürdas. The Gild advocates action and involvement in the world, with devotion and surrender to God. One is advised in the Gild to carry on selfless action in the world with devotion in one’s heart, and not just to be busy in acts or rituals of devotion with little attention to the fate of the society. In this sense, the modern activist interpretation of the Gild is, in my view, somewhat closer to the original intent of the text and its historical core, as compared to the interpretations one finds in the traditional commentaries of ankara, Rámánuja, and Madhva.
I congratulate Dr. Agarwal on his significant accomplishment. His Sanskrit verses are divided into eighteen chapters like the chapters of the Gild itself, and in these chapters he provides to us in full his understanding of the social role of the Gild. He not only offers us his personal understanding of the message of the Gita, he also gives an account of how the Gita was understood in the last two hundred years by the leaders of the Indian nationalist movement. Thus, this is a presentation of the history of modern interpretation of the Gita. This interpretation is of interest not only as a different interpretation, but for its impact on the entire nationalist movement.
The Sanskrit text of Dr. Agarwal’s verses is of great interest to me as a student of the linguistic features of modem Sanskrit. Modern Sanskrit often represents a conceptual and linguistic Sanskritization of the vernacular material. In the process of modernization of Hindi, numerous Sanskrit words were taken over, newly coined, and used in specific modern meanings. Modern Sanskrit compositions, Dr. Agarwal’s verses included, certificate the process of using these Sanskritized Hindi expressions again in Sanskrit. Here one must keep in mind that the outer surface of many expressions is in Sanskrit, but their meaning must be understood not from their classical use, but from their use in modem Hindi. Such modem Sanskrit expressions are found side by side with purely classical and epic expressions in Dr. Agarwal’s work. This is indeed inevitable, if one is to be able to express the concerns of the modern environment in Sanskrit.
If one restricts oneself purely to the classical expression and meanings one cannot use Sanskrit to express the concerns of the present age. Thus I would encourage the readers to keep in mind the modernity of Dr. Agarwal’s Sanskrit while reading these verses.
I have been impressed by the synthesis of ideas presented by Dr. Agarwal in this work. The Gita is a text is a text of the highest importance not only for the orientalists and indologists who may analyze it form their academic ivory towers but for the millions of people in modern India who seek inspiration and guidance from it. As Vivekananda, Tilak, and Gandhi discovered and preached the Gita has the message of selfless action for social upliftment that India and the world needs today. on behalf of all the readers I take this opportunity to thank Dr. Agarwal for his continuing efforts to expound this message.
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