Thursday, September 1, 2011

Anna Hazare : lessons from the Bhagwad Gita

We the people were fortunate recently to have witnessed one of the most unique battles of our times enacted right in front of our own eyes. The eternal war of good vs evil was broadcast unto us relentlessly on television, and we observed transfixed. On one hand was the Indian government, armed with the might of its massive machinery, including one of the largest armies in the world, and the legitimacy conferred by political representation of a billion plus people. And on the other hand a frail, 74 year old of thin built, armed with nothing save his hunger, his only legitimacy being the emotional representaion of the verisame billion plus masses. It is indeed their silent aspirations - of a corruption-free India - that are being borne, unasked, by this man's decrepit shoulders.
The fist and fury of a democratically elected autocracy pitched against the fast and fragility of one decrepit individual. It is almost a noncontest before the start and lo and behold, look who shows up victorious!

Where does our Anna (big brother) derive this strength of conviction, to enable him to put up a fight in the face of such overwhelming odds. The answer surely lies in Dharma, embodying the timeless message of the Eternal Bhagawad Gita.

To go in front of millions and take stage for a prolonged fast. What courage does our Anna epitomize -  unfailing, and abundant!. Where does Anna derive this courage from? From Dharma. He has led by his own admission an impeccably honest and blemishless life, a life devoted to his duty and nothing else. This allows him the moral fortitude to stand up to the opposing forces and more importantly stand true to his own convictions. abhayam sattva-samsuddhir says Krishna - fearlessness is the first and foremost of the divine qualities or daivi sampad. And no wonder that is coupled to sattva samsuddhi - purity of heart. Fearlessness thus stems not from physical might but from the silent strength of a spotless heart.

Fortitude is the next wonderful quality that Anna embodies, and represents perhaps his most potent weapon. In Sansrit this is termed dhrti. Krishna defines the fortitude of the integrated person - dhrtya yaya dharayate manah-pranendriya-kriyah yogenavyabhicarinya dhrtih sa partha sattviki. The firmness is best - which is unfailing through concentration, and which alone enables one to restrains the functions of all the body's organs and physiologic finctions. Elsewhere He says mukta-sango naaham-vaadi dhṛti-utsaha-samanvitah siddhy-asiddhyor nirvikarah karta sattvika uchyate
- The best among actors is one who acts with fortitude, mindless of his own discomfitures and of the fruits of success and failure. When Anna began his fast the only thing he was sure of was the discomfort his own body was going to be bearing. What would be the governments reaction, the peoples reaction - who would stay with him, and for how long, would his body succumb, and how quickly  - all these were unknown, but were never Anna's concern. Armed with the great sword of fortitude, he stayed steady on his undertaking, willing his body to withstand the inhuman rigors that his intellect demanded of it in the interest of a greater cause. Shankaracharya in his commentary on the Gita defines dhriti beautifully thus :   a particular function of the mind which removes the tedium of the body and organs when they become exhausted, and being rejuvenated by which the body and organs do not feel any fatigue. And in this shloka Krishna couples dhriti with one more quality - utsaha or enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is generated when one acts on behalf of something one holds dear to one's heart, and in this way it provides a wonderful scabbard unto which can rest the sharp sword of fortitude. Dhriti also finds mention as one of the divine qualities - tejah ksama dhrtih saucam adroho nati-manita bhavanti sampadam daivim abhijatasya bharata.

One of the pillars on which stand Anna's principles is ahimsa. Nonviolence. And this nonviolence stems not from fear but from fearlessness. When one is endowed with the courage of conviction of being in the secure shade of Dharma and of being equipped with supreme fortitude, then alone is one capable of adopting ahimsa as a srategy of battle. Mahatma Gandhi introduced this startling and sublime concept to the modern mind and changed forever the complexion of all struggles for all times to come. Ahimsa finds mention multiple times in the Gita as being representative of the best or most divine of human qualities - We find Krishna list it thus : AhimsA satyam krodhastyaagah: shaantirpaishunam Dayaa bhuteShvalolupatvam maardavam rhirchaapalam. Similarly amaanitvam-adambhitvam-ahimsA kshaanti-aarjavam aacharya-upaasanaam-shoucham sthairyam aatma-vinigraham. AhimsA is the highest and noblest virtue, and the second pillar on which it rests is Love - universal love -  that transcends one's individuality in an all-embracing sweep sarvatmabhava - Krishna speaks about such an attitude in the 6th chapter:
Sarva-bhuta-stham atmanam sarva-bhutani catmani iksate yoga-yuktatma sarvatra sama-darsanah 
Yo mAm pashyati sarvatra sarvam cha mayi pashyati; tasyAham na pranashyAmi sa cha me na pranashyati.
Sarva-bhuta-sthitam yo mam bhajaty ekatvam asthitah sarvatha vartamano 'pi  sa yogi mayi vartate
Atmaupamyena sarvatra samam pasyati yo 'rjuna sukham va yadi va duhkham sa yogi paramo matah
An integrated sage is he who regards everyone alike, who is able to identify with the entire humanity as being non-different from himself, by seeing the verisame Divinity in oneself as in all others.  Such a person then becomes incapable of harboring ill-will towards anyone and hence will abhor violence in thought, speech and action. Right through his movement, the one overwhelming note of caution that Anna, the true Gandhian, always sounded was to shun violence of any kind at all costs.

How was Anna able to equip himself over the years to put up this kind of a superhuman effort, and withstand the fury of a indefinite fast? The answer lies in tapas or austerity. Austerity - Krishna advises us is three-fold. The most difficult is austerity of the mind - manah-prasadah saumyatvam maunam atma-vinigrahah bhava-samsuddhir ity etat tapo manasam ucyate. To keep the mind tranquil and contended -so its rests on the bliss generated by nothing but its own contentment is a very rare quality and this is something that Anna was able train and discipline his mind in a superlative way over the years. Such a mind hence harbors goodwill towards all. It is also a mind in reticence and quietitude. That which renders the mind perturbed and rippling with innumerable vicissitudes is ever the formidable foe called desire. A mind relatively free of selfish desires is a mind that is at peace with itself and by itself, and hence, taciturn. Anyone observing Anna couldnt help notice that amidst all the din and roar of an uprising, amids the hundred thousand agitated and inspired masses, he remained remarkably serene and reticent.  The second austerity Krishna describes is that of speech. anudvega-karam vakyam satyam priya-hitam ca yat svadhyayabhyasanam caiva van-mayam tapa ucyate. Perhaps Krishna singles out this activity in particular more than any other demonstrates both how vital this is and also how difficult this turns out to be for ordinary mortals. Anna would speak little and when he did utter words, they were pithy but extremely potent and persuasive. Never would his speech be a personal attack - his was simply a call to action for censuring the depraved whilst empowering the deprived. The third austerity Krishna alludes to is the austerity of the body - surrender and service to one's God and one's Guru and elders, cleanliness, straightforwardness, and most importantly celibacy - deva-dvija-guru-prajna-pujanam saucam arjavam brahmacaryam ahimsa ca sariram tapa ucyate Service to one's elders - be it parents, or teachers - both secular and spiritual, as well as devotion to the Divine is a first step in inculcating physical austerity. It stems from a humble attitude that weeds away ostentatious pride from one's mind. Next is mentioned purity. Physical cleanliness is both a marker and a manifester of inner purity. Anna's simple dress is ever draped in the pristine purity of white. Arjavam is being ingenuous, and guileless. Anna's message was plain and simple, and he never indulged in any gamesmanship even though his adversaries tried every trick in the book to impede his victory. Brahmacharyam is celibacy. Anna identified celibacy as being a key source of the strength and vigor that enabled him to survive the prolonged stress of starvation. Krishna too identifies serenity of mind and celibacy as the 2 key indispensible ingredients in a yogi - praśāntātmā vigata-bhīr brahmacāri-vrate sthitaḥ. And finally ahimsa which we have already examined previously. Thus Krishna lays out for us the three-fold austerity that one needs to inculcate in order to perfect one's mind and body.
Austerity in Anna's life is also seen in his lifestyle. He lives alone in a tiny room adjacent to a temple, and owns the barest minimal of possessions. This ensures that one's mental energies are not dissipated by concerns over wealth, possessions and relationships which are held dear. This serenity so obtained in the mind by a life of seclusion is what Krishna refers to as sama chittatvam  which stems from a secluded lifestyle, without undue concern about the destinies of one's immediate kith and kin asaktih anabhisvangah without association; putra--sons; dara--wife; grha-adisu--home, etc. Anna's diet is so meagre - ensuring the mere maintenance of the body - one meal one time a day - which consists of one roti, made from jowar or bajra, vegetables, and a bowl of daal. Such a meager diet ensures that the mind remains calm, and serene and at the same time, energized, vitalized with vigor, without being lulled into bouts of lassitude and drowsiness.  Krishna refers to this with the term viviktasevi laghvasi yatvatkaayamaanasah - a true yogi is one who dwells in solitude, and eats very little. The verisame idea is again presented in a different context - yogi yunjeeta satatam, AtmAnam rahasi sthitah ekaaki yata-chittAtmA, nirasheer aparigrahah A yogi is one equipped with a restrained mind and senses, and who contended, lives in seclusion, bereft of all possessions. Such a exalted soul is praised by Krishna : NirAshir yatachittAtmA tyaktasarvaparigrahah; Shaareeram kevalam karma kurvannaapnoti kilbisham - One who is self-content and self-controlled, and bereft of any possessions, such a one alone can act without incurring any sin. And similarly yoga-yukto viśuddhātmā vijitātmā jitendriyaḥ sarva-bhūtātma-bhūtātmā kurvann api na lipyate - A yogi is untouched by sin when his mind is pure, his senses restrained, and when he works with a compassionate self-identity with all of humanity.

It is such a yogi that Krishna wants each one of us to be Tasmad yogi Bhava; and unto that end it is our fortune to have modern day yogis like Anna to inspire us. We may not have a lofty goal that might shape a great nation's destiny nor have a fiercesome battle in the glaring eye of a billion. But we nevertheless have our own mighty enemy to face - a bosom suffused with the dark demons of desire and distemper (Kama esha krodha esha), and their manifold denizens of avarice, and acrimony, pride and pretense., and yet many others to conquer and surmount. May the verisame lessons from the Gita serve as beacons of light to guide us along the way, with true modern MahAtmAs like Anna to galvanize our spirits and invigorate our efforts.


Radhe said...

Hari OM, Shyamji, Pranaams!!!

This is a very beautifully written and inspiring post. I especially appreciated the way you incorporated the divine qualities enunciated in the Gita to exemplify the character traits of Anna Hazare and the ways in which the Lord assures that Dharma protects those who follow Dharma!!!

Ananta said...

Congratulations for writing this post on Anna in the true spirit of Vedanta and Gita.


Ananta said...

Congratulations for writing this post on Anna in the true spirit of Vedanta and Gita.


Anonymous said...

Pranams Shyam ji, for the very elevating post. The message of the Gita and the personality of Anna have been so nicely presented as and intertwined lesson for everyone who wants to improve himself.

With me deep appreciation,


Shyam S said...

Thank you for visiting and for your kind comments everyone.

BM Hegde said...


I am sure Anna was not aware of any one of these philosophies but his mundane common sense and his love for his country made him do what he did.

Your interpretations are wonderful. Well done Shaymji

Prof. Kalluri Subba Rao said...

Very well done Shyam ji:
The power of Hinduism and the essence of Gita is suammarized in qualities of fortitude and non violence . It is this that takes this karmabhumi forward. My pranams to you.

Kalluri S Rao

Unknown said...

When a press porter asked anna whether his threat to go on hungerstrike was not blackmail, Anna replied that he was prepared to blak mail any number of times to achieve his goal