Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Deconstructing Doniger on the Gita

'How did Indian tradition transform the Bhagavad Gita (the “Song of God”) into a bible for pacifism, when it began life, sometime between the third century BC and the third century CE, as an epic argument persuading a warrior to engage in a battle, indeed, a particularly brutal, lawless, internecine war?'
Doniger says Indian Tradition transformed something. What was that something? Was it already a part of Indian tradition or did it come from somewhere else? If it was part of Indian tradition then why speak of Indian tradition transforming it? If it wasn't part of Indian tradition, where did it come from?
Doinger is saying something was turned into 'a Bible for pacifism'. But the Bible for pacifism- as in 'Resist not Evil' & 'turn the other cheek'- is the Christian Bible, at least for people whose first language is English. Doniger is saying that 'Indian Tradition took 'an argument persuading a warrior to engage in battle' and turned it into a homologue of the Christian Bible. 
As a matter of fact, that is certainly one way to interpret the Gita- indeed, it is my interpretation. Krishna's visvarupa is a sort of condign self-praise which, as he later tells Arjuna, is equivalent to self-slaying so the Gita depicts Krishna suffering himself to be slain, like the scapegoat or pharmakos, so as to take on the sins of his devotees and deliver them to salvation. However, this interpretation of mine is not found in the Indian tradition precisely because animal sacrifice had already lost salience and the concept of the pharmakos was, in any case, either absent or minimal in Vedic, as opposed to Greek or Semitic thought. Thus, whereas the sacrifice of a heifer is necessary to purge a community of blood guilt in the Hebrew and Quranic tradition,  Smarta Hinduism holds the killing of a cow to be the moral equivalent of killing a Brahmin.
Wendy, however, is not concerned with Soteriology which, if its subject matter is not empty, is more likely than not to display cohomology. Instead, she is interested in...wait for it... magic!
It has taken a true gift for magic—or, if you prefer, religion, particularly the sort of religion in the thrall of politics that has inspired Hindu nationalism from the time of the British Raj to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi today.
So Magic can also be termed 'Religion in the thrall of politics' and it has the power of transforming 'an argument persuading a warrior to engage in battle' into 'a Pacifist Bible.' The  good news is that Narendra Modi possesses this Magic. Is Wendy saying Modi will use this Magic power to turn other Scriptures 'persuading warriors to engage in battle' - including the good folk at ISIL- into Pacifist Bibles?
Has Wendy succumbed to NaMo mania? Is she going to start poring over his speeches seeking for sexual innuendo? Is she going to explain to us that the slogan 'Make in India' means 'Make transgressive gender bending Love in India?' No. At least not immediately. First, seeing as she is a Professor, she has to tell us some stupid lies about Indian history.
The Gita’s philosophy is basically a compendium of the prevalent philosophical theories of the time, a kind of Cliff’s Notes for Indian Philosophy 101.
Wendy says the Gita dates between the 3rd Century BC and the 3rd Century AD. Buddhist, Jain and Ajivika philosophy flourished at that time. Yet the Gita makes no mention of any of them. So it is false to say that it is a compendium or a 'Cliff Notes Indian Philosophy 101'. Lord Krishna only mentions those Philosophical Schools which don't a priori exclude his thesis. As a matter of fact, his way of reconciling Samkhya and Chandogya type uttara mimamsa is pretty darn brilliant. 
Wendy, on the other hand, thinks there are 2 Gitas- one which tells warriors they need to go to war, d'uh, and another, which is philosophical, and which says killing everybody is like so not cool.  
Drawing upon the Upanishads, mystical Sanskrit texts from as early as the fifth century BC, the Gita tells of the immortal, transmigrating soul, and the brahman, or godhead, that pervades the universe and is identical with the individual soul. But the Gita also introduces two strikingly original new ideas that were to have a deep impact on the subsequent history of Hinduism. First, it offers a corrective to the older belief that the transmigrating soul is stained by a force called karma, consisting of the residues of actions committed within the past life and influencing the subsequent life. The Gita qualifies this belief by asserting that action without desire for the fruits of action (nishkama karma) leaves the soul unstained by such karmic residues.
The idea that sin or karmic bondage can be burnt up by a transfer of merit or gift of Grace is present in the most ancient texts. To argue otherwise is foolish.
 Wendy thinks that if I butcher your babies in a dispassionate or absent minded manner then you are obliged to believe that, according to the Gita, I escape any evil consequence. This is not true. Only if I have joined with other genuine Yogis and performed an action required by a divine duty of care, that too in a dispassionate manner, is the 'soul unstained by karmic residue'. Don't forget, Arjuna is just fulfilling God's plan at Kurukshetra. Thus contra Doniger, there is no 'warrior Gita'- what Krishna says to Arjuna can't be said to any warrior facing any war. Krishna himself is known as Ranchod- the one who flees the battlefield. Only that battle must not be fled which it is part of the Divine Plan for you to fight- for weal or woe. This is pure Occassionalism, that too expressed as cogently and comprehensively as by Ghazzali or Liebniz. Since the Gita is authored and intended by an Agent for an Agent, not a Principal for a Principal- unlike the Vyadha Gita- its hermeneutics is empty save for the bhakta, i.e. dependent shown here the path to becoming an Agent.
Wendy goes on to talk shite about how cowherds were low caste- which wasn't and isn't true . Yadavs are 'Educationally Backward' in some parts of India, but they are also ruling dynasts in others. There isn't a low caste Krishna who has sex and a high caste Krishna who talks Philosophy but, even if that were true, the theologians were also poets who celebrated the cowherd in order to make philosophical breakthroughs.
Wendy believes North Indian theologians turned the Gita into the Hindu Bible- with help from the British. As an Iyer, I point the finger at Sankara's Bhaja Govindam but obviously this is a discussion only very very stupid shitheads would want to have. 
Since people like Vivekananda, Gandhi, Tilak, Bhave, Amartya Sen etc thought they were smarter than the average India they quite naturally said and wrote very stupid and worthless things about the Gita because the average Indian, till recently, has been held in contempt by those who wish to lead the country. This is why it is now urgent that Doniger's book on Hinduism be made a compulsory subject of study in Indian Schools and Colleges and places of work. Until Hindus see Hinduism through Doniger's eyes they won't be worthy of contempt and thus the hoary old tradition of gobshites talking down to us will cease to be maintained from the ramparts of Red Fort.

No comments: