Here is perhaps the strongest argument presented for Not Recycling the holy paperbacks of all traditions:
“Sanskrit literature is a great literature. We have the great songs of the Vedas, the splendour of the Upanishads, the glory of the Bhagavad Gita, the vastness of the Mahabharata, the tenderness and heroism found in the Ramayana, the wisdom of the fables and stories of India, the scientific philosophy of the Sankhya, the psychological philosophy of Yoga, the poetical philosophy of Vedanta, the laws of Manu, the grammar of Panini and other scientific writings, the lyrical poetry and drama culminating in the great poetry and dramas of Kalidasa. . . . Sanskrit literature is, on the whole, a romantic literature interwoven with idealism and practical wisdom, and with a passionate longing for spiritual vision.” (Juan Mascaro, Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita, Penguin Classics, 1962)
It would be difficult to challenge all of what Mascaro presents here as the great and valuable contribution of Indian literature. This is why, for literature sake (and freethought and free speech), books should not be destroyed. I have a high regard for literature and its inestimable value for human culture.
Herein lies the problem that necessitates the recycling process for all world “sacred scripture.” If these books were simply understood and studied as historical documents, as literary works, as culturally significant relics of past attempts at geographically and tribally specific records of meaning, then by all means, preserve and teach and promote them. But, sadly, this is not the case. As Mascaro himself explains in the lines following his glowing summary of the glorious gift of Sanskrit libraries, “There are, however, two great branches of literature not found in Sanskrit. There is no history and there is no tragedy: there is no Herodotus or Thucydides; and there is no Aeschylus or Sophocles or Euripides.” Be that as it may, and I think one could argue there is tragedy and there is at least mystically understood “history” in ancient Indian texts, it seems prudent for contemporary minds to relegate the relics of the past to museums and libraries where they can be understood in the context of literature, effectively removing them from the hands and the schemes of those who would utilize them to propagate a supernaturally specific bias for their own tribal (religious) ends. In other words, more bluntly stated, the books have been falsely and deceptively presented as “holy,” and set apart from earthly existence, set apart from all other literature because they are “from God” and therefore demand devotion and call for conversion, commitment and creedal prostration. As Mascaro himself says, this literature is “romantic” and has elements of both idealism and “practical wisdom.” If this was merely about pragmatic application of wisdom I think we could shut down the shredder and recycler and go home. But, once again, sadly, it is not. What is the “practical wisdom” presented to human culture and society, to the human mind, in sacred scripture? Does this mean the practice of devotion, in other words, ritual and acquiescence to authority figures including priests, gurus, imams, ministers and rabbis? Surely this is the meaning. Does this mean the practice of a “wisdom” described by Paul of Tarsus as “not worldly” but “from God?” Of course. And, finally (for now), does the claim to “practical wisdom,” as inextricably interwoven with idealism as it is, leave us with anything more than a supra-cosmic agenda for how one community of believers (the True Believers) should conduct themselves in order to please a overseeing deity or deities demanding such oblations and obligations including a central worship of holy books? I think not. I think this is precisely what we are left with in these Books Above All Books, Literature Above All Literature, Words Above All Words. . .the sacred texts of a “sacred history” that is, and could never be, a history to learn from and live wisely out of, if the human family is ever to find common principles to unify its ideals and be devoted to wider community and cultural progress and evolution.
And therefore we proceed to bring the Gita (The Song, that is, of the Lord) to the recycling room and prepare the paper for its new avatar as mulch and compost for the earth.
Chapter One: “On the field of Truth, on the battlefield of life. . .” So begins the holy Hindu book. Warriors of the same family, lined up to do what warriors do: make war. And, tragically, as in all wars really, it is brother against brother. The roll of heroes, drum rolls, chariots roll. Enter Arjuna, who picks up his bow as the great battle is about to begin. Before he fires, he prays. “Krishna, YOU drive my chariot,” he asks (God in the driver’s seat). So, Krishna steers the horses out to the middle of the battlefield, between the armies, where Arjuna can clearly see who was about to kill each other: “Arjuna saw in both armies fathers, grandfathers, sons, grandsons; fathers of wives, uncles, masters; brothers, companions and friends.” The warrior is shocked. “When Arjuna thus saw his kinsmen face to face in both lines of battle, he was overcome by grief and despair.” He speaks to his divine chariot driver: I can’t do this! I have no more energy. I can’t hold the bow anymore. My mind is spinning. There’s no glory in this. The people, the community, the kingdom, the nation, the world we’re fighting for is right here! I can’t kill my own relatives! Arjuna drops his bow and arrows, sinks down in the chariot and grieves.
A compelling story! A powerful anti-war anthem—unusual for any sacred scripture—opens the tale on the “field of Truth.” Surely, Krishna (God) will now commend Arjuna for his sense of compassionate sympathy and expansive perspective of what is really going on.
Chapter Two: Krishna does no such thing! To paraphrase an irritated god: Stop your whining Arjuna! Get up and act like a Man and a Warrior! Arjuna moans that he can’t imagine killing his own family and even his sacred teachers. He begs for light (understanding). His driver goes on: These aren’t words of wisdom; the Spirit wanders from body to body forever and cannot be destroyed, so get out there and fight—for God’s sake! Everything dies and is born again, and again, and again. “Prepare for war with peace in your soul.” (there’s a line to remember).
In the midst of this, a morsel of timeless wisdom: “As is the use of a well of water where water everywhere overflows, such is the use of all the Vedas [holy scriptures] to the seer of the Supreme [Truth; the Divine].” (verse 46). Followed by these incredible words: “When your mind leaves behind its dark forest of delusion, you shall go beyond the scriptures of times past and still to come.” (verse 52).
Great! Krishna reads and supports The Natural Bible blog! Good to hear! Let all the holy books go and seek the Truth. Amen to that.
Arjuna is confused (of course). How can someone find that peace and wisdom beyond the religious teachings?
Krishna responds: Let go of your passions, your desires, your fear, your anger, your pleasure. Move beyond the “restless violence of the senses.” You can find peace, and nirvana, in the Eternal, Brahman.
Chapter Three: Krishna explains the Path (Yoga)—the path of wisdom, and the path of action. “All are driven to action by forces born of Nature.” The point is to Do What You Must Do (your duty), and don’t worry about the rest. . .that’s being handled.
Chapter three ends with a curious progression: Krishna instructs Arjuna that the power of the sense is great, but the Mind is greater than the senses, Reason is greater than the Mind, and the Spirit is greater than Reason. “Know [The One] who is above reason; and let his peace give you peace. Be a warrior and kill desire, the powerful enemy of the soul.”
Chapter Four: Krishna explains how he never dies and is always being born, just like Arjuna and everything. “Wisdom is in truth the end of all holy work.” Believe and have no doubts. Use the sword of wisdom to kill the doubt that comes from ignorance. Arise and be a warrior against doubt/ignorance!
Chapter Five: What is holy work? “The work of Nature rolls on.” The goal of work: to become one with god.
Chapter Six: Surrender your earthly will. When one becomes one with god, their mind is in harmony. . .”Then their soul is a lamp whose light is steady, for it burns in a shelter where no winds come.” (verse 19–I’ve always liked that line). The Yogi (wise one on the path) is in union with god and sees him/herself in the heart of others and the heart of others within. The wise ones feel the pleasure and pain of others. The greatest Yogi is jammed full of faith and love for Krishna.
Chapter Seven: “I will speak to thee of that wisdom and vision which, when known, there is nothing else for thee to know.” A critical line! God has visible forms—all of Nature—but beyond Nature is the Spirit, the I Am, the essence of All.
Chapter Eight: Arjuna has some questions!
Chapter Nine: The revealing of Supreme Mystery!
Chapter Ten: The I AM.
Chapter Eleven: The famous Revelation of Krishna to Arjuna. “I see in Thee all the Gods!” “When I see thy gentle human face, Krishna, I return to my own nature, and my heart has peace.” (verse 51).
Chapter Twelve: Faith, worship, love, surrender, peace. A progression.
Chapter Thirteen: The body is the field, and the knower of the field–these are One. Wisdom sees the field and the knower. To “go to the Supreme” is to see that the spirit is liberated from matter.
Chapter Fourteen: Light, Fire and Darkness are the three parts of Nature. The person of vision sees beyond Nature to “That” (the divine).
Chapter Fifteen: The tree of Transmigration (of soul). God pervades all and sustains all.
Chapter Sixteen: Freedoms and sins; heaven and hell; the darkness of delusion. “Let the scriptures be your authority. . .know the words of the scriptures.” (A possible later addition?)
Chapter Seventeen: Arjuna asks about scriptures and faith. “Humanity is made of faith.” There is good sacrifice (ritual, faithfulness) and bad sacrifice. “When a gift is given expecting something in return, or for the sake of a future reward, the gift is impure.” The point is Brahman.
Chapter Eighteen: Surrender and renunciation. Renounce the reward of good works. Be free of selfishness and slavery to passions. “A person attains perfection when their work is worship of God, from whom all things come and who is in all.” (verse 46).
How to reach Brahman (Light)—verses 50 ff.
Fight the battle of life (to show your love for God). “Give your mind to me, and give me your heart, and your sacrifice, and your adoration. . .leave all things behind. . .fear no more.” (verses 65-66).
Arjuna speaks: “Gone is my delusion.” “Thy will be done.” (!)
The Gita ends with the narrator (Sanjaya) claiming that he heard this exchange between the warrior and the charioteer and proclaiming his joy and his faith.
We never hear what happens on the battlefield. Did the two armies kill each other? Did Arjuna miss the fighting because he was having a chat with god? Or did the women folk arrive with the children and everyone dropped their weapons for a big feast?