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Gita Rahasya: The Spiritual Heritage of Lokamanya Tilak

Bhagvad Gita within the scope of its 700 shlokas (verses) gives us the quintessence of Vedanta. While speaking about the Gita, Swamy Vivekananda says, “The Gita is a bouquet composed of the beautiful flowers of Spiritual Truth collected from Upanishads”. Further, that the essence of the Vedanta i.e. of Upanishads which lies in 18 chapters of Gita, expounds us three Yogas viz. Jnana, Karma and Bhakti Yoga – and that is the esoteric import of the Gita. It is the ultimate truth that in observance thereof one can attain Moksha. It is true that Lokamanya Tilak has advocated KarmaYoga in his prestigious book ‘Gita Rahasya’. Even the title of the book- ‘ShrimadbhagavadGita Rahasya or KarmaYoga Shastra’ reveals so. However, upon going through the book by applying our mind, we will come to know that Lokamanya Tilak has expounded that the mere observance of KarmaYoga alone is not enough for the perpetual welfare but it is to be observed along with the Jnana Yoga. Keeping this in mind, the very purpose of writing this article is to show how the spiritual views of Lokamanya Tilak are reflected in his book- Gita Rahasya. For achieving this task as a basic foundation, the Preface, Chapter I, and Chapter IX of Gita Rahasya are taken into consideration. Before moving forward with it, I would like to start by quoting the summary of Lokamanya Tilak’s speech on BhagavadGita as under, which is indeed relevant to the subject intended for writing this article-

“I had no reason to twist the text to suit my theory. The conclusion I have come to is that the Gita advocates the performance of action in this world even after the actor has achieved the highest union with the supreme Deity by Jnana (knowledge) or Bhakti (Devotion). This action must be done to keep the world going on by the right path of evolution which the creator has destined the world to follow. In order that the action may not bind the actor, it must be done with the aim of helping His purpose and without any Attachment to the coming results. This, I hold is a lesson of the Gita. JnanaYoga and Bhakti Yoga that are taught in Gita are both subservient to the KarmaYoga preached in Gita. If the Gita was preached to desponding Arjuna to make him ready for the fight-for the action, how can it be said that the ultimate lesson of the great Book is Bhakti or Jnana alone? In fact, there is a blending of all these Yogas in the Gita and as the air is not oxygen or hydrogen or any other gas alone, but a composition of all these in a certain proportion. Similarly, in the Gita all these Yogas are blended into one. I differ from almost all the commentators when I say that the Gita enjoins Action even after the perfection in Jnana and Bhakti is attained and the Deity reached through these mediums.”

In his speech on Gita Rahasya quoted as above, Lokamanya Tilak says that “In the Gita all Yogas are blended into one”. In this respect, the word ‘one’ used by him in his speech is very significant. (Not only this, but each and every word that has been contained in his book-Gita Rahasya is vitally important). The deep meaning behind the word ‘one’ is that, if we drop any one of those three Yogas, the highest goal kept before us by Adhyatma is not attainable. I would like to explain this differently, e.g., Dharma, Artha and Kaama are such Purusharthas, which are interlinked with each other. If we drop any one of them, the fourth Purushartha-Moksha is not attainable. So also the case of Jnana, Karma and Bhakti Yoga. So on one hand, Lokamanya Tilak says that the Gita advocates KarmaYoga (as is quoted in Para two above) and on the other he says that in Gita, all Yogas are blended into one. So then, the dilemma arises as to which one of them is to be followed? Of course, the blended one as is advocated by Lokamanya is to be observed because while drawing the final conclusion of Gita Rahasya, he has strongly expounded that the blending of three Yogas forms only one Yoga named as Jnana-Karma-Bhakti-Yoga.

Thus even if in the opinion of Lokamanya, Gita advocates KarmaYoga, it is obviously seen that as per him, it is to be observed along with the JnanaYoga. And going by that way means- performing action by following Spirituality. The illustration given by Lokamanya in para two above explains us clearly as to what does it mean by blended Yoga and thus there remains no doubt about its observance.

In the preface of Gita Rahasya while explaining as to how KarmaYoga is founded on knowledge and why there is a necessity for acquiring knowledge, he writes –

” ….. I too have shown in this book that according to the philosophy of the Gita, it is the primary duty of every human being in this world, to acquire the knowledge of the pure form of the Parameshwara, and thereby to cleanse out and purify his own Reason as far as possible… And I am of opinion that in order to clear this doubt (here ‘this doubt’ to be meant as the dilemma in the mind of Arjuna about whether to fight the war or not?), the Gita has propounded the device of performing Action in such a way that one ultimately attains Release without committing sin, namely, the KarmaYoga founded on knowledge, in which Devotion is the principal factor, after it had fully expounded the philosophy of Action and Non-Action, and also the various paths of attaining Release according to pure Vedanta Philosophy”. These comments are so self-explanatory, that they give us a true insight of the spiritual views of Lokamanya Tilak.

Lokamanya Tilak’s Gita Rahasya expounds us the Hindu Philosophy of Life, Ethics and Religion and hence let us see how he has explained us scholarly the connectivity and relativity between Karma and Jnana based upon the eternal or perpetual principles that are laid down in Gita. According to his say (quoted in gist and that too in brief), “the ‘Jnana’ contains the three major and very vitally important things viz- 1)Shudhabuddhi, 2)Shudhavasana and 3)Shudhaacharan (Pure Conduct). A man who takes those three things fully into the mind becomes inwardly and outwardly pure. He becomes true devotee of the Atman, and he alone attains Release”. This obviously makes us clear as to how Lokamanya Tilak, while advocating KarmaYoga, had also kept a spiritual view behind it. As all actions ought to be performed by knowledge i.e., by following JnanaYoga; the Bhakti (Devotion) has also a relevance to Knowledge (Jnana). For this, I would like to submit Lokamanya Tilak’s comments on following verse (shloka) from Gita.

सर्वधर्मान्परित्यज्य मामेकं शरणं व्रज।
अहं त्वां सर्वपापेभ्यो मोक्षयिष्यामि मा शुच: ॥६६॥
(श्रीमद्भगवद्गीता अ. १८)

(sarvadharmānparityajya māmekaṃ śaraṇaṃ vraja।
ahaṃ tvāṃ sarvapāpebhyo mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śuca: ॥66॥
(śrīmadbhagavadgītā a. 18)

The plain meaning of the above verse is:

Bhagwan Shrikrishna says “Give up all Dharmas (while translating the Sanskrit word ‘धर्म’ into English, some use ‘Religion’ in place of Dharma; but I strongly feel that this translation is erroneous and does not convey the correct meaning. Hence the word Dharma I have used here is the most appropriate one) and surrender to me alone; I will redeem you from all sins; do not be afraid.” Now let us see Lokamanya Tilak’s comments on this in two parts. The first of this is:

“It is true that the Gita accepts the Nirguna Brahma (Absolute Self) and also propounds the doctrine that it is the highest form of the Parameshwara (Gita 7.24). Yet , it is also the doctrine of the Gita that the worship of the Perceptible form of Absolute matter (VyaktaRoop) is easy and of highest level form (Gita 12.5), and as Parameshwara is referring His own Perceptible Form, it is my firm opinion that this summing up supports the path of Devotion”. (This is from the Part of the Book in which the Chapter-wise Verses of Gita, the Marathi translation thereof along with the meaning, the comments and the Notes are given).

Part Two of the Bhashya:

Chapter XIII of the Gita Rahasya explains us the Bhaktimarga. Lokamanya has quoted this verse below the title of the Chapter XIII, i.e. at the very beginning of the said chapter. This helps the reader to know at a glance as to how that path, i.e. the Bhaktimarga is of immense importance for attaining the Release. The part Two of the Bhashya reads as:

“The sweetness, affectionateness, and charm, which permeates the Gita is due to its having propounded the Path of Devotion. Here Bhagwan Shrikrishna, the incarnation of Parameshwara is expounding in Gita and that too not preaching the barren knowledge but of eternal truth to Arjuna that “Everything is invested in ME”(7.7); “all this is MY MAYA”(7.14); “there is nothing which is different from ME” (7.7); “to ME friends and enemies are alike”(9.29); “I have created this Universe” (9.4); and “ultimately, I am the root of the Brahman/Brahma and of Release”(14.27) or “I am the Purushottama” (15.18). On this account, the hearer gets the feeling that he is actually standing before a living, equal-visioned, extremely affectionate, and most reverential Purushottama; and his Nishtha becomes fired on the knowledge of the Atman. But this is not all, for instead of dividing the chapters severally between Jnana on the one hand, and Devotion on the other; Jnana is amalgamated with Devotion and Devotion is amalgamated with Jnana, so that there is no mutual conflict between Knowledge and Devotion or between intelligence and love; and one experiences the sweetness of the knowledge of the Parameshwara while at the same time acquiring that knowledge and the feeling of self-identification with all living beings being aroused in the mind, it acquires the most wonderful peace and the bliss of content. “Thus, Lokamanya Tilak clearly establishes that the Devotion (Bhakti) is included in the Jnana (Knowledge). The point of amalgamation of Bhakti and Jnana is also seen to have been explained by him by giving the illustration of Sant TukaramMaharaj’s Abhang. It reads as under –

‘गोडपणे जैसा गूळ। तैसा देव झाला सकळ।
आता भजो कोणेपरी। देव सबाह्यअंतरी ॥’
संत तुकाराम गाथा ३६२७

(‘goḍapaṇe jaisā gūḻa। taisā deva jhālā sakaḻa।
ātā bhajo koṇeparī। deva sabāhyaaṃtarī ॥
SantTukaram Gatha 3627)

Meaning: “As the jaggery is sweet or as the sweetness of the jaggery is fully filled in every part of it, so the Parameshwara is filled inside and outside of me; then to whom shall Iworship ?”

While quoting the above Abhang as an illustration, Lokamanya describes the greatness of Sant Tukaram Maharaj by saying, “jayachi vade nitya Vedantwani”; and further commented that “through that sweet illustration, Tukaram Maharaj has described his self-experience. The meaning behind this saying is that though the ‘Parabrahman’ is imperceptible to the organs and unrealisable by the mind, yet it is ‘Swanubhavagamya’ that is, it can be realised by every man by his self-experience. So also once a man has realised the identity of the Brahman and the Atman, everything becomes merged in the Brahman”. Such philosophical comments can come only from a person who is inwardly and outwardly Adhyatmik.

At the beginning of Chapter I – Introductory – Vishayapravesh of Gita Rahasya, Lokamanya Tilak writes – ‘Shrimadbhagavad Gita is one of the most brilliant pure Gem of our ancient sacred books/scriptures. The gist of the greatness of Gita as is stated by him therein is “Gita teaches us how to attain the Release by adhering to JnanaYoga, KarmaYoga and BhaktiYoga. This has been explained in most unambiguous and succinct manner. It simplifies to every reader, young or old, the numerous abstruse doctrines of self-knowledge in inspired language and is replete with the sweetness of Devotion plus Self-realization”. In Gita Rahasya, Lokamanya Tilak has postulated a Philosophy of Energism (KarmaYoga Shastra) and advocated in it that Jnana-Karma-Bhakti Yoga is the esoteric import of the Gita. As regards the mode of narrating this in Gita Rahasya, he says in Preface “Unless the scientific principles of Vedanta, Mimansa, Sankhya, KarmaVipak or Bhakti on which the KarmaYoga has been rendered in Gita, are adequately acquainted with in advance, it is not possible for one to understand the soul of the philosophy that is discussed or told in Gita. I have, therefore, scientifically divided all the various subjects or doctrines, which one comes across in the Gita, into chapters, and briefly expounded them, together with the most important logical arguments relating to them. And I have, at the same time, consistently with the critical methods of the present day compared in brief and as occasion arose, the most important doctrines propounded in the Gita, with the doctrines propounded in other religions and philosophies”. Keeping this before us and in pursuance of the summary of speech that has been stated in para two above, Lokamanya Tilak’s Book-Gita Rahasya is a commentary (Bhashya) on ShrimadbhagavadGita and not a criticism (Tika). Incidentally it also proves that since Lokamanya Tilak was an ‘AdhikariPurush’ and an ‘Adhyatmik one’, he authoritatively commented on ShrimadbhagavadGita.

As is said in Gita Rahasya, it is true that the two words viz. ‘Commentary (Bhashya)’ and ‘Criticism (Tika)’ are generally used as being synonymous. But Lokamanya makes it clear that “ordinarily ‘Tika’ means explaining the plain meaning of the original work and making the understanding of the words in it easy; but the writer of the ‘Bhashya’ does not remain satisfied with that. He critically and logically examines the entire work and explains what its purport is according to his opinion and how that work has to be interpreted consistently with that purport”. We know that AdiShankaracharya’s comments on Gita are of the Renunciation (Nivruttipara) nature, whereas Lokamanya Tilak’s comments on Gita are of Pravruttipar (Karmavad)/ Energism nature. He developed and advocated this theory independently because Lokamanya Tilak was a spiritual and intellectual personality. After AdiShankaracharya’s Bhashya on Gita, the most remembered commentary/Bhashya on Gita is of Lokamanya Tilak’s Gita Rahasya only. For explaining the doctrines of the Gita, especially of the KarmaYoga, the chapters of various subjects that are arranged by Lokamanya in ‘Gita Rahasya’ are seen to have been arranged most intellectually, logically and by giving the deep thought therefor. It is a very unique and wonderful style of commentary. Lokamanya could do that only because he was in possession of four Sadhanas in true sense viz. Viveka, Vairagya, Shadshampat and Mumukshutva as is told in Adhyatmashastra. Moreover, the knowledge he gained was inclusive of Shudhabuddhi (Pure Discerning Reason), Shudhavasana (Pure Desiring Reason) and Shudhaacharan (Pure Conduct) as is told in Adhyatmashastra.

As regards his Shudhaacharan, I would like to quote one incident that I heard. Once a woman came to Lokamanya’s office seeking legal advice on a certain issue. On hearing her case carefully and after obtaining the required information about her case, he asked her to come back after one month. When she was gone Mr. Kelkar who was already present there,
asked Lokamanya “Balwantrao! When that lady would come after one month, how can you recognise her? You have not even seen her face”. On that, Lokamanya replied, “I will recognise her from her voice.” Such was Lokamanya Tilak’s pure conduct (Shudhaacharan).

The chapter number IX of Gita Rahasya speaks in detail about the Philosophy of the Absolute Self, i.e. about Adhyatmashastra. Prakruti (Matter), Purush (Spirit) and Parameshwara (Absolute Ishwara) are respectively called Jagat (Cosmos), Jeeva and Parabrahman in the Metaphysics (Adhyatmashastra). The main object of the Vedanta Shastra is to determine the exact nature of, and the mutual relationship between these three substances; and one finds this subject matter discussed everywhere in the Upanishads. Lokamanya Tilak has discussed Jagat, Jeeva and Parabrahman in detail and explained the Metaphysics of it with profound references. On seeing the below mentioned details of the large number of references quoted in Chapter IX, instead of saying that he had a deep knowledge, it would be better to say that he was deeply absorbed in Adhyatmashastra. Thus, his identity as a Spiritual and intellectual giant is perfectly meaningful.


  1. BhagvadGita (106)
  2. Patanjala Sutras (39).
  3. Mahabharata (31).
  4. Bruhadaranyaka Upanishad (31)
  5. Rugveda (30) plus NasadiyaSukta
  6. TaittiriyaUpanishad(29).
  7. Vedanta Sutras (21)
  8. ChhandogyaUpanishad(24)
  9. MundakaUpanishad(10)
  10. Katha Upanishad(8)
  11. KenaUpanishad(9)
  12. MandukyaUpanishad(5)
  13. ShwetashwataraUpanishad(3)
  14. Kumara Sambhava (1)
  15. AaitareyaUpanishad(1)
  16. KausheetakiUpanishad(3)
  17. MaitreyaUpanishad(2)
  18. Manusmriti (1)
  19. TukaramMaharaj (2)
  20. Jñāneshwari (2)
  21. Shiv Gita (2)
  22. Atharva Veda (1)
  23. English translation of Gita Rahasya by B.S.Sukhthankar

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