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Mahatma Gandhi On Non-Attachment As Path Leading To Emancipation In Bhagavad Gita

Non-attachment as a path leading to emancipation is an important teaching in the Bhagavad Gita and this was greatly elaborated by Mahatma Gandhi. The central teaching of the Bhagavad Gita has been identified by various Hindu philosophers in various ways. Some have emphasized jnana yoga (the path of knowledge), some have stressed upon karma yoga (the path of action) and some others have considered bhakti yoga (the path of devotion) important. Mahatma Gandhi was greatly influenced by the Gita; the teachings of the Gita were a matter of devotion, contemplation and practice for him. He understood the central teaching of the Gita as anasakti, which he interpreted as non-attachment to ego, selfless action, and renunciation of the fruit of action.

In one of his early discourses on the Gita, Gandhiji said, ‘The Gita does not teach the path of action nor knowledge nor of devotion. No matter how well one cultivates vairagya or how diligent one is in performing good actions or what measure of bhakti one practices, one will not shed the sense of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ till one has attained knowledge. One can attain self-realization, only if one sheds this attachment to the Ego.’ (Collected Works, XXXI pp. 106-7).

Gandhiji’s translation of the Gita bore the title Anasaktiyoga. In his introduction to the work, he explained the main teaching of the Gita as reununciation of the fruit of karma (action). This, according to him, is the central sun round which the three planets of bhakti, jnana and karma resolve. Gandhiji explained his non-attachment in terms of desire-less, selfless action and dedicating all activities to God. Anasakti thus becomes the direct means to emancipation, and jnana and bhakti become subservient to it. Right knowledge, according to Gandhiji, is necessary for attaining renunciation; but in order that jnana may not run riot, the Gita has insisted on bhakti accompanying it.

While interpreting the Bhagavad Gita, Gandhiji derived his notion of non-violence from anasakti. According to him, while following the central teaching of the Gita, viz., renunciation of the fruit of karma, one is bound to follow truth and non-violence. Where there is no desire for fruit, there is no temptation for untruth or violence. He, however, held that the main question in the Gita is not violence or non-violence. On the question whether the teaching of the Gita was selfless action or non-violence, her wrote in Harijan, ‘I have no doubt that it is anasakti, selfless action. Indeed, I have called my little translation of the Bhagavad Gita, Anasaktiyoga. And anasakti transcends ahimsa. Ahimsa is therefore a necessary preliminary, it is included in anasakti, it does not go beyond it’. (Collected Works, XVI, p.99).

Before Gandhiji, Balagangadhar Tilak, the author of Gitarahasya, had argued for nishkamakarmayoga (the path of desire-less action) as the central teaching of the Gita. And Gandhi had gone through Tilak’s work before giving his discourses of the Gita. But what distinguishes Gandhi’s interpretation from Tilak’s is the former’s inclusion of truth and non-violence in nishkamakarma. While Tilak regarded desirelessness of karma as the absolute value and gave truth and non-violence the status of relative values, Gandhiji regarded all of them absolute and likened anasakti to a coin of which non-violence and truth are the obverse and reverse sides.