Narach Philosophy

THE PERFORMANCE AND RENUNCIATION OF ACTION: THE METHOD OF INTERPRETATION


When an animal acts, it acts as a whole entity. Animals are said to be of five kinds; but they may be divided into two classes, the invertebrate and vertebrate. There is a reference to cooked and uncooked food; the latter refers to renunciation of action as the goal of life. Action is performed by the whole man, including his intellect, mind, and the senses. The heart is the seat of satisfaction; but in the end all these are united together, and so the body is compared to a chariot. But each faculty has its own share of satisfaction too. We are not able to understand the character of the soul as it is; and so we must think of it in terms of these faculties; and he who uses his intellect gets the largest share of satisfaction.

Those who believe in Nature as the supreme creator of life do not agree that there is joy in action; but such persons deviate from the norm. It is possible to say that there is joy in some parts of action, but not in others. But, as there is unity in action, there must be unity in satisfaction or joy as well. He who urges another to action has also his share of satisfaction, though a small one; and even he who says that he has no satisfaction, has it too. We can understand all this from the text if we understand its language correctly. The words used have two meanings; but there is no contradiction between them. Where the motives are equally balanced, the intellect appears to get no satisfaction in deciding between them; but even in this case there is satisfaction, whatever it may decide. But in ascertaining whether, as a result of this, a person is happy or not, there might well be a difference of opinion. Except for such cases, a wife should always join her husband in action.

It is not easy to describe an action in words; and if we find that a certain expression is unsuitable, we must not suppose that it is meaningless; and we may have to divide it into parts, as in the case of the word sruva. There can be no great action without the association of the great forces of Nature. This, however, does not apply to subsidiary action. In order to understand the meaning of the word ajya, we must divide it into two parts, in the same manner as we divide the expression grha-medhiya.

There are some who believe that all desires should be renounced; but the problem involves a number of considerations; and we cannot agree that both the views, namely, that they should and should not be renounced can be correct. But, if both these views are to be found in the text, we should admit that we have not understood it aright; and if we do so, we shall find that all desires are not regarded as evil.

When we change the form of a word all that is required is that its new meaning should be formed out of the meaning of its parts; but we should fix upon one meaning, such as can appeal to our intellect. Those who are opposed to this method believe that there is no authority for this division. But no authority is necessary, for we commonly divide words into parts to understand their meaning; and this takes us into the secret of this plan of interpretation.

A creature acts as a whole entity: When we say that an animal performs an intelligent act, it is the whole animal that does so, because it is impelled to it. It acts through every part of its body, just as we do when we lay hold of a thing. The idea of the separate functions of the different parts of the body arises out of our own imagination. A person has to perform a number of different functions again and again; and that is the reason why we ascribe these functions to different parts of the body. But when we examine the character of action and consider it in detail, we find that its divisions are like the divisions of clarified butter.

We cannot divide clarified butter or "ghee" into parts, even if we try to do so. The word in the text is ajya which, as we have seen, also refers to goodness, associated with desire. We cannot divide goodness too.

Divisions of animals: Animals are said to be of five kinds; but they have two divisions which should be specially mentioned. There is a class of animals which is without shoulder-blade, skull, back-bone, and thighbone; and when we specify another class of animals, we find that it is altogether different; and it would be meaningless to include the one in the other. In the circumstances we cannot assign any common characteristics to them. But though there is nothing in common between them, there should, nevertheless, be a proper enumeration or specification of them; for if we merely see them, we cannot understand them.

The five kinds of animals are said to be men, horses, cows, goats, and sheep. This corresponds exactly to the modern division of animals into invertebrate and vertebrate.

Cooked and uncooked food: There is a reference to cooked and uncooked food in the sacred books; and we may say, as a general rule, that the idea of uncooked food corresponds to that of renunciation of action as the goal of life. If a person believes that he must not eat cooked food, it means that he believes in the renunciation of action as the goal of his life. He must, in that case, live on the produce of the forest, things that grow without any effort on the part of man; and this, as has already been explained, symbolizes the idea of renunciation of action.

How is an intelligent action performed: When an action is performed as a sacrifice, we say that it has been performed by Agni, understanding the word in its rudimentary sense (that is, as intellect); but its further development takes place by means of the mind, acting in association with the five senses. The word for the mind in the text is tri ("three"), and for the senses sara. We have seen that the former refers to the mind; while the latter is the name of the number five which, as we have seen, refers to the five senses. We can get the same meaning by dividing it into parts, sa, ra when it would mean "(sa) the senses of knowledge, associated with (ra) the senses of action".

The Heart: He, who acts, wants some satisfaction as its result; and so there is a place above the breast (the heart) which, like the mind, makes for the development of action. In the end, however, all these are united into one; and it is because of this that the body is compared to a chariot. This is not contrary to the teachings of the sacred books. Nevertheless, there should be a measure of the satisfaction of each faculty, because we do not always find joy in action. The heart is said to be the seat of pleasure and pain; and so the soul, abiding in it, partakes of it. The heart is said to make for the development of action, and its energy is like that of the mind.

The Upanishad describes the body as a chariot. We can now understand why it is so; a chariot consists of a number of parts, and yet moves as a whole; the body does the same. This should enable us to understand the real idea of "car-warriors" in the Mahabharata. They are persons who have different ideas about the character of the human body. There are some who do not believe that there is any joy in action; and so it is necessary to examine the problem in detail, when we shall find that each faculty of man gets its share of satisfaction in action.

The Soul: But we do not find that entity (the soul) which can assign these shares of satisfaction to the different faculties; and so there has to be a change in the conception of the "enjoyer" of this satisfaction. As for the rest (the other faculties), we know them, and nothing special need be said about them. But he, who uses his intellect, gets the largest share of satisfaction, like the heart itself.

The Upanishads speak of the soul as the enjoyer; and the Gita says so too. The Mimansa tells us that we cannot understand the soul as soul; and so we have to grasp its idea in the light of the other faculties; for instance, it may be identified with the intellect. It is the soul that uses all the faculties, including the intellect; and so the highest satisfaction in action belongs to the soul.

Belief in Nature: Those who believe in Nature as the supreme creator of things, do not accept this pattern of thought (that there is joy in action); and so, though they are intelligent men, they do not find joy in action. But that is possible only if the mind and the senses, which are closely connected with action, deviate from their normal state.

The text refers to Maitra-Varuna; and we have explained that the former refers to the intellect, and the latter to Nature as the supreme creator of things. We have also explained the idea of the combination of the two; and it has been rendered here as an intelligent person who believes in Nature as the supreme creator of things. The Mimansa tells us that no sensible person, in his normal state of mind, can really believe that there is no satisfaction in performing actions.

Two Views: It is possible to say that there are two ideas of satisfaction or joy in action; because there are two kinds of action. But, as there is unity of action, there must be unity of satisfaction too; and it would be contrary to reason to divide it. It may be said that some actions give pleasure, but there are others that give pain; and so we have two kinds of actions.

But the Mimansa tells us that there is satisfaction in the performance of all kinds of action, and we cannot divide satisfaction in this way. The result of an action may be pain; but when a person performed it, he expected to derive some satisfaction out of it. Hence, even those actions the result of which is pain are characterized by satisfaction. We must not mix up the result of action with its performance, for the law of the two is different; and the result may often be unexpected.

Sharers in satisfaction: There are a number of sharers in this satisfaction; for instance, he who urges another to action has his share of satisfaction too, though it is of a limited kind, like the satisfaction derived from the cooking of the marrow of bones. Even he, who says that he gets no satisfaction in action, has also his share; and we see that it is so when we understand the secret of action, and look at it in its entirety.

How to understand this: All this can be understood from the text if we understand the method of interpretation, and alter the common form of words; and it would be unnecessary to repeat the whole thing again. We should remember that the words have two forms, as in the case of Agni; and we cannot get their correct meaning from only one. The additional meaning arises from the fact that it has been given that sense; and (in a number of cases) we can get the explanation of the meaning without dividing words into parts; and there should be no change in the form of a word when the meaning has been defined by special instruction. It will be found in such cases that the words which have this meaning have been newly coined for the purpose. But there is no contradiction between the two meanings of these words, for no such instance is known. Nor can such a contradiction arise through want of understanding, because the two sets of meanings are of equal value, as we can see for ourselves, if we understand them correctly. When we do so we shall find that these words are new; and so all that has been stated in the text is true, and should take place. Agni, as we have seen, has two meanings, fire, and intellect.

There are a number of references in the sacred books to things which are apparently impossible: for instance Hanuman leaping over the ocean, or bringing down a portion of the Himalayas on the palm of his hand. But if we understand the real meaning of Hanuman, the ocean, and the Himalayas, we shall understand that what has been stated in the text is true, and did take place. A number of such events in the Mahabharata have been explained in another place; and those in the Ramayana and the Bhagavat Purana would be explained in due course.

Satisfaction of the Intellect: Where the motives of an action are equally balanced, the intellect appears to get no satisfaction in deciding which to prefer. But it should not be so; because we find from experience that whatever the intellect may decide, there is some satisfaction in it; and so that cancels the statement previously made. But in ascertaining whether, as a result of this, a person is really happy or not, there might well be a doubt or a difference of opinion. Except for such cases, the wife should always join her husband in acts of sacrifice (good and intelligent actions), and any prohibition against her doing so would be meaningless.

The previous statement in Sutra (35) that the intellect gets no satisfaction in certain cases, is cancelled by the following one. The Mimansa distinguishes between satisfaction obtained when an action is performed, and its result. The result of an action may be pain or unhappiness; but when a person engages in action, he gets some satisfaction out of it at the time; and this cannot be disputed.

Need of repetition: It is not easy to describe an action in words; and so it is necessary to repeat its idea by way of explanation. If in the text a certain expression is not suitable, or does not make sense, what follows should be equally unsuitable too. But if we are able to get the correct meaning of the latter, such is the language of the text we find that we can overcome the difficulty of understanding the earlier part. But if we hastily come to the conclusion that the whole thing is meaningless, we cannot make any point or advance any further. Again, if we make a violent "assault" on the language of the text to "grasp" it, we shall not succeed. This is found to be true of the Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Bhagavat Purana; and so it may be said to be true of all sacred books.

An Illustration: If, for instance, we take the meaning of the word sruva (as a "ladle") and do not divide it into parts, the result will be that it will not make any sense. Even if we do not disallow its meaning (as a "ladle"), we shall find that we have to do so, because there is a direction to that effect in the text. If we divide the word sruva into parts, s, r, u, va the meaning would be "(s) the mind, associated with (r) the senses of action, and (u) the senses of knowledge, and (va) objects of Nature".

Nature and Action: If the great forces of Nature have no share in it, no great action undertaken by anyone can materialize. This, however, does not apply to subsidiary action, which can take place without reference to them. The word in the text is Devata which, as has already been explained, refers to the great forces of Nature.

Meaning of Ajya: In order to understand the meaning of the word ajya, we should so arrange as to divide it into two parts and no more (when we shall understand that it refers to the idea of goodness in desire). But because we are told in one place that all desires should be renounced, it does not mean that that should be regarded as a rule. Hence it is necessary always to have an explanatory repetition to indicate what exactly is meant. It is thus necessary to have a constant explanatory repetition of the word ajya and to understand how to divide it, we should do as in the case of the expression grha-medhiya, which too requires an explanatory repetition.

Those who oppose this view (regarding desire) find their authority (or fixed rule) in one set of sacred books, according to which what they understand is said to be of excellent meaning, and based on the character of what the senses perceive. We have already explained that we have to reduce the word ajya first of all to aja, from which it is derived, and then divide aja into a, ja, when we can get its correct meaning as signifying goodness, which is inherent in all desire.

Ajya means goodness associated with desire; and so it is a kind of desire which should not be renounced. In order to understand this clearly, there should be an explanatory repetition of the idea, so that there should be no ambiguity. We have to divide the expression grha-medhiya into two parts, grha and medhiya in order to understand its meaning. The Mimansa tells us that the word ajya has to be divided into two parts in a similar manner. That is possible only if we reduce it to aja, and then divide it into a, ja; and this has already been explained. "Grha-medhiya" means "relating to domestic sacrifice".

A number of questions: In this connection a number of questions arise. Can we accept the idea of desire from both sets of sacred books? Is it not true, at least in the light of the evidence of the senses, that all desires should be renounced? Is it possible to understand anything that is opposed to the evidence of the senses? And so on. But will not the sacred books be rendered useless, if that were so? The idea of these Sutras is that although we find in some sacred books that all desires should be renounced, we really cannot do so; and since these books contain nothing that is incongruous, we must take it that we have not properly understood them. This is made clearer in the following Sutras. We can renounce all desires only when we die.

An answer: The answer to these questions is that, if the text is full of meaning and we have understood it, we cannot agree that both views are correct in the same place (namely, that all desires should be renounced, as well as that they should not). But since all parts of the text are full of meaning, we must admit that we have not understood them properly. It would not be correct to say that the other view (regarding desire, namely, that it is not an evil) should be regarded as secondary, because the text would, in that case, become meaningless; and were it really so, we should not be able to change the meaning by changing the form of words; whereas we find that if we do make a change, we get a different meaning (which makes sense). This is not mere hearsay, because it is not based on any oral authority in respect of the rudimentary form of words (and we can test it for ourselves). The point of these Sutras is that, if it be correct that we should renounce all desires, as some sacred books are believed to say, we should not be able to get a different meaning when we divide words into parts. This is not mere hearsay, and we can test it for ourselves. This discussion is continued.

Method of interpretation: When the form of a word is changed, it does not become subject to any restrictions. The main condition, however, is that when we interpret it in this manner, its meaning should arise from the meaning of its parts, as in the case of the word prshad-ajya. In this way both meanings (the common one and that obtained by means of division into parts) arise from a fixed rule; and the rule regarding the meanings of parts is also fixed in the same manner. But we should fix upon a single meaning which, by virtue of its excellence, appeals to our intellect. When, however, the idea of the text appears to be self-contradictory, we should seek some other meaning, as is the common practice of the people and then we shall find that the plan of the text is that we should get the correct meaning by means of the division of words into parts.

Prshad-ajya means "curdled butter or ghee mixed with coagulated milk"; and we get this meaning from its parts, prshad and ajya. If this is permitted, there can be no objection to our extending the same principle and getting the meaning of a word by dividing it further into its syllables and letters; for the authority in both cases is the same. This is what the Mimansa tells us.

All meanings are fixed by means of the application of the rules of grammar. The syllables and letters composing a word have their fixed meanings too, like all other words; and we have to follow a good dictionary. We are, however, required to fix upon one meaning, which we regard as most suitable. But a letter or syllable may have a number of meanings; and we are not bound to give the same meaning to the same part every time and everywhere. This method of interpretation gives us certain latitude to fix meanings according to the requirements of each case; only we must not invent our own meaning. It may be of interest to observe that this is exactly what has been done in The Mystery of the Mahabharata; the meanings of letters and syllables are, as a rule, the same throughout; but a certain variation has been allowed.

An objection and its answer: Those who oppose this method of interpretation have a doubt about it on the ground that there is no authority for these sounds (or parts of words) in the sacred text. But if we take the expression prshadajya as a whole word, we yet have to divide it into parts in order to understand it. It may be a clever thing to do, but it does not fit into the fixed rule (if there is one, that we should not divide words into parts, to understand their meaning). And this takes us into the secret of this plan of interpretation; for if it is appropriate to divide this word into parts, it is equally appropriate to divide other words too, especially when we get an idea of different actions in this way. It is not necessary that everyone should have heard about this method; for the main point is that it should be based on a uniformity of rules.

This, as the Mimansa tells us, is our authority for dividing words into parts, and no other authority is required. If we can divide the word prshad-ajya into two parts to get its meaning, we can also further divide it or any other word into its component syllables or letters or both. The test in each case is the meaning we are able to obtain. This is the secret of this method of interpretation.