The timeless philosophy of the Gita and the oneness with the divine through Yoga, will lead us into the next phase of human evolution.
Born in 1956 at Honfleur (France) into a Jewish family recently emigrated from Morocco, from the age of fifteen Michel Danino was drawn to India, some of her great yogis, and soon to Sri Aurobindo and Mother and their view of evolution which gives a new meaning to our existence on this earth. In 1977, dissatisfied after four years of higher scientific studies, he left France for India, where he has since been living. A writer of numerous books including the bestseller, The Lost River: On The Trail of the Sarasvati, he is currently a member of ICHR and a visiting professor at IIT Gandhinagar. The Government of India awarded him the Padmashri (India's fourth highest civilian award) for his contribution towards Literature & Education.
The Gita has been one of the strongest pillars of India’s inner temple. It has offered a broad and deep synthesis of the various paths to Reality that ancient Rishis and yogis pursued one-pointedly and with such consummate mastery. No other scripture has gathered in so concise a text the combined essence of Upanishadic Vedanta, of Sankhya, and of Jñana, Bhakti and Karma yogas. This foundation is what enabled the Gita to boldly tackle the perennial challenges of life, and Hindu tradition has produced perhaps no better guide for those who seek to actually live something of that Divine Reality sung by the Upanishads, and live it in the middle of this world’s painful, absurd welter, those who aspire to make sense of their action great or small and who need to know in what spirit, in what light they should act, since, whether we like it or not, we are all condemned to act from the cradle to the grave : “None stands even for a moment not doing work,” says the Gita (3.49).
This central preoccupation of the Gita with action is what gives it a special value in today’s world, where life has reached such a feverish pitch that it rather looks like some unreal effervescence, an unpleasant dream on the surface of things. Others have expounded on the many practical applications of the great Scripture’s teaching in this world we call modern (and let us not forget that the world of the Mahabharata era was just as “modern” to a Sri Krishna or an Arjuna). Here, I would like to focus briefly on the main ingredients of the yoga of the Gita — or, to use a more down-to-earth language, on what the divine Teacher asks us to do with our human substance. But also, drawing inspiration from Sri Aurobindo, I will ask if today, a few thousand years after the Lord’s Song was first uttered, we need something more to face the battle of life.
The Yoga of the Gita
The Gita’s method is systematic. Sri Krishna’s first response to Arjuna’s virtuous recoil from the war is to lay the foundation for true action : “The yoga of works is above the renunciation of works,” he says (5.2), and asserts almost in a tone of reproach, “The Yogi is greater than the ascetic” (6.46). There is thus in the Gita no fear of the world, and it preaches renunciation, not of action, but of ego and of attachment to the fruits of action : that is the famous nishkama karma, a sublime and, let us admit, a demanding precept.
Then comes the equally famous statement, “Yoga is skill in works” (2.50), which has perhaps led to the popular view that the Gita is a “gospel of action” — but it is not egoistic action or sterile restlessness, it is action done in yoga, in full knowledge of and surrender to the divine Will : “Knowledge is that in which all this action culminates.... The fire of knowledge turns all works to ashes” (4.33 & 4.37). And yet above knowledge, we find true Bhakti : “The Yogi is greater than the men of knowledge, greater than the men of works.... Of all Yogis he who with all his inner self given up to me, for me has love and faith, him I hold to be the most united with me in Yoga” (6.46-47).*
Sri Aurobindo summarizes the Gita’s practical teaching in these words :
An inner renunciation of personal desire leads to equality, accomplishes our total surrender to the Divine, supports a delivery from dividing ego which brings us oneness. But this must be a oneness in dynamic force and not only in static peace or inactive beatitude. The Gita promises us freedom for the spirit even in the midst of works and the full energies of Nature, if we accept subjection of our whole being to that which is higher than the separating and limiting ego.
Such is the siddhi, the perfection which the Gita sets before the evolved human being. Today, of course, this sort of language is no longer in fashion and, instead, we hear concepts of “personality development” and are asked to become “achievers.” But in the ancient Indian view, there is no better “personality development” than doing away with personality altogether by surrendering it to the Divine Personality which is all, but to which we are blind in our separate little shells. The Gita believes in breaking our petty human limits and weaknesses, not in embellishing them, an approach to our perfect fulfilment which remains far ahead of anything two centuries of Western psychology have been able to offer to an increasingly diseased humanity.
In that sense too, the Gita ought to form part of the studies of any child born on this land where it was first sung, as it would be a most effective and practical tool to open the child’s horizons and strengthen his or her mind and soul. But as it would seem, education in India has been busy numbing the minds and souls of students and churning out lifeless machines rather than human beings in full possession of their own wealth. Let us hope we shall see the day when this country will consent to renew and draw on the sources of its heritage, of which the Gita is certainly a most central part.
With its unrivalled breadth of vision and masterly technique, the Gita contains everything a man could aspire to realize for himself :
“The offering of one's work as a sacrifice to the Divine, the conquest of desire, egoless and desireless action, bhakti for the Divine, an entering into the cosmic consciousness, the sense of unity with all creatures, oneness with the Divine.” 
What else could one wish for? But we live at a time when humanity is in the throes of such convulsions that the collective rather than the individual must become our concern. True, no one can effectively change anything in the world who has not first changed himself. That is a law all our would-be reformers of the West or the East are always prompt to forget. At the same time, the quest for a solitary liberation, however tempting, feels more inadequate than ever. This material world, which confronts us with such negative, hopeless appearances as to make any sincere seeker despondent, is through that very negativity clamouring for its divinity. The one question we must ask is: If all is the Divine, why is the human world such a hellish contradiction of its own reality? The divine intention cannot simply be an ever-recurring, beginningless and endless cycle of creation and dissolution — however mind-broadening, soul-soothing that vision may be, it does not account for the evolutionary urge that pervades the universe, from the mutating tadpole to the exploding star. There has to be more than that, an infinite progression towards a divine life and divine universe, for nothing less can satisfy the deepest spiritual sense. We need a view of evolution that can provide a meaning to our human adventure on this earth, not merely a promise of dissolution at the end of this present dark age.
Sri Aurobindo gave such a view, not just as a philosophical system, but founded on experience and with the yogic tools required to work it out. To him, the Vedantic assertion that this whole world is the Brahman can be no elegant abstraction — and it is the work of evolution to bring out this divinity, starting from inanimate matter, the plant, the animal, then man, who is not the “crown of evolution” but merely a transition towards a conscious being who will not be subject to our crude imperfections and limitations, because he will embody a higher and truer principle of consciousness than the mind.
Sri Aurobindo’s own sadhana owed much to the Gita, and during his imprisonment at Alipore, he was able “not only to understand intellectually but to realise what Sri Krishna demanded of Arjuna and what He demands of those who aspire to do his work.” This realization secured, Aurobindo the revolutionary turned to the earth, went down to the roots of this physical creation, and found that
... the world is not either a creation of Maya or only a play, lila, of the Divine, or a cycle of births in the ignorance from which we have to escape, but a field of manifestation in which there is a progressive evolution of the soul and the nature in Matter and from Matter through Life and Mind to what is beyond Mind till it reaches the complete revelation of Sachchidananda in life. It is this that is the basis of the [integral] yoga and gives a new sense to life.
Sri Aurobindo’s method of yoga closely follows the Gita in the preparatory stages, with his own insistence on the “yoga of divine Works” and on surrender to the Divine Person. To this he adds “the bringing down of the supramental Light and Force […] and the transformation of the nature.” It is this opening to the supreme Shakti and its descent into the instrument to work out its transformation that is the distinctive mark of a truly integral yoga. That is what Sri Aurobindo also calls the “triple transformation”: the psychic, in which the screen that separates us from our inmost being is rent; the spiritual, in which the lid that divides us from the higher realms is broken; and the supramental transformation, which works on the very foundations of our human nature and ultimately of all Nature.
One might remark that such a radical objective can only be a far-off goal which makes little difference on the immediate practical level. It does make a considerable difference: in the traditional Vedantic effort, our best energies are directed upward, away from the material world. Even though the Gita radically differs from world-shunning asceticism in its practical method, it does seem to accept “Nirvana in the Brahman” (5.24) and cessation of rebirth (2.51) as the ultimate goal. In Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga, our effort begins upward too — for without the true Light and Knowledge nothing of substance can be done. But once the opening is made, once the Light flows in from the soul or from the Being above, the Shakti insists on a downward conquest, deeper and deeper into the countless dark recesses of our nature, deeper yet into the very make-up of this material world where all our miseries have their roots. That is the work on which Sri Aurobindo spent four decades of his life.
Then we realize that none of the problems of humanity can ever be solved until those roots, neglected for millennia, are healed by the “mighty waters” the Rig-Veda spoke of. Only when the highest touches the lowest can the world be transformed, which is why the Vedantic concentration on the upper hemisphere alone can greatly help us individually, but makes little difference to the world’s evolution. A conquest of the lower hemisphere by the upper is the logical demand made by evolution, and we have now reached the stage, at the bottom of the curve of Kali Yuga, when we are compelled to face the problem and tackle it: “All life must be taken up but all life must be transformed,” in Sri Aurobindo’s striking words.
Beyond Indian Tradition
Liberation from earthly life is an ideal that has penetrated into the Indian mind so deep as to appear inseparable from the best seeking. Yet, typically, we find nothing of the sort in the Rig-Veda. It is with the Upanishads that we see this greatest unspoken paradox of Hinduism emerge: “All this is Brahman alone, all this magnificent universe,” says the Mundaka Upanishad (II.2.12), yet it also declares : “The seeker of the Brahman ... arrives at world-distaste, for not by works done is reached He who is uncreated” (I.II.12). From this we came to subconsciously seek the Brahman outside the universe rather than here in this life. Many centuries later, with Buddhism and Jainism in between, we have run a full half-circle when the great Shankaracharya declares, “Brahman alone is true, the world is a lie,” brahma satyam jagan mithya (Vivekachudamani, 20). It is the bottom of the curve, as it were, our lowest, weakest point where life is reduced to a sort of lemming race to the Beyond, exactly the opposite direction of the conquering intention of the Vedic Rishis.
Thus the Gita stands, historically as well as in its yogic practice, somewhere in between the Vedic Rishis’ robust attitude to life and the recoil from it which Buddhism, Jainism, and Advaita Vedanta systematized, and which, in Sri Aurobindo’s view, was to be responsible for much of India’s degeneration. The Gita never intended such an extreme rejection of the world, yet it does contain the seed of it. This apparent contradiction is in fact what baffles Arjuna. Sri Krishna’s answer is “the greatest gospel of spiritual works ever yet given to the race, the most perfect system of Karmayoga known to man in the past.” But in the end, he gives us no cut-and-dried formula. Instead, he makes sure that the doors of the future are kept open, unobstructed by any Scripture however great — for the Gita repeatedly states that experience and Yoga are well above even the Vedas and the Upanishads (2.46, 2.52-53, 6.44). Finally it seeks to “break out of its own structure,” as Sri Aurobindo puts it, when it culminates in the command to “abandon all dharmas” (18.66) :
The supreme and final word of the Gita for the Yogin is that he should leave all conventional formulas of belief and action, all fixed and external rules of conduct, all constructions of the outward or surface Nature, dharmas, and take refuge in the Divine alone.The Gita itself thus declares that the Yogin in his progress must pass beyond the written Truth, — sabdabrahmativartate [Gita, 6.44] — beyond all that he has heard and all that he has yet to hear, — srotavyasya srutasya ca. For he is not the sadhaka of a book or of many books ; he is a sadhaka of the Infinite.
One greatness of Hinduism is its realization that the Truth can only be infinite, and the care it has taken to keep the road to the Truth open by avoiding all set dogmas. We will be entirely faithful to that spirit if we build upon the Gita’s synthetic practice, still wonderfully suited to this modern dharmakshetra, and at the same time look beyond to the Scripture’s aspiration for the divine Reality of this life — the whole meaning of our human journey on this earth.
* Sri Aurobindo’s India’s Rebirth (3rd ed., 2000; also in Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu, Oriya, Tamil and Gujarati translations)
 The Synthesis of Yoga, 20.88.
 Letters on Yoga, 23.669.
 “Uttarpara Speech” in Karmayogin, 2.3.
 Letters on Yoga, 22.69-70.
 Letters on Yoga, 23.669.
 The Synthesis of Yoga, 20. 175.
 The Synthesis of Yoga, 20.87.
 Essays on the Gita, 13:537.
 The Synthesis of Yoga, 20.262.
[ The Synthesis of Yoga (Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, 1999), vol. 23, p. 55.