04.02: The Original Originality of the Gita
The Bhagavad-gita (4.2) describes that its wisdom is most effective when received in disciplic chains that extend back to its original speaker. Our contemporary thought enthrones as the testimony to human brilliance a particular brand of originality: the finding of some insight that no one has ever found before, which one can then claim as one’s original insight. This cult of originality has spawned numerous interpretations of the Gita that are at times as much in keeping with the original spirit of the Gita as promiscuity is in keeping with chastity.
Significantly, the currently fashionable meaning of the word “originality” takes into account only one of its facets – and a recent one at that. Foundationally, originality pointed the other way, to that which was as close to the origin as possible, as in original water, water that has just fallen from the clouds and has not yet been soiled by contact with dirt. The Gita is, according to its own declaration (16.24), a manual containing perennial insights for navigating the journey of life, as are road-signs for navigating an expressway. Once the manual-like role of the Gita is recognized, it becomes easy to understand that the originality that will help make our journey safe is not the originality that discovers new, hitherto unthought interpretations of the road-signs, but the originality that finds the intended meaning of those who originally put the road-signs.
It is this original originality of the Gita that the disciplic lines preserve and make accessible to us, thereby enabling us to receive the ultimate benefits offered by Gita wisdom.