Why don’t we make the Bhagavad-gita compulsory in schools in India?
Transcribed by: Keshavgopal Das
Question: Why don’t we make Bhagavad-gita compulsory in schools in India?
Answer: This is a question we should be asking from the Government of India. Let me try to answer it based on how I see it.
We live today in a multi-cultural world, where people are opposed to the idea of imposing any one faith on them. People believe that faith is a personal matter which should be chosen by an individual. These days, Bhagavad-gita is seen as a religious book; a book of Hindus. As long as Bhagavad-gita is seen as a religious book, it will be difficult for the government to make it mandatory. May be in future, if we have a government which rules by different principles then it is possible. However, it does not mean that nothing can be done to popularize Gita. What need to present Bhagavad-gita not as a religious book but as a book of wisdom. When it will be viewed as a book of wisdom in the Indian tradition that will make people more open.
Few years ago, a big attempt was made to make Bhagavad-gita as national book of India. It led to a lot of violent opposition from people saying that it will make India a theocracy or a radical Hindu country. In today’s world, religious pressure will not work. Bhagavad-gita needs to be repositioned as a book of wisdom. There are devotee scholars who are working in mainstream academia for this purpose. Beyond that, we, at our individual level, can do our part in sharing Gita’s message. However, we should be careful that we do not present Gita’s message as mandatory. When we present things as mandatory, people do it as ritual and they do not take it very seriously. For example, I sometimes do a class on Bhagavad-gita in colleges in India, where the authorities make it mandatory to attend. Such an arrangement can lead to five hundred or thousand students coming to the class. The number of students attending the class can appear impressive, but to such a crowd even if we give the best class, we find that the students are just not interested. The students are chatting on their phones, looking here and there. When we make things mandatory, people just switch-off. It is much better to share the message at an individual level. Change at a grass-root level is much more sustainable compared to when brought in a top-down fashion. In a top-down approach, we can have a lot of resources, but that will not necessary mean acceptance from others. In today’s ethos that will only lead to resistance.
In my childhood, I participated in Gita shloka recitation competition and won a prize. I thought Gita is only meant for memorizing some shlokas and win prizes. I never saw it as a book having practical relevance to me. When a friend came and gave me Bhagavad-gita, he requested me to read it. My first reaction was, I have already read it. However, when I saw him transformed I was surprised. My friend was a very materialistic person, but after transformation he appeared very sober, gentle, and cultured person. I thought that if he got so much transformed by reading the Gita, probably I missed something in my reading. Such lateral sharing of Gita is going to transform people in a much more sustainable way. Such an approach on sharing is very much within our control right now.
Yes, Bhagavad-gita has come from India, it is a national heritage, but unfortunately it is not being studied at all in India. Unfortunately, that is the way government’s situation and cultural trend is today. If we try to impose something it will be resisted and will not be accepted open mindedly or whole heartedly. Rather than waiting for something to come from top down, we just focus on doing what is in our power.
Srila Prabhupada, before he went to America, he had practically no resources. Bhagavad-gita was known but it was not known as it is now. When I recently met one of the editors of Srila Prabhupada in the early days of ISKCON, he told me about how Srila Prabhupada would give him manuscripts of his books for typing. He saw manuscripts were written with no margins on the pages. Srila Prabhupada was in such financial crisis in those days, that he had hardly any money to have paper. He would write on the paper from top left corner to the bottom right corner. Many of the papers he had written were the inside of the envelopes which he had received as letters. However, he did what he could. Now from that, a global movement has emerged. Millions and millions of Bhagavad-gita has been distributed and thousands and thousands of lives have been enriched by that wisdom. Krishna had its plan, he empowered Srila Prabhupada in an extra-ordinary way. However, it all started with Srila Prabhupada doing what was in his power. Surrender at one level means doing what we can with what we have right now. Just like you are sharing your appreciation of Gita here, you may share the same appreciation with others. There are many people who are naturally and voluntarily willing to take the wisdom of Gita if this is presented as wisdom to them. As Gita starts to be seen more of a wisdom book and the number of people viewing Gita in such a light increases, then there will be greater openness to accepting Gita.
End of transcription.