Gandhi, Grothendieck and the Gita

The Bhagwad Gita has drawn the admiration of some of the greatest mathematicians of the last century- in particular Andre Weil and Grothendieck both of whom were concerned with uniting the different branches of mathematics on the basis of greater generality. In fact Grothendieck uses the term 'Yoga' for his work. Why should this be so?

After all, according to Michael Witzel ' the highly intelligent Harvard Indologist- the Gita is simply the product of some priestly cabal involved in a petty dynastic intrigue whose main actors were just jumped up bandits or cattle raiders. Witzel ' in the tradition of Nineteenth Century Western Biblical hermeneutics- is trying to extract as much History as possible from our sacred text. However, actual history is a messy business and extracting meaning from it an impossible task. If Gita is simply the reflection of some long ago tribal affray, in a far off corner of the globe, why should the greatest Western mathematicians and physicists- people concerned with the foundations of thought and reality- show such reverence to the Gita? Can it be that the answer is simply that- as Gandhi thought- it advocates doing your duty and pursuing non-violence? If so, surely there were a hundred other texts, closer to home, which would have served equally well? Why should a French Jew, like Andre Weil, take the trouble to learn Sanskrit and come to India if the true 'Gita rahasya' really was nothing more than Gandhism?

The answer, I think, is that the Gita and the Mahabharata display extraordinary properties of Symmetry and it was this that appealed to the mathematicians and physicists.

Emmy Noether's theorem, in the early Nineteen Thirties, showed that- for non-dissipative systems- the existence of a symmetry was evidence for a conservation law. The remarkable symmetry shown by the Mahabharata arise from there being two conserved properties ' viz karma and dharma. Karma operates across time as a principle of causality binding together and giving coherence to each individual monad or soul. Dharma operates across space giving coherence and meaning to the inter-actions of the various souls or monads whom karma has brought together.

The pullulation of characters and episodes, digressions and interpolations in the Mahabharata at first may seem quite maddening.

Surely this is evidence that it is a dissipative system in that it contains superfluous matter? I contend that the reverse is the case.

The Mahabharata actually observes not just Dirac's symmetry, whereby every particle has its anti-particle, but also super-symmetry. Thus, the pullulation of characters is like the plethora of new fundamental particles revealed by particle accelerators. I am not smart enough to say whether the Mahabharata's ever multiplying cast of characters yield on analysis a position similar to that of Geoffrew Chew (championed by Fritjof Capra in the Tao of Physics) whereby there is a fundamental equality of all elementary particles with none being regarded as more fundamental than the others. Certainly, the Gita itself offers- to those with sufficiently mathematical minds to grasp such subtleties- clues to those more fundamental strings which hold everything together.

At first glance, it would seem that either my claim is false ' the Mahabharata only accidentally shows symmetry, or else it is actually so primitive a text that it unconsciously mirrors some hard wired structural symmetry of cognition or linguistics ' or else it was not the work of mere humans for no collection of mortals are capable of such unswerving adherence to the very rigorous rules of balance and reciprocity which govern every episode as well as the unfolding of the whole narrative. While rejecting the notion of divine authorship, I maintain that even the interpolations and elucidations made from time to time by priestly redactors do in practice observe these very rules and recapitulate the foundational method of the original composition.

This is because I believe there was an Adi Mimamsa hermeneutics- not lost to us but lost to me because I'm no scholar and in any case lack intelligence- which instilled a tradition, a sampradaya, which enabled the transmission and elaboration of these great texts in a manner that did no violence to their ethos.

However, for a section of Indians, during the Nineteenth Century, Mimamsa hermeneutics first took a purely legalistic turn- (think of the Court Pundits employed by the British up till the 1860's)- and was then displaced by a racialist type of Western hermeneutics- whose great service to the modern age was to demystify the Bible and reduce Judaeo-Christian Scripture to a sort of imperfect history- that too the history of an unimportant tribe inhabiting a small patch of land which was only fitfully- and that too marginally- of strategic importance.

This was a tragedy for India. It meant that commentaries on the Gita and Mahabharata, published since that time, have tended to get sillier and sillier- a didactic exercise of the stupid for the stupider, except that actually no one was ever that stupid. It was just that the one great axiom everyone subscribed to was that Indians were practically morons. Not to talk to Indians like they were morons meant you were out of touch. You couldn't lead those benighted monkeys. The mind numbing banality of rhetoric, the utter idiocy of our various Godmen and Gandhians addressing the "Public" on the message of the Gita ' as on every other topic ' has to be experienced to be believed.

Mahatma Gandhi- it must be said- was a far better writer and speaker than those we currently suffer under. However, Gandhi- though keen to save the handloom weaver from the mills of Manchester- himself imported some foolish version of Quaker plutocratic nonsense -i.e.
non-violence as a magic charm sure to give success- to drive out of business India's own home grown hermeneutic of the Gita. This was a cultural disaster. It meant not only that India had to import nonsense but also re-export that nonsense. The Indian Guru, Godman, and 'Gandhian' activist became bywords for stupidity, cupidity, and infantile narcissism.

Gita is there to make you think, it is not a stick to beat people into idiocy with. It has nothing to do with the moral outrage industry which the Western bourgeoisie requires because of the dyspepsia caused by their overly rich diet. Nevertheless Gita and Itihasa have been reduced to this role in India ' to give a platform for nutters and gobshites ' not to inspire us (I should say, to inspire you- I'm too stupid to do this myself!) to breakthroughs in Mathematics, Physics, Economics and so on.         


More by :  Vivek Iyer

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