Off the shelf
Reflections of a Ghadarite
V. N. Datta

The Art of Living and Karma and Dharma
by Bhagwan S. Gyanee. Ed. Surinder Pal Singh. Punjabi Bhawan, Ludhiana. Pages 164 and 104.

THESE two books containing 32 essays were written by Bhagwan S. Gyanee who had taken a prominent part in the Ghadar movement in Punjab which was ruthlessly crushed by Sir Michael O’Dwyer, the Lieutenant-Governor, Punjab.

Gyanee was closely associated with the firebrand revolutionary Har Dyal who had profoundly influenced his political and intellectual thinking. He had headed the Ghadar Party in San Francisco during 1914-1915. The British Government harassed him and he bore his sufferings with stoic endurance. He settled down in the US, and like Har Dyal took to the study of Indian religious thought, culture and spirituality. It seems from the study of these books that Gyanee made Har Dyal’s book Self-Culture as his model for his own essays published in these two works. Gyanee was also the founder of the American Institute of Culture He lectured in America extensively and was widely admired for his learning and oratory.

These books show that Gyanee was deeply concerned with the object and meaning of human life. In other words, he asked several disturbing questions about the purpose of human existence. He was firmly convinced that sermons, however beautiful they may be don’t resolve the problems of human life. He laid the greatest emphasis on Karma, the nature and quality of one’s conduct in human life. For him Karma was Dharma, which denotes purity of means to be adopted for the attainment of objects in the vicissitudes of human affairs. He regarded Chapter VIII of the Gita as his guide for self-cultivation and self-purification. He believed that through a concentrated practice of meditation it was possible to apprehend the Divine Power, which tends to act as a powerful creative force to refine and elevate the quality of human life from the lower realms of consciousness to the uppermost stratum of the universal awareness of the one eternal God.

Gyanee’s notion of Karma did not relate only to an individual but to a group, society and nature. He insisted that the nature of Karma must be determined according to moral standards. He regarded peace of mind the alpha and omega of spiritual life. According to him, peace comes only by following the spiritual path. But peace could only be brought not through violent means but by following true path of non-violence which throws off distrust and suspicion, the worst enemies of peace.

From Gyanee’s writings, it is evident that he had read widely the ancient Indian religious texts. He was also acquainted with Western religious literature. That is why he offered in his books the interpretation of religious texts from a wider perspective. Gyanee recognised the satisfaction of human needs, which he thought was necessary for the happiness of man. Hence there was nothing wrong in cultivating the spirit of ‘enlightened self-interest’ for the good of society. He maintained that it was the Self on which all sense of duty hinged. He wrote, "It is only the Self that exists both absolutely and relatively, i.e., in and through the evolution." To quote the famous illustration of the Vedanta, it is the rope that exists even one perceives the snake in it!

Gyanee thought that for an intensive form of the self-luminous conscious being, a creative spirit could be aroused by drawing strength from Yogic Shakti, which lies coiled up and asleep in all the centres of our inner being (Cakras) and is at the base called in the Tantras the Kundalini Shakti. Gyanee wrote, "Kundalini, moving as it does throughout all its aspects is seen as the creative principle throughout all the creation, manifest and immanifest. It is the most intense part of density." Gyanee dilated on the various aspects of the working of Kundalini in human body and the advantages that accrue from it provided yogic guidelines as recommended by experts are followed.

In his essay The Philosophy of Life, the concluding part of his book The Art of Living, the author has identified some of the guiding principles that one should follow to make like happy, meaningful and useful for society. His approach in resolving the problems of life is not that of a scholar or an idealist but of a practical man of world affairs who formulated his views from his own experiences. He laid a great emphasis on the purity of body, mind and soul. He was convinced that the life of man would be different from what it was if he is helped on the path of spiritualisation. Like a mystic he believed that the spirit is like an eye, which must be opened to be able to see the reality of life and apprehend Divine consciousness.

Gyanee thought that something was vitally wrong with the way the world was moving and this was so because there persists a human tendency to judge things and events in terms of externals. He asked, "Why is it that we don’t know ourselves as divine and immortal souls?’ Religion, he thought, had ceased to be a unifying force and became only a matter of external ritualistic practices. Finally, he urged that each of us has to follow the "path of spiritual realisation by his own efforts and depend on ourselves and it is this correctness, the purity, the sincerity of our motive in every case which will count". These two books, instructive and readable, provide useful instructions on some important features of human life.