THIS IS YOUR PRAGNÃVÃD
Krishna, with a grin on his face, said to Arjuna, ‘अशोत्व्यानन्वशोचस्त्वं प्रज्ञावादांश्र्च भाषसे। गतासूनगतासूंश्र्च नानुशोचन्ति पण्डिताः॥’ – ‘Ashochyãnanvashochastvam pragnãvãdãnshcha bhãshase, gatãsoonagatãsoonshcha nãnushochanti panditãhã.’ – ‘O Arjuna! You grieve for those who it is no use grieving for, and on top of that you speak like a wise man. But wise men do not grieve for those who are dead, or for those who are alive’ (Gita 2.11).
Krishna designates Arjuna the title of ‘pragnãvãdi’ – ‘one who acts as if he is wise’. This title is given to someone’s whose speech and actions do not coincide. He who speaks like the wise and acts like the foolish is a pragnãvãdi. Contradiction between speech and attitude generates pragnãvãd. Someone is said to have engaged in pragnavãd when he bombards the listener with wise talk in order to prove his own stance. Trying to make one’s mistakes look good by decorating them with attractive thoughts should be recognized as pragnãvãd. To ingeniously and shrewdly cloak one’s attachments in philosophical statements is pragnãvãd. Pragnãvãd is a natural habit of mankind. Whenever we get attached to a person, things, actions or places we often end up engaging in pragnãvãd without even knowing it. This is a kind of deception and deceit and above all, it is the pragnãvãdi person himself who is deceived the most. It is, in fact, impossible to do pragnãvãd without deceiving oneself.
Well-known thinker Vinoba Bhãve explains pragnãvãd in a very nice way using an analogy of a judge. There was once a judge who had sentenced hundreds of guilty convicts to death. One day his own son was tried in front of him as a killer. His son was proven guilty and it was the responsibility of the judge to sentence him to death. He hesitated in doing so. He began to talk from an ethical point of view, ‘A sentence to death is inhumane. Such a sentence does not befit mankind. With such a sentence, the guilty have no scope for improving. The murderer murdered under the extreme influence of his emotions, yet to sentence such a person to death is a shameful act for society and is a stain on humanity.’ The judge began to present many such arguments. If his son had not been brought in front of him, the judge would have continually given many death sentences for as long as he lived. It was his attachment to his son that made him speak accordingly.
Many, like the judge, try to hide their attachment with pragnãvãd. The same happened to Arjuna. His arguments relating to dharma and adharma, merit and sin, or ahimsa were not his own thoughts. They were just ethically sound looking arguments born from his attachment to his relatives. Shri Krishna Bhagwan was well acquainted with such infatuation of attachment and the use of words from the shastras to promote them. That is why he clearly said, ‘ashochyãnanvashochastvam pragnãvãdãnshcha bhãshase’ – ‘You grieve for those who it is no use grieving for and speak as though you were a wise man.’ Also, in order to give the example of true wisdom he says, ‘gatãsoonagatãsoonshcha nãnushochanti panditãhã’ – ‘The wise neither grieve for those who are dead, nor for those who are alive.’
Even though this was a heavy dose of sarcasm, it was necessary. Krishna felt that Arjuna would be deceived by his own mind, and he therefore commenced the precepts for his disciple with the above words.
We should also take the aid of these words of the Gitã. We must introspect, “Am I deceivingly presenting the case in front of my guru in a way biased to urge what I want? Am I trying to hide my attachments in a cloak of ethical words?’ If this is the case, we must understand ourselves to be pragnãvãdi. We should recognize such pragnãvãd, abandon it and try and fulfil life’s true duties, like Arjuna did.
Sadhu Bhadreshdas, Ph. D., D.Litt.
Translated by: Sadhu Paramvivekdas