Toward a New Hermeneutics of the Bhagavad Gītā: Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Aurobindo, and the Secret of Vijñāna (Philosophy East and West)
"This essay argues that Sri Aurobindo’s unduly neglected Essays on the Gita (1916-20) develops a radically new hermeneutic approach to the Gītā, which helps account for crucial aspects of the Gītā’s philosophical and theological teachings that have baffled commentators for centuries. Rejecting the eisegetic practice of traditional commentators such as Śaṅkara and Rāmānuja, Sri Aurobindo strives to interpret the Gītā on its own terms. Sri Aurobindo’s key move is to foreground and reinterpret the mysterious concept of “vijñāna,” which occurs at five places in the Gītā. In IX.1 of the Gītā, for instance, Lord Kṛṣṇa refers to the “highest secret” as “jñāna combined with vijñāna.” By situating these two key concepts within the Gītā’s broader philosophical framework, Sri Aurobindo makes a convincing case that jñāna is the realization of the impersonal “Ātman,” the eternal non-dual “Self” common to all, while vijñāna is the still higher realization of God as the impersonal-personal “Puruṣottama,” the “Supreme Person.” Upon the attainment of vijñāna, one realizes that the infinite God is at once the impersonal Ātman and the supreme Lord of the universe, at once immanent in the universe and transcendent to it.