The present paper is an attempt of inter-textual study of Paradise Lost and Srimadbhagvadgita which represent Christian and Hindu cultural milieus in English Renaissance and ancient India respectively. M.V. Rama Sarma T points out that “Milton’s knowledge of the East and especially of India is amazingly rich.”1 Although Milton did have a treasure of information as regards India, yet there is no copious evidence of Milton’s having had awareness of the Indian epics and especially of the Mahabharata.
In May 1997, Gordon Campbell of Leicester University, Eng land, has published an article entitled “Milton in Madras.” In 1997 Campbell had an occasion to visit Madras. There he “decided to pursue the documentary evidence for the presence of Milton’s descendants in eighteenth century.” He “had by way of preparation consulted French’s Life Records which records a series of baptisms, marriages and burials” of Milton’s descendants.2 Campbell reveals that “each entry is said by French to have been taken from the original entry in the parish registers of St. George Cathedral Madras India” (62) At the end of his article Campbell found that “Milton’s great grandchildren in Madras slip into oblivion while his widow is still alive in Nantwich, and his daughter is still alive in Spitalfields” (63) Hence taking hint from Gordon Campbell’s findings, which may suggest Mil ton’s direct or indirect Contact with India, and his awareness of Indian epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the present writer attempts to illuminate ideological commonalities and subtle differences of Paradise Lost and Srimadbhagvad Gita however without attempting to point out the influence of one upon the other or the impact of a specific world view on both.
In both the works Paradise Lost and Gita, the main object of human life is the realization of God through attainment of knowledge about the reality of God. In Gita Lord Krishna reveals to Arjuna that the knowledge of God and His Nature, which includes the totality of nature in all its multidimensional forms, enables a man to achieve salvation through God-realization. (iv, 9, cf. XIII: 19, 23)3 Similarly Milton in his Of Education demonstrates,
The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue which being united to the heavenly grace of Faith, makes up the highest perfection.” 4
In Bhagvadgita prakriti or nature, is not only coeval with and inseparable from God but also it is identified with God Himself in the same manner as an individual soul seems to be bound by its identification with the body. Lord Krishna demonstrates to Arjuna about the two natures of God apara prakriti (the lower nature) and para prakriti (the higher nature) (vii: 4-5) Unmanifest nature is identified with Shakti and Yogmaya signifying the power of God and the free will of God respectively (iv. 6). In creation it becomes the basis of the objective world. All the eight elements5-earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, understanding and ego or self-sense-of God’s lower nature (vii: 4) signify the forms which His higher nature takes when it becomes mani fest in the form of this mutable and material world6 and upholds it. (Gita, vii: 5) God contains conscious souls and unconscious matter. The two are regarded as the higher and the lower, or the superior and the inferior aspects of the One Supreme who is the life and form of every being. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan says, “The Universal Being of God includes the totality of the unconscious in His lower nature, and the totality of conscious in His higher.” (214)
In his De Doctrina Christina, a theological foundation on which Paradise Lost is based, and in Paradise Lost Milton identifies ‘nature’ with the spirit of God, reason in man and rational order in the universe, God’s efficiency or power of creation, the good of man, “the just and reasonable demands of men,” God’s providence, God as benign in creation, different levels of existence as created by God, the scale measuring the degrees of our ascent to God, the totality of cosmic relation, and significant above all is his enunciation of “Nature and God bid the same.” (vi: 176, XII: 578-81)7 From all the different contextual perspectives of the use of nature in his works and more particularly in Paradise Lost, it emerges that Milton’s doctrine of nature, like that of Bhagvadgita, is derived from religious faith and vested in God. It signifies, chiefly, two properties of God-primordial matter and God’s efficiency or power of creation (PL, ii 910-16, 1037, iii: 708-20). The creation of this universe and all other heavenly planets stream forth from God’s supreme will to impose order “The combrous elements, earth, flood, air, fire, and this ethereal quintessence” (PL, iii 705-6, cf. ii 910-16) in their primordial stage for the creation of new worlds. Milton’s ultimate aim in his great argument is to demonstrate the oneness of truth which lies in the beginningless union of God and Nature. As God’s proficiency or productivity, it is inseparable from God and manifests itself in the creation, or in other words its expansion into chaos results into creation.
It can be argued that if we worship eightfold nature (Gita, vii: 4) as the manifestation of God, or devote ourselves to the “contemplation of created things” (PL, v: 511-12) as the embodiment of God Himself for ascending to God, thus brings God to the level of nature and makes Him finite which He is not. But this can be resolved that God should not be reduced to the position of nature. In Gita “In the creative activity behind cause-effect instrumentation prakriti is said to be the implicit cause.” (XIII: 20) Hence all the modes and forms are the products of nature (Gita, iii: 27, XIII: 19. cf. PL. iii: 708-20, V 472-73), but they do not owe their existence to nature. Just as the existence of an inferior authority in the hierarchy of body polity depends on the sovereign, so does nature owe its existence to God or the spirit of God.
Therefore a wise man sees God reflected in nature. In other words, he does not see nature as nature but as God. Just as ice is not something different from water, or water or wave from the ocean, or a sky confined in a jar from the open sky, or a shadow from the substance, or heat from the fire, so even the matter or nature is not different from God. As an en ergetic man cannot even think of continuing to be energetic without energy, so is nature, as delineated in Bhagvadgita and Paradise Lost, unalienable from God. Now the question arises if nature is not different from God, how can it circumscribe God. Answering this with evidences both from Bhagvadgita and Paradise Lost we can say that the entire phenomenal nature is the manifestation of only a fraction of God. In Chapter X of the Sri madbhagvadgita Lord Krishna teaches that the secrets of God’s infinite nature and being is not within the reach of the finite comprehension even of the hosts of the gods and Rishis; since God is altogether and in every respect the origin of gods and Rishis. As Lord Krishna says to Arjuna, “I am the source of all creation and everything in world moves because of me.”
Lord Krishna admonishes Arjuna as the Supreme Ishwar and says that there is no end to His divine manifestation, and whatever is pre-eminently glorious, beautiful, mighty, and vigorous is to be known as essentially to have sprung from a fraction of His splendour. Therefore aspiring to know aimlessly the details of the infinite is an insignificant and fruitless endeavour. The origin and existence of the whole universe is only due to a fragment of God’s Yogmaya. Similarly in Paradise Lost Book viii the prelapsarian Adam aspires to know beyond limits the mysteries of Heaven and the earth for which he is sternly warned by Raphael:
Solicit not thy thought with matters hid:
Leave them to God above; Him serve and fear.
…heaven is for thee too high to
know what passes there. Be lowly wise,
Think only what concerns thee and thy being; Dream not of the other worlds, … (167-75)
In Bhagvadgita and Paradise Lost alike, nature is bound to work under the superintendence of God. In Gita God is depicted as the first and final cause, origin and end, or the beginning middle and end of all things and being (X 20) under whose super vision and guidance Nature gives birth to all beings in the beginning of the cycle, and dissolves them all at the end of the cycle, and by this means the wheel of the world is revolving (IX: 7, 8, 10). In Paradise Lost too God is the “Author and end of all things.” (VII: 591, VIII: 317, cf. V: 469-70) God’s infinite power and wisdom cannot be ‘comprehended and measured even by Uriel’s angelic vision who witnessed the creation of this world out of chaos. It is not only nature but even the ancestors of Nature-the Eldest Night and Chaos-submit their eternal anarchies before the rule of God and obey His command, as Uriel says:
I saw when at His word, the formless mass,
This world’s material mould, came to a heap:
Confusion heard His voice, and wild uproar
Stood ruled; stood vast infinitude confined;
Till at His second bidding, darkness fled,
Light shone, and order from disorder sprung.
Swift to their several quarters hasted then
The combrous elements. (PL, iii: 708-15)
Nature consists of a number of different levels of existence. In Gita, there are five different levels of existence in nature, those of gods, manes, human beings, demons, and other creatures, whereas in Paradise Lost it has four levels, namely, angelic, human, demonic and beastly. In both Paradise Lost and Bhagvadgita, God is just and merciful. In Him both the cosmic principles of creation-the principle of Father which represents justice and the principle of Mother which represents mercy-are harmoniously combined in Paradise Lost Book III in the scene of council in Heaven we find that in God Justice is colleagued with mercy to redeem the fallen man. (iii 56-300)
This subject of inter-textual study is very deep and extensive. The more we dive deeper in the above perspective of the two works, the larger may be the horizons of similarities before us. It thus leaves a scope for further full length comparative study.
1. M.V. Rama Sarma, Things Unattempted: A Study of Milton (New Delhi: Vikas, 1982), p. 123.
2. Gordon Campbell, “Milton in Madras,” Milton Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 2 (May 1997), pp. 61-63.
3. Jayadayal Goyanka, ed., Srimadbhagvadgita: Tatva (Gorakhpur: Gita Press, 1992).
4. Frank Allen Patterson, ed., The Students’s Milton (Appleton Cen tury Crofts, 1958), p. 726.
5. This is an earlier classification which is further elaborated in twenty four principles in Chapter XIII: 5 as the five elements, the ego, the intellect, the unmanifest (primordial matter), the ten or gans (of perception and action), the mind, the five objects of senses sound, touch, colour, taste and smell).
6. S. Radhakrishnan, ed., The Bhagvadgita (India: Harper Collins, 1996), p. 213.
7. John Carey and Alistair Fowler, ed., The Poems of John Milton
(1968, rpt. London: Macmillan, 1980).