Teachings of Life in Srimad Bhagavad Gita

      First thing first; Gita should not be taken as a part of Mahabharata, the epic. It is but an "Upanishad of Upanishads". It deserves to be treated only on philosophical level. The only reason of the composers to add it with Mahabharata is to ensure much larger access to the audience and there they succeed completely. But for its fitment with overall setting of the scene at Kurukshetra, it would not attract so much attention for its philosophical contents as it finally could. It is an apparent truth that the struggle being discussed between Arjuna and Krishna is actually a war constantly going on within man between the tendencies of good and evil, the tendency of ignorance and knowledge, the tussles between disillusion and reality.

First thing first; Gita should not be taken as a part of Mahabharata, the epic. It is but an "Upanishad of Upanishads". It deserves to be treated only on philosophical level. The only reason of the composers to add it with Mahabharata is to ensure much larger access to the audience and there they succeed completely. But for its fitment with overall setting of the scene at Kurukshetra, it would not attract so much attention for its philosophical contents as it finally could. It is an apparent truth that the struggle being discussed between Arjuna and Krishna is actually a war constantly going on within man between the tendencies of good and evil, the tendency of ignorance and knowledge, the tussles between disillusion and reality.
Srimad Bhagavad Gita

      Why Upanishad of Upanishads? It is because each Upanishad is taken as a single shot of a distant reality from a particular angle. It talks about the ultimate reality and how to understand and appreciate that reality from the place from where the shot is being taken. But Gita talks progressively of several shots at a time and in such a way that the onlooker, irrespective of his varying level of spiritual inclination, will surely recognize one or the other shot and exclaim that yes, he has seen the reality from his own angle. This ability to engage almost everyone in one or the other path recommended by it, provides Gita with its universal recognition not received by any other Upanishad or any other single School of Philosophy ever. No wonder, it is the scripture translated maximum number of times and in maximum number of languages over almost two thousand years (Easwaran).

      In order to understand Gita with better assurance of comprehension, it is essential to grasp some of the basic concepts in adequate details. These include concepts like Brahman, Atman, Dharma, Law of Karma, Samsara, Maya, and Moksha as these shall be liberally used while commenting on the specific teachings from Gita. So a quick word will refresh the reader's understanding of these basic Hindu tenets.

      Brahman is the Supreme Being without any form, name, space or any such other feature known to mankind. But it is the cause of everything else. Atman, in short, is the divine core of every human being and a part of Brahman. Dharma coming from root 'Dhri' is that which supports—supports from within, the virtue of integrity, that establish and maintains harmony within entire creation so as to avoid chaos. Karma gets repeated in Gita so many times, simply means action. But Law of Karma refers to a basic Hindu concept meaning that every event is both a cause and effect. It says that every act is a result of some karma in the past and every act will have new consequences and will induce karma later and so on.....and on. Now, karma is not merely a physical act but includes any mental thought as well. Our sages concluded that relationship between a mental thought and action is not merely accidental but an established relationship where thoughts work as seeds to grow and induce action.

      Second part of the Law of Karma says that whatever you do, its results will come back to you sooner than later. Now there may not be anything to prove this in black and white but we know inside our hearts that every time some thing bad happens with us, we try making it linked to something that we may have done in the past. It comes to us naturally because unconsciously we know that there is a correlation. Now just apply the principle inversely. This relation implies that we got some control over the result in terms of our past actions. Hence, we know what to expect in future by working on our actions and thoughts of today.

      But unfortunately, more often than not, we related the fruits of today with karma of yesterday but not so much to the opposite. To make this possibility to work in reverse, we need Dharma which will persuade the individual to work in harmony, without any narrow self-interest but for welfare of the universe as a whole. Finally, so long as the accumulated balance of karma remains in negative, the person has to keep coming back in life after life until and unless the debt is settled in totality by sustaining pains and pleasures. Once settled, the person qualifies for graduating to next level of liberation. This process of coming back to next life after death is called Samsara, the cycle of death and life. In West, due to their poor understanding with our logics, they brand it as incarnation or rebirth and laugh it out as impossibility.

      Gita offers something or the other for every kind of spiritual aspirant. And this is the precise reason that it gets quoted by all since the time it ever came in public domain. Some one can say that Gita is having contradiction or that it leads to confusion but nothing can be far from truth. Gita is not an academic work of Philosophy but a poetic and practical text and refers to Sankhya, the world of mind and matter with three gunas of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas quite in detail. But unlike any other text of Philosophy; what it does is that it starts from the first step of the ladder and provide enlightenment in baby steps with one step at a time and takes the aspirant to the final destination by providing comprehensive tour of all possible ways to reach the final truth.

      During the second chapter itself, Krishna is shown to arouse Arjuna from his despair and sets him on the way of Self-realization. Arjuna is a man of action and is forced to ask questions about life and death. Here Krishna touches all themes and reminds Arjuna about his immortal nature who finally and formally ask Krishna to become his guru. The gist of his teachings to Arjuna, for this chapter, is nicely captured in the following verses:

"When you keep thinking about sense objects, attachment comes. Attachment breeds desire, the lust of possession that burns to anger. Anger clouds judgement; you no longer remember your past mistakes. Lost is the power to choose between wise and unwise and your life is utter waste." (2:62-63)

      Gita's central teaching is that one can become free by giving up selfish attachments to material things or attachment with people. Point to be noted is that focus is not material things or people but on giving up selfish attachments. Gita doesn't ask us to stop enjoying material comforts per se but to stop hanging on to selfish enjoyment. Neither it promotes inaction. In Chapter 3, Krishna encourages Arjuna that karma cannot be avoided and he must act out of duty selflessly as a way of going out of the maze of cause and effect. In other words, it asks renunciation of selfishness from all our thoughts, words and actions. And to engage in Nishkama Karma i.e. work without selfish desire.

      Teachings of Gita call upon humanity to reserve the power of detaching from everything beloved; however much the soul may might yearn for it and whatever may be the pangs of misery one may feel in giving up this attachment. The focus is on power or ability to get over any thing as the weak people have no place in this life or the life after. Weakness leads to slavery and all kinds of misery: physical and mental. Habit of attachment is said to bring miseries involving family friends, work and intellectual faculties. Gita suggests the ability to detach at will as the power of enjoyment. That man alone gets the best of nature who has the power of attaching to a thing with all his energy together with the power of detaching when he so decides. Gita does not aspire for a man who never loves any thing, who is not soft hearted, who is not sympathetic as such a person will be like a wall. It asks a person to have equal power of attaching and detaching at will.

      Some people find faults with such Indian teachings saying that Hinduism teaches desire less action and go to the extent of holding this attitude responsible for many miseries being faced by the subcontinent in recent times. But such conclusions are wrong because these teachings do not suggest working without desires. Hinduism, on the contrary accepts desires as fuel of life and nothing can be achieved without a strong desire. The point to appreciate is 'selfless desire' or 'desire without selfish motive'. The selfish feeling keeps us away from real Self. If it is selfish, it can't be in harmony with the universe. Conversely, if it is good for all and it does no harm to anyone, this will never be 'selfish'. In addition to master selfish desires, it is also said to be necessary to subdue possessions and egocentricity.

      Another important dilemma of most human beings gets discussed in Chapter 4. While Krishna is eager to grant Arjuna knowledge of higher spiritual truth or wish to show him a mystical vision, Arjuna is grappled with immediate issues and simply wants to know way of getting out of his present difficulties relating to his family tragedy and conflicts and is shown in a state of mind where higher teachings don't register. This is a situation most of us can empathise with directly and squarely. Later Krishna reminds him of his many earlier births that Arjuna does not remember. This is in a way reminder to all of us that what appears our immediate priority, may not be so and that we should not compromise long term for the sake of short term. By now Krishna is no more a normal human being but is raised to a divine nature and as an aspect of Lord Vishnu, a form that he will remain all through the remaining book. At the end of Chapter 4, there is new introduction of path of spiritual wisdom.

      Chapter 6, which is one of the most intriguing chapter of Gita, deals with what is a true Yogi and appears to, without saying so, find faults with some other religious movements in vogue, and so highlight the path of spiritual wisdom by declaring supremacy of the meditation founded in God itself with unwavering faith:

"Meditation is superior to severe asceticism and the path of knowledge. It is also superior to selfless service. May you attain the goal of meditation, Oh Arjuna. Even among the people who meditate those man and woman who worship me with perfect faith; completely absorbed by me, is the most firmly established Yogi. (6:46-47)

      Gita is also called a textbook of the supreme science of Yoga and the beauty again is that it does expose a person with all types of Yogas. Gita's teachings resolve around tension between Dharma, Bhakti and Moksha. When Arjuna is not feeling satisfied from Krishna's discourse on Gyan and Karma, he is offered a third alternative of Devotion. Gita's contribution is to work as a bridge for bringing together varying paths of Karma, Gyan and Surrender at the same pedestal. Since followers of each of these paths believed their preferred way as superior to others, if not the only path to salvation, it was like mandatory to rope in all the ways with equal importance lest the harmony get disturbed or any one feels left out. As a smart move to manoeuvre the complicated puzzle, Arjuna is freed from the consequences of his actions by acting in devotion to Krishna who is exhibited as a God having both Nirguna and Saguna characteristics.

      By Chapter 9, Krishna is shown replacing himself with many other Gods and Goddesses usual to Hindu pantheon as Krishna is said to have contained all those individual aspects within himself. And proclaims that it is Krishna and Krishna alone who should be worshipped. He takes over the ever-pervading mantle of being a God, a refuge, complete support, only true friend. These are first initial seeds of Bhakti, which was to flourish in due course in full-blown manner. This chapter also reveals more compassionate nature of Krishna by showing that Bhakti of Krishna is far more potent than observances of Vedic rituals or worship of any other God. Finally; Arjuna is exhorted that to attain eternal immortal state, he must have total devotion to Krishna.

"What ever you do, make it an offering to me—the food you eat, the sacrifices you make, the help you extend, even the sufferings that you go through. In this way you will be freed from the bondage of karma, and from its results both pleasant and painful. Then, firm in renunciation and yoga, with your heart free, you will come to me." (9:27-28)

      So, what is important to truly comprehend Gita is to go deep in the true meaning of all "words" and "concepts represented by
those words". For example, Nishkama Karma does not mean good work or free work or work of charity. These are subtle concepts for finer understanding and mental state of the doer makes the difference. If we were to do a job which can give a large benefit to others and, incidentally; we also stand to gain, it is still Nishkama karma. But if you do the same job with desire of your gain being the driving force, it will get classified as selfish. Logic is simple to understand: an action without the motive of benefit to self will purify the mind and vice versa.

      This also comes out as a smart move to outpace Buddhists attitude to Nirvana, the Gita's Nishkama focus just on action and not its results. What it propagates is that so long as you are doing something within the ambit of your swadharma and you are not attached with the fruits of such action, you don't lose the salvation. This ends up as a very smart way allowing a person to continue leading a material life with a spiritual mind and still remain available to the calls of his profession without compromising salvation. In other words, one can do anything but so long as the attitude is of a renunciant, you still don't lose your claim to salvation—a middle of the road approach and an easy escape from the conflicting zone.

      One of the highly discussed lines of Gita is where it says

"Karmanye Vadhikaraste, Ma phaleshou kada chana Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani" (2:47)

     Which means:

"You have right to work but never to the fruit of such work. You should not engage in action for the sake of reward nor should you long for inaction. Perform Arjuna, as a man established within yourself without selfish attachments and alike in success and defeat."

      We can easily correlate this doctrine with our work place experience. The focus here is to give up attachment with results of what we do. Many times we get attached in desiring that the work in our hand must result in the way that we wish or desire. That feeling, at times, prompts us to seek some unwanted actions and results in our sadness if the results are not as desired. Now if we were to do our job with non-atlached attitude, with pure motive and adopt means in accordance with Dharma, will it really matter if the result of that work was a success or failure? Irrespective of the result, will our courage, confidence, capability will get shaken? Once we have given our best, do the failure break sour heart, will it make us depressing ever? No, it can't be so.

      On the contrary let us try recollecting any work that we may have done with selfish motives and ask us an honest question. Did we enjoy doing that job? So, let us try taking this doctrine in our work life and we will surely be a better person. Gita says that the attachment to karma is pleasant at first but bitter like poison at the end. In the last section of the verse, Krishna asks Arjuna not to consider inaction as he wanted to leave the battle field and go away to forest. Inaction or escape from action is not the solution. From all sides, the option recommended is only work but without attaching self with results of actions.

      Another beautiful concept explained in detail, like nowhere else, is the concept of 'Shraddha'. Unfortunately there is no apt word in English to convey the complete meaning of Shraddha. The nearest word will be faith. Shraddha entails every belief we hold deep without possibility of any need for even questioning its logic. This is a bundle of all those values in our system that provides colour to our perceptions for things that we come across. Shraddha unfortunately governs our thought process even without we coming to know about it. Because of its criticality, Gita says that a person is what is his Shraddha. Even Christianity believes that a person is what he thinks in his heart. It is not what we wish it to be but what we deem worth having. Because what we value more is what we try going after. That is how, Shraddha guides our actions and ultimately determines our destiny.

      So Gita provides explanation as what is right Shraddha, which is total faith in spiritual laws, in the unity of life with God, acceptance that divine is present in every ordinary person in equal proportions. And to put it differently, wrong Shraddha is thinking existence is all about life, that happiness is best pursued by following self interests.

      Finally Gita ends at right note by offering a choice to Arjuna. Having exposed Arjuna to a detailed differentiation of normal self with the real Self, explaining the relationship between thoughts and action, teaching the laws of karma, prompting him to leave everything on God, teaching the marga (road) of Bhakti and exposing him to the way of Raja Yoga and Gyana Yoga, prompting him to have right Shraddha, finally Krishna asks Arjuna:

"...now Arjuna, reflect on these words and then do as you choose" 18:63

      This brings to surface the option of choices that each one of us faces in our daily life. After all, the longest battle going ever since is the battle within every human where the twin halves of human nature are constantly fighting with each other. Humans, like Arjuna, have no choice but to fight, to act. The only choice a man has is to choose which side to fight for.

      Gita makes us in charge of our own destiny as captains of our own ships and masters of our own souls. It guides us to all possible ways and warns us with possible hurdles but at the end of the journey, as master of the ship, we alone will be responsible for all the results.

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