The relevance of Srimad Bhagavad Gita in today’s age
The question of relevance for such topics comes into picture whenever certain systems of knowledge and certain practices are perceived to be outdated due to dynamically changing social structures and a widespread discomfort for anything labeled as religious, dogmatic or sectarian. The focus for this article is to try and brush aside these biases and objectively study the relevance of this very old but thoroughly timely system of knowledge in the light of truth without any preconceived notions and prejudices. If we adopt this broad minded approach, I am sure we will be able dive deeper into the ocean of knowledge that this great philosophical treatise offers and find solutions for many of the problems plaguing our social set-up.
For the uninitiated, Srimad Bhagavad Gita (The Divine song of God) is a beautiful conversation between Lord Krishna, who is celebrated as the Purnavatar (The most complete manifestation of Godhead) in all Vedic literatures, and Arjuna, a great warrior of Vedic India and a devotee of Lord Krishna, on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. This sacred conversation took place just before the onset of the great Mahabharata war. Seeing all classes of relatives standing on the opposite side, ready to fight, Arjuna decided not to fight out of compassion for his kinsmen. At this point, Lord Krishna began his instructions to Arjuna in order to remind him his duty as a Kshatriya warrior in the war for maintaining righteousness and also to achieve His mission of annihilating the demoniac forces ruling the earthly kingdom. What follows thereafter is a detailed enunciation of the greatest wisdom ever known to man. With this brief history, let us discuss why this ancient episode and this great conservation are still relevant even today.
Any battle is always between two sides which are radically different in their core principles which are always in friction. In the literal sense this war was between the righteous sons of Pandu (The Pandavas) and the evil-minded sons of Dhritarastra (Kauravas) who had forcefully usurped the kingdom rightfully belonging to the Pandavas. When all pleads for a peaceful settlement failed, war was inevitable. When this is seen symbolically, it was a war between spiritually inclined God-conscious people, represented by Pandavas and materialistic class of people represented by the Kauravas. In short it is a war between materialism and spirituality. These two systems are always at war, not only on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, but at all times. And wherever there is this war, it is natural that even men of discretion and intelligence are put into a bewildering state due to the strong influence of materialism just like Arjuna was put into a confused state. To clear this confusion and enunciate a clear course of action, the Gita was spoken by God himself. It is as relevant today as it was on the battlefield, because even today we all confounded by the perplexities of material life. It is even more relevant and important than before because we are multiplying these problems through ignorance of our real spiritual nature. We have no idea where we came from. What is our origin? What is our destination after death? Why do we die at all? Why do we suffer so many pains and so limited happiness? Are we a combination of chemical elements or is our personality something much higher than a bunch of chemicals? Even if we leave aside these eternal questions, even the temporary and fleeting lifespan we have is not bereft of daily problems. What is the real purpose of our existence? Is it getting good education only? Is it only limited to feeding and maintaining your family? Is it all about getting to eat the best quality food and travelling to the best places? Is it to enjoy sensual pleasures only? Even if we have all of these material aspects in profuse quantity, still why aren’t we satisfied? Why are we surrounded by dualities? Some happiness ensures that we have at least an equal share of sadness somewhere down the line. Honor at one place ensures you have detractors and envious people defaming you elsewhere. When one child is crying because he did not get his favorite candy, why is the other child crying out of hunger. When one family is celebrating the advent of a new born, why is the other family mourning the departure of a loved one? There is no place which we can call safe. Any bus, any train, any public place anywhere in the world can be blown to pieces anytime by a bunch of ill-minded extremists. The air we breathe is not pure. The water is polluted by the wastes of our frivolous indulgence. When tonnes of grains are wasted at one place, people die of hunger at some other place on the globe. In the name of blind nationalism we are committing gross level injustice to all people as a whole. The natural resources of this earth belong to neither India nor USA nor any other country. They have been provided to us by nature to sustain each and every body on this planet. Loathsome capitalism and narrow-minded nationalism do not make it possible for these resources to reach the people who really need it. To compound our problems there is widespread mistrust between all major powers of the world, which are developing the most sophisticated nuclear weapons in secrecy. If we are proud of our scientific progress, and if are so eager label ourselves “Homo sapiens sapiens” , the most intelligent species on this planet, then why are we plagued with so many problems? Instead of being guardians of the bountiful and resourceful mother Earth, why are we proving to be a burden on her? Is there any hope for resurrection? Is there any hope for peace and harmony amid chaos and disorder?
The answers may not be too far.If we are ready to put some effort and search our own cultural legacy for answers. And the Bhagavad Gita may just provide us the one stop solution without having to go anywhere else.
The first hints of a complete, unambiguous, rational and permanent solution to the most vexing problems exercising us even today become evident, as you slowly turn the pages of this great philosophical treatise, as if an old, eternal, all-pervading, all-cognizant, benevolent and majestic intelligence is speaking to us through the medium of the written word, to relieve us of our miseries.
Now why is it a complete solution? It recommends a people-centric approach rather than a result-centric approach. When Arjuna refused to fight, Lord Krishna being cognizant the psychic movements of all, especially his intimate friend and devotee, exactly knew where the problem lies. The problem was internal. It was in Arjuna’s mind. He thought his relationship with his relatives is more important than his duty. Lord Krishna took the effort of explaining to him in detail why he needs to fight in the Karma Yoga section of Gita. He explained to him how he can achieve liberation from the reactions of work by acting as a matter of duty, without attachment to fruits of action. His relatives were definitely on the wrong path, being overcome by greed and aversion. But by showing misplaced affection and compassion, Arjuna was trying to avoid his duty of fighting. To destroy the miscreants and re-establish principles of righteousness were Lord Krishna’s goals and He wanted Savya Sacin Arjuna to be an instrument in that mission. But He did not force Arjuna to follow his path, which is a characteristic of our modern result-centric society. He carefully explained to Arjuna the intricacies of duty and then left the decision to him. Once you give importance to the person and take the effort of understanding his plight and situation, he will also respond positively as Arjuna did. And the result of victory followed naturally. The person is of primary importance, the result is secondary. Many of our loathsome capitalistic systems can take a leaf out of this episode and stop exploiting people at work for the sake of bottom-lines and revenues. The person is primary, the bottom-line follows naturally.
It is also a complete solution because it reinstates us to our actual position. We are eternal spiritual souls full of knowledge and happiness. Out of ignorance we are trying hard in vain to extract as much happiness as possible in this limited material position. In this lame attempt we are exploiting mother earth to an intolerable extent and causing imbalance at large. The Gita urges us to cut down on our material desires and enjoy the nectar of the eternal soul. This will not only bring happiness to us personally but will also re-establish order and harmony in nature. Ultimately by this practice we will raise our consciousness to the platform of understanding the Supreme Lord who is the ultimate source, refuge, basis and generating principle of everything.
gatir bharta prabhuh saksi nivasah saranam suhrt prabhavah pralayah sthanam nidhanam bijam avyayam
Bhagavad Gita (9.18)
“I am the goal, the sustainer, the master, the witness, the abode, the refuge and the most dear friend. I am the creation and the annihilation, the basis of everything, the resting place and the eternal seed.”
Being thus united in this common goal, there will be no conflicts based on petty nationalism or any other “ism”. Again, having surrendered the insatiable desire to be lords of material nature, and accepting a subordinate position to nature and God, we will stop trying to exploit His resources and instead apply those resources in His service. This is akin to watering the root of the tree. If we adopt this approach, evidently nature will become bountiful and all people will be able to maintain their bodies with supplies given by nature. Also, due to absence of any "isms", all people will live as one family and share the resources of the entire planet. No poverty. No one dying of hunger. This ideal, all-good win-win solution can be a possibility, if only we open up and give it a chance.
Why is the solution unambiguous, rational and permanent? It gives a clear non-paradoxical answer to all mysteries that confound us. What is death? It is just a change of bodies.
dehino 'smin yatha dehe kaumaram yauvanam jara tatha dehantara-praptir dhiras tatra na muhyati
Bhagavad Gita (2.13)
“As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.”
vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya navani grhnati naro 'parani tatha sarirani vihaya jirnany anyani samyati navani dehi
Bhagavad Gita (2.22)
“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.”
Our real position is eternal, we always existed and we will always exist. This material body is a temporary place where we reside for some period. The body grows, becomes old, dies and decays. But our real personality survives beyond that. And we enter a new body according to our unfulfilled desires and the quality of work of our previous lives. Lord Krishna advises us to stop this painful business of changing bodies akin to changing clothes and attain the highest perfection by approaching him. Having reached Him and having attained the highest perfection of non-attachment we will be freed completely from this ferris wheel of birth and death, of misery and duality. And in that eternal realm we will enjoy unlimited bliss and contentment and never return back to this temporary place full of miseries. How can we achieve this state? The characteristics of a self-realized person are beautifully elaborated here:
nirmana-moha jita-sanga-dosa adhyatma-nitya vinivrtta-kamah dvandvair vimuktah sukha-duhkha-samjnair gacchanty amudhah padam avyayam tat
Bhagavad Gita (15.5)
“One who is free from illusion, false prestige, and false association, who understands the eternal, who is done with material lust and is freed from the duality of happiness and distress, and who knows how to surrender unto the Supreme Person, attains to that eternal kingdom.”
What is the purpose of this material manifestation (universe)? Did it spring out of nothing? Is it a thing of chance? Even if we think intuitively, the perfect harmony and order in Nature and its flawless laws point towards an intelligent design.
Lord Kelvin, one of the greatest scientists of our time noted:
“Do not be afraid of being free thinkers! If you think strongly enough you will be forced by science to the belief in God, which is the foundation of all religion. You will find science not antagonistic but helpful to religion.”
He goes further to say :
“The more thoroughly I conduct scientific research, the more I believe that science excludes atheism.”
The most influential physicist of 20th century according to TIME magazine, Nobel Laureate Dr Albert Einstein Noted :
“I want to know God's thoughts... the rest are details.”
Chapter 15 of Gita starts with Lord Krishna describing the real form of this material manifestation. With the roots above and the leaves below, it is like a reflection of the real tree in the spiritual world. The leaves are the frutive results of human activities, but because they have the form of a reflection, they are illusory and transitory. Hence they do not have the potency to satisfy our real spiritual needs.
urdhva-mulam adhah-sakham asvattham prahur avyayam chandamsi yasya parnani yas tam veda sa veda-vit
Bhagavad Gita (15.1)
“The Blessed Lord said: There is a banyan tree (material universe) which has its roots upward and its branches down and whose leaves are the Vedic hymns. One who knows this tree is the knower of the Vedas.”
In the same chapter he tells us that we are His eternal plenary portions, i.e in quality we are similar to Him but in quantity we are finite while he is infinite. The analogy of the ocean and a drop of ocean fits perfectly here.
mamaivamso jiva-loke jiva-bhutah sanatanah manah-sasthanindriyani prakrti-sthani karsati
Bhagavad Gita (15.7)
“The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.”
Thus we see that our real origin is from the eternal spiritual world, but due to ignorance we are trapped in this temporary world, where no one is exempt from the four-fold miseries of birth, death, disease and old age. Lord Krishna is urging us to return back to our original position where these miseries are non-existent. A place which is self-illumined and which is indestructible. Where we can relish the nectar of immortality in association with the Supreme Lord. And this material platform (Universe) is a chance for us to work towards this ultimate goal.
na tad bhasayate suryo na sasanko na pavakah yad gatva na nivartante tad dhama paramam mama
Bhagavad Gita (15.6)
“That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this material world.”
It is a rational solution because the Lord does not ask us to leave everything and enter a forest to meditate. He urges us to continue our duties, but develop non-attachment to the results of our activities. With such an attitude we will become established in Yoga and with a balanced mind be able to remember him at the time of death. This is the complete process. It is not easy to remember Him at the time of death, because at that moment the mind is in tremendous amount of pain and hence it is in a greatly disturbed condition. But through regular practice of remembrance and study in our life we can be situated in the ultimate Yoga of devotion, which will help us at the final hour of need. Neither our degrees nor our relatives nor the crores of rupees you have earned in your life will be able to help you at that time. But remembrance of the Supreme Lord will surely protect you from the greatest dangers. And then He finally gives His ultimate promise to us.
anta-kale ca mam eva smaran muktva kalevaram yah prayati sa mad-bhavam yati nasty atra samsayah
Bhagavad Gita (8.5)
“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.”
sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja aham tvam sarva-papebhyo moksayisyami ma sucah
Bhagavad Gita (18.66)
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.”
We have tried in vain, many ways to find permanent happiness, unconditional love and eternal life and so on and so forth. But in our efforts we always have been frustrated due to the limited nature of our world. We have been chewing again and again what has been chewed many times before, in this life and many lives before. Let us open our minds to this nectar of spiritual knowledge and rise to the absolute platform beyond dualities. Let us give the perfect solution a chance. It might just give everyone what they are really looking for : Unending, eternal unconditional love!