Bringing the truth

The realities of life often get eclipsed with sentiment and the resulting weakening of resolve. It is at such moments that truth gets sidelined and a false sense of hopelessness prevails. Arjuna faced a situation like this when he felt overwhelmed at the sight of battle with his own cousins. Krishna reminds him of his duty to uphold the law or dharma. He instructs Arjuna about the reality that underlies all of creation.

mayādhyakṣheṇa prakṛitiḥ sūyate sa-charācharam
hetunānena kaunteya jagad viparivartate

This can be roughly translated to:

Working under my direction, the material energy brings into being all animate and inanimate forms, O son of Kunti. For this reason, the material world undergoes the changes (of creation, maintenance, and dissolution).

– Bhagavad Gita 9.10

 

Modes of nature

In nature, there are certain patterns which can be observed. The ancient Indians identified three modes or qualities which can be applied to everything from people, food to behavior: sattva (peaceful), rajas (agitated) and tamas (dull).

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna indicates to Arjuna that the early portion of the ancient Indian texts, the Vedas, mainly deal with the three modes of nature. The way to overcome the limitations poised by these modes is to perform the Vedic duties without desire. To be situated in the mode of sattva, one needs to be self-collected without excessive worry about oneself in the manner of a hypochondriac.

trai-guṇya-viṣhayā vedā nistrai-guṇyo bhavārjuna
nirdvandvo nitya-sattva-stho niryoga-kṣhema ātmavān

This can be roughly translated to:

 O Arjuna, the Vedas have the three qualities as their object. You become free from worldliness, free from the pairs of duality, ever-poised in the quality of sattva, without (the desire for) acquisition and protection, and self-collected.

– Bhagavad Gita, 2.45

Wisdom

As Krishna describes the man of wisdom, he explains the characteristics of such a person.

duḥkheṣhv-anudvigna-manāḥ sukheṣhu vigata-spṛihaḥ
vīta-rāga-bhaya-krodhaḥ sthita-dhīr munir uchyate

This can be roughly translated to:

One whose mind remains undisturbed amidst misery, who does not crave for pleasure, and who is free from attachment, fear, and anger, is called a sage of steady wisdom.

– Bhagavad Gita 2.56

Krishna indicated earlier that people commonly are heavily influenced by their nature and their specific daily situation. Above, the characteristics of a man of wisdom (a muni) are described.

Such a muni is not disturbed by misery and does not crave pleasure. He is also not perturbed by attachment, fear, and anger.

Of course, this standard is difficult to meet if taken absolutely. However, in spite of imperfections, one can practice regularly to achieve this in daily life.

A little progress

In the ancient Sanskrit classic, Bhagavad Gita, as Krishna continues to instruct Arjuna on the battlefield, he specifies the benefit of performing duties without expectation of rewards:

nehābhikrama-nāśho ’sti pratyavāyo na vidyate
svalpam apyasya dharmasya trāyate mahato bhayāt

This can be roughly translated to:

Working in this state of consciousness, there is no loss or adverse result, and even a little effort saves one from great danger.

– Bhagavad Gita 2.40

The last line appears to be interesting and significant: “svalpam apyasya dharmasya trāyate mahato bhayāt” : even a little progress in this dharma can save one from the greatest danger.

There is similar advice from the ancient philosopher, Adi Shankara, who suggests that reading even a little bit of the Bhagavad Gita (along with doing other minimal things) is good:

bhagavad giitaa kijnchidadhiitaa
gangaa jalalava kanikaapiitaa
sakridapi yena muraari samarchaa
kriyate tasya yamena na charchaa

This can be roughly translated to:

If one reads but a little from the Bhagavad Gita
Drinks but a drop from the holy River Ganga
Worships but once Lord Murari (Krishna) he then
Will need no confrontation, with the lord of death, Yama

– Bhaja Govindam 20

These above ideas are captured by the ancient Indian idea of samskara, which means the impression left on the mind from life experiences. There is thus a traditional emphasis to impart samskaras in accordance with dharma on the mind from a young age. The idea being that even minimal exposure to wisdom goes a long way.

Being ready to be taught

The timeless classic, Bhagavad Gita, is a great handbook to guide one in Dharma.

When Arjuna expresses doubt and concern about fighting the righteous war against his cousins, he is wisely counseled by Krishna.

In verse 2.7, Arjuna realizes the magnitude of his doubt and begins to turn to Krishna for counsel.

kārpaṇya-doṣhopahata-svabhāvaḥ
pṛichchhāmi tvāṁ dharma-sammūḍha-chetāḥ
yach-chhreyaḥ syānniśhchitaṁ brūhi tanme
śhiṣhyaste ’haṁ śhādhi māṁ tvāṁ prapannam

This can be roughly translated to:

I am confused about my duty, and am besieged with anxiety and faintheartedness. I am your disciple, and am surrendered to you. Please instruct me for certain what is best for me.

– Bhagavad Gita 2.7

There is a saying that “when the student is ready, the teacher appears”. In the above verse, Arjuna indicates clearly that he is ready to be instructed by the master Krishna.

This idea definitely is valid in most walks of life when it comes to learning something about one’s trade or any other topic of interest.

Thank you for your service

Today is Veterans Day in the US. It is a day meant to show gratitude to those who sacrificed their lives fighting for the country. Also this is the day to show solidarity with the peace which has resulted from such sacrifices.

Human beings, over several millennia, have evolved as a social species. Providing a service to others has proven time and time again to increase social bonding and increase the general happiness of individuals. Also, as Ben Franklin showed, obtaining a favor from another can be a way to friendship.

Helping another individual without expectation of getting anything in return somehow creates a sense of satisfaction. As Krishna instructed in the Bhagavad Gita, chapter 2 verse 47:

“karmaṇy-evādhikāras te mā phaleṣhu kadāchana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr mā te saṅgo ’stvakarmaṇi”

This can be roughly translated to:

“You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.”

 – Bhagavad Gita, chapter 2 verse 47

Also, Jesus instructed his followers to reduce one’s ego and to serve others:

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

– Bible, Matthew 23

Those who serve their countries in the armed forces on the battlegrounds do so mainly out of a sense of honor. A typical greeting in the US when meeting a veteran is: “Thank you for your service”. It seems that these individuals are a great example of how to serve. They take on immense risks for the sake of others. So, along with thanking veterans for their service, one could also truly learn from the example of such individuals in today’s world.

On decisions

When making any decision, as human beings, it seems that we tend to overestimate its success.

One tends to assume that the decision will work out and eventually everything will go as planned.

However, on many occasions, one may not have thought out all the consequences. As a result, when the outcome does not work out or when something bad comes about, one gets frustrated and disheartened.

It seems that if the outcome is good, one is elated and if the outcome is bad, one is disheartened.

karmaṇy-evādhikāras te mā phaleṣhu kadāchana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr mā te saṅgo ’stvakarmaṇi

A rough translation is:

You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.

As Krishna advises Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita (chapter 2, verse 47), one should not confuse two separate things:

  • making the decision
  • the outcome of the above decision

The only aspect of the process under one’s control is the action itself.

While making the decision, keeping in mind that the outcome is usually not under our control, it is useful to slow down and break down the decision into smaller components.

Building a tree and assigning values to each component of the decision is a very helpful guide to making any decision. Especially for important and complicated decisions which carry substantial risk/reward, such an analysis can be helpful.

What is the deal with happiness?

The concept of happiness is a relatively recent development. The word, which originated during the Age of Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, has today become a buzzword which everyone wants to attain.

In the pre-Enlightenment world, human beings were seen more as belonging to some or the other collective. Examples of “collective” could be anything between tribes, religions, castes, villages and communities. By no means has such identification completely gone away. But, the spirit of collective identification has reduced as modernity has progressed. Individuality has become more prevalent.

Today,  one of the most important goals for everyone is to attain happiness. It has been described in various ways. But most of the descriptions converge towards a subjective sense of fulfillment which is different for everyone. The post-modern, fragmented sense of self tends towards solipsism.

As pop singer Sheryl Crowe crooned:

If it makes you happy 
It can’t be that bad 
If it makes you happy 
Then why the hell are you so sad?

On the other hand, it is interesting to see how our previous generations viewed happiness. One place to look for such evidence could be the ancient scriptures of the world.

The word for happiness in Sanskrit is Ananda. In the entire Bhagavad Gita, it is difficult to find a verse in which Krishna advises his discipline, Arjuna, to pursue his own Ananda or happiness.

In fact, the substance of this scripture is that Krishna tries and succeeds in convincing Arjuna to pursue his Dharma (or duty). In this case, his dharma is to prosecute the war against his cousins who had wrongfully taken away his kingdom. He teaches Arjuna that to fight the war is the honorable and courageous thing to do.

In the pre-modern era, a sense of duty, honor and courage were seen as more worthwhile than mere “happiness”. This kind of questioning and examination of some of today’s buzzwords and concepts should give us pause. It should make us think before accepting any status quo.

Expectations

Expecting to succeed seems a sine qua non of any venture. However, it is evident that many ventures, if not most, do fail. So one needs to be ready to not succeed as well.

But what is interesting is that both the highs and lows, when looked at from the outside, look to be caused by the expectations themselves.

If one starts out with a position of equanimity, it appears that, no matter the result, one comes out ahead with having learned something from the experience.

As Krishna advises Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 2, Verse 47) a position of detachment to the results is often the best approach.

karmaṇy-evādhikāras te mā phaleṣhu kadāchana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr mā te saṅgo ’stvakarmaṇi

A rough translation of this would be:

You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not at any time entitled to the fruits of your actions.
Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.

The second line of the verse is a reminder that one is not in control of the results of one’s actions. At the same time, a position of detachment should not lull one into not taking action.

Equanimity

It is said in the Bhagavad Gita (chapter 2, verse 47):

yoga-sthah kuru karmani
sangam tyaktva dhananjaya
siddhy-asiddhyoh samo bhutva
samatvam yoga ucyate

A rough translation for this is:

Be steadfast in yoga, O Arjuna. Perform your duty without any attachment. Maintain an even mind in the face of success or failure. Such evenness of mind is called yoga.

Here, Krishna is instructing his student, Arjuna, to perform his duty while maintaining an even keel in the face of both success or failure.

Marcus Aurelius, in his Meditations (chapter 6), says:

When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.

The practice of equanimity could also be thought of as a practice of not spending one’s energy and time unnecessarily in being ecstatic upon success and morose upon failure, both of which are ephemeral in the long run.

For some, maintaining equanimity in the face of both joy and sorrow may seem like it is a form of unnecessary “repression”. Any form of discipline undoubtedly has a component of undergoing temporary discomfort for long term gain. Such discipline can not only be physical but also mental.

For example, in order to lose weight and gain physical health, one must repress one’s urges to eat twenty cakes a day. Similarly in order to train one’s mind to gain mental health and avoid the trappings of modern day “psychologists”, one must repress the urge to react at the drop of a pin.