Category Archives: Philosophy

Re-interpreting the Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Hindu text, supposed to have been written more than 5000 years ago.  According to Hindu mythology, Krishna recited the verses in the Gita to Arjuna, in the battlefield during the Mahabharata war. However, it is said that many of the sayings in the Gita can probably be traced to earlier Upanishads.

The Gita includes some pretty heady philosophy of the Personal Self (Atman) and the Supreme Consciousness (Brahman). Some of these parts may or may not be relevant in today’s context and body of knowledge.  This post will skirt around such philosophical questions and look on some of the more practical sayings of the Gita.

I would like to give a different slant to some of the sayings from the Gita as opposed to the accepted interpretation. This could be a case of the ‘devil citing the Scriptures for his own purpose’. In any case you decide

Here goes

Gita: You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action

The above saying requires us to do our prescribed work without giving thought to the results of the work. However most of us do something, in anticipation of success or a reward of some kind. To a large extent, it is this success/reward, which motivates us to do better. But it appears that the Gita wants us to ignore the reward, but just mindlessly carry on with our work, with total disregard for the outcome.

In my opinion this is not so. If people are not driven by the thought of success, people will  simply do things mechanically. I think is important that we always do, what we need to do, to the best of our abilities. While we can be mindful of the taste of success, we should not be so carried away by success that we under-perform. Also on the other hand after having tasted success we should neither become giddy-headed with success nor be broken hearted by failure. We need to be able to face both success and failure with equanimity. So in essence, while we can be driven by success, to perform better, we should not let this come in the way of our performance as either anxiety or over-confidence.

‘Nishkama karma’

The Gita enjoins us to perform ‘nishkama karma’ or desireless -action. In fact the Gita goes on to say that ‘desire leads to anger, anger leads delusion, from delusion loss of memory and finally loss of spiritual intelligence’. In other words desire is the root of all evil.

This is again a very sticky point. For this we need to understand what desire really is and when it is bad?  Some people take the route that all desire is bad. They carry it to the extreme where and claim that one has to be content with whatever life throws one’s way.

My interpretation is that there is a fine line between desire and ambition. To me, it absolutely fine, if you want to become a millionaire, get the snazziest car or desire for a really great house as long as you work  honestly towards acquiring it. Desire is only bad when we try to acquire the object of desire through illegal, wrongful methods. However as the Gita says we should not get attached to these worldly belongings.

So after you become a millionaire, if you start getting attached to the millionaire lifestyle then you are in for some deep trouble. So go after what you want, but do not become dependent on these worldly acquisitions. Do not be under the impression, that Gita forbids ambition of any sort.

A true yogi treats success and failure, praise and criticism, good and bad alike.

This saying has the danger of being mis-interpreted that we should neither react to success or failure nor to good or bad things that happen to us in our life. In reality what we need to do, is not get proud because of success, nor be dejected because of failure. If we face problems in our lives we should not face them stoically all the while imagining ourselves to be a true yogi or the ‘biblical Job’. Rather we have to stand up to our problems and take positive action.

So those are my interpretation of some of the more common sayings in the Bhagavad Gita.

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This fleeting life…

If you wonder about the transience of butterflies, whose average life span is about month, here is news for you. Our life span of 70-80 years, is also fleeting and transitory, in the face of the age of the universe. We are were now, gone then!

We live only once in this corporeal body in this planet earth. We are then gone forever.

Under these circumstances it is important to be aware of the following
There is no heaven or hell, no swarga or naraga. There is no afterlife, there is no rebirth. Also there is neither a soul nor is there an atman.

This life, this existence, is all that we have.
Given this fleeting existence, in this lonely planet, that is lost in the wilderness of space, does it make sense to fret, fume, worry, be anxious etc.? It really does not make any sense at all. The suffering, pain, anxieties, worries don’t mean anything in the long run. So the next question is why worry, why be anxious etc.?

Unfortunately it is not easy to break out of this cycle of worry, anxiety, anger and other negative emotions as we have been programmed to behave in this way. These emotions that we experience are the result of centuries of conditioning in our mental makeup. This conditioning forces to react in a particular ways.

When somebody hurts our ego we get angry. When we are humiliated we feel hurt. When we imagine some outcome that is contrary to what we expect, we start to be anxious and begin to worry. We can’t get away from this cycle. However it is good to temper all your reactions with the thought, that your emotions, worries and anger are irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. It may not do away with the ill feeling, but it is still worth a try.

The centuries of mental conditioning will cause the neurons to fire is specific ways, and we can’t make the neurons to ‘unfire’. We can’t swim against this tide of emotions which are reactions to events.

While there is no soul or atman, these may be useful mental constructs to some in  helping them to stick to values.  The soul is supposed to be ennobled by good deeds and defiled by bad ones. The atma is above buddhi(intellect), manas (mind) and the indriyas( senses and is synonymous with the Self. Supposedly knowledge of the Self will result in bliss and peace.

But the soul or atman don’t really exist. If one needs to take recourse to these concepts to maintain a value driven life it is fine. But we should be aware that these are just concepts.

I was reminded of this John Lennon song, Imagine
Imagine there is no heaven,
It is easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us, only sky

So in essence, in this short span of existence we should live sensibly. We need to look at life in the correct perspective and not get embroiled in imaginary concepts like swarg-narag, heaven-hall, soul-atman.

While we cannot avoid some of the emotions we must be cognizant of the fact that all good and bad experiences must pass and we will leave this corporeal frame forever.

2 essential paradoxical truths of life

Here are 2 truths that appear paradoxical but are extremely important in different situations in life.

Stop… to progress in life: This statement may appear more absurd than paradoxical. But if you think on this for a while you will realize the truth behind this paradoxical statement. In our daily lives we are in one headlong rush to nowhere. From the time we get up, to the time we go to bed, we are constantly flitting from one task to another.

We browse the newspaper, rush to office, jump from one assignment to another, return home, flip TV channels, do some browsing and then hit the bed. We repeat this ritual every day. We simply react to external events. We could even say that we are driven by external events in our life. It is important that we come to complete halt in our lives. We must hit the pause button every once in a while.

In fact, it would really help if we allocated at least 30-40 minutes every day where we reflected on our lives. We need to see where we are in life and where we want to go to. We need to look inward into our lives identify things that we are doing right and those that we need to change. We could do this by either sitting cross-legged in a meditative pose, or take a leisurely walk. Others may find some mild exercise, meditative. Whatever method you choose it is really essential that you put a halt to the furious pace of your life and spend time introspecting and charting the future course of your action. Hence ‘to make serious progress in life we must come to complete stop and look inward’

Act by doing nothing: This is another seemingly nonsensical statement. Sometimes in life the best course of action is ‘complete inaction’. In fact the Gita claims “a true yogi is one who see action in inaction and inaction in action’. What this implies is that sometimes the best course of action is inaction. At other times action is futile and is equivalent to no action or inaction.

There are times when simply reacting to a circumstance will tend to exacerbate a situation. It may be more prudent to sit still and be patient. We could let ‘time’ play out her card, observe the outcome and then take appropriate action. An example would be not to retaliate to every move made by a foe. Rather it would make more sense to observe what the enemy is trying to do and then deal the fatal blow. So the time we spend appearing to do nothing is the time we spend in observing what the motive of the foe is.

Even In our professional lives there will be times when nothing seems to go right, you may have some misunderstanding with your boss, you may not have delivered up to the expectations or things may not be exactly hunky dory with your colleagues. Rather than taking hasty action it may be sensible to bide your time while you try to set your house in order. You must not take precipitate action but rather sit still. I am reminded of a Kenny Roger’s song, the Gambler, which goes

You must know when to hold to hold ‘em,
Know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away,
Know when to run’

So it is imperative that we know when to act and when not to act. This is critical in life

These 2 paradoxical rules are key to manoeuvring through the alleys of life.

3 essential do’s and don’ts in life

3 essential do’s and don’ts in life

There are 3 do’s and don’ts that are essential in life

Here they are

a) Go after what you need first, then after what you want:

In life it is extremely important that you go after on what you need first. In other words we must focus the bare essentials in life. To some this may be owning a house, to others it may be getting their dream job. Whatever it is focus on what you need first before going after what you want.

In life we may want many things. Some of us want a flashy car to impress our neighbors, others may want the biggest size TV, while still others may want to take a vacation in the Bahamas.

However it is necessary to postpone what you want, till you get what you need first. What this boils down to is that one must address one’s needs before indulging in anything else. Splurge only after you are satisfied that you are financially secure.

b) In the short term – Do what you must, before doing what you want:

In our daily lives we usually have a million and one things to do.  All too often we tend to do what we like and put off what is important because it is slightly distasteful. We procrastinate on doing what we really must because we dislike it. We keep doing things that we like,  till the task that we kept putting off becomes all too urgent and critical.

In my opinion we must first do things that we absolutely must, whether we like it or not before doing what we like. This is very important. By doing what we dislike, yet we must, we get the task over with. That is one less thing to worry about. Once we have this important task out of the way we can spend as much time on things that we like to do

c) In the long term –Do what you like, not what you must:

In the long term however we must do things that we like and not force ourselves doing that we think that we must do.  We should center our lives on things we have a passion for. We should not spend our lives working in jobs that we don’t have any interest in, but we think that we must to provide for the family. Usually there will be avenues to get the job that you like provided, you look for it. In a famous study, one of the chief regrets of people in their death bed was that “they felt that they had wasted their lives living to other people’s expectations rather that doing what they really wanted”.

So in the long term go after what you desire and what you are passionate about.

These three do’s and don’ts are very important in our day to day lives

3 important rules to live life by

Here are 3 vital guidelines with which we need to live our lives.  Rather than going after success or the means to live happily ever after, this article gives 3 simple rules with which we need to live our lives. These 3 rules will help to keep our lives in proper perspective

 All good things take time: In life, all good things take time. When you make a plan or set a goal, remember to look at it long term. So for example if you would like to learn a musical instrument, become a writer, or even lose weight you will have to plan for the long term. It is important that you expect results in about 2, 3 years or maybe later. Too often we want to see immediate results in the next couple of months. We want to become rock stars, superstars or lose 5 kgs in 2months. When we don’t see quick results we generally lose interest and drop the activity altogether. So whenever we embark on any new venture set goals for the long term.

Problems are here to stay: Nobody in this world is immune from problems. Everybody from the prince to the pauper, from the saint to the sinner has to contend with his or her own set of problems. There will be always be ups and downs in everybody’s life. We need to be prepared for issues and problems in life. Buddha has said “Suffering is inevitable in life”. Hence, we can and we should never expect that we will ever live a carefree life.

What differentiates one person from another is how he or she handles their own set of problems. Suffering in life makes one stronger. So don’t wish away your problems, rather face them head-on and overcome them.

Don’t let success or failure determine your life:  Never let success or failure determine how you conduct your life. Remember success or failure are only temporary stops in your journey in life. The destination is far, into the future.  There are some who are completely broken when they face failure in their effort. They abandon the pursuit of their goal. As already mentioned failures or setbacks are temporary.  We have to learn from our failures and setbacks and move on in life.  Similarly, we should not let a couple of successes lull us into contentment. We must look ahead and aim for bigger and better goals in life. Life is long term and we must and should move on.

Finally,

Make these 3 rules below your guidelines in life

  • Life is long term
  • Problems are part and parcel of life
  • Life should go on regardless of success or failure along the way

These guidelines will prepare you to face the worst and also help to accept with magnanimity  your achievements in life.

Getting from here to there in life

There are 3 essential qualities, if you wish to go from where you are to where you wish to be in life. The 3 qualities are

  1. Grit b) Knowing yourself c) Desire and plan

Grit: By far grit is the most important quality that one must possess to get anywhere in life. Grit is the ability to face problems in life head-on and not flinch from the chosen path. It is the quality where one is able to tide over troubles and move ahead in life regardless. In life there will be ups and downs. There are no exception to this rule. Everybody from the rich man to the pauper, from the saint to the sinner will have face changing fortunes. What sets them apart is how they handle their troubles. Do they break under stress or just bend? Does one become stronger in the face of troubles in life? Those who are resilient and possess the inner strength will be able to tide over any troubles and forge ahead in life. So grit is a critical ingredient for success in life.

Know yourself: To get ahead in life another quality that is essential is to ‘know oneself’.

Do you know your strengths and weaknesses? Know yourself.
Do you know where you  stand in your personal, professional and social life? Know yourself.
Do you know where you are and where you would like to be in 10 years? Know yourself.
Do you know your wants, do you know your needs? Know yourself.

To know oneself, it is imperative that we spend long hours thinking through ourselves, exploring our inner selves. We need to know what it that we desire is and what is it that we really need.

Once we truly understand ourselves we can take active steps to move in the direction of achieving them.

Desire and plan: Unless one pulls the arrow backward, it will not fly towards its target. So to get anywhere we must have the desire to reach the goal at a minimum. Intense desire must be followed up with a concrete plan to achieve the same. A strong motive is necessary. We must sincerely want to achieve something in life. This is not be confused with greed or avarice. Desire and ambition are necessary for the growth of individual. Once we know our destination in life we must strategize properly to reach there. We must monitor our progress as we move along towards out target

Hence to get from here to wherever you desire in life you must fill your life with these 3 important ingredients of grit, knowing yourself and desire.

Beware the mental mirror

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Warning: The person in the mental mirror is smaller than he/she appears.

The above message is something that we should keep in mind always. The person we see in the mental mirror, most of the time (ourselves), is in reality much smaller in every aspect than the image that this mental mirror shows. This is a fact. We are with ourselves all the time. That is a no-brainer. We are so full of ourselves that we appear mighty clever, smart, generous, kind and all the usual good stuff.

However in reality this may be very far from truth. There is always a ‘little narcissist’ in each of us all the time who makes us appear larger than our true selves. If we don’t heed to the warning above we will be in danger of behaving proudly and possibly head for a nasty fall. It is very important that we apply the necessary corrections when we views ourselves.

Another weird aspect of this mental mirror is the fact that, while it may inflate one’s own opinion of oneself, it will usually distort the image of others. So as a consequence we tend to look down on others. We assume others don’t know as much as oneself or are not as nearly smart. We tend to judge others based on this distorted view of reality.

How can we really know others when we don’t know ourselves fully? We should really be careful when forming opinions about others based on the little and often incorrect information we have about others. This in conjunction with the aberration that our mental mirror creates, is enough to make us look down on many in our social circle..

The mental mirror is something we have to mighty careful about, otherwise we will exist in a world that will be completely skewed from reality. It is extremely important that we adjust our view of ourselves and of others every now and then.

To get a more balanced view of oneself I personally think that it is very important that we have a lot of friends who can be honest with us. With a larger circle of friends we will get automatic corrections to our own self-image.

In general it is always better to avoid judging others based on usually available scant information and the occasional encounters. It is really important that we get to know the other person better before we jump to conclusions about them.

In any case keep your mental mirror free of any aberrations and adjust your view of yourself and of others, every now and then.