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.

Spiritual echoes in the Tao Te Ching, Bhagavad Gita and the Bible

tgb1Here are some remarkable spiritual echoes from the 3 ancient texts namely the Tao Te Ching by the Chinese sage Lao Tzu, the Bhagavad Gita as propounded by Sri Krishna and Jesus Christ in his sermon on the mount in the Bible.

It amazing that there are so many parallels in the Tao Te Ching,  the Gita and the Bible. What is more interesting is that these happened many millennia ago at 3 different places on the earth.

So here goes …

In the Tao Te Ching, the Tao is described as ‘the changeless’  and ‘the formless’. Similarly the Gita talks of the Brahman, which is beyond the senses, intellect and the mind,   as ‘changeless, tasteless, odorless and colorless’. These texts discuss the need for the attainment of  this Tao or the Brahman as the ultimate goal of man

Echoes in the Tao Te Ching and the Gita

Both the Tao and the Gita suggest that we need to perform actions without a desire or an attachment to the fruits or results

Tao: “All things spring up, and there is not one which declines to show itself;
they grow, and there is no claim made for their ownership;
they go through their processes, and there is no expectation (of a reward for the results).”

Gita: “Perform your duty in the spirit of ‘niskama-karma’ or desireless action. Offer the fruits and the results thereof to God”

The Tao-te-Ching and the Gita discuss that one who knows and has attained the Brahman or enlightenment do not care to speak about it as the Tao & the Brahman cannot be described verbally. The Brahman & Tao are beyond verbalization and can only be experienced.

Tao: “He who knows (the Tao) does not (care to) speak (about it);
he who is (ever ready to) speak about it does not know it.””

Gita: “He who knows (the Brahman) talks not, he who talks knows not (the Brahman)”

Regarding action, both the Tao and the Gita discuss that for those who have attained enlightenment performing action becomes unnecessary. These enlightened souls transcend action completely.

Tao: “He diminishes it and again diminishes it, till he arrives at doing nothing (on purpose).
Having arrived at this point of non-action, there is nothing which he does not do.”

Gita: “A true Brahman is one who has renounced action through devotion and whose doubt has been removed by knowledge and is composed in his self is not bound by karma”

Echoes in the Tao Te Ching and the Bible

The Tao and the Bible suggest that gentleness and flexibility can overcome power and inflexibility. In the Tao Te Ching the example of gentle water eroding the strongest rocks is provided as an example of this principle.

Tao : “The soft overcomes the hard; and the weak the strong.”

Bible: “The meek shall rule the world.” (Thanks to Steve Tanner for pointing out that ‘the meek’ in this context refers to a person who is moderate in his/her approach and who does not go to extremes)

Both the Bible and the Tao Te Ching underscore the importance of forgiveness. They extol the need to be shower kindness and blessings even on those who treat you with derision and contempt.

Tao : “To those who are good (to me), I am good;
and to those who are not good (to me), I am also good;—
and thus (all) get to be good.
To those who are sincere (with me), I am sincere;
and to those who are not sincere (with me), I am also sincere;—
and thus (all) get to be sincere.”

Bible: “Love thy enemy”.
Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who treat you with disdain..
Show your right cheek if somebody slaps your left.”

Echoes in the Bible and the Gita

The Gita and the Bible re-iterate the fact that we should not judge or form opinions about others when we ourselves are not faultless

Bible: Judge not, lest ye be judged. Condemn not, lest ye be condemned.

Gita: Enlightened men are those who see the same in a Brahmana with learning, a cow, an elephant or a dog. In other words the yogi does not form opinions or judgments about others. A true yogi treats all persons with the same footing.

Another common thread in the Bible and the Gita is that we need to look into ourselves to understand the divine

Bible : The kingdom  of God cometh not with observation. For behold, the kingdom of the God is within you.

Gita: Above the senses, the mind and the intellect is the Atman which is within you. In the Upanishad’s this is also mentioned as “Tat tvam asi”, “Thou art that”.  The Atman is inside you and we become aware of it through self-inquiry.

The Gita and the Bible enjoin us to cut desire at the root.

Bible: You cannot serve God and Mammon at the same. Here Mammon refers to the desire for wealth.

Gita:  Perform ‘niskama-karma’ or desireless action.

It is really amazing that these 3 enlightened souls had such remarkable clarity and similarity in their view of the path towards enlightenment.