By Gaurav Rastogi
The style, and other reflections
I noted last time that there are some very striking things about the Bhagavad Gita that leap out at the modern reader. The writing style is very mathematical and tight and relatively free of the “Indian mystical” style that seems all the rage these days. Also, there seems to be some solid science (and science fiction) behind the assertions in Chapter 2.
The first FAQ…ever!
Seems pretty clear by now that the Bhagavad Gita is actually a philosophy textbook set inside a story. It’s not a morality tale, as much as it is a detailed thesis. The writing style is what apparently the Greek now have a copyright on – it’s called Socratic Dialogue – and has been used many times in the last 3000 years as a means of conveying complex philosophical and moral ideas. It still survives in the reduced and much humbled form of an FAQ. Alas!
The choice of Krishna as the elevated “God-figure” is apt, if only because he is the person who “holds the reins”. Holding the reins is an apt metaphor for taking control of one’s senses, which seems to be the central point of this book.
The subject as Archer
The choice of Arjuna as the subject is no coincidence either. Arjuna is an ace archer, and there is a very direct link between being “in the zone” and performance as an archer. Here’s an old article on this subject. Here’s a direct quote.
“IF THERE’S ANY THEME that dominates the reports of zone experience it is this subtle freedom from intervention – from volition and thought and finally consciousness itself.”
Numbers and Math
Like I said, this seems to be a book on a philosophy called “Samkhya”. This word now just means “number” in Hindi. It’s not surprising that the style of the book is very mathematical and software like. Here’s a few that I was able to spot:
If…then…else: This is extremely common in the book. If you’re willful, there is no wisdom. If no wisdom, then no faith. If no faith, there is no peace. If there is no peace, there is no joy.
Greater than: This too is very common. Example being, “enlightenment is much greater than the mere knowledge of the Vedas”. Or another – “Yoked mind >>Rituals”.
QED: The bane of many math students, any mathematical proof isn’t complete until you put the Q.E.D. at the end. For example – in the response to the three excuses, the Gita finishes off each proof with a closure statement. Very cool.
Science and Science Fiction
Science first – There has been a lot of research lately on meditation and its impact on brain-waves, as well as its impact on performance. What seems clear that the focus and lack of confusion described in the Gita are not just mystical and unprovable. Quite contrary. It seems that not only is a very direct and measurable impact of meditation on performance, but that practiced and repeated meditation seems to alter brain structure.
Now for science fiction – When I read the part about being dispassionate as a yogi warrior, the final fight scene from Matrix flashed across my mind.
In this Neo – the “savior” – has a flash of insight that the world around him is just an illusion , and that the people he’s fighting are part of the illusion. Then, with no emotion, but with complete control, he can stop bullets in mid-air , wham-punch the bad guys, and totally annihilate the competition. It’s great that Keanu Reeves is so wooden, because his face has the look of dispassion that the yogi-warrior needs to have!
Gaurav Rastogi will be blogging his thoughts as he reads the Bhagavad Gita for the first time. He is 35, lives in the Bay Area, curiously religious but not a Sanskrit scholar.