By Gaurav Rastogi
I have been traveling for the last three weeks, and have been reading the Gita on my flights, making hastily scribbled notes that are impossible to “un-scribble” when I’m trying to key in my wit and wisdom. So now I have three chapters worth of reading to write about.
ACTION, WISDOM AND RENUNCIATION
Chapters 3-5 flow into each other, and much of it seems to repeat. Chapter 3 (Karma Yoga– yoga of action) talks about the way to achieve freedom from endless karma. In Chapter 4 (Gnana Yoga – yoga of wisdom), Krishna shares a deeply held secret about wisdom and sacrifice. In Chapter 5 (Sanyasa Yoga – the way of renunciation), the differences and similarities between Yoga and Renunciation are clarified.
Arjuna at the crease
I’m beginning to like Arjuna. While clearly the disciple in the dialog, his job is equivalent to being the opening batsman on every innings and set the pace by asking hard-hitting questions. He delivers with finesse. Witness such classic strokes such as “if you believe knowledge is greater than action, why do you ask me to do this ghastly deed?” (Ch 3:1), and “your birth is recent, much later after the birth of Vivaswat…so how do I understand your statement that you first taught him!” (Ch 4:4), and “Krishna, you extol both renunciation of karma as well as yoga – which of these two is better for me, say for certain” (ch 5:1). If only the Indian cricket team opened with such consistency!
Only one way out: Withdraw from your senses to leave the mortal cycle
Chapter 3 sets out saying that there are two parallel and equally acceptable paths of devotion: yoga of knowledge for the followers of the Samkhya school, and yoga of action for the yogis. This theme will be revisited in later chapters. Basically, the idea is that freedom from karma comes not through inaction but from disengaging the senses while being engaged in action. Offer each of your actions as a sacrifice, because if you don’t, you will continue to turn the wheel of karma forever.
If you’re into computer programming, you instantly see this as an infinitely nested loop, with only one exit condition: “Just do it, but don’t get into it”. In my broken programming from 15 years ago, this is how I’d represent this chapter. (Serious programmers, please write back with the right algorithm, and I can request Vidya to replace the lines below.)
Start TurningWheel with inputs as (Karma, Senses)
If Senses = engaged
Then continue TurningWheel with inputs as (Karma, Senses)
Else if Senses = Not Engaged
Then Exit TurningWheel with inputs as (Karma, Senses)
The ABW principle: Always Be Working
If you’ve attended sales trainings, you’ve no doubt heard the so-called ABC principle – “Always Be Closing”. Classic bad advice, in my opinion. Well, here’s some good advice from the Gita – Always Be Working.
I loved this verse far more than any other in the book so far. Krishna says that since everybody follows the example of great men, he is setting the example by always performing his duties.
Not for me, Partha, are there any duties in the three worlds,
Nor anything to attain that is unattained; and I am always at work
(PS: On a lighter note, I feel one with this verse also because I have been to three cities so far in my travel this month, and I had not a minute of respite from my crazy work schedule. Read the verse again, and you’ll realize why it means more to me while I type on my flight back home!)
Zen homework: my duties, your duties
Here’s a verse I cannot decode fully. I have to meditate over this one to understand it’s true meaning. If you get it, please write to me. BG 3:35
Better in one’s own dharma, flawed, than in another’s dharma immaculately done;
Death in one’s own dharma is auspicious, another’s dharma is dangerous
Before you take out your ammo and head out for a religious war based on this verse, let me clarify that dharma here only means one’s duties, and not one’s religion. Beyond this minor clarification I am unable to get to the real meaning of this one. Why would it be a problem to deliver perfectly on someone’s else’s duties? Does this have to do with preserving the social order, the class system, or what?
Math Addicts: Senses < Mind < Intellect < “He”
The above equation sort of sums up the last few verses in Chapter 3. True wisdom is shrouded by a series of veils, outermost being the senses. As we read elsewhere, being engaged with one’s senses only leads to troubles through the form of anger, desires and attachment. Buy the Star Wars 6-pack DVD if you would like this explained to you in story format. Young Anakin Skywalker turns into Darth Vader through this process – by being attached, lustful, and angry. If only he had read the Gita (or this blog), I say.
Gaurav Rastogi is blogging his thoughts as he reads the Bhagvad Gita for the first time. He is 35, lives in the Bay Area, curiously religious but not a Sanskrit scholar.
Stay in your trailer, bro, and stop being a snoopy dog. Generally stop being a “nuisance”. And Vidya, make no changes, not a word! Better be in one’s own dharma, another’s dharma is dangerous.
Keep them coming Gaurav.
You have raised a doubt about the full meaning of 3:35
The doubt arises because of the insufficient understanding of the Dharma.
The word Dharma is a derivative of Dhar, which means to hold. That which holds or that which maketh, is the Dharma. What holds something. In today’s parlance it is easy to explain as the ‘core competency’. If that is not there, then the THING is not there. eg. to shine is the Dharma of Sun. To be white is milk’s Dharma.
In fact when you proceed further in Geetha many of the meanings would become clearer. If the sun does not shine it is not sun. Ok, the whole thought comes from Sanskrit langugage also. Sun is called Bhaskara. Bhas means shine, kara means to do. Bhaskara means one who shines. So that is his dharma.
Elsewhere in 4:13 Krishna says The four colours are created by the Ultimate, on the basis of properties and deeds. Note, not by birth. Those properties and deeds is the Dharma.
So by the definition of Dharma itself, if one does not perform that he seazes to exist. So to fight is the Dharma of Kshatriya. If he does not do that, then he is not Kshatriya. He dies. Therefore, like you have read 3:35, one should perform ones own Dharma only. But later you will read that, that Dharma is by properties and deeds. That is why Viswamitra who was born to Ksatriya parents became Brahmana.
I’ve always had a sneaking sympathy for Arjuna in this exchange. The Gita may be a discourse on living your life and attaining wisdom through detachment, but some of the arguments just look like a hard sell sales job by Krishna to get the customer(Arjuna) to buy what he doesn’t want.
When you look at the many morally ambiguous positions taken by Krishna( like the episode with Jarasandha) it is hard not to be suspicious of his motives in urging Arjuna to war against his natural inclinations.
The intrinsic philosophy of the Gita may be profound, but the environment in which it is delivered makes it, to my mind, morally untenable. It is also a philosophy that defies practical application and in fact can be used to justify even Jihad (“I am doing this as my dharma and consequences be damned”)
Following is my version of full meaning of 3:35, though in principle I agree with the interpretation of Taranandanatha, however i would share old wine in new bottle anyways :). So here it goes:
For every entity there is dharma defined. Dharma is nothing but the appropriate set of actions normally expected and to be performed by that entity. In order to be in balance and equilibrium that entity needs to follow the appropriate rules of behaviour that is nothing but dharma of that entity.Now let me throw in an example from the Panchtantra tales with this theoretical background. Disclaimer first: This version of story is based on my memory. The actual tale details might be missed due to limitations of my memory :P.
“There was a sage who finds a female rat while doing meditation. Through his powers he turns that rat into a girl. Time passes and the girl turns 18, legally licensed to marry in india :), so the sage starts looking for suitable husband for her.
He tries to find the most powerful husband for his girl. The sage approaches Agni(fire). However Agni says Varun(water) is more powerful as it can extinguish me. Now sage approches Varun. Varun says Pawan(Wind) is more powerful as it can alter my course. So sage and his rat girl with varmaala(garland) in her hand approach Pawan. Pawan says Mountain is more powerful than me as it can stop me. So as a last resort sage approaches a mountain with the marriage proposal. However mountain says a rat is more powerful than me as it can dig holes in me. So finally sage understand the hint and turns his girl to female rat and marries her off with the rat.
Moral of the story: Female rat is destined to get married to a male rat.
It means by nature what ever you are supposed to do, you must do that. You must follow your dharma. Changing Dharma can have dire consequences.
Nice work gaurav. I hope you cover all 18 chapters, so that when I actually read Bhagwat Gita (which was in my home’s puja room all along but i never cared to read it) i have prior more colorful background!
BTW nice little programming written! (I hate to do coding!) 😛
Wow! Great comments Geeta, Nanda, Vidya and GR(NTA). VPDot first – I agree that the overall storyline of the Mahabharat does seem to undercut the purity of Bhagavat Gita’s message. My sense is that this text was created and inserted later, and that the story of Mahabharata acquired new twists over time (much like a modern India soap opera).
On BG 3:35- thanks for the great comments. I agree with Nanda in the sense that one has to follow his own destiny. (I did see the 4-varna verse in Chapter 4, but chose not to bring that up for being too controversial). GR – very good analogy with the Rat story.
The big question is, how is a person going to determine what his/her dharma is? Many people spend their entire life “finding themselves” and getting lost in the process.
Maybe this is why Guru’s exist in the desi culture!
Yah, Gaurav, that is one major function of a Guru. But I am not sure if Guru is just desi anymore, it is ‘pardesi’ as well. Tom Peter and Stephen Covy are management Gurus! But then performing the Dharma of Guru is also important.
Also, Gaurav, I don’t agree that the overall Mahabharata undercuts the purity of Gita. What is so pure in Gita. Think, Krishna advices Arjuna to kill his Guru Dronacharya and his great grandfather Bhishma. He does that in Gita only. The beauty is however, how Krishna justifies these arguments. And therefore, everything in Mahabharata falls in line with Gita.
The Kurukshetra war has been kick-started here? Good. Here is my arrow. It’s worth exactly 2 cents.
Why don’t we take the whole argument to another level? Metaphorically, it could mean an internal battle – fighting one’s own demons entrenched in the mind. This is difficult and often we are assailed by doubts. The demons include thoughts we’re born with (relatives), thoughts that guided us (gurus). Ambiguity and uncertainty are constant associates in this war. Looked at this way, it’s perhaps appropriate that the Bhagavad Gita is positioned in the battlefield!
Re T’s comment that the Bhagavad Gita is intrinsic to the Mahabharata and it is actually a justification for that particular war, I can only say – Krishna must have been Republican!
Also, re that ‘follow your destiny, despite the various castes, in ancient times there was an implicit belief that people could in fact move from one varna to the other by their actions – it was what you did that defined you and not who you were. (Somewhere along the line the varnas got set in stone) So if Arjuna had decided he wanted to pursue a course of studies that made him a Brahman instead of a Kshatriya, he could have done so. So this thing about getting stuck in the rut you were born doesn’t jell – it seems like a specious argument to make people obey without questioning( though Arjuna is trying his hardest!)
Ultimately, all our religious texts justify questionable behavior by bringing in the old saw about good vs. evil.
Re Vpdot’s comment, I agree with you that people can move from one varna to another by virtue of their deeds as dharma is defined by one’s deeds.
However 3:35 of Gita no where contradicts this. All 3:35 says is an entity needs to follow deeds which are appropriately defined by it’s dharma. No where it stops an entity to change its dharma. It only gives a caveat that the results may not be favourable as one attempts to change his/her dharma. Lets take the example of cricket. The dharma of Yuvi is to hit oppostion attack out of the park. Thats his natural dharma. Now all of a sudden Yuvi decides to shun batting [ Yuvi dont read this we need you to hit a lot of 6s in tomorrow’s match 🙂 ] and be the pace spearhead of indian attack, he can very well try to do so. He can change his dharma to be a bowler. However the caveat is he may not get the desired results.
3:35 doesnt stop people to question their dharma and change it. All it does is to make them aware of the likely unfavourable results that may arise and if someone has the mettle to bear that he can change his dharma!
Geeta Nice metaphorical comparison! Its better that 2 cents 🙂 how about 50 cents? 😛
Hey you folks! What about this gem from Shakespeare? “Can a leopard change its spots and an Ethiopian his hue?” PI, but there it is!
Gaurav, 50 cents indeed! What is it worth in India now?
Geeta- I was talking about the Rap artist 🙂
Did i ever speak about money?
[P.S.- Apologies for the PJ. Cant help it my instincts took over 🙂 ]
GR (not the author), great comments, and it’s amazing to see how much of the capacity to make bad pjs comes with the name! 😉 Thanks for the comments, and I bet everyone is worried whether I’m having a schizophrenic moment here!
Geeta, I agree with your assessment that a lot of this battle has to be internal. That’s probably also the islamic concept of jihad, which was an internal thought process, rather than an external battle.
Nanda, Gurus are everywhere indeed. I just worry about gurus who are parasitic in nature. I prefer the “Siddhartha” approach, of finding one’s destiny through introspection and through a process of discovery. Why? See below.
As for using the ends to justify the means (VPDot’s republican argument), I think the logic I have seen in the Bhagavat Gita seems to still requires us to take some axioms at face value in order to build up the entire logical argument. If someone can replace the “benign” argument with “self-serving” ones, even the most pristine logical arguments can be bent into tools of propaganda and domination. Just a matter of changing the input variables, and keeping the same business logic, as they say in the software industry.
Gaurav you are correct that making awesome PJ’s is one of the patent rights of Gaurav Rastogi’s lol 🙂
Also to allay concerns of people that you may be having schizophrenia moments and ofcourse reducing confusion let me rename myself as “Rusty”.
I agree with Gaurav that results might change even if you keep the same business logic by changing the input. Let me take example of cooking( Lately i have been doing it forcefully albeit :). The reciepe for making Dal is predefined akin to business logic. However if you change the qty of inputs like salt, spices you may either make an excellent dal for eating or may ruin it completely and it ends up in the dustbin. So choice is yours to decide.
Either you can use it for collective good or tweak with the inputs to make society worseoff by pursuing your own propaganda!
Gaurav, Guru is very much needed at all times. There is nothing like today is modern times therefore no Gurus are needed. I have heard people arugue that Gurus were needed in olden times when printing was not discovered. Today printed media is there, hence no Guru.
Before someone accepts anyone as Guru, there is Guru-pareeksha; in fact sishya pareeksha too.
How would one know that Guru needs to be tested before accepting. The Guru himself tells the potential shishya. When I met my Guru first, he asked me to read ‘Kularnava Tantra’. When I read it, I was surprised to see that it was giving the stringent and severest tests that a shishya should put his potential Guru, to.
In Gita also, interestingly you would note, that Drona was not a bad Guru. He was performing his Dharma and Arjuna, his. Since Drona at some point of time, moved to the side of Adharma, he had to die!!
Oh no! GR( not the author) – I hate to break it to you but GR( the author) is actually known as Rusty around here! How about referring to yourself as Guru – seems appropriate!)
Whoa! GR (not the author), stay away from “Rusty”. That’s me!! (actually, I spell it as “Rustey”).
Nanda, point conceded. I’ll look up Guru Pareeksha next time I am online, but that’s probably a very good idea. I see the need for a Guru, in general, but lack of awareness of guru-testing was leading me to stay away from recommending/trying that path.
Cheers. Next part is due this weekend. Happy Diwali.
Krishna, Krishna, (or is it Rusty, Rustey) now we fight over names, not notions!
Hi(whichever side of the schizophrenic I’m addressing here) Gaurav. When you say “introspection”, it implies an honest one, right? Just how many of us are capable of that? For me, I am the best, what I say/do is the best. In many cases, I am simply a product of my upbringing, a reflection of my circumstances. What, there’s someone hiding inside me, a new and improved version? That’s preposterous! I am perfect the way I am!
That’s where the Guru steps in, right? But oh, my lord, where will I find an honest, sincere, reliable Guru who has done his self-introspection and has evolved into thinking right?
Gaurav, I cant believe the heights of coincidence, not only we have the same names but also the same nicknames!!
So in the interest of reducing confusion, and to get us back on “fighting over notions”, I pick up name of my favourate rock band “Metallica”. I hope there is no clash over here 🙂
Wishing all you guys a very happy diwali!
Looking forward for the next part…
[Posting my comment in 3 parts as combined post is failing.]
I just found this website and the interesting series of articles on Bhagavadgita. I post this comment with some hesitation – hope my one-off comment would not vitiate the jovial, semi-serious and friendly atmosphere here :).
Socio-religious context of Gita: As a person who is more interested in the historical and hermeneutical perspectives of Bhagavadgita, I find it useful to study Gita in reference to the socio-religious, philosophical movements of the post-Vedic Period. This period (~ 900/600 BCE – 150 BCE) can be considered as the most creative period in the development of Indian philosophical and religious thought – we can say it was an “era of Englightenment” as far as Eastern Philosophy is concerned. The early years of this period saw the formation of Upanishads that criticized rituals and allegorized the vedic sacrifices emphasizing the power of interiorization. Also, this period saw the development of the orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy (shat-darSanas) that formulated independent alternative worldviews (but still claimed the basis and authority of the Vedas). Among these six darshanas, the two dominant schools of thoughts were Sankhya and Yoga (Vedanta became the most dominant school later). Further, the Sramana movements like Buddhism and Jainism flourished precisely in these times of intellectual ferment, besides the materialist traditions like Charvaka/Lokayata etc. It is important to note that Sankhya and perhaps Yoga systems were pre-Buddhistic – it is well-known that Buddha’s gurus were Sankhya philosophers, and many modern scholars like Koeppen place the roots of Buddhism in Sankhya philosophy. Also, many Buddhist sources themselves acknowledge that Kapila, the founder of Sankhya philosophy lived generations before the Buddha.
Though Sarvepalli Radhakrishna regards Bhagavadgita as a brilliant synthesis bringing apparently conflicting currents and religious thoughts into harmony with each other, I am not really convinced of such unity. Bhagavadgita starts off with blatantly dualistic Sankhya (prakrti and purusha are like matter and mind of western philosophy) fused with Yoga, while the general direction of flow in the later chapters is towards a lofty idealistic monism of Vedanta (The chapters of 14 and 17 are again classic Sankhya). In fact, Adi Sankara who championed Advaita on the foundations of Vedantic monism was very critical of Sankhya and Yoga philosophies, and totally rejected them as dualistic (Brahmasutra-Sankarabhasyam 2.1.3). Then, in Gita, we also find yet another conflicting layer of theistic and devotionalistic (Bhaktiyoga of 12th chapter) ideas projecting a transcendent Supreme Being, which is in direct conflict with the immanant Brahman of Vedantic monism. Note that the early chapters of Gita do not mention Bhakti as a means of salvation at all. (For example, verse 3.3 only mentions jnana (=Sankhya) and karma(=Yoga) as the only two paths in the pursuit of liberation). The first time anything closer to the concept of bhakti appears is only in the 10th chapter when the term bhajatam was used ( 10.10). All in all, I think, that the fundamental metaphysical differences of various schools of thought still confront each other uncomfortably and unyieldingly in this amalgamation passed down to us as Bhagavadgita.
Nevertheless, one cannot help but be in awe by what Gita had achieved in the last two millennia (in creating a pan-mythic Indian tradition and in greatly contributing to the Hindu revival). Personally, never being a firm believer of detached attachment or passionless action, I cannot say whether Gita has been inspiring and beneficial to me or just a serious distraction from performing my swadharma (hey, I am a software guy)! Yet, I will always hold a special place for Mhagavadgita, just for occupying the cogitative realms of my cerebral cortex for such a long time :-).
Time to get back to my swadharma – wish you the best with rest of the chapters!
Hi Varttik, that’s precisely the greatness of the Gita, isn’t it? Its ability to dominate and “cogitate the realms of the cerebral cortex” (to disturb, think and hold attention) when one decides to go for an association beyond swearing by it.
Thanks for bringing a fresh viewpoint here, Varttik. Thoroughly enjoyed the read. Hope to see more of your comments around here.
Varttik, thanks for the great comments. The historical perspective is quite useful, and certainly helps understand where the author(s) of the Bhagavat Gita were coming from, and where they are likely to go in future chapters.
I look forward to your comments on future posts!
Since reading Geeta is a duty for Hindu intellectual, and since attathcment to fruits of action is to be avoided, we must read Geeta without getting any fruit from it at all. This is Mimamsa point of view.
A little later on, after death of Ghatotkacha, Lord Krishna advises that one way to slay oneself is to utter one’s own praise. Thus, by revealing his greatness to Arjuna, Krishna is slaying himself so as to be more servicable to his friend. However, such self-sacrifice involving destruction of one’s own glory benefits all beings. It is the opposite of Karna’s friendship for his cousin Duryodhana from which nobody benefits. Afterall, Karna for sake of his own glory demanded that secret of his parentage be kept. Otherwise Yuddhishtra would have surrendered to him immediately.
Since Krishna actually was a philosopher and knower of Vedas, he has to destroy these as well because they are part of his own glory. Thus Geeta is a perfect book- being designed to destroy religion and philosophy completely so that God can be wholly servicable to man.
That is the point of Vaishnavism.
Geeta is also very funny- like a situation comedy- the moment any one makes some pompous statement, you know that soon they will find themselves violating their own rule in squalid circumstances. The sexist and casteist comments are hilarious given Arjuna’s antecedents.
Geeta isn’t like Bible or Koran in terms of God saying ‘do this, don’t do that’ to a particular people in return for giving them victory.
Since Arjun wins with Krishna’s help, Westerners would think Krishna’s statements are commandments. They are no such thing. It is all a lila. A beautiful aria by Mozart full of comedy but also full of love and the desire to be of service to the other even at the price of one’s own glory.
To follow one’s dharma means to follow one’s nature, so even if we end up being able to perform someone else’s dharma or duties perfectly, it is not long term sustainable, because we will simply not be happy and eventually give it up in frostration, Arjuna was created and gifted by Lord Krishna with warrior skills, if he started to act as a saintly monk, then that would eventually drive him insane, because he would be acting against his own God given nature and insticts if you like. A fish is never happy for to long on dry land, or whatever is one’s man’s food is another man’s poison. Some people may be highly skilled in say carpentry, but put them to teach it in a classroom to others for long will make them very unhappy, cause they are not indoor type people, in modern terms this would be called to be in denial, or another example from real life, many children choose a profession to please the somewhat insensitive persitances of their parents, and say the child wanted to be an artist all his lifeyet he/she is stuck in an office job all life this makes one eventually angry, miserable and agrresive, an undesirable environment in an workplace…
Here is a puport of this verse: Bhagavat Gita – As It Is – by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Srila Prabhupada:
It is far better to discharge one’s prescribed duties, even though faultily, than another’s duties perfectly. Destruction in the course of performing one’s own duty is better than engaging in another’s duties, for to follow another’s path is dangerous.
One should therefore discharge his prescribed duties in full Kr?s?n?a consciousness rather than those prescribed for others. Materially, prescribed duties are duties enjoined according to one’s psychophysical condition, under the spell of the modes of material nature. Spiritual duties are as ordered by the spiritual master for the transcendental service of Kr?s?n?a. But whether material or spiritual, one should stick to his prescribed duties even up to death, rather than imitate another’s prescribed duties. Duties on the spiritual platform and duties on the material platform may be different, but the principle of following the authorized direction is always good for the performer. When one is under the spell of the modes of material nature, one should follow the prescribed rules for his particular situation and should not imitate others. For example, a br?hman?a, who is in the mode of goodness, is nonviolent, whereas a ks?atriya, who is in the mode of passion, is allowed to be violent. As such, for a ks?atriya it is better to be vanquished following the rules of violence than to imitate a br?hman?a who follows the principles of nonviolence. Everyone has to cleanse his heart by a gradual process, not abruptly. However, when one transcends the modes of material nature and is fully situated in Kr?s?n?a consciousness, he can perform anything and everything under the direction of a bona fide spiritual master. In that complete stage of Kr?s?n?a consciousness, the ks?atriya may act as a br?hman?a, or a br?hman?a may act as a ks?atriya. In the transcendental stage, the distinctions of the material world do not apply. For example, Vi?v?mitra was originally a ks?atriya, but later on he acted as a br?hman?a, whereas Para?ur?ma was a br?hman?a but later on he acted as a ks?atriya. Being transcendentally situated, they could do so; but as long as one is on the material platform, he must perform his duties according to the modes of material nature. At the same time, he must have a full sense of Kr?s?n?a consciousness.
And dude well done you have a great sense of humor!!! 😀