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.