The Bhagavad Gita, in Sanskrit, means “The Song of God”. Richly filled with divine wisdom, it is a manual for navigating life in a way that brings inner peace, happiness, and self-realization. Like dipping into a perennial holy spring, each reading, no matter how many times over, leaves one feeling refreshed, comforted, clear, and quenched.
Small wonder that Mahatma Gandhi wrote:
“When disappointment stares me in the face and all alone I see not one ray of light, I go back to the Bhagavad Gita. I find a verse here and there, and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming tragedies – and if they have left no visible, no indelible scar on me, I owe it all to the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita.”
The wisdom in the Gita is innumerable. We will explore three key teachings that appear repeatedly throughout the text.
1) Be not attached to the fruit of your actions
When we work as an offering to God, with noble intention, the way in which we work takes on a different quality. Instead of the restless, aggressive energy that accompanies actions performed with attachment to outcomes, such as recognition or monetary gain, our concern is simply with doing our best at that moment – excellence for its own sake.
“Pitiful is he who seeks results”, exhorts Sri Krishna. Why? Because such a person courts misery, through selfishness of motive, and disappointment if the expected outcome is unfulfilled. When we work without attachment to the fruit of our actions, both we and our work are purified. Needless to say, the action is likely to be of a higher quality, accompanied by a far happier, less stressed energy in the person performing it.
The law of karma simply means that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. It is Newton’s Law – discussed in Vedic scriptures thousands of years before Newton. This means that we need to be very mindful of every action we perform. If performed as an offering with noble intention and non-attachment to outcomes, we mitigate the risk of adverse reactions.
2) Equanimity: Liberation from the pair of opposites
When we analyze the machinations of the mind, we find the cause of our mental restlessness to be the constant tendency to swing between raga and dwesha – attraction and aversion. This is referred to as the pairs of opposites (dvandva) in the Gita. The mind constantly judges situations, people, and sensory perceptions as either good or bad, creating corresponding erratic emotions, highs, and lows, delusion and agitation.
This is not the way to inner peace and emotional stability. Life will constantly bring fluctuations in circumstances. Such is its nature. Every joy is followed by sorrow, and every sorrow by joy. How are we to stay steady in the midst of such turbulence? The Gita repeatedly teaches us to foster equanimity, born from non-attachment to the pairs of opposites. “The self-disciplined and serene person remains steadfast in the Supreme Self, in cold and heat, pleasure and pain, as well as honour and dishonour” (Chapter 6, verse 7).
Furthermore, we are encouraged to cultivate same-sightedness. “He stands supreme who has equal regard for well-wishers, friends, enemies, neutrals, arbiters, the hateful, relatives, and for saints and sinners alike” (Chapter 6, verse 9). We might observe that great, respected leaders such as Gandhi and Nelson Mandela strove to display such qualities in their leadership. Spiritual sages such as Buddha and Ramana Maharshi were characterized by it.
3) Spiritual love and devotion
When one realizes the futility and impermanence of worldly pursuits, it marks the start of the spiritual quest. The spiritual path, however, is not for the faint-hearted. Fraught with difficulties, it requires courage to move against social norms, and tenacity to keep walking toward Self-realization. Not for nothing, do saints describe this path as ‘walking the razor’s edge’. What protects us and keeps our hearts aflame with the valor required for such an undertaking? It is spiritual love and devotion.
“Neither by the Vedas, nor by austerity, nor by charity, nor by sacrifice, can I be seen in this form…but by unswerving devotion can I be known and also entered into.” (Chapter 11, Verses 53-54). When the fire of spiritual love enters our hearts, it attracts grace. We feel supported and guided in our spiritual endeavors, and find the courage we know not where from.
The first and great commandment from Jesus too was: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” The Sufi poems of Rumi are ablaze with spiritual love. Thus there is great significance. This love enables us to turn away from the darkness toward the Light.
May we bring these teachings to life in our lives, evoking noble living and progress on our spiritual journey.