I was ten or twelve years old when I first heard of the “Bhagavad Gita.” We lived in Bengaluru, and once a week, my spiritually-inclined, civil engineer father would explain its concepts – meditation and other virtues – to my siblings and me. He loved these sessions.
He told us the essence of the Bhagavad Gita was that “Krishna asks everyone to perform their duties to the best of their abilities.” And yet, I still could not make any sense of it. I just felt overwhelmed.
A few years ago, my father passed away and my life came to a standstill. It took days afterwards, filled with sadness, for me to start a transformation that helped me appreciate the Bhagavad Gita’s wisdom and the love and kindness in my surroundings.
The Bhagavad Gita is a profound dialogue between two friends on a battlefield nearly 5000 years ago. When the war begins in the great battle of Kurukshetra, Arjuna declines to fight. Krishna, the mystic, patiently explains a psychological battleplan that navigates a pathway from confusion to knowledge, virtuosity and happiness in the midst of war and chaos.
The mind today is a similar battleground between thoughts and emotions. We face challenges and confusion every day from childhood through adulthood, but there are answers to be found in the Bhagavad Gita.
Swami Chinmayananda calls the Bhagavad Gita “a piece of art of strange beauty and it stands apart from everything else, in a class all by itself.”
Its eighteenth chapter contains a philosophy of living which resonated with me when I moved to the US twenty years ago.
My son was enrolled in the Chinmaya Mission and I became intrigued by their discourses on the Gita. I began reading chapters from a Bhagavad Gita my husband had bought at a temple and which we kept at our prayer altar. The scriptures began to influence me in my daily life.
One idea that I found particularly useful said, “You have the right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the results of your actions. ”
It taught me how to perform my duties to the best of my abilities but not stress about the outcomes.
It was one of many profound lessons the Gita has taught me.
I have learnt from the Gita to adjust and accept situations and people. I have realized that each person is uniquely gifted with different emotions and virtues. And the Gita helps me make better decisions that give me happiness.
A few years ago, tragic life events – death, accidents, illness, would depress me for days. Somehow today I’ve developed a better understanding of Karma, the concept of ‘law of action’ related to fear, life and death.
My reaction now is quite different. While I still feel some sadness for a while, I regain my sense of balance far more quickly.
Individuals who intellectually absorb and assimilate the knowledge the Gita offers, become “liberated from confusion and sorrows, and reach a state of inner tranquility and happiness,” says Swami Chinmayananda. I do believe he’s right.
I’m trying to integrate the principles of Bhakti (Devotional)Yoga, Jnana (Knowledge) Yoga and Karma (Work)Yoga into my own life.
Quite simply, this means channelling my emotions in order to discipline my mind (devotional or Bhakti yoga), discipline my body and its actions to help control my mind (work or Karma yoga), and practice meditation, reflection and detachment to ‘lift the mind to silence’, and reach a place of serenity, peace and calm (knowledge or Jnana yoga).
Every day, I attempt to apply the Divine – positivity – in my work and life . When my mind brims with positivity, I’ve noticed that negative emotions don’t invade my thinking! My mother-in-law is a great example of this practice. She works with utmost care and patience and is mindful in all her tasks, whether drawing a rangoli or chopping vegetables. The motto “Work is Worship” is apt for folks like her who are inclined towards Karma Yoga.
Was Krishna the first psychotherapist? Perhaps!
When I read the Gita it often feels as though I’m being personally guided by a psychotherapist friend to make stress-free decisions. And yet, it contains concepts that transcend religions and borders. These ideas have helped reinforce positivity, love and hope in my own life – but I also believe there are lessons to be found in the old teachings to navigate the crises of our present times. As the world battles the stress and anxiety of the coronavirus pandemic, the Gita can offer peace, hope and answers that humanity seeks to fight an invisible enemy in a different kind of war.
Kumudha Venkatesan is based in Atlanta and loves to read the Bhagavad Gita and often writes about the vegan lifestyle and spirituality.
Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor, India Currents.
Image 2: By Mahavir Prasad Mishra – https://archive.org/details/MahabharataTejKumarBookDepotMahavirPrasadMishra, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66704373