Reading the Bhagavad Gita. What it taught me

Foreword

I realised when I was packing my travel bag to return home, that I would have to ‘cut’ a few items from the final pack to make my bag lighter. I would have to keep only the essentials. It’s pretty obvious I cant take a whole bunch of books with me and one of the books I looked down at in front of me was a condensed version of the Bhagavad Gita. (Baa Gaa Vad Gee-Tah)

I was reluctant to give it up, as I had hoped to re-read it later in life. But the idea of passing this book on to someone else equally excited me.

This book was an interesting and thought provoking read. Indeed the Bhagavad Gita was the reason why I decided to start a podcast while in Isolation with COVID.

I am now going to try read other religious texts as a result of reading the Bhagavad Gita.

What is the Bhagavad Gita ?

The Bhagavad Gita is a religious Hindu text. Its importance in Hinduism cannot be overstated. The Bhagavad Gita is considered holy scripture in Hinduism. It is believed to be dated at being written around 200BCE. Hinduism as a religion however, is much older. The book is comprised of 700 verse’s in 18 chapters. Some scholars refer to the Bhagavad Gita not as a book but as a song, as scripture, as texts, as poems, as dialogue etc. So its exact definition as a ‘book’ is not agreed on.

What is it about?

The Bhagavad Gita takes place as a conversation between Prince Arjun and the god Krishna, who is an incarnation of the Lord Vishnu. The setting is thousands of years ago. In the conversation Prince Arjun is filled with moral dilemma about waging a holy war, (against people who have wrongly overthrown a kingdom) and Krishna is giving him guidance, condolence and mentorship. In the opening scenes of the Gita, Prince Arjun rides in a chariot driven by Krishna. They are riding passed the warriors from the opposing army in which Prince Arjun will have to fight. While riding, Prince Arjun recognises faces of people he knows, even relatives.  He doesn’t want to take the lives of others. He sees their life, their humanity as not his to take in battle. Then unfolds a huge dialogue between Krishna and Prince Arjun about life, action, in-action and morality.

The opening scenes of the Bhagavad Gita are incredibly famous for this reason. How can someone decide when something is right or wrong?

When and Where does the storyline of the Bhagavad Gita take place?

The book takes place as a conversation between Arjun and Krishna on the plains of an ancient battle-field thousands of years in the past.

What did I learn from the Bhagavad Gita?

For me personally the biggest element I took away from the book was practising detachment more in life, and to take-action when I am frozen in doubt.

What is the central message of the Bhagavad Gita?

This answer could be written into an entire book. Indeed it has been, multiple times! To narrow this down to the essential elements. Others have delineated that the central themes are Action, Love, Knowledge. To put them into contextual terms here is what I gained:

  • Good and Evil – Good and evil are eternal themes within the book and are argued as being forever locked in combat, like a balancing act. This spurs the individual (you) to have to take-action in life. Will Evil ever be completely stamped out in humanity? Will conflict always exist? If so, what is the best way to quell conflict? What is the best way to remove evil? The book argues the best way to maintain equilibrium is to take individual action through deep thought, meditation and contemplation to becoming less aggressive. To question your own actions and to understand suffering within yourself and others. Krishna proposes thoughtfulness through action, and actually describes this as ‘Yoga’.
  • Peace and love: The Bhagavad Gita speaks about peace through compassion and understanding. And love through action and morality. The Gita recommends love for all living things and is attributed as being a strong advocate for vegetarianism. The Gita also reasons that within humans are two traits, the divine and the demonic, which when both exercised lead to different places.
  • Action is better than in-action: The search for inner peace is what the main character Arjun is asking for. He wants clarity in his decision making. He is unsure of the moral dilemma facing him. To take-action and wage war (which would result in death) or to take no-action, wage no war, and let a wrongdoing pass. This is the huge moral dilemma that epitomises the entire novel. What is the right way to act in life? How can Arjun ever answer such a question. In this manner the Bhagavad Gita expresses that simply action is better than in-action. If you see wrong, you should help stop it. But you should always act in every way possible to avoid wrong-doing yourself and denounce any act you yourself do that is wrong.
  • Detachment: One of the main themes in the book is detachment. There is a big emphasis on doing “your work” and trusting in the process.  This also means detachment from the self or as a westernised form, detachment from the ego.

Would I recommend the Bhagavad Gita?

Yes.

Afternote

Unknown to me, reading the Bhagavad Gita pushed me in a direction I wanted to go. It spurred an interest in me to read other religious texts. Now I have ambitions to read the King James Bible, The book of Zen Buddhism, The Quran, The Taoist philosophy and more, and am on my way to doing so. Rather than letting others tell me what these books say, I will take a look for myself. Action is better than inaction.

The idea of detachment in the Bhagavad Gita was powerful to me. It posed a question: Why not start a podcast in my room in isolation?

Detachment here was key. Detach from ideas of the future. Detach from persuasions of self-success. Detach from ideas of perfection. Detach from always having to want to be right or correct. Detach from always wanting to be heard. Detach from wanting to impress others. Detach from the fear holding you down. Detach from seeing financial gain as a metric of success…

See how powerful it becomes?

What is CORE to remember though; is the difference between DETACHMENT and NON COMMITEMENT. The book is not asking you to become numb and detach from everything.

Here’s what I mean:

Detachment means; still trying your best, still putting in effort. But not attaching your emotions to the outcome of that effort. EG you play a game of soccer, you try your best, you fail, that’s ok. You get up, train hard and play again next week.

Non-Commitment means; you don’t try. You don’t give your best. You certainly don’t care about the outcome. You don’t try anything with effort because you see effort as pointless and failure as a more likely outcome. The book certainly isn’t asking you to not commit to things in life.

I hope you enjoyed my brief summary of the Bhagavad Gita, and would love to know your thoughts. Drop me a comment below in the webpage inbox.

Currently at the time of writing, I am now reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

https://www.penguin.com.au/books/the-tibetan-book-of-the-dead-9780140455267

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