A new series of very short essays on the Bhagavad Gita. In this installment the first three such essays have been combined. All three essays discuss the first verse of the Gita.
dharmakshetre kurukshetre samavetaa yuyutsavah
maamakaah paandavaashchaiva kimakurvata sanjaya BG 1.1
Dhritarashtra’s question to Sanjaya is what his children and the children of Pandu did as they stood ready to fight and kill one another in the dharmakshatra called Kurukshetra.
Well, the Mahabharata war could have been avoided if Duryodhana had been willing to give the Pandavas just five villages, but he refused even that and said he would not give so much land as could be pierced by the tip of a needle.
Gandhiji put it beautifully when he said there is enough in the world for everyone’s need but not enough for one single man’s greed. For Duryodhana his own kingdom that he had usurped from the Pandavas was not enough, he was greedy for the kingdom built up from scratches by them later too, over which he had no right.
The Mahabharata elsewhere contains a rare gem of a lecture by Dhritarashtra to Duryodhana in which the physically blind father advises his spiritually blind son the importance of following ethical ways, especially if you are a leader of men and organizations.
Greed is not good, whether it is in personal or professional life or in industry or business. Our world is filled with greed today, is driven by greed, because we have lost our moorings in spirituality. An American slogan that was very popular all over the world until a while ago summarized it all: GREED IS GOOD!
The place where the Mahabharata war takes place is Kurukshetra, described by the Gita as dharmakshetra. For the Gita, Kurukshetra is dharmakshetra, the field where you can practice dharma, pursue spirituality. For practicing spirituality, you need not go to mountain tops, caves or monasteries. While there is no harm in occasionally retreating to these places, Krishna and the Gita are against retiring permanently from the world to practice spirituality.
There is an ancient Zen saying: “Small hermits conceal themselves in hills and thickets. Great hermits conceal themselves in palaces and towns.” Spirituality can be practiced in your workplaces, in the market, at home, wherever you are.
Arjuna wanted to run away from the battle field and live the life of a monk. Krishna’s response is to call him a eunuch for entertaining such thoughts and abandoning dharma – dharma as the common good should not be abandoned nor should Arjuna abandon his duty as the protector of dharma.
Dr Charalampos Mainemelis of London Business School has been engaged in research on time transcendence and ego transcendence and feels that for the modern man the ideal path to have these deep spiritual experiences is through work – dedicated, focused work that you enjoy.
It does not matter what you do, with a change in your mindset, your work as a corporate executive can become your spiritual practice, your work as a bureaucrat, as a teacher, as a mother, as a father, as a cook, driver, clerk, salesman, all can become your spiritual practice. To use some ancient examples, fetching water can become spirituality, chopping wood can become spirituality.
The Bhagavad Gita teaches us how to transform whatever we do into a spiritual practice. And when that happens, we no more run after the world restlessly driven by greed, jealousy and anger, as Duryodhana does all his life. Instead, our inner world becomes filled with serenity, contentment and bliss.
Kurukshetra becomes dharmakshetra when we stand and fight the battles of our life rather than run away from them.
The Mahabharata, of which the Bhagavad Gita is a tiny part, displays anti-monastic tendencies throughout, sometimes equating monasticism with escapism. We can see this right from the beginning.
Traditionally there are three ways of reading the epic, one of which begins with the story of Astika who stops Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice. Astika is the son of a Naga woman and an ascetic named Jaratkaru. One day while wandering through forests, Jaratkaru comes across a group of people precariously hanging upside down in a dry well. They tell him they are his ancestral spirits and would get gati, further progress in their journey, only if he married and produced offspring. They order him to go back and get married. Astika is the son later born to Jaratkaru.
The voluminous Mokshadharma Parva of the epic gives preference to spirituality while living family life. For instance, in one of the stories the ascetic Jajali is sent to the family man Tuladhara to learn from him true spirituality.
In the Bhagavad Gita when Arjuna later tells Krishna that he would prefer to live the life of a monk, begging for his food, rather than enjoy the kingdom stained by the blood of his people, Krishna asks him not to behave like a eunuch.
Later Krishna says the man who does what he needs to do without being dependent on its results is a sannyasi and a yogi; and not the one who has given up all ritual activities and stays inactive.
Krishna rejects traditional sannyasa and monastic life, and instead teaches the sannyasa of attitude, jnana-sannyasa – being detached from results of actions while performing what one has to do with total commitment. To Krishna, not karma sannyasa but this detachment with complete commitment is true sannyasa.
Krishna also teaches total renunciation of the will and acceptance of whatever life brings, calling that true sannyasa. A revolutionary statement that Krishna makes in the Gita is na hi asannyasta-sankalpo yogee bhavati kashchana: without giving up sankalpas, one never becomes a sannyasi. So anyone who says I shall do this or I shall not do this is not a sannyasi or yogi according to Krishna; instead he who accepts whatever life brings to him and does what life demands of him at the moment is.
For Krishna the highest way of living is total commitment to one’s duties and responsibilities with complete detachment – anasakti. That is the reason why Krishna insists on Arjuna staying in the battlefield and doing what he has to do, however unpleasant it is.
In our professional life too we often have to do things we do not want to do. Krishna’s advice to us is to stay heroically where we are and do such things in the interest of the good of the world, rather than running away from them. Spirituality is not running away from responsibilities.
The Bhagavad Gita does not take any time to go to the heart of our misery to which Krishna gives us the solution. It indicates the problem in its very first verse.
Dhritarashtra’s question to Sanjaya is what his children and Pandu’s children did in the dharmakshetra Kurushreshtha. Mamakah – that is the word the blind king chooses to use. Or maybe, that is the word that comes out of his mouth on its own. Sometimes the most core issues facing us find expression in our words unawares.
Mamata is blind love for one’s people. And mamata is at the very heart of the problem of both the Mahabharata and the Gita. It is this that causes the Mahabharata war and it is also this that gives birth to the Gita. The epic ends with Vyasa’s statement that each one of us has had thousands of mothers and fathers and hundreds of sons and wives in the past. That we are sojourners in this world and our relationships with those we call our own is like that of logs meeting by chance in the vast ocean and parting again.
This is not to say that we should not love our people, or others for that matter. On the contrary, these short meetings are opportunities for us to give all our love to one another and not to waste them in anger, hatred, jealousy, vengeance and other asuri drives.
One of the most beautiful poems in the Sanskrit language is the deeply touching Matri Panchakam by Adi Shankaracharya in which he wails for his mother saying he could neither give her water nor chant the taraka mantra in her ears at the time of her death.
What is said is that we should not love our people blindly but with detachment, anasakti. They should be our strengths, not our weaknesses.
Dhritarashtra was blinded by his attachment to his son Duryodhana and because of that instead of correcting him when he started moving in evil directions, he either stood with him or turned a blind eye to it. His blind attachment makes him fail as a father and in the final analysis, it is this that causes the Mahabharata war that plunges our land into darkness for thousands of years.
As Kahlil Gibran said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
This ability to love deeply without allowing our love to blind us is important for all of us. And it is much more so if you are a person responsible for many people, as Dhritarashtra was, as a modern leader is. Only with detached love can we be truly impartial and unbiased, and thus win the trust of all our people and be a leader in the full sense of the term. Many a leader has been destroyed by favouritism arising from blind love.
Love without asakti should be our ideal.
We should learn to love with anasakti so that life does not become a Mahabharata tragedy for us.
Continued to Next Page