A while back I came across a post where the author reads Meditations by Marcus Aurelius a 100 times. Now one might be able to watch The Office a 100 times, but doing the same for a book doesn’t sound that exciting. Anyway, I was reading Gita at that time and I felt like maybe I need a re-read of this thing to completely understand everything. I have read it 3 times since then. I read the penguin classics version which also has excellent footnotes. So here I am summing up some of the things I have learned and why reading it was a bliss.
Note: I’m only covering it on a philosophical level. I do not take religion or spirituality
The entire story in short: Arjuna and Krishna are about to enter battle. Arjuna is confused and doesn’t want to fight his cousins. Krishna tells him why action is the superior form, how one must perform his/her dharma. Arjuna is almost convinced, Krishna then revels his true identity, as god of gods, the creator of universe and also the destroyer, tells Arjuna to have faith in him and to go straight to the battle. Arjuna is finally convinced and goes the the battle.
The state of confusion for Arjuna is caused by moral reasons, as the Gita begins, Arjuna expresses his concerns that although the battle is for greater good, he doesn’t want to kill his brothers. Krishna tells him to act on what must be done, instead on focusing on the outcome. Here he says one of the most quoted words and one of the core ideas of Gita
Your authority is
in action alone;
in its fruits;
motive should never be
in the fruits of action,
nor should you cling to inaction.
Similar ideas can be observed in other school of thoughts such as Buddhism and Stoicism. To choose the course of action, he says one must fulfill his dharma. Gita refers to dharma as right actions that supports the cosmic order. Now this was easy to do in the past. Most of the professions were well-defined. Most of the people followed one profession their entire life. Not the case with this generation. Most of the time we are clueless as to what to do next. And to predict if our actions are resulting in cosmic order is harder than ever. A guy inventing facebook and Trump getting elected as President, who saw it coming?
The end goal, so to speak, is to achieve oneness with God. This takes up majority of discussions in Gita and I don’t have much to add here. But Krishna discuss three more ways to achieve this state. The process of achieving this state is called yoga.
Karma: Yoga of action
Jnana: Yoga of knowledge
Bhakti: Yoga of devotion
Raja: Yoga of meditation (read renunciation)
Although, all yoga ends in same results, i.e. oneness with God, Krishna says Yoga of action is the best kind. Raja yoga is the hardest. Bhakti yoga is the easiest. And yoga of knowledge is a hit or miss.
Since Arjuna doesn’t have time to perfect his craft in the midst of battle, it makes sense to follow the easiest path. To top it all, Krishna revels his true form. He is not just Arjuna’s charioteer but also lord of lords. The remaining one-third of the Gita is about Bhakti yoga, which might be interesting for religious people.
A thought experiment and bunch of questions
I was more interested in yoga of action, and created some thought experiments. Krishna says to Arjuna:
Son of Pritha:
for me, nothing at all
is to be done
in the three worlds;
there is nothing
to be reached
which has not been reached.
Even so, I move in action.
For a God, what is the reason to keep moving if there is nothing to be achieved? Imagine yourself as the creator of a small world, where the creatures in it are sentient. What kind of qualities would you give to the creatures? Would you build a perfect utopia where nobody ever feels sadness and is in constant state of bliss? Why in our world it is said that suffering is necessary part of growth? Would you allow a possiblity of “growth” to the creatures of your world? What would that growth look like? If growth is modeled into, what would the highest state of growth look like? Do you imagine a state where your manual intervention would be required?
I remember reading once in Bird by Bird that perfect characters results in boring ones. Knowing that, it allows me to have deeper appreciation for words like the following, not in a stoic way, but why imperfections are necessary:
moving beyond dualities,
free from malice,
the same in fulfillment
even after acting,
that one is not bound.
There’s much more to this books than the ideas discussed above. There’re insightful discussions about death, desire, anger and so on, which would take entire pages each. But here are my key takeaways from this book:
As usual with mythological/religious readings, the ideas presented in the book are hard to implement in real life. But that doesn’t mean we cannot apply the smallest unit of an idea and experiment with the results. There is a study suggesting that volunteering increases life expectancy. It is the smallest unit of action without expecting rewards. We might be able to replicate it in our 8 hour office job.
To not despise evil and be blinded by it, but see it for what it really is, a necessary part of life.
I would love to hear your thoughts. I haven’t built a comment section yet, so mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org