This article has been written by Neema Majmudar for a Bangkok based magazine, Gita Sandesh. The text presented here has been edited slightly for this blog.
One may wonder what is the use of studying Bhagavad Gita in the present day. How relevant is it to modern life? And what value does it add to one’s life? It may also seem that studying Bhagavad Gita is meant only for people who are old or have retired. (…)
In this article, I have examined some commonly held misconceptions which lead people to think that Gita is not meant for youth or young adults who are starting their life. After having negated these misconceptions, I have attempted to give a right perspective on the teachings of the Gita hoping that more and more young people take advantage of the timeless teaching which has the capacity to transform our lives and bless us.
(1) Many people seem to think that Gita has only one central message- and that is- Lord Krishna is asking Arjuna to do his duties. People may consider that they already understand the importance of performing duties and are already doing so in their daily life already. They then conclude that they need not study Gita any more. What we fail to realize is that if this was the only message of Gita, it need not have had 18 chapters especially in view of the fact that Arjuna was a very brilliant, successful and versatile person. Arjuna would have understood one message of ‘do your duties’ very quickly and there was no need for such an elaborate teaching. If Gita is saying something much more than the message “do your duties’, then what is the teaching of Bhagavad Gita? The answer is, Bhagavad Gita is a book of teaching which makes us to explore areas such as: what is the real nature of I? What is the nature of universe? What is ones relationship with the cause of the universe? These are all very important and fundamental questions. Finding answers to these questions is truly connected to our giving real meaning and direction to our lives, gaining true satisfaction and contentment that we are all seeking.
(2) Some people consider that in Gita, Lord Krishna is asking Arjuna not to have desires. This misconception about Gita talking about ‘not having desires’ leads people to avoid studying Gita as they wonder how one can live ones life without having any desires? They may think – how can I study, get good grades, get good jobs and raise a nice family without having any desires. As a result of this misconception, they may consider Gita as impractical in this modern day context where so much depends upon satisfying ones desires for success and achievements. The fact is Gita is, not talking about having ‘no desires’. In our Hindu tradition desire is considered to be one of the great endowments and privilege of human being. In fact, it is only desire to know that led Arjuna to ask a question to Lord Krishna. It is only desire to teach that made Lord Krishna to unfold this great vision of Gita so patiently to Arjuna. This shows how having a desire is not a problem. If desire as such is not a problem, what does Gita have to say about desire? It says that one must have mastery over ones desires. What does it mean? It means that desire may occur, but whether to go along with that desire or not should be in your hand. You have to weigh whether the fulfillment of desire is going to unnecessarily harm anyone or victimize anyone. If it does, you should have enough space within yourself to say ‘no’ and not yield to the pressure that is created by these desires. For example, you want promotion, and it is legitimate to want promotion if you are working hard. However, if ones desire for promotion is so intense that you don’t hesitate putting your colleagues down in front of your boss then there is a problem. Gita teaches us how to discover this space within ourselves that we can fulfill desires in a legitimate way without disturbing the ethical order. Slowly by managing our desires effectively we can become a mature person and discover value for responsible and truthful living.
(3) People often are also of the opinion that Gita is asking us to be ‘detached’ from the world. This also makes them turn away from Gita as they think that life can not be lived with a sense of ‘indifference’ towards your parents, spouse, children, society and humanity as a whole. The reality is that Gita is not asking us to be detached to the world. In fact, physical detachment from the world is impossible as we live in inter-connected world where actions of one affects the other. For example, what I do today as a parent is going to have an effect on how my children grow up as adults and interact with their own friends, spouses, colleagues in the future. Hence, physical detachment is not possible. Then what about emotional detachment? Even emotional detachment is not desirable. We are meant to show love, care and concern for our children, parents, society and humanity; we can not be indifferent to life. Gita does not tell us to be detached from the world and not have emotions. It shows us how to free our emotions of love and care from jealousy, envy, control etc. so they flow without any distortions and encompass the whole humanity.
(4) Another misconception that is often held is that the study of Gita requires you to devote a lot of time to ‘spiritual pursuits’ and to disregard your ‘material’ accomplishments. This is not true either. Bhagavad-Gita teaches you to be alive to realities of existence- covering a very big picture about the nature of I and the Lord. It also throws light on how to live your daily life effectively by managing your desires, making appropriate choices of actions, ways to deal with difficult situations and managing your emotions. By exposing yourself to the teaching of Gita from the young age, you become a dynamic person who is alive to realities of existence, who acts responsibly, be a contributor to society without being overwhelmed or defeated by challenges of life.
In fact, Gita is an incredible book because of its intrinsic value in solving the fundamental human problem. It shows us a way to live our life effectively. It will continue to bless people of the past, present and posterity, the only thing is that, one has to choose to expose oneself to it. I therefore request people of all ages to learn this book of amazing wisdom.
I would like to end by saying that many of our present day problems can be solved or at least be mitigated by our gaining this wisdom. Today humanity is facing many challenges such as- global warming, financial crisis, wars etc. I think that becoming a mature and responsible person is very much part of the solution to many problems and challenges that we are facing in the world.
For example, we all think that something has to be done about the environment, but we generally think that somebody else- private companies, governments, international organizations- should do it. The fact is that each of us can contribute something to solve, or at least mitigate, the problem. So often we seem to miss this point.
For example, by avoiding red meat everyone can contribute to reducing the emission of methane which is one of the gases which leads to global warming. Should we wait for governments to act or should we act like mature persons ourselves? The answer is obvious.
As long as individuals do not take the responsibility to make changes in their behaviors, and make better choices, things will not change significantly at a global level. Mahatma Gandhi very rightly said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. This point we seem to miss often in responding to many challenges in the world. Bhagavad Gita enables you to realize your potential to be that person who is mature and responsible, so please don’t wait till you are old to study this book that has a timeless wisdom.
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