Regular reader and occasional commenter ‘doctorhari’ has written a book titled “Butterflies, Parathas and the Bhagwat Gita,” which he calls “a fictional work interspersed with the Gita’s wisdom. It traces the journey of two flawed, irreverent men pushed to come to terms with the Gita, and how that ended up transforming their lives.” The book is available here, and here’s an excerpt.
Arjuna couldn’t. His eyes saw the opposing army. For the first time, the people standing there appeared to his eyes, not as representatives of adharma that he had to fight against, but as kinsmen – his brothers and relatives. It blinded the warrior’s senses, and bred weakness in his kshatriya blood. He kept his bow and arrow down and surrendered totally to Krishna.
My heart is overpowered by weakness.
My mind is confused about Dharma.
I’m your disciple. I have taken refuge in you.
Teach me what’s good for me. 2.7
The first chapter of the Gita, which describes Arjuna’s predicament in detail, is called Vishaada Yoga. The term vishaada means despair and yoga refers to oneness with the Divine, with the eternal truth within us. In Sri Aurobindo’s words, yoga is ‘a union of the human individual with the universal and transcendent existence.’ By giving a seemingly paradoxical name Vishaada Yoga to its first chapter, the Gita seems to tell us that even despair is divine and can lead to such an oneness.
‘Whoa! Whoa!!’ Sandy raised his eyes from the write-up. He was staring at me incredulously. ‘Venkiananda, you seem to have gone in too deep with this.’
‘Well, if something is worth doing, then it is worth doing well, maaps. Our Sir used to say that to us, remember?’
‘Hmm, whatever! So Arjuna went into distress, and Krishna shared some esoteric truths and brought him back to his senses! But there’s a question I have here. In medicine, to handle a crisis you need knowledge . . . but to face the tough spots in life, do you think knowing these ‘mystic truths’ is the only way? No other go? Something doesn’t gel for me.’
Fair question! I gave the answer to this the next day in my subsequent write-up.
Stress is inevitable in life. There is the daily work pressure, differences with loved ones, and sometimes there are the great, unexpected tragedies as well that life presents us with. What are all the coping strategies people use to handle stress?
Many just avoid facing the inner pain and steer clear of it mentally. They resort to some form of escapism like shopping, eating out, watching movies, boozing and so on. Such things can be a means of occasional recreation, but when that becomes a consistent lifestyle, where we keep the mind soaked in one sensual pleasure after another not wanting to face the tough questions looming behind, then it is not much unlike keeping an air-filled ball forcibly under water. We only keep ourselves fooled.
‘Maaps, is there anything to be read between the lines here?’ Sandy asked in the middle of his reading.
‘Still have doubts? Of course, it is about you, Sandy.’
At times the stress appears colossal to some that they take such escapism to an extreme. They try to end their lives like Muthu, or wish to become ascetics as Arjuna did.
However, some people manage to perk themselves up and meet the grim side of life head on. A stoic acceptance of everything as a part of life and bravely fighting on is their answer to the challenges that life throws at them. A stoic’s way of living life is like a passionate wrestler’s delight in his game despite its hardships.
Trust is another way people cope with stress. They believe that the Divine would take care of their wellbeing, and that they are absolutely safe. They unwaveringly hold on to this belief no matter what happens in their life. Faith is their shock-absorber.
However, the reality about all such approaches is, life’s power is such that even the tenacious courage and the deepest trust can be shaken. Running away, physically or mentally, isn’t the right choice obviously; one’s inner turmoil would only keep growing. It isn’t living at all.
So is there a better way? What is our Creator’s take on it in the Gita? He is the one most qualified to answer the question, and it was in such a moment of crisis that the Gita was born.
‘Too much build-up, dude. Hope what follows justifies it,’ Sandy remarked.
‘Read on, read on.’
When we search for the answer we find that, Gita in its flow of ideas does touch upon such stoicism – when it advises Arjuna on titiksha (forbearance) in verse 2.14. It also insists on rootedness in faith in its later chapters. However, the ultimate solution it offers for all our worldly problems is none of these, but something quite radical.
Do not depend on the world for your happiness.
Who you are is larger than it!
That is the ultimate solution the Gita offers for facing stress the right way. Forbearance and trust are important and valid only when we see ourselves belonging to the world. The Gita goes one step further and insists on inner renunciation from the world even as we continue to live here. That is the way to disentangle ourselves from the world and all its problems.
‘Don’t depend on the world! That’s the solution, huh?’ Sandy stared at me for some time, a sardonic grin on his face. Then he put down my write-up and reclined in his snug chair.
‘Alright, dude, you know what? I always had this idea about these religious scriptures and how they are only fit for fakirs cut off from life, to sit alone in ashrams and resorts, and experience some freaky inner state. Else they are for people who have earned enough already and don’t have anything else to do. You have just confirmed it. You keep continuing . . . renounce daily life, go for meditation camps, attain enlightenment, and all that. Let’s end our discussion here. I thought your analysis of the Gita was going to give us better ways to live in the world. But the first thing the book says is ‘renounce everything.’ Imagine, that is the first step. I’ve had enough already.’
I waited for him to finish.
‘Done with your blabbering, are you? It’s the first principle shared in the Gita, but it is not the first step to take. In a way, it’s the essence of the book. All the rest of the book is about ways to reach there and live from there.’
‘Reach where; this ‘renouncing’ thing? No. I’ve had enough.’