10 DEC 2016
CONVERSATIONS WITH SHRI. JAGANNATHAN
Gita Jayanti is the day when Bhagavan Shri Krishna revealed the Gita to Arjuna in the battlefield of Kurukshetra. On 10th December 2016, people from all over the world chanted selected verses from the Gita at 6.00pm IST. In this article, Shri. Jagannathan shares his thoughts on the significance and relevance of Gita. Anaadi’s Gita Chant Along App can be accessed at : https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.anaadifoundation.chantalong
The traditional significance
The first is the traditional and religious context of this day. It is believed, that on the Vaikunta Ekadashi day, which falls once in a year in the month of Margashirsha (called Margazhi masam in Tamil), in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, Lord Krishna delivered the sermon called the Bhagavad Gita, the Song of God, to Arjuna. On this Vaikunta Ekadashi day, people undertake an important fast and worship Lord Vishnu. Jayanti means birth, so we are celebrating the birthday of the Gita. The Bhagavad Gita was born on the Vaikuntha Ekadashi day – that is the religious significance of the day.
The Gita as the manual for life
Now let us try to look at the significance of the day from the perspective of everyday life. If you look at the Bhagavad Gita as a body of knowledge, it has a lot of insights to address the multitudinous problems and challenges that a human being faces in his life. And if you look at it from the context of the Mahabharata, there is this very well-prepared, extraordinarily capable, highly intelligent person by name Arjuna, who is facing the most difficult situation in his lifetime. He is losing his self-confidence and in that hour of crisis, the knowledge of the Gita is imparted to him by the Lord Himself. So in that way, the Gita has a very direct implication as a manual to face challenges and crises of life. These challenges and crises were not just unique to Arjuna, but are are faced by any human being in his lifetime. Therefore the relevance is not lost just because the Gita is old. It is relevant even today, because if you take a couple of shlokas from the Gita, you will see that all the gems of wisdom, that are needed by a person to live his life happily and successfully, are contained in it. There are a lot of important insights and pointers in the Gita, that address various aspects of life, such as — why it is important to be emotionally intelligent, why it is important not to lose one’s patience, what happens if one does not practise what is called delayed gratification, in modern terminology. Now a lot of people are talking about delayed gratification. What is meant by delayed gratification? All of us are human beings with sense organs and there are many sensory pleasures around. It is being found that individuals who are able to withhold themselves, and delay the gratification of sensual pleasures seem to do well in their life. This was found through research by modern psychologists. Even management studies have found that great leaders practise this quality of delayed gratification. So why it this important? Why one should not get carried away by sensory pleasures and what happens if one indulges himself solely in the enjoyment of sensual pleasures? To all these, the Gita provides answers and powerful remedial actions to enrich one’s experience of life. The Gita is very powerful, as one can get a lot of insights for using them in day-to-day living situations.
Remind, reorient and inspire
Typically, we all have our own daily routine and daily activities. We also have our own challenges and problems and are so engrossed in this whole thing, that we forget that there is this powerful tool called the Gita. We know that there is a tool available, but since we are so engrossed and lost in our immediate problems and issues, that we sometimes tend to forget that we have this useful, powerful tool in our hands. So usually if you see, all the traditional festivals celebrated in India, are a way to remind us that there is something available and reorient our thinking towards the basic philosophy behind which the particular festival is celebrated. One reason why such festivals and days are celebrated is to remind and reorient us. Another, very important reason for celebration is to enable us to find inspiration by revisiting. That is why usually there is a ritual that is attached to most of the festivals that are celebrated. So typically on a Gita Jayanthi day, in many places in the country, people will have a plan to fast, because it is Vaikuntha Ekadashi day, and also, they will do what is called as parayana, or the recitation of the 700 and odd verses of the Bhagavad Gita. The purpose behind this is to draw inspiration from the deep wisdom of the Gita. Then there are people who take up a chapter, read it, try to understand the commentary, try to get insights and get inspired — so it is a reorientation day, to understand that there is a tool that is available right here in our hands. So that is the practical significance of celebrating the Gita Jayanthi day. And this habit of reading the Gita, and understanding its relevance to one’s life can be very powerful because when we look at the Gita and try to understand the meaning of the verses, we get fresh interpretations, and new solutions keep evolving. That is why you will find, right from traditional commentators like Bhagavan Adi Shankara, Ramanuja, Madhavacharya, and all those traditional Gurus to the Gurus of modern times, many Mahatmas wanting to write commentaries on the Gita, because it is so relevant, and that is why people wish to revisit it and go deeper into it. So this is one of important reasons why this day is so significant.
The Gita Jayanthi resolution!
If a person can start making it a practice to read atleast one shloka per day, it becomes very useful for reflection and to get new insights. So one can probably start this exercise, just as one takes new year resolutions. Fortunately, by the calendar, Gita Jayanthi falls in the month of December, towards the fag end of the year. So one can probably take one shloka, which one finds inspiring, and take some insights from that and say,” Hey, the whole of the next year, I am going to try to follow this – let me experiment, let me play with this concept.” It is not about blind following. The beauty of such scriptures is that everything is logical, and the uniqueness and the spirit of Indian culture is that one is allowed to ask questions, one is allowed to disagree, one is allowed to personalize a concept in his own life, in a unique way — that is the flexibility that is available, the bandwidth that is available. So this could be a nice way to have one’s own new year resolution, probably the Indian way! So I think this captures the significance of the Gita Jayanthi with respect to day-to-day life.
The deeper spiritual significance
At the spiritual level, if you see, the dialogue that has happened between the characters of Bhagavan Krishna and Arjuna in the Gita, is at a deeper level, actually a dialogue that I would say is possible between the individual self — what is usually called the ego, the “me”, and the Higher Cosmic Intelligence. If the individual egoic self or the “me” can actually have a sincere, deep need, a quest, a burning question, then actually the Higher Intelligence has to respond and there is a possibility for a dialogue — a communication — that can happen between the individual little self and the Higher Consciousness. So I would say, at a deeper spiritual level, Bhagavad Gita is nothing but the communion or the dialogue between the Cosmic Intelligence and this limited, individualized ego. This is my own understanding of what I see — the real Gita Jayanthi day is the day when this dialogue starts between one’s own little self and the Higher Cosmic Intelligence. That is the real Gita Jayanthi day, and this Gita Jayanthi day should be in a way, to push us, to remind us, to prod us, to give us an inspiration, for us to aspire for that higher, real Gita Samvada to happen, within ourselves.
The young mind and the fire of discontent
Now, one may ask,”How can youth can take up the reading of the Bhagavad Gita? How is the Gita relevant for youth?” What are the beautiful characteristics of a young mind? I am very careful, I am not speaking of “youth” with respect to the body, but with respect to the mind. I would say, the important characteristic that actually defines a youthful mind is the mind which is constantly is in a state of dissatisfaction. When I use this word dissatisfaction, I am not talking about dissatisfaction from a materialistic standpoint, like — “Ah! I don’t have an iPod. I don’t have an iPhone” or whatever gadgets, the lack of which creates dissatisfaction. Neither do I mean the lack of some kind of material comfort, like — “I don’t have a bike. I don’t have the latest model of this car.” I am not talking about dissatisfaction from the material level. When I say dissatisfaction, I am talking about not finding fulfillment in the actual things that are there in life, and dissatisfaction about the contradictions that are there in the society. It is only that young mind that is constantly dissatisfied about all these things. So if that dissatisfaction is not present, then that mind is an old mind. By age somebody may be 15 years old, but if they do not have this dissatisfaction, then their mind is already old. This dissatisfaction is fire, it is a fire that has created great human beings on this planet earth — whoever has really inspired the human race, be it Christ, Buddha, Vivekananda, or whoever — they all had this fire of dissatisfaction, this deeper fire of dissatisfaction, which was always kept alive and burning within themselves. If this fire is not there in the mind, then that mind is already old, and I would say, that in the longer run, that kind of a non-dissatisfied mind is a dead mind. So what differentiates the young mind from an old mind is this quality of dissatisfaction — “I am not okay with what is happening, I don’t know what to do, that is a different thing, but I just can’t be satisfied” — so this is what is actually a sign of youth – I am talking about the collective young mind in the whole world, the whole human race. So the Gita has got some brilliant pointers, which can actually be food for thought for dissatisfied minds only. Gita is not relevant for old and dead minds. Therefore it has a direct significance and direct application to youth. This is the connection.
Even if you look at the mental condition of Arjuna at the time when the Gita was given to him, he was a dissatisfied person. He was not satisfied with what was happening, he did not want to kill, but there was a fundamental disorientation, dissatisfaction and all these are characteristics. When I say one is disoriented, I don’t mean one is lost. There is a difference. Lost is different, disoriented is — “I don’t know where to go, what to do”. So for such a mind that is dissatisfied and disoriented, there are plenty of pointers and insights that are available in this beautiful dialogue between the two great friends. I would say this is applicable to youth, because again, the Gita is a discussion, a dialogue between two great friends, Krishna and Arjuna. Therefore the youth can relate to friendship. Friendship is something that is so beautiful that happens mainly during youth. Even if one looks at it with respect to age, it is only in youth that one gets the opportunity to have great friendships. So that way again, the Gita is a discussion, a dialogue between friends, and therefore it is applicable to youth — “Hey, what are these two friends talking about?”. So as a young person, I am excited, I am wanting to know what these two great friends are discussing. So here is a clear relevance to youth. The Gita gives one a lot of insights. To one who is fundamentally dissatisfied and disoriented, the Gita gives pointers, it gives a map, it gives a compass. But remember, a map is only a pointer, it is not the destination. So one has to have the capacity, the patience, to be with the solution, to remain with the pointers that are provided, absorb them, keep it alive in the mind, and probably one day it will open up something. So that is the significance and relevance of Gita to the youth.
I also wish to share a personal favourite. This is a very useful and very powerful insight and it can have a significant impact on a human life. I think that it is a brilliant pointer because one thing that greatly impacts human life is desire. I think you will be able to appreciate what is being said. Desire is what creates everything in this universe, but if desire is not properly understood it can wreak havoc. In the Gita, there is a particular portion in the second chapter, where the importance of understanding the operation of desire — the sequence of events from desire to action is beautifully explained by Bhagavan Krishna. That sequence is very precisely captured, and it is critical for any human being who wants to have a sensitive and sensible life to understand this. So I wish to share that insight, and it is one of my favourites –the 62nd and 63rd shloka in the 2nd chapter:
“Dhyayatho vishayan pumsah, sangastheshu pajayathe
sangath samjayathe kamaha, kamath krodhobhijayathe”
“Krodhath bhavathi sammohaha, sammohath smrithi vibramaha
smrithi bramshadh buddhi nashaha, buddhi nashath pranashyathi”
By thinking of objects, attachment to them is formed in a man.
From attachment is born desire, and from desire, anger grows.
From anger comes delusion, and from delusion, loss of memory. From loss of memory comes the ruin of discrimination, and from the ruin of discrimination, he perishes.
So it talks about what happens when one is under the influence of desire, and if it is going to be unguarded, how it ultimately leads to the end, the destruction of the human being. ‘Dhyayatho vishayan pumsaha’, which means the seed of desire starts to sprout when an individual starts to constantly think about a particular thing, dhyana means constant thinking and vishaya means the objects of the world, pumsah means human beings. So by this constant dhyana, sanga happens — there is an attachment that happens to that particular object, and it becomes strong where one’s mind starts to get attached to it. Sangath samjayathe kamah — from attachment, desire arises. Now till this point, there is no problem, if I am able to identify what is happening, being careful and remaining very attentive, then until this point there is no problem. Just before it takes the shape of kama, or desire, that is the only place where I can actually escape from the trick; if I allow that to happen, then that is my fall — that is why kamath krodhobhijayathe, meaning, when that desire becomes very strong and if I find an obstacle – person, a thing, a situation, or a circumstance that is obstructing me in pursuing that desire, I become mad, ‘krodha’ and after krodha comes sammoha, a complete delusion where clarity of thought is lost, there is complete bewilderment, and I am not thinking at all because I am in rage. And because of sammoha, smrithi vibramaha happens – the lessons of wisdom learnt by past experience, fails me -”Who is who? To whom am I speaking? What am I doing?” The importance of using one’s previous knowledge, in relationships – be it my mom, my dad, my teacher, I don’t care about any of it, because I am in rage. Smrithi bramshath, buddhi nashaha, when I forget my past knowledge, my intellect fails and my capacity to discriminate and understand is lost. Budhi nashath pranashyathi — and at the end, when I lose my discriminative capability, it results in death. The word pranashyathi does not mean physical death here, it is the death of the spiritual person, the spiritual person has fallen, I fall as a human being, because I will end up doing something very stupid for which I will regret later.
Dhyayathu vishayan pumsaha – thinking about an object is fine, and is quite normal. When I see something of beauty, of aesthetics, it is natural for me to feel nice about it. It is absolutely not a problem to feel nice about something — a beautiful tree, a very well-designed car, or a well-designed phone, or whatever else that is beautiful. That is probably why Keats said “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” There is no problem in admiring a thing of beauty, but once I see that and when it moves to the next level, of becoming desire, where I start feeling, “I want it”, then the problem begins. So one can actually watch this sequence in oneself. This process of sensory contact with the sense objects is not a problem and is alright, because one cannot avoid it, but the moment the desire to own it, to possess it, arises, all the problems begin. And, not all desires turn into problems. A certain desire becomes a problem only when we, being true to ourselves, know that it is not appropriate for us to pursue that desire. If one pursues a desire in his mind, which he knows that it is not appropriate for him, then it turns into a problem. This is my favourite insight from the Gita which really gives me a lot of inspiration and I felt it very critical to share here.
Bhagavan Krishna’s advice – going beyond the dualities of experience
There is another beautiful insight in the 2nd chapter, which is again, relevant for youth. Therefore I will share it. Somewhere along the way, because we have been a lot of comforts in our lives — our parents, in their love for us, and wanting to protect us, have given us a lot of creature comforts – but there are instances in life, when we encounter a situation where we don’t have these comforts. Then we feel frustrated, we feel dissatisfied, we curse that situation, we get disturbed and we feel stressed out. Now, there is this beautiful shloka which gives us an important insight, and if we can apply that at that particular situation, a lot of ease and calmness would come to our mind. That shloka is -
“mathra sparshas tu kaunteya, sheethoshna sukha dukha dah
agamapayino nithyas, thams thithikshasva bharata”
Experiences of heat and cold, of pain and pleasure, are born, O son of Kunti, only of the contact of the senses with their objects. They have a beginning and an end. They are impermanent in their nature. Therefore, bear them patiently, O Bharata
This is the advice that Krishna gives. Matra sparshasthu kaunteya — any kind of experience that happens to you through the sense objects are agama, they come and they go, it is not for long, therefore the advice given is, thams thithiksha svar, bear with it. Many times we don’t bear with it. Sitting in the room, if the power goes out, we cry and complain, “Ah, cha! This government is bad, this electricity department is bad, this conspiracy.…” and so on, we waste so much energy, we get frustrated, we spoil our mood, and we spoil the mood of the people around us. At that time if we can remember Bhagavan Krishna’s advice, “Mathra sparshas tu kaunteya, agamapayino nithyah.” We can remain cool and composed -” What is the problem? The electricity will come back. Let us do whatever work we can in the meantime.” Imagine the amount of relaxation that will come in by remembering this shloka. It is as simple as that. Say if we are forced to stay in a hot room because of work or because some other situation requires it, if we can remember this shloka, how cool we would be, even if it is hot outside! It is because we don’t remember this insight at that moment that we fret and fume. If we simply remember this insight, it would give us the inner space to remain relaxed and calm. I feel this insight is also relevant to youth.
Aligning with the present moment
In fact, this insight from the Gita is related to what Eckhart Tolle, the German spiritual teacher, talks about — “surrendering to what is.” When we accept the present moment for what it is, without labelling it as, “Yech! This is bad”, “this is terrible” and so on, it helps us settle down within ourselves and be at ease. This is a very important and beautiful insight, because what is is the only reality. The past and the future is not real. It is only the present that is real. If we are able to accept that, then we have lived that moment completely. That is why it gives us the sense of being able to feel at ease. That is the deeper Truth behind it, because what is, is only the now. Now is the only Reality. The past and the future is not real, because even if we are talking or thinking about the past or the future, it is only in the now, therefore that is the beauty of that Reality. So if we are able to be completely available to the now, it gives us a lot of strength, it gives us a lot of inner space, which keeps us calm and composed. In another deeper sense, when there is alignment with the moment, the “me” the fictitious entity, the self can never operate. It can never operate in the now. And therefore the Cosmic Intelligence can operate, so to put it very colloquially, ”you” shut up for That to act. That is why we see people who have understood and who are living this Truth, they are all the time able to remain very peaceful. Even in the face of so called crisis, they are very composed, because they know that this little ego can’t really respond to the challenge, and that allows the Higher Intelligence to operate through the body and mind complex. And that is why their response, and not reaction, to the situation is very different from the normal people. This insight is very important, it is something very powerful and fantastic. I would say that it is the greatest and most precious gift that a person can have.