Bhagavad Gita as My Guide to Life

2019-09-20

I use the Gita as a guide to life. The Gita is a story of Arjuna who during a battle has to fight against his own cousins and family. Krishna, as the godhead, helps Arjuna to understand his duty. This seems to be the main different with the Gita as scripture versus other texts. It gives three paths 1) Karma Yoga 2) Jhana Yoga and 3) Bhakti Yoga to attaining God. Of these the first, Karma Yoga, is the one that I choose because it means to attain God I must fulfill my duty to society by performing action.

The action aspect of the Gita seems to be the most liberal of all definitions. Right action is defined by the following:

"It is in action alone that you have a claim, never at any time to the fruits of such action. Never let the fruits of action be your motive; never let your attachment be to inaction." Bhagavad Gita 2:47

This gives an interesting take because it means action is neither good, nor bad. It is bound by the path that you have taken. I have wondered if this means you can be righteously evil, as well as righterously good. Ravana seems to be an example of the righteously evil in Hinduism. He was after all given the boons of his power by meditation towards Brahma.

But the central piece of this is that action must be undertaken. It is only in action that we have a claim. It seems to follow the First Law of Thermodynamics. An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. If the world is set in motion and the universe is expanding then our actions are moving the universe as well. We are both acting on the universe and the universe is action on us. So it is then important to do the action that we are given to do to move the universe forward.

"Besides, considering your duty as a warrior, you should not waver. Indeed, for a warrior, there is nothing better but a battle fought according to dharma." - 2.31

It is then that we are given purpose based on the actions we take. Our actions are not limited to be good or bad, others can push our actions towards a certain direction but at the end of the day if we are prescribed duty by society we must perform that duty. This is the important aspect of the Gita. We may not always like what we need to do, but in a fatalistic sense we are bound to perform the action that needs to be done.

Well does this mean we have free will? The Gita says we do, it is the action we take where we are bound by the fruits. Righteous living on the other hand comes from action taken where you don’t care for the fruits. This means in a way leading a stoic life. It means doing less, living austerely, not being taken up by materiality, and control of the self. When you are not bound by the fruits, that means you are not bound by others. “To be or to do,” as John Boyd put it. The Gita is focused on the “To Do.”

Further, because of this sense of not living for the fruits, it means attaining self-mastery. It means doing the best you can with that which you choose to do because in the long run as the economists say everyone is dead. This means that whether we like it or not in the long run we are dead, everyone we know will be dead, and we will be forgotten in time. Memento Mori. So we should not aim for the fruits, because it really doesn’t matter, a life living for the fruits of action means we are fettered. This is the Buddhism in the Gita. It is Buddha saying “Life is Suffering.” But the Gita is different in that it says, “Life is suffering because we want the fruits of the actions we take.” We are led by the sways of others and other things, not content within ourselves.

Time I am, the mighty destroyer of worlds, and I come to vanquish all living beings. Even without your participation, all the warriors on the opposite side of the battlefield will be killed.

Therefore, arise and achieve glory! Conquer your foes and enjoy a prosperous empire! O best amongst archers, all your enemies have already been killed by Me – you are but an instrument.

Drona. Bhisma, Jayadratha, Karna and other heroic soldiers have already been killed by Me. Fear not – fight! You will certainly conquer your enemy in this battle. - 11.32-11.35

All of this leads to what I get out of the Gita:

We can only take Action and in the long run everyone is dead so why not take righteous action along the lines of what you are good at and thus fulfill your duty to society and God.

This is essentially the distillation of the moral code I live by. What I choose to do I try to do well, I try to live and act righteously, but in the end I do not want anything out of it. Life is a game of chance and the purpose of a game of chance is fun. If we are addicted to the outcomes then we become gamblers. So we must take the long view sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, in the long run if you are aiming towards your purpose what difference does it make what individual fruits you get?