Musings on the Bhagavad Gita 5: The Yoga of Action

When we think of yoga, the image that comes to our mind is that of a person sitting cross-legged in a typical eastern manner – a Buddha-like figure. Stretch your imagination a bit, and you shall see trees and perhaps a waterfall in the background.

This, however, is not the scene of the Bhagavad Gita. Here, yoga is being taught in the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Moreover, the teacher is not wearing a saintly robe, and the disciple is not dressed like a monk. Kurukshetra then is our Manhattan now, our Jl Teuku Umar on the isle – Kurukshetra is the crowded streets of Kuta, Sanur and Ubud. The teacher, Krishna, is not wearing a robe – perhaps he is in jeans with a leather jacket. And dressed similarly is Arjuna, the disciple.

The yoga of the Bhagavad Gita is the yoga of marketplace. The yoga taught by Krishna is not the yoga of present-day swamis, gurus and masters – all smiles and looking goody-goody, ever-anxious to please their disciples, lest they run away and find another teacher.

Krishna is a hard taskmaster. He does not beat around the bush. He does not polish his words or speak in flowery language. If Arjuna is wrong, he is wrong. If he is afraid, he is afraid, and he must be told so.

Krishna is not a present-day motivator who is so very careful not to disappoint his audience, lest his income is affected, and he is unable to collect enough numbers for his next class.

Krishna is very direct and straight to the point. In the third chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, entitled Karma Yoga or the Way to Perfection through Action, he responds to Arjuna’s queries and anxieties in that very manner.

Arjuna asks: “On one hand, you tell me not to get entangled with matter and this material world, but on the other hand you are inducing me to fight. I don’t understand this. What are we fighting for? Isn’t it for the worldly kingdom?”

Krishna answers: “You keep forgetting, Arjuna, that you are fighting for a higher purpose. It is not for the worldly kingdom. You are fighting for justice, and that is your cause, your purpose. You may or may not win…

“What do you care about winning or loosing? The end result of this war may or may not serve justice, but you shall have served the cause. Rejoice in that. Rejoice that you have done your job, and that you have done it to the best of your capacity and capability.”

Motivators make sky-high promises. Krishna is asking Arjuna to face the facts of life. Krishna’s message to Arjuna is simple: Face life as it is. This is having a positive attitude towards life, whereas positive thinking is a negative attitude towards life. When you think positively, you are trying to dismiss the negativities. You are running away from the negative realities by forcing positive thoughts.

Krishna does not advocate positive thinking; instead he is inducing Arjuna to adopt a positive outlook towards life, which involves accepting positivity as positivity and negativity as negativity. It is the acknowledgement of negativity and overcoming it.

Arjuna seems to get Krishna’s point. “But,” he asks, “why is it that our mind is always drawn towards negativity?” Why is it so difficult to adopt a positive outlook towards life? Why can’t we as easily accept negative experiences as we accept the positive ones?

“It is all your mind’s play, Arjuna,” Krishna answers. “The wisdom to see the positive as positive and the negative as negative is often concealed by the clouds of mental distractions.

“The human mind is distracted by his liking and disliking that arises from his mind, senses and sense organs coming in contact with the triggers outside. As such, Arjuna, control your senses, your sense organs, and your mind – so you can see the true nature of things.

“Remember, Arjuna, the mind is not the ultimate authority. It is not the highest faculty. There are higher faculties. Use you intelligence to control your mind. Use your reasoning, your sense of discrimination, which are the products of human intelligence. And beyond intelligence is… that!”

Krishna is referring to atma, usually translated as “self.” In actuality, Krishna is referring to it as that – simply that. He is using a generic term. He does not call it God. He does not give it any name, lest we fight over such given names.

“That” is the consciousness, the pure consciousness, the pure awareness that transcends all mental, emotional, intellectual and other faculties. That is the ultimate reality.

“Having focused you sole attention to that – supreme source, the ultimate truth – discharge your duty as a warrior. Fight for the noble cause to uphold justice.”

Krishna places justice and general wellbeing of all above family bonds, relationships, etcetera. Great causes demand sacrifices. Like it or not, this has been the way of the nature.

The sun is ever-burning to brighten our world. What happens if the sun stops burning? What happens if it cools down? Even while we sleep, the sun sleeps not; nor does the earth. They keep working to ensure that we are alive.

Krishna tells Arjuna to learn from Mother Nature. “Give, share and sacrifice as she does. This is the path of action. This is the yoga, the way to perfection through action. Be perfect, Arjuna, and enact the role given you.”

Thus, the third chapter of the Bhagavad Gita.

This article was published in The Bali Times on Jul 23, 2012.

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