Layman Reads Bhagavad Gita Part – 4


What should I do now?

(Third Situation)

So far we have seen the guidance of Krishna towards two situations viz.

1) Multiple options leading to conflicting results which was guided by adopting ‘My ideal’ derived from innate nature and

2) No options yet we are compelled to act where the resolution was ‘Connecting to the Unlimited’.

This leaves us with the last question “Am I meant for only this?” which may surface in us when we feel we are saddled with doing something repeatedly.

This time, let us start off with a story from the great epic Mahabharatha before reverting to Krishna. Amongst the eighteen sections of the epic, the third one known as the Vana Parva (Forest Section) deals with the twelve year exile of the Pandavas and runs as one of the longest divisions. Vana Parva is studded with several stories and anecdotes rich in values and deeper insights. In the current context, an episode narrated by Sage Markandeya to Yudhishtra is of interest to us and runs as follows :

Once there was a young Sage by name Kaushika who was doing penance in the forest sitting under a tree. It so happened that a crane’s droppings fell on him. Disturbed and agitated, he cast an angry glance which brought down the poor bird dead. Later Kaushika entered a village with the purpose of procuring alms. He reached a house and the lady there in requested him to stay. Meanwhile her husband returned home and she started taking care of his needs and served him food. While Kaushika’s annoyance was increasing, he was surprised when the lady said, “Sir, I am not that crane. Please wait”. Unable to resist, Kaushika queried her as to how she came to know of the happenings in the forest. Explaining the merits of focusing on one’s duty (for her it was service to her husband and elderly in-laws), she directed Kaushika to the city of Mathura and learn more from Dharma Vyadha. Kaushika located the person and found him preoccupied with his profession – that of a butcher. Kaushika was not sure of what benefit he was going to get from a butcher. His thoughts were intercepted by Vyadha’s greetings, “Oh Sir! Did that lady send you here? Please be seated until I finish my duties”. Kaushika was astonished. Later on he learns from the butcher, amongst several things that “no duty is ugly, no duty is impure” and the importance of giving all of oneself to one thing that is being done.

This powerful story emphatically brings out the frame of mind with which a task has to be done, however mundane and monotonous it might be and the sublime state which could be attained there from. No doubt, this story has been given an elevated status and is known as the ‘Vyadha Gita’ or ‘the teachings of a butcher’

It is said that most of the teachings of Krishna through the Gita are covered in Chapter two. One such gem surfaces in this chapter, where Krishna sums up the above in three words viz “Yogaha Karmasu Kausalam” [2-50] which is translated as “Yoga is skill in action”. In his explanation to this verse, Swami Chidhbhavananda refers to Swami Vivekananda who compares a practicioner of Yoga with a wavering mind and a cobbler in a market place who does his work with a one-pointed mind and asserts that the cobbler is far ahead in terms of Yoga. It is to be noted that the Sanskrit word Yoga is derived from the root ‘yuj’ meaning ‘to unite’ or ‘to join’

The episode of Satyakama Jabala narrated in Chandogya Upanishad [4.4.2] has a  comparable incident. Satyakama Jabala, a young boy approaches Haridrumata Gautama and requests that he be enrolled as a celibate disciple. When Gautama queries him about his lineage, Satyakama is categorical in his answer that he does not know it (as was indicated by his mother). Pleased by the boldness with which Satyakama stated the truth, Gautama does the upanayana ceremony and takes him under his tutelage. After this Gautama separates four hundred heads of cattle among the thin and the weak and asks Satyakama to follow them. Satyakama vows that he will not return until they become a thousand. N Subramanian popularly known as Anna, in his explanatory note answers the query how does cattle rearing lead to knowledge, by affirming that irrespective of the task being done, doing it with fullest mental involvement leads to purity which is the foundation for knowledge.

At this point, an interesting comparison can be made with the Zen philosophy which could be summed up as – “Zen is when you give of yourself totally to whatever you are doing at the moment”. Historically tracing, it was a school of Mahayana Buddhism that developed in China during the 6th century. The word Zen seems to have varied from Chen which stemmed from Chan which in turn was derived from the Sanskrit word Dhyan. In the words of Swami Vivekananda, “When the mind has been trained to remain fixed on a certain internal or external location, there comes to it the power of flowing in an unbroken current, as it were, towards that point. This state is called dhyana”

Picking up the word ‘flow’ in the above quote, we find that this is defined to be “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity”. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian Psychology Professor renowned for his work on happiness and creativity, in his seminal work “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” explains that people are happiest when they are in a state of flow – a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation.

In sports, athletes are said to be “in the zone”, when they have attained the optimal state lying between boredom and excitement, relaxation and anxiety and are known to deliver peak performance. Michael Jordan, the superstar basketballer was known to be capable of swiftly and frequently entering the “flow state” or “be in the zone”.When he was there, he was unstoppable and could achieve amazing feats.

It is pretty much established that we have the answer to the third and last question “Am I meant only for this?” – What we do matters less, how we do or rather how we associate our mind matters much.

As more questions keep arising, our journey with the charioteer would be continuing!

(To be continued)