Why doesn’t the Gita make sense?
On the outside, it is a song. From the inside, the Gita is a study of human conduct.
The Gita is one of the few guides to the ideal way of living life. Most modern books on religion, psychology, spirituality, and anthropology ask their readers to probe their conscience and find a path for themselves. Then there are other books that mandate a bunch of rules but without providing much reasoning. Not many books are confident enough to just lay the path out there to follow and simultaneously thorough enough to provide the reasoning behind it.
Despite this, we find ourselves unable to follow the path of the Gita. Worse yet, we even fail to understand it. For us, The Gita is a non-sensical book of songs that we adore. We recite its verses in temples. We quote lines from the Gita to appear deep, sometimes totally out of context. We have even put the Gita in our courts and it somehow prohibits us from lying!
But what is the book trying to say?
Well, it has 700 verses in total so there is a lot going on there. I will talk about the simple takeaways from the Gita as I had understood them. (I will not use the terminologies of the book because those might mean different things to different people). These three takeaways are:
- Watch your actions: Every interaction that we do in the universe is an exchange and has implications. Krishna uses the concept of Yagya (or Yajna) to explain this. In the pit of fire, we put something which is supposed to reach the gods. The gods have to complete the transaction and in return, give us something that we desire (Pro Tip: When you don’t ask for anything, you get the best stuff). An ideal practitioner of Yagya is a person who offers generously and does not expect anything in return. This is what an ideal exchange looks like and that is how a Yogi interacts with his/her universe.
Simply put, make all acts about others and not yourself. The Gita reiterates how insignificant an individual life is. It is rather too small to be at the center of its own acts. Kindness is what will help elevate your status from a nobody to a practitioner of Dharma.
- Introspect — With perspective: Remember when Krishna was talking about how he was everything? How the entire universe manifested itself in him? He was not being cocky. He was giving us perspective.
If you have watched Inception by Christopher Nolan, it will be easier to understand but even if not, just follow along. Imagine that right now you are in a dream. The screen you are staring at, the room you are sitting in, the people in your house, every friend you ever made is a projection — a product of your own imagination in a really long dream called life. What then is your house? What are your parents? Who is the person you hate the most? What is the universe? Aren’t all of them you?
You don’t know if anything existed before you or will exist after you are gone. The things you know about a time beyond you are stories that your projections have fed to you. Your real universe is born with you and will die with you. Your universe is comprised of just you.
Krishna never said that he was what he was because he was entitled or born different. But he always said that he knows better. To become larger than yourself, you will need to accept everything as your own. Even the ugly things. Once you develop this perspective, you become everything — like Krishna.
- Develop empathy: Once you understand what you are, it opens doors to understand what others are too. If all people in your life are your own creations, everyone you meet is a shade of your own personality. Even if the ‘I am everything’ pill a little hard for you to swallow, you can try to find reasons to relate to people rather than try to dissociate from them. Instead of assuming that they are a giant mass of evil, you can try looking at them with consideration and compassion.
The Gita often looks like a patronizing book with apparently ‘words of wisdom’ thrown randomly throughout the discourse. I think this is because the Gita is a conversation and not a textbook. Krishna answers Arjuna’s questions to which Arjuna asks follow-ups and that’s how it goes. Despite this, the ideas presented in the book are pretty organized themselves, as they should be in the minds of a great thinker.
The entire Gita is the following un-interesting conversation:
A: How can we live life to the maximum?
K: Selflessly, through one act of kindness at a time.
A: How can I act kindly when I don’t feel like it?
K: You don’t want to be kind to people because you see them as strangers, worse as predators. Once you associate with them and develop empathy towards them, the kindness will come from within.
A: How do I develop empathy for people I barely know?
K: You are viewing them with your constricted vision. You are being unfair to them in doing so. Once you look inwards and try to understand your own flaws and evils, you will be able to notice the similarity between yourself and others. You will be able to see the world from their perspective.
This is my view of what the Gita is trying to say. Why it does not make sense to us is because we treat it as some cryptic word-of-god rather than a spiritual debate. It does not make sense because we have shunned it. “The book is good, but we live in the real world where it has limited applicability” — is what we say to ourselves. It does not make sense because we are really far from the person the Gita is asking us to be. The thought of bridging that gap is so daunting that we have given up on it.