Namaskaar. Today we begin a new series “Introduction to Bhagavad Gita”. This is from the monumental work Bhagavad Gita Home Study by Pujya Swami Dayananda. The complete 18 Chapters of the Bhagavad Gita along with an elaborate introduction and the Gita Dhyana Slokas (to be recited before beginning study each time) have been presented in about 9 volumes and is a comprehensive, systematic and deep study of the teachings of the Holy Gita. Pujya Swamiji’s beautiful lucid style unfolds each word, each verse, each topic and Chapter in an easy to understand manner that makes it all most enjoyable. Almost like a story being told.
The Introduction part that we are taking up runs into about 50 pages and we will take it up in several parts so that the understanding and study can be slow but sure. We are fortunate to have Pujya Swamiji’s commentary which I am humbly sharing bit by bit here. None of this is my own work/words. Its all Pujya Swamiji’s grace and words which are reproduced ab verbatim. My prostrations and gratitude to this great Vedantin, a most humble personality, a fountain of grace and mercy, an ocean of compassion, a loving teacher par excellence and above all, a man who lives 100% by the Scriptural teachings. I have enjoyed and benefited a lot just from the Introduction, the rest of the Gita is a delightful journey. Hope you enjoy it too. Pranaam
INTRODUCTION TO THE BHAGAVAD GITA
It is said that a human birth is not easy to achieve. If we look at it from an evolutionary standpoint, there are millions of years between the ape and the human being. In other words, the monkey did not become a person overnight. Even from the standpoint of reincarnation, where human birth is said to be a result of one’s own past actions, karma, it is not easy. And once you have this human body, whether it be due to karma or to the natural selection inherent in evolution, you are no longer in the hands of nature. You now have the rare capacity, called free will, to initiate a further process of evolution. The whole process, then, is in your own hands.
An animal, on the other hand, is fulfilled once it survives a few years and produces an offspring. The cow, for example, need not do anything more than reach physical maturity in order to be an adult. It need not do anything to be evolved emotionally. There is no such thing as an emotionally mature cow. The only goal of a cow’s life is to survive to adulthood and, as an adult, to survive as long as it can. Once it has become an adult, the cow is mature in every way.
A human being also has to become an adult physically. Otherwise, one’s life is unfulfilled. To become an adult physically, you need only survive by appeasing your hunger and thirst and avoiding fatal accidents and diseases. You need not do anything special. The process is a very natural one, made possible by the survival instinct common to all living beings. Hence, after a few years, you find that you have become an adult.
Until you are a physical adult, you are in the hands of nature. Nature takes care of your physical growth until you can no longer say, ‘I am a child.’ Emotional maturity, however, does not happen in the same way. Unlike physical maturity, emotional growth is purely in your own hands. Unlike a cow, one need not be mature just because one happens to have an adult physical body. Inner maturity is a process that you have to initiate because you are a human being enjoying a faculty of choice.
THE HUMAN PURSUIT
Whatever is fundamentally sought after by every human being is called purusartha in Sanskrit. Although each individual seeks something peculiar, there are four ends that everyone seeks, whether he or she is an Eskimo in Alaska or someone living in a remote village in India. The universal ends most commonly sought after are security and pleasure – artha and kAma. The remaining two purusarthas – dharma and moksa, to be explained below – can also be accomplished by a human being.
That which gives you any kind of security – emotional, economical, or social, is called artha in Sanskrit. Artha may be in the form of cash or liquid assets, stocks, real estate, relationships, a home, a good name, a title, recognition, influence, or power of any kind. Such accomplishments boost one’s ego and therefore also provide some security for the ego. And although each person seeks various forms of security at a given time, that he or she is seeking security is common to all.
Seeking pleasure is another purusartha, called kama in Sanskrit. It, too, takes many forms. For instance, sensory pleasures may be anything from seafood or ice cream onwards. Examples of intellectual pleasures are those derived from playing certain games, solving puzzles or riddles, and studying certain bodies of knowledge. Thus, we have varieties of pleasures.
Anything that satisfies your senses, that pleases your mind, that touches your heart and evokes in you a certain appreciation, is kama. Any form of pleasure you derive from your home, for example, or from a relationship is kama. Music and travel are also kama, not artha; because, by pursuing them, you are seeking pleasure, not security. You do not go to Hawaii or the Bahamas to seek security. In fact, you lose some security, in the form of money, when you go to these places. Because you happen to have some money, you travel for pleasure, not for security.
There is another form of pleasure derived from seeing the stars on a beautiful night, enjoying the sunrise, a flower, a playing child, or a beautiful painting, for example. Because this pleasure is neither sensory nor intellectual, I will call it aesthetic pleasure. Even though such pleasures go beyond one’s senses and intellect, they are still kama.
DHARMA AS A HUMAN END
There is a third purusartha, dharma, that is neither artha nor kama. Dharma is a word with many meanings, as we shall see. Here, it refers to the pleasure born of harmony, the pleasure derived from friendship, sharing, helping another person, and so on. For example, when you are able to relieve someone’s suffering, you experience a joy that is not kama. This form of pleasure is different from both artha and kama in that you do not usually seek out a person in pain in order to pick up some pleasure. It is not the same as going to Hawaii or to a concert. You happen to come across someone in pain, you are able to alleviate the person’s discomfort, and you feel happy.
A doctor who does not work purely for financial gain enjoys this kind of pleasure. Charity works in the same way. Those who are able to discover joy in such work do so, I would say, because there is inner growth and understanding, a certain sensitivity on their part. This sensitivity is also required to understand love, for to love another person thoroughly is to understand the other person, for which one should be educated, cultured. If a person has not learned through experiences, if a person is not cultured, what kind of joy can he or she get out of life? For such people, there can be only sensory pleasures, eating, for example. But many simple joys are lacking in their lives. Thus, the gain in one’s life is commensurate with what one knows.
It seems that a certain professor of medicine, in his introductory class, said, ‘What your mind does not know, your eyes do not see.’ What he meant was that, without medical knowledge the cause for a disease would continue to elude a person, even though the symptoms are everywhere. The eyes may see the symptoms, but the mind does not know. In life also, the more I know, the brighter life is, because I cannot see more than what I know. This is not to imply that I should necessarily get more out of life, only that my life is to be lived properly, fully, which implies a lot of understanding.
Living does not simply mean dragging yourself around from day to day – from bed to work, back home and to bed again. The whole process repeats itself until the weekend comes. Then you drag yourself to some recreation in the hope of forgetting yourself – which is why recreation becomes so important. In fact, your whole life can be a recreation. Someone once asked a Swami, ‘Swamiji, do you not take any holidays? You seem to be working every day.’ In fact, the Swami’s life is one long holiday.
If you enjoy what you do, life is very simple. If you do not enjoy what you do, then you have to do something to enjoy, which can be very costly. On the other hand, any pleasure that comes out of one’s maturing process is a different type of joy. Not hurting someone, or doing the right thing at the right time, for instance, gives you joy – if not immediately, later. Suppose you have postponed doing something, like the laundry, vacuuming, or letter writing, the day you decide to do it – and do it, you find that there is a joy in finally having done it – a joy that is neither pleasure nor security. It is just doing what is to be done; it is dharma, a very big topic that we will discuss later. For now, it is enough to know that as you grow in your understanding, your dharma also grows.
These, then, are three of the four purusarthas – artha, kama and dharma. Because of the importance we place on dharma, the order can now be reversed – dharma, artha, and kama. Dharma accounts for your maturity. The more mature you are, the more dharmika you are. In order to be mature, an understanding of dharma and conformity to it become of prime importance in one’s life. Thus, dharma occupies the first place among these three human ends. Without violating dharma, doing what is to be done, you pursue artha and kama, security and pleasure. This is how these three universal human pursuits are to be understood.
To be continued in Part 2
Pranaam from Kamal Kothari