Work for work’s sake (Bhagavad Gita 2.38)

Having made pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat the same, engage yourself in battle for the sake of battle; thus you shall not incur sin.

Bhagavad Gita 2.38

Pleasure and pain are not real. These are just notions of the mind. Without this realization the mind is always busy running after something that it thinks would be pleasurable or running away from things it finds painful. With the mind running here and there we won’t be able to perform any meaningful work. Besides, our understanding gets clouded, we lose our priorities and all immoral acts proceed from the ignorance of the fact that pleasure and pain exist only in the mind, not in the thing outside.

So when you rise above pleasure and pain, you won’t do anything inappropriate or sinful. There is no question of acting out of selfishness. No harming someone else just for the sake of gaining pleasure or losing pain because you know pleasure and pain don’t exist outside. When selfishness gets out of the way, all work you do would be for the greater good of the world. And the mind remains calm, there is no pleasure to run after, there is no pain to run away from, the mind is always focused on the work on hand. A calm and focused mind just does what needs to be done irrespective of chances of success or failure. Such a mind that works for work’s sake always turns out high quality work.

But can this level-headed-ness in success and failure be practical? Well, we should just try as much as we can, try for trial’s sake! If you want a practical example you should get to know MS Dhoni, who has this ‘ability to remain level-headed, at the height of success or depths of failure’. MSD is the current captain of the Indian cricket team and one of the most successful captains in Indian cricket.

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Bhagavad Gita 1: The duty of the Pandavas

Bhagavad Gita is the conversation between Pandava Arjuna and Sri Krishna, the manifestation of God. The conversation took place just before the start of the battle of Mahabharata, the battle between Pandavas and Kauravas, the battle between good and the evil. How do we know the Kauravas, headed by Duryodhana, are evil? Well, to anybody who knows the story of Mahabharata and the atrocities committed by Duryodhana and company towards the righteous Pandavas, there can’t be any doubt that these people are evil. But there is an utterance from Duryodhana himself in the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, that puts things into perspective.

Bhagavad Gita 1.8, 1.9, Duryodhana says to Dronacharya, his teacher:

Yourself, Bheeshma, Karna, Ashwatthaama, Vikarna, the son of Somadatta, and many other heroes, who would sacrifice their life for me are equipped with various weapons and all skilled in war.

That word ‘me’. Duryodhana is all about ‘me, mine, myself’, the selfishness. He would sacrifice the life of his venerable teacher, his great grandfather, his brothers, his dear friend and tens of thousands of other people just to make sure he retains the kingdom for himself, just for himself. Now you can imagine how terrible it would have been for the people of this kingdom to be ruled by such an intensely selfish person.

So, it is in the right order of things that Duryodhana (the manifestation of jealousy and selfishness in each of us) be dethroned and the Pandavas, headed by Yudhishthira (the manifestation of righteousness), get to rule the kingdom. It is in fact the duty of Pandavas to defeat Duryodhana and provide a free and fair rule to the citizens. But just before the start of the war Arjuna, the greatest warrior among the Pandavas, and possibly the greatest warrior in this whole battlefield, drops his weapons and becomes despondent. Why? We will see that in the next post.

Your primary responsibility is to take care of yourself

If you want to lead a peaceful life, here is the rule of thumb: Never care about things you can’t control, and take complete responsibility over things you can control.

Things you can’t control: the past, the unseen future, and the way others behave.

Things you can control: what you think, what you speak, what you do in the present moment.

In short, you only need to care about what you are, here and now.

Isn’t this self-centeredness? Of course, we are not preaching selfishness here. We don’t say that you should live only for yourself, or that you shouldn’t help others. Take care of how you help others, take full responsibility of your actions in the present and do your best to help others, but you don’t have the right to worry about the outcome or how the helped will respond to you.

Check out this video where Eckhart Tolle says, “Your primary responsibility is to take care of your state of consciousness which determines the kind of world you create.”

If you think about it, you’ll know that this is the only practical way of living. More than anything else, what you are in the present determines your future. When you take complete responsibility over what you are, what you think, speak and do, everything else takes care of itself.

Isn’t this what is meant in this shloka from the Bhagavad Gita?

You have the right to perform action, but not the fruits thereof at any time; let not the fruits of your actions be your motive, and let there not be attachment to inaction.

— Bhagavad Gita 2.47

Heaven and hell

A story about what makes heaven and hell…

Once a person died and went to the other world. He was taken to Yamaraja, the god of death. Yamaraja asked for checking up his account of merits and demerits, in order to decide if he should be sent to hell or heaven. Chitragupta, the celestial accountant of Yamaloka, who never missed recording every single act, good or bad, of every single being, was rather surprised. Here was a freak case of the man having a perfectly squared or balanced account. His merits were as much as were his demerits. Which side should he, then, go? Yamaraja seemed indecisive for a moment. His mighty intellect, however, soon came forth with a solution. He gave the choice to the man: ‘You will have to experience both [for, the Hindu tradition tells us, neither hell nor heaven, is permanent. One ‘lives’ there as long as one’s merits and demerits permit one to do so;thereafter one returns to earth again] but you can chose the sequence.’ Hence, the man was given the choice to decide as to where he wished to go first.

Accordingly, he was first taken to hell. He saw there a large group of people sitting across a dining table and eating through large bowls containing heaps of food of many varieties, and soups of all kinds. A delicious aroma filled the place. They ate through spoons with long handles — for that was the rule of the place. Despite so much of food around, however, they looked so emaciated and weak. They were so misrable. Looking at them the man wondered how were they still alive!

Then he came to heaven. Here too he saw a group of people sitting across a dining table, eating through large bowls of food and soup. The people, like the ones in hell, too ate using spoons with long handles. But unlike hell. here everyone looked well nourished and cheerful. There was an atmosphere of joy and sunshine here.

The man paused to see what made the difference despite similarities. In heaven, people ate, right, but actually they fed each other! The long handle of the spoon made its movement time-consuming and tiresome. Hence,the people had devised their own way of eating. Long handle made it easier to feed the food to the person sitting across the table than to use it for eating oneself. Everyone, thus, fed each other and that was the secret of their healthy bodies and cheerful minds.

And this is what differentiates heaven from hell too — the degree of unselfishness one has. Rightly did Swami Vivekananda say, ‘Unselfishness is God’. Where there love and concern, there is heaven. And its absence is hell. Hell, whatever be its types, is only an extension of selfishness in all its hideous forms; heaven is an extension of unselfishness in all its glory and beauty. Hell and heaven are extensions of out selfishness and unselfishness respectively.

(Story copied from the editorial of March 2009 issue of The Vedanta Kesari.)

And thanks to my brother for helping me post this story!

The entire universe is yours!

Man, made in the divine image, has come on earth to play his role intelligently in the cosmic drama of destiny designed by God. This life is not man’s own show; if he becomes personally and emotionally involved in the very complicated cosmic drama, he reaps inevitable suffering for having distorted the divine “plot.”

~ Paramahansa Yogananda in “God Talks with Arjuna”.

We don’t know what caused us to come here on earth, we don’t know where we go in the end, we don’t know how the universe has come into existence. We may or may not believe in God. Yet, somehow all things have perfectly come together to bring us into existence, the chemical reactions, water, the perfect temperature, the perfect gravitational force… somehow, organisms started evolving on this beautiful earth, the sunlight providing life to everything, and the perfect system to assimilate the energies and sustain life, then came the fish and the frog and the monkey and the man.

The System takes care of everything. Our existence as human beings in the universe is tiny. Yet we think that we are the doers of everything. We are anxious to take good care of ourselves (often, at the cost of others). We fight with each other for survival forgetting that in order to survive, the first thing we have to do is to stop fighting with each other. We are just a tiny part of the big plan, our life in the System is for a very very short period, we come and go in a flash. But we entertain our own selfish agendas, petty desires, and behave as if we, with this little bodies, will live forever and even outlive the System! Invariably, the result of such arrogant attitude is suffering and misery for ourselves.

Then what is the way? How to live? The way is to stop identifying ourselves exclusively with this tiny body-mind complex and recognize that we are part of the System. This tiny body-mind will perish, but the System will survive. When we learn to recognize how beautifully the System has brought us into existence and sustains us, how lovingly the System takes care of us like a mother taking care of her baby, when we recognize how harmoniously our lives are interwoven with the life of the System and dissolve our narrow, selfish plans into the big plan and correctly recognize our part in the big plan, life becomes ever so graceful, ever so harmonious, ever so beautiful! Then we are no more separate from the System, we are no more part of the system, we become the System. In fact, we are the System.

The entire universe is one whole; and, when someone drops their holding onto limited boundaries, then what they gain is the entire universe.

~ Sri Sri Ravi Shankar