Why did an agnostic in me read Bhagavad Gita?

Photo by Manik Roy on Unsplash

When I told people I was reading the Bhagavad Gita, almost everyone was shocked. Why? Despite being brought up in a religious family, the idea of god being the be-all and end-all was trivial for me. As I grew older, I started to get more and more agnostic.

But lately, I’ve been reading books on philosophy. I read books on stoicism, nihilism, existentialism and Marxism to understand different perspectives and clear various doubts that I had.

Stoicism taught me how to live in a world where things don’t go your way and nihilism about how life can be meaningless. Existentialism then taught me that we have to be responsible for creating purpose or meaning in our own lives while Marxism showed me the problems in capitalism.

After reading books on western philosophy, I wanted to read books on eastern philosophy. Why? Because I wanted to see if I could relate to it as I related to the teachings of the western philosophers.

But, why the Bhagavad Gita? Well, I’ve heard so much about the book and how it’s more than just a holy book and how the philosophies in the book have even inspired western philosophers. 

So one day, upon recommendation from a friend, I bought The Gita for Children by Roopa Pai. Why this one, in particular? Firstly, I was told it was one of the best translations of the book and secondly, the other versions I had tried reading were very boring. This one, written for children, wasn’t and if anyone wants to read the Bhagavad Gita, I would recommend this book to everyone.

Déjà vu moments

Model of Kapidhwaja, Arjuna’s chariot.

Hindu mythology states the Bhagavad Gita is over 2,500 years old. But, the contents of the book are still relevant to this day. The discourse between a confused Arjun and his charioteer Krishna will certainly give you déjà vu moments because I’m sure many of us have been confused and indecisive like Arjun has in our lives.

Arjun can’t decide if he wants to fight the war in which he will have to kill his cousins and teachers. Helpless, he falls to his knees and can even muster the courage to pick up his bow, Gandiva. Like us, he is confused about what to do. He’s going through a negative mindset, which means he can’t see a clear picture. 

The only way for him to see a clear picture was to put away his negative mindset. This is the case for most of us. When we are confused; we always focus on the negatives. But what we should do is focus on the positives which will then give us the courage to move forward with any challenge thrown at us because life is full of battles.

The Bhagavad Gita tells us Arjun can be anyone of us. That is to say, we need people who can guide us and show us the right perspective to help us understand what we should do and why and what our role should be. Having a good mentor in life is very important. This isn’t just applicable to war; it can be applied to anything we do in life.

Life lessons

The book also talks about change and how life is not constant. It’s a universal truth that everything in life is susceptible to change, including our body, relationships, perceptions, and people around us. So we have to change. If we don’t, life will walk past us before we can blink. That is why Krishna tells Arjun to get out of his comfort zone and take risks because that is the only way to deal with different crises.

The Bhagavad Gita also talks about the importance of exercise or yoga. Starting the day with exercise followed by a session of meditation does wonder. I haven’t been able to do this consistently myself, but the difference between doing and not doing is huge. The importance of connecting to higher consciousness is quite underrated. It’s tough, but practising daily with discipline will get you there. 

One of the major lessons the book gives is how it’s important to renounce ego if you want to live a blissful life. In order to do this, don’t expect fruits for your labour because a lot of things in life aren’t under your control. 

“Result of your actions is determined by a million variables, over which you cannot possibly have any control,” Krishna says and that is correct.

That said, the Bhagavad Gita does state the need to value one’s blessing and be grateful for what you have achieved so far in life because there’s always going to be someone who’s doing better than you and someone who’s doing worse. 

“Comparison is the ultimate enemy,” the book states.

Another thing that’s evil is materialism. There’s nothing wrong with being materialistic, but there’s an argument that these things are nothing but a waste of energy and time as there’s a high chance it won’t get you anywhere near your goals. All it does is act like a stimulus and not all stimulus is good for us.

That is why it’s important to live a lifestyle that matches our vision of what we want to do in life. And when we do that, we need to be true to ourselves.

Answering your own questions

Being and doing good in today’s world is tough. But, in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna discusses the importance of virtues over vices in one of the chapters. Have patience, truth and humility over ego and greed, says Krishna. Easier said than done. But, once again, Krishna emphasises having self-discipline.

At the end of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna talks about letting go. For many, letting go is the hardest thing they’ve done. But, letting go isn’t all about abandoning things. The book says we let go just so that things don’t hold us back like an anchor holds down a ship. 

One of the most important lessons the books teaches is the importance to believe in one’s self. Because having faith in ourselves will give us the power the conquer any challenges. 

The Bhagavad Gita is more than a holy book. Sure, it does talk a lot about the god, but if you leave that aside, you get a lot from the book. As I mentioned above, even though written thousands of years ago, the book has answers to today’s questions. It’s mostly self-discovery than religious jargon. The book is a culmination of all the self-help books that I read as it told me how to live a fulfilled life while staying true to myself and focusing on myself.

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Pant is an independent journalist based in Kathmandu. He covers issues ranging from tech, music, mountains, biodiversity and environment.

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