Today is Krishna Janmashtami, the birth anniversary of Sri Krishna, who gave us the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita, which lays out a roadmap to Moksha, inner freedom and tranquillity. Though many of us like to relate to the good parts of any character as similar to our own selves, there is a lot in Krishna’s description of an asura’s pursuit of wealth that we can relate to.
He differentiates between the wealth pursued by Devas and the wealth pursued by Asuras. Spiritual wealth leads to freedom, while the wealth of an asura leads to bondage. Before Krishna starts describing the wealth of Asura, he first assures Arjuna that he need not worry as he is blessed or born with spiritual wealth. I wish he could say the same about most of us.
Krishna continues that in this world, largely there are two types of beings, the divine, and the worldly. The divine has been also discussed in Gita, but here I would like to explore the part where Krishna describes the characteristics belonging to those of us with a worldly/ practical outlook. This is the focus of the post.
Those who are worldly/ practical do not know what is to be done and what is to be withdrawn from. They go with what feels pleasing and right at the moment without subjecting choices and decisions to any higher level of reasoning. This means neither one has to care for inner cleanliness nor proper conduct, or truthfulness in them.
The worldly believe that this world is untruthful, without an ethical basis, basically Godless, and is born of the blind evolution, where the fittest survive by recourse to any means, where ends justify means. Every achievement is driven by passion and will to survive and nothing else.
As a natural consequence, the entire nature including the other men, women and children are seen as the ‘other’, who need to rile over, exploited for profit. Nature needs to be exploited. Thinking becomes narrow and meagre, attitude dominating and actions cruel. Soon they see no difference between their thriving and the destruction of nature.
Each one ends up having bucket lists, wish lists and dreams lists with the least concern for the cost at which the items on the list get ticked off. There is no end to what they desire because they believe that if they will strongly, the entire universe will conspire to fulfil every wish of theirs. They seek purpose in living which has no foundation nor end goal. Moving from one wish to another, one project to next, one dream to next, they continue endlessly like deer searching for an oasis by chasing after a mirage.
With desires, come possessions and with possessions fear of losing them. Life becomes a journey of immeasurable concern and worry until death, intent upon only enjoyment of objects of desire. Having concluded, ‘This is all there is to Life,’ committed to desire and anger and bound by hundreds of fetters of hope, they engage themselves in the accumulation of wealth which can fulfil all desires.
Today, I have achieved this. Tomorrow I need to achieve that. Vacation plan, retirement plan, second income plan, career plan, fitness plan- one plan after another and some running parallelly. All that is needed to put something on a chase is some teasing of our senses with a targeted advertisement or a mannequin in a shopping mall or that billboard that defines what makes a real man or woman. One who has X wants 2X and one who has 2X is planning for 4X.
Relationships are seen as friends vs foes. Friends have to be pleased and foes conquered or destroyed. It’s all about ‘I’ – I am the ruler; I am the enjoyer; I am successful, powerful, and happy. ‘I have wealth. I was born into a very good family. There is no one quite like me. I will perform rituals. I will give. I will enjoy.’
Commitment to pleasure comes with marriage to pain. Even religion or charity becomes a means to an end either for seeking social approval or an expression of social stature. They revel in their own glory, filled with vanity, vain, pride and arrogance.
This is a doorway to painful and discontented life, and it destroys a person from the inside. It fills a person with pangs of desire, anger, and greed. Once one is in their grip, there is hardly any escape.
Krishna says ‘A man who is free from these three gates to darkness, Arjuna, follows what is the ultimate good. Because of that, he reaches the higher end. The one who, being impelled by binding desire, engages oneself casting away the injunctions of the sästra, gains neither maturity nor happiness (here), much less a higher-end.’
After all the chasing, targeting, planning, achieving – one remains the same wanting, incomplete, insatiable person. This is how the pursuit of the worldly and the practical binds us, tighter with every new desire. An asura is thus not really evil or immoral person but simply one who is caught in worldly pursuits.
There is pleasure when a sore is scratched, But to be without sores is more pleasurable still. Just so, there are pleasures in worldly desires, But to be without desires is more pleasurable still.Nagarjuna
On this auspicious day, I would like all to evaluate our lives, our pursuits. Ask yourself ‘Where am I going?’ and where do I really want to go. Life is short even if one lives beyond the life expectancy of his country.
Those who are wary of worldly life can choose instead the pursuit of spiritual wealth, the one that frees, not binds. One can choose the divine life. Krishna discusses this in the early part of the 16th chapter. Those who are interested to find out more can explore. I would leave you with the hope that our precious lives need not end in this worldly way. Look up to Krishna. He will show you the path.
Happy Krishna Janmashtami!