The Religion of the Bhagavad Gita

It’s vacation season in many places in the western world. As travel has opened up after the pandemic, tourist destinations have been thronged by millions of people in India too. Most of us have experienced the difference between hiring a tour agency to plan our itinerary and the effort it takes to plan a travel on our own. The former is the easiest way to travel: you don’t have to take any pains of choosing hotels, plan your day and meals, or arrange for travel, or taxis. No thinking involved. Just pay, sit back and enjoy the vacation. Whereas the latter takes a lot of effort, deliberation and careful decision-making. It also involves taking risks or allowing something to not go as per plan. The former allows us to rely on the guide to translate the local menu, the importance of places you visit and interpret the culture whereas the latter involves taking the effort to carefully decode the local signs, gestures, laws, maps, people, food menu, culture and so on.

As travel preferences have changed from backpacking to buying package tours, so have the ways of religion changed. Today, being spiritual or religious mostly means subscribing to a tour agency aka religious organization and delegating your spiritual journey to them. Each religious outfit follows its branding, flags, values, dress code, customs and tour packages and caters to a specific demographic like youth or upper-middle-class or senior citizens or the emerging middle-class. They tailor everything to the taste of their target market keeping customer experience and comfort in mind.

In both the scenarios, one has undertaken a journey but who has experienced the real country, culture, and people and Who has merely experienced a curated, filtered, translated, manipulated version of reality? Who has a firsthand experience of the real world?

The world today largely follows a theocentric religion: someone creates an image of God ascribes laws, attributes and expectations to it and coaxes the world to follow the religion. On the other hand, Bhagavad Gita discusses a humanistic religion- a religion centred around the individual, any individual; it is centred on you. Bhagavad Gita’s teaching is objective – it informs us about what it means to be human, how we suffer and how we can find freedom- irrespective of our larger religion, tribe, caste or race. Its spirituality taught as science – hence it is uniting in nature, takes people from all walks of life into its stride and share a universal message. Like any theocentric religion it is not centred on beliefs which are subjective, cannot be validated, proven or tested. Bhagavad Gita teaches us to seek the divine in human and not human in divine. And you need to do the necessary hard work. You can’t simply delegate it.

Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita while teaching Karma Yoga emphasizes the importance of choosing to do what is right in any situation over everything else.

The One who performs action that is to be done, not driven by ends in view, he is a sanyasin and a yogin as well, and not just the sannyasin who has renounced all fire rituals and who does not perform any other action.

This is the religion of the Bhagavad Gita. Devotion to one’s duty without having a binding attachment towards the personal reward of one’s work makes one a true yogi and a true sannyasin.

One must understand that one cannot separate work and the results there of – they follow one anothers and are inextrically linked. Krishna is not coaxing us to work with expectation, he is only teaching us to work without attachment to work or its results. Do something because it is the right thing to do at that stage of life, in that particular curcumstance and that particular place. Karma phala does not mean the result of action. For eg. if a surgeon performs a surgery and the operation is successful and patient recovers, then this success is the reult of action, but that is not karma phala. Karma phala is the remuneration and incentive that the Surgeon receives for being a Surgeon. Imagine a Surgeon declares that he works for money and is driven by accumulation of wealth. Would you go to such a surgeon? Performing one’s duty without attchment to Karma Phala means performing the surgery and healing an ailing person because that is what a surgeon is meant to do and accepting whatever remuneration that comes ethically and through the appropriate channel as Grace of God. This is the creed of the Bhagavad Gita. The motive of the surgeon is most fulfilling when it is focused on healing and not amassing wealth.

The performance of one’s duty in any station of life – as a student, as a son/daughter, as a parent or spouse, as an employee or employer- with one’s utmost devotion is the highest form of worship. Gita doesn’t teach giving up responsibilities, obligations and roles; instead it teaches the importance and skill of owning them up without getting attached to them. It teaches us to see our human life and its strife as well as gifts objectively, to celebrate the godly in each of us and keep the demoniac in check. It teaches us to navigate the rough seas of life with courage and clarity, not to escape and flee from it.

Bhagavad Gita takes us on a journey that starts with mastering the body-mind-sense complex (ātma-vinigrahaḥ) and takes us towards preparation for inquiry into the nature of our self (ātma-vicāraḥ) because this alone leads to liberation or Moksha. Gita is thus a Moksha Shastra, the science of freedom; freedom from being this limited , incomplete and wanting person. It shows us the path that leads to our parama-śreyaḥ, most exalted wellness, and as saṃsiddhiḥ, the greatest accomplishment.

Interestingly, religion comes from the Latin word Religare which means ‘to bind’. Bhagavad Gita is unique because its aim is not to bind us, but instead to unbind us, to untie our minds and intellect, and free us. Bhagavad Gita is for everyone who is seeking freedom from Samsara. It’s message is timeless and universal.


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