Actions and Sense of Self
In The Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna, a skilled warrior, faces a dilemma in the midst of battle. He ceases to fight and admits that he could not live with himself if winning this battle meant conquering his own family. He turns to his charioteer, Krishna, for advice. Through their dialogue, one learns how the external war Arjuna faces is irrelevant compared to the internal war within himself. The following will argue the validity of Krishna’s advice, and suggest that by following these principles, one can discover a happier and more successful life.
This paper will discuss three key elements of wisdom contained in Krishna’s words. First, I will analyze the idea of detaching oneself from the results of one’s actions and how doing so can help the individual. Next, I will discuss the realization of Self and why this is so crucial for Arjuna. Lastly, this paper will analyze the key role that meditation plays in this process and that although the mind is difficult to tame, it is not only possible, but vital to a life of happiness.
In a fast-paced world, people are often thinking ahead and worrying about what is to come. Decisions and actions, even the smallest of such, have a grand impact on the future. Therefore, it makes sense that so many individuals, from an athlete to a businessperson, cling to the results and possible repercussions of their actions. However, by overwhelming oneself with thoughts of the future, a person only faces detrimental consequences. When Arjuna drops to his knees in the middle of battle unable to accept the action he must take to succeed, Krishna tells him, “Fulfill all your duties, action is better than inaction” (105). The fact in life is that we cannot escape our duties; things must be done in order to survive that one cannot avoid. The key for Arjuna is the he must perform these duties “without selfish attachment to their ‘fruit’, or outcome” (101). In other words, he must be disconnected from his expectations and not be affected by the result, whatever it may be. I admit that expectations are a natural occurrence in the mind. As a golfer, I expect or at least hope to shoot a good score. But oftentimes, I get so worried about what could go wrong that my round becomes a train wreck of angst and uncertainty. Instead of having no expectations for my results and just playing, I get so caught up in anxiety about the result that I feel similar to Arjuna collapsed in the middle of an important event. Just the simple act of worrying about a result can have catastrophic consequences. If an individual can live without a connection to the results of what they do, that individual will feel peace and freedom, embodying the cliché “live in the moment.” This is Krishna’s first advice to Arjuna. He then professes that in order to do so, Arjuna must realize Self. Krishna tells Arjuna that “actions do not cling to your real Self” (113). He tells him that those who have discovered Self “have nothing to gain or lose by any action” (106) and are satisfied in every way. Therefore, Arjuna’s ability to detach himself from actions lies in his ability to discovery his true Self.
Each person is unique and possesses a distinct Self, but when one obtains the knowledge of Self, the results are universal. Those who realize Self “are free, without selfish attachments; their minds are fixed in knowledge” (119). According to Krishna’s advice, detaching oneself from actions and discovering the true Self go hand-in-hand, meaning one cannot exist without the other. If one is detached from actions, then one has found Self; if one has found Self, then one is free from attachment. It is incredible to think that despite the differences between people, every individual is capable of attaining the same peace and satisfaction through the discovery of Self. A person who seeks wisdom above all else will “enter into perfect peace” while “the ignorant…waste their lives” and “will never be happy in this world or any other” (121). According to Krishna, knowledge fuels one’s path toward Self-realization, while the unenlightened remain unhappy and distracted by selfish desires. Krishna reveals to Arjuna that they have all faced many births and rebirths and in realizing this, they are unified in knowledge. He says that by having this knowledge and realizing Self, one has “found the source of joy and fulfillment, they no longer seek happiness from the external world” (106). The source of joy is turned within oneself. Instead of searching for happiness in the material world, one can find happiness beyond original expectations by gaining the knowledge of Self. As humans, we often embody the mantra “find your purpose in life” with the idea that purpose can be found in external things. But according to Krishna, “Only knowledge of the Self…can fulfill the purpose of his life and lead him beyond rebirth” (125). Once again, the answers Arjuna seeks are internal, and once he has the knowledge of this, the external will become obsolete. Now that Arjuna understands the connection between his true Self and detachment from results, the last issue that remains is how does he reach this ultimate goal? Krishna transitions into a discussion of yogis and how “Those who aspire to the state of yoga should seek the Self in inner solitude through meditation” (140). Krishna’s last piece of advice to Arjuna is to seek Self through the practice of meditation.
Krishna emphasizes that meditation is the first step “to climb the mountain of spiritual awareness” (139). He gives Arjuna basic guidance, such as where to do it and how to begin. He says, “Make your mind one-pointed in meditation, and your heart will be purified” (141). Meditation holds the key to finding fulfillment through internal peace. In the modern world, success, fulfillment, and happiness are sought through material things. These things lose novelty, expire, and will never create true peace within ourselves. Meditation is constant and unchanging, and gives people the ability to find purpose and contentment through practice. A form of meditation that has been gaining popularity over the years is Transcendental Meditation (TM). Krishna tells Arjuna that “Wherever the mind wanders…lead it within” (142) which is a basic principle of TM. This type of meditation is strikingly similar to the meditation that Krishna encourages. The benefits include productivity, clarity, health improvements, and a general feeling of peace and control over one’s life. Krishna admits that “the mind is restless and difficult to control. But it can be conquered” (144). Anyone who meditates can reach Samadhi, which is when the “sensory and emotional tides have ceased to flow” (126). It is a feeling of stillness within the mind, where one is restful, yet alert, and the mind is at peace. After learning TM this past summer, I can confidently say that this feeling is unlike anything else. No material thing can replicate it, and I can only attain this sense of freedom and fulfillment by turning my mind inward through the practice of meditation.
Krishna’s advice to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita outlines principles for a happier life. By detaching oneself from the results of actions, one becomes free and no longer feels tied to the external world. In doing this, one realizes the true Self and how it allows for selfless service and overall purpose in life. In order to be successful in these two things, meditation must be practiced. It seems complicated, but is actually very simple. Through meditation, an individual discovers realms of life they never imagined. A world where happiness is obtained through internal realization is a world freed from greed and material attachment. Arjuna is just a metaphor for any individual feeling overwhelmed by attachment. The message is that any person can discover Self and become detached. Doing so is not only suggested, but crucial to a fulfilled life.
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