So You’re an Atheist? You’ll Still Like the Gita

I’m more of a nature worshipper rather than a believer in God. It does help to focus one’s energies on a mentor, rather than brooding over things. Recently I’ve started following Nicheren Buddhism a bit, so chanting I can cause good things and calling out to the Buddha has helped.

Many commenters on my blog over the last 18 days have also said although they are atheists they have enjoyed my synopsis, specially the poems. I’ve tried to treat the Gita as more a philosophical self-help resource, rather than a religious text, skipping over the more overtly religious parts.

Devdutt Pattanaik’s says in My Gita, that attempting a literal translation of the Gita has drawbacks, because the Gita is not linear. Over the last 18 days, I would say that’s true. Often I’ve skipped portions in later chapters, wanting to avoid repetition. However, there’s usually a new metaphor which makes me sit up and take notice. And of course, repetition helps drive the point home.

Why does the Gita appeal to us so much? A short, simple text that promises to help us still our minds- what’s not to like? Psychology also says we should focus on the now. Meditation helps us quiet our internal chatter. What more does the Gita offer?

It is a pluralistic text. It offers 3 ways to live. As someone who’s always been interested in knowledge, gyana yoga appeals to me. Karma yoga is necessary because after all, we must act. There’s always housework to be done and so on. I’m not a big fan of bhakti yoga, but I can see its charm- being lost in thought is a form of meditation too.

The main takeaway of course, is to renounce attachment to the fruits of action. I remembered Kipling’s wonderful poem If when I reread the Gita this time. At first, this philosophy seems counter intuitive.

HappinessWhy treat happiness and sorrow the same way? The Americans have written the pursuit of happiness as their goal in their constitution itself. However, it is an irresistible philosophy. Like when we journey a bit in life, as our destinations keep shifting, we realize it’s more about the journey, less about the goal.

Similarly, not lusting after happiness or getting too bugged about obstacles helps get us mental peace. I’ve absorbed more of the Gita by writing about it. I now plan to read it in the original. After all, we know the language, as Indians. We should take advantage of that. If Robert Oppenheimer could actually take the trouble to learn Sanksrit to read the Gita, we should too.

I’m sure more nuances will emerge, as many connotations will emerge. Translation involves a choice, but we don’t need to make that when we’re understanding the text. I hope to cover the Gita in more detail in the ebook I’ll write, based on the last 18 days blog post.

It’s been an action packed 18 days, like the war of Kurukshetra must have been! I’ll try and think of other related ideas to cover in the next week. Do let me know if there’s something you want me to discuss.

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