The Gita According to Gandhi 2

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November 11, 2014 by NS

Continuing my series on The Bhagavad Gita According to Gandhi. Here’s Part 1 on the Anasaktiyoga. In this Part 2, I’m going to cover Discourses 1-2.

Discourse 1: This is the introduction to the scene of Arjuna’s dialogue with Krishna. It sets the stage by presenting Arjuna’s particular problem, namely that he doesn’t want to face his kinsmen in battle and kill them. Gandhi views the battle and battlefield as metaphorical. There were no particular lines in this discourse that attracted my attention.

Discourse 2: Krishna rejects Arjuna’s concern about killing his relatives, describing the nature of Atman (it is the same and in everyone, and in this sense there’s no difference between relatives and strangers). Then he introduces the idea of detachment.

2.41: “When the attitude ceases to be one and undivided and becomes many and divided, it ceases to be one settled will, and is broken up into various wills of desires between which man is tossed about.”

How often do I set goals for myself but fail to follow through? I liked this line because it illuminates very well why I (and most people) fail in this way. The reason is that I have a bunch of conflicting purposes and ideals, and when I think about one, I forget the others and set an unrealistic goal that is in conflict with other purposes. To the extent that I can reconcile these conflicting purposes into a unified purpose and worldview, I will have more internal harmony, I’ll set more realistic goals for myself, and I’ll less often find myself doing things that I later regret.

2.48: “Act thou, O Dhananjaya, without attachment, steadfast in Yoga, even-minded in success and failure. Even-mindedness is Yoga.”

In this and subsequent lines, Krishna sets out pretty explicitly sets out what is meant by “Yoga”. This is obviously of critical importance. To me this idea is very appealing as it has two good consequences:
(1) It is congruous with the Stoic idea that one should be immune (emotionally) to the vagaries of fortune, since the goal of man is to lead a virtuous life, not to have or experience anything specific.
(2) I think most people (including me) are inherently good in that we don’t want to harm others and do want to help others, but we still are heavily motivated by selfish concerns. This is problematic because it’s easy to evaluate an action based on selfish criteria, but hard to evaluate an action based on selfless criteria, because it’s easy to know how something will affect you and how you feel about it, and that information is very salient. As a result, it’s easy to get carried away and focus only on the selfish motivation, and start acting in destructive and harmful ways. If you just get rid of the selfish motivation entirely, you don’t have to worry about this potential corruption of your motives. This is also related to the previous quotation, noting the potential conflict between one’s different motives.

2.50: “Yoga is skill in action.”

It seems “skill in action” is also an important idea; the term comes up more later. I’m still struggling to understand what it means, though. My best stab at it right now is that this whole work is about renouncement, and the point is to renounce any action or motive for action that is not righteous or selfless. Thus “skill in action” means “only engaging in actions with purpose”, where “purpose” is interpreted pretty strictly. In this sense, most people are going through life doing mostly purposeless actions.


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