3 Life Lessons We Can Learn From the Bhagavad-Gita
You may have heard of the Bhagavad-Gita from your local yoga studio or even perhaps during college. You may be wondering what all the hype is about with this book. For starters, it is India’s most prized sacred scripture. Yogis again and again are inspired by its spiritual teachings. Translated literally, it means “The Song of the Lord.”
The Bhagavad-Gita is an epic poem between a distraught warrior named Arjuna and the Hindu deity Krishna. Lord Krishna counsels Arjuna at a time of despair, and though Krishna is speaking to this warrior he is really speaking to all of us.
Without getting into the nitty gritty details, I will list 3 things we can all learn from this ancient Hindu text. Of course there are more than just 3 things we can learn from this book, but I find these to be the most important and practical ones that we can apply in our daily lives.
Here are the 3 things we can learn from Krishna’s teachings:
1. We learn about the concept of dharma (“sacred duty”)
Each and every one of us is born with this “sacred duty” that we must fulfill during this lifetime. For Arjuna, it was the duty of being a warrior at the time of war. But for us, it may be the duty of being a good mom, daughter, or friend. Sacred duty refers to the moral order that sustains the cosmos, society, and the individual.
We can all use this idea to help us cope with our responsibilities in life and see them not as burdens, but as our sacred duties. When we see it in this light, it can inspire us to fulfill our responsibilities with honor and to stop asking the question: Why me? For example, why am I stuck with the burden of taking care of this person? Instead, don’t question it. See it as your sacred duty in life, as a necessary sacrifice, and a spiritual obligation. If we can transform the way we think and see life through this concept, we can lead more meaningful lives.
“Look to your own duty; do not tremble before it… your own duty done imperfectly is better than another man’s done well”
2. We learn the idea of “Disciplined Action”
In this book, yoga is defined as discipline—it is the path of disciplined action. In this scene, Arjuna the warrior stops in the middle of a battlefield, forfeiting his sacred duty. Then Krishna comes along and demands him to take action. We can all relate to Arjuna in this scene: in difficult times we stop, paralyzed with fear and doubt. The lesson here is to never stop turning the wheel set in motion because when we do, we waste our lives and bring our growth to a standstill.
Now let’s take this to our yoga mats. We’re having a bad day, and we’ve stuffed our faces with junk food and now we don’t want to go to yoga class. Krishna tells us that it is only through disciplined action that we can grow. We must conjure up all our discipline and get our asses to class! This book severs the misconception that yoga is a spiritual hoo-ha where our heads are stuck in the clouds. Rather, it reveals that we must remain grounded and disciplined in our daily lives. This is why yoga is referred to as the disciplined path because it’s not about lighting up incense and eating organic food. It’s about being disciplined in everything we set out to do (whatever that looks like for you). Krishna summarizes it best:
“The disciplined man attains perfect peace; the undisciplined man is in bondage”
3. We learn the importance of attaining self-knowledge
Krishna speaks a lot about self-mastery, and that without it we are like “an enemy at war.” Why do we all practice yoga? For many it is to be in shape and that’s OK. But the spiritual purpose of a physical practice is so the spine is strong enough to maintain healthy alignment in meditation for numerous hours (let that sink in). So yoga is really the journey to self-realization.
Everything in life is fleeting right? The Bhagavad-Gita says no, there is ONE thing that is unchanging and that is the Self (our true essence). That is why the answers do not lie in the external world. They lie within us. Lord Krishna tells us that we must part the clouds of ignorance with self-knowledge. Our knowledge is obscured by our desires; we think material things and the titles we hold can sustain us, but in truth, they are all fleeting. Krishna asks Arjuna to look inside himself to not be attached to the consequences, but to fight this war because it is his duty on this earth. Krishna concludes:
“So sever the ignorant doubt in your heart with the sword of self-knowledge, Arjuna! Observe your discipline arise!”
I hope this has inspired you to pick up this remarkable book and take your yoga practice to the next level! I recommend reading Barbara Stoler Miller’s translation of the Bhagavad-Gita for a less dense version of the story.