How I Understand The Bhagavad Gita And Its Relevance Today

Posted by Divya Joshi in Society
December 12, 2016

While growing up in a western country, I was mainly surrounded by proud Hindus who always spoke in their mother tongue and talked about India with great pride and worship. In my early teenage years, I started to realise that a lot of the teachings from the elders weren’t those that I personally agreed with. They were things I wanted to change about the society. These included the taboo on women’s sanitary products, traditional gender roles and intolerance towards the LGBTQ+ community. After talking to an elderly lady about my concerns, she advised me to actually find out what Hinduism’s sacred text, the Bhagavad Gita, actually teaches.

In today’s day and age, most developed countries follow a democratic system of government which greatly differs from the monarchic times that the Gita was written in. A leader of a country is supposed to represent the country’s views and values and rule the country in accordance with those values. Although the time in which the Bhagavad Gita was written did not have representatives and responsible governmenance principles, the leader was still expected to uphold the wishes of his/her followers.

The Gita was developed when two parties were engaging in a power struggle to determine who would be the leader. While Arjuna didn’t feel comfortable harming his own blood to gain power; Lord Krishna explained why Arjuna must fight to ensure the betterment of the kingdom. The fight was not just between two cousins; it was between a virtuous, fair, just ruler and an unruly group who did as they pleased. Even though they were related and Arjuna did not wish to harm them, Krishna told him to look at the greater good and ignore his selfish desires and prejudices. Good leaders (and people), do not lead by using society’s fear, anger, or hatred, as this only divides the society. A progressive society would instead unite, supporting each other’s differences, and not fear or hate one another.

This one teaching has stuck with me since childhood and I believe is more relevant now than ever – one must not give in to selfish pleasures or pain but instead aim for what is better for the world’s future and must not lead by using fear or hatred.

The recent election in America highlights what a detrimental effect a bad leader can have on his/her nation. Donald Trump is not even in power yet, but due to his election in which he used fear tactics and played on people’s hatred – gendered and race-related crimes in the USA have sky-rocketed. Already we are witnessing him, using this election result as a means of furthering the interests of his company. What will happen in the future is unknown, but should the advice of Krishna be considered, a person like Donald Trump cannot be expected to unite the country or make it “great again”.

The Gita teaches us that we must face challenges head on. Do not shy away from them, as it is during these difficult times when our strong attributes and true nature shines. This advice stands true for those in power as well as us, everyday people. Whenever a nation or kingdom has come under threat or immense stress, they’ve looked towards their leaders for guidance. It is only through wise, deep understanding and thought by a leader who is unafraid to face challenges, can a country overcome this. A great example of when this was not followed was David Cameron’s resignation after Brexit. He backed out of his role as leader after the vote that he called for didn’t go his way.

Following his resignation, Britain has narrowly avoided a meltdown, but are still suffering the consequence and will continue to do so, for years to come. Not backing down from challenges is a teaching that even we can learn from. For whatever we are passionate about – be it Feminism, Black Lives Matter, or Stop Acid Attacks, we should always keep fighting no matter what struggles we have to face – as long as we believe that we are doing it for the betterment of society, we should never give up.

While facing these challenges, it is also important to stay resilient – another teaching from the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna told Arjuna not to fall prey to paths that may seem easier. The inability to go down your chosen path is born out of the simplicity and lure of another. Barack Obama’s struggle and ultimate success in protecting and funding Planned Parenthood is a great example of how resilience can lead to triumph. Despite multiple setbacks, bad media coverage and various easier options, Obama stuck to his original stance and did not stop trying until he made it law.

These are all specific examples which the Gita gives. If we take a broader approach, one sentence can summarise the crux of what the holy text is all about. “Be selfless.” Broader topics which the text deals with includes renunciation being the key to a brighter future. Renounce inequality and promote equality, renounce arrogance and ignorance, and be open-minded, renounce momentary happiness that is derived from selfish behaviours. Instead, seek happiness that is long-lasting and beneficial to all. If all members of society gave importance to these teachings and adopted them a way of living, we may have already stopped having to argue for women’s rights, LGBTQ+ marriage, and casteism. We should all put in a helping hand in constructing a better future.

Kids these days are taught “each drop counts”. Likewise, each individual fighting for what they believe in, is sure to bring about change – even if it is a small one. A million small changes will create bigger and more influential groups and slowly but surely, this will result in a big change.

The young generation all over the world is connected. We are all united through social media. The youth of India are fighting against the common and old belief that ‘nothing will become of this country’ by actively rallying to change it.

Living life in accordance to the Bhagavad Gita doesn’t make you Hindu, nor does it have to mean that you’re religious. You can live by the Gita without believing in a God. While many believe that the Bhagavad Gita is a centuries-old book, upon reading it, you’ll discover its true meanings and the value of its teachings. This text was, is and for the foreseeable future, will be applicable to society and teach us how to reach a brighter future.

This text was written in lieu of Gita Jayanti, with the attempt to show its positive aspects. By no means does this mean that everything written in the Gita is good and is not written with the intention of promoting Hinduism. If anyone feels offended by what is written here, please accept my apologies.