Fitness Magazine

Gandhi and the Bhagavad Gita

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina 

Gandhi and the Bhagavad Gita

Fishing by Torchlight in Kai Province,
From Oceans of Wisdom by Hokusai

In this wisdom, a man goes beyond what is well done and what is not well done.
Go thou therefore to wisdom:
Yoga is wisdom in work. —trans. by Juan Mascaro 

When I teach yoga philosophy I often like to start by saying that most people don’t realize that the most famous yogi of the 20th century was Mohandas K. Gandhi. And what made him a great yogi wasn’t the number of Sun Salutations he did (not very many, if any at all), but his practice of yoga in action (karma yoga), inspired by the seminal yoga text the Bhagavad Gita, which he referred to as his “mother.” 
The Bhagavad Gita is a section of the Mahabharata, written around 500 to 400 BCE. It tells the story of Arjuna, a warrior in the peace-loving Pandava army, who comes to a stop in the middle of a battle when he sees his adversaries, the Kavaras, corrupt, power-hungry rulers who had usurped the throne. Gandhi, who himself believed in non-violence, believed that this battle is a metaphor for the “duel that perpetually goes on in the hearts of mankind.” Because Arjuna sees highly esteemed teachers, elders, and family members among the Kavaras, he tells Krishna, his charioteer and great friend, that he has decided not to fight. Krishna speaks with him about yoga—the entire Gita is their dialogue—until Arjuna resolves to return to the battle, taking the yogic approach to that this fight that Krishna—who he learns is a Hindu deity— advocates. Here is what Krishna says to him: 
Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward.
Work not for a reward; but never cease to do thy work.
Do thy work in the peace of Yoga and, free from selfish desires, be not moved in success or failure.
Yoga is evenness of mind—a peace that is ever the same.

Detachment here means that we do our work—whatever that is—without being attached to the outcome (reward) of our actions. And that is how we can do what we need to do while at the same time staying calm and focused. This approach—this letting go of all results, whether good or bad, and focusing on the action alone—is the essence of yoga. Here’s a second translation of the passage above: 
You have a right to your actions,
But never to your actions fruits
Act for the action’s sake
And do not be attached to inaction. 

Self-possessed, resolute, act
Without any thoughts of results,
Open to success or failure.
This equanimity is yoga. —Stephen Mitchell 

For Gandhi “work” meant fighting for the independence of India and the rights of the oppressed through non-violent action. And he describes the importance of doing work without attachment to results this way: 
“He who is always brooding over results often loses nerve in the performance of his duty. He becomes impatient and then gives vent to anger and begins to do unworthy thing; he jumps from action to action, never remaining faithful to any. He who broods over results is like a man given to objects of the senses: he is always distracted, he says good-bye to all scruples, everything is right in his estimation, and therefore he resorts to means fair and foul to attain his end."—M.K. Gandhi

So this concept is as useful outside of the yoga room as it is inside it. For no matter what work we have to do, whether it is raising children, going to a 9 to 5 job, being politically active, or helping a dying family member, taking action without attachment to the outcome of our action allows us to do what we need to do and be at peace with the results: 

Students often ask us, “If you don’t about whether you succeed or fail, why would you even bother taking actions?” Krishna actually answers this very same question: 
Not by refraining from action does man attain freedom from action. Not by mere renunciation does he attain supreme perfection. 
 For not even for a moment can a man be without action. Helplessly are all driven to action by forces born of Nature. 
 He who withdraws himself from actions, but ponders on their pleasures in his heart, he is under a delusion and is a false follower of the Path. 
 But great is the man who, free from attachments, and with a mind ruling its powers in harmony, works on the path of Karma Yoga, the path of consecrated action. 
 Action is greater than inaction: perform therefore thy task in life. Even the life of the body could not be if there were no action. 
Krishna tells Arjuna that action is a necessary part of human existence, that even the “life of the body” can’t exist without it. After all, we all have to get up in the morning, go to jobs, and take care of ourselves and our families, And some of us have a calling, whether is to be a teacher, an artist, a scientist, or a social activist. So the only way to attain equanimity is to do your work—whatever it is—without any thoughts of results, remaining open to success or failure. 
Another question we frequently hear is, “Isn’t it self-contradictory to have a goal but not be attached to whether or not you achieve it? How is it even a goal if you’re not attached to the outcome?" It’s important to make the distinction between caring about your work—doing something you feel passionate about—and being fixated on the results. Just think: there are many types of work where even though you do the absolute best job you can, you may not be able to succeed. For example, picture a lawyer trying to help a client they believe is innocent, an emergency medical technician trying to save a life, or a teacher hoping to help a room full of students succeed in learning. 
Although Gandhi did achieve the goal of the independence of India that he worked so long for, his final work was promoting religious harmony in newly independent India. In those efforts he did not succeed, and they eventually led to his death, as he was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist. But the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita that he cultivated through his practice of non-attachment enabled him do all this work he believed in, whether he succeeded or failed. 
“When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and I see not one ray of hope on the horizon, I turn to Bhagavad-Gita and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. Those who meditate on the Gita will derive fresh joy and new meanings from it every day.”—M.K. Gandhi
Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by Email ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook ° Join this site with Google Friend Connect 

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog