I had been reading the Bhagavad Gita for years when I learned that it was one of Mahatma Gandhi’s most beloved texts. At first, it might seem surprising that a champion of nonviolent resistance would find guidance and strength in a book about a warrior developing the resolve to fight, but Gandhi knew that Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War holds wisdom for all people.
We engage in struggles every day, and the struggles that are most difficult for us are the ones that we don’t want and wouldn’t choose. In this way, we are like the Gita's Prince Arjuna, and we can benefit from the guidance that was given to him.
(These are the translations of Ramanand Prasad of the American Gita Society.)
5 'O Arjuna' Quotes
"Restless senses, O Arjuna, forcibly carry away the mind of even a wise person striving for perfection."
After the yamas and niyamas, the next limb of Patanjali’s description of the practice of yoga is pratyahara, the turning inward of the senses. When we are unable to restrain the senses, we are powerless to direct our minds. No matter how much we read or study, or how wise we sound when we talk, it’s of little use if we do not practice discipline.
Through the discipline of yoga, we are freed from our slavery to the senses.
(More on discipline in Tapas and the Discipline of Yoga.)
"Only the fortunate warriors, O Arjuna, get such an opportunity for an unsought war that is like an open door to heaven."
We don’t always choose what’s good for us.
Because we are living in our conditioning, we can’t always choose the tool we need to liberate ourselves from our patterns. The conflicts we can tolerate aren’t the ones that can bring us to a deeper understanding of our dharma, our path in life. When the world is disorienting and we can’t find our footing, this is when we are most capable of setting our sights on the Divine.
These unsought wars are an opportunity to loosen our attachment to the results of actions and devote our efforts instead to something beyond ourselves.
(More on The Wisdom of Non-Attachment.)
"Work done with selfish motives is inferior by far to the selfless service or Karma-yoga. Therefore, be a Karma-yogi, O Arjuna. Those who seek [to enjoy] the fruits of their work are verily unhappy [because no one has control over the results]."
With apologies to all the institutions who claim that Karma yoga is unpaid labor: it isn’t. Unpaid labor can be Karma yoga, but it isn’t the welfare of an institution that the practitioner is devoted to with his/her service. Karma yoga is action without attachment to the outcome.
Action taken for personal gain incurs karmic consequences; so, even unpaid labor for an institution done for personal gain is not Karma yoga. To say that actions will bear karmic consequences doesn’t mean that we will be punished by an outside agent. Instead, it indicates that when we choose a course of action based on an outcome that we desire, we surrender our happiness to that attachment.
A person who chooses actions based on desired outcomes is no longer able to control his/her own happiness (or mind or senses), because no person can control the outcomes of actions. Of all the lessons of the Bhagavad Gita, this is one of the most precious, and one of the most difficult to implement. Next is Krishna’s advice to Arjuna on how to do it.
"So therefore, O Prince, dedicate all your actions to me. Work for Me alone with no attachments or selfish desires. Make Me your exclusive goal. Take refuge in Me. Love ME wholeheartedly and bear no malice toward any creature. Then you will reach Me."
Even while telling Arjuna that he must fulfill his dharma and go to battle to kill his relatives and teachers, Krishna says that he must bear no malice toward any creature.
To consider the creation of a painting or an afternoon of volunteer work to be selfless service isn’t difficult. But what of more unpleasant things? Anger and malice are forms of attachment, and actions born of them can’t be Karma yoga.
"I am easily attainable, O Arjuna, by that ever steadfast yogi who always thinks of Me and whose mind does not go elsewhere."
One way to cultivate one-pointed attention is through love. The romantic love of fairy tales is usually attachment in special clothing; love of Krishna asks for nothing in return.
By training his/her mind to focus always on Krishna, the yogi cultivates the ability to act without attachment. Once liberated from the fruits of his/her actions, he/she knows true freedom.
There’s no way to avoid the circumstance of struggle, but we can avoid the pain of it. Krishna teaches that the key to living an unburdened life is to release our attachment to the fruits of our actions, keeping our minds always on that which is greater than ourselves.