In reading the Bhagavad Gita

I read the Bhagavad Gita a year ago – during a cold January. I read it every day from 8 to 8:30 in the morning and later when I had time- the only book I’ve ever read with vigorous routine. I read it sometimes half asleep, sometimes listening to music, sometimes with full attentiveness. What I found in the Gita was a long and repetitive and boring poem that somehow never lost my attention. There was something in its essence so captivating and other worldly. It is difficult to put into words – it’s not like I agreed with its messages (often in “contradiction”). But the discourse, the thoughts, the poetry kept me alert.

I’ve always  been fascinated by Hinduism, a religion so vast, diverse, and misunderstood. It’s not like I understand Hinduism, but it’s alien-ness in many ways gives it an attractive exotic-ness (Orientalism, anyone?). I swear the text gives an impression of cyclical infinity, of contentment, of ultimate liberation. It gives the hint of an entirely and so fundamentally different outlook to the world that begs for attention and keen interest. The discourses aren’t like those of Western scriptures or even Western epics. The dialogue is always on thought, on belief, on action, which is like belief, but different, but the same, but both, but neither.

The Gita lives in a world of seeming contradiction and juxtaposition – at one point it’s action, at the other it’s inaction. At one point it’s duty, at the other it’s independence. At one point it’s rational inquiry, at another it’s leaping in faith. But these seeming contradictions, these juxtapositions are never portrayed or interpreted by the reader as bad at all. It’s as if the Gita is begging you to live in contradiction and confusion and to love it. It reminds me of Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching, which seems to embrace ambivalence.  And maybe that’s good, maybe that’s bad, maybe I’m unsure. The thought that you cannot know, perhaps, is the whole point.

But all the way through, the centrality of an inexplicable contentment runs. I don’t know what I mean in describing inexplicable contentment. There’s a sense I get in Arjuna and Krishna an apathy. An apathy of action, of feeling, of personality. But the Gita once again puts this in a good light. The reader never sees this apathy in a bad way – it’s blissful. It’s not selfish, it’s selfless. It’s not out of hate, it’s out of love. For what? For God? For duty? For love itself? Maybe there is no answer. The thought that you cannot know, perhaps, is the whole point.

Long story short, I’ll have to read it again sometime. The Gita loves not giving answers while seeming to give answers and changing them the next second. It loves to confuse you and throw you out and lure you in again. It has an almost magical quality to it, exploiting and manipulating its own seeming contradictions all for a blissful apathy all in the name of love for the sake of love. Or does it? And every time you throw it down in agony trying to figure out its message, you pick it right back up and try again, falling to its wonderful temptation…

(My reflections are by no means interpretations, as I refrained from pretending I can)

(A quote from Gita by J Oppenheimer, inventor of the Atomic Bomb)

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