What is happiness?
If you ask anyone, ‘what is happiness?’ I am sure that the answers that you would get from most people would be similar. Good health, nice family, enough money, time to enjoy the little pleasures of this world, love, peace… it is not hard to imagine what would make people happy. Everyone in this world aspires to be happy all the time. But what happens in reality? Our happiness would last a few hours or days at best, that’s all. And then the rigors of the material world seize and engage us.
We use so many tools to aid us in our search for happiness, good health and why, even immortality! Modern science has enabled us to do so many things seemingly better than before. Life has become so dynamic that many people started professing that ‘change’ is the only constant in this world.
All these attempts at improving our condition of life, all the progress that we made, ignore the four constants of material life: Birth, disease, old age and death. Whatever efforts we make to improve our lives, and to be happy, the four constants always manage to get the better of us. And with death, everything comes to a very efficient end.
“Why am I forced to suffer, when all I want is happiness?”. That’s an intelligent question. A natural progress of that thought process would lead to more questions. Where did I come from, what am I doing here, where I would go after death? And then the most fundamental question which forms the basis of Vedic philosophy:
‘Who am I?’
The Vedas and associated Vedic scriptures offer great insight in to life’s mysteries. These ancient treasure troves of wisdom and knowledge, being coeternal with God and infallible in their own right. They direct us to change our attention from the temporary towards the permanent, from matter to spirit, from the body to the soul.
Vedas teach us that our endeavors to be happy through gratifying our senses would lead to only misery. Also, they inform us about our original spiritual nature – that each of us are not the body but infinitesimal spiritual sparks, Spirit Souls. That we are not of this material world. And that the only way to have eternal happiness to revive our natural relationship with the Supreme Soul, God, of whom we are all part and parcel of, yet different.
The Vedic knowledge was primarily transmitted orally in the previous ages. In order to make the Vedic knowledge easily accessible to the people in the Kali Yuga (the present age), the great literary incarnation, Sage Vyasa, compiled the entire knowledge in to principally the 4 Vedas, 108 Upanishads, 18 Puranas and 2 Itihaasas (epics, namely Ramayana and Mahabharata).
Introducing – Srimad Bhagavad Gita
Of the texts that form the Vedic scriptures, Srimad Bhagavad Gita, which is found in Mahabharata, is the most important section. It is the essence of all Vedic knowledge. It is also called Gitopanishad, and is the consolidated description of the most intense, hair-raising dialogue between the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna and his dearest friend, the warrior-archer, Arjuna.
This dialogue starts with questions asked by Arjuna, who is feeling very confused, dejected and sad on the eve of a great battle against his cousins, the Kauravas and their army. Arjuna is one of the ‘Mahajanas’, and being a friend to the Lord, he is above all ignorance. But the Acharyas explain that he was put in to this situation specifically to enquire about problems of life so that Sri Krishna himself can explain it for the benefit for future generations, namely, us.
(It is to be noted that this great dialogue was spoken on the eve of battle, in the middle of two armies standing ready to fight. It lends credence to the practicality of such a philosophy, much against a common belief that any spirituality or philosophical pursuit is meant for practice only in peaceful times or in a forest away from common day to day works.)
Spirit of understanding Srimad Bhagavad Gita
The spirit with which one should hear and accept the teachings of Srimad Bhagavad Gita is shown by Arjuna in the course of his discussion with Lord Krishna. When a physician gives a medicine, you take it only as per his directions. Similarly, the instructions given in Bhagavad Gita are to be taken only as Lord Krishna means it and not as per one’s own whim and wish.
The perfect example: In the second chapter, verse 7, Arjuna surrenders:
pṛcchāmi tvāḿ dharma-sammūḍha-cetāḥ
yac chreyaḥ syān niścitaḿ brūhi tan me
śiṣyas te ‘haḿ śādhi māḿ tvāḿ prapannam
“Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of miserly weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me for certain what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple, and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me.”
Here’s how Arjuna accepts Lord Krishna’s instructions, in chapter 10, verse 12 thru 14:
paraḿ brahma paraḿ dhāma
pavitraḿ paramaḿ bhavān
puruṣaḿ śāśvataḿ divyam
ādi-devam ajaḿ vibhum
āhus tvām ṛṣayaḥ sarve
devarṣir nāradas tathā
asito devalo vyāsaḥ
svayaḿ caiva bravīṣi me
“Arjuna said: You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate abode, the purest, the Absolute Truth. You are the eternal, transcendental, original person, the unborn, the greatest. All the great sages such as Nārada, Asita, Devala, and Vyāsa confirm this truth about You, and now You Yourself are declaring it to me.”
sarvam etad ṛtaḿ manye
yan māḿ vadasi keśava
na hi te bhagavan vyaktiḿ
vidur devā na dānavāḥ
“O Kṛṣṇa, I totally accept as truth all that You have told me. Neither the demigods nor the demons, O Lord, can understand Your personality.”
Therefore, one must understand the teachings of Bhagavad Gita as Arjuna understood it. Only then, that understanding is considered perfect. In conclusion, we should hear and understand the message of the Gita in a completely submissive mood, in devotion to the Supreme Lord. Just like how Arjuna did.
Introducing Srimad Bhagavad Gita As It Is
Now we have a dilemma. We cannot keep reading book after book to decide which is best. So how to go about deciding which is the best book to buy to study the Gita?
Well, we saw the criteria for the spirit of understanding, didn’t we? If you are really interested in staying true to that spirit, do not hesitate. Just buy Bhagavad Gita As It Is, written by Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of ISKCON fame.
(Please click the picture below to order the book from amazon.in. Readers from USA, click here for ordering from Amazon.com.)
There are people who love this book for it’s simple and direct approach to interpreting the verses. And then there are people who hate this book for doing just that. Both sides have their prejudices and bias. Forget that. Rather, we have a criteria to stick with. This book by Srila Prabhupada meets the criteria by 100%.
I can guarantee you one thing for sure. Approach Bhagavad Gita As It Is without preconceived notions and with a humble learning spirit. You will feel it talking to you. Answering questions which you always had but never had the heart or courage to ask. Your hairs will stand on their ends as you read through the legendary conversation between Lord Krishna and Arjuna.
Most of all, you will realise that you have missed out such a treasure trove of wisdom for this long.