Here is the backdrop. A great warrior who is fighting against injustice is suddenly overcome by sorrow. He had to fight a war against everyone he cared for – his cousins, teacher, uncles, classmates.. Overtaken by emotions, he attempts to give up the war.
Then his Guru takes him on a lesson of a lifetime (Yoda character of Star Wars was greatly inspired by this & shares a lot of similiarities). Over 18 chapters, Gita packs an intense analysis of life, emotions and ambitions. Here is the summary with actual quotes are in italics.
- Take great pleasure in your work: A lot of us are looking at the result when we work. What Gita says is that work itself is more pleasurable than the results. Do not let the fruit be the purpose of your actions, and therefore you won’t be attached to not doing your duty. In other words, enjoy the pleasure of journey more than just the destination. Great artists, great warriors and great scientists do what they do because the process of creation itself is so pleasurable for them. When you watch these artists doing their work (say Sachin in his batting or MS Subbulakshmi in her singing) we would find the action itself is so glorious than anything the end could bring.
- Life is all about managing the emotions: A good chunk of Gita is about managing emotions and attachment. Panic and emotional attack can be a real killer in a lot of professions from warring to investing. Bhagvat Gita uses 100s of examples to calm people into thinking sharply & overcoming emotional roller coaster even in the face of hardship. The awakened sages call a person wise when all his undertakings are free from anxiety about results.
- Recipe to avoid the emotional rollercoaster. It is easy to say that you should keep calm, but tough to achieve it. Gita gets into the practical aspects of avoiding the emotional outbursts. It suggests a range of practical things such as Ashtanga yoga (the superset of the Yoga we do) and selection of right foodstuffs. Gita chategorizes foods into 3 types – Sattva ((fruits, green vegetables, milk), Rajas (spicy foods, steroids) and Tamas (fatty foods, leftovers). From Sattva arises wisdom, and greed from Rajas; miscomprehension, delusion and ignorance arise from Tamas.
- Never imitate another’s life: A warrior could see the farmer’s life as peaceful and happy. A peasant could see the warrior’s life as energetic and active. At the end both are equally important. Instead of getting into the greener grass on other side, look at doing the best with your abilities. It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.
- Never lose sight of your goals because of imitation: Stuck by confusion we give up our dreams and goals so that we could be a better somebody (a modern example is think of Facebook statuses & peer pressures). We are kept from our goal, not by obstacles, but by a clear path to a lesser goal.
- Treat everyone and everything the same. Gita spends a chapter about how to treat everyone the same. If you start acting as nice to your foe as your friend, you have lesser guilt or emotional ghosts to fight within you. He alone sees truly who sees God in every creature he does not harm himself or others.”
- Do good stuff without expecting anything in return: This is a wisdom that most religions teach. However, Gita goes to great lengths to treat this subject in its various forms. It makes the stuff a lot more practical and logical than merely keeping it as a moral. A gift is pure when it is given from the heart to the right person at the right time and at the right place, and when we expect nothing in return.
- Always keep acting. Don’t get stuck into overanalysis: Especially among the knowledgable, we have a bias towards gaining knowledge than to act on the knowledge. We seek great comfort in talking & analyzing stuff rather than act upon it. Gita does a lot of attack on that kind of an attitude. The immature think that knowledge and action are different, but the wise see them as the same.
- Never run away from your duty: Majority of what Gita talks about is adherence to duty. Once you have picked up a duty, never over analyze and use analysis-paralysis as an excuse for running away from doing great things. You might like another’s duty, and dislike yours. But still, do your own duty, and not another’s, even if you can do another’s duty very well. Or you’ll go on being caught up in the field of opposites. And there will be no end to your suffering.
- There is always a bigger power: A lot of times, we get dejected and desperate. We think everything is hopeless and throw the towel. We think the bad forces will win & we can do nothing about it. Gita says that you keep doing your duty in the best way you can and there will always be bigger power that will protect the truth. In short, never stop your war against injustice just because your enemy look so formidable. In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of truth, I advent Myself time to time.