How spirituality increases our social contributions

by Chaitanya CharanSeptember 27, 2015

Talk to University of Florida Students at Gainesville,

How spirituality increases our social contributions

Hare Krishna, so I welcome all of you to today’s evening talk on ‘How spirituality enhances our social contributions’.
So in the 18th chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna says,
‘sve sve karmaëy abhirataù saàsiddhià labhate naraù’
sve sve karmaëy – Do your own work, and by this, ‘saàsiddhià labhate’, will attain perfection. How this can happen? I will explain to you.
There is often a conception that, if you become too spiritual then we may become too otherworldly, too impractical, too world rejecting and that sense what we could’ve contributed to the society, what we could’ve done practically will not be able to do and such a notion often makes us stay away from spirituality at times.
Now this sort of understanding stands from a very limited conception of spirituality. So for example if we see the Bhagavad-Gita itself, the Bhagavad-Gita starts with Arjuna thinking that maybe I shouldn’t fight in this war. It is not just that he developed cold feet because he had too tough enemy to fight.
Sometimes when say two people are supposed to have some kind of fight and then the one person realizes, ‘oh! the person is too good for me, I’ll be a wash out here.’ So sometimes just to save face, person says, ‘I’ll not fight’. So it isn’t just like that. Arjuna was competent enough to fight and win and that most of the warriors in the opposite side, he had defeated in a war earlier. This war took place at Kurukshetra. So Arjuna had the competence to fight and he had lost his will to fight; not because of any weakness or inability on his part but because he felt, ‘Is it worth it? It will be better let me just renounce this world, let me live like a beggar’.
In the 2nd chapter he says that,
gurün ahatvä hi mahänubhävän
çreyo bhoktuà bhaikñyam apéha loke
hatvärtha-kämäàs tu gurün ihaiva
bhuïjéya bhogän rudhira-pradigdhän
‘It is better that I live like a beggar rather than fight this war’. So I will not go here into the details of why Arjuna fought the war and the Pandavas had tried every possible means to get a peaceful solution and anti-social elements had not only done injustice to them but also were threatening to wreck havoc all over society. The Pandavas were duty bound as members of the royal family to protect their citizens. So the war was not just to get their right to rule, it was actually to protect the citizens from the anti-social powers that had unscrupulously grabbed power. So now he now says, ‘better let me renounce the world, let me live like a beggar’. So Arjuna started by thinking that, ‘let me leave the world’, but Krishna’s message to Arjuna was; ‘no, be in the world’ and the Bhagavad-Gita’s message is not renunciation of action but renunciation in action. Act but in way that leads to spiritual enlightenment.
So if spirituality is to be reduced or reject the world, then the Bhagavad Gita itself, Bhagavad Gita setting and substance both, setting is what happened to the student of the Bhagavad Gita that was he gave up his thoughts about rejecting the world and engaged in the world. So the Bhagavad Gita setting and its substance; substance means what it contains, what it teaches. Both are a living refutation to the idea that spirituality means rejecting the world.
So the Bhagavad Gita talks about many different spiritual paths and it talks about various Yogas and it culminates in Bhakti Yoga. So Bhakti Yoga is as we often thought of as just going to the temple may be worshipping God, chanting some names of God, doing some religious rituals. But the Bhagavad Gita offers us a vision of devotion that is much much more inclusive. What does it mean, is that if we think of that worshipping God means, going to the temple and doing some Puja, yes! that is true, but this vision is based on the conception that our connection with God is only in the temple and what we go to the temple is important, but afterwards we can do everything else. One extreme idea is that, to worshipping God means going to the temple and doing some things there in the temple. The other extreme idea is that, ‘OK God is everywhere why do you need to go to the temple at all?’. Yes, God is in your heart you worship Him there itself. So now both are based on a limited conception of God.
The idea that God is only available in the temple, the Bhagavad Gita tells us that actually God is all pervasive and we can connect with Him and worship Him through all the activities of our life. But the other idea, ‘ok God is everywhere, then why do we need to go to the temple?’. This again commits a logical fallacy that first of all if God is everywhere then is He not there in the temple? Or is He everywhere except in the temple? No, and another important thing is; Yes, God is everywhere. Nowadays the movies like, any of you heard about this movie like ‘OMG’ or PK? So in OMG this was an argument that ‘why do we worship God in the temple?’ Yes, God does exist everywhere, but the question is whether is He accessible to us everywhere? The water exists everywhere in the atmosphere as water vapor but when I’m thirsty can I just hang out my tongue and get some water? No, that water vapor is to be made accessible to me. So the water from water vapor comes down through rain, it comes through rivers, through pipelines and it comes to the tap, it is from there I get the water. So just because something is all-pervading doesn’t mean that it is all-accessible, that it doesn’t mean that it is accessible everywhere. So similarly God is present everywhere but we can’t access His presence everywhere. So we go to the place where His presence is especially accessible and we tune our heart to Him, we connect our heart with Him and then when that inner connection with Him is established then when we go to the other places also we can see things spiritually.
So in the Bhagavad Gita as I said, I started the verse ‘sve sve karmaëy abhirataù saàsiddhià labhate naraù’, that by doing one’s own work, we can attain perfection. So here the Bhagavad Gita is not telling that we reject the world. So this conception that the Bhagavad Gita teaches is that through all the activities in our life we can connect with God. Many people think that the traditional Indian culture is very world rejecting, it was very other worldly. Now if it had been really so otherworldly, so entirely world rejecting then how in the world was it one of the most prosperous cultures for so many millennia? Now it is only because India was so prosperous for so long then so many invaders came to India. How many people are going to go to a poor man’s house to plunder? How many robbers are going to go there? Hardly anyone. So invaders from various parts of the world came to India, because India was prosperous and not just prosperous in a sense of natural resources but prosperous also in terms of the product of human culture and human intelligence. India is rich in natural resources but along with that, if we just look at the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata is the world’s largest poem. Not just the largest poem, it is actually the second largest is —–11.37—– a long poet. But the Mahabharata is seven times longer than —11.47 — combined together. If sometimes you’ve some marathon race and if you’ve a close finish, so the first is just may be a few seconds ahead of the second. But in some marathon race the first one crosses the finishing line, the second person is not even seen on the horizon. So the Mahabharata is like that. The second is so far away. So now the Mahabharata has 110,000 verses. Now would lazy people who consider the world to be of just to be rejected? Something like this. It requires hard work to write any literature what to speak of something which is so long. So in terms of literature, in terms of mathematics; Vedic mathematics in its own way is very systematic and sophisticated.
So the point is that if you look at Indian culture at large and India’s contribution to the world at large, they see that they can’t have been the products of the people who just consider the world to be something to be rejected. people who took the world seriously. The Bhagavad-Gita’s mood is that this world is the means by which we connect with God.
So last time I had mentioned in my talk, what we are is God’s gift to us and what we become is our gift to God. So this is a divine reciprocation between us and God. What we are is God’s gift to us that means all of us have certain talents, certain abilities. Unfortunately we live in a culture which often operates on very restricted definitions of success. Restricted definitions of success means that only certain talents; say for example education, quite often only students who can memorize things very well, often they good marks. Memorization is one character of intelligence but that is definitely not the only characteristics of intelligence. So when we live in a culture where only certain definitions of success are highlighted and then correspondingly certain talents are considered to be very valued. When quite often we get obsessed thinking of what all we don’t have. I’ve this. I don’t have this. I don’t have that. I’m not as good looking as that person. My memory is not as good as that person. I don’t speak as well as that person. So in one of the easiest ways to make ourselves miserable is to compare ourselves with others. and it’s bad enough if we compare ourselves with others. But today’s culture often makes us compare ourselves with the best in the world. So if someone wants to look good in all the good looking people we see them all on the billboards and the advertisements. Similarly in every field as the world is shrinking down to become like a global village one of the disadvantage of that is that psychologists have found that people get greater life satisfaction by achieving what they, psychologists call as, to become a big fish in a small pond. We have some social circle in which we gain some influence and then we feel a sense of self worth; we feel a sense of self identity; we feel a sense of self esteem but if we are in a giant ocean then no matter how big we become we are always dwarfed by others and that causes a perpetual feeling of inferiority; a perpetual feeling of inferiority and insecurity. Because of which often we don’t see what we have. We often see what all we don’t have. And the part of the culture which makes us constantly see what we don’t have is the entire advertising industry. The whole advertising industry specializes in showing us all the things we don’t have.
The Oscar wild said that ‘fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to change it every six months’. That is how fashions are. What is considered very attractive today after sometime it just becomes ‘oh! you’re so old fashioned’.
So what happens is in today’s culture constantly we are bombarded with things that we don’t have. I talk about the things in two terms; one is in terms of our abilities, our innate things and our external things also that we have. And this makes us actually insecure. So one of the paradoxes of the progress that has been there in modern civilization is that in many ways the gift of technology have made us much more comfortable. We have fans, we have airplanes, we have cell phones for communication. We have become much more comfortable but unfortunately we have become comfortably miserable. Physically we have lot of comforts but internally that is substantial amount of stress, substantial amount of anxiety, substantial amount of insecurity. So there are of course various causes to the almost epidemic proportions to which mental health problems have …18.31.. in the last several decades, let’s say last century overall. One of the important cause is the loss of any sense of certainty or shelter. If somebody is in ocean the waves are going to keep moving us up and down. If we are just in the ocean we will be tossed up down, if we are in a boat the moving up and down will be slightly lesser, if we are in a boat that is anchored then the moving will be even lesser. So today we live in a culture that throws us into this ocean. There are successes and there are failures; there are honors and there are dishonors. And whatever we think, whatever was earlier considered to be a sign of certainty, a sign of security that is today quite often lost.
For example so most of you are here from India, so India relatively has much more family stability and family integrity then what is there in the west. Families are one place where they feel at home, where they feel comfortable, where they feel safe. We all need a home not just for our body. We need a home for our heart. A place where we feel accepted, where we feel that we belong. Now as I said that the technological progress has made us comfortably miserable. In the sense that, the technological progress has been fueled by and has further fueled by excess of materialism. So when there is excess of materialism that means the material things are considered to be all important. And this at one level may seem to increase people’s social contributions. Oh material things are what matter, let’s do this, let’s do that. But there are different ways of being active.
It is a sad testimony to scientific history that the greatest scientific in sight of the greatest scientific brain of the last century caused the greatest manmade disaster of the last century. What am I referring to, Einstein’s oscillations of matter, energy, inter-changeability. It was his E=mc2 is brilliant insight and it is that which eventually led to the development of atom bomb. And that caused Hiroshima-Nagasaki disasters. So Einstein himself later regretted that was he who sent the letter to the president of America saying that America should develop the nuclear weapons. That time it was a atomic but that whole direction went on. Then extent of destruction that was caused within just a few moments. It is unparalleled.
In human history in fact according to the World watch institute the number of deaths violent deaths; be there war, be there violent crimes, be there because of whatever cause number of deaths which were happened in the last one century, they are 17 times more than the number deaths in wars and violence that happened in all the previous 19 centuries combined together. Shocking!. So what exactly has gone wrong? So we if you see materialism means that this world is what matters. So let’s achieve, let’s conquer, lets enjoy and what are we having? We are having as I said the weapons of mass destruction.
Now today there is great threat of terrorism. The ISIS has conquered so much territory and terrorism is a big threat but again we will see that often it’s very simple to say the religion is the cause of terrorism. Even if we say like that, the point is that it is the terrorists who are using the technology which is produced by a science which has made them such a big threat. So if are going to blame the religion then we can equally blame technical science. The point is that it is not the problem of religion, it is not the problem of science; it is the problem of, what the Bhagavad Gita calls it as Tamoguna. Tamoguna is the mode of ignorance. In the mode of ignorance, one thinks that destruction is the quickest solution and there is a conflict, then way to solve it destroy your opponents and if you can’t destroy your opponents then destroy yourself. Destroy yourself means commit suicide. As I have mentioned in previous talk, 1 million people commit suicide every year. It works out to be 1 suicide at every 40 seconds.
So now the topic which I was discussing was how spirituality increases our social contributions. There is one view of the world that the world is something to be rejected. I said that this is not what the Bhagavd Gita teaches, but the other view is that the view of materialism that this world is all that there is and our success, our destiny, our happiness; it all depends on how we can control and dominate and succeed in this world. Such a world view actually leads to destructive competition. It at one level leads to increase conflict and competition destruction among people, but it also leads to increase conflict within oneself. Because as I said that where there are limited definitions of success, if you are able to do this… then you are successful, otherwise you are failed. When this sort of definitions are there, if people have different talents and each person, the Bhagavad Gita says ‘sve sve karmaëy abhirataù saàsiddhià labhate naraù’ that you can get in perfection in your own work according to your own talents. The Bhagavad Gita is actually in a sense inclusive and democratic over here. It is saying that, you do what is your nature. But when there is an idea that I’ve to do this, this, this! only then I’m successful. That is how society..26.12.. us then it causes conflict within us because we may feel, ‘I don’t have the ability to do this. Will I be able to do this? I really want to do this. I like to be doing something else in life’. So the shoe that fits one person bites another.
We can’t have one definition of success for everyone. The same definition of success that inspires and brings the best out of one person, for other person it might be a big burden, ‘I don’t want to do this, I don’t feel like doing this’. So the Bhagavd Gita recognizes that different people are endured differently. What Krishna says is, whatever abilities you have, value those gifts and used those gifts and so what we have what we are is God’s gift to us. And what we become is our gift to God. That means we understand what gifts we have, what abilities we have and then we develop them. We develop them in the mood of service of contribution and then we grow. So how does spirituality increase our social contribution? As I said the Indian culture we didn’t look at the Indian culture just for a few centuries ago, because the culture of India few centuries ago was a largely a result of, was largely the remnants after the centuries of exploitation by invaders. But prior to that India is phenomenally prosperous, and it is not that it was prosperous by magic wand, but it was prosperous because people were industrious. So the Bhagavad Gita tells us that here, different people can contribute in their own ways, and when they contribute in their own ways, so this democratic definition of success that you do what you are best in doing. This itself enables people to contribute in a way that is best for them. Everyone doesn’t have to become an engineer; everyone doesn’t have to become a doctor; everyone doesn’t have to become a success in a particular in a profession that is glamorous at that particular time in the history of a particular culture. People can grow according to their own understanding, their own nature, their own gift of talents. That is one aspect this just mental release that comes, by recognizing that we can grow in our own ways. That brings tremendous amount of mental release, release of mental pressure. Further internally. The Bhagavad Gita tells us that we are all connected with God. I give the example that if somebody is in the ocean the waves will constantly keep shaking the person, but if that person in the boat, and the boat is anchored then much greater stability. So like that the ultimate anchor is God. When we connect with God the instability within us and stability without us that affects us lesser, because we are sheltered in something that is unchanging. We are sheltered in something that is secured. And with that when whatever we have to do in life, suppose we are in a very hot weather and we come to a room which is air-conditioned, we immediately feel some relief. We will feel comfortable, relieved. So like that devotion to God is not just some religious rituals of some particular culture. Devotion to God is like taking our consciousness into a divinely conditioned room. Just like air conditioning provides us relief from heat, similarly whatever anxieties we have in the world if we turn our heart towards God in prayer, in meditation, in supplication then we get a sense of relief and that relief enables us to re-emerge, rejuvenated and deal with the problems of life more effectively. Without this relief, without this rejuvenation often we may work a lot but the people often instead of working up, get worked up. Working up means you work in such a way that you rise up in your life but instead people get worked up. It get fills with so much anxieties, so much stress, so much agitation; there are people who are in always in a hurry and if they get very little in back, that is because it is not how much we are doing this but how clearly we are thinking. We are not thinking clearly we do one thing and then we realize, ‘Oh! I did that, but I made a mistake, so when I’m doing this second thing I think what I do the first thing right or wrong and I’m doing this second thing I m also thinking over third thing, and when I do third thing I m worried about the first thing and at the same time thinking about the fifth thing. So our mind gets overloaded. But if we connect with God then that gives us inner stability and an inner clarity by which we can do whatever we are doing much more effectively.
So the Bhagavad Gita is a historical account of a conversation that took place thousands of years ago. Along with that there are also eternal things in the Bhagavad Gita which rejuvenate across every generation and that is what makes it appealing even today.
So the Bhagavd Gita starts with Arjuna ready to fight the war but then he loses heart and he has his bow raised to fight but he puts aside his bow, he said, ‘I can’t fight!’ visåjya sa-çaraà cäpaà çoka-saàvigna-mänasaù’
visåjya sa-çaraà cäpaà he puts aside his bow and arrow , çoka-saàvigna-mänasaù’ being dejected. But by the end of the Bhagavad Gita what has happened
yatra yogeçvaraù kåñëa
yatra pärtho dhanur-dharaù ,
tatra çrér vijayo bhütir
dhruvä nétir matir mama,
So he says that there is Krishna, so there is Arjuna and Arjuna is Dhanurdharah, Dhanurdhara means he lifted up his bow. So lifted up his bow means now he is ready to fight. His spirit, his confidence has been restored. So Arjuna’s bow represents our inspiration, our determination. When we get caught in a materialistic world view in sooner or later we come to a situation of utter frustration. If I do this, this is not going to work, If I do this, this is also not going to work. . If I do this, this is a problem. Now we come to situation we seem like we lose a situation. Whatever we do it seems to be like a dead end.
Na ca shaknomyavasthatum
bhramati vacame manah,
nimittani ca pashyani
viparitani keshava.
So Arjuna says whatever I do I see it causes misfortunate all around, so what should I do? So the materialistic world view because it makes us dependant on material things on things external to us which are not always in our control. So because of that those things go away from us, then it just makes us frustrated. But in spiritual world view helps us understand that even if things outside us are not in our control but things inside us are still in our control and not only that it’s a theoretical conception but by connection with God, we can actually gain control of the things within us. So by that inner spiritual orientation our determination and our inspiration get restored. So where as materialism is sooner or later dishearten and frustrate us when things go wrong, its spirituality by giving us a higher vision of things it restores our determination. So just as Arjuna lifted up his bow, similarly when we have spirituality understanding of life, and we understand no matter whatever goes wrong in my life still God is there with us and His mercy, His love is something than we can always access. It is like a nowadays we have anxiety about non renewable energy sources, fossil fuels are getting exhausted, so alternative fuels are explored now. So our connection with God is the ultimate, inexhaustible energy resource. No matter how much we get exhausted or dejected or depressed, if we can connect with God, we can get spiritually rejuvenated, we can get re-energized. Just as Arjuna lifted his bow determined to fight, similarly life presents with us many battles, but if we are spiritually connected, if we are spiritually illumined then whatever life brings in our lives we will be determined to fight it through and to succeed.
So to summarize as I started by talking about how, it is sometimes thought that the spirituality means rejecting the world. But both Bhagavad Gita setting and substance, setting in terms of Arjuna actually doing his responsibilities in the world, answering the call of his heart that and substance is the message of Bhagavad Gita, it is not renunciation of work but renunciation within work and this is not world rejecting book. Further if you look at the history of the civilization, the Indian civilization which has been prosperous for many millennia, that is not the product of a world dejecting civilization.
So what is the actual message of the Gita?, the today’s world view is that it is not just a world accepting, today’s civilization is something like world consuming. We try to consume the whole world and the process we get consumed by the world. When Gandhi was asked, how is India going to progress? Britishers when they were leaving India. They asked that, ‘Is India going to progress the way Britain had progressed?’, so Gandhi had replied that actually now Britain is such a small country and it requires practically the whole rest of the world to fuel its progress. If India tries to progress that way India will need 30 earths. We don’t have that many earths.
So the problem is not with material progress, the problem is with thinking that progress means only material progress, as there is no other kind of progress. Simply material progress it has resulted in people being comfortably miserable. Lot of comforts externally but internally there is anxiety, there is insecurity, there is inferiority. So inferiority is specially comes because said that materialism imposes on us certain stereo type definition of success.. Only if you achieve this then this is your success. But we are all individuals. We all have different talents and we become successful, we become fulfilled, we become satisfied when we express our talents and achieve success on our terms. The Bhagavad Gita says, we use our talents ‘sve sve karmanya abhiratah’ work according to our nature and succeed and you can attain perfection of life and then I conclude by talking about how spirituality not only gives us that democratic freedom to act according to our nature. Because we get a broader vision of life beyond the materialistic definitions of success but along with that spirituality gives us inner stability. The world will have ups and downs but like a person who is in a boat that is anchored similarly when we are within spiritual culture and are connected with God then we have inner stability. And when there is inner stability we can navigate the ups and downs of life much more calmly and constructively.
We conclude it by just as Arjuna lost his morale but with this spiritual wisdom of Gita he has restored his morale. Similarly the spiritual wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita, whenever life seems to have brought us to a dead end, and at that time if you turn to this spiritual wisdom of Gita then we will find our morale resorted and we will be able to go on in life. Thank you very much.


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Chaitanya Charan

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