The Bhagavad Gita: An Exercise In Depression


The Bhagavad Gita is considered to be one of the holiest books by Hindus. It describes the education that Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu distills into Arjuna, a warrior of the Pandava clan. In it is contained Hinduism's most essential concepts laid out in as accessible a way as possible without any compromise on the quality of the ideas being dealt with. Its unique position within the epic Mahabharatha further adds to its prominent and even necessary consideration for anybody interested in the Hindu way.

The Gita is Krishna's answer to Arjuna's dilemma regarding the impending Kurukshetra war. Arjuna realizes that in fighting the war he will be forced to kill his own cousins and relatives -  a terror he finds hard to stomach and finds in himself an indecisiveness he has never before experienced, quite uncharacteristic for a warrior of his stature and caliber.

Beck's Cognitive Triad
Before we progress further, I would like to bring to notice Beck's Cognitive Triad which is a widely held indicator of the belief system present in an individual suffering from depression. Borrowing from here, let us see how it maps to Arjuna's predicament.

1. The self is worthless - Arjuna realizes that no matter what he does he is powerless in stopping the guilt and misery that he would face (and therefore lacks in self-worth). If he did not fight the war his brothers (the Pandavas) would be slaughtered but if he did he would be forced to kill his own cousins and relatives.

2. The world is unfair - Arjuna, perhaps for the first time questions the factors that has placed him in his current situation. He makes the rational connection that no matter what he does, he is a sinner for by killing his own relatives he is harming his family and by refusing to fight he is going against his Dharma of being a warrior.

3. The future is hopeless - Arjuna fears the ramifications of any of the choices before him because both lead to his ruin. Pain and guilt from murdering his loved ones could leave him an emotional wreck or the shame and eventual estrangement from abandoning his family and duty at the time when he was most needed.

It becomes clear that Arjuna is in a state of not being able to move forward (with the war) or backward (by abandoning it). He therefore lays down his arms (gives up) and confides in Krishna - his charioteer, his best friend and someone about whom he had always held as there to being something more.

The Modern Man's Solution
Most of the time we err by looking at religious or philosophical treatises by taking them at their face value without first seeing what we can learn from them. It is necessary, before we try to judge a piece of knowledge as having value or not to first try and understand how much of a difference is present between who we are and what the treatise before us is exalting us to be. In much the same spirit let us try to understand what the modern man would do in Arjuna's place.

We have been taught to exercise logic in the place of emotional strife and emotional sensitivity in times of logical conundrums. One would choose the less pricey piece of furniture when two pieces of it have the same appeal and decide based on appeal when they are priced the same. When even this fails we are conditioned to look at the greater good and decide how our decisions would impact society (how would the other people using this piece of furniture experience it?) by actively engaging our theory of mind. With this attitude Arjuna's decision is very clear - he has to fight in the war simply because the Kauravas are the "bad" guys and the Pandavas are the "good" guys. He would be appropriate in claiming onto himself the title of self-sacrificing martyr for the emotional pain and sin that he has to endure for the greater good of the land.

In modern capitalist society where individual freedom is placed as the highest right the concept of Dharma takes a fuzzy position. At best it can be summarized as one's ethical duty to one's profession coupled with the loyalty to one's own brand. In the case of Arjuna his warrior Dharma is considered quite expendable because in today's ideal of equality he could resurface as an expert in any other field and in a totally different social setting (and away from his harmful and dysfunctional familial environment). With this attitude Arjuna's decision is very clear - he has to abandon the war and start over. He needn't unnecessarily take on the sin of murder for what can be interpreted as a pointless war that is happening largely because of pride and irrational and outdated ideas of honour and ownership. As a free man he has a duty to his conscience and his identity as a human being above all. He should choose the path that best ensures his long term survival.

I guess you or I would find either of the above decisions easy to make with support from people close to us.

Krishna's Solution
As you might have guessed Krishna doesn't provide Arjuna with either of the above solutions but eventually Arjuna does decide to fight. What then could Krishna's message have been?

The more self-righteous of my acquaintances have summarized Krishna's message as "Do your best and leave the rest (to Krishna)". On genuinely living with this in mind I realized that it has robbed me of my own faculties of discrimination. The problem never lay in "best", "leave" or "rest" but it may in "Do". I had to ask myself how I knew what to do - and if I then did that whether I was free from ALL repercussions (negative or positive) of my actions?

If I could humbly summarize my understanding of the message of the Gita it is this: "Your life is being lived (by Krishna)". The imago dei whose splendor Krishna shows to Arjuna as his Vishwaroopa (cosmic form) contains within it all potential paths and their consequences that the Ego can experience. Keeping this absolute in mind we can summarize that any path that Arjuna chooses is equally unimportant compared to the magnificence of Krishna.

For those in the darkness that depression puts them under THE key component for recovery is an understanding that everything cannot be perfect all the time. For the more socially insecure, it amounts to the fact that not everybody can be pleased. Eventually in the Gita, Arjuna, like the recovering depressive takes a decisive stand to fight the war (for the future, the greater glory of the Pandava clan and for his Dharma as a Kshatriya) but unlike the modern depressive (who might experience a narcissist rage at the system and those that caused their ordeal) is secure in his understanding of the nature of life itself - that we are nothing but Krishna dreaming consciousness.

Personal Notes
1. Please forgive any factual errors. Do point them out!
2. I understand that I'm grossly reducing the full message of the Bhagavad Gita. You DON'T have to point that out! (But do if you feel like)
3. Thanks for making it to Pt 3. Really.
4. I'm not an expert on the Bhagavad Gita, depression, English or even the human condition. But I am a human being with idle moments which I spend mulling on topics like this article rather than go "meh" at somebody's latest share on a social media platform
5. I'm very aware that the phrase "Your life is being lived" isn't adequately explained but the complete meaning behind that can be found in the Jungian archetype of The Self.

3 comments:

  1. That was a good read.

    Cheers

    Rahul

    ReplyDelete
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