Dharma and Karma—the two forces at work within

By Srishti Mahhajan

Lessons from the ‘Bhagavad Gita’

Srishti Mahhajan

The purpose of this article is to acquaint you with the concepts and teachings of The Bhagavad Gita—the heart and soul of spiritual practice.

The ‘Bhagavad Gita’ is a philosophical treatise—a comprehensive metaphysical and psychological text describing all experiences, physical, mental and intellectual, on the path of emancipation.

The Gita recounts a dialog between Arjun (the human) and Krishna (God) on the battlefield. Arjun, finest warrior in the land, a friend and disciple of Lord Krishna, caught up in an epic battle between the forces of good and evil, lacks self-confidence and determination, weakened with sorrow at the thought of inevitable bloodshed.

Krishna, an avatar of God but not philosophical, abstract or theoretic, speaks from various positions that should be understood, implemented and achieved by the Individual. The Gita explains Dharma (duty), Karma (action), the Self, the Supreme and Material body. Dharma and Karma are thus conceived as the two controlling forces at work in the life of the individual. It examines the ethical and moral struggles of human life and its ultimate purpose when a course of action is chosen out of necessity, not desire.

These are catch 22 situations that pit ethical morality against duty. Arjuns’ quandary on the battlefield can be seen as an example of the dilemma we encounter in our lives—insecurity, bouts of doubt, fear, hesitation to speak or act with assertiveness, missing out on potential opportunities for growth or success. Many of us fear meeting the daunting challenges life throws at us. There are many moments when we feel overwhelmed and want to slip away so as to avoid facing uncomfortable situations. Similarly Arjun was caught between ethical morality of possibly ending the lives of his relatives and his duty to do what is right. His lamentation was due to the fear of losing relatives and teachers, and so asked Krishna ‘What use is the kingdom and the pleasures of this world, if the price to pay is so high’? His main obstacle related to consequences of his Karma, he seeks wisdom from Krishna who repeatedly brings about a felicitous outcome and reminds him to adhere to his duty of a warrior and fight with the will to win against injustice. Krishna explains that the material world is an illusion, it is independent of the good or bad opinion of others, feels above no one and beneath no one and is fearless of all challenges. Thus, the lesson: ‘Know your true self’.

The law of Karma is conceived as the spiritual principle of cause and effect, which states that every action has a reaction or consequence which will come to fruition over a period of time. This ties directly into the notion of Dharma, which refers to one’s natural duty in present life. Arjuns’ Dharma, ‘purpose of life’ is that of a righteous warrior. Lesson: ‘Follow your duty/ purpose in life’. Living and working with a purpose is a process of self-discovery. You feel alienated, adrift when negative forces grip your mind robbing you of your happiness. One needs to take action to fight through mental turbulence of self-doubt, worry, anxiety. When you fail to act there is more self- doubt. If you act, you will either accomplish your goal finding satisfaction, or fail, but learn from the experience. This teaches you, to not sit on the side-lines and wonder ‘what if’, but to take selfless action and own the consequences. Thus, the Gita gives us clarity of awareness when in doubt.

It assists us in developing our persona to attain personal excellence, teaching us how ‘Dharma and Karma’ play a significant role in shaping our attitude to enhance our wellbeing, leading to self-realisation. It formulates three spiritual paths—‘Karma’, ‘Jnana’ and ‘Bhakti Yoga’ to attain ‘Moksha’—spiritual liberation, thereby teaching us how our actions, devotion and knowledge should work in harmony to attain liberation. Chapters I to XI are mainly about Karma and Jnana Yoga—the spiritual paths, whereas chapters XII to XVIII concentrate on Bhakti yoga—the path of devotion.

Though it is beyond the scope of this article to provide a thorough examination of Dharma and Karma, the above provides a brief prefatory overview to the philosophical and deontological considerations of the Bhagavad Gita. Till next time!

Srishti Mahhajan, M&A Strategy Banker by profession is a daughter of a successful visionary who started globalisation of what is today India’s largest Multinational Technology Company


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