Published 8 January 2002
THE BHAGAVAD Gita, arguably the world's oldest book, gives humankind a formula for peace that is still relevant. The 29th verse, fifth chapter (bhoktaram yajna-tapasam, etc.), informs us that God is the supreme proprietor of everything.
We naturally extend our sense of ownership to our home, family, community and beyond. But this sense of proprietorship can also be deadly. Disputes arise over land, money and personal power. Even major conflicts have been carried out in the name of God.
This is one reason people tend to be suspicious of religion. As Mathew Parris said to the world last month in the London Times, "... it is not clear whether most people need a true God - to save us from the false ones - or whether gods, all gods, were the problem, not the solution."
The Gita, however, does not just represent God and 'religion.' It is a mix of philosophy and finer feelings. Even great western thinkers (Thoreau, Emerson, Goethe, Tolstoi and Einstein, to name some) have noticed its penetrating insights into human nature.
The philosophy of Bhagavad Gita holds that we don't actually own anything - that our nation, cars, homes, and our families, ultimately belong to God. Even our own senses don't belong to us, according to the Gita.
This conviction is at odds with the senses, where greed triumphs over need. Because we consider ourselves masters of our bodies, the five senses never feel satisfied; they want more. This tendency to want more is magnified and exploited in an acquisitive society. Even wanting respect can be a form of selfishness. And if we all want more, where does it end?
In the Mahabharata, Yudhisthiraj observes how the greatest wonder in this world is that we see living beings die all around us, yet we believe that this will never happen to us. This form of denial is the number one illusion in this world, but is death the end?
Maybe not. Yudhisthir's insight is good in that it signals immortality of the soul; but it's a bad sign if we think we can go on simply acquiring the temporary things of this world, pampering our persons, or gratifying our senses till the end of life.
Without a spiritual basis to our worldview we are prone to selfishness, - personal or extended - and for this reason peace is hard to find.
The Gita and its peace formula can give a spiritual basis to our lives, especially if we are willing and able to realise its significance, read it regularly and live by its principles.