Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Leaf, A Flower, A Fruit Or Water

“A Leaf, A Flower, A Fruit Or Water”
The Bhagavad Gita and Global Warming

The Conflict
The Earth is a precious resource, providing nourishment and ensuring the constant flow of life. As its inhabitants, it falls on humanity’s shoulders to preserve and protect the environment. But the costs of limiting industrial emissions of greenhouse gases, as well as adopting alternative energy sources, would be substantial. Should we bother? Although we are already noticing the potential disaster that global warming will cause, will it seriously affect our society within our lifetime? The timeline may not be static, but it would certainly take decades for our lifestyles to be severely impacted by this phenomenon. If we attempt to counteract the effects now, our fragile financial structure could fall and many more would suffer immediately for our good intentions.

The Answer
The Bhagavad Gita, or “Song of the Lord,” is “essence of the teachings of the Vedas and Upanisads.”* It is regarded as the most important scripture within Hinduism and can be interpreted in many different ways. Indeed, it can be read as a realistic account of fratricidal conflict or even an ethical tale of good and evil. On a more spiritual level, it can be seen as a way to eradicate one’s ego to achieve certain liberation from the embodied self.

As the poem begins, two opposing armies are preparing to fight a civil war. On one side, we have the five Pandu brothers, the most notable of which is Arjuna. On the other side are their cousins. Arjuna has been chosen to start the battle but as he looks upon his adversaries, he can see family members, childhood friends, and mentors. The sight of such familiar faces weakens his resolve to fight and he would rather renounce society than kill his family and friends. Although it is clearly his duty to fight this war—his duty to maintain society and liberate this kingdom from the oppressive rule of his cousin—he will be killing his relatives and destroying the society his is trying to preserve. He is unsure of what action to take and seeks the advice of his charioteer and mentor, Krishna.

Krishna is the king of a neighboring town, but also an avatar of the God Vishnu. The conversation he has with Arjuna makes up the text of the Bhagavad Gita. The message relies on the idea of an ultimate perspective: the atman (soul) is permanent, while the body is temporary. The body will die, but the atman cannot be killed nor can it kill. The roles that we play within life are necessary to ensure the continuance of society but they are merely transient. It is an illusion: maya. We must view our deepest, inner self as unembodied consciousness and give up all desire for results. Remove your ego and act for the good of the world—not individual interest. It is not the action that we must forego, but the egotistic attachment to the eventuality of the action.

Furthermore, those who act in unattached selflessness worship God in any form: the supreme God. Devoting our actions to God in this manner will bring knowledge to our conflicts. Quoting the Gita directly,

Whoever offers, with
devotion, A leaf, a flower, a
fruit or water— That offering
of devotion From the pure in
heart I accept.

As long as our actions are made without narcissistic intentions and in the spirit of devotion to the supreme God, divine power will guide our way and overcome any wickedness that seeks to subvert us.

The Solution
Applying the message from the Bhagavad Gita can solve the conflict between global warming and the financial situation. By accurately viewing the financial crisis as a purely materialistic problem—a temporary issue—it is obvious that, as living beings and inhabitants of the earth, protecting the environment should take precedence. The economy is a man-made construct that can be likened to the embodied self, while the environment is a universal thing that lives and breathes without the conceited entanglements of the human race.

Worrying about our own self-imposed systems shows attachment to the physical world—which is temporary. Although the earth is something physical, the eternal cycle of life that it nurtures is paramount to the manufactured society that we would otherwise be trying to uphold. Therefore, we must act to protect the environment without concern for the financial repercussions. In a broader sense, we must act to uphold all forms of life—not just the human race—and by doing so devote our intentions to God.

The Conclusion
I think the ideals brought forth by the Bhagavad Gita would be beneficial for some Western conflicts. From a contemporary viewpoint, the message has many facets and its multiple interpretations broaden its possible relevance. Likewise, the universality of the tale ensures the timelessness of the story. Such beliefs have the habit of transcending the human psyche to penetrate our inherent need for understanding and knowledge.


*The Indian Way by John M. Roller p. 189
**Translation from The Indian Way by John M. Roller p. 205

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