Simple, succinct and serendipitous, “Essential Concepts in Bhagavadgita: Volume 1” by Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha is an indispensable guide to the ‘seeker’ and the skeptic alike. The most striking and refreshing aspect of this book is the element of simplicity. This unmissable component is further embellished by the exhortation of practicality, thereby rendering both the attributes inextricable and symbiotic handmaidens of each other. As the wise and learned soul himself recounts in a revealing paragraph, “even today, the widespread appeal and influence of Bhagavadgita is because it is not related to rituals and ceremonies. The message of the Bhagavadgita is more to the non-religious people, although it is immensely important for the religious people too.” This particular notion finds significant resonance with persons such as yours truly who by way of a confession, is an agnostic by preference.
Volume 1 confines itself to an informed dissection of the most quintessential precepts as embedded within Chapters I & II of the immortal epic. As the preface itself admits, this series is not meant to be an extensive and exhaustive commentary on the indelible classic. It is instead, an informed distillation of the key tenets from each of the Chapters constituting the timeless book, considered to be the holiest of holies by many following the Hindu philosophy and Vedantic tradition. Hence the concentration in the first installment in the series is on the eclectic attributes of Visada (grief) Yoga, Sankhya (introspection) Yoga and Karma (“duty”) Yoga.
As Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha eruditely elucidates, intense grief can be the portal for immense knowledge and introspection. No sentient being in general, and man in particular, is immune to the assault of grief. But Enlightened souls are few, who dwell deep into the nature of the anguish assailing them, thereby freeing themselves from the human bondage. It was a racking grief that led to the promulgation of the Bhagavadgita itself. The archer par excellence and the Pandava Prince Arjuna, in a bout of unconstrained ego, demands his charioteer, Sri Krishna, to position his chariot in between the arrayed ranks of the opposing forces in the righteous battlefield of Kurukshetra. His ego is blown to smithereens and his fabled bow, Gandiva, slips from his sturdy arms as he sees, in radiant assembly before his eyes, the visage of his preceptor Drona, the imposing figure of his regal grandfather Bheeshma, and the forms of a hundred other brothers, cousins and relations. The concentrated Visada tormenting Arjuna leads to Krishna expounding Gita, a fount of knowledge that releases him from his predicament.
Krishna enlightens the aggrieved warrior on the need for maintaining equanimity when faced by contrast and contradictions. The opposing Dvandvas (pairs) of Sukha (joy) and Dukha (sorrows) irrigating the mind need to be treated with Samyata (equanimity). Getting unduly excited by joy and getting exasperated over sorrows prevents the seeker from attaining his ultimate goal of finding the Self or the consciousness within. “All experiences must be viewed as the Self’s alone. Experiences may differ but all are in, from and of the same Self. The Self need not be specially sought in any particular experience. In fact, it is present in, and through all. All objects and perceptions have only two resultants to evoke in the mind: Sukha and Dukha. Both are equally the Self.”
The examples offered in the book are easy to comprehend and the takeaways, extremely practical and amenable to implement. A personal favourite being the elucidation of the principles of Karma Yoga. Dispelling a well-entrenched dogma that declares that only a Seeker who ruminates and introspects ceaselessly would reach his Goals, Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha annihilates the notion that the path of Yoga (not in its formal, physical sense) is the sole preserve of the ascetic or a mendicant. “The karma-yogin differs from all other performers of actions in so far as his mind and intelligence are able to feel and understand a transcendental relevance and purpose behind each and everything he does…The wisdom about karma-yoga gained by the intelligence, and its relentless application while doing any karma whatsoever, is what distinguishes the karma-yogin from all other performers.”
This finds direct and empirical representation in one of greatest studies conducted by the Hungarian-American scientist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Csikszentmihalyi, and his team of researchers at the University of Chicago interviewed thousands of individuals from myriad walks of life. Women from Korea, adults in Thailand and India, teenagers in Tokyo, shepherds in Navajo, assembly line workers in Chicago and farmers in the Italian Alps constituted some of the subjects of this extraordinary study. What the researchers found was astounding. All those who were interviewed reiterated that they experienced a theory of ‘optimal experience’ based on the concept of “flow” – “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at a great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” True Karma Yogis of the likes articulated by Lord Krishna!
Bereft of jargons, abhorring esoteric philosophical musings and abjuring complex deliberations, Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha does yeoman service to his readers by holding forth, in an extraordinarily simple manner, on one of the greatest contributions in empowering cause of humanity.