Does the Gita discourage material solutions to problems?

Some people ask, “When the Bhagavad-gita (08.15) states that the world is a place of misery, does that mean we can never avoid misery and that we shouldn’t even try to avoid it?”

Not at all. Consider these paradoxical points. The Gita identifies disease as one of life’s unavoidable distresses (13.09). Yet the Gita is a key text in the broader Vedic tradition that gave rise to Ayurveda, the Vedic science of medicine. Thus, passively suffering the distress of disease isn’t the Gita tradition’s teaching. 

Additionally, the Gita (04.07-08) stresses the need for establishing dharma, ethical and spiritual order. For establishing dharma, a key measure is disempowering miscreants, lest they exacerbate the world’s unavoidable distresses. And Gita wisdom inspires Arjuna to fight a war for destroying the vicious Kauravas who had unscrupulously grabbed power. Arjuna didn’t see in the Gita any directive to passively suffer the Kauravas’ inequities. And he didn’t read such a directive because the Gita doesn’t contain any such directive — neither in its setting or its substance. 

The Gita does reject the pursuit of pleasure in this world as life’s defining purpose, deeming such a life-conception demoniac. Overall, it acknowledges the role of countering avoidable distresses in this world and asserts the necessity of raising our consciousness to the spiritual level, thereby better tolerating and eventually transcending the world’s distresses. 

And whatever pleasure or pain comes inevitably during our life as we strive to live responsibly and grow spiritually, the Gita (05.20) urges us to accept with equanimity and without losing our focus on spirituality. 

One-sentence summary:

That the world is a place of misery doesn’t mean we do nothing to counter misery in this world; it means that we don’t restrict our measures for countering misery to this world alone. 

Think it over:

  • Does the Gita discourage us from countering the world’s misery?
  • How do the Gita’s setting and substance both convey its approach to dealing with misery?
  • Guided by Gita wisdom, how can we best deal with life’s distresses? 


08.15: After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection.


Author: Chaitanya Charan

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