Comprehension of scripture comes by absorption, not projection
The Bhagavad-gita, being a widely respected book, is often misappropriated by people with their own agendas. Such people cherry-pick the Gita’s verses to suit their own purposes. Even among those who don’t misappropriate it consciously, many subconsciously project their own ideas on it.
Consider, for example, the Gita’s appropriation by a celebrated leader who championed nonviolence. Faced with the obvious question of how a book spoken on a battlefield could advocate nonviolence, he responded by rejecting the battlefield setting as a mere metaphor.
Undoubtedly, nonviolence is an important virtue, especially today when deadly weapons are easily available for many. And the Gita (16.02) does laud nonviolence as a virtue of the godly. Demonstrating such godly spirit, the Pandavas strive repeatedly, as the Mahabharata reports, to peacefully regain their stolen administrative rights. But the anti-social Kauravas, who have unscrupulously grabbed power, brazenly rebuff them, thereby making war inevitable.
When we absorb this context, we see that the Gita’s battlefield setting underscores the hard-eyed reality that in a world where the brutal sometimes gain power, assertive action, including violence, may be necessary for protecting the victims.
Thus, when we absorb ourselves in the Gita’s context, we can better appreciate its text. And when we absorb ourselves in its text, we can better appreciate its thrust: the call for spiritual activism. It (11.33) asks Arjuna not just to fight, but also to do so by becoming a harmonious instrument of the divine.
The Gita’s universal message is that we attain spiritual harmony by realizing our essential nature as parts of the Absolute. When we are thus harmonized, we can devotionally channel our energy for contributing constructively according to our social position.
Overall, the Gita’s nuanced and profound message can be comprehended only by absorbing ourselves in it, not by projecting our own preconceptions on it.
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