Context is critical for comprehending content

Context is critical for comprehending content

Self-interested people sometimes try to make their questionable opinions seem respectable by quoting esteemed authorities out of context. By such cherry picking, they make those authorities seem to be saying something different from, even opposite to, the intended meaning.

Such egregious misrepresentation of the Bhagavad-gita is illustrated in some licentious people’s claiming that a sanction for unregulated sense enjoyment is provided by the Gita (03.33): All act according to their nature, so what can repression accomplish?

If this verse were a sanction for licentiousness, it would contradict the many other Gita verses that enjoin sense regulation. In fact, while prescribing sense control, the Gita (02.68) has earlier used the same word as used here (nigrahah). And that very call for sense control is reiterated in the immediate next verse (03.34). Soon after that follows an entire section (03.36-43) about curbing sensory desires, specifically lust.

So, the context counters the interpretation of this verse as a licentiousness-sanctioner. Then what does the verse refer to? What is it that shouldn’t be repressed?

Psychophysical nature.

This becomes clear from the intermediate verse (03.35) that emphatically endorses acting according to one’s own nature. All of us are born with a particular psychophysical nature. By acting according to that nature, we contribute best to society and to our own long-term well-being. Arjuna, for example, has a kshatriya nature. If he adopts a brahmana’s vocation, he won’t be able to do that unnatural vocation for long. By failing in both kshatriya and brahmana duties, he will court adharma.

Thus, when seen in context, the repression verse doesn’t refer to sensual indulgence at all – interpreting it as a sanction for wantonness violently misrepresents the Gita.

In general, whenever people quote Gita verses to support ideas contrary to its overall philosophy, we can study the verse in context to comprehend the correct meaning.

 

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