Is the Gita’s declaration about the world’s distressful nature pessimistic?
When we hear the Bhagavad-gita statement (08.15) that the world is a place of distress, we may wonder, “Isn’t this pessimistic?”
No, if we understand what it is meant to do and what it is not meant to do.
Meant to reset our baseline expectation: If we travel to a cold place expecting it to be warm, we will be in for a nasty shock. Similarly, if we go through life expecting it to be wonderful, we will become disoriented, disheartened, even dysfunctional when we encounter perplexities, adversities and perversities. Frustration is a function of expectation. The greater the mismatch between expectation and reality, the greater the frustration. The lesser the mismatch, the lesser the frustration. By warning us in advance that the world is not a place for enjoyment, the Gita helps decrease our frustration when we encounter frustrating situations.
Not meant to be an inescapable prediction: Just because we travel to a cold place doesn’t mean we have to freeze; we can protect ourselves appropriately by, say, warm clothes. Similarly, just because the world is a distressful place doesn’t mean we have to be distressed; we can protect ourselves appropriately. How? By pursuing a purpose so meaningful that it makes the distress bearable. And the Gita provides such a purpose: the spiritualization of human consciousness. The more we raise our consciousness to the spiritual level, the more we can tolerate or even transcend the world’s distresses. In fact, this is what the Gita did for its original student, Arjuna when he was faced with a distressingly difficult duty.
The Gita’s declaration that the world is a place of distress is not meant to be an inescapable prediction that makes us fearfully resigned; it is meant to reset our baseline expectation that makes us spiritually prepared.
Think it over:
- What is the Gita’s declaration about the nature of the world meant to do?
- What is that declaration not meant to do?
- Has that declaration helped you to face life’s challenges better?
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.
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