The world’s being a miserable place doesn’t mean we have to be miserable
An oft-quoted Bhagavad-gita verse deems this world a place of misery (08.15: duhkhalyam). Yet the same Gita was spoken to relieve Arjuna of misery. Initially (02.01), he was overwhelmed by lamentation, but on hearing the Gita, he regained his composure (18.73).
How do we make sense of this contradiction between the Gita’s message and its purpose?
Actually, there is no contradiction because its message about the world’s nature contributes to its purpose that we free ourselves from misery by practicing dharma. To understand, let’s compare the world to a hospital. Just as pain is a given fact in a hospital, so it is in this world too. Still the purpose of the hospital is not to perpetuate pain, but to minimize and eliminate it. The world’s purpose is similarly curative. Just as patients can minimize their pain by following a competent doctor’s treatment plan, similarly we can minimize our misery by following the supreme doctor Krishna’s treatment plan – the principles of dharma.
Just as patients who expect five-star hotel menus in a hospital set themselves up for frustration, so too do we bring frustration upon ourselves if we expect worldly enjoyment according to our desires.
Just as patients who expect five-star hotel menus in a hospital set themselves up for frustration, so too do we bring frustration upon ourselves if we expect worldly enjoyment according to our desires. By informing us about the world’s nature, the Gita protects us from such unrealistic expectations. And by urging us to practice dharma, it helps us minimize our misery and find happiness by living in harmony with our spiritual nature as souls, who are eternal parts of Krishna.
The highest principle of dharma (18.66) is pure devotion to Krishna, which ensures the uninterrupted connection of our consciousness with he who is the reservoir of unlimited happiness. So the more we strive to remember and serve him, the more we can rise beyond material miseries and relish transcendental happiness even in this miserable world.
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