39. The Importance of Sorrow in Human Life

Wisdom of the Bhagavadgita

by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V


Studying the entire Bhagavadgita and understanding it is a challenging task. If you read one chapter a day, it takes 18 days to complete one reading. If you read ten verses a day, it will take 70 days or roughly two and half months. At the rate of one verse a day, it will take nearly two years to complete one reading.

For people who are otherwise busy, it is difficult to spare time for the study of the entire scripture. Even if they read, it is doubtful how much anyone can remember. However, the book can be used as a reference. Whenever you find time, you can open any page in the book and read a verse here and a verse there and contemplate on it. Overtime, the knowledge will seep through your mind and become an integral part of your consciousness. Thus, the scripture can serve you well as an object of meditation.

It is true that not all the verses in the Bhagavadgita are equally important. Hence, you can skip some and spend more time on others. Many people ignore the first chapter and directly go to the second, which is traditionally believed to be a summary of the entire teachings. However, while the verses in the First Chapter do not mean much, the chapter on the whole has a great significance as a lesson on the state of suffering. There is a very significant reason and symbolism behind why the Bhagavadgita begins with a chapter on suffering. People turn to God, and spirituality, when they experience suffering. The Bhagavadgita affirms this by beginning with a chapter on sorrow. I have explained this before in a series of essays on the significance of sorrow. I will briefly touch the subject here.

Vishada means sadness or sorrow, and yoga means the state. Arjuna Vishada yogam means Arjuna's state of sorrow. Think about it. Why was Arjuna filled with sorrow in the battlefield? Was he a coward? It was primarily because he was emotionally attached to his relations and family members and did not want to lose them. The idea of losing them disturbed him. People experience fear and anxiety at the prospect of losing something.

Being human, Arjuna felt the same. His state of mind also revealed that he had preferences in life. We all have likes and dislikes and Arjuna was not different. He had attraction for life and aversion to death which made him weak and nervous. Thirdly, he forgot or ignored his spiritual identity and identified himself with his mind and body, which made him feel vulnerable. Even if you have trained well under a spiritual master for long, in moments of crisis you may act like a normal human being and experience stress. It happened to Arjuna, although he too was well-versed in the knowledge of the scriptures and possessed the knowledge of the Self. Lastly, he lacked the knowledge of Brahman, Nature, and the importance of sacrificial actions. He was close to Krishna, but did not know that the Supreme Self was active in him. There were other causes, but these were primarily responsible for the troubling feelings he experienced at the prospects of war.

Sorrow is a modification of the mind, caused by desires, ignorance, and attachments. It is a sign that the mind is unstable and not adequately trained to remain stable in difficult circumstances. The first chapter thus introduces us to the nature and importance of sorrow in human life. If you study life carefully, you will realize that sorrow opens our eyes to the truths of our existence. It makes us reflective and introspective.

Learning important lessons from the difficulties and sorrows in your life makes you wiser. Karma does the same. It chisels our thinking and behavior by teaching us discrimination. Therefore, while you may not pay much attention to the first chapter, you should think about it in the context of your own life and whether you had similar moments in your life when your mind suddenly opened to intuitive knowledge and taught you important lessons of your life.

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