As I read deeper into the lines of the Bhagavad Gita, I realize that some pages are not meant to be read so much as experienced. The meaning of a complex passage might become clear only after I have followed a winding road, questioning what I have previously understood about the world, but at the end, I find an elegant, beautiful answer. Regarding the concept of action, one stanza has recently been on my mind:
na karmanam anarambhan
naishkarmyam purusho ’snute
na ca sannyasanad eva
Not by merely abstaining from work can one achieve freedom from reaction, nor by renunciation alone can one attain perfection. (3.4)
Krishna, the speaker, anticipates a potential loophole in the law of karma by asserting that one cannot escape the consequences of one’s actions by resorting to inaction. For example, if I were to drop out of college because I feared the possibility of failure, I would not only deprive myself of an engineering degree, but also miss the opportunity to grow as an individual. Despite the late nights and rollercoaster weeks, I continue to pursue my calling because the challenges of becoming an engineer have helped me discover myself, forming my essential experiences.
Though I follow the path of an engineer, the means of acquiring experience vary from person to person, which Krishna explains by stating that everyone acts according to the qualities acquired from nature (Bhagavad Gita 3.5). If a painter seeks truth through color and a football player through touchdowns, both can seek enlightenment through their respective professions. While the painter labors away at the canvas and the football player toils at practice, both can agree that success requires hard work. If individuals whose paths never intersect can arrive at the same conclusion, it seems reasonable that the attainment of enlightenment depends more on the work performed rather than the type of work.
Photo Credit: David Senesac
The beautiful message at the end of the road is that one’s profession serves a spiritual purpose. In fact, the Bhagavad Gita places importance on the need to see the world and understand its ways, a testament to the pragmatism of this ancient text. I am amazed that the Gita remains so relatable, but at the same time, the words have persisted through the years because they contain truths that people still embrace. And I find myself doing the same.