The Bhagavad Gita Part 1: Facing a difficult Decision?

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This is the first of a series of posts, where I would like to explore how an ancient text like the Bhagavad Gita can help us taking overdue decisions and engaging in action. I use the example of decision making, because in life and at work we often hesitate to take decisions, especially if a decisions leads to actions we would like to avoid. We act a little bit like Arjuna, the hero of the Gita, in the opening of this wonderful text.

Our lives are full of decisions. Big decisions like “Shall I quit my job and start something new?” and small decisions like “Shall I take the soup or the salad?” Hundreds of approaches exist to help us make better decisions. The flip of a coin representing a very basic approach, the two dimensional Eisenhower chart a more elaborate one. All promise: “Use me and you will not be disappointed!” I remember many episodes at work, where we used several, sophisticated Excel sheets to help us with a difficult decision. When I looked at the results I was still not 100% sure how to decide: “The figures are correct and tell me to choose solution A. But in my heart I know that solution B is far better. How should I decide?” Truth is, a decision is only the first step in a series of events. Actions will need to follow, to keep things going.

Live and work are not that simple. A decision might start a chain of events you never intended to happen. Things might not turn out as expected. Most things in life are not black or white, good or bad. Many approaches to decision making try to represent the world as a step by step process or formula. You enter all the values and out comes the result. But any approach is at best a simplistic abstraction of a moment in time, covering a small part of the problem at hand. Tools address our rational side, but how can we learn to listen to our intuition, our heart? Do practical guides exist, which can guide us on how to use our gut feeling, or follow our heart?

What about the timeless Bhagavad Gita? During the non-violent struggle to free India, Gandhi often mentioned that the ’Song of the Lord’, how the Gita is called by insiders, provided him with guidance when facing difficult decisions. The Gita is no formula, it’s poetry. It’s open to interpretation and provides no simple answers. And a scary thing for many of us rationalists might be, that it is a spiritual text. How can a spiritual text be practical?

The Gita’s central theme is an important decision. King Arjuna has to decide if he should start a war against his own cousins. The war is justified, but Arjuna knows that it will cause immense suffering. He has the moral support of his friend and mentor Krishna on his side, but the opponents army is much bigger. In the middle of the battlefield he falls down on his knees in despair and turns around to his friend for advice. Time stops and the dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna begins.

Instead of just answering this single question, Krishna gives Arjuna a complete framework how to act in every situation, in order to live a fulfilled, spiritual live. He explains that every one of us has to follow his Dharma, his path. We cannot escape our destiny, because we are bound to the earth by our bodies. It’s nature. Our bodies try to avoid actions which feel bad. But mind and body are not the same. For most of us our mind is the slave of our senses, our body. Only if we manage to control our mind in a way to not cause us any sorrow when engaging in unwanted actions, can we free us from the negative effects of these actions.

How can this story help is in our lives?

Imagine the next time you are forced to engage in an unwanted action at work, or at home. In such situations my mind immediately spits out thoughts like: “Not again! I really hate to do this! Why me?” I sometimes get the impression that in many situations the mind running wild feels far worse, than the action itself.

Let’s use the next couple of posts to find out how we can apply the wisdom of the Gita in the context of the modern workplace. Hoping to provide you and me with a guidance, on how to take difficult decisions and engage in all type of actions with a positive attitude.

6 comments

  1. “King Arjuna has to decide if he should start a war against his own cousins”. The more one climbs the ladder of corporate culture, the rarer honest feedback becomes. First, as an aspiring employee, the feedback is immediate and direct. “You need to improve x”. Then as a manager the filter mechanisms start to kick in. Your directs start to reconsider their words and soft-cushion their considerations. As a director your confronted with weathered managers who know how to strategically position themselves and avoid disadvantages by confrontational behaviors. Only the jester-minded and free spirited minds still dare disagree. They might be fools or there might be a grain of honestly meant warning in it. Explore! Gain clarity by de-focusing and questioning your own position! Talk to the directly affected people. Don’t just choose the path of least resistance. Prove your wisdom and dare to decide in favor of passion instead of distanced coldness. Your self will thank you one day! Be courageous and listen to the people you trust. Namasté.

    • Your point about honest feedback is very true. Through our senses, through the feedback we receive, we create our reality. Because of the different realities, for person X a decision might feel like “…now this guy is taking the path of distanced coldness…he really does not care any more…”, in another mind the same decision might resonate like “…this decision will help the team to grow and experience something new…they are strong enough to follow their own path…they should learn to follow their own path…”. Big decisions are important. But are they really so relevant to the outcome of the future? They are, if we take a decision and then step back and let things happen. There is another way. To enable everyone to engage in creating his own future, work on his own happiness. I will cover that in my next post.

      Hey, I will miss your insights and our discussions over lunch.

  2. Tejaswini

    Hii Philips,
    I appreciate lot of your thought process and in fact many of the interesting sentences you have talked about like :
    1.Tools address our rational side, but how can we learn to listen to our intuition, our heart? Do practical guides exist, which can guide us on how to use our gut feeling, or follow our heart?
    2.But will such a reaction really help to win – in the long run – the battle against the army of negative thoughts?
    3.How shall we act if no action feels right? What if it seems that we can’t win the battle?

    There were many times I had similar thoughts. Infact with the same thoughts I googled if Gita could give me an answer and was really happy reading your blog. But I am disappointed that you haven’t answered any of the questions. I know that you have mentioned about the train story but you have only mentioned about understanding true self and looking for inner peace through yoga. I understand there is no easy way out but I think along with Yoga, training thoughts is also required.
    It would be great if you can elaborate your reply on the 3 questions mentioned above.
    Regards,
    Tejaswini

    • Hi Tejaswini,
      Thank’s for reading and commenting my post. I will try to answer your questions as good as I can. At the same time I would like to encourage you to search for the answers by looking within you. In the end no text, no external tool, no expert knows what is good for you or how you can find happiness.

      1.Tools address our rational side, but how can we learn to listen to our intuition, our heart? Do practical guides exist, which can guide us on how to use our gut feeling, or follow our heart?
      In my experience the best tool to follow your heart is silence. It’s sitting comfortably down and closing the eyes, listening to the breath. It’s practicing the art of concentration, so that you can focus your awarness on what is in front of you.

      2.But will such a reaction really help to win – in the long run – the battle against the army of negative thoughts?
      I think the battle of the thoughts is human nature. It never ends. It’s our rational mind wanting to guide us. If our mind is full of negative thought, the only thing we can do is look at the mind as an observer and give it a compassionate hug.

      3.How shall we act if no action feels right? What if it seems that we can’t win the battle?
      If we realize that life is not about winning or loosing, it’s not about being famous or rich, that there are no external standards to measure what a successfull life is, we might all of a sudden feel free. Then we can look inside, and act in a way that is ok with who we want to be.

      Kind regards,
      Philipp

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