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Stepping out of the box PDF Print E-mail
Gita - Gita Articles

Na me parthasti kartavyam
trisu lokesu kincana
nanavaptam avaptavyam
varta eva ca karmani


Me, o Partha
Have no need to perform any duty
In any three space domains (lokas)
(Three lokas = mritya loka, pitri loka and deva loka)
I have nothing left to attain
Yet, I continue to do non-attached karma
(For I have to lead the way
They will all follow me,
and pay attention to what I do) ||3:22||

yadi hy aham na varteyam
jatu karmany atandritah
mama vartmanuvartante
manusyah partha sarvasah

Because, hey partha (Arjuna)
If I am not careful
And decide not to do karma
This will lead to big losses
For, most people will follow my path
And not do their karma
(And without any karma
How shall the world progress) ||3:23||

utsideyur ime loka
na kuryam karma ced aham
sankarasya ca karta syam
upahanyam imah prajah

And if I stop doing my karma
(You will stop as well)
Others will stop doing their karma as well
And this will lead to an unprecedented stagnation
Which in turn will cause much confusion
Leading ultimately to confusion of varna system
And destruction of the complete progeny (praja) ||3:24||


There is tremendous beauty and significance in these verses. People often raise these questions. What will happen if I have no desires and what will be the driving force for doing anything at all? I have often pointed out to the fact that we all have an internal driving force that becomes manifest once we drop the outer layer of desires. Krishna takes it a step further. He is talking about himself here. He is even beyond the level I have been talking about. He does not need any driving force. He is acting out of his compassion for us all. We will come back to that later.

It is easy to understand why a farmer goes to work at his farm in a village in India. He can bring food home and provide the basic necessity for his family. The drive here is his basic needs. If only he could get enough money for his family, he would not have to work. He thinks that he can relax one day. Then there is the middle class. They have enough for basic survival and are looking for some excitement in life. They want to be able to go out for a dinner or go to Singapore for a vacation. If they are religious they may want to go on a Teerth Yatra. They still continue to work. They do not understand why a Birla, a Modi or Bill Gates continues to work. They are the super-rich. They have plenty and are in the abundance. But they also continue to work, not because they are greedy, but because they want to contribute. And thank God that they do continue to work. They are the wealth generators. But are they any happier than the farmer who is spending all his time in fulfilling his basic needs. I have seen them all; I have not only seen them but have lived with them. I grew up in my village with friends who were in the first category and have come to live with the people in the last category. And my conclusion is that happiness has nothing to do with richness.

Krishna is talking about being happy all the time. Happiness is independent of what we own or what we possess. There is no discussion or talk about happiness in these shlokas, but it is implied and embedded in the whole of Gita. Krishna does not need to do anything and he does not need anything. This does not mean that he has everything. This should be understood clearly. I have a desktop computer at home. It is fast and has a processor of 1.2GH. But is it really fast? Now I am looking for a laptop and I can buy a much faster computer. Even if I do that I will always be playing a catch up game. And that is what I have to understand. It is all a game. The day I understand it, I will get what Krishna is talking about and how he can remain happy all the time. It is all a game. All the wants, all the desires, all this competition and all our endeavors are a game.

I was in a conference on ‘Quality of patient care’ in Orlando, Florida today. Benjamin Zander, who is a famous conductor of the Boston Philharmonic orchestra, made a powerful 2-hour presentation on this issue. He narrated his personal story very well. He was born is a Jewish family and success was expected and implied of him. There was no talk about this but it was in the air. He was driven and competitive. He did very well but always wondered if he could have done better. It cost him two marriages and he was not a happy man. One day a light bulb went in his head and he realized that all this is a game. He just changed the game. He started thinking that he was in the space of radiating possibilities. Life changed for him since then. He is no more thinking from inside the box. As I see it he is not even thinking out of the box. He just stepped outside of the box. He can see all boxes from the outside and is on a different path.

Krishna here is talking something more than that but Mr. Zander is on the right path. Arjuna and we have to start seeing these possibilities so that a qualitative change occurs in our lives.

Stepping out of the box II
Krishna here is talking something more than just stepping out of the box, but Mr. Zander is on the right path. Arjuna and we have to start seeing these possibilities so that a qualitative change occurs in our lives. Let us examine what happens when Mr. Zander in Orlando or Sadhwi Ritambhara in India give a motivational talk. Most of us construct a box and then throw the keys after we box ourselves in. These powerful speakers help us get out of the box for the moment and the feeling is exhilarating and so refreshing. And it is not difficult to start wondering why we keep ourselves locked in the boxes that we have made ourselves.

Constructing the boxes
We start constructing boxes as soon as we are born. We get a name and start to develop an identity. It is useful to have an identity and it is useful to grow the box as we grow. We go to school and then to the college. We hang diplomas on the walls. We also put décor to our test. And soon we start becoming so attached to these boxes that we do not even realize any distinction or separateness between the box and us. To make things more complex we construct number of boxes. When a teenager is with his parents he has one box and when he is with his peers he has another box. We build a house and decorate it as well. But, we know that sometimes we need to leave the house and go places. We do not carry the house wherever we go. Similarly, we own a car but do not take it on the airplane or inside the office. House and car have a utility and it is easy to realize it. The box that we construct has a utility too, but we do not recognize that we can live without those boxes.

Thinking out of the box
A lot of us do not have any windows inside our boxes. Some smart people learn to put windows in their boxes. Now they can see other boxes all around them and learn from those boxes as well. Some can communicate with other boxes as well. Actually, communications mostly occur only at the box level. We do choose different boxes at different times. There is one box for the wife and another one for the mistress. Israelis think from their box while the Palestinians think from inside their boxes. It is no wonder that they do not agree on any thing at all. As long as the dialogs are between two boxes there is no possibility of any transformations. Thinking out of the box is referred to these situations. If only they could think out of the box, the world will be so different. The biggest weakness of this theory in my mind is that the individual is still in the box. Thinking out of the box is still in relation of the box. I know my box. I am inside my box. I now want to think outside of my box. I am a Hindu. Gita is my mother. I want to think out of my box and am willing to read Koran. I am reading Koran as a Hindu and the Moslem is reading Gita as an Islamic person.

Stepping out of the box
Sometimes the stepping out of the box happens when we least expect it. And that is how I want to approach this part. You are sitting besides the ocean. There is a nice beach. The sun is shining. The temperature is 75 degrees Celsius. You are simply lying down. The box just evaporates and you feel so relaxed. You have been carrying the box with you all the time. There is no need to carry but you can’t help it. And, in this beautiful space on the beach it just got dropped. It also happens when you are listening to powerful speakers or you get absorbed in music or a dance. All the growth, relaxation and meditation programs help us unwind and get out of the boxes that we carry ourselves in all the time. And it feels so good. If we can leave our house to go somewhere, if we can get out of our cars to get into a building, why do we have to carry our boxes around?

Walking without a box
This is where Krishna is. We can step in and out of the box, but the boxes are still there. All the boxes around Krishna have dissolved. This does not make him unrealistic. He still realizes the role of a leader and he still acts like many of us. He in fact gets more clarity than most of us who are enclosed in different boxes. And he can see how Arjun has boxed himself in a way that he now can’t even stand let alone fight in a war. Krishna can clearly see not only Arjun but the whole army with boxes around them. He can also see the fact that Arjun and others are boxing Krishna as well. This should be realized clearly. We do not only box ourselves in but we also box others. I have a good friend in town who is a physician. She goes out of her way to help her patients. I came to know that a patient had complained against her to the board. The complaint was that the doctor had given her samples (medicine) but they had expired date on the bottle. The doctor perhaps never gave the sample herself. Her intentions were to help the patient. But what a box she got as a present for that from the patient. So, just because Krishna is walking without a box does not mean that he will not be boxed in. There are people who criticize Krishna for having been the cause of the Mahabharata war even today which is 5000 years after his time. He is being boxed in even today. But as far as Krishna is concerned, he is a free man. And so is Buddha or Mahavira or Nanak. This freedom from any boxes is very similar to becoming enlightened and free.

Coming back
Just because the boxes are gone is not an excuse for leaving the mainstream. Krishna stays in the crowd and he does so as a leader. He is very similar to being a conductor that conducts an orchestra. And it is all a game for Krishna. And that is why he is so relaxed when he plays his flute and also when he plays his role as conductor of the Mahabharata war.

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