Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Big Picture

Indian Philosophy

I was reading today a little bit about the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita. These are the ancient Indian writings (originally oral verses) that provide the foundation for many of the beliefs and subjects of contemplation for Hindus.

As a teen, I read some of this material casually and some with a little vigour, but I hadn't considered any of the writings critically and therefore haven't responded to the contents or lessons of any of these works in my daily life. This contrasts the advice of the works, which in general is a recommendation that the reader contemplate their content constantly.

“The Gita” can be said to be the essence of this body of works. The Gita can be generally described as a conversation between an army general and a God in which the God lends the insecure general some moral support and describes to him what's important in life and why, often by analogy.

Though the Gita is rather short (it can be read in one sitting), and is very easy to understand, many scholars have regardless attempted to summarize its message even more succinctly, and this is encouraged by the message itself. I think the writing takes the position that discussion and contemplation of the nature of things is central to an ongoing understanding of the nature of things, which can hardly be argued, so the attempts at summarization are not surprising.

I'm not a scholar, but I thought I'd give this a shot too, for fun: I'd say it's about neglect and focus. Don't neglect your duties and focus on the big picture in each of the little things that you do. The big picture, by the way, is that every man, dog, and horse has got a little something special in him that is a condensed subset of this unimaginably vast and beautiful living universe. Don't bankrupt the value of your life by (basically) being petty or falling into patterns of repeating harmful and selfish actions, and you'll attain enjoyment through focusing on the idea that you're living your life as a part of everything, rather than as a person who is living life against everything (including oneself). The idea, I think, is that if a person is able to work that out, then that person will naturally begin to enjoy, for instance, being honest with himself, living in moderation, being a caring person, performing duties, and so on. The insecurities and harmful patterns will shed quickly, in theory. I think Mohatma Gandhi accomplished this, and I might talk about that in another post.

So although, like Carl Jung says, we're on a “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam,” that does not in any way reduce our significance.

I think anyone can buy into that. It's more of a philosophy than a religion, and I don't see that it conflicts with any pre-existing ideas a person might have about believing or not believing in any religions.