Whatever one’s past may be, when one is situated in the boat of transcendental knowledge, one will be able to cross over the ocean of miseries. (Bhagavad Gita 4.36)
We all face struggles – that’s life. Do we see them as curses or do we try to turn them into blessings? Are we discouraged, or are we gaining internal strength through such experiences? Are we learning from athletes, who use resistance to gain physical strength?
The wisdom of the scriptures gives us the eyes to see opportunities even in testing times. Here are some Gita sutras that will infuse our minds with such timeless wisdom:
See every situation as temporary
Our struggles may seem endless, but is anything endless in this world? “All things must pass,” sang George Harrison of the rock band Beatles. Know that there’s always a sunrise even after the darkest night. Bhagavad Gita says that misery and happiness come and go like changing seasons. One has to simply tolerate them and remain undisturbed.
How to remain undisturbed? Consider the analogy of a puddle and an ocean. A puddle overflows in the monsoons and dries up in the summer. The ocean, however, remains undisturbed irrespective of the season. Why? Because the ocean has depth. Similarly, a person who is in touch with the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita develops spiritual depth. She seeks fulfillment within – not from without. And therefore she is neither elated in good times nor devastated in bad times.
See failures as a learning experience
Successful people learn from their mistakes. They never give up. Thomas Edison failed 9000 times in trying to invent the light bulb. But he never got depressed. He persisted. Whenever he failed in an attempt, he thought, “I now know one another way an electric bulb does not work.” That was the attitude that eventually led him to success.
See suffering as results of your own karma
As we sow, so shall we reap. Acts of kindness attract good karma; malicious actions attract bad karma. It is nature’s law, similar to the law of gravity – it’s a law that acts irrespective of whether we believe in it or not.
Now, the million-dollar question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
Consider a silo, a tall tower on a farm, used to store grain. After harvest, the farmer stores the fresh grains by putting them through the top of the silo and thus, keeps filling the silo. Whenever required, the farmer retrieves the old storage from the bottom of the silo. Now, if the farmer stored spoiled grains at some time in the past, he may receive them now.
All actions have corresponding reactions, and all reactions are fulfilled in time. A seed may lie in the ground for some time, but when conditions are right, it will sprout and grow. We can’t always predict when this will happen. The principle of karma is simple, but the details of how it operates are complex. We may not be able to trace the specific reason of our suffering, but we can ascertain that our present condition is the sprouting of the seed of an action sowed at some time – may be in this life or another. It doesn’t really matter.We always have the free will to make new choices at every step of our life and thus, sow the seeds of a more beneficial future.
The philosophy of karma is not a harsh insensitive response to our struggles and is not meant to induce further depression or an unhealthy guilt. It is provided to help us grow in whatever situation we are by taking responsibility for our choices and overcome the feeling of being a victim. However, to make right choices – good over evil – especially in testing times requires faith in something sublime.
Have faith in the Supreme and rise above fear
When tragedy strikes us, we become confused. It can deeply shake us both emotionally and spiritually. The world may seem cruel and meaningless, and we can lose faith in the grace of God.
Radhanath Swami writes in his book The Journey Within, “Faith isn’t about being ‘religious’ or having ‘belief’ in something (beliefs are changeable). Faith is about having unflinching trust with our intelligence, our intuition and our heart. It’s really a change of consciousness by which we become linked with God and with each other as children of God. Faith allows us to see that both happiness and suffering are not random but helpful to our progressive spiritual development.” Bhagavad Gita teaches that one who has faith in the Supreme will never perish, will quickly become righteous and attains lasting peace.
“Life is ten percent what happens to us and ninety percent how we respond to it,” said Lou Holtz. Instead of blaming other people or even God for our pain, we need to develop the eyes to see with love and forgiveness. We, then, become empowered by faith and attract a higher power to help us overcome the obstacles. Every time we make this choice to exercise our divine nature, our faith grows stronger. As we make a deeper spiritual connection, we begin to recognize the loving hand of the Supreme Friend that is there to protect, empower and shelter us, and ultimately, to offer us freedom. Trusting such benevolence can lift us above fear and help us make the right choices even in the face of a tragedy.
The above four sutras will help us maintain a positive attitude, provided, we aspire for growth in quality rather than simply quantity. Most people measure growth mainly in terms of quantity – money, power, and influence. Quantity, however, fluctuates. Sometimes, we experience the highs and other times, the lows. But quality – cultivating a strong character – acts like a foundation of the building of our life. Such an aspiration of growth in quality is the key to turn even an apparent curse into a blessing.