Bhagavad Gita Wisdom, Chapter Eight

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

One who remembers Me exclusively, even while leaving the body at the time of death, attains the Supreme Abode; there is no doubt about it.  VIII.08 Trans. Prasad.   

Philosophers East and West have recommended the contemplation of death as a pathway to wisdom.  Remembering death reminds us of the transitory nature of the body and the short amount of time that we have here on Earth.  Death reminds us of who and what we value as opposed to the myriad ways that we practice techniques of distraction in order to forget ourselves and our condition.  Remembering that we will die need not be depressing or fatalistic, since it awakens us to the fact of our present life.  And yet this verse from the Gita does not attempt to sell us on some rose-colored view of reality.  A little later in the chapter, the material sphere of existence is called, “this miserable transitory world”  (duḥkālayam, 8.15), from which it would be a great privilege to escape.

Escape from the world must not take the form of neglecting duty, as we are reminded over and over again in this classic spiritual text.  So how are we to simultaneously fulfill our duties and yet still practice the art of remembrance?  We need to offer work as worship and yet also take some time apart for yogic techniques of meditation.  The refuge of ultimate reality is available for all of those who earnestly seek it, in this life and the next.  By taking time apart to seek this hidden refuge, we can return to work in the world more refreshed, with the burden of earthly problems lessened.  Our tired bodies and minds need this occasional respite from the preoccupations of daily life.

So we can see here a process of first, doing our duty conscientiously without regard for the result, and second, taking breaks for yogic discipline to remember the supreme reality.  This becomes a positive feedback loop where meditation informs life and life informs meditation, where troubles and cares are transformed into a means of perfecting oneself.  This should be distinguished from perfectionism, which induces perpetual anxiety, since the perfection already exists in Hari, the Lord.  The perfectionist seeks to create perfection single-handedly, while the devotee knows that perfection is already there.  In an individualist metaphysics, the separate self must continually labor over and against nature, while, in the interconnected perspective of the Gita, everything is already immersed in the Supreme.

We can fulfill the teaching of this chapter by going about our business diligently and quietly, not seeking reward or credit, not creating an anxious frame of mind.  We must also take some breaks during the day to chant and meditate, so that we cultivate the habit of remembrance.  We must know that we are not guaranteed to live in this lifetime forever, but this should not provoke anxiety.  We know at all times that we are surrounded by complete fullness and perfection, and that this Reality envelops the mundane world.  By living in this knowledge, it becomes more readily apparent, and life comes to seem, well… a battle, yes,  but one in which we are completely safe.