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Alternate Activity 2: The Bhagavad Gita
Activity time: 25 minutes
Materials for Activity
- Handout 2, Excerpts from The Bhagavad Gita - The Song of God
- Small selection of delicious and beautiful edibles that nobody's allergic to, such as pretty fruit, little decorated chocolates, or a tray of brightly colored cut-up vegetables
Preparation for Activity
- Prepare food. Arrange for it to be delivered to the group if possible; otherwise, keep it covered and out of sight.
Description of Activity
Participants read an excerpt from the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu text, and deepen their understanding of the concept of nonattachment.
Distribute Handout 2. Suggest that the group take a few minutes to read the excerpt to themselves.
Ask for initial reactions. What does the story mean to participants? What did they think of the setting for the story-the archer and charioteer wrestling with issues of spiritual life and death in the midst of the charging armies, frozen in time? Ask if they would like any words or passages explained.
Read aloud this quote from the excerpt:
Simply do your duty to the best of your ability without becoming discouraged by the thought of the outcome.
Ask the youth if they recognize what central concept of Hinduism this illustrates. Explain that it illustrates nonattachment. The Gita includes a story where Arjuna cares deeply about the outcome for a number of reasons: He is fighting for the side whom he thinks are the rightful heirs; whichever side wins, people he loves will die; and if the fighting is long, many people he loves will die. Yet Krishna does not counsel him to not care about those things. Rather, Krishna instructs Arjuna to use his judgment, make his best choice, and work hard toward the outcome he thinks is best. But, and here is the important thing: He must not tie his happiness to whatever the end result might be, whether it is the result he wanted or not.
Point out that Western youth can easily understand wanting something badly and being miserable if they do not get it. That is normal. Can they conceive of wanting something badly but remaining calm and equally happy whether they get it or not?
Note that Krishna further illustrates the point by saying:
Fear of failure, from being emotionally attached to the fruit of work, is the greatest impediment to success because it disturbs the equanimity of the mind.
Do the youth find this to be true for themselves? Do they find that their own fear of failure gets in the way of succeeding? Can they envision themselves wanting to do something and jumping in to work on it, without either fear of failure or hope for success? Can they see any benefit in that?
Acknowledge that this is a rather foreign idea in our society. Nevertheless, can the youth see that enormous energy is spent on hoping and worrying? What if this concept of nonattachment to results could really be achieved? Could it have the effect of freeing all that energy for the work itself?
Tell them you will now illustrate the concept of attachment to results. Bring out or uncover the food. This should spark enormous interest on the part of the youth, particularly if it is a food they really like, and they will want to eat it immediately. Allow them to gather around the food, but do not allow them to eat. If they exclaim and complain, respond calmly:
Oh, you like this?
When they say "Yeah!" continue speaking in a calm tone:
Isn't it nice we have provided something you like!
(Expect accelerated complaining.) Say:
Well, here it is. Why are you complaining?
Their responses will likely be along the lines of, "What do you mean? You're not letting us eat it-we want to eat it!" Say:
Oh! So it is not just its existence that pleases you? There's some result you want?
When they say, "Yeah-we're hungry!" or some variation on this, say:
So, think about this for a moment. The second you laid eyes on this food, you pinned your hopes on eating it. It was not enough to see it, or smell it, or know it was there. It was a specific result you wanted, and you instantly connected your happiness to it.
Casually select a piece of the food and eat it. Expect great consternation. Say:
Oh, now you are more upset! Do you see that you are connecting your happiness directly to whether you get this food?
You do not get the food; you are disappointed. That is attachment. Does that make sense?
"Sure, sure," the youth will likely say. "Now, when can we eat?"
Before letting them eat, ask the youth to identify moments in their own lives that illustrate attachment. Prompt them with some examples, if necessary: They were mad when the hot water ran out. Happy their favorite gum is in stock. Disappointed when a friend forgot to call. Thrilled they got the job. Explain that every time our feelings soar or sink because of some result, there is attachment. Have the youth imagine that the food suddenly disappeared! How would they feel? Greatly disappointed, probably. Now ask them to imagine the food disappeared, but, while they would have liked some of it, they are not upset; instead, they remain just as happy as they were before the food disappeared. Now ask them to imagine the food has reappeared, and while they are glad it is there, they remain just as happy as when the food was not there.
This is the nonattachment-the equanimity-that Hindus seek. It is incredibly empowering. It is also incredibly difficult. It is just as hard for Hindus as it is for us. That is why you can work for many lifetimes trying to achieve it.
Invite the youth to eat now. As they eat, prompt them to continue the discussion by posing some questions:
- What if you have a fight with your boyfriend or girlfriend? Can you work to fix it but remain as fundamentally happy as before?
- What about getting the grade in class you want? Can you be glad without letting it unsettle your feelings?
Point out that many Westerners have difficulty seeing the value of such equanimity. What do the youth think? Can they see any value in nonattachment? Is it worth all the effort it would take to achieve?
Save time for all participants to clean up at the conclusion of the activity.