Sunday, August 9, 2009

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 12 Verse 16

Today I was reminded of one of my favorite lines from the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 12 Verse 16:

सर्वारम्भपरित्यागी यो मद्भक्त: स मे प्रिय:
sarvarambha parityagi yo mad-bhaktah sa me priyah

To paraphrase, it means that one should renounce the idea that one is the beginning or end of anything. Thus, to think, for example, that I discovered the cure, I came up with the design, I am the one that made this happen is nothing but sheer ignorance.

Isaac Newton, who probably has one of the biggest claims to bragging rights in the history of mankind, also probably has one of the best explanations for why he doesn't make his claim: "If I have seen far," he said, "it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants." Trite, yes, but only because it is true. And it deserves more repetition. Quotes like these make the researcher who boasts of curing a disease think twice about skipping over all the foundational work that scores of people did to make that discovery possible.

However, this verse doesn't just apply to major acts of creation and discovery. The subtle and more day-to-day meaning is that behind all of our undertakings lies a motivating and influencing force. Parents, teachers, books, and media all shape our actions, and part of having a healthy outlook is recognizing this fact.

On paper this all seems so obvious, of course, but it's surprising how often we forget. We like to think of ourselves as intelligent, but we forget about the people who refined that intelligence and directed it into constructive channels. We like to think of ourselves as good people, but we forget about the people that have helped instill those values in us.

After internalizing the principle of this verse, sincere and matter-of-fact humility should come on its own. After all, when one goes through the list of people one's indebted to, how can one feel anything but humility?


  1. Nice posting. Do you know about this edition of the Gita?

  2. Thank you. What do you mean by edition?