The Bhagavad Gita exhorts us to accept and tame fear

Fear. Just the tiny four-letter word is enough to change my insides from casually confident to uneasy and apprehensive. Things that cause me fear range from trivial thoughts and anxieties to more grave concerns.

But when I feel vulnerable and helpless in the face of these ugly monsters, I turn to a small book my mother has always carried in her purse to this day. I turn to a mere 700 shlokas written thousands of years ago. I turn to the Bhagavad Gita.

I recently read the Bhagavad Gita again. The Bhagavad Gita literally translates into “the Lord’s Song” and is a narrative from the Mahabharat, arguably the greatest Hindu war epic ever transcribed.

A dialogue follows where Prince Arjun, the Gita’s central protagonist and war hero, is counseled by his charioteer, Lord Krishna, on the battlefield moments before the saga’s first battle.

I still remember the first time I actually read the Gita. I was a hardworking high school student, trying to unwaveringly hold on to my brainy, overachiever persona amid the athlete, band, and umpteen other cliques of high school.

I found the Gita easy to read and understand even then—my quick grasp of those 700 verses gave me the strong belief that I had successfully entered the intellectual world of modern Hinduism.

Almost a decade later, I have the same amount of confidence I did back then but along with it, equal humility. Leaving my wide-eyed teenage years behind, I no longer see the world as black or white.

Instead, I am constantly trying to grow into a wiser young woman. As I try to infuse sharp, sensible wisdom into my daily life, I recognize that I must first let go of all fears.

Now, I have experienced enough situations that create fear. Fear powerful enough to leave one vulnerable, broken, and even empty. Many a time, fears have the power to knock you down but recently reading the Gita has taught me that they cannot knock you out cold.

The single, most significant lesson I have learned from the Bhagavad Gita is that I will always have ample determination to face my fears. In times of anguish, I have read the Gita and found solace and comfort in the words of Lord Krishna.

His counseling Arjun to abandon all fear and surrender unto him has somehow resonated extremely well with me. The fear-inducing moments I have handled in the past are strangely, yet perfectly, described by this ancient holy text.

The strife explained in the Gita is eerily similar to many present-day emotions—Arjun’s pangs of self-doubt, his distressed feelings, and crippling anxieties could not be more identical to how our fears make us feel today.

These similarities have led me to search deeper into the Gita whenever I am challenged with the most pressing concerns, in hopes of finding a good lesson.

Lord Krishna’s commanding, yet loving, words teach me to let go and breathe a little more freely, and serve as a gentle reminder that life, in fact, is a beautiful experience meant to be lived, not feared.

Of course, fear is an obvious, natural instinct; we would not be human without it. The Bhagavad Gita, however, does not erase fear. It rather reduces it to a mere sensation not worthy of attention. It is imperative, Lord Krishna instructs Arjun, that you brush aside all fears and act towards fulfilling your duty as a warrior prince.

I think we humans have an inborn fear because we care. We care about our families and their well-being. We care about our professional work and its results.

We all want to pass that dreadful admissions exam, be promoted to a better position, and receive that loan to start a new business venture. Somewhere deep down, we all just want to succeed. The desire for success, however, sometimes comes attached with the debilitating fear of failure.

But the Bhagavad Gita continually stresses that fears are just a material illusion; our real focus should be on fulfilling our duties during our limited time on this planet. Do not abandon your duty because of material fears, Lord Krishna instructs a weak and trembling Arjun.

I have found the Lord’s words to be omnipresent each time I am taking on a new challenge. His words help me brush aside my baseless fears and instead, focus on remembering my duty to charge towards my goals like one of the bulls in Pamplona.

Reading the Bhagavad Gita, then reading it again and soaking in its wisdom until it is deeply ingrained has been a beautiful personal journey. It has taught me to continue performing my duties as a young woman even in the face of my ugliest fears.

By taking cover under the protection of the Lord, fear becomes easier to tame. There have been many English translations of the Gita by Eastern and Western scholars alike. But I have found accepting my fears, surrendering to the Lord, and continuing to fulfill my duty as a student of life, to be the best interpretation.

I know I am not describing anything new here. Many spiritual leaders, including Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi, have been in awe of the Bhagavad Gita for years. Now I, too, can say that the Gita is a life-changing text for anyone lucky enough to read it.

No not read, but to be nurtured by the comforting embrace and effervescent kiss of its words. The Bhagavad Gita imparts to me courage and resilience, virtues that are difficult to reach in life’s most excruciating moments. It gives me the patience to accept what I cannot change without flailing.

I can fall several times, struggle, pine, and almost give up before the Bhagavad Gita gently reminds me to get back up. Sometimes it helps to have an ancient reminder to make you feel strong and brazen all over again -- a reminder to dust yourself off and go after what you were destined for.

This Janmashtami, I wish you a midnight of bhajans singing glorious praise of Lord Krishna and a copious amount of luck to reach and break the dahi handi.

But I also hope you open yourself to the Bhagavad Gita to experience its remarkable beauty. I have a feeling that the rich amount of wisdom you might imbibe from the Gita will be as exhilarating as the contents of the handi, if not more.

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Ithi Joshi is currently a law student living in Philadelphia.

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