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Invitation to World Literature

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Experts' View: The Meaning of Discipline

An excerpt from The Bhagavad Gita
Krishna's advice on action

"Death is certain for anyone born, and birth is certain for the dead; since the cycle is inevitable, you have no cause to grieve!
...Look to your own duty, do not tremble before it: nothing is better for a warrior than a battle of sacred duty.
...If you are killed, you win heaven; if you triumph, you enjoy the earth; therefore, Arjuna, stand up and resolve to fight the battle.
Impartial to joy and suffering, gain and loss, victory and defeat, arm yourself for the battle, lest you fall into evil.
...Be intent on action, not on the fruits of action; avoid attraction to the fruits and attachment to inaction!
Perform actions, firm in discipline, relinquishing attachment; be impartial to failure and success-- this equanimity is called discipline."

Amitav Kaul:

"Essentially what Krishna does is walk Arjuna through the nature of life and how to live it."

Jack Hawley:

"Arjuna has the challenge of trying to figure out how he should ready himself for whatever is coming, how he should become disciplined. There's the discipline of knowledge, there's the discipline of action, karma, and there's the discipline of love, bhakti."

Amitav Kaul:

"The way I crystallize that is, do your best, forget about the rest. Empty yourself and just focus on the action itself, and by doing this, you will create that sense of being in tune with who you are and what you need to be doing. Get up and fight. That's it. And don't think about winning or losing."

Jack Hawley:

"Krishna says, 'Action—you can't escape it. Even if you sit down and do nothing for 1,000 years. That very doing of nothing is its own form of action.' What you can do is to detach yourself from your desires and what you think you can get by acting. That's what you have to learn to go beyond."

David Damrosch Sums It Up:

Literature's heroes and heroines are often faced with impossible tasks: Hercules has seven impossible labors to accomplish, Cinderella must spin straw into gold, Frodo Baggins has to smuggle the Ring into the very center of the armed camp of Mordor and destroy it. These impossible tasks variously test the strength of Hercules, Cinderella's kindness and resourcefulness, and Frodo's moral fiber. Here, the impossibility of Arjuna's task is not an issue of strength (there's no question that he'll be successful if he goes into battle), and the goodness of his heart is more an obstacle than a help to him: he can't bear the thought of killing his own relatives and his childhood teacher, and bringing about the end of the whole world in which he was raised. This is a test of moral fiber of an unusual sort, since he must commit acts that could well be considered immoral. The Gita internalizes within Arjuna a conflict comparable to the one that Wu Ch'êng-ên divides into the sparring between the contemplative monk Tripitaka and the violent Monkey in his great novel Monkey (Journey to the West). Those characters are in fact journeying west to India in search of Buddhist scriptures that can help people work through just the paradox of action and inaction that Arjuna recognizes.


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