Are age old scriptures practical today?

By Vraja Bihari Das - 3.3 2023

Sometimes after my class on Srimad Bhagavatam or Bhagavad Gita, friends and well-wishers ask me if I could share some ‘practical’ things as well. They reason those philosophical discussions are trite if it doesn’t generate doable plans, in real-world situations.


From ‘their’ solutions, to ‘yours.’

While I agree we need to get realistic in life, do we realize that most pragmatic things that people share are inherently ‘theirs’ and they may not necessarily help you, just as if I advocate the benefits of jogging daily, how would it profit a lame man? Each one of us is made of a unique emotional and mental mix. Therefore it’s crucial we connect to ourselves; to our own needs and problems; to our remedies in a particular time, place and circumstance.

And that’s where scriptures help- they help you bond to yourself! The Vedic writings illuminate principles that you could distinctively apply, but with your reason and awareness, in your situation. For instance, in the Bhagavad Gita Krishna explains the three modes of material nature- goodness, passion, and ignorance- and how it binds a living entity. When I read it the first time I knew that answered a lot of my questions, but I innately realized I had to discover the solutions myself. Why was I irritable and restless in work and home? ‘Rajas – passion was activated by my food and sleep habits’- also described in the Gita. Slowly, things fell in place, and I knew why I suffered and what I could do.

The Gita also explains the concept of the body-soul. If you are suffering health complications and are generally unhappy with the way you look or weigh, the verses in the second chapter can give you solace. We are after all not the body but a pure spirit soul- reasons Krishna to Arjuna. And that takes off a heavy mental load for some. When we read prayerfully, with an intention to link with our deeper selves, clarity evolves. That’s more empowering than short-cut methods that fizzle out with fluctuating moods and fortune.

The effect of sacred writings

While drawing inspiration from others is a healthy habit, isn’t it better you discover your tools to cope with your exclusive challenges. I may quickly cram problem-solving methods from another person who has his psychological world of dreams and fears. Remember: you learn life-skills by daily application of timeless principles, and not by others’ adventures. Besides, quick-fixes won’t have a profound effect on me as compared to my own ‘aha’ moments, and personal, precious discoveries. And Srimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad Gita assure plentiful epiphanies.

When people ask for ‘practical’ guidance from the Gita, I generally respond that Vedic books are original sound- sagacity beyond this world. To the extent one hears or studies them reverentially, one accesses intelligence beyond one’s ordinary awareness. And that understanding provides inner direction, guidance and all the valuable answers you need. The key is to ‘listen’ to the traditional writings and ponder on what’s the sacred message they carry over millennia. What bonds us with men and women who wrote these books and who lived on the same planet, watching the same stars and the sun, over centuries ago? Remember what Jimi Hendrix, one of the greatest musicians of the twentieth century, said, “Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.”

The inner voice

Unfortunately, we live in a jet age where speed, action, and noise determine your success. Your insight, talent, happiness is all quantified on a scale of one to ten. From movies to your experience in a mall, or even your love life, everything is measured in numbers. When specifics rule the roost, there’s no place for abstract principles, but many things in life-especially your Tsunami of feelings and moods- are vague and can’t be computed objectively. To connect to your ‘voice’ amidst the thunderous ‘noise’ outside is a real challenge.

Spiritual works like Srimad Bhagavatam purify the mind and ego in a more natural, organic way; and you connect to your ‘voice’- it’s for real- it’s the way our consciousness evolves! One learns through trial and error and unites with his tender self. That learning is yours; it’s not a magic formula that someone else has shared with you. Most supernal pearls weren’t picked up from a cherry tree. Contemplative reading of philosophical writings, a life centered on values, a desire to serve and contribute- all these factors helped thinkers of past advance and uncover life’s amazing secrets. Real education helps you discover what’s inside you- the Latin origin, ‘educare’ means to bring out that’s within!

Daily benefits of scriptures

While driving through the crowded streets of Mumbai, I may witness a man hurl abuses at another. Under normal situations, I’d instantly judge a person who shouts at another, as violent, angry or unreasonable. A culture of a study of ancient writings, however, helps one hone his sixth sense; as a result, I may pause and see a deeper meaning in the situation-probably the one shouting, in this incident, is a victim, rather than an aggressor. Or it may remind me of a different episode where someone in pain blasted at a friend, and the lessons it taught me. Or, I may empathize with another’s distress or realize a solution for my cause of anger. My intelligence expands, and wisdom grows when I connect to scriptures; I discover my own ‘practical’ solutions.

Then, the three ‘Keys’ or five ‘Secrets’ or acronyms of ‘easy’ steps that the internet is flooded with don’t matter to me. I have my methods to cope with my challenges posed by my restless mind. That’s why the words of Idries Shah, renowned Indian born Sufi author, and teacher, rings so true, “Enlightenment must come little by little-otherwise it would overwhelm.” 

The magic of verses

Eknath was a great saint of Maharashtra in Western India. He arranged his daughter to marry a pious man who unfortunately fell into badassociation. Every night, the young man left home mysteriously and returned in the wee hours. The concerned wife approached her father for help who promptly called for his son-in-law, and asked him a favor. “My daughter is a fool, and you are a learned man. Please read just two verses of the Bhagavad Gita every night before you leave for your rendezvous.” The young man obliged the sage. As he read daily for her, gradually the words transformed his heart; his conscience awakened; his clarity and determination grew stronger; and one night, he let go his late-night fetishes for good, and stayed home with his loving wife. 

Harish, a friend, and monk in our ashram shared how reflective reading of Srimad Bhagavatam helped him:    

“I have a habit of memorizing ancient Sanskrit verses from the scriptures. When I connect to the sound and enter the meaning of the words slowly and gently, I can sometimes feel it’s different from singing an ordinary song. The meaning of these texts bathes my mind, nourishes my intelligence, and blesses my soul. I have often found answers to my questions or an uncanny idea or concept for my lectures springs forth, from a plane of existence that’s not the conventional analytical thinking. It’s ‘given’ to me; I can see I didn’t ‘achieve’ it. That’s when the study makes sense to me. It gives me joy and keeps me humble and grounded.”

Winning the war of life

Scriptures – that speak of events which happened millennia ago are as relevant today as when they were first penned down five thousand years ago. The secret, however, is to read or hear unhurriedly and attentively. Then if something resonates, pause, and recognize it. Allow the value or principle in a particular scriptural text to enter deeper into your heart. Gradually but assuredly, you’ll connect the passage to your situation.

In every military academy, legendary battles are studied and taught extensively. Each warrior knows all combat is unique and when he faces an enemy, he can’t browse through his notes to pick up a method. Humbly studying the past wars helps a military general sharpen his judgment and develop perception. He then decides an action based on the state of affairs, where he trusts his guts and accumulated discernment over the years- the combination of experience, knowledge and careful assessment helps one decide at the spur of the moment.

We too struggle in the battlefield of our inner world where one phone call from a friend could throw us into despair. A culture of scriptural study improves awareness and our ability to see situations and people beyond the seeming. We learn to look at a higher dimension of reality and redefine what’s sacred and inconsequential in our lives. Based on this inner growth, you decide your priorities and actions plans.

You can’t merely pick up a verse from the Gita and copy-paste into your situation; you need to invest your intelligence and drive. That’s how we win some battles, and lose a few, to eventually win the war of life. You may study the match-winning game of Wimbledon champions but to recreate them during your play is another ball game altogether! Your study, practice, and instinct help you beat your opponent. To expect easy victories in the face of daily challenges is akin to wishing money grew like flowers in your garden.

Still, let’s assume that nothing of the spiritual books makes sense. Don’t worry; we have plenty of genuine teachers/gurus who’ve dedicated their lives to study and live by these works. And they are flooding the internet to reach out to the masses, in a language that you can understand.

Treat yourself to the knowledge that’s abundantly available. Let that entertain us and enlighten us as well- let’s enter the world of enterlightenment!