17/09/2015 8:07 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Overcoming Depression With Help From The Gita

The Hindu Bhagavad Gita book with an old gold pair of glasses.
wwing via Getty Images
The Hindu Bhagavad Gita book with an old gold pair of glasses.

Plenty of research has been done on depression and its dark allies disappointment, despair, dejection and despondence, but here I want to throw light on the subject from the perspective of the Bhagavad Gita and to pinpoint the steps it suggests to work a way out of these dark recesses of our consciousness.

Where does the root of the problem lie? Despite having the uniquely human capabilities to understand, discriminate, determine, decide and act, why is it that the human mind gets helplessly caught in the downward movement of consciousness-energy into the dark states, sometimes succumbing to complete helplessness, embracing even death?

Can we apply the wisdom of the Gita to come to terms with this monstrosity? We can most fittingly do so, as not only the central character of the Gita (and the epic, the Mahabharata of which the Gita is a part), Arjuna, suffers these dark states of mind and consciousness; in fact, the first chapter of the Gita is called the "Yoga of Dejection".

"Arjuna suffers these dark states of mind and consciousness; in fact, the first chapter of the Gita is called the 'Yoga of Dejection'."

If we get to the core of the linguistic wisdom that lies behind words ranging from disappointment to dejection and depression, by tracing their etymology, we can clearly perceive a gradual spread of the dark consciousness they attempt to describe. Thus disappointment points to "frustration of expectations". Despair points to a darker state, "loss of hope". Despondence goes even deeper - "giving up, losing heart'. Dejection refers to a state of being "cast down". And then finally there is depression, a state of misery that is grave enough to be considered as a serious medical condition. There is a point in this downward fall when one loses interest and power to take positive action.

What connects us to the approach of the Gita are three important levers inside our consciousness that are capable of lifting it up from its dark recesses to its bright heights from where positive and determined action flows with confidence:

● The capacity to observe oneself with detachment.

● The ability to keep one's energies collected and coordinated to take the one positive step open ahead.

● The faith to offer to a higher power when the path ahead is too dark and uncertain to move on.

All these levers are connected and auto-assemble as we establish a firm grip on any of them. However, if we are not able to do so, we are in danger of identifying ourselves completely with these dark states, eventually losing ourselves to them, perhaps to the extent of embracing death. That's the reason that the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry has termed depression "an egoistic disease".

Arjuna has all the symptoms of these dark states of mind and consciousness, in all their intensity. As he finds himself locked in an extreme challenge, caught in battlefield opposite his own kinsfolk, he describes his own condition:

Filled with utmost compassion, despondent...

My limbs sink down, my mouth is parched

My body trembles, my hair stands on end,

My bow slips from my hand, my skin is burning

Unable to stand, my mind too seems to be whirling. (I,27-31)

Such is the overwhelming weakness and misery experienced by Arjuna, the representative heroic figure of his side in the battlefield. He is a leader on whose decisive action would depend the turn of events in the fateful situation. Though he is righteous and virtuous, he discovers that his whole mind and consciousness are inextricably caught in a crisis of values and emotions from which he would like to flee.

The Supreme Teacher of the Gita first terms it as "faintheartedness" and exhorts Arjuna to shake off the petty weakness of heart and to arise (to meet the challenge)..." (II,3)

He also calls the weak response of Arjuna inglorious, neither noble nor capable of leading one to heaven. Yet, knowing the deep nature of the malaise, he works out a profound remedy to help Arjuna.

"[T]he Gita guides us to traverse on a path that leads us from utter dejection to ultimate delight, from a life ridden with desires and desperate pursuit of fruits to one of fruitfulness and fulfillment."

As we delve to the core of the Gita's multi-layered solution, we find that all suggestions have one thing in common. Everything depends on the flow of consciousness -- energy. If this doesn't find a free flow into positive feelings, thoughts and actions, it leads us into low and dark states of mind. If it finds an unfrustrated, unhindered, free flow it results in happy and bright states of mind and consciousness.

As the first step in its broad, multi-pronged solution, the Gita urges us to remember, realise and refresh the truth to ourselves:

  • Remember yourself to be a soul rather than a body.

The profound psychological and spiritual wisdom of this is that it distinguishes between aligning the self with the body and aligning it with the soul.

*If we align our life energies:

  • With our body we choose to fetter our life-energies with the gross material limitations of our physicality. By implication we also align ourselves with the ailments, the disorders it is susceptible to.
  • With our soul, we let our spiritual essence and potential have a scope, free and wide open, for uninhibited and unhindered growth. In the words of the Gita:

Weapons can cleave it not,

Fire can burn it not,

Waters can drench it not,

Winds can dry it not,

Eternally stable, immobile, all - pervading,

Unmanifest, unthinkable, immutable it is... (II,22-25)

As the second step to its solution to the problem of all negativities of our mind and consciousness, the Gita would like to teach us how potent and powerful human action can be if it is performed with a soulful mind and consciousness rather than motivated by mere desires, however powerful these may seem.

Thus, the Gita advises us to perform all our actions without letting our energies divide between:

● The aspiration to act and the desire for fruit.

● The egoic performer of the action and the actual performance of action.

● Traversing the path and reaching the destination.

To sum up its wisdom of yoga of action:

● Act without indolence!

● Act without division between action and its fruit!

● Act in totality!

● Act in union with your inner self!

● Act with soulfulness!

● Act with excellence!

As the third stage in this multi-layered solution, it attempts to tear asunder all our ties with these dark states of mind and consciousness by teaching us how to offer and surrender our actions and their fruit to the highest dimension of reality, the Supreme Consciousness (which also stands for Supreme Wisdom)

● Act with a sense of offering to the Supreme Divine, who is all-inclusive, all-loving and all-compassionate...

The Gita teaches us perfectly positive action, as we are taught to perform all our actions with a sense of offering to the Supreme Divine, casting off all negativities (which the Gita refers to as the "fever" of our lower self) and founding our mind and consciousness in the pure Self:

Renouncing all actions in Me,

With thy consciousness founded in the Self,

Free from desire and egoism,

Fight casting off the fever (of thy lower self)! (III,30)

Thus, the Gita guides us to traverse on a path that leads us from utter dejection to ultimate delight, from a life ridden with desires and desperate pursuit of fruits to one of fruitfulness and fulfilment.

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