4 Mental Health Tips from The Bhagavad Gita

What an ancient Hindu text has to say about living well.

Jaymie Gill
Feb 1, 2020 · 5 min read

The Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Hindu religious text, tells a grand story. It is a vessel through which Lord Krishna teaches his disciple Arjuna how to navigate his mind. He is to fight through a battle that he doesn’t want to, one that will cost his own family’s blood for the rule of a kingdom.

Arjuna’s inner turmoil is used by Krishna to teach him lessons all about the mind. Duty, action and renunciation are taught through the core paradigms of action, knowledge and love.

I’ve found much solace and guidance in the texts of The Bhagavad Gita. I often go back to the last few chapters where the lessons taught are summarised succinctly.

So here are 4 mental health tips from The Bhagavad Gita, distilled from its grand narrative. For the purposes of this piece, most quotes were derived from Eknath Easwaran’s brilliant translation of the sacred texts.

1. Be Yourself

The Gita teaches us that we have a duty to follow our own paths. To sustain the health of your mind, you have to find your temperament and act in line with it.

This pertains to the concept of Dharma — one's duty and action towards their true purpose. Each of us has our own dharma.

The Gita states:

“It is far better to discharge one’s prescribed duties, even though faultily, than another’s duties perfectly. Destruction in the course of performing one’s own duty is better than engaging in another’s duties, for to follow another’s path is dangerous.”

Your individual differences in behaviour hold the key to your self. To be who you are, you must embody your innate nature. Embrace your idiosyncrasies. Nuance is what makes you unique.

What you’ve learnt, your values and your attitude are malleable. These change over time, with influence, intent and a plethora of other variables. Understanding how you are biologically wired is key. To know thyself is to identify that to which you are naturally inclined.

Find it, work with it. Figure out what makes your brain tick, run with it. Leverage strengths, delegate weaknesses and build on the foundations of both as you go.

Find your temperament, act in line with it. Age means nothing.

2. Do Without Expectation

You’ve probably read it a thousand times. It’s regurgitated endlessly. The Gita tells us to:

“Renounce the fruits of labour.”

Do without expectation. How?

  • Have no attachment when doing your duties
  • Focus on your journey, not the goal
  • Allow yourself to accept the outcome without any specific results

It goes on to teach us that you must do your work for work's sake, without your motivation for doing so being the desired outcome. That is to be even-tempered in success and failure. Surrender to your dharma.

I won’t lie and say this is easy. If you don’t have a goal, you can’t “perform your duties” without a direction. If you have a goal, emotion is a major factor in motivating you working towards it. Emotion stems from envisioning some kind of reward in your pursuit.

The key is to visualise the process over the product.

I write because I love to. I feel like it is my dharma. I have no expectations when I do, only to make each piece better. Knowing I can serve others helps me get through my struggles. I’m training my mind to let go and write for the sake of it.

This piece might not be my best compared to my recent ones. It’s okay. It’s about intent, not results.

The pursuit of something is better than nothing. Equally, the pursuit of a goal is better done with surrender than anxiety. Uncertainty fades in the pursuit of something innate. Follow your dharma and doing without expectation may be easier if not seamless.

3. Moderate Your Life

The ancient Greeks echoed the same sentiment repeatedly: “Nothing in excess.” Live a life of moderation. Limit intake and mitigate excessiveness in every domain.

The Gita taught the same lesson long before.

“For him who is moderate in food and diversion, whose actions are disciplined, who is moderate in sleep and the waking, Yoga destroys all sorrow.”

Don’t do too much or too little of what is important in daily life.

With food, eat enough. With sleep, get enough. With speech, say enough. With exercise, exert enough. With meditation, practice enough. With work, perform enough.

The same principle goes for things out of your routine. With recreation, leisure and socialising, saying no to things is just as important as saying yes. It is integral we connect with other people but don’t make it an obligation. Moderate who you give your time to.

Create a schedule to see where your time goes. Let this be the start of you identifying where your time is spent and begin moderating accordingly.

Moderation is subtraction. Less is more. This is true for everything.

4. Practice Meditation

The gateway to equilibrium? The remedy to mental anguish? Meditate.

The Gita tells us to dedicate time to breathing. Close your eyes and simply do nothing but focus on your breath as to control your attention. Harmonise your head and heart.

Start with 10 minutes a day. It will feel weird. It will feel stupid. It will feel impossible. Keep at it. Eventually, your mind will submit.

The Gita teaches:

“The practice of meditation frees one from all affliction. This is the path of yoga. Follow it with determination and sustained enthusiasm. Renouncing wholeheartedly all selfish desires and expectations, use your will to control the senses. Little by little, through patience and repeated effort, the mind will become still in the Self.”

Negative thoughts are intrusive. They don’t care about you. They don’t ask for permission to wreck your mind. Thoughts equal feeling. Settling the phantom narrative within is vital to living a life with balanced mental health.

Equanimity is the key. The goal of meditation is to simply be. To settle the ego. Develop purity in emotion and feeling through the practice of doing nothing. Overcome impulsive thoughts by taming the monkey mind.

The Gita as a whole can be summarised into this one teaching alone. Experiencing the “Atman”, (i.e. the Self), through meditation, you become fulfilled. Nothing to gain and nothing to lose.

The Takeaway

There is so much more to be learnt from The Bhagavad Gita. Sharing just four mental health tips doesn’t do it justice. It bestows vast wisdom through its story that this piece doesn’t cover even a fraction of. I implore you to find time to read it in full.

The one takeaway? Have faith in your own mind.

Whether you are religious or not, to have faith is to have belief. It doesn’t have to be in a higher power. It can be in yourself. To believe in something is the source of strength. Desire equals belief. Belief equals thought. Thought equals action.

So have faith in your ability to manage your mental health. Our entire experience here on Earth is dictated by how we use our minds. Invest in yours.

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