We live in a world of gross national product, or GNP in its popularly recognized abbreviation, which is the metric to peg the economic might of nations. The common notion accompanying it is that the higher the GNP, the greater the well-being of people, as wealth is considered to be the doorway to all good things in life. The countries topping the GNP table are USA, Japan and Germany, with India at the tenth place, based on 2005 figures. Whereas according to purchasing power parity or PPP, another parameter to assess purchasing power of a country’s currency in relation to a basket of goods in its respective market, India is in the top three, with only China and USA ahead of it. These metrics were, however, found to be deficient in reflecting ground realities in respect of social indicators by way of income levels, equality of opportunities and overall well-being of people across all strata.
A new index emerged in 1972 when the king of Bhutan came up with gross national happiness or GNH as a catch-all concept to measure the well-being of people. He used the phrase to signal his commitment to building an economy that will appropriately contribute to the country’s unique culture grounded on spiritual values embedded in Buddhism. Accordingly the country developed a sophisticated system of survey to measure, at regular intervals, the general sense of well-being of the people. In a widely circulated study by the University of Leicester in 2007, Bhutan ranked eighth out of 178 countries in subjective well-being, exceptionally being the only country with a very low GDP in the top 20 happiest countries. Buddhist ideals suggest that beneficial development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur concurrently to complement and reinforce each other. Thus the four pillars of GNH are the promotion of sustainable development, preservation of cultural values, conservation of natural environment and establishment of good governance. All these ideals transcend cultures and nationalities. In other words, a country need not be Buddhist to value sustainable development, cultural integrity, conservation of eco-system and promotion of good governance. The authorities in Bhutan have refined their GNH tools by collaborating with international research groups, social scientists and UN, and the model is gaining acceptance in other Asian countries.
Going back in time by several millennia, this day, the 2nd December, stands out for the birth of a new code of conduct for human race. It was on this day 5151 years ago that Lord Krishna enunciated a complete treatise for universal happiness in the form of Bhagavad Gita, communicated as advice to Arjuna in the holy land of Kurukshetra (located in present state of Haryana, India) on the day of battle in 3137 BCE between two armies warring for control of the kingdom. The word Gita means ‘song’ and Bhagavad means ‘of the lord’, and together it means song of the lord. Described as song due to its rhyming meter containing 32 syllables in each verse, and 700 such verses in eighteen chapters divided into three sections of six chapters each with each of the sections named karma yoga or the yoga of actions, bhakti yoga or the yoga of devotion and jnana yoga or the yoga of knowledge, Bhagavad Gita forms part of ‘Mahabharatha’, the Indian epic, which is the most voluminous work ever composed. Consisting of one hundred thousand rhyming quatrain couplets, the Mahabharatha is seven times the size of Homer’s Iliad. The epic was authored by the saint Vedavyasa, who also wrote the Srimad Bhagavatam, Vedanta Sutra, the 108 Puranas, composed and divided the Vedas into Rig, Yajur, Atharva and Sama Vedas. The Mahabharata is also known as the fifth Veda, as it came after the earlier four Vedas.
Starting with Bhagawad Gita, the Indian scriptures and epics profoundly influenced a distinguished array of scholars, writers, scientists and philosophers worldwide. The writings of Pliny, Arrian, Solinus and Megasthenus (Megasthenus history of ancient India is based on his sojourn in India around the same time of Alexander’s invasion of India in 326 BCE) hint on the lineage of kings in India dating back to 6777 BCE, which point to their having followed the Vedas. Originally written in classical Sanskrit, the Bhagavad Gita was translated into English by Charles Wilkins in 1785, 174 years after the translation of the King James Bible in 1611; thereafter into Latin in 1823 by Schlegel, into German in 1826 by Von Humbolt, into French in 1846 by Lassens and into Greek in 1848 by Galanos. Other luminaries who came under its influence include Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy, Albert Schweitzer, Herman Hesse, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Aldous Huxley, W B Yeats, Rudolf Steiner, Nikola Tesla, Max Mueller, to name a few.
The wisdom of Gita is timeless; it dwells on the ultimate truth, creation, birth and death, the fruits of actions, the significance of detachment from desire, maintaining equanimity in joy and sorrow, liberation and the eternal soul, the ultimate purpose as well as goal of human existence. Detaching from desire does not mean that desire is totally anathema; desire is necessary to initiate action, as without it, no action will be undertaken; similarly there is always a fruit in mind as the purpose for action; however, in executing action, the mind must be totally focused on perfect execution, as the outcome of faulty execution is failure. In the exceptional situation of results not obtaining in spite of perfect execution, the advice is to accept the outcome with detachment and equanimity, as investment in perfect action has its appropriate reward assuredly at an opportune time to be decided by the divine. Read the Gita and live by its tenets and one can sail through life’s ebb tides of indigence and sorrow, and flood tides of happiness and prosperity. It is truly a prescription for gross universal happiness.
It may be more than a coincidence that the month of December is also a progression of the Advent season that commenced on Sunday, the 30th November 2014; the four Sundays preceding Christmas is a time to worship and reflect on the incarnation of Jesus. In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God, very much like the vedic Om, denoting the primal sound energy where from all things emanated. Word translates to logos in Greek, embracing diverse meanings such as reason, knowledge, ground and the animating principle of the cosmos. The eight-fold path prescribed by Gautama Buddha and the Sermon on the Mount that followed the Gita millennia later are equally inspiring moral discourses, as much as archangel Gabriel’s revelations to prophet Muhammad are. Invoking the spirit of Gita and revered texts of all religions and beliefs, may I wish every happiness for all beings populating the universe by chanting Hare Krishna, Buddham Saranam Gacchami (I take refuge in the Buddhi, my power of discrimination), Hail Mary and Jesus, Allahu Akbar, Wahe Guru (salutation to Guru Nanak in Sikhism)...