Shrimad Bhagwat Gita : : 3.38.31

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धूमेनाव्रियते वह्निर्यथादर्शो मलेन च |
यथोल्बेनावृतो गर्भस्तथा तेनेदमावृतम् || 38||

dhūmenāvriyate vahnir yathādarśho malena cha
yatholbenāv
ito garbhas tathā tenedam āvitam

dhūmena—by smoke; āvriyate—is covered; vahni—fire; yathā—just as; ādarśha—mirror; malena—by dust; cha—also; yathā—just as; ulbena—by the womb; āvita—is covered; garbha—embryo; tathā—similarly; tena—by that (desire); idam—this; āvitam—is covered

3.38: Just as a fire is covered by smoke, as a mirror is covered by dust, and an embryo is covered by the womb, a living being is similarly covered by desire. 

Of all the challenges that human beings face in their lives the ability to overcome desire or desires is the toughest. It could be a desire to earn more money no matter how, to gain power to rule over others, or to succumb to lust. Most forms of desire broadly fall under these three driving forces – money, power or lust. 

While these distinguish humans from other species and make them superior to other life forms they are not the only qualities that set them apart. The ability to recognise right and wrong, fair and unfair, just and unjust is also a unique gift humans are blessed with. Unfortunately this innate ability to discern good from bad is not always put to proper use, and certainly not often enough. And so we frequently fail to see what may lie behind an attractive façade and so succumb to inappropriate desire and perform unacceptable deeds.

We shall overcome

Shri Krishna illustrates this with three examples.

  • Fire, which is the source of light, gets covered by smoke and so we may misjudge its intensity and harm ourselves by venturing too close.
  • A mirror which can show us what we really are gets covered by dust and so we fail to see the reality though we may be face to face with it.
  • An embryo is concealed in the womb and till the child is born we find it difficult to think of it as a human being. Heart wrenching incidents of foeticide are a case in point.

Similarly, though we know in  our heart of hearts what is right but we choose to not face it and instead go by the outward appearance of what is visible to us, and what we want the reality to be. To see through the smoke or dust requires conviction that we may not have, and effort which we are not always willing to make.

To justify our disagreeable acts, and so as to conveniently succumb to avoidable desire we alter the reality that may prick our conscience, into a version that suits us and helps us legitimise the path we take.

The Gita’s philosophy and teachings have helped me understand much of what otherwise lay in the realm of the unexplained. More importantly, it has helped me come to terms with the finite nature of life on this earth, and simultaneously draw solace from accepting the infinite existence of the soul. It is reassuring to understand the significance of following one’s dharma (duty), performing good karma (deeds), while being engaged in the quest for gyan (knowledge) as one walks on in the hope of attaining moksha (salvation).

Shared here is a brief documentation of what this shloka of the Gita says to me.

Vandana R Singh
New Delhi, June 2020

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