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Oxford journal turns to Gita for Covid lessons, says healthcare workers are today’s Arjunas

An article in the peer-reviewed European Heart Journal said Krishna's teaching to Arjuna in Bhagavad Gita held lessons for the world tackling Covid today.

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New Delhi: The Bhagavad Gita is more relevant than ever, especially now in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, says an article in The European Heart Journal, a peer-reviewed journal of cardiology published by Oxford University, and likened “Prince Arjuna” to healthcare workers and the Kurukshetra battlefield to hospitals.

The Bhagavad Gita, part of the Indian mythological epic Mahabharat, details the dialogue between Arjuna ⁠— one of the main protagonists ⁠— and his mentor, Lord Krishna, when the prince says he can’t bring himself to go into battle against his cousins, uncles and others he holds dear. The Gita, as it also referred to, is considered holy by Hindus.

Published on 5 June, the article drew parallels between Arjuna’s predicament and the Covid-19 pandemic which has put healthcare workers at odds with their profession. While, in the Gita, the context was Arjuna’s duty to uphold dharma (the philosophy of right thought and action governing the order of things), in today’s reality, it’s dealing with a disease that has infected more than 64 lakh people and killed almost 4 lakh.

The article said healthcare workers are carrying out their dharma selflessly amidst the chaos, and added they shouldn’t become “paralysed by the outcome”, like Arjuna was before the battle.

Also read: Bhagavad Gita wasn’t always India’s defining book. Another text was far more popular globally

5,000-year-old Gita a lesson for dealing with pandemic

In the 5,000 years since the description of the war of Kurukshetra, the article said, the Bhagavad Gita has “proven to be an accurate guide for living a fulfilling life — a life aligned with dharma”.

“And now, in the midst of a pandemic, the Bhagavad Gita is more relevant than ever — the healthcare worker is Arjuna, hospitals are battlegrounds for the war against the virus and misinformation, the lack of a cure or an effective containment strategy, and a system that has failed us,” said the article titled ‘Lessons from the Bhagavad Gita (the ‘Lord’s Song’), from India during these difficult times’.

Explaining the gist of the text, the three authors — Ankur Kalra, Erin D. Michos, and Kavitha M. Chinnaiyan — said, “It was a war unlike any other.”

“Family members picked sides; treasured cousins, childhood playmates, beloved uncles and grandfathers, and revered teachers faced off on the battlefield, preparing to slaughter each other.”

The hero of the story, Arjuna’s only duty was to fight and “not worry who he was fighting or the outcome of the war,” said the authors, adding that “to be able to do what is needed without becoming attached to the result is the way of living a skilful life.”

Also read: Trying to define Bhagavad Gita through narrow silos is a sterile attempt, at best

Replicating Gita today

Covid-19, the article said, “has challenged clinicians’ professional commitment to their communities and to humanity, accompanied by a sacrifice of their own safety and of the safety and needs of their families”.

It has become a litmus test of healthcare worker’s character, their focus, their strength, and their passion to care for the sickest, in the sincere hope that even amidst despair and desperation, the healthcare workers are somehow making a difference in every life, the authors said.

The Bhagavad Gita, it added, also teaches that we must learn to detach ourselves from the results of our actions and renunciate the desire for a particular outcome.

“Clinicians cannot have complete control over a clinical situation, but they can rise to perform their clinical duties and service with equanimity.”

“Although we must continue to act in the best interest of our patients, practice evidence- (and not fear-) based medicine, and not ‘leave any stone unturned’ in instituting timely interventions to help save lives, we must also embrace the vulnerability of life, and respect the fact that neither life nor death are in our control,” the authors said.

Also read: Why doctors in Italy are letting some coronavirus patients die to save others

Unmasking ‘ugly’ structural inequalities

The disparities in access to healthcare and insurance, crowded living spaces, food insecurity, have put the most vulnerable in direct harm from Covid-19 infection, critical illness, and death, the paper further stated.

The pandemic has also put a spotlight on the broken healthcare systems that leave healthcare workers with “ethical obligations to treat all patients, inadequately protected for this battlefield, with insufficient personal protective equipment and inadequate governmental policies to prevent the spread of illness”.

Moreover, while much of the spotlight has been on doctors and nurses, the article mentions that this battle cannot be won without the invisible unsung soldiers including environmental service workers, admitting clerks, technicians, and care aides.

While they are “essential healthcare workers and equally at risk for COVID-19 exposure but often paid little over the minimal wage”, it stated.

Stressing the importance of improving the healthcare infrastructure, it said that “the crisis has shown us that we need to change tactics for the next battle ahead for addressing both acute and chronic illnesses, or we will again miss our mark”.

The paper also warned that we cannot allow the lessons from the pandemic to be erased from our memories.

Also read: Covid-19 threat to healthcare workers and the desperate scramble for ways to protect them


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  1. Lessons from Bhagvad Geeta can contribute peace , solace and strength to face calamitous times generated by Covid-19.
    It is a common knowledge these days in 2020 that the world is reeling under the deadly attack of the Coronavirus pandemic known as Covid-19. With the passing of each day , the number of those infected by it are ever increasing , death rate is equally getting alarming. Europe and America have been no less hardly hit. A kind of crisis having potential to dampen the spirit with definite impact of weakening the resolve to face crisis bravely , seems to have come about. Over a dozen countries and a large number of scientists have been working day and night to find an answer since the worrisome news of the novel coronavirus was brought to attention in January 2020 by W.H.O. The circumstance of crisis is more than real when effective drug or vaccine are in the waiting. It is here that lessons in Bhagvad Geeta can contribute peace , solace and strength to the resolve to face the calamitous times bravely.
    Bhagvad Geeta is a repository of answers to questions put forth by Arjun to his friend-master , Lord Krishna during the course of war known as Mahabharata war fought on the ground of Kurukshetra between two factions of a princely family – Kauravas and Pandavas. Kurukshetra is a well-known historical place located in Haryana State of India. The Mahabharata war had basically arisen over a dispute in the property between the two aforesaid factions. Lord Krishna , who was related to the family , also had army. Both the factions reach Lord Krishna for support , who gives option to them to choose either him or his army. The faction led by Arjun opted for Lord Krishna while the other faction opted for his army. Lord Krishna chooses to be charioteer of Arjun. As the chariot carrying Arjun driven by charioteer Lord Krishna reaches battleground , Lord Krishna asks Arjun to shoot out arrows towards the commanders on the now enemy in the battle-field. The resolve of Arjun to fight weakens on the prospect of killing his elders and relatives in the other faction. He shares the same with Lord Krishna. It is here that answers come from Lord Krishna , which have inspired and continue to inspire people in similar circumstances. Lord Krishna tells Arjun that death is the end of the physical body , which is certain for every being including human- being while the soul does not die. The person takes another birth in the body as determined by spiritual merit. In this light , the attachment of a person with loved ones or friends should not be allowed to control psyche to the extent of grief. Human duty is to fight the calamity as best as he or she can , leaving the rest to limitation to which everything living is destined.
    News reports are saying that in the woeful days of crisis generated by Covid-19 and other disasters , world is being refreshed about the lessons from Bhagvad Gita for peace and solace. That amazingly confirms one of the predictions made by this Vedic astrology writer at a stage of time when novel coronavirus was not born, in article – “ Predictions for coming year 2020 by kushal kumar” – published last year 2019 on 10 October at The text of the prediction reads like this in the article :-
    “ Now , something encouraging. The second half of the year from July to November 2020 looks to be addressing the setbacks or delay of the past , particularly those of the first half……………………………. Such knowledge or stuff related thereto as Yoga , Ayurveda , herbal , and spiritual side can be found addressing material issues like health”.

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