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.
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.”
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.
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.