Shoba Narayan

The Chinmaya Mission Centre in Singapore is based in a small Spartan apartment with the large-sounding name, “Jalan Mansion.” In this serene space lives Swami Abhay Chaitanya, the resident spiritual leader, a young (unmarried monk) clad in saffron robes with twinkling eyes and a ready smile. He conducts discourses on the Gita, and teaches classes to legions of Hindu men, women and children.

I sought Swami Abhay Chaitanya one evening to learn about yoga — not the poses, but yoga as explained in the Bhagavad Gita. Not the physical aspect of it, but the divine. In particular, I wanted him to explain something I was grappling with: yoga as non-attachment. How could I be detached as the Gita advised me to when my world was full of attachments — to my children, husband, parents, siblings, and friends? And why detach myself anyway? Swami-ji smiled when I brought up these questions. “The Bhagavad Gita is perfect for you,” he exclaimed.

I nodded. I had been drawn to the Bhagavad Gita because it seemed more accessible than the Vedas and Upanishads which simply proclaimed, “Tat tvam asi,” or “That thou art,” without really explaining anything. Unlike these esoteric Hindu texts, the Gita was rooted in reality. Its hero, Arjuna, was full of frailties and his conflicts were human. Just as Arjuna found himself in a battlefield faced with cousins, relatives, teachers and friends, all of whom had suddenly become his enemies, my life too was fraught with battles although not in such a grand scale.

In fact, it was after one such tangled, complicated relationship issue that I decided to explore detachment. After one too many outbursts from my

seven-year-old, spirited negotiations with my spouse, disapproving silences from relatives, and judgements that claimed to be non-judgmental from friends, detachment seemed like a mighty good idea.