Friday, January 20th, 2017...3:19 pm

#UConn People’s Inauguration 2017

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Remarks presented on January 20, 2017, at the People’s Inauguration hosted by the University of Connecticut’s Thomas Dodd Center.


In the decades before the Civil War, the American Transcendentalist movement explored the possibilities of universal wisdom drawn from diverse spiritual and philosophical traditions from China, India, the Arabic world, Plato, esoteric traditions. One text was central to them: the Bhagavad-Gita, which Henry David Thoreau read beside Walden Pond, writing of it in his journal:

“I owed—my friend and I owed—a magnificent day to the Bhagavat Geeta. It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us.”

We see traces of the Bhagavad-Gita in Thoreau’s meditation on civil disobedience, called “Resistance to Civil Government.” We find it and Thoreau’s ideas in Ghandi. We see its threads in the Christian non-violent civil disobedience of Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the Bhagavad Gita, the warrior Arjuna has withdrawn from the field of an epic battle. Speculating upon its outcomes, tortured by his conflicting sense of duty, desiring success as the fruit of action and fearing failure as the fruit of action, in despair Arjuna suffers from what we might characterize as “analysis paralysis.” He is rescued from this paralysis by the god Krishna, who through a series of teachings and finally the full revelation of Krishna’s divinity instructs Arjuna to free himself equally from the fear of failure and the desire for success:

Lord Krishna says:

What is action? What is inaction? Even the wise are puzzled by this question. You must learn what kind of work to do, what kind of work to avoid and how to reach a state of calm detachment from your work.

Those who are wise

Who act without desire or effort

For the fruit of action,

Turning their faces from the fruit of action,

They need nothing.

Action rightly renounced brings freedom;

Action right performed brings freedom;

Both are better

Than mere shunning of action.

The wise see knowledge and action as one;

They see truly.

They put aside desire.

The lotus leaf rests unwetted on water;

The wise rest on action, but untouched by action.

Take either path

And walk it to the end:

The end is the same.

There the followers of action

Meet the seekers of knowledge

In equal freedom.

Therefore, Arjuna,

Get up and fight.

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