traigunyavishayaa vedaa nistraigunyo bhavaarjuna |
nirdvandvo nityasatvastho niryogakshemam aatmavaan || 45 ||

The Vedas describe the three gunas. Transcend those gunas, O Arjuna. Free yourself from dualities, remain always in sattva, give up thinking about acquisition and preservation, and be established in the eternal essence.

traigunyavishayaaha : describe the three gunas
vedaaha : Vedas
nistraigunyaha : free from the 3 gunas
bhava : become
arjuna : O Arjuna
nirdvandvaha : free from dualities
nityasatvasthaha : steeped in sattva
niryogakshemam : free from acquisition and preservation
aatmavaan : established in the eternal essence

The first technique in our toolkit was the art of maintaining focus to reduce the quantity of unnecessary thoughts. Shri Krishna now provides us with the second technique in our toolkit: slowly improving the quality of our thoughts. This shloka is jam-packed with practical tips to improve our thought quality, so let’s tackle this shloka part by part.

Firstly, an absolute prerequisite to improving thought quality is to be mindful of what we are thinking. Most of us tend to perform actions daily almost on autopilot. If we are not aware of what we are thinking while performing an action, we will not be able to improve the quality of our thoughts. Therefore, the shloka advises us to think deeply about whether any action we perform is selfish, or is in service of our svadharma. Doing so repeatedly will reveal the true nature of our thoughts.

Secondly, the shloka advises us to go beyond obsessive thinking about the interplay of the 3 gunas. In a nutshell, there are 3 types of gunas or tendencies that are responsible for creating everything in this material world. Therefore, the shloka advises us to start contemplating spiritual knowledge daily, which will automatically reduce material thoughts.

Thirdly, the shloka speaks about dualities. Dualities are the positive and negative mental labels associated with thoughts – love/hate, joyful/sorrowful, pleasurable/painful etc. So practically speaking, any thought that demonstrates extreme attachment or hatred towards an object, person or situation is a poor quality thought because it strengthens the ego. Whenever we catch ourselves saying something like “I cannot live without watching TV everyday”, we should be on guard. It is better to substitute that thought with something like “I enjoy watching TV, but I can live without it if I want to”. Similarly, if we have a thought like “I want to kill my boss” we can start to think “My boss is difficult to work with sometimes, but he is a human being just like anyone else”.

Finally, the shloka advises us to stop worrying about acquisition and preservation. Most of us are worried about two things – acquiring something, and preserving something once it is acquired. A corporate executive will keep thinking about the promotion. And once he has it, he will do all he can to make sure he holds on to his new post. But the shloka informs us that as long as we are diligently performing our svadharma, we will automatically get what we need to live a good life. Therefore,we should stop obsessing over acquisition and preservation, which is an impediment to maintaining equanimity.

Let’s summarize the techniques learned so far as follows. The first technique helped us reduce the quantity of unnecessary thoughts. The second technique helps us improve the quality of our thoughts by substituting poor quality thoughts with good quality thoughts. It is helpful to maintain a diary to track the quantity and quality of our thoughts, so that we can gauge our progress. It is no different than following a disciplined approach to losing weight or quitting smoking.

A question may arise here : “How can I stop thinking about the material world after I perform my svadharma? After I come home from work I need to watch TV, surf the web, watch movies, sports etc. in order to be entertained. Won’t life become boring?” The answer is provided in the next shloka.