Football lessons from the Bhagwad Gita
“You will be nearer to heaven playing football than studying the Bhagwad Gita.” This advice of Swami Vivekananda to a frail young boy who had come to him to study Vedanta has led many to presume that the Swami meant football can teach more than the study of the Bhagwad Gita. Swamiji was actually talking of the need to be bodily strong even to pursue spiritual education.
In his memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Japanese writer Haruki Murakami too says that he took to running to develop the tenacity and resilience needed for long hours of writing. In the process, Murakami became a prolific marathoner too. It is this need for physical resilience and strength that Swami Vivekananda was talking about. Spiritual study is like a marathon. It is like a FIFA World Cup. A series of them. One needs a high level of body fitness and mental balance to reach the goal. The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar mirrored the Bhagwad Gita in many ways. Victory and defeat, hope and despair, happiness and sorrow, selflessness, devotion, karma and jnana, the great universality of mankind – all was on display on the field.
Inspiring captains like Lionel Messi of Argentina and Luka Modric of Croatia exemplify Gita’s shlok 3:21: Whatever a great person does, that other people also do, imitate; whatever they establish as the standard, that other people follow.
Rising high on scoring goals, sinking low on giving them away, teams swayed to the cadence of the great dvandva, duality, of life. Kylian Mbappe’s unrelenting remorse after losing the final was in stark contrast to Lionel Messi’s all-accepting smile when Mbappe scored 2 goals in 97 seconds to level the score at a time when Argentina was quite sure to win. Messi was a picture of equanimity even as his dream of winning the World Cup was being tossed about on the unpredictable waves of change.
Krishn says in verse 2:38: Having made pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat the same, engage in battle for the sake of battle; thus you shall not incur sin.
The advice is clear. It is equanimity that ensures success. Equanimity in the face of all situations is the secret method of keeping the mind ever open and ever ready to take the right action. In the Gita shlok 2:48, Krishn advises: Perform action O’ Dhananjay, abandoning attachment, being steadfast in yog and balanced in success and failure. Evenness of mind is called yog.