Leadership and the Bhagavad Gita
9:00am – 4:00pm
How can one become and remain a leader in the midst of dark times? It is hard to become a leader in any age, but even more so when those all around us seem to be despairing about the state of the world. What is more, we are inundated these days with quick ways to “get ahead” and quick fixes for the blues. Any number of products promise to help us “be our best selves”: diet, exercise, mood stabilizers from the pharmacist, and newly discovered plants from our last remaining jungles. What is genuine leadership and resilience in a time of doubt and social turmoil? This class will take up one particular response to this question from ancient India, found in The Bhagavad Gita, often called “The Indian Bible.” The Bhagavad Gita consists entirely of a conversation between a despondent leader and warrior, Arjuna, who literally does not know what he should do next, and his charioteer, Krishna, who counsels him. It begins with an exchange about being at one’s wits end, and ends with a glorious “theophany,” or appearance of god. As the Gita narrates, the way out of despair is neither quick nor a “way back,” but rather a slow, transformative way forward. We will take up several questions: how do we lead in the world when our core inner values conflict, or when the world itself demands something impossible of us? How do we think about spiritual practice in these situations? How do we find the daily inspiration and ethic that allows us to lead?
Laurie L. Patton is Professor of Religion and President of Middlebury. She is the author or editor of 10 books and over 50 articles in South Asian religion, culture, and history, as well as comparative religion. She is the translator of the classical Sanskrit text, The Bhagavad Gita, for the Penguin Classics Series. Patton has also authored three books of poems: Fire’s Goal: Poems from a Hindu Year (White Clouds Press, 2003); Angel’s Task: Poems in Biblical Time (Station Hill Press, 2011), and House Crossing (Station Hill Press, forthcoming in 2018). She has also lectured, written, and consulted widely on interfaith relations, and more recently, on freedom of expression and cultural diversity in higher education.