Avinash Agarwal's interview with Frontlist on his book 'Bhagvad Gita'
on Apr 20, 2022
Avinash Agarwal is the Director of Disha Publications. A Gen-Z Parent, Study skills & Habit coach for students, and Author of “Toppers’ study hacks”, “Success blueprint for competitive exams”, and “How to raise a topper”, Avinash Agarwal has been working in the area of mentoring for over 15 years. Interviews with hundreds of toppers who have cracked different competitive exams have led him to understand the topper mindset. He believes that every child can be a topper, and through his books and online programmes, he aims to impart powerful learning strategies and techniques to students that help them in pursuit of their passions/dreams.
Frontlist: At what age were you connected with the Bhagvad Gita learnings? How did the teachings from Bhagvad Gita influence you and help you to become true to yourself?
Avinash: That’s a very difficult question. In fact, I would say that the lessons of the Bhagvad Gita were always there inside me. They are there inside all of us. What is important is when they start expressing themselves or coming out. You know, I remember, when I was writing this book, an incident came to my mind. I think I was in Class 11 or 12, and at that time, the serials - Mahabharata and Ramayana were coming on the TV channels, and they were very popular. I was not a regular watcher, as they had hundreds of episodes. So, I somehow thought they were a waste of time. But one day, I asked my father while we were having dinner, "What is the difference between Ramayana and Mahabharata? And why should we watch these serials because, to me, they do not look anything different from the fight?" My father gave me an interesting reply that itched my mind. He said, "Whenever you are ready to sacrifice whatever you have, Ramayana happens, and wherever you pick up arms to start fighting for your right, whether right or wrong, Mahabharata happens." So that is what struck me so hard that within the next whole week, I asked my mother if we had a copy of the Bhagvad Gita. She gave me one, but I could not make any head or tail out of it. I purchased lots of comics around Bhagvad Gita, so that was probably the first time it touched me and really created an impact on me. When I got into the business and started speaking to students, as you are aware, in the last 15 years, I interviewed thousands and thousands of students and closely studied the behavioural and study patterns of hundreds of toppers. While I was interviewing these toppers, a thought was always there in my mind, why is it that somebody succeeds and not only succeeds, they top the examinations almost effortlessly. On the contrary, there are probably millions of students who despite giving their best, despite burning their midnight oil, forget about topping but are not even able to clear the examination. So, for the last 15 years, I have been trying to find an answer to this question. I definitely believe that there is something or the other that the topper knows and other students do not know. There is something that toppers are doing that other students are not doing, even if it is done unconsciously. While I was searching for this, I came out with a lot of lessons, a lot of powerful learning, but I could connect the dots backwards with the morals or the lessons which we can learn from the Bhagvad Gita. That is when I thought I should write a book that will help us learn from the Bhagvad Gita, specifically for students and parents.
Frontlist: When did you get the idea that Bhagvad Gita might become the absolute mentor book for school-going children and their parents, as this book is, especially for their interest?
Avinash: The Bhagvad Gita, if you see it from a broader perspective, is all about the conversation that happens between Arjuna and Lord Krishna. Now, who is Arjuna? Arjuna is a warrior who is preparing and is ready to face the battle of Mahabharata. If you compare, or if you replace Arjuna with any student, and he is preparing for any kind of competitive examination, or with any parent who is preparing for any kind of challenge, then learnings are the same, just the context is different. If you see, the problems most of these students face in their journey is that they always worry about their results and do not enjoy the process. Even before beginning the preparation process, students worry about whether they will get selected or not. Most students have to go through the phase of anxiety, stress and depression, which is all mind management. That is what Bhagvad Gita talks about. Most of the students are confused about the meaning of ‘true yogi’. Bhagvad Gita says, 'A ‘true yogi’ is a person who is 100 per cent devoted to his or her cause.' So, as a student, if you are 100% devoted to your goals, about your dharma, which is about nothing but giving 100% to your studies, you are a ‘true yogi’ yourself. If most of the students blame my luck as bad and God is not with me, that is not what the Bhagvad Gita says. It says that God is everywhere, and God is always with you. Like Arjuna, all of us must be ready to start the battle of Mahabharta. All of us, whether students or parents, give excuses on the battlefield of life and the battlefield of exams.
Bhagvad Gita says there is a difference between knowing things, knowledge and action. So, one is Karma yoga, and the other is action yoga. So, there is a difference between knowledge and action. Knowledge without action is of no use. All of us know that too much social media is bad and that we should exercise. We know that junk food is bad. Similarly, we know that our immediate goal is to get good marks. But knowing all these things does not help unless and until we start working in that direction. What I am trying to share with you all is that 100% the Bhagvad Gita is the solution manual for all parents and all students. We have to just understand it from a different context, and that is what I have done in this book.
Frontlist: Bhagvad Gita is incomprehensible to interpret. The deeper you go, the more it becomes complex. How did you select 21 lessons from the abundance of shlokas?
Avinash: Bhagvad Gita, as you rightly said, is the essence of all spiritual knowledge, and it offers an unbiased perspective of all major truths of life, as well as the universe. But the problem is that most of us find it hard to understand and even more difficult to implement. We are unable to understand it, and we are unable to correlate it with our lives. It is said that facts tell, and stories sell. One thing which I have done specifically in this book is that not only I have tried to make it as easy as possible for even a 10-year-old student to understand it, I have done so by giving a lot of stories, and that is where the title of the book originates, ‘Bhagvad Gita: The Story Way for Students and Parents’. Each lesson is followed by a few stories and anecdotes. As you rightly said, it was challenging to choose out of 700 Shlokas. But the lens with which I was scanning the Bhagvad Gita helped me to draw out the juice of the entire manuscript. I had one goal, that I had to make it easy, and I had to present the lessons with which the students' and parents’ community can relate, understand, and appreciate. So, whatever 21 lessons I have shared in my book, ‘Bhagvad Gita: The Story Way for Students and Parents’, have been selected keeping the perspective of students and parents in mind.
Frontlist: You mentioned ‘Student Takeaways’ at the end of each lesson. How did you reflect the true meaning of shlokas within the Student Takeaways?
Avinash: That was an easy part because for the last 15 years, as I have been speaking to students, problems like concentration, unorganised, and improper eating habits are common among all students. These kinds of problems are always there in my mind, and I was aware that this is what students are seeking answers for. For example, if you talk about concentration, most students think that they have weak concentration power, but the problem is they are not able to concentrate on a specific subject, whereas they can concentrate on watching an IPL match. So, the core issue is not concentration. The core issue is the interest, and interest revolves around mind management. That is what the Bhagvad Gita talks about. So, as I said, 'My job was to extract the juice out of this most powerful document and to select the lessons which were most relevant to the students' and parents' community to a larger extent.' The third thing was to present those Shlokas or lessons in a manner that is easy to understand, and thus the lesson is supplemented by a few stories and real-life anecdotes. With the help of stories, you understand. But when you move one step forward, you get the Student Takeaways and Points on how to implement them in your day to day real life. That was the sole objective of giving the Students Takeaways and Points.
Frontlist: There are several things we read and learn. However, we often fail to implement those teachings in our lives. Why do you think the book can be proven transformative for students? Please share your answer on a factual basis.
Avinash: I will answer this question with the help of a small story that I have shared in the book. There was a student who came to me and said, "Sir, my Class 10th board exams are close, and I have to study long hours and I feel very stressed about it." I asked him what is bothering him? Is it long hours of studying that are causing the stress? He said, "Yes, obviously sir. Since I have to study 8 hours, it is the basic reason, leading to stress." I told him that it is not the long hours which is causing him stress. 'What is causing you stress is that you are worried about the outcome. You are thinking about marks and percentages.' I asked him, "If instead of the board examination, it was a regular school examination, do you think tension would be less?" And he said yes. I think, instead of a board examination, if this would have been an internal examination where marks were not important and not going to be counted, then would the stress level be the same? He said that probably there would be no stress.
In today’s world, we are living in a distracted, complex world wherein the attention span of our kids - forget about 10-15 minutes - is not even 10-15 seconds. We want a dopamine dose after 10-15 seconds, and preparing for any battle or any exam is an emotional battle more than an academic battle. The Bhagvad Gita teaches you all the lessons, like how to keep yourself emotionally balanced; it teaches you the lesson of attachment and I have shared a lot of real-life stories, a lot of anecdotes with which students would not only be able to understand it but relate it with not only studies but with their lives as well.
I’ll share another interesting incident. My younger son is very fond of ice cream, and by God’s grace, we are very well to do, and he gets whatever he wants in life. But one behaviour which I have observed is that whenever we go to any outing or any marriage function, he would put up at least 3-4 scopes of ice cream in the first go and most of the time, he would not be able to eat it. I used to think that why is it that the boy who gets ice cream whenever he wants to have, always puts 3-4 scopes because he was worried that it will get finished. I was thinking that if it is greed, where will it lead? In the book, we talk about the concept of desire, anger and greed, and how do you handle them? I call it by the acronym - DAG. How do you handle desire, anger and greed? Desire, if fulfilled, leads to greed, and desire, if unfulfilled, leads to anger. Essentially, success and failure are not only about knowledge, it is also about your emotional balance, but it is also about mind management, your stress level, and as I said that the students, while they are preparing for any kind of exam or any kind of challenge, they become sad, stressed, anxious and depressed. The Bhagvad Gita teaches you how to manage yourself emotionally in this lonely battle.
Frontlist: You discussed multiple characters from Mahabharta along with their idiosyncrasies. What was your thought process behind mentioning it in this book?
Avinash: My sole objective when I was writing this book was to extract as much as possible. It is not a religious book. It was written with that intention. My sole objective was to extract as much as possible, wherever knowledge is available and give it to students. So I thought that I have shared the Bhagvad Gita, the conversations that happened between Arjuna and Lord Krishna before the battle actually started. But still, there were lots of facets of this entire epic Mahabharata, which I wanted to share with students. Let's take the example of Arjuna. Now, from the life of Arjuna, you can learn a lot of lessons. For example, you learn the lesson of focus. Focus means when everyone else was seeing trees, leaves, roots, and the bird; Arjuna was only seeing the eye of the bird, the target. The lesson of clarity - One day, when Dronacharya was bathing, suddenly a crocodile attacked him. While everybody else was thinking about what to do, within a moment, Arjuna took out his bow and arrow and killed the crocodile. Clarity means lesser thoughts in the mind which means a call to action. That is what we learn from Arjuna.
From Arjuna, we learn the lesson of commitment, and there is a very minute difference between commitment and insanity. When Arjuna said that he will kill Jayadratha before tomorrow’s sunset, to everybody else, it looked like insanity because they had an entire army defending him, and nobody thought that he would be able to kill him, and Arjuna said if he is not able to do so, he will sacrifice himself in the burning pyre. That shows commitment. When you are committed to something, the entire universe conspires and comes along with you. These stories of Arjuna also tell us the power of a mentor. Lord Krishna does not compliment Arjuna; Lord Krishna completes Arjuna. Without Lord Krishna, Arjuna is nothing. From the story of Arjuna, we also learn that even the best archer in the world, i.e. Arjuna, who was taught by the best teacher in the world, Dronacharya, required a mentor in the form of Lord Krishna, to win the battle of Mahabharata. My objective was to give as much as possible, and I have done it interestingly and subtly, without preaching and asking to learn any Shlokas.
From the life of Abhimanyu, you learn that half baked knowledge or half-knowledge is zero-knowledge. Abhimanyu knew how to get into the Chakravyuh, but he did not know how to get out of the Chakravyuh. That was half knowledge. I wanted to tell the students that half knowledge does not give you half results, half-knowledge gives you zero results. That is what we learn from the character of Abhimanyu. In fact, everybody, be it Draupadi, Duryodhana, etc. There are a lot of things that we can learn. And I wanted to present them in an easy and interesting, story way so that students are not only able to enjoy but are also able to appreciate and somehow these lessons sink into them. That was my main objective.