The Bhagavad Gita is likely to be one of the most ancient books ever written. It describes a conversation between Arjuna and Krishna. Arjuna is a warrior who is forced to go into battle with his own cousin, the king, after he has murdered Arjuna’s wife.
As the two armies are approaching each other in battle, he starts to doubt the moral implications of this war, since it also forces him to slay several members of his own family as well as friends and teachers of his. He therefore turns to Krishna, who represents god in a human form, for advice.
One of the pieces of advice he receives from Krishna is the following (according to Jack Hawley’s The Bhagavad Gita. A walkthrough for westerners):
“When I created the world, I set in motion the principle of sacrifice, saying. ‘It is through sacrifice that though shalt prosper and propagate.’ My word ‘sacrifice’ is in no way associated with the common image of self-neglect or self-flagellation. Sacrifice is used here in a very special way: it means offering, helping, and being dedicated to the welfare of all humanity. It implies a mutuality of existence with all other beings. Sacrifice in this spiritual meaning of the word is a universal rule, a fundamental law of nature; sacrifice as the spirit of giving, which permeates all creation. This sacrifice is a way for mankind to convert earthly misery into happiness”.
What is meant with sacrifice in this case is the fulfillment of one’s duty without any expectation of receiving anything in return. To constantly give without considering what positive effects this could possibly have on one’s life. To create and to benefit humankind without hoping to receive any benefits from it.
Sacrifice, the book argues, is the necessary precondition for happiness. One can never be happy by giving while expecting something in return. That is also the reason why the stereotype of the struggling, but fulfilled artist fits so perfectly: despite that fact that she is in a constant struggle for financial stability, she is nonetheless happy since she is able to produce and give away her art to humankind.
There are two other concepts are directly related with sacrifice and equally important: unconditional love as well as duty. Only when one is able to truly love another unconditionally, then he or she is able to constantly give without having any expectations in turn. Duty, on the other hand, is important because it refers to the fact that every person has his or her own unique role to play in society. If my purpose in life is to create understanding between different cultures, for instance, then despite giving away without any expectations in return, I can still be unfulfilled if I do not do work that suits my own personal duty.
For instance – I personally am a very strong advocate of cross-cultural peace. I would never be willing to go to for for my country because it strongly goes against my own personal beliefs. War, in my opinion, is never a viable solution. Instead, my duty is to contribute to a peace process in any way I possibly can, by utilizing my expertise in creating understanding between the two different worldviews and perspectives.
However, for a general in the army, the situation might be completely different. It is his duty to protect his or her country, although the war might be fought for wrong and immoral reasons. Under these circumstances, the right course of action for the army general would be to participate in the war.
The sacrifices each of us will make throughout our lives will be different and they all depend on our role in society. The two key questions to ask yourself are therefore:
- What is the duty that I have to fulfill throughout my lifetime?
- What sacrifices do I need to make in order to fulfill my duty?
I believe that expatriates have very unique duties to fulfill in society. Since they are knowledgeable about both different cultures, it is their duty to educate people from one culture about the other, to support people in broadening their horizon, as well as to bring the positive values of each culture to the other.
Doing so, as in any other aspect of life, requires us to make a sacrifice. Since we are always advocates for both cultures, we will most likely never achieve a status of being accepted as a fully equal member of either our host society as well as our country of origin. And that is okay.
It is our duty to give without expecting to receive acceptance in return.