‘Playing football takes us nearer to heaven rather than reading Bhagavad Gita’ but how and why?


Swami Vivekananda meant that a strong body can help you have the frame of mind needed to understand things like the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, and thus ultimately attain Jnana. Here's the quote in its original context:

First of all, our young men must be strong. Religion will come afterwards. Be strong, my young friends; that is my advice to you. You will be nearer to Heaven through football than through the study of the Gita. These are bold words; but I have to say them, for I love you. I know where the shoe pinches. I have gained a little experience. You will understand the Gita better with your biceps, your muscles, a little stronger. You will understand the mighty genius and the mighty strength of Krishna better with a little of strong blood in you. You will understand the Upanishads better and the glory of the Atman when your body stands firm upon your feet, and you feel yourselves as men. Thus we have to apply these to our needs.

Now I'm not a follower of Vivekananda or an Advaitin, but I think this connects with the Advaita notion that certain physical and mental disciplines are a prerequisite for the pursuit of Jnana; that is how Adi Shankaracharya interprets the first Sutra of the Brahma Sutras. This is in contrast to other schools, including Ramanujacharya's Sri Vaishnava sect, which interpret the prerequisite as the study of the Vedas through the methods of Mimamsa.

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