November 2004 – The Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita

The Gita is one of the revered texts in yoga philosophy. Bhagavad Gita means “The song of the blessed one”. No one knows when it was written but it is estimated between 500 yrs B.C. and 100 years C.E. It is a poem that has been inserted in to one of the great books of India, the Mahabharata.

The Mahabharata is a very long poem that tells of a war between two clans of a royal family in northern India. One clan, known as the paragons of virtue is lead by Arjuna (the hero in the Gita) and his four brothers. Opposing them are their evil cousins (the hundred sons of a blind King). At the conclusion of the epic the city lies in ruins, with almost all the soldiers killed.

The Gita takes place on the battlefield at the beginning of the war. Arjuna has his charioteer, Krishna (who turns out to be God incarnate), drive him into the open space between the two armies. Overwhelmed with dread at the upcoming slaying of hundreds of his brothers, cousins, and kinsmen –he drops his weapons and refuses to fight. This is where Krishna begins his teaching about life and deathlessness, duty, non-attachment, the Self, love, spiritual practice, and reality.
It consists of 17 chapters of life lessons.

Here stands Arjuna in the DMZ, weapons down, not wanting to do his dharma because he knows the outcome is death of his own family members. (Arjuna is of the warrior caste, he has been trained all his life for what he is about to do.) Krishna then teaches him about detaching from the fruits of his efforts.

“Yoga is skill in action – detachment from the outcome of our actions- pleasure or pain, success or failure.
Detachment is required if one is to act with freedom instead of REact to events according to our desires. Our judgment will be better and our vision clear if we are not emotionally entangled in the outcome of what we do.”

Put your effort into doing the next right thing. Do not waste your energy on the result of your effort (remember the karma reading last month?)

In the Gita the word yoga does not refer to the physical postures that most of us associate with yoga. A yogi can be a person who does his/her job with detachment from the rewards, or it can be one who has attained the goal of meditation. Yoga literally means becoming deeper at a spiritual level.
Up to now, Arjuna has been taught Karma Yoga (selfless service), now his lesson becomes a more interior discipline of a spiritual life.

Krishna says true yogis are “those who have conquered themselves by themselves”.
In doing this one must have will power, self-help, and intense personal effort. Verse 5 states that “one should lift one’s self up by one’s Self. (One’s self is the “lower self” and it can be ones friend or enemy depending on your choices, one’s Self is our Higher Power.)
Those who have conquered themselves by themselves are of equal mind, they are not controlled by love and hate, sorrow and joy. They see the Self in all beings and love everyone.

How do we do this? Very simply, we train the mind with meditation.
Krishna tells Arjuna that first we must find an appropriate place.
Then we must sit with a straight spine to prevent drowsiness and to allow for the free flow of vital energy.
Then Practical advice is given; moderation. Neither extreme asceticism or indulgence aid meditation.

Arjuna then cries out, “WAIT! My mind is so restless and unsteady that I can not comprehend anything about this mystic state”. The mind is so powerful and turbulent that trying to bring it under control is like trying to catch the wind.
Krishna admits the mind is terribly hard to tame, but it can be done through regular practice and detachment from selfish desires. That is all the advice he gives at this time.

Arjuna asks one last question in this chapter; what happens to the person who pursues a spiritual goal but does not pursue it until the end?
Affectionately Krishna assures Arjuna that no attempt to improve him spiritual condition could possibly be a wasted effort.

And Krishna says to Arjuna “Because you trust me I will tell you what wisdom is the secret of life; know it and be free of suffering forever.”

According to this chapter there are two secrets to life, the royal path:

1. Turn it over to God, whatever you do make it an offering, whatever you have, the help you give, even your suffering –turn it over –this will free you from the bondage of pain and pleasure.
2. Have Real Love, selfless love regardless of the object of your love, love for the God of Love who is in all creatures and thus makes it possible to love all creatures. (If you see God even in a person you are having a hard time loving, it makes it easier to give love.) Chapter 12 says that love is a path to God. If you are struggling on the path of knowledge and devotion, Love is a valid path.

Chapter 17 “faith”, the Gita uses the word shraddha, which has been translated as faith, but a better translation would be “what is held in your heart”. Our shraddha is our values, what we really hold to be important in our lives. Krishna says every human being is shraddha-maya –made up of faith, as the Bible puts it; as we think in our heart, so we are.

The final chapter discusses freedom and renunciation. With renunciation Krishna does not recommend “monk-hood” or dropping out of life, the Gita is primarily aimed at people who live “in the world” yet desire genuine spiritual fulfillment.

The final dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna
Krishna says to Arjuna; have you listened with attention? Are you now free from your doubts and confusion?
Arjuna replies; You have dispelled my doubts and delusions, and I understand through your grace. My faith is firm now and I will do your will.

My translation of this closing statement is that it all comes down to faith (faith in our path and our struggles or delights are part of our growing process) and to follow God’s will (detachment). How do we know what God’s will is? Examine your motives (what is in your heart) are they linked to a selfish desire? If so, it may be your own will you are following.

16:1-3 as translated by Eknath Easwaran
Be fearless and pure; never waiver in your determination or your dedication to the spiritual life. Give freely. Be self-controlled, sincere, truthful, loving and full of the desire to serve. Realize the truth of the scriptures; learn to be detached and to take joy in renunciation. Do not get angry or harm any living creature, but be compassionate and gentle; show good will to all. Cultivate vigor, patience, will, purity; avoid malice and pride. Then, Arjuna, you will achieve your divine destiny.

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