Lessons Learnt III: The Bhagavad Gita
Lessons Learnt III: Bhagavad Gita
With The Bhagavad Gita we have completed reading scriptures of the three major world religions namely Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism. Many of the teachings of the Tao te-Ching (Lessons Learnt, August 14, 2009), the Dhammapada (Lessons Learnt II, January 8, 2010) and the Bhagavad Gita overlap. Teachings such as the presence of the divine within, finiteness and impermanence of life, the significance of stillness, silence and solitude in daily practice and the ability of each and everyone of us to have spiritual experience are common to these three religions.
The Tao te-Ching and the Dhammapada recommend and the Gita warns that life is dreary, if not meaningless, for those of us who do not follow a spiritual path.
The Bhagavad Gita teaches that human character is an interplay of three personality traits. These are sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattva is harnessed energy of goodness, purity, harmony and balance. Sattvic person is detached, unruffled and self-controlled. Rajas is uncontrolled energy of passion that can be good or bad. In a rajasi person this energy may express itself as anger, greed or hate but it also makes the person energetic and motivated to act. Tamas is frozen energy characterized by darkness and sloth. A tamasi individual is indifferent, insensitive, and sluggish. Such person only cares for his own urges. The three traits are in constant flux but present in different proportions in all humans. Together they color individual experiences. The wise are able to balance their personality traits through determination, detachment and discrimination but unwise are not aware that these can be balanced. One must have personal will and discipline to balance one’s life. Training the senses and disciplining the mind is essential on the spiritual path to self-realization.
The Hindu scripture prominently counsels the path of action (karma yoga), and the path of devotion (bhakti yoga). It also mentions the path of meditation (raja yoga) but cursorily touches upon the path of knowledge (jnana yoga). One can choose the spiritual path that suits one’s personality and interests. The personality traits are inborn yet they can be changed, balanced and cultivated.
The Gita states that in every human heart a perpetual battle goes on between the opposing forces of divine and demonic. The divine force leads to increasing spiritual happiness and the demonic to enslavement of the spirit. The evil within can be combated by karma yoga, “The Way of Action” and by bhakti yoga “The Way of Devotion.”
Following the Way of Action is to experience spiritual freedom. Karma means cause and effect of an action. All actions, good and not so good, determine our destiny. We reap what we sow. However, in our desire for the fruit of action we tie ourselves tighter and tighter to our activities thus the worldly life. So much so that while we work, our mind is preoccupied on the reward and not on the effort. The result is that we actually lose control over the result of our actions and things do not turn out as planned. Such work stunts spiritual progress which is to experience atman, divine within. So what should we do? Do our job without getting attached to its outcome. Evil such as selfishness has nowhere to cling because we are detached from the outcome of our work. We dedicate our lives to our work and let go because no dedicated effort is ever wasted. The work well done is its own reward.
Another, equally important spiritual path that the Gita counsels is the Way of Devotion. An ideal devotee dedicates himself to Lord Krishna, the earthly incarnation of the ultimate reality, Brahman. The goal of the devotee is to attain Krishna by total submission to His goodness and love. This kind of devotion is called bhakti, an unconditional love that is not personal but universal. Yet the devotee feels a genuine love for Krishna and from Krishna. This love is awe-inspiring that Arjuna experiences. This love is enshrined in the devotee’s heart as atman, as it is in all humans.
Krishna also teaches Arjuna the Way of the Meditation. This path teaches the initiate how to become whole at the deepest spiritual level. The practice requires willpower, self-help and intense personal effort. Through meditation is developed one pointed focus that steadies the mind. When the mind of a meditator is like ‘an upright, unflickering flame in a windless place’ he is integrated with his truest Self, atman. He feels every one’s joy and sorrow just as if it were his own. His still mind is one with atman/Brahman to enjoy eternal bliss.
Krishna is atman, transcends atman, but ultimately abides in his own mystery as Brahman. Atman is beyond the description of human language. In his divine mystery Krishna sends fragments of himself in each creature. In this sense atman enters the body at conception, dwells in the body and then departs at death. It is the prana-the breath-of the body.
Krishna is the Atman that is experienced in deep meditation. Krishna is not only Arjuna’s atman, his true “Self” but also the “Self” of all beings. As atman, Krishna is already present within each and every creature. We must remain connected to it through unbroken awareness.
The next sacred text on our list is another Hindu scripture, The Devi Gita composed around the fifteenth century and inspired by the famous Bhagavad Gita. In the Devi Gita the Supreme Being is envisioned as female known as the Great Goddess, Mahadevi, a compassionate World-Mother and bestower of wisdom.