Pandit Hari Shankar Dabral, PhD
Panditji is available for lectures and workshops on the Bhagavad Gita. Please see his website for more information.
The Bhagavad Gita
“Bhagavad” means divine, celestial, the ever-present divine Lord. And “Gita” means a song. The Bhagavad Gita is a song that is sung by the Lord. It is a Divine Song. The knowledge of the Bhagavad Gita is perennial because it comes from the eternal.
The Gita is a scripture that millions of people read daily. In India many people read the entire Gita once a day, but most read just one verse a day and try to apply what has been taught. The Gita is a book we can study our entire life, and it is so deep that it can take us a lifetime to understand. We can read it for years and years, and the beauty of Gita is that each time we read it, one profound meaning after another is revealed.
The Bhagavad Gita is a textbook for mastering the art of life. It is a very compact scripture that deals with the practical aspects of life. We need to understand the Bhagavad Gita as much as we can and follow its teachings. It is not enough to just read the book and intellectually to know the stories and dialogues. The Gita is a very powerful book which states many things that we need to apply nowadays, in this society and in this environment. When we are in a crisis and are going through problems, rough times, hard times when there is so much confusion in our lives, that is the time when we should apply the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita.
Personally I have found that the Gita is very practical, very consoling. It is such a beautiful scripture that gives so much comfort. Let’s say a beloved guest came to your home and, of course, you wanted to please the guest. You would want to make your guest happy and comfortable. You would go to the store and buy his or her favorite foods and prepare a meal very lovingly. That is why we say, “Make your guest feel at home.” How nice it is when we know all the desires and habits about our guests, what kind of food they like, what kind of things they want to do. Then we know we can make them very happy. That is what the Bhagavad Gita does. That is the nature of the teaching that Krishna gives to Arjuna.
You don’t need to read a lot of books. You can get all you need from the
Bhagavad-Gita and the Sermon on the Mount.”— Swami Rama of the Himalayas
Sarvopanishado gaavo doghdha gopalanandanah
Paartho vatsh sudheerbhoktha dugdham Gitamritam mahat
The essence of the Gita is taken from all the scriptures. The Bhagavad Gita is a part of the greatest epic of the world, the Mahabharata. The Gita consists of 700 verses. Krishna and Arjuna represent the teacher and student. The Gita becomes a cow, Lord Himself is a milkman and Arjuna becomes a calf who drinks the milk or essence. The milk is amrita, which means nectar of immortality. Krishna is a force that attracts us towards the path of spirituality, peace and final liberation. He is the teacher who guides us on the right path.
The Bhagavad Gita teaches the philosophy of human psychology, how we operate in the world. We sometimes do not seem to have a clear mind when making decisions. We have several opinions and we also seek the opinion of others. We feel unsure, fearful, tense and in the middle of a lot of commotion. The Bhagavad Gita comes in life and gives different meanings to our attitude, behavior and personality. The Gita gives the answer for any problems in any relationship. Philosophy, spirituality, psychology, religion and yoga are all in the Gita.
“Krishna” means the aspect of the absolute Lord which attracts us. He represents the inner teacher who guides us on the right path. Krishna attracts us toward the path of sadhana, spirituality and liberation. The Bhagavad Gita, the Divine Song, is sung by the Lord right at the battlefield, because that is where we need Him the most.
Arjuna, representing all of us, is a student who is inquisitive and seeking guidance from a competent teacher. Swami Rama says “the word Arjuna means one who makes sincere efforts and who inevitably obtains the knowledge that directly flows from the center of consciousness”.
The Bhagavad Gita teaches us the art of life and guides us in how to deal with the circumstances and situations of daily life. It shows us how to perform our karmas or actions with an art that finally liberates us from bondage. Krishna taught at the battlefield, at the Kurukshetra. “Kuru” means to do, “kshetra” means a field, a place where we perform our duties or dharma. The Kurukshetra is also a Dharmakshetra. “Dharma” means there is some moral character, decorums, principles, and dignity. When a Dharmakshetra is a Kurukshetra, we are on the right path.
This world is a battlefield for all of us. Each one of us has our own battle, our own fight in daily life. Many times we are confused, fearful and bound with attachments. All kinds of emotions (enemies) are involved in our Kurukshetra. We need a true teacher like Lord Krishna to guide us. The Bhagavad Gita is a very practical scripture that teaches about all aspects of our lives, art and personalities. One needs to understand the Gita and thus follow the teachings in every day life.
“Dharma” means our duty in life. The Bhagavad Gita is a song telling about living honorably. This life is given to us to enjoy within the decorum that we are human beings. What are our dharmas and our obligations? While dealing with our obligations and dharmas, how can we create our spiritual lives so we realize our true nature?
We all have a universe inside in the form of the individual soul, and that universe needs some kind of principle, some kind of discipline. If it is not disciplined, then chaos will occur. For example, when human beings don’t respect each other, then discipline has to be imposed. We need discipline from outside when we forget basic moral principles. Like traffic lights; if they are taken away and we all drive any way we feel like it, accidents will happen. If the entire police force is removed, there will be chaos. Discipline is imposed, so that society can function. When people invoke discipline from within, then we don’t need any imposed discipline from outside. The Gita teaches how to become real human beings, how to re-establish law and order within ourselves first. When we have established law and order internally, it is easy for us to adhere to social rules of order.
Many times we tell children or our friends, that something is not right, or that it is a lie. How can we say this is not right? Who tells us something is not right? There is moral character in all of us, which is given by the Lord. Something in our mind tells us. That mind which is “I,” that individual soul, tells us this is not right. We may hear the inner voice for a microsecond and just go ahead with what we have an urge to do, but after we have already made a mistake, we will go back and say, “Gee, a thought did come to my mind that this was not right.” This is the proof that there is something inside that is guiding us all along. We need to become Arjuna and listen so that the Krishna within all of us can come in front of us. That is the teaching of the Gita.
The Gita: a Guide to the Art of Life
“I find solace in the Bhagavad-Gita that I miss even in the Sermon on the Mount. When disappointment stares me in the face and all alone I see not one ray of light, I go back to the Bhagavad-gita. I find a verse here and a verse there, and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming tragedies — and my life had been full of external tragedies — and if they have left no visible, no indelible scar on me, I owe it all to the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita.
— Mohandas K. Gandhi, Young India (1925), pp. 1078-1079
The Gita includes a study of the psychology of the human mind. How does the human mind operate? What happens when we are in a situation where we have the understanding but don’t use it — where we go totally blank and are not able to make good choices? Afterwards, we feel very sorry. We feel guilty and ask, “Why did I do that?” We feel bad and keep remembering the event.
Many people in these modern times are living with so much on-going tension, which then creates mental commotion. Because of that, we often do not have a clear mind when we need to make a decision. We have several opinions already but are not sure of ourselves and so seek other people’s opinions. That is why the Bhagavad Gita is very useful and effective. When we systematically take just one principle at a time from the Gita, and try to apply it in life, we will see a great difference in ourselves. Our lives will change. Our attitudes will change.
The teachings of the Gita are universal. All the characters in the Gita exist within us. Once we see from that point of view, we realize all the teachings apply to our own situation. It is a matter of being aware of all the different aspects of ourselves. We all know the content of the Gita within ourselves.
Na kaangkshe vijayam Krishna na cha rajyam sukhaani cha
Kim no rajyena govinda kim bhogairjeevitena va
The Bhagavad Gita begins with Arjuna’s despondency. At the battlefield, Kurukshetra, when Arjuna sees all his relatives, brothers, cousins, and teachers standing on the opposite side ready to fight, Arjuna is sad and confused. He drops his weapons, his bow and arrow. He says “O Lord of senses, I do not need kingdoms or victory. What is the use, the purpose of all the pleasures and life itself? I may as well just beg for a living, and then die.”
Living in the world, we all go through ignorance, attachment and fears. In many situations in life, we are confused and not feeling inclined to do anything. The first chapter is about ignorance and Arjuna’s attachments to his fears.
The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita begins when Arjuna admits he is not functioning well, that he is full of doubts and confusion. When one acknowledges weakness and fear within, this is a sign of moving forward, that the doors are open for learning. Arjuna says to Lord, “I am your disciple, surrendering to you, and whatever definitely is better for me, do teach and guide me.”
When we find ourselves totally losing the battle within and not seeing any solution to our problems, we need to sit down and look within, acknowledge the situation, surrender ourselves to the Guru or the Lord and pray for strength, guidance and blessings. With surrender, we can allow ourselves to keep our heart and mind open. When Arjuna surrenders to the Lord and asks for teaching and guidance, then the Lord begins to teach.
The Blessed Lord says:
Karmanyevaadhikaraste maa faleshu kadachana
Maa karmafalaheturbhurmaa te sangostvakarmani
“O Arjuna, you only have the right to perform your actions and never to the fruits of your karma. You should not perform the action only for the sake of fruits, nor let yourself be attached to inaction.”
The Law of Karma
The word karma comes from the Sanskrit verb root ‘kri’ which means ‘to do’. Anything that we perform physically or mentally becomes a karma, an action. The philosophy of karma says every action leaves an imprint.
Our goal or purpose is to realize the Self, to realize God within and free ourselves from the cycle of birth and rebirth. We are here because of our karma and to pay our debts. We are also here as a blessing from the Lord, as an opportunity to realize the true purpose of life.
A human being is bound to perform actions. We bind ourselves with those actions, with exactly the same kind of karma we have performed. Karmas are like a golden chain. We become deluded and bind ourselves by our actions. One day we see we have bound ourselves so tightly that it is very difficult now to get free.
Who are we really and why do we take birth and have relationships in the world? We have several relationships – son, father, mother, brother, sister, wife, husband. We play many roles when we come to this world and each role demands its own obligations and its own conditions and creates more karma.
Arjuna was taught the philosophy of karma in the second chapter. Krishna says ‘you are performing your action because of your previous actions. The fruit you get here, it is because of the impressions you have created for yourself’. In the entire world, every problem from the environment to medical to relationships between countries, families or friends, all has to do with karma.
The law of karma operates on the levels of manasa, vaucha and karmana. Manasa means by your mind, vacha means through your speech and karmana is by your action. The moment a slight thought comes to your mind, you have performed a karma. Every karma is done through the mind first. A hand cannot be raised unless we first perform that very action in the mind. The law of karma, of action, means not only doing your duties in a right manner. It also involves the environment, society, culture, attitude, food, daily life and our schedule.
The law of karma is a very fascinating and complex theory that is not easy to understand. In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna is taught to perform his karma yet to know he is not the doer, he is not the one performing the karma.
Lord Krishna, explaining the law of karma, says “your duty alone is to perform your action with an awareness that you are surrendering each and every fruit of your own action unto me, O Arjuna.”
What happens when we have an expectation? Half of the mind is with the expectation so we actually perform our action with 50% of the mind. We aren’t there 100% because 50% of the mind is busy focusing on the fruit.
Kama means desire. The moment we have kama, we want to perform the action because we want the fruits. If our expectation is not fulfilled, we get angry with ourselves. We need to perform our obligations with pure love, trust and without expectations. This will never create any anger because we weren’t expecting anything. It will not create any sorrow because we weren’t looking for anything.
There are three kinds of karma. Prarabdha, sanchitta and kriyamana. Prarabdha karmas are the karmas that have already begun to bear fruit. Sanchitta karmas are the karmas that have been stored in the unconscious mind and kriyamana are the karmas that we are performing at present.
Lord Krishna says ‘whenever you perform any action, think of me. I am everywhere. I am omnipresent. If you have that in your mind, you will always do that which is good for you, good for your family, for your neighbor. I am the one who is doing, you are not the doer. You are the medium.’
Lord Krishna continues to tell Arjuna the secret of karma yoga, the path of selfless action. Performing your actions with a selfless attitude leads one to a deeper level of awareness and samatwa buddhi. This is a state of equanimity or equilibrium in the mind. The nature of one who has abandoned all desires and is free from ego and attachments is such that they receive peace and harmony. In verses 54 to 72 of the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna describes the qualities of sthita-prajna (one who remains in samadhi).
Atman – the true nature of the Self.
Lord Krishna says, ‘no one can cleave the Atman, nor fire can burn it, water cannot wet it nor wind dry it. O Arjuna, if you think you are going to kill your enemies, tell me who you think you are killing? No one can kill the Atman; no can tear it apart. The person who is born one day has to die. It depends on our karmas and samskaras and prayers. That is the only truth in the world.
“Krt-Atman”. “Atman” is the Self, “Krta” comes from the word “Kri”, which means ‘to do’. The terminology ‘to purify your Atman’ is not right because Atman itself does not need any purification. We are not fully aware that the Self is already ever pure, ever free, ever wise. We are mostly aware of the things that cover the Self, such as our negative samskaras, karmas, vasanas, our mind, our buddhi. To be aware of the Atman, we need to cultivate ourselves every single moment of our life.
Kama esha, krodha esha, rajogunasamudbhava
The human personality is covered by six enemies or negative emotions. They are known as ‘ari shadvarga’ and they play a great role in our lives. They are kama (desire), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (attachment), madha (pride) and matsara (jealousy). These six enemies eat us from within, like a worm. We don’t see them. We deny we have them, but they are there. Each one of them is so profound, so powerful, that it could ruin the entire buddhi.
All our negative emotions are our relatives. They do not want to leave us. Arjuna does not want to fight because he is facing all his relatives. He says, ‘I do not need this kind of kingdom’. He has moha, attachment. These six enemies prosper and create problems. Let’s say we want to wake up from tomorrow at 6AM to do meditation, but we can’t get up. We made the sankalpa, the resolve. We have a powerful alarm clock yet we turn it off and go back to sleep. Tamas, inertia, or lethargy is another relative that is not allowing us to do what we want to do. It means we do not have freedom.
The six enemies bind us because of attachment. Any time we try to get rid of them, they will attack us and manipulate the mind. They all create such excuses for us that we think it’s fine to sleep in just for today. Or maybe we think we’ll get up at seven o’clock, then when seven o’clock comes, maybe seven thirty. By then, it’s time to go to work and we are forced to get up. The will power is buried within, covered by the negative emotions. These enemies are always with us.
Swami Rama of the Himalayas said “I have very little time and I want to pass on this knowledge, this teaching, but I do not find anybody that is well prepared and capable enough to take all of it.” It’s not a simple willing, ‘okay Swamiji, I would like to’. A person has to be capable of retaining the teachings. It is not merely a desire or a curiosity. We have to be a sincere seeker for that truth, for that liberation, for that peace. Then we will receive it. It shall open for those who seek sincerely.
Take a principle such as attachment, anger, jealousy, hatred, or desire. We could observe how we operate for a whole week, as we go through daily life, through work and deal with all kinds of people and businesses. Notice how many times anger arose. Why? Immediately examine it. If there was attachment, why was attachment there? Why was greed there? Find out the reason.
Most of the time we just react. Maybe we did not understand a situation and got angry. We could observe how we run out of patience when we want to get something done on time, or we are late. The consequences of that impatience are that we feel agitated, angry, tense. Reading the Bhagavad Gita allows us to observe how we operate. The mind and body will resist and fighting may begin between us and our principles. Personality is not the true Self. Persona is like a fake or cover. We must examine ourselves. If we do that, Krishna will guide us.
The buddhi is that factor in the human mind that has the power of discrimination. It is known as a mirror of the mind. If a mirror is dusty, we cannot see in it. In order to see in the mirror, we have to wipe it off. Then we can see our face clearly. Our personalities and moods are based on these six enemies. Sometimes it is jealousy, or pride or anger, sometimes greed or moha. We are clouded by them all the time. The Bhagavad Gita teaches one to work on purifying these emotions by practice and vairagya.
Everyone faces problems and difficult circumstances in life. The Gita is here to teach us and give us the opportunity to rise. We are a temple, where we visit every day. We light a candle at the heart center. We bow. We pay our homage to that inner dweller. We meditate and receive mental peace, shantih, then gently come out from that temple. We can take that peace everywhere we go. With every single action we perform, we keep that peace in our mind. That is how we cultivate ourselves.
We are all Arjuna. Deep inside we all are seeking some kind of knowledge, guidance, and liberation. We don’t want to be bound, we want to really feel that we are free. The joy of that freedom comes from within.
Arjuna gave up. He said, ‘I can’t do it. I am shaking.’ We too are shaking because we are confused and have lost confidence. We feel we are weak and put ourselves down. Even if we have made some kind of mistake, we can learn from the mistake and forgive ourselves. Self-condemnation is not a right virtue for human beings. Self-condemnation is not recommended on the path of spirituality.
Many times we don’t want to face our problems. We go to sleep to avoid them or distract ourselves or refuse to talk or think about things. The conflict gets buried in a corner of our unconscious mind. A few days or few weeks later it manifests in another form. It is more dangerous to bury things than to face them.
Krishna calls Arjuna by different names that represent his different qualities. He does this in order to let him know he has the capacity, that he can do it. Others, except for masters like Swami Rama of the Himalayas, cannot know us better than we know ourselves. Arjuna is that aspect in us who is hungry for knowledge. We can have a burning desire for elevation and still be confused. If we have that, we are Arjuna. Then we have Krishna with us to guide us. Krishna is the buddhi, the Atman. He leads our chariot in the right way. Hearing the guidance depends on how clear the buddhi is.
We need to know our dharma, our duty to do in life. No human being is free from this. Problems are here to teach us and give us the opportunity to learn to rise up and discover what is important in life.
When we start meditating, we become aware of all the junk we have, of how our mind wanders and the momentum of our samskaras. As our perception changes, sometimes people misunderstand us. There are all kinds of adjustments we have to make in our life. We may wonder if we really want to elevate ourselves spiritually or not.
In Arjuna’s case, he has to rise above his problems to see what he should do. He reacted and dropped all his weapons. All of us know what is right but we forget. We slip back into old ways of doing things, of looking at things and habits of behavior. Where do our New Years resolutions go by the end of January? We find we have not made the changes we want. We are still at the same level. When we make the resolutions we use our buddhi and our will power, but because we have not cultivated it, it goes away.
How much have we cultivated our spiritual heights? Make a note in a journal. Make a resolution – ‘I have done this much last year, how much will I do this year?’ We must examine ourselves regularly – each day, each month. Cultivating ourselves is a gradual process. It does not happen all at once. It doesn’t work to decide that from tomorrow I will get up and meditate from 6 to 7 then I will exercise for an hour then…’ We may do it for a few days out of ego but we torture ourselves, then we get tired and the whole system gets into imbalance. If we decrease the amount we sleep by ten minutes a week, next month we will see a difference. It is best to examine our capacity and make a very gentle move. The Lord shows Himself to Arjuna in the tenth chapter, not the first. The Gita is in many chapters because Krishna gave Arjuna a very gradual training.
We all make a mistake when we disregard a word which Lord also said to Arjuna. He says indeed, fight, kill all of them to establish law and order but how? With control. If you understand that word you will feel no need to fight, to get angry at anybody. If I am able to create an anger that is not anger but will appear as if it is anger, that is control. That is what the Gita is talking about, control over oneself.
We change as we make some progress. The same sentence or book will have a different meaning. Perhaps you do not react when someone says something as you did last year. You wish the best to a person who has harmed you. This is the quality of a meditator, of a saint. Satsanga means company of the saintly, the saintly qualities we are cultivating within. They are there; we need only to become aware of them. We need to purify the samskaras that are holding us back from being aware of our true nature.
Human personality is made with three gunas – sattva, rajas, and tamas. Our personality and mind are governed by these gunas.
Sattva is light. When sattva is dominant, we know what is right and wrong and we live up to our commitments. We must always be aware so as to not let rajas or tamas take over. Balance is needed. The inclination to dharma, spirituality, and obligations with a right attitude is sattvic. There are ways to create sattva. Swadhyaya (study of the Self), exercise (hatha yoga), pranayama, mantra and meditation all remove tamas.
Rajas gives movement to sattva and tamas. They are alive because of rajas. Sometimes rajas or tamas is dominant in us. Sattva doesn’t tend to stay long. When sattva is dominant, we make good decisions and lots of commitments. Then tamas takes over and we don’t follow through on our good intentions. With too much rajas we are too active and have too much hyper energy. Rajas has to be brought under control so we are not all over the place with a scattered mind. When dominated by tamas, we are dull with no inclination, no self-respect, no divinity, no confidence and are full of inertia, tiredness and sloth. The gunas have colors too. Black is tamas, red is rajas, and white is sattva. When the mind is black and we don’t know what to do, that is tamas.
Food is also sattvic, rajasic and tamasic. Yoga science talks a great deal about food. We have prana because we eat. What kind of food should we eat if we are on the path of spirituality, of Self realization? Meat is heavy, full of tamas and a person gets the tendencies of the animal they eat. Tamas is hard to digest and too heavy. Rajasic foods like garlic and onion make a person hyper and too active. When someone is doing a special practice they often stay away from garlic and onions because they want to be stable and grounded. Sattvic foods such as greens, milk and ghee are very light. Food that can be digested easily is always sattvic. The quality of food is the quality of mind, which is then quality of the body.
Food is affected by the vibration of the person and the environment in which it was made. If a person is angry and thinking vengeful thoughts while cooking, they are giving that subtle energy to the food. Whoever eats it will of course be affected. Thinking sattvic thoughts while cooking will impart that energy to the food. When we eat with awareness, we keep the sattvic guna dominant. We can make the same dish for a week and it will taste different each time because of our mood. We don’t have to quit eating certain foods, like for instance garlic and onion. With a correct state of mind, we can eat and still balance them.
Silence is critical. We need to pay attention when we eat. The state of mind in which we eat makes a difference. Chew each bite 32 times. Don’t talk. The awareness with which we chew our food makes the difference. We need the right atmosphere and environment in which we cook and eat our food. If a person eats pizza while changing the channels on TV, the body has eaten pizza without any awareness and has eaten too much. All things have to be noticed, brought into our awareness.
Prayer helps to create the sattvic guna. We offer our food to the Lord and then take prasad. With awareness, we can take away the negative energy to a great degree.
Yoga science and Ayurveda tell us to make sure the right nostril is open before eating because it activates the digestive system. Sit straight to eat and open the right nostril. The solar energy in the right nostril and right side of the body will help you digest your food easily. Opening the right nostril is also good when working on a project. Your mind is kept one pointed and centered when the right nostril is open.
These are simple observances that one could do to create a conducive environment to one’s sadhana, the path of spirituality.
Abhyasa means practice, a continuous effort to purify oneself for the aim of Self-realization. According to the Bhagavad Gita, abhyasa and vairagya go side by side, as though they are two sides of the same coin. As Lord says:
Abhyasenatu kauntyeya vairagyenatu cha grihyate
“Twin wings of the soul – Abhyasa and Vairagya”
Shri Swami Rama
Yogaha karmasu koshalam. Become a yogi who performs his or her actions skillfully. Become a jnana yogi who burns all the karmas they have done in the fire of knowledge, jnana agni. Arjuna tells Krishna, ‘what you are saying is very hard. It is like you are asking me to catch the wind. How is it possible?’
Krishna says it is possible through abhyasa (practice) with vairagya (non-attachment). Practice with non-attachment and it is possible to gain the knowledge that is given to you. Vairagya is the philosophy of non-attachment and abhyasa is constant practice. We must do our abhyasa with vairagya because attachments create sorrow and pain.
We do not know the nature of things because attachment creates a curtain between us and buddhi. Purusha means the Lord in everybody’s heart. The Purusha knows everything we do. Once karmas are done with surrender and devotion, without any expectation, then Krishna takes care of the devotees. He gives them whatever they need in life and purifies them. It is Lord’s duty to give us liberation once we have surrendered ourselves.
Krishna says, ‘I am everywhere, unmanifest and manifest. You cannot get moksha without coming to me, so think of me all the time’. Nitya means all the time, with devotion. ‘Connect your mind onto me. One who has connected their mind to me, they come to me’, says Krishna.
We can work with this every day. Do we get irritated by red lights if we are late? When we leave work and haven’t finished our work for the day, our mood is not so great. How many files of irritation and anger do we bring home with the mind? If we leave all the files in the office, we could be free when we come home. Deal with problems with full capacity, with full mind but do not carry problems along. Be free.
If a person is eating, it helps to just think of the food with a free mind. That is how one should practice living life and being aware of the Lord within. See the presence of the Lord within each and every thing. Everything is governed by the Lord and we are a part of the universe. We need to do our actions and surrender them. Once we have done our actions we will receive a fruit, a result. We cannot escape this. When we perform our actions with full duty, full capacity, full mind, with an awareness of the Lord, we will see the results will always be positive and conducive.
With yoga, we can come to have the skill to perform all our actions in a way that we do not get caught by them. We will not create misery and pain and they will not affect us. We still remain happy, keep our calm frame of mind, do not lose our temper or get emotional. It is possible to keep that joy within while we are dealing with the real world, performing our duties, our dharma. That is yoga. Yoga means that which brings something into balance, creating a balance in daily life.
This is yogaha karmasu koshalam –
skillfulness in all action is yoga.
When we are in peace, harmony and bliss, we can go anywhere. When we want to show anger to somebody, we can show anger. We can create anything in the external world and remain centered because we are not affected. It may look as though we are very mad, but actually we are not. We act because there is a need. That is how the yogis work. Swami Rama was sometimes very angry at someone but he created it for a purpose and was not affected by it. When that was done, if he had to make somebody laugh, he did that in the next moment.
This is yogaha karmasu koshalam – freedom from the bondage of karma. For this freedom and control, we need preparation. Arjuna was taught exactly what to do.
Yoga means to gather or put together. Yuj is the Sanskrit word for yoga. Yoga is to gather what we need to sustain us in this lifetime. Kshema is to protect what we have gathered. Let’s say we make ten dollars. We have to put it somewhere we won’t lose it. If we lose it, what is the point of making it? That is why we have banks, pockets and wallets. What we earn, we must protect so when we need it, e have it. Something we gather is yoga. Kshema is where we save it. Yoga means to gather what we need for our spiritual path. Kshema means to protect it so it is available to us when we need it.
Lord Krishna says, ‘I provide yoga and kshema to one who thinks of me. I provide to one who thinks of me all the time without a second, who worships me, who surrenders him or herself to me, who performs an action and gives it to me. I always provide yoga and kshema for them’. The way this happens in the world is some forces will be working in our favor. We will be happy. People will think how everything seems to work for us. When everything works for us, it means we have the blessings of the Lord. If something doesn’t work or we have a hard time to get it, it means something is missing.
The definition of abhyasa in yoga is practice. Patanjali says in his Yoga Sutras that the definition of abhyasa is when you maintain your level of achievement and do not fall back. If a person comes to yoga class for one month, they could be very flexible. When they quit for a week and come back, the body is stiff again. Abhyasa is practicing consistently and also maintaining the level of attainment.
Do abhyasa with vairagya. Vairagya is non-attachment. Say a person is in a hatha yoga class and teacher asks them to apply vairagya when doing hatha yoga. We are attached to ideas about ourselves. The teacher says ‘do a forward bend. Raise your hands, then come down’. Lots of people have hard time reaching the floor. Why? They think they are stiff, they are afraid they are going to hurt their back so they cannot do it. They are attached to all of those ideas. With non-attachment, we can let thoughts and resistance go. Attachment to the body shows up as fear of hurting it. Vairagya. Abhyasa. Do hatha yoga with vairagya and let go of your resistance and fear.
The blessed Lord says that we have to perform our dharma, our actions. We have to be a yogi, meaning one who has learned to perform actions without being affected by them. Yogaha karmasu koshalam (skillfulness in action) is when we act on behalf of the Lord. We do not react. That is the skill. Is it best for me to act now or later? To say something or not? To remain calm or go away from here? If someone comes in very mad at me, can I listen to him or her with a peaceful mind? It is a practice to do this. It may be very hard but it is possible.
Swami Rama of the Himalayas always says that 50% of our unhappiness is created by the mind. We create it for ourselves even though we don’t want to be unhappy. We do not know that unconsciously, unknowingly, we are creating unhappiness for ourselves. That is the truth. Nobody comes and makes us happy. Nobody comes and makes us unhappy. The real happiness is within.
We can make ourselves happy and we do make ourselves unhappy. Peace of mind is not outside. We search from one place to the other and are never satisfied with what we get. We may be happy momentarily or receive some kind of satisfaction but later on we find that it wasn’t what we were looking for. One day we depart this life and the cycle goes on and on. We come here, live our life and suffer turmoil, then we go and we come again. We are never free because we have not discovered that inner happiness, peace, shantih, and liberation.
The moment we apply a principle, the mind resists because it has a set pattern that we have established. We have to face the resistance. Face it. Hardship can be thought of in a positive manner as purification then we will not feel we are going through a rough time. A saint says to his students, ‘whenever a rough time comes, I thank the Lord for giving me the opportunity to check myself where I stand, to purify myself and see how much strength I have’. Rough times will build our strength if faced with a positive manner. They will not make us miserable; they will make us saintly.
A goldsmith puts gold into the fire and keeps it in there awhile. When it comes out, it shines. Being in the fire is very painful, but afterwards, when we come out, we will shine. We will receive peace, happiness and bliss, unexplainable joy and happiness. When we go through problems it is a good idea to increase our practice, launch on the spiritual path and apply these principles in life.
Many people I know read the Gita every day. That is their sadhana, their spiritual practice. Some samskaras are erased simply by repeating the verses, whether they know the meaning or not. Everything we do from morning to evening leaves an imprint on our mind. These imprints stay buried there and manifest later. No one can predict which way they will come and in what form. That is how our personality and thinking and behavior are shaped. By reading the Bhagavad Gita every day, we create divine samskaras in our mind.
The last moment of life is the key. All the scriptures say that life is very precious, very important. All this we are doing is a preparation for the last moment, the last second of our life. That is the moment we make our destiny for the next lifetime. Some people ask ‘if that is the moment, then why am I struggling, why do I have to do this all? Why do I have to meditate, why do I have to do these practices and read this and read that? I will think good things about myself and make the change, right at that last moment’. It does not work that way. At the last minute, there is so much emotion and memories that it is very painful. We have to prepare ourselves by purification.
We don’t have time to live two kinds of life, to have our meditative life separate from our real world life. That is why people live with confusion. Humans have been given buddhi, intellect. The buddhi is a tool that makes us capable to think. Because of thinking, we have the power to choose our destiny and the power to come out from the cycle of pain and misery and sorrow. Making a bridge between our meditative life and our daily life will mean that our meditative life affects our daily life and makes it smoother.
We see the purpose of life and understand the nature of ourselves and objects. Objects are there and we are here and there is a process in between. We do not take objects as ourselves. We can understand the Gita by meditating, making ourselves open, and surrendering.
Adhyatma Nitya means one who is always pursuing the spiritual path and always having thoughts that are conducive for the path of spirituality. Nitya means at all times. Adhyatma means spirituality. We have control over kama (desires) that hold us back and we become better human beings. A human is one with a clear mind who has begun walking on the path of spirituality, regardless of whether they reach to the final goal or not. Once someone asked a question of Swami Veda – ‘of all the people you are teaching, how many will reach the final goal?’ He replied ‘that’s not the point’. The point is that we have started walking on the path of spirituality. It is our dharma.
If a human being in this lifetime has not walked a step, they have wasted this life. Once we have started walking, we are bound to reach the destination. If we are just sitting, we cannot reach anywhere. Within our capacity, with a one pointed mind, we need keep that awareness, walk at our own pace and we will reach. These stories are here to tell us why it is important for human beings to walk on the path of spirituality. That is the real goal. With our effort, we will reach liberation today, tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow.
We need emotional purification because we all have many blocks. We understand many things but when we really need wisdom in our lives, it is gone. We find ourselves helpless and confused because the flow of knowledge is blocked.
Krishna tells Arjuna to fight with vigatah jwarah, without being feverish, without anger, without being emotionally involved. When we remove anger, there is no need to fight. Swami Veda constantly emphasizes perennial psychology and emotional purification because we all have mental blocks. We are blocked because we have not done enough emotional purification.
If a lion sits in the middle of the forest and waits for deer to come to him, he will starve. In order to have food, he has to make some effort, to catch them. We too have to make the effort when we are in the middle of the battlefield. Each of us have our battles, our struggles. There is a natural need or tendency in every human being to search for the peace, happiness and bliss which is everlasting. In the world, we can buy so called happiness, which may make us happy for a day or a week but when we come back to our own nature, we find that type of happiness does not change us.
The sages say anandas are of two types. One involves sensory pleasures and the other is found in the deep experience of meditation. Ananda from sense pleasure is temporary. It comes today and goes tomorrow. It increases on holidays and decreases on days we are at work; it comes with happiness and goes with pain. The deep ananda that arises within stays forever, always increases and gives us confidence and strength.
Most of us misunderstand the word liberation. Final liberation is not an overnight thing. We have to work towards it. Before final liberation comes, we must go through many sub-liberations. We need to free ourselves from the enemies we have created within ourselves, from resistance, from our negative emotions that take us away from our real goal in life.
We are pure beings. We need liberation from the emotions that cover the purity of our mind, of our heart. We need liberation from doubts in order to have a free and very clear mind with an intuition that always guides us. Then we will know what is the right thing to do in each step we take in life. The Gita tells us the art of life, the nature of human beings, personality, psychology and the mind. The theory is given then we experience that theory in life. With this knowledge, we won’t be afraid or create commotion in life.
Swami Veda clearly says that he would like to see us act, not react. Acting is the action we are supposed to do, at that moment. When we cultivate ourselves, that is action. Reaction is when we are influenced by the situation and are confused. Reaction means that the power of certain circumstances comes into our mind. If I am mad at you, if you act, you won’t get mad back at me. If you react, you will shout exactly the same way because you have taken my anger. You will answer with the same angry manner if you react.
When we act, we keep ourselves calm and centered and do not get affected by another’s anger. A person who has not cultivated him or herself allows a situation to make them angry or agitated. The same situation with the same intensity makes a yogi laugh. A yogi means a person who has cultivated him or herself, who acts, not reacts.
When we keep a situation in our mind all night, we poison ourselves. We ruin our sleep, our evening and cannot act. We don’t have a good reason for reacting the way we did. The buddhi has shut down. Buddhi is the finest portion of our mind and is clear crystal, a mirror. The individual Self constantly reflects on the mirror of the buddhi.
Moha means attachment. We need to develop non-attachment to conquer attachment. Non-attachment does not mean we leave and don’t get involved. Getting more involved without getting attached is non-attachment. Our emotions do not get involved. Doctors treat a patient but do not take on the pain of the patient. We have to detach ourselves. The moment we get emotionally involved, it blocks our capacity, clarity and intuition because emotions cloud the mind.
Swamiji gives the definition of love in the Bhagavad Gita. We say ‘I love this person, I love you, I love that’ but it is an expression of our selfishness. There is love because there is some kind of expectation in return. Non-attachment means we are involved and do not expect anything in return. We just do for the sake of others. The moment we do a good thing, we must forget it because otherwise it creates an expectation in our mind.
Attachment creates anger, hatred, and jealousy. Desires come because of attachment. The moment there are desires, there is krodha (anger) if the desires are not fulfilled. When we get angry, the mind, the buddhi, shuts down and we do not know right from wrong. When the buddhi shuts down, a person cannot make right decisions. They are totally helpless.
We love our spouse because we have some emotional tie and we expect something, one way or the other. If our expectation of them is not fulfilled, are we as loving and kind towards them exactly the same way as yesterday when our expectation was fulfilled? No, our mood will change. Why? There was some motive or expectation involved with love. That is love also but it is not a pure love. It is love based with attachment, it is a love that creates pain. Love never creates pain if it is pure but love without attachment is not easy. True love makes you free it never binds.
Is a mother’s love for the neighbor’s child exactly the same as for her own? If the other child has eaten, she doesn’t care the same way as if her child has not eaten. If she has the same feeling for the child next door, that will be love, it will be non-attachment, because there is no expectation of anything in return.
Saintly people love everyone the same equally, whether they know us or not. They don’t receive anything from us yet they love us the same. Once there are no expectations a person is able to do more and more because they are not held back by expectations. We give as much as we can within our capacity, with nothing holding us back or blocking us.
We misunderstand the word discipline when we associate it with torture and self-deprivation. Discipline is where we make a commitment to achieve our purpose in life. Organizing a plan in a very systematic way and then following it with honesty is discipline. In the path of sadhana or spirituality, one must make a commitment to oneself and do only the things that are conducive to reaching the goal. Being careful with things that are not conducive is discipline. Discipline is a constant self-examination to our commitment for Self-realization.
Discipline makes us a disciple, which means one who has given her or himself to be disciplined for Self-realization. When we work, discipline and purify ourselves, one day we will see we are now open for the teachings.
Atha yoganu shasanam – now yoga discipline begins. Yoga is not a torture, bending your body and not eating this or that and getting up early and doing hatha yoga. If we really fall in love with our practice, it is so blissful that no money in the world could buy the joy it brings to us.
We have a great opportunity to use the tools of meditation and mantra. When we are aware of our mantra, are in the presence of our own mantra, no foreign objects can attack us. We are completely covered by our mantra. When we meditate, we cover ourselves with our shawl. It is symbolic because it gives us a feeling of protection, like there is a boundary. Wind will not penetrate because we are wearing the shawl of our mantra. We do not react to people when we wear the shawl of our mantra.
The person who was reacting will stop because your presence is so strong they will be affected in a positive way too. We are affected whenever a saint passes by. We go to them to experience the presence of a cultivated saint. When with them, we still only see them at our own level but they have such a presence that we benefit.
When we go to a sacred place or shrine it gives us something we don’t get in other places. Their presence is such that we are affected. As we too reach to a new height, we influence people who come to us in an agitated manner. We remain steady in those principles, with a calm and one pointed mind and awareness.
Liberation has many meanings. Liberation does not mean that we just leave the world or the body. The Gita can help us with our turmoil and unhappiness and problems we have in daily life. We have boundaries and limitations. The mind has become narrow. We have a narrow mind because our thinking has not been expanded. Our ideas are a certain way, because we do not understand. All the answers for our liberation are written in the Bhagavad Gita.
Glossary of Sanskrit Terms
Abhyasa – practice, the endeavor to make the mind stable; twin with vairagya
Adhyatma – spirituality
Adhyatma Nitya- one who is always pursuing the spiritual path and always having thoughts that are conducive for the path of spirituality
Amrita – nectar of immortality
Ananda – joy
Ari shadvarga – six negative emotions
Arjuna – represents a qualified student
Asana – seat, posture, 3rd limb of yoga
Atha yoganu shasanam – now yoga discipline begins
Atman – the spiritual Self
Bhagavad – divine
Buddhi – faculty of intelligence, intuitive wisdom and discrimination in the mind
Dharma – right action, moral character, our duty in life
Dharmakshetra – Kshetra – field, Dharma – right action
Gita – song
Gunas – the 3 gunas are attributes of prakriti, they are tamas, rajas and sattva
Hatha yoga – yoga postures or asanas
Kama – desire, 1st of the 6 negative emotions and root of other 5
Karma – any action we do, imprint of all previous actions (mentally, by speech or physically)
Karmana – by action, here refers to practicing yamas and niyamas in thought, speech and action
Krishna – represents the inner teacher
Kriya – activity, process, operations of active senses
Kriyamana karmas – karmas that we are performing at present
Krodha – anger or hatred, 2nd negative emotion
Kshema – to protect what we have gathered
Kurukshetra – Kshetra – field, Kuru – to do. Field where we perform our actions in life.
Lobha – greed, 3rd negative emotion
Mada – pride, 5th negative emotion
Manasa – mind, mental
Matsara – small mindedness, jealousy, 6th negative emotion
Moha – attachment, 4th negative emotion
Nitya – at all times
Niyama – austerities, stability, restraint, control; 2nd limb of yoga
Prana – vital energy or life force in any living being, regulated by the fivefold pranas
Pranayama – breath and prana control; expansion of prana, 4th limb of yoga
Prarabdha karma – karmas that have already begun to bear fruit
Prasad – food purified by offering to the Lord
Purusha – Lord, or spiritual Self
Rajas – activity, endeavor, energy, movement, one of the 3 gunas
Sadhana – spiritual path of yoga
Samadhi – spiritual absorption; defined in 1st chapter of Yoga Sutras; state of equilibrium in the mind where all questions resolved and the vrittis have come under control, 8th limb of yoga
Samatwa buddhi – equilibrium in the higher mind
Samskara – subtle impressions left in the mind from past thoughts, speech and action; samskaras give momentum to the mind in this life and impel us into cycle of birth and rebirth
Sanchitta karmas – karmas that have been stored in the unconscious mind
Sankalpa – resolve in the mind
Satsang – company of the like minded, of the saintly
Sattvic/ sattva – one of the 3 gunas, state of purity, luminosity, lightness and harmony
Shantih – inner peace
Sthita-prajna – one who remains in samadhi
Swadhyaya – study of scriptures and Self study leading to liberation, japa, 4th niyama
Tamas – one of the 3 gunas; state of stability, stagnation, dullness, inertia, darkness, stupor
Vairagya – dispassion, control over desire for pleasures; twin with abhyasa
Vasana – strong imprint (samskara) or coloring left in the mind that gives it momentum
Vacha – by speech
Vigatah jwarah – without fever; free from anger
Yoga – samadhi, union, to join, from root yuj; yoga is that nirodha which leads to the seer’s remaining in his or her own nature totally and permanently
Yogaha karmasu kaushalam – skillfulness in all actions, in daily life
Yuj – yoke, join, yoga
Contact: Lynn Fraser [email protected]