Friday, March 22, 2013

What I learned from reading the Bhagavad Gita

By Arin Farrington
 I recently re-read the Bhagavad Gita. It is the fourth re-read in 15 years but this time with a different translation. This go around, I found myself reeling from the depth of wisdom, scope of matter, and sheer force of the book. My conclusion is that with every new read, further insight will be presented to the reader and one will come to understand the text more and more.

The Bhagavad Gita is one of mankind's greatest philosophical achievements. And although we are in a different era than it was written, the message and lessons continue to be relevant in this day and age. I wondered while reading it, "does human nature really evolve?" Perhaps for those who read with an open mind and pure devotional heart and absorb the teachings of the Gita and other sacred Hindu texts such as the Yoga Sutras, the Vedas and Upanishads.

The Gita in particular takes the reader deep into his/her very humanness and provides tools for ethical living and eventual evolution. Just as we, as thoughtful human beings, confront our dilemmas and choices, Arjuna hesitated and questioned his role before launching into a battle that led to devastation and destruction. With Krishna’s guidance Arjuna comes to terms with his own nature and most importantly his dharma, or individual responsibility. Arjuna, as a member of the Kshatriya or warrior caste, and as an instrument of the divine, must follow the law of his inner being which has been determined by the actions of all past lives.

The 18 chapters of the Gita, placed in the middle of the much longer epic, Mahabharata, introduce the reader to the main tenets of yoga in action: what it means to practice yoga on all levels. The yogi attempts to “yoke” his/her individual body, mind and spirit self with the divine or greater Self (Atman), which is part of the Universal Self (Brahman, or Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute).  The Gita provides important tools for this purpose! So while we practice asana and pranayama (Hatha yoga) to prepare for Raja yoga, and learn the yoga teachings (Jnana yoga), we are engaging in a form of Karma yoga, all of which are in turn Bhakti yoga, in that the true practitioner is acting in a devotional manner. All yoga can lead to Samadhi (total bliss) resulting from utter concentration and detachment from sense objects.

In Samadhi we may realize one of the Gita’s most important revelations: that we all are One. All actions, all thoughts, all beings are connected; all are minute pieces of the much greater whole. Brahman is within us! The godhead is an ocean which refuses no river. Interestingly enough, this idea echoes throughout history: from the sacred text of Buddhism (the Diamond and Lotus Sutras), the writings of innumerable philosophers (Plato to San Augustine to Hegel), to psychiatry (Jung's concept of “synchronicity” hinges on belief in the ultimate "Oneness" of the universe), and science. For example, in modern physics, the four dimensional space-time concept of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity also exhibits Oneness, which in Stephen Hawking’s words is: “Space and time not only affect, but also are affected by, everything that happens in the universe.”

In our daily and mostly unexamined lives we mostly live in darkness, maya, brought about by Prakriti, or base nature. We are unable or unwilling to lift the veil of ignorance (avidya) and recognize the true state of things. There is a right path of action (dharma) which creates equilibrium when discovered and embraced. We are all the product of the actions in past lives and these determine our balance of gunas.

Recognizing how the three gunas (rajas, sattva and tamas) combine to influence the way we live is an important step in creating balance. If rajasic, one may be driven by lust and passions that lead to attachment and anger and can poison the chance for liberation and happiness.  If tamasic, one may welcome delusion and may be too lazy to work towards ones best interest. Only in a sattvic state can we be truly peaceful and balanced. The three gunas are reflected in the way we think and act, including what we eat and how we speak. To break the cycle of death and rebirth on the wheel of Samsara, our actions (Karma) must be conscious, but not predicated on the results.

There is a universe of potent ideas, significance and meaning in the Gita, most of which I am sure I have not even fully grasped! For example, in Chapter 11 when Krishna reveals to Arjuna his true form through temporary divine sight, I too am overwhelmed by what I begin to see in the Gita. Unlike Arjuna, I am not terrified. The Gita is a tremendous guide for a peaceful, healthy and liberated life and most certainly a life-long study.

Arin Farrington will graduate from the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi 200-hour teaching training in May and hopes to continue with the LOAY 500-hour training this fall. She currently lives in Mexico City, where she is a university professor and freelance writer. Fifteen years ago, a doctor advised yoga for back pain (from poor alignment), and she never looked back—or suffered back pain again. Over the years, she has practiced varied styles and studied with different teachers, all of which have led to Sri Dharma Mittra.

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