You’ll be holding the railing on bart and looking at your inbox, walking down 24th street on the phone with your mom or in Whole Foods in front on the bulk bins and you’ll have to make a decision. The decision will feel very important or maybe it won’t. The decision will end up affecting your whole life or maybe it won’t and you’ll remember this moment for the rest of your life or maybe you’ll forget about it by Sunday. Lives are made by decisions. Well thought out decisions, rash decisions, dissected, split second and decisions which are made by never being decided.
The Bhagavad Gita is a part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata and is 700 verses set on a battlefield in the moments of indecision before a shot is fired. The Pandavas (the “good”guys) and the Kauravas (the “bad” guys) are face-to-face, bow and arrows in hand and the leader of the Pandavas, Arjuna, seems to freeze time with his doubt.
“Standing there, Arjuna saw in both armies: uncles, grandfathers, teachers, cousins, sons, grandsons, comrades, father in law and friends. On seeing his friends and relatives positioned on both sides, Arjuna was overcome with pity and said “Oh Krishna my limbs fail me, my mouth is parched, my body is shaking and my hair stands on end seeing my relatives here and anxious to fight.” His bow fell from his hand. “My skin is burning, I can’t keep standing, and my mind seems to be reeling….” (1:28-30) Arjuna finishes by recounting the tremendous suffering that war causes and asserts that he would rather be killed then to begin the battle and retreats to his chariot.
It’s then that Krishna comes to speak to him. Krishna is the spark of divinity present in everyone. Later on he says, “I am the true Self in the heart of all creatures. I am their beginning, middle and end…whenever you see anything beautiful, powerful or prosperous, know that this arose from a spark of my effulgence.” (10:41)
Arjuna asks Krishna what so many of us, pulled down to our knees in agony have asked. “What am I supposed to do?” Specifically, he questions his dharma or duty. Krishna answers by talking about Arjuna’s soul, or Self. “Weapons do not affect the self; fire does not burn it, water does not wet it, wind does not dry it. The Self cannot be pierced or cut. It is endless, all pervading, stable, immovable and everlasting….this Self, which exists in everyone, the indweller, is invulnerable.“(2:23-24)
At first, it’s hard to see how Krishna is answering Arjuna’s question. Arjuna is asking what he should do in a very specific moment- (should I go to battle or not?) and Krishna seems to be glossing over the answer by talking about his soul, but he is actually showing us a new lens by which to make decisions. Krishna says the material, physical world is always changing and if we base our decisions on things that are impermanent we will be constantly thrown around by the winds of fate. In order to find stability, we must be able to find equanimity in both pleasant and unpleasant sensory experiences. Basically, because we cannot control the sensory world, it’s silly to base our happiness on it. If you base your happiness on tamari cashews from Whole Foods, what happens when they’re out of stock? If you base your happiness on your partner, or job, or bank account what happens when those realities shift? Instead, we should focus our minds and our work on that which is permanent- our soul.
In order to uncover our souls, we must find equanimity and in order to find equanimity we must train the mind to stay centered through the constantly changing material world. And how do we do that? By focusing on what doesn’t change, which is, of course, the soul. According to the Gita, our Dharma is so much deeper than our duty or work or designated roles, so much more than being a solider or sister or father or wife or an IT specialist or yoga teacher.
Our Dharma is the work of uncovering our soul. Uncovering the soul is different for everyone. Some people find it in books, or faith, or love, or meditation or walking through a field at 5am or service or the family dog, or staring at the sunset or playing the perfect 5 notes on the piano. Many of us find it like Arjuna, on our knees in something close enough to prayer, begging for answers from whoever is closest. According to the Gita, these are the moments when it’s most important that we stay.
These moments can be an opportunity to unravel our egos and find ourselves. Retreating can look like going back to the chariot or like looking at your iphone or like closing the door and every time we retreat we lose an opportunity to connect and connection almost always comes right after the awkward, painful, scary part- right at the part where we feel the most vulnerable and alone.
The Gita tells us when we’re deciding to go into battle or to write that email or to reach across the table the take his hand, we should consider first our soul. Does this uncover my soul? Of course, the mind is loudest during times of uncertainly but the Gita asks us to listen a little deeper in order to hear the call of the soul. Literally translated the The Bhagavad Gita is just that- the “Song of the Soul.” At one point, Arjuna asks Krishna- how do I find you? How do I find my soul? Krishna answers, “ want me more than anything else.” It’s easy to get lost in the sensory world- in the painful, sexy, fearful, dreamy, annoying, ecstatic, mind-numbingly boring physical world, but ultimately the Gita asks “what do you want more than anything else?
And then comes that yoga magic. Because when you’re in pursuit of uncovering your soul- of uncovering yourself, then, only then, can you start to connect with universal soul and everybody else. And isn’t that what we’re really searching for? We seek out connection by posting our new haircut, or what we look like when we wake up or our avocado toast or the things that tear us to pieces or the things packed in our suitcases or how long we can run or the places we drink margaritas and we count up our followers and likes and it feels something like happiness but not quite. With every post, we’re asking for confirmation that we’re loved and seen and matter.
According to the Gita, this path is misguided. We are already seen and loved and matter, but seeking validation from the outside world will lead to sorrow, because it’s a distraction from real Love, or soul. The Gita says “One whose happiness is within, who is active within, who rejoices within and is illumined within, is actually the perfect mystic. He is liberated in the Supreme, and ultimately he attains the Supreme.”
In the end, Krishna boils it down to this. “Fix your mind on Me, be devoted to Me, offer service to Me, bow down to Me, and you shall certainly reach Me. I promise you because you are very dear to Me.” In the epilogue to his translation, Satchidananda boils the whole thing down to 4 words. Be good, do good.
by Amy Ruben
There is nothing like the sweet, melodic hum of prayer before dawn. The names of the divine mother tumble out of mouths and into the temple walls for all to see, hear and feel–together, in unison, all dressed in white and wrapped in shawls to escape the cool morning air. One thousand names of the divine mother are chanted, to be exact. This was how I greeted each morning while living at Amma’s ashram in Kerala, India. At the ashram, they taught us that the ideal time for spiritual practices, such as meditation and chanting, is brahma muhurta, or the period between 3:30AM and 6:00AM. During that time, sattvic (balanced) qualities are predominant in nature; the mind is clear and the body is energetic. Thus, each morning we rose at 4:30AM. At first, waking up that early seemed absurd, and I felt lethargic and sluggish throughout the day. Over time, this daily ritual began to bring me energy, alertness, and and a yearning for a richer connection to prayer, an understanding of the intention behind my daily practices, and a deeper connection to God.
The Bhagavad Gita, which translates to “The Beloved Song of God,” is a piece of the Hindu epic The Mahabharata, which takes place on a battle field. In the twelfth chapter of The Bhagavad Gita, called “The Yoga of Devotion,” Arjuna asks Krishna which devotees are better established in yoga–those who worship him in the personal or impersonal form. Rather, Arjuna is asking Krishna if it’s better to give human form, attributes and characteristics to the divine, or to see the divine as something without and beyond form. Krishna then says to Arjuna that his devotees can come to him through either path, they both are good, yet the path of worship through applying form to God is a much easier route. Krishna says, no matter which path you choose, give your whole heart to it, and don’t think of it as the only way. Krishna tells Arjuna that because we are embodied beings, and therefore limited, it’s very hard for us to imagine a realm outside of an embodied state; our minds simply can’t grasp it. For example, Amma’s devotees see Amma as the divine manifested into human form. She carries divine characteristics that are easy for us to relate to and connect with, such as limitless love, compassion, and kindness. Amma, like Krishna, tells her devotees to fix their entire minds on her and offer the fruits of their actions to her. However, Amma also says that if worshipping her doesn’t work for you, then choose another access point or path and devote yourself to it fully; there is no duality of right or wrong.
While staying at Amma’s ashram, not surprisingly, I deemed it nearly impossible to devote all of my actions and prayers towards Amma without a wavering mind. In The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says to Arjuna, “if you are not yet able to fix your mind on me, then seek to reach me by Abhyasa Yoga (regular yoga practice).” Krishna tells Arjuna to build a daily practice as a reminder to bring his wandering mind back to God.
A daily practice becomes a ritual, which quiets the mind and allows us to build a one-pointed focus on the divine. A one-pointed focus does not mean we are grasping or reaching for achievement, rather, it’s a persistent effort towards self-understanding, and a surrender of worldly attachments. Abhyasa builds on itself; the more we practice, the more we want to practice, and the faster we reach the destination of God, or your higher self. In my busy life, it’s a necessity for me to set aside time each day to purely devote myself to my practice without other distractions. The potency of a practice without distraction is invaluable; it leaks into everything that I do and the way I move in the world.
Come build your daily practice with us this month as we explore the The Bhagavad Gita!
Amy believes yoga acts as a mirror so that we can greet and tolerate our discomfort as it shows up each day, rather than turn away or react against it. Amy trusts in yoga as a daily, embodied practice. She believes that with discipline and devotion, we can awaken the tools inside of ourselves to stay present with whatever arises and begin to trust in the process as it unfolds. Amy is currently working on a Masters in Somatic Counseling Psychology. Catch a class with Amy on Monday at 10:15AM, Friday at 9:00AM, or Saturday at 8:30AM!
The beloved Song of God, the Bhagavad Gita, a piece of the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, is a story of Arjuna’s great battle between light and darkness with poetic responses from Krishna.
When I first picked up Eknath Easwaran’s translation of this epic battle, it was because I was thirsty for more spiritual words to help me remove some of the darkness I was experiencing, feeling, breathing. Yet, as I got closer and closer towards the end, I found myself feeling so much resistance to reading it; feeling completely turned off by the language of God and surrendering and praising. It stirred up all the issues I had with other organized religions I had explored in the past. As I read it again for the fourth time, I laugh at my initial resistance to the end, and other times when I’ve had moments of resistance in re-reading it.
I laugh because I can see clearly how I was standing in my own way. I laugh because I can clearly identify the moments where certain lines from the book triggered things in which I did not want to have to confront. I laugh because the book put me on the battlefield of my own light and darkness, just like Arjuna.
“Devote yourself to the disciplines of yoga, for yoga is skill in action” chapter2.49
We’ve all heard it I’m sure- the real yoga happens off the mat. And that is exactly what the Gita brings to life. It is not a book of commandments, but rather a book of choices. Krishna is that best friend you have, who no matter how many times you make the same mistake, tries to find news ways to tell you because obviously you did not hear them the last time! The Gita teaches you how to cultivate a basic detachment from pleasure and pain, allowing the individual to rise above the conditioning of life’s dualities, it teaches you how to put your yoga into practice, off the mat.
“To those who have conquered themselves, the will is a friend. But it is the enemy of those who have not found the Self within them.” Chapter 6.16. This beautiful song of God shows you how you can allow yourself the freedom to move out of your own way to step into your own divinity, your own light, your own warrior power. It is no secret that difficult conversations are …difficult… to have! But we all know they are necessary, and some of the most difficult conversations we need to have are with ourselves. Beginning to destroy our misconceptions, assumptions, and comforts/discomforts takes patience, time and skill. We can rest assured that the love of our Krishna God is always there ready to listen and counsel. We just have to be open to hearing.
“Be fearless and pure; never waver 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.” Chapter 16.1
A devoted yoga mat souljah, Minerva believes a new world is possible but it must be born from a place of love. Join her for BASICS on Tuesdays 10:45am & Saturdays 11:45am or Lotus FLOW Tuesdays/Thursdays 5:30pm, Wednesdays 7am & at Noon. Learn/Read more at www.namasteitup.com