Krishna The Wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita The Bhagavad Gita A great summary of the Hindu vision of reality. Nevertheless, its message is timeless and universal and transcends all religion. The Bhagavad Gita The English title might be translated as “Song of the Blessed One” or “Song of the Adorable One.” The adorable one is Lord Krishna, who is God in human form, and the song is his teaching to humanity. In many ways the Gita is to Hindus what the Gospels are to Christians. What the Gita is about The teaching of the Gita emerges from a battlefield conversation between Lord Krishna and the warrior-prince Arjuna. The war is between two royal families and is said to have taken place about 5000 years ago. What the Gita is about The long story of how this conflict came about is told in the Mahabharata, India’s vast national epic (twelve times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined, it is the longest epic poem ever written). The Bhagavad Gita is the sixth chapter. What the Gita is about Arjuna is getting ready for the battle when he sees the destruction about to be unleashed and falls into despair. He throws down his weapons and gives up just before the important battle. The Gita is mainly Krishna’s response to this evasion of Arjuna’s duty. Hindu Scriptures The scriptures start with the Vedas, the most ancient texts. The Upanishads come next. They are mystical commentaries on the Vedas, revealing their “hidden meaning” concerning the true goal of life and how to attain it. Vedanta The philosophy based on the Upanishads is known as Vedanta, and the Bhagavad Gita has been deemed “the best authority on Vedanta.” The Language of the Gita The original text was written in Sanskrit, the ancient language of India and it has now been translated into most languages, even Yiddish! Sanskrit Sanskrit is regarded as a sacred language, and its sound is held to have a powerful transforming effect. The Gita is usually recited as a chant, and listening to it is considered uplifting even if one doesn’t understand the words. Interpreting the Gita Numerous commentaries have been written on the Gita and many of them emphasize different aspects of its meaning. Scholars debate, as they do with all of the world’s scriptures now, its true message and meaning. Interpreting the Gita A traditional view holds that the different emphases in the Gita are not disagreeing with each other but rather looking at different facets of the same gem. As the Vedas state, truth is ever the same, though the wise speak of it in various ways. Interpreting the Gita The great modern sage Sri Aurobindo advises us not to be overly concerned with how the Gita was understood in the past, but that we should extract from it the living truths that meet our own spiritual needs, for the Gita’s spirit is large, profound, universal, and timeless. The Avatar Krishna is an Avatar. The Avatar, who is God directly “descended” into human form, appears on earth periodically-in different forms, under different names, in different parts of the world-to restore truth in the world and to shower grace on the lovers of God. The Avatar In the Vedic tradition, Krishna is worshipped as an Avatar of Vishnu, that aspect of the one indivisible God which preserves and protects the creation. Many people regard Krishna as a universal savior comparable to (or even identical with) such world teachers as Christ and Buddha. Krishna In the Gita, Krishna is a companion and teacher, as well as the god who commands devotion. Krishna is the incarnation of cosmic power who periodically descends to earth to accomplish the restoration of order in times of chaos. Historicity Aurobindo comments that to the spiritual aspirant, controversies over historicity are a waste of time: the Krishna who matters to us is the eternal incarnation of the divine that we know by inner experience, not the historical teacher and leader. Historicity For his lovers, Lord Krishna is a living reality whose companionship is possible to experience here and now, as devotees of all times will attest. The Divine beloved is always with us and within us, because God is our own Self. Five Points to Facilitate Understanding 1. The dialogue it tells about and the battle it describes is a metaphor for the journey of every soul. We all must have this dialogue between the self that is in the world and our deeper, truer self that is the divine spark in us. Second Point 2. “Each of us contains the doubting, despairing, potentially brave and illumined human being (Arjuna) and the mystery of Krishna (the eternal Divine Self) hidden behind all the veils of our psyche and mind.” Third Point 3. We must approach a study of a text like this in the manner of a medieval monk doing Lectio Divina. That is, we most approach it not as a text to tackle and finish, but as a poem to meditate and reflect on. In other words, the Gita is a wisdom document. Fourth Point 4. Do not let the discussion of the different Hindu Yogas lead to a debate about which yoga is better, for that would be to miss the point: Any and all yoga is to lead to union with God. Fourth Point 4. “The full truth is that the Gita embodies and celebrates a permanently radical fusion of all the traditional Hindu approaches to the Divine in a vision of what the full human divine being should and must be.” Fourth Point 4. “Philosophical analysis, practical discipline, metaphysical knowledge, and devotion are not mutually exclusive methods, but aspects of a comprehensive approach to the human dilemma of living in a transient, chaotic world.” Fourth Point 4. “These different yogas in the Gita are fused into a vision that combines and transcends them all to offer human beings the richest and most complete way of being and acting in the world with divine truth, wisdom, and effectiveness.” Fifth Point 5. It is important to read the Gita as if it was written for today’s world and today’s problems. Then it will become relevant and meaningful to the person who is reading it. Example: Gandhi based much of his movement on the Gita. The Battle The Gita describes a battle. And surely the world is in a battle today, “a battle whose outcome will determine the fate of the planet.” The Battle “In the Bhagavad Gita, those who long to know how to fight wisely for the future will find a handbook of spiritual warriorhood and divine realization that will constantly inspire and ennoble them and infuse them with divine truth and sacred passion.” Mystical Activism “An activism that is not fed by mystical wisdom and stamina will wither in the fire of persistent and persistently exhausting disappointment and defeat and tend to create as many new problems as those it tries to solve.” Mystical Activism “Only the highest spiritual wisdom and tireless sacred passion for all of life united with pragmatic, radical action on all possible fronts can now help us preserve the planet.” Core Message 1. We must not give into depression and despair. Through spiritual practice and wisdom we can face the battle of our lives in a world desperate for love and healing. Core Message 2. We are encouraged to realize our own union with the divine because that is the main source of our hope and strength. Without this experience of union we are just “believers,” and we have only to look around us to see the damage done by a world full of believers. Core Message 3. The Gita teaches the importance of “letting go and letting God.” That is we are to give up our attachment to our own plans and success and to our own need to feel important and to be of service for less than holy reasons. Core Message 3. The goal is not to be “doing God’s work,” but to let God work in and through us. Thomas Keating teaches that contemplative service is “God in us serving God in others.” Core Message 4. The lesson of letting go will teach us the final mystery, “a final mystery of divine love that will fill your whole being with a permanent sober ecstasy-an ecstasy that arises from the awareness that you and all beings are loved by God with deathless and unconditional love.” Devotion In the Gita devotion is a discipline (bhaktiyoga) involving the performance of disciplined action (karmayoga) without personal attachment and with dedication of the fruits to Krishna. Devotion “This devotion enables one to engage actively in the world and still have spiritual freedom. Through devotion the self expands toward the infinite and the infinite is brought to a conceivable human scale.” The Human Self “The Gita talks about three types of attributes found in humans: inertia, energy, and clarity. In human beings, lazy people are plagued with inertia, hyperactive people with energy, and intelligent, even-keeled people are blessed with clarity.” The Human Self “Krishna uses these three qualities to outline a developmental model of the self. Sloth should be countered by energy, and energy-the shadow side of which is a tendency to fly off the handleshould be monitored by clear-eyed intelligence.” The Four Yogas “The yogas, which are four in number, have proven to be so astute in their analysis of differing spiritual temperaments-Carl Jung adapted his four psychological types from them-that they now belong to the world.” Jnana Yoga “Reflective persons (jnana yogis) advance toward God by knowing him, but it is important to realize that the kind of knowing involved is an intuitive discernment that is more like seeing than thinking.” Bhakti Yoga “Affective persons (bhakti yogis), who live more in their hearts than in their heads, draw close to God by loving him. Karma Yoga “ Wired with energy, active people (karma yogis) advance toward God by serving him.” Raja Yoga “ Those with an aptitude for meditation (raja yogis) realize God by that route.” Integral Yoga Integral Yoga is a new form of yoga that combines all four together in a model somewhat like cross training in athletics. The idea would be to work with the different yogas at different times depending on which was most needed. Integral Yoga Integral Yoga demonstrates that the combining of different practices in an intelligent and sensitive manner contributes to faster growth and development in the human being than any single yoga can provide on its own. The Relativity of Values The relativity of values is sometimes difficult for Westerners to grasp because we have been raised on the values of universality and egalitarianism. Theoretically, right and wrong are not absolute in the Hindu system. The Relativity of Values Practically, right and wrong are decided according to the categories of social rank, kinship, and stage of life. Unfortunately, we are familiar with this idea in only its distorted form as the caste system, which we rightly reject. The Relativity of Values But the wisdom behind the caste system is the recognition that we all have different gifts and temperaments and our morals are based on how we can best live out our potential. What might work for one person could be the exact opposite for someone else.