Tag Archives: Bhagavat-gita

Feeling Guilt

By Satyanarayana Dasa

Guilt is an emotion which most of us have felt at various times in our lives. It is amazing how quickly guilt can kick in for the smallest, most meaningless things. It can be draining and depressing and can rob us of our mental peace and energy. To overcome guilt and get rid of it, we need to clearly understand why we feel guilty.

Why We Feel Guilt

Guilt is felt whenever we think we should have done something but failed to do it or should have refrained from doing something but ended up doing it. Guilt is attached to judgment. It is a hidden cultural imperative, related to fear of punishment from some authority, society or God. The imagined punishment could be corporeal or mental.  If we stick to the ideals set up in our minds and perform our duties accordingly, there is no guilt.  Any discrepancy between the concept of our ideals and our actions gives rise to the feeling of guilt, making us feel miserable and depressed.

The starting point of all guilt is in the mind. Guilt is an emotional warning sign that most people learn through their normal childhood social development. We learn it from parents, teachers and society. Its purpose is to let us know when we have done something wrong, to help us develop a better sense of our behavior and how it affects ourselves and others. It prompts us to re-examine our behavior, so that we do not end up making the same mistake twice. But more often, this purpose is not achieved. Rather we end up in frustration, grief and depression. It robs us of our vigor, vitality, health and peace of mind. Although guilt has a good purpose, if it is based upon irrational morals or standards, or if our judgment about our actions or failure to act is skewed, then it may lead to an irrational feeling of guilt.

Getting Rid of Guilt

To get rid of guilt, we need to have the proper concept of right and wrong, good and bad, moral and immoral. But many of these concepts are not absolute. What is good or moral at a certain time or place may be bad or immoral at another time or place. What is a good action for one may be a crime for another. For example, if a civilian shoots another man, he will be prosecuted, but if a policeman shoots at a murderer and protects the lives of others, he will be praised and rewarded.  There are many stories in the scriptures to illustrate this fact. Therefore, it is important to discriminate between proper and improper causes of guilt.

When you feel guilty, try to analyze the cause and see if the action/inaction was harmful to others or to yourself. Be skeptical about the guilt feeling – is it trying to teach you something rational and helpful about your behavior, or is it just an emotional, irrational response to a situation? The answer to that question will be the first step to helping you better cope with guilt in the future. Arjuna in the first chapter of Gita feels guilty about his decision to fight against his own kinsmen and becomes despondent. Krsna, however, shows that his guilt feeling is inappropriate. He argues from various angles – personal, social, and spiritual — to disprove Arjuna’s guilt feelings.

In Sanskrit, guilt is called a dosa which means that which pollutes the mind.  It is explicit in the first chapter of the Gita that guilt had polluted Arjuna’s mind and made him so weak that he became impotent, physically as well as mentally.

The purpose of atonement and confession in Hindu scriptures is to get rid of the guilt feeling so that one can engage in execution of one’s duty whole heartedly. Atonement is called prayaschitta, which literally means ”that which purifies the mind.” (Even the English word seems to mean ”to be one with oneself” (at-one-ment)). This is also one of the purposes behind scriptural statements which say that by taking bath in a holy river like Ganga, one becomes free of all sins. Confession in Christianity serves the same purpose. It helps one get rid of the guilt feeling. The feeling of guilt itself is a sin. Krishna (Gita 2.2) calls it impure (kashmalm) and hellish (asvargyam). The worst thing one can do to oneself when one feels guilty is to do nothing or to abandon one’s duty, as Arjuna did in the first chapter of Gita.

Improving our Behavior

Instead of becoming bogged down by guilt, one should learn from it. If the guilt is rational, then one should peep into one’s own heart and recognize the weakness, which led to the guilt, and then work to be stronger. Do not succumb to the weakness again (Gita 2.3). If you are feeling guilty of a wrong action, such as for eating five chocolate bars in a row, that is your conscience sending a message to you about a behavior you probably already recognize is a little extreme. Such behavior may be self-destructive and ultimately harmful to your health and well-being. So the rational purpose of this guilt is simply to try to convince you to change this behavior.

If we acknowledge the mistakes which led to our guilt, then we can go about correcting them. We should not procrastinate in improving our behavior. Healthy guilt is telling us that we need to be different and the sooner the better. Guilt feelings will return time and again unless we have learned our lesson. Like in school, we will not move to the next grade unless we pass the exam. It can be frustrating, but that is how life works. The sooner we “learn the lesson,” e.g., make amends or work to not engage in the same hurtful behavior in the future, the sooner the guilt will disappear. If successful, it will never return for that issue again. We have passed the exam, but to neither acknowledge nor accept our mistakes is foolish, as we have to carry the burden of guilt without any solution. It is like putting our car in neutral gear and pressing on the accelerator. It makes noise and pollutes the environment, but gets us nowhere. Unattended guilt brings only pollution to our lives and to those around us.

If you did something wrong or hurtful, acknowledge it mentally. You cannot change the past, but you can make amends for your behavior. Guilt is usually very circumstantial. That means we get into a situation, we do something inappropriate, and then we feel badly for a time.  If we recognize the problem behavior and take quick action, we will feel better about things and the guilt will be alleviated. Obsessing about it, however, and not taking any type of compensatory behavior (such as apologizing or changing one’s negative behavior), keeps the bad feelings going. Accept and acknowledge the inappropriate behavior, make your amends, and then move on.

Purpose of Guilt

Everything has a purpose. The purpose of guilt is not to make us feel bad just for the sake of it. The purpose of guilt is to get our attention so that we can learn something from the experience and become a better person. That is  healthy guilt. If I have accidentally said something insulting to another person, my guilt is telling me I should apologize to the person and think a little more before I speak.

And lastly remember that nobody is perfect. To err is human and to forgive divine.  So let us be divine also and forgive ourselves. Even those who appear to lead perfect, guilt-free lives may not be doing so. Striving for perfection in any part of our lives, except spiritual, is a recipe for failure, since it can never be attained. The only perfection possible is spiritual perfection.

We all make mistakes. Nothing is new or strange about that. Many of us go down a path in our lives that can make us feel guilty later on when we finally realize our mistake. The key, however, is to realize the mistake and accept that you are only human. Do not engage in days, weeks or months of self-blame or battering your self-esteem because you should have been an ideal person. You’re not, and neither am I. That is just life.

Are Bliss and Knowledge Inherent?

By Satyanarayana Dasa

Among modern spiritualists there is a common belief that each individual being is full of bliss and knowledge. They claim that everyone is perfect, and it is just a matter of discovering one’s real nature.  The Self is part of God, as confirmed by Sri Krsna, “The living being in this world is My eternal fragment” (Bhagavad Gita 15.7). Just as a drop of the ocean has the quality of the ocean, they believe that the Self has the quality of bliss and knowledge. Somehow the bliss and knowledge have become covered by ignorance, but once ignorance is removed, the Self will shine in its own glory. The Self will be like God.

The Mundaka Upanisad (3.2.9) says, “One who knows Brahman verily becomes Brahman.”  In fact, some spiritual teachers even claim that we are all God but have forgotten it. We are like a lost young prince who is wandering in wilderness and suffering, not knowing that he is a prince. Once he is informed that he is a prince, he can return home and his suffering comes to an end. Or we are like a person who is wearing a golden necklace, but somehow doesn’t know it and is searching for it everywhere.  When someone points it out, the search is over. It was always there, but the person was ignorant about it.

Knowledge Covered by Ignorance?

A similar belief is that we are already perfect, but out of ignorance, we think of ourselves as limited and conditioned. Sri Krsna says in Bhagavad Gita (5.15), “The knowledge is covered by ignorance that bewilders the living beings.” If the ignorance is removed, the Self will shine in its own glory. Just as when a cloud covers the sun, there is darkness, but when the cloud is driven away by the wind, the sunlight pours through. Even when the sun was covered, it had not lost its brilliance. Similarly, they believe that the knowledge and bliss of the self are covered by ignorance; when the ignorance is removed, the Self realizes its own bliss and knowledge.

Some also argue that there is no need for gurus or teachers since all knowledge is within us. No two individuals are the same. Everyone has a distinct history, experiences and samskaras. What is applicable and beneficial for one may be detrimental to another. Indeed one man’s meat is another man’s poison. One has to walk from the place one is standing upon. The goal is one, but paths are many. Nobody should try to imitate another’s practice, because it will not suit him. Some protagonists of this theory decry even the scriptures. They say that scriptures are dead words of dead people. The scriptures only limit and bind us by imposing rules, which restrict our freedom.

These are some of the popular ideas floating around among modern spiritualists. Such theories are antagonistic to the common traditional and organized spiritual systems. At first, they may seem very logical and convincing, but when scrutinized with the proper logic and acumen, they collapse like a house of cards. They certainly do not stand against scriptural scrutiny.

Darkness Never Covers Light

If full of knowledge and bliss, then why does the Self never feel it? Why is the Self incessantly hankering for knowledge and bliss? In fact, all our actions are ultimately aimed at attaining these two goals.  Just as darkness can never cover light, ignorance can never shroud knowledge. Darkness is nothing but absence of light. It is not a positive entity. To cover something, the covering agent must have positive existence. When Krsna says that ignorance covers knowledge (Gita 5.15), He means ignorance covers the discriminating faculty. In other words, a person loses the ability to make proper decisions and is thus bewildered. Krsna Himself recommends approaching a teacher and acquiring knowledge from him (Gita 4.34).

If knowledge were inside the Self, He would have recommended to approach a teacher to get the covering of inherent knowledge removed. Indeed He would not even have recommended going to a teacher but to a peeler, who can peel away ignorance. Krishna specifically uses the words, “The teachers will impart knowledge to you.” In the same vein a few verses later (Gita 4.39), Krishna says that a man of faith who attains knowledge (jnana) become peaceful. If that knowledge were already there, there was no need to attain it in the first place. In verse 7.2. again, Krishna declares to Arjuna that He will now impart unto him this knowledge.

Inconceivable by Mind or Logic

The Self is meta-physical and thus beyond any sense perception and mind. It is not subject to logic. The only way it can be understood is through the scriptures. Sri Krishna describes the self as acintya, or inconceivable by mind or logic (Gita 2.25). Bhisma says, “That which is inconceivable, acintya, cannot be understood by logic. Metaphysical objects are called acintya” (Mahabharata, Bhisma Parva 5.12). The sun may be covered by clouds to others but it is never covered to itself. Similarly, if I were full of bliss and knowledge, then how could I lose sight of it even if I were covered by ignorance? Ignorance can only cover, but not take away, that knowledge. Even though there may be ignorance all around me, I would still be full of knowledge and bliss. But such is not our experience.

A drop of the ocean does not have all the qualities of the ocean. The ocean has waves, a drop does not. The ocean is full of aquatics, but not the drop. One can sail on the ocean, not on a drop.  If I have forgotten about my necklace around my neck and someone points it out to me, I immediately know it and give up my search. But no matter how many times someone tells me that I am full of knowledge and bliss, I realize no bliss and remain as ignorant or knowledgeable as I was before. Why? Because I do not have knowledge and bliss inherent in me. Such examples neither prove nor disprove anything. Examples only assist us in comprehending a known conclusion.

Jiva Gosvami

If I am a pauper, I remain a pauper, even though someone may repeatedly tell me that I am a prince. In Paramatma Sandarbha (28), Sri Jiva Gosvami explicitly says that the self is devoid of knowledge, although conscious by nature, and it lacks bliss although free of any material misery. In other words, it has the potential (svarupa yogyata) to get knowledge and bliss but not yet the functionality (phalopadhayi yogyata). To give an example, a child has the potential to be an athlete or a graduate, but that potential is not realized unless he practices on the track or goes to college and studies.

Only One of God’s Potencies

This explains why we have an innate drive for these two things. A baby is inquisitive from birth, and this inquisitiveness continues until death. Although the Self is part of God, it is only part of one of His potencies, i.e., intermediate potency, or tatastha sakti. It does not have in it the other two potencies, i.e., bahiranga or external and antaranga or internal. When it is said that a knower of Brahman becomes Brahman, it means that he becomes like Brahman.  He acquires some of the features of Brahman (Sadharmya Gita 14.2). Nobody can become Brahman. The Self is infinitesimal in size and does not have internal potency in it, hence it is prone to be influenced by the other two energies, i.e., bahiranga or antaranga. In the present state, it is under the influence of bahiranga, or external potency.

This influence is affected by the inconceivable power of God, called Maya. Maya belongs to God and for this reason one can become free of Maya’s influence only by the grace of God or His devotee. Even after being freed of this influence, the Self does not become God but remains a fragment of God—only now it has knowledge and bliss.

Dissatisfaction Leads to Perfection

By Satyanarayana Dasa

I have never met anybody in my life who was fully satisfied with his or her situation, environment, condition, position, relations, health, wealth, or possessions. The poor are hankering to be rich, and the rich want to be richer. An overweight person wants to lose weight, and a thin person wants to gain a few pounds. Married couples think that it is better to remain single, and single people are dying to find a partner. The East looks towards the West, and the West is enamored by the East. People in villages dream to come and live in the cities (especially in India), and city dwellers cherish the simple and calm village life.

Deep dissatisfaction with life and the conditions of everyday experience are universal among mankind. These are not the characteristics of a particular age, race, or civilization. Nor is it a defect of any individual person, although some people seem more content, or rather less dissatisfied, than others.

Why Dissatisfaction Exists

The root cause of dissatisfaction lies in the very design of human beings,  and this dissatisfaction exists for a reason. The reason is to spur the individual to attain the ultimate purpose of human life, that is, emancipation from the cycle of birth and death. This dissatisfaction does not appear to exist in the other species of life. The myriad creatures of the world seem completely content if their basic needs of food and shelter are satisfied.

It is only we humans who are never satisfied. No matter how good our situations may be and no matter what things we possess, we eventually become bored and begin seeking change. (Companies capitalize handsomely on this flaw by producing new models of their products every year, leading consumers to believe that their latest creations will bring them the permanent happiness they are seeking.)

Searching for a Solution

Very few people are acutely conscious of this innate unhappiness. Most people are caught in the rut of regular duties and never stop to think about it. Those who are conscious of this dissatisfaction try to find a solution for it. Such people can be divided into two groups. The first group, the larger one, includes those who are not concerned about the ultimate cause of this problem.  They are consumed by the problem itself, and look only to redress their own dissatisfaction.  They are not concerned about others.

The people in the second group spend their lives in a prolonged endeavor to find the remedy for this problem, though they keep the welfare of others in mind. This group can be further divided into two. The first consists of people who take to fields of science and technology and devote their lives to research and finding solutions to alleviate the problems of humanity. This group has been more active in the last few centuries and has made commendable efforts to make humanity happy, peaceful, and free from disease.

The second group of people includes those who look for the solution in the realm of metaphysics. These pioneers have been, for the most part, founders of religions and of philosophies, and their search has usually been connected to an experience of or contact with something that they call God. They have unanimously maintained that in the experience of union or relation with God lies the only assuagement of human unrest. This group was very prominent in the past and has held ground for a long time. But as science and technology have progressed, religion and philosophy have taken a back seat. In the past few decades, however, a new trend is setting in. Scientists, religionists, and philosophers have begun a dialogue.

Science or Religion?

In search of answers to life’s mysteries, modern scientists have investigated the depths of our world. Because they have been unable to find satisfying conclusions through minute analysis and deconstruction, however, they have been forced to explore realms of life that seem unscientific or metaphysical. Science and religion are no longer seen as absolutely exclusive fields. There is now a trend towards synthesis. Science, by nature, is analytical, while religion is synthetical. But it seems that science cannot completely ignore the principles and experience of religionists. Otherwise, it will fail in its mission: to give peace and satisfaction to humanity.

The Vedic scriptures discuss very explicitly the cause of dissatisfaction, and tender a permanent solution for it. They categorically state that without realizing the supreme Absolute— call it God, Brahman or Allah—no human being can attain complete satisfaction. This, indeed, is the purpose of human life. Unless people attain this goal, they can never be satisfied. The human body is designed only for that. All other activities are at the animalistic level. They do not make one worthy of being called a human being.

Human beings, therefore, will always remain dissatisfied if they do not act towards the purpose for which they have been granted the human body. No amount of technological advancement will keep them satisfied. They can choose different professions or jobs, but dissatisfaction will not leave them. They can travel to any part of the globe or go to the moon, but they cannot get rid of this unhappiness. Even material advancement in different fields is the outcome of dissatisfaction. But, unfortunately, material progress cannot give lasting peace and happiness. The satisfaction one experiences from material objects, material relations, material knowledge, material possessions, etc., is ephemeral. It sublimates like a ball of camphor, leaving some impressions behind.

The True Solution

The Gita clearly mentions the path and process to end this dissatisfaction. It states that a person who has faith in God, is devoted to Him, and has control over his senses attains true knowledge. Having attained true knowledge, such a person attains supreme peace without delay. On the other hand, one who is ignorant of the Absolute, one who is faithless and doubtful, is lost. Such a person is neither happy in this life nor after death.

Question of a Dying Man

By Satyanarayana Dasa

Ramesvaram - Ramanatha mandirIt is ironic that even while life is full of uncertainties, we continually try to plan for it and figure out how to lead “successful” lives. Death, on the other hand, is absolutely certain, but we tend to avoid thinking about it, let alone planning for it. We even avoid the word “death” using phrases such as “kicked the bucket,” “passed away,” “departed,” or “ascended to heaven,” instead of simply saying someone has died.

Here is a short story that illustrates the importance of inquiring about and preparing for death.

Long ago in India there was an emperor named Pariksit.  One day, while hunting in the forest, he chased an animal into the deep forest and got lost from his entourage. After some time, he felt very thirsty and hungry, but luckily, he chanced upon a hermitage.  He decided to go in and ask for some water. When he got inside, he saw a sage sitting peacefully in meditation. He respectfully asked the old sage for some water, but the sage, being in deep trance, did not respond. The emperor became offended, because he thought the sage was feigning being in a trance to avoid him.  In a fit of rage, he put a dead snake on the yogi’s neck and left.

When the yogi’s son learned about this offense to his father, he cursed the emperor to be bitten by a snake after seven days. Surprisingly, when the emperor heard about the curse, he did not become unsettled, but accepted this circumstance as the grace of the Lord. He handed over his kingdom to his son and sat on the bank of the Ganga river, where many great yogis, saints, devotees, and sages gathered to meet the emperor and be with him until his last day. The emperor posed an interesting question to the hoary assembly. He said, “What is the duty of a man about to die? How can he attain completeness?”

The exact word used by him is “mriyamanasya.” Although the word is translated as “one who is about to die”, it literally means “one who is dying.” We think we are living and are concerned only about living. But there is another side of the coin. We are also dying at every second. Every birthday we celebrate is also a “death day.” The 25th birthday means that a person has died 25 years of his life. He is closer to death by 25 years.

Pariksit’s question is very pertinent to all of us. We are all, like Pariksit, inquiring about many things in life. We are regularly tormented by the pangs of hunger and thirst, which symbolize our material desires. Most people, even though they appear to be seeking solutions for their spiritual problems, are in fact indirectly seeking succor from their material afflictions. As depicted in the story, a real sage may not respond to our ephemeral needs. Because of this, we may disrespect the spiritualist, intentionally or unintentionally, and be cursed to die. (In fact, according to scriptures, this is something that we have been doing for countless lifetimes, which is why we must repeatedly suffer continuous births and deaths.)

In the assembly of the sages there were scholars belonging to different schools of philosophy, such as Nyaya, Vaisesika, Yoga, Samkhya, Purvamimamsa and Vedanta. They all deliberated over Pariksit’s question, but there was no consensus. At that point, a highly learned and realized sage,  Sukadeva, son of Vyasa, appeared on the scene. He was briefed on the deliberations, and accepted the invitation to reply to the emperor’s query. Sukadeva was very pleased with the question and complimented the emperor for asking such a wonderful question. He said that the emperor’s question would bring welfare to humanity. Although over the next six days, he gave an elaborate reply on the topic, the essence of his discourse could be summarized in one particular verse:

“It has been concluded that reciting or singing the names of God (Hari) is the best means as well as the end for those who have material desires, or those who are detached to the material fruits as well as for the self realized souls.”

Sri Caitanya in JarikhandaSukadeva’s answer was approved by the scholars of various schools. Reciting or singing names of God or Mantras is a very effective and easy means to attain liberation. It is a very powerful process to control one’s mind. It is also recommended by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras, as well as by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. All the teachers of different schools, personal as well as impersonal, Vedic as well as Tantric, have recommended the time-tested process of chanting.

With respect to the story, the practical application of this wisdom should be dealt with in the following manner: Individuals should approach a spiritual guide with genuine intentions of making spiritual progress. They should take guidance on how to recite the Holy Name or mantra, which will enable them to clear away their material attachments. At that point, they will have achieved liberation from the cycle of birth and death, and will continue to sing in happiness for the pleasure of God.

Adhikara – Eligibility for Understanding Scriptures

By Satyanarayana Dasa

Everybody in this world has certain qualifications to perform specific duties or activities and, in so doing, gains satisfaction, happiness and success. If a person tries to perform duties or activities that he is not qualified to perform, then, in all probability, dissatisfaction, frustration and misery for himself, and possibly others, will result. Therefore, one of the very basic principles taught in Bhagavad Gita, is to work according to one’s qualifications. Krishna Himself says para dharmo bhayavaha— to perform the duty for which one is not qualified is dangerous.

Here’s a story to illustrate this point.

A washer man once owned a donkey and a dog. The washer man took good care of the donkey, because it carried loads of clothes to and from the river, where the washer man washed them. The washer man did not find the dog very useful, so he did not feed him properly. The dog was famished and emaciated.

One night, while the washer man was deep in sleep, a thief entered his house. The dog and the donkey both noticed the thief. The dog did not bark, although that was expected from him. Seeing this, the faithful donkey admonished him for not doing his duty. The dog replied contemptuously that the master did not care for him, and, therefore, he also did not care for the master. Hearing this, the donkey was enraged and decided to wake the master up by braying loudly. The washer man woke up and was confused:  why was the donkey braying? He thought that maybe he had been treating the donkey too nicely and had spoiled him to the extent that he was now unruly.

To teach him a lesson, the washer man got up from his bed and beat the donkey with a stick while abusing him verbally. The washer man then went back to bed. Meanwhile, the thief slinked away.

The dog who had been observing what was happening,  then asked the donkey, “How do you feel, my dear friend? You received a generous reward for your service.” Obviously, the donkey realized his mistake.

Everyone Is Unique

As different people have different qualifications, the Vedic scriptures instruct according to these qualifications.  Everything is not applicable to everyone. This unique characteristic of the Vedic scriptures is often overlooked. There are separate rules for students, married persons, renunciates, unmarried girls, widows, parents, teachers, rulers, and so on. In other words, the duties differ according to the nature and the status of a person.

Similarly,  because  different people having different qualifications, there are a variety of scriptures, deities, schools of philosophy, and various types of practices in India. Everyone has to walk from where they are standing.

To ward against the danger of an unqualified person receiving knowledge, knowledge was never written in the Vedic culture. It was normally transferred through the oral tradition only. That is why the Vedas are called shruti — that which is to be heard from a teacher. Writing books on leaves came into vogue much later.  The author of a book, who was usually also a teacher, would not share its contents with an unqualified person. Students were  made to take a vow not to further transfer the knowledge to undeserving candidates.

Here are three other examples of situations where everyone cannot be treated the same.

Most universities require students to take an entrance exam.  The university then admits only the qualified students.  A student follows a curriculum that is meant to present information is an order that maps with the student’s development.  The student doesn’t take a physics class that requires math that hasn’t been taught yet, nor does the student take an advanced physics course before taking an introductory physics course. In each course, the professor lectures according to the level of his audience.

A book of medicine may describe various types of remedies, but they are not applicable to each person. The doctor must diagnose the disease and  then find a corresponding medicine to treat it. For a single disease, there may be many medicines available, but each one is not suitable for every patient. For example, in Ayurveda, medicine is not only prescribed according to the disease, but also after due regard has been given to the body type, character, age, immunity, gender, etc. of the patient.

To give another example, in Bhagavat Purana, there are many instructions meant for renunciates. But if a householder tries to apply them to himself, he would be miserable. Similarly, there are separate instructions for the different paths of yoga, karma, jnana and bhakti. One should judiciously discriminate amongst them.

Establishing Eligibility

In Sanskrit literature, it is common for the author in the opening verses, to state four things, as instructed in the following verse:

Adhikari ca sambandho visayasya prayojanam.

Avasyameva vaktavyam sastradau tu catustayam

(Shloka Varttika 1.1.17)

“The person eligible to read the book, the subject of the book, the relation of the book with the subject, and the purpose of the book must be explained in the very beginning.”

The intent is to inform the would-be reader if the book is of interest to him/her (anubandhacastustaya). With books of today, some of these things are explained in an introduction, preface or prologue. Out of these, the adhikari, or the person’s eligibility, is the most important. One of the most basic qualifications to reading scripture is that the person must be interested in attaining the specific purpose described. If the person does not have this qualification, then he/she is not qualified to read it, and would find it almost impossible to comprehend its real meaning.

Today, anyone can acquire any book in print version or even through the electronic media. One can also study the scriptures in universities where the requisite eligibility for studying them is not tested. The peculiarity of the scriptures is that if the person studying them does not have the requisite eligibility, he/she will not understand their essence. The eligibility which one possesses is like a tool to unravel the mystery hidden inside.

Misconceptions May Arise

Unfortunately a number of people who are unqualified to read the scriptures not only study them, but critique them. These critics are, in turn, regarded as authorities by others. This practice has created a lot of negativity about Indian scriptures, philosophies and spiritual practices. One often hears remarks such as  “Hinduism is a big hodge-podge. It is a big mess. It is the religion of a million gods.” But this cannot be further from the truth. Another thing to be considered is that, in a philosophy book, everything that is written may not be the concluding principle, or siddhanta, meant to be established by the author. There is also purvapaksha, or the principle to be refuted, which may not be explicitly identified. Unqualified people or those of unripe discrimination who study such books without proper guidance, may mistake the purvapaksa for the siddhanta. Many misconceptions have arisen because of misinterpretation of scriptures.

To avoid such misconceptions, many times a warning is given against the reading of scripture by unqualified people. For example, Lord Krishna emphatically bars non-devotees from reading Bhagavad Gita:

Idam te natapaskaya nabhaktaya kadacan

Na casusrusave vacyam na ca mam yo’bhyasuyati

(Gita 18.67)

“This  is not to be spoken to a person lacking control of his senses, to a person without true devotion, to a person who is unwilling to hear, or to one who envies me, thinking that I am material.”

The warning is both for the student as well as the teacher. If the teacher tries to teach an unqualified student,  it will be a futile endeavor.

As is stated:

Na’dravye nihita kacit kriya phalavati bhavet

Na vyaparasatena’pi sukavat pathyate bakah

(Hitopadesha 1.42)

“Just as by hundreds of attempts one cannot teach a crane to speak like a parrot, an unfit person can never be trained.”

Qualifications May Change

My humble advice and request to anyone interested in studying any Indian scripture is to first see if one has the necessary qualifications.  One should not feel discouraged or despondent, however, if not yet eligible, but the importance of eligibility must be understood. Human beings have a special ability to change themselves. One’s eligibility is not rigid and can be acquired or improved.

The Yoga of Dejection

Arjuna’s Dejection

We all have suffered from temporary phases of dejection at some point in our lives. Dejection overwhelms us when the unexpected transpires over the expected, when the bad overcomes the good, and when the evil visits us instead of the righteous. Being human, it is very normal for us to have expectations from people and things around us. Expectation amounts to longing, yearning, desire, craving, or lust. Likewise, failure to attain the expected begets dejection, sadness, sorrow, morosity, gloom, and depression. The ancient Hindu scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita are potent forces of knowledge and philosophy that can guide us in wiping out the root cause of dejection in order to live a happy, sanctimonious and noble life. Bhagavad Gita, arguably the most concise and systematic book of religion, ethics, philosophy and metaphysics ever written, delves deeply into the vexing intricacies of sorrow and grief. In itself it is but a single part of the Mahabharata, an astonishing tapestry of ancient Vedic history and philosophy told through the lives of several generations of the great Kuru Dynasty.

The Backdrop

Sri Krishna and Arjuna
Krishna and Arjuna

Let me offer you a few drops from the huge ocean of knowledge that is Bhagavad Gita before we move on to discuss the Yoga of Dejection element ingrained in it. Bhagavad Gita is a discourse between Shri Krishna and his warrior disciple Arjuna, shortly before Arjuna takes part in the great war of Mahabharata on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Because the Gita was not written as an independent book, the characters, settings and circumstances mentioned in it are similar to the preceding episodes of the Mahabharata. The first chapter of Bhagavad Gita is called the “Yoga of Dejection”. It depicts a picture of the blind King Dhritarashtra sitting on his throne and enquiring about the latest happenings at the battleground of Kurukshetra from his charioteer Sanjaya, who has the ability to see distant objects through his divine eyes. Seated inside the palace, the King comes to know that the battle is about to begin. Warriors from both sides stand facing each other. The Kauravas are led by King Dhritarashtra’s eldest son, Duryodhana and the Pandavas are led by the eldest son of Pandu, Yudhishthira. Pandu’s other son, Arjuna, the greatest archer, too is poised to take the challenge and stands on his chariot driven by Lord Krishna.

As Arjuna sees all his kinsmen—sons, brothers-in-law, cousins, teachers (Bhishma, Dronacharya and others)—standing arrayed in battle, he says to Lord Krishna, “My limbs fail and my mouth is parched, my body quivers and my hairs stand on end; the Gandiva (his bow) too slips from my hand. I do not wish to kill them even for the sake of the kingship of the three worlds. It is a great sin to kill my teachers and relatives. If I kill them, I shall be called the slayer of the family and will go to hell”. Arjuna is overwhelmed with grief and dejection. He throws away his bow and arrows and sinks down on the seat of his chariot. He shares his predicament with Lord Krishna. The rest of Bhagavad Gita is an elucidation of Krishna’s response to Arjuna’s despondency. This is the backdrop on the basis of which we shall try to find an answer to our own dejection.

Yoga and the Cause of Despondency

There are several reasons for calling Arjuna’s despondency yoga in the first chapter of Bhagavad Gita, which is appropriately entitled Visada Yoga, or the ‘Yoga of Dejection’. Krishna says that four types of people surrender to him: the distressed, those who desire wealth, the inquisitive, and those who know the Absolute Truth. Of the four types of pious people who approach the Lord, the largest group belongs to the category of the distressed. So, in this sense, the distress which serves to bring one closer to the Lord is also considered yoga. Here, Arjuna symbolises the distressed and the desperate man. The word yoga is defined as, “a means”. Arjuna’s despair acted as a means that led him to the ultimate solution of the problems of his life and, therefore, it is rightly termed as ‘yoga’. Yoga also means “union with the Supreme Soul”. Because he approached Krishna when he was in despair, Arjuna received the Lord’s mercy and attained union with him.

This is in contrast with lesser persons taking to drugs or other diversions when overpowered by dejection. They only become weaker, more delusional and degraded, and in this way, waste their life. According to Bhagavad Gita, the cure for the debilitating plague of dejection, which is a mental affliction, lies in the ability to free oneself from material attachments by adopting the spiritual path. In the Gita, Krishna acts like a psychiatrist and guides Arjuna towards a resolution to his dilemma by teaching him how to detach himself from  maya (bodily love and affection). Those who take to the spiritual path alone can expect to live a life without fear from dejection. They, however, face many trials and afflictions as they attempt to detach themselves from material life. If one remains within the grip of material attachment, one cannot function on the spiritual path. One falters like Arjuna—he began to shiver at the thought of losing everything material, and his mind became confused and conflicted.

Krishna instructing Arjuna

He wanted peace but needed to fight and shed blood to attain it. He got torn between these two affinities, and the attachments that he held so dear presented obstacles to his progress. The same is the case with King Dhritarashtra, whose attachment for his sons had blinded him from seeing their mistakes and their ineligibility to ascend the throne.

Overcoming Duality

Bodily attachment always results in duality. Whenever there is love based on physicality there must be hatred, because liking automatically implies dislike for anything that is in discord with the object of love. Therefore, in the material world, love also implies hatred, and attachment indicates repulsion, as these two are always found together. For this reason, Krishna advised Arjuna to abandon material attachment. Although Arjuna argued that it was not proper for him to fight his elders, he was not actually worried about killing Bhisma or Dronacharya. Arjuna’s real problem was that he was faced with the prospect of killing his attachments. Even Arjuna took a long time to understand this point. For a while, Arjuna did not understand why Krishna insisted on fighting for his rights. It may appear that Arjuna was a non-violent man and that Krishna was trying to incite him to inflict violence upon his teachers. This, however, is a superficial understanding held by those who are also bound by their material attachments.

Arjuna’s material attachment was the real cause of his dejection, and one who has such attachments can not be non-violent. He will be violent towards only those who come in the way of his attachments. Therefore, non-violence in a materially-attached person will always lead to self-motivated violence somewhere in the future. That is why Lord Krishna rejected Arjuna’s seeming non-violence. Without understanding this fact, Arjuna’s arguments appear quite sensible, and Lord Krishna’s reply seems irrelevant. The same duality can be seen in the case of King Dhritarashtra as well. He was obsessed with the word, mamaka (“mine”), that signified his mentality. He had divided his sons and the Pandavas into two opposing groups although they all belonged to one family and grew up together. Because of strong attachment to his sons, he referred to his sons as “mine”. Therefore, the attitude of “mine and yours”, or “friends and enemies”, creates hatred and envy which, in turn, gives rise to duality.

Overcoming Attachment

In order to remove the material attachment that impedes the living being’s spiritual understanding, Bhagavad Gita says that matter and spirit are different. From the very beginning, Krishna told Arjuna that he was not the body, but Arjuna failed to see the relevance of that knowledge to his predicament. He thought, “Why is Krishna stressing that I am not this body? I am pointing out the impropriety of killing my kinsmen, and he responds by saying, “The soul never dies…?” Arjuna did not understand the connection between his question and Krishna’s response. Therefore, Krishna had to speak on a level that Arjuna could grasp. Only after the fifty-third verse of the second chapter, did Arjuna realise, what Krishna was actually saying. So Dhritarashtra and Arjuna were blinded by the same condition—material attachment. In our spiritual life too, we are confined by the same infirmity and we have to give it up, otherwise we will not make progress. The basic principle that must be followed in one’s pursuit of happiness is that spirit is beyond the body, and the spirit is what we really are, regardless of whether one follows bhakti marga, jnana marga or yoga marga.

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People coveting and endeavouring for peace and happiness, but attempting to grasp them materially are merely chasing a mirage, which recedes ever further as we strive to approach them. Therefore, bhakti or devotion is the surest and easiest process by which one may realise the Supreme Soul and escape the vitiating cycle of dejection. This can be followed by anyone who understands that the self is distinct from the body, and who reposes faith in the Almighty to attain lasting peace and happiness.

by Satyanarayana Dasa

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Gita Discourses in Ancient Monastery

Pierre Chatel courtcard
Pierre Chatel courtcard

From April 25 to April 29th Babaji Satyanarayana Dasa gave a seminar on the second chapter of Bhagavad-gita to a group of yoga students of “Université Terre du Ciel” in France. The aim of this university, which is open to various traditions and faiths, is to give people a holistic approach to life, based on principles of spirituality, fraternity and ecology.

This is the fourth time Babaji has been invited by co-founder Alain Chevillat to the ancient former Carthusian monastery Pierre Chatel in the beautiful mountains of Le Bugey near Geneva. Groups of students on different levels of learning and practice regularly gather in the reclusive, peaceful atmosphere of the monastery to practice yoga sadhana, and learn about Indian philosophy.

Alain & Babaji
Alain & Babaji

Continuing from last year’s analysis of the first chapter of Bhagavad-gita, Babaji elaborated for two hours each morning and evening on the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Since Arjuna is Krishna’s friend and a great devotee, it has to be understood that he enacts this drama on behalf of us, who are faced with a similar dilemma. The teachings of Bhagavad-gita are very profound and can have a great impact on all of us individually.

Emphasis on character improvement

Babaji stressed that knowledge is very important because a person’s action and behavior depend on his or her knowledge. In India the emphasis has always been on improving a person’s character which depends upon having proper understanding of the principles of life. Merely possessing knowledge without using it as the basis for one’s actions is only a burden.

White Peacock at Pierre Chatel
White Peacock at Pierre Chatel

The first chapter of Bhagavad-gita is crucial to understanding Arjuna’s existential dilemma – his attachment to material ego – which represents the basic problem of every human being. Babaji explained how many people have difficulties in understanding the first chapter because, like Arjuna, they identify with their body and thus fail to grasp the implication of non violence. As long as this identification exists, there is no question of non-violence, because of the distinction between one’s own possessions and relatives, and that of others. Violence or non-violence is a type of consciousness, rather than the action itself. Only a self-realized person can be truly non-violent as he has nothing to gain for himself and works only for the welfare of others. Many people have the misconception that Krishna propagates violence, while in actuality he wants Arjuna to examine his heart and understand his dharma. If there is a duty to be performed it should not be avoided on the pretext of religion or compassion.

Allegory of spiritual advancement

Seminar room
Seminar room

Bhagavad-gita is an allegory of advancement in spiritual life. Our defects are our enemies. Since we cannot experience bliss until our heart is purified, the first step in spiritual life is to recognize our internal enemies, in the same way that Arjuna needed to see his opponents facing him on the battlefield. To become attached to God, we need to fight with these enemies which manifest as material attachments.

The Gita teaches us how to offer our material ego to God. It brings us to the level of being non-violent in the ultimate sense, beyond the dualities of material existence. Only if we transcend our material ego are we really free.

In the second chapter, before going into a spiritual discourse about the soul, varnashrama, and dharma, Krishna is attacking Arjuna’s ego. He sees through his seemingly noble compassion and exposes it as weak-heartedness. Arjuna is more concerned about his own image than about his relatives, and that his surrender is conditional.

Babaji Satyanarayana Dasa
Babaji Satyanarayana Dasa

In various ways Krishna instructs Arjuna that he is not his body. The understanding that we are immortal is the basic principle of spiritual life. Although we experience changes in our bodies, we are not the change itself, which is different from us. The consciousness of a conditioned soul is felt within the body, and the change of body is superimposed onto the soul.

Krishna’s definition of Yoga

Science can give external knowledge, but spirituality is internal. Only through scriptures can we know about the soul. Empiric scientists only understand material consciousness and the mind, but they cannot figure out the self or soul. Material elements cannot touch it. The soul can influence the body, but the body cannot influence the soul. When consciousness is turned inside, the soul becomes aware of itself.

Sin and piety only apply at the level of the body, not the soul. For a person on the spiritual level, the dualities of good and bad, sin and piety do not exist, since one sees everything in relation to God and acts for God’s pleasure. Such a person has no personal motivation. So Krishna explains that an action by itself is neither pious nor sinful; rather, the person who is attached to the result of his action is sinful or pious. If the action is performed out of duty, there will be no karmic reaction. Therefore it is not the action that needs to be changed, but the consciousness with which the action is performed. This is Krishna’s definition of yoga. Contrary to Patanjali’s yoga, which is part of jnana marga, the yoga Krishna recommends in the Bhagavad-gita is more practical. It is a path of action whereby the fruits of one’s activities are offered to God. Therefore Krishna asks Arjuna to accept his duty to fight.

Cloister corridor
Cloister corridor

Krishna then teaches that both happiness and distress constitute disturbances that need to be transcended. He explains to Arjuna the principles of karma yoga. Since action leads to bondage, the desire for the result needs to be given up. The result of the action should be offered to God. Problems lie neither with the object nor with the activity, which are both external–what counts is only the consciousness of the performer of action.

Babaji summarized Krishna’s teachings of the second chapter in three main points:

  1. To act, being situated in yoga
  2. To give up attachment
  3. To be equipoised in happiness and distress

The course was very well received by the students whose numerous inquiries were all satisfied by Babaji. In August, he is again invited by Terre de Ciel to continue with his lucid explanations of Krishna’s teachings on the third chapter of Bhagavad-gita.

Please find the Spanish version of this article here.