The Bhagavad Gita is a manual on how to set us free from suffering. How we can realize ourselves in this life and set us free. The way it shows is through devotion, loving devotion, bhakti yoga. If you are able to see Divinity everywhere, then only love is the way.
This book is a philosophical manual disguised as an epic storytelling. This was the way of presenting knowledge in those times when it was written as part of the epic Mahabharata. There is a lot of content presented in the form of specific steps, tasks and a dialogue between a teacher and his student. In the second chapter, Arjuna asks Kṛṣṇa to be his Teacher. This indicates the need of willingness from the student to receive knowledge.
We suffer because we are bond, because we are not free. We identify ourselves with our bodies, our minds, our thoughts, our feelings, our beliefs, claiming I am that. And all that changes, it is bound to perish, hence will ultimately produce suffering. Even that which gave us pleasure in the beginning, will come to an end, turning that pleasure into suffering.
The mind is constantly pulled outwards by the senses, it is constantly reacting to the data the senses provide. We believe we are free to choose but in reality we are just being pulled all the time. Pleasure only creates craving for more pleasure and the correspondent avoidance of suffering.
Desire and anger are two ends of the same stick. Anger is the reaction to frustration of unsatisfied desires.
REALIZATION IN THIS LIFE
In contrast to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Gita offers an option more achievable by someone involved in the world, a social system, with a job and a family, as opposed to a sanjyasi. It is a less intimidating and more approachable option that talks about realizing purusa in the context of action without personal desire and, ultimately higher than that, action as an offering to God, which is bhakti. The Gita allows us to realize involving ourselves in the world. We can maintain our wordly duties, maintain our relationships but engage those in Yoga. We get this life as a chance to liberate ourselves.
“All life turns on this law. Those who violate it,
indulging the senses for their own pleasure
and ignoring the needs of others, have wasted their life.” (III.16)
The action (karma) bonds the human being to cycle of birth and death but that is not the case when it is performed like an act of sacrifice, when the action and its outcome are dedicated to the Divinity. That’s the secret to freedom while kept involved in actions.
We can dissolve ourselves into the action. We can be unaffected by likes and dislikes, we can be freed from anger and selfish desire. If we could let go of all expectations (from the future) we will automatically gain peace, here and now.
It is our choice to stay attached to the outcome of our actions because that outcome is karma and as we know, karma generates more karma, which we will need more and more lives to burn it. If we just let go of the outcome of our actions, we will be freed from bondage of karma, and from its results both pleasant and painful.
Slowly, practicing coming back home, resting, unidentified, with equanimity, training the mind to not get identify with every single thing the senses project.
“They are not elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad.
With mind established in Brahman, they are free from delusion.
Not dependent on any external support, they realize the joy of spiritual awareness.
With consciousness unified through meditation, they live in abiding joy.” (V.20-21)
DEVOTION TO THIS IMMANENT DIVINITY
Every creature, even though they appear as separate beings, are in reality only one; all beings come from God and they are united in this way. To understand this is BECOMING One (Divinity) and attaining liberation.
Devotion gives access to Divinity. Love is devotion.
True love requires us to detach ourselves from the outcome of our actions. Perform the actions from our very truthful center, being true to ourselves, with our best and loving effort. Every action is performed only by the body (Prakrti), not the spirit (Purusha). The True Self is actionless, never is the doer.
It was quite a shock at the beginning to find Krsna instigating Arjuna to go and fight. This is clearly not the typical pacifist spiritual book. It is quite symbolic to set this story in the middle of a battlefield because it is the last place where one could look for love. But if you consider this story as a metaphor for the battles within, you could use it as a manual for finding peace, through loving compassion.
Chapter XII, slokas 13 to 20 are one of the most beautiful ones when Krsna describes the characteristics of the loving devotee. Even love as well as devotion, can be cultivated through regular practice, they needn’t be regarded as mysterious forces, divine gifts of the spirit. There is a strong connection here to Patanjali’s sutra I.33.
Changes in the approach to practice
Reading the Gita can be a powerful source of inspiration. It is written in a way you could easily feel addressed by its intimate dialogue. You could feel He is talking directly to you. So, it is very easy to get carried away by it. It is quite empowering for getting yourself together and do your part of the job, your worldly duty. Give the best shot while letting go of the outcome, focusing on the process.
Though for us, in our western culture, ‘giving our best shot’ could easily turn into ‘trying too hard’; sometimes it becomes a pattern in which we can take refuge as in a comfort zone, where we are the doers, where we take control because we work hard and therefore we tend to think we deserve the results. Lots of WE there; it seems this kind of pattern tend to increase the focus on the ego.
Moreover, when we connect too much with the effort, we tend to disconnect from our own set of limits and we could easily trespass them. So the issue arising here is how we can find the right amount of effort? We need to find a signal, a way to notice.
For instance, if we approach the body in the asana practice with love and compassion, letting go of expectations (previous ideas of how the results should look like), we can gain awareness of where the actual limit is. In that way, we can find the balance between abhyasa-vairagya, between commitment and detachment. Trying to have a loving approach requires to embrace the reality AS IT IS, without aiming (with no pre-tensions) to changing it.
It seems the Gita is about Karma Yoga (and it is) but its powerful message is about surrendering, Bhakti Yoga. It feels like the last step towards liberation, after all the effort in realizing our dharma, could only be taken through love.
“By loving me they come to know me truly.
All their acts are performed in my service,
and through my grace they win eternal life.” (XVIII.55-56)
An eighteenth-century artist evoked the limitless and proliferating universe by extending Krishna’s sixty multicolored heads and forty-four pinwheeling arms to the very borders of the painting. With its delicate line, luscious sherbet colors, and especially Krishna’s gentle expressions, the painting conveys the god’s compassion toward his devotees. In its eleventh chapter, Krishna manifests in his cosmic form (Vishvarupa) and is praised as Lord of Yoga (Yogeshvara).
India, Himachal Pradesh, Bilaspur ca. 1740 Opaque watercolor and gold on paper Catherine and Ralph Benkaim Collection