Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gita Jayanti: Happy Birthday Bhagavad Gita!

Dhritarashtra said:
“What did the sons of Pandu and also my people do when they had assembled together,
eager for battle on the holy plain of Kurukshetra, O Sanjaya?”

Having been granted divine sight by the Rishi Vyasa, Sanjaya recounted the events of the great war of The Mahabharata to the blind king Dhritarashtra. The initial event, the conversation between Arjuna and his charioteer, Krishna, is known as The Bhagavad Gita, The Song Celestial. 

Krishna (the blue gentleman) counsels Arjuna
The Gita is not just a book for Hindus.  The lessons are universal.  They are timeless.  You do not have to change your religion to find validity in the teachings.  Gandhi calls The Gita “The mother to whom the children (humanity) turn when in distress.”

In The Gita, Krishna speaks of three paths of Yoga: the path of selfless service/actions (Karma Yoga), the path of knowledge (Jñana Yoga), and the path of faith (Bhakti Yoga).  When we read the text, Krishna seems to contradict himself.  Arjuna asks several times: “What is the best path to take?” In one chapter Krishna declares Karma Yoga; in another Jñana Yoga; in yet another Bhakti Yoga.  We can move past these apparent contradictions if we understand that The Gita was a gift to all of humanity, not just to one person at one place and time.

These three paths form the basis for yoga as we know it today.  Patañjali states in the Yoga Sutras (II.1) that yogic action contains tapas (discipline), svadhyaya (study), and ishvara pranidhana (surrender to the divine).  Basically action, knowledge, and faith.  If we look at the three main texts of yoga (this author’s opinion): The Bhagavad Gita, The Yoga Sutras, and The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, we find devotion/faith, knowledge, and action as the respective foci  of these works.

These three works help us to progress through the gunas, the three qualities of creation. The gunas are Tamas (inertia), Rajas (passion), and Sattva (clarity).  The goal is to (eventually, eventually) move beyond even these three forces.  One overcomes Tamas with Rajas, Rajas with Sattva.  Hatha Yoga gets us active to overcome the inertia (tamas) of being trapped in the cycle of birth and death.  Patañjali’s Yoga is much more philosophical.  Having invigorated the body (rajas), Patañjali guides us to still the mind through meditation.  Finally our meditation (sattva) leads us to accept with faith the teachings of The Gita, thereby moving us past the gunas. 

Or you can just read The Gita because it is uplifting and inspiring. The basic teachings, such as: “Do your work without the expectation of rewards,” “By doing your duty you attain salvation,” “remain undisturbed by success/failure, hot/cold, praise/censure, and other pairs of opposites” are universal teachings.  Certainly not easy teachings to follow, but not dependant upon any specific knowledge or practice of Hinduism.

Swami Sivananda counsels that an aspirant will gain merit by reading just one verse of The Gita per day.  He states that The Gita alone is sufficient for spiritual study (svadhyaya).  Swami Sivananda’s translation of The Gita is available as a free download from The Divine Life Society. 

Today we give thanks for the gift of The Gita.  I encourage you to pick up (or download) a copy and start reading today!

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