Lecture given by Swami Satyananda
in Denmark on 14th March, 1971.
The Srimad Bhagavad Gita is a very vital and elucidating part of the great epic Mahabharata. The original name for India was Bharata and the Mahabharata which literally means "Great India'' tells us sublime metaphysical truths through the glitter and glory of a bygone India.
The Bhagavad Gita, which forms the inner core of the Mahabharata, is the essential philosophy which has ruled the minds of Indian thinkers and statesmen for many centuries. For Indian people the philosophy extolled by the Bhagavad Gita is not just for idle speculation or contemplation, it is a way of life. It is a philosophy which the Indian mind can comprehend very quickly.
The Pandavas and Kauravas
The Gita begins in a dramatic way. About five thousand years ago there lived two fraternities belonging to the same lineage, known as the Five Brothers or Pandavas and the Hundred Brothers or Kauravas. The Kauravas, who were the ruling authorities endeavoured to gain complete control of the kingdom by refusing to allow the Pandavas their rightful share. The problem became such a vital one that ultimately both parties prepared for a great war to decide the issue. Finally, the day came when they met each other on the battlefield supported by their great armies.
The commander-in-chief of the Kauravas was a very grand, powerful and noble man called Bhishma. The commander-in-chief of the Pandavas was called Arjuna. Although he was the third among five brothers he became the commander-in-chief by virtue of his being a great warrior. The driver of his chariot was Sri Krishna, and the Gita is a dialogue between Arjuna and Sri Krishna, who is also revered as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. It is here on the battlefield of Kurukshetra that the philosophy of the Gita begins.
One cannot talk about the Gita without making a direct reference to Sri Krishna, because he revealed the Gita to Arjuna, and unless you are familiar with the life of Krishna right up to the point of his death, the Gita will remain obscure.
From the time of his birth, Krishna faced nothing but grievances and difficulties. As a child he was victimised and condemned to death by his own uncle. Although he miraculously escaped death, this enmity followed him throughout his life. Day after day he had to fight battles and face his enemies, but from the moment he was born up to the day he died, there was not a day when he did not laugh.
In Indian mythology there are stories of Krishna as being a mischievous child at home, as a young boy playing in the fields with the cowherd boys and girls, as a statesman giving expert advice, as a warrior fighting in battle, and as a Guru giving absolute lessons on Yoga and other sciences. There are thousands of fables about Krishna, but on analysis one can easily discern that the central theme around the stories which characterise Krishna is that of non-attachment. That was the character of the man, and it is essentially this philosophy of non-attachment that is brought forth so clearly in the Gita.
The battle of life
The opening scene of the Gita is the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Two armies are poised for battle. When Arjuna, the commander-in-chief of the Pandavas, sees his own friends and relatives and knows that he may have to kill them, his heart gives way and he says that he will not fight, preferring to renounce than to face the battle. Thus begins the Gita.
Krishna tells Arjuna that a man has to face life, accept it and fight at every step. Those people who expect everything in life to be comfortable and to their liking will always suffer difficulties. Accept life in whatever way it comes to you. Try to get the best out of it by way of a philosophy, proper understanding and wisdom. Every man is working to fulfil his own great ambitions and desires. If they are fulfilled he is happy, but at the same time afraid and insecure in case he loses them. Or, if his desires remain unfulfilled he is completely broken. Herein the problems of life begin, whether mental, psychological or emotional.
Bhisma is lying on a bed of arrows with Arjuna standing above him with bow drawn and pointed.
For all of us in this world, life is an eternal battle which we have to fight continuously. These two families who are at war, in actual fact symbolise the two great conflicting forces present in every individual But we have to understand that in order to progress, conflict is necessary for an individual. Without these conflicting forces you cannot evolve. Comfort and pleasure are death because they do not motivate the individual to go ahead in life. Difficulties and problems are actually the accelerators of human evolution. Therefore, you have to continually create conflict and try to confront it. Only then will the soul evolve. Divine and spiritual knowledge comes to one who can accept and understand the nature of conflict.
Apart from these two opposing forces present in everyone, there is also a third force which represents harmony, and balance. In the Bhagavad Gita this harmonising force is symbolised by Sri Krishna. He represents the inner soul or Guru helping every man to overcome conflict. Although he is not directly involved in the fight or battle, he is creating it so that the soul or individual consciousness evolves. It is in this context that we must understand the Gita.
Yoga and inner conflict
The conflict you face in your life and personality can only be beneficial to you if it is faced with an aspiration and background of Yoga. When any conflict arises the only thing you should do is to try to understand it and begin to practise Yoga. Yoga concerns itself with the evolution of the individual consciousness, starting with the lower planes and going to the highest realms.
Yoga has a definite beginning and it progresses according to the evolution of consciousness. There is a stage when Yoga comes to a point of culmination, not termination. The name of the first chapter of the Gita is the "Yoga of Dejection". There are many yogas: Hatha Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, Tantra Yoga, Nada Yoga, Gyana Yoga, and so on and so on and so forth, but have you ever heard of the Yoga of Dejection, the Yoga of Disappointment, Frustration and Breakdown?
Yoga begins, not when your mind is contented, but when the scales are heavily loaded against you, when you are facing overwhelming problems in your life. Unless your soul faces conflicts, unless your mind faces difficulties and disappointments, it will not become active; it will live like a pig, absolutely contented and satisfied to sleep continually.
Do not consider these differences and problems as external ones. The Gita is not talking about material problems or the basic necessities of life such as food and clothing. It is talking about those problems in man which psychologists are also talking about today. The deep rooted problems concerning your inner personality which are as deep as the subterranean planes of the ocean. You may say that you have no problems, but I do not believe it, because it is impossible to exist without them. This duality caused by two contradictory forces is working side by side in every man, except the most enlightened sage.
The starting point of Yoga is when we become aware of these two great conflicting forces. We are faced with the problem of what to do with them; whether to try and eliminate them, criticise and analyse them or cry and scream over them. Do not try to put a covering over the struggles and battles within you. Whether you are a good or bad man, a man full of passion or one with criminal tendencies, you must know and understand what is inside you.
Modern psychology has brought to our notice that there are thousands and thousands of people on this blessed earth who do not want to know what they are, because the moment they discover their own nature they react with fear and disbelief. This is the greatest obstacle in life. Each and every item, whether it is birth or death, loss or gain, praise or criticism, love or hatred, conflict or peace, passion or anger which is lurking in the depths of your consciousness, must become known to you. This is the second piece of advice of the Gita.
Sadhana to transform karma
Even if you discover and understand your own conflicts and problems they will still remain with you. For this reason you have to begin some sort of sadhana which is the practical side of Yoga.
In the Gita, sadhana begins with Karma Yoga, the "Yoga of Action". The philosophy of Karma Yoga is that you have to transform your Karma, your daily activities in such a way that they are conducive to your spiritual progress. Through action you express yourself and thus unburden your soul.
Side by side with Karma Yoga, you should also practise Raja Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Gyana Yoga. These are the arms with which you become victorious in life's battle and eliminate the conflicts that are lurking in your personality. When your mind becomes completely free from the influence and association of conflicts then you are a liberated man or woman - a jivanmukta.
Liberation according to the Gita
The concept of liberation according to Gita is not when you close your eyes, withdraw your mind and enter into the great void. This experience is not related to actual life. Gita adds a new dimension to liberation. It is living life without being affected by it at any cost. It is detachment in the midst of a holocaust.
When you face conflict in this peculiar and illogical life, the great void ceases to have any meaning, it is completely eliminated. You cannot understand what samadhi means and how it can be related to a life that is so turbulent.
In the Gita it is said that salvation is related to your love, your hatred, frustrations and accomplishments. Many people satisfy themselves with vain thoughts of, "I am Brahman, full of bliss. I am part of that consciousness'', but this is not a genuine realisation because it does not transform their personality, emotions or ego. When they come out of meditation, they exhibit the tendencies of any ordinary man.
The Gita says that complete freedom should be brought into daily life. It should not be restricted to the meditation room, but come into your kitchen and be expressed when you are working in a shop, driving a motor car or about to face an emotional crisis.
To experience complete freedom in every walk of life, meditation for one hour is not enough. You have to have a completely reoriented philosophy, a retrained and healthy mind and a cultured way of thinking with new dimensions of awareness.
Yoga of synthesis
Renunciation is not freedom. According to the Gita, abstention and refraining from duties and responsibilities is living an incomplete life. The Yoga of the Gita is known as Poorna Yoga, or Complete Yoga. If you lay stress on Bhakti Yoga and say, "No Hatha Yoga, it is only for sick people. No Raja Yoga, it is only for swamis. No Karma Yoga, no Gyana Yoga; only singing the name of the Lord", this is called Apoorna Yoga, Incomplete Yoga.
Just as you have a nice mixture of people or colours, you must also have a good combination of Yoga, because you are not homogeneous. Your personality is composed of four essential elements: dynamism, devotion, mysticism and rationalism. This is called complete nutrition in life. According to these needs, you should practise Karma Yoga for dynamism, Bhakti Yoga for emotions or devotion, Raja Yoga for mysticism and Gyana Yoga or Vedanta for rationalism.
Expect and accept
When you want to imbibe the philosophy of the Gita into your daily life, just remember these few points. First of all work hard; expect results, but if they do not come you should not be broken. You must be courageous and go on with new ventures.
Next, the mind must be balanced, through a spontaneous culmination of the process of Karma Yoga. Whatever Yoga you practise, never forget the central consciousness or atman within you. It is the source of all Yoga. As a practitioner of Yoga, accomplishments, ambitions and yogic life must be practised side by side.
Finally, do not condemn any phase of life, because they are all phases of consciousness. If you condemn a householder's life you are creating a sickness in your mind. It is written in the Gita, whether a man is sick, or great, or even helpless, he represents different points of evolution. Krishna calls them the different aspects of his great canvas.
If you practise Hatha Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, with this broad and liberal attitude to life, you will not only be successful in every way, you will also gain enlightenment. Contentment does not come by achievement. It comes by a sense of enlightenment which one can attain through Yoga.
Likewise, all of you must begin an experiment with Yoga and I assure you that if the world has failed you, if your friends and family have failed you, even if your own beliefs have failed you, there is one thing that will never fail you and that is Yoga. You can take this from me as a bold pronouncement!