Bhagavad Gita

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Denmark, 1971

The Srimad Bhagavad Gita is known as the Gita. It is a part of the great epic called the Mahabharata, literally meaning ‘the great India’. This book has ruled over the minds of Indian thinkers and statesmen for many, many centuries. For Indian people it involves not only one hour, but their whole life. It is a philosophy which the Indian mind understands very quickly.

The Gita begins in a dramatic way. About 5,000 years ago there lived two fraternities belonging to the same family, known as the ‘five brothers’ and the ‘hundred brothers’. The hundred brothers, who were the ruling authorities, endeavoured to gain complete control of the kingdom by refusing to allow the five brothers 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 hundred brothers was a very grand, powerful and noble man called Bhisma. The commander-in-chief of the army of the five brothers was called Arjuna. Although he was third among the five brothers, he became commander-in-chief by virtue of his being a great warrior. The driver of his chariot was Sri Krishna, known as one of the great incarnations of the Lord.

When we talk about the Gita we must make a direct reference to Krishna because he revealed the Gita to Arjuna, and unless you know the complete life of Krishna right up to the point of his death, the meaning of the Gita will remain obscure. From the time of his birth, Krishna faced nothing but grievances and difficulties. Day after day he fought battles and faced his enemies. But from the day he was born until the day he died, there was not one day he did not laugh. In Indian mythology you will find Krishna as 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.

When both the armies were facing each other, the virtuous Arjuna suddenly felt great apprehension and sorrow. Realising that he would be killing his own family members, he refused to fight, preferring to renounce than to face the battle. It is at this point that the philosophy of the Gita begins.

Eternal battle of life

Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that a person has to face life, accept it and fight at every step. Those who expect everything 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 philosophy, understanding or through wisdom. Everybody is working to fulfil their own great ambitions and desires. If they are fulfilled, you are happy, but at the same time afraid because maybe next time they will be lost to you. If your desires remain unfulfilled, you are completely broken. Herein begin the problems of life, whether mental, psychological or emotional.

This is the eternal battle that you have to face and fight, that everybody is fighting from birth until death. These five and one hundred brothers symbolise the two great conflicting forces in everybody. In order to progress, conflict is necessary. Without these opposing forces, you cannot evolve. Comfort and pleasure are death because they do not give you any kind of push to go ahead in your life. Difficulties and problems are actually the accelerators of human evolution. Therefore, you have to create and confront the conflict continually, only then will the soul evolve. Divine and spiritual knowledge comes to one who accepts and understands the nature of conflict.

Between these two opposing forces present in everyone, there is one Lord Krishna, who is the charioteer or driver of the car. His body is the chariot. He is the inner soul or guru helping everybody in this conflict. Although he is not directly involved in the fight, he is behind it, creating it so that the soul or individual consciousness will evolve. We must understand the Gita in this context. Of these two conflicting forces in human life, one force must be subdued and the other expressed. Conflict has to be faced with an aspiration and background of yoga. When conflict begins in you, the only thing you should do is understand it and begin to practise yoga. Yoga concerns itself with the evolution of individual consciousness from the lower planes to the highest realms.

The starting point of yoga

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, jnana yoga, and so on. But have you ever heard of the yoga of dejection, the yoga of disappointment, frustration and breakdown? Yoga begins, not when you turn the mala, but when the scales are heavily loaded against you, when you are facing overwhelming problems. 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 with sleeping continually.

Don’t consider these 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 which psychologists are also taking 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 don’t believe it because it is impossible to exist without them. This duality or two contradictory souls are working side by side in everybody except the most enlightened sage. It is known as the starting point of yoga. Once we have become aware of these two great conflicting forces, we are faced with the problem of what to do with them – whether to try and eliminated them, criticise or analyse them, or cry and scream over them. Don’t try to put a covering over the struggles and battles within you. Whether you are a good person or a bad person, a person full of passion or one with criminal tendencies, you must 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 thing holding man back. 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, lurking in the depths of your consciousness must become well known to you. This is the Gita’s second piece of advice.

Practical yoga

Even if you discover and understand your own conflicts or problems, they still remain with you. For this reason you have to begin sadhana – the practical side of yoga. In the Gita, sadhana begins with karma yoga, the yoga of action. You have to transform your karma, your daily activities in such a way that they are conducive to your spiritual progress. You are expressing yourself through action, thus unburdening your soul. Side by side with karma yoga, you should practise raja yoga, then bhakti yoga, then jnana yoga, in order to be victorious in battle and eliminate the conflicts that are lurking in your personality. When you mind is completely free from the influence of conflicts, then you are a liberated person, a jivanmukta.

The concept of liberation according to the 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. The Gita adds a new dimension to liberation. It is living life without being affected by it at any time, or at any cost. It is detachment in the midst of the holocaust.

When you face this illogical life, the great void is completely eliminated. You don’t know what samadhi means. In the Gita, it says that salvation is related to your love, your hatred, frustrations and accomplishments. People think ‘I am Brahman, full of bliss. I am part of that consciousness’, but come down to normal life and fight with their wife or husband. Complete freedom should be brought upon earth, into one’s daily life. It should not be restricted to the meditation room – it must come into your kitchen and be expressed when you are working in a shop, driving a motor car or when you are about to face an emotional crisis.

To experience complete freedom in every walk of life, meditation for one hour is not enough. You need a completely reoriented philosophy, a retrained and a healthy mind and a cultured way of thinking with new dimensions of awareness. Renunciation is not freedom. According to the Gita, abstaining and refraining from your duties and responsibilities is living a half life. The yoga of the Gita is known as poorna yoga – complete yoga. If you lay stress on bhakti yoga, for example, and say, “No hatha yoga, it is only for sick people; no raja yoga, it is only for swamis; no karma yoga, no jnana yoga; only signing the name of the Lord, playing the drum and dancing” – this is called apoorna yoga. It is yoga, but it is not complete. In the same way as you have a nice mixture of people or colours, you must also have a good combination of yoga because you are not one – 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 or tantra yoga etc. for mysticism and jnana yoga or Vedanta for rationalism.

Philosophy of Gita

When you want to imbibe the philosophy of the Gita in your daily life, just remember these few points. First of all work hard. Expect things, but if they don’t come, you should not be broken. You must be courageous and again go on with new ventures. Next the mind must be balanced, but it should be a spontaneous culmination of the process of karma yoga. Whatever yoga you practise, never forget the central consciousness or atman within you. It is cosmic, infinite and the source of all your yogas. As a yoga practitioner, both dynamism – your work, accomplishments and ambitions – and yogic life must be practised side by side.

Finally, don’t condemn any phase of life because they are all phases of consciousness and not devoid of consciousness. If you condemn anyone’s life, a householder’s life or a sannyasin’s life or even a drunkard’s life, you are creating a sickness in your mind. Whether a person is sick, great or helpless, Krishna says in the Gita that they are all his different points of evolution, the different corners of his great picture. If you practise your hatha yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga, etc. with this broad and liberal attitude to life, you will not only be successful in very way, you will also gain enlightenment.

Contentment does not come from achievement. It comes from a sense of enlightenment and it is because of yoga. Likewise, every one of you must try, you must have an experiment with yoga. I assure you that if the world has failed you, if your family and friends have failed you, perhaps if your own body and your own promises have failed you – there is one thing that will never fail you and that’s yoga. You can definitely take this from me as a very bold pronouncement.