To remove Arjuna’s confusion about whether he should fight or not, Krishna says this: ‘I have already told you that, in this world, aspirants may find enlightenment by two different paths. For the contemplative is the path of knowledge: for the active is the path of selfless action. Freedom from activity is never achieved by abstaining from action. Nobody can become perfect by merely ceasing to act. In fact, nobody can ever rest from his activity even for a moment. All are helplessly forced to act by the gunas. A man who renounces certain physical actions but still lets his mind dwell on the objects of his sensual desire, is deceiving himself. he can only be called a hypocrite. The truly admirable man controls his senses by the power of his will. All his actions are disinterested. all are directed along the path to union with Brahman. Activity is better than inertia. Act, but with self-control. if you are lazy, you cannot even sustain your own body. Perform every action with Brahman in mind, and be free from all attachments to the results.’
Detachment is one of the most important messages in yoga practice. Self-examination is another. Watching your own thoughts leads to progress along the spiritual path. The Gita explains so many of our questions…
In answer to Arjuna’s severe misgivings, Krishna explains the Yoga of Knowledge. he says: ‘Arjuna, is this hour of battle the time for scruples and fancies? Are they worthy of you who seek enlightenment? Any brave man who merely hopes for fame or heaven would despise them. What is this weakness? It is beneath you. Is it for nothing that men call you the foe-consumer? Shake off this cowardice, Arjuna. Stand up.’
Arjuna continues to debate the rights or wrongs of this war, and the noble people who he must fight and kill. Krishna explains that the soul does not die and he says: ‘Worn-out garments are shed by the body: worn-out bodies are shed by the dweller within the body. new bodies are donned by the dweller, like garments.’
So we meet the eternal spiritual debate. Is there life after death? Do we believe in reincarnation?
Krishna recommends releasing attachment to actions. He recommends steadiness of purpose. he says: ‘Water flows continually into the ocean but the ocean is never disturbed: desire flows into the mind of the seer but he is never disturbed. The seer knows peace: the man who stirs up his own lusts can never know peace. He knows peace who has forgotten desire. He lives without craving: free from ego, free from pride.’
The first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita deals with Arjuna’s sorrow at finding himself at war with his kinsmen. He asks Krishna to pull up his chariot so that he can see the men in their battle-lines.
Arjuna says: ‘Krishna, Krishna, now I look on these my kinsmen arrayed for battle, my limbs are weakened, my mouth is parching, my body trembles, my hair stands upright, my skin seems burning, the bow Govinda slips from my hand, my brain is whirling round and round, I can stand no longer: Krishna I see such omens of evil! What can we hope from this killing of kinsmen?’
We are put in mind that AHIMSA, non-violence is the first rule of yoga. It is the first of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Arjuna has no desire to fight and kill his family members. At the end of this chapter, he resolves to put down his weapons and to allow his evil cousin to kill him. This seems preferable. This chapter sets the scene for Krishna’s advice to his protege.
The back story to the Bhagavad Gita is this: ‘After the death of King Pandu, in India, his brother Dhritarashtra succeeded to the throne. He educated the five sons of Pandu, along with his own one hundred sons. The Pandavas grew up to be kind, noble and accomplished. Dritarashtra’s eldest son became insanely jealous and planned to murder them.. Duryodhana was the name of this evil man, and he built a palace in a distant town and invited the Pandavas there. His servants were to set the palace alight and to burn all of his cousins. Fortunately, the Pandavas were warned and they escaped with their mother, Kunti. Duryodhana believed them to be dead.
The Pandavas lived in the forest, disguised as holy men, where they encountered many dangers and adventures. Through bravery and skill, Arjuna won the hand of a princess, who Duryodhana also endeavoured to secure. Now, of course, he knew that they were not only alive but connected to an important monarch. Despite Dritarashtra’s desire to see his nephews settled, Duryodhana continued to plot for their downfall. He tempted them to a fixed game of dice, on which they had pledged all their rights and their homes. Having lost this game, the Pandavas were once again reduced to wandering in the forest as exiles.
When the period of exile was over, the eldest of the Pandavas, Yudhisthira, asked for just one village for himself, and one for his brothers. Duryodhana, incensed with greed and jealousy, refused even this humble request and war became inevitable.
The Gita is the explanation of the spiritual journey of man. It features the conversations and relationship between Arjuna of the Pandavas, and Krishna. Krishna is an aspect of Brahman, the ultimate reality. He plays Arjuna’s charioteer in this epic tale.
All classical yoga practice is based on The Eight Limbs of Yoga, compiled by Patanjali. We have been exploring this route to bliss.
The Bhagavad Gita is often referred to as the ‘bible’ of yoga practice. It is known as the Perennial Philosophy. Mahatma Gandhi was never seen without his Gita, and I would like to move on to an exploration of this great work.
The Mahabharata is said to be the longest poem in the world. In its original form, it consisted of 24,000 verses, and it grew to about 100,000. The Gita is part of that epic poem, and it is said that it was inserted after the Mahabharata had been completed.
The Bhagavad Gita is the dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna on the battlefield. This work defines the true yogi as one who acts with detachment, not caring for gain, but who has perfect self-control and total equanimity. The true yogi sees good or God in all things. He walks in beauty.
How many times a day do YOU experience bliss?
I was just squeezed in to my big chair with our handsome, furry dog. We sat there together in total harmony. Neither of us wanted to be anywhere else. Moments of pure bliss passed by, and then I thought ‘this is bliss’. In that moment, the spell was broken. Even with that delightful thought, I had dissolved the bliss; I had named it and reduced it to a thought.
Bliss is the Eighth Limb of Yoga. This is what we have been striving for; this is our goal. ‘Ahh’ moments, when we gaze at a rainbow, the full moon, a rose, or hug a beautiful grandchild. Moments when thought is suspended and we are totally present. Samadhi is Self-realisation, but it is so pure that only that blissful word, bliss, can describe it.
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Whilst making all conditions favourable for meditation to occur, it is useful to explore Hasta Mudras (hand positions). A mudra is a seal or gesture, which brings about a change in consciousness. It has an effect on the physical, psychological and energy levels. Two popular mudras are Chin mudra, where we squeeze together the cushions of the index finger and the thumb, while the other three fingers are long, straight and together, and Dhyana mudra, where the hands are cupped, left hand on top, thumbs are lightly touching and the hands are placed comfortably in the lap.
Mantras are a great aid to lead you into meditation, as is focussing on the breath. Simply watching the breath at the nostrils – noticing the cool air as you breathe in and the warmer air as you breathe out, is wonderfully calming. You can combine mantra and breath work with SO-HAM. This is the eternal mantra. We make the sound of SO as we breathe in and the sound of HAM as we breathe out. So Ham means ‘I am that I am’. This mantra we are using 24/7!
It is said that prayer is talking to God, and meditation is listening to God.
Yogis think of the Supreme Being as Brahman. Each one of us has a little spark of Brahman within us and this is known as Atman. Atman is the True Self or soul. So when we talk about yoga being a journey of self-discovery, it is really Self-discovery.
Our soul continues on from incarnation to incarnation. It never ages or dies. It contains within it all the lessons that we have learnt. When we meet with someone who we recognise as a soul-mate, it is highly likely that we have enacted with that person before, in a previous life.
During meditation, we have an opportunity to quieten the everyday mind and to be open to insights and realisations. The more often we connect with Brahman and Atman, the easier it becomes to live in a soulful way.
Wilfred Clark, who founded two well-known yoga societies, said that ‘Meditation is the cornerstone of yoga practice.’ Once we have worked with the asanas to increase the strength, suppleness and stamina of the body, we find ourselves to be comfortable to sit for long periods to meditate. Yoga is a journey of self-discovery. We come together in a yoga class, and we practise together, but we are discovering our inner selves. This is a curious, and wonderful, aspect of meditation. We need to turn inwards, to take the journey, before we can discover that, actually, we are all one.
It is for this reason that we need to persist with personal practice. Nothing is more beautiful than sitting in a group, in silence and in harmony. Nothing is more special than having someone lead you through a guided visualisation, but, at the end of the day, it must be your own journey. You must learn to trust yourself.
My first choice, to lead me into meditation, would always be repetition of mantra. My particular favourite is the one taught by the Dalai Lama, ‘OM MANI PADME HUM’. Repetition of this mantra, which is translated to mean ‘The jewel in the heart of the lotus’, takes me to that quiet place within. Other folk like ‘OM NAMAH SHIVAYA’, which can be translated as ‘I surrender to love’ or ‘I recognise my spiritual centre’. OM itself is the best known of all mantras. It is the universal sound, the expression of the creator. Repeating ‘OM’ on the in-breath and ‘OM’ on the out-breath, is a powerful way to cleanse the mind.
Meditation can be elusive and is endlessly changing. Sometimes you sit for meditation and you have the most amazing experience. And then, for weeks, you sit for meditation and nothing magical happens at all. We learn to let go of expectations. We learn to let go of judgement and feelings of inadequacy. Just sit. Meditation will occur when we are ready for it.