The discussion continues about the nature of an inner life and giving up attachments. BG 5.22-5.25
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Abbreviations used in these notes: BG for Bhagavad Gita
An intelligent person does not take part in the sources of misery, which are due to contact with the material senses. O son of Kuntī, such pleasures have a beginning and an end, and so the wise man does not delight in them.
Before giving up this present body, if one is able to tolerate the urges of the material senses and check the force of desire and anger, he is well situated and is happy in this world.
One whose happiness is within, who is active and rejoices within, and whose aim is inward is actually the perfect mystic. He is liberated in the Supreme, and ultimately he attains the Supreme.
Those who are beyond the dualities that arise from doubts, whose minds are engaged within, who are always busy working for the welfare of all living beings and who are free from all sins achieve liberation in the Supreme.
BG 2.59 – Though the embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, the taste for sense objects remains. But, ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.
Anta – The end or the goal (Vedanta = the conclusion of the Vedas)
Buddha – Generally: one who possesses knowledge (buddhi), from the root budh: to awaken.
Dristva – A vision or perception, either visual or intuitive
Dukha – Mental or physical distress
Param – Superior, higher (sometimes highest: paramanu = sweet rice, the highest or best dessert)
Samsara – Cycle of birth and death
Sisya – Disciple. One who voluntarily submits to discipline in spiritual life
Sukha – Mental or physical comfort
#1 The Gita offers advice on how to give up material attachments with the phrase “param dristva navartate”, which can be interpreted to mean
Haribol! Thank you for taking the quiz.
Would you like to take the quiz again? All questions and answers are discussed in this podcast (Long Island Series, Week 34 BG 5.22-5.25).
Running time: 33 minutes
Joshua: We’re in the fifth chapter now which is a little bit less than a third of the way through. Krishna and Arjuna were talking about three hours, two to three hours. We have no audio recordings from 5000 years ago, so we really don’t know how quickly they were speaking. We don’t know whether there were any silences, any pauses in between.
Student: How do you know that it was that many hours? Is it documented somewhere?
Joshua: I’ve timed it.
Student: Didn’t you write in here that the whole conversation is like two hours?
Joshua: It depends on how you parse it. If you just read straight through, you can read the verses of the Gita in two hours. It’s not hard.
Student: Hey Yogi? Do you want to give a little thumbnail for…
Joshua: Of the setup of the Gita? Yeah, sure. Have you connected with the Bhagavad Gita? I know you’ve been here so you’ve heard a little bit about the Gita.
Student: A little bit.
Joshua: How about you?
Joshua: Alright. Of all of the wisdom texts of the faith traditions, particularly the East, Bhagavad Gita is considered the essential text. There are about 12 different kinds of yoga described in the Bhagavad Gita.
Of those different forms of yoga, bhakti, or devotional yoga, is described as the goal, the highest form, because it’s the yoga of the heart. And the set up, very briefly, is it’s on the verge of a battle.
Every other possible means of avoiding conflict have been exhausted and the two sides are now poised to fight. And the hero of the Gita, who’s a heartfelt soldier named Arjuna, doesn’t want to kill. He’s just kind of confronting an existential crisis. His whole life has been in preparation for this moment, and he can’t do it.
He can’t go out there and harm people. His heart’s too soft and he sees too many downsides to the battle. He knows he’s in trouble because he knows that these—we call them terrorists today—they have to be stopped. So he knows he has to fight.
And so he approaches Krishna and says at the end of the first chapter, “sisyas te ‘ham sadhi mam tvam prapannam.” Sisya. Now I am your sisya. Now I am your disciple. When Madhava Puri and Anuradha received initiation two weekends back, they assumed the roles of sisya, disciples to their guru Radhanath Swami. There’s something similar taking place here on this battlefield where Krishna is acting as Guru to his sisya, his disciple, Arjuna. And it’s life lessons. It’s confronting the thing that you least wish to confront. Which is what yoga is really all about. Yoga is not about running away from problems. Yoga is about equipping yourself with the tools to more effectively manage the challenges of life. And that’s what’s happening here is that Arjuna is reinforced, his self-assurance is being brought back to the surface because Krishna is a very good teacher and knows how to bring him step by step back to that place of action from inaction by first of all reminding him (this is the second chapter) that you are different from the frail physical body, the perishable physical body. Consciousness is not the product of material forces. You, the essence, the atma, the self, the consciousness animating this body with life, you are of a different nature. You are not born of the material energy. You’re a divine creature. You are a divine, fully self-sufficient being, and your concern over the material consequences of what you are called upon to do here is understandable but misplaced. You can do more than you know. And in this instance if you don’t do it there would be severe repercussions. So he’s bringing Arjuna back to that place of self-confidence. What might be called healthy ego.
There are two kinds of ego. There’s material ego which is me me me, and then there’s the eternal ego which is you you you. How can I be of service in this situation, in this moment? How can I serve this moment?
And so the goal of yoga practice is not the obliteration of ego, which is a mistaken idea. Some schools espouse that. That egos is to be dismantled and dissipated. You can’t do that. Ego means self. The self is indestructible. So the Gita is about replacing the frail dangerous ego with the healthy permanent ego of knowing oneself to be an eternal being. So that’s basically the Gita in a nutshell, more or less the rest is detail.
Krishna describes different concepts—how the world operates, how it came into being, how you take up different bodies—what we call reincarnation or samsara, Sanskrit, the structure of the universe. There are many different topics dealt with in this relatively brief timeframe, so it’s worth discussing because one verse contains enough information for a whole semester’s course.
So we go through two or three verses maybe at a sitting and then we start by reciting the verse. There is a melody. There are different melodies for reciting these verses. So we’re in the 5th Chapter starting with verse 22.
Joshua: ye hi saṁsparśa-jā bhogā. You have here the original Sanskrit. What is it called? Devanagari. It almost looks like Hebrew. That original Sanskrit text in Sanskrit is called Devanagari, the language of the gods. Underneath it you have the transliteration. That’s how those words are pronounced. So the first line:
ye hi saṁsparśa-jā bhogā
duḥkha-yonaya eva te
Underneath are the synonyms for each word. That’s very helpful. For example, in this verse there are some words that are very worthwhile to know. Read through the synonyms, and you tell me what some of the words are that are beginning to sound familiar? What words have we come across before?
Joshua: Dukha is an important word in Sanskrit. What is the meaning of Dukha?
Joshua: It means distress. It means the sadnesses, the miseries, the disappointments.
Student: The yuckiness.
Joshua: Yuckiness, yes. The yuckiness of embodied life in the material world. Do you know what the opposite word is?
Joshua: Yes. Sukha and dukha. What’s another word in this verse that you may be familiar with?
Student: Buddhah. That’s at the end.
Joshua: Yes, very good. Buddha, meaning intellect, intelligence or an intelligent person. Ramate. In the Maha Mantra we have Hare Rama. So here the word appears as ramate—those who take delight, joy. They take their satisfaction in something.
Here’s another word: yona, yoni also, which means womb, the source, the point of origination. So that’s another word that you’ll become familiar with.
Antavantah. Anta meaning end. That’s a word that you’ll become familiar with as well as we read the verses.
So shall we try reciting this together?
ye hi saṁsparśa-jā bhogā
duḥkha-yonaya eva te
na teṣu ramate budhaḥ
You get familiar with it after awhile. We’re not going to go into the diacritic marks, which are those little dots and dashes on top or below the words. We’ll do that some other time. Translation. Who has the book? Would you read the translation?
Student: “An intelligent person does not take part in the sources of misery, which are due to contact with the material senses. O son of Kuntī, such pleasures have a beginning and an end, and so the wise man does not delight in them.”
Joshua: So there are a few points to be reviewed here. I want to quickly go through the other three verses that we assign for today’s discussion so that we put this in context. Would you mind just reading the translation to verse 23?
Student: “Before giving up this present body, if one is able to tolerate the urges of the material senses and check the force of desire and anger, he is well situated and is happy in this world.”
Joshua: These are kind of complementary instructions. One is that the wise person does not take part in the dukha, the sources of misery which are described here as, “contact of the senses with sense objects.” Then in the 23rd verse, if you can tolerate those impulses of the senses—to engage with sense objects—you can be happy. Alright, we’re going to unpack this in a minute, but let’s just go through the 24th verse. Do you have a book there? Would you mind reading the translation to verse 24?
Student: “One whose happiness is within, who is active and rejoices within, and whose aim is inward, is actually the perfect mystic. He is liberated in the Supreme, and ultimately he attains the Supreme.”
Joshua: And the last verse, verse 25.
Student: “Those who are beyond the dualities that arise from doubts, whose minds are engaged within, who are always busy working for the welfare of all living beings, and who are free from all sins, achieve liberation in the Supreme.”
Joshua: OK, so there’s a thread running through these verses. How would you describe the thread? How would you describe the core concept that connects these verses together?
Student: Well, maybe one concept would be that it’s sort of telling you how to focus on non-material distractions in order to maintain equipoise, stay equally thoughtful in all situations.
Joshua: What’s an example of a material distraction? Let’s get specific here.
Student: It specifically says limit contact with material senses.
Joshua: Is that reasonable? Can we avoid the engagement of our material senses? How do you do that? Doesn’t sound very practical.
Student: How do we avoid contact with material senses? Well, I don’t know if it’s avoidance as much as connection with something that’s not of the material senses. The way I’m reading it.
Joshua: Take that a little bit further. What is of that other nature that is not of the nature of the material senses?
Student: The Supreme.
Student: Krishna. God.
Joshua: Okay. I want what my grandmother would call the tachlis. Tachlis means the goods. Give me the goods here, okay? I get lost in the verbiage. The Supreme and the senses. Let’s drill down on it.
Student: More practical?
Joshua: Yeah. What’s being said here? What’s the meaning of this? You’re all welcome to volunteer some ideas. There’s no right or wrong answer. What’s your impression? Does this say anything to you?
Student: Well, to me, reading all these words it sounds like just going inward instead of concentrating on outwardly material things—cars, clothes, going to the bar.
Joshua: And this is her first class here. She’s doing better than all you guys combined.
[laughter and crosstalk]
Alright. So that’s, shall we say, those would be the obvious examples. You know, acquisition gets a bum rap in yoga. But let’s go a little deeper here. What else is going on? Come on, you’ve got to have some insights into this. You’ve been around here long enough. Think of the context. What’s the context?
Student: To stay focused and to not get caught up in everything that flies around us all the time.
Student: Equanimity, but not becoming attached to all the pleasures and pains that come and go. And then you’re happy, and then it’s easier to connect with the Krishna because you’re not so distracted with your wants all the time.
Joshua: I’m throwing down the gauntlet. How can we, embodied beings, gorgeous creatures that we are, how do we avoid being involved? I mean, isn’t that what makes life worth living?
Student: By engaging in devotional service. Chanting.
Joshua: This is called, in English, the party line.
Student: I’m going to ask a really controversial question. What’s wrong with moderating it? I have a problem with this whole black-and-white, good-bad thing. I understand that there are certain things—even murder is evil—and then this person is supposed to go to war, and there’s going to be someone who’s going to have to die. I just feel very conflicted.
Joshua: Alright. If you come back next week, I’ll buy you dinner. This is what we need.
Student: Because I just had an entire conversation with someone about something very similar, but not from this book, about what’s considered a holy and an unholy pursuit in sexual desire. Everyone’s answer is going to be different based on the content.
Joshua: Exactly right. Thank you.
Student: Ah. I can breathe now.
Joshua: Yeah. There seems to be something awfully black and white, to use your phrase, about all this. Well, is it black and white? Or is there something that we might call mitigating, in let’s say, verse 24. Would you read 24 for us?
Student: “One whose happiness is within, who is active and rejoices within, and whose aim is inward is actually the perfect mystic. He is liberated in the Supreme, and ultimately he attains the Supreme.”
Joshua: Would you read the purport?
Student: “Unless one is able to relish happiness from within, how can one retire from the external engagements meant for deriving superficial happiness? A liberated person enjoys happiness by factual experience. He can, therefore, sit silently at any place and enjoy the activities of life from within. Such a liberated person no longer desires external material happiness. This state is called brahma-bhūta, attaining which, one is assured of going back to Godhead, back to home.”
Joshua: Okay, so let’s bring that into the discussion. If instead of viewing this as a condemnation of living what we might call a normal life, a life that’s a balance of material and spiritual, instead we see this as an encouragement to introduce more of an inner life, more of an examined life. It’s hard to step back away from things that might actually be distractions. If ultimate self-interest is to achieve this higher state of spiritual awareness, knowledge of ourselves on a deeper level, then an over-infatuation with material activities can be a distraction. But there’s a point being made here. How can you possibly step away from any of that unless you have a sense of yourself as a spiritual being.
There’s a lovely verse elsewhere in the Gita where Krishna describes for Arjuna (I don’t remember the chapter or verse number): Paraṁ dṛṣṭvā nivartate [BG 2.59]Dristva means a vision or a sense of things. Param means superior. Practical example: it may be really hard to give up smoking. If you’ve ever smoked (I know about you guys. I used to smoke when I was younger), giving up smoking is really tough, unless there’s something else that you have that’s more fulfilling. In which case, it’s not this mind-searing, gut-rending exercise of excruciating self-denial. It’s like, “OK I’ve had enough of that already. I don’t need that anymore.” It’s a natural transference of energy as you cultivate that sense of inner pleasure, inner satisfaction.
I found this interesting last night. How many of you saw the presidential debates last night? I found it interesting that not once did any of the candidates on stage talk about the inner life. The thing that would really bring the satisfaction and contentment factor up in this country. The closest we got to that was…
I’m gonna forget his name.
Student: Oh. Tim. Tim Ryan.
Joshua: Thank you. Tim Ryan is an advanced practitioner of mindfulness meditation and he’s kind of the go-to candidate for the yoga community. If the yoga world were going to pick one candidate to vote for among those 20, it would probably be Tim Ryan. He came closest when he said that we need to get to the kids in the schools with, he called it, mental health practices. That’s kind of the politically acceptable way of describing meditation in schools, which is a very controversial thing because parents think it’s Hindu, yoga and all that. But he came closest there. Tulsi Gabbard was raised in the devotee family. If anyone had the right to speak up and say, “Listen, why are we all fighting with one another over programs for increasing the material fever of society here? Why can’t we talk about—along with health care, along with greater access to education and so on—can’t we also talk about exploring our inner lives? Is that such a dangerous thing that we can’t talk about it?”
Student: It is because then you open up this kind of thinking to the world where people are thinking of political control no longer having that harness. They’re not going to push this. This is the truth. This is how to be happy. This is how problems are solved.
Joshua: Back in 1976, there was a court case brought in New York against the Krishna society on charges that people following bhakti practice were actually entering into a cult, that it wasn’t an actual meditative practice, but it was a manipulative organization.
Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Krishna society. The judges’ explanation was that if you study the culture, you see this has roots in India going back thousands and thousands of years, and people who wish to practice bhakti yoga are protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. They must be allowed that constitutional privilege, and that privilege shall not be trampled upon by anyone. It was a very, very strong vote in favor of the importance of an inner life, even if that practice is contrary to the norms of a consumer society. Because if you think about it, what is this life? What is the life of a bhakti practitioner? It’s reducing material fever. It’s not acquisitional. It’s changing diet. I mean, there goes the whole meat and dairy industry right there.
Student: We’re a threat.
Joshua: We’re the biggest threat right here in this room.
The point being, don’t allow the surface of these verses to interfere with the great wisdom that’s contained there. You have to go deeper inside what’s being discussed, as what’s being discussed here is really critical. It’s front page stuff. I mean this is what’s going on right now.
Student: I think it makes people extremely uncomfortable to go inside. It’s not something that people do freely and want to do.
Joshua: Why would that be? First of all, does everybody agree with that?
Students: Yeah. Absolutely.
Joshua: Why? Why would that be the case?
Student: Because it gets nasty inside. It’s messy and dirty. It’s confusing and daunting.
Joshua: It’s scary because, first of all, we don’t know what lies outside the life we’ve been living. All I know are my bad habits. All I know are the things that I’ve been doing all my life, and if I’m going to step outside that to do what Krishna is describing here as this “perfection of mysticism,” I’m going to become a mystic now? Maybe a mistake is what I’m going to become. It’s about giving up. It’s about giving up all this stuff. I don’t want to do that. You know, if it means giving up all this, then maybe it’s for someone else.
Student: I don’t think it’s about giving up. Like you said, it’s a shift in perception. Like, I don’t want this anymore. This doesn’t serve me, this does. So sometimes the sacrifice isn’t, “I can’t do this anymore.”
Student: Krishna even cautions against false renunciation.
Joshua: He does. There’s a verse coming up where he cautions Arjuna, If you’re pretending to want to embark on this inner life of yoga and so on, but you still are holding on to those material attachments, then you’re a hypocrite and you’re going to hurt yourself.
Student: Because they’ll come out anyway.
Joshua: Better to be an honest materialist than a dishonest Yogi. We’re afraid of the things we don’t understand, and we don’t understand mysticism because it’s way outside our experience. The biggest concern that I’ve heard people express is, if I start doing this do I have to look like that? There’s this real abhorrence of affiliating with devotee culture. Do I have to buy the whole package? Can I just have the chanting? Can I just do the yoga? Do I have to have all the rest of it?
So there’s that. That’s one turnoff for people.
I remember being in Paris in full devotee regalia, and we were out chanting in the streets of Paris, and a man came up to me and slammed me on the head with his fist.
Just like, POW! And he kind of disoriented me, and I was thinking afterwards, “He doesn’t know me. I don’t know him. What is this reaction that he’s having? What’s this hatred?” And then it occurred to me that this was in the early ’70s. So, 25 years after the end of World War II, and people over the age of 45 would remember having seen the Nazis walking, marching under the Arch of Triumph. So anyone dressing in a conforming manner with strange habits, I think, would trigger those kinds of associations, those kinds of negative connotations.
Student: The other.
Joshua: Yeah. Not even an “other,” but a dangerous other.
Student: Because you have a different belief system?
Joshua: Who knows what these people do? If you think about what the image of Hinduism is in America…Tulsi Gabbard is accosted every day in the media. Go read last week’s New York magazine. There’s a 7000-word article about how she was brought up in this cult family with all these weird practices, so her campaign manager called me and asked if I would help write a book about her beliefs because she’s constantly having to defend herself in public.
Ok. Unfortunately, I’m looking at the clock and we’ve run out of time.