Monday, December 31, 2012
Verse 1.9: There are many other heroes who are prepared to lay down their lives for my sake. All of them are well equipped with different kinds of weapons, and all are experienced in military science.
It's December 31, 2012....another year has gone by and yet another one is about to be ushered in. My thoughts today revolve around reflections on the past, aspirations for the future, hopes, dreams...you get the idea. :)
As I opened up the Gita today to read the verse of the day, I laughed to myself. The verse was very much in line with my thoughts. Try it out if you haven't - open a page in the Gita at random with a question or thought in your head and you'll find the answer or connection on the page in front of you. It's mystical how the Gita reciprocates.
Most commonly associated with New Year's is the question, "Any resolutions for this year?" Let's look at that word - resolution. Resolution simply put means conviction. And what do we hear of in today's verse? We read of how "...who are prepared to lay own their lives for my sake." If that's not resolution, I don't know what is!
It got me thinking, "Do I have that type of faith and conviction? Because if I do, it should show in my actions. What kind of a life am I leading if there is no purpose to it other than just trying to "get by"?
It may be a practical experience you've had that New Year's resolutions are a one day, one week or one month affair. We don't often keep it up. The value of a vow or commitment doesn't carry much weight in this world of ours. Nowadays it's rare that someone will even take you seriously when you "promise" to do something.
I think that's why bhakti sometimes frightens me. It's not just a process or concept - it's a way of life. For the full effects of bhakti to unfurl, it takes a staunch commitment. It's all encompassing and something that is done at every moment. If you're like me, sometimes the greatness of something can actually be overwhelming. Who am I, someone so weak and fickle minded, to even dream of practicing such a great path?
That's the beauty of bhakti. There's a roadmap for wherever you are on the bhakti map. Whether a novice, an intermediate, someone who's tripped up and resting on the sidelines, there's always a side route that will bring you back on the main road. Even more cherishable is the fact that that journey is unique and special to each and everyone of us.
So today, on Monday December 31, 2012, my resolution is to daily practice gratitude for being given this gift of bhakti. Gratitude is an essential ingredient as it serves to remind us of the mercy that is constantly surrounding us. One spiritual mentor of mine once told me, "Auspiciousness is surrounding you, all you need to do is take notice."
I think it's time I started noticing.
Wishing you all a wonderful and safe 2013! May it be bhakti infused!
Sunday, December 30, 2012
Verse 1.8: There are personalities like you, Bhīṣma, Karṇa, Kṛpa, Aśvatthāmā, Vikarṇa and the son of Somadatta called Bhūriśravā, who are always victorious in battle.
Here, for the first time, we are introduced to the personality of Bhisma. Bhisma was the grandfather of both the Pandavas and the Kauravas. His prowess was legendary and he was very righteous.
His name was originally Devavrata but he was given the name Bhisma upon taking a vow to always remain celibate throughout his life. During Devavrata's youth, his father, King Shantanu, wanted to marry a fisherwoman and asked for her hand in marriage. The fisherwoman's father, although happy, objected on the grounds that no grandsons of his would ever get claim to the throne since Devavrata was already the heir. The King morosely left and did not tell Devavrata. Devavrata noticing the sadness in his father's demeanour, found out about the situation and at once took an oath to remain celibate and give up his claim to the throne so that his father could be happy. His father, being so pleased with him, blessed Bhisma with the boon of being able to choose his time of death.
Bhisma, had also vowed to serve whoever sat on the throne and so due to this promise he was fighting on the side of the Kauravas. It was with great internal pain and displeasure that Bhisma fulfilled this duty, as he loved the Pandavas greatly due to their love for Krsna and morality. In fact, he vowed that he would not kill any of the five Pandava brothers which annoyed Duryodhana greatly.
This brings us back to the verse for today. Despite having such great warriors on his side that were, as Duryodhana tells us here, always victorious, it means nothing. The goal of bhakti is to serve Krsna in a favourable and loving mood. Here, with the exception of Bhisma, the rest of these personalities were not trying to serve Krsna but were trying to serve the senses of Duryodhana. And what was the result? They were all defeated.
Similarly, when we try to satisfy our own senses and go against the blissful tenants of bhakti, we too will feel defeated. Therefore, we should always try to absorb ourselves in hearing and remembering such narrations. They serve to teach us how we can become better bhakti yogis.
Saturday, December 29, 2012
Verse 1.7: But for your information, O best of the brāhmaṇas, let me tell you about the captains who are especially qualified to lead my military force.
I find Duryodhana, the speaker of this verse, to be such a fascinating character. The eldest of one hundred brothers called the Kauravas, he is the reason why the battle took place
Why am I fascinated? Because he represents a part of each of us. In me, he is representative of my ego, the part that doesn't want to take good council and always feels it is right and can never be wrong.
That being said, like all of us, Duryodhana also has some good qualities. How can someone who is the cause of so much negativity, evil and pain have good qualities? Shocked? Well, so was I the day I realized that not everything is black and white in life.
I'll just name one example, but a powerful one which demonstrates Duryodhana has some good in him. It touches on one of my other favourite characters of the Mahabharata. He is the perfect example of a fallen hero and his name was Karna. Karna (whose other name was Radheya) was actually the eldest brother of the Pandavas.
Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas, was just a girl at the time. In serving a great sage she received a benediction that she could invoke any demigod she wanted by reciting a sacred mantra. Young and naive, she one day invoked the sun god, Surya. Imagine her surprise when he appeared! Confirming that the mantra indeed worked, she assumed that he would leave. What she didn't realize was the true purpose of the mantra which was to be blessed by a son from that demigod. Unmarried and not knowing what to do, Kunti with great remorse put the baby, Karna, in a basket and set it afloat on a river.
Years later at a tournament the Pandavas and Kauravas were showcasing their military skills. At that tournament this boy, now named Radheya, came and displayed his skills. He had been adopted by a charioteer and his wife whose name was Radha. Just as the nature of fire is to burn, similarly Radheya's nature of a warrior was displayed. He was incredible, even better than Arjuna, and at one point in time Radheya challenged Arjuna. At that time Kunti was in the crowd watching and she fainted at the thought of her sons fighting one another.
Before Arjuna could take up the challenge, Radheya was asked to provide information from where he came from and his parentage. When it was revealed that he was the son of a worker and not warrior, he was asked to leave. It was not appropriate for two persons to fight who were not of the same background. At that time Duryodhana, recognizing greatness, immediately crowned Radheya the king of a small land called Anga. That one incident inspired such loyalty in Karna that despite knowing that Duryodhana acted unscrupulously on many occasions, never left his side.
In this verse we see the leadership ability of Duryodhana. He is expertly boosting the morale of his army by exalting the virtues of the great warriors on his side.
Why do I bring this up? Because it serves as a lesson for all of us to realize that in everything there is some good. It is not an excuse to turn a blind eye to all the negative aspects that may be present in a person or situation but by being able to see beyond that, we can get a better perspective on how we can act from a personal level. Instead of reacting, we can act with intelligence.
The fact that Duryodhana was about to cause so much catastrophe didn't stop the Pandavas from recognizing that he was a great warrior. Just the same way, we should not be oblivious to the good that may be there in an overwhelmingly amount of bad. By recognizing both, only then can we properly practice bhakti.
Friday, December 28, 2012
Verse 1.6: There are the mighty Yudhāmanyu, the very powerful Uttamaujā, the son of Subhadrā and the sons of Draupadī. All these warriors are great chariot fighters.
Sometimes we need confirmation, even if it is only about something very minor. For the past few days, I've been putting the sanskrit up for each verse I've been writing about. Yesterday a friend commented, "Why not include the English translations?" They were actually reading my mind since I too had been considering the same thing. And so from now on, I'll be putting the English up.
Anyways, I digress. Today I get to speak about one of my favourite people in the entire world- the son of Subhadra. His name was Abhimanyu and his father was Arjuna. Why is he one of my favourite people? Because of his bravery, spirit and chivalrous nature.
Abhimanyu, like his father Arjuna was a great archer. In fact, many considered him to be equal in skill to his famous father. Once, Arjuna was explaining to his wife Subhadra how to enter and strategically destroy a specific battle formation called the chakravyuha. Literally, chakravyuha translates to mean battle formation of circles within circles. Unbeknownst to them both, Abhimanyu was listening attentively from inside his mother's womb.
However, Subhadra feeling tired, fell asleep and so Abhimanyu only heard of how to enter the formation but not how to get out.
During the great battle that took place after the Gita was spoken, on the twelfth day Arjuna was challenged by some warriors to fight them. In the meantime, under the helm of Drona, who was acting as the commander-in-chief, this chakravyuha was arranged on the side of the Kauravas. This was planned knowing full well only Arjuna and Krsna knew how to enter and get out of this deathtrap.
It was also created to capture the eldest brother of Arjuna, Yudhistra, who was the lawful and rightful king. Knowing that no one else could enter the chakravyuha, it fell upon Abhimanyu to get in with reassurances from his powerful uncles that they would be right behind him. And this is where my heart breaks. He was only sixteen, but he shouldered this great responsibility. Although he did not have the knowledge to get out, he successfully broke through the first circle.
However, as soon as he entered, the formation closed up just like a night blooming lotus closes up its petals when the sun starts to appear. His uncles, great warriors in their own right, could not defeat the warrior who was guarding the entrance of the chakravyuha and were baffled.
His name was Jayadratha and he had obtained a blessing that a time most crucial, he would be able to defeat four of the five Pandava brothers. That time had come on this twelfth day when Arjuna had been lured away. And so as his uncles looked on helplessly, Abhimanyu continued his way into the formation.
There this beautiful and courageous sixteen year old wreaked havoc on the army. His fighting was so graceful and deathly that all the great warriors on the opposing side looked on in awe and appreciation. That's how great of a warrior Abhimanyu was. He was so powerful that no one could defeat him.
And that's when one of the greatest injustices of the war took place. Unlike now, in Vedic times there were codes of conduct for warriors. For example, battles took place outside of cities where women, children and elders would not be in harms way. If a warrior challenged another, they had to accept a challenge, and most importantly of all the rules dictated that combat should occur one on one.
Being unable to defeat him, seven warriors on the Kauravas side attacked him at once and on all sides. Seven of the "supposed" greatest warriors, who knew the codes of conduct, broke it to slaughter this sixteen year old boy who was too much for them. And eventually...well...you can imagine the outcome.
As I write this, my own eyes fill with tears. Such an incredible warrior. Not only was he the son of Arjuna but the nephew of Krsna himself. I write about this today simply to highlight the incredible attributes of Abhimanyu.
He was loyal, powerful, sweet, courageous and exemplary. Age is not a measure of character or power, only heart is.
Thursday, December 27, 2012
Verse 1.5: dhṛṣṭaketuś cekitānaḥ kāśirājaś ca vīryavān purujit kuntibhojaś ca śaibyaś ca nara-puńgavaḥ
Ever been asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I have. Several times. And as one who really didn't know what I wanted to be for a long time, trust me when I say that it stops being cute after the age of five. In fact, it becomes fear inducing; especially if you're investing in post-secondary education and it serves as a reminder for what's already going on in your head, "Oh oh...I think I made a mistake. I have no idea what I want to do."
One of the reasons why we are left floundering to figure out what to do with our lives, is the simple fact that we don't recognize and understand our nature. We haven't been trained or guided to do so. What do I mean by nature? Simply put it's your inherent tendencies and inclinations. Your personality.
In Vedic times, such as when the Gita was spoken, society didn't have this problem. Through astrology and the guidance of mentors and elders, a child's nature was told to him/her and encouraged from a young age. In this verse we hear the names of some great warriors - those whose inherent nature is to protect others.
Similarly we all have our conditioned natures. I was reflecting how it is our tendency is to say my personality or my nature like somehow we own it. Just yesterday though, I was listening to an overview of the Gita given by a great bhakti yogi and this topic of nature was discussed at length. It was mentioned that just as our past karma dictates our present karma, similarly our past thoughts and actions also determine the type of nature or personality we receive.
So what does that practically mean? It means that our personality or nature that we hang on to so dearly is on loan (i.e. it's not our possession). Also, it can't be changed. That part most of us intuitively know, but we tend to forget that we do have control over how we engage it. So for all of you out there who are thinking, "Yes! I'm not a person who likes to read, it's not in my nature, so I don't have to." Well...you're right and wrong!
The beauty of bhakti yoga is that it doesn't force you to change your nature or personality, but it does teach one how to purify it. And how does one purify it....well I guess you'll have to wait and see! That only comes up in Chapter 2 and we're only on Verse 1.5. But if you can't wait that long, go ahead and pick up the Gita and share with us what you find out!
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Verse 1.4: atra śūrā maheṣv-āsā bhīmārjuna-samā yudhi yuyudhāno virāṭaś ca drupadaś ca mahā-rathaḥ
What do you think of when you think of yogi? Perhaps someone with long matted hair, skinny and seated in the forest? Or perhaps you immediately picture someone who follows a vegan diet, wears Lululemon pants and swears by their hatha yoga class which they attend daily?
The concept of yoga and how a person who practices yoga looks like has become completely distorted in our modern society. Yoga, or more precisely bhakti-yoga, means to connect, and I don't mean with your yoga mat! ;)
True yoga means re-unite. How? Through cultivating and investing in a loving relationship between the divine spark within all of us (i.e. our real self) and the source of that divine spark who is also the Supreme Person - Krsna (God).
It is an internal process and that's why we as a society, who are far too caught up in the externals, oftentimes get confused when posed - who is a yogi? A yogi cannot be characterized by an outer dress but rather his/her internal consciousness or attitude.
Two great persons are mentioned in this verse: Arjuna and his brother Bhima. If they were evaluated just by their externals of being great warriors, princes, and leaders, most would not put them on their top ten list of yogis to emulate. But in fact, they were two of the greatest bhakti yogis.
A bhakti yogi is one who finds great pleasure internally by acting in the consciousness that nothing belongs to him/her. How does this bring pleasure? Because attachment to things actually causes us great distress. Think about it. If you are not busy trying to obtain it or enjoy it then you are busy worrying how you can protect it from being taken away or being destroyed.
Such yogis always grateful for whatever comes. Their happiness does not come from identifying with their own body or accumulating material objects, but rather it comes from practically realizing that they are connected with the Supreme Absolute.
This identification that I am a part and parcel of the Supreme acts to lift a heavy weight off of the bhakti yogi. However, the process of understanding who we are, what is bhakti and who to practice bhakti takes time, knowledge and realization. That's why the greatest of bhakti yogi's, Arjuna, was put into a state of illusion so that the Gita could be spoken and we too could get the opportunity to become true bhakti yogis.
Next time you think of a bhakti yogi, who knows, you might think of Arjuna. And you know what? That's great. It's said that if one thinks of a person with good qualities, then one automatically imbibes some portion of those very qualities. That's a pretty great deal if you ask me!
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Verse 1.3: paśyaitāḿ pāṇḍu-putrāṇām ācārya mahatīḿ camūm vyūḍhāḿ drupada-putreṇa tava śiṣyeṇa dhīmatā
There are many great heroes and heroines in the Mahabharata. For those who may not know, the Bhagavad gita (literally translated to mean the song of god) is spoken at one of the climactic moments in the Mahabharata.
As a child I must have read the Mahabharata over 30 times, I kid you not. Although I knew it was part of the bhakti tradition, I wasn't able to appreciate the subtleties until I rediscovered and started practicing bhakti yoga seriously.
Of the many characters in the Mahabharata, and there are many, in this verse we hear of the son of Draupada. The story of his birth is an intriguing one and so I'll briefly give the highlights here by narrating it as concisely as possible.
When Drupada was growing up, he had a great friend in a boy named Drona. The main difference between the two was that Drupada was the heir apparent whereas Drona had the inclinations of a scholar and sage. Despite those differences, in their childhood they were the best of friends, so much so that once Drupada promised Drona half his kingdom.
As they grew up and went their separate ways, Drona had a son. At the time, living the dutiful life of a brahman, or one who teaches and provides counsel, Drona lived a life of poverty. Although he did not mind, his son once came crying to him saying that he wanted milk and Drona could not provide it.
Remembering the friendship of Drupada and his promise, Drona went to visit the now King Drupada expecting to be treated with affection. All Drona wanted was for Drupada help him out. However, Drupada, know being old enough to realize that there was a difference in status, denied his knowing Drona and threw him out of his court.
Drona, hurt and angry, remembered this insult. Later, Drona was invited to train the Pandavas and Kaurava princes, who were cousins, in the military arts. (It should be noted that this Bhagavad-gita is spoken on the battlefield right before the war that takes place between the Pandavas and Kauravas.)
Once the training of these young boys were complete, as the tradition was in Vedic times, Drona asked for an honorarium. The task- capture and defeat Drupada. Both cousins attempted to fulfill their teacher's request with the Kauravas going first. They went with a huge army only to come back defeated. The five brothers (the Pandavas) went alone and returned victorious. Arjuna the archer, and that whom to which the Gita is spoken to, bound up Drupada and along with his brothers delivered him to Drona.
Drona forgave Drupada but took half his kingdom and expressed to Drupada his desire that they become friends again. Drupada, however, being a warrior and one that had been humiliated, sought revenge.
Drupada realized that he could not slay Drona himself and so he performed a great sacrifice with the intention of begetting a son who could. His son's name was Dhristadyumna.
Now, in many ways Drona did not act according to his nature. As a brahman it was his duty to teach, guide and counsel, not to exact revenge and take on half a kingdom. However, that being said, Drona did at times act very magnanimously and in line with his duty.
There is no greater example of that as when knowing full well that this son of Drona was born to kill him, Drona still taught all he knew about the military arts. Can you imagine acting in this way? Knowing full well that someone will take that is most precious to you and teaching them the tools by which they can do so?
That is what is being alluded to here in this verse. The leader of the Kauravas is reminding Drona, "Look at the army of our enemy that has been expertly arranged by your student." Essentially insinuating, "this is your fault." However, nothing could be further from the truth. For once, Drona acted appropriately and accepted the results of his own actions (i.e. humiliating Drupada); instead of exacerbating the situation, he acted selflessly.
The role of duty and understanding one's nature in a bhakti yogi's life is a great one. Doing what's right is not always easy but as Gandhi once said:
“It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing."
In line with the Bhagavad-gita, I would add one more point to that: not only is the action important, but the consciousness that one performs it in. In this instance of Drona teaching Dhristadyumna, Drona's consciousness was that of duty and that is glorious.
Monday, December 24, 2012
Verse 1.2: sañjaya uvāca dṛṣṭvā tu pāṇḍavānīkaḿ vyūḍhaḿ duryodhanas tadā ācāryam upasańgamya rājā vacanam abravīt
I love that the Gita is timeless. Timeless in the sense that the concepts and subjects are not only relevant, but that they are also applicable at any time or place. One of the many reasons why this is so is because it deals with basic human emotions, feelings and actions.
In this second verse, the secretary Sanjaya, is answering the King's question posed in Verse 1. But Sanjaya is so perceptive that he not only answers the superficial aspect of the King's question, but the real reason for his query.
Sanjaya knows that the King is worried about the effects a holy place like Kuruksetra might have on his children. In essence, the King wants his children to fight and he doesn't want anything to stand in the way of that.
Do we not undergo the same type of experiences? We may know that what we are after is wrong for us, whether it be a relationship, an object or an experience and yet we do anything and everything we can to attain it. And oftentimes we justify the result by saying "It's my life, my mistake." Sometimes, we may even try to shelter ourselves from any type of objective influence that may try to talk us out of going after what we are after.
It goes to show that we should strive to keep ourselves in the constant company of elevated bhakti yogis. However, that is not enough. The King Dhrtarastra spent much of his time in the company of his wise half-brother and minister Vidura who spoke out against the King's deceitful leanings and encouraged him to change. But that association did nothing.
Along with keeping such meaningful company, it is the owness of the spiritual practitioner to realize that advancement comes when one admits their weaknesses, has the desire to change, seeks out bonafide counsel and follows it.
In fact, it is this attitude of seeking shelter that attracts the Supreme - Krsna.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Verse 1.1: dharma-ksetre kuru-ksetre samaveta yuyutsavah...
This verse holds a very special place in my heart because it once taught me how essential it is to approach the Gita in the mood of a student.
I had just moved to Toronto to begin my Masters and I was full of trepidation. I had spent a year and a half studying in a bhakti infused atmosphere in Radhadesh, Belgium and had capped it off by touring Europe for the summer going from festival to festival with friends.
I wasn't sure if I could maintain the level of enthusiasm and determination I had imbibed for bhakti in a city atmosphere. I was pleasantly surprised however to learn that a bhakti yogi was going to be giving classes on the Gita at the Toronto Temple the very week after I had settled in.
As I sat there in the class with my Gita opened to Chapter 1, text 1, my ego got the better of me. I knew that despite the fact I had just completed reading the Gita in depth, my learning was just beginning. However, I didn't necessarily think I was going to learn anything new from Chapter 1, text 1.
My skepticism and ego was crushed in mere moments. Ever hear of the expression, "Come out swinging hard"? Well that's exactly what this bhakti yogi did. After reading the sanskrit and english translation of the text:
Dhṛtarāṣṭra said: O Sañjaya, after my sons and the sons of Pāṇḍu assembled in the place of pilgrimage at Kurukṣetra, desiring to fight, what did they do?
He said the following words which entered my heart never to leave again: "Just from this first verse we can see that Dhrtarastra is breaking etiquette. How? Because he first states "my sons" and only then speaks of the sons of Pandu. One who is following etiquette will always put others above their own personal interests first."
And that was it. The instant I realized I was put in my place very soundly. I hand't even opened my mouth and yet I was taught two lessons that day. One, the Gita should be read and understood under the guidance of one who is without motivated interpretation and steeped in devotion. And second, I will always learn something new about every single verse everytime I study it.
"Whenever you find time, you write. Never mind, two lines, four lines, but you write your realization."
And so this is my attempt to write.
The goal: Go through the entire Gita and write something on one verse every day.
Are you ready?