Thursday, December 12, 2013

anniversary special

Today marks the celebration of the day the Bhagavad-gita was spoken. It's a day when lovers of the Gita will sing its 700+ verses, reflect on the impact this great bhakti text has had on their lives and even give it as a gift to those who may not have a copy.

On a personal note, this day marks a year since I started this blog. :) I'll be honest - when I first began, I was writing primarily for myself. It was a therapeutic medium by which I could chronicle my thoughts and feelings and view it through the lens of the Gita. Never did I expect that this blog would create opportunities to meet people and develop friendships with individuals from all over the world whose curiosity, comments and encouragement have inspired me so much. To all those who have followed the journey so far (and will hopefully continue to do so!) - you have my deepest gratitude.

Writing on the Gita has brought it to life for me. It's taught that me that it's not just enough to read it as an observer but to experience it. And know what? It's amazing how easy it is to do so. After all, haven't we all felt some degree of despair and hopelessness, what to speak of struggled with discriminating between right and wrong, at some point in our lives? That's exactly what Arjuna goes through at the beginning of the Gita.

Arjuna's internal crisis reveals to us to that happiness and peace of mind is not attained through the externals. It can only be attained when we actually realize that we are spiritual beings having a material experience. Knowledge is not enough, as Arjuna finds out. To theoretically accept "I am the soul" is one thing, but to live our lives in that space is very different.

That is where the practicality of the Gita's guidance becomes strikingly apparent. It not only provides insightful knowledge but explains how to live our lives as spiritual beings at every moment.

On this special anniversary, I'd like to close by leaving you with one of my favorite verses of the Gita which serves to always put things in perspective for me and would like to invite you to leave yours in the comments below!

"O son of Kuntī, the non-permanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed." Bhagavad-gita 2.14

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

take a breath

Verse 4.29: Still others, who are inclined to the process of breath restraint to remain in trance, practice by offering the movement of the outgoing breath into the incoming, and the incoming breath into the outgoing, and thus at last remain in trance, stopping all breathing. Others, curtailing the eating process, offer the outgoing breath into itself as a sacrifice.

Extensive personal experience has revealed to me that taking deep, calming breaths can be the best thing to do when faced with any type of trying situation. Whether it be a heated argument, feeling out of place, becoming internally frustrated or even trying to curtail one's speech, it's amazing what breathing can do.

On a practical level, it calms one down. Now, it may not happen immediately, especially if one's emotions and feelings are quickly simmering, but by taking the time out to breathe, especially long and controlled breaths, the focus moves from the situation we face to the act of inhaling and exhaling.

In fact, my observation is that challenging situations result in me taking very short and shallow breaths. By consciously taking long and deep ones, the added benefits are numerous. More oxygen enters the body, one's attention is diverted to something else, and it just forces us to take some much needed time out.

That's why pranayama (control of the breathing process) is part of the yoga practice. Just as practicing different asanas (physical postures) help one to keep the body in healthy, working order, the breath has a huge effect not only on our body but on the mind as well.

This is one of the main reasons why I personally love the Gita so much. Not only is it practical but it answers a wide range of questions. From giving advice on how we can react positively to provoking situations to how we can find true happiness (and everything in between!), there's an answer to everything.

So the next time you feel yourself starting to lose it, take a breath. Taking that time out even for a few seconds or minutes could potentially give you a whole new perspective on the situation.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

the potential to be great!

Verse 4.28: Having accepted strict vows, some become enlightened by sacrificing their possessions, and others by performing severe austerities, by practicing the yoga of eightfold mysticism, or by studying the Vedas to advance in transcendental knowledge.

The Olympics. Although I rarely think of the Olympics when they aren't on tv, by the time they roll around I am hooked and gripped in Olympic-fever.

These talented individuals not only make everything they do look easy but they do so with such focus, determination and confidence. Although the external draw may be the palpable drama and uncertainty of not knowing who will win the gold, there's a huge lesson that we can learn from these individuals.

Everyone has the potential to be great; it just requires proper coaching, faith and focus.

These three elements are necessary for success in all endeavors and even more so when specializing and trying to excel.

1. Proper coaching - this one element could arguably be the most important component to achieving success. Everything else stems from it. Not only does a coach, teacher, guru or guide enable one to learn and hone their skills, such persons provide a support system which is something we all need and crave.

As living beings, we are inspired by loved and encouragement and that's exactly what a qualified coach provides. They also serve as motivators who push us to do more than we ever believe ourselves to be possible of. This is why the concept of guru or a qualified teacher, is brought up again and again in the bhakti texts. It is not only integral to yoga but to life itself.

2. Faith - without having strong conviction that our pursuits are worthy and that we are capable of accomplishing them, it's extremely easy to get distracted and quit. That's why it is important to remember that our faith must constantly be fed. It's not a one time thing! When we associate ourselves with individuals who not only believe in us but are also pursuing a similar path or goal, our faith naturally increases. That's why like-minded association is invaluable.

3. Focus - focus is the result of having a solid foundation of support (through coaching) and faith. It's what allows us to sacrifice and set aside our short-term desires for the long-term goal. Similar to faith, it is something that has to be constantly fed and one of the ways to keep it alive and well is by controlling the mind. The Gita specifically talks about this at length and gives the answer to how we can become focused - through practice and detachment. We continue to do our very best everyday and if we become distracted, we do not dwell on it but pick ourselves up and get back on track.

It's important to remember though that these principles which can lead one to greatness are not reserved for a selected few but are available to everyone. The fact is we all have the potential to be great and are meant for greatness!

Friday, November 15, 2013

a case study

Verse 4.27: Others, who are interested in achieving self-realization through control of the mind and senses, offer the functions of all the senses, and of the life breath, as oblations into the fire of the controlled mind.

If you follow any major news outlet in North America, you've probably heard one name come up quite consistently in the past few weeks - Rob Ford. I bring up this personality today to use as a case study as to what could potentially happen when one does not control their mind and senses.

Mr. Ford, as many of you might know, is quite unbelievably still the mayor of Toronto. After repeated denials, he has finally admitted to binge drinking, smoking cocaine, buying illegal drugs and...well, I'll leave it at that as you can find out more by just Googling if you really want to.

One of the biggest lessons I've learned as an aspiring bhakti yoga practitioner is the fact that everything can serve as a lesson. In this instance, we can learn a great deal from the above-mentioned personality - specifically the consequences of leaving the mind and senses in charge.

One of the greatest benefits of practicing yoga, and specifically mantra yoga, is the increasing ability to control the mind, which is the leader of the senses. The mind, which is constantly accepting and rejecting ideas is perpetually active. That activity, however, needs to be harnessed. And that harnessing power can only come from the intelligence.

It's like a team. All members of a team may have great ideas and in their excitement may start talking over one another. But if the leader of the team is there to harness that energy and creativity, then great things can be accomplished. Without a capable leader, there is potential for frustration and disturbances to arise.

That's exactly what happens if the mind isn't controlled by the intelligence. It spins out of control. This is why discipline and regulation are foundational elements in the practice of yoga. They serve to keep us on track and when the mind starts to wander, the intelligence kicks in and reminds us of the greater goal - to truly connect with ourselves, each other and the Supreme.

For some of us, we've left the senses and mind play the leader for too long and neglected the intelligence. To reverse that situation takes great strength and determination. The key to keeping the inspiration to do so is not expecting results over night. Rather, by approaching every situation as an opportunity for practice, we start to become more aware of our habits and behaviour. It is that awareness that will help us put our intelligence back in control again.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

it's all around you...

Verse 4.26: Some of them sacrifice the hearing process and the senses in the fire of the controlled mind, and others sacrifice the objects of the senses, such as sound, in the fire of sacrifice.

We are bombarded by sound. It's sad to say, but it's actually hard to find a quiet place these days because the environment is filled with pings, ring tones and email notifications!

With so many competing sounds vying for our attention, it's no wonder that people are finding it harder and harder to focus. There are just too many things that are "calling us."

Interestingly, the process of bhakti yoga begins with hearing. Not distracted hearing, but focused and attentive hearing. After all, hearing is one of the most powerful ways by which we can learn.

The challenge that many of us face is that it's all too easy to forget to about the soul within. Its cries for attention and need for care get drowned out by all the external noise.

This is one of the biggest obstacles the modern yogi faces.

The way to overcome it is by making a sacrifice - the sacrifice of looking within and ensuring that time is made to hear about the needs and interests of the soul. This type of sound vibration is what gives energy and inspiration. In fact, setting aside dedicated time everyday to engage in such hearing from great bhakti texts as the Gita provides the necessary strength to deal with all the other sounds that constantly surround us.

It's a small sacrifice, but one that will bring great results.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

home again

Verse 4.25: Some yogīs perfectly worship the demigods by offering different sacrifices to them, and some of them offer sacrifices in the fire of the Supreme Brahman.

It has been ages since I've written. Although numerous legitimate reasons can be given as to why I haven't been able to dedicate the time, it doesn't matter. The effects of not writing are resoundingly clear - I feel totally empty.

Yet coming back to the Gita today doesn't feel awkward or foreign. Instead, I feel welcomed back home! Just like a soft-hearted friend who finds a sweet way to tell us what we need to hear, today's verse is doing the same for me.

The word sacrifice has taken on a new relevance after having stepped away from writing this past month. I realize now that writing was a sacrifice I was performing on a daily basis - one of time and thought. And by taking that sacrifice for granted, I minimized its value.

As we've heard before:

Bhakti is all about attitude and intention.

The moment something becomes routine or automatic, it's time to take a step back and really check in to see where we stand. Have we become complacent? Where and how have our priorities changed? Is there something that is preventing us from experiencing the resolve and determination that we had when our enthusiasm was high?

It's often said that it's much easier to begin something than to maintain it. This phrase takes on a new meaning for me as I can see now how directly connected it is with sacrifice.

In order to maintain and sustain anything, it is impossible to do so without some sacrifice.

Whether it is a sacrifice of energy, time, money or mental resolve, it requires us to do a little bit more, push a little bit harder and give more than we may be willing to in that moment. But for anyone who has put in that sacrifice, they know how sweet the results can be.

In this instance, I'm not speaking about external results that can be measured visibly (although those too may come), but rather I speak to the internal growth one makes. That growth which helps us in our journey of discovering who we really are and becoming spiritual warriors.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

dig deep

Verse 4.24: A person who is fully absorbed in Kṛṣṇa consciousness is sure to attain the spiritual kingdom because of his full contribution to spiritual activities, in which the consummation is absolute and that which is offered is of the same spiritual nature.

When reading this verse today, my attention was captured by the word "offer".

In one sense, the whole world revolves around offerings. Whether working or in school, we are constantly "putting forth something for consideration or acceptance". When we are applying for a job, we are offering our services and intelligence to work. When we enter into and maintain relationships, we offer our heart and emotions.

In fact, one could say that every minute of every day is filled with offerings.

After all, it is one of the main functions of the mind. The mind is constantly putting forth ideas and thoughts as to how we can increase our happiness and minimize distress.

But the mind's offerings are often limited. Unless exposed to the culture of gratitude and selflessness, it can be difficult to comprehend the concept of "offering one's life in service." And that, ultimately, is what yoga is all about.

For some, including myself, contemplation of this "career path" can bring up a lot of insecurities and revelations as to where we place our faith and trust. Offering one's life in service, from the yoga perspective, is not just dedicating oneself to a job. It's about utilizing this life to realize who we really are and why we are here. That is - realizing that we are spiritual beings having a material experience.

It requires deep introspection and a willingness to confront our frailties. It takes courage, proper guidance and support to realize that we are not in this world just to enjoy it but to learn from it. By being able to see the lessons that are ever present in all opportunities and experiences that we undergo, we start to learn that there is more to life than just satisfying the senses. It is then that the desire to go deeper burns stronger and we in turn can really start tuning into who we really are through the wisdom of great texts such as the Bhagavad gita. That knowledge, when realized, allows us to become empowered instruments to help others and affect positive change in this world.

But that first step requires a leap of faith to dig deep. Are you ready?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

something worth considering

Verse 4.23: The work of a man who is unattached to the modes of material nature and who is fully situated in transcendental knowledge merges entirely into transcendence.

~Before I start this post, I have to preface it by saying that Toronto will always have a special place in my heart because of the great bhakti yogis who live there. For that reason, it will always be one of my homes.~

In the summer of 2005 I moved to Toronto to start my Masters. A month after starting school and getting settled in, I travelled back to Ottawa to apply for a scholarship. I'll never forget that ride. I could literally feel the waves of stress leaving my body. It was a profound experience that gave me a glimpse into the mode of material nature known as "passion".

For many in Toronto, the constant flurry of activity may be something that goes unnoticed. I say this because I know from first hand experience! It was only that first time driving back home that I realized how stressed out I was and how affected I was by living in Toronto. Just that once. I never experienced it again. It didn't mean that I wasn't stressed out, it just meant I had lost my sensitivity to recognizing how it influenced my behaviour.

I bring this up because we've all had experiences of this in our lives. We've all consciously (or unconsciously!) adapted to various people, places, things and circumstances.

Adapting is one thing, but imbibing the consciousness or influence that is associated with something should be done with great caution.

For example, when I first moved, I felt that Toronto was always "on" and instinctively tuned into that frequency. In fact, for the next three years it was a oddity if I slept before 1am! I wish I could say it was because I was proactively doing something substantial, but most often it wasn't! It just became a bad habit.

I became "attached" to the atmosphere of activity and sense of busyness. When I took time out to study in India for four months in a small village, I struggled at first to let that attachment go. I realized that everything has its place. At times we require the energy to get things done, but just staying in that state is not only exhausting but can lead to anxiety (at least for me).

It's something that's worth considering. What are the things that influence us to feel and act in certain ways? If we find that we are happy, positive and feeling strengthened in our journey of self-discovery, keep doing it! If however, our introspection leads us to uncovering that we're feeling less than satisfied, it may be time to find some new positive influences in our lives.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

...the company one keeps

Verse 4.22: He who is satisfied with gain which comes of its own accord, who is free from duality and does not envy, who is steady in both success and failure, is never entangled, although performing actions.

One's desires and ambitions develop according to the company one keeps

For regular readers, you might recognize this phrase. It's one of my favorites and one that I quote often.

Today though, I viewed this phrase in a whole new light which caught me off guard. Ever feel like you've gotten all you can out of something? That you just can't learn anymore? Well...I definitely used to think that about the above mentioned phrase. So you can imagine my surprise when a new insight suddenly came to me.

I always used to think that "the company one keeps" referred to individuals. Reflecting upon the fact that lately I've been experiencing the words of the Gita come to life, suddenly a whole new context to the words "company" unveiled itself:

"The company one keeps is not only limited to the people we associate with; it also includes the books we read and the environments we expose ourselves to."

That's how subtle the soul is. When we are constantly exposed to something, we naturally become affected by it. Reading and writing about working without attachment has become such a constant fixture in my life, that I can't help but think about it more frequently!

I invite all of you to perform an experiment. Make the time for the next five days to absorb yourself in reading about one topic that uplifts you. Perhaps it can be on a quality that you hope to develop or a habit you would like to form. Spend ten minutes reading about it and at the end of the five days, take note of how often you think about it. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that you've already made some positive progress.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

a life less complicated

Verse 4.21: Such a man of understanding acts with mind and intelligence perfectly controlled, gives up all sense of proprietorship over his possessions, and acts only for the bare necessities of life. Thus working, he is not affected by sinful reactions.

Although we have so much in terms of technology, facilities and entertainment, dissatisfaction is running rampant in the world today. Conversations seem to be peppered with the phrase "Life is really complicated these days," and are frequently accompanied with a long suffering sigh!

How did we make our lives so complicated and what can we do to make it more simple?

It's a question that so many people ask these days and today we find the answer in the Gita. Our lives become complicated....

When we try to claim proprietorship over something, someone or someplace

The moment we do so, we immediately inherit complications.

In simple words, proprietorship means claiming something is "Mine". As was explained in the 'Attachment Trap', as soon as we identify ourselves with something (i.e. become attached to it) it can pave the way to lust, anger, delusion etc... if we don't approach it with the right attitude.

There's the potential for things to get!

So what can we do to make things more simple?

When we let go of any sense of proprietorship, recognizing that everything is the energy of the Divine and is on loan to us from Him, a huge burden is removed from our shoulders. Instead of seeing people and things as possessions to own and control for our own pleasure, we start to see everything as they really are - people and things that are worthy of our respect. Instead of trying to gain happiness from them, our mindset changes to how we can give happiness to the one who has given us all these treasures.

Gratitude starts to awaken within our hearts. Things that we may have perceived as obstacles transform into gifts and lessons and our lives become peaceful and happy.

That's what a life less complicated is really about. It's about living a life where our hearts are filled with gratitude and lightness. The only thing we need to do is: appreciate more and think about ourselves less.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

the bhakti experiment

Verse 4.20: Abandoning all attachment to the results of his activities, ever satisfied and independent, he performs no fruitive action, although engaged in all kinds of undertakings.

As someone who spent numerous years studying Science, the scientific method is ingrained in my head. You start off with an objective, follow it up with a hypothesis, design the tests and run the experiment, collect and analyze your observations and draw a conclusion.

You can imagine my surprise when I realized that the process of bhakti yoga is actually very scientific! Specifically, the teachings of the Gita. What may throw readers off, as I personally discovered, is the fact that sometimes the expected results are given before the objective is presented in said text. It's important to remember at such times, that this is due to the fact that Arjuna was already following the path of bhakti and that's why Krsna didn't need to get into all the details.

It's kind of like coming into a conversation when you haven't heard the beginning. You can get an idea and start to surmise what the gist of it is, but if you don't have someone walk you through the background, you'll never get the full picture. For anyone who has read the Gita on their own and tried to make sense of it, perhaps you are nodding your head in agreement.

Again, this only serves to reiterate the need for a teacher who has themselves been taught the Gita and is practically applying it in their own lives. In fact, as we will hear shortly, the need to evaluate a genuine bhakti teacher is done by observing their behavior and noting the results.

Here the conclusion obtained from performing the bhakti experiment of "working without being attached to the results" is given: one feels ever satisfied and independent. Independent from what? From the rolling waves of happiness and distress. One instead feels peaceful and calm.

Now for anyone who has worked in or run labs, you'll remember that you need to perform the experiment a minimum of three times and get the same result three times for it to be valid. From personal experience, I'll tell you - it's very rare to get the same result three times in a row! That's because the procedure needs to be followed exactly and the conditions have to be replicated perfectly. The same holds true for the bhakti experiment of working without attachment to the results.

If one doesn't follow the methods and conditions outlined in the Gita, then it is only natural that the result will not be the same. Practically this translates to: don't give up! If the experiment doesn't work for you, it could mean that something is off. Don't blame the method (as any lab researcher/scientist will tell you!), but go back and analyze what you did.

The outcomes from this bhakti experiment vary depending on what you put into it. So if you sincerely want to get the results outlined in the Gita, such as those of peace, satisfaction and happiness, you have to follow the method given accurately. Good luck and feel free to share what you come out with in the comments below!

Monday, September 2, 2013

asking the tough question

Verse 4.19: One is understood to be in full knowledge whose every endeavor is devoid of desire for sense gratification. He is said by sages to be a worker for whom the reactions of work have been burned up by the fire of perfect knowledge.

Why is it so difficult to put things into practice? We may theoretically understand so many things and accept them on an intellectual level, but when it comes to the practical application, many of us face a block.

For those who are trying to live a life of simultaneous gratitude and unattachment, this is often a conundrum. When we read bhakti texts like the Gita and hear from those who live such lives, we feel inspired and hopeful. We too can do it! But when it comes to actually putting in all our endeavours and efforts and offering it selflessly to the Divine as a token of our appreciation, something powerful interrupts us. These things can cause us to promptly fall back into our old way of thinking and doing things which is often that of - I perform x activity and expect y result.

One such challenge can come in the form of doubt. When doubt steps in, it can cause us to question what will happen if we let go of our attachment to the results of our endeavour. "Maybe I'll become too spiritual! What if I just stop caring about everything? I want to be normal and if I start actually becoming unattached, I might not be able to relate to others." Such types of conversations can start to take place in our mind.

When these doubts start to cloud our consciousness, it's very easy to become apprehensive. It causes us to become fearful of the unknown - in this case what will happen to us if we actually live a life of gratitude and detachment. Ultimately, it can be a vicious cycle that leads to more doubts and more apprehension.

Ultimately though, the root cause of all these misgivings is fear. The fear that our efforts to express gratitude and appreciation will go unrecognized. Although we may believe in a Divine power and personality who is giving us everything, do we really and truly believe?

The practice of performing akarmic work is more than just attitude. It prompts us to ask the tough questions and really look inside our hearts. Do we have unshakable faith that there is something greater than us and that the Divine is there ready and waiting to reciprocate with us? When we are able to answer that question honestly, irregardless of whether it is a no, yes or somewhere in between, then we can truly start to live a life of gratitude and selflessness.

Friday, August 30, 2013

stepping out of the comfort zone...

Verse 4.18: One who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction, is intelligent among men, and he is in the transcendental position, although engaged in all sorts of activities.

I remember exactly how I felt when I first read this verse - confused! It seemed so convoluted and complicated. What exactly is Krsna trying to say here? That being said, my confusion also lead to appreciation as it was only then that I realized how important it is to learn the teachings of the Gita from one who is trying to practice it.

Breaking it down, this verse is giving the secret to performing akarama, or performing actions that result in no karma. That's what "seeing inaction in action" means. Although one may be performing so much work, because their internal consciousness is one of detachment to the results and one of offering them in gratitude to the Divine, they don't incur any karma.

Conversely, one may mistakenly think that by sitting still and doing nothing that they will incur no karma. If only it were that easy! That's what the phrase "seeing action in inaction" means. Although it may seem that nothing is going on externally, we may forget that what goes on inside has a direct effect on what happens outside. Meaning, although we may be able to sit still for sometime, the mind which is so demanding will ultimately force us to act, even if it's against our will. At that time, if our attitude is self-centered, those actions will naturally result in good or bad karma.

Readers may be reflecting that these concepts of unattachment and attitude keep coming up over and over again. You're not alone! Although I've read the Gita before, I too am struck by how often these themes are highlighted.

But the time comes where the reading ends and the application begins. Be sure that if you are sincere at heart and are reading the Gita that you will be tested. I give fair warning! Since yoga is ultimately about connecting to the Divine, He takes special notice. Situations will arise and your mettle will be tested.

The good (bad?!) thing is that no matter how many times you fail, the opportunities will keep on coming.

In fact, if you think about it - the opportunities are coming right now.

That's the beauty of the Gita. It puts into perspective how we can positively transform the challenging situations that we face on a daily basis. Just these two things:

1. Detachment to the results of our activities and
3. Transforming our consciousness to offering everything we do with affection and gratitude to the Divine...

can work miracles in our lives.

Instead of seeing everything through the lens of "Why is this happening to me?" this shift promotes a sense of "Wow! I'm getting a chance to practically apply spiritual knowledge that I've gained." Granted, those feelings may not come soon...but it will! It may come sporadically at first - maybe once in a couple of years or every couple of months! LOL. That's ok. It will come though. It just takes practice.

Life is a series of lessons and bhakti is the path of self-empowerment. We can choose to learn from the lessons that surround us and benefit or continue to fight the lesson and drown in self pity. So join us as we step out of our comfort zones and into the stretch zone. You can change your consciousness today!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

appreciation circle

Today is a very special day for all the aspiring bhakti yogis out there. That's why instead of continuing with Chapter 4 today, we would like to take the time to celebrate the appearance day of the speaker of the Bhagavad Gita - Krsna!

Some may be wondering why we are using the word appearance day as opposed to "birthday". To clear up any confusion, we'll go straight to the Gita to hear from the Krsna Himself. Skipping ahead to Chapter 10 Verse 3, Krsna states "He who knows Me as the unborn..."

So what does that mean? It means that Krsna is not born, nor does He die (it's a perk of being THE Divine!). He is eternal, just like our souls are.

But I is not so much about discussing the fascinating aspects of Krsna (which we'll definitely delve into another time) but more about appreciating Him.

In my circle of friends, we have a very beautiful tradition. On someone's birthday (or appearance day!) we normally have an appreciation circle. It's an opportunity for those of us who have gathered together to express to our gratitude and appreciation to the special person/s we are celebrating that day and let them know of the impact they have in our lives.

So here goes! One of the things I love most about Krsna is the fact that I never feel judged by Him. I may make all kinds of mistakes and do silly things, but I always feel like I'll never run out of chances. I always know that I can redeem myself and that's such a comforting feeling. It's truly a symptom of unconditional love. I also know that when I truly and genuinely turn to Him and ask for help, He has never failed me. can take some time until I feel that reciprocation (and I'm definitely not a patient person!), but it always comes.

Finally, the quality I appreciate most about Krsna is the fact that He appreciates intention and devotion over expertise and results. It levels out the playing field so to speak. It breaks down the barriers as to who can and cannot approach Him. It doesn't matter what religion, culture, gender or -ism you associate yourself with - He's there for all of us if we simply want to connect.

So on this day celebrating his appearance, I request all of you, my dear readers, to also offer a few words of appreciation and gratitude to Krsna or even the practice of yoga which originates from Him. Please feel free to leave those appreciations in the comments, but most of all please do take the time to express them in your heart. Wishing everyone a wonderful and blessed day!

Monday, August 26, 2013

a life of learning

Verse 4.17: The intricacies of action are very hard to understand. Therefore one should know properly what action is, what forbidden action is, and what inaction is.

In Chapter 2 we discussed at length what karma (action), vikarama (forbidden action) and akarma (inaction) are. For anyone who would like a refresher, you can check it out here. Today, however, I'd like to talk about the real life application of these concepts.

Before getting to that, I'd like to share a beautiful quote from one of my favorite bhakti yoga mentors since it relates perfectly to this topic of application.

"It's very important to practice spirituality for practical application of spiritual knowledge."

Let's meditate on that for a moment, shall we? What does it actually mean? It means that we may hear lots of beautiful concepts and ideas but unless we actually try to implement that knowledge in our daily lives, it won't actually translate to wisdom. That's because wisdom is "the art of converting an experience into learning."

If we don't strive to apply what we've heard, then chances are we'll never really learn.

That's what our lives can become if we choose to live a life of learning. Since we are constantly performing actions, whether consciously or unconsciously, we get the perfect opportunity at every moment to tune into our motivations. Why are we doing something? Is it for our own satisfaction? Is it to make ourselves feel better? Is it really helping others? By posing such questions, we are forced to evaluate what is driving our actions. And trust me, if we actually attempt to do this even a little bit, it's amazing how introspective we'll become of our own thoughts and motivations.

Of course, we'll find that many times we'll skip out on checking into our motivations and you know what? It's ok. After all, for some of us this may be a slightly foreign concept to first reflect and then act. And like any habit, it takes practice and time. Even if we are starting to reflect after the fact, that's a step in the positive direction.

If and when we do reflect afterwards, it won't be uncommon to look back and perhaps cringe. Yes...that too is part of the process. It's may be uncomfortable to recognize what motivates our behaviour and distorts our consciousness. But that too is part of the learning process.

If we are unable to see the obstacles that prevent us from acting in positive and selfless ways, then we won't learn how to overcome them.

Life is all about the journey and in it there is the potential to learn so many lessons. Karma is one of the ways these lessons are dolled out. The Gita gives us practical knowledge as to why we face our current situations (i.e. results of our past actions). Equally important, the Gita teaches us how our reactions to these circumstances will impact our future. So...are you ready to live a life of learning?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

a shift in consciousness

Verse 4.16: Even the intelligent are bewildered in determining what is action and what is inaction. Now I shall explain to you what action is, knowing which you shall be liberated from all misfortune.

The complexity and depth that surrounds karma (action and reaction) are once again highlighted today. As a follow up to the previous verse where we learned the importance of associating and learning from successful bhakti yogis, today's verse carries along in a similar vein. Specifically, it highlights exactly what we can learn from such personalities:

The art of performing actions.

That may sound a bit simplistic. After all, we could after all just observe and imitate the great souls, could we not? No! That's why Krsna states "Even the intelligent are bewildered in determining what is action and what is inaction." That's because some of us may forget that:

The outward action is a manifestation of the internal consciousness.

This is probably one of the most challenging paradigm shifts an aspiring yogi has to make - recognizing that externals alone mean little in the eyes of the Divine. It's the emotion and attitude which colour those actions that have true value.

This type of attitude shift is difficult to make on our own since many of us may not even know where to begin! After all, it can be hard to feel anything if we're just beginning. Such emotion and consciousness is something that can only be imbibed from those who truly feel gratitude and love for the Divine.

By being in their presence and hearing from them, our hearts start to open up. Like a lotus flower whose petals slowly unfurl in the moonlight, our hearts start to slowly soak in the consciousness of gratitude.

The value of such company can never be overstated and that's why the great Vedic text called the Srimad Bhagavatam states:

"The value of a moment's association with a lover of the Lord cannot even be compared to the attainment of heavenly planets or liberation from matter, and what to speak of worldly benedictions in the form of material prosperity..." SB 1.18.13

The performance of action is not about the results; it's about what the heart feels when performing those actions.

Monday, August 19, 2013

good judgement comes from experience...

Verse 4.15: All the liberated souls in ancient times acted with this understanding of My transcendental nature. Therefore you should perform your duty, following in their footsteps.

"Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement."

When I initially heard this quote from one of my bhakti mentors a few years back, it left a deep impression in me. How true those words ring!

It is also reminds me of a time when I asked another of my favorite bhakti practitioners a question. Younger and full of enthusiasm, I asked how I could become a better practitioner of bhakti yoga. With great compassion and a lot of love, he replied, "It will take patience and time. You are still young. With age comes many experiences which will help solidify your knowledge and deepen it into realization."

I remember meditating on that answer for quite some time. However, it is only years later that I gained the realization that those experiences don't necessarily have to be my own. By following in the footsteps of my teachers, inspirations and role models, I could also learn from their own experiences - whether they be positive or challenging.

The Gita is reminding us that first class intelligence is highlighted by learning from the experiences of others. Just like an aspiring entrepreneur will read and try to absorb the knowledge that was gained from the experiences of expert businesspersons, similarly the aspiring yogi observes and adopts the methods practiced by those successfully and steadily practicing the path of bhakti.

One of the traits of such advanced practitioners of bhakti yoga is humility. Such inspiring role models seek no recognition for themselves. Therefore, the price to get their company and hear from them is not money but a deep desire. Simply by desiring and making the effort to seek out such personalities, it's astounding how opportunities unfold to learn from them.

So go ahead and seek out the company of such wonderful personalities. After all:

"One's desires and ambitions develop according to the company one keeps."

Saturday, August 17, 2013

i'll have no karma with that, thanks

Verse 4.14: There is no work that affects Me; nor do I aspire for the fruits of action. One who understands this truth about Me also does not become entangled in the fruitive reactions of work.

The laws of karma have been discussed extensively in the 2nd and 3rd chapters of the Gita. There, it was highlighted that both good and bad karma are unwanted. We also learned that all actions result in karma.

It was at this point that the Gita introduced the concept of akarma, or performing actions that do not incur any karma. The secret to performing akarmic work was given. Anyone remember? If you said a transformation of're right!

Any action that is performed with the attitude of offering it in gratitude to the Divine results in no karma.

If you've ever wondered why that's the case, today's verse gives the answer. The Divine Himself is not subject to the laws of karma, nor is He responsible for the karma that all of us incur. Although the King or President of a country is responsible for their citizens, there may be laws that do not apply to them due to their position. Furthermore, if their citizens break those laws, the King or President is not responsible for their actions. Those citizens have free will and have chosen to exercise it.

Since the Divine is not subject to the laws of karma, when our consciousness transfers from being self-centred to offering our best to the Divine, our actions are also not subject to karma.

The Gita is prompting us to imbibe a culture of gratitude and reciprocation.

Instead of succumbing to the overwhelming ethos of "mine, mine, mine!" which is pervading our society, we can instead be instruments to help elevate it. By recognizing the gifts we have been given as those coming from the Divine, the greatest happiness can be experienced when we act as instruments of grace and offer our actions, and whatever results that come from it, on the altar of love for the Divine.

Friday, August 16, 2013

no caste system here!

Verse 4.13: According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer, being unchangeable.

Have you heard about the caste system? Most likely you have and like the majority of persons out there, the concept just doesn't sit right with you. Guess what? The Gita agrees!

This is what happens when things are taken out of context and unscrupulous persons give their own interpretation to fit their own needs and desires. It might surprise some, but the original divisions of society actually stem from the Gita itself.

The Gita outlines that persons have a specific nature and with that come certain proclivities and inclinations. Broadly, these natures fit those of the:

1. teachers/academics/philosophers
2. administrators/leaders/protectors
3. trade persons/business persons/agriculturalists
4. workers/artists

Of course, it is very possible for persons to be a mix of these natures and that is something we often see today. When the Gita outlines these four natural divisions of society, it also stresses that each one is important and serves a particular purpose. If everyone was just a worker, we wouldn't have a proper functioning society. The same goes if everyone was just a teacher or philosopher.

One can think of them as the four seasons. Each one is important and offers a special contribution in terms of weather and facilities.

As well, unlike the perverted caste system which states that if one is born in a family of teachers or priests that they too are of that nature - the Gita says otherwise. These qualities and natures are not necessarily inherited by birth. Instead it is important to observe the individual and determine what nature that person has and help them understand it. No fitting any square pegs in round holes here!

Every single person and every nature is valued. The aspiring yogi strives to understand the nature they have been given and acknowledges it as a gift they can cultivate and use positively.

So take the opportunity to determine what your nature is and offer it not only to to the world, but to the Divine in gratitude!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

what do you really want?

Verse 4.12: Men in this world desire success in fruitive activities, and therefore they worship the demigods. Quickly, of course, men get results from fruitive work in this world.

One of the good (bad?!) things about bhakti yoga is that it forces you to really face your intentions and desires. Not just the superficial ones, but the deep one's that we try to hide and forget about.

It's open, non-sectarian and there's something in it for everyone. It's an ideal process because it teaches us how to be successful as persons living in this material world, and for those who are interested, the process by which we can successfully reconnect with our true selves and find eternal happiness.

But...for those who are interested in the latter, bhakti yoga is about work. The best analogy that comes to mind is that of cleaning a really messy room. At the outset there needs to be some faith that cleaning the room will actually help you. Mustering up some enthusiasm (and determination!), you get started and in the beginning may start to experience a sense of accomplishment. But as time progresses (and if you're anything like me), you realize that you had no clue what you were getting yourself into!

That's because as you stand surrounded by clothes and other objects lay strewn about you, shaking your head in disbelief at the amount of things you've accumulated, it becomes clear. There's a lot of junk that just needs to be thrown out.

That's exactly what the practice of bhakti yoga reveals: we have a lot of junk that surrounds our heart and prevents us from experiencing true happiness.

Because we invest our time and energy in that junk, we get side-tracked and forget that happiness actually lies within.

Distilling this verse down, it's stating that if we really want to accumulate more junk, then there's a certain place to go to ask for such blessings. Again, the Gita is not stating that it is bad, per say, but is giving the process (Remember! It's a handbook for both material and spiritual success) to achieve material success.

However, staying true to it's purpose, the Gita does not recommend this path. For the sake of completeness, it is presented and for those who choose that path it gives the formula.

But, if we are truly interested in cleaning our room, it will remain in our consciousness that going out and buying more things will be counter-productive. Similarly, for those who are genuinely interested in attaining permanent happiness and peace, this path isn't the one for them.

The only question you have to ask is - what do you want? Do you really want to clean the room of your heart or are you interested in just accumulating more?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

it's all about reciprocation

Verse 4.11: As all surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Pṛthā.

This verse can be summed up in one word: reciprocation.

If you boil down the word reciprocate, it means to return or requite. That's why I love this verse because there really isn't a topic that's more important to all of us than this one. Reciprocation is what we are searching for in our interactions with one another.

That's because living beings long to love and be loved.

It's not just about loving. It's also not just about being loved. It's both. That give and take is what makes a relationship sweet and interesting. Conversely, one of the greatest causes of anxiety, frustration and hurt results when relationships are not reciprocal. One person gives more emotionally or does more to show their care and when that is not acknowledged and returned, pain can arise in the heart.

Sometimes when persons start to practice yoga or other spiritual paths, they bring along with them the memories of those disappointing experiences. This is often why conceptions of the Divine may be a little but fuzzy because we view everything through the lens of our own experiences. Here, however, the Gita unequivocally states that the Divine also has feelings and reciprocates according to the desires and attitudes of those who not only reach out to Him, but also those who choose to ignore Him. Personally, I've always found that to be so fascinating. In observing others, often if someone is ignored by another, the person who has been ignored will reciprocate the sentiment. The Divine, however, doesn't do that.

That's where the subtlety of yoga really shines through.

In a world where everything is judged by actions, it is a paradigm shift to realize that attitude is actually more important. That's because attitude drives our actions.

The Divine reciprocates not necessarily with what we say or do but what we feel inside. That's why yoga requires introspection and deep thought. It may be easy to fool ourselves, but it's impossible to fool the Divine who is sitting in our hearts observing everything.

Furthermore, when we start expressing our gratitude to the Divine and try to cultivate the sincerity to live a life of compassion and love, we immediately start to experience reciprocation. That reciprocation may come in many different forms such as seemingly serendipitous opportunities, bringing role models into our lives and increased determination and perseverance. For those who are not interested in pursuing such a yogic lifestyle and would prefer to taste the numerous offerings the world has to offer, even then the Divine reciprocates by giving them facility. For those who would negate the existence of a Supreme Person, the Divine allows such souls to exercise their free will to pursue what they choose.

But, for those who genuinely seek to become instruments of compassion and grace, the Divine goes above and beyond by reciprocating in ways we can't even imagine. Facility, intelligence, courage, support and determination are given by the truckloads. So much so that the bhakti yogi becomes even more grateful and genuinely feels that they can never reciprocate adequately.

This is when the possibility of truly becoming selfless can actually become a reality. Such persons have the capacity to be truly selfless and expect nothing in return because they are already in a relationship with someone who is not only reciprocating with them but going above and beyond - the Divine. In this way, such a bhakti yogi just "pays it forward" and helps others.

Such is the power of the reciprocation loop. By offering our heart and attitude to the Divine we can become strong and empowered individuals who are empowered to help others. All we have to do, is try...

Friday, August 9, 2013

the mighty trio

Verse 4.10: Being freed from attachment, fear and anger, being fully absorbed in Me and taking refuge in Me, many, many persons in the past became purified by knowledge of Me — and thus they all attained transcendental love for Me.

Attachment, fear and anger - or as I call them - the mighty trio. These three emotions and characteristics have the capacity to steal away all reason and intelligence. In fact, as readers might remember, two of these three characteristics (attachment and anger) are also members of "the attachment trap".

It's not so much that these qualities or emotions are good or bad in and of themselves. It's the fact that one emotion leads to another which can ultimately lead to stress and complete frustration.

The cycle tends to go as such:

As was previous explained, attachment arises due to the contemplation of objects which we believe will satisfy and make us happy. Once attachment takes root, that's when the chaos can start to manifest. Take for example a small child. They might be perfectly happy playing in their corner when they see a ball across the room. Looking at the ball, they start to make their way towards it when another child picks it up. At this point in time, some children, may start to cry and get upset.

This is actually very illustrative of what we all go through if we just seek to look a little deeper and analyze what is motivating the child's behaviour. Many might think the child is crying because they didn't get to play with the ball, but one could suggest that it's even more than that. It's the fact that the other child got to play with it.

That's where fear and anger step in because...

Attachment often instills a sense of possessiveness in an individual.

In other words, it's the mentality of "I've contemplated the object and therefore it is mine." What the bhakti texts teach us is that the moment we identify ourselves with something then fear is often a side dish that comes along, even though we haven't asked for it. We fear losing whatever we've become attached to and if anything appears to impede our enjoyment of that object then anger rears its ugly head.

The path of bhakti yoga reminds us that nothing in this world is ours to keep. This body and the world we live in is all on loan. Trying to exert ownership and control doesn't really help us.

For those who truly want to practice yoga, this is such an integral point. Yoga is about connection but almost more important than understanding that fundamental truth is understanding what it is that we should be trying to connect to.

Attachment is just one facet of connection but it's not the whole thing.

An attachment can be broken, but a connection, as per the definition of yoga, is rooted in permanency. That permanent connection that all souls are longing for is eternal love and the only person who can give it to us is the Divine. All of these other objects that we form attachments to can get in the way of our search for that love if we aren't careful.

So the next time you catch yourself falling into this trap of this mighty trio, take a step back and observe. Is this attachment helping you to become a selfless, compassionate and positive individual or is it serving to bring out the opposite in you?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

path to freedom

Verse 4.9: One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.

"Stop the world, I want to get off!" It's a thought that crosses my mind often. Normally this occurs when I'm experiencing a sense of frustration and disappointment with living life in this material world. To all those who are trying to practice the path of bhakti yoga, a word to the wise. Don't despair when encountering this since it can actually help you!

Although bhakti is about experiencing the positive, in order to do so, we must leave those things that hinder us behind.

Or in other words, the loss and emptiness that we may experience actually serves to help us if we look deeper than what meets the eye or emotion. It signifies that we deserve more than what this material world promises us and that we are the proverbial fish out of water.

We are eternal beings who are sojourning through this world. The soul is seeking permanency and shelter - a true home. Encased in this material body, we try to do our best to make our bodies our home to no avail. After all, ever body undergoes birth, death, disease and old age. So how does one get out and find their true home?

This verse gives the yoga seeker the "path to freedom". The Gita is teaching that by understanding the world of transcendence and the soul's connection with the Divine, just by remembering that at the time of death, one escapes the cycle of birth and death. It's a simple as that.

Although it sounds simple, it takes practice. After all, thinking of the Divine isn't as easy as turning a light switch off and on. Our minds are constantly filled with numerous thoughts and often they are the same ones running through over and over and over again. That is why the key practice in bhakti yoga is that of mantra meditation.

Sound has such a powerful effect and by repeating the maha mantra daily, it starts to remove the layers of dust off of our soul. That dust which has accumulated from numerous births is what prevents us from realizing that we are the soul and not this body.

In tandem with practicing mantra meditation, hearing and reading about the Divine fills one's thought with remembrance. By nature we are curious about others and so we can engage that natural propensity to learn more about the one who we've forgotten.

That's why the practice of bhakti yoga is so simple and joyful. It's about engaging our normal tendencies of hearing, talking and remembering and centering it around a focus point: the Divine. Just by doing that, we can leave this world of temporality behind and experience true eternality, knowledge and bliss.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


Verse 4.8: To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I Myself appear, millennium after millennium.

Krsna is saying here, that He comes to deliver the pious and annihilate the miscreants. Those are some strong words and their meaning could very easily be misinterpreted to mean that the Divine which the bhakti texts speak of is not very compassionate. Nothing could actually be further from the truth.

This verse demonstrates exactly how loving and protective the Divine actually is.

To really understand what this verse means, it's important to understand what the words "pious" and "miscreants" mean as per the Gita. The pious, are those that are trying to live by the principles of humility, compassion, cleanliness, and truthfulness. They see everyone as spiritual sparks, worthy of their respect and try to live their lives as spiritual warriors who are empowered by grace. The miscreants, simply put, are those who try to destroy and hurt those who are trying to be pious.

I'd like to share a beautiful story that illustrates this point. In the great bhakti text known as the Srimad Bhagavatam, the life of a young bhakti yogi is described. At the tender age of five, a prince known as Prahalad became a great lover of the Divine. Despite his young age, he was greatly learned and shared his knowledge of bhakti yoga with his friends. However, Prahalad's father was, quite simply put, a terror. Thinking himself to be God, Prahalad's father (who was the king) would torture anyone who would say otherwise.

In fact, his father was so power mad and deluded that he actually started despising his own son since Prahalad accepted him to be his father, not God. Prahalad was continuously tortured in different ways such as being thrown off a cliff, into a pit of poisonous snakes, and was even fed poison. Every time though, by the grace of the actual Supreme, he was saved. This infuriated his father to no end.

Throughout all these trying times, Prahalad kept his calm and his faith never wavered. Can you imagine? Despite being exposed to such horrendous treatment, from his father no less, Prahalad never wished him any ill will. After so many failed attempts at killing his own son, his father demanded from him "Where is this Supreme you speak of? Is he in this pillar?" To this, his sweet son Prahalad replied, "Of course, the Divine is in everything." When his father rushed at the pillar with a weapon to break it, the Divine appeared and saved Prahalad once again.

I love this story since it illustrates just how personal and loving the Divine actually is. It also explains why He appears millennium after millennium. The Divine doesn't have to come personally to take care of trouble-makers, but he actually does so just to interact with those who are trying to love him. In fact, that's why the words "to deliver the pious" come first in this verse since it highlights what's dear to the heart of the Supreme.

That's how protective, loving and personal the Supreme actually is. So the next time you feel lonely or stressed, just remember: protection and care are just a mantra away.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

watering the root

Verse 4.7: Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion — at that time I descend Myself.

Today I'd like to highlight the Sanskrit of this verse as it contains an extremely important word: dharma

yadā yadā hi dharmasya
glānir bhavati bhārata
abhyutthānam adharmasya
tadātmānaḿ sṛjāmy aham

The word dharma is often translated as "religion" in English which is often synonymous with the word faith. Unfortunately, this is one of those cases where the true meaning of the word gets lost in translation. That's because religion or faith can be accepted, rejected or converted, whereas one's dharma cannot be changed.

Dharma, as described by the great bhakti teacher, Swami Prabhupada, is the inherent characteristic of an object or living thing. Just as the innate nature of sugar is to be sweet and that of fire is to be hot, the dharma of the soul is to serve.

In fact, if only one word can be used to describe the quality of the soul, it would be service.

Whether knowingly or unknowingly, we are always serving something or someone all the time. For those who have been frustrated or disappointed in trying to serve others, that experience may impel one to repress their natural propensity of service, especially if that effort is not reciprocated.

So instead of being true to ourselves, we may become selfish due to negative experiences.

The bhakti texts describe that this frustration and pain arises when we are unaware of where to repose this natural inclination to serve.

So who should we serve then? Just as the leaves, branches and stem of a plant is nourished by watering the root, similarly all the other souls we interact with can be served by serving that person who connects us altogether - the Divine.

It's a subtle but important point to note. It's not that we give up trying to serve one another, which is what can sometimes be misinterpreted by the bhakti texts. Rather, it's placing the majority of our efforts and time in what will give us the greatest return by effecting the greatest number of people positively.

By serving the Divine by working in a spirit of detachment to the results and gratitude flooding our hearts, we serve all living beings simultaneously. It's kind of mystical actually!

It works because that positive attitude that we cultivate can effect other people unconsciously.

I'm sure everyone has had an experience where they have spent time with an amazingly inspirational, positive and/or spiritual person and afterwards they are left feeling happy and enlivened. If you ever wondered why, it's because you imbibed the other person's consciousness.

It's actually the greatest good we can do the planet today; that is, to work on ourselves and re-awaken (if it's sleeping or has been crushed) our propensity to serve. Just by doing that, you can become an instrument of powerful change and positivity.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

don't be fooled

Verse 4.6: Although I am unborn and My transcendental body never deteriorates, and although I am the Lord of all living entities, I still appear in every millennium in My original transcendental form.

We live in a crazy, mixed up world these days. With the external pressures of life mounting constantly, it is no wonder that many of us are searching for something real and genuine to hang onto. However, the modern day spiritual seeker or truth seeker has many more obstacles facing their journey then they would have even fifty years ago.

With the advent of the internet, social media and so many other pieces of technology out there, anyone's voice can be heard and can create a significant impact. That on its own isn't necessarily a bad thing, however it does pose a challenge when the number of self-proclaimed "Gods" out there seems to be ever increasing.

This is what Krsna is addressing today in this verse. He is stating some of the pre-requisites or qualifications, if we may call it that, of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. More will be listed shortly, but to begin with we hear that the Divine is:

1. unborn
2. has a transcendental body that never deteriorates
3. is the Lord of all living entities
4. appears in every millennium in His original transcendental form


5. remembers all births of all living entities (Verse 4.5).

Such is the scientific nature of bhakti yoga. The personality of the Divine is not conspicuous by its absence, rather His personality and traits are well documented and revealed to all who desire to hear about them.

Bhakti texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Srimad Bhagavatam are rich with detailed descriptions of the Divine which are not only given personally by Krsna Himself, but by His dear most lovers.

So the next time someone may claim themselves to be God and is trying to convince you - don't be fooled. Instead, ask them to pass the test of meeting the five characteristics that have been named above.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

why can't i remember?

Verse 4.5: The Personality of Godhead said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!

Many of us forget things from time to time. Whether it be where we left our keys, shut off the lights or checked the mail, there are plenty of things that fill up our head. It's no wonder that all kinds of apps and gadgets have been created to help us remember the long list of things that we hope to accomplish.

In the hustle and bustle of just trying to live our lives, it's easy to forget about the needs of the soul. After all, the majority of time tends to be spent on taking care of our body and things that are in relation to it. There's nothing wrong with taking care of the body, but just taking care of the body and totally neglecting the soul is counter-productive. That's because...

The soul is eternal whereas the body is temporary.

Most of us are well acquainted with the needs of the body, but what about the soul? In order to understand the soul's needs, one needs to learn about them from authorized sources. In this case, Arjuna has the perfect teacher, Krsna, to help him understand. To aid in that understanding, Krsna is explaining here that although the soul is eternal, it is limited.

Although eternal, the soul cannot remember the numerous bodies (i.e. births) it has taken.

Makes sense if you think about it. Many of us can't even remember what we wore yesterday, what to speak of trying to remember which body we wore in our last life or lifetimes prior! The question can be posed then - why is this important?

When we start to understand that we don't have the answers to everything because we are limited, it serves as a reminder that we are small. Sometimes the word small has a negative connotation, but in this case it just means we need some help. That help is available in the form of realized teachers who can help us understand who we really are.

When we try to sincerely learn and apply what the realized bhakti practitioners (and texts) teach us, we become empowered to understand their words. That knowledge becomes more than just theory; instead, we start to see their words manifest as reality in our lives.

So we don't remember our past lives or actions, big deal. If we stop and think about it - it might actually be a good thing! What's important is what we choose to do with our time now.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

to question

Verse 4.4: Arjuna said: The sun-god Vivasvān is senior by birth to You. How am I to understand that in the beginning You instructed this science to him?

In order to clarify doubt and truly understand something, two things are required:

One needs to inquire from the right person.

It's a two way street, although a strong case can be made that most of the responsibility falls on the one who is posing the question. That's because they are the ones who:

1) Have to formulate the appropriate question or else they might not get the answer they need.

2) Have the free will to choose (and accept) the person to get answers from.

Let's use a real life example to understand that a bit better. If you've ever been to a foreign country, you might have first hand experience of trying to get to a destination and having no clue where to go. In stopping someone on the street, the first question you might ask is not how to get to x, y, z destination but... "Are you from here?"

That question is an important one as it helps you (the tourist) to find out if you're asking a reputable source (i.e. one who is qualified to answer). least in my experience, it may help but doesn't necessarily guarantee that you will get the directions you require!

But that qualifying question is an important one. It's easy to get answers to questions...

The difficulty lies in finding the right individual who is actually authorized to answer your question.

Krsna has already established himself as the appropriate person to teach the science of bhakti as described in Verse 4.1. Here, Arjuna is teaching all of us the art of questioning. He has heard Krsna out but still has a doubt and so he asks Krsna to clarify it.

This is where the subtleties of bhakti are revealed. After finding the right guide/teacher and formulating the appropriate question/s the most important thing is the attitude behind the questioning. Is it one of genuine curiosity and inquiry or one of arrogance? It's this attitude that actually determines how much knowledge is imparted from the bhakti yogi to the student.

These are three elements to perfecting the art of questioning - finding the right teacher, asking the right question and checking to see what your attitude is when asking it. Try them out and see how it works for you!

Monday, July 22, 2013

bhakti revealed

Verse 4.3: That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend and can therefore understand the transcendental mystery of this science.

As with most things of value, there is a price to pay for getting the "real deal". For material things, that price is often money. However, to truly understand bhakti, the price is something a little different - it's the price of faith and relationship.

That's what we hear Krsna say to Arjuna today. Krsna is saying, "I am revealing this science of bhakti yoga to you because you are my friend."

That in essence sums up the secret to successfully practicing bhakti yoga - staying in the association of and developing real and genuine friendships with bhakti yogis.

Often we've described how bhakti yoga is not something that can be learned from books and texts alone. That's because....

Bhakti requires guidance because it is a transformation of heart and attitude.

Such a transformation occurs more quickly when one is in the company of those whose hearts and attitudes have changed. However, it requires that we make an investment of time and faith in developing relationships with such persons. The hearts of the great bhakti yogis are soft as butter since they are actively trying to live a life of compassion, gratitude and service. However, as with any treasure, they guard that bhakti with great attention and care.

For most of us, our best friends are those that we have spent a lot of time with since it is only then that both sides start trusting each other and start to speak from the heart. Similarly, the heart of the bhakti yogi is revealed when a relationship based on respect and affection is established.

For anyone who wants to get to the heart of bhakti, the best way to do so is by securing a place in the heart of a bhakti yogi.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

care is the strongest link

Verse 4.2: This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.

When I was in University, I always felt slightly disconcerted. With the exception of a handful of professors, I really didn't feel like any of mine were interested in their students. Being in Science, most of my Professors were just itching to get back to the lab where they could devote their time to what they really loved - research.

Since I was for the most part deprived of teachers who genuinely cared about their students' learning, I had to "teach myself" how to learn. It was at this time that I realized that modern education, and specifically Science, is rooted in the descending system of knowledge.

In other words, one learns from teachers (or in my case, textbooks) who gained knowledge from teachers before them etc etc... The key area where modern education and the science of bhakti differs is the one I pointed out initially - the aspect of care.

This is not to say that there aren't teachers out there who genuinely care for their students. There are! However, with schools overflowing and teachers being overworked and under-paid, it seems like these incredible personalities are dwindling in number.

In contrast, the very foundation of bhakti yoga is based on a a culture of care, not knowledge. Knowledge is definitely there, but it comes second - behind care.

If you think about it, care and love are the greatest things we can be taught since that is what links us to each other.

The understanding of a particular topic or subject, whether material or spiritual, is not based on its complexity, but the care and attention that a teacher gives to their students.

Today, we hear Krsna express how much He cares that the knowledge of bhakti is understood properly. He states that it was handed down through the line of saintly kings and that through time this succession of teachers was broken and therefore He is re-establishing it by speaking this knowledge to Arjuna.

That is a true teacher. One who not only cares for the subject matter, but one who cares for the student and their understanding of that knowledge.

If we can appreciate anything from the Gita - this is it. At the most basic level, it is a conversation between a teacher who genuinely cares and loves his student. The extent of that love is demonstrated when, at the end of the Gita, Krsna tells Arjuna to choose what he thinks will be best and offers to repeat the whole thing again if Arjuna hasn't understood it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

great expectations

Verse 4.1: The Personality of Godhead, Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvān, and Vivasvān instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikṣvāku.

History and experience can teach us so much. In fact, the great bhakti yoga master, Srila Prabhupada would say (and I paraphrase):

First class intelligence is hearing about the mistakes of others and not committing them. Second class intelligence is making mistakes, learning from them and trying to avoid making them again and third class intelligence is making mistakes and not learning from them.

The Bhagavad-gita is giving us the opportunity to exercise first class intelligence. As we hear in today's verse, this science of yoga has not just appeared randomly. It has been passed along for lifetimes upon lifetimes to the most intelligent and empowered personalities. We are so lucky to now have the opportunity to hear that same knowledge - unadulterated and just as powerful. By following this process we have an opportunity to save ourselves time, effort and disappointment.

One of the great lessons that the Gita teaches us is that of learning to manage expectations. At the beginning of the Gita, we see Arjuna expressing his doubts and misgivings to Krsna. But if you look a little deeper, you find something more - Arjuna is stating that he has certain expectations and is worried that by doing the right thing, those expectations will not be met.

Is that not what we go through everyday? We all have expectations of ourselves, of situations and perhaps the trickiest of them all - of others.

At the heart of expectation is the belief that somehow we will be happier if x, y, z manifests.

Is that not really it, if we strip away all the other coverings? It's a belief. There is no actual guarantee that we will be happier, but we have built the expectation to work out a certain way in our heads that just the thought of it not playing out leaves us more miserable than we originally were!

So how do we practically manage expectations? For advanced bhakti yogis, the answer is simple. They understand that they are not this body but the eternal spirit soul. Since many of our expectations are related to the material, temporary world and relationships that are based on the body, not the soul, such yogis realize that disappointment is inevitable. Essentially, they don't put much stock in it and choose to rest their expectations on the grace of the Divine who never disappoints.

For those of us who may not be on that level, what are we to do?

Recognize that expectations rest on a belief of happiness, not a guarantee.

This can help ease the sting of disappointment, keep things in perspective and help us not to flip out when we are caught in the tight claws of expectation. For many, when we don't get what we expected it tends to weigh heavily on the mind, causes us to speculate and drives us mad.

The next time this happens, give yourself and others a break. Failed expectations can actually be the greatest gift we can receive if we can just approach it in the right perspective. It reminds us that true happiness lies within and doesn't rest in the hands of others.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

are you aware of what's going on?

Verse 3.43: Thus knowing oneself to be transcendental to the material senses, mind and intelligence, O mighty-armed Arjuna, one should steady the mind by deliberate spiritual intelligence [Kṛṣṇa consciousness] and thus — by spiritual strength — conquer this insatiable enemy known as lust.

Once in awhile I am startled by how unaware I am of everything going on around me. At such times, I realize that I'm functioning on automatic pilot and have to remind myself that I'm not a robot but a sentient being that has the power to observe and discriminate!

One such moment happened to a friend of mine recently. She was mentioning how she became jealous upon hearing good news of someone who is close to her. It's not that she didn't wish well for the individual, as she later remarked to me, but it was the fact that she wasn't the recipient of that good fortune. She's gotten over it now and having introspected a bit, said to me, "I wasn't aware that I could become jealous like that!"

I was struck by that phrase:

"I wasn't aware that..."

This entire 3rd Chapter of the Gita has been encouraging us to become more "aware'. It's been pointing out that we, as embodied souls, are prone to being influenced by lust and the mentality of having things go our way (i.e. being attached to the fruits of our work). Krsna has taken the time to stress the importance of awareness because...

It's only when we are aware of a lack, need or challenge that we are inspired to do something about it.

This awareness is so crucial and necessary to the practice of bhakti yoga. In fact, often when I'm asked what bhakti yoga is all about, I give a standard answer - "It's the process by which we can connect to ourselves, the Divine and one another through love and service."

However, as my own understanding of bhakti is deepening, I'm starting to include an additional line in my explanation:

Bhakti yoga is also about becoming conscious of who we are and our eternal relationship with all living entities.

After all, if we don't know who we are and what our relationship is with one another, then it becomes irrelevant as to why we should want to connect to anyone through love and service. As the great bhakti yogi, Srila Prabhupada, said, "First be conscious; then become God conscious."

Isn't that just so practical and beautiful? Ultimately, this means realizing that we are eternal souls who have nothing to do with this temporary material world. This is just one stop in our journey and like an actor in a drama, the body we are in, the situations we face and the emotions we feel are just part of one scene in that drama.

When we become aware that we are not the body, but the eternal soul, it is only then we'll stop sweating the small stuff. Things will start to fall in the proper perspective and we'll be well on our path to lasting happiness.