Tuesday, April 30, 2013

for your convenience...

Morning Gita fans! For all those who would like to catch up on posts but find it tiresome to scroll back to the very beginning or find specific verses of interest, we've made something for you! Now you can just click on Quick Links to Chapter 1 (located to the right of the main page) to get easy access to the post you want to see! All links to Chapter 1 verses are up and later this week, all the links to Chapter 2 will be put up as well.

Monday, April 29, 2013

lessons from the ocean

Verse 2.70: A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires — that enter like rivers into the ocean, which is ever being filled but is always still — can alone achieve peace, and not the man who strives to satisfy such desires.

Waves and salt, power and grace, mysterious yet serene - these are some of the images and words that come to mind when I think of the ocean. In fact, as yogis have discovered, the ocean has a soothing effect on many. It puts one back in touch with nature and many have often said that just looking upon it helps puts things into perspective.

It is no wonder then that the Gita refers to it specifically. However, as with everything, the Gita pulls out a supremely deep lesson we can take away from the ocean - the lesson of steadiness. As we are coming to the close of Chapter 2 which is aptly entitled "Contents of the Gita Summarized", everything that has been explained thus far is being put together into the comprehensive and holistic process known as bhakti yoga.

Krsna began with explaining that we are eternal souls who are wearing a dress of a particular body. This was followed by stressing the importance of performing one's activities in accordance with one's nature in a spirit of gratitude. Invaluable truths were presented as to the nature of the mind and the secret science of learning how to control the process of attachment.

The Gita now speaks of how this all interlocks together, through the process of bhakti yoga. It is only after understanding these various truths and realizing them (through practical application in our own lives) that we can become undisturbed. Such a person remains equipoised irregardless of their external surroundings and the inner chaotic demands of their minds.

We can learn how this is done by just observing the ocean. The ocean is always full, just as we are. Although we are externally searching for happiness, happiness is already within. The soul is always blissful. Due to wearing this external body we are currently inhabiting, we have become habituated into thinking that happiness is something that is experienced through the senses. True happiness is not experienced through the senses, mind or intelligence. It is experienced through the soul.

By understanding this fundamental truth, we can remain steady, just like the ocean. Although various rivers may keep pouring water into it, the ocean isn't dependent on them to feel full. Similarly, although we may be subjected to various desires, if we understand that satisfying those demands isn't the path to eternal happiness, then we will remain calm. It's important to remember, as the great bhakti master Prabhupada highlights:

"As long as one has the material body, the demands of the body for sense gratification will continue. The bhakti yogi, however, is not disturbed by such desires, because of his fullness. Such a person is not in need of anything, because the Lord fulfills all his material necessities. Therefore he is like the ocean — always full in himself."

This is the secret. The Gita teaches us that "it's ok to let go." We don't always need to be in control. By performing our actions in a spirit of gratitude for all that we have been given, we start to realize that the Divine is always helping us. He is providing for every living creature from the little ant to the gigantic elephant. So why are we so worried that He won't take care of us?

When we start living our lives in such a way, it only becomes natural that the we "stop sweating the small stuff". Instead, we start introspecting and putting our energy and effort into what really matters - our connection with the Supreme. Of course, that doesn't mean that we neglect ourselves, our job or our family and friends, it just means that we realize that true happiness exists on the soul level, not just on the level of the senses.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

day and night

Verse 2.69: What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled; and the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage.

Sometimes this verse can be a little difficult to wrap one's head around. I am so grateful that I have had the opportunity to learn from my bhakti yoga teachers or it's quite possible that I would have never understood it!

Krsna is stating that for those who are materially inclined, their priorities tend to be very different than those who are more spiritually minded. That's essentially it. In fact, as we may have experienced, some materialistically inclined persons scoff at the very notion of applying any spiritual principles in their lives. Their thinking is more along the lines of "You only have one life to live, so let me do whatever I want, whenever I want." This type of attitude may unfortunately lead to very selfish behaviour.

Even if we all don't aspire to become sage-like, we can at least become more balanced in our approach to life. By understanding the principles of karma and reincarnation, this gives us impetus to strive for something more. Firstly, it helps us understand that we should plan for the long-term because whatever we sow now through our present actions, we will reap later. In other words, although it is important that we live in the present, we should not base our decisions solely on the promise of immediate gratification.

Secondly, it also encourages us to not just "settle" which is something we've been doing for lifetimes.

We've been settling for short term happiness, putting up with various miseries, and running after temporary objects which we don't even get to take with us when we die. Frankly speaking, it sucks!

That's one of the reasons why the Gita is so valuable to all of us; it teaches us both material and spiritual knowledge. On the one hand, it teaches us how to live in this world successfully while educating us about our real identity. By understanding our real identity, we realize that this is just a stop in our journey. This isn't our real home.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

the exercise guide

Verse 2.68: Therefore, O mighty-armed, one whose senses are restrained from their objects is certainly of steady intelligence.

I love to ponder the meaning of words. When reading today's verse, the word exercise came to mind and how both it's meanings are so applicable. As a noun, it is indicative of an activity that requires physical effort to help one maintain health and well-being. When used as a verb, however, it means to use or apply something, like a process.

For the past little while now, Krsna has been presenting a practical means by which we can control our senses (i.e. a process to exercise). That is, engagement of the senses as a service as opposed to using them in a self-serving way through the transformation of consciousness. Repeatedly, it's been highlighted that artificial repression of our senses is the difficult path which is not recommended for long term success.

In the beginning, however, some repression is needed and I wanted to highlight that. Even though one may theoretically understand and agree that we can transform our senses as vehicles to help us realize our true selves (i.e. eternal souls), it's hard to kick a bad habit. Simply put, it's hard to stop doing something you've been doing for lifetimes! That is, operating on the "what's in it for me" platform most of the time. This doesn't apply to all of us, but it certainly applies to many of us!

Therefore, in the beginning we may need to voluntarily control our wandering senses; we may have to exercise restraint. Some might question, "Hey, isn't the Gita being contradictory then? On one hand it's saying that we shouldn't artificially repress our senses, but on the other hand it's saying we need to control them."

This is why it's so important to have bhakti guides and friends to help us understand things in context. It's like in colouring. Remember when we were young and it seemed that the whole goal was to just try to colour inside the lines of our colouring book? Those of you who are artistically inclined didn't stay on this level forever. Looking back, some may even comment that it was a necessary exercise to gain more control over the hands. Now as matured and evolved artists, you utilize that control when needed but don't hang on to it since its not the end goal in and of itself.

Similarly, in the beginning, it may be hard for us to always work in the consciousness of service and bhakti. There will be times when we will need to just "say no" to the dictates of our mind. We will need to practice exercising that restraint. Doing that, in combination with practicing acknowledgement for all the gifts we have received from the Divine will, however, lead to the time when we won't need to practice that restraint. It will become natural and joyful.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

anchoring our consciousness

Verse 2.67: As a strong wind sweeps away a boat on the water, even one of the roaming senses on which the mind focuses can carry away a man's intelligence.

Here, the Gita is so beautifully illustrating the characteristics of the senses. Like the wind, they can be strong, forceful and unexpected. Previously compared to a snake, the senses can charm us, deceive us and strike us when we are at our weakest.

This is the Gita at it's best- practical and relatable. It puts concepts and ideas that we may have trouble grasping, into perspectives we can relate to. Since many of us identify ourselves with our senses, it can be hard for some of us to realize that the senses often control us, as opposed to the other way around. In this case, when the senses are compared to things we have personally observed or heard about, it encourages us to look at them from a different perspective. Instead of forcing us "to accept the truth", the Gita instead guides us to discover it for ourselves.

So what is it that can prevent us from being carried away by our wind-like senses? An anchor. Something heavy and solid that will ground us. Sometimes, yogis mistakenly think that the only way to anchor the senses is to stop them from functioning altogether. For most of us, this is next to impossible and highly impractical when thinking long term cessation. The Gita presents a more practical approach which doesn't prevent the boat of our body from moving or functioning normally. Instead of stopping everything in order to control the senses, the Gita teaches us to anchor our consciousness. Instead of letting our consciousness run wild with the "what's in it for me" attitude infusing all our actions and behaviour, instead we anchor our consciousness to the Divine. Just like the wind can be harnessed for electricity and power, similarly our senses can be harnessed to engage in activities that further us in our path of self-realization.

Instead of just giving in to the random demands of the body, we can act with the understanding that true happiness lies in satisfying the needs of the soul, not just the body. This brings about balance in one's life. One cannot artificially ignore the demands of the body, but one should also not neglect the soul which is screaming for nourishment and attention. By harnessing the senses, one can live a life of balance where both body and soul are looked after properly.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

get in touch

Verse 2.66: One who is not connected with the Supreme [in Kṛṣṇa consciousness] can have neither transcendental intelligence nor a steady mind, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be any happiness without peace?

***Please note that if you have saved or use www.gitaasitis.com to access this blog, on Friday it will be changed to www.everydaygita.com***

With so many disturbing events taking place all over the world, the topic of peace keeps coming up in conversations. Whether it be peace between nations, individual and country, or between individuals themselves, the streets and internet are overflowing with questions like: "What's going on? Why isn't it possible for everyone to just live in peace?" My personal opinion is that if everyone could experience peace in their own lives, society as a whole wouldn't be as dysfunctional as it is.

The Gita will present the ultimate peace formula in it's entirety in Chapter 5, but today I'd like to explore the question of why, as individuals, it's so difficult for many of us to experience peace.

This verse very clearly presents why many of us aren't peaceful - we are not connected to the Supreme. My favorite definition of yoga is a phrase that the great bhakti master, Srila Prabhupada, coined: "Yoga means to keep in touch with the Supreme." How beautiful is that? It gets to the heart of what yoga is about - relationships and connection.

Relationships require one to put time and energy into them. It requires one to "keep in touch". As has been repeatedly mentioned, the Gita teaches that we are the soul, an eternal spiritual spark. A spark is very tiny and limited in it's capacity to ignite anything if it is not connected to the flame from where it came from. But, the moment that spark is reunited with the flame it originated from - WOAH! There's some serious power.

Similarly, on our own we are minute and lonely when we are not connected with the Supreme. Very practically speaking, if we were under the shelter of the one who is most powerful, rich, famous, knowledgeable, beautiful and renounced, wouldn't we feel protected and loved? Right now, as souls wearing different bodies, we are under the illusion that we are the controller. The thing is, it's hard to fill a role that we're not qualified for. As we continue to operate under the illusion that "we can take care of everything on our own", many of us only experience greater loneliness and a sense of dissatisfaction.

Bhakti yoga is about teaching us how to "get back in touch" with both ourselves and the Supreme. Through the process of acting in a spirit of gratitude and becoming unattached to the fruits of our results, we're re-investing in a relationship that we've been taking for granted for so long. Gratitude is a beautiful platform to build a relationship. As we start to live our lives acknowledging and marveling at the gifts and talents we've been given, we start to realize that our happiness doesn't depend on material objects.

Naturally, our senses become controlled and the mind becomes peaceful. It takes a lot of energy to constantly live a "what's in it for me" kind of life. Instead, when we realize we are connected to the Divine, who provides everything we need anyways, that burden is lifted from our shoulders. At that stage, guess what we experience? Peace.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

how to read the gita

Verse 2.65: For one thus satisfied [in Kṛṣṇa consciousness], the threefold miseries of material existence exist no longer; in such satisfied consciousness, one's intelligence is soon well established.

In this one verse, Krsna is recapping everything he has presented thus far. This begs the question...what exactly has Krsna said? I invite all of you to list any and all things you remember in the comments below!

Today, however, I would like to focus on the mood in which we approach the Gita. As we're nearing the end of Chapter 2, this is a good time to ask ourselves what we hope to get out of reading this incredible yoga text. There could be numerous answers to this question. If you would permit me, however, I would like to suggest imbibing the mood offered by the great bhakti yogi, Srila Prabhupada.

For anyone who joining us for the first time today, the Gita is presenting the path of bhakti yoga. Practically speaking, it is giving us, the readers, the tools to understand who we really are, the environment we have to work with and how we can break free of the limitations we all face. Limitations such as the pain of birth, death, disease and old age.

Pretty impressive, no? To be able to solve these challenges, a spirit of discovery and enthusiasm is required. In fact, Srila Prabhupada states very aptly that the bhakti path is scientific, meaning one can apply the scientific method: test a hypothesis, perform experiments, make observations and thereby draw conclusions.

One potential hypothesis one could make is that the Gita has the ability to solve all our material problems. Based on that, the natural question arises as to how to test that hypothesis. For that, I refer to the Introduction of the Gita where Prabhupada writes: "The spirit of Bhagavad-gītā is mentioned in Bhagavad-gītā itself. It is just like this: If we want to take a particular medicine, then we have to follow the directions written on the label. We cannot take the medicine according to our own whim or the direction of a friend. It must be taken according to the directions on the label or the directions given by a physician."

How awesome is that? Having done my Masters in Biochemistry, let me tell you from personal experience - coming up with the experiments to test your hypothesis is the hardest part! We're so lucky that the Gita provides us with all the experiments and the background as to how to perform them. Literally, all we need to do is follow what the Gita says and observe what happens. Numerous persons all around the world have and are practicing the teachings of the Gita and are observing tangible results. I guess the question is - do you want to solve all your material problems or not? If so, we invite you to join us in our experiment and and try it out for yourself.

new things on the horizon - blog name change!

My dear readers,

Some exciting news! In the next few days this blog will be re-directed to a new web address! For those of you who have saved www.gitaasitis.com as a bookmark or regularly access the site using that address, please be on the look out as the new web address will be www.everydaygita.com in honour of the blog's new name - EVERYDAY GITA! Some of you may have already noticed that the blog is sporting a new look in the form of a new logo. :)

Please feel free to spread the word about the re-direct from www.gitaasitis.com to www.everydaygita.com. Please note, if you have saved the blog name as www.gita-asitis.blogspot.ca, you won't have to worry about anything. You'll still be able to access everything using that address.

We're hoping to make the move probably by the end of this week so that readers and visitors will have a chance to hear about the news. If anyone is curious as to why the name change, here's the reason why. The goal of this blog is to present the Gita in a practical and relevant manner....for everyone for everyday use. :) Hopefully this name change will be more reflective of the content.

I seek your blessings, encouragement and prayers in this transition. Hope you'll be back for today's post which will be put up later this evening!

Monday, April 22, 2013

repression vs. regulation

Verse 2.64: But a person free from all attachment and aversion and able to control his senses through regulative principles of freedom can obtain the complete mercy of the Lord.

For the past few verses, Krsna has been highlighting the importance of sense control. However, it should be noted that the aspect of artificial repression, which some may mistake to be the only way to control the senses, has been denounced as being less than optimal. Why is that?

Artificial repression, in this context, refers to forcibly withholding the senses from engaging with their sense objects. Although extremely determined persons can do this for extended periods of time, it takes a great deal of effort. It's not positive in any way, shape or form. The tape player of the mind is set on "Don't, don't, don't..." and for most of us, that's far from enlivening.

The Gita suggests a much more positive and practical approach - regulation of the senses. It takes into account that we are embodied beings who have senses. That means that it's only logical that the senses will want to interact with sense objects! Instead of going to extremes, the Gita speaks of attaining a middle ground. As opposed to over-indulging in sense enjoyment, one can regulate it.

The benefits of regulating the senses are two-fold. First of all, we (as souls), are back in the drivers seat and taking command of the bodies we are currently inhabiting as opposed to letting our senses dictate what we "want". Secondly, regulation allows us to take that time to determine whether or not the activity we want to engage in is beneficial to us or not. What is that judgement based on? The bhakti texts would present the basis for that decision be made on whether it helps us remember that we are eternal spirit souls or whether it only helps reinforce the notion that we "think" we are this body. Furthermore, that time allows us to get into the proper consciousness of doing everything in a spirit of gratitude as opposed to doing it for ourselves.

Regulation has gotten a bad rap when it comes to spirituality, yoga and actually any facet of life. As opposed to looking at it in a negative way, Krsna is inviting us to look at it as a means by which we can live our lives to their fullest potential. As a final thought to meditate on - regulation isn't a lack of freedom. A lack of freedom is being bound by the dictates of our mind senses and constantly succumbing to them. True freedom is being able to make a choice.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

the attachment trap - part 2

Verse 2.63: From anger, complete delusion arises, and from delusion bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered, intelligence is lost, and when intelligence is lost one falls down again into the material pool.

Yesterday, we started breaking down the attachment trap. The trap lures one in by "oh so innocently" encouraging one to contemplate an object of the senses which quickly leads to attachment, lust and anger. Today, we'll pick where up we left off and talk about what may come after one experiences anger.

Breakdown of the attachment trap continued

Step 5 - delusion: Think about the last time you were angry. Starting off on a slow simmer it may have escalated and began burning. You could feel it taking over your body. How did you react when a person tried to talk to you when you were in that condition? Did you find yourself saying things that you didn't even mean? Although the example given of ice cream yesterday may seem quite trite, it's often those "silly" things that can lead one to getting angry. Imagine that you're finally on that bus you've been waiting for and you're already on a slow simmer. The friend that you were planning to meet calls you up and asks what's going on. When you tell them, they try to reason with you and explain that your presence is needed urgently. By now, however, you're so sold on the fact that you need ice cream right away, that nothing can convince you otherwise.

Step 6 - bewilderment of memory: In such a state of mind, the memory gets bewildered. Memories are repositories or storehouses of past events and experiences. The memory could remind you that obtaining ice cream is not a life or death situation, but if attachment firmly takes hold, it's to no avail. It's not possible to bring back the "memories" of living peacefully without ice cream. Everything gets fuzzy and out of focus...which leads to...

Step 7 - loss of intelligence: The intelligence which has been fighting to get a stronghold on this disastrous attachment situation, just doesn't have a chance now. The intelligence which could have tried to bring up past memories as proof to indicate that life without ice cream is possible, is just lost. Attachment is that strong. In fact, it can even start using the intelligence to start making all kinds of justifications as to why getting that ice cream is the highest goal in life.

Step 8 - falling into the material pool: Any chance of acting with gratitude and compassion is now completely out of the question. The attitude of "it's all about me" firmly takes root. This only further propagates our illusion that we are this body and distances us from our true selves - the soul which is eternal, full of knowledge and bliss.

And that, my dear readers, is the attachment trap. It starts off so simply doesn't it? Just contemplating something, someone, someplace etc. No one would ever think that it could lead to this dark and dangerous road...but it can. So for all of you who are interested in working without attachment and reducing the amount of suffering in your life...it's something to consider. After all, once you know the inner workings of the trap, it's so much easier to avoid it.

Would love to hear if this breakdown has helped you in any way, so please feel free to leave comments!

Friday, April 19, 2013

the attachment trap - part 1

Verse 2.62: While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises.

Has this ever happened to you? You're chatting with a friend when suddenly they exclaim, "Man, I really want some ice cream right now!" You nod your head in agreement and continue your conversation. However, after another five minutes you blurt out, "I can't stop thinking about that ice cream! I really want some." As you carry on with your day, you think about the different flavours that you like and how there's a shop that's just twenty minutes out of your way. The next thing you know, you've made arrangements to get to that shop and are still in that dream-like state thinking how much you're going to enjoy it.

If so....you've been the victim of the attachment trap! That sneaky trap that many of us are totally unaware of. It's the root cause of not only many hours lost in time wasting, but in suffering. Sound a little overly dramatic? Probably because I used the innocuous example of ice cream!

Personally, I feel this step by step breakdown of how attachment arises and it's potential after effects is one of the most valuable pieces of knowledge one can possess. Whether one is interested in spirituality or not, this "recipe" as one could call it, is universal. Understanding how and why attachment arises is the key to not only preventing suffering, but to becoming unattached.

Breakdown of the attachment trap

Step 1 - contemplation of the senses: Sounds pretty benign and innocent enough, right? Whether it be thinking of a person, a thing, an activity etc., nothing wrong in just thinking about it. WRONG. The Gita clearly explains here that this is how the attachment trap lures it's naive prey in. Let's revisit the ice cream example. You weren't thinking about it before, but upon hearing it, it sounds kind of nice doesn't it? Now, if a person isn't very interested, they hear it and let it go. But...if the thought stays and we toss it around back and forth in our mind....oh oh....that leads to...

Step 2 - attachment: As one thinks about it, one naturally becomes attached. How can one not? If you're meditating upon something, it's in your mind constantly. That constant remembrance leads one to become attached to the idea of it. Unless one is very strong and determined, the intelligence gets drowned out. The intelligence, which acts as a discriminator, may try to warn the mind that sugar isn't very good for us, that it's cold outside and we've sworn off sweets. But it takes a strong person! If we're unable to listen to our intelligence and continue to feed our attachment, it turns into...

Step 3: lust: That longing or craving to obtain whatever it is that is the object of our contemplation. It's at this time that the mind tends to go into overdrive. It starts making plans. "Although I have to meet someone, I'll tell them an emergency came up and that way I'll have time to get some ice cream!" Once that "want" firmly takes root, the mission is clear. Must. Get. It.

Step 4: anger: However...as all of us have come to realize, we don't always get what we want. Our plans get thwarted in so many ways. Depending on the strength of the desire, if something comes in our way, that's when anger arises. "I can't believe the stupid bus is late! I'm going to have to wait another thirty minutes for the next one to come and I've already been waiting all day for my ice cream. Arggghhhhh!"

Ever experience any of these steps? Whether yes or no, think of it as some food for thought the next time you find yourself getting preoccupied with something or someone.

Tune in tomorrow for part 2 where we'll find out how anger can lead one to fall even deeper into "the attachment trap".

Thursday, April 18, 2013

the sage and the king

Verse 2.61: One who restrains his senses, keeping them under full control, and fixes his consciousness upon Me, is known as a man of steady intelligence.

Once there was a great sage by the name of Durvasa. He was a great lover of God and would travel near and far visiting various kingdoms and cities. In his travels, he once visited a king by the name of Ambarish. Ambarish was not only a great king who was beloved by his people, but an incredible role model. He exemplified what it meant to lead by example and although having all riches and opulence at his disposal, his greatest source of joy was in practicing bhakti yoga.

Ambarish would observe all festivals and auspicious occurrences which sometimes consisted of fasting. The purpose behind such fasting was to utilize that time, which was normally spent in eating, in increasing one's spiritual practices. Those practices that remind one of their spiritual connection with the Supreme such as mantra meditation, reading bhakti texts and hearing from advanced bhakti practitioners. Just when the time came to break the fast, the sage Durvasa came to visit.

Ambarish received Durvasa and his students with great happiness. With sincere hospitality, the king offered the sage and his students food which had been cooked and offered to the Supreme with great love and affection (in sanskirt this is known as prasadam). Durvasa accepted but expressed the desire to bathe first since he was coming from travelling. When Durvasa left, the king was informed by his ministers that the time to break the fasting period had come. Ambarish, being the best of hosts, expressed his discomfort and stated that, "It is the duty of the host to ensure that their guest has eaten to their full satisfaction before entertaining any thought of eating themselves."

His learned bhakti ministers, understanding that it was important for the King to break fast, suggested that he take a drop of water. This would count as breaking the fast, but at the same time since it was not a foodstuff, would technically mean that the king was still honouring the etiquette of serving his guest first. On the suggestion of his elders, Ambarish took a drop of water and waited patiently to personally serve the sage his meal.

Durvasa, who was in possession of great mystical power, immediately realized what the King had done and took offense. Hurtling insults at the king and saying that the Ambarish had no sense control, the sage invoked a great demon by the power of mantras to kill the king. All the while, Ambarish simply remained calm. Remaining composed, he prayed to the Supreme, "If you want to kill me or protect me, please do so as your will is my will."

This demonstrates such a valuable and important lesson for all of us - aspiring to become a true practitioner of yoga and learning how to accept any situation with gratitude and dependence on the Supreme is not restricted to a select few. It wouldn't be surprising for one to normally consider a sage to be a greater bhakti yogi than a king, but here we observe an example of what could arguably be the opposite.

Practicing the principles of yoga have nothing to do with power, prestige, position, background, Country or religion. It has everything to do with heart and consciousness. The yogi demonstrates that their heart and consciousness is filled with gratitude not by artificially controlling their senses, but reposing them in the service of the Divine.

As has been mentioned several times - it's about a transformation of consciousness, not an artificial repression of the senses. When one's consciousness is filled with gratitude and longing to reconnect with the Supreme, who has given us all individual and special gifts, then the natural inclination is to utilize all we have (i.e. our senses) in bringing pleasure to the Supreme.

Interested to know how the story ends? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

the elephant in the room

Verse 2.60: The senses are so strong and impetuous, O Arjuna, that they forcibly carry away the mind even of a man of discrimination who is endeavoring to control them.

Have you ever heard this saying before? It's an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is either being ignored or going unaddressed. This expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss (credit: Wikipedia)

Today's verse is addressing the elephant in the room. The fact that the senses are so strong and overwhelming that even the most sane and discriminatory of persons can get carried away by them. Just ask any person who has ever had to study for an exam. Even the most studious and serious of individuals have given in to the senses which demand some stimulation (as a side note, normally this ends up being some combination of eating, sleeping or commiserating with others over how tiring it is to study! :D). So why does no one do anything about this? Why isn't sense control addressed in schools? Oh no... instead of recognizing that this is an inherent problem, this very challenge that most of us face is exploited to to rake in billions upon billions of dollars daily.

Just look around. Everywhere there is something prompting you to buy something, wear something, crave something or eat something. The entire material world is one big billboard that is screaming "You can't be happy without x, y, z item, person or thing!!!"

Further discussion on the process by which we can transform our senses is yet to come...but today I'd like to ask you to contemplate this elephant in the room. After all, it's only natural that once we ignore something so consistently and constantly that we actually forget about it. Please take the time today to take note of if and when your senses take over your intelligence. It could be that extra piece of chocolate that you really don't need or that hour wasted away in front of your tv.

An important point to remember though: this is not an exercise in judgement but one in observation. After all, acceptance and acknowledgement of the challenge is the first step on the path to sense control recovery!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

are you an addict?

Verse 2.59: The embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, though the taste for sense objects remains. But, ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.

What did you answer to that question? As I began writing this, I started off with one answer and half-way through I changed my mind. Maybe you'll have the same experience?

The Gita explains that we are all addicts. The problem is that most of us don't even know it. Since we are unaware that there is a problem, it's near impossible to rectify it.

If that's the case, what is it that we are addicted to? Two words - sense enjoyment. As embodied souls this is the primary way by which we try to derive pleasure. Whether it be through eating something tasty, seeing something beautiful or hearing a beautiful piece of music, there are innumerable ways by which we try to derive satisfaction through our senses.

This might cause one to ask the question, "Are you trying to say that there is something wrong with trying to feel pleasure?" To which the Gita unequivocally replies - NO! Confused yet? On one hand the Gita is saying that sense enjoyment is our problem but then it also says that it isn't wrong for us to try to experience pleasure. What gives?!

Dilemmas such as this one tend to confuse many of us and even the most sincere readers of the Gita may feel tempted to give up at times. That's why it is so important to ask questions and learn from those who have themselves studied the Gita from great bhakti teachers. It's a beautiful lineage. Each teacher is a student (since they have learned from a realized Gita practitioner themselves) and each student has the capacity to become a teacher (since they are being equipped to realize the Gita properly). If one learns in this way, the tendency to misinterpret great texts like the Gita can be reduced and avoided.

That is why we are so lucky to have Prahupada, the translator of the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, explain these potential areas of misunderstanding. That being said, let's address the present confusion. It isn't wrong for for us to try to seek pleasure because the soul is inherently blissful by nature. That is our constitutional position. Just like the inherent nature of fire is to be hot, the intrinsic characteristic of the soul is to be happy.

So why then is the Gita saying that not seek pleasure through sense enjoyment? As you may remember, sense enjoyment leads most of us to further misidentifying ourselves with this body we are currently in. That's the problem. It interferes with our ability to realize that we are already blissful!

The body, without the soul, is dead matter and all the things the body interacts are often done with a material consciousness. When most of us interact even with each other, our consciousness is not normally one of, "I am relating with another eternal spirit soul". Or if we interact with objects and things, we're often not consciously thinking, "I am interacting with the energy of the Divine." Instead, often unbeknownst to us, we may actually be interacting with the consciousness of ownership, possessiveness, and trying to extract pleasure for ourselves. Of course, not this is not applicable to all, but it's worth taking the time to introspect and determine if our actions and interactions are coloured by such consciousness.

So what is one to do? The senses are active and therefore one cannot artificially repress them. The only thing that can be done is to purify the senses. How so? By adopting the consciousness that was put forth before. When interacting with one another, to recognize that there is a soul inside and by seeing all inanimate things as energies of the Divine that can be used in spiritual service.

A lot more can be said on this topic, and will be elaborated on as we journey through the Gita. But coming back to the original question. Are you an addict? If you're curious to know my answer...my original answer was yes. But in diving deeper into the Gita, I realize the answer is yes and no. LOL! No, I'm not an addict, because "I" am an eternal soul who is naturally blissful. However, considering the fact that my currently tendency is to identify "myself" as the body, I am still an addict because I am still working on purifying my senses.

Monday, April 15, 2013

lessons from a tortoise

Verse 2.58: One who is able to withdraw his senses from sense objects, as the tortoise draws its limbs within the shell, is firmly fixed in perfect consciousness.

It's amazing how many lessons we can learn from nature; in fact, the bhakti texts are rich with beautiful descriptions and analogies. One can learn to be humble like a blade of grace which never protests or demands recognition and learn the art of tolerance from a tree that weather all types of inconveniences.

Everyone and everything can be looked upon as our teacher/s. The only thing that prevents us from experiencing the world in this way is....well I don't want to give it away just yet. After all, that's why we are studying the Gita!

Coming back to today's verse which gives a beautiful description of a tortoise, I ask you: what's arguably the number one reason that prompts a tortoise to withdraw its limbs within its shell? If you said fear, you're right! The tortoise is intelligent enough to perceive a threat to its well being and therefore retreats inside.

In fact, this is the symptom of the yogi who is firmly fixed in perfect consciousness. What do I mean...well let's start off with the basics. The yoga process begins when one practices yama and niyama. That means adopting those practices which help one progress on the path of yoga and simultaneously giving up those things which detract one.

Putting that in the context of everything we have heard so far in the Gita, this incorporates two concepts which go beautifully hand in hand: we progress by adopting those practices that help us understand that we are eternal, blissful souls and we set aside those habits that only serve to reinforce the illusion that we are these material bodies.

So how does one go about doing this? As was previously explained, the way in which most of us seek pleasure is through our senses. By constantly feeding the appetites of the senses (which on their own do not distinguish between what is good for us and what isn't) we can get addicted. For example, I'm a total sweet junkie. When I gave up sugar for a month, it was difficult! Even though I know white sugar is bad for me, it took a lot of determination and self control to give it up. What helped was the fact that I didn't eliminate all sweets. Instead of eating items with white sugar, instead I would eat fruits which have natural sugars. That was the key - it wasn't about eliminating sweets completely but eating those that were good for me as opposed to those that weren't.

This is exactly what the Gita is proposing. Since our senses can get us into trouble (i.e. tend to reinforce our illusion that we are this material body), it is recommended that like the tortoise we withdraw them in. However, one cannot do that artificially. It's impossible to simply ignore our senses. The goal is instead of being a slave to our senses, we instead use them properly. The best way we can engage them properly is to perform our actions in the spirit of gratitude that was described earlier. When we act in that spirit of gratitude and not with the expectation of "enjoying the results for myself", the senses naturally become purified. Instead of acting against us, they can actually help us in our journey of self-discovery.

And how does that purification of our senses happen? Well, you'll just have to tune in tomorrow to find out!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

thank you!

Verse 2.57: In the material world, one who is unaffected by whatever good or evil he may obtain, neither praising it nor despising it, is firmly fixed in perfect knowledge.

Role models are so important to have. They give us a sense of hope, inspiration and comfort. My role models are the incredible bhakti mentors that I am blessed to have in my life who are genuinely "unaffected by whatever good or evil they encounter."

They showed me how the practice of yoga isn't about artificially repressing your feelings or trying to ignore your emotions. That's what I used to think not being effected by good or bad meant. It's about operating on a level of gratitude and love.

Why do I mention this? Because those mentors and the Gita have given me the encouragement, strength and inspiration to delve deeper in my own journey of self-discovery. Also, because today marks the 100th post I've written on the Gita. As someone who has started many things and have stopped due to lack of time, lack of inspiration and numerous other excuses, this is a huge! That's why it's so important for me to honour and give thanks to those persons who have made it possible.

Any writing or reflections that have been shared (and will continue to be shared) on this blog is a direct result of blessings and guidance. So I would like to thank you, my dear readers for coming along this journey with me so far. I'm so excited to continue this journey with you! I would also like to thank my parents, well-wishers, spiritual mentors and friends for all their support and loving feedback.

And most of all, I would like to thank Krsna. Thank you for giving us the Gita so that we can truly understand who we really are and giving us the process by which we can realize it; a process that is so practical, relevant, timeless and beautiful.

Friday, April 12, 2013

how to deal with unwanted and unexpected guests

Verse: 2.56: One who is not disturbed in mind even amidst the threefold miseries or elated when there is happiness, and who is free from attachment, fear and anger, is called a sage of steady mind.

Unwanted and unexpected guests. What kind of emotion do you experience reading those four words? Elation and happiness or worry and anxiety? I'm guessing most would pick the latter two emotions. ;)

In the world we live in today, it's getting rarer to receive unexpected guests (if you exclude the random door-door salesperson), wouldn't you agree? With the advent of cell phones, email and texting it's much easier to just check in to see if somebody is home before you visit. If you're one those people who feels this way, you may be surprised to find out that there are three unwanted and unexpected guests that show up almost daily (and they certainly don't check in to see if the timing is convenient for you to visit!).

The aftereffects of their visit can be summed up by the words anxious, upset, frustrated, worried and distracted. The Gita speaks about them in detail to educate us so that we can be aware of their effects and become aware of their stealthy attacks. In fact, the Gita expands on how these are the "side dishes" that come along with having a body. The annoying part? You can't request them to be left out. They're part of the whole material body package.

They come in these three forms:

1) Distress that comes as a result of nature.
2) Distress that comes as a result of other living beings.
3) Distress that arises due our own body and mind.

Distress due to nature....the subject matter of many a conversation! When I went to India last month, I got an opportunity to do so many wonderful things and was feeling so grateful. But (isn't there almost always a but?!), it was unbelievably hot. It was so hot that by mid afternoon my clothes would be soaked with so much perspiration that there would be salt stains left behind. Eww...I know. The heat was just unbelievable and definitely disturbed me. I chuckle, because at the present moment there are blowing ice pellets falling outside my window and I'm already dreading my walk to the bus stop. These are just minor examples of the disturbances we may experience as a result of nature, what to speak of huge floods, famines and tsunamis.

The second type of distress may arise due to other living beings. Remember the last time something said something negative about you? Primo example. For many of us, that's one of the things that causes us great disturbance both emotionally and mentally. However, this type of distress is not limited to only other humans. Other living entities also cause us grief. I'm shaking my head recalling an incident last summer when a mosquito was buzzing close to my ear and prevented me from falling asleep for two hours!

Finally, the third unwanted guest that may cause us to be disturbed is our own body and mind. Anytime the body gives us any pain or suffering, it's so hard to stay equipoised. Our mind especially causes as problems. As discussed yesterday, it is constantly trying to find ways so that we may gratify our senses and if it fails, we're in for it. I remember in first year of University I was in so much anxiety thinking I was going to fail my Calculus final that I couldn't get out of bed. My worry literally paralyzed me for an hour. My personal observation is that oftentimes disturbances that arise due to one's own mind and body may be the hardest to overcome.

So why this analysis of these three unwanted and unexpected guests? Because it's hard to know how to deal with an unwanted and unexpected guest if we're not even aware that that's what they are! The Gita is explaining that this is not just a part of "normal life" and it's not something we should just accept. These are incentives to realize that we are not this body.

By recognizing these unwanted guests as temporary visitors, we can choose to stop giving them the power to dictate our emotions, resources and reactions. Instead we can utilize these moments as opportunities to dive deeper into discovering who we really are - the eternal and ever-blissful soul.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

mind- friend or foe?

Verse 2.55: The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: O Pārtha, when a man gives up all varieties of desire for sense gratification, which arise from mental concoction, and when his mind, thus purified, finds satisfaction in the self alone, then he is said to be in pure transcendental consciousness.

A few questions to begin with today: Do you consider your mind to be your servant or your master? Would you like to become a more focused individual? Don't answer these questions right away! Just hang on to them for the moment...

The mind is one complex subject! In fact, there are fields of study dedicated to it such as that of psychology. However, the one thing that psychology has yet to offer is the answer to the question of how to control the mind without trying to repress it.

The yoga texts, specifically the Gita, not only give the answer to this million dollar question, but they also offer more insight as to the nature of the mind. Simply put, the Gita defines the mind as the leader of the senses. The great bhakti master Prabhupada further elaborates, "The principle activities of the mind are of thinking, feeling and willing which are expressed through our senses."

The mind is constantly making plans so that the senses can enjoy. That is, when the mind is not purified. This is an important distinction that the Gita makes. The living entity, the soul, is spiritual. The mind, however, is material. It is not possible to purify the mind with material objects or processes, at least not in any way that has a long-lasting effect. The only way the mind can be purified is through spiritual engagement.

Let's take a moment to talk about what happens with the mind if it isn't purified: it will constantly accept and reject ideas. It does so because it lives in the realm of duality. It assigns labels to people, places, situations and things of "this is good" and "this is bad". Those labels are not founded in any permanence and that is why you may observe that one second you may think something is good and the next second something is bad. For example, say your favourite food is pizza. When you are first eating it, your mind is exclaiming, "So good, we want more!" You're so happy that there's pizza that you keep eating and eating and eating...and suddenly as you finish off that seventh piece and your stomach starts protesting, that same mind starts chastising, "Stop! Pizza bad, causing pain."

Why does the mind do this? Because it is making judgements on behalf of the senses. When the senses feel pleasure, the mind perceives something as good and as soon as it starts causing pain or any type of discomfort, that same thing becomes bad.

One could rightly argue, "But that's necessary isn't it?" On the material platform, absolutely. But remember, the goal of yoga is to transcend the temporary. The pleasure we feel coming from the senses doesn't last and so by constantly letting the mind "make the call" as to what's good/bad or right/wrong, we are operating on the material level. As spiritual beings, we seek eternal pleasure which can only be attained when our mind is spiritualized.

So how do we purify the mind? In the beginning, one can start by trying to control it. The mind is like a little child in that it always needs to be engaged. If it isn't engaged, it just wrecks havoc and that's why "An idle mind is a devil's workshop."

So how does one go about controlling the mind? A word to the wise, artificially repressing doesn't tend to work well. In fact, often times it may even exacerbate the craziness going on inside. The yoga texts present mantra meditation as the solution. In fact, for the current age we live in, mantra meditation is stated be even more effective than silent meditation. With silent meditation, the mind may still be internally going crazy because the senses aren't engaged. Remember how the mind is the leader of the senses? If the mind is going crazy, you can be sure the senses are also crying out for something to occupy them.

Mantra meditation is a sensory experience that calms the mind. By holding mantra beads, one is engaging the sense of touch. Through saying the mantra and hearing it, one is engaging both the tongue and the ears. One can either close their eyes or look at the written words of the mantra and thus engage the eyes. Although not necessary, one can even engage the nose by burning incense or choosing to be outside in the fresh air.

The key in mantra meditation is to focus on hearing the sound of the mantra. That's it. Just by hearing the mantra, the mind is pulled from it's whirlpool like thoughts and starts resting in the mantra. This is the spiritual engagement we were speaking of before. As one practices this daily and slowly increases their time engaging in mantra meditation, it's amazing how the focus one experiences transfers to all aspects of one's life.

The question may arise then of what mantra to chant. There are so many mantras given in the Vedas. However, the recommended mantra for this age is that of the maha mantra - the greatest mantra which includes all other mantras. That's right. Just by meditating on this one mantra, you get the benefit of chanting every other mantra, even the ones don't even know about!

You may have heard of the maha mantra before but not realized its significance. The mantra goes: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. These three names of Hare, Krishna and Rama refer to names of the Divine. Hare is an address to the feminine divine and Krishna and Rama refer to the the Supreme. The mantra is a call for help to the Supreme consciousness to help us reconnect with our true identity.

So in conclusion, I ask you to revisit the questions I asked at the beginning. The first one is just something to think about. If you answered yes to the second one however, I invite you to try meditating on the Hare Krishna mantra. Just try it for a few minutes everyday when you wake up for a week. If you choose to do so, please write down on your observations. I would love to hear your experience!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

you can't hide...

Verse 2.54: Arjuna said: O Kṛṣṇa, what are the symptoms of one whose consciousness is thus merged in transcendence? How does he speak, and what is his language? How does he sit, and how does he walk?

Being any type of teacher, leader, coach or parent is a big deal. What to speak of these specific roles, just being a regular person comes with a lot of responsibility. What's that, you may ask? The fact that whether you realize it or not, people are watching and noting how you behave.

I'm not talking about watching in the "big brother" kind of way, but more along the lines of observing if you are walking your talk. We all stand for something and so it's natural that others will knowingly or even unknowingly look to see if you are behaving in ways that fit the values and standards that you propound.

We were discussing the important topic of self-discovery on the soul level yesterday. However, it's also important to take that spirit of discovery to find out how others perceive us. Now, this can be challenging, since we might hear things that we don't agree with or those that even hurt our feelings. That's why it's so important to choose the right persons, if we do decide to get someone's opinion. Those persons who we not only put our faith and trust in, but who genuinely wish well for us and want to help us. That way, even if we hear of things we can improve on, we always know in our hearts that their observations are not coming from a place of judgement but from a place of care.

As mentioned before, although we may have high ideals and goals, most of us fall in the "work in progress" category. There are two areas that give us away with respect to where our mind and heart are at. Those are: 1) speech, 2) non-verbal communication.

With respect to speech, this can be divided into tone and language. Our emotions, which can be set off by the slightest things, have a huge impact on our tone. In fact, it's very easy to have no clue of how our tone is being perceived when we are speaking. For some of us, we are more focused on speaking than on ensuring that our message is being communicated in a way that the other person understands what we're trying to say. Language also has a great effect. In fact, one of the greatest things realizations I've come to is the fact that we get to choose the words we use. Think about that for a second. We can choose the words we use. That means we can come up with different ways to communicate the same message. If we realize this, instead of speaking or writing the first words that come to mind, instead we can find the appropriate words for the time, place and circumstance. This is extremely important especially when we do not have the facility to communicate face to face.

In face to face communication, realizing the importance of non-verbal communication is crucial. Estimates are given that close to 94% of our communication is non-verbal. We give away a lot more than we think! Whether it's a dismissive eye role (alright, I admit that I'm guilty of doing that!), pointing, closed body language or nodding in agreement, we are always trying to get a read on what the other person is not saying. Think of the last conversation you had with someone. Did you intuitively feel that they were trying to cut it short or that they were really eager to listen to you? Did you find that their body language was at odds with the words coming from their mouth? If so, what did you put more stock in? I can only speak for myself, but if I ever find myself in that situation, I tend to put more faith in the non-verbal cues I'm receiving.

It's amazing how we try to decode one another, isn't it? In closing, I invite you to take on a challenge. Go to someone who is a real well wisher that also knows you well in terms of what you stand for/want to stand for and courageously ask them, "My dear friend, could you please do me a favour? I am curious to see if my thoughts and behaviors are accurately representing the goals and ideals I aspire to. Can you please tell me what you think and provide some examples?" Otherwise, you may never know if you're practically living the ideals and values you stand for.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

distractions on the path of self-discovery

Verse 2.53: When your mind is no longer disturbed by the flowery language of the Vedas, and when it remains fixed in the trance of self-realization, then you will have attained the divine consciousness.

The point of being distracted or disturbed from our path is the subject of today's reflection. We all have goals that we would like to attain and for the aspiring bhakti yogi, there is none as prominent as attaining the perfection of self-realization. But like in anything, it's so easy to get distracted...

Krsna is pointing out one of those distractions - being disturbed by the flowery language of the Vedas. As was previously described, the Vedas give one knowledge about everything, including how to attain mystic powers, fame, fortune, wealth, power...you name it and the formula is there. One would be right in asking, "If the goal of the Vedas is to attain self-realization and engage in devotional service, then why are all these other things there too?" Great question!

We can look at it from this perspective. The Vedas contain knowledge about everything material and spiritual. If they didn't contain information on these subject matters then they would not be complete. Another important point to remember is that everyone is on their own journey of self-discovery. For some, the journey is just beginning and for others they are well along the path. The Vedas provide a road-map for persons on all levels.

Some think that attaining wealth and power is what self-discovery is all about while for others it is the accumulation of knowledge. For others it's about performing great sacrifice or engaging in meditation. According to the mind-set and experiences of an individual (not just from this lifetimes but all lifetimes before), each person may have their own definition of what self-discovery is.

The aspects of meditation and knowledge may be elements in our journey of self-discovery, but in and of themselves aren't the final destination. One can take an example of the train. The train can take us to different destinations and we, the traveler, can not only choose where to go but which train to take. If we have different ideas as to what self-discovery is, we may take different trains that take us to these small stations thinking "Ah, this is how to achieve self-discovery!" This is what may happen to the interested individual who doesn't have the benefit of hearing or learning about the ultimate path of self-discovery from an authorized source.

The Gita, can be likened to the direct train that takes us to the main station: that of self-discovery. It acknowledges the other train stations that exist, but it's encouraging its passengers (us) to not waste their time at these smaller stations. As Krsna says later on in the Gita, "I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas, I am to be known. Indeed, I am the compiler of Vedānta, and I am the knower of the Vedas." (Chapter 15, Verse 15). Since the Gita is being spoken by Krsna and he is stating that he is the knower of the Vedas, we can rest assured that what he is saying is authentic!

In other words, Krsna is telling us - don't get distracted! All these other things may bring some temporary satisfaction, but won't truly satisfy the self. Stay on the Gita train which is the direct line to self-realization and self-discovery. That's what will truly make us happy.

Monday, April 8, 2013

lost in the forest

Verse 2.52: When your intelligence has passed out of the dense forest of delusion, you shall become indifferent to all that has been heard and all that is to be heard.

I love the analogy that Krsna gives here of the intelligence passing through the dense forest of delusion. It's so vivid. One can clearly imagine a dark and thick forest which is overpacked with trees so tall that they block out the sun and make it difficult to find a way out.

We are like wayward travellers who have gotten lost in that forest. Due to habituation, we identify ourselves with the scenery and surroundings. Over time, we forget that the forest is not our true home and that in actuality we are travellers. We are travellers who are passing through this forest with the goal of getting back home to our loving family.

In the meantime, although we are attacked by all kinds of disturbances in the form of anger, greed, lust and envy etc., we are ignorant of a way out. In fact, our mind and false ego, who we look to as friends, often serve to only mislead us further. The false ego does so by deluding us to believe that our home is in the forest and the mind does so by only thinking of satisfying the senses.

It seems we are doomed....until, an expert guide who has received perfect knowledge as to how to navigate the treacherous paths, traps and darkness comes to help us. We now have the free will to choose that guidance or to continue spending our time chasing after the fleeting glimpses of happiness while simultaneously trying to avoid distress.

So what do you choose? Are you going to stay in the forest or are you ready to go home? If you're tired of living out of a suitcase, the Gita is lighting up the path.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

what is devotion?

Verse 2.51: By thus engaging in devotional service to the Lord, great sages or devotees free themselves from the results of work in the material world. In this way they become free from the cycle of birth and death and attain the state beyond all miseries [by going back to Godhead].

The word devotion may bring up all types of images and feelings. In the context of bhakti yoga, devotion means love in action. Not only does one experience emotion towards God, but one expresses it by their behaviour, thoughts and actions.

Mere sentimentality is not enough though. Love needs to be expressed and demonstrated. The Lord is a person who also has feelings and emotions and so just saying, "I love you" and then forgetting about the Supreme doesn't really mean much. Think of someone you really love and are really close to. Do you just simply say "I love you" and do nothing else for them? No way! We do everything in our capacity to serve and please the ones' we love.

The thing is, most of us have forgotten that we love God. Some might even say, "Hey wait a minute, I'm not even sure I believe in God." But that's like saying, "I don't believe there's such a thing as a billion dollars." When asked why, the person might respond "Because I've never seen it or because I don't have it." But those who have a billion dollars definitely know that it exists. It's just a matter of being exposed to it.

Similarly, we may not have been exposed to the knowledge that we ourselves are spiritual and are parts and parcels of God. That's right! We're qualitatively one and the same (i.e. we are spiritual) but quantitatively different. Prabhupada, our master bhakti teacher, illustrates the point by giving a very apt analogy of a gold fleck and the gold mine. The fleck is non-different from the gold mine since it is made of the same element, but quantitatively there's a huge difference.

That's why we can never be God. The position is already taken. But because we are part and parcel of the Lord, the way we can be eternally happy is by making him happy. That formula is being shared here.

See, some of us may not be at that stage where we love God with all our heart and being. We might just be beginning to reconnect and recognize our connection with him (like me). That's why God (who has numerous names including Krsna), is giving us an easy yogic process. By performing our work in a spirit of acknowledgement that all our talents and resources are blessings, we express our gratitude by offering whatever results that come to him. In this way, we become free of karma. We don't need to totally change our life, give up everything and go to the forest. Just by cultivating this attitude of gratitude, we begin to start developing real feelings towards God and see the manifestation of grace in our lives.

By doing this, the day will come where we won't just practice bhakti yoga anymore...instead, we will live a life of bhakti and devotion.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

the art of work

Verse 2.50: A man engaged in devotional service rids himself of both good and bad actions even in this life. Therefore strive for yoga, which is the art of all work.

Have you ever admired someone for their ability to draw beautifully? I remember the last time I encountered the work of someone who was really gifted and I said something along the lines of,"You're so talented. I could never do something like that." In response to my personal assessment, this well-wishing individual said, "Anyone can draw. You just need to keep drawing and working on it." This response has stayed with me since that time and I find it applicable to almost everything.

Here the same answer is being given with respect to practicing yoga. We are being informed that yoga is the art of all work (i.e. it's a skill that needs to be developed.)

So how does one begin the practice of yoga?

By sincerely seeking out a guide or teacher who themselves have mastered the art of working in devotion. By genuinely inquiring from such persons, we open ourselves to being recipients of practical instruction and care. Finding such persons can be difficult as there are specific qualifications the interested student should look for in order to ensure they are not being lead down the wrong path. Characteristics of such a bhakti master include being fixed in devotional service to the Supreme, practically living the teachings given in the bhakti texts, and being tolerant, merciful and friendly to all living beings.

Such a student is in the best of positions. Not only do they have someone who is real-life role model but also someone to turn to to clarify doubts and concerns. By observing how their beloved guide is always engaged in devotional service and how everything can be transformed from material to spiritual, this serves as the greatest impetus to strive for yoga.

Friday, April 5, 2013

you have a choice

Verse 2.49: O Dhanañjaya, keep all abominable activities far distant by devotional service, and in that consciousness surrender unto the Lord. Those who want to enjoy the fruits of their work are misers.

Bhakti yoga is a process. It's a process which can naturally be incorporated into any lifestyle with ease. As with any process, it consists of a series of steps and actions that lead to a goal. For those who are interested in the top-most goal (i.e. eternal, everlasting happiness through reconnection with the Supreme), the path is clear. However, for those who may have intermediate goals (i.e. I want to be peaceful, I want to have nice relationships, I want to find meaning in my life etc.), bhakti also outlines perfect processes to achieve these too.

Isn't that awesome? Everything is found in bhakti. So what's the problem? The problem is that some of us may find it challenging to follow steps, what to speak of following them in a specific sequence! Do you ever notice that? Think back to the last time when you had to assemble something. If you're anything like me, you might even forget that the box comes with an instruction manual! I've lost count of how many times I've gotten totally confused and frustrated before remembering, "Oh right. There's a manual. :S Maybe I should look at it!"

Our false ego, that little voice inside us that screams "You're right!" even though deep down we may know we're wrong, often serves as our biggest obstacle. It's that chatterbox that convinces us that we don't need any guidance or help.

By caving into the false ego time and time again, we get robbed of our ability to choose. How? Because the job of the false ego is to keep us entrapped in the conception "I am this body". In fact, the more we identifying ourselves with this illusion, the harder it becomes to take guidance.

And that's exactly what bhakti yoga does. It gives us guidance. One of the most important pieces of guidance that bhakti gives us is: You have a choice to associate with those things that uplift and inspire you.

Note the difference between bhakti yoga and the false ego. Bhakti empowers and challenges us as opposed to the false ego which placates us by saying "It's not your fault. Everything's ok." As spiritual beings, inertia and maintaining the status quo is completely foreign to us. The soul is creative, active, happy, eternal, selfless and always desiring to serve. Remember that the next time you're lying on the couch glued to your TV set!

That's the biggest hurdle we face. Although we may know these things, to actually practice them everyday can be challenging. That's why it's necessary to keep checking to make sure we are actually following the process. If we don't, it's too easy to get lazy and give up. It's only by constantly referring back to our road map, we remain inspired and enlivened.

So remember! You have a choice. Choose to be active, sincere and inspired, everyday!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

acting without attachment to the result - a practical step by step guide.

Verse 2.48: Perform your duty equipoised, O Arjuna, abandoning all attachment to success or failure. Such equanimity is called yoga.

~This post is dedicated to my spiritual guide and all my bhakti mentors. Without your love, gentle chastisement, continuous encouragement and empowerment, I would be lost.~

Yesterday I went to my weekly yoga/pilates class. At the end of the class, during the relaxation period, the instructor asked everyone to focus on their breathing. She added, "If thoughts come to your mind, acknowledge them with compassion and let them go." I was left thinking, "What in the world does that mean? Acknowledge your thoughts with compassion." It sounds really beautiful, but how does one actually go about doing it?

In a similar vein, many persons today, equate yoga with feeling peaceful. My question to all of you today is, what does peace mean? That's the challenge with words. No one actually decodes the intangibles like peace, compassion, humility etc., as what is given in the dictionary. They are coloured by our experiences and perceptions. That's why spirituality, which promotes the development of so many of these intangible characteristics, can be confusing to many.

This is why bhakti yoga is not only practical but complete, as it not only gives one the process but explains what the outcome is. Here, a very beautiful and practical definition of yoga is given - "Practice your duty in an equipoised frame of mind, abandoning all attachment to success or failure." Let's stop and really understand what the word equipoised means as, for most of us, this is not a common word we use in our vernacular. Simply put it means balanced or equilibrium.

In the context of yoga, equipoised means to do things for the sake of doing it and giving up the attitude and motivation of "I'm doing this because somehow it will benefit me."

The thing is, we all need some motivating force to drive us to accomplish something. If we don't have one, we won't do anything! Wouldn't you agree? So that begs the question, "If I'm not doing this for me, then what should motivate me?" One could respond and say, "Well, the motivation why I do certain things is certainly not centered on me. I'm motivated because I'm doing it for my friends, family, my country or even for the world." To this, the Gita replies, "Wonderful! That is huge step up from always focusing on ourselves!"

However, like any well-wishing coach or guide who wants to help us attain the best goal possible, Krsna gives us something even higher to strive for. That's right, we can actually operate on even higher motivating principle.

So what is that principle? Prabhupada, our wonderful bhakti guide and teacher, explains in the purport, "Yoga means to concentrate the mind upon the Supreme by controlling the ever-disturbing senses." See the step-wise progression? Let's break it down.

In order to perform one's duties in an equipoised frame of mind (i.e. in yoga):

1. One needs to control the ever-disturbing senses. The senses are like tentacles that are always trying to grab some object so that they can derive some pleasure from it. So how do we control the senses? By purifying them. More on that to come later!

2. One concentrates the mind upon the Supreme. This can be a hard one for many people. The simplest way, however, is to engage in mantra meditation. Simply by repeating transcendental sound vibration, it immediately calms the mind and focuses it. If you've never tried it, just try repeating the simple mantra "Govinda".

3. When one concentrates the mind upon the Supreme, one of the effects we experience is that of gratitude. How's that? Mantra meditation naturally results in the transfer of one's attention from oneself to a higher consciousness. When we tap into that higher consciousness, the worries and anxieties that normally swirl through our mind are exposed for what they really are - temporary and insignificant. That's not to imply that we don't need to take care of them. It means we take care of them with the proper perspective, and thereby don't experience the anxiety factor.

4. This leads one to feeling grateful. Grateful to the Supreme who is always taking care of us and is looking to help us. When we really feel grateful, we want to find a way to demonstrate it to the object of our gratitude, don't we? This is the motivation that drives us - we offer everything we do in appreciation of our gratitude to the Supreme.

In this way, we can be equipoised and naturally give up our obsession with success or failure. We become inspired to do our very best since it's an expression of our gratitude for all that we have been given, but notice how the attachment has changed! It's very subtle. We become attached to offering our best and become unattached to the conception of successful and failure. As they say, "It's the thought that counts." We don't realize it, but it's actually true!

And the best part of it all? The Gita states that the Supreme doesn't measure success or failure the way we do. It's the motivation that matters, and if we become attached to offering our best in a spirit of gratitude, there is nothing greater than that.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

lift the weight off your shoulders

Verse 2.47: You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.

Prescribed duty. How do those words make you feel? Personally, when I hear those words, I feel a sense of dread. I associate adjectives like responsibility, burden and weight, which although honourable and necessary, can feel overwhelming sometimes.

You'll be happy and relieved (if you're anything like me!) to find out that the meaning of prescribed duty, as per the Gita, is as follows - performing those activities that are in line with one's nature. That is, those activities that we perform in order to ensure our livelihood, which are based on our qualities and proclivities. Once again, note how the Gita is so practical. We come with a particular mentality and are gifted with particular talents which can be used to meaningfully contribute to society, so why fight against that?

However, most of us face another challenge. Whenever we perform any action, whether it be at work, in our personal lives or as a service for society, we expect a result. Thing is, we not only expect that result but feel entitled to it and want to be identified as the the person who was responsible for that result. A little confusing? Let's give an example.

Say I make a sandwich for friend. I go about putting the pieces of bread together with some fresh veggies and spread, arrange it nicely on a plate and present it to her. What's the result that I'm expecting? Well, firstly I would hope that she likes it! But my expectation is that she appreciates the time I took to make it for her and will thank me. Whether we realize it or not, we always expect some result.

The secret of applying bhakti yoga in our everyday actions and receiving no karma (Remember! Every action results in good or bad karma and binds us) is to be unattached to the results of any work that we perform. Our expert bhakti guide, Prabhupada, puts it best: "One who is attached to the result of their work is also the cause of the action. Thus they are the enjoyer or sufferer of the result of such action."

Now for some, this may sound odd and for others, you may like the concept but maybe thinking "How in the world do you actually go about doing this?"

To my dear skeptics, it sounds odd because we have been inculcated with the need to take credit for or feel entitled to the result of any action that we perform. But if you think about it, it's a tad bit selfish to go through life like that, no? By living this way, it becomes all about "me". I invite you, instead of dismissing this idea completely, to instead think about it. By performing an action for the pure joy of doing it or out of a sense of giving without expecting anything in return, we are getting the opportunity to practice selflessness.

For those who may like the concept but are confused...it takes practice! It's not something that comes overnight. One thing that does help though is gratitude. When we consciously think of all the things we have been given in terms of talents, facility and faculty, it reminds us that these are gifts that we have received. By performing our prescribed duties without the "I'm entitled to the results of my work" attitude, we're getting an opportunity to give back the results of utilizing those gifts we've been given, to the one who gave them to us in the first place.

In this way, we can genuinely live and experience the appreciation we have for all that we have been given. Simultaneously, we will also experience a wonderful freedom - the freedom of throwing off the overwhelming weight that always comes with having expectations and feeling entitled.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

one stop shop

Verse 2.46: All purposes served by a small well can at once be served by a great reservoir of water. Similarly, all the purposes of the Vedas can be served to one who knows the purpose behind them.

For all you North Americans out there...do you live close to a Walmart? Strange question to begin today's reflection on, I know, but bear with me. I ask because more and more North American's do most of their shopping at Walmart nowadays. I bring this up not to focus on Walmart, but to focus on the "why" aspect. Why do so many people choose to shop there? Because it serves as a one stop shop! From the basics of food, clothing and furniture to all the extras including electronics, books, movies, jewellery and so much more, it can all be found there.

This is the point that Krsna is emphasizing to Arjuna using the analogy of the well and reservoir. When it comes to knowledge, the one-stop shop for everything is the Vedas. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, the sanskrit word Veda means knowledge or revelation. The Vedic literature is extremely diverse and contains detailed information on material, religious and spiritual subjects. In fact, the Bhagavad-gita is considered one of the most valued jewels of literature found in the Vedas.

So how can the Vedas provide the solution to everything one may want to know about? Because, as mentioned before, the word Veda simply means body of knowledge. It is non-sectarian in the information it provides and gives details on everything from the military arts, medicine, yoga, astrology and philosophy to getting into nitty gritty details on how one can live very comfortably.

However, the Vedas have an ultimate purpose behind them. Although one can learn to be a great yogi, mystic philosopher or just a really good person by studying the Vedas, it's true purpose is to free one from all material suffering (i.e. cycle of repeated birth, death, disease and old age). The Vedas allow one to go at their own pace, by giving a step by step approach which ultimately leads the student of the Vedas to come to the path of bhakti yoga.

But there's a secret. Since the Vedas are so broad and encompass so many subject matters, it's easy to get confused. We're so lucky to have great teachers within the bhakti yoga tradition who have distilled the essence for all of us today by highlighting those pieces of Vedic literature that can get us on the fast track. One, is the Gita and the other is called Srimad Bhagavatam .

So go on and open up a page of the Bhagavad-gita today and experience how it can become your one-stop guide to yoga and discovering yourself!

Monday, April 1, 2013

here's how it works

Verse 2.45: The Vedas deal mainly with the subject of the three modes of material nature. O Arjuna, become transcendental to these three modes. Be free from all dualities and from all anxieties for gain and safety, and be established in the self.

If you want to know how to get the most out of something, you need to understand how it works - in depth. Bhakti yoga offers the rare opportunity to understand the underlying framework of the world we're in. Not only is this information interesting, in and of itself, but it also offers us insight as to how we function and what influences us. One of these topics has already been introduced - the concept of karma.

Another subtle force that affects us at all times is described herein as the three modes of material nature. Another way to understand the three modes is to consider them as influences which impact not only our behavior but our emotional, mental and physical state of being; they are categorized as goodness, passion and ignorance.

Imagine being covered under a blanket. That blanket is made by weaving yarn made up of three different colours. As long as you are under the blanket, those three pieces of yarn will always touch you. Similarly, we can consider this world like a blanket which is weaved together by the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance. Depending on our inclination and propensities, we become influenced by the modes of nature in different ways. This is the reason why we act in particular ways, even against our better judgement.

But you may ask, "I still don't get it. How am I getting influenced?" This is where the subtleties of bhakti yoga start to become revealed. Everything we associate with influences us, whether we realize it or not. From the people we spend time with, the things we read and the food we eat, the modes, which taint everything, have an impact us.

Yes! Did you know that even food influences us? The bhakti texts describe that those foods which are nourishing and healthy and include items such as grains, fruits and vegetables promote goodness. Foods that promote passion include items that are overly spicy, salty and sour and those that may be categorized as promoting ignorance are those that are stale and are decomposing.

So why is it important to understand this? As was mentioned in the beginning, to get the most out of something, you need to understand how it works. This knowledge helps us to understand why we choose to do the things we do and why we have and maintain certain attitudes. Yes, we come with a certain nature or personality and we are receiving the results of our past actions. However, this information helps us in choosing what to do now. By realizing there are things that can influence us favorably and unfavorably, we are given the opportunity to make educated choices as to what our future will look like.

It's easy to stay on the superficial and just pretend that everything is "just happening". However, this incredible knowledge gives us the understanding to get a glimpse of the inner workings of the world and make the most of this body and this life.