The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, Explained by Paramhansa Yogananda
Work with things as they are
(3:33) Even the wise act according to the dictates of their own nature. All living beings obey the dictates of Nature. Of what avail would be mere suppression?
Krishna offered to the world, through the Bhagavad Gita, not only the highest truths, expressed comprehensively and at great length, but a teaching of supreme common sense. [This thirty-third stanza] is a beautiful example of the reasonableness of his teaching.
The Lord says to Arjuna, “Work with things as they are.” History—indeed, perhaps the history of religion, especially—is full of people trying to convince others to be something other than what they are.
Wars have been fought, persecutions inflicted, and revolutions stirred up in the name of making people think and become what others think they ought to be. Krishna, in this passage, says, very reasonably, “Work with what is, not with what you think it ought to be.” All human suffering is due to the simple thought that things ought to be other than they are.
Man’s greatest enemies
(3:34) Attraction and repulsion (regarding) sense objects belong to the natural ebb and flow of duality. Beware of them both equally, for they are man’s greatest enemies!
Attraction and repulsion are extreme forms of likes and dislikes. To like anything excessively is, virtually by definition, just as great an error as to dislike its opposite. The realization of God depends on neutralizing all one’s reactions, on leveling out their peaks and their valleys, and seeing the one, changeless Spirit at the heart of everything.
Ordinary likes and dislikes are not, as such, man’s enemies. Rather, they are like troublesome neighbors. Extreme forms of these emotions, however—strong attraction, and violent repulsion—can plunge a person into violent storms of emotion that toss him helplessly about on great waves of delusion.
Never let yourself become infatuated (infatuation is extreme attraction) with anything or anyone. Never let yourself hate anything or anyone…. Some people do have ugly traits. Don’t waste energy in reacting to them, neither by dislike nor by abhorrence….
Develop an attitude, rather, of accepting this dream as it is, even if it becomes a nightmare! Your only hope is to escape to a higher level of consciousness.
Protect your heart’s feelings from the excitement of all extreme reactions. Surround those feelings by emanating peace and good will. Relax in the heart. Relax also outward from the heart, to the shoulders. Then direct the heart’s energy upward through the spine to the brain.
When there are people around you shouting angrily, for instance—and especially when they shout personally at you—relax inwardly; be centered in the Self; smile in your heart, and remind yourself, “I love God alone!”
The qualities we manifest are not ours
(14:17) Wisdom arises from sattwa; lust and avarice from rajas, and (the darkness of spiritual) ignorance from tamas.
It is important to realize that although each person is unique as an individual, the qualities he manifests are universal. The words of a sentimental song that was in vogue some years ago in the West managed somehow to express a truth that is eternal: “There will never, ever be another you.” It is equally important to realize, however, that the “you” (the personality) about whom the song was written had nothing to do with the truly eternal “you.”
The qualities, or gunas (sattwa, rajas, and tamas), only reside in people temporarily. The wisdom of sattwa can become in time, in the same person, the lust and avarice of rajas or the dark ignorance of tamas. No quality is or can be anyone’s possession, and is never his definition.
The best persons, if they live wrongly, can acquire worse, then the worst attributes. And the worst persons can in time, if they live rightly, acquire the best attributes. Any quality a human being manifests can be increased, diminished, or eliminated altogether, but it can never, in any way, be identified with who he really is, inside.
What the Gita is pointing out is that the gunas can be manipulated. If you act in a certain way, you will attract the guna belonging to that kind of activity. If you act in another way, you’ll attract the guna belonging, again, to that different kind of activity.
The qualities, or gunas themselves are abstractions…. There is nothing permanent or self-defining about any quality. One might describe the gunas as eternal wanderers
Be wary of any feeling of reluctance
The choice to live in mental darkness comes from bad karma, reinforced by bad company. There is also the draw of the almost-familiar. We have come up from less conscious levels of awareness as lower animals.
Subconsciously, that memory lingers with us, exerting the attraction of effortless ease, a comfortable alternative, it seems, to the long, steep climb up the mountain to Perfection. Having the choice eternally before us between effort and ease, it is hardly surprising that many cry out, in effect, “Stop bothering me; let me sleep!”
This tamasic tendency, though pronounced in some people, is present at least latently in everyone. It has a certain magnetism of its own, rooted in nostalgia for old, subconscious habits. Everything in Nature manifests a blend of the three gunas.
Watch your own mind for any reluctance you may feel to do what you know you must do. That is the influence in you of tamoguna. Of its lowering tendency on the mind it may be said, “Give it an inch, and it will take a mile.” (18.39)
Work at developing sattwic qualities
If you want to be happy, work at developing sattwic qualities. Happiness, if you manifest it by living a sattwic life, is real, though it doesn’t define you.
It should inspire you, however, to rise above even that satisfaction into the supernal bliss of the Spirit. Otherwise, if you become satisfied with yourself, you’ll only fall—once again!—owing to the fact of having re-affirmed your ego.
True joy is not tied to the petty thought, “I.” It is possible to have it only in perfect freedom. There is no possibility of a fall from the state of complete ego-liberation. This state comes with full Self-realization.
The importance of a true guru
The way to transcend the gunas is different for each guna, and different for every individual also, depending the particular mixture of gunas that manifests in him.
We see here the importance of having a true guru. He alone, from his level of highest wisdom, with—in addition—his clear insight into your nature, and with his commitment to helping you as his disciple to find God, can be relied upon to show you the way through the minefield of the bewildering mix of qualities you manifest.
With his help you will emerge onto the plateau of wholly sattwic qualities, and then will understand how to pass beyond even those elevated qualities to perfect freedom from the last traces of ego-consciousness in infinite consciousness.
“Who Are You?”
(13:2) Know Me also, O Bharata (Arjuna), as the silent Knower …in all bodies….
A young man named Naresh met a saint. The saint asked him who he was, and the youth answered, “I am Naresh.”
“Who are you?” asked the saint again.
Naresh, thinking perhaps the saint hadn’t heard him, said, “My name is Naresh.’
“Yes, but who are you?”
Naresh, puzzled, replied, “My father’s name is Ram Dutta. I live in Delhi. I’m an accountant.”
“Yes, but who are you?” persisted the saint. The young man puzzled over this question. Was the saint hard of hearing? Was he, perhaps, growing old and a bit senile?
“Well, if you don’t know,” said the saint with a smile, “maybe it’s good you came to me.”
By now the young man was thoroughly bewildered! Still, he felt a certain peace in the saint’s presence, and returned to him many times — he didn’t really know why.
Gradually, however, he came to think, “Can I really define myself in such a limited way as to say that I’m an accountant?” He began to think, “I’m not what I do. I’m a young man with many interests, including that of visiting this saint — though I do so for reasons I don’t fully understand.”
“Who are you?” the saint asked him again one day. By now the older man seemed to the younger not only perfectly normal, but even wise.
“I don’t know who I really am,” said Naresh.
“That’s better!” exclaimed the saint. “Now then, think about it again. Who are you?”
Well, thought the young man. I have a name, a family, a domicile. But am I really any of those things? Suddenly it dawned on him: “I’m a soul in search of itself!”
His body was still young, but he knew it would age in time. Even now he was the same person inside that he’d been as a little child. The body had changed, but he hadn’t. Therefore, he realized, he was not the body.
He introspected further. His understanding had changed since he’d met the saint, but he was still the same person, inside. His personality had changed, but something in his consciousness had remained the same. Slowly he came to realize that he, himself, was a point of inner perception from which he merely observed these changes, but didn’t define himself in terms of any of them.
That which changes, he realized, cannot be what I am. I am that something within that remains unchanged—that simply observes every change. Thus, he came to identify himself more and more with his soul.
One day he said to the guru, “I know who I am, but I there are no words with which to speak of it.” The saint, hearing those words, only smiled. Later on, the saint said, “Now that words fail you, there is much that we can communicate!”
Wisdom begins with the knowledge that we are not this body or personality. We are the immortal soul.
From The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, Explained by Paramhansa Yogananda, as remembered by his disciple, Swami Kriyananda.
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