is what we believe in. Everyone with a healthy mind has a set of core beliefs
that anchors their life. We are not simply rational beings that function best
with nothing but stripped down linear facts to consider; we are holistic
mega-systems in which rationality plays a small but essential part.
supposedly rational thoughts are wholly shaped by what we believe, however
irrational it might be. Trying to think without beliefs is an interesting
meditation, but in the long run it invites chaos and confusion, because our
mind simply cannot function that way.
can be liberating or binding, depending on whether they are open or closed, and
it’s the binding ones that give believing a bad name. Liberating beliefs should
be cherished and shared, but many beliefs that purport to be liberating are
actually binding. Before turning Arjuna loose on the world, Krishna wants to
help him scrutinize his core beliefs so he can discard the restrictive ones
while promoting the more expansive and valid kind, and consequently optimize
is commonly but inadequately translated as faith, for lack of a better English
word. Faith in this larger sense is intimately connected to our actions, and
ranges from abject servility to absurd notions to dynamic insight into the
nature of reality. Fervently held ideas often provide motivation for an entire
lifetime of dedicated activity, with some people even being willing to die for
their beliefs. It is very helpful to know where on the scale of values
(sattva-rajas-tamas) our ideas fall. Wasting your precious hours or even giving
your life in service to an absurd or corrupt belief system is high tragedy,
testament to a lack of clear thinking at the very least.
its best, faith means giving full attention to the Absolute. Guru Nitya says,
“What is prized most highly in the Gita is an unfailing attention to the
Absolute, which runs through every moment of life like a golden thread, giving
unity to life and order to the world. This is called sraddha.” (342) He adds later, “Sraddha means one-pointed
attention, perfect bipolarity, total acceptance, pure devotion, ardent faith,
full sympathy, unconditional appreciation, and an attitude of loving regard
which is continuous and consistent, like the unbroken flow of oil.” (373)
Radhakrishnan says, “Faith is the inward sense of truth.” (343) They are
speaking of the ideal sraddha, but in this chapter the Gita is also dealing
with how it plays out in the world, so sraddha includes what you give your
attention to as the vestments of the Absolute from your own personal angle. In
other words, it considers faith from the broadest possible perspective, from
true to false, sane to insane.
we have noted before, the Gita is coming down to the ground again after soaring
to the heights, focusing on practical considerations of how to express life as
it is actually lived. The present chapter begins by asserting that everyone is
shaped by—nay is—their faith, and (to
maintain the dialectical balance essential to yoga) their faith is them. We
might find this easier to accept if we word it that we are our beliefs, and our
beliefs make us what we are. Either way, the infusion of metaphysical ideas
into practical aspects of life is appropriately placed just prior to the final,
fully grounded chapter.
scientists, then, are as full of faith as anyone else. Their faith is in what
they can perceive and measure; they believe in solid, material truth. They also
have faith that what most people believe is false, and needs to be revised. At
their best, they include themselves in that assessment. Often, they don’t.
Dyson, writing about Brilliant Blunders,
by Mario Livio, in the New York Review of Books (March 6, 2014, p. 4) notes a
common theme in the history of science: “A theory that began as a wild guess
ends up as a firm belief. Humans need beliefs in order to live, and great
scientists are no exception. Great scientists produce right theories and wrong
theories, and believe them with equal conviction.”
is also the essence of religion, the hub on which its various practices whirl.
Yet the converse is not true: religion is not necessarily the essence of faith.
Knowledge or understanding is. Chapter XVII addresses religious beliefs in a
general philosophic way, without promoting any particular form or creed. The
Gita stands with Narayana Guru on this: whatever the religion, if it makes a
better person it is good. There is no illusion that any kind of ritual will
produce results beyond the performance of the acts themselves. At the same
time, Krishna wants us to know that what we believe has a critical impact on
how we live.
many scientists, I come to the subject of faith as one who thinks of it as a
synonym for facile and delusory ideas, so the whole business of sraddha was
initially hard for me to swallow, until I realized that my faith was nothing
more or less than what I believed in. Then it made perfect sense. Our lives are
directed much more than we realize by what we believe to be true, as the
placebo effect clearly demonstrates. Our actions, naturally enough, are
designed by us to conform to our expectations. Everything not directly
connected with our senses, which is almost the whole universe, including most
of our friends and family at any particular time, is present only in our memory.
We believe—we have faith—that all those things exist, and have a past, and will
have a future, but we have no concrete evidence for it. All is supposition. So
we are profoundly shaped by our faith, our beliefs, even we doubters, all more
or less to the same degree.
to the wise our faith in imaginary constructs is risible, but nonetheless it’s what
we have to work with. We have to proceed from where we happen to be. An
important corollary idea is that our views are subject to an influx of wisdom
and understanding, and this changes who we are in an actual sense.
the Gita is increasingly focusing on everyday values, there are significant concessions
to actual activities here that appear to contradict some of the more
uncompromising views offered from earlier chapters. We need to relate these
ancient categories to modern life, in order to make them relevant once again.
Scriptures become dead weights over time if they are not reexamined. Instead,
their partisans often advocate a return to the “good old days” when they were
written so they can become meaningful once again. Now THERE’S a facile,
delusory idea, one that retroactively inserts one’s prejudices into the ancient
document! The proper approach for a fearless yogi is to reinterpret—what
Nataraja Guru calls to revalue and restate—the wise teachings of yesterday in
terms of today. It’s an unfortunate and unnecessary leap of faith to insist we
know exactly what those seers of long ago were thinking. But taken in good
faith their words are poetic and generally applicable enough to how we view the
world to still be valid today.
is the status in faith, O Krishna, of those who, discarding scriptural
injunctions, sacrifice with faith, sattvic, rajasic or tamasic?
has already made it clear as far back as Chapter II that scriptural injunctions
are beside the point, and if you rely on them you’ve already lost your connection
with the Absolute. Yet he concluded the previous chapter with a nod to the
positive value of scriptural input. Now Arjuna is confused. Is it permissible
to go outside of scriptural (religious) parameters or not? Is it really okay to
face the Absolute directly, without scriptural authority or religious
mediation? Can we be truly independent, or must we adhere to an established
critical question here is, if we listen to our inner voice, how do we know it’s
an authentic insight into truth and not just our own wishful thinking plausibly
dressed up to lead us astray? Scripture gives us a touchstone to avoid
delusion, but we still have to process our own interpretation of our intuition,
which is literally our “teaching from within.” We want to channel “God’s will”
in some form, but we see how it can go wrong when mass murderers invoke it to
justify their insanity. This is an extremely delicate question for someone who,
like Arjuna, is not content to docilely repeat someone else’s formula for
enlightenment, but wants to come to light in their own way.
already noted, sraddha means much more than ‘faith’ in the modern sense, though
the word is acceptable if all its implications are taken into account. The
one-pointed attention to the Absolute recommended by the Gita is called faith.
As long as you are thinking of the Absolute, you have faith. When your
attention wanders off and you forget, you have lost faith, but all you need to
do to have it restored is to bring the mind gently back to focus on the
Absolute, or whatever you call the core truth of your being. As opposed to the
traditional loss of faith, where you don’t believe in something any more
because you have learned it was false, in sraddha you are already inwardly
focused on the Absolute. All you stand to lose are your illusions.
Absolute is what is true. We do not lose faith in truth; we only lose it when
what we believed to be true turns out to have been a misunderstanding. This is
why Vedanta pares down beliefs to their irrefutable essence. In the long run
there is no spiritual benefit to clinging to misty romantic ideas that quickly
evaporate in the sunlight. Side by side with Arjuna, we are searching for
whatever will hold up under fire.
faith of the embodied is of three kinds, according to their predominant nature
of sattva, rajas or tamas. About it hear:
responding to his disciple, Krishna covers sattva, rajas and tamas—the Good,
the Bad and the Ugly—in relation to several broad categories: food, austerity,
sacrifice and giving. In the next chapter he will continue in the same vein. The
scheme of these gunas or modalities can be very helpful in discerning the shape
of our faith or beliefs and thereby having an impact on actual life situations.
They have already been extensively described, especially in Chapter XIV. Now
Krishna is going to apply them to everyday life.
earlier Krishna instructed Arjuna to transcend the gunas to maintain his
spiritual connection with the Absolute, from here on they are viewed as an
inevitable part of life that cannot be readily left out, and so must be taken
into consideration. Therefore, the sattvic attitude is presented as the best,
conducing to happiness, while rajasic and tamasic attitudes lead to unhappiness
is in some respects an oversimplification, as the three gunas act like a tripod
to hold up the world: all are necessary for stability. But Krishna is speaking
of predominance, not exclusivity. All three modalities are always present, but
each of us leans somewhat in favor of one or the other at different times, and
the idea here is that by recognizing this we can learn a lot about ourselves.
three gunas are what emerges when our unitive connection with the Absolute
drifts into duality. They are part of nature; in other words, they are how
nature unfolds. Once we forget we are nothing but the Absolute, we will tend to
focus on the exteriorization of our inner Self in the game called life. This is
by no means a bad thing: the Gita’s thrust is for us to reconnect with the
unitive state and then invite its influence into our inevitably dualistic daily
life. By doing this the quality of our life is greatly enhanced.
the specific aspects of life can be consolidated into the three general
categories of sattva, rajas and tamas. The Gita first challenges us in Chapter
XIV to see this as an integral system that we must rise above and detach
ourselves from. Now that we are working more closely with actualities we need
to be aware of the relative merits of each guna. On the actual level sattva is
positive, tamas is negative, and rajas is activity aligned either positively or
negatively. Pretty much every situation has both a positive and negative
aspect, as well as an action dynamic.
passing through this survey in terms of the gunas, we should keep in mind that
all of them are binding. We are by no means striving to become sattvic at the
expense of the others. That isn’t even possible. All occur in rotation, or
better, they dominate in rotation. We may emphasize one over the others, but
they are all present in all situations. Honest seekers of truth will look for
aspects of all three in their makeup.
critical idea to keep in mind is that we don’t become spiritual by exaggerating
sattva. By becoming spiritual, sattva is usually predominant, yet all three
gunas provide their rightful contributions as clarity, activity and stability,
matter how much we’d like to hang on to sattva, our life includes plenty of
activity (rajas) and stability or resting (tamas). All three can range between
mindful and mindless. With rajas we can be busy for busyness’ sake or we can
intelligently direct our energy to valuable goals. In tamas we can be fearful
or content, depending on our mindset. It’s very easy for tamasic people to feel
content, so long as their basic needs are met. Even with sattva there is a more
vapid state and an engaged one where connections and insights prevail.
being said, the gunas from here on resemble a rating system. Sattva, rajas and
tamas are now being used almost as code words for good, tolerable and bad. In a
spiritual context that means they are indicating degrees of awareness of the
divine in nature, or the intrinsic unity of things: lots, little or none. It is
almost like they are becoming a whole new set of terms, dualistic now in place
of the former more unitive scheme.
faith of everyone is shaped according to their true nature, Arjuna; man is made
of his faith; of what faith a man is, even that he is.
key idea of the chapter comes in here, where Krishna says, “man is made of his
faith; of what faith a man is, even that he is.” Quantum physics and
neuroscience are now demonstrating that on a fundamental level this is true,
that the rishis are correct: our outlook is filled to the brim with unconscious
selections that determine what we see and interact with. We become familiar
with our favorite choices and block out other options all the time. And we
identify who we believe we are with our habitual choices. Not only do our
thoughts have a profound influence on our actions, the patterns of behavior we
consciously adopt have an equally powerful effect on our thinking over time.
Thousands of psychological studies have amply demonstrated this.
like a universe after its big bang, each person emerges from a point source at
conception and expands in virtually infinite ways. We exemplify an exquisite
combination of innate potential and environmental shaping. Words and thoughts,
intimately related, are among the most important forms that our mental
development follows. We come to thoroughly identify with our thoughts, and we
take for granted that the product of all the complex interaction of our minds
is a display of normalcy, that it is nothing more or less than who we are. Only
when it is stripped away, for instance by brain injury, psychedelic excursion,
or in deep contemplation, do we remember that all of it is an accretion upon
our core nature. Until that happens, we go forward certain that this
unbelievably complicated summation of multitudinous forces is us.
how you think and what you believe determines who you are, at least in this
incarnation, how should you approach a scripture, or indeed any book? First of
all, with humility, the belief that you don’t understand but would like to. A
humble attitude opens up vast fields of insight from works of wisdom. All too
often, people come to scripture with fixed notions and a conviction that they already
know what they contain, and surprise! They find just what they expect, a
reflection and endorsement of their prejudices and blockages. In this way our
beliefs become a major part of the straitjacket instead of an unbinding force
to free the trapped victims of ignorance.
chapter is about recognizing the common forms of how we fix our outlook on the
world, not to humiliate the ego but to be liberated from its unhealthy
dominance. Once we recognize our habitual patterns we can make conscious
decisions to relinquish them. This can assist us to gently wean ourselves away
from ugly or divisive beliefs and in the direction of healing ones. The process
is challenging, because the brain avidly substitutes new habits for old ones,
but success can eventually be had. In this, perseverance furthers, especially
when coupled with iconoclasm: the breaking up of fixed notions.
his commentary Eknath Easwaran says that sraddha includes “all the beliefs we
hold so deeply that we never think to question them. It is the set of values,
axioms, prejudices, and possessions which colors our perceptions, governs our
thinking, dictates our responses, and shapes our lives, generally without our
even being aware of its presence and power.” (Vol. III, 306) That’s exactly
then, refers to our total mindset. It isn’t just belief in some deity, which
many religions consider the ne plus ultra of standing in the faith, and which
amounts to little more than an identity badge. Becoming aware of the totality
of our mindset is a complex and subtle endeavor that cannot be revealed by yes
and no responses to simplistic questions like do you believe in God? Krishna
here directs Arjuna to spend his valuable time in coming to know himself beneath
the surface, so that he can be sure that what he values is significant and not
merely based on whimsy or superficial desires.
tend to examine ourselves in terms we already have accepted, and so we aren’t
mounting a true assessment at all. As Nitya Chaitanya Yati puts it, “Religion
itself has become the greatest snare to stop a person from the vertical ascent
of spiritual pursuit.” (BU Vol. III, 174) We have to somehow get shocked out of
our complacency in order to gain a fresh perspective. Krishna’s intense
diatribe in the last chapter is intended to smash through every disciple’s
natural smugness. We have to confront ourselves almost as though we are
visitors from another planet, seeing with unclouded eyes, or we won’t even
notice the defects we have grown accustomed to.
powerfully transformative ideas expressed in this verse as well as in other
scriptures, are regularly subverted toward wish fulfillment rather than
self-discipline. In the English speaking world, at least, there is a lot of
hoopla about willing magical events to happen—so much that it is one of the
most powerful impetuses for people to be attracted to purportedly “eastern”
religions. From levitation to obtaining a new car for free, all you have to do
is think hard about it or bend yourself into a pretzel and it will appear. If
it doesn’t, it isn’t because such things are ridiculous or impossible but
because you aren’t doing it right. You’re not “spiritual” enough. So buy the
book or take the course.
faith is indeed the measure of what we believe and how we think, failure to
manifest material items reveals a lack of faith. But the premise here is false.
We inhabit a substantive, existent world as well as a dreamscape. While
realigning our mental state can have a significant effect on our attitudes, it
has to be related to actual material factors in order to become real in any meaningful
sense. Much of our mental discomfiture stems from our lack of connection to the
everyday world in the first place. It is very important for our peace of mind,
if nothing else, that we come out of our dreams and meditations occasionally
and engage with the material world on its own terms. Even something as simple
as taking a walk or digging in a garden can have a healing effect on a
and beyond any economic conditions, our limitations are mainly due to our
deep-seated sraddha that we have to create whatever we are to get, we have to
build everything from scratch. Beliefs like this leave out almost everything,
and stem from a fundamental disruption between the individual and the whole,
also known as a loss of reality. Actually, most of our needs are met with
surprisingly little effort on our part. We feel various lacks primarily because
we have lost touch with who we are in the most profound sense. Better or
cleverer ways of wanting new stuff simply exacerbate the dichotomy, not to
mention coincidentally enriching the swindlers who sell them to us.
most characteristic belief that humans grow to have, despite protestations to
the contrary, is that love is a bad thing; consequently our natural feelings
have to be mercilessly suppressed if we are to have a shot at being accepted as
part of the herd. When some interpersonal or psychic relationship breaks
through to liberate the dormant love, it is such a relief it can make you
giddy. Much of the silliness of puppy love or the aftermaths of psychedelic
trips stems from the intensity of long-suppressed feelings emerging once again
into the light, however briefly. It is truly a shame that so few legitimate
avenues for expressing love exist. Most are swept out of sight. It would seem
that we should turn our attention to inventing new ways to share love and
kindness, but some hangover from a puritanical past continually sabotages the
opportunities that come along, twisting them into strange and forbidding shapes.
Until society alters its view that the expression of love is bad, humans will
continue to vaguely feel like criminals—outsiders in their own realm—for having
feelings, because everyone knows in their heart that their essence is grounded
in bliss or love.
desires to perform amazing feats or obtain what we don’t have are the childish
flailings of lonely egos looking for love in all the wrong places. Instead of
running after such things, we should turn the arrow of our interest back on
ourselves and try to discover why we are dissatisfied in the first place. The
new car is likely to be a substitute for something much more valuable that we
are missing. Could it be love? And can we give it to ourselves? Love is
something that must be brewed within and not desperately sought in superficial
attractions. We find it outside only after unveiling it where it always is:
within our heart of hearts.
the ancient rishis would have us understand is that we are already complete and
fulfilled, and we need to redirect our attention to appreciating this truth.
Instead of imagining that something we currently don’t have will make us happy,
we can easily demonstrate to ourselves that we have more than enough, all the
time. This doesn’t mean accepting stasis in our life. We certainly can develop
our talents and improve our circumstances, the pursuit of which are among the
greatest joys and stimulations of a fully lived life. But the game will be much
more enjoyable and less desperate if we inwardly thank the Source for our
present riches at the same time as we move into new fields of interest and
of the divinities are sattvic; the rajasic incline toward the gods of eating
and wealth and the gods of ferocity and violence; while the rest, the tamasic,
worship the spirits of the dead and the hosts of elemental beings.
religion is addressed in the Gita, since after all lots of people are attracted
to it. This is one of the places it pops up. After all, religion is about
belief, right out front. Yogis are called to face up to both their professed
beliefs as well as those they unconsciously take for granted.
of all, we must remember that sattva, rajas and tamas, while serving as a handy
way of sorting out material values, are all binding and are not in themselves the
goal of the yogi. We should not read this verse as though we are directed to
worship divinities. Not at all. From his detached, witnessing perspective
Krishna is assessing the various ways people are caught by their form of
worship, ranging from good to bad. Knowing this keeps us from getting snared
along with them.
need to expand these categories into ones that match our present mentality, and
not presume they only refer to the beliefs of others in the deep dark past. Divinities,
then, represent the living essence of our beliefs, while the gods of eating and
wealth stand for materialistic attitudes that revolve around self-interest, and
the dead and otherwise inanimate objects symbolize ignorance at its most
intractable, where the form is mistaken for substance.
that light, “worshipping the spirits of the dead” is a particularly piquant
metaphor. It does not necessarily refer only to ancestor worship or some
devilish cult of departed souls. Any belief, scientific or otherwise, whose day
has come and gone could be considered dead. Religions, like cultures, tend to
worship people and events long past, and historical scrutiny shows how far the
present version has drifted from the original. Even science has a long lead time
before new ideas are accepted. We are truly boats against the current, borne
back ceaselessly into the past. If we don’t regularly renew our understanding,
it will become tenaciously stagnant.
the living essence of a religion is worshipped, it is sattvic; to the degree it
motivates supplicants to action it is rajasic; and when tangential ideas are
clung to in tamas, they lead to hostility and conflict, or else morbidity.
Obviously Krishna does not approve of substituting a graven image for a living
truth, including in the way he is treated by his own followers.
most burning religious question for many people is whether or not we should
believe in a God, and the attitude taken is one that can be especially
liberating or binding, affecting as it does every aspect of life. Does God want
us to grow and find freedom, or is God an angry fellow who wants to dictate our
every move? Does God want us to be kind, indifferent, or vicious? While our
beliefs cannot affect God in the slightest, they can usher us mere mortals into
states of mind resembling heaven or hell.
biggest weakness with believing in a God is the tendency it promotes to shirk
responsibility. Instead of rising to the daily challenges that constitute our
life lessons, we blame God for the problems and do nothing. Or we screw things
up and then leave it to God to fix them. If we insist on retaining belief in a
God, we should at least realize that we are God’s agents on earth, and refuse
to use the concept as an excuse to sit back and levy indictments. The desire to
“do good works” is a respectable attempt to compensate for the shortcomings of
believing that someone else is in charge, but a truly neutral attitude does not
need any hypothetical entity to bolster its position.
are founded on a vision, usually of a single individual, very likely similar to
the breakthrough event depicted in Chapter XI. Each vision of that profundity is
unique, and it necessarily transcends the gunas. When a seer tells a small
group of intimate devotees about the vision, they receive a sattvic version.
The next generation, if the religion is going to survive and persist, gets busy
building a meeting place for their gatherings, holds bake sales, proselytizes,
and all the rest of the rajasic busy-ness involved with building up an
organization. Inevitably the pure teaching of the founder is elaborated upon
and amplified, becoming ever more remote from the original experience. Postulating
a powerful presiding deity makes an excellent incentive. Sometimes threats of
hell and damnation are added to pressure the workforce and intensify the
recruiting process. Money is collected to turn the vision into reality.
the passage of time, a successful organization becomes fixed, set in its ways.
Rituals are spelled out and must be followed exactly. People come to depend on
jobs provided by the organization. Buildings must be maintained. Charitable
donations are prescribed to keep it afloat. This is the beginning of the
tamasic state of the religion. Because there is little or no connection to the
original vision—indeed, the vision has probably been reinterpreted many times
over since the beginning—there is an insistence on following the letter of any hallowed
writings coming down from the past. All writers know how impossible it is to express
anything exactly, even something as mundane as dirt, so the words chosen have
different meanings to different generations, and even to different individuals.
Arguments ensue. Yet the more the meanings of the words are disputed, the more
insistence there is on clinging to them. A fear comes that to change anything
would be to stray from the original vision, enshrined as God’s intent. Soon
calls ring out that we must get back to the good old days; that anyone thinking
in modernistic terms is a sinner and should be severely punished. Rage and
hatred toward anyone holding different beliefs take center stage. The religion
is now so tamasic as to be literally frozen in limbo. You must not dare to
strangest part of this process is that we tend to not recognize the
transformation we’re going through. At every stage of the descent we convince
ourself that our beliefs are exactly what the Creator intended all along.
most recent major religion to afflict humankind is Capitalism. There is an
unquestioned belief that markets miraculously solve all problems, which is the
quasi-absolutist axiom at its core. No matter that mounting problems are the
result of the practice of Capitalism, and always have been. The Market knows best.
The Market takes All into account. Leave it to the Market. The Market has
become God. Author Thomas Pynchon is one who has independently caught on to
It’s not a religion?
people who believe the Invisible Hand of the Market runs everything. They fight
holy wars against competing religions like Marxism. Against all evidence that
the world is finite, this blind faith that resources will never run out,
profits will go on increasing forever, just like the world’s population—more
cheap labor, more addicted consumers. (Bleeding
the Gita’s measure, this is a rajasic religion, the worship of the gods of
wealth, defended by the gods of war. No one is allowed to not be busy in this
religion. If you don’t work you fail, to be ground under the boot heel of its implacable
God. All blessings fall to those able to wrest profits unto themselves, legally
or otherwise. Art, ideally a sattvic activity, must become rajasic too, and pay
its own way. It must have a measurable, overt “value” or it is cast aside.
Material considerations only need apply.
take this verse at its simplest, sattvic people relate themselves to bright
values, symbolized by the devas (gods) who are the Shining Ones. Love and
mutual care and concern typify bright values. Rajasic people relate themselves
to a color-filled rainbow of interests and activities. Colors exist along the interface
of light and shadow, participating in both. It is not accidental that anger is
often depicted as red, jealousy as yellow, envy as green, repression or coldness
as blue, and so on. Tamasic people find their joy in darkness, described here
as worshipping the spirits of the dead. They are only happy when the light is
shining somewhere else and leaving them alone.
the hosts of elemental beings means craving simple, noncontroversial things. Tamas
is content with stasis, and don’t ruin its day by bringing in doubts. Actions
and philosophy are complex matters, requiring too much energy. There is only a
thin line between contemplating emptiness and contemplating nothingness,
between sattva and tamas, and many who imagine they are being sattvic unconsciously
slip into tamas.
essence, all these attitudes are forms of relating to everyday life. To the eye
of a contemplative they have a lot in common, even when they are taken
separately and their ceaseless rotation ignored. At their core is the idea “I
am like this; I am doing this; I enjoy this particular form of being.” People
do in fact predominate in one or another of the gunas. Contemplation is aimed
at stepping back from all three so that they may be observed from a detached
vantage point. Worshipping the Absolute has nothing in common with worshipping
divinities, though this is by far the most common mistake in all of spiritual life.
men who practice terrible austerities not enjoined by the scripture, given to
hypocrisy and egoism, lust, passion and power,
torturing all the organs of the body and harassing
seated in the body—know them to be of demonic resolves.
list of “demonic resolves” echoes XVI, 18, and reflects those who worship only
as a superficial pretense. As noted there, demonic attitudes pull us down to
the lowest condition of ignorance. The Gita always distinguishes between the
ridiculous or deadly beliefs of human hubris and genuine motivations from the
must keep reminding ourselves that harangues like this are not intended to
create a schism between ‘us’ and ‘them’, the good guys and the bad guys.
Krishna is talking about this because we all, without exception, are full of
every one of these demonic characteristics along with our divine ones. The last
thing we need is to feed our proclivity for spiritual egotism, smugly assured
we are God’s gift to humanity. Such beliefs lull us to sleep, or worse. Gurus
prod us to wake back up, but we have to take what they say seriously. Imagining
their words apply to someone else effectively neutralizes their value.
have already adequately examined all the items on the list of “terrible
austerities,” and most of them are clear enough. Significant confusion
surrounds the idea of dispassion, however, with many seekers believing that
they must squelch their feelings in order to be properly spiritual. The Gita
repeatedly advises being dispassionate, but that is not the same as tuning out
our emotions. Here it is discrediting those who get carried away by their
passions or who get their kicks by indulging in them.
who are constitutionally unable to feel passions are severely handicapped in
their mental processing, and are termed psychopaths. No one would mistake a
spiritually enlightened master for a psychopath, and hopefully few psychopaths
have conned people into believing they are enlightened masters, though that has
happened. So it is very important for us to sort out the difference between
dispassion and being emotionally dead.
neuroscientific studies reveal that emotions are extremely positive aspects of
the brain, essentially a means to communicate vast amounts of information almost
instantly, without the tedious linear process of syllogistic logic and
verbalizing. Our accumulated expertise is encapsulated in emotions, which
communicate nonverbally to the conscious mind how to respond to circumstances.
It’s an extremely efficient system, though it does require education if we are
to use it well. Many emotions are warped by misunderstandings and traumas,
making us overly defensive or insular, and the guna system is a way to sort
through them to accurately assess their value.
Lehrer, in How We Decide, (Boston:
Mariner, 2009), ably demonstrates that the widely held traditional belief that
detached rationality is the high road to wise choices, is false. People with
low emotional intelligence do poorly on tests that involve learning from
mistakes. Rationality by itself is remarkably stupid, slow to notice its faults
and change course. It needs something substantive to work with, and that includes
the gigantic mass of unconscious processing funneled to it via emotional cues.
emotions forces us to cobble together a rational version of life to imitate the
real thing, kind of a stick figure replica. Unfortunately, humans are easy to
fool, and psychopaths can and do get away literally with murder. No matter how
ghastly their actions, they do not feel anything, remorse, compassion, or any
sort of caring. The parts of the brain that produce and process emotions simply
did not develop.
ability to care, after self-awareness, is the highest evolutionary achievement
of humans to date. Being indifferent or dispassionate does not mean not caring,
it means not being disappointed by events due to expectations, and consequently
losing your ability to care. A calm person can be more in tune with their
emotions, not less. Caring, whatever that means in terms of emotional impact,
is at the heart of a spiritual and meaningful life.
gurus have a vibrant emotional life and care a great deal. While anyone who is
deep in meditation or a psychedelic trip is bound to be detached and remote at
that moment, self-absorbed and not interacting with their surroundings, when
they come out of it most of them are hyper-present as well, eager to share what
they have learned with those around them.
you think about it, humans have by far the richest repertoire of emotions of
all the animals. Having feelings, then, is not an evolutionary mistake to be
corrected, but a valuable skill to be perfected and further developed if
when the Gita advocates dispassion it does not mean we should stifle our
emotions. It specifically states that our unhealthy passions arise from
frustrated attachments. The implication is that when we are free of
attachments—compulsive attractions to items of pleasure—we can act as free
individuals with a high degree of expertise. Our passions then will not be
deflected by frivolous longings, but will guide us to outstanding
the work as a whole shows that over its course the Gita talks about restrained or
pacified passions, not their absence. The spiritual secret is to
bring our emotions and rationality together dialectically to achieve an optimal
state, which is much more than either aspect supplies separately. Pure
rationality is sterile and dry; unbridled emotionality is often chaotic and
misdirected, leading the passionate one astray. But when they are brought
together in mutual respect, we get the best of both. In a nutshell that is what
is meant when Krishna calls for dispassion. Not only is an unexamined life not
worth living, an overly examined life isn’t worth living either.
the food which is dear to everyone is of three kinds, as also the sacrifices,
austerities and gifts. Hear you of the distinction between them.
there was any doubt before, this verse makes it clear that the rainbow arch of
the Gita is coming back down to address the basics once again, as practical
matters begin to predominate over the theoretical. The Gita is like a
sonata-form work where we return at the end to the original ideas, but they
have been subtly transformed by the profundity of the development that has been
going on since their introduction. Or like the famous Zen saying “Before
enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and
carry water.” Outwardly nothing is different, and yet everything is different.
four categories listed here (food, sacrifices, austerities and gifts) comprise
the bulk of this chapter, and each will be closely examined in turn. Taken
together in the broadest sense they cover the full range of life values.
Krishna wants to explain how the spiritual experience we have undergone
percolates into every aspect of existence, infusing it with new energy and
speaking, food is what you take in; gifts are what you dispense outward. There
should be a balance in these two factors. That’s why, for instance, a disciple
is expected to do something tangible in return for a guru’s instruction, to
give something back for the feast they have been served. At the very least they
should ask a cogent question to show they have been paying attention. Those who
merely show up for classes and slip away into the night are a kind of spiritual
voyeur. Reciprocation provides opportunities to practice what has been heard.
The Computer Age slogan “Garbage in, garbage out” reflects this idea. Systems,
whether living or mechanical, respond in kind to their input. Therefore we are
enjoined by the very structure of Reality to be wise and kind and thoughtful,
and keep things circulating. The aim is “high quality in, high quality out.”
and austerities form another pair of concepts. Here in the chapter about
religion they can be thought of as outwardly and inwardly directed efforts
toward union with the Absolute, respectively. Tapas is the word used here for austerity; later I have converted
it to discipline, which is a more suitably up-to-date term. Nowadays spiritual efforts
are less austere than in the old days, but hopefully, guided by intelligence, good
discipline can be just as efficacious in bringing about a state of dynamic
it is important for us to recall verse VIII, 28:
meritorious result is
found implied in the Vedas, in sacrifices, austerities and in gifts, the
contemplative who is unitively established, having understood this (teaching),
transcends all these and attains to the supreme primal state.
also tells Arjuna in XI, 53, after he comes down from his trip:
Not by worship, nor by austerity,
nor by gifts, nor by sacrifice, can I be seen in this form as you have seen Me.
The Gita does not consider religious performances in
themselves as being conducive to or productive of realization. They are to be
performed without reference to any merit, according to the scale of values that
is about to be enunciated. Sattvic practices naturally lead to positive
outcomes, rajasic ones to mixed benefits, and tamasic activities to negative
results. Therefore, for a scripture that advocates relinquishment of benefits,
the gunas have to be transcended.
foods which promote life, vitality, strength, health, joy and cheerfulness, and
which are tasty, rich, substantial and appealing, are dear to sattvic types.
section on food is almost always taken literally, which is all right as far as
it goes. It is interesting that the Gita, centuries before the onset of latter
day food manias, may have made the connection between one’s state of mind and
what one eats. But it is much more valuable to think of food here in the larger
symbolic sense of what we mentally ingest, what we take in psychologically.
This covers our reading, our viewing, who we listen to, and so on. In other
words, what we imbibe, what thoughts we are drawn to and take in and savor.
What types of religious service we attend. Such nourishment is clearly related
to what we believe, our sraddha. Thus food stands for information coming into
the system, and can be dialectically paired with gifting, examined at the end
of the chapter, which covers information going out.
sattvic version of such “food” includes uplifting and inspiring art and
literature of all stripes, sermons preaching the unity of all, loving words
from friends (preferably in a nice restaurant…) and the like. Input that leaves
you feeling loving and kind and generous, unafraid to reach out to others. We
are tremendously blessed that our world is so rich in these types of food, and
we should serve them to our friends whenever we can.
the Gita’s standpoint, philosophy—the love of wisdom, or the wisdom
sacrifice—is the most sustaining and delicious food of all, and Krishna has
been serving Arjuna one of the greatest banquets in history. Food for eating is
gone by the end of the meal, but ideas that are “tasty, rich, substantial and
appealing” are perennially on the table. More than just the highest of sattvic
pursuits, philosophy can go as far as to provide a launching pad for
transcendence of all the gunas.
after becoming aware of the symbolic nature of the food being spoken of by
Krishna, and how valuable it is to assess all our input on the basis of the
three gunas, it is a little bit embarrassing to read commentators waxing
eloquent about what literal food we should eat. It seems that they have missed
the point here. The Gita is never trivial. Worrying about food often is, though,
or else it is an obsessive form of self-indulgence. I think it’s safe to say
that no meal however fabulous has ever approached the impact on the psyche of
reading a great novel or attending an exceptional play or concert. The most
memorable parts of even a literal meal are usually the conversations and
perhaps the room it is held in, in other words the psychological trimmings, and
not the actual fruits and vegetables.
Nitya and Nataraja Guru, sensing this apparent triviality, felt that the food
business in the Gita should be used for self-analysis and not taken as mere
menu recommendations. Along these lines, Nitya, in his Therapy and Realization in the Bhagavad Gita, reminds us of an
don’t give the dog
food to the dog, but instead always give the dinner of the master to the dog.
Don’t expect that the dog is going to become the master by eating his food.
This is a symptom only given here, a partial symptomatic study. By looking at
the kind of food you eat, you can see what the nature of your personality is,
your tendencies, characteristics, and so on. This is meant as a psychological
insight into the personality type to which we conform, so that we might attain
a spirituality that conforms to this type.
was right for Ramana Maharshi could not be expected to be right for Mahatma
Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi wanted to fight the British nation. He wanted to
establish satyagraha. He strove to do these things and much more. But if you go
to Ramana Maharshi and say “Come out for a satyagraha,” he will only go deeper
into his meditation, because his nature is such. You should know what your
nature is, and you should not work on a spirituality that does not agree with
that are strongly flavored, sour, saline, excessively hot, pungent, hardened,
and burning are liked by the rajasic, and are producers of pain, unhappiness
too is a very broad category. Words and images underlining us/them dichotomies,
that polarize people against others, inflaming feelings of hatred and anger,
are the most obviously rajasic “foods.” But there are also those that inspire
us to get to work on some project, because of passionate feelings.
differentiates the highest forms of rajasic food from the sattvic, even though
the underlying topic may be similar, is that due to ego involvement there are
negative repercussions with the rajasic, traceable to overt or covert
selfishness. As an example, in the last chapter sacrifice was extolled as a
positive value in the first verse, and then condemned as demonic in verses 15
and 17. The difference is that the latter was egotistically motivated—“I will
sacrifice”—and the former was performed unselfishly and for the benefit of all.
are so many examples around us of people whose attitudes have made them sour,
or bitter, or hardened to the suffering of others. Anger can burn spicy and
hot. This is a self-diagnostic program, so we have to ask ourself if it is
necessary to feel this way, or if we are only copping an attitude because we’ve
been convinced we should. Are we being led by the nose, or are we thinking
clearly? Paradoxically, being led by others often drags us into selfishness,
while thinking for ourself can and should be unselfish. The role of clear
thinking is to break us free of excessive self-indulgence. We need to reflect
on whether there is truth in what we proclaim, or if it is based on what we’ve ingested
from the media or our peers. Have we been spoon-fed a lot of junk? Most
crucially, how much are our feelings influenced by the indigestion brought on
by past traumas, or are we able to be fully present here and now, sporting a
bountiful appetite for clarity?
am old enough to remember a time in the United States (after WWII) when the
mass media propounded a message of national unity and mutual support, which
inspired a lot of people to work hard to reach out to others and share the
wealth in many different ways. That was rajas at its best. More recently the US
media harps on the schisms and hatred between identifiable groups, and
hostility has become palpable all over the country. National unity is
shattered, paving the way for the modern day Kauravas—the limited liability
corporations—to usurp all the territory formerly held at least nominally by the
community as a whole. The bitter, pungent dishes served up by these vested
interests apparently have a strong appeal to large numbers of people.
is rajas at its worst: angry idea-food is put on the table, and those who
gobble it up execute a war dance in passionate response. Non-yogis can be coaxed
into all kinds of transgressions against common sense by what they consume,
while yogis know better than to presume everything served at the buffet table
is safe to eat.
which is left over, which has lost its taste, which is putrid, stale, which is
refuse, and unfit for consumption—such alimentary items are welcome to the
of us is attracted to dark tales that close us off from the world, that
reinforce barriers and exacerbate our fears. Gloom and doom are as popular as
ever. When we’re in a tamasic state, well-defended, womb-like beliefs are very
reassuring. All problems reside in other people, and therefore we shine by
comparison. If that isn’t enough of a trap, it turns out that blaming others
not only shuts down our own spiritual growth, it is highly contagious.
there is a study for just about anything you can imagine. Thomasnet.com, an
industry newsletter, summarizes an article on research done on this very
subject. It turns out blaming is about as contagious and harmful to the
workplace as a bad disease. The article’s conclusion is “a policy of
transmitting blame leads to detrimental performance in accomplishing tasks,
harms health and well-being and can lead to a damaged reputation.” Authors Fast
and Tiedens sum up an important finding of their final experiment: “By offering
participants the opportunity to bolster their self-worth, we removed their need
to self-protect by making external attributions for failure and, in so doing,
eliminated the need to self-protect via subsequent blaming.” (N.J. Fast, L.Z.
Tiedens / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 46  p.103.) Not
surprisingly, the antidote to blaming—and tamasic attitudes in general—is restoration
of normal self-esteem: feeling confident you are a welcome participant and not
a pariah. Not only does it energize a courageous interaction with events,
self-esteem helps you to be prepared to resist the tide of evasion and
excuse-making that permeates our culture, based on fears of retribution, both
real and imaginary. (For more, see http://news.thomasnet.com/IMT/2010/01/28/workplace-finger-pointing-is-contagious/.
The article includes a link to the original research report. Accessed 3/15)
of us have felt that certain media editorials, with their gleeful demonization
of, for instance, those striving to claim their basic human rights, are
“putrid,” that they are “refuse, unfit for consumption.” Poisonous beliefs are
much easier to spot in others than in ourself. Yet we have only ourself to work
on, so the point is to turn our attention inward and see if we have been
consuming and regurgitating garbage too. Blaming others should be easy enough
to notice, yet many of us have a powerful blind spot regarding that activity.
It’s so ubiquitous we take it for granted. We should use the examples we
perceive in others as a mirror to check on our own weaknesses.
adherence to scripture fits the bill of tamasic consumption. Some people insist
that ridiculous ideas are true only because they read them in their favorite
holy book. Fundamentalist Christians have a museum where dinosaurs and humans
frolic together, and they continue to insist the world is about 6000 years old,
despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary. A long list of the cherished
absurdities of several religions, ethical as well as scientific, can be found
Tamasic believers have to erect walls of hate and intolerance in order to
safeguard their untenable beliefs, which of course is the exact opposite of the
yogic approach where falsehood is to be ousted as soon as it is detected.
even some yogis don’t always follow the healthiest diet in what they consume. I
have seen fascist tracts posted in Indian ashrams, alongside rants about how
women are the cause of all the ills of mankind. Isn’t it nice that our problems
can be blamed on somebody else, so we can remain smugly self-satisfied instead
of changing for the better! And other things we should eat, in the form of
inconvenient or embarrassing truths that would clean out our “digestive system,”
we proudly refuse. Angry rejection of challenging ideas is a case of rajas
defending tamas in our mental eating habits—a most intractable combination.
the most potentially devastating of foods we imbibe, which should therefore be
a central concern in a yogic search for wisdom, are termed drugs. There is no
fixed line to distinguish between foods and drugs. They are simply the two
poles of what we eat, indicating those that have less or more impact on our
drugs used wisely to explore the psyche are the most sattvic of foods; used
casually for entertainment they join other drugs like alcohol in being rajasic.
Taken repetitively until the intelligence becomes stupefied, they become
mood-altering drugs used to treat mental disturbances are at best rajasic,
while the majority are tamasic. We are just beginning to realize how
tamasic—how devastating and destructive to the mind—these chemicals are.
rapid expansion of the use of psychiatric medicines appears to be due to
aggressive marketing for profit more than any actual widespread need. The
pharmaceutical industry has taken a place high on the list of corporate
criminals acting like the Kauravas on the battlefield of Kuruksetra in the Gita’s
historical setting, intent on conquering every bit of lucrative real estate
they can. In this case, though, the real estate is the human mind.
growing uneasiness that psychiatric drugs are actually part of the cause and
not the cure for the exploding incidence of mental illness in the modern world
is being confirmed scientifically. The shocking findings are detailed in
several recent books, including Anatomy
of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of
Mental Illness in America, by Robert Whitaker, and The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth, by
Irving Kirsch. The books and their subject are examined in two powerful
articles by Marcia Angell in The New York Review of Books, The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why? (June 23, 2011) and The Illusions of
Psychiatry (July 14,
with many spiritual paradoxes, cause and cure are often conflated if not
reversed, and the most effective solution is to excise the entire gestalt
through wisdom insights. Taking any psychiatric medicine other than one that
supports psychic liberation and enhances self-awareness is fraught with peril
and likely to breed dependence on it. In other words, the cure turns out to
also be the cause of subsequent illness and addiction, so discarding all such
crutches is the high road to being fully alive. The lazy way is to hope against
hope that the marketing lies are true and give yourself over to their tender
is a titanic tragedy that drug peddlers exploit the brain’s desire for
quiescence and stability to insinuate their noxious substances into people’s
lives, primarily to inflate their income streams, though it’s not hard to
imagine even more nefarious motivations. The result is self-fulfilling
prophecy. In Whittaker’s words: “Prior to treatment, patients diagnosed with
schizophrenia, depression, and other psychiatric disorders do not suffer from
any known ‘chemical imbalance’. However, once a person is put on a psychiatric
medication, which, in one manner or another, throws a wrench into the usual
mechanics of a neuronal pathway, his or her brain begins to function…abnormally.”
Like any addictive substance, the drugs produce the need and then satisfy it.
is beginning to seem that any positive effect of this class of medications is
due solely to people’s belief in them, in other words, a placebo effect. Angell
quotes Kirsch as saying that when you add up all the actual double-blind
studies done on the effectiveness of psychiatric medications,
[It] leads to the conclusion that the relatively small
difference between drugs and placebos might not be a real drug effect at all.
Instead, it might be an enhanced placebo effect, produced by the fact that some
patients have broken [the] blind and have come to realize whether they were
given drug or placebo. If this is the case, then there is no real
antidepressant drug effect at all. Rather than comparing placebo to drug, we
have been comparing “regular” placebos to “extra-strength” placebos.
don’t want to understate the value of placebo, which is significant and even
life saving in some cases. The more science examines consciousness in our
quantum universe, the more it appears that everything is in some respects a
placebo, or more correctly, either a placebo or the opposite, a nocebo. We find
what we expect, and we overlook what we don’t. The common insistence of
meditators that the world is illusory reflects this insight. To a great extent
our thoughts really do circumscribe our world, and this is why each yogi must
be very careful to examine their beliefs, and not hold on to anything that
isn’t certified as reasonable, sensible and valuable. Tamas though, like an
obedient child, docilely accepts what is handed to it, yet when challenged it
tenaciously defends its convictions.
there is anything that is “unfit for consumption,” it is a pill that disrupts
the brain’s chemical balance while purporting to restore it, thereby
engendering a lifetime of dependence on it. For whatever reason, tamas no
longer has the strength to fight its own battles, so it pops pills that an
opportunistic vendor promises will solve all its problems straight away. So
simple! So convenient! And suddenly you are caught.
case mature adults might see through the smoke screen of promotional chicanery,
psychiatric drugs are now being aimed at children and the disabled elderly, who
are incapable of mounting a defense before being sucked in. At least in
children, the tamas is supplied by the medicine right up front, to “calm them
down.” Then, to preserve and prolong the deception, an aggressive
disinformation campaign has succeeded in convincing a wide swath of the
population that there is a scientific basis for their claims, when there is
not. Elsewhere I have mentioned the class bully in my school who used to hit
kids while insisting, “I’m not hitting ya—I’m not doing anything.” He’d get a
few extra punches in because the obvious disconnect between his claims and his
actions immobilized his victim in sheer stupefaction. The pharmaceutical
industry has adopted his technique. There may be no other arena where the
stasis of tamas should be as valiantly fought off, even as you are being steamrollered
with false assurances.
powerful and dynamic placebo effect might strike some as inherently tamasic,
because it is based on what is patently false. But a placebo rings true to our
unconscious, emphasizing that baldly rational truth is not the whole story. The
point is that our mind believes in
the placebo, and so it works; and it believes
in the actual medicine and so that works, albeit with more serious side
effects. This kind of belief is the same as having faith, and it is the essence
of sraddha. No one should imagine they live without faith!
medicines are significantly more curative than placebo pills, and likewise the
placebo power of religious pageantry to transform individuals is well known.
The key in every case is you have to believe in it. From this standpoint, those
who want to hang onto “old-time religion” have a point, but not too many twenty-first
century citizens can legitimately believe in the musty myths enough for them to
work. Luckily, spiritual awareness does not have to be static; it can refer to
anything. We can enlarge what we believe in until it is all-encompassing, and
then it will serve as well as any placebo. Isn’t that what usually happens
can learn what convinces our cells to work with us or not, but we have to be
careful. Here in Oregon there have been several convictions of fundamentalist
parents who tried to cure their children using faith healing, which didn’t do
anything. Their kids ended up either maimed or dead. Perhaps the parents
believed with enough conviction, but the children didn’t. Or else, when ideas
are pitted against physical entities, they are almost never effective, because
they exist in different contexts. This verse teaches us to not fall for a
specious argument, but really know how to walk our walk. If ends and means do
not line up, all the effort in the world will fail to accomplish anything. Our
subconscious is a lot harder to fool than our conscious mind, so we have to
always look for the largest version of truth we can find.
come to earth to learn to operate the incredibly complex and versatile
equipment we are born with, so we can go forth to discover what it is truly
capable of. We now know that the brain learns best by making mistakes and then
correcting them on its own. How sad if after a few educational setbacks we give
up, bewildered, or if authorities force us to abandon our quest by demanding
our chemical neutering.
sets in when our karma doesn’t match our dharma—in other words, when what we do
is not in line with our innate interests and talents. The rightful function of
our discontent is to get us to work to bring our self and our world more
closely together. If instead we mitigate the symptoms with a palliative
medicine, we will cease struggling to grow and fulfill our calling, whatever it
might be. Which not surprisingly makes the depression more profound and the need
for the medicine even greater, in a vicious cycle.
disinformation campaign on behalf of expensive mind-altering drugs is so
convincing that my close friends who are on them believe the sales pitches more
than they believe my implorations to take their fate into their own hands.
That’s tamas for you: ignore the facts and cozy up to the glib deceiver. It’s
the easy way out.
can’t help but believe what we think is true. It’s only natural. But we also
must realize we don’t know everything and be eager to add to our meager store.
Once upon a time it was perfectly reasonable to believe the earth was flat, but
the minute we learned it was round the prior belief should have been
relinquished. Instead, being a plausible but erroneous guess “left over” from
the old days, it took centuries to lose its hold on true believers. Updating
our knowledge doesn’t disprove God, and only a fool would think it did. But
tamas clings. It insists that what was good enough for Grandpa (or the
grandfatherly doctor peddling dope on the screen) is good enough to satisfy it,
even if it was never true; even if it is so stale an idea it has utterly lost
a perfectly positive world, tamas would be like being on vacation every day.
Unfortunately, greedy interests are delighted to take advantage of those who
don’t care enough to protect themselves by keeping their eyes open. They take
you by the arm and usher you into their lair on a rose-strewn path. Passing
through the door is easy, and often you get a momentary sense of relief, but
when you turn around the door has been slammed shut and locked. At that point
you might as well resign yourself to your fate, eh? That’s the tamasic response
definitely does matter what we “eat,” what we take in for stimulation both
orally and aurally, but to change the input before we change our mind can be strenuous
and unsatisfying. It requires forceful intent, and takes time. After all, we
are attracted to what we like. We need to go at it the other way round. If the
change is leveraged in our understanding and appreciation first, then perhaps
we’ll be drawn to more sattvic types of fare.
instance, if you go to the symphony but don’t enjoy the music, it will only
make you unhappy and resentful. You should listen to what moves you—if it’s
rajasic, loud, and makes you want to dance, that’s fine. Some days you may prefer
sad and wistful music that enhances your tamasic feelings. Whatever. Even today
it’s called your taste in music or your taste in art and so on, because it’s
food for the soul. That’s who you are, at that moment. All the Gita is saying
is you should know who you are and become who you are, and part of that you can
learn by examining what you like. It is by no means urging you to do what you
don’t like because it’s better for you, as many pundits have made out. Not at
all. The Gita’s ultimate conclusion isn’t far off, and it’s Do what you like.
Scrutinize everything, but then do as you wish. It’s the scrutiny that brings
about the transformation. By scrutinizing what you take in as your soul’s food,
you might be prompted to alter your diet in a healthy way.
wholesale liberation, may not be everyone’s cup of tea. We have to follow our
own light, because following someone else’s light is how we are led astray.
Eventually we will find out how essential it is for our peace of mind to
maintain a suitable diet. However we come to it—and it has to be a deliberate
decision that also feels right—in the long run freedom is much more delicious
sacrifice is sattvic which is offered by those desiring no gain, having
injunctional recognition in the mind, having become tranquil by saying to
themselves that sacrifice is necessary.
activity is neutral and harmonized in whatever form it takes. In the present
verse regarding sacrifice, sattvic means free of any taint of being forced or
enjoined by oneself or others.
notion of sacrifice often calls up images of arcane religious rituals that are
largely irrelevant today. But the Upanishads, and the Gita in particular,
revalue and redefine sacrifice in a way that is still highly relevant: it is
the way we channel our best impulses into productive expression. For instance,
prayer is a kind of sacrifice. Sattvic prayer is that which is done freely with
a broad desire to embrace the common good; rajasic prayer is performed
ostentatiously or with a desire to obtain a well-defined outcome; and tamasic
prayer is confused and weak, a call to have someone else handle our problems
children is a major sacrifice that most people make. Sattvic child rearing
focuses on the benefit to the child itself, and artfully stays alert for
optimal interactions with them. It is kind and gentle, but thoughtfully
directed, and the parent gives without expectation of producing any specific
result. When their nerves are frazzled by the unending effort attending to
children requires, caregivers can tranquilize themselves by remembering that
their sacrifice is necessary.
parenting, on the other hand, shapes the child to a particular expectation,
often in keeping with religious injunctions. Rajasic parents say things like
“you’re gonna make me proud of you someday” or “do it for me (or God)” or “it’s
true because I said so.” The child is warped to stick within the boundaries
erected by the unrealistic hopes and thwarted desires of the parents, and often
the results are sad, if not tragic. Even when it produces a seemingly
successful outcome, there is likely to be inner conflict because the child’s
innate proclivities are not being expressed, but subsumed in servile behavior. The
emotional conflicts so common in family life are rajasic, and decisions based
on them are often very destructive. Recent studies have demonstrated that
because the brain learns by hands-on experience, parents who over-manage their
children’s lives significantly retard their development. And of course a
rajasic person has no interest in tranquility at all. The aim is to find a way
to fit in to an intense and demanding social setup.
child rearing includes not only alcoholic or television-based parenting, but a
lack of caring in general. Not providing structured ground rules and other
forms of neglect are tamasic faults. Physically beating a child “for their own
good” is certainly tamasic. Tamasic parenting produces negative mental states
that are extremely difficult if not impossible to recover from. A kind of
uneasy tranquility is obtained by ignoring the child, often with the assistance
of stupefying substances.
many types of sacrificial activity can be analyzed in terms of the gunas. Earlier
in the Gita, more general interpretations of sacrifice were covered, but now
that we’re in the nuts and bolts section of the work we are attending to the more
practical aspects, and rituals are a big part of many people’s lives. Religious
worship including rituals was undoubtedly one of the main types of sacrifice
Vyasa had in mind here. So what actually is a ritual? Generally speaking, it is
something performed repetitively with a specific end—often metaphysical—in
mind. Usually there is ceremony involved.
easy to see why the Gita has a problem with sacrifice as it is ordinarily
understood: in unitive philosophy ends and means are identical, and separating
them is dualistic. But at this stage we are able to tolerate a degree of
dualism in our actions, so that we may bring intelligence to bear on them. That
being the case, sattvic rituals are those that help us to concentrate on the
subject at hand. When we chant or sniff incense or sit in a group and look at a
candle flame or listen to music, our minds merge together and our hearts are
sure to follow. Or perhaps the ritual allows our minds to finally catch up with
our hearts, which are ever open to one another. Even most staunch materialists
will notice a sense of awe when entering a beautiful cathedral or temple, expressly
designed to harmonize the mind.
the most important benefit of rituals is to bring people together in a
harmonious way. Materialistic (i.e. tamasic) rituals seem to end up with obedient
goose-stepping soldiers in even rows and ranks, but in sattvic rituals a shared
sense of the numinous elevates participants to proceed as loosely affiliated
rituals are those that we enjoy performing for their own sake. We do them
because they are fun, exciting or edifying. If we have to be forced to sit
through it, a ritual has become rajasic. Knowing ourselves well presumes we are
substantially free of prejudice and open minded, which are part and parcel of
spiritual development. I well remember being forced to listen to classical
piano music as a child, and that my initial resistance turned quickly to
amazement and passionate love for it. I hadn’t realized what I was capable of. Ever
since, I have been careful to actually give things a try before setting my
preferences about them in stone.
should be careful not to mix up the horizontal and vertical elements within
rituals. Concrete steps will bring concrete results, but they are often
imagined to achieve abstract triumphs. This is the case when we built a temple
or light a fire to some god, and imagine it is pleased and will bless us. And
abstract thinking can expand our awareness, but it won’t bake any bread, so
praying or meditating for a car or the ability to levitate is a colossal waste
of time. Mixing contexts leads to futility and frustration, if not outright
delusion. There is no need for such magical fantasizing: what actually exists
is amazing enough as it is.
sacrifice which is offered with expectation of return, or for egoistic show,
know that to be rajasic.
are all familiar with supplication that petitions God for gifts and blessings,
or even worse, is a way of proclaiming one’s holiness to others in order to
impress them for one reason or another. Both types are specially excoriated in
the Bible, but it is trickier than it might seem to pray without any trace of
ego creeping in. This is yet another case where someone else’s hypocrisy is
much more noticeable than our own.
should always keep in mind the converse, and realize how attractive an
ostentatious Guru or priest is to us, but does that glamorous appearance cause
us to miss the truly gifted teacher nearby who isn’t calling attention to
themselves? With a mindset based on superficial impressions, subtleties are
easy to miss.
verse strikes me as a very early intuition about what is now called
countertransference, beating Freud by a couple of thousand years. A therapist’s
feelings should always be examined, with a baseline of absolute neutrality or
sattva being the ideal. In rajasic therapy, unacknowledged desires taint the
interaction. A great deal of counseling is done with a secret craving for
appreciation, the hope for a warm response and even a breakthrough on the part
of the patient or disciple, instead of strictly as a detached mutual exchange.
In this case there is likely a hangover of the need for parental approval for a
satisfactory performance, on top of a very natural desire to succeed. Although
this isn’t awful, and possibly inevitable, it must be consciously admitted to
reduce its impact on the purity of the therapy.
therapy occurs when the therapist is so taken with their approach that they
apply it willy-nilly to every patient, while ignoring counter-indications.
Procrustes, who could almost be considered a god of tamas, teaches us how
devastating and even fatal inappropriate therapy can be. Recall that he cut
down his visitors to fit his tiny guest bed, maiming or killing them in the
process. Patients treated with inappropriate methods may go for years without
improvement. For instance, if there is an organic brain disorder present, no
amount of talk therapy will be effective. This is an occasion where chemical
intervention might be the only hope for improvement. Likewise, if a disciple is
given a meditation that is out of alignment with their personality, they can
spend a lifetime trying to force themselves to conform to it, in the process
doing untold damage.
is a very different kind of example. Personal hygiene is a kind of ritual,
often performed religiously—meaning daily without fail—in order to attain or
preserve good health. With adequate knowledge it has been a godsend, but it can
also be overdone, eradicating beneficial bacteria and making the immune system
lazy, or of course ignored, with sometimes dire results. When rituals are intelligently
connected with their ends, as is possible in horizontal matters, then they
should actually produce the desired result much of the time. We put gas in the
car so we can drive it somewhere. This is simple common sense. Where we tend to
go wrong is by treating vertical matters as though they were horizontal. In the
philosophy of the Gita, at least, there are no steps or rituals to follow to
attain the Absolute. This despite the fact that commentators tend to promulgate
their own path as though it was “what the Gita (or other scripture) really
means,” especially if there is a financial incentive. Opening the mind is much more
subtle than understanding a complicated mathematical equation or memorizing pi
to 15,000 digits.
religions almost never avoid the temptation to spell out simple steps to the
goal of pleasing God, entering heaven, and attaining peace of mind. People find
lurid promises attractive, without a doubt. Not being sure of the way
themselves, they are happy to take the advice of a recognized authority figure,
and the more the path is spelled out the better. The only problem is that delineated
steps, no matter how excellent, don’t lead anywhere spiritually, yet following
them is a fascinating and all-absorbing trip. That means programs tend to lead
away from their goal, not toward it. Horizontal goals are achieved stepwise,
but vertical matters are much more mysterious. They cannot be nailed down.
visitors to the Gurukula are surprised when we don’t hand them a list of prescribed
observances, and move on to find an outfit that does. The Gurukula helps people
to learn to make their own decisions on the spot, and not to become dependent
on anyone else. We presume there is already too much horizontal instruction,
and put our energies elsewhere. But it is not the high road to popularity.
is no doubt that keeping busy provides a veneer of spiritual enthusiasm, and
there are times when we get a lot of benefit from engaging in mindless work, as
it can shut off the chatter of the surface mind with its anxieties and empty fantasies.
It makes a good holding pattern when we aren’t feeling up to maximum intensity.
live in a rajasic era, when every action is to be justified materially. The
yogi is able to step outside the beehive mentality for a time—preferably often—to
sit quietly and allow the inner light to percolate all through their psyche.
Then they can retain a measure of unforced bliss as they tend to their
sacrifice which does not conform to scriptural rules, without food
distribution, without sacred chants and token gifts meant for the Guru, and
devoid of faith, they declare to be tamasic.
image here calls up a traditional puja ceremony, but of course we want to think
of it as being applicable to a wider context. The point is that a lot of what
we do is actually a waste of time and energy. We may be intending to accomplish
great things, or then again we may be just passing the time, yet either way it
isn’t so hard to misapply ourselves and get nowhere. Getting nowhere is the
hallmark of tamas.
tamasic people there are rules and regulations, and all they have to do is
follow them and they’ll do okay. But when tamas is really entrenched, people
insist that they cannot even follow rules. They refuse even the most basic
protocol, and then go sit in a corner and fume. On good days they feel
miserable that they aren’t getting anywhere, but they can never bring
themselves to do anything about it.
the human race in our mind’s eye, there are dedicated scholars and scientists
digging into their chosen fields and unearthing valuable knowledge, and those
are the sattvic types. There are vast numbers of rajasic people busily and
effectively accomplishing all the nuts and bolts of civilized life, making
things, growing things, distributing things, teaching things. Then there are
those who struggle to make ends meet, whose every act seems guaranteed to
immerse them further in the mire of debt, unhappiness, ignorance, and the rest.
People may try to help them, but their gifts are taken and yet no progress
seems to occur. They are like psychic black holes where even light goes to die.
a person falls into a tamasic mentality it is very difficult to extricate them
from it, because they have no motivation. Almost anyone is capable of changing
their life for the better, but if they don’t want to it isn’t going to happen.
The army of people who arrive at adulthood already defeated by life’s hardships
are a sad and pitiable bunch. It’s worth a great deal to avoid this trap.
spirit rebels at stasis, so it must be suppressed to allow tamas to
predominate. Krishna has detailed many of the ways that this comes about, in
hopes that we will conserve a mental state where our spirit can thrive.
Krishna’s encouragement is pitted against a myriad of natural and social forces
that combine to dull our enthusiasm for life.
have to read beyond this verse to appreciate the Gita’s means of extrication.
Orthodox Hindus might figure they should mount a religious event with chanting
of the Upanishads, followed by a food giveaway and a tip for the guru, and that
might actually help get them going, but the rest of us will have to employ
different strategies appropriate to who we are and where we live.
essential thing is to combine a mental vision with some practical application
of it. We cannot be happy living solely in either pure abstraction or abject
materialism. Often a person has to get unbearably miserable before their inner
resolve can begin to overcome their inertia. Sadly, misery more often feeds
tamas by causing immobility. It is a certainty that our spirit can not be long
satisfied with getting stoned or watching TV all day, or working at a drudge
job to merely get by. For a seriously tamasic type just going for a walk every
day is a major accomplishment.
is also a certainty that no one who is primarily tamasic will be studying the
Gita in even a cursory way. But we all experience tamasic periods when we get
stuck. So the concern has to be, is what I am doing effective, or is it based
on wishful thinking? A yogi has to look closely at whatever they plan to do to
be sure of the difference. There are many talented and intelligent people who
are so mesmerized by ridiculous beliefs that they fail repeatedly to live up to
their abilities. It is especially heartbreaking when they have occasional
bursts of glory, showing how spectacular they truly are, and then go back to
spending most of their time drifting aimlessly. The faith—sraddha—they need is
faith in themselves, faith that they matter and can succeed. In the tamasic
stratum of daily life, circumstances have conspired to convince them they don’t
have a chance. They have lost faith in their ability to make things happen, to
interact with the flow of life around them.
can say that expressing our talents well is the essence of spirituality, and
most of the work we do is to remove the obstacles to effective performance.
Part of that effectiveness ought to be convincing ourselves and our fellows
that we should dare to be great. We are miracles. We can shine.
offered to the gods, to wisdom-initiates, to spiritual teachers, and the wise
generally, cleanliness, straightforwardness, the chaste ways of a wisdom
novice, and non-hurting, are said to constitute discipline of the body.
next elucidates the practice of discipline, broken down into three categories
of efforts related to the body, speech and mind. Later he will assess them in
terms of sattva, rajas and tamas. I have used the less intense word discipline here.
Nataraja Guru uses the
term austerity, which is the most common translation; Radhakrishnan has it as
penance, and Mitchell says control (again more of a Buddhistic take). All these
words tend to have negative connotations that strike me as alien to Krishna’s intent.
Gita is gracious enough to define its version of austerity or discipline in
detail for us, as it covers a lot of territory. It was composed in a time when
people did grotesque and bizarre things in hopes of achieving a higher state of
mind, or simply to attract attention. Self-torture and mutilation were not
uncommon. Still, the three categories are relevant even regarding the pleasant
and comfortable “austerities” of today.
noted earlier, the word in question is tapas,
and it carries the implication of heating up: when you put energy into
something it grows hotter. Its molecules vibrate more intensely. There are some
yogic practices that produce literal heat, but the general idea is more like
when an improvising jazz band is playing especially well together, it is said
to be “hot” or “cooking,” or when you warm up to a subject and really get into
it. We feel warmly about something or someone we like, that inspires us. In
spiritual life also, we put energy into the practices we use to produce a
transformation. Guru Nitya expresses how important this is:
You have to bring your life to a
white heat. Even in material things, such as splitting the atom or studying the
depths of space, seekers have to make contrivances which look almost
impossible, but they do it. And what do you gain by smashing an atom? If you
want to know the least bit about a particle…
you have to spend so much money and effort, keep a great vigil and
constantly refine and sharpen your tools. Then, to know about the Absolute how
much greater dedication should you have? How much more willingness should you
have? How much more preparedness? (That Alone, 707)
is an additional implication of pain or torment in tapas, which we often
experience when striving for a breakthrough. It’s not always easy to change
states, and when we push ourselves it can hurt. In ancient times the two
aspects were frequently equated: the more torment, the more spiritual growth it
was thought to bring about. Krishna, as always, stands for common sense and
good judgment, and pain for its own sake does not fit the bill. Yet strenuous effort
does. He certainly does not assert there is a one-to-one correlation between
specific activities and spiritual growth. It’s a very fluid process.
discipline of the body listed here includes worship, cleanliness, honesty or
uprightness, brahmacharya, and ahimsa or non-hurting. Worship is discussed here
and in Chapter IX; the rest are covered in depth in XIII, 7, except for
brahmacharya, which we discussed in VI, 14. A number of the categories in this
section overlap Patanjali’s Yoga, in his section on restraints and observances
(yamas and niyamas). While they are all primarily mental disciplines, here
they are related to the body, in other words, to active behaviors. Earlier they
were discussed in general terms, but here we need to examine them as modes of
then, is not only one-pointed attention to gods, gurus and fellow disciples;
dynamic interaction has to take place with whatever we worship. All three categories
are to be treated with respect, and also intelligently responded to. The Gita
never advocates lying on the floor and trembling, but a certain amount of
deference is important. We need to remember we are always in the process of
learning, and not swagger around as know-it-alls. For those of us who don’t
care for gods as they appear in the popular imagination, they can stand for
ideals, archetypes, or essentials. As an example, if music is one of your gods,
you don’t just listen when fate happens to bring music to you, you go to
concerts, support your friends who are musicians, perhaps even learn an
instrument. You actively meditate on pieces that move you, going deeper into
their meaning by careful listening. Worshipping music in this way sets you
apart from the casual listeners who may not know much, but they know what they
like, and who can take it or leave it.
has written a sweet line about worship of the dualistic stripe: “God waits to
win back his own flowers as gifts from man’s hands.” The universe is pouring
wonders down upon us all the time. What is it that you will do to reciprocate?
Whatever you decide, if done with sincere dedication, is your worship.
Saucha, purity or cleanliness,
especially in relation to this chapter, means not holding on to fixed ideas
which impede the natural flow of life. It’s not about washing our hands: we
have to scrub ourselves free of the clinging dirt of ignorance. Cherished
beliefs direct us according to the ego’s preferences, with consequent disasters
great and small, but spiritual life is only free when this type of habitual behavior
is abandoned in favor of direct inspiration of the Absolute. Call it a deeper
level of the mind than the ego if you wish. In a sense we must become
transparent to the impetus of the inner wisdom. This does not mean just being a
puppet on the divine hand, but it should energize a creative interaction
between our highest abilities and the perceived inspiration from “within” or
“beyond.” Above all, we must be free from our own prejudices in order to
respond appropriately to every new situation. This is the antidote to the
problem of verse 3, where we learned we are what we believe, and what we
believe makes us who we are. Self-description is stultifying, constricting.
Give it up, and make room for “an imagination of creative transparency” which
will be put forward in verse 16 as a discipline of the mind.
Arjavam means not only
“straightforwardness” but honesty and sincerity. Even if we pretend to inner
honesty, we often assume a pose to convince other people that we are something
other than what we are. That’s because we have learned to not accept ourselves
as good enough, and that needs to be rectified. Aligning our inner and outer
self-images is arjavam. It’s a tricky business. Being honest with ourselves is
famously difficult, so a trusted advisor can be a big help in weaning us from
our meticulously selected deceptions, and even some of our unconscious ones.
chaste ways of a wisdom novice” is a poetic description of brahmacharya, more literally rendered as “walking in the path of
the Absolute.” If our spiritual transformation only takes place in our mind, it
isn’t “real.” It has to be real-ized. Our relation to the Absolute should have
an impact on how we act, such as by being more environmentally conscious and
more loving toward our fellow creatures. Awareness of the feelings of other
people and the coherence of their preferred systems enlarges our spiritual
capacity, and what we do for them enlarges the space we inhabit, in a positive
far as chastity goes, Guru Nitya Chaitanya Yati has written that purity of
intent is chasteness. Prostitution, then, occurs when we trade our innocent
motivations for temporal gains. Life continually forces us to decide between
staying true to our ideals or compromising them for convenience. If our ideals
are valid, we should hold to them without shame. This is the most central vow a
there is a path of the Absolute for us to walk it implies there are other paths
that lead away from it. If we are insecure or poorly informed, we may walk into
bondage instead of freedom. Many binding factors masquerade as tools of
liberation, convincingly praised by ardent proponents. A yogi has to examine
them carefully to see how they might prove binding. Careful examination means
listening with the heart as well as applying the well-founded intelligence we
began developing in Chapter II.
ahimsa, ranges from the simplest
physical restraint from causing harm to the subtleties of optimal interpersonal
interaction. One overlooked aspect of ahimsa is that we should include
ourselves in those who we refuse to hurt. Many people believe it is their duty
to suffer so that others can have their way. Learning to love and respect
ourselves means both being kind toward our own feelings and resistance to the
abuses some people feel justified in heaping on us.
Nitya always tried to overcome simplistic interpretations of spiritual principles.
Citing his ideal example of ahimsa as Jesus, with his anti-authoritarian
intensity, he says:
are capable of
adopting a pacific attitude which is superficially very goody-goody. That is
not ahimsa. If you apply ahimsa to yourself there are many weeds, parasites
that live on your own spirit. They are all hurting you, draining the very sap
of your spiritual life. In a lackadaisical atmosphere where you don’t bother
about them they will thrive. And the same thing is also happening to other
people. To see clearly the spirit of one and the spirit of another, and then to
remove those parasites from a person’s life, the methods we resort to may
sometimes look harsh. It goes against the grain of our understanding of a
passive life. (That Alone, 703)
The Guru implies that all
the aspects of spiritual endeavor
must be meditated on so that we penetrate into their depths and take them to
heart. Each of these terms represents a universe of meaning. Superficial
attitudes toward them are anathema to yoga.
speech, which is truthful, pleasant and beneficial, and contemplative
self-study, are named the discipline of speech.
casual reading of instructions like this may inspire us to carefully craft our
words, but that type of over-management is egoistic rather than spiritual, even
if it is done with the best of intentions. That’s not what is meant here. Truly
inspiring speech comes as a reflection of our inner state of union. Brain
observations have shown that thoughts coalesce below the radar for a long time
before they burst into conscious awareness. Sure, we can do some last minute
editing, crafting our words to the context or biting our tongue to avoid
uttering some “zinger,” but the yogic way is to harmonize our psyche first, so
that what comes out of our mouths is like a flower fragrance from our
well-tended garden and not the stench of an uncomposted manure pile. Again,
it’s an opening up process rather than a cleverly applied conscious discipline.
help insure we fully understand, Krishna qualifies inoffensive speech with
three important adjectives: it must be truthful, pleasant and beneficial.
Non-contemplatives stop at pleasant and call it good, but it is even more
important that what we say is truthful and beneficial. If there is no benefit,
we might as well keep our mouths shut.
ahimsa in the last verse, inoffensive speech isn’t quite what it sounds like,
that we are not supposed to say anything controversial or confrontational. For
those who cherish wisdom, merely pleasant chatter itself is highly offensive,
as they don’t want to waste time on meaningless conversation. What is implied
here is that since what we say has an impact, often a surprisingly large one,
we need to take care not only that our communication doesn’t inadvertently
cause harm, but that it is a positive force, an essential part of the wisdom
sacrifice. Stirring up a strong reaction can be highly beneficial, but it
should never be done merely to give offense or as a punitive measure. A yogi
offers it to bring about a change for the better.
we mature we begin to realize just how powerful words are, so we restrain
ourselves from flinging them around as wantonly as we did in our younger days.
An ill-begotten sentence can send someone into a tailspin, while a well-chosen
one can lift them out of the dumps. Pretty much everyone attains that much
wisdom. But there is another dimension here which is often overlooked, that
words are one of keys to explore the inner kingdom.
svadhyaya, is the flip side of
well-chosen speech, and they very much go together. What we say is incisive
thought directed outwards, self-study is incisive thought directed inward. In
both cases it is a flexible vehicle for exploring the terrain, not a bulldozer
to level it.
are some shocking translations of svadhyaya, taking it to mean chanting the
Vedas, which is utterly alien to the spirit of the Gita. Svadhyaya is also one
of Patanjali’s observances, forming part of the second of his eight limbs of
yoga. It is a critical enquiry into the nature of the self. Many ritualistic
practices have been introduced over the centuries that purport to further
self-awareness but actually divert attention from it. George Thompson’s
translation even changes ‘beneficial’ to ‘kind’, further sapping the pungency
of Krishna’s instruction. We wind up with kindly and pleasant cheeriness
interspersed with bouts of chanting, in place of a dedicated and intense search
for truth. In the Sixties we called that selling out.
tempted to change the translation of priya from ‘pleasant’ to ‘endearing’,
which is a better indicator of the piquancy intended. The words we hear or say
should make us passionately fall in love with their content, not just smile and
nod and go about our business.
than cloak our negativity in pleasantries we should look at it directly. On the
other hand, saying nasty things to people isn’t only harmful to them, it’s an
indicator of our own problems, as in a Freudian slip. Speech is paired with
self-study for this reason: we can trace back to who we are through the things
that come out of our mouth. Once we have mastered our inner malformations, our
upgraded state will be reflected in how we talk.
far as consciously editing our speech goes, we have to know both ourself and
the person we are addressing well, to be certain what we say is appropriate.
The more we know about our inner mechanisms, the better decisions we will make
in our communications.
being difficult to monitor ourselves when we are speaking, the feedback of
others is very valuable in letting us know when we have said something hurtful
or idiotic. You’ve probably noticed how people who say mean things are in the
grip of some powerful emotion and are hardly aware of what they are doing. Our
ability to communicate will be normalized only if the underlying trauma is
healed. If we try to pretend to normalcy while still suffering, our slips will
ourselves through what we say means that we have to sit in meditation and
recall our conversations, taking critical comments especially to heart. In
ordinary interactions, we hardly give a second thought to what we’ve said. But
when we suffer the misery of a cleavage between a friend and us, it makes us
ponder what went wrong. It’s a real opportunity to dig deep into our souls. You
may have noticed how each person will have a different recollection of what was
said in an argument, which in itself reveals a great deal about their mental
state. Non-yogis search for clever ways to make excuses and defend their
faults, but yogis are brave enough to accept their misunderstandings and try to
improve them. Doing so heals the rift as it reveals hidden areas of the psyche.
master guru who has achieved self-realization utters words of such enchanting
beauty that they bring healing. Gurus address the listener’s situation
intimately, because there is no extra weight attached to their own interests.
They are like a conduit for the Absolute to shower its grace into the world.
That’s the kind of beneficial inoffensiveness Krishna is speaking of here.
happiness, gentleness, silence, self-restraint, and an imagination of creative
transparency, are named the discipline of the mind.
gives a classic description of a peaceable wise person here, gentle, quiet and
happy. When aggressive types assert that the Gita is the scripture that
advocates and legitimizes war, they are missing almost the whole point of
Krishna’s teaching. It’s hard to see where belligerence might fit into this
verse. Yes, there are rare instances where fighting is called for in life, but
they are very much the exception, and they are to be met with the unitive
attitude presented here, not with anger and hostility.
three-pronged discipline given in verses 14-16 expresses the baseline attitude
of the realized seer that Arjuna is learning to be. Disciplining the mind means
wrestling it into the shape described, as always executed from the inside out,
by changing our beliefs, our sraddha. The most important belief of all may be
that we can change our life for the better if we work at it. Belief in
hopelessness is a sure recipe for failure.
have gone through the entire Gita with the conviction that a natural attunement
with the Absolute brings about all beneficial states in direct consequence, and
that is the sure way to self-discipline. Still, there are times when we have to
work at it, when our connection with our dharma slips though our fingers. If we
need to fall back on mechanical corrections, it doesn’t hurt to have a
blueprint of what an enlightened state of mind looks like. Then we’ll have a
good idea of what to do whenever we notice we’re stuck. Nitya offers a simple
On your keyboard, if
you make a
mistake the next step is to consciously erase it. It won’t go away if you just
leave it alone. Then, with decision, after effacing the error, you have to type
in the right thing. In our life also there has to be a reconsideration of each
mistake followed by its resolute correction, before we go on with great
resolve. Let us hope we will have the courage to make a determination in our
own minds to start fresh and become more conscious of what we are doing. (That
verse is perfectly straightforward, except Nataraja Guru has a unique take on bhava
samshuddhi, rendering it most
beautifully as “an imagination of creative transparency.” The dictionary gives it as “purity of mind.” Since the Guru does
not explain what he had in mind in his commentary, we have to bring what we’ve
learned so far to bear.
of creative transparency” means first of all that you have cleared the garbage
out of the way in your life so that your innate creativity can come to the
fore. Transparency does not impede or distort what passes through it.
Distortions occur when we overlay our personal quirks onto the situation; when
selfish interests are dispensed with we see things for what they are rather
than what we can make from them. This brings great freedom to the mind, which
then infuses every aspect of life.
creative aspect is an important inclusion. All too often, purity is equated
with emptiness. Here, the purity constitutes a liberation from obstacles,
allowing enhanced freedom in contemplation and thought in general. You are not
simply a ghost through which the winds of life blow, you are a participating
co-creator who brings an optimized state of mind to whatever is taking place.
While not distorting, you are meeting the situation with an open heart and an
is a very interesting topic. To many people, “effacing the ego” means
suppressing the capacity and inclination to make judgments. But judging is one
of the most essential contributions of the frontal cortex, the most distinctively
“human” part of the brain, so suppressing it can be a serious mistake. It’s
fine to bite your lip if you don’t like some characteristic of another person,
but we need to judge our own actions pretty much continuously. Not doing so can
lead to disaster. It’s true that wrestling your judging capacity down will give
you a heavy workout, as your natural good sense repeatedly tries to stand up
and be counted and you struggle to squelch it, but this is an excellent example
of how effort alone is not the measure of spiritual worth. The essential point
is that allowing our impulses to run wild, free of judicious restraints, is not
the same as being harmonized with the Absolute, the celestial yearnings of
youthful folly notwithstanding. Judging is how we decide the worth of
everything, and just because the whole world is the Absolute at its core does
not mean there is no difference between acting wisely and behaving stupidly.
really needs to be minimized if not effaced by self-restraint is our egoistic
talent for making excuses and rationalizing what we do, and this is something
we seldom feel guilty about. We are more likely to hotly defend it, in fact.
Here’s how it works. An action propensity is activated deep in the unconscious,
in what we refer to collectively as the seedbed of vasanas or latent potentials,
and various parts of the brain begin to arrange the local environment to make
the propensity’s expression not only possible but fruitful. The action gestalt
becomes seasoned with samskaras—the neurological “shape” the brain has
developed into—as it moves toward surface consciousness. When a potential is as
fully prepared for as possible, it begins to actually unfold in the overt world,
and as it does our conscious mind witnesses it and at the same time invents a
plausible explanation for it that may bear little or no resemblance to the
actual motivation. It just sounds good. If the action itself is called into
question by someone, the ego tenaciously defends its explanation, employing
various strategies to depose the challenge, even changing its cover story at
will to divert the perceived threat. We defend most sanctimoniously the aspects
of ourself we least want anyone else to be aware of. If we are comfortable with
something, we have no need to defend it. Knowing this, we can overcome our
inner traumas if we are brave enough to stand up to them. It helps to
anticipate social disapproval from those of our peers who are afraid to take
stands without cosmetic distortions.
Adams had a lot of fun with this propensity of the ego in his masterful novel, Dirk
Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. To
demonstrate how the mind excels at making excuses for the most inexcusable
actions, which is a major subtheme of the book, Dirk makes a post-hypnotic
suggestion to a client to jump into a filthy canal and then find himself unable
to swim, when he hears a certain code word. When they go out for a walk later
on, Dirk says the word, and the man leaps into the canal and starts to drown.
After Dirk fishes him out, the client has perfectly rational explanations for
all of his actions, only we as readers know they have nothing at all to do with
the real motivation, which was the hypnotic suggestion. And as Steven Heller
maintains in Monsters and Magical Sticks,
we are all hypnotizing others and being hypnotized pretty much all the time.
That means we are also defending ourselves with invented rationalizations
pretty much all the time.
very major idea here is that the proper restraint for the ego is to keep it
from spinning its own self-serving tales to justify its absurdities, so that we
can pay attention instead to the flow of genuine inspiration from the center of
the universe inside our being. The cheesy story we are telling the world to
justify our follies sells our soul short, very short. Disciplining the mind to
be honest with itself promotes psychic expansion.
threefold discipline, practiced with transcendent faith by unitively balanced
yogis, without desire of gain, is named sattvic.
sattvic mentality minimizes extraneous motivations. In a sattvic attitude there
is no hidden agenda to gain something, as there is with the other two
modalities, especially rajas. Actions are performed because they are delightful
in themselves, as well as in accord with the person’s deepest interests and
proclivities. The disciplines of body, speech and mind are a most fulfilling
way to live, because they go a long way in freeing us from our ailments on
a curious paradox that by seeking rewards, life for the most part becomes less
and less rewarding. Homing in on the essence of every act, free from the
anxiety of craving a payback, opens the door to blissful existence at every
only addition this verse adds to the previous three is that they are to be
practiced with transcendent faith, paraya
sraddha. This is not the simple one-to-one faith that doing certain actions
brings predictable results, automatically turning us into realized beings.
Conversion remains mysterious and unpredictable. It’s the faith of the seers in
XI, 21, where “bands of great rishis and Perfected Ones hail You [the Absolute]
with the cry ‘May it be well!’ and praise You with resounding hymns.”
Transcendent faith means we acquiesce in the unfolding magical mystery tour of
the Absolute, and don’t feel like we have to make anything in particular
happen. It’s already happening; all we have to do is join the party.
discipline which is practiced for gaining respect, honor, reverence, and for
the sake of show, is named rajasic, changeful and insecure.
we do what we do with others’ opinions in mind we lose the sense of security
that comes from being grounded in our deepest Self. There is always some doubt
as to how other people are reacting to us. Are they buying our contrivances, or
do we need to lay it on more thickly? Is their reaction sincere or are they merely
feigning interest? Can I do more to win them over? And so on. When we rely on
others—even great teachers—to ratify and guide our existence, our life is
always “changeful and insecure” no matter how good the performance. We are
forced to keep trying harder, but it’s never enough. Or else, resenting the
pressure, we give up and slide into a tamasic state.
afraid what we have here is an incisive description of the human mentality,
pretty much summing up the baseline angst of the isolated individuals we have
all become. So sad!
aside the legitimate worries of those inhabiting the world of political
intrigue, who quite rightly fear for their bartered lives, very few of us have
established a sense of ultimate security based on the beneficence of the
Absolute. Yogis are directed to cultivate confidence based on the continuous
support that comes to them from seemingly out of nowhere, but this is hard to
learn to trust. In its place we scheme and calculate, measure and compare, and
always imagine we come up short in the deals we negotiate. Krishna has been
doing his best to convince Arjuna that he can go forth in full assurance of his
(Krishna’s) support, that if he stops flailing in the river of life he will
float quite naturally. This is the great mental leap that sannyasa, subject of
the next and final chapter, invites us to make.
have examined the root causes of insecurity in depth already: how when children
are not taken seriously and treated with respect they decide they must invent
substitute images that will command the admiration and cooperation of those
around them. Regardless of whether these artificial personas work well or
poorly, we who wield them always feel anxious, because we well know that they
are false even as we insist on their veracity. Unlike the Absolute, which is
our core inner truth, our creations are bound to be less then perfect, tailored
as they are to limited circumstances, and when conditions change they no longer
fit as well as they once did. We are eternally struggling to readjust our
persona to fit new situations, or else bluffing harder and harder to convince
our associates that nothing is the matter, that there is no disconnect between
appearance and reality. The best way to slide out from under the cloud of anxiety
this generates is to become ourselves again, jettisoning our dependence on a
persona and accepting ourselves with all our flaws, steadfastly prepared to
accept the inevitable criticism we will draw for doing so.
doesn’t mean we have to become uncivilized to be ourselves. That popular
sraddha has caused oceans of barbaric behavior in hopes that rebellion itself
brings liberation. But while rejection of conformity has some value, it is only
a first step, because it’s still tied to the original deadness. After breaking
free of it we still have to turn to our own truth, and any posturing we adopt
in the name of rebellion will be just as false as the contortions society
demands. The yogic ideal is to strip away all affectations, at least in
can continue to maintain a decent persona to placate the world’s blissful
ignorance, just so long as we give up the ego’s attachment to it. It’s our identity
with a fake image that causes
us harm, not so much the image itself. A great many people are afraid of
honesty, and will hurt you if you are honest with them. At the same time they
are easy to satisfy if you simply keep quiet and smile. You can be yourself
while those around you are sure you are someone else, and you can even be
amused by how far off the mark they are. Our task is to cure ourselves, not
commercial world of cutthroat competitiveness is another perfect breeding
ground for the rajasic charade described in this verse. If you are not securely
grounded in your self, you can easily be swayed to the advantage of others.
Overwhelmed by too much disparate information, everyday worries become
magnified. Advertisers reinforce those anxieties and then prey on them,
providing expensive and even harmful “solutions” to an ever-expanding array of invented
problems. Where rishis of the past faced their challenges directly, modern day
lemmings are more likely to think of themselves as helpless victims, and seek
“expert” help. The syndrome is elucidated in the article What’s Normal? by Jerome Groopman, (The New Yorker, April 9, 2007):
Phillip Blumberg, a
psychotherapist in Manhattan, told me, “Psychological diagnosis is, in essence,
a story. If you have a mood disorder, there is the fear, the shame, and the
confusion—the stigma—associated with it, so you want to grab on to the most
concrete and clear story you can. There is something about the clarity of
bipolar disease, particularly its biological basis, which is incredibly
soothing and seductive.”
believes that advertising by pharmaceutical companies has influenced the
public’s view of bipolar disorder…. [He] described recent ads, for drugs like
Zyprexa, that include a list of symptoms characteristic of the disorder. “But,
of course, we all have these symptoms,” he said. “Sometimes we’re irritable.
Sometimes we’re excited and elated, and we don’t know why. With every form of
advertising, the first goal is to make people feel insecure. Usually, they are
made to feel insecure about their smell or their looks. Now we are beginning to
see this in psychiatric advertising. The advertisements make frenetic, driven
parents feel insecure about the behavior of their children.”
noted that he had seen instances of the disorder in some children, and that it
was a real and serious diagnosis. But he also cited the mounting pressure on
children, particularly in the middle and upper classes, to succeed, first at
private or selective public schools, and then at exclusive colleges and
universities. “These kids become very well turned-out products,” he said. “They
live to have resumes. They don’t have resumes because they live.” Parents may
fear that children who behave in an eccentric way are at a disadvantage, and in
turn pressure the pediatrician or the psychiatrist to come up with a diagnosis
and offer a treatment. “Then an industry grows up around it. This, then, enters
as truth in the popular imagination.”
is a hall of broken funhouse mirrors, home to endless wandering in confusion
and doubt. The only escape is to turn away from the mirrors and into your self,
where you can reconnect with the solid values of the Absolute. And we should
offer our kids that option, instead of simply medicating them to conform.
discipline which is practiced out of foolish obstinacy, with self-torture, or
for the detriment of another, is named tamasic.
to the ancient Laws of Manu regarding caste, the interpretation of austerity
for brahmins was teaching and studying. For kshatriyas it was protecting the
people and avoiding sensual indulgence. Bizarre austerities like those later
practiced by Christian hermits and Hindu ascetics are nowhere mentioned.
least we don’t hang ourselves upside down from trees for twenty years too often
these days, though India still has a smattering of gory practitioners. What are
the austerities or disciplines of the present? Whatever one does in the faith
that they will lead to happiness may be called austerities. People work out at
the gym to become healthy and attractive. Going to school is a very long term
austerity. Food obsessions, including anorexia, were already mentioned. Having
a job is both a sacrifice and an austerity for many people. Going to church can
be an austerity designed to prize you into heaven.
all these you are paying dues now for gain later. Transactional matters do work
that way, although we don’t always get them right. Regardless, our spiritual
well being does not depend on transactions. To the extent we allow them to, the
gunas do come into play, however. When your focus is more on detached
involvement with an actual activity, you are in sattva. If you love being in
church for the uplifting sense of wonder you find there, it’s a wonderful
thing. When your focus is displaced into the far future it has become rajasic.
You don’t really enjoy church that much, but it’s your ticket to eternal
salvation. And when there is no connection between what you’re doing and what
will come of it, it is tamasic. You’ve sneaked into the back pew to avoid the
Gita offers these categories with the idea that each person will be making up
their own mind in their own way. Indeed, as in the example above, what is
tamasic for me may well be sattvic for you, and vice versa. None of this is
fixed or obligatory; it is for us to find our own freedom, and that is
guaranteed to be an individual proposition.
obstinacy! Who hasn’t known something important and yet been unable to get it
across to a stubborn opponent? You can recall your own examples to illustrate
this verse. It seems the more warped the belief, the more rigidly it is clung
to. We can use the stubbornness itself as a diagnostic tool.
remember talking to a highly intelligent friend who exercised daily for an
hour, about a recent study that the optimum amount of exercise was twenty
minutes, three times a week, and that the benefits tailed off beyond that
amount. He just kept saying no, no, no and shaking his head. In the US, we are
saturated in a society that puts physical culture ahead of the life of the
mind. This should have been great news, freeing up more time for other
interests, but my friend took it as a threat to his ongoing program and
rejected it out of hand.
yoga has come to mean calisthenics and stretching exercises, and people look at
you as if you’re crazy if you suggest that it is anything else.
are relatively trivial instances of unnecessary mule-headedness. Delving into
more serious matters, how about the unshakable prejudices that draw nations
into war, or that tempt politicians to dismantle their country’s infrastructure
based on dogmatic beliefs? Once upon a time the US built itself up into an
economic and cultural powerhouse with community projects described as
democratic. Then some clever ideologues started describing the same projects as
socialist (a very dirty word in the US) and those programs were torpedoed with
are a thousand “spiritual” techniques guaranteed to bring enlightenment or
levitation or wealth, and partisans spend countless hours chanting or gazing at
this or that. Most of it is self-hypnosis or delirium, but they cling to it
with full conviction.
have talked at length elsewhere about child-rearing techniques that are
punitive and crushing to the child, but which parents, often inspired by
scriptural injunctions, inflict with a vengeance. The damaged children then
grow up to similarly abuse their own offspring, keeping the vicious cycle ever
turning. There is plenty of good information available that would help, but
until foolish obstinacy is given up, such tragic scenarios will persist.
these tamasic sraddhas call to mind the German poet Schiller’s proclamation
that “Against stupidity even the gods struggle in vain.”
Lehrer, introduced earlier, describes how one of the brain’s most debilitating
faults is that an attitude of certainty causes it to block out alternative
possibilities. This type of tamasic thinking is common to everyone, and needs
to be consciously countermanded or we will find ourselves trapped in a kind of
mental black hole.
only does the frontal cortex overlay its prejudices on the conflicting opinions
of different parts of the brain, once it has done so the reward circuits kick
in, flooding the brain with pleasurable sensations. This kind of tamas is
“sticky” precisely because it feels so good! Doubt and uncertainty make us feel
anxious, as a stimulus for resolving problems, and if we don’t feel bothered we
have no motivation for problem solving. This is the “medicated” solution.
top of that, our neural circuitry can easily tempt us to jump to foolish
conclusions and doggedly hold onto them. Psychopaths are especially prone to
this, because they don’t even have many of the circuits that present
contradictory information. They are literally wired to be tamasic, and yet they
are far from stupid. Non-psychopaths have the neurologic option to at least
consider alternatives, and they most definitely should.
interesting that Krishna includes discipline practiced “for the detriment of
another” here. Much of tamasic behavior is self-defeating, but some of it
eagerly cultivates hatred and enmity, with elaborate plans for causing harm to
others. There is black magic here and there, but that’s something few Gita
readers are guilty of. More common to the average person is something akin to
the gleeful sabotage of enlightened values that motivates the sociopathic
personality. The lust with which public figures are torn apart when their
personal shortcomings are held up to view is a perfect example. Often the
rending is done by those who have piously read the parable of Jesus and the
woman caught in adultery, where he tells the angry crowd, ready to stone her to
death, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
(John 8.7) Tamasic people seek to shroud their own faults by becoming enraged
at the transgressions of others, and they are apt to find themselves with
plenty of company.
subconscious urge for vengeance may very well color the ego. It is frequently
seen in love relationships, where the surface is all sweetness and light, but
behind the scenes there is backstabbing and undermining of the other’s
happiness. In a perverse way the ego is begging for appreciation, opening a
wound and then longing for the partner to soothe it. It can work either direction.
The wound has to be kept open, so it is always being worried, and this keeps
sucking the partner back into an unhealthy co-dependency.
know we are all tempted to read these verses on the gunas as: sattva is me,
rajas is about the average decent person, and tamas is totally about bad
people. If that’s true, these late chapters are a waste of time. This is
exactly the kind of certitude we have to avoid. With a little insight, we can
see how we are caught by all the gunas. Then the true value of these verses
will shine for us.
gift which clearly ought to be made, given to one from whom no return is
expected, in the right place and time, and to a deserving person—that gift is
materialistic interpretation holds that a gift is something tangible given from
one person to another. Yet although we only occasionally give away such solid
gifts, usually to a charity or a close friend, we are giving away intangible
“gifts” all the time to everyone we encounter. Just as our “food” is what comes
in, whatever goes from us outward is a gift. We give best by being benignly
present in everything we do. The ultimate gift in that sense is love, and loving
kindness is “the gift that keeps on giving,” by restoring delight in every
aspect of life. In verses 20-22 I’ll focus on love as the best possible gift,
but the ideas can be extrapolated to any area you choose.
is an aspect of our true inner nature that we are trained by social interaction
to guard and suppress, though small amounts of it are tolerated in carefully selected,
well-defined relationships, preferably out of public view. One measure of
spiritual growth is the expansion of our capacity for love to embrace and
infuse greater and greater spheres of actuality, until it becomes an all-consuming
flame engulfing everything, reuniting us as individuals with the total.
gifting it is essential that the gift be seen as part of an ongoing cycle,
rather than an isolated incident donated from “me” to “you.” We begin by
acknowledging the immeasurable amount we receive from the universe as a whole,
and then it is only natural to offload some of the bounty. In a general way what
is received must in turn be passed on, if only to make room for the next
infusion. “In giving we receive” enshrines this notion of a flowing continuum
of the gift of love, which is often called grace when the gift flows from the
unknown to us. If we were to catch it and hold it, we would kill it. It must be
enjoyed but also shared, lest its blessings come to an end.
Hyde’s book, The Gift, has much to
teach about the history of gifting around the globe. The key idea he discovered
in nearly every traditional culture resembles the imagination of creative
transparency of verse 16: to keep the energy moving, to never take and hold without
giving back. Not necessarily directly back, but somewhere. Don’t hold on. Such continuous
circulation is like the proverbial rising tide that lifts all boats.
takes place over time. There is a vertical passing on of love from generation
to generation in the family. For the spiritual person the ideal family is
everyone with whom one has any form of contact at all, potential as well as
actual. That could easily include the entire world.
subtext of gifting is the sense of community or relationship, much more than the
value of any actual item involved. Unfortunately in our hyperactive world, we
don't always stop to appreciate what someone else has done for us, and as a
consequence may give offense when none is intended. One of the more practical
lessons of the Gita is to really be present for your neighbor, to be aware of
how they feel too, and be sensitive to their needs. Nothing radical about this
teaching, but most of us are slow to get the hang of it. It's actually fairly
subtle. I can't count the number of times I've walked away from someone, and
later it occurred to me that I’d failed to express my appreciation, or worse,
what I'd said in perfect innocence might have struck them as insulting or
offensive. I hope that some day I'll get that flash before I open my mouth, or certainly before I walk away. Most
people welcome a kind word even after the fact, if you eventually think of it,
so all is not lost.
we give without even realizing it, and those are the best gifts of all. When we
have an intention to give, how we actualize it frequently backfires. Parents
love their children, selflessly and without reservation. Gurus love their
disciples selflessly and without reservation. In both cases their gift is what
they teach. Such love is sattvic.
what is given with a view to return benefit, or with gain in view,
reluctantly—that gift is held to be rajasic.
most common attitude about life is that it has a contractual basis: if I do
something, I should get an equal (or greater) amount back. The law of karma is
usually understood to mean just this, that there is an innate reciprocity in
events. While this is true as far as it goes, there is more to life than its
horizontal, transactional aspect, and we are only aware of a small part of the
whole. Results are almost always different than what we expect, because there
is so much more involved.
gifting, a central problem is that we tend to exaggerate the value of our
contributions and downplay what we receive. If we were to be objective, a vast
amount of essential, life-sustaining gifts are continuously pouring into us,
and yet our ego tries to convince us that we are maintaining parity by
occasionally lending a friend a hand and fulfilling our duties at work. What we
are being given every minute should make us fall on our knees in gratitude, and
search our souls for a way to begin to repay our cosmic debt to the universe.
Instead, we unintentionally skew the accounting, magnifying what is subtracted
from our score and minimizing the additions. No wonder we find ourselves
isolated and begging for a better deal. The solution isn’t to grab more and
better stuff, but to open our eyes to the real values raining down on us.
scheming in love is rajasic. In place of a blissful and undemanding sattvic
love, rajas makes for contractual arrangements that may start out being
beneficial to all concerned, but soon lead to a tug of war with each person
vying for a bigger slice of the pie. The problem with contracts is that the ego
is always measuring them, and its naturally selfish perspective warps our
viewpoint. Rajas insists our skewed perspective is accurate. One trick for
compensating for this is to presume you should always do somewhat more than
your fair share. If you do, then the equation will come out about right, so
long as you aren’t relieving someone else of their opportunity to do their
we imagine what we are giving “belongs” to us, then there is an intrinsic
reluctance to part with it. Giving up that kind of sequestering attitude is a
central tenet in spirituality. The world doesn’t belong to us—we belong to it.
When our perspective is reoriented in this way, we are easily converted from
rajas to sattva, or even to the released attitude of a true yogi.
selfish motives take precedence, the desire to receive exceeds the altruistic
urge to give, and a feeling of reluctance begins to pervade the relationship.
It’s hard to even call this carefully measured and constantly assessed thing
love. It’s more of a business arrangement. Unfortunately, the objectivization
of love creeps into many relationships without anyone being aware of it.
Marriages and other partnerships become fixed and stereotyped over time, at the
expense of joy and freedom.
gift that is given at a wrong place or time, disdainfully, and patronizingly,
to persons unfit to receive it, is said to be tamasic.
all these criteria have to be met for a gift to be a tamasic. Any one will do.
And you can probably think of others that didn’t fit the rhyme scheme. A lot of
giving has been subverted over the course of our lives into stereotyped actions
performed out of habit or compulsion. Guru Nitya writes of a typical instance
in the first Portland Gurukula (Love and
Blessings, p. 358):
celebrated Aya’s birthday with four fanciful cakes purchased in a hurry and
presented almost in a mockery of enthusiasm. I was a little sad and indignant
that such a dead formality was foisted on the unwilling minds of our inmates,
who were more enthusiastic about their dinner than their sentiments.
don’t believe in these external expressions. Spiritually there is no birth day
or death day, though the moment of one’s spiritual birth and final realization
could be a real day of rejoicing. However, this was an occasion to observe how
each person is wrapped up in their own thoughts and emotions and becomes
oblivious to other people’s feelings. I wish everyone could be more sensitive
to the finer elements that are burning inside each soul like a gentle flame….
In oriental mysticism, there is no idea of the “other.” The
so-called other person is seen as one’s own Self, so there is no dualistic
sense of duty to do service to oneself or to another. Instead, they only keep
themselves true to their own inner rhythm that flows in harmony with the
unhappy souls who weren’t given respect and affection as children, or who cling
egotistically to what they receive without passing it on, bring the natural
flow of love to a halt, and soon cease to experience it in any form. Those in
whom love is repressed or warped may be seen everywhere, as common criminals as
well as sociopaths at the highest levels of business and government. Noisy and
popular preachers often bear no trace of the love they espouse, instead hurling
it like a bitter curse. Under the aggressive tumult and cynical scheming hide
terrified souls crying out for what they have lost.
become inured to a seemingly loveless world, and pass through it with shoulders
hunched, blocking out everything, hostile or beneficial. Unless they find a way
to give something meaningful of themselves, the tamasic ice will remain frozen
in their hearts.
into the unity of the Absolute, symbolized by Krishna, reawakens the flow of
love in us. On rare occasions a spiritual teacher or unusual event brings about
the breakthrough, but most commonly it is children, born brimming with
unmitigated glory, who regenerate and renew the cycle of love that has grown
dim in adults. The efficacy of psychedelic medicine experiences to blast tamas
aside and reactivate our loving core cannot be minimized, as it is a safe and
easy option that can succeed with almost everyone, given a proper set and
setting. Whatever the route taken, the main task of a seeker of truth is to
find some way to bring themselves back to life, to rejuvenate their loving
heart. Probably a combination of careful preparation leading up to a peak
psychedelic experience to open the door, followed by an enthusiastic lifetime
of sincere effort to integrate the renewed love in daily life—in other words,
the way Krishna has instructed Arjuna—is the perfect choice. In a belief system
that rejects the very idea of enlightenment, however, the conscious preparation
usually begins after the peak
experience opens the door, but that’s okay. Better late than never. No matter
how a revivifying experience is brought about, it is preferable to the living
death of closed-mindedness. It’s truly tragic that the spirits of literally
billions of people could be immensely improved by the use of psychedelics, but
the portal is ferociously barred both legally and socially.
love no longer springs spontaneously from a person, they must seek to rekindle
it themselves. The weight of tamas can convince us that we have to accept
lovelessness as the inevitable condition of human beings. These verses on
gifting can and should be read as instruction for how to reanimate our love. In
the reciprocal nature of life, what you give away grows more plentiful inside
you. By giving love freely and without expectations, it is experienced more and
more in every situation.
Aum tat sat: this, threefold, has been
known in the past as designating the Absolute. The scriptures called Brahmanas,
the Vedas, and sacrifices
also, by this were prescribed of old.
chapter closes with a study of the mantra Aum
Tat Sat, (Aum, That Alone is). It is given as the essential definition of
the Absolute. The first word, aum, often spelled om, is neutral and
all-encompassing, the Word of the Absolute, the same as the Biblical version of
John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word
was God.” Tat, That, refers to the beyond, or say the virtual or metaphysical
aspect of reality. Sat, This, adds the physical or realistic dimension. This
“great dictum” or mahavakya is thus a
beautiful word-picture of dialectics, with tat and sat, that and this, as the
thesis and antithesis and aum as their synthesis.
that Chapter XVII opens with Arjuna’s questioning whether scripture was
necessary or not. Krishna answers him here that true scripture is set down by
seers who have a direct relationship with the Absolute, making it a supreme
form of communication, invaluable to the extent it draws our attention to the
Absolute. Krishna is not talking about the low-grade screeds that pass for
scripture among the non-discriminating. Religious zealots who aggressively tout
scripture always imagine they have a direct line to God, when as likely as not
they’re listening to chaotic broadcasts from their own “bombastic inner
narrator.” But there is a legitimate type of writing which can help us cut
through the static to tune into the pure music of the original broadcast that
created the universe, and Krishna is emphatic that we should avail ourselves of
worth recalling that back in Chapter II, which corresponds to the present
chapter in being one step removed from the ground of everyday experience, the
Vedas were denigrated as unnecessary and limiting (v. 42-46). Here they are
reconsidered as valuable because of tradition. There is an apparent
contradiction in the two versions, but I think we can sort it out.
the ascending side of the Gita’s arch, the emphasis was on attaining a clear
perspective on the here and now, and traditional beliefs were treated as
impediments to that direct experience. Now, as Arjuna is preparing to ease back
into the actual world he inhabits, there is a nod toward the social context he
is reentering. Because he has become fully grounded in the Absolute, Arjuna can
engage with tradition without sacrificing his aliveness. When traditional forms
come before individual spontaneity and suppress it, they are to be discarded.
But it is also possible for them to promote and enhance our understanding, if
we relate to them as free men and women.
46 reads, “There would be as much use for all the Vedas to a Brahmin of wisdom
as there could be for a pool of water when a full flood prevails all over.” Now
that the full flood prevails in Arjuna, he can appreciate the well as an
earlier source of the same water he is immersed in, and even smile as he sees
the simple, thirsty people crowded around it. He himself is not dependent on
it, but he can empathize with those who are.
Brahmanas mentioned in the verse can either refer to the scriptures of that
name or the brahmin caste. The more philosophically oriented translations
choose the former, for obvious reasons. At the moment Krishna is drawing a
direct line connecting the Absolute to actual life at its best. Caste
distinctions, which in their pure form are said to be derived directly from the
Absolute (see IV, 13), will be addressed farther down the line, taking their
final bow in XVIII, 41-45.
is a graded descent from this chapter on, until Arjuna is set down firmly on
the solid footing of actuality late in Chapter XVIII. First there is the
consecration of sacrifice, giving, spiritual discipline and necessity. Then
follow in order: relinquishment, knowledge, action, and ultimately the actor. As
subsets of the actor, there are reason, firmness or “stick-to-itiveness,”
happiness, and finally, vocational calling or caste. In the context of the
personal fulfillment being taught, “caste” means finding a livelihood suitable
to our temperament and interest. Sustaining the body-mind complex and
contributing to the general welfare are the reciprocal outward manifestations
of an enlightened state of mind of someone in tune with their dharma. At this
point we’re still a little bit up in the air, so Krishna must be referring to
the Brahmanas as scripture, not caste.
uttering aum, sacrifice, giving,
austerity, and action enjoined by scriptural ordinance always begin for those
who represent the doctrine of the Absolute.
goes one step farther and instructs Arjuna to chant the given mantra as the
first stage of every dedicated act. The thirteenth-century seer Dnyaneshwar
Maharaj teaches that it’s the clarity of mind with which the chant is uttered
that makes all the difference. Speaking of the acts listed—sacrifice, giving,
austerity and scriptural injunction—he says, “All these actions might
themselves constitute bonds, but it is the utterance of the syllable ‘Om,’
which makes them the means of attaining liberation.” (Gita Explained, p. 250)
is the sound that often emerges at the onset of a psychedelic trip, emanating
from everything because everything has been converted to consciousness and the
illusion of an external world has been vaporized. The instantly familiar tone
is often the first thing noticed after the initial queasiness. On a modern day
trip, the Word gets drowned out and forgotten as soon as the music is turned
on, but it never goes away. It is always thrumming along in the back of our
that the aum sound is the vibrational Word underpinning all of creation lends
an added dimension to the just-mentioned opening sentence of John in the Bible.
John’s vision was more likely to have been activated by fasting and dehydration
than soma medicine, but he must have had something unusual going on. He didn’t
say what it was. And like Arjuna, he had an extremely supportive guru as his
someone achieves cosmic consciousness by whatever happy combination of fortune
and effort, one of the most pressing thoughts in the immediate aftermath is how
do I reactivate that amazing state? Recall that that was Arjuna’s first
question after he came down, at the opening of Chapter XII. You can’t keep
taking the soma, because it’s too intense and eventually wears you out. Many of
the psychoactive molecules are similar to adrenaline, which is exhausting,
pushing the system to extremes. They are designed for brief bursts only, to
push the door open but not hold it open permanently. You want to discover the
technique where the optimal mental state is naturally activated with minimal
can’t help but think that aum has been chanted for centuries in the hope that
it will magically reestablish the peak experience in which it is clearly heard
as the vibration of the universe. It may well be that many rituals are faint
echoes of the transcendental state, and only coincidentally connected to it.
Rituals may actually forge some link with the Absolute, approaching from the
outside, so to speak, but union with the Absolute more readily comes from the
inside out. In those who have already had a vision of the Absolute, though,
chanting aum definitely activates a kind of cellular memory, rapidly bringing
on a profound meditative state.
buzzing hum of our mental gears turning is called aum and is made outwardly
audible by chanting it. The Mandukya Upanishad reveals the structural secret of
aum, where it stands for the fourfold states of consciousness. The first line
of the Mandukya asserts that aum is the whole world, implying that
consciousness is of the essence. In brief, ‘a’ symbolizes the wakeful state;
‘u’ the dream state; ‘m’ the deep sleep state; and the silence that follows and
envelops them is the fourth, the turiya, representing the Absolute. The four
states are depicted in Gurukula philosophy in the shape of a cross or Cartesian
coordinates, with ‘a’ the horizontal positive, representing the objective
world; ‘u’ the horizontal negative, standing for subjective comprehension; ‘m’
the vertical negative or alpha, from which the unfoldment of life springs; and
silence as the vertical positive or omega, the ultimate goal of life. Note that
‘a’ is chanted with the mouth wide open, ‘u’ with the mouth half closed, ‘m’
with the mouth closed, and the turiya has no reference to physical production
at all. There is a tapering down from multiplicity into unity, sound to
silence. Further explication may be found throughout the writings of Nitya and
Nataraja Guru. We do not use the more familiar ‘om’ because that spelling does
not convey the symbolism.
bringing in the total context—the “whole world” of aum—in which our activities
reside, is the key to liberation. When we grow lazy and allow our awareness to
shrink, we move toward selfishness, and our connection with the Absolute grows
fuzzy. Saints and sages of all ages and religious orientations insist on taking
the entire expanse into account, discarding selfish interests, for exactly this
reason: it allows us to maintain our affinity with the Absolute. Paradoxically,
unselfishness is where “enlightened self-interest” leads us. Aum is chanted to
pay homage to this truth.
tat, excluding all values of gain,
various acts of sacrifice and austerity, as also giving, are performed by those
who desire liberation.
up the content of the chapter, which includes all possible spiritual actions,
Krishna directs us to relate them to the Absolute as the means of liberation.
Actions fall short when performed without reference to the central hub of
existence, but they excel when they do. Because this is so essential, it is
going to be harped on. Verse 5 and 6 in the next chapter present Krishna’s
“settled conclusion” about these primary activities:
The acts of sacrifice, giving and
austerity should not be relinquished, each should indeed be observed;
sacrifice, giving and austerity are the purifiers of rational men;
even these actions should be
done leaving out attachment and desire for result; this is My decided and best
“My decided and best conviction”
is equivalent to a double
underline, reinforcing this key moment in the teaching.
to That Alone (tat) is the
inspiration for sincere seekers to do all the things they do. They selectively
orient their life toward goals, perform appropriate disciplines, and offer
helping hands to those in need. These can be lumped under the general term
spirituality. As befitting a broad-minded scripture, no specifics whatsoever
are given. They are merely referred to as various acts. Each person is expected
to engage with and respond to their environment in an expert fashion, based on
their own wisdom and abilities. Since every occasion is unique, spiritual
training must be designed to prepare the disciple for any eventuality. By no
means should the training inculcate habitual, preplanned responses. Obeying a
list of commandments is fatal to the freedom of spirit. Freedom by its very
nature runs counter to a legalistic milieu where hard and fast rules are
assigned to everything that can be nailed down. Such regulations have their
place in the horizontal realm of practicalities, but invariably stymie the
vertical quest for understanding.
the chanting of aum, acting in reference to a central truth is expected to lead
toward enlightenment. The transcendental state is not wholly other than the
world we live in, it is an integral and most excellent part of it.
term sat is used in the sense of
existence, and of goodness; and likewise, Arjuna, to all laudable actions the
expression sat is usually applied.
definition of sat given here needs little or no elaboration, other than to note
that excellence in action is shepherded into the sat camp. It’s not just that
rocks and suns and dark matter have existence, but the interactions of beings
too, with all their strutting and fretting on life’s stage.
(truth or valid existence) is the first term of saccidananda, or
sat-chit-ananda, the Vedantic “holy trinity.” Chit means awareness, and ananda
is the value of what is known, though it is usually translated as bliss. I
wrote a haiku about it:
Something exists, you know
that it does, it has meaning—
far as contemplation goes, rocks and rivers are okay, but the search for
reliable understanding from within the astounding and as yet little explored
complexity of the human mind is an even more intriguing subject. As Carl Sagan
liked to point out, the number of different patterns of synaptic connections of
the human brain is far larger than the number of electrons and protons in the
entire known universe, and that “These enormous numbers may also explain
something of the unpredictability of human behavior.” (The Dragons of Eden, New York: Random House, 1977, p. 42) Recent
estimates (per Scientific American magazine, February, 2015, p. 59.) agree that
the human brain is capable of some ten million billion operations per second.
How many of them are you aware of?
essential point is that our meditations should be on aspects of reality, and
not drift into fantasies. Realization pertains to the world and how we live in
it. Unhappy people tend to dream about idealized heaven worlds in hopes of
escaping their problems, but Krishna does not see that as a healthy option. Our
being draws its meaning and satisfaction from a tangible relation to the
magnificent and terrible world we find ourselves in. That it abounds in
problems and challenges is actually a blessing, prodding us to seek higher
wisdom, once we overcome the kneejerk urge to simply escape.
Guru introduces us to this rich subject for contemplation in his essay Value
Gives Stable Content to Existence and Vice Versa, in Unitive Philosophy (39-40):
Brahman or the Absolute is the highest of human values in Vedanta,
and if existence is to be thought of as belonging to the context of the
Absolute, the notion of existence must, by implication, indirectly at least,
have reference to this high value. Anything non-significant and inconsistent
with the highest aims of man, having no reference to the Absolute, becomes ipso facto
non-existent in principle,
although it might be an actuality in the merely empirical context.
This way of interpreting the meaning of existence is
supported by the theory of indirect meaning that Shankara accepts and adopts,
when explaining the three attributes of satyam,
jnanam, anantam brahma (the Absolute is existent, knowing and infinite).
The connotation of any one of these is to be looked upon as modifying the
others, till they refer to the Absolute in a total meaning-content. This
semantic principle of indirect meanings (lakshanartha)
applied to one Absolute, without any contradiction between component terms, is
one of the secrets of Vedantic exegesis. This same way of giving significance
of reality of sat (existence) is seen
employed and explained in the Bhagavad Gita (XVII, 28).
All truth, reality, or fact must satisfy the three tests of
(1) being a significant value in human life here or hereafter; (2) being valid
according to reason; and (3) being conceivable as existent, at one and the same
time. This will apply equally to actions, gifts, things or properties dealt
with in transactions between man and man. Vedantic methodology, epistemology
and axiology have thus to be treated together in order to yield the integrated
unitive wisdom which it is meant to represent.
loyalty in sacrifice, austerity and giving is also called sat, and so also action so intended is called sat.
sat a bit further, Krishna employs it as a compliment for steadfast practice
and even for honorable intentions that haven’t yet borne fruit. This is nice,
since most of us have relatively few successes in our lives, but we do have our
hearts in the right place. It’s a very sweet affirmation: don’t feel like a failure
if you try hard but not too much happens. The attitude is the most important
part, the alchemical retort in which transformation takes place. Becoming
loving and wise isn’t easy, and there is a lot of resistance to it out there.
authentic attitude, by the way, is wholly based on your sraddha. The last two
verses thus unobtrusively wrap up the chapter’s subject.
is speaking of the truth of who we are, which is our spirit. His course of
instruction for Arjuna is to rescue him from his phony superficial ego identity
and restore him to his true ground of being, his true self.
we believe deep in our hearts that what we’re doing is right, and it accords
with the wisdom found in scripture, or better yet a top-notch teacher, it is
easy to keep to the path we choose. The three categories of spiritual activity
listed mean freely chosen activity performed for the joy of existence
(sacrifice), efforts at self-improvement (austerity or discipline) and
assistance offered to others (giving). Again, we can discern a subtle dialectic
here, with internally and externally directed action as the thesis and
antithesis, and an ongoing sacrificial dedication as the resultant synthesis.
is filled with examples of fanatics who deeply believed in doing terrible
things to others, and who interpreted selected aspects of scripture to validate
their derangement. Our brains have a tendency to promote information that
accords with our beliefs and screen out that which doesn’t. If we don’t intend
to change, we have more than enough defenses to prevent it. If we do, sraddha
is a most crucial subject, worthy of dedicated investigation and contemplation.
is sacrificed, given, or done, and whatever austerity is gone through without
faith is called asat, Arjuna; it has
no value here or hereafter.
chapter offers one final verse to convince us that what affects us is real and
what doesn’t is not—a baldly existential assertion. It’s a corrective for all
the dead ends we waste our time obsessing about, redirecting us to what is most
important. Krishna is saying, don’t sweat the small stuff, because only things
that really matter, matter. Living a meaningless life is meaningless. Stop
worrying about things outside your purview (although your purview is very much
larger than you may think it is).
essence of faith is that there has to be a meaningful connection with your
actions. A vision of what life is about motivates you to do what you do. Being “without
faith” means you are just going through the motions, accepting someone else’s
stale exhalations as good enough. It is possible to live a whole life like
that, but it is tragic in the extreme, a total waste of potential. Wise teachers
are ever striving to help people to wake up from such sleepwalking. We are
called upon to understand, and then act with understanding. You can fool a lot
of people, but you can never fool your self. Well, you can, but you shouldn’t.
the most obvious level, asat refers
to false beliefs, of which the most glaring are religious. Killing in the name
of the god of love, and all that. It is easy to observe how fanatics justify
any atrocity by tailoring scripture to their predetermined mindset.
science is not immune to asat, even as it searches diligently for sat. Mathematics
is purportedly the most rational of systems, although like religion it is based
on a number of assumptions that cannot be proved but must be accepted on faith.
Quite a few constrictive ideas have come from trying to model life
mathematically, a Procrustean reduction if ever there was one. It would be far
better to expand mathematical logic in terms of life than reduce life into
mathematical terms. For example, music in a sense is mathematics brought to
life. Dots on a page or imagined structures are made vividly audible by music.
But something is lost (though something else is surely gained) when sound is
recorded. Digital sampling, a mathematical reduction, does not tell the whole
story in sound reproduction, as audiophiles will readily concede, and
reproduction is always a more or less tarnished image of the original in any
case. This tells us that any kind of interpretation or retention is not quite
the whole truth.
unquestioned assumptions of mathematics are in fact highly questionable, though
at least they are recognized and listed at the very beginning, which does put
it ahead of the competition. Even as simple a concept as A = A is actually not
a sure bet. It calls into question just what ‘equals’ means. There are two
different A’s there, but they are highly similar in some ways, shape, symbolic
quantity and so on, but they’re not the same. In an equation, each of those A’s
is usually quite different, but they do add up to the same number. So what
exactly is equal about them? Not so much. Calculus too, is based on an
assumption I could never quite bring myself to accept, that an asymptotic curve
that approaches a limit ever more closely but never reaches it, can be assumed
to actually reach it when it gets infinitely close. When something gets really
close to something else, does it become it? There are many practical benefits
to assuming that it does, but that doesn’t make it the ultimate truth. Calculus
should be recognized for what it is: a mystical or metaphysical aspect of the
most rational of sciences. There is no quantity of any kind that is infinite:
infinity is wholly beyond the concept of numbers.
Lehrer reports that the worship of rationality that has dominated science for
over two thousand years is coming to be seen as incapable of coherent
organization on its own, without an emotional and even a moral underpinning.
Detached rationality is splintered off from its subject, and because of this it
has to affix itself to arbitrary theories that invariably are full of fallacies
in order to maintain its self-respect. The science of the Absolute aims to
discern the core beliefs we pin ourselves to, which are often only vaguely
recognized if at all, and make them as fallacy-free as possible.
rationality is under assault on many intelligent fronts these days. Lehrer
cites an extensive study of so-called “pundits” done by Philip Tetlock of UC
Berkeley, where people who made their living giving political or financial
advice were asked to rate the likelihood of various possible future scenarios.
Not only did they on average perform below
random chance, the more eminent and self-confident ones did worst of all.
Tetlock observed that the more convinced you are that you are right, the more
you suppress evidence that might challenge your conviction. Lehrer sums up:
Tetlock writes, “The dominant
danger [for pundits] remains hubris, the vice of closed-mindedness, of
dismissing dissonant possibilities too quickly.” Even though practically all
the professionals in Tetlock’s study claimed that they were dispassionately
analyzing the evidence—everybody wanted to be rational—many of them were
actually indulging in some conveniently cultivated ignorance. Instead of
encouraging the arguments inside their heads [which presented contrary evidence].
these pundits settled on answers, and then came up with reasons to justify
those answers. They were, as Tetlock put it, “prisoners of their
Such notions are not new.
The ancient rishis knew to call
their assumptions into question and listen to their “hearts,” their deeper
wisdom. But in large measure due to the outlandish asat of “true believers,”
philosophers and scientists have cultivated pure rationality as the only
conceivable antidote, and are equally monomaniacal about it. The whole business
is turning out to be much more complicated than a simple rational/irrational
division, as our beliefs definitely have a measurable impact on “objective”
reality thrown into the mix.
modern understanding of rationality’s proper role is more as the final safety
check on the rocket launch of action, with the trans-rational parts of the
brain furnishing the fuel and most of the rocket itself. Without the deeper
connections, mere abstract thinking cannot successfully get off the ground. Yet
lacking a well-designed rational guidance system, many of our lift-offs go
haywire. If you’ve ever seen a film of launch failures, (for instance, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McbCwSW2moo)
it’s for all the world like a visual cautionary tale for ill-prepared ego
ventures. A very slight wobble at the beginning quickly amplifies into a
spectacular disaster. Visualizing it makes for an amusing meditation.
rationality from emperorship to ministerial status is happening in the nick of
time, as civilization more and more resembles an out of control rocket soaring
toward an explosive finale. These findings about the most sacred of scientific
sacred cows caution us that many of our hallowed beliefs, those we regard as
beyond question, are likely to turn out to be flawed, and will have to be
superseded by better ones. We need to remain open to that eventuality.
good news in the same scientific reassessments is that we now know our brains
are unobtrusively compressing a vast amount of intelligent analysis into what
we experience as “feelings,” much more information than our limited rational
cortex can deal with quickly, so it’s really a very efficient arrangement.
Compressed knowledge equals emotion. This tells us we shouldn’t try to divorce
our rational thinking from our intuition, but only use it for steering. The
“irrational” parts of the brain are turning out to be profoundly rational in
their own way, only they speak a different language than our rational
consciousness. If we listen closely we can decode their secrets, and they have
much to teach us.
a more mystical perspective, asat is
an apt description of the persona, the disguise we craft to pass through life
unchallenged. To our spirit, the persona is a fiction, but as we desperately
force others to believe in it, we come to believe it ourselves. Our ego buys
into it. We pin our faith, our sraddha, to the false image we have constructed,
starting as infants. Our essential nature, which is the Absolute, is the ocean
on which the flotsam of this projected self-image floats. The Gita calls on us
to restore our identity with the oneness of our oceanic nature and put the
detritus in its place. It has a valid role in bamboozling those we must
interact with, but it is nonetheless false. It can and should be minimized. We
must turn to our truth, our sat, in order to be all we can be, to find lasting
happiness and meaning.
small children we were terrified by the threat of exposure of our true self, so
we put a lot of energy into constructing the perfect costume. But once we are
out from under the close scrutiny of our parents and other authority figures,
we could dismantle most if not all of our disguise if we remembered what we had
done and felt safe enough to try it. Unfortunately, by adulthood we have
usually become the biggest believer of all in the construct, cocksure that we are
our persona. This is the core of
misguided belief. We can spend a lifetime trying to live up to our fantasies,
because they aren’t real. It’s like trying to walk on a cloud. There’s nothing
to hold you up. You just have to pretend.
we could dare to become reacquainted with our true selves. Since most people
see only what they expect, we don’t have to work at fooling them: they are
busily fooling themselves. What a relief to withdraw our energies from the game
of charades called the transactional world! We are then free to bring forth our
talents in truly valuable and creative ways.
bottom line is that our sraddha, our beliefs, must be grounded on solid truth.
We must build our house on a rock and not on sand, because a secure foundation
is our only recourse when the storms rage. Nor should we forget that charlatans
and hucksters are busily passing off their sand as prime foundation rock, and
be darn sure to check its veracity out for ourselves. Only when our beliefs are
aligned with an un-socially mitigated vision of the Absolute will they become a
force for liberation.