“On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little effort toward spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear.”
A Helpful Reminder
It is hard to choose one quote from the Gita, there are so many great ones. They are poetic, beautiful and, to me, more than anything, inspiring. For many years The Bhagavad Gita has been a solace and a guide. When I feel discouraged, lost, confused, it never fails to remind me of what matters. When I read it, I literally say aloud “Oh, right! Yeah, I had forgotten.” Immediately I feel some light shine again, not only in me but around me too. This is why study and practice requires repetition, hearing and reading the same things over and over again: we forget. Even when things touch us deeply, even when we understand their meaning and love their message, our programming will eventually cover up those truths and we forget. Worse even, we forget the things that can help us remember. It took me a while, but now it is imprinted in me that reading the Gita will assist me every time.
There is a passage in the Jewish Passover book that lists all the wonderful things God has created and done, and at the end of each one this word is said – dayenu. It means “it would be enough for us.” So even if God would have done only one of these things, it would have been enough. This is repeated at the end of every line.
This is also how I feel about the Gita.
If it was only comforting – dayenu.
If it was only inspiring – dayenu.
If it was only guiding – dayenu.
But it is so much more.
The Gita is a dialogue between a teacher and a student, or a higher and a lower consciousness, or God and devotee. There is much room for interpretation. This dialogue is happening in a battlefield, moments before the battle is about to start. This dramatic situation is only described in chapter 1; afterwards, the battlefield disappears and all focus is upon the exchange between Krishna (teacher, higher consciousness, God) and Arjuna (student, lower consciousness, devotee).
What is this battlefield? Who are the armies that are gathered on both sides? Why are they at war? Who are these people? The answers to these questions are not in the Gita itself. The Bhagavad Gita is a small part of a massive work called The Mahabharata. And it is in the Mahabharata where we discover who these characters are and what motivates them.
The Battlefield In Us
The story is a saga describing the adventures and conflicts between two sides of the same family: one side devoted to virtue, the other side addicted to sin. The stories are beautiful and entertaining and full of meaning, but again, there is more. According to Yogananda and his teachers, each character is an allegory for an aspect of our own psyche as we move through the adventures and struggles of our own lives. One character is an allegory for selfish desire, another represents our capacity to resist selfish desires. One represents attachment to material comfort while another is an allegory to discipline, to being able to forego comfort temporarily for a higher goal.
Knowing what each character represents makes reading the story much more than entertainment: you come to realize that the whole book is about our own inner struggles, between our higher and lower natures, between our desires, attachments, selfishness, ignorance, and our goodness, kindness, commitment to truth and virtue and love. The battlefield where the final war between the opposing sides takes place is within us, as we struggle to better ourselves. The army of our best intentions fights the army of our habits and addictions, and the outcome is uncertain.
On the brink of this battle, the dialogue of the Gita takes place: Arjuna, one of the five good brothers, the most skilled warrior among millions present on the battlefield, sees the enemy army and his resolution falters – an allegory of our own despair when we realize how difficult it is to fight the habits and addictions that plague us. Then Krishna comes in and basically says “snap out of it, you gotta do this!”, an allegory for our higher nature pushing us to do the right thing. They then embark on the dialogue of how, and why to go through this effort.
As Paul Grilley says in our interview (I highly recommend you watch it, this guy is just incredible), in the end the Gita is about religion. In my opinion, it is not about organized religion, but religion in the original sense of the word, from the Latin religare, reconnect. Reconnect to our higher nature and our higher purpose, to establish a practice in our lives where this reconnection can happen consistently, on a daily basis, so we don’t forget, so that these ideas become a lived experience that are not just a tiny moment here and there, but present in everything we do. It is hard, and we need to let many things go in the process.
But as Krishna repeats over and over again, nothing else is as important as this, not money, not power, not gain, not reputation, not family. This reconnection is what gives meaning to all these things, and leaves them empty when lacking. For me, that’s what the Gita does: it reminds me of, and reconnects me with what really matters, a profound and hugely liberating experience, every single time.