Newsletter by Krishna Kshetra Swami, Issue #9 – January 10th, 2020
How to read the Bhagavad-gita
One kind of standard approach for reading the Bhagavad-gita is that of Baladeva Vidyabhusana, where he says that Bhagavad-gita deals with five topics: isvara, jiva, prakriti, kala, and karma. The Lord, the living entity, material nature, time… It is said, we cannot do anything to change these. However, the last topic, karma, is the one we can have control of. Keep these five in mind.
Now I offer you another, completely different approach. If we keep in mind that karma or action can be changed, then, in a way, this different approach, which has three categories, will be relevant. It is good for your rereading, for your own studying, for revisiting the Bhagavad-gita. A message behind the message: it is not a good idea to think that if I have read the Bhagavad-gita once, then now I am finished with the Bhagavad-gita. Rather, we can again and again throughout our lives revisit the Bhagavad-gita and grow from its wealth of wisdom.
The three categories: the first one is sambandha, sometimes called sambandha-jnana or knowledge of relationship. The second one is abhidheya, translated as process. Third is prayojana, the goal or necessity. The Caitanya-caritamrita explains that these three categories are what the whole Srimad-Bhagavatam is all about. It is a way of understanding and appreciating the Bhagavatam.
Any given verse can deal with one of these three categories or with two or with all three. Actually, one can even argue that every single verse of the Bhagavatam deals with all three. Going back to the Bhagavad-gita, I propose to appreciate verses of Bhagavad-gita in terms of these three categories. Here is an example.
Krishna says in Chapter 10, “Everything comes from Me. And if someone understands this then one will worship Me. How will he or she worship Me? With great devotion.” This suggests first sambandha, then abhidheya and finally it hints at prayojana. One may say at this point, “So, what? This is nice, but so what?” From this point I suggest that for each of these three categories there are two subcategories, which makes six in total. As we say in English: The plot thickens, it becomes more complicated.
Let’s start with sambandha. There are two principles or two themes. The first one is equal vision. The idea comes in many ways in the Bhagavad-gita, especially in the early chapters. It begins already in early second chapter when Krishna gives Arjuna his first practical instruction:
mātrā-sparśās tu kaunteya
tāṁs titikṣasva bhārata
Krishna is doing two things here: He is hinting that this world is full of dualities and then He is giving a practical instruction on what to do about it. What to do? Tolerate. This leads to the point of equal vision. Later in this chapter Krishna is going to advise Arjuna to be a yogi.
yoga-sthaḥ kuru karmāṇi
saṅgaṁ tyaktvā dhanañ-jaya
siddhy-asiddhyoḥ samo bhūtvā
samatvaṁ yoga ucyate
Here samatvam is the key word. Equanimity or equal vision. It is what I call “therapeutic non-dualism,” step one in practicing bhakti-yoga. Siddhy-asiddhi, success or failure, happiness or misery, all these dualities. What to do? Be a yogi and thus experience samatvam, non-duality. Now the second of the two themes that we are associating with sambandha: choice. This may seem surprising, but what is Krishna trying to do through the whole Bhagavad-gita? He is trying to persuade Arjuna to act in a certain way. And He is going to be successful in persuading Arjuna. But very close to the end of the Bhagavad-gita Krishna says something to Arjuna leaving him a choice. He says:
iti te jñānam ākhyātaṁ
guhyād guhya-taraṁ mayā
yathecchasi tathā kuru
“This secret or this confidential knowledge I have explained to you, and now I want you to think about it very carefully.” Actually, He doesn’t say carefully, he says asesena, which means without end. “You can think as long as you want.” They are on a battlefield and the warriors are getting impatient, but Krishna says, “Take your time. Take your time and yathecchasi tathā kuru. As you desire, as you choose.” Krishna is giving Arjuna a choice. He however adds, “Because you have a nature of a warrior… That is your conditioning and you may think that you cannot fight, but actually you cannot not fight!” And this is a paradox, because at the very same time Krishna is giving Arjuna a choice. And we see that the whole Bhagavad-gita is about choice.
A particular aspect of this theme has to do with the information Krishna gives about three modes of nature. Krishna gives this knowledge so that we can be aware of the distinctions and choose for one or another of the gunas.
So, we have equal vision and we have choice and we associate these with sambandha. That means these are in a sense fixed. In other words: equal vision is the reality and experience of what things are and similarly choice is about how things are, namely: constitutionally we have a choice.
Next to abhidheya. What is the basic idea of abhidheya? Process. Process means practice. The process of devotional service, devotional life. And here are again two different themes. The first one is ahimsa, nonviolence. This negative principle is a big challenge for us human beings. Even when we think we are not so violent, we might be not so nonviolent after all. This is a big topic. It is about refraining from hurting. And it turns out that it is not so easy sometimes. What about the second theme? This is teaching by example. From the Bhagavad-gita we know the word acarya. We see Krishna acting as acarya. He is explaining in Chapter 4 that when He appears in this world out of a sense of duty He is giving the example of a leader and He is mentioning that acting in this way of yoga is what kings in the past have done. And He is explaining that He has given these teachings in the past to kings going all the way back to the sun-god. In Chapter 13 Krishna also speaks of acarya upasanam as an aspect of jnana, knowledge, which means worship, respect, to approach, go near to, to listen.
So, approaching someone who teaches by example is an element of jnana. What is the Gita giving us with respect to this theme? Not very much, one might say. Krishna is talking to Arjuna as His student. We are hearing instruction from Krishna and it is all talking, it is not teaching by example. But if we think a little deeper we can understand what is He teaching. He is teaching how to act and when. We want to act with awareness of others watching of how we act. This is very relevant for grihasthas with children. How to act giving example to children? And in all circumstances, we always consciously or unconsciously are contributing to the awareness of others, we actually, automatically, just by living in the world, have a function of teaching. Naturally we want to teach in a good way. Arjuna’s case is a special one because in the end, having learned all Krishna’s lessons, he goes out and chops people up, shoots them dead. By this he is teaching how to fight with the right attitude, with the right consciousness.
Finally, prayojana or the goal, the result, the aim, and the necessity. The first theme associated with prayojanais an attitude as a quality—a realization—and this is humility. Humility as prayojana, the goal. In the beginning of Krishna’s list of items of knowledge in Chapter 13, the very first one is amanitvam, which means not being self-centered, having no expectations of honor for oneself. And the next one is adambhitvam, being free from pride. This is the realization that being connected to Krishna brings about humility. The more we advance in spiritual life the more humble we become. Advancement is becoming more conscious of Krishna, and thus becoming more conscious of our real situation. This is very nice when humility unfolds in our heart. It brings a sense of freedom. Because we do not need any more to put up a pretense about ourselves. This material world is the world of pretense. Everyone puts on a mask. Humility means we can put off the mask and be our authentic selves. And when we can be ourselves we can be happy, because our selves are constitutionally happy, joyful.
So, humility is one important theme of prayojana. The second theme is affection, priyata. That affection we find in Krsna’s relationship with Arjuna, despite the fact that the whole Bhagavad-gita is in a rather formal style. In Chapter 4, when Krishna is explaining to Arjuna why He is speaking this teaching to him, He says, “I am speaking this to you because you are My devotee and My friend.” This sounds like a straight report, in a stiff style of communication. But who knows how actually was the Lord’s tone when He expressed this? Actually, He expressed this in a very sweet way, because it is mentioned earlier in the Gita that Krishna was smiling as He was speaking. But later, toward the end of the Gita, Krishna confessed that He expressed his affection for Arjuna in a strong way. He says, iṣṭo ’si me dṛḍham iti. “You are ista.” Ista means desired. Dridham—very strongly. “Sarva, listen to this supreme secret that I am telling you.” Bhuyah, listen again.
iṣṭo ’si me dṛḍham iti
tato vakṣyāmi te hitam
“I am speaking this to you. Listen, because it is for your benefit. I am teaching you because I have strong affection for you.” This theme of affection is underneath, or behind, or overarching, in the Bhagavad-gita. But from the Caitanya-caritamrita we get a hint that this is not so far in the background. If we clearly see, this is actually the main point. In the episode when Lord Caitanya is traveling in South India and He meets one brahmana who is reading the Bhagavad-gita and crying, Lord Caitanya asks what is wrong and the brahmanaanswers that his guru instructed him to read the Bhagavad-gita and he is trying, but he has never really learned to read properly. Others always laugh at him because he cannot pronounce it properly. Sometimes devotees even tell that he holds the Bhagavad-gita upside down! Maybe, not likely … But the brahmana is crying and Lord Caitanya asks him why. He answers that he always thinks of how Krishna and Arjuna are on the battlefield and how kind Krishna is. He is so kind that He is with Arjuna and He is speaking to him and this is so wonderful that the brahmana is feeling overwhelmed. Lord Caitanya says, “You understand the actual purport of the Bhagavad-gita!”
So, sambandha (equal vision and choice), abhidheya (nonviolence and teaching by example) and prayojana(humility and affection). Try reading the Bhagavad-gita through the lens of these six themes and see if something comes out that you were not yet aware of. Making a yantra we may put these six principles around, symmetrical, and as a middle point, the bindu, we would put… bhakti! Bhakti-yoga.
The connection we want to make is with Krishna and with everyone else we see with equal vision as a part of Him. And the choice we everyday make is between Krishna and maya. And we can cultivate in a conscious way the pursuit of nonviolence, not just saying that I am vegetarian, but maybe involving more to it: emotions, words etc. How can I become deeply nonviolent, actively nonviolent? And having this sense of bhakti-yoga, we want to share it with others, because another meaning of the word bhakti is sharing, and we want to share not only by talking, but especially by example. Teaching by example. And out of this with each step of our devotional service emerges the sense of humility, from which we get a sense of freedom, and then, out of all this culture of bhakti-yoga, emerges the sense of love. This is what it is all about. And all this is in the Bhagavad-gita, in one portable book. You can take it everywhere, wherever you go. You can open it and see what is Krishna’s message to you and how you can share it with others. Hare Krishna! Bhagavad-gita As It Is ki jay!
—From a lecture by Krishna Kshetra Swami on July 21, 2019 in Warsaw
Spiritual life is about changing habits. Sometimes habits are compared to rivers, because rivers flow in their set course. But even the river may change its way if circumstances are good. Even modern science is suggesting this possibility. There is a new term: neuroplasticity. Neuroscientists used to say that nothing can change in the brain, it is all fixed hardware. But in recent years they have discovered that brains can change. Sometimes people who have had a stroke, with proper training, regain many otherwise lost functions.
By changing of habits something in the brain adjusts, making the change easier. That is why in spiritual life there is much emphasis on practicing. Practicing. Practice makes perfect, which Krishna tells Arjuna in theBhagavad-gita. When Arjuna complains in Chapter 6 about the Lord’s instruction on controlling the mind as being as feasible as controlling the wind, Krishna first agrees, and then He says that by practice and detachment it is possible.
Recently I was in China, where I gave a talk about chakras. Shrila Prabhupada’s comment on chakras was simple and clear. Someone asked him, “What about chakras?” Srila Prabhupada answered, “No chakras, we are not this body.” The conversation was finished. Srila Prabhupada said that because he is on that platform—we are not these bodies.
I however thought about chakras because it is popular and traditional in yoga, and I wondered if there is something in the Bhagavad-gita that would help me to talk on this subject. After all, if it could be used in forming spiritual habits, it could be appropriately applied (yukta-vairagya). The fact is that in the Bhagavad-gita there is one reference to chakra. Krishna tells Arjuna about it in Chapter 3, verse 16, by concluding a small series of points on sacrifice. From aksara comes veda, from veda, karma; from karma, yajna; from yajna, rain; from rain comes grain, and grain we eat to gain energy and then we can perform yajna. This all forms a cycle, or circle. This circle is a chakra.
At first sight this chakra has nothing to do with chakras in the body, but let us not make quick conclusions, because the body is related to the cosmos. All elements in our body are related to the cosmos. Krishna mentions here the cosmic chakra to what we are all related (we are all parts of this chakra). Going in greater detail of that connection, we see our physical body doing things; in this body life moves. How the life energy moves in the body? That is where the idea of chakras in the body comes. These are energy centers.
These energy centers have physical and psychological functions, facilitating different aspects of our lives. And, according to traditions that elaborate on the details, chakras are located in specified places in the body and specific features of each chakra can be identified. For us who are concerned with spiritual life, it is not bad to know about chakras if we can connect what we hear about it with what Krishna teaches us.
Traditionally there are seven chakras. There are different traditions, some referring to six or sometimes to thirteen chakras, but I prefer the seven chakras system, the standard one. One thing I like about it: it puts chakra number four in the middle. In the middle we have anahata-chakra or the heart chakra. And that has to do with what Krishna is saying in the Bhagavad-gita about bhakti. This idea of love, love, love… It is in the heart. It is a ‘heart thing’. From the Bhagavad-gita perspective it is the heart chakra that we want to examine. In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna makes many statements about devotion and bhakti, there is a lot of practice of making the heart chakra strong. If we could put all the statements of Krishna about bhakti together, the key what we are looking for in terms of habit is to develop trust in the object of love.
Trust is an illusive kind of thing. To win Arjuna’s trust Krishna speaks the Bhagavad-gita. At some point Arjuna makes a request, which he later seems to regret. “Please can you show me Your cosmic form?” And it is not there in the Gita explicitly, but I always feel like Krishna is initially asking Arjuna, “Are you sure you want to see it?” “Yes, I really want!” “Okay, you asked for it! You will not see it with ordinary eyes, so I will give you special vision,” which He does, revealing this terrible, terrible form. Arjuna is shocked and asks eventually: “Who are You?! You are my friend, we hang out together all the time and I used to joke with You, to make fun of You. I am so sorry! So sorry! Who are you really?” Krishna thunders: “I am time and I have come to destroy! I am the destroyer.” Arjuna begs, “Enough! Can we get back to normal, so that we can talk?” Krishna comes back to His original form. It is quite a show.
The point of making this quite shocking vison is to awaken faith: yes, there is the Supreme Powerful Being. The program is to develop trust. This goes on in relationships between people: parent and child, husband and wife, etc. It is all about developing trust. And when we talk about spiritual love, which is perfecting the heart chakra, the object of love must be the Supreme Person. And as to the practice of it, it is to develop the habit to trust Krishna. For example, Krishna says, “What do devotees do? They share, they give their lives to Me.” They wake each other up, they enliven each other. How do they do it? They cause someone to speak about Krishna, and then the other one goes on speaking about Krishna and so on. And the result of such practice is that they become satisfied and joyful. And that joyfulness and satisfaction is the signal to the heart that this is the right thing. I must be doing the right thing now.
“This is a nice theory, but it does not work for me,” one could say. According to what I have understood of chakras it could be a case of blockage of the heart chakra. What is the emotion that blocks this chakra? It is said that it is grief. Very interesting. What is the first thing Krishna is saying to Arjuna in Chapter 2 of Bhagavad-gita after Arjuna’s speech about why he would not fight in the war? Arjuna’s is a very emotional speech that is also intellectually persuasive. What does Krishna tell to Arjuna? “It is not to be grieved, lamented over. It is not worthy to lament over. You are speaking nice words, but real pandits do not lament about what is already gone or not gone yet. Do not lament. Do not grieve.”
If it is this tendency of lamenting for the body what is blocking the heart, then we have to ask: how to overcome this grief? Generally, swamis do not talk about this, because when Krishna says, “Do not lament,” we think “I am not lamenting.” But that is a mistake. Why? Because instead of getting rid of grief, you hide it inside. Grief must be expressed in order to get it out of the system. That is why in funeral ceremonies of some cultures there are rituals of crying and wailing. And in some cultures, there is even some self-punishment. We are not going to do this. The idea is that expressing grief is natural. It is natural to grieve for the loss. We human beings are complicated. In some forms of deep psychology, it is said that along with the impulse of love there is also always an impulse of the opposite emotion. In Greek they speak of Eros and Pathos. Pathos is the inclination towards death. Both of them are there; yes, we are complicated beings. The trick is to get them into balance. Especially for the heart chakra it is important to find balance. The heart chakra is in the middle, in the center, between three higher chakras that relate to spiritual life and the three lower chakras that relate to material life. The balance between, the place to do it is the heart chakra.
By practice we want to change habits and essentially, we want to develop a habit of loving Krishna. The key is trust. How to get trust? Take some risk for Krishna. Think of how can I daily take a little risk for Krishna? When we are too comfortable there is a danger that we lose that connection with Krishna that is vital for our spiritual health. Not that we have to throw ourselves out of the window, no, we must be safe. Just a little stretch of comfort, getting the feet wet. And when we take some little risk for Krishna, we discover that He is there, He takes care, and there we gain trust. That is when we find balance. We all know what is balance from learning to ride a bicycle. At some point it is so easy that we don’t think about it. I was once watching somebody riding a bicycle without hands, using his telephone. While riding a bicycle we trust in our own ability to respond to different circumstances. The same happens when we look to advanced Vaishnavas. They interact with Krishna in the same way, completely trusting.
—From a lecture by Krishna Kshetra Swami during a Nama-hatta program in Lodz, Poland in 2018
Mayapur, India: from 8-1-2020 till 14-1-2020
Puri, India: from 14-1-2020 till 27-1-2020
Mayapur, India: from 27-1-2020 till 20-2-2020