Reflections on the Bhagavad Gita
The Bhagavad Gita
Applying Krishna’s Wisdom Today
Of all the reading required for Prana Flow® teacher training, the Bhagavad Gita struck me the most. It hit close to home, challenged me, made me reflect a lot about my thoughts, feelings, and actions, and encouraged me to meditate religiously. I found it applicable to my own life and those of others, though difficult to consistently follow. I’d like to discuss specifically Krishna’s advice to control the senses, let go of the ego, do your own job (not someone else’s), and carry out selfless actions without being attached to their outcomes.
Krishna advises Arjuna to focus on his work and meditate on Krishna every day. He encourages Arjuna to be fully present in his actions without thinking of selfish desires or expectations. He teaches Arjuna that through meditation, the senses can be controlled, a peaceful life will ensue, and Self-realization can be attained. He emphasizes the importance of following one’s own dharma, letting the ego and any selfish desires go.
Basically, Krishna advises Arjuna to carry out his duties without thinking of himself or the outcome. This involves Arjuna fighting and killing his own family members without worrying about the sadness of losing them or the feeling of doing something wrong. Even though Krishna’s advice is relatively simple on the surface (meditate consistently on Krishna, and do your job without any selfishness), it involves letting go of one’s ego and attachments. Upon reflection I discovered, not surprisingly, that my ego is alive and strong and that I have many attachments. Even though I’ve brought my attention to them, I still have trouble letting go. It made me wonder how many of us in the modern world can truly live by Krishna’s advice. I can meditate daily, of course, and I can keep bringing to mind the welfare of others when performing various actions. Can I, however, truly let go of my ego and my selfish desires? In my experience, this is a lot easier said than done.
The idea of the individual, at least in Western culture, has only gained importance in recent years. We are encouraged to be unique, to express ourselves, and to go for what we want in life. Therefore, to me, Krishna’s advice seems to go against what we learn living in this society. How do we perform our tasks without being attached to their outcomes or hoping that we gain something in return? How does this fit in with setting goals and striving for “success?” If we are to let our ego and any attachments dissolve, aren’t we denying that innate individuality we have always been encouraged to express? What about romantic relationships? Are we to deny our desire for love and affection? And as for jobs, I’m always looking for something different. What I’m doing isn’t helping people, I tell myself, and it’s not satisfying. Maybe I’ll be happier in a new place. Krishna would probably tell me to stay put and do my work without complaining or thinking of myself.
In Chapter 3, Krishna illuminates the importance of working for the greater good – thinking of the welfare of the masses rather than selfish desires when performing work: “Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. Do your work with the welfare of others always in mind” (p. 106). Reflecting on my own life, I know that I am always trying to help others in whatever ways I can. I give without expecting anything in return, and I truly hope that I can help make other people’s lives easier and more peaceful. This is why I decided to teach yoga. However, I also often find myself wondering why I am where I am in life. I’m 35 years old, unmarried and without children, living in an apartment complex and working at a seemingly pointless job. This is not how I envisioned my life and I feel powerless to change some of these things. Even if I did, would I be in a better place? As you can see, my thinking is very ego-based and I have had trouble letting go of my attachments to desired outcomes.
It seems just about everyone I talk to is dissatisfied in some way about his or her situation. Whether it be about a job, a romance (or lack thereof), family difficulties, or health problems, many people, including myself, are often restless and feel as if things could be better if only they were different. We look at other people and envy their situations. We criticize ourselves and others for supposed shortcomings. We think, “If only I had this or that, I would be happy.”
I can’t count the number of times an acquaintance has said to me, “I’m doing everything right; what did I do to deserve this?”
Or, “I’m putting my whole heart into this – I don’t understand why I get nothing in return.”
It seems to be the human condition to want to better ourselves and find happiness in things like our work, our relationships, and various pleasurable experiences. We can get frustrated or down when things don’t go our way – the way we expect or hope them to go. We often do things with the expectation that certain consequences will arise in response. For example, we might do a favor for a friend expecting that the favor will be returned. We might work a lot of overtime expecting a promotion. We might go out of our way to win the affections of a love interest only to be rejected, and then we feel sorry for ourselves and disappointed that our desired outcome did not happen. If we had no attachments to expected outcomes, these problems would go away. Again, easier said than done.
Can we truly follow Krishna’s advice to perform selfless actions without expectations or greed? Does this mean we must live our lives passively? What about working toward specific goals? Is this selfish? Is it wrong to desire a romantic partner and act on those desires? Isn’t this natural?
This is where my struggle with the Bhagavad Gita began. I started questioning many things. If we are to deny (or “control”) our sense pleasures and ego in order to attain Self-realization, I thought, I am not sure I want Self-realization. Does that make me a selfish person with a huge ego I can’t let go of? Maybe.
Perhaps I am overthinking things, or misunderstanding Krishna’s message. I know I’m a good person; I do my best to help others and not be selfish. I can’t say, however, that even after years of meditation and reflection about all of the things I’ve discussed that my ego has diminished or my selfish desires have gone away. I do believe I am less attached to desired outcomes, but they still exist. There’s no use in denying them, is there? Perhaps it’s just a lifelong journey, a constant battle to overcome the senses and let go of the ego. I’m not sure my writing about this book has accomplished anything except more questioning about my humanness and whether I am truly ready for the spiritual path.
And now, writing this, it dawns on me: my job in life is to be a joy to others and to set an example of love and health; to make an effort to be upbeat at all times and available to help in whatever ways I can; to serve others (all others – anyone who I encounter), sometimes in the most subtle ways. It may not always be possible, but if I can try to be this way, things will go smoother. Thinking of others and not myself, I will find peace. It doesn’t matter what my “job” (i.e., career) is; my true job in life is to always be ready to serve in whatever ways I can. I can make it my job not to allow anxiety about where I could or should be take over my mind. In order to be available, in my clearest and best state of mind, free from anxiety, I must continue on the path of yoga and never lose faith.
As Krishna suggests, I can control my senses and meditate on the Self. I can do my best to maintain my physical health. Being aware in all my actions, I will hopefully make good choices and do my best to help others and contribute to the greater good. Krishna says this is a lifelong journey, and I’m sure I will struggle at times, so rather than being anxious about not being ready for spiritual development, I will continue on this lifelong journey and remember it for what it is. Am I human? Yes. Do I have desires and attachments? Yes, of course. Can I work toward letting them go? Yes. And I will continue to do so for the rest of my life.