Gita Essence 1- The transformational power of love – Self-knowledge as the basis of love
[Talk at Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago]
Length: 70 mins
Transcribed by: Raji Nachiappan
This book is an overview of the Bhagavad-gītā in 3 parts. Overview of the Bhagavad-gītā can be done in different ways. One of them is the verse by verse study of the Bhagavad-gītā which will take a substantial amount of time. The other is the section by section study of the Bhagavad-gītā which is quite technical and it will need visual aids like flowcharts, diagrams etc. Here, what will be focused on is the conceptual overview of the Bhagavad-gītā centred on one theme. That theme is the transformative power of love. How the Bhagavad-gītā talks about transformation and specifically transformation through love is the focus. The Bhagavad-gītā will be discussed in terms of 3 broad sections – the first six chapters, the middle six chapters and last 6 chapters. A few verses from each section will be quoted but the focus will be on understanding concepts.
What exactly is meant by the transformational power of love?
At the beginning of the Gītā and at the end of the Gītā, essentially nothing has changed. Essentially means from the external perspective. Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna were both on the chariot and they were still on the chariot. At the conclusion of the first chapter, Arjuna has put aside his bow overcome by grief. visṛjya sa-śaraṁ cāpaṁ śoka-saṁvigna-mānasaḥ(1.46): Arjuna, having thus spoken on the battleﬁeld, cast aside his bow and arrows and sat down on the chariot, his mind overwhelmed with grief. na yotsya iti govindam uktvā tūṣṇīṁ babhūva ha: Arjuna says “I cannot fight” and puts aside his bow. By the end of the Bhagavad-gītā in 18.78
yatra yogeśvaraḥ kṛṣṇo
yatra pārtho dhanur-dharaḥ
tatra śrīr vijayo bhūtir
dhruvā nītir matir mama
‘Wherever there is Kṛṣṇa, the master of all mystics, and wherever there is Arjuna, the supreme archer, there will also certainly be opulence, victory, extraordinary power, and morality. That is my opinion.’
Here, the word that is used is dhanur-dharah – one who is holding the bow. Arjuna at the beginning of the Gītā has put aside his bow and at the end of the Gītā Arjuna has picked up his bow and is ready to fight. The Gītā then makes a prophecy at the end, that, wherever there is Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa there will be victory there.
What has the Bhagavad-gītā done, that hearing the Bhagavad-gītā, has transformed Arjuna from being discouraged when he put aside his bow to being encouraged to fight?
The Bhagavad-gītā is a historical book. At the same time, it also has a universal relevance. This universal relevance can sometimes be understood by looking at what the Gītā symbolises. Arjuna’s Gāṇḍīva bow symbolises the determination of the living entity. The determination to do what it takes in life. The determination to answer the call of duty and to rise up to challenges. The determination to face heroically, whatever life throws one’s way. That determination of Arjuna is lost and therefore he puts aside his bow. At the end of the Bhagavad-gītā, that determination is restored.
Śrīla Prabhupāda was always very cautious that whenever we take any metaphorical explanation it should never be at the expense of the literal. For example, some say that the Kurukṣetra war never took place – it was just symbolic. Prabhupāda was strongly against that. If the literal, however, is understood and as a substitution (not as a supplementation) some metaphorical or symbolic representations were utilised, Prabhupāda did not object to that. In fact, Prabhupāda himself used that in a second initiation talk he gave to the devotees. He said, “Now that you are surrendered unto Kṛṣṇa you needn’t lament because now you have made Kṛṣṇa your charioteer.” In the chariot-body analogy, the intelligence is like the charioteer, body is like the chariot, horses are the senses, the reigns are the mind and the passenger is the soul. Śrīla Prabhupāda said that when we take initiation we make Kṛṣṇa our charioteer. That means we let Kṛṣṇa guide our intelligence. What Śrīla Prabhupāda is doing here is that, he is taking the Bhagavad-gītā imagery and universalising it. Arjuna had Kṛṣṇa as his charioteer, guide and as the person who will direct him and counsel him. When we surrender to Kṛṣṇa, just like Arjuna surrendered, Śrīla Prabhupāda says Kṛṣṇa will become our helper(?)
Just like Arjuna’s Gāṇḍīva was put aside, sometimes we too lose our determination in life. By hearing the Bhagavad-gītā, Arjuna’s determination was restored. Hence, there was a transformation that happened in Arjuna by hearing the Gītā. What caused the transformation? It was the message of love. The Bhagavad-gītā talks about many things, but centrally it talks about love. It talks about Kṛṣṇa’s unfailing love for all of us. And based on that love, how one’s life and understanding can be transformed is the subject of discussion.
The concept of love is very wildly talked about. Out of the thousands of novels and movies that are produced, most of them are about romance and they talk about love. Recently I was asked a question on reincarnation based on a few talks and a book I wrote on this subject. A boy asked, “I love a girl and somehow our marriage is not working out. So, what karma can I do in this life, so that I can marry her in the next life?” The specific answer to this question will be discussed in part 2.
The background, however, will be discussed here. The whole concept of reincarnation has become romanticised, especially in India, through Bollywood. There are many movies in Bollywood, where the hero and heroine are unable to meet and they die. In the next life both of them are born and they have the exact same form. The hero has a double role and the heroine also has a double role. Since, they could not get united in the previous life, they get united in this life. So basically, people accept the idea of reincarnation or just utilise it but, there is no real understanding of the self.
Once a devotee was giving class and he said, “You are not your body.” Then one person asked a question, “If I am not my body, then whose body am I?” So, there is a complete conviction that I am the body and if I am not my body then I am someone else’s body. The bodily conception of life is very deep-rooted in everyone and reincarnation is just tagged onto it. Many people talk about the concept of the ‘soulmate’. Their idea of ‘soulmate’ is that there will be a person who you will love and you will keep meeting that person lifetime after lifetime.
Whenever, I am asked a question on this, I say that it is better to focus on the soul and not the mate. First understand what the self is. When we talk about the transformational power of love, love basically involves 3 things: (1) the subject of love or the person who is loving; (2) then the object of love or the person who is being loved and (3) then there is the exchange of love or the medium by which love is exchanged. These are the 3 things by which love is exchanged in any relationship. When we talk about the transformational power of love, we will divide this discussion into three parts: Part 1 will talk about the subject of love or the self, Part 2 will talk about the object of love that is Kṛṣṇa and Part 3 will talk about the medium of love. If we want to love Kṛṣṇa in this world and we have to understand the world in proper perspective.
If we look at Arjuna, it is the lack of self-knowledge that bewilders him. He has come ready to fight and he has blown his conch shell. To understand how dramatic the situation of the Bhagavad-gītā is, we can consider a familiar metaphor. Suppose there is a cricket match and not just any cricket match, it is the world cup finals. The toss is over and thousands of spectators have assembled and the umpires have come out. The fielders are taking their positions and the bowler is about to run up and just then, the batsman who is in strike suddenly moves away and comes to the non-striker. Now the non-striker and the striker start talking and they keep talking. And they just don’t stop. Everyone else becomes restless wanting to start the game.
This is what Arjuna actually does. The conches are blown which means the war is about to start. And at that time Arjuna starts talking with Kṛṣṇa. Just like both the non-striker and the striker come together in the middle of the pitch and start talking, Arjuna tells Kṛṣṇa:
senayor ubhayor madhye
rathaṁ sthāpaya me ’cyuta – please draw my chariot between the two armies. Then he looks at everyone and starts talking. And this goes on and on – it is not just one or two verses, its 700 verses.
What is it that they were talking and what was it that so urgent? Sometimes, there are players who do gamesmanship, for example, if the opposition is doing very well, they try to delay things. They provide excuses like it is raining too much or that they are injured and through this they try to break the rhythm of the other party. When the rhythm is broken, they feel they can play better. This is unsportsmanlike, it’s like cheating behaviour.
Now, if we know that a player is not that kind of a trickster and always plays in a sports manly spirit and if that player is suddenly talking in the middle of the pitch, then we understand that something serious must be going on. In the same way, Arjuna was a heroic warrior and Arjuna would not stop the war after the conches have been blown. In fact, he was among the first persons who blew the conch. It is said that Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa, both of them blew their conches and then the other like Bhima, Yudhistra etc. followed.
pauṇḍraṁ dadhmau mahā-śaṅkhaṁ
‘Lord Kṛṣṇa blew His conchshell, called Pāñcajanya; Arjuna blew his, the Devadatta; and Bhīma, the voracious eater and performer of herculean tasks, blew his terriﬁc conchshell, called Pauṇḍra.’
Therefore, Arjuna was among the first to blow his conch and he was ready to fight. Then suddenly something happened and he stopped fighting. It is described that when Bhīṣma saw Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna discussing, he raised his hand and told his soldiers to wait. “They are discussing something. Let them discuss”. It is like when the opposition captain is also a very sports manly person and says that if the batsmen are discussing something, then let them talk. If they are talking something, it must be very serious. And that is how everybody stopped at that time, because at least in the initial days, the Kurukṣetra was fought according to ethical codes.
Now, what was it that Arjuna suddenly had to discuss? Arjuna when he started off, he started off referring to the people and saying he wanted to see who was on the other side. kair mayā saha yoddhavyam asmin raṇa-samudyame (1.21-1.22) – “I want to see whom I have to fight with.” dhārtarāṣṭrasya durbuddher yuddhe priya-cikīrṣavaḥ – in 1.23 Arjuna says, “Who are those people who have come to fight on the side of the evil minded son of Dhṛtarāṣṭra?”
What is it exactly that Arjuna wants to see at this stage? It is not that Arjuna does not know who were there to fight with him. When there is cricket match going on, there are 14 players, out of which 11 are going to be selected. Till the actual field assembles you don’t know who the playing 11 are and who is being selected and who is being dropped. The situation of the Bhagavad-gītā is not like that. All the soldiers and warriors who were to fight were known. In fact the previous night, both the armies and their commanders had assembled and they assessed each warrior’s strength and who will fight against whom etc. They had made their strategies and Arjuna was actively involved in that process. Therefore, it not that Arjuna did not know who he was fighting against, but still in his heart he had hope that this war could be avoided. He wanted to see that since so many people have assembled, what is the level of the animosity?
Initially, he was saying that they were ‘dhārtarāṣṭrasya durbuddher’: they are the people who have sided the evil minded Duryodhana. As soon as he sees them, however, he says they are our people. sva-janaṁ hi kathaṁ hatvā sukhinaḥ syāma mādhava – How can by killing our own people, can we ever be happy? He starts referring to them as svajana – which means one’s own people.
Therefore, what has happened? Arjuna knew intellectually that since they are all fighting on the side of evil, they are the aids of evil. But when he sees them, he starts thinking they are my relatives. That, is what causes illusion.
What the Bhagavad-gītā represents is that, the eyes are the way to illusion and the ears are the way to enlightenment. Arjuna sees with the eyes and becomes deluded. Several times in the first chapter, the word paśya or aksha is used. Kṛṣṇa also tells Arjuna (1.25)
sarveṣāṁ ca mahī-kṣitām
uvāca pārtha paśyaitān
samavetān kurūn iti
‘In the presence of Bhīṣma, Droṇa and all the other chieftains of the world, the Lord said, “Just behold, Pārtha, all the Kurus assembled here.”’
Therefore, there is a lot of emphasis on seeing with the eyes and when Arjuna see with the eyes, he gets overwhelmed and deluded. Arjuna’s delusion, however, is an elevated level of delusion. There can also be illusions of different degrees. What does this mean? I recently met a devotee who was previously a very devout Shaivite. Now, he has become a devotee of Kṛṣṇa. He was expressing that his chanting is very distracted because whenever he chants the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahamantra, his mind automatically goes to all Shiva mantras he used to chant previously. I said, “That is wonderful because for most of us, our thoughts get distracted to sensuality while your thoughts are being distracted to lord Shiva”. Of course, we want to focus on Kṛṣṇa. The point, however, is that based on our consciousness, our distraction will also vary.
When Arjuna has become deluded, what has happened to him? Why is he deluded? It is not at all an attack of nerves. Using cricket metaphors again, there is one team that is known to choke under pressure. They have great players, but when a big match comes, they all just choke. They do something stupid and are known to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. (I was thinking of South Africa.)
In the same way, when there is a difficult task to perform, people just get too nervous and fearful. Sometimes, soldiers in a plight of heroism, want to just go and fight. When they actually go and see the army, they say, “later”. Arjuna’s fear, however, was not like that. Arjuna had actually fought all the Kauravas just a few months earlier in Virata. So, what was Arjuna’s confusion and what caused him so much fear?
Arjuna basically faced a conflict of roles. He had a dharma sankat. He had two roles. One role was as a kṣatriya. A kṣatriya is a martial guardian of society. He fights against aggressors and protects civilians and society. It was therefore his duty to fight against aggressors and the Kauravas had committed many aggressions. Śrīla Prabhupāda talks about ātatāyinaḥ or aggressors in his purports. Kauravas tried to burn them, poison them, dishonour them and steal their property. They had committed all kinds of aggressions and they deserved to be punished for that. We have to very carefully understand that the Kurukṣetra war was not a war of vengeance. If it had been a war for vengeance, the Pāṇḍavas would have never sought peace so vigorously. We know that Kṛṣṇa went as a shanti dhuth and sought peace on such accommodating terms. Kṛṣṇa asked five villages for the Pāṇḍavas and the Pāṇḍavas were ready for it. Therefore, the Pāṇḍavas did not fight for vengeance. Their mood was not to hurt the people who hurt them. Their mood was dharma. Their purpose was that there has to be a righteous order in society. If Duryodhana is so brazen that he can dishonour an honourable lady in public, and if such a person has unfettered rule, what will he do?
During the 13 years that Duryodhana ruled, he did not do too much atrocities. He acted like a good guy because he knew that there will be a war and there will be a challenge. If the threat of the Pāṇḍavas were removed, however, then his atrocities would have had no limits. The war was not fought for revenge, it was fought to establish dharma and to ensure that a dharmic ruler was in power.
Therefore his one duty as a kṣatriya was to fight against aggressors and his other duty was his kula dharma. Kula means dynasty and Arjuna belonged to a particular dynasty and he had a duty to his dynasty. Kula dharma means that if you belong to a family or a dynasty, then we help our relatives when they are in trouble. Arjuna felt that ‘I should be helping my relatives, how can I be fighting against them?’ According to his kula dharma, he felt he should not fight and according to this kṣatriya dharma, he felt I should fight. Especially when he saw the people assembled there like Bhīṣma, Drona and many other elders who were related to him, he felt he could not fight against his own family members. His sense of kula dharma or identification with his family became very strong. He, therefore, said that he cannot fight and will give up the battle.
Arjuna’s confusion was between two roles, one as a warrior and one as a Kuru dynasty member. All of us also face conflict over roles at times. Suppose we are a family man with a job. Sometimes, the family may want to go somewhere while work may pull us in another direction. Or it can be between two family members. As a man, the wife may want him to go somewhere and the mother may want him to go somewhere else. People get pulled in two different directions and then a choice has to be made: Am I a husband first or am I a son first? Am I a professional first or a family member first? All of us are pulled in different directions by different roles at times. Arjuna also was pulled, but in two violently opposite directions. He just did not know what to do at that time.
Some people say that the Bhagavad-gīta is a book of violence. They also add that while Arjuna was a peace-loving person, it was Kṛṣṇa that instigated Arjuna to fight. Actually, if we look at the Bhagavad-gītā, it is a book that is spoken just before a war. However, there is practically no reference to the war in the book. Apart from the 1st chapter and the 11th chapter which is the virāṭ rūpa darshan, in the remaining 600 verses, the war is mentioned only a handful of times. If the Bhagavad-gītā had simply been a call for war, then the war would have been referred to many more times. Also, there is no reference in the entire Bhagavad-gītā about anything related to taking revenge. Normally, if we want to get someone to fight or there is violence in the name of religion, hate speeches are given. However, there is no expression of any hatred against the Kauravas and also about the atrocities that they had committed.
The Bhagavad-gītā is neither a book of violence nor a book of silence, it is a book of transcendence. This is seen right at its setting. The setting is very dramatic. A war is about to happen and it gets delayed. When Arjuna is to ask Kṛṣṇa a question, he doesn’t ask whether he should fight or not. He asks a much more fundamental and universal question. He asks: pṛcchāmi tvāṁ dharma-sammūḍha-cetāḥ: “I ask you ‘What is dharma? What is duty? What is my duty in this situation? My two duties, the kṣatriya duty and the Kuru duty is pulling me in two different directions. What is dharma and what dharma should I follow?”
Therefore, Arjuna’s question is universal. The word dharma is sometimes translated as religion and sometimes as duty. Śrīla Prabhupāda, however, explains that dharma basically means the innate defining nature. That which makes us who we are or that which is our defining characteristic. Arjuna is asking Kṛṣṇa, “What is it that I am essentially meant to do?”
Dharma is what makes me ‘me’ and that which makes you ‘you’. Arjuna is asking Kṛṣṇa what he is meant to do. This question is universal. What is it that makes me ‘me’ and what is it that we are meant to do in life? This is a question that has resonated across history and geography. That is why the Bhagavad-gītā is as spoken to millions for millennia because it is not just about a warrior thousands of years ago deciding whether to fight or not to fight. That would have been of interest only to historians or to war-loving people. But no, the Bhagavad-gītā’s discussion and its central content is universal.
When Arjuna has asked the question, what does Kṛṣṇa do? To answer the question, Kṛṣṇa changes the frame of reference. Arjuna’s question was whether he was a kṣatriya or Kuru-nandana and Kṛṣṇa’s reply was that he was neither. Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna that he is a soul. dehino ’smin yathā dehe kaumāraṁ yauvanaṁ jarā – ‘As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change’.
All of us have various identities in this world which may be that of a mother, father, professional, son, sister etc. These identities are not meant to be rejected but they are functional identities based on the kind of function we are performing in this world. Underlying these functional identities, we have our fundamental identity. Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna that both, being a kṣatriya and a kuru-nandana are his functional identities but his fundamental identity is that he is a soul.
The functional identity is not meant to be rejected, but it is meant to be sub-ordinated to the fundamental identity. Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna that you are not your body and that you are the soul in 2.13 and in the very next verse, in 2.14 he says
mātrā-sparśās tu kaunteya
tāṁs titikṣasva bhārata
‘O son of Kuntī, the non-permanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bhārata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.’
Here the two reference to Arjuna are Kaunteya and Bhārata. Kaunteya refers to the son of Kuntī. If Arjuna is not the body, then how is he the son of Kuntī? If Arjuna is not the body, then what does it matter if he is born in the Bhārata dynasty? Therefore, Kṛṣṇa does not reject the bodily identity.
Śrīla Prabhupāda explains in the purport that because Arjuna is the son of a great mother like Kuntī and because he is the descendent of a great dynasty like the Bhārata dynasty, he should, therefore, act in a great way. Hence, the functional identity is not meant to be rejected. It is supposed to be harmonised with the fundamental identity i.e. we are souls and we are meant to live at the level of the souls.
Arjuna’s thinking was, “how can I kill my relatives?” Kṛṣṇa answers by saying says that they are anyway going to die because their bodies are temporary. Again, Arjuna asks, “How can I kill them? It will cause me pain.” Kṛṣṇa replies by saying that Arjuna can tolerate that pain. Why? Because great people can and Arjuna’s greatness is that he belongs to a great dynasty. Therefore, there is no need to reject the functional identity. Rather, we need to harmonise it with the fundamental identity.
Śrīla Prabhupāda was expert at this. When his American disciples came to India and they were going to organise a pandal program, he told them to make a big pandal festival. They were struggling to get their feet on India because Indian culture was so different for them and they were lost. They didn’t know anything there and they especially did not know how to deal with the Indian people. They found it quite difficult to work with and they expressed their difficulty to Śrīla Prabhupāda. Prabhupāda, however, told them “The whole world considers Americans as great people. What is the use of you being Americans if don’t do something great for Kṛṣṇa?”
Śrīla Prabhupāda repeatedly stressed in the classes that you are not an American and that you are the soul. In this world, however, we have a functional identity and that, for his disciples was that they were Americans. What Śrīla Prabhupāda is doing is that he is using their American pride in Kṛṣṇa a’s service. The same Śrīla Prabhupāda when he is speaking to Indians in India he tells them, that this Bhagavad-gītā is from India but to teach Bhagavad-gītā in India I need to get people from America. He says, “What are you Indians doing? You have to study the Bhagavad-gītā and you have to teach it all over the world.” He is saying that you are Indians and this is your book. Philosophically we are not Indians. However, if the pride of being an Indian can inspire people to study the Bhagavad-gītā, then that is good too. The point is we don’t reject the functional identity but we don’t let that alone define us. We understand that I am a soul and I have certain identities in this world. There are certain roles that I have to play but I have to harmonise it with my fundamental identity.
Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna, “You are deliberating whether I should fight because I’m a kṣatriya or I should not fight because I’m a kuru-nandan. First understand you are neither. You are a soul. These are different roles you have to play. How best you play those roles, which role will be more important in which situation, to understand that you have to go to the fundamentals. You can’t just stay at the level of the different identities.”
The second chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā talks at different levels. At the first level, it tells Arjuna that his relatives will not die and so, why be so fearful? nainaṁ śocitum arhasi – do not lament Arjuna. This kind of theme comes repeatedly in texts 25, 26, 28. Why? Because you cannot protect the body. It is going to die. Therefore, why are we lamenting for something inevitable?
Now, is it that Arjuna till then had never heard about the soul? For us, we live in a materialistic culture where we may not have heard about the soul. Arjuna, however, had already heard about the soul. At that point in time, however, he was overcome by the bodily conception of life and so, what does Kṛṣṇa tell him? Kṛṣṇa tells him that he has to work at the level of the soul. Then Arjuna’s next question is that: how do people at the level of the soul work? In 2.53-54 of the Bhagavad-gītā he asks:
sthita-prajñasya kā bhāṣā
sthita-dhīḥ kiṁ prabhāṣeta
kim āsīta vrajeta kim
“Arjuna said: O Kṛṣṇa, what are the symptoms of one whose consciousness is thus merged in transcendence? How does he speak, and what is his language? How does he sit, and how does he walk?”
He is asking about the learned and wise people who live at the level of the soul – what are their symptoms are and how they function?
It is interesting that when Arjuna asked this question regarding how a sthita-prajñasya sit and walk, Arjuna is not talking about some fashion ramp models in the middle of a war field. What does it mean when he asks how do the enlightened people sit and walk? His question has a deeper significance. His question of how do they sit, basically means how do they withdraw their senses? Usually when sitting, we withdraw our senses and when we are walking we are engaging our senses. Therefore Arjuna’s question is how do they withdraw their senses and how do they engage their senses? The idea is that we know something better when we see it in action.
Many times when students want to improve their vocabulary, they get word lists and they start memorising it. When you start memorising words, it is good to memorise the words, but if you really want to use the words, then we have to see those words are used in sentences. Then we understand how those words are to be engaged. Just memorising words is not helpful, it is important to see them in action. Similarly, the philosophical concepts are also understood when one sees it in action. Therefore Arjuna asks for the symptoms of the enlightened persons.
Kṛṣṇa gives a whole list of symptoms there and basically he says there are two things: 1. They are detached from material pleasures and 2. They are attached to internal spiritual growth (2.55)
prajahāti yadā kāmān
sarvān pārtha mano-gatān
ātmany evātmanā tuṣṭaḥ
‘The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: O Pārtha, when a man gives up all varieties of desire for sense gratiﬁcation, which arise from mental concoction, and when his mind, thus puriﬁed, ﬁnds satisfaction in the self alone, then he is said to be in pure transcendental consciousness.’
Then Kṛṣṇa says that such people attain peace – sa śāntim adhigacchati. It is said that whenever a speaker gives a class, the audience usually carries with them at the most 20%. Only God knows which 20% they carry. Similarly, when Kṛṣṇa gives a list of these symptoms, Arjuna starts focusing on peace aspect. He tells Kṛṣṇa, “If the enlightened people are peaceful and you want me to be enlightened, then why are you engaging me in war?” What has happened is that Arjuna is still caught in the external dialectic of whether there should be peace or war? Whether he should fight or not? Kṛṣṇa, however, has taken the discussion to an entirely different level. Kṛṣṇa is not talking about external peace or war. He is talking about internal peace. Internal peace come when we can calm our desires. Externally, people say wars are still happening. Yes wars are still happening in some places of the world, but even in places where wars are not happening, is it peaceful there? There are wars that happen inside houses, offices and political parties. Weapons may not be used but still there are fights.
Actually to get peace, we don’t just need treaties between countries. To get peace we need to learn to manage our desires. It is only when people learn to manage their desires and their minds become peaceful, then the world can become peaceful. Śrīla Prabhupāda says that there is no use of crying for world peace without awakening divine consciousness in the individual. Without the individuals becoming peaceful, we cannot have a peaceful world.
Arjuna then asks (3.1):
jyāyasī cet karmaṇas te
matā buddhir janārdana
tat kiṁ karmaṇi ghore māṁ
Arjuna said: O Janārdana, O Keśava, why do You want to engage me in this ghastly warfare, if You think that intelligence is better than fruitive work?
Then Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna, “I have spoken two paths to you.” And then he starts systematically elaborating. The first part is titled, ‘self-knowledge as the basis of love’. There, Kṛṣṇa is answering the question Arjuna raised in the 3rd chapter. The question raised by Arjuna is “what is it that makes me act against my best interest?”
All over the world people have experienced of this. There is some voice inside us that makes us act stupidly and terribly. Even in a field like sports, we see examples of this. Mike Tyson, the boxer, when he was losing badly in a match, he got so angry that he bit off one of the ears of his opponent. When he was asked the reason for his action, he said, “There is a demon inside me”. Now, that could be rationalisation which we cannot use for justification of our wrong doings. The point is we all do things which make us shocked afterwards. Sometimes we get angry and we just speak so harshly. Suppose another person secretly recorded what we spoke and replayed it to us later, we even wonder if that is really us. So, there is something inside us which makes us acts in terrible ways. What is that? Therefore, Arjuna asks, “Yes I know I’m the soul and I’m meant to act spiritually, but there is something inside me which does not allow me to act spiritually. What is that?”
Kṛṣṇa describes that it is selfish desire. The word used here is kāma: lust. When the word lust is used, it is not just used in the context of male-female attraction. It is a generic sense of selfish desire which keeps us bound to material consciousness. Kṛṣṇa says that this desire needs to be overcome. How do we do that? He talks about various things. 1. To control your senses. 2. Use your intelligence to become situated on the spiritual level.
Kṛṣṇa will again talk about this same theme in the 5th chapter. So we’ll elaborate on that a little bit more in that section.
After Kṛṣṇa discusses this strategy then in the 4th chapter, He tells Arjuna that he should acquire knowledge. If you are strong, you will be able to overcome selfish desires and you will come to the spiritual platform. Then, where does one get knowledge from? The 4th chapter, talks about the various ways in which one can acquire knowledge. Kṛṣṇa says, “go to a spiritual master”. From a spiritual master, we can learn how to acquire knowledge. Interestingly Kṛṣṇa explains there, regarding who can acquire knowledge. śraddhāvāḻ labhate jñānaṁ: Only a faithful person can acquire knowledge.
Interestingly, people sometimes assume that being religious means you have to simply have a lot of faith. You have to have faith in god, faith in the soul, and faith in so many things that you cannot see. How can you have faith like this? Actually, the point is everyone has faith. Faith is simply universally the precondition for knowledge. When we even search in google, we have faith that it will lead us to the right path. We may have scepticism and may not trust everything, but still we have some faith. If I go on Wikipedia and read, I have faith that whatever is written over there is as an authority.
Even science, fundamentally operates on faith. People often say that science operates with facts and religion operates with faith. However, that’s not true. Science also operates with faith. What is the fundamental faith that science essentially needs to have? Science basically, involves observing and measuring; experimenting and verifying. Now, all these require that we use our senses. Using our senses we observe. Therefore, science operates on the fundamental faith that our senses gives us a reliable picture of reality.
Last year, I was invited to the Cambridge University to give a talk on science and spirituality, and while returning from that talk we passed by the tree where Newton is said to have seen the fruit falling. That place is like a pilgrimage for the scientists. Interestingly when Newton saw the fruit falling, he asked the question, “What made this fruit fall?” His intelligence was that, he came up with the idea of gravity. The important thing, however, is that when he saw the fruit falling, he had faith that the fruit has really fallen down. Therefore, science operates with the faith that what our senses shows us are reliable. Paradoxically, as science has advanced more and more, what has happened now, is that, science deals with quantum physics. Quantum physics says that everything is just waves which means there is no such thing as a chair or table. There are only waves and when there is an observer the waves collapse, to create an object.
Einstein, however, did not like this at all. He famously criticised the theory of quantum physics and said that that, “I would like to believe that the moon exists even when I am not looking at it.” It is obvious that the moon continues to exist. According to quantum physics, however, only when we look at it, the waves that comprise the moon collapse and we see the moon. This is simplistic skeletal explanation of quantum physics but the point is that even science requires the faith that our senses gives us a reliable picture of reality. Also there is no scientific experiment to prove this point that our senses give us a reliable picture of reality, because how will I know that my senses are reliable? Again, to observe that, I need my senses. Therefore, if we use the senses to say that senses give a reliable picture of reality, then that is circular logic. It is like saying that I’m the world’s most intelligent person. Why? Because I say so. This is self-referential logic.
Therefore, faith is required in every branch of knowledge. Kṛṣṇa says that the faith that we have should be such that it is verifiable. Having faith is not an issue, it is blind faith that is an issue. Science has faith. When the fruit fell, there was faith that the fruit fell. How do you know? You can do various experiments to know if it happens again and again. Similarly, when we talk about spiritual knowledge, it is verifiable. How is it verifiable? We’ll discuss that later.
Let’s go on to the 5th chapter. In the 5th chapter, Kṛṣṇa again focusses on the same question: action or renunciation. Arjuna is still confused whether he should act or renounce. Kṛṣṇa says that it will be neither action nor renunciation. It is action with renunciation i.e. act in a mood of detachment. Why act in a mood of detachment? Because He says that when we get attached, we lose sight of who we really are. One of the famous verse that many people talk about from the second chapter is (2.47)
karmaṇy evādhikāras te
mā phaleṣu kadācana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr
mā te saṅgo ’stv akarmaṇi
‘You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty. ‘Sometimes, people ask, “Kṛṣṇa says ‘work without being attached to the results’. If I’m not attached to the results, what will inspire me to work? As a student, I think that I’ll come first in my class or as a working professional, I think I’ll get a promotion. Otherwise, what will make me work?”
Here we have to understand carefully, what Kṛṣṇa is saying. There are goals and then, there are results. Kṛṣṇa is not saying don’t set goals. In fact, immediately after the Bhagavad-gītā the Kurukṣetra war took place. Every day of the war, the Pāṇḍavas would set goals. Famously on the 14th day, Arjuna set a goal that by tonight, he will kill Jayadratha or he will enter into fire. When Arjuna set goals, Kṛṣṇa did not ask if Arjuna had forgotten the Gītā which says mā phaleṣu kadācana. He does not say that. Why? Because there are goals and there are results. Goals are set before we do the action. Results are what come after we do the action. Setting goals helps us to maximise our endeavour but attachment to results distracts us from the endeavour.
Suppose I’m preparing for an exam and I set a goal that I want to achieve a certain percentage in the exam. That goal will help me to study. After I have given my exam however, if I still keep thinking about the marks, then it is important to realise that we cannot do anything beyond a point and things are out of our hands. Therefore, do not worry about it. The focus is on maximising the endeavour or focusing on our part in the scheme of things. If we focus on our part in the scheme of things, then we do what we can and we do not worry about the rest. Sometimes, people confuse detachment and irresponsibility. What is the difference between detachment and irresponsibility? If a student does not study before the exam, that is not detachment, that is irresponsibility. The simple difference between detachment and irresponsibility is that detachment comes after the work is done and irresponsibility is before the work is done.
When I started giving talks for the first time, I was given some guidelines. The last guideline in the list, was to depend on Kṛṣṇa. Then in brackets it said, but only after you have prepared! If I don’t prepare at all and I say that I’m depending on Kṛṣṇa, then I’m not depending on Kṛṣṇa, I’m simply surrendering to my laziness. Therefore surrender to laziness does not equal depending on Kṛṣṇa. Therefore when the Bhagavad-gītā tells us to be detached, it means to do our work responsibly and then after it is done, to not obsess over it.
In the 5th chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā, Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna to act but in the mood of renunciation. That means to do your duty and not bother about what the result is. Just focus on doing your duty. In this way Kṛṣṇa speaks the 5th chapter that has the famous verse (5.18)
brāhmaṇe gavi hastini
śuni caiva śva-pāke ca
“The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brāhmaṇa, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].”
Kṛṣṇa is telling Arjuna here, to look beyond the external body. Actually, the full gamete of living beings are described here. A brāhmaṇa is considered to be highest among human beings. A flesh eater is considered to be a very low class person. Kṛṣṇa says to look at them both equally. Then, the cow is considered to be in mode of goodness, the elephant in the mode of passion and then the dog in the mode of ignorance. “Look at all of them equally”. Kṛṣṇa is telling how to see with the eyes of knowledge. When Kṛṣṇa says see all of them equally, what does He mean by this? Does He mean that just as you worship and respect Yudhiṣṭhira, you should worship and respect and Duryodhana also? No, that is not what Kṛṣṇa means.
There are two things: One is vision and the other is action. In terms of vision, we see everyone spiritually. In terms of action, we act in a way that is appropriate for our and their spiritual elevation. Therefore, Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna not to hate Duryodhana but to look at him as a soul who has a diseased mentality. And to do what it takes to cure him, which if it requires some surgery, Arjuna has to perform that. However, Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna not to it in a mood of hatred and not to see him as an enemy. He is also a soul who is covered with a body which may require surgery. However, do not be blinded by emotions. If we are blinded by emotions seeing at the bodily level, then we suffer. Since, bodily vision makes us attached to bodily pleasure, and bodily pleasure leads to suffering.
The whole idea of understanding that I’m not the body and that I’m the soul, the central point to do that is: what does it take?(??) If we are the soul then why are identifying with the body? It is because bodily pleasure seems to be so intoxicating.
I’ll conclude with one example about bodily pleasure. We often say that this world is filled with illusion. There is a difference between illusion and hallucination. Hallucination occurs when there is no object present but only perception is present. Illusion, however, means that there is an object but it perceived falsely. For example, there is a rope and I mistake it to be snake.
In this world, there is pleasure, but the illusion, is not that there are no attractive objects or pleasures in this world. The illusion is about the magnitude of the pleasure. The pleasure is very limited but we imagine as if the pleasure is unending. Suppose a person is in the desert and is desperately thirsty and dying for water. Suddenly, they see a helicopter flying towards them and then they feel relieved thinking they can quench their thirst. To their delight the helicopter is coming right toward them. The helicopter then descends, lands and then a person in uniform which says “W-A-T-E-R” comes out. He has a big bottle that also says “W-A-T-E-R” on it. Then the person approaches and opens the bottle and tilts the bottle upside down and one drop of water trickles down. Then the person turns around, goes back to the helicopter and flies back!
All that anticipation is raised and at the end all that you get is one drop of water. In the same way, in this world there is so much propaganda about sensual pleasure, but in reality what people dream for hours and years about pleasure, and when you get that actual pleasure it ends in a few moments. And people cannot digest this. There must be more and I’m doing something wrong. Therefore among the highest paid professionals in this world, are sexologist.
Actually the bodily pleasures are always limited and it is limited because the body’s capacity to enjoy is limited. The illusion is in thinking that the tiny pleasure is huge. And to the extent we can become free from this illusion, to that extent rising above bodily identity becomes easy. The concept that I’m not the body but I’m the soul is philosophical; but how do we realise or apply this philosophy?
It is not that when Śrīla Prabhupāda talks about sense gratification, he is against pleasure per say. Actually at the spiritual level, there is much more pleasure and happiness available. What causes the fundamental misidentification of the body with the soul, however, is that there is so much pleasure available at the bodily level. Actually the pleasure is very limited. It is very tiny and to the extent we realise that, to that extent we can start rising to spiritual consciousness. And Kṛṣṇa says, in fact he throws a challenge to Arjuna (5.23)
śaknotīhaiva yaḥ soḍhuṁ
sa yuktaḥ sa sukhī naraḥ.
“Before giving up this present body, if one is able to tolerate the urges of the material senses and check the force of desire and anger, he is well situated and is happy in this world.”
Most people think that I want to be free and free to do what I please. They think that religion is so restrictive with many rules and regulations. In this regard, Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna to look at a different understanding. There is ‘freedom for’ and ‘freedom from’. For example, if there are two student staying in a college and in between the college is drug joint. One student, has decided that he’s not going to take drugs. And when he passed by, he never even bothered to look at it. He just went past it to college to do his own work.
The other student had taken drugs once. And then when he passes the drug store next, he contemplates taking drugs again and he takes it again. Once, twice and thrice and every time he passes the drug store, then slowly the impulsive by repeated indulgence, becomes compulsive. Then, as soon as they come out of the house, their mind is immediately on the drugs. Eventually when people become addicted, the first thought on their mind, as soon as they get up is about drugs and the last thought on their mind before they go to bed is drugs.
Both students are externally free, no physical force is binding them. Internally, however, the second student is bound by a desire for drugs. The first student is free from that desire. Therefore, ‘freedom from’ is also a very empowering kind of freedom. Today, society defines freedom as only freedom for. Often ‘freedom for’, as in the case of the students, made the second student addictive. The other student is actually free from that desire and therefore he is free to do many better things in life. So, we need to redefine freedom.
Therefore, Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna not to think of his heroism simply in terms fulfilling his desires. “Think of heroism as also in terms becoming free from desires. If you can achieve this, then you will be happy.” In this way, when freedom is redefined, that will help us understand, that when we are restricting ourselves from sense gratification, we are not depriving ourselves. We are moving towards higher freedom or freedom, where we are not distracted and tormented by desires, for pleasures, which are not actually very great. By not getting distracted by such cheap pleasures, we are free to pursue higher happiness in life. And we’re free when we are not distracted, tormented and tempted to lower desire. How to do that, is when we come to know about Kṛṣṇa and how He is all attractive.
– The Bhagavad-gītā demonstrates the transformational power of love. Arjuna lost his heart and was unable to fight and after hearing the BG, he picked up his bow and was ready to fight.
– Arjuna’s gandiva bow represents our determination.
– The eyes are the way to illusion and the ears are the way to enlightenment.
– Arjuna’s conflict was between two roles: that of kṣatriya or a kuru-nandan
– Bhagavad-gītā addresses the universal question: What is dharma? Who am I really and what is it that I should do so that I am true to myself? What is it that makes me ‘me’?
– Bhagavad-gītā is not a book of silence or violence, it is a book of transcendence.
– In answering those questions, Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna that we have many roles or functional identities within this world. Go beyond these functional identities to find your fundamental identity as a soul. Plus harmonise your functional identity with your fundamental identity
– He uses that knowledge to tell Arjuna that while doing your duty as a kṣatriya and fighting against the Kauravas, do not lament because they are souls and they are eternal.
– We learn concepts much better when we see them in action rather than abstraction. Therefore Arjuna asks for the symptoms of an enlightened person.
– Kṛṣṇa says that such enlightened people are peaceful. Kṛṣṇa is talking in terms of internal peace and Arjuna thinks in terms of external peace and then there is confusion which is then cleared by Kṛṣṇa.
– He then raises the question “I know that I’m the soul, but then why can’t I act spiritually?” Kṛṣṇa answers by saying that it is because of selfish desires. Selfish desires can be overcome by first controlling our senses and then by using our intelligence to situate ourselves on the spiritual platform. How do we get that intelligence? Through spiritual knowledge. And how to get that spiritual knowledge? By various means but centrally by approaching a spiritual master.
– And faith is a precondition to receive any knowledge. Even in science, it requires faith that our senses give us an accurate picture of reality.
– Bhagavad-gītā takes us beyond the dialectic of action or renunciation to action with renunciation.
– Gītā is not against setting goals, it is against being attached to results.
– Detachment is after we have done the work and if that comes before the work, then that is irresponsibility.
– The whole point with setting goals is maximise our endeavour.
– While doing this, to act in knowledge of our spiritual self, we see everyone spiritually, from the highest to the lowest people and we deal with them appropriately according to what helps them raise.
– What prevents us from rising spiritually is the illusion about bodily pleasure. Pleasure is there but it is tiny. It is like getting a drop of water in the desert. It does not satisfy us. Instead of fighting to get freedom for enjoyment, we can redefine freedom as freedom ‘from’ and not freedom ‘for’. Freedom from the desire for bodily enjoyment can free us for pursuing higher happiness without distraction. How that attraction towards higher happiness can come? That will be discussed in the next section when we talk about the object of love who is Kṛṣṇa.
Q & A:
Question 1: How can we be detached when we are serving the Lord? For e.g. if we cook for the lord and it has not turned out well, we do feel upset.
Answer: There are two different things here. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, the results may not come. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s own example was that he was preaching in India for almost 40 years and he had very little tangible result then.
We have to understand that sometimes, despite our best efforts, the results may not come. We have to introspect and check, if we did something wrong and if there is anything we can learn from it. Sometimes, however, the results just do not come. If our attachment is to the results, we have to understand that Kṛṣṇa primarily looks at the endeavour. It is not that Prabhupāda became successful after he came to America. He was already successful in Kṛṣṇa’s eyes because he was whole heartedly serving. Success became manifested later. Even if no one sees it, if we are endeavouring sincerely, Kṛṣṇa sees it and is pleased by it.
If results have not come, we can use intelligence to see what went wrong, what could be corrected and then move forwards. Even when the result does not come, we still have to keep serving. It is not that we are apathetic about our service. We definitely want to offer the best service. But sometimes, even Śrīla Prabhupāda writes in the first canto purports, that if things are beyond the human control, there is nothing to lament. If we have done our part, there is nothing to lament. If we keep lamenting, then basically we live in the past. We lose the opportunity in the present for doing service.
We definitely want to learn from the past but we do not want to live in the past. Living in the past means, the mind is doing a perpetual auto-replay of whatever went wrong. Sometimes when things have gone wrong and we are too close with the event, we cannot even learn from it because we are too emotionally attached to it. We just have to close that chapter and move on. We have to understand that life is too precious to be wasted in post-mortem operations. Just move ahead. Maybe after some time, when we have sufficiently distanced ourselves from that event, then we will be able to see more objectively, with increased clarity.
One of the biggest problems in life, is that when one thing goes wrong, we let many other things go wrong. Because we start living in the past, lamenting about the past, and we do not do anything in the present. If despite our best effort, things go wrong, we have to know that the principle of service is more important than the form of service. One particular form of service may not work out right, but still I’m a servant of Kṛṣṇa and I’ll remain a servant of Kṛṣṇa. That detachment does not mean being uncaring or apathetic about service to Kṛṣṇa. Detachment means that I don’t let the flow of my service to Kṛṣṇa be limited by any particular form. So if we can’t serve Kṛṣṇa in one form, we serve Kṛṣṇa in another form. When Śrīla Prabhupāda tried to start a Back to Godhead magazine, it did not work, because people were not interested in reading magazines. Then he switched over and started an organisation by the name of ‘The League of Devotees’. Then, however, he found that people were not co-operating. Then he started working with his God-brothers. Then when his God-brothers were not co-operating, he switched over again and started writing his own Bhāgavatam commentaries in English. Therefore, if things do not work out in one form of service, then we find out some other way and serve Kṛṣṇa. The point is, we are attached to Kṛṣṇa and to serving Kṛṣṇa but we are detached from the form of service.
Question 2: It is said to see everyone with equal vision but we cannot act with the same vision. What does that mean practically?
Answer: Prabhupāda gives the example that a soul in a tiger is also the same as the soul in a human being. We can embrace the soul in the human being, but we cannot embrace the soul in the tiger. The tiger will devour us. Therefore the body determines how we practically function. Our understanding is that everybody is a soul and everybody has a relationship with Kṛṣṇa and in a sense, if I am a servant of Kṛṣṇa, I’m a servant of everyone.
How I serve who, for that I have to use my intelligence. Some people who are very spiritually inclined, we give them time, attention and share our KC knowledge with them and they grow by that. Some other people however may just not be ready right now. They may either be too apathetic or too envious. Then we serve them from a distance by offering our prayers for them.
We see everyone as a soul, who needs Kṛṣṇa. However, we also have to note their present situation and see how best to serve them in their present situation. So equal vision does not necessarily mean equal action. We understand that everybody is a soul but because they are in different bodies or different bodily situations, how best I can help this soul come closer to Kṛṣṇa, will vary depending on the situation. The whole principle of varṇāśrama is that different people are engaged differently because from their bodily situation, what is their best engagement will differ.
The problem comes in today’s world when people want material equality. And that is not possible because different people have different talents. In communism they try to enforce this artificial equality, but what is said about communism? ‘That all people were equal and some people were more equal than others’. Therefore, we cannot have material equality. We need to have spiritual equality combined with material diversity which is acknowledge and engaged accordingly.
Question 3: If we have had some conflict with devotees, how can we move on from them with a clean slate?
Answer: Conflict cause scars in the heart. And the hurts cannot just be wished away. The hurt that have been caused remain there. If we however, dwell on the hurts, they grow. If we do not dwell on them, they are still there, but they won’t grow.
Basically whenever we face any unpalatable situation or conflict there are three courses of action one can take:
1. We can change ourselves and tolerate the situation
2. We change the situation or the other person
3. We walk away from the situation
There are many other specifics, but broadly there are these three alternatives. None of them right or wrong. The Pāṇḍavas themselves did these three things. Initially when Bhīma was poisoned and they were attempted to be burnt, Yudhiṣṭhira told them not to tell anyone and not make an issue of this. So, they tolerated it. Eventually, when Draupadī was dishonoured, the line was crossed. They had to fight and they fought. And then finally, when Kṛṣṇa departed from the world, the Pāṇḍavas were attacked and they just walked away.
Therefore, all these three options are viable courses of serving Kṛṣṇa. Which one will work in what situation has to be decided based on the time, place and circumstance. The most important thing is that we should not let anyone or anything interfere with our relationship with Kṛṣṇa. Sometimes, if we are too attached to someone, then that attachment can distract us from Kṛṣṇa. Then that person becomes the centre of our consciousness. We feel that there are enough people to love us and therefore we do not need Kṛṣṇa. This temptation which is distracting me Kṛṣṇa is easy to understand because the scriptures repeatedly warn us that attachment to sense objects distract us from Kṛṣṇa.
Aversion, also follows the similar route. When we are so averse to someone, then that person occupies consciousness so much and again Kṛṣṇa has no place in our heart. Even while chanting, we constantly remind ourselves of that person. Again, we have place them place in our consciousness and not just a place but centre stage. And we keep imagining that we are defeating that person over and over again.
The point here is that we are not Kṛṣṇa conscious. What we have to do is that we have to ensure that there is nothing that can come in the way of our relationship with Kṛṣṇa. If someone has hurt us terribly, that is so much obsessed in our consciousness, that we are unable to connect with Kṛṣṇa.
When we are hurt the most important thing is not to get evil. The most important thing is to get safe. What does that mean? Suppose I am in a travelling in a forested path. Suddenly when I look down, I see that a snake has bitten me and then I see that the snake is slithering away. If I respond by saying that how dare the snake bite me, and I start chasing the snake to find it and pound it to death. Now, even if I catch the snake and even if I pound it to death (which is unlikely), what is happening? The poison is spreading in my body. Even if I kill the snake, I will still die. So if a snake has bitten me, my first priority is not to get evil. It is to get safe. I have to get the poison out of my body. Apply a tonic, go to a doctor, make a cut there and get the poison out. Basically to get safe.
Now the snake is a threat and it has to be dealt with. Sometimes I myself may go and kill the snake and or I may inform someone else and they may do it. Any which way, that is not my first priority. My first priority is to get safe. So, like that when someone has done something in a conflict and we are hurt, our first response is usually to get back at them. And when we get back at them, we are filled with anger and aversion to them. And they dominate our consciousness. That negative feeling of anger and aversion is like a poison that will kill our consciousness.
So we need to get safe first. Make a distance. How that distance will work out, whether it is physical etc. needs to be individually determined. So, first get safe, get away from the situation, calm yourself down and get the poison out. Yes, that devotee may have done something very bad and needs to be corrected. But that correction need not be in the mood of revenge. This kind of behaviour will hurt other people and should not be repeated. We may tell some authorities or we may ourselves take some action, but that is at a later stage. So we recognise that I’m here to serve Kṛṣṇa and some people by their love, inspire us towards Kṛṣṇa. Sometimes, Kṛṣṇa uses some devotees to kick us towards him. That means some devotees behave so harshly and so terribly that we feel like we have no shelter other than Kṛṣṇa now.
In the Mahabharata, when Vidura was trying to repeatedly to persuade Dhṛtarāṣṭra to stop Duryodhana from antagonising the Pāṇḍavas, one time Duryodhana spoke very harshly to Vidura. When he spoke those terrible words to Vidura, it was a grievous insult.
Traditional Vedic culture was quite hierarchical. Even with peers, you would not publically find faults or insult them. So what to speak of insulting superiors? Duryodhana was one generation younger and Vidura a generation older and still Duryodhana spoke such harsh words to Vidura. What was more painful for Vidura was that Dhṛtarāṣṭra remained silent. Sometimes what happens is that the harsh words of our enemies do not hurt us as much as the silence of our friends.
Vidura could have been angry with Duryodhana and held grudges against Dhṛtarāṣṭra. Vidura however, saw this as an arrangement of the internal energy to detach himself. And he went on a pilgrimage and met Maitreya rishi and got enlightened. Duryodhana just spoke out of his envy, greed and arrogance but Vidura saw it as an arrangement of Kṛṣṇa.
Sometimes, some devotees may deal with us harshly out of their selfishness and ego. But we have to understand that devotees are also of this world and we can’t expect to be in an ideal society. Sometimes we wonder, “How can devotees do like this, aren’t devotees meant to be ideal?” If we look for an ideal community of devotees, we will be searching for the rest of eternity. Even if we find an ideal community, we will still be searching for eternity because we will not get entry into the ideal community. Because we are not ideal!
What happens is, sometimes Kṛṣṇa will pull us closer to Him through some devotees, their love and affection and sometimes Kṛṣṇa will push us towards him by the unpleasant ways with which some devotees deal with us. If we see, ultimately Kṛṣṇa does these things to bring us closer to him.
How to do deal with a particular devotee, in a particular conflict, is a specific detail. If I understand that I got attached to someone and that is distraction to Kṛṣṇa, I will fight that attachment. Similarly, if aversion to someone is coming in my way to Kṛṣṇa then I need to fight that aversion also. If some devotee has hurt us, and we don’t make it our life mission to get back at that devotee. Life is not meant to get back at others. Life is meant to get back to Kṛṣṇa. That is our primary purpose in life. Let’s put that incident aside. Kṛṣṇa is seeing and He knows what is happening and how to take care of the situation.
What happens is we have this tit-for-tat mentality, but relationship with devotees’ means there is third person involved and that is Kṛṣṇa. I will conclude with one example. Suppose there is a clothing store with some attenders. Customers walk in, the attenders show the clothes and customers take the clothes. There are also some fuzzy customers present. They look at 100 clothes but they don’t take even one. When some customers are known to be fuzzy, what happens is that when that customer comes all attenders start moving away.
If an attender has to attend that customer, the attender will get frustrated. These customers look at 100 clothes, find some small fault with all of them and end up not taking any. It is natural to be irritated. If the attender, however, thinks “My salary is not coming from this customer, it is coming from my boss. There are cameras here and my boss is watching. I might not make the sale but the boss will see that I am cool headed and know how to deal with tough customers. Even when they seem demanding, I remain courteous and know how to deal with them”, then this attender who did not make a sale may get promoted.
In the same way, sometimes in specific relationships or interactions, the other person or devotee may behave unreasonably. It may be natural to get irritated, but if we know Kṛṣṇa is watching and it is not important whether I set this devotee right or not. Why? Because my spiritual advancement is not coming from this devotee but it is coming from Kṛṣṇa. If we have that vision then even if the devotee is behaving unreasonably, we can still let go.
There is a story in the tenth canto regarding this. When Kṛṣṇa brought one pārijāta flower for Rukmiṇī from the heavenly planets, Satyabhāmā became agitated. Then, Kṛṣṇa brought a whole pārijāta tree for Satyabhāmā. Kṛṣṇa, then felt that Rukmiṇī will now get agitated. When He went to see Rukmiṇī she did not speak anything. Later on, Kṛṣṇa tells Rukmiṇī that because she did not protest or become angry, she won His heart. Therefore, externally it may seem Satyabhāmā won and Rukmiṇī lost, but Rukmiṇī won Kṛṣṇa’s heart because she did not complain.
Also, during Pṛthu Mahārāja’s pastime, we see he is performing a dharmic activity, a yajña. Indra was interfering and creating problems with the performance of the 100th yajña. Eventually, Brahmā came and told Pṛthu, “Just don’t do the hundredth sacrifice”. He had done 99 sacrifices. Doing 100 sacrifices is equivalent to a record. There was one Indian cricketer who was on 196 and his captain declared the innings. For one year, that cricketer did not talk with the captain. He told the captain, “If you want to tell me something tell it through someone else, I will not talk to you.” He held the grudge for so long and it became a big thing. Pṛthu could have argued that Indra was wrong and I am right. Pṛthu, however, understood that Indra is not mature in this situation. Indra was attached and he was wrong. To force somebody who is wrong to acknowledge their wrong will take so much effort and sometimes it is not worth it. Hence, Pṛthu decided not to do the 100th sacrifice and then Vishnu appeared. Normally Vishnu doesn’t personally appear during sacrifices or it is extremely rare that Vishnu appears. In a sense, what happened here is that Pṛthu failed in completing the 100 sacrifices, but although he failed he won because Lord Vishnu himself came there and blessed him. Sometimes by letting go of something we can please Kṛṣṇa because in the battle of egos, the winner is the bigger loser. If somebody wins in the battle of ego what happens is that your ego grows by that and that grown ego is only going to take them further away from Kṛṣṇa. In the battle of egos, the loser can well be the winner. Just give up the ego and the heart opens up to Kṛṣṇa.
However, having said this, when you actually go through the conflict, you burn with resentment and it is not at all easy to handle. However, by speaking about it, dwelling on it, we try to implement it. Few weeks ago one devotee in India did something that made me so angry and I was constantly thinking about it. After that, in a program, one person was asking me a question. At times, people ask questions not to gain knowledge but to show off their knowledge. Similarly, that question was very long and because we wanted to give time to people who are interested, I just shook off that person and moved on to the next question. It then struck me that, though this person is right next to me, I am not willing to waste my time on them because I want my time to be better used. Yet, there is this person in India who I am giving so much of my mental time. Why not let go? I have better things to do in my life than just resenting why someone did something. In the perspective of eternity, the conflicts that we have here are not going to matter at all.
Our struggles wouldn’t last forever but our relationship with Kṛṣṇa will last forever. Even if we win our conflicts that victory is not going to last forever, but our connection with Kṛṣṇa is going to last forever. Therefore, if we can focus on connecting with Kṛṣṇa, then by that service attitude we will know how best to deal with a particular conflict, whether to change ourselves, whether to work to change the other person or just walk away from the situation. The first step, however, is not to get even but to get away.
Transcription of summary
Today I spoke about how the Bhagavat Gita demonstrates the transformational power of love. Arjuna had lost his heart and was unable to fight, and he picked up the bow after hearing the Bhagavat Gita and started fighting. So, Arjuna’s gandiva bow represents our determination; the eyes are the way to illusion and the ears are the way to enlightenment.
Arjuna saw, and before seeing he was thinking that these are on the side of evil, but then he said that these are my people, and Arjuna’s conflict was, ‘Am I a ksatriya or am I a Kurunandana? As per my ksatriya dharma I should fight against the aggressors, and as per my kurunandana dharma my dharma is to protect my relatives. Now, what should I do?’
So, Arjuna’s question is universal. The Bhagavat is not just talking about whether Arjuna should fight or not? It asks a universal question; what is dharma? Who am I really and what is it that I should do so that I am true to myself? What is it that makes me… me; and answering these questions Krishna hardly talks about the war.
Bhagavat Gita is not a book of silence or violence. It is a book of transcendence, and Krishna tells that ‘We have many roles and we have many functional identities, but go beyond them to your fundamental identity as a soul and harmonize your functional identity with the fundamental identity.’ We talked about how Prabhupada did that with both Indians and Americans.
Then Krishna uses that knowledge to tell Arjuna, ‘While doing your duty of fighting against the Kaurava’s, don’t lament… because they are souls, and they are eternal.’, and then we learn concepts much better when we see them in action, rather than abstraction. So, therefore Arjuna asks, ‘Tell me symptoms of an enlightened person’, and Krishna tells that such enlightened people are peaceful. So, Krishna is talking in terms of internal peace, but Ajuna thinks in terms of external peace, and thus there is confusion, but then when Arjuna understands; then he asks, ‘Ok I know that I am the soul, but why can’t I act spiritually?’ Then Krishna tells, ‘Because of selfish desires within us; the selfish desires can be overcome by first controlling our senses and then using our intelligence to situate ourselves in the spiritual platform.’
How to get that intelligence? Through spiritual knowledge. How to get the spiritual knowledge? By various means centred on approaching the spiritual master; and for gaining any kind of knowledge faith is a pre-condition for knowledge. Even in science it needs the faith that our sense’s gives us a reliable picture of reality.
Then Bhagavat Gita takes us beyond the dialectic of action or renunciation to action with renunciation. So, The Gita is not against setting goals, it is against being attached to results.
Detachment is after we have done the work. If before the work we are negligent, then that is irresponsibility.
The fourth point is, to maximise our endeavour, to maximise the focus on the work, and while doing this to act in knowledge of our spiritual self; we see everyone spiritually from the highest to the lowest people, and we act with them appropriately according to what helps them to rise.
What prevents us from rising to spiritual consciousness is the illusion about bodily pleasure… that the pleasure is there, but it is tiny, it’s like getting a drop of water in a desert… doesn’t satisfy. So, instead of thinking of fighting to get freedom for bodily enjoyment, we can redefine freedom as not freedom for, but freedom from.
Freedom from the desires for bodily enjoyment will free us for pursuing higher happiness without distraction, and how that attraction for higher happiness can come? That we will discuss tomorrow when we talk about the object of love… that is Krishna.
Thank You very much. Hare Krishna…
(Transcription by Sadananda Krishnaprema Prabhu)