OAPOY – Bhagavad Gita – 2
He proposes self renunciation. He proposes withdrawal from the world. He proposes surrender and self nihilist. And then in a moment of great affliction in despair, his mind, he says, confused over what is Dharma. He asks:
What is better, pray tell me for sure.
He wants a certainty. He wants a clarity,
pray guide me. Your student asks for your help.
Alas Arjuna offers Krishna an opening. He assumes the guise of the disciple, the seeker, and he wishes to dispel this sorro that desiccates his senses, even as he sweats and weeps and turns to this indulgent experience, this desire. It is as if he is on earth without rivals or even a reigning in heaven. He says he turns to Krishna and proclaims.
I will not fight
even as he asks his advice, he falls silent.
In truly one of the most famous moments in all of the great epic Krishna replies with a hint of a smile, to the one who sat for long between the two armies. With the hint of a smile, as if Krishna knows now that Arjuna has vulnerability, his witnessing of his own state and his welcoming of this advice provides for Arjuna a new sense of empowerment in that vulnerability, and one where now Krishna can explore more deeply albeit with a stern and admonishing voice and a wedge into origin as heart, a way to address this most complex issue of identity and its relationship to the Dharma, to our necessary social role and to the prospects of the cultivation of our own inner experience. These of course are the two great issues raised at the opening of the text for it is of course, a story of Dharma, a story of the necessary social roles and contracts that we as human beings must fulfill for society. for culture to flourish. The Gita is an invitation to contemplate that way in which we serve something far greater than ourselves, even as our Arjuna’s personal breakdown invites, the more direct and contemplative experience of just what it means to be a human being of individual conscience.
Krishna’s immediate response is hardly sympathetic to Arjun his concerns. He tells him that he sorrows over those. he should not be sorry for even as he speaks to sage issues, what he fails to understand is that the sages understand the cyclical and recursive nature of existence itself. That truly what goes around will come around again. And every person passes through these trials and tribulations of a life and then pass again to death and rebirth. And that through this process, one need not be confused about life or death. We are part of that grand circle, that cycle and in this recursive existence, in which we recreate ourselves in every possible moment, there is a possibility of something far greater, so long as we do not become captive of the limited mortal and conditioned terms of our ordinary existence. Krishna turns rather quickly and tells large enough that it is the senses, it’s this feeling of feeling itself, that he is allowed to overwhelm him, that he must address these experiences of volatility. He must endure them. They are a part of our human nature.
We can’t even begin to think about who and what we truly are unless we address this condition of our embodiment. It isn’t once a rare gift, and yet this consciousness holds within it the prospect of a deeper and more profound reality. Krishna tells us that concealed within us, there is an eternal experience. There is an immortal presence that we fail to register and experience this deeper reality of ourselves first and foremost, because we allow ourselves to become captive of these cycles of emotional volatility. We allow as it were the senses to overcome the capacities of the heart and the mind to reach into our deeper nature.
Krishna begins to suggest an ontology and understanding of the universe that from these first opening remarks, bears some kind of interesting complimentarity to Patanjali’s dualistic, understanding of Prakriti and Purusha. And as we’re going to see throughout the Gita, the categories of the material and the spiritual, the cyclical and conditional terms of the Prakritic reality in contrast to the unconditional and inviolate terms of the Perusha, this basic contrast, this basic premise that arises in Sankhya-yoga traditions is going to be explained in many ways by Krishna, but it’s going to be asserted as a kind of fundamental tenant. Now to this older one might say, or to this essential Sankhya yoga tradition of enumerating the categories of existence and engaging deeply through the paradigm of Prakriti and Purusha, matter and spirit, Krishna is going to introduce an entirely new vision of reality. One of course, that is going to include him, the divine, the Lord, as having a third feature, a distinctive role to play in a world that is fundamentally grounded in this distinction between the cyclical, recursive, conditional and mortal terms of a material reality that constantly generates and regenerates itself, and the inviolate presence of spirit, the true nature of the eternal self, which is without change and unconditionally present.
As Krishna so famously says
It is never born,
nor does it die
nor once did it, is
will it ever not be
unborn, unending, eternal, and ancient
It is not killed when the body is killed
So very beautiful these lines in Sanskrit, so profound and here Krishna asserts from the very outset the eternality of being, whether it is changeable and conditioned, whether it is immortal. And invialet reality is an endless process of expansive recursive city. It folds back upon itself with the instruction that it shall ever become more of itself. Arjuna has seen the world only through the lens of life or death as if, when the station itself where the terms of existence. This is Krishna’s first admonition that Arjuna open up to this deeper possibility that he has made a foundational error, a mistake about the very nature of himself and of those he sees. And if everything around him, that he is part of a great process of being, he is not merely a limited being held captive in the arrow of time.
Such as self Krishna asserts here, the very beginning of the text that
It cannot be cut or burned
wetted or parched.
It is eternal, ubiquitous, stable unmoving.
It lasts forever, and it is un-manifest beyond thought,
Such a being is beyond all the terms of ordinary transformation. And if you know him as such, you have no cause for grief, Arjuna is invited to know this feature of himself to know that we all participate in this great, grand eternality of being that our manifestation is part of a greater understanding that the unmanifest holds us ever in it’s embraced as part of that process of eternity. If eternality is now no longer at stake, then perhaps Krishna can empower Arjuna into what it, what it might mean to live in this world. In an interesting way. I think Krishna’s teaching is not so much about the nature of the eternal and our appeal to eternity, but rather to take this idea of the unmanifest immortal and unconditioned aspect of reality and assert, it asserted in such a way that it becomes good really off the table, no longer the great concern that yoga, once again, turns back to the Prakritic world, not so that we might conquer the Prakritic world and realize our spiritual and eternal nature has Patanjali proposed, but rather because by asserting our spiritual and eternal nature, there is, as it were nothing left about it that we need in some sense to adjust, to change, that, that what’s really at stake is how we are going to live in this world because once we understand the eternal nature of the immortal presence within all beings, we are, as it were held in that forever embrace.
It’s time to make yoga about what it means to live in the world. Now granted, that’s an exceptional interpretation. The vast majority of Advaita Vedantin’s and others are going to tell us that Krishna’s essential point is to teach Arjuna of the nature of the eternal.
That Arjuna does not know what it means to be an immortal being, but it seems to me that our Arjuna deeply reared in the vision of his culture understands this great process of the immortal, much less the presence of that immortal self within him. Arjuna is deeply invested in that study of Upanishad, the great ancient teachings about the nature of the immortal. Perhaps the Gita is much less than an invitation to understand the immortals nature. then to understand that because we have an immortal nature, we can act in the world in a radically different way. We can turn our attentions to this gift of life, precisely because the immortal is our nature.
For those born death is assured
and birth is assured also for those who die,
there is no cause for grief,
if the matter is inevitable,
This is just one of the many instances in which Krishna makes this essential point. We become capable of yoga when we receive the life we have been offered. when we stop arguing with the necessary and the inevitable. There’s nothing about our inevitable state that is grief worthy in Krishna’s argument, for all beings face this same end. And all of us are brought back into that internal embrace.
As I’ve said to you many times, the Gita is summarized in that glib way, pay attention, stop complaining.
And here at Krishna alerts Arjuna that the inevitable and the necessary is nothing to complain about. That we are always held in the eternal. And yet there is nothing more we need to do about this condition of life and death, other than learn to live more fully within these terms of mortal existence. So Krishna’s first retort to Argentina deals directly with the nature of reality. Receive the kind of life that life itself has offered you and know that there is within this expansive universe of possibility of eternal return. Krishna quickly moves on then to Arjuna’s pride as a warrior to his claim upon the immortal in the form of his own fame in the form of his own reputation.
Or suppose you will not engage in this lawful war
then give up your law and honor, and incur guilt.
You will act like a coward and creatures will tell
of your undying shame.
And for one who has been honored,
dishonor is worse than death,
Truly Krishna steps fully into the Warrior’s code that dishonor is worse than death. Here. We find in Mahabharata an idea as ancient as the Greeks and shared across these great Indo European mythologies, that it is the place of the warrior and the Baron to be remembered and how he will be remembered will count for all. This is also in a certain way, a kind of veiled threat Krishna has deferred. he has submitted to becoming Arjun as SUTA his chariots here. And as his charioteer, the rules of war will leave him a survivor, even if Arjuna dies, but the word suit, it means not only cherry, a tear for whom this fame and renown will not redound for that belongs to the warrior rather than to the charioteer who survives the war. But the word charioteer the word suitor also means Bard. The one who tells the story. And so Krishna is telling Arjuna, should he fail to live up to this honorable discharge, then he will return and describe his fate. He will incur the guilt and shame that Krishna himself will bestow upon him in this great loss of reputation.
It is the warriors honor, his claim upon Yashas fame, that renown, that leaves him in the great, good reputation of those immortal who share his company. This is Krishna’s second great appeal.
If Arjuna dies, he will go to heaven. If he triumphs, he will enjoy the earth. This idea of enjoying the spoils of victory is an important claim upon the warrior for the warriors Yashas. The warriors fame is complimented by the warriors Artha that sense of purpose of goal, of meaning, but also of prosperity of turning back into a world worth living in and enjoying its material opportunities. It’s material value. This is not a text that is going to devalue the Warrior’s claim upon the spoils of life that is loving life for what exactly it does have to offer. For all of the ways in which the Gita is read, essentially as an ascetics text, a text of dissociation and disapprobation about the limited and mortal conditioned terms of the everyday world. Krishna’s first appeal is hardly to that sense that life in the world is to be transcended or exempted. Krishna’s invitation is that winning this worthwhile victory, sustaining a world of Dharma, leaves us with a world quite worth living in one in, which matters of reputation and matters of material prosperity, count for something that cannot be dismissed.
But one must approach the entirety of this matter with what Krishna calls, the great singleness of purpose, that if we turn in all directions attempting to accomplish all things at once, we will fail. We must Krishna says yoke ourselves. And now Krishna begins that famous conversation in which she distinguishes as it were, how we feel about the world. The great sense of being in a spiritual being in theory, to being a spiritual being in practice, how are we going to engage? How are we going to focus? And as Krishna says, how are we going to pay attention to this kind of life we’ve been given, The degree to which we can literally pay attention, focus our minds and offer our hearts with that singleness of purpose, this Krishna contends is the source of our success
Early on here,Krishna takes an interesting swipe at the old traditions of the vaidikas and the tradition of the yajna of the great Vedic ritual. And he claims that the Brahmins of the Vedic ritual have lost their way because they no longer know how to arrive at that openness of mind, that clarity of purpose, that singleness of purpose that he’s talking about here, because they’ve filled themselves with nothing more than the ephemeral and material concerns of their ritual sacrifice. They have lowered the stakes and reduced the great power of the yajna from its ability to awaken and evoke the experience of the fullness of possibilities, to the limited choices that they make to the limited sense of desires that the ritual is specified to create.
All throughout the Gita Krishna is going to speak in two very different ways about the ancient tradition of the vaidikas and the old traditions of the ritual sacrifice. On the one hand, he’s going to become extremely critical and direct his comments specifically at the ritualist interpretation of the sacrifice, which we will turn to in a moment. And in general, Krishna is going to tell us that that the Brahmans of the sacrifice have lost their way because they have misunderstood the great purpose of the sacrifice, which is evocative and, and inclusive of this singularity of openness, for the very limited and material ends that they designate as its final goals.
He proclaims the domain of the Vedas to be the world of the three Gunas. And in that sense, uh, quite a limited purview.
Rather, he suggests that in yoga, we transcend that limited domain that plays of, of mere material success. And we step into that greater expansive possibility of this singleness of purpose that he’s going to define as yoga.
In the second chapter in verse 47, Krishna proclaims, the beginning of that project that comes to be known as karma yoga.
Your entitlement is only to the right,
and never at all to its fruits,
be not motivated by the fruits of the acts,
but also do not purposely seek to avoid
acting abandoned self-interest Arjuna
And perform the acts while applying this singleness of mind
remain equitable and success and failure
for such an equitability is called an application
He enjoins Arjuna to seek shelter in this single-mindedness for
pitiful or those who are motivated by the outcomes, by the fruits.
The first important concept here is of course, the notion of adhikara, the notion of our entitlement, rather like this translation in van Beutenan. And because we are literally entitled, we are given certain titles, the word adhikara means with respect to actions, actions with respect to a purpose. So what can we do? What are we qualified for? What capacities and abilities do we possess? How are we to understand who we are in terms of our gifts and abilities to act? This is what is meant by adhikara. Sometimes this term is translated studentship, but what are we qualified to study? Because we have a certain ability. The adhikara requires us to consider our native and innate abilities, our nature, our capacity, how we were born in this embodied life, ones adhikara includes things like gender and age and the conditions in terms of our, of our physical beings, our adhikara simply means the thing that we are qualified to do, because that’s who we really are. And because we possess those certain abilities and capacities.
We should turn our adhikara, Krishna says, only to our acts, to the right, and not at all to their results. This has always been an important statement, especially for Vedanta philosophers, who have told us that the outcomes of actions are not nearly as important as our intentionality, much less our singleness of purpose. And that we must act purely out of the principle of the actions own inherent worth, its own merit, that there is something intrinsic or innately important about the action and that when we act out of this purity of principle, we will be unconcerned with those results because we will have acted in the integrity and in the purposefulness of that singularity of mind, that singularity of Dharma.
Is Krishna and really commending the idea that we should act without concern for the results, he tells us not to be motivated by the fruits of our actions, by our results. He tells us to act deeply in the integrity of principle and not confine ourselves to the mere results as the measure of success or failure. And yet, clearly he seems to care about the outcomes of one’s actions. And so while we may not be motivated by the fruits of our actions, clearly Krishna has in mind the idea that we must, in some sense, care about the outcomes, whether we succeed or fail, we will receive those outcomes. Those outcomes are invariably going to happen.
Part of what I think Krishna might be suggesting to us is that without this singleness of purpose, this concentrated focus on the act itself, we stand really no chance of arriving at anything like a result that would be considered successful or salutary or one that we wanted, that we might not be motivated by the outcomes, but rather by our principal is yet another way of saying when we pay attention to the act, then those outcomes that we receive are going to reside in a place in our minds and our hearts with a greater sense of equanimity for that outcome, for that result. Abandoning self-interest is certainly not the same as abandoning all interest. What Krishna seems to suggest is that when we act solely for our own interests, we fail to consider that our actions implicate and involve the greater sense of Self. That when we find ourselves acting solely out of our own interests, we fail to consider how those realities greater than ourselves are impacted and affected by the things we do.
And equanimity and success or failure is simply a way of receiving that outcome that we cannot fundamentally control or manipulate merely by our singleness of purpose or by attending to our adhikara. Krishna seems to suggest that if we pay attention, we may likely receive a result. But if we have our eyes focused on the prize, then there seems to be no chance to make this relationship of cause and effect this relationship of action and outcome salutary, or to anyone’s benefit much less our own. He certainly wants to tell us that if we look only to our own interests and don’t look to an interest greater than ourselves, certainly no action of that sort will prove in any way, a fundamentally successful.
Karma always suggests the power of action. The word karma originally referred to the process of ritual. The process of doing this to get that karma has always meant the relationship between cause and effect. That efficacious idea is the process of karma becoming empowerment. When we lose our focus, our singleness of purpose on the act, and instead turn to the effect, Krishna says, we lose that deep connection to how karma might empower us instead become victimized by looking forward to that resolve and failing to appreciate and to focus, to bring that condition of concentration, what he calls again, that singleness of purpose to the meaning of action itself.
One is fundamentally set free from the fruits that follow upon acts and even the bondage of rebirth Krishna says, when we act with this singleness of purpose, he literally says, armed with this singleness of purpose, another sort of marshal appeal to Arjuna’s warrior nature. When one is unshaken, he says, with the purposes of such a revealed truth about, well, this is what must be done. These are the necessary and inevitable terms of our existence receive those, and then he says, literally, immobile in concentration, a kind of phrase that again, hearkens back to Patanjali’s capacity to bring Samadhi the equanimity of consciousness with complete purposeful focus to that place where one then can arrive at that meaningful kind of action that achieves what Krishna calls this achievement, this singleness of purpose in the achievement of an application. There what Krishna really I think is suggesting is this idea that as we attend to the action, we will be able to receive the results. And those results will certainly benefit more than ourselves. When we bring the wholeness of our being to that relationship of cause and effect. If we go looking to the effects, we can mistake the real reason for things, we can mistake the symptoms for the true cause. And so to establish karma in terms of the empowerment of the relationship between cause and effect, Krishna is going to tell us two important things:
First attend, look clearly at the cause. Look clearly at the action itself without a concern for the result, because it’s a bit like keeping your eye on the ball. If you’re looking at the stands, if you’re looking at, at, at the goal, you won’t hit the ball at all.
And second Krishna commends. The idea that with this attention to our focus, we will in fact, be able to receive whatever kind of outcome appears before us, because we will have a kind of equanimity, a certain principled sense that we applied ourselves so fully and that whatever outcome we arrive at, we will be able to receive that with a certain kind of equitability, a certain sense that we gave it our all, and that, in that sense, we won’t create a sense of guilt or failure because we were looking at everything except what we were truly meant to be doing.