Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Bhagavad Gita Interpreted - Part Five

Arjuna said: 

—O Krishna, you commend the renunciation of actions, yet also their practice. Of these two, which is best?

Krishna said: 

—Whether by practice or renunciation of action, you will attain to the Most High. But of these, the practice of action excels renunciation.

—He is true to renunciation who relinquishes desire and hatred. He transcends the false opposites of renunciation and selfless action and is free from bondage.

—The ignorant distinguish selfless action from renunciation. But the wise know that in the harvest of the one, you taste the fruit of both.

—Whether in selfless action or in renunciation of action, you reach the same goal, because renunciation and selfless action are the same.

—Without selfless action, you cannot attain renunciation. With selfless action, one attains the Most High.

—In selfless action, you purify your soul, you command your senses, you are in harmony with all creatures. Although you act, action does not bind you.

—Whatever you do, whatever your senses experience, whether seeing or hearing, whether eating or drinking, whether asleep or awake, the Self does nothing. These senses act and react, but the purified Self transcends them.

—Offering all actions to the Most High, in action, you are not acted upon. Sin cannot stain you, as muddy water washes clean, leaving no residue on the leaf of the lotus.

—Detached from action even in the heart of action, you become pure. Only the body, the mind, the sense act, but the Self is disengaged from action.

—Renouncing the fruit of action, you are at peace. But the man who lacks discipline, acting on desire, desire enslaves him and action enchains him.

—The man who renounces all selfish action enthrones the Self within the fortress of nine gates. He neither acts nor enjoins action.

—The Most High transcends the actions of nature, but nature does not cease to act.

—Likewise the immortal Self does not perform action, though the body engages in action. The ignorant are confounded by this; they have confused the body with the Self. The mariner remains utterly still, though the vessel moves over the waters.

—The one who understands this is enlightened by the sun of knowledge, which illuminates for him the world's many shadows.

—Devoted to this, he returns no more into darkness, for his perception is pure.

—Devoted to this, he does not distinguish the Brahmin from the cow, the elephant from the dog, the prince from the prisoner.

—Devoted to this, he transcends the world and its creatures. His perception is pure and he knows the Most High.

—Knowing the Most High, he does not delight in pleasure; he is not aggrieved in displeasure. He is steady and rightly-guided.

—Knowing the Most High, his senses do not delude him; he transcends his senses. Happiness does not elude him; his happiness is within.

—Knowing the Most High, his happiness is perpetual.

—He disdains even the delights of sense, for they are distractions from true happiness.

—Delights of the sense pass away and are no more; therefore he does not cultivate them.

—He is truly happy who, while still alive, does not indulge desire or anger. When he attains this inner joy, when he is bathed in the shining light of knowledge, when he finds perpetual happiness, he becomes one with the Most High.

—He is one with the Most High who has defeated his doubts, has purified his Self, has mastered his senses and dedicates his work to all beings.

—He is one with the Most High who has shed desire and anger, has tamed his restless spirit, and recognizes his true Self.

—He views the outside world as it is, outside. He focuses his gaze within. He devotes his every breath to Me. He sees Me as I am, the beginning and end of all sacrifice, the ancient, changeless, everlasting Lord of worlds, the friend of all beings. When he sees Me, he is at peace.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Demon in the Lamp

In the looking glass he gazed into his own dark eyes. This was the fault of the Jews, who introduced into him self-doubt, guilt, a will to dissect himself, to open up his battered bleeding heart, to stare unhappy at the blood, black as ink, that gushed from it. Before the Hebrews what were men but beasts with speech, guiltless alike in joy and misery like children in animal innocence? But now he weighed his every word in the balance of good and evil and found the coin of good but a feather against the lead of wrongdoing and shameful dealing. Yes, this was their fault.

The Prayer of Chryse's Priest

And from the trembling lips of Chryse’s priest, from swollen mouth, from shattered crooked teeth black with blood, a curse rose up like smoke from sacrifice of longest bones and choicest cuts of flesh that no mortal man nor god could long ignore, unless such man or god were fully sated, and since no god is ever satisfied, the curse awash in oaths and promises soon reached Apollo’s ears and he heard all.

“O Lord of plague and wolf and dawning sun. O keeper of the day and setting sun. Hear me O god, if ever I was true and sacrificed a spotless lamb and burned its bones for you, to honor you, O Lord of sun and wolf and plague, see how your priest at Trojan hands has bled, how Greeks in sacrifice have died within your shrine before my eyes upon your altars bathed in blood of innocents who honored you and died at Trojan hands, along the blades of Trojan swords and bronze of Trojan spears. Pay these Trojans back as disrespect deserves, an arrow for each drop of blood they’ve spilt until their city burns.”

The Nirvana of Brahman

My original motive, when delving into the Bhagavad Gita, while researching my book The Temple of Hanuman, was to dissect those few verses in which Krishna refers to reincarnation. I had hoped, and I feel that I was moderately successful, to dispel the notion of reincarnation as a necessarily literal concept.

However, now as I delve more deeply into the Gita, I realize that its central message, which is detachment from the world and the things of the world, has nothing at all do with reincarnation, whether understood literally or figuratively. One can easily dispose of the notion of reincarnation entirely yet Krishna’s message is undiminished. Nirvana is not something achieved in death or in future lives; it is not a wistful hope. Krishna plainly describes its attainment by practice here and today. Like heaven, it is not a place you go when you die; it is within you now. To the disciplined mind, free from passion and desire, the Nirvana of Brahman is everywhere present at all times. Such detachment is the surest cure for the twin evils that beset the world: depravity and fanaticism. For this reason, the Gita deserves careful study not merely by Hindus but by anyone who takes belief in God seriously.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Bhagavad Gita Interpreted - Part Four

Krishna said,

—I first revealed these everlasting truths to the Sun in the heavens. He revealed them to Manu, the father of mankind. Over immemorial ages, these truths were taught to kings and saints. Yet now, after the revolution of years, these truths are lost and forgotten. Now I reveal my mystery to you, Arjuna because I love you.

Arjuna said,

—You were born after the Sun in the heavens, O Krishna. How did you reveal these truths at the beginning that has no beginning?

Krishna said,

—I have been born into many lives before, and so have you. But I remember every life, yet you remember none of them.

—I am the ancient, changeless, everlasting Lord of Worlds. From age to age I manifest myself in the worlds of My creation. I arise among men when they have lost their way, when they exult in their base inclinations. I arise among men to redeem the good and to overturn evil in age after age.

—The one who knows the truth of Me and recognizes Me, he vanquishes death and, leaving life behind, he reaches Me. His faith in Me washes clean his heart. Free from desire, he reaches Me. Seeking shelter in Me, holding fast to the cord of love for Me, whatever road he walks, he reaches Me. But those who desire the trappings of the world, mere trapping are their reward. In selfish action they receive this reward.

—At My command, the world became ordered. This action is Mine, though I transcend all actions. I am untainted by desire; therefore My action are untainted. Those who know this are themselves untainted by action. In past ages, those who sought freedom engaged in selfless action. Do likewise, and the truth shall set you free.

—I will reveal what is action and what is inaction. I will reveal what is selfless action, and what actions will bind you to the world. At the heart of action, you may find inaction; at the heart of inaction you may find action. In stillness one may act. In action, one may fail to act. Seeing this, the wise find freedom from action.

—The wise rid themselves of desire in action, and purify their actions in the fire of sacrifice. Sacrificing the fruits of action, a man becomes independent of action, neither expecting nor requiring reward. He relinquishes expectations of action, and therefore action relinquishes him. Whatever he possesses is sufficient; unbound by action, he is neither envious nor expectant. In the sacrifice of selfless action, he gains peace and self-mastery, and his labors are pure. In his actions, he sees only the Most High, which is the sacrifice and the full reward.

—Some sacrifice to the gods, but the wise sacrifice themselves to the Most High. In the fire of restraint, some offer the senses. In the fire of the senses, others offer what is sensed. Some surrender life in the fire of union with the Most High. Still others offer their austerities, their penance, their learning and contemplation. Some offer every exhalation and others every inhalation, ever sacrificing in every breath. And some offer every crumb of bread, except what they need to live.

—All of these offerings into the fire of the Most High burn away sin. On these many paths of sacrifice, they each find the straight way. Whatever sacrifice they offer—this is selfless action; this is sacred work. The one who does not sacrifice loses this world and the next. The one who sacrifices reaches Me.

—But the best of earthly sacrifice is the offering of sacred insight, for sacred insight is the sweet smoke of sacrifice. Go to those who offer sacred insight and honor them as a servant honors his master. Go to them and their insight will dispel your confusion. Through the eyes of wisdom you will see all things within yourself, and yourself within Me. The barque of wisdom may carry even the most evil among men across the sea of evil. The fire of wisdom consumes the pollution of action, as fire burns tinder to ashes. There is no better purifier than wisdom. Those with insight discover this and purify themselves of the pollution of action.

—Faithfully the wise restrain the senses, acquire insight, and on the straight path find peace in Me. But the unfaithful acquire no insight, become lost in the wilds of doubt and illusion, and finds peace neither in this world nor the next.

—By the practice of selfless action, the wise overcomes all doubt, and is free from bondage to the world. Act without attachment, and wield the sword of wisdom against doubt. Act without expectation. Rise up and fight, Arjuna.