Friday, December 28, 2012

The Bhagavad Gita Interpreted - Part 18

Arjuna said: 

—Tell me, Krishna, the nature of abjuring action and renunciation, and the difference between them. 

Krishna said: 

—To abandon action that is driven by desire, this is abjuring action. To abandon the fruit of every act, this is renunciation. 

—Because all action is driven by desire, the one who relinquishes action abandons all action. This is relinquishment. Yet sacrifice, offering, and self-discipline must not be abandoned. The one who renounces the fruit of all action does not abjure all action, but instead abandons the fruit of all action. This is renunciation. 

—Hear from Me the nature of renunciation. One must perform sacrifice, offering, and self-discipline. They are your duty; they are the road to purification. This is my decree. Practice sacrifice, offering, and self-discipline, but without expectation of reward and without attachment to their fruits. It is error to abjure such action. 

—He descends into the darkness of ignorance and negligence if he abjures these actions out of misunderstanding. He is drawn to the fire of restless desire if he abjures these actions to avoid hardship and displeasure. 

—But he ascends to the light of goodness if he practices renunciation without expectation of reward, without attachment, untroubled by doubt, without thought of pleasure, displeasure, ease or difficulty. He practices renunciation because it is his duty and accords to My law. He cannot abjure all action. His very existence requires action; but he renounces the fruits of action. 

—The fruit of action may be pleasing or displeasing or both. He who does not renounce the fruits of action, is bound by these forms. He who renounces the fruits of action, he is free of their bondage forever. 

—To be free forever, understand action by reflecting on the five causes of all action—the body, the illusion of self, perception of sense and mind, the means and method of action, and divine decree. Whatever action he undertakes, whether of body, of speech, of mind, whether right or wrong, these are the five causes of action. 

—If he sees himself as the single cause of action, he is deluded and in error. If his love of self does not mislead him, if he understands, he kills but cannot kill, nor is he bound to destruction even if he destroys all the worlds. 

—Within the seed of action, there is knowledge, the knower, and the known. When reaped, there is the one who acts, the acting, and the action itself. These take three forms in three threads of light, fire, and darkness. 

—The one who looks upon My creation and sees the unity of it, his knowledge ascends to the light of goodness. The one who perceives only the diversity of My creation, his knowledge is consumed in the fire of restless desire. The one who sees only a single form of My creation, to the neglect and exclusion of all other forms, his knowledge descends into the darkness of ignorance and negligence. 

—Action undertaken without expectation of reward, because it is a duty, untainted by love or hatred, ascends to the light of goodness. Action praticed for selfish gain, which is a hated burden, or to satisfy some appetite is consumed in the fire of restless desire. Action performed in confusion, without thought of consequence, which destroys or causes harm, descends into the darkness of ignorance and negligence. 

—The one who acts ascends to the light of goodness when he is free from self-interest and immodesty, when he is strong and enterprising, when he is detached from victory and defeat. The one who acts burns in the fire of restless desire when his appetites enslave him, when he is covetous and violent, when his passions overcome him. The one who acts descends into the darkness of ignorance and negligence when he lacks discipline, when he is thoughtless and indolent, when he is procrastinating, when he is filled with malice, self-doubt, or self-pity. 

—Hear also the threefold nature of intelligence and constancy. Intelligence shines light of goodness when understanding when to act and when to refrain from action, how to know a duty and what is not, what causes fear and what does not, what is bondage and what is freedom from bondage. Intelligence burns in the fire of restless desire when misunderstanding what is lawful and what is not, what is a duty and what is not. Intelligence descends into the darkness of ignorance and negligence when choosing what is wrong for what is right, and espousing what is false for what is true. 

—Constancy shines in the light of goodness when it sustains the mind, the breath, and the senses in devotion and contemplation. But the constancy consumed in the fire of restless desire is tainted by appetite and expectation of reward. And the constancy descending into the darkness of ignorance and negligence, is mindless indolence, fear, self-pity, despondence, and drunkenness. 

—Likewise, happiness takes three forms. In the light of goodness, his cup of sorrows transforms into ambrosial waters. In the fire or restless desire, his cup of delight becomes a burning poison. And in the darkness of ignorance and negligence, his clouded cup is sleep, indolence, and forgetful distraction. 

—Nowhere in the heavens or on earth will you find a creature not bound by this light, this fire, this darkness. Whether a scholar, or a warrior, a tradesman or a servant, his actions are governed by these three threads. 

—Peace and restraint, austerity and purity, patient forgiveness and honesty, insight, wisdom, and faithfulness are the natural works of the scholar. Heroism and vigor, character and cleverness, fearlessness, generosity and noble exertion are the natural works of the warrior. Husbandry, herding, farming, and trade are the natural works of the commoner; and service, the natural work of the servant. 

—In devotion, finding joy in his work, he attains perfection. Through the effort he exerts, he pays homage to the One Whose work is the cosmos. When his work and his worship are performed with the same steadiness and devotion, they are indistinguishable one from the other. Performing his duty imperfectly is superior to performing another’s, however well carried out. Steadfast in his own duty, refusing to abandon it even when his work is imperfect, he bears no blame and is not in error, for all work is touched by its flaws, as fire is by its smoke. If he renounces the fruit of his action, if he rejects the lures of appetite and the darkness of negligence, his renunciation is perfect and, even in the midst of action, action does not bind him. 

—In this perfection, he reaches the Most High, which is the best end of all knowledge, and is the highest knowledge. His heart made pure, he is self restrained. He renounces sense and all objects of sense. He seeks seclusion. He eats sparingly,is disciplined in voice, in body, and in mind. He is devoted to meditation and cherishes detachment. He is unfettered by selfishness and unseduced by power, by lust, by anger, by possession, or by greed. He is serene. He reaches the Most High. 

—Here he recognizes Me as I am. He knows My greatness. Here, in this perfect knowledge, he becomes one with Me. Even conducting his life, performing his work, I am his shelter and, through My grace, he comes to Me, to his eternal home. 

—Sacrifice every word, every thought to Me. Surrender every act, and every fruit of every act to Me. Offer your love and devotion to Me and I will dispel your sorrow, solve your difficulties, and remove your afflictions. But if you are selfish, if you turn aside from this counsel, you will be lost and destroyed. If you are stubborn and refuse to fight, you will still succumb to your own nature. You will fight, even if now you say you will not. The Lord of all is within all hearts, and no creature can resist His decree or thwart His will. Those who stand aloof still bend to His command. Enter My shelter without doubt or hesitation. Find peace in Him, even as you fight, and come to your eternal home, which is eternal and untroubled peace. 

—Meditate upon these words, which I have revealed to you. Then act as you wish to act. But now I will speak of My greatest mystery, because I love you. In your adoration, sacrifice all duty, abandon all things and instead come to Me, loving Me alone, above and beyond all that is, or was, or ever will be. Come to Me untroubled. In My shelter, no evil can reach you. 

—Do not reveal My mystery to those who make no offering, who are not devoted to Me, who ignore My teachings or disbelieve in Me. But reveal My truth and My way to those who seek Me. Then you are My devoted friend, and without doubt you will come to Me. Reveal My truth and My way. There is no greater service to Me than this, and no other will be more dear to Me. 

—Remember all that I have said, and commit My words to memory. Make this your sacrifice of knowledge. And the one who believes and trusts in My words will escape the bondage of life and death and will attain the worlds of joy and righteousness. 

—Have you heard what I say? Do you understand what I have revealed? Or do you remain in the darkness of your delusion? 

Arjuna said: 

—You have dispelled the darkness. My delusion is destroyed. Through Your grace, I have recovered my senses and You have banished my doubts. I will act as You have bidden me to act. 

And, at once, Arjuna took up his bow and his arrows. He lifted the conch shell to his mouth and sounded the signal to battle. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012


In Vraj, while Krishna was still young, each year the people sacrificed to Indra, the king of gods. For the festival, the gopis set aside their household duties to decorate their homes in bright colors, to place garlands on friends, husbands, sons, and brothers. The men likewise put aside their work except to prepare sacrifices to Indra, to vow to Indra, to recite his praises and stories, calling upon his favor, propitiating him for his blessings, for they considered him the best of the gods. 

Krishna asked his father, Nanda, “To whom are these vows and sacrifices offered? To whom do these praises and prayers belong?” 

His father said, “To Indra.” 

Krishna asked, “Is this our tradition, or is there deliberate thought that this celebration brings benefit from another than God, the Most High?” 

Nanda answered, “This is our tradition, because the people consider Indra the chief of gods and seek his favor and his protection.” 

Krishna said, “If Indra is the chief of celestials, he isn't the creator, the sustainer, nor the destroyer of the universe. To the Most High alone, Creator, Sustainer, Destroyer, is sacrifice owed or ever deserved. Is Indra self-subsisting? Is he all-knowing? Is he all-powerful?” 

Nanda said, “We've made this sacrifice every year, and our people in turn have enjoyed good fortune.” 

Krishna said, “What does Indra have to do with good fortune? How will Indra favor you, or bless you, curse you or chastise you when your actions alone confer true favor and blessing, true cursing or chastisement? If you're afraid, will Indra be your shelter? Indra is powerful among creatures, but he's still but a creature, neither more nor less a creation than the least of the gopas. Don't seek shelter in one who himself is in need of shelter.” 

When Nanda told the people what Krishna had said, they abandoned their sacrifice to Indra, and instead celebrated and sacrificed to God, the Most High. Krishna directed that they pray in the direction of Mount Govardhan. The women prepared food and drink, and the men lit sacrificial fires and chanted from scriptures. Krishna said, “Celebrate in this fashion, and God, the Most High, will be pleased with you, for He is the best of shelters.” 

In the days following the sacrifice and celebration, dark clouds overshadowed Vraj and a terrible storm rained hail upon the village, lit the skies with lightening, and shook the earth with thunder. The land flooded, and the air become cold, tormenting the people of Vraj and their herds. The gopis and the gopas came to Krishna and said, “We've angered Indra by abandoning our sacrifice to him, and he has come to destroy us. This storm is his weapon, and he'll make sacrifice of us for our disobedience.” 

Krishna said, “Did you think that you would say, ‘We believe,’ and not be put to test? Accept Me alone as your shelter and I will relieve you of this torment.” 

The people said, “We believe and come to You for shelter.” 

Krishna then lifted Mount Govardhan above the earth. Amazed at Krishna’s miracle, the people and their herds took shelter beneath its shadow, protected from cold and storm. At last, when the rain ceased, and floods ebbed, and the sun shone and the land was again fair and green, they came from beneath the mountain, and Krishna set it down again. Krishna said to them, “Though you've sacrificed to gods, and enjoyed good fortune, remember that whatever you've received came from My hand alone.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Prince of the Yadavas

After the defeat of the Kauravas in eighteen days of warfare on the field of Kurukshetra, the ancient kingdom of the Yadavas destroyed itself in civil war. The princes, descended from Yadu, turned each against the other and neither Krishna nor Balarama intervened. Sorrowfully, Balarama yielded up his spirit and Krishna went into forest exile, leaving his kingdom utterly ruined.

One day, while sleeping in the forest, a hunter mistook him for a deer and struck Krishna with an arrow. When realizing what he'd done, the hunter begged Krishna’s forgiveness. Krishna calmed him, as his life ebbed, and said, “This crime doesn’t fall on you. My mortal life has reached its term, and this is as it should be. Here, as in the forests of Vrindivana, as in Radha’s embrace, I’ve known many wonders. Free your mind of this, and of the question you bear.”

The hunter said, “O Krishna, how has this happened, to die, a wounded prince mistaken for an animal? Were you unable to spare your kingdom, to live and die a prince of Yadavas? Or, when Gandhari cursed you for your destruction of her son’s kingdom, was that curse too powerful to overcome, the result of your action?”

Krishna answered, “The dynasty in which I was born, the kingdom in which I was prince, has no more substance now than before. Those nearest to me imagined that physical proximity to me was alone sufficient. Even the gopis, those simple blessed girls, knew better. If those nearest to me yield to their corrupt inclinations, why wonder that their corruption consumes them? Seeking shelter in me, they might have been spared. But between these two, their terrible power and the shelter of my love, they relied on the first and disposed of the second.

“Imagine if Radha had abandoned me for another. What would her end have been? Or if Arjuna had chosen my armies rather than preferring me? What would have become of him? I give all creatures a choice. I reveal which choice is the best of choices. But it is always your choice to make or to refuse.”

With these words, Krishna yielded up his mortal life.

Draupadi's Honor

King Duryodhana, owing to his greed and unquenchable envy, despised his cousins, the Pandavas, and wished to deprive them of that half of the kingdom which was their right. Because he feared open conflict with the Pandavas, he devised a strategy to take from Yudishtira, the eldest of the Pandavas, and his four brothers Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva, all that they possessed. Duryodhana invited the Pandavas to his palace, to play at dice, and to stake such valuables as they wished.

The Pandavas accepted this invitation. But Krishna, knowing that Duryodhana planned to cheat at this game, said to Duryodhana’s advisors and elders, “Let the game proceed as Duryodhana directs it. Don't intervene, nor even speak a word of censure, whatever may occur.”

When Yudishtira and his brothers arrived, Duryodhana welcomed them with false flattery, offering them food and drink. Duryodhana, surrounded by his court, lay the game out before the Pandavas, described the rules with which all were aware, and asked Yudishtira what he would stake.

During each game in turn, Yudishtira staked his possessions—pearls and diamonds, livestock and servants, and at last the entirety of his kingdom. And in each turn, Duryodhana cheated and won. Exasperated, Yudishtira then staked his brothers one by one. And one by one, Duryodhana won them. Finally, Yudishitra staked his own freedom, and lost this as well.

Mocking, Duryodhana said, “Cousin, have you nothing left to stake? Have I won all that you possessed? I think you still possess something precious. We'll play one more round. Wager Draupadi, your wife. Surely, now your luck will change.”

Yudishtira agreed, and staked Draupadi. But Duryodhana cheated again, and the wager was lost. Duryodhana called to his brother Dushasana, saying, “Go fetch the beautiful Draupadi. Bring her here before us.”

Dushasana found Draupadi in her chambers. He said, “Come with me. Your husband has staked his kingdom, and his brothers, even himself, and lost all. At last he staked your freedom, and lost that as well. Come with me, and I'll take you to your new master, and you'll enter my brother’s service.”

Draupadi refused, saying, “I won’t go. Duryodhana has cheated, and I won’t go. Surely, Yudishtira cannot wager me when he already lost himself. Once he lost his own freedom, he cannot wager mine.”

Dushasana ignored these protests and grasped Draupadi by her long black hair. He dragged her before Duryodhana, in full view of the Pandavas and Duryodhana’s court.

Duryodhana said, “We’ve won you fairly, Draupadi. Since now you’re my servant, you must strip as all my servants must.”

Draupadi refused, saying, “I won’t. You've cheated. Where is your honor? Surely, Yudishtira cannot wager me when he already lost himself. Once he lost his own freedom, he cannot wager mine.”

Duryodhana said, “You ask after my honor? Whore, you’ve married five men at once. You have no freedom when your five husbands have lost their own.” Duryodhana then called to his brother Dushasana, “Strip this harlot and don’t stop until she kneels naked before us. If she shares herself with five men, why not with fifty?”

As Dushasana stepped forward in obedience, Draupadi dropped to her knees in despair, her face in her hands. And as Dushasana took hold of her robes, she called out, “O Krishna. O prince of Yadus, beloved of the daughters of Vraj, mischievous child, loving friend, dearest of Radha in the forests of Vrindavana. O remover of sin, destroyer of affliction, shelter of your lovers, spare me this shame. Draw me out of these black waters, out of the sea of this crime against me. O Krishna, Most High, Creator of the universe, spare me from their taunts and their mocking laughter. O Krishna, you know the truth of these words, and the justice of my prayer.”

Krishna heard Draupadi’s fervent prayer. Unseen by all, he stood in Duryodhana’s hall and, as quickly as Dushasana removed her robes, Krishna replaced them. Again and again Dushasana attempted to strip Draupadi, but at no point was she disrobed, even as he held in his arms yard after yard of saffron-colored cloth.

As Draupadi continued her prayer, lifting her hands to the heavens, her face streaked with grateful tears, Krishna said, “O chaste one. Never think I am far from your distress. If the wicked oppress you, I have made abasement the garment of glory, and afflication the adornment of my temple. If evil befalls you, know that those who commit evil are fully revealed to themselves, stripped of their honor. Though they struggle to expose you, they expose only themselves. Know this ancient truth—those moved by greed and envy come to the gates of Hell, where they testify against themselves.”

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Song of Radha

You linger in the delusion of  I am,
Because you know neither what you are,
Nor what you are not.
You are the eternal Self, not body, not mind.
You are only the inviolable Self,
Blazing like the sun, where night never falls.