Years ago I was a given a cassette tape of a rendering of the Bhagavad Gita by Barbara Stoler Miller read by Jacob Needleman.
I have listened to it a lot and still listen to it from time to time in my car—because my car has the only cassette player that I own. Anyway, the other day I popped in the cassette on my way to the grocery store. There was a long silence as it rewound and then it began to play from the beginning.
If you have read the Bhagavad Gita you know the story. A war is about to commence between the Kurus and the Pandavas—two families from the same one ancient origin—like two branches of the same tree. Arjuna asks Krishna to drive their chariot to a place between the two armies. It is Arjuna’s duty to give the sign for the war to begin, but he hesitates and begins to voice his heartfelt concerns to Krishna. This first chapter of the Gita is called Arjuna’s Distress; it is also called Arjuna’s Dejection. He expresses his feelings to Krishna in a most eloquent way.
Arjuna is a great warrior and throughout his life he has always recognized and performed his sacred duty with enthusiasm. But this time, as he surveys the two armies—armies made up of fathers and sons of families he knows, and elders and teachers who he admires and respects— he is overcome by a strange pity. He sees omens of chaos and destruction—nothing good will come of the war for either family—win or lose.
Arjuna asks Krishna how he can participate in a war that would end in the corruption of the family and family values and rip apart the entire fabric of society. He says that when the family and society are unable to function appropriately, the forces of nature become unbalanced and famine and disease, fires and floods ensue and envelop the world.
In fact, history proved Arjuna to be one hundred percent correct. By the end of the war, both families were virtually annihilated; the structure of society was torn asunder, and the Earth was left weeping in despair. In the end, Time had entered the Age of Kali, a dark age, where the shadow of the sun appears to dwarf the sun itself.
Listening to Arjuna’s distress I was struck by how perfectly he articulated the highest level of human morality. It was so consistent with Vedic and Christian teachings on the sanctity of the family, family values, and the community.
“Grandsires, sires, and sons, brothers, and fathers-in-law, and sons-in-law, elders and friends—shall I deal death on these even though they seek to slay us?
“No, not one blow will I strike to gain the rule of all the Three Worlds, let alone to seize an earthly kingdom…
“Krishna, if they be guilty, we shall grow guilty by their deaths; their sins will light on us if we slay them…
“What peace could come of that? For if indeed, blinded by lust and wrath, these who cannot see, or will not see, the sin of overthrowing kingly lines and the slaying of kinsmen, how can we who do see not shun the very same crime and not feel guilt and shame?”
“Impaled on the horns of a dilemma,” is a saying that seems to perfectly characterize Arjuna’s situation. Knowing what would come of it, should he begin a war that he knows will end in the destruction of families and society, or should he support the institution of the family and society over his personal dharma, or? The first chapter of the Gita ends when he tells Krishna that he will not fight.
The second chapter of the Gita, sometimes called The Yoga of Knowledge, begins with Krishna chiding Arjuna for his hesitation to fight.
How has this weakness taken thee? Whence springs the inglorious trouble, shameful to the brave, barring the path of virtue?”
But Arjuna argues back, reiterating his dilemma.
“Better to live on beggar’s bread with those we love alive, than to taste their blood in rich feasts spread, and guiltily survive!”
I find it most interesting that Krishna does not respond by counseling Arjuna to choose one way over the other based on the merits of the two options; instead he, as is said, slips between the horns of the dilemma by challenging an unchallenged assumption that lies at the very heart of Arjuna’s confusion. Krishna says:
“Thou grieves where no grief shall be! Thou speak words lacking wisdom! For the wise in heart mourn not for those that live nor for those that die.”
And why do the wise in heart not mourn? Because,
“Nor I, nor you, nor any of these ever was not, nor ever will not be, forever and forever afterwards.”
He goes on to say that this higher self—this real self—this soul—is eternal and infinite. It is not born; it does not die; it cannot be cut or burned or killed. Bodies are put on and exchanged like clothing, so why hesitate to perform the very duties that lead to the knowledge and experience of the higher self—the soul?
“Naught better can betide a soul born into a warrior’s life than a war of sacred duty when, as now, it is thrust upon him unsought.”
Karma is the hand we are dealt in any one lifetime. Dharma is the way we play that hand. The Bhagavad Gita thrusts us deep into this question; how to live our lives in a way that leads most directly to the knowledge—consciousness—of our own real—higher—self. And where is the question asked and answered? On the battlefield, between the two armies, poised and ready to fight.
Some find it strange, or unlikely, that this conversation between Krishna and Arjuna—between the God-Man and His beloved disciple—took place in the middle of a battlefield moments before a catastrophic war. Did Krishna choose this moment, or was the moment thrust upon Him, or does such a distinction even exist for God?
Certainly for Arjuna, a great warrior, the moment came at the right time. It was a moment of choice, a choice from which there would be no turning back, a decision that would shape the future of the world itself—a choice that would impact far more than the life of one man. How appropriate it was, therefore, that the conversation took place on a battlefield before a war. A warrior is a man of action; would it not seem out of place for him to be in a contemplative setting to receive Krishna’s teachings?
And Krishna counsels Arjuna to act, because he is a warrior and a sacred war has been thrust upon him. It is not a question of whether to fight or not, fight he must, but real question that Krishna speaks to regards how the action should be performed. And here the answer is quite clear; all actions should be done without attachment—the actor being unmoved by success or failure—indeed, that success and failure should be treated as two ends of the same stick.
“Therefore, arise, Arjuna and arm yourself for the conflict and your heart to meet with equality pleasure or pain, profit or ruin, victory or defeat. Actions free of attachment, oh Son of Kunti, will not bind you and you will not suffer karmas because of them.”
But let’s take a step back first and take another look at the bigger picture:
There is a relationship that exists between transitory life and the Eternal life, between the born and the Never-born—between the dying and the Never-dying, between consciousness of illusion and consciousness of Reality—and in this relationship Reality knows and illusion is always trying to figure out.
Meher Baba characterized this relationship when He described three states of God—God in the Deep Sleep State, God in the Dream State, and God in the Awake State. He told us that for God to awaken to His Reality He must pass from His Deep Sleep State into His Dream State—just as we do every day when each of us passes through our own unique dreams in the dream state on the way from the deep sleep state to our own unique lives in the awake state. The Dream State of God is what we call Creation. You and I, experiencing our transitory lives in duality is, in fact, God experiencing Himself in His Divine Dream.
Of course, while experiencing Himself as us in His Dream State, He is not conscious of His Awake State, and that is why He, in His Awake State is always reminding us that His Awake State is our Awake State too—and that when we experience It, we will experience, as He said, “…that you and I are not we—but One.”
Once we begin to understand the nature of this process—this cycle from God in His Deep Sleep State to God in His fully Awake State—does not for us, God in in His Divine Dream State—God experiencing Himself as us—the question arise as to how one should attempt to live in this Divine Dream State? In other words can one live in a way that either expedites or inhibits the length of time—lifetimes—that one must pass in the Divine Dream State?
A generally accepted answer is to do good and not bad, to help and not hurt others, etc. And no doubt, this is useful advice, to a point, but as Meher Baba said;
“The saint is bound by a golden chain, and the sinner by a spiked on, but the Goal is to be free of all chains.”
What are the chains? The chains are impressions—sanskaras—the by-product of actions performed—that get imprinted on the consciousness of the evolving soul. Once created, these impressions smudge consciousness, like a dirty film on a mirror. For the mirror of consciousness to reflect the Reality of the soul, the mirror must be spotless, and so all impressions—all sanskaras—ultimately have to be removed through the process of experiencing these impressions. The experience of these impressions is felt as pain or pleasure—the spiked and golden chains—respectively. “But the goal is to be free of all chains.”
Krishna counsels Arjuna to perform actions unmotivated by the results—the fruits—of the actions. But how is this possible? Again, the answer is simple. If one does not initiate actions on his own, lives in the state described by Upasani Maharaj as “Be as it may,” performs only those necessary actions that the circumstances of his karma thrust upon him, and then gives away all the fruits of the action performed—does not partake of the fruits of the action—then the actions, good, bad, or otherwise creates no new impressions—bindings—gold or spiked chains.
Krishna says that all actions have to be performed as sacrifice—a somewhat uncomfortable idea for many these days who think of sacrifice as the ritualistic killing of animals, or the giving away of personal possessions. But look deeper into what Krishna is saying:
“Some sacrifice to the ancestors; some sacrifice to the gods; but know, Arjuna, that all sacrifices, no matter how abhorrent, inevitably comes to Me.”
The answer is simple, but simple is not always easy when one is so fully habituated to responding to each and every demand of the false-self—the self of one’s dreams.
Let’s look even further into what Krishna is saying.
There is no escaping action; there is no escaping movement; are not action and movement the same?
There are the movements of the body; there are the movements of the breath and the blood; and the beating of the physical heart within the body.
Thoughts and feelings move in the mind, and there are the movements of the heart—the real heart—the seat of love—the Ars e Maula—the Seventh Heaven—the seat of God.
Atoms move; planets move; the sun and stars move.
In fact, is not action; is not movement; the very definition of life itself?
And what instigates action—movement?
Meher Baba said it all began in the Beginningless Beginning when without cause the Whim—for is it not the characteristic of whim to be causeless?—surged in the Beyond State of God—the Original Deep-Sleep State of God—and asked the question, Who am I?
“When we compare Paramatma to an infinite, unlimited ocean and we say that Paramatma got the urge, it can also be said in terms of comparison, that the infinite, unlimited ocean got the first urge or WHIM.” – Meher Baba, God Speaks, 2nd Edition, page 9.
Now about that state of God that preceded the Whim, not much can be said, because in order to describe something, there has to be something to be described and since this state is totally unmanifest there is nothing to be described. It would even be inaccurate to say that this state was everything or nothing because everything and nothing did not even exist. It was not even something. It just was—even saying that is not quite right.
It was only after the Whim that Everything and Nothing manifested in the God state. Meher Baba explains that the manifestation of Everything and Nothing created a state that could be distinguished from the Most Original First State that He called the Beyond the Beyond State of God as the next state of God He called the Beyond State of God.
Take the ocean for example. The ocean is one, but its surface exhibits different qualities than those which are below the surface. That relationship is similar to the relationship between the Beyond the Beyond State of God and the Beyond State of God.
And then there is the distinction between the Everything and the Nothing and the relationship that exists between the Nothing and the Everything…
When the Whim surged in the Ocean of God with the question, “Who am I?” some of the Ocean of God knew immediately and answered quite rightly “I am God!” Meher Baba named that part of the Ocean of God that knew, the Everything.
But some of the Ocean felt of God did not know, yet felt somehow compelled to try to answer the question “Who am I?” That part of the Ocean of God, Meher Baba named the Nothing—the Shadow of God.
And what were the answers that the Nothing began to come up with? “I am stone; I am plants and trees; I am fish; I am birds; I am reptiles; I am mammals; I am man.” And as man, the Nothing continued to answer, “I am female; I am male; I am saint; I am sinner; I am black; I am white; I am brown; I am yellow; I am a king; am a beggar…” The answers of the Nothing just go on and on and on. And, of course, all these answers are false; all these answers must be false; because all these answers are not, “I am God.” For God alone exists; God alone is; and even the Shadow of God is the dark reflection of God’s own effulgence.
It must follow then, does it not, that all actions resulting from the state of not knowing are, in fact, more wrong answers that naturally proceed from the state not knowing—in other words, the actions—the movements—of all of creation, from atoms to suns, from stone to man, from sinner to saint, etc.?
“The saint is bound by a golden chain and the sinner by a spiked chain…” but the goal is not a golden chain; the goal is “…to be free of all chains.”
Arjuna saw himself as a man, as a warrior, as a member of a family and he knew that his actions had consequences. What he was, what he took himself to be, and what situations of life unfolded before him, were his karma. The choices that he made, the actions that he chose, in relationship to his karma was his dharma, and throughout his life Arjuna’s, the choices he made were based on his understanding of his karma and his dharma. But now, on the battlefield, on the precipice of war, he could not envision the right choice and vowed to do nothing.
But Krishna said no, He told him that he had to fight. But there is an important back-story here—a context for Krishna’s counsel—and that all important back-story is the found in the whole of the Mahabharata that preceded the part called the Bhagavad Gita.
In fact, Krishna had done all He could to convince the Kurus to abandon their plans for war. But they were stubborn and arrogant and greedy, and they could not---they would not— hear what Krishna was telling them. The Kurus would fight, would wage war against Arjuna’s family and supporters, and to back away from the fight in this situation—a war that Arjuna did not seek, but was thrust upon him, would have the worst consequences for not only Arjuna, but for all concerned—for the planet—for all generations to come—for you and for me.
“Know now, dear Prince! that if the consciousness of your soul remains focused on Me, and during your practices I remain your Refuge, you shall come most surely unto perfect hold of Me.” – Krishna, Bhagavad Gita, Chapter VII
In India I acquired the habit of taking short naps in the afternoon. I totally enjoy these naps, when I can fit them in. Did you ever notice that naps are very different than ordinary night sleeps? When I nap, I never toss and turn and awake in exactly the same position I was in when I closed my eyes and began taking Meher Baba’s name—sometimes His name is in my mind as I awake.
I usually don’t remember my dreams when I awaken from a nap. I slowly come back to a sense of myself and first experience myself without thinking of things—I call this state, thinking myself. I learned the term from Meher Baba. For me, this state of thinking myself is an I am state, but without the I, and also without the here of I am here—in other words, all that is there is just the am.
I enjoy this state. There is no motivation to either return to my nap, or to get up and start doing things. The motivation for the latter comes only with the return of thoughts not of myself—thoughts about me. It is a state of thinking that has a sense of me present—me being the illusory me who was born, who lives, and who will die. It is a state where the here of I am here returns and I orient myself to it.
I begin to think normal thoughts about what I’ve done and what I need and want to do. I can be aware of how these thoughts, at first like weightless clouds, become more substantive as they pick-up energy in the form of feelings—the energy of attachment.
What happens next is that my body begins to respond to these thoughts and feelings and I become motivated to get up and do things. Most of the things I begin to do are motivated by a sense of need or desire that comes from within but is concerned with that which is perceived as without. At one point Arjuna asks Krishna if the battle that Krishna is talking about is within him or outside of him. Krishna’s was that He failed to perceive a difference.
Meher Baba said that the source of all needs and wants—the motivation for all actions—are sanskaras—impressions stored in the mind that were the outcome of previous actions—previous doings—mostly performed in previous lives. These sanskaras from past lives are the cards that we are dealt and must play in the present life. It is never an option to not play the hand—the game—the question is always how to play the game—and that is what the Bhagavad Gita is all about.
If the game is played to satisfy the self, it will only continue the cycle of births, lives, and deaths. So Krishna says, first separate the self from the Self, and then play the game as sacrifice dedicated to that Self. This separation can be accomplished through the various practices of different yogas as defined by Meher Baba’s in the book called the Intelligence Notebooks.
I think it would be fair to say that in this day and age, for most people, the most appropriate and quickest of the yogas is the category of Bhakti Yoga called Sadguru Bhakti—the most perfect yoga—the Supreme Path— that always travels through and with a Perfect Master or the God-Man.
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.’” – John IV
“There lives a Master in the hearts of men who pulls the strings and make them dance to His tune. Trust Him, and take Him for your succor.
“So—only so, Arjuna!—shall you gain, by His grace, the uttermost repose, the Eternal Place!” – Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XVIII
And it makes perfect sense, at least to me, that the path from self to Self cannot be accomplished through attention on the self, but by attention to the Self—the former being, as Gurdjieff once said, “like trying to jump over your own knees.”
Labels: Age of Kali, Arjuna's Distress, Barbara Stoler Miller, Bhagavad Gita, Bhakti and Sadguru Yoga, Intelligence Notebooks, Jacob Needleman, John IV, Karma and Dharma, Meher Baba Godspeaks, saying of Gurdjieff