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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Reading the Bhagvad Gita: Attachments, Wisdom, and Peace

Attachments to Food
I was thinking about my attachment to delicious food. It may be one of my strongest attachments that I realize right now. Yes, I could suppress the desire to eat during the week of my juice feasting, when I only drank juices, but it was a constant battle. Why is it so important to eat what I’m used to if I know that my body will be nourished by the amount of juices I drink? It is not about feeding the body anymore, it’s about feeding the mind and the senses that crave the taste of certain food. It creates an illusion of a comfortable environment, an illusion of happiness that is based on nothing substantial. This is why it is so short-lived, and in a few hours I need to check the fridge again in hope of finding something even better-tasting. Yes, these cravings make us their slaves, but how can we master them? I can see clearly that fighting against them will not work in the long-run. Maybe we need to get to know them, study them, and learn how they arise and why. 

From Joseph Campbell to Bhagvad Gita
Yesterday, I was started again watching Joseph Campbell’s series Mythos I. I watched the first episode some time ago. He is so great! His ideas are very precious to me, because he is familiar with so many different subjects like psychology, religion, rituals, and culture. I felt inspired to start reading the Bhagvad Gita this morning and I was just blown away by its wisdom and eloquence. Many of the questions I had about addictions are answered in Chapter 2. It is so easy to read and gives clear answers to my question not in the form of instructions, which would be ineffective, but by creating an atmosphere for waking up your innate knowledge of these simple truths.

I'm reading Stephen Mitchell translation of the Bhagvad Gita.

Chapter 2: The Practice of Yoga

The Bhagvad Gita starts with a monologue of Arjuna, in which he refuses to participate in a battle and kill his enemies. Krishna gives him a lesson in response. The main part of the lesson is focused on the importance of removing attachments.      

Only the man who is unmoved
by any sensations, the wise man
indifferent to pleasure, to pain,
is fit for becoming deathless.

and being equally ready to either success or failure of any endeavor. Making the end results too important creates attachment that enslaves us and takes our energy. Krishna advises Arjuna to participate in the battle without an attachment to its outcome.      

Indifferent to gain or loss,
to victory or defeat
prepare yourself for the battle
and do not succumb to sin.

The next extract explains what is “Yoga” or “Path” and defines it as “skill in actions”. This is a very interesting part. If we focus on doing what we are doing without thinking about what we will get in return in the future, we will find ourselves fully present in the moment, and in this moment we are fully emerged in the action. It doesn’t matter what the results, because the insights that are born in the process of whole-hearted action are more important than the action itself or its results. This is so profound idea, because it basically says that it doesn’t matter which actions we participate in. Our insight grows from everything we do and we move on to the next thing. It reminds me of the thought that we are here to experience life.

You have a right to your actions,
but never to your actions’ fruits.
Act for the action’s sake.
And do not be attached to inaction.

Self-possessed, resolute, act
without any thought of results,
open to success or failure.
This equanimity is yoga.

Action is far inferior
to the yoga of insight, Arjuna.
Pitiful are those who, acting,
are attached to their action’s fruits.

The wise man lets go of all
results, whether good or bad,
and is focused on the action alone.
Yoga is skill in actions.

The wise man whose insight is firm,
relinquishing the fruits of action,
is freed from the bondage of rebirth
and attains the place beyond sorrow.

Krishna describes “a man of firm wisdom” as someone who gave up all desires and is unattached to all things.

When a man gives up all desires
that emerge from the mind, and rests
contended in the Self by the Self,
he is called a man of firm wisdom.

He whose mind is untroubled
by any misfortune, whose craving
for pleasures has disappeared,
who is free from greed, fear, anger,

who is unattached to all things,
who neither grieves nor rejoices
if good or if bad things happen –
that man is a man of firm wisdom.

This is different from someone who just refrains from indulging in certain pleasures, but still has cravings. I think this is what I experienced fully during the juice feast. 

Sense-objects fade for the abstinent,
yet the craving for them continues;
but even the craving vanishes
for someone who has seen truth.

The next question is how to achieve firm wisdom and become unattached and free? The most powerful advice that Krishna gives here is that someone who is practicing restraining his senses “should focus his whole mind on me”. It means thinking about God or Love can free us of attachments.

At first, although he continually
tries to subdue them, the turbulent
senses tear at his mind
and violently carry it away.

Restraining the senses, disciplined,
he should focus his whole mind on me;
when the senses are in his control,
that man is a man of firm wisdom.

Before engaging in this practice it is useful to realize why attachments are harmful? This will set the motivation and inspire the beginner on his Path. An interesting chain of qualities is traced out by Krishna. From attachments to sense-objects the desires are born that, in turn, can lead anger. Anger leads to confusion, confusion – weakness of memory, and finally weakness of memory impedes understanding. I was surprised to see weakness of memory as one of very important qualities to achieve understanding. I need to think about this more.

If a man keeps dwelling on sense-objects,
attachment to them arises;
from attachment, desire flares up;
from desire, anger is born;

from anger, confusion follows;
from confusion, weakness of memory;
weak-memory – weak understanding;
weak understanding – ruin.

But the man who is self-controlled,
who meets the objects of all senses
with neither craving nor aversion,
will attain serenity at last.

Conquering attachments helps to achieve concentration and gives direction to our “ship”. Concentration is important to attain wisdom, peace, and joy.

The undisciplined have no wisdom,
no one-pointed concentration;
with no concentration, no peace;
with no peace, where can joy be?

When the mind constantly runs
after the wandering senses,
it drives away wisdom, like the wind
blowing a ship off course.

Finally, Krishna describes someone who achieved peace. I like how desires are compared to rivers that flow into the sea. The man who attained wisdom and piece is filled with the energies of these desires but is “always unmoving” and focused. It is lso important that his Ego, his “I am” is dissolved in this sea and he is present in this state of “God’ bliss” always and everywhere. This is so beautiful! 

The man whom desires enter
as rivers flow into the sea,
filled yet always unmoving –
that man finds perfect peace.

Abandoning all desires,
Acting without craving, free
From all thoughts of “I” and “mine”,
That man finds utter peace.

This is the divine state, Arjuna.
Absorbed in it, everywhere, always,
even at the moment of death,
he vanishes, into God’s bliss.

I hope you enjoyed the beauty of Chapter 2 of the Bhagvad Gita. For me, it is beyond any words. I’ll keep sharing my insights with you here. I wish you a lot of wisdom and peace!

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