The Battle Within
Both Mahatma Gandhi and Paramahansa Yogananda among other esteemed masters and teachers of India hold that the war of the Gita is the war within. There is a field called Kurukshetra (north of Delhi) where the battle is said to have occurred. Yet these great teachers insist in the Gita the field is an analogy for our mind and the battle one we must all fight within. The entire Gita poetically and profoundly narrates a conversation between Arjuna and his treasured lord and companion Sri Krishna during the legendary battle between a divided ruling family and their forces.
Much in the Gita supports this such as when Sri Krishna tells Arjuna the enemies he must conquer are lust, fear and anger. The dialogue between the two becomes a living truth when the principles covered throughout the discourse are applied to thought and action. The Gita concisely represents the essence of India’s ancient and timeless spiritual wisdom as well as teaching true yoga before it diverged into its many modern streams.
Life as Unity
Eknath Easwaranin his companion book The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita states that “the central message of the Gita is that life is an indivisible whole – a concept civilisation flouts at every turn”. The principles of unity and how to live with them in the Gita is the only way we can have abiding peace or live with one another and the planet in harmony.
Getting to the Root of our Problem
While Krishna’s initial response to Arjuna’s pleas of counsel in the battle field sounds hopelessly philosophical, instead of hacking at the branches of Arjuna’s issues (and our own) it goes to the root. As frustration leads to anger and eventually war or a cycle of crisis, it is only in understanding who we are and what truly satisfies us that can provide a basis for living together in peace and prosperity. The Gita presents the bottom line of all human dilemmas as a conflict between a lower self and a higher self. This is the dual nature of human and divine. Both Christ and Krishna embody the purpose, path and fulfilment of unifying this dual nature once the divine is given dominance. Yet the path is difficult and the aligning requires an artful approach to life and knowing ourselves.
Suffering and Awakening
With awakening comes a even deeper connection to others, greater understanding and compassion. Easwaran makes the distinction between those who suffer life’s hardships while dwelling upon themselves versus those who experience no separateness and experience suffering universally – “with such a vast field to absorb your capacity for sorrow, there is little left for dwelling on your own suffering” 1. A hallmark of the Gita (and a universal theme in spiritual traditions) is the two approaches to spiritually aligned living of contemplation and action. Victory over selfishness is through selfless service, where there are always things to be done to ease sorrow and suffering of others. (Note Gita 6:1).
Easwaran says: “The main problem with identifying ourselves [predominantly] with the body is that we spend our lives trying to satisfy nonphysical needs in physical ways” 2, such as through relationships based on separate needs, compensating for ego driven desires, needs and deficiencies or through material wealth, power, recognition for security. This can occur in all spectrums of human life from survival level to high levels of excess. Sri Krishna and the Gita would counsel that this is a bottomless hole because “that which is infinite can only be filled with something infinite”. The deepest drive within us, beneath appearances and conditioning, is for “direct, personal, experiential knowledge of the eternal reality that is within” 2.
Easwaran notes it is often not the circumstance or task itself that makes us stressed but the mind dwelling on our dislike, wishing things or people were different, making people wrong, while “always making ourselves the frame of reference” …. “stress flourishes in a divided mind” 3. He suggests that no one really knows what the external world really is, since what we experience is largely determined by our nervous system and mind. We create our own turmoil and the nervous system responds to our choices while we think we are reacting to things outside. (note Gita 2:14). “Events are just events, neither pro nor con, neither for us or against us. That is why the Gita says when we see life as it is, we see that there is no cause for personal sorrow. This one insight brings compassion and the precious capacity to help without judging or getting burned out” 4.
“This is practicing yoga on the surface of life” and “what begins as training attention becomes, in time, training of the will, and eventually desire” … unification of consciousness gradually moves, level by level, deeper an deeper into personality” 5.
Yoga to Unify self with the Divine
Most spiritual traditions agree, the little self will (ahamkara in sanskrit) or the ego is the culprit behind our difficulties, conflicts and sufferings. Yoga is about healing the ‘split’ consciousness and resolving the battle perceived through ahamkara. The word ‘yoga’ relates to the english word yoke; signifying binding together parts that have been separated. But yoga originally did not mean so much union of body, mind and spirit so much as “complete identification with the atman, [universal spirit within] which uses body and mind as instruments” 6.
The mark of healing the split between our true nature and identification with mind and body is unconditional love of life (Gita 6:29,32). Because there are countless problems and issues to work through, Sri Krishna says: “Don’t just try and tackle the problems the mind creates. Go to the root: tackle the mind” 7 (Gita 2:41).
Just like walking is a great skill that becomes unconscious, yoga as explained in the Gita, trains us in the experience of monitoring the lower mind from the higher mind, providing a higher level of feedback. Thus with training we can maintain balance when faced with anger, fear, negative emotions and thoughts. This does not impair feeling deeply, but removes compulsive and reactive responses so the mind regaining balance quickly is at its best in dealing with what is at hand. Easwaran recommends practicing doing little things you dislike or are uncomfortable with to “lower the like and dislike threshold” and gain a more balanced mind 8. Ways to do this are including less liked foods in your diet, prioritising chores at home or essential tasks at work that you tend to avoid, while affirming their benefits to others as you do them.
Becoming more “free to enjoy everything and equal to every situation” means “you have choices everywhere, so you never feel trapped: whatever the circumstances, you can break out”. The Gita says this brings a lasting joy long before yoga is perfected (Gita 2:40).
Through regular practice of yoga combined with right intent, the spiritual aspirant can achieve the goal of unification and become a yogi. “The ultimate goal of yoga is lofty, not at all easy to attain. Shankara says succinctly, “Yoga is samadhi*.” It is not just a matter for faith, although the first steps require it. Sri Krishna asks us to put the teachings to the test for ourselves and Arjuna finally rises to the challenge (Gita 18:73).
* Samadhi – direct experience of reality when the mind is still and settled in living realisation of the unified and consciously awakened state. Sahaja samadhi – continually established in wisdom or samadhi. The experience of unity in meditation and realisation must be experienced repeatedly for direct awareness to gradually become continuous. Sahaja samadhi is to live in samadhi in all creative acts and normal life moments, navigating challenges and successes without any disturbance of the unified state.
Essence of the Bhagavad Gita -; A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation and Indian Philosophy, by Eknath Easwaran (Nilgiris Press, Tomales, CA, USA, 2011)
Quotes: 1. (p.64); 2. (p.73); 3. (p.164); 4. (p.165); 5. (pp.165,166); 6. (p.111);
7. (p.113); 8. (pp. 116,117);
God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita, by Paramahansa Yogananda (Self-Realization Fellowship, USA, 1999, Second Edition)
The Bhagavad Gita, translation & commentary, by Sri Swami Sivananda (The Divine Life Society, India, 2015, Fifteenth Edition)