Questions about God and about emotional repression have come up repeatedly in Gita Talk #4: Why Is The Gita So Upsetting At First?.
Here are a few highlights, so more people can benefit, and put in their two-cents worth:
What is God to You?
I can see how these texts can be off-putting to some, with the constant references to the Lord and God since Krishna is a main “character”, if you will, in the book. I myself am slightly uncomfortable with this. I was raised Catholic, and currently my beliefs are in limbo as I decide where I really stand. Because of my own uncertainty, I have quite strong reactions to the constant references and I’m not quite sure if I’m going to get more accustomed to that. How do other people feel about this?
I was raised ultra-traditional Catholic and then married into a Jewish family. So I’ve had lots of experience with various definitions of “God”. Rather than write a lot here, let me just refer you to this page in my eBook: “God” or “Reason” — Is There Really Any Difference? . And you’ll get a little bit of Yoga history along the way.
I have also had quite a strong reaction to all the “Lord God” references. As a yoga teaching student I wonder if I really need to embrace this fundamentalist religiosity…or can I be true to my own sense of spirituality that is not concerned with God!
Hi, Mary. I wrote my entire eBook (no cost), Yoga Demystified, with almost no use of the word “God”. If you feel comfortable with the term God to mean “The Infinite, Unfathomable, Wondrous Life-Force of the Universe”, i.e. the universe itself, then you will feel completely comfortable with Yoga Philosophy. Whenever you see a term for God in the Gita, just convert it instantly into definition above, and you’ll feel quite comfortable with it, I think.
Remarkably, the Gita encompasses and embraces everyone else’s idea of God, too. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Bob – I like this alternate definition of God. When I first read the Gita the teacher who was guiding me through was very careful to offer different alternatives to the word God. Really, that’s one of the earliest experiences I remember of falling in love with yoga – the fact that I was given a choice in how or even if I wanted to relate to The Infinite, was pretty incredible. Most of the spiritual practices I had encountered up to that point really didn’t provide those options.
I’m with you all the way, Meaghan. And it all starts with the Gita. It is startlingly universal in it’s outlook. And you cannot be universal without allowing for all concepts of God.
Mary, I also struggle with this. I am a yoga teacher in training and most of my life I’ve considered myself an atheist. Lately, instead of defining myself in terms of what I don’t believe, I define myself in terms of what I do believe. I am a naturalist. Naturalism proposes that the natural world is all there is and anything in it is natural. There is nothing beyond it and thus, nothing beyond it (for instance the supernatural) can affect it.
Note that this allows room for many definitions of God, but probably not all of them. It also allows that we don’t know everything about the natural world as well, leaving plenty of room for personal experience to shape our views. Interestingly, it is classified in philosophy as a non-dualist philosophy, in the same group as Tantric philosophy.
Tantrikas see the universe as an expression of the divine that is not separate from the divine, yet they allow we don’t see the whole picture in our current embodied forms. As a naturalist, I see the universe as divine and not separate from anything else that exists. Is there really any significant difference between these two?
Anything that espouses oneness with the universe is completely in synch with the Gita. That becomes wildly obvious later in the text. Not only that, but the Gita is unequivocally universalist in its outlook, even when the spiritual ideas are not so similar as your own:
However men try to reach me,
I return their love with my love;
whatever path they may travel,
it leads to me in the end. (BG 4.11)
(where the speaker is the The Infinite, Unfathomable, Wondrous Life-Force of the Universe.)
Callah raised a good point about using the word God and Lord and i had the same reaction when i first came to yoga, my teacher would talk about God this and God that and I remember one night thinking to myself if he mentions God again I’m walking out.
This made me think about my view of God and i found it was a very one dimensional Catholic viewpoint, so i stared to explore this and my relationship to the God spoken about in Yoga and it did take some time before i felt that this separation of Catholic God, Yoga God, whatever God you got is the thing that kept me stuck in my thinking about my own spirituality.
Krishna’s statements about no matter who you are, all come to me, and his explanation of who he is helped me understand that there is no difference in Gods all are one.
Dealing with Our Emotions: “Witness” Consciousness
I so can relate w/Michele, when you say “you have no cause to grieve for any being…” that just got to me, I had to read chapter two a few times and then I was ready to bag the whole book. I kept thinking how can I turn off my emotions so easily.
Dear freesoul. I’m so glad you hit us squarely with this issue: “Is the Gita telling us to turn off all our emotions, to live without passion?”, because I’m sure this is on the minds of many readers. It certainly was on mine the first time I read it.
I believe I can give you an answer that is crystal clear, profound, and readily usable in everyday life. But you be the judge.
The Gita does not, as whole, endorse emotional repression, even though it seems to be doing exactly that here. What the Gita asks us to do is be our human selves completely, feel deeply all our human emotions, but develop the ability to step outside ourselves and calmly witness those emotions in a completely non-judgmental way.
Even though the text right here seems to say otherwise, the situation itself supports this idea. Think about it. Krishna is urging Arjuna to fight a battle to the best of his abilities. Does Krishna think Arjuna can can fight his battle (just make that a metaphor for whatever challenges we face in life) without emotion and passion?
No, of course not. Even though the text isn’t clear on this, the situation is. Krishna is telling Arjuna to fight his battle with all this usual passion, but to be able, at the same time, to rise above it and objectively see that he is also a part of the infinite, unfathomable, wondrous universe, where these emotions hold no sway.
Tell me if this makes sense. And I hope other people will jump into this vital discussion as well. Your question really does go to the heart of the Gita.
Thanks for the great discussion, everyone. I always reject 2.57 and sentiments like it. “who neither grieves or rejoices if good or bad things happen’. It conjures up images of Stepford wives, mothers, friends….. fill in the blank. For me, I prefer – grieve for a moment, rejoice for a moment, then accept it and move on.
Lucky for me “on this path no effort is wasted.. “(2.40). There is hope, yet.
Agree, Vanita. In the next chapter you’ll read the seemingly contradictory line:
All beings follow their nature.
What good can repression do? (3.33)
2.57 is actually part of a larger idea in Yoga philosophy called “Witness” Consciousness (what I describe above), which means simply the ability to step outside ourselves and watch our emotions non-judgmentally.
But that’s not described fully in 2.57. Obviously the whole idea of being a witness assumes there is something to witness, i.e. that we are still feeling all our human emotions. In 2.57 we have only the witness with no mention of the witnessed! That’s why I put an “E” for “Explain” next to this item in my list.
Does this make sense? Please ask follow-up questions.
i understand your feelings that this can be read as “just feel nothing” but i think Krishna is telling us to not let grief or joy overwhelm us to the point where we forget who we really are. Krishna’s dialogue is continually reminding Arjuna who he is, that he is not only Arjuna but part of the whole universe, this it what i think we can forget so easily when we get caught up in joy grief, pain pleasure etc.
Yes, when one watches their emotions without judging – this is freedom. We can have emotions but engage them with equanimity. We are no longer swept along like a stick in a raging torrent, completely at the mercy of our own discursive thoughts and emotions. Instead we are a boulder within the river, watching the emotions pass around us. The boulder is not emotionless – it is effected by emotions – but it is not at their mercy…