Gita Talk #10: Pretend We’re All Just Sitting Around In My Living Room Together

Gita Talk

…has been a grand experiment, and a surprisingly successful one at that.

Let’s keep the experiment going.  Today I was thinking, how would this work if we were all just sitting around in my living room? What would that Gita Talk look like?

Well, for one thing, we’d go around the room and read a few stanzas at a time.

Then we’d talk about what those stanzas meant.

I would look around the room and call on people.  New readers would be drawn into the conversation and have their questions addressed.

The more experienced readers would be the teachers.  They would express some of their more advanced ideas, but they would also naturally help the new readers.

The only thing I can’t do on a blog is call on you initially.  So for this experiment we have to rely on you to be more willing than usual to jump in and make your first comment.

The most interesting Gita Talk’s have been conversations more than comments.  It only takes 5-6 people fully involved to make a great conversation.  Please consider being one of them.

Once you’re in, I’ll moderate the discussion, just as I would in person.  I’ll ask leading questions.  I’ll ask newer readers to ask more questions, and I’ll call on the more experienced readers to help explain things to the group, etc.

So let’s try this with Chapter 9.  We’re not in any rush.  Let’s go through the chapter stanza by stanza, as though we were all sitting in my living room together.

Let’s start by reading and discussing the first six stanzas of Chapter 9:

Because you trust me, Ajuna,
I will tell you what wisdom is,
the secret of life: know it
and be free of suffering, forever.

This is the supreme wisdom,
the knowing beyond all knowing,
experienced directly, in a flash,
eternal, and a joy to practice.

Those who are without faith
in my teaching, cannot attain me;
they endlessly return to this world,
shuttling from death to death.

I permeate all the universe
in my unmanifest form.
All beings exist within me,
yet I am so inconceivably

vast, so beyond existence,
that though they are brought forth
and sustained by my limitless power,
I am not confined within them.

Just as the all-moving wind,
wherever it goes, always
remains in the vastness of space,
all beings remain within me. (BG 9.1-6)

Anyone want to volunteer to start with a comment or question?  If not, I’ll start by calling on YOU!

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197 replies on “Gita Talk #10: Pretend We’re All Just Sitting Around In My Living Room Together”

I am very interested in the relationship between the word practice, which ends the second stanza, and the word faith, which begins the third. What do you think of the term "faith" in the third stanza: "Those who are without faith in my teaching cannot attain me." I suspect this statement is likely to be misinterpreted in a culture dominated by credo religions, like ours. Do you think "faith in my teaching" here means something like "you must believe in Me" or something more like "you must be willing to practice?"

Hi, Jelefant. This is one of those words that has no equivalent in English. (Plus, as you pointed out, the word "faith" is loaded with other religious usage that is much more narrow than what the Gita means.) Eknath Easwaran thought this word, "shraddha" in Sanskrit, was so important that he devotes two pages to it as part of the climax of his introduction to the Gita! Probably worth reading from here:

One last untranslatable concept and I will let the Gita speak for itself. That concept is "shraddha", and it's nearest English equivalent is faith. I have translated it as such, but "shraddha" means much more. It is literally "that which is placed in the heart": all the beliefs we hold so deeply that we never think to question them. It is the set of values, axioms, prejudices, and prepossessions that colors our perceptions, governs our thinking, dictates our responses, and shapes our lives, generally without our even being aware of its presence and power.

Then he goes on to give the example of medical studies that show that a patient is more likely to recover who believes that he or she will.

So I think "faith" is more like a "belief system" than what we usually think of as "faith".

What do the rest of you think?

Jelefant & Bob, thank you for your elegant explorations on the faith topic.

The first line stands out for me, "Because you trust me, Arjuna, I will tell you what wisdom is…" Faith is something like trust, perhaps. Or confidence…

Without faith, trust or confidence in the teaching, why would I practice? What would that practice look like? If there was no faith, trust or confidence between student and teacher, why would the teachings be shared?

One of my teachers talked about three essential levels of faith or confidence for one's practice: 1) in the source of the teaching 2) in the teaching itself and 3) in yourself.

When I look at it this way, I find I do need faith, trust and confidence to help me overcome resistance, doubt and insecurity and keep practicing.

I agree, svan. Trust, confidence, belief that makes sense, plus everything Easwaran and you guys added–all these meanings of faith I can embrace.

I think some of us who grew up Catholic, or with some other extreme form of Christianity, have a problem with the word because when we were kids it was a way of saying "You can't question that, and, in fact, if you don't believe that you are sinning and could go to hell for it." That sounds extreme, but the ultra-traditional Catholicism I grew up with said exactly that. The creed was the creed, and not believing was a sin, sort of like the inquisition.

(My apologies to those of you who are devout Catholics who were never subjected to this sort of emotional abuse of innocent kids, or, like my wife Jane, never took it seriously, and therefore never suffered anything from it. I'm just honestly telling you how it was for me. I should probably talk less about this.)

The meaning of faith in the above translation is consistent with the Christian tradition. It is a turning of the heart toward the divine.

Too often many religious conflate "blind faith" with the richer meaning of faith.

When we consider a religious tradition, however, I think it best to consider its best practitioners rather than those who alter the faith into the mundane.

Who are the "best practitioners"? Does the divine have a rating system? I'm often tempted to suspect those who proclaim themselves "best practioners," though by suspecting them I become just as guilty of uninformed, unqualified judgment as they are in proclaiming themselves best.

Is it possible that recalling past lives "alters the faith into the mundane"?

Thanks for this discussion of faith and shraddha. I've enjoyed reading. I have to read Easwaran's version of the Gita for an upcoming training and am looking forward to the introduction Bob mentions.

Hi, Meaghan. Yes you will enjoy the Easwaran version. Just a note. The overall introduction is written by Easwaran, but the chapter introductions, while very informative, often seem to differ with Easwaran's own more inspiring point of view in the introduction! This is not a bad thing, as long as one realizes it and just gets interested in the differences.

Enjoy it.


….another thing…
if its the case that people will drop off, and not come back because they reach this "goal"… in the end there will be obly a few people/animals left to play in flesh and bone. That doesnt make much sense to me. I mean, that doesnt sound like a "genious" idea. But if we are here to enjoy being flesh and bone, being able to do "earthly" things and all the time enhance the experience. And having a choice how to react to things. That could be a real eternal FUN game. And every time with the thrilling sense that you're here for the "first" /last time, making it an adventure. THAT I find more of a genious idea 🙂

Love your comments, paramsangat. People can probably predict what I'm going to say about this–This is one of the reasons I don't believe in reincarnation. It utterly devalues life!

The bulk of the Gita, in contrast, makes it clear that absolutely everything in the universe is infinitely wondrous (divine, if one feels comfortable with the term), including our bodies and even our egos!

This is one of those cases the reader/seeker has to make a choice between contradictory messages in the Gita. My choice, and yours I think, is clear. I go for life.

What do the rest of you sitting here in my living room think?


I could believe in reincarnation as such, in the sense I described above, that we would reincarnate for fun. Not becasue of that we havent reached the "goal" yet and are still on this journey to understand that & do whatever it takes to free ourselves…, or because of "bad karma"..or whatever.
I'm pro-FUN, pro-ADVENTURE, pro-Playfulness, pro-self empowerment….all that is pro-happy living… 🙂
Making me aswell of course… pro-"everything is infinitely Divine/Wondrous" 🙂 Wooohooo 🙂

I have a difficult time imagining how reincarnation devalues life. If anything, it is the opposite. Reincarnation speaks to our true life, our true essence. It tells us that those transient objects to which we become attached, which inevitably degrade and dissolve, are not who we really are. If anything, the concept of reincarnation validates our true life, which is timeless and formless.

It would seem to devalue our physical lives, especially expressed as a punishment.

In the Yoga I practice mind, body and spirit are one and inseparable, so our physical lives are every bit as true and meaningful as our spiritual lives. As the majority of the Gita proclaims, even the present passage, EVERYTHING is part of the infinitely wondrous universe (= divine, = "Brahman", = God), including our physical existence. "All beings exist within me" and "all beings remain within me."

What do the rest of you think?

Hi Parmsangat and Bob, OK you said jump in so here goes.
Personally, I do believe in reincarnation for fun and learning. But aside from that my interpretation of "They endlessly return to this world, shuttling from death to death." as a people who only lives in the physical world and has no sense of god, higher power, great spirit, whatever you want to call it. Every day they wake up and "endlessly return to this world" the material world. I see shuttling from death to death as shuttling from various life situations that have are superficial or rooted in power struggles or vanity. Egotistical pursuits or pursuing financial gain with greed- Corrupt politicians or greedy CEOs could be grandiose examples of people who shuffle from death to death.But it would be possible for someone who leads a less prosperous or powerful life to also shuffle from death to death. The people I am thinking of don't even realize they are missing anything, the phrase "they cannot attain me" would leave them indifferent, who cares, I am living the life. Those interested exploring deeper meanings to life, study and try to find shraddha.

Hi, Elise. Thanks for writing. I like the way you take this difficult passage and turn it into a profound metaphor.

How do you other readers handle this particular passage in the Gita?


Interesting Elise, thanks for sharing. The interpretation "suttling from death to death" as shuttling from various life situations, refering it to this very life. Nice one.

Hey, Bob, nice living room. But, ummm…dude….plastic slipcovers? ARP magazines? An autographed picture of Annette Funicello over the mantlepiece? How old *are* you, man?! Gotta say, I really admire a guy so close to feeding the tree who doesn't believe in a literal afterlife….

Anyway, you know I'm with you on reincarnation, and I certainly prefer the idea of "faith" as the confidence or positive motivation that keeps a person going in the practice to more theistic notion of "if you don't believe in me I'm not gonna let you attain out of the cycle of rebirth" (and don't even get me started on the "law of attraction"). Then, I suspect both readings are probably somewhat inevitable based on whether one takes Krishna as a literal being or a metaphor.

At the same time, I find myself thinking something similar to what I think when reading liberal Christian theologians like John Shelby Spong and members of the Jesus Seminar, with whom I also agree on almost everything, but find myself saying "why not ditch Christianity and the Bible completely and start over if you're gonna throw out that much of it?"

Got any chips and salsa in the house, man?

These verses are very informative. I find them to be very helpful to understanding the Gita.

I permeate all the universe
in my unmanifest form.
All beings exist within me,
yet I am so inconceivably

vast, so beyond existence,
that though they are brought forth
and sustained by my limitless power,
I am not confined within them.

Just as the all-moving wind,
wherever it goes, always
remains in the vastness of space,
all beings remain within me. (BG 9.1-6)

The idea that Self permeates all the universe is vital. It does not mean that one is equivalent to all in the universe, but rather that one goes through — permeates — the universe. One has to ask, What is the nature of that which can permeate? This question ends up being vital to the practice. Worth knocking it around a bit.

And then, following up and further clarifying, the Gita says, "I am not confined within them." This is consistent with permeates. It says Self goes through forms, but is not constrained or limited by them, and thus not equivalent to them.

These two lines start to shape and define very important qualities of Self. They may seem merely poetic, but from my experience, they are absolutely vital to the practice and are practical descriptions. They describe the nature of enlightened consciousness. We permeate all things and are not constrained or limited by any, and thus we are not equivalent to things.

The lines "All beings exist within me" and "all beings remain within me" do not refer to a form. In other words, Self is not a jug or vase or container, but rather all things exist solely within the vastness of our consciousness.

In the practice, in a practical manner, we begin to learn about these qualities, these properties, when we detach from attachment to and identification with specific forms.

For example, when we discover through the practice that we are not confined or limited or defined by the body we discover how we permeate the body. We find our true nature is never the body. We discover that our consciousness, which is able to permeate a body, has simply become "stuck" by virtue of thinking we are the body and believing we are constrained by the limits of the body.

Thus, the practice leads to an understanding of the nature of consciousness, which then leads to our understanding of Self as that pure consciousness that permeates all forms.

Reincarnation is simply the thought they we are now connected or attached or identified with a particular form. That cycle of death to death or the wheel of birth and death ends when we realize our true nature as pure consciousness without form, a consciousness that can permeate all form but which is never equivalent to the form.

Make any sense at all?

Actually, this makes no sense whatsoever. It strikes me as dogma with neither consensual nor experiential validation. Consciousness is produced the brain and nervous system and is limited to such. We can't even share consciousness with other beings known to be conscious. This idea that the universe itself is conscious is a fairy tail. Just because some ancient dudes thought of something that caught the imagination doesn't mean that it is true. Certainly, in light of more recent knowledge, based on demonstrably superior methodology, it is time to follow the evolution of Yoga rather than being trapped within the dead, desicated body of its past.

okay, venturing out of my depth again — does this all come down to the question of whether something can exist independently, unchangingly, permanently…? be it consciousness, the soul, God or Krishna?

Immanence seems quite reasonable to me while transcendence strikes me as kind of redundant… those are just my current opinions, not conclusions by any measure

It depends on the definition of immanence. MJy point of view is the divinity is a human value and from that point of view, the entire universe could be seen as divine. If, however, you mean that a divine being or essence manifests in and through all aspects of the material world, I've seen no evidenc efor that at all, and thus don't find it "reasonable."

svan and Scott. When I was writing my eBook Yoga Demystified I ended up using the term "infinitely wondrous" for "divine" and "the infinitely wondrous unfathomable life-force of the universe" for "God". I was trying to see if I could describe Yoga philosophy without any religious terminology at all, and without anything that seemed illogical to me. I succeeded to my own and many others' satisfaction (but certainly not to everyone's.)

More religiously oriented people, like our friend Greg here, for example, will always be unhappy with my kind of secular view of Yoga. But for me, it's precisely Yoga's more rational orientation that makes me able to whole-heartedly embrace it. I believe that the ancient Yoga sages had this same orientation, even though they were still steeped in religious language and metaphor. That's why I feel a kinship with them.

This seem similar to what you are both saying. Am I reading you properly?

Love to get other opinions on this.

Well, there is religious dogma and then there is the dogma of scientism which is really quite similar (in both cases there is a great deal you don't know, but you put a great deal of "faith" in the mythology or methodology, respectively). Consciousness may have more than one definition, but yet I'm wondering what "demonstrably superior methodology" is employed to measure it?

The only methodology used to produce ideas such as the ones expressed by Greg is introspection – a notoriously flawed method susceptible to every sort of bias and no possible objective review. The methods of neturalism on the other hand are peer-reviewed, objective measures with reliability and validity carefully measured. The methods, results and interpretations are open to logical review and refutation. The results of naturalistic methods need no repetition here. With regard to consciousness, the only entities so far demonstrated to possess consciousness of any type that can be objectively studied and living beings, and arguably, some computer-based entities. Localized and distributed elements of consciousness have been studied and well documented in the neural tissues of many animal species including our own.

I don't think anyone is presenting introspection as an objective scientific study–Greg can correct me if I'm wrong in regard to his view.

Your argument would be more compelling if you could point to an actual study (along with the study's definition and delineation of "consciousness"). I haven't been able to find any. There are neuroscientists and neuropsychologists, such as Dr. Rick Hanson (author of Buddha's Brain), who think the spirit of science should be open to the possibility of non-local consciousness unless it can truly be proven to be impossible (he hasn't been convinced, obviously).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a pusher of Atman or Brahman (or any "Big Man or Woman in the Sky", for that matter), but I am vigilant against scientism (as opposed to science) used to provide spurious arguments against non-local consciousness based on studies of local consciousness.


Just my personal take on this. Since I'm a "spiritual rationalist" (for lack of a better term until I find one) I usually avoid the word "consciousness" precisely because it does imply some sort of human-like consciousness.

However, I don't have any trouble using it when the context makes it obvious that we're only using it as a metaphor for whatever drives the universe to do the infinitely wondrous things that it does. It's a metaphor for an unfathomable something that is clearly there but is utterly beyond our understanding–the infinitely wondrous unfathomable life-force of the universe.

It's almost certainly not conscious in any human sense of the word, so, in my opinion, all attempts to define it in terms of human consciousness belie the fact that it's just an inadequate metaphor for the ineffable. Better to avoid the word "consciousness" altogether rather than to make that mistake.

The Gita's message, as I read past all the vestiges of religious language to its core, is that the universe is infinitely wondrous and we are are an integral part of that infinite wonder. That seems utterly rational to me. That's the level at which an ultra-scientist like Einstein can read and interpret the Gita.

I haven't yet met anyone who is willing to argue that the universe is NOT infinitely wondrous. It would seem that the more scientific (=rational) one is, the more one becomes aware of this, because scientists are always working on the edge of our knowledge, and it's so usually more obvious to them how vast and unfathomable what we don't know is.

How do you, Matt, and you other readers feel about this interpretation of the Gita?


You raise some good points, Bob and you are doing a great job of moderating and bringing the discussion back to the Gita.

I agree that usage of the word "consciousness" creates confusion because we lack a lexicon (especially a common one) to describe such concepts. But, I'm only parroting the usage of others, not making up my own phrases.

I love your usage of "infinite wonder." What's not to like?


Science is open to anything so long as objective evidence can be produced or the possibility of objective evidence is part of the theory (falsifiability). That is one of the aspects of science that protects it from dogma. That being said, you still have to show some evidence that a phenomenon exists either through direct observation or as a theoretical extension of known phenomena within a context of pre-existing scientific knowledge. There is no such evidence or valid theory that could support the existance of "non-local consciousness. If anything is spurious, it is promoton of such an absurd idea with no basis in fact or valid theory.

Hell, I can't produce a theory of consciousness let alone a theory of non-local consciousness. I am not a promoter of non-local consciousness, but I can't disprove such a notion either. You are the one positing the non-existence of such a phenomena. I am not positing anything.

I am merely suggesting that scientific method may not be the appropriate tool in this case–at least not in this point in our scientific development.

Superior? I never said any inquiry was superior, but one form of inquiry may be more appropriate than another given the specific case. I wouldn't apply the scientific method as a means of literary criticism, for example.

Depends on how you understand scientific methods. The first two pillars are to describe and explain natural phenomena. If literature is understood as a natural phenomenon, produced by natural beings, then the process of describing it and explaining it as would be done in literary criticism fits in quite well with a scientific approach. If you made up something that doesn't exist in the work of literature and used that as a basis for your critique rather than basing it on the literature, then you have the equivalent to making up things like infinite consciousness. Neither is honest.

Good literary criticism is typically a multidisciplinary enterprise: insights and approaches are garnered from history, philosophy, literature, and yes, the sciences. But to suggest that scientific method is the only way to investigate, interpret and evaluate literature is the worst and most ridiculous form of positivism. Hopefully you aren't seriously suggesting this.

YogiOne, if you truly believe that scientific method is the best approach for literary criticism, then show us how it is done with the Gita.

I think that's a very fair and illuminating question, integralhack. I agree that it's very distorting to think that science is the only or best way to look at anything. Isn't that what you mean by scientism? (This is a word I'm just learning about through you.)

What about that, YogiOne? How does one apply scientific analysis to a literary/spiritual work like the Gita? (And anyone else who would like to comment, of course.)

Yes, Bob.

Per Wikipedia (it has a good entry on scientism): "Scientism is the idea that natural science is the most authoritative worldview or aspect of human education, and that it is superior to all other interpretations of life."

In other words, scientism–as opposed to science–upholds natural science as something of a belief system or ideology.

A true scientist or a skeptic would not promote scientism, IMHO.

HI all, trying to read all the commentary and not quite sure I am understanding the debate. But have you heard of Roger Nelson? A scientist studying global consciousness, you can look him and his studies up on Wikipedia.

Hmmm, how about being a human being?. It seems to me one has to match type of knowing to the purpose of the knowing. I need to learn about flamenco guitar playing in a different way than I learn about physics.

Plus science is extremely limited when you have a complex task with lots of unknowns and random events, like running a business, which I did for 25 years.

Let's call it "situational knowledge"–match the approach, and the degree of science, to the situation.

What do you think?

BTW – where science has been adequately demonstrated to be superior there is no question of scientism. And, no, I'm not going to give you a history lesson regarding the history of how science has been proven to be superior to others ways of seeking knowledge. Do the work yourself.

When you critique a book you first describe something about the book. This is directly equivalent to the first stage of scientific process. You describe the natural phenomena you intend to study. Second, you compare the ideas in the book to other ideas and there are no a priori limitations on the associations you draw. This parts is directly equivalent to the first part of the second stage of scientific inquirey which seeks to explain/understand natural phenomena. Of course science goes into much greater detail at this point where literary criticism usually skips to the end which would be to offer conclusions based on the work previously completed. The process of science is far more encompassing than hypothesis testing. It is often the case that people try to put science into a smaller box than they should.

Have to strenuously disagree with this one, YogiOne. Except for hypotheses and creative imagining, science is about things that can be measured with some precision and studied, which isn't usually true of the topics of literary criticism.

There are a few things that come close to science in literature. Graham Schweig is writing a "Concordance" for the Gita, for example–a comprehensive analysis of all the words in the Gita and where and how they are used. But even this couldn't really be called scientific, because it's still necessarily very heavy with the author's judgment.

I'm not sure how you can even begin to compare literary analysis to science. Logic is critical. But science is an different animal altogether. I'm guessing this is a good example of what Integral Hack would call a totally inappropriate use of science, and therefore "scientism". Am I right, Integral?

Have to strenuously disagree with this one, YogiOne. Except for hypotheses and creative imagining, science is about things that can be measured with some precision and studied, which isn't usually true of the topics of literary criticism.

There are a few things that come close to science in literature. Graham Schweig is writing a "Concordance" for the Gita, for example–a comprehensive analysis of all the words in the Gita and where and how they are used. But even this couldn't really be called scientific, because it's still necessarily very heavy with the author's judgment.

But I'm not sure how you can even begin to compare literary analysis to science. Logic is critical. But science is an different animal altogether. I'm guessing this is a good example of what Integral Hack would call a totally inappropriate use of science, and therefore "scientism". Am I right, Integral?

In keeping with our living room theme, here's what I would say if we were all together right now:

I would like to thank Greg for all his contributions to this and other Gita Talks. I really do appreciate your enthusiasm and the time you put into your extensive comments, Greg.

That said, I want to make sure that other potential participants here are not discouraged by the lofty level of Greg's thinking. I always like hearing what Greg has to say, but I have to confess that for me personally it's on the highly theoretical and abstract end of the Yoga spectrum. I try my best to understand it, but I often have trouble, and when I do, his thoughts are often very different than my own.

I have a much simpler idea of Yoga philosophy and the Gita, which is well expressed in Gita Talk #5: Sublimely Simple, Profound and Livable.

(Greg has already told me in our other debates that he thinks I'm pretty far off track in my thinking, and I have certainly been receptive to hearing Greg's problems with my ideas. This is a two-way street, to be sure, and a fruitful one, I think.)

I hope those of you who have more down-to-earth questions and comments will still join the discussion.

Who's next with an idea?


We should design a disclaimer that appears with all my posts. "The following is not consistent with the moderator's views, so do not blame him." :>)

And, "The following program may not be appropriate for all participants. Viewer discretion is recommended." :>)

Or, "The following was achieved by a professional on a designed course. Please do not try this at home."

Or, "Leaving the earth can be dangerous to your health. Please proceed at your own risk. Down-to-earth questions can be found elsewhere."

Somewhere in there, we can capture the situation. And make sure no one is offended.

I like #1 best! A general immunity for the moderator. That's what I need. Can we put some legal teeth in that?

I think you put your finger on it in your last one, though. The fact is, a great many of us have no particular desire to leave the earth. That's not what spirituality is about for us.

Thanks for your good-natured reaction to my comment. Greg.


you making Tea Bob? :o)

Hmmm, my turn to hold the rock…. It's all very metephorical isn't it! Yogaforcynics got close to my perception saying that you're close to feeding the tree Bob!
That's a lovely thought, that when you quit this mortal coil, you're just tree food…. but being tree food, you become the tree and when that tree dies and gets used for firewood, you're the flame, the heat and the light that comforts your children or, your children's children.

Do ya hear me? The idea that once you have the realisation that you'll always be part of everything in some way, there cannot be death….

Not sure if I understand the differences or disagreements between Bob and Greg. Is this more of a debate or explanation of reincarnation? When Greg talks about the self, I would replace that with what the Quakers call inner light. I don't think Quaker's believe in reincarnation. So you have this inner light and it's in everyone and it is not your body or form and it connects people, I see it as your "true nature." That is what I understand him to be talking about. The inner light might go with you to the next life or go into a tree. You could just exclude reincarnation if that's not your cup of tea. And also I clicked on the link to Bob's view of the Gita and I totally agree with what you say so am I missing something?

One reason so many Quakers do yoga is that the "inner light" idea translates so perfectly to "the divine within me honors the divine within you." And another thing Quakers and yogis have in common is that a general vagueness about the exact nature of that inner light–or, at least an openness to a wide variety of viewpoints about it. There are Bible-centered Quakers, just as there are more religious Hindu- or Buddhist-oriented yogis who embrace more literal metaphysical understandings of heaven and hell or reincarnation, respectively. And there are many in both camps who view things more metaphorically. At a Quaker memorial service for my father, I stood up and said that, actually, he vacillated in his mind between being a Quaker, an Episcopalian and an atheist, and numerous members of the meeting came up to me afterwards, approving of what I said–and that's similar to the response I've always gotten when telling fellow yogis that I really don't believe in much or any of the metaphysical stuff. In both, it seems to me, the emphasis is on the path, rather than insisting on a solid definition of where that path ends.

Hi, Jay. I'm with you all the way, except that I think you're being unfair to the word "metaphysical". I think that an Einsteinian wonder at all incredible things we don't know about the universe is also metaphysical.

But I agree that "metaphysical" has more often been used to describe elaborate dogmatic systems of belief about things we really have absolutely no idea about. So I understand your usage, too.

I like this story very much. Do other readers have stories like this about religion?


Bob, I think you're right on the mark with "Einsteinian wonder." If we all just remain flexible in our interpretations wonderful convergences emerge rather than rigid differences. The Vedic people understood 4,000 years ago that matter is energy. Einstein gave us E=MC2 a hundred years ago. We could insist that they're not exactly the same thing, or we could revel in the illumination their similarity offers.

Likewise, the inner light of the Quakers that Elise describes is not far from the inner light described in the Yoga Sutras. We can insist on the differences of the different attempts humans have made to describe these common experiences, or we could revel in the illumination of that common fire.

(I think this gets at the differences between Bob and Greg–and me, too. We can insist on the subtle differences of our own view of things or revel in the illumination…)

Great point, YogaforCynics, not only is the practice important, but the "objectified end" sort of defeats the purpose. Yet, I find myself constantly having to remind myself of that point.

This is why some Buddhists and yogis blather on and on about the dangers of conceptualization, I suppose.

Good question, Elise. It's probably time for some definitions. Here is what I understand the definition to be:

Literal reincarnation–the rebirth of a specific recognizable soul in another body.

This is what I do not believe in. I'd like to hear from more of you who do believe in literal reincarnation and how it works for you.


Hi Bob, I believe in literal reincarnation, but I feel strongly that it is a personal decision and don't want to convince anyone of my beliefs. I feel it is important to respect the choice to believe what you want. None of my immediate family members share my belief in literal reincarnation, don't think any cousins or any other relatives and many or most of my friends think past lives are wierd. My husband wonders why everyone who thinks they can remember a past life only remember the lifetime they were Elvis or Cleopatra or something. I think you can look at the Gita from the perspective of either, doesn't seem that important and I think it's better to keep it simple. But it is fun to discuss this.

Ok I just responded to Bob that I do not want to argue the case for reincarnation, so I am contradicting myself by providing a link to a really interesting story about a boy who remembers being a World War II Fighter pilot.… There is a lot of stories about this boy online and a book about his story. That being said, my son who is 11 years old has said for many years that he thinks he will turn into dirt when he dies then become a plant and then a cow will eat him and he will be a cow or something like that.

I can't help myself but be reminded by Adi Shankara's Tat Twam Asi summary of Vedanta- Thou Art That. It seems that Sri Krishna is saying nothing but that here, but metaphorically. In other words, similar to how Jesus, read metaphorically said "there is no way to God but through me". When saying that, neither Sri Krishna, nor Jesus conceived themselves as separate from the individuals they are speaking to, nor with the undifferentiated consciousness. All similar ways of saying Tat Twam Asi, IMO.

Let me start a new line of discussion. What do you make of this passage?:

This is the supreme wisdom,
the knowing beyond all knowing,
experienced directly, in a flash…

Anyone want to jump in?

(I so wish I could call on people, the way a good discussion leader does! Please pretend I just called on you.)


Sri Krishna is speaking of enlightenment here- pure right brain awareness. And according to my mentor John Dobson, this is a Vedantic assertion- the moment when we step beyond transformational causation past separate perceptions/illusions and into reality. John calls this apparitional causation- or as Vedantins call it, First Cause.

Words are hard here, especially English words to describe what we're talking about, but put simply in a yoga cliche'- the drop merges with the ocean and becomes the ocean. I like that physical metaphors are often the best descriptors of this.

Another nice way I have heard this enlightenment described is that the knowledge, the know-er and the known become one, and the subject/object problem ceases due to this merging of consciousness.

I've still got the science vs. religion debate in my head, and it occurred to me that it's a scientific fact that we are physically made of the exact same material as the rest of the universe, and that we are continually interchanging molecules of that material in the form of our breath and our food and the regeneration of our cells.

So why would it be unscientific to perceive ourselves that way?

If you were a wave in the ocean
And someone asked you what you are
Would you answer
“I am a wave”
or would you answer
“I am the ocean”?

(from Yoga Demystified)


I would say, maybe in general, but I think both are both, too. I'm reading this biography of Einstein and was surprised to see that he emphasized right brain over left brain in explaining his success. (I think I already quoted this passage elsewhere in this discussion):

I'm enough of an artist to draw freely on my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. –Albert Einstein.


I really like that Einstein quote! To me it:s not a science vs religion as more of a debate of science vs what is consciousness and what is form? And like I have said before it is you choice to believe in the words or description of these ideas that suit your own experience. I like the Einstein quote because it touches upon all we have debated but in a language that would be accessible to many.

Hi, Elise. I like what I've read about Einstein so much that I've decided to dig in and really learn more about him. In a few weeks I'm going to do a Gita Talk relating the Einstein's spirituality to the Gita. It will be an expansion of this short piece: Albert Einstein as Yoga Sage.

One of things I want to figure out is if Einstein every read or was influenced by the Gita himself. I wouldn't be surprised, since it was a topic of conversation among intellectuals of his day. Anyone know?

Yes !!
This is the supreme wisdom,
the knowing of all knowing,
experienced directly, in a flash

This wisdom is beyond the mind. This wisdom is beyond the intellect. This wisdom is beyond cognitive thought. We take those parts of ourselves to ponder and reason, but it is dangerous to hold on to that logic. Study via the intuition and heart
is a better route, but still, the wisdom that Krishna speaks of is beyond that. What I have found is that as we allow the Grace of these teachings to permeate our being… that in a flash we receive a most sublime and powerful epiphany that allows us a direct experience of what Krishna is saying. We find that our understanding has risen into a whole new and profound level. Our life changes. It is indeed the Supreme Wisdom. The Knowing beyond all knowing. Blessings and thanks again for this wonderful gift, Bob.

Well put, Karen. Your enthusiasm and emotion for for this material are evident in you effusive comments, and I really enjoy hearing that from you.

Please see my followup question in my reply to YogiOne under my original comment.


This is a continuation of the fascinating discussion under the first "Greg" comment that now has 53 replies. I wanted to start a new comment stream to get more people involved, but you can still go back there and see where this question came from.

Scott, here's an interesting intellectual and scientific conundrum for you. What happens when scientific study of human behavior shows that many people benefit greatly from distinctly non-scientific brain activity, like believing in God, reincarnation, and direct prayer?

It seems to me that people are so drawn to religion that eventually the science of psychology will prove that these things satisfy deep emotional needs and that believing in something bigger than ourselves, be it science or religion, ultimately plays the very same role in the mental health of an individual, even though one is "true" and one might be "fantasy".

I know this can be worked into the theory of naturalism, but it certainly complicates the picture of what you or anyone else urges someone else to believe or not believe, don't you think? What if belief in general, even if it is irrational, be it religion or art or literature is scientifically proven to be good for mental health and even human progress?

Wow. That IS a very interesting question indeed, if I do say so myself! I hope to hear from Scott and others on this one!

I've been quoting Einstein a lot in our discussion about science and religion. Here is a terrific radio program that does an excellent job of revealing Einstein's Gita-like religion:

Einstein's God (column on the left).

Please tell me what you think?


I have a question that springs from the ongoing science/religion debate: in terms of purusha and prakriti… what does the Gita say? Is Krishna one or the other, neither, both, beyond both or all of the above? and where does Brahma fit in?

Can anyone else help svan out with his question here? (svan, I'm going to give it a little more time, then I'll take a crack at it. I'm glad you asked this important question.)

Krishna is the universe itself and the life-force behind the universe, in all its infinite wonder. This is sometimes not obvious because he takes on more limited forms on occasion to make this point or that. But it's always just a role the universe is playing. This it pretty well established early in the text. But if you haven't read Chapters 10 and 11 yet, they explode into rapturous poetry about Krishna's true nature.

So the correct answer to your multiple choice is "all of the above" and more that we can't begin to comprehend, the way even an Einstein feels about the universe. The Gita answers the science/religion debate by encompassing everything, certainly including both science and religion. There are multiple passages in the Gita which state explicitly that all other Gods are just part of him, which means, in practical terms, that all religions lead to him.

Brahman (with the "n" at the end) is synonymous with Krishna. It's just the more formal and abstract word.

Just to avoid confusion, there is also an important ordinary God in the pantheon called "Brahma" (as you wrote it without an "n", but I think you probably meant "Brahman") who is "merely" the God of Creation.

Please let me know if you have any further comments. Thanks for writing.


Thanks, Bob. Yes, I meant to type Brahman. So, Brahman is equivalent to Krishna, not beyond Krishna? I sometimes get confused about these layers and relationships among terms. I know the terms are just pointers, but some are more accurate than others. Thanks again.

Remember I'm not a scholar, but yes, Krishna is just the human representation of Brahman. As I mentioned before, this point comes to a poetic crescendo in chapters 10 and 11.

Personally, I love Yoga because even though it can seem complicated at times, especially in the middle of one of the ancient texts, in the end it all devolves in to utter livable simplicity. See Gita Talk #5: Sublimely Simple, Profound and Livable and The Rest is Commentary

Please keep asking these important questions. It's good for everyone!



Well, there are some relating to specific dieties in the patheon, and since you questionned Krishna and Brahma at the same time, I thought it would be good to agree on the definitions before going into it further. I also get confused about some of the sanskrit terms, so I figured some of the folks following this discussion might benefit from havinbg the definitions stated explicitly.

That said, Bob gives a very concise answer to your question above, so I'll try to take it a step further by asking a related question:

Without Prakriti, what would Purusha have to be conscious of?

I don't know. Without purusha, would prakriti exist? Without "knowing" where or what is "existing"? can purusha exist separately, independent of prakriti? can there be prakriti without purusha?

How important are these questions and their answers to one's practice of yoga and the type of yoga one practices (karma, jnana or bhakti in the Gita)?

I can only give you my personal answer. These distinctions are not important to me at all, simply because they are all blown away by the main point of the Gita anyway–that everything is one infinitely wondrous universe anyway. The Gita entreats and inspires us to ignore all such distinctions and simply live with the awareness of the wondrous whole, of which each of us in an integral part, and thus infinitely wondrous ourselves.

If this is true, what need do we have to over-contemplate purusha (soul/spirit) and prakriti (nature)? Krishna blows them away with a concept infinitely more glorious and real. Krishna says over and over again, "All you need to do is think about me all the time", where "me" is the one indivisible wondrous life-force of the universe, encompassing all other Gods, but also all other concepts, like purusha and prakriti.

So, what is science? Bob requested a succinct definition. Science is an evolving human process with the following goals: to describe, explain, predict and control natural phenomena. Now, that is succint enough but probably not detailed enough to be satisfying. I'll add that science has a number of qualities that values associated with it that help define what makes for good science too, and some that are absolutely required for it to be science at all. All of science exists within the philosophy of naturalism (everthing that exists is natural and nothing outside the natural world can affect it) for instance and the proper subject of science is the natural world.

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