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Best of Yoga Philosophy

Best of Yoga Philosophy–Past Two Weeks

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Best of Yoga Philosophy
A Virtual Magazine & Forum

The  very best Yoga philosophy articles from all over the Web.

Follow daily on
Pinterest (best browsing), facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin

Please pass the word to your friends who like Yoga philosophy.
Thank you for your interest and support.

Bob W. Editor

*****

My Dinner with Vyasa: The Legendary Author of the Bhagavad Gita Comes Out of Hiding to Answer All Our Questions (After 2300 Years) ~ Bob Weisenberg ~ “Ok, let’s get down to brass tacks. What’s the biggest misconception about the Bhagavad Gita you’d like to clear up for our readers?”

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Reconnecting with Real Yoga: Teaching in Cook County Jail ~ Carol Horton ~ “I hope that more yoga practitioners will be inspired to get real, cut through the crap, and practice in ways that really do open your heart and mind…”

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Ramesh Bjonnes

Who Invented Yoga? ~ Ramesh Bjonnes ~ “Unlike what some contemporary yoga writers claim, there is no need to resort to unsubstantiated mythology or hearsay to prove that yoga is a lot older than 100 years…”

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Photo: The Beatles' Guru in an odd but fascinating 1968 film, in which we see the Maharishi strolling the shore of the spectacular Lake Louise, holding a rose in his hand, and invoking the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. http://theuncarvedblog.com/2013/09/24/watch-the-1968-film-of-maharishi-at-lake-louise/

The Beatles’ Guru in an odd but fascinating 1968 film, in which we see the Maharishi strolling the shore of the spectacular Lake Louise, holding a rose in his hand, and invoking the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.

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Dharma in the Christian West – Robert A. Jonas – The Interfaith Observer ~ “In fact, there is a non-dual tradition in Christianity, but most Christians, especially Protestants, know nothing about it…”

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Bill-Mahony-41

contemplation & devotion: an interview with bill mahony ~ Roseanne Harvey ~ “While we live in a world that could not have been imagined in earlier eras, in some important ways the sages, philosophers and teachers of yoga in distant times faced the same challenges we do. Like us, for example, they sought to understand what it means to live a life touched by joy and illumined by compassion, understanding, and commitment, even in a world that can bring disappointment and sorrow…”

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Gurus, Seekers, and Being Accountable - Phil Goldberg (Author of

Gurus, Seekers, and Being Accountable – Phil Goldberg (Author of “American Veda”) ~ “We learned a lot about this model of spiritual development in the 1970s, when baby boomers flocked to the gurus who suddenly became prominent on the heels of the Beatles’ sojourn in India…”

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The Touch & Taste of Death ~ David Garrigues ~

The Touch & Taste of Death ~ David Garrigues ~ ” I dropped grudges, animosities, everything petty and irrelevant in my mind; nearly everything that was worrying me, all the fearful thoughts that were occupying my attention just moments before, vanished with the speed of a lightning strike…”

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Bob Profile PhotoBob Weisenberg is Editor of Best of Yoga Philosophy and former Yoga Editor & Assoc. Publisher of elephant journal. He is the author of Yoga Demystified, Bhagavad Gita in a Nutshell, and Leadership Is Like Tennis, Not Egyptology. as well as Co-editor of Yoga in America and a contributor to The Poetry of Yoga. Contact Bob at facebook, Twitter, or e-mail.

 

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Best of Yoga Philosophy

Best of Yoga Philosophy for the Week

Public Domain

Hi, everyone.

As many of you know, I tried my best to retire (again) last year. But then this new project came up that I just couldn’t resist:

a virtual magazine and forum devoted to Yoga philosophy.

Every day I select the best Yoga philosophy articles on the Internet and post the links to Pinterest, facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. You read the articles that interest you, and join in the discussions, if so moved.

Waylon saw what I was doing and generously invited me to post all my recommendations on elephant, and I’m happy to take him up on his offer. Below are my choices for this week.

Please help spread the word through friends and social media. Thank you for your interest and support.

Warmly,

Bob

Photo: Pixoto

Beginner’s Mind, or Why I Got My Guitar Out Again After All These Years.
Jess Hicks ~ Jul 15, 2013
Love this article. –Bob W.

~

Treating Trauma with Yoga. ~ Nicki Mosley ~ July 12, 2013 ~ " Why not invite a person fragmented by trauma into a system of practice which is defined as ‘union’ to support their process re-integrating their fragments?"

Treating Trauma with Yoga.
Nicki Mosley ~ July 12, 2013
“Why not invite a person fragmented by trauma into a system of practice
which is defined as ‘union’ to support their process re-integrating their fragments?”

~

Yoga Wisdom at Work: Finding Sanity off the Mat & on the Job. ~ Marlena Rich {Book Review} ~ Jul 11, 2013 ~ Good review.  See my comment at the end. --Bob W.

Yoga Wisdom at Work: Finding Sanity off the Mat & on the Job.
Marlena Rich {Book Review} ~ Jul 11, 2013
Good review. See my comment at the end. –Bob W.

~

Discussion of the Week:

In Praise of American Yoga ~Carol Horton ~ July 11, 2013 ~ "Of course, it’s tempting to pit “commercial” versus “authentic” yoga (or whatever) to dramatize a valid critique. Yet setting up such hard-and-fast categories carries a cost..."

In Praise of American Yoga
Carol Horton ~ July 11, 2013
“Of course, it’s tempting to pit “commercial” versus “authentic” yoga
(or whatever) to dramatize a valid critique. Yet setting up such
hard-and-fast categories carries a cost…”

~

Practical Magic ~ Martha Beck ~ July 11, 2013 ~ This is why I have a section called "Related Articles & Sites" on Best of Yoga Philosophy--so I can post great "not-Yoga-per-se" articles like this one! --Bob W.

Practical Magic
Martha Beck ~ July 11, 2013
This is why I have a section called “Related Articles & Sites” on Best of Yoga Philosophy
–so I can post great “not-Yoga-per-se” articles like this one! –Bob W.

~

Love Potion: How Yoga Blew Open My Imperfect Heart. ~ Jeannine Ouelletteon ~ Jul 11, 2013 ~ "The love between us was always there—I knew that—but practicing yoga brought it to the surface in a way that made me cry again and again. I began to understand that wonderful need not be perfect..."

Love Potion: How Yoga Blew Open My Imperfect Heart.
Jeannine Ouelletteon ~ Jul 11, 2013
“The love between us was always there—I knew that—but practicing yoga
brought it to the surface in a way that made me cry again and again.
I began to understand that wonderful need not be perfect…”

~

This moved me this morning --Bob W. "my spine is mostly metal now, but I have never felt so human..." ~ Robert Sturman   ~ July 10, 2013.

“my spine is mostly metal now, but I have never felt so human…”
Robert Sturman ~ July 10, 2013
This moved me this morning –Bob W.

~

Classic Article from the Past:

My Art As My Yoga. ~ Katarina Silva ~ Feb 25, 2011 ~ "And that’s when it happened. I let my heartache become my yoga practice: the very experience that reconnects me with my deepest core, my most confident self, the me that always feels loved, my own divine nature, inner bliss!"

My Art As My Yoga.
Katarina Silva ~ Feb 25, 2011
“And that’s when it happened. I let my heartache become my yoga practice:
the very experience that reconnects me with my deepest core, my most confident self,
the me that always feels loved, my own divine nature, inner bliss!”

~

Are You a Yoga Slacker? ~ Hally Marlino ~ Love it, Hally.  Note from Bob W.--"I think I need to recite this again out loud just to enjoy the ebullient rhythms of your writing. I don't usually post yoga class articles to Best of Yoga Philosophy, but this is an exception! Thanks."

Are You a Yoga Slacker?
Hally Marlino ~ July 9, 2013
I think I need to recite this again out loud just to
enjoy the ebullient rhythms of your writing. I don’t
usually post yoga class articles to Best of Yoga Philosophy,
but this is an exception! Thanks. –Bob W.

~

Can the Truth Come Back With a Capital “T”? ~ Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, and Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D. ~ July 9, 2013 ~ Though not labeled Yoga Philosophy per se, this is so close to the thinking of the ancient yoga sages, that I consider it a "must read".  What do you think?

Can the Truth Come Back With a Capital “T”?
Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D.,
P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, and Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D.
July 9, 2013
Though not labeled Yoga Philosophy per se, this is so close to the
thinking of the ancient yoga sages, that I consider it a “must read”.
What do you think? –Bob W.

~

"What do you care about with nearly insane passion? What do you want to give to the world? What do you want to leave behind you when you leave this world?" ~ David Garrigues ~ Jul 8, 2013

Ashtanga as a Path to Shamanism.
David Garrigues ~ Jul 8, 2013
“What do you care about with nearly insane passion?
What do you want to give to the world? What do you want to leave
behind you when you leave this world?”

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Six Short Poems About Joy.

Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon?

Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon?
How did it make you feel?
Did it fill you with wonder and awe?
Did it startle you out of your ego?

 Did you feel the infinite grandeur
And timelessness Of the universe?
Did it make you feel small
Yet in a strange but unmistakable way
Infinitely large, too
As infinite as the universe itself?

 Spiritual enlightenment
Is when we suddenly realize
That we’re staring at the wonder
Of the Grand Canyon
Each and every moment
Of each and every day.

~

Your Next Masterpiece

Monet haystack

What is it like to see the world
Through the eyes of a famous painter?
Suppose you are Monet or Van Gogh
Or Rembrandt or Picasso.

For the next fifteen minutes
Look at every scene passing in front of your eyes
As the frame for your next masterpiece.
Can you see twenty-five different paintings
In the same simple country haystack?

Look at the rich array of details that emerge
From scenes you didn’t even notice before.
How vivid do the colors become
Or even the countless colorless subtle shades of grey
When you need to match them to your palette?

How infinitely fascinating is any scene
When you need to interpret
Every line and shape and texture and nuance
With your charcoal or brush?

How convincingly does this reflect
The startling infinite fascinating wonder
Of the workaday universe itself?

~

Silence is the Roar of the Universe

Silence is the Roar of the Universe.
Emptiness is the Fullness of the Grand Canyon.
Nothingness is Always Abundance.
Boredom is Always an Invitation to Amazement.
Silence is the Roar of the Universe.

~

Soulmates

pebble_shingle_sandstone_225610_l

Science and Yoga
Are soulmates.
Both find
Infinite wonder
Awesome mystery
And unanswerable questions
Even in the simplest things
We see all around us.

 How do the
Molecules and atoms
Protons, electrons, and quarks
Of a rock
Know how to be
A rock?

 Science and Yoga
Both inflame our awareness
As much by marveling
At what we don’t know
As what we do.

~

Like Waves or Ocean?

It’s true.
We are like waves in the ocean.
We are more truly the ocean
than the wave.

But what if there were a wave
that lasted 70 years,
and was conscious
and could interact with other waves
and could sing and dance
and create new waves
before ultimately merging back
into the infinite ocean?

We would be in awe of those waves.
We would flock to see those waves.
We would rejoice in their very existence
and our ability to perceive them
until they eventually returned
to their true eternal ocean selves.

~

Through the Window

In my living room
While lying on my back
On the couch,

I can gaze through the window
Past the roof of the house,
Past the bright green leaves
Of the lofty trees
Gently swaying in the breeze,
Past the endlessly changing forms
Of the brilliant white clouds
Slowly drifting by.

I can gaze through the window
Into the unfathomable infinity
Of the wondrous deep blue sky.

 This is my favorite place
To read the Bhagavad Gita
And the Upanishads.

~

See also:

Yoga Demystified: The Six Big Ideas.

Bhagavad Gita in a Nutshell: Big Ideas & Best Quotations.

(All photos Wikipedia Commons, Public Domain.)

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Yoga Can Change the World. Get Yourself Out of the Way! ~ Kripalu’s Stephen Cope, Part 2.

Welcome to Part 2 of my interview with Stephen Cope of the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. For Part 1, see How To Live an Extraordinary Life. ~ Kripalu’s Stephen Cope.

Stephen Cope is a psychotherapist and senior Kripalu Yoga Stephen Copeteacher. He is the author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker’s Guide to Extraordinary Living and the Director of the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living.

BOB: Tell me more about the work you’re doing here at Kripalu.

STEPHEN: I am so lit up by the possibility of Yoga changing the world. I am actually at a position to do something about it. I really feel strongly Gandhi’s admonition to take yourself to zero, with your own obsessive concerns, with your own comfort, and so forth.

Gandhi was brilliant. He was all about unity of action, like how do you organize, aim and unify your life force in a way that it can change the world. So I love the story of Gandhi – it’s a very systematic divestment of all his stuff.

You know the story about the jewels and his wife. At the end of this life, Gandhi had a pair of spectacles – if you read the story closely, you will see it was a struggle. It was not that easy to let go – he was not born in a loincloth – he was a barrister. Both he and his wife had a longing for good things and when he lived in South Africa, he made a good living.

BOB: How has that affected your life?

STEPHEN: To watch him understand the power that you gain by divesting oneself of all attachments and physical things has been really inspiring to me. At my age, I am slowly divesting myself of all my stuff. It just so happens that I come from a long line of people going all the way back to the Mayflower. My mother ended up inheriting tons of art, antiques and silver, so I have stuff.

I am slowly giving it all away to my nieces and nephews, my siblings, because I’ve had it. I have used it, and now I am really fascinated by simplification and the power that simplification brings, so you can focus your energy towards your dharma.

BOB: Is this also true of the other exemplars of the Bhagavad Gita in your upcoming book?

STEPHEN: Yes. This is one of the reasons why I love Susan B. Anthony. She methodically simplified her life and narrowed down her articulation of her dharma, which was vote for women. She had a really wide bandwidth of interests as an activist and she figured out that you have to focus that, not in a narrow way, but in a really clear way. She finally focused it on the vote, she narrowed down the way she dressed, and she narrowed down the way she ate.

She became a masterful speaker, very intentionally and deliberately. She mastered all the tools that she needed, and then she slowly gave all her life energy to all of her tasks. She knew that it was not just about her. She knew that it would not happen in her lifetime, which it didn’t, but she is a brilliant example of this simplification, focusing – she became a guided missile of energy. I used to think of her as a wizened spinster, but she was a seriously smart and tough woman.

If you look at all the exemplars in my book, you will see the same kind of narrowing, focusing, winnowing simplification. Robert Frost, who had a brilliant teaching career, and never really was a published poet until he was 38, at which point he gave up all of the rest of his careers. He said “OK, I believe my dharma is to be a poet, whether I will be successful or not, but I am giving up everything I have got to it”.

BOB: Tell me more, then, about how it’s affecting your own life.

These stories have convinced me that the experiment I want to do with my life next is to simplify, narrow, focus, and bring all my energy to the dharma.

The other book that I read, and love, is the Tao Te Ching. The Tao Te Ching is all about how can you use what life brings you, and what life has brought me is this involvement with the science edge of Yoga right now. So yogis are 25 years behind the Buddhas in terms of scientific investigation of the facts and mechanisms of Yoga.

We are standing on the shoulders of the Dalai Lama and Jon Kabat-Zinn and all the Buddhas who have developed profound understandings of primarily intentional training, meditation and what it does to the brain – and yet, Yoga, as a discipline, brings in some new pieces. Yoga has both a bottom-up and top-down strategy. The top-down strategy is essentially the same as the Buddha’s, it is intentional training. It has all these astounding effects on the mind.

BOB: Explain the bottoms-up part.

The bottom-up strategy is a direct intervention into the physiology of the body. Yoga postures have profound effects that we do not yet understand – why it changes the physiology of the brain, why it changes the structure and function of the brain, it’s role in neurotransmitters, gathering serotonin, blocking glutamate which creates upset brain, effects on heart, breathing rate, you name it.

What happens is that with this bottom-up strategy, you change the physiology of the body in such a way that you can really begin to practice the intentional training with a lot more power. And that is, of course, what the Yoga Sutras say. But we do not understand exactly how this works or why it works.

Right now, we are at the turning point of yoga. All of a sudden, there is a tremendous amount of interest and money for potential collaborations about yoga research. We just happen to have started this institute five years ago in collaboration with a Harvard doctor.

Here I sit at a time where I was planning to go off and write books for the rest of my life, play more piano – I have a stack of books in my head that I want to write and read.

But right now, I am in a situation where we are a prime program at the schools and it is changing kids’ lives. Once you begin to understand the crisis of the American schools – do you have kids?

BOB: I have three kids and four grandkids.

STEPHEN: So then you know enough about it to get as freaked out as I am.

BOB: Not only that but my wife is an education consultant who is in the schools all the time developing teachers. So I hear about it every day.

STEPHEN: I am convinced that our culture is dying from the bottom up. I have seen, because we have been in schools now for four years, a variety of type of schools. Our intention is to be in relation with at least four different kinds of schools on the school demographic – a large suburban upper middle class school, an inner city school with incredibly challenging demographic in terms of poverty, dropout rate, etc., a private school and a rural school.

We have different strategies – the deep strategy is to be in relationship with at least four schools with profoundly different demographic, to refine their curriculum so it addresses their particular problems, to study with our Harvard team of scientists, and when we have a curriculum that we know works, we know why it works and we have the evidence base, then we scale it out to the whole country through our yoga teacher training program. We have 7,000 yoga teachers all over the world. We teach the very best of our yoga teachers how to take this program into the schools.

BOB: So, the strategy is to figure it out and then spread it?

STEPHEN: That’s right. Figuring it out is important for scientific credibility; you have got to have evidence. There is a lot of yoga in schools in America, but there is no good research.

BOB: That way it would be less arbitrary for someone to suggest it in the schools.

STEPHEN: Exactly. So what we have done in our school programs is really understand that a lot of the effects of yoga are the effects of what scientists call self-regulation. It is a toolbox that helps kids to manage their emotions, their cognitions, their behaviors, their impulses; and so we are now making it very explicit that our yoga program is to help kids train in self-regulation, and schools eat that up because they don’t have a systematic way to help kids manage their emotions.

BOB: Are they approached by non-yoga systems that propose to do the same things? For example, if you went to a school, and the principal says, “OK, I’ve got this problem, I want to do something with my kids, and I want to give them a life skills program.” Tell me what that principal faces. Is yoga one of five things that the principal has to choose between, or do they tend to do a lot of things? Or is it a competition for the principal’s attention?

STEPHEN: For the most part, those principals have no options. They have no money for those programs, they have no clear support from their boards and superintendents. The most advanced schools in America are trying different things, like self-regulation programs, but not yoga-based.

BOB: If I were a principal, might I say, I could either do yoga, Wayne Dyer or Stephen Covey – don’t they look to the principal like the same thing? Are they so different that it is not a problem?

STEPHEN: They do, except there are very few.

BOB: So, the answer is there could be things out there that could compete, but nobody is doing it.

STEPHEN: Not that nobody is doing it – if you drill down into the Harvard Ed School, and some of the very top schools in Massachusetts, just now people are beginning to get it. There are some programs based on meditation, and some that are not based on contemplative practice at all. There are some of them out there, but you will be surprised at how few. Ask your wife about this.

BOB: And even if there are, yoga has its own unique properties – that is the reason for all the research.

STEPHEN: Increasingly, there is meditation going on in the schools. Meditation is great, but it does not have the bottom-up factor that we have. So what do you have with kids? Kids are by and large stuck in hyper-aroused states or internally disorganized states. So our strategy is suited for kids who cannot sit still for a class, much less meditation.

BOB: You have to be in a pretty good state of control to do any meditation.

STEPHEN: What we do notice is that kids do meditate at the end of all programs. They do 35 minutes of yoga, and then they do meditation and relaxation. The yoga prepares them for the meditation, and the meditation contains a lot of cognitive training that we want to give them.

In answer to your question, you will be surprised at the paucity of possibilities these principals have. So if we go to them and say “Hey, we have got this proven curriculum and here is the Harvard research that backs it up. Not only that, in your town, we have some private donors that will support this”, it’s a pretty easy sell to a lot of principals who are going crazy trying to figure out why no matter how good the curricula they offer their students, the kids are so disorganized and hyper-aroused.

BOB: The other thing you have going for you is this network of 7,000 teachers out there – if you had to send them out from here, then that would be a big obstacle. But in almost every city or town, you have people who would love to do this work which is already funded. They could not go and sell to the schools themselves, but you’re providing the funding, too.

STEPHEN: So we are going to create a credential. We are going to train only the very best of our teachers – the 500 hour or 1000 hour trained teachers. We really want the best of our teachers to scale this around the country. We will support them.

We have some very generous donors who are supporting our development of these programs. For me, it is such a high to be involved in a program that will teach the lives of thousands and thousands of kids. I just got back from an exhausting week in Boston where I was raising money, meeting with donors, doing presentations.

BOB: Not exactly a yoga retreat.

STEPHEN: My former self would have hated it, but now I am so lit up by the possibilities, and this is what dharma is.

BOB: Right, your dharma overrides your natural inclinations. Your natural inclination might be to go play the piano, but your dharma leads you to do this.

STEPHEN: It is so exciting, I cannot even believe it. And I’ve noticed I have more resilience, because if you have the view that this is dharma, then it gives you a certain kind of resilience to manage the aversive state that comes with “I’ve got another meeting”. That is one of the programs we are running. We are running six major programs that are filled with the possibility of changing people’s lives.

We have a PTSD program. We have an obesity program, a major problem in America. We work with elite musicians and athletes, and I’m a musician, so I really relate to that. We have a brain scanning study at Mass General. We are developing one of the very first curricula for yoga research. We are beginning an addictions recovery program.

My understanding of the Gita and my reading it and re-reading it has really changed my life. I understand what dharma is in a very visceral way. It is changing my life. I get little bits of what Gandhi meant when he said “Take yourself to zero”.

BOB: But we don’t have to be a Gandhi to learn from the Gita.

STEPHEN: Get yourself out of the way and feel the fulfillment in the amazing work you can do. The other thing I love about it is total teamwork. We have a team of almost 30, we have docs from Harvard, we have got graduate students, young kids just out of college, all wanting to make a difference, and working with smart young kids is such a cool thing for an old guy like me to be doing. I’m pretty lit up by the whole thing.

Not  everybody can relate to all this.

BOB: Yes, I guess some people would say “Why are you working so hard?” at a time when even you previously thought you would be easing into a comfortable retirement.

STEPHEN: And that is a misunderstanding that we have in this culture. All of us thinking about retirement is full of misunderstandings about what is fulfilling in life. So the idea of what real fulfillment is that you finally get to the end of the trail and you relax – you have your own monogrammed swimming pool.

And you know, MihalyCsikszentmihalyi did a study of that, which he wrote about in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. He put little beepers on people and he would randomly beep them and ask them a series of questions about what they were doing right then, how happy they were. He discovered that people were happier when they were involved in a task for which they were well suited.

BOB: And working their asses off…..

STEPHEN: And working their asses off. I love it.

(Many thanks to Elephant volunteer Soumyajeet Chattaraj
for his meticulous transcription of this interview.)

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How To Live an Extraordinary Life. ~ Kripalu’s Stephen Cope

I don’t believe in gurus. But if I did, my guru would be Stephen Cope.

When I read Stephen’s startlingly good Yoga and the Quest for the True Self about six years ago, I knew right away that it would change my life forever. I have been deeply immersed in thinking, writing and breathing Yoga philosophy ever since.

Stephen Cope, MSW, psychotherapist and senior Kripalu Yoga Stephen Copeteacher, is also the author of The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker’s Guide to Extraordinary Living and the Director of the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living.

When I had the chance to meet Stephen for the first time at Kripalu a few weeks ago, I was filled with both excitement and a little nervous anticipation. I was actually afraid I might be uncharacteristically tongue-tied.

My fears turned out to be groundless, of course. Here’s what happened:

BOB: Hi, Stephen. It’s an honor to welcome you to Elephant Journal. I’d like to start with a question I usually ask at the end. What gets you excited when you wake up and think about work in the morning?

STEPHEN: I’ve just finished a new book – it’s a contemporary commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. In it, I look at eleven great lives, and I use each one of them as an exemplar to one of the principles of the Gita. So, it’s really a book about how to use your life and your life’s work as a spiritual practice, and I have to say that’s what is lighting me up these days.

Basically, the book is divided into four sections – and it is organized around Krishna’s major teachings to Arjuna. The first one is “Find your Dharma”, and of course, that one is organized around understanding what your gifts are and understanding that you have a certain responsibility to your gifts, that there is a way in which whatever your gifts are, it’s exactly what the world needs.

The second teaching is “Once you’ve got some clarity about your dharma, then the calling is to bring everything you’ve got to it”. It doesn’t matter if you succeed or if you fail – whether you succeed or fail is none of your business, your job is to bring everything you’ve got to your dharma.

The third one is to “let go of the outcome”, and the fourth one is to “turn it over to God”. Krishna says, “Turn it over to me”, but the idea here is to dedicate your work to something bigger than you are.

I’ve used eleven exemplars – these are lives that really touched me.

I’m a classical pianist. Astonishingly enough, Beethoven knew about the Bhagavad Gita, and read the Bhagavad Gita.

BOB: I’ve stopped being astonished when I find out who was influenced by the Bhagavad Gita.

STEPHEN: It’s amazing.

BOB: Are you ready to be published?

STEPHEN: Yes, I am just working on the end notes, and it’s coming out on Random House next year.

BOB: The Gita has been the focus of much of my writing on Elephant.

STEPHEN: It is the greatest scripture – there is no question about it. You know, I end the book with a chapter on Gandhi. Of course, I knew Gandhi’s life fairly well, but until I wrote it from the point of view of the Gita, I did not understand his life, you cannot understand his life. He was completely saturated with the Gita. He chanted the Gita on a daily basis. He read it, he wrote a great commentary on it.

BOB: Mitchell thought that essay was so important he included it as the one appendix to his translation of the Gita.

STEPHEN: Yes, that’s right, and for me, the title of my chapter on Gandhi is “Take yourself to zero”, where he talks about completely surrendering and abandoning yourself to your dharma in the world, which he did – so thoroughly that it was what gave him his power. He was not clinging to anything, so he was fearless.

BOB: I can’t wait to read your book.

STEPHEN: Knowing that you’re a Gita guy, I’ll have them send you a copy.

BOB: Just out of curiosity, what translation do you use?

STEPHEN: I use Barbara Stoler Miller’s translation, which I very much like, and also it is published by Bantam, so there is a little bit of an in-house thing. I also love Eknath Easwaran’s. His book on Gandhi, by the way, is brilliant.

BOB: I love his Upanishads, too.

STEPHEN: Of course he knew Gandhi, he went to study with Gandhi and he had a good deal of direct contact with him.

What I love about the Gandhi story is that Gandhi was a self-admitted coward as a young child. He was terrified of everything, he could not sleep in the dark and he was a complete disaster as a kid – and even as a young man.

The story is that his family’s nurse tried to help this kid who was so scared of everything – she taught him a chant, the Rama chant, and it was not until he began to chant that he actually began to get some courage, and of course he began a profound chanter. The chant interjected itself in his body and in his mind. Throughout his life, he chanted continually, internally, and it was actually the chant that gave him the power to start a community in South Africa.

He didn’t encounter the Gita until he moved to England to study law. He first read the Gita in English, and of course then he became a great exemplar of the Gita, so he actually was responsible for the rebirth of the Gita, which I think is an interesting fact.

BOB: Yes, it is interesting that he encountered it not in India, but in England.

STEPHEN: As a classical pianist, it was fascinating to me to discover Beethoven’s encounter with the Gita. He actually kept stanzas and verses of the Gita under a glass on his desk, right there in front of him. Not only that, he kept verses from the Upanishads.

Beethoven was a very wide reader of spiritual literature. He wasn’t an intellectual, but he was interested from the point of practical spirituality about how to solve his problem, and it was a mental health problem. Beethoven was a profoundly abused child – he was tortured by his father, he was tied to a piano.

He was very harshly dealt with by his father and he had a mother who was very negligent, so the kid grew up with PTSD, and he spent a lot of his life trying to figure out how to recover from the internalized trauma that he had, and music was his lifeline.

So he completely committed himself to the dharma of music, it was the one thin thread that he had that he could grab on to – he undertook the task of mastering sonata form, which is the great form of western music. He took sonata form so far beyond anything that anybody else had ever imagined.

By the end of his life, he was writing stuff that nobody even understood, because his mind had become so developed by the power of mastery that he was seeing patterns that no one could even see, particularly in the late quartets, and the late sonatas.

I am a pianist, so playing those late piano sonatas is an absolutely transformative experience. You don’t know what is happening to you, but you know that something has transformed inside. It was his final surrender without any conditions – without any grasping for outcome – that produced his most sublime work at the end of his life that the world is now beginning to understand.

BOB: I wrote a poem called “Yoga and Mozart”. It starts with the line, “I’ve decided to dispense with Yoga, and just listen to Mozart all the time” and ends with “…but then again, why not have both? Are they not one and the same?”

STEPHEN: They both have an effect on the mind – it’s the same core spirituality.

Who are the other exemplars of the Gita in your new book?

STEPHEN: I used Jane Goodall as an exemplar of the gift, because she had a gift for animals from very early on. She is an example of somebody whose gift was promoted by her family and mirrored back.

Then I used Thoreau, and Whitman – mostly I focused on Whitman’s years as a nurse in the Civil War. He’d already written “Leaves of grass”, and it had been hailed by Emerson. He was living in the afterglow of “Leaves of grass”, and the country was beginning to melt down into the Civil War.

His brother, George, of course, went into the army and got shot. He went to find his brother in the hospital, and he encountered his dharma in the hospitals around Washington. He felt the suffering of these young men, and he felt the call to minister to them. He took on this new role, which he called “The soldier’s missionary”, and it’s beautiful, that’s real dharma.

BOB: That’s really interesting, because the average person, when they see Whitman in your list of eleven, will think “Oh, Song of Myself.” Some people have called it a modern day Gita.

STEPHEN: In fact, his later poetry is all saturated with that, and from the Upanishad’s point of view, the body is transient and the soul survives. His lighter poetry was colored by his experience. It’s beautiful – his poem about Lincoln and a poem called “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed” – he became the bard of the meaning of the Civil War.

Then I used Robert Frost. I used Susan B. Anthony, who has been very influential in my life because I grew up near her home in upstate New York – and Camille Corot, who was one of the world’s greatest landscape painters, who was another guy who just lived his dharma fully.

I used Marion Woodman, who is a very good friend of mine. She is probably one of the greatest students of Jung in the twentieth century. I used Beethoven, Harriet Tubman – who was a fantastic story of dharma, and Gandhi.

BOB: What a great collection – wow!

STEPHEN: It was fun to see how many of them were directly influenced by the Gita, and those who weren’t were all influenced by the same kind of doctrine that is taught by the Gita.

BOB: When did you first have the idea to write this book?

STEPHEN: I’ve been working on this book for years. I’ve been teaching the Gita for years in my weekend program. In teaching it, it forces you to go to the great stories of people who are living their dharma, so I began, years ago, to collect stories of people who were living their dharma, that I thought exemplified their dharma. They’ve always become my favorite stories. This collection does not include tons of the other stories that I have collected.

BOB: Well, this could be Volume One, right?

STEPHEN: This could be Volume One, I could easily write Volume Two right away, since I’ve got all these stories. Emily Dickinson is another one of my great exemplars of dharma, though she is not in the book. Eric Liddell, the great English runner, was a Christian minister and died in China in a concentration camp – a wonderful story of dharma. Our Kripalu community here is based on Karma Yoga. I don’t know how much you know about Kriplalu.

BOB: A lot of what I know about Kripalu comes from reading your books repeatedly.

STEPHEN: Well, Swami Kripalu was one of the great kundalini yogis of the last century. When he came here to be with us for a couple of years just before he died, he took a look around, and said “You western disciples should really be practicing Karma yoga.”

Kundalini yoga is a highly esoteric practice. Maybe 1% out of every 500 gets enlightened. But you guys do not have to be monks or nuns, you are going to be living in this world, the Gita should be your text and you should be doing Karma yoga. This whole Kriplau organization, and my exposure, were all based on how to live your life in the world.

BOB: As opposed to retreating from the world. The Gita doesn’t tell you to go meditate in the forest and escape the world, rather to dive into the world with both feet.

STEPHEN: Exactly – the Gita itself was a huge breakthrough in Indian philosophy. It was a highly integrative scripture that really dealt with the problem of how to live in the world, whereas all the preceding scriptures were about how to withdraw from the world.

This makes the Gita extremely important for our world right now, and I am glad to see that it is showing up in corporate offices. The Gita appears to be replacing the Art of War. I got very interested in Patanjali and the Yoga Sutras probably because of my experience as a psychotherapist and psychologist.

The Yoga Sutras dispense of all religious archetypes, the storytelling – there is no story, no characters. It is really a very sophisticated cognitive psychology. That is what drew me to it. It is similar to Buddhadharma in many ways.

BOB: A very strong Buddhist influence.

STEPHEN: Right. The Yoga Sutras come out of two lines in philosophy in the Indian subcontinent. One comes out of the Sankhya scripture of the 7th and 8th century BCE, and then there was this other line that eventuated out of Hinduism and the Gita, a much more social kind of philosophy, that eventuated in the Brahmans, the caste system, the poetry, the Upanishads.

So I was initially more interested in the really sophisticated psychology of the Yoga Sutras, because I came out of Buddhism. I was in graduate school, I ran into Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in Cambridge, who was one of the great Crazy Wisdom gurus.

BOB: By the way, the publisher of Elephant Journal, Waylon Lewis, lives in Boulder. His parents were devotees of Trungpa. He grew up with him like an uncle, and that is why Elephant Journal has very strong Buddhist roots. Waylon writes about the influence Trungpa had on him, and it still informs Elephant Journal in a big way.

STEPHEN: That does not surprise me, because Trungpa was one of the first guys to transmit Eastern teachings into American culture, and is still extremely influential. He was hugely influential on me. That’s what I ran into.

BOB: Is that the type of Buddhism you were practicing when you were practicing Buddhism?

STEPHEN: That is where I started. I was going to Graduate School in Boston College, and there was a Dharmadhatu center in Boston. I would sit there every Sunday on a Nyinthun, which is a day-long sit. It is where I first encountered dharma, and I was on fire with the dharma.

As soon as I ran into it, it was as if I recognized it – I sat all the time. It just clicked. The Christians call it the consolations of early spiritual life. I got lots of consolation because I got shamata, which is their version of concentration practice, very quickly. I would have deep levels of concentration – I would go into them very quickly.

So that was my first exposure to Buddhism. His sangha began to go into conflict during his increasingly ill health and some of his foibles. There was a lot of questionable activity.

BOB: I read about all of that.

STEPHEN: So I moved away from that, and I moved to Theravada Buddhism. Insight Meditation Society became my home. I came to know Joseph, Sharon and Jack. I’m still good friends with them, I teach with them. So for many years, I haunted IMS and did Samadhi, Insight, Metta and everything that they teach.

BOB: So how did you get into Yoga from there?

STEPHEN: It was actually as a result of my deep Buddhist practice for years that I started getting into Yoga because Yoga was meant initially to prepare the mind and the body for sitting. So I encountered a friend who was into Yoga.

I was, at that time, as you know, getting ready to go to a monastery. My friend brought me to Kripalu. I was very much steeped in Buddhist psychology, so that really set me up to be attracted to the Yoga Sutras, which was of course profoundly influenced by Buddhist teaching, except for the end states, which the Yoga Sutras explain differently.

The Insight practices, which are present in the Yoga Sutras, aren’t as well elaborated as in the Buddhist tradition. So if you really want to learn Insight practice, you have to go to Buddhism. It is not really flushed out so much in the Yoga practice. But nonetheless, because I got involved in Yoga, and I came here, I really wanted to understand the Yoga Sutras.

All of the great medieval scriptures of Hatha yoga all say that in order to understand Hatha yoga, you have to do it in the context of Raja yoga. Everybody that I came to admire kept pointing back to the Yoga Sutras, and the Yoga Sutras have been such a black box for most of us in the American yoga world – it’s something we should read but we don’t.

BOB: Right. It’s read much more than the Gita, though. The Yoga Sutras get at least 95% of the attention when people think of ancient Yoga texts. In many ways, the Bhagavad Gita is a much more comprehensive document about yoga.

STEPHEN: The Gitas were meant to be an integrative scripture. The core of Raja yoga is in there, but also karma [action] and Jnana [understanding]. I’ve been reading the Gita since I got into Yoga, and I’ve been teaching it. I honestly think that I had to understand the Yoga Sutras first because a lot of the Gita is built on Raja yoga. You really have to understand the meditative point of view in order to understand what Karma yoga is built on.

So it worked out for me to start with the Yoga Sutras but now, honestly, when you ask what lights me up, I’ll say the Gita. How that is connecting for me right now is with my work at the Institute for Extraordinary Living. Because I am 62, I would have assumed that I would retire around now and be going off a little bit into a life of leisure.

BOB: Tell me about the work you’re doing here at Kripalu.

STEPHEN: Now I am so lit up by the possibility of Yoga changing the world. I am actually at a position to do something about it. I really feel strongly Gandhi’s admonition to take yourself to zero, with your own obsessive concerns, with your own comfort, and so forth.

Continued here:
Yoga Can Change the World. Get Yourself Out of the Way!
~ Kripalu’s Stephen Cope, Part 2.

(Many thanks to Elephant volunteer Soumyajeet Chattaraj
for his meticulous transcription of this recorded interview.)

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Do You Feel Miraculous & Awe-inspiring? (Gita Talk Conclusion)

For Stephen Mitchell and other interpreters, Chapter 12 is effectively the end of the Bhagavad Gita.

They consider the final third of the Gita, Chapters 13-18, to be a poorly fitted appendage—inferior poetically and spiritually, contradictory in content, probably by a different writer or writers and added at a later time. (You can read this point view in the Notes to the Introduction, p. 200-202.)

Other scholars do not agree.  Our special guest from the original Gita Talk #8, Graham Schweig, for example, has told me he has a very different point of view.  But in his own extensive commentary on the Gita (wonderful, by the way), Schweig almost completely ignores the last third of the text, except for the very end of Chapter 18.  He quotes 34 passages from Chapters 1-12 in his commentary, but none at all from Chapters 13-18, except for the closing stanzas of Chapter 18.

The great Georg Feurstein gives full textual and historical analysis of Chapters 13-18 in his new commentary, but only after declaring them to be “supplemental”.

Personally I felt the same as Mitchell does even before I had read Mitchell’s book.  So I don’t intend to hold Gita Talks on Chapters 13-18.  But you should read them yourself and make up your own mind.

I hope some of you who have a different point of view will tell us about it in your comments here. Perhaps someone would even like to do a guest Gita Talk in rebuttal, which I would welcome.

So this is the final Gita Talk for this round.  Let’s reflect back on the main themes of  the Gita.

As I hope you already know, these themes and others are all covered, with corresponding direct quotations, in Gita in a Nutshell, which I urge you to study and enjoy, if you haven’t already.

LIVE YOUR LIFE WITH LOVE AND PURPOSE,
DETACHING EGO FROM RESULTS

FOCUS THE MIND

EXPERIENCE INFINITE WONDER IN ALL THINGS

As they say about the Golden Rule, all the rest is commentary.

Here are the three cosmic truths underlying the Gita’s message:

Each of us is already infinitely wondrous—
miraculous, awe-inspiring, unfathomable
(divine if you prefer)

Our wondrous nature is the same as
the infinite wonder of the universe

We experience this infinite wonder
by waking up to reality

***

How has reading the Gita affected your life?

I have loved doing this second round of Gita Talk.  (Actually it’s the third round if you include the sixteen session Gita in a Nutshell.)

I hope it’s been good for you, too.  Thank you for being here.

All Blogs in the Series:

Welcome to Gita Talk:
Online Discussion of the Bhagavad Gita. (Round 2)

Ongoing Resources:

Gita in a Nutshell: Big Ideas & Best Quotations

Yoga Demystified

The Original Sixteen Session Gita Talk

Join Gita Talk Facebook Group for weekly notices
and to meet fellow participants.

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This is the Supreme Wisdom, Experienced Directly, In a Flash. (Gita Talk 13)

(There is no additional reading assignment for the next week.  We are discussing some of the major themes of Chapters 1-12.)

The Bhagavad Gita calls for direct experience & straight-forward wisdom (over scripture, dogma, and ritual). In this sense, it is the most modern of spiritual systems, completely at home with today’s emphasis on the individual experience of spirituality, as opposed to the spirituality of rules, regulations, and required procedures.

This is, no doubt, one of the reasons for the Gita’s endless popularity. It places the direct experience of the individual, in all its varieties, at the core of its philosophy.

As usual, let’s let the Gita speak for itself. These words really don’t need any explanation from me.

Please give us your thoughts.  How do you personally relate to the Bhagavad Gita?

On this path no effort is wasted,
no gain is ever reversed;
even a little of this practice
will shelter you from great sorrow.
(BG 2.40)

~

The scriptures dwell in duality.
Be beyond all opposites, Arjuna:
anchored in the real, and free
from all thoughts of wealth and comfort.

As unnecessary as a well is
to a village on the banks of a river,
so unnecessary are all scriptures
for someone who has seen the truth. (BG 2.44-46)

~

When your understanding has passed
beyond the thicket of delusions,
there is nothing you need to learn
from even the most sacred scripture.

Indifferent to scriptures, your mind
stands by itself, unmoving,
absorbed in deep meditation.
This is the essence of yoga.
(BG 2.52-53)

~

Better than any ritual
is the worship achieved through wisdom;
wisdom is the final goal
of every action, Arjuna. (BG 4.33)

Nothing in the world can purify
as powerfully as wisdom;
practiced in yoga, you will find
this wisdom within yourself. (BG 4.38)

The man of yoga is greater
than ascetics, or the learned, or those
who perform the rituals; therefore
be a man of yoga, my son. (BG 6.46)

I will teach you the essence of this wisdom
and its realization; when you come
to master this, there is nothing
further that needs to be known. (BG 7.2)

For men whose minds are forever
focused on me, whose love
has grown deep through meditation,
I am easy to reach, Arjuna. (BG 8.14)

This is the supreme wisdom,
the knowing beyond all knowing,
experienced directly, in a flash,
eternal, and a joy to practice.
(BG 9.2)

Not by study or rites
or alms or ascetic practice
can I be seen in this cosmic
form, as you have just seen me. (BG 11.53)

By devotion he comes to realize
the meaning of my infinite vastness;
when he knows who I truly am,
he instantly enters my being.
(BG 18.55)

~

How do you feel when you read these words?

All Blogs in the Series:

Welcome to Gita Talk:
Online Discussion of the Bhagavad Gita. (Round 2)

Ongoing Resources:

Gita in a Nutshell: Big Ideas & Best Quotations

Yoga Demystified

The Original Sixteen Session Gita Talk

Join Gita Talk Facebook Group for weekly notices
and to meet fellow participants.

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Is Love Itself the Overriding Theme of the Bhagavad Gita? (Gita Talk 12)

(There is no additional reading assignment for the next two weeks.
We are discussing some of the major themes of Chapters 1-12.)

To some prominent Gita scholars, like Graham Schweig, love itself is the overriding theme of the Gita—two way love, we love the world and the world loves us back.

Catherine Ghosh has devoted one of her wonderful videos to this idea :

(See also Gita Talk #8: Very Special Guest Graham Schweig and
The Dance of Divine Love: An Interview with Catherine Ghosh
)

My own feelings are well expressed in my original review of Mitchell:

Falling Head-Over-Heals In Love with the Universe

For those of you who have always wanted to absorb the spectacular wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita, but have found it difficult, I highly recommend Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation by Stephen Mitchell…

The Bhagavad Gita is quite literally about falling in love with the indescribable wonder of the universe, that is to say, God. These two are synonymous in the Gita. (Believe it or not, the text itself says that you can approach God as either an unfathomable cosmic life-force or as an intimate personal diety. Either leads you to the same boundless love and joy.)

The Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutra are two of the most important ancient texts of Yoga. They could not be more different. The Yoga Sutra is mostly secular in nature, and mentions God only briefly and perfunctorily. The Bhagavad Gita, in contrast, is literally “The Song of the Beloved Lord”, and most of the text is the voice of the awesome life-force of the universe itself.

The Yoga Sutra is a cookbook for achieving inner peace. The Bhagavad Gita, in contrast, won’t settle for anything less than ecstatic union with the divine. Put them together and you have the astounding whole of Yoga philosophy in two relatively short texts.

Try Mitchell’s version of the Bhagavad Gita. You’ll be glad you did.

Last but not least, here are the most relevant passages from the Gita itself (although, keep in mind that Schweig and Ghosh would say the entire text is about infinite love):

(For those new to Gita in a Nutshell, the voice speaking here is the infinitely wondrous universe itself, what some refer to as the “Unfathomable Life Force of the Universe” and others choose to call “God”. In the Gita these are one and the same. See GN #2.)

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)

For men whose minds are forever
focused on me, whose love
has grown deep through meditation,
I am easy to reach, Arjuna. (BG 8.14)

~

But the truly wise , Arjuna,
who dive deep into themselves,
fearless, one-pointed, know me
as the inexhaustible source.

Always chanting my praise,
steadfast in their devotion,
they make their lives an unending
hymn to my endless love. (BG 9.13-14)

~

I am the beginning and the end,
origin and dissolution,
refuge, home, true lover,
womb and imperishable seed. (BG 9.18)

He who can understand
the glory of my manifestations
is forever united with me
by his unwavering love.
(BG 10.7)

He who acts for my sake,
loving me, free of attachment,
with benevolence toward all beings,
will come to me in the end. (BG 11.55)

Those who love and revere me
with unwavering faith, always
centering their minds on me-
they are the most perfect in yoga. (BG 12.2)

~

He who, devoted to me,
is beyond joy and hatred, grief
and desire, good and bad fortune-
that man is the one I love best.

The same to both friend and foe,
the same in disgrace or honor,
suffering or joy, untroubled,
indifferent to praise and blame,

quiet, filled with devotion,
content with whatever happens,
at home wherever he is-
that man is the the one I love best.

Those who realize the essence
of duty, who trust me completely
and surrender their lives to me –
I love them with very great love. (BG 12.17-20)

~

If you focus your mind on me
and revere me with all your heart,
you will surely come to me; this
I promise, because I love you.
(BG 18.65)

~

Please give us your thoughts.

All Blogs in the Series:

Welcome to Gita Talk:
Online Discussion of the Bhagavad Gita. (Round 2)

Ongoing Resources:

Gita in a Nutshell: Big Ideas & Best Quotations

Yoga Demystified

The Original Sixteen Session Gita Talk

Join Gita Talk Facebook Group for weekly notices
and to meet fellow participants.

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Yoga Embraces All Gods & All Paths. (Gita Talk 11)

The Bhagavad Gita is full of startling ideas, especially for a 2500 year old text.  For our last three sessions, let’s discuss three of these big themes of Chapters 1-12.  (There is no additional reading assignment for the next three weeks.)

For this week let’s look at this one:  Yoga is universal truth. The Gita embraces all Gods, and even all non-Gods, and all paths. The Gita is the voice of the unfathomable reality that precedes all other spiritual seeking, and is the source of it all.

The Gita is so crystal clear about this that we need to just let it speak for itself.

(As we have seen throughout the Gita, the voice speaking here is the infinitely wondrous universe itself, what some refer to as the “Unfathomable Life Force of the Universe” and others choose to call “God”. In the Gita these are one and the same. See GN #2.)

Read these passages slowly and thoughtfully as though they were one single cohesive poem, and then write your thoughts in a comment.

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)

Thus, many forms of worship
may lead to freedom Arjuna.
All these are born of action.
When you know this, you will be free. (BG 4.32)

But whatever form of reverence,
whatever god a sincere
devotee chooses to worship,
I grant him unswerving faith. (BG 7.21)

Others on the path of knowledge,
know me as the many, the One;
behind the faces of a million
gods, they can see my face. (BG 9.15)

Arjuna, all those who worship
other gods, with deep faith,
are really worshiping me,
even if they don’t know it.
(BG 9.23)

~

I am the same to all beings;
I favor none and reject none.
But those who worship me live
with me and I live in them.

Even the heartless criminal,
if he loves me with all his heart,
will certainly grow into sainthood
as he moves toward me on this path.

Quickly that man become pure,
his heart finds eternal peace.
Arjuna, no one who truly
loves me will ever be lost.

All those who love and trust me,
even the lowest of the low-
prostitutes, beggars, slaves-
will attain the ultimate goal. (BG 9.29-32)

~

Neither the myriad gods
nor any of the sages know
my origin; I am the source
from which gods and sages emerge
. (BG 10.2)

 Please give us your thoughts.

All Blogs in the Series:

Welcome to Gita Talk:
Online Discussion of the Bhagavad Gita. (Round 2)

Ongoing Resources:

Gita in a Nutshell: Big Ideas & Best Quotations

Yoga Demystified

The Original Sixteen Session Gita Talk

Join Gita Talk Facebook Group for weekly notices
and to meet fellow participants.

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Is the Gita Asking Us to Repress Our Emotions? (Gita Talk 10)

(No new reading assignment for next week.
We will be discussing some overall themes of the Gita.
Take the time to catch up or review.
)

At times the Gita seems to be telling us to repress all our ordinary human emotions.  Is this what the Gita is asking us to do?  Here is a wonderful conversation from the original Gita Talk that deals directly with this question:

freesoul:
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.

Bob:
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.

Vanita:
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.

Bob:
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.

Sevapuri:
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.

John Morrison:
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….

This pivotal Yoga idea of “Witness Consciousness” is fully developed in Chapter 13 of the Gita. Here are some highlights:

This Body is called the field,
Arjuna; the one who watches
whatever happens within it—
wise men call him the Knower.

I am the Knower of the field
in every body, Arjuna;
genuine knowledge means knowing
both the field and its Knower. (BG 13.0-2)

~

It is called the witness, the consenter,
the sustainer, the enjoyer, the great Lord,
and also the highest Self,
the supreme Person in this body. (BG 13.22)

~

By meditation, some men
can see the Self in the self;
others, by the yoga of knowledge;
others, by selfless action.

Still others, not seeing, only
hear about it and worship;
they too cross beyond death,
trusting in what they have heard.   (BG 13.24-25)

~

Just as the sun by itself
illumines the entire world,
so the field owner illumines
everything in the field.   (BG 13.33)

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