Bhagavad Gita, ch. 4

Krsangi Dasi - June 24, 2004 1:17 pm

Dear devotees


We had our fourth Bhagavad Gita reading session last week. There were only five of us present this time: Bhrigu, Eija, Tuomas, Kamalaksa and I, but we had a good discussion anyway.


Bhagavad Gita, Chapter Four: Yoga of Knowledge


Right in the beginning of Chapter Four, in the purport to the second verse, Guru Maharaja writes quite radically about the the need to reform the tradition to keep it vital. We talked about how quickly the society is changing and how instructions written just 20-30 years ago might not apply to today's world.


Guru Maharaja also mentions the need to reform an revive our own faith. Among our friends I've noticed that many people who have been drifting away from active spiritual life have become reactivated when listening to Guru Maharaja and reading his books. He has a capability to talk in a way that touches people and makes them feel that Krishna consciousness is something worth working for, not just some kind of a hobby.


We also talked about tolerance towards other reformers. We're attached to Guru Maharaja and his way of presenting the philosophy but should also have tolerance and understanding for other gurus who emphasize different things.


In verse five Krishna addresses Arjuna as "Arjuna" to point out that he considers him to be covered in ignorance like the arjuna tree. We all agreed that we never would have thought of this had it not been mentioned in the purport. Sometimes especially when reading Srimad Bhagavatam it almost feels like the purports are getting in the way of a good story, but verses like this show the importance of reading the purports. They represent the guru guiding us and showing us the essence of sacred literature. We also clearly noticed that we're badly in need of this guidance later on when reading verses 4.24-29 which deal with different offerings, described in quite an abstract way but made much easier to understand in Guru Maharaja's purports.


The birth of Krishna is discussed in verse six. It's interesting to note that he is born into this world because he wants to while ordinary living beings are born here because they have to. It shows that he is the supreme enjoyer, the supreme form of God.


In verse 11 Krishna says that actually everyone follows his path. Kamalaksa mentioned that he used to really like this verse, as it can be understood to mean that even people who ridicule us because of our faith are followers of Krishna, they just don't know it yet. And it's clear that in one way or another everyone's looking for Krishna. Everyone wants to be happy and to have someone to love, but people often look for happiness and love in all the wrong places.


Verse 12 describes worldly people who perform sacrifices to the gods to gain material wealth. Modern western people are seldom seen worshipping demigods but in essence they are acting in the way this verse describes: trying to get quick, easy results with as little work as possible. People are endlessly interested in lotteries and all kinds of internet hoaxes promising lots of money virtually free, and the result of their greediness is usually that they lose what little money they had in the beginning.


There's also another kind of material people who are ready to put up with immense amounts of self-discipline and work to become rich. They work and study around the clock and end up burned out, their money bringing them very little happiness.


Krishna says in verse 13 that he has created the varnashrama dharma system but that he's not responsible for its results. This puzzled me at first because it seems strange that Krishna would create such a system and then refuse to take responsibility for how the system has turned out. But when I thought about it more closely I realized that if Krishna wanted to he could make us live our lives ideally, serving him and each other, but to do that he would have to deprive us of our freedom of choice. We have our limited independence and are free to ruin our own lives (and the lives of many others, too) and to mess up the system Krishna created. He is omnipotent but he's not a dictator.


We also talked more generally about varnashrama dharma and the fact that everyone wants to think of themselves as brahmanas but very few actually have brahminical qualities. We have a tendency to think about the four different groups defined by the varnashrama dharma system as four different levels of success in human life, and to look down on people we consider to be sudras. But the idea of varnashrama dharma is not a competition where you win by attaining the "best" group, the idea (as we understood it) is that everyone has their duties and those duties should be respected by others. It's clear that if all the "sudras" in Finland suddenly went on strike for a month the whole country would we in a crisis while we would probably do just fine for a month without the ksatriyas or the brahmanas.


This could be one point of varnashrama dharma that we should remember when dealing with other people: to respect the work of others even if it seems boring or badly paid. It's not a huge spiritual realization but I think that it's important that we as members of a very small religious group act respectfully and thoughtfully towards others so that they will also learn to respect our faith.


Kamalaksa was amused by the beginning of the purport to verse 16 where Guru Maharaja says that "One may question what is so difficult about understanding action or inaction." It seems quite an easy thing to understand, but as the Gita tells us it's actually a bit more complicated than this.


We wondered what the word "independent" means in verse 20, as it's clear that the living beings have very little real independence. Tuomas pointed out that it could mean independence from the senses and the mind, as the purport describes that a yogi can be "independent from the body". In the next verse the phrase "who performs only bodily actions" seemed similarly odd but we thought that it could mean taking care of the body so that it doesn't get in the way of the spiritual practice.


In verse 34 it is said that the spiritual master should be served and that we should be humble towards the guru. People often are very cynical about spiritual authorities and especially feel that it's strange and unnatural to serve them even though everyone agrees that if the prime minister came to visit us we would hardly make him or her wash the dishes for us. But when a disciple has genuine respect and attachment to the guru he or she wants to show these feelings by humble service. This service can partially be natural and partially just an imitation of the service we've seen others do, but a true attitude of service can be seen as a sign of a genuinely deep guru-disciple-relationship.


In verse 36 Krishna promises that even the most sinful persons can attain transcendental knowledge. This is comforting to us whose background isn't always the most virtuous you could imagine. This knowledge is within our grasp if we are sincere.


Verse 40 is a good example of the practical wisdom that the Gita contains: Krishna says in it that there's no happiness in this world for the doubting soul. This is a very insightful notion about the human psychology: people who always wonder if they've made the right decisions in life are seldom happy. We should stick to our choices and stop wondering if things could have been otherwise had we just chosen differently. There's no point in living in the past, we should focus on our future and on our final goal: Krishna.



Krsangi dasi