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Devotee and Friend

Part 33 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

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The “genealogy” of yoga

After outlining the basic way of yoga, Krishna then tells Arjuna:

The Holy Lord said: This eternal yoga I taught to Vivaswat, Vivaswat taught it to Manu, and Manu taught it to Ikshwaku. Thus, handed down in succession, the royal seers knew it. After a long lapse of time, this yoga was lost here on earth (4:1-2).

Vivasvat, Manu, and Ikshvaku were ancient sages–primeval sages, actually, at the beginning of the human race. God himself directly taught yoga to those sages. That is why Patanjali says in the Yoga Sutras: “He is Guru even of the Ancients” (Yoga Sutras 1:26).

Just how the yoga was forgotten (lost) is not told to us, but it is important that we realize that this world, whose nature is bondage, is not a friendly environment for that which liberates. Whether the yoga was lost by carelessness or defects or omissions in teaching, or whether a time came when no one was even interested, the result was loss of the knowledge.

The same is true of our personal world. The mind is extremely gifted in forgetting or distorting the correct practice of yoga. Therefore we should be very vigilant and make sure that our practice is exactly correct, with not a single detail being neglected or left out. There are several contemporary spiritual organizations that over the course of years have so altered the yoga methods they teach that they have been rendered ineffectual–and in some cases, detrimental.

How do we protect ourself from this spiritual erosion? Study the Gita. It is all there. If we read the Gita, the eleven authentic Upanishads, and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali without prejudice or preconception we will find they are unanimous in their teaching on meditation.

Who is Krishna in the Gita?

We have already finished three chapters of the Gita, and it is time for us to understand who the figure of Krishna really is–and what the Gita really is, as well.

First we must understand the context of the Gita. The Gita is seven hundred verses within an epic poem known as The Mahabharata, that chronicles the Mahabharata (Great Indian) War that took place about three thousand years ago (according to the calculations of Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri). The original poem was written by the great sage Vyasa, perhaps the single most important figure in Indian spiritual history.

The Bhagavad Gita is the supreme scripture of India, for it is the essence of all the basic texts that came before it. Further, it supplies a psychological side to spiritual practice that can be found in no other authoritative text. If someone desires, he can confine his study to the Gita alone and yet know everything that is in those texts. Although it contains some references to elements distinctly Indian, it is the only universal scripture, its teachings (including those about caste) being relevant to the entire human race.

Having said that, we must realize that although the Gita takes the form of a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna on the eve of the Great Indian War, it is not a historical document in the literal sense. Rather, Vyasa chose this critical juncture in Indian history as the setting for a complete exposition of spiritual life–itself a battle of sorts. It cannot reasonably be thought that Krishna and Arjuna sat in a chariot in the midst of a battlefield discussing all the topics presented in the Gita, and in metrical stanzas of four lines containing eight syllables each (sometimes eleven syllables when Vyasa needed the extra length to get in all his ideas). Rather, the Gita is Vyasa’s presentation of the Eternal Dharma, though there is no reason to doubt that the wisdom of Krishna is embodied in it, or that much of it–at least in general–was spoken to Arjuna at Kurukshetra.

One of India’s greatest yogis in the twentieth century was Paramhansa Nityananda of Ganeshpuri. One day someone cited a portion of the Gita, prefacing it with the statement: “Krishna said in the Gita….” Immediately Nityananda said: “No. Vyasa said Krishna said….” This is the correct perspective on the entire Gita. What we are reading is the enlightened understanding of Vyasa, who in the Gita is presenting us with a digest of the yoga philosophy of the Upanishads combined with both yoga psychology and instruction in yoga meditation. It is not amiss to say that Vyasa is the most important figure in Sanatana Dharma. If all other scriptures and commentaries disappeared and only the Gita remained, the Dharma would still be intact.

In general, then, Krishna is the voice of Vyasa, but within the Gita he is at times the voice of both the Atman and the Paramatman. So when we ponder the meaning of his words we should consider how they might be understood in this dual manner. For example, when Krishna tells us to fix our minds on him and worship him single-heartedly and steadfastly, he is not telling us to worship a God that is outside, but that which is the inmost dweller of the heart. He also means that the focus of our attention must be on our individual being as well as on the infinite. For they are one in essence.

The qualified student

During my first trip to India I met two Westerners who told me they had come to India to seek out a “qualified guru.” I laughed and with my usual lack of tact asked: “Are you qualified disciples? Do you think a qualified guru would accept you?” They looked very taken aback and then admitted that it was not likely. But when I met them some months later they told me they had gotten initiation from every guru they met. “Just to make sure,” was their explanation. They had not gotten the idea.

But who is a qualified disciple? Krishna tells Arjuna:

This ancient yoga is today declared by me to you because you are my devotee and friend. This secret is supreme indeed (4:3).

Devotee and friend. Here we have the marvelous, seeming contradiction that is the jewel of Eastern religion (including Eastern Christianity): the ability to be simultaneously absolutely reverent toward and yet absolutely familiar with and at home with God. The fear and trepidation, so beloved to Western religion past and present, simply do not come into it. Why? Because the orientals intuit their unity with God, while the occidentals feel utterly separated and alien from God. Consequently Western religion demands reconciliation and placation while Eastern religion simply calls us to unity, a unity that is essential and eternal. Westerners doubt their salvation, but Easterners know that they may have forgotten their unity with the Divine, but they have never lost it. They do not find salvation, they recover it. The infinity of God and their finitude does not daunt them in the least. They rejoice in both as devotees and friends of God. Because only such people can know this, Krishna says it is a secret–the Supreme Secret indeed.

Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: The Eternal Being

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Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Preface to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:

  1. The Battlefield of the Mind
  2. On the Field of Dharma
  3. Taking Stock
  4. The Smile of Krishna
  5. Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
  6. Experiencing the Unreal
  7. The Unreal and the Real
  8. The Body and the Spirit
  9. Know the Atman!
  10. Practical Self-Knowledge
  11. Perspective on Birth and Death
  12. The Wonder of the Atman
  13. The Indestructible Self
  14. “Happy the Warrior”
  15. Buddhi Yoga
  16. Religiosity Versus Religion
  17. Perspective on Scriptures
  18. How Not To Act
  19. How To Act
  20. Right Perspective
  21. Wisdom About the Wise
  22. Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
  23. The Way of Peace
  24. Calming the Storm
  25. First Steps in Karma Yoga
  26. From the Beginning to the End
  27. The Real “Doers”
  28. Our Spiritual Marching Orders
  29. Freedom From Karma
  30. “Nature”
  31. Swadharma
  32. In the Grip of the Monster
  33. Devotee and Friend
  34. The Eternal Being
  35. The Path
  36. Caste and Karma
  37. Action–Divine and Human
  38. The Mystery of Action and Inaction
  39. The Wise in Action
  40. Sacrificial Offerings
  41. The Worship of Brahman
  42. Action–Renounced and Performed
  43. Freedom (Moksha)
  44. The Brahman-Knower
  45. The Goal of Karma Yoga
  46. Getting There
  47. The Yogi’s Retreat
  48. The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
  49. Union With Brahman
  50. The Yogi’s Future
  51. Success in Yoga
  52. The Net and Its Weaver
  53. Those Who Seek God
  54. Those Who Worship God and the Gods
  55. The Veil in the Mind
  56. The Big Picture
  57. The Sure Way To Realize God
  58. Day, Night, and the Two Paths
  59. The Supreme Knowledge
  60. Universal Being
  61. Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
  62. Worshipping the One
  63. Going To God
  64. Wisdom and Knowing
  65. Going To The Source
  66. From Hearing To Seeing
  67. The Wisdom of Devotion
  68. Right Conduct
  69. The Field and Its Knower
  70. Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
  71. Seeing the One Within the All
  72. The Three Gunas
  73. The Cosmic Tree
  74. Freedom
  75. The All-pervading Reality
  76. The Divine and the Demonic
  77. Faith and the Three Gunas
  78. Food and the Three Gunas
  79. Religion and the Three Gunas
  80. Tapasya and the Three Gunas
  81. Charity and the Three Gunas
  82. Sannyasa and Tyaga
  83. Deeper Insights On Action
  84. Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
  85. The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
  86. The Three Kinds of Happiness
  87. Freedom
  88. The Great Devotee
  89. The Final Words
  90. Glossary

Visit our e-library page for Free Downloads of this and other ebooks in various formats.

Read the Maharshi Gita, an arrangement of verses of the Bhagavad Gita made by Sri Ramana Maharshi that gives an overview of the essential message of the Gita.

Read The Bhagavad Gita (arranged in verses for singing) by Swami Nirmalananda Giri (Abbot George Burke).

Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary

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