Aiko Ota Podcast -- Bhagavad-gita

This is the last episode of Syama and I speaking about the Bhagavad-Gita, at least for this series.  We do a recap of each of the chapters from 1 to 17 and then wrap up with chapter 18.

Again, setting the scene, the Bhagavad-Gita is a chapter of the Mahabharata and earlier in the story, there has been a build-up leading to war over a kingdom between the Kauravas and the Pandavas who are from the same extended family. One of the Pandavas, Arjuna, is the hero in focus in the Bhagavad-Gita. He has God himself, Krishna, as his charioteer and asks him to move the chariot in between the two armies so that he can see who he is about to contend with. On the other side, he sees respected elders and relatives and is stricken with despair.  The underlying reason for his despair is that killing these people would mean killing his own ego. But this fact is hidden behind the more obvious fears of doing something highly immoral. Therefore, Krishna takes Arjuna through a comprehensive discourse on the different levels of material and spiritual ethics. In the course of his speech, Krishna reveals directly to Arjuna how the universe is a manifestation of himself. He shows the universe as a conscious living organism and personification of time.  

This vision is frightening to Arjuna and so Krishna shows himself again in human form and continues the philosophical discussion resulting in Arjuna picking up his bow and arrow to stand up and fight.

In this episode, I speak with Syama about the seventeenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita.

This chapter is called “The Yoga of Discerning Threefold Faith”. This threefold faith refers to faith that is not illuminated by wisdom coming from outside of the three modes of nature: sativa, rajas, and tamas. You may remember the modes of nature from previous episodes, but to recap: The modes of nature permeates anything in our material world, including the mind and intellect. It is what causes manifestations to appear (rajas), to stay for some time (sattva) and then disappear (tamas). So without being illuminated by the light source beyond these three qualities, we will have faith in appearances that come and go which will produce results that come and go.  

These things can either be harmful or helpful, but they all have in common that they will not last. The chapter also covers different types of food, charity, austerity, and sacrifices according to the three qualities.

In this episode, I speak with Syama about chapter 16 of the Bhagavad-Gita. This chapter is about good and bad character traits with regard to spiritual practice. The previous chapter was about the personal aspect of our all-pervading consciousness source. This chapter speaks about the qualities we need to culture and the ones we need to give up in order to approach that aspect called Bhagavan. Bhagavan's presence is invoked when yogis of deep practice speak about him, and we are recommended to consider their words before we act rather than acting mindlessly.

In this episode, I speak with Syama about the fifteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, called The Yoga of the Highest Person. The last chapter was about the three gunas, the qualities that permeate all of material nature. The chapter ended with Sri Krishna explaining that since he is the source of the gunas, he can liberate you from your entanglement in them. In this chapter, he speaks about this world as an upside-down banyan tree, meaning we have to look upward, in an inward sense, for its source.

Upside down trees can be seen in this world, for example. where a tree is reflected on the surface of a lake.    This example illustrates how this material world is a reflection of the inner spirit world, or what Plato called the ideal world. The light that lights up this world seeps in from that world which is self-luminous, and it’s calling for us to go there, not in some sort of spaceship, but by changing our angle of vision.

In this episode, my husband Syama and I speak about the fourteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. This chapter deals with something very interesting called “the gunas”. Guna literally means “rope”, and here it refers to the ropes binding the spiritual self to the psycho-physical world of subtle and gross matter. Once you learn these concepts, you will be able to see them all around you as they permeate the entire world. The gunas are called sattva (that which upholds), rajas (that which creates), and tamas (that which breaks down), which are qualities than can be seen for example in a flower as it sprouts and grows (rajas), stays a certain size for a while once fully grown (sattva), and then wilts and breaks down (tamas).

 These qualities are found in the mental and intellectual realms, for example, in the forms of creativity and problem-solving (rajas), serenity (sattva), and avoidance coping (tamas). The spiritual practitioner will be very helped by becoming aware of these influences and learning how to deal with them. Welcome to the world of the gunas!  

In this epsiode, I speak with Syama about Chapter 13 of the Bhagavad Gita. This chapter marks the beginning of the third and last block of six chapters. As we have mentioned earlier, the first six chapters are mainly about the self, about us, whereas the middle six chapters focus more on our consciousness source and how we can connect and relate to that. In these last six chapters, there will be more technical analysis of the distinctions between the self, its source, and matter.  This is for us to get a clear picture of who we are in relation to our source and to matter, which will help us in dedicating ourselves in devotion, bhakti, to our source.

The discussion in this episode is mainly on texts 8 through 12, listing aspects of knowledge that are in one sense part of the practice of bhakti but also fruits of bhakti in their ultimate expression. Thank you for listening!  

In this episode, I speak with Syama about the 12th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita called the Yoga of Devotion. Arjuna asks the beginning whether it’s best to meditate on the all-pervading unseen spirit or to meditate on God’s personal form. Krishna answers that either method will afford perfection, but meditating on his personal form is more straightforward and natural.

He then goes on to give the most direct way of doing this, namely by giving him one’s heart and soul. If one is not capable of this, there are progressively less intense practices that one can try out until one finds a practice that matches one’s level of consciousness.  

In this episode, I speak with Syama about the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. Having heard Krishna speak about himself as permeating the universe as the soul of the world, Arjuna is inspired to ask Krishna to show himself directly in his universal form, the universe, time and space itself as a person.  The vision is quite astonishing, and while showing it to Arjuna, Krishna tells him that here he can see past, present, and future all at once and in this way know the outcome of the battle. He can see that he will win the battle. All he has to do now is to play his part in the drama.

Doing it with the right mindset he will not only win a physical battle but also attain enlightenment in the process. (The background noise are cicadas, Costa Rican crickets 🙂  

The Bhagavad Gita edition we use for research is Bhagavad Gita: Its Feeling and Philosophy by Swami B. V. Tripurari.

In this episode, I speak with Syama about the tenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. In this chapter, called the Yoga of Divine Manifestation, Krishna reaches the peak of his teaching, and then he starts going down to earth again to ground the knowledge in everyday experience. The peak is expressed in verses 8, 9, 10, and 11.

The teaching of these four verses can be illustrated by the classical story “The blind men and the elephant” told a bit differently. In the original story, a few blind men are standing around an elephant and touching different parts of it. They all try to convince one another about what an elephant is like. The one touching the trunk says it’s like a big snake. The one touching the tail says it’s like a rope, etc.  

But what if they would enlighten one another about the aspect that they experience? They would all get a better understanding of what the elephant is like. And if they would cooperate to take care of the elephant, feeding it bananas, and scratching it behind the ears, perhaps they may one day get eyesight by a miracle.  

The elephant represents the ultimate truth, called by various names like God or Krishna.

In this episode, I speak with Syama about the ninth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. The chapter is called The Yoga of Hidden Treasure, and Krishna starts off by telling Arjuna that he is qualified to hear this secret because he is free of envy. Does this mean that we have to be free of envy to read this chapter? That would mean hardly anyone could read the Bhagavad Gita. And in the chapter itself we find the cure for envy. So the point is that we should keep in mind that this knowledge will only take root in us inasmuch as we are letting go of envy. Perhaps we can get a glimpse of the beauty of what it would be like to be free of envy and in that way be inspired to take the necessary steps. Krishna gives assurance that he will personally carry the necessities to a person who is free of envy.

In this episode, I speak with Syamananda about the eighth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita. What kind of lifestyle will allow you to have a peaceful mind at the time of death? This chapter gives a few wakeup calls about how short life is and, as ironic as it may sound, that we don’t have time to be impatient. Just like a mayfly’s life is extremely short in comparison to our lives, our lives are extremely short in comparison with, say a planet. But even planets come and go. The point is that no matter how long you live in the form of an organism, it’s ultimately not going to last. Your essence lasts however, and the Bhagavad-gita invites us to center ourselves in our essence and turn to our consciousness source.

In this episode, I speak with Syama about the seventh chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, dealing with the yoga of knowledge and realization. In this chapter, Krishna speaks more confidentially with Arjuna than he has done so far. He says that out of a thousand people, maybe one person would be interested in such confidential knowledge about God. He names the elements of the universe and confides that all of them and their manifestations rest on him as pearls are strung on a thread. He gives examples we can directly relate to in the here and now: “I am the taste of water. I am the original fragrance of the earth. I am the light of the sun and the moon. I am the sound in ether. I am the life in all that lives.” God is not only in the churches, mosques, and temples. Rather, the whole world is a temple, and we ourselves are temples. And the type of natural calm we feel when entering a sacred building we will feel and express without cease upon realizing this. We will see everyone and everything in relation to God and therefore understand them to be well-wishing and friendly.

In this episode, I speak with Syama about the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita. In this chapter, Krishna explains to Arjuna about rigorous meditation practice. Arjuna doubts that he will be able to engage in such meditation and says that the mind is more difficult to control than the wind. Krishna agrees that it's difficult but says it's possible with detachment and practice. The trick is to contemplate the folly of shallowness until you reach a sense of detachment from meaningless entertainment. Then use this temporary sense of detachment as a springboard to launch you into a session of meditation practice. In the beginning, it's important to take leisurely breaks from the rigorous practices but in a way that is consistent with the purpose of your practice.

In this episode, Syama and I speak about the yoga of action without material ambition, niskama-karma-yoga. Here the seeds of wisdom planted by Krishna in chapter 3 are beginning to bear fruit.

This is where things start to happen. In the basic yoga of action, one still has material ambition but begins to appreciate and pay hommage to the bigger picture outside of one’s personal bubble. In niskama-karma yoga, one starts to have real understanding about the workings of the world and how the inner self is different from it yet continues to carry out one’s duties in relation to the world in a detached way. This opens up the inner door to the yoga of knowledge that was described in chapter four.

"Knowledge is learning something every day, and wisdom is letting go of something every day."

I really can't remember where I heard this quote, but it definitely stuck with me.

In this podcast episode, I'm talking with Syama about the 4th chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, the yoga of knowledge. Syama is commenting on the quote above saying "the yoga of knowledge in the Bhagavad Gita includes the wisdom because that IS the yoga part. It's not just knowledge, but it's the yoga of knowledge. So that's an important point to make in regard to that quote". He will continue by explaining how to get spiritual knowledge and the importance of the teacher principle.

In this episode, my husband and I chat about the third chapter of Bhagavad-Gita that deals with karma yoga, the yoga of action. It’s the recommended yoga for the stage when we are identified with temporary circumstances and prone to act on that identification.

 In the beginning, you keep this identification and do your actions in this world as an offering to God. God, who is infinite, ever-present eternal joy, will gradually shine through your actions and reveal to you your real identity. This chapter deals with honoring the deities of nature on whom we depend for life and also describes the inner hierarchy of the components of our subtle bodies.  

The psychologist quoted in the episode, whose name Syama couldn’t think of at that moment, is M. Scott Peck, whose books The Road Less Traveled and The Different Drum are highly recommended.

In this episode, my husband and I continue where we left off in our previous Bhagavad-gita chat.

 Arjuna has presented his arguments not to fight in the war and now, we will hear what Krishna has to say in response.  

Krishna elevates the conversation from worldly matters to the level of pure spirit and then takes us back down to earth to ground that knowledge in our situation at the present moment.  

He then goes on to instruct about how we can act on that theory, implementing it practically in this world.  

It’s a subject that needs to be studied back and forth, inside out. As a wise person once put it, “If you want to have a comprehensive solution, you have to have a comprehensive approach to that solution.”

In this episode, I sit down for a quick chat with my husband Syama (Syamananda) about the first chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, which I would say is a must-read for yogis and yoginis who feel that their time has come to go deeper into the treasure of yoga. This chapter deals with stepping back and becoming objective about what nature is, what spirit is, and how to realize the purpose of the connection of matter and spirit.

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