Bhagavad Gita Wisdom, Chapter Seven

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

Among thousands of men, only one may strive for success, and among those who strive thus and succeed, perhaps only one will truly know me.  7.3 Trans. Thompson

Shri Krishna here imparts a daunting idea of spiritual success, in which only one of perhaps millions of people ever come to know the Supreme being.  And yet, the one who strives has already succeeded by having made the effort in the first place.  The Vedic traditions teach that not a single deed, mental or physical, ever fails to bear fruit.  Actions may have shorter or longer maturation periods, but they all eventually lead to some result that follows from them.  The person who strives may not succeed in this lifetime, but he or she will eventually come to know the divine in a direct and personal manner, face to face.

Given the odds here, though, one might be tempted to just say that spiritual effort just doesn’t make sense.  After all, we all must prioritize and make compromises between the various things that compete for our attention.  We must make a living within the world and see to all of our duties.  What difference does it make if we realize God or not?  Such an attitude would be rational if not for the very great rewards conferred on the victors in the struggle to bring forth the divine nature.  A great prize is worth a great effort, and even the one who “fails” to realize God gains the very great honor of having made the effort in the first place.

The person who practices the least amount of devotion will have some small consolations: feelings of peace here and there, perhaps an insight into how to live in a better way.  And, in the long run, the half-hearted devotee builds a store of merit that cannot help but yield good results in the future. Imagine the good that comes to the one who practices unrestrained devotion, who puts the greatest possible energy into sadhana.  Such a person remains undeterred by the perception of a lack of results, by the apparent absence of external rewards.  Such a person conquers great difficulties and will sit at the feet of the Lord despite all hindrances.   This type of devotee does not come along very often, and we are all very fortunate to have met even one in our lifetimes.

Imagine the great responsibility and privilege that falls to those who have met many illumined souls in the course of a lifetime.  Those inclined towards spirituality may have had many profound dreams and visions, many conversations with spirits and divine beings, in addition to contacts with the illumined ones still walking the earth.  Such experiences confer the responsibility to act on the insights gained, to take the inspiration and share it with others, or at least those prepared to receive the teachings in an honorable way.  The dharma does not require us to “save” the world through conversions: it just asks us to give generously, to give more than we receive, as Swamiji always says.  As we give more and more, the inspiration comes in a stronger way, which then increases the giving, and so forth.

Suppose we fall into the vast majority of those who try to realize God in this lifetime and do not.  We are about to celebrate Diwali and make puja or homa to Shri Lakshmi.  Her name is derived from laksha, the goal or mark at which to aim.  The lamps that we light stand for inner illumination, the sat-chit-ananda, the being-consciousness-bliss otherwise known as moksha or liberation that is the goal of life.  An archer may miss the target, but the one who comes closest to the center is the most esteemed.  The one who lands firmly in the center receives the prize.  By no means should we fail to compete out of fear that we should miss the mark.  The only real way to lose is to make no effort at all.


Bhagavad Gita Wisdom, Chapter Six

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

Whoever sees me everywhere and and sees everything in me will never be separated from me, nor will I be separated from him.  The yogin who is aware of the oneness of life is devoted to me, the one who dwells in all beings.  Wherever he happens to find himself, he remains within me.  5.31.  Trans. George Thompson.

This verse expresses a teaching that can be difficult for religious people, especially those unfamiliar with mysticism, especially those trained in Western metaphysics.  We are so used to thinking of the bounded categories of animal, vegetable, and mineral, so used to thinking in terms of separate entities, the “billiard ball” model of the universe in which separate particles collide to make up reality.  We think society is composed of autonomous individuals or that people are fundamentally different from animals and certainly plants.  But Krishna here expresses an idea of fundamental unity, that all things exist in him.

And this is the secret, apparently, to maintaining a sense of unity with the divine.  We can get caught in the trap of thinking we can only pray in the temple or before the home shrine.  We long so much for the deva loka that we don’t recognize it right in front of our faces, in a co-worker’s face, in the tree outside the window, in the form of a stray dog.  But then that is the divine play, the magic of maya that makes us forget what we know in our hearts.  And that, too, the forgetting, the loss of insight, is another aspect, another manifestation of the divine.  For some inscrutable reason which cannot be fathomed through reasoning, we are playing one giant game of hide and seek with God.

One second of seeing God makes up for a thousand tedious days.  A moment of clarity can make months of confusion worthwhile.  Why we have been drafted into this game, we do not know.  But it is well worth the effort to play and play well.  Those of us exerting spiritual effort have come to believe that the time is short, that perhaps this lifetime will be the last.  We cannot afford to fall back into the same old complacency, to live in the mindset of “another day and another dollar.” We have to re-capture a sense of urgency, a sense of longing.  This is what the bhakti movement is all about, and it is also an important part of the iconography of the gods.

Many of the gods (Vishnu included) are depicted with a wheel or chakra spinning on one finger, the wheel of time.  Time, then, is one of the weapons of divinity, one of the ways to slay the demons of bad thoughts like boredom and apathy.  So there is always more time, and yet every moment will have the same past-present-future structure as this one.  And all of those moments are suffused in the eternal, the not-time that is God.   When we do the practices that lead to liberation, we make time work for us instead of against us.  We make it more likely that we will be able to Realize in the future.  We make it easier to see the eternal in the midst of the mundane.  But it takes real effort to not discount the apparent tedium before us, to see beyond the surfaces and into the true nature of things.

Maybe you are reading this in a plastic chair in the waiting room of a bus terminal, or maybe you are stealing a few minutes on your lunch break at work.  Maybe you stumbled onto this page by accident and are about to text a friend.  Whether you are meditating in a Himalayan cave or walking the streets of Las Vegas, an infinite mystery waits for you.  You are divine.  All beings are divine.  All things are divine.  A very thin and fragile veil hides this Reality from view.  Exert yourself through meditation, and you will see the truth.


Bhagavad Gita Wisdom, Chapter Five

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

“I who am not doing anything,” he should think to himself, the man who is disciplined in yoga, and who knows the true nature of things.  Meanwhile, he sees, he hears, he touches, he smells, he eats, he talks, he goes, he sleeps, he breathes, he talks, he relieves himself, he takes with his hands, he opens his eyes, he closes his eyes–but always he holds firm to the thought, “This is merely the senses interacting with sense objects.”  5.8-9  Trans.  George Thompson

Here Shri Krishna unfolds a sublime doctrine, one extremely simple and yet difficult as well.  This discipline which the fifth chapter discusses is a way of acting without fixating on the act, a pure kind of doing without internal commentary.  Sometimes this is called acting without regard to the fruits of action.  Sometimes it is called renunciation.  Sometimes it is called dispassion, discrimination, or equanimity.  One can get a glimpse of this way of acting by reading the Gita meditatively, but it only really hits home by trying to live in this manner.

In order to enter this state of mind, begin with meditation, whatever practice you already do.  Krishna approves of the homa fire explicitly and other practices of yoga, such as pranayama and asanas.  He also mentions seated meditation and concentrating on the ajna chakra between the eyes.  Many pathways lead to the state of concentration as a kind of foundation for action in the world.  This passage suggests that ultimately one will be able to move about freely in the world without the attachment of negative karmas.  This happens once the yogi no longer regards him or herself as the doer, seeing the physical body and the limited mind as impersonal manifestations of natural processes.  Once the foundation has been established through formal, traditional practices, it will be easier throughout the day to let go of thoughts of ownership and possession.

Notice that this practice applies equally to pleasant and unpleasant thought processes.  Whether my sense of self-esteem is high or low, whether I grumble and complain or stop and smell the roses, I must detach from the thought that there is an “I” who experiences all of this.  I must let the ego dissolve into the flux of the processes that constitute it, and then I can become one with the surround.  Oneness can be a complicated, metaphysical word, but it really just means fully engaging in the deed, whether that deed is performing puja or paying bills.  It means letting go of the endless interpretations, letting go of the internal dialogue about whether I am doing well or doing badly, whether I have accomplished enough or need to do more.

Undoubtedly, I will lose concentration many times in the course of the day and will engage in needless speculation.  I will congratulate myself for something or castigate myself for something.  I will imagine conversations that have yet to take place and think of how to put myself at an advantage.  Then I have to think back to the foundation and to the verses of the Gita.  Maybe a line of nama recitation will come to me as a kind of rescue.  Maybe I just say, “Jai Shri Krishna” or, “Jaya Ganesha.”  Or maybe I say something like, “Let go,” or, “peace.”  But most importantly, I try again.  And the struggle continues, but the Lord assures us that each tiny effort will be rewarded in this life or the next.

Think about taking a bath.  I must bathe myself each day if I don’t want to have body odor.  I can’t call my neighbor and say, “Hey, I am smelling kind of bad, can you take a bath for me?”  So in the dharma traditions, there is no vicarious atonement.  We all have to take up the practices that lead to liberation.  The saints and sages have shown the way, but we all must walk in it.  There is no once-and-for-all salvation, but there are many small salvations.  I can think about how to “save” this minute, this hour, this day.  I can think about how to live peacefully today.  And in that way, I can stop thinking about heaven after death and start thinking about heaven here on earth.  If I should need more time to work towards liberation, it is there for me.  But I should start right now, with this inhalation, with this next step, with the next word to come out of my mouth.  Aum, shanti, shanti, shanti.



Activating Your Inner Genius, Part Four

Ganesha figure with offering


In order to more fully discover what keeps us stuck in life, we must take a look at what we withhold from the universe.  When a plan or project doesn’t move forward, either effort has not been put forward or the effort does not match the scale of the obstacles in the way.  Hindus pray to Mahaganapati, Lord of the Ganas (Servants of the Gods), also known as Vigneshwara, Remover of Obstacles, in order to get the flow of energy moving again, to break the cycle of low return on a low investment.  The philosophy of the Vedas, otherwise known as Santana Dharma or Hinduism, teaches the relationship of cause and effect.  Those of us who want a big return must also make a big investment.  Wherever there is stasis, lack, or privation, there must also be some corresponding ill use of resources.  To use resources (like time, money, and relationships) in the best way requires that we first align our use of these resources with our most deeply held beliefs.  If we knowingly or unknowingly commit resources to projects that do not align with our values, we experience lack and privation.  Second, the resources committed must match or exceed the obstacles in the way.

In order to overcome obstacles, we must either put our own resources towards overcoming them or partner with others who have similar interests.  We can partner with other mortals, with the devas, or with our ancestors in seeking to advance ourselves down the right path in life.  The skeptic will say that prayers to gods and ancestors can’t make any difference, but our tradition teaches otherwise.  In order to stop withholding our gifts from the universe, we must first feel ourselves to be in a safe space.  Fear causes the action of withholding, and this fear has its roots in the sense of insecurity.  The person who feels more secure will commit more resources to the cause than the person who does not feel secure.  The person who believes in a secular, materialist, autonomous, isolated self will feel less secure, for he or she believes that it really all does depend on the individual. The person who believes in greater values, like the Satsanga, the lineage, the ancestors, the community, etc., will feel more secure, for the responsibility of living according to dharma is spread across the generations and across a dense web of relationships.  Practicing the rituals of the tradition affirms the link between generations (sages and ancestors to progeny), between orders of nature (human, animal, vegetable, mineral), and between metaphysical orders (divine, subtle and material reality). By giving the mind a firm foundation in these differing layers of reality, the practitioner of dharma begins from a position of strength.  From this position of strength, the Work of inner and outer transformation proceeds more smoothly.

If we want to know why we are “stuck” in one particular area of life, we must ask ourselves, “What am I withholding from the universe?”  This line of questioning will undoubtedly lead to some form of self-sabotage in which we have not given ourselves wholeheartedly to a spouse, to an artistic project, to an employer, to a spiritual vow.  You might object to this form of inquiry, saying, “But I am afraid that someone will take advantage of me if I give myself fully.”  This fear is certainly legitimate, and it is one reason why we invoke the protection of the Satsanga.  When we give to the community, we also receive its support in return.  At the same time, if the fear persists, we must ask whether the situation is dharmic in the first place.  If we live in constant fear of exploitation, something must be amiss.  The dharma does not require us to stay in a place where someone continually takes advantage of our labor.  But we always must inquire into whether it is merely the ego that is at stake or some larger sense of justice.  We are not required to protect the ego, but we are required to protect justice.  Discerning between the two can take a lot of personal and communal struggle, and very few rules of thumb apply that can give us the answers in all situations.

Provided that no exploitation has taken place, and provided that we really believe in the goal that we profess, their can be no remaining excuses for not applying ourselves to the task fully and completely.  Once that is done, the battle is almost over.  When the victory in the mind has been won, the victory in the world will soon follow.  The results may not be as grandiose as we expected, but we will certainly be better off than we would be if no effort had been made.  To give a silly example, let’s say that I have a headache that I rank at a ’10’ (meaning the most pain) on a scale of 1-10.  If I take a medicine, and I now rank my pain at a ‘7,’ do I say that the medicine did not work?  No, because I reduced my level of pain by 30%.  Should I go ahead and take the whole bottle of pills?  No!  I should only do what is proportional to the situation, working according to my path in life and what that path allows.  Spiritual practices are most efficacious in the life of the individual when they do not fall above or below a certain recommended dose.  How much should I exert myself?  To the point that it causes me some pain, but not to the point that it causes major disruption in my life.  Householders must behave like householders, and monks like monks, but there should be a certain “family resemblance” between the two paths of spirituality.

We can say then, that if we exert ourselves in sadhana, we will also exert ourselves in mundane ways, and vice versa.  Failing to exert oneself, to give of oneself in a spirit of generosity, even extravagance, will not yield the desired result.  Reality will be harsh and unyielding in this way, and yet, if we can really understand this law, we have a chance of succeeding, in spirituality or in any other area of life.  I must not only give but give to the greatest of my ability, and then my new Self can emerge from hiding.  This is a difficult teaching, but it also holds great promise.

Bhagavad Gita Wisdom, Chapter Four

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

Some aspirants offer material sacrifices to the gods. Others offer selfless service as sacrifice in the fire of Brahman.  Some renounce all enjoyment of the senses, sacrificing them in the fire of sense restraint.  Others partake of sense objects but offer them in service through the fire of the senses…All these understand the meaning of service and will be cleansed of their impurities. 4.25-26, 30b (Easwaran trans.)

Human beings do not lack the means of spiritual liberation: they only lack the proper resolve to see a particular path through to its conclusion.  Shri Krishna here offers many ways (read the entire chapter for more) that individuals can move beyond duality and into the bliss of God-consciousness. Restraint of the senses, control of vital breath, selfless service of others, and study of scriptures can all bring a dedicated yogi to the very edge of human understanding so that enlightenment can dawn.  Spiritual aspirants do not see the results that they desire not because these practices are ineffective, but because of wavering consciousness, the propensity to fall in and  out of love with Self-realization.

Imagine if, reading a novel, you were to read the first chapter over and over again rather than continuing with the plot.  This would quickly get aggravating, because you would never get to the climax of the story.  Or imagine if your car tire had gotten stuck in a ditch, and, rather than freeing the stuck wheel, you simply revved the engine over and over again.  Such an approach would only lead to an empty fuel tank.  Or suppose you wanted to paint a room in your house but used the entire bucket on only one square foot.  It would be better not to paint the room at all!  Progressing in the spiritual life requires a certain expansiveness, a willingness to pass beyond pre-established boundaries that we set for ourselves.

I am reminded of one of the Analects of Confucius.  If I can paraphrase, one of his disciples said, “Master, I want to follow in your way, but it’s just too hard for me.”  The Master replied (again, paraphrasing), “You should go on doing good until you fall down in the road.  You, on the other hand, are setting the limits beforehand.”  In other words, we say that we believe in these lofty spiritual and ethical principles, but when it comes down to living them, we act as though we did not believe.  We apportion a small amount of our effort, but not all of it.

One of my favorite poems is by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and the first stanza reads, “My own heart let me have more pity on; Let / me live to my sad self hereafter kind, / Charitable; not live this tormented mind / With this tormented mind tormenting yet.” And later down in the poem, a great phrase reads, “leave comfort root-room.” I think that we do ourselves a disservice by penning spirituality into this notion of what we think it should look like and how it fits into some flow-chart of an ideal life.  The roots of comfort just need a little more room to grow.

Using probably way too many metaphors, let’s return to the car image above.  We can keep doing the same spiritual regimen over and over again, expecting always to get better results from the same thing.  This is the “revving the engine” part.  But to really get unstuck, we have to use a jack or wedge some boards under the tires.  This is where the Satsanga and the teachers enter the picture.  We don’t have to go it alone: others have tread the path before us, and others are with us along the way.   We just need to band together to increase our overall capability for moving beyond the difficult spots.

I think that some of the difficult spots arise from a certain attitude of mind that is part grumbling and part procrastination.  We say to ourselves, “I will make room for meditation (or yoga, or writing, or gardening, or my marriage, etc.) as soon as I have a little more money in my bank account” or “as soon as the kids are out of school” or “as soon as I get my career up and running.”  Meanwhile, days, months, years, and decades pass by.  There is always time to start again, and yet there is not always time to start again.  Circumstances will never be better than they are right now.

I don’t mean this as one big guilt trip, but only as a reminder to 1.) get started and 2.) keep going.  Amazing experiences await if we can tune into non-duality, into the unity at the heart of everything.  It’s not here tomorrow or next week.  It’s  here now.  In the state that Shri Krishna describes in chapter four, work and contemplation are one, self and other are one, and the world and heaven are one.  It takes a little bit of effort to realize this state, but it’s definitely worth it.  It is also easier in a way than the perpetual anxiety that characterizes everyday existence.  So we should believe in the effectiveness of the practices, and believe in them enough to just keep going.





Bhagavad Gita Wisdom, Chapter Three

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

Honor and cherish the devas as they honor and cherish you; through this honor and love you will attain the supreme good.  All human desires are fulfilled by the devas, who are pleased by selfless service.  3.11-12 (Easwaran Trans.)

Eknath Easwaran has decided to leave untranslated the Sanskrit word, devas, which can be translated as “God,” “gods,” or even “angels.” The word deva (m) or devi (f) is derived from the Sanskrit word div, which means, “to shine” (see further discussion in Swami Bhaskaranda’s Essentials of Hinduism, p. 73 ff.). The devas are the shining ones, manifestations of the powers of nature who assume form in order to serve humanity.  In religion, it can be easy to get caught up in disputes over divine reality and such terminology as monotheism, polytheism, henotheism, animism, and other labels invented by scholars of religion.  We should keep in mind that number doesn’t really apply to divinity, as divinity ultimately transcends form.  Trying to count divinity would be like trying to count the number of drops of water in the ocean, that is, impossible.  Even in monotheistic Judaism, the word for God in Genesis, chapter one, “Elohim,” is plural.  The strict monotheism of Islam allows for the recitation of ninety-nine names of God.  And, of course, Christianity allows for three “persons” of the Trinity.

Whether we speak of one, three, ninety-nine, or three hundred thirty million divine beings makes no real difference. The terminology used to refer to religions also makes no difference.  Religious orthodoxy can be a trap, because it seems to suggest that what matters is having the proper opinion or belief.  The notion of a “correct” belief can also be used like a weapon to denigrate those who disagree.  Nothing could be further from the true purpose of religion, which is to overcome divisions and strife among human beings and between human beings, Earth, and other creatures.  Beliefs are basically inert and lifeless unless they are put into action, and that is why Shri Krishna here places the emphasis on service.  Whether serving the deities directly through puja or serving other people selflessly, God accepts it all as worship.

We have been falsely led to believe that power comes from asserting oneself over others, and that we have to push our own agendas on the world.   The person who acts from the basis of separation and individualism suffers a loss of true power, which comes from a profound sense of respect for the divinity within all things.  For reasons that we cannot understand in ordinary terms, God has chosen to take myriad forms, and this divine play pervades all existence.  By respecting others, we respect God, who is the hidden life of the universe.  Some people will prefer to refer to God as Mother, some as Father, some as Spirit, some as Higher Power, some as Energy, and some as Light.  Some will prefer to avoid concepts of divinity, and that, too, is fine: after all, the highest divinity in Sanatana Dharma (the eternal, natural Way) is called “Nirguna,” without qualities (very similar to Buddhist emptiness).  Again, terminology does not matter: selfless service does.

Shri Krishna teaches an avoidance of a prideful, egotistical attitude, which assumes that I have the answers and I know what’s right.  Bowing in worship curbs this egocentric attitude and restores the proper sense of yielding, of flexibility, of giving, which brings some sanity into the world of “me” and “mine.”  When I was a Christian minister, I used to notice how polite worshipers would be as they queued to receive consecrated bread and wine during communion.   I thought how nice it would be if we could act that way in a traffic jam!  I think that Shri Krishna is saying here that  it’s all service, it’s all worship.  We cherish God when we worship the devas, and we cherish God when we respect one another.

Activating Your Inner Genius, Part Three

Suspension Bridge

The Element of Risk

Highly adaptive and creative people also possess a third quality, a certain tolerance and even love of risk.  A life without any element of risk would also be a life without happiness, for as human beings we seek to face adversity and overcome it.  Mountaineers face the hazards of frostbite, of avalanche, of disorientation, and the like, and these dangers, far from invalidating the endeavor, actually make climbing the mountain worthwhile.  A great musician must take to the stage and perform, knowing the possibility that he or she could make a mistake in front of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people.  Venturing into the spiritual life also necessarily entails some risk: in the silence of meditation, we have to come face to face with ourselves, with our true motivations and intentions.  We run the risk of losing the good life that we have for the sake of something that we dearly hope will be better.

This does not mean that simply any risk will do: a risk that leads to avoidance of duty or harm to others will not lead to advancement on the spiritual path.  A good risk will lead to a more rewarding life if the “gamble” pays off and will have a minimal downside if the expected gains do not materialize.  Of course, taking the example of Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, we must not consider the fruits of action, whether positive or negative, when acting in the course of duty.  As a parent, I do not control every aspect of my children’s lives, especially as they grow older, but I must nonetheless seek to provide for them in the way of material comfort and ethical guidance.  My responsibility changes not one bit whether they become Nobel Prize winning scientists or, God forbid, end up in jail.  I still have the inalterable duty to love them and care for them.

Good risks stem from trying something new, like learning a musical instrument or a new language, where the downside might be nothing more than a little bit of embarrassment while the upside is a substantial new area of knowledge.  Good risks produce butterflies in the stomach accompanied by a feeling of pleasant expectation.  We all take such a risk in joining a community, a satsanga.  We forego some of the privacy of being a solitary practitioner in order to join with others in order to find some wisdom that we would not be able to find alone.  Such good risk-taking can be a way out of a slump or depression.

I previously identified up-cycles and down-cycles as characteristic of any creative endeavor.  In order to move to a higher energetic vibration, we must embrace a certain level of risk.  Take a look at the diagram below:

inner genius diagram five

Risk can be the elevator that takes a discouraged individual into a better state of mind and better circumstances in life.  Nothing ever changes without this element of risk.  The diagram may oversimplify things a bit by suggesting that risk and change happen all at once, since change can sometimes take a long time before coming to fruition.  This does not change the fact that risk must be present in order for advancement in life to happen.

The law of karma is often described as an archer shooting arrows.  We all “shoot” the “arrows” of action each day, some landing nearby (in the immediate future) and some landing far away (in the distant future). We have to choose what sort of arrows we will shoot, whether they will be good actions or bad.  Either way, we will always experience the natural outcomes of our actions.  The risky part stems from taking an action that lies outside our previous areas of experience, from venturing into the unknown in order to obtain a desired result.  Such risk-taking will be rewarded, since no action can fail to produce a result.  We may sabotage ourselves through abundance of timidity but not through committing ourselves to a good cause.

When the element of time is added to the mix, the need for risk-taking becomes clearer.  A good risk today will be worth more than a good risk tomorrow, since the effects of good actions will compound over time.  Think about a person who waits until adulthood to start brushing his or her teeth.  Such a person might not have any teeth left to brush!  But a person who began brushing as a child will have no  trouble continuing the habit. Money invested in the stock market today will be worth more than money invested tomorrow, provided the investments are sound.  In the same way, investing in spiritual practice today produces compounded results tomorrow.  As we act, so we become.

Bhagavad Gita Wisdom, Chapter One

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

O Krishna, I see my own relations here anxious to fight, and my limbs grow weak; my mouth is dry,  my body shakes, and my hair is standing on end.  My skin burns, and the bow Gandiva has slipped from my hand. I am unable to stand; my mind seems to be whirling. 1. 28-29. (Easwaran trans.)

Arjuna sees his relatives and teachers arrayed on the battlefield before him and strongly desires to withdraw from the fight.  The evocative language here suggests not just distaste, but a powerful sense of dread.  Philosophically inclined readers might be reminded of Kierkegaard’s analysis of the binding of Isaac (or Ishmael in the Muslim tradition) in Fear and Trembling.  Isaac is the son of the promise, the one through whom Abraham will be blessed, through whom his descendants will become a multitude.  And yet Abraham, the “knight of faith,” is asked to kill this chosen son for God in an intense paradoxical situation.  Abraham ultimately doesn’t have to go through with it (because of the ram in the bush), but the ordeal certainly stings.  Arjuna does have to go through with the battle in the end, and Krishna’s discourse steels his frayed nerves for the fight.

For us today, the first chapter serves as a reminder that even our friends and relations can stand in the way of spiritual progress.  This can be a real, active resistance, as in abusive or manipulative situations, or the obstacle may be more psychological, as when we impute thoughts and feelings to our associates that may not actually be present.  Shri Ramakrishna was fond of saying that the guru may not be recognized in his (or her) own household.  Just as a lamp (deepa) casts a shadow directly below it, so those who take shelter in us may not see the light.  The path of duty prescribed by the Gita reminds us to press onward, regardless of whether or not anyone pays attention.

Fortunately, we do not have to actually take up arms against our families.  Most of the time, the feeling of resistance will be subtle, a case of one duty conflicting with another.  We may be tempted to give up spiritual practices out of a fear that they will conflict with family life.  If we press onward and let the chips fall where they may, we will find that the conflict was illusory.  Puja, japa, and meditation enhance family life as we become more patient, kind, and tolerant people.  The whole household receives blessings from the home shrine as we attune ourselves to divinity.  As we read the Gita, let us steel our nerves along with Arjuna for the “fight” ahead.