A spiritual code for me to live by.
I made the choice
I attend a Bhagavad Gita Satsang every Saturday. On that day, Kothai Ji (our Satsang convener) was asking us to volunteer for RRE (Repeat, Recall, Enjoy) sessions. The choices were the chapters 10, 11 and 12. For some moments, there was silence. I had mentally made my choice, but was hesitating for some reason. As soon as Anand Ji picked chapter 10, I immediately pounced on chapter 12 (choice verbalized). Ravi Ji picked the remaining.
Why did I pounce on Chapter 12?
At the Satsang, we had just concluded this chapter. The chapter is comparatively a small one. It has only 20 slokas. Ravi Ji commented that, during recitation classes (which he had attended earlier), this chapter is picked up first because of it is simple and musical in nature. "It is easy to pick up".
But these were not the reasons for me to pick the chapter. We had spent six 1 hr sessions on the discussion of this small chapter! It is a fascinating chapter. It is packed with so much relevant information for me that I felt compelled to pick it up for the RRE session.
I have now finished the RRE session. But I thought I could do more. I am going to talk through the ideas on this chapter in this post. It would be my own understanding of it. Don't worry, I am not going to write a bunch of Sanskrit verses here. I don't have a good handle on the language anyway. My focus is only on the meanings and stories which I heard or read when I went through those slokas.
How do I render it?
When I was preparing for the RRE session, I was initially not sure how I should conduct it. I could go through it sloka by sloka and tell the meaning and move forward. But the time available was only for an hour or less. I was not sure if I can finish it inside the time with that approach. So I decided to use a different technique.
I will still go in order of slokas in the chapter, but I split the chapter into three themes:
- The two paths of worship
- The keys/techniques to reach the Lord
- How does the Lord's favorite devotee "look" like?
I will cover these themes here. The intention is not to cover every sloka but to focus on these themes.
The Two Paths of Worship
Arjuna has just seen the Vishwaroopa of the Lord (Chapter 11). While he felt it was awesome, he felt some apprehension too. Lord Krishna had also told him that without devotion, the path to god is not available. So, Arjuna asks a question:
Who is the better yogi? One who worships you in your current personal form or the one who worships your unmanifest, unthinkable, immovable, unchanging form?
When I prepared for the RRE, I came across the names to call these separate "versions" of God. The personal form is called "Bhagavān" and the unmanifest one is called "Brahman". There is a third version called "Paramatma", which I don't clearly understand yet. So we will just stick to the two.
So Arjuna's question is who is the better bhaktha, the one who prays to Bhagavān or the one who prays to the Brahman.
The Lord replied:
The ones who worship me with supreme faith and is always devoted to me, with mind and intellect fixed on me; they are the best yogis. That said, the ones who worship Brahman with complete devotion by staying equanimous, showing firmness of mind and doing good to all beings, they also reach me.
The takeaway is - both paths work. The "qualities" mentioned for the Brahman devotee were intriguing.
The Lord does not stop there though. He goes on to say that "the path to Brahman is not easy for embodied beings".
I think this is subject to multiple interpretations.
One interpretation is that humans like us can understand and relate to other beings who have a body. We can wrap our mind around them. The unmanifest, unthinkable Brahman as a concept, is not easy to grasp experientially and to follow on a day-to-day basis. I feel this is important. I think I understand the concept of Brahman intellectually, but I am not even sure of my intellect, and it is also not always in control of me. Sometimes, I am lost in my mind or my body. Understanding or knowing the Brahman in all these dimensions is not easy at all. This is what I felt.
There was another interpretation I read. The path to realization is a very difficult one. One needs to grace of God to make this possible. But the Brahman is called "Nirguna" or One WITHOUT attributes, and that means the path to Brahman is tougher because Brahman cannot provide you grace. This is probably controversial, but it appealed to me for some reason.
One of my references compared the two paths or the two versions of God as a monkey mother and a cat mother. The child (us) of the monkey mother (Brahman) has to hold on to the mother whatever happens. The mother itself will move all over the place but will not offer any help to the infant. The onus is on the infant to cling on. On the other hand, the cat (Bhagavān) holds the kitten with its mouth and takes it wherever it goes. The kitten gets all the help to take the path with the mother. So it is much easier. I felt it was a nice metaphor to understand the difference.
Overall, the path of Bhakthi to the Brahman is tougher, and it could be beneficial to try an easier path. The easier path is not a cakewalk. It is tough (as you will see soon), but it is easier in comparison.
Keys/techniques to reaching the Lord
Lord Krishna talks about the 4 techniques to reach Him.
"Fix your mind on him and surrender your intellect to him."
This means that you are in complete unison with the Lord at all times. You are thinking of Him, and you are feeling Him all the time. There is nothing else. This approach is very difficult if not impossible (at least for me!).
So the Lord gives the next technique which is relatively easy.
"Regularly practice meditating on Him through the mind and intellect".
This is similar to the previous one, but in this there is an acknowledgement that it is tougher to stay always in unison with God, for a being like me (us?). There is also the concept of practice invoked here. So a regular meditation practice where you are meditating on the Lord, is a good way forward.
There are no details specified, like how long the practice should be etc. My interpretation is that we start the practice in a small manner. As we practice we get better, and we will be in the meditative state for longer durations.
If you are unable to practice meditation, then the next idea is to
Believe and think that you are working for Lord Krishna himself.
This means that, when we are performing actions in our day-to-day life, we do them for the Lord. For example, if you are working to feed your family, you can imagine that you are doing this to feed God's children.
My own alternate interpretation is that by feeding my family, I am keeping them alive so that they can make progress in their own pursuit to reach God.
Again, this technique is no cakewalk, but for people like us who have to perform actions daily, this seems a more feasible approach.
The Lord is kinder and offers a simpler way. If we are not able to even think that we are doing actions for the Lord, then the next approach is
Do the action and take the results of the same and offer it to Krishna.
This means that I don't have to think of the Lord at the time of action. Once the action is done and the results or consequences (good or bad) come, I offer it to the feet of the Lord.
This can be offering all your mistakes and misdeeds to the Lord as well. Having said that, I don't think this entitles us do horrible things and then put the blame on God. It means, we realize that the outcomes of our actions (even good ones) are not in our control, and we readily offer them to the Lord so that we can be at peace.
When I look at these 4 techniques, I felt that they are steps in a progression. If you are able to first give up the fruits of action to the Lord, then slowly I expect to be able to start thinking of the actions as being done for the Lord himself. Given that my mind is fixed in the lord when I do actions, that leads me to a practice of meditation even when I am working. When the meditation practice reach its zenith then I am completely immersed in the Lord through mind and intellect. A progression!
My own path has been to attempt all the last 3 techniques whenever & wherever possible. I have set up a reasonably regular cadence of meditation albeit for a very short time. I try to regularly remind myself that I am doing God's work before I start something(not very successful in this). The giving up the fruits of the action is tougher because of the deep-seated Ahankar in me. The hope I have is that, the regular practice will help in all these counts.
The next section is about qualities of a true Bhaktha. This is a long one but it is my favorite.
Lord's favorite devotee
Lord Krishna discusses the qualities of his favorite devotees in 7 slokas (12.13-19). I am classifying these qualities into two aspects:
- How the favorite Bhaktha thinks internally or looks inward?
- How the Lord's favorite Bhaktha treats others?
The Lord talks about many qualities about mindset of his favorite bhaktha. I am going to enumerate some key ones:
Equanimity & Equipoise
A beloved bhaktha of the Lord will act with equanimity in both joy and sorrow. She doesn't get too excited or exuberant when she is happy. Similarly, when it is a time of sorrow, he doesn't get downright sad and weepy. Visually speaking, true bhakthas are able to look at both with a slight smile in their lips.
I know this is easier said than done. During our Gita session, Kothai ji reminded us (paraphrased by me) "One cannot be perfect on this. The important thing is to reduce the frequency (F) of the highs and lows, reduce intensity (I) of these moments and reduce recovery time (R) (come back to normal state)". I created an acronym for this - FIR. So reduce FIR. This needs practice (Abhyasa).
Ramakrishna was a great bhaktha of Goddess Kaali. There was a time when he was diagnosed with cancer!
His followers loved him and did not want to lose him. So they got together and asked him to pray to Goddess Kaali to cure it.
Ramakrishna replied with a smile "Right now, my mind is full of the devotion for the Goddess. Why would I want to change it to think about cancer?".
For Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the ailment of cancer did not cause trouble. He was too immersed in Bhakthi to care about it.
This level of Bhakthi is not easy to achieve but once you get there, there is no looking back.
The related idea here is that a beloved bhaktha is not worried or tensed about anything. This does not mean that they don't care about people or don't have compassion. It does not mean that they are apathetic - that will be a tamasic quality.
I think this state of a calm mind comes from the fact that you realize that results are not in your hand, and you can only do your actions in the best way possible ("Nishkama Karma"). So as an aspiring beloved bhaktha, my interpretation is, I will be receptive to feedback as a way to improve my actions and not as a way to characterize my ego (as good or bad). A beloved bhaktha has renounced both good and evil and laid it at the feet of the Lord.
The Lord also talks about being alike to friend and foe. To me, this means that we stop looking at people as foes. If all are friends then you will treat them the same way. This is not easy for mere mortals like me. In the Satsang, Guruji's words said "Whomever you consider as enemy (they have done some actual harm to you - my words), start thinking and praying for their wellbeing on a daily basis". The idea is to actively replace feelings of hatred with feelings of love and care. This feels like "active forgiving" (my term) and will lead me to a better path to treat them also as my friend.
Guruji mentions the same idea to be used for people we are jealous of (they have not done any actual harm but our ego perceives so, because of jealousy). Why would these people need forgiveness from us? It did not make sense to me. So, I changed its meaning to think that this act is a chance to forgive ourselves and get into a better/calmer state of mind.
The Lord talks about being alike to honor and dishonor. In my own petty and silly ways, I have had these feelings of loss of honor, and they have taken me for a spin. If I can treat them with equipoise then I will be closer to the Lord. Guruji gives the example of the "Bahu" in serials who goes through so many bad situations which causes her to be dishonored, but finally getting vindicated at the end. This was a fun example and very relatable. Having said that I felt, if I am truly equipoised, vindication is not a feeling I will need or even identify with. Doing this is not easy and again practice is key.
The Lord says that his dearest bhakthas are contended. They are contended with what comes their way. They don't have wants - they want nothing. He expresses this multiple times in the slokas.
We discussed this in the Satsang. Kothai ji came up with an acronym here - ZCC - Zero Cribs and Complaints. This means that whatever life throws at you, you move forward without cribbing or complaining about it or about others. I feel that this is about reducing (if not eliminating) expectations. I also feel this is related to our ego.
An example which came to my mind was about our own need to impress people. Whether I am giving a talk at our office or attending a Gita session, my mind wants to do actions which impress people and make them think that I am good. I can do whatever actions I want, but my expectation of people getting impressed by them is not guaranteed. So I get disappointed. If I am able to just give my talk with my utmost ability and welcome whatever feedback comes out of it with the right mindset then I have a chance of feeling contended. Else I will always feel disappointed.
mālik itanā dījiye, jāme kuṭumba samāya
maiṅ bhī bhūkhā na rahūñ, sādhu na bhūkhā jāya
“O Lord, give me just enough for the bare maintenance of my family’s bodily needs, and for giving alms to the sadhu who comes to my door.”
This is also difficult to do, but we can slowly make progress. My tryst with minimalism (see my earlier blog post) also talks about reducing material needs. Hopefully, I will make progress on this and be on the way to become a good bhaktha to the Lord.
I have also started a habit of maintaining a Gratitude dairy. This was suggested in the Satsang and I have also heard about it in a lot of other places. I have started this practice to identify the many good things that are happening to me, which can lead me to contentment.
Subduing the mind
The Lord mentions subduing the mind or controlling the mind many times. I think this as being self-disciplined. As part of the Guruji's commentary and the Satsang's discussion, we discussed pushing or training the mind to do the opposite of what it wants to do. Few examples :
- Take a cold water bath in the winter.
- Start watching a serial or a movie and drop it abruptly.
- Not checking slack in the morning (my addition).
It is like working a muscle. You keep training it regularly to strengthen it. The mind is like a muscle. This has come out of scientific research too.
The practice of meditation where I am focusing on the breath is a way to train my mind. The mind still wanders, but I am training it to focus on the breath on a regular basis. I think I am making only a small amount of progress, but since I am in it for my lifetime, I am ok with the speed.
In the context of being a beloved Bhaktha, quietening the mind when needed, is an important trait.
Firm resolve on the Lord
Lord Krishna says his true Bhaktha is firmly resolute. This resolve or conviction is key to help her tide over the difficulties that will come in the path she has chosen.
Also, our conviction helps us to convince others without forcing them. Who am I talking about? I am talking about my family members or friends who I think will benefit by taking this journey. My firm resolve will demonstrate to them how this path can make someone strong. That can lead them to chose the path without any gifted salesmanship from us.
Firm resolve is not demonstrated by words. Actions are required. That said, we need to understand that words are a starting point. Good words lead to good thoughts and good thoughts lead to good actions. Eventually, our actions speak louder than words, so if you want to show conviction, then act with conviction.
Lord Narayana says my beloved bhakthas are fearless. How to make this happen? I think this is possible if we have a lack of desire and if we are not attached to things or even people.
This is a tall order. I might be able to cultivate detachment from things with a lot of effort but being detached from the people I love is going to be difficult - because of my ego. Detachment does not actually mean that you stop loving them. It means that you love them without thinking that they belong to you. In a detached state, I care about their happiness and wish them well without thinking that I should be the reason for the same.
There is a saying that I have heard - "If it is yours, release it, and it will come back to you". This sounds nice, but if you are really detached then you realize that nothing is really yours, and therefore it does not matter if it comes back to you. This is not easy, but it is an ideal state worth striving for.
If I make my mind like this then fear vanishes. If I feel that the bike I am using is not truly yours then I will not be worried about it after parking it somewhere. I say this because I do worry about this sometimes!😟 But if I can practice thinking like this then I can get to a true state of fearlessness.
A true Bhaktha of Bhagavān is pure minded. The Lord talks about both outer (take a regular bath man! 🤦♀️) and inner purity.
I am focused on the mind related purity because it is a lot harder to achieve that. Our mind is made impure of different kinds of thoughts. Thoughts related to our ego, envy, anger, greed and lust come to us very easily. Most times we don't even realize that we are caught in these thoughts since they pervade our entire consciousness.
The first step to changing this is to watch our thoughts. If I build some mindfulness and start watching my thoughts, I will at least become aware when certain kind of thought takes hold of me. One can be the judge of what kind of thoughts these are and take corresponding action.
Once you are aware, you can take steps to improve your thoughts. And as good thoughts are the way to good actions, we can make a difference to the world.
Another trick to having good thoughts is to read or listen to life and stories of good people or saints. This will lead us to better state of mind - purity.
The Lord says, "My dearest Bhaktha is skillful". I did not understand this initially. What has skill got to do with Bhakthi? After we discussed this in the Satsang, and after I thought a little more, an idea came to me. If I think that I am doing God's work and show great dedication to it, then I automatically do a very good job at it. I am attentive to detail and want to persevere so that I do the best work for the Lord. If I do my work like this then I become skillful in it. So it became obvious that a true bhaktha is skillful.
A related thought is being a "nimmitha". This means being a tool for the Lord. Once you are just acting as a tool, then Lord will do the work through you and the work will be skillfully done. I was reminded of the movie Kantara. When the hero becomes a tool of the Lord, he is bestowed with so much strength that no villian is able to stand in front of him. He is just the medium, the Lord is actually doing the work.
Krishna mentions in one of the slokas that his dearest bhaktha is contemplative. This is another one which I did not find easy to comprehend. I can only talk about it through personal experience. Whenever I have been a contemplative mood, there is the feeling of a deeper force working in me. The mind is calmer and is able to wrangle through tough questions. Instead of the cacophony of discussions, a few hours of contemplative thought has led me to get better insights on anything. It could be even work projects. That is the way I understand this.
Remove sense of ownership
The Lord says that my beloved bhakthas have given up the sense of ownership. We know that, all things including our body have to be left behind when one dies. When I look at the world like this, the idea that I own houses or vehicles etc. doesn't make much sense. But we always live with the thought that whatever we have will always be with us (including our loved ones) and our body itself is not something which will be destroyed since we own it.
If we are able to remove our sense of ownership of these things, then we have diminished our ego, and we will surely reach a better state.
Unattached to Home
In the 18th Sloka, Krishna says that my favorite Bhaktha is not attached to their home. The way I interpreted it is that such a bhaktha is NOT beholden to any of their identities. They don't hold on to their caste or religion or language or any other form of identity. They realize that they are part of the grand union of the lord and hence identifying themselves with a particular aspect does not make sense.
Also, the life we live and the situations we are born into are so arbitrary (from the perspective of identity) that there is no point in being attached to them. Having said that, this is not easy to do. Throughout our life we have been attached to our family name (there are people who do honor killings for this). We are also identified with our language or our country. While it is ok to show love to your country men or your community men, it does not make sense to hate others. The concept of us and them is meaningless to a true bhaktha. Since all of us come from the Lord, there is only us and no them. The whole world is our kin.
Here ends my discussion on Bhaktha's inner state.
Never have malice
One of the first things the Lord says about his beloved Bhaktha is that they don't show malice to other people or even other life forms. This means that I don't carry malevolent thoughts towards other people or other living things.
My thoughts went to two places. With respect to living beings - mosquitos. I am not sure about you, but I have sometimes taken it as my life goal to eradicate all mosquitoes in my bedroom. I have gone on sprees trying to smash them to smithereens. After listening to this, I am not sure if this was a good thing. Why do I need to actively look for mosquitoes and kill them? It felt like I am doing it out of malice. It is different to kill a mosquito that is biting me, but my mind, actively trying to seek and kill them feels wrong. Even using a mosquito repellant seems better than to actively seek and kill. The intention is mellower, and it is to drive them away so that they don't cause harm instead of actively causing harm to them. I will try to change this in my mind.
Next is on people. Given my big fat ego, I sometimes harbor malicious thoughts about even my family members or co-workers. If my daughter does not listen to my advice on studying, a malicious thought about bad results does come to my mind. Similarly, if a co-worker comes with a counter-proposal at work, I think about how I want it to fail. Both are these are driven by my ego and my want to be correct. If I can suppress this, then there is a chance for me to be benevolent.
While the Lord wants us to be not malicious to all in the world, I think we can start with our family and friends. If I can treat my family, friends and co-workers in a good way then I go a long way towards showing no malice to the world.
Be Friendly and Compassionate
The Lord says that we should be friendly to all. My "kutharka bhuddhi" immediately asks if Krishna was friendly to Duriyodhana. But when I think more deeply about it, I remember a lot of situations where the Lord actually tries to push Duriyodhana in the right direction but without success. When you try to be friend to all, it does not mean that they will reciprocate. But your own feelings to them should be friendly.
Similarly, being compassionate applies to all. Compassion shouldn't be restricted to specific people and identities. That said it is difficult to show compassion to people who you are not even meeting. If I can show compassion towards the people I interact daily then I think I fulfill this aspect of a true Bhaktha.
Also, whether it comes to being friendly or showing compassion, we need to do it without feeling proud about it or wanting recognition for the same. That will just feed into our ego and build expectations in us. We need to show compassion like an old man planting mango saplings. He will not be able to reap the fruits (literally) of it, but he does it without any expectation of returns.
One aspect that Guruji brought up here was the need to be practical. We can't really show compassion to terrorists. I am split about this. While I agree with Guruji that this is practical and sensible, I also wonder if deep compassion has the capability of making even a terrorist change. I am not sure, but compassion is not easy anyway, so let me start with showing it at least to my near and dear ones.
Forgiveness is a virtue that a true Bhaktha has according to Lord Krishna. I have covered this a little in the previous section. It is important for us to forgive our enemies actively and not just forget about them. Actively send them loving wishes will ensure that our own mind is in a better state.
Forgiveness does not mean that all murderers need to be forgiven. There will still be need for punishment, but this act is done for betterment of society and not to inflict our hate and anger on others. It is done with a sense of duty. An executioner or even a judge is handing out punishment to an offender not because she hates them, but because she needs to uphold his duty. That mentality is required to practice forgiveness.
Don't annoy and don't get annoyed
In our day-to-day life, we don't get angry all the time. But we do get annoyed. While this seems innocuous to us, this feeling builds on to increase our ego (this is for sure) and will potentially lead to anger at some point in time. And the thing is that we get annoyed on very small things and with even our loved ones.
We sometimes get annoyed by the actions of our children or the actions of the people who work for us. It is important to treat them well and with respect, so that we don't give wings to these stupid thoughts of annoyance. Respect is a good antidote. That said, if your servant is not doing his job well, it is our duty to set things straight. Taking action respectfully to get better work, but without getting annoyed is good. It will lead to better outcomes for all involved.
A completely different aspect is that we could have habits that cause annoyance for others. I have this bad habit of making weird noises with my closed mouth. It annoys everyone in my family. Sometimes I do it purposely for fun but most times this happens without me being conscious. A little more mindfulness can help in trimming this out.
We also annoy our children by giving them advice on a regular basis. We think that it is for their good, but it only leads to sense of annoyance for them. Especially for kids who are in their late teens, who are trying to figure out their personality, this kind of constant advice is very off-putting. Guruji's says that it is criminal to offer corrections to anyone above 16 years old, unless they ask for it. I am trying to digest this and incorporate it in my life. That is the only way for me to ensure that my daughter will be willing to seek me out for help when needed, and the help I provide will reach her without causing annoyance.
This is a story that demonstrates a lot of qualities of a true Bhaktha. This level of maturity is very difficult to achieve for me. That said, the story acts as an inspiration and as a reminder for the work that needs to be done.
The Lord says that we need to treat all people impartially and based on their merit. While this is a fairly straightforward to understand, we need to take care that we determine merit without the lens of our own selfishness or ego. If we forget that, the meaning of impartial gets completely lost.
I have explained the Bhakthi yoga chapter of the Bhagavad Gita in as much detail I can. Couple of last thoughts:
Though this chapter of the Gita is said to be a small one, I felt that it is profound and filled with insights and pointers for me that it is difficult to take it all in. So I decided to read this chapter on a daily basis. The Guruji of the Satsang has also suggested the same idea (I realized it later on). So I have started doing this on a reasonably regular basis in an audio form. I am not sure if it will work for others, but I feel that this can add value to me.
I had earlier asked you to take note of the qualities of Bhakthas of Brahman as specified by Gita in the first section. If you notice the qualities elaborated in the true bhaktha section above, you will realize that these are succinctly described by the same verse earlier. So it does not matter whether you are worshiping the manifested Bhagavān or the un-manifested Brahman, the qualities of the Bhaktha are similar in nature.
With this thought I will leave you to contemplate and digest this.
- Jivanmuktas 'Amazing Simple Gita' - The Gita book we use in the Satsang
- Holy Gita - Found it as a useful preparation tool for my RREs even before
- Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Eswaran - A very sophisticated and succinct version of the Bhagavad Gita
- The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita: Explained by Paramhansa Yogananda - Just tasted this chapter & it was good.
- Chapter 12 BG video - My daily chapter learning/listening aid.
Aum sarvam SriKrishnarpanam astu.