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Bhagavad Gita Commentary: Battlefield of the Mind

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  • swamitarakananda
    This is an article by Swami Nirmalananda Giri. Bhagavad Gita Commentary: Battlefield of the Mind Most of us have heard the story of the centipede who, when
    Message 1 of 2 , Sep 5, 2005
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      This is an article by Swami Nirmalananda Giri.

      Bhagavad Gita Commentary: Battlefield of the Mind

      Most of us have heard the story of the centipede who, when asked how he managed to
      walk with so many legs, could no longer do so, but tangled his legs hopelessly in the
      attempt to intellectually figure it out and ended up on his back, helpless. This is not unlike
      the person who attempts to plumb the depths of oriental scriptures. Right away it
      becomes evident that they consist of incalculable layers, nearly all symbolic in nature.
      Furthermore, the meanings of the symbols are not consistent, changing according to the
      levels on which they occur. For example, on one level water symbolizes the mind, on
      another level the constant flux of samsara, and on another the subtle life-currents known
      as prana. This being the case, our Western linear mode of thought becomes as entangled
      and disabled as the fabled centipede. Knowing this to be so, I have decided to avoid the
      Lorelei of subtle symbolism and concentrate instead on the obviously practical side of
      Krishna teachings in the Bhagavad Gita. Having stated this, in complete consistency with
      oriental thought, I shall contradict myself and consider the symbolism encountered in the
      first chapter of the Gita.

      We find ourselves on Kurukshetra, a field of impending battle. It is not as vast as our
      Hollywood-epic-shaped minds might imagine, as can be seen for oneself by a visit to
      Kurukshetra, now also a sizeable modern city in Northern India, not very far from Delhi. At
      one end is a hillock topped with a great tree under which the visitor finds a life-sized
      reproduction in marble of the type of chariot used in the battle. This is the vantage point
      from which Arjuna, the great warrior, and Sri Krishna looked out over the field. Today its
      tranquillity is charming, despite the strong feeling in the air that something tremendously
      momentous occurred there in the distant past. It is both awesome and soothing.

      For background information regarding how the battleground came to be thronged with
      soldiers, chariots, elephants and the other paraphernalia of a deadly war, see the
      introductory essay, "Gita and Mahabharata" in Swami Prabhavananda's unparalleled
      translation "The Song of God". This is the translation I will be using in these
      essays on the Gita. Suffice it to say that the two opposing armies are very easy to morally
      identify. The Kauravas, led by the murderous Prince Duryodhana, are fundamentally evil,
      although many honorable men have, through various complicated alliances and
      obligations, found themselves among their ranks. The Pandavas, headed by the virtuous
      and noble Yudhisthira, the eldest brother of Arjuna, are embodiments of all that is good,
      among them being the divine Sri Krishna himself who chose to be the charioteer of Arjuna.

      The symbolism is not very hard to figure out (leaving aside the complex matter of
      assigning a symbolic meaning to every person named in the battle narrative). Kurukshetra
      is the personality–particularly the mind (intellect)–of the individual, awakened seeker for
      higher consciousness. Such a seeker, determined to end the whirling cycle of birth and
      death, finds that his aspiration itself has inspired opposition from within his own mind and
      heart, where good and evil, truth and falsehood, ignorance and wisdom, like the Kauravas
      and Pandavas, have drawn themselves up in readiness for a conflict that must end in the
      annihilation of one side or the other. Even more daunting is the fact that much considered
      "good" is found lining up in support of negativity, and most of the "Pandava" side will also
      be blotted out in the eventual transmutation of the individual into a higher state of being
      itself, much as the endearing ways of infancy and childhood must be eradicated at the
      advent of adulthood and replaced with completely different virtues.

      In the chariot set betwixt the two armies we find Arjuna and Krishna. Many interpretations
      of these two pivotal figures are possible, nearly all of them correct, but the words of the
      Mundaka Upanishad, written long before the Gita, are certainly worthy of our attention.

      "Like two birds of golden plumage, inseparable companions, the individual self and the
      immortal Self are perched on the branches of the selfsame tree. The former tastes of the
      sweet and bitter fruits of the tree; the latter, tasting of neither, calmly observes.

      "The individual self, deluded by forgetfulness of his identity with the divine Self,
      bewildered by his ego, grieves and is sad. But when he recognizes the worshipful Lord as
      his own true Self, and beholds his glory, he grieves no more."

      These two paragraphs are a perfect summary of the entire Gita. Arjuna is the bewildered
      and sorrowing atma, the individual self, and Krishna is the divine Paramatma, the Supreme
      Self from which the atma derives its very being and existence. Forgetful of its true nature
      as part of the Infinite Spirit, the finite spirit passes through countless experiences that
      confuse and pain it, producing utterly false conclusions that compound and perpetuate the
      confusion and pain. Only when the perspective of the Divine Self is entered into, can its
      troubles cease. We can also think of Arjuna as our lower mortal self, and Krishna as our
      higher immortal self. Krishna and Arjuna thus represent both God and Man and our own
      (presently) dual nature as mortal and immortal. Keeping this perspective before us, the
      ensuing dialogue which forms the Gita is to be seen both as God's communication to
      human beings and the communication of our own divine self with our human
      self–liberation of the spirit (moksha) being their sole intention.

      In the opening verse of the Gita, King Dhritarashtra, father of Prince Duryodhana, asks his
      minister and charioteer, Sanjaya: "Tell me, Sanjaya, what my sons and the sons of Pandu
      did, when they gathered on the sacred field of Kurukshetra, eager for battle?

      The word Swami Prabhavananda renders "sacred field" is dharmakshetra –the
      field of dharma. Dharma usually means the right way of thought and action, but it can also
      mean the accurate expression of one's own dominant character, for dharma also means
      "quality." This entire world is a dharmakshetra, a field upon which we act out the character
      of our inner makeup–i.e., the quality of our emotions, mind, intellect, and will (not our
      ultimate being as spirit). We as individuals are each a dharmic field, expressing the
      actuality of our present level of evolution.

      As already said, when we take stock of the inner conflict, we identify with both sides.
      Thinking that if they are dissolved or destroyed "we" will cease to exist, we are appalled
      and feel that our very existence is threatened. Then, like all human beings who do not like
      the truth when they see or hear it, we become "confused" and try to avoid the unpleasant
      prospect. Bitter as death seems the inner battle, so we shrink from it and desperately try
      to find a way out.

      So does Arjuna. In a lengthy and impassioned monologue he presents to Krishna his
      "confusion," which is really a plea to inaction, to avoidance of conflict, thinking that such a
      negative condition is peace, whereas peace is a positive state, not the mere absence of
      unrest and conflict. It is also reached only through unrest and conflict, however little we
      like the fact.

      Running away from spiritual obligation–and therefore spiritual life itself–is a common
      activity of the awakening soul, which brings all its ingenuity to bear on justification of such
      avoidance. Arjuna veils his aversion with words of compassion for others, when in actuality
      he is the sole object of his "compassion." He simply does not wish to see others suffer
      because that will make him suffer–and feel guilty for their suffering. Krishna makes this
      clear to him. The Stoic, Epictetus, was once visited by a man who told him that he loved
      his daughter so much he had run from the house rather than see her suffering from
      illness. Carefully, gently yet firmly, Epictetus led him to understand that it was his self-
      love that motivated him, not love for his child.

      It is the same with us; ego-involvement–addiction, actually–grips us, and we are the only
      ones who can free ourselves from it. And battle is the only means.

      ------
      Swami Nirmalananda Giri is the abbot of Atma Jyoti Ashram near the small desert town of
      Borrego Springs, CA, USA. More of his writings, and much more, may be found at
      http://www.atmajyoti.org/

      I hope people find this article informative.

      Swami Tarakananda
    • medit8ionsociety
      ... when asked how he managed to walk with so many legs, could no longer do so, but tangled his legs hopelessly in the attempt to intellectually figure it out
      Message 2 of 2 , Sep 5, 2005
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        --- In meditationsocietyofamerica@yahoogroups.com, "swamitarakananda"
        <tarakananda@a...> wrote:
        > This is an article by Swami Nirmalananda Giri.
        >
        > Bhagavad Gita Commentary: Battlefield of the Mind
        >
        > Most of us have heard the story of the centipede who,
        when asked how he managed to walk with so many legs,
        could no longer do so, but tangled his legs hopelessly
        in the attempt to intellectually figure it out and ended
        up on his back, helpless. This is not unlike the person
        who attempts to plumb the depths of oriental scriptures.
        Right away it becomes evident that they consist of
        incalculable layers, nearly all symbolic in nature.
        Furthermore, the meanings of the symbols are not consistent,
        changing according to the levels on which they occur. For
        example, on one level water symbolizes the mind, on
        > another level the constant flux of samsara, and on
        another the subtle life-currents known as prana. This being
        the case, our Western linear mode of thought becomes as
        entangled and disabled as the fabled centipede. Knowing this
        to be so, I have decided to avoid the Lorelei of subtle
        symbolism and concentrate instead on the obviously practical
        side of Krishna teachings in the Bhagavad Gita. Having
        stated this, in complete consistency with oriental thought,
        I shall contradict myself and consider the symbolism
        encountered in the first chapter of the Gita.

        We find ourselves on Kurukshetra, a field of impending
        battle. It is not as vast as our Hollywood-epic-shaped
        minds might imagine, as can be seen for oneself by a
        visit to Kurukshetra, now also a sizeable modern city
        in Northern India, not very far from Delhi. At one end
        is a hillock topped with a great tree under which the
        visitor finds a life-sized reproduction in marble of the
        type of chariot used in the battle. This is the vantage
        point from which Arjuna, the great warrior, and Sri Krishna
        looked out over the field. Today its tranquillity is charming,
        despite the strong feeling in the air that something
        tremendously momentous occurred there in the distant past.
        It is both awesome and soothing.

        For background information regarding how the battleground
        came to be thronged with soldiers, chariots, elephants and
        the other paraphernalia of a deadly war, see the introductory
        essay, "Gita and Mahabharata" in Swami Prabhavananda's
        unparalleled translation "The Song of God". This is the
        translation I will be using in these essays on the Gita.
        Suffice it to say that the two opposing armies are very
        easy to morally identify. The Kauravas, led by the murderous
        Prince Duryodhana, are fundamentally evil, although many
        honorable men have, through various complicated alliances and
        obligations, found themselves among their ranks. The Pandavas,
        headed by the virtuous and noble Yudhisthira, the eldest
        brother of Arjuna, are embodiments of all that is good,
        among them being the divine Sri Krishna himself who chose to
        be the charioteer of Arjuna.

        The symbolism is not very hard to figure out (leaving aside
        the complex matter of assigning a symbolic meaning to every
        person named in the battle narrative). Kurukshetra is the
        personality–particularly the mind (intellect)–of the
        individual, awakened seeker for higher consciousness. Such a
        seeker, determined to end the whirling cycle of birth and
        death, finds that his aspiration itself has inspired opposition
        from within his own mind and heart, where good and evil,
        truth and falsehood, ignorance and wisdom, like the Kauravas
        and Pandavas, have drawn themselves up in readiness for a conflict
        that must end in the annihilation of one side or the other.
        Even more daunting is the fact that much considered
        "good" is found lining up in support of negativity, and most
        of the "Pandava" side will also be blotted out in the
        eventual transmutation of the individual into a higher state
        of being itself, much as the endearing ways of infancy and
        childhood must be eradicated at the advent of adulthood and
        replaced with completely different virtues.

        In the chariot set betwixt the two armies we find Arjuna and
        Krishna. Many interpretations of these two pivotal figures are
        possible, nearly all of them correct, but the words of the
        Mundaka Upanishad, written long before the Gita, are certainly worthy
        of our attention.

        "Like two birds of golden plumage, inseparable companions, the
        individual self and the immortal Self are perched on the
        branches of the selfsame tree. The former tastes of the
        sweet and bitter fruits of the tree; the latter, tasting of
        neither, calmly observes.

        "The individual self, deluded by forgetfulness of his identity with
        the divine Self, bewildered by his ego, grieves and is sad.
        But when he recognizes the worshipful Lord as his own true
        Self, and beholds his glory, he grieves no more."

        These two paragraphs are a perfect summary of the entire Gita.
        Arjuna is the bewildered and sorrowing atma, the individual
        self, and Krishna is the divine Paramatma, the Supreme
        Self from which the atma derives its very being and existence.
        Forgetful of its true nature as part of the Infinite Spirit,
        the finite spirit passes through countless experiences that
        > confuse and pain it, producing utterly false conclusions that
        compound and perpetuate the confusion and pain. Only when the
        perspective of the Divine Self is entered into, can its troubles
        cease. We can also think of Arjuna as our lower mortal self, and
        Krishna as our higher immortal self. Krishna and Arjuna thus
        represent both God and Man and our own (presently) dual nature
        as mortal and immortal. Keeping this perspective before us, the
        ensuing dialogue which forms the Gita is to be seen both as
        God's communication to human beings and the communication of
        our own divine self with our human self–liberation of the spirit
        (moksha) being their sole intention.

        In the opening verse of the Gita, King Dhritarashtra, father of
        Prince Duryodhana, asks his minister and charioteer, Sanjaya:
        "Tell me, Sanjaya, what my sons and the sons of Pandu
        did, when they gathered on the sacred field of Kurukshetra,
        eager for battle?

        The word Swami Prabhavananda renders "sacred field" is
        dharmakshetra –the field of dharma. Dharma usually means the
        right way of thought and action, but it can also mean the
        accurate expression of one's own dominant character, for
        dharma also means "quality." This entire world is a
        dharmakshetra, a field upon which we act out the character
        of our inner makeup–i.e., the quality of our emotions, mind,
        intellect, and will (not our ultimate being as spirit). We as
        individuals are each a dharmic field, expressing the
        actuality of our present level of evolution.

        As already said, when we take stock of the inner conflict,
        we identify with both sides. Thinking that if they are
        dissolved or destroyed "we" will cease to exist, we are appalled
        and feel that our very existence is threatened. Then, like all
        human beings who do not like the truth when they see or hear it,
        we become "confused" and try to avoid the unpleasant prospect.
        Bitter as death seems the inner battle, so we shrink from it and
        desperately try to find a way out.

        So does Arjuna. In a lengthy and impassioned monologue he presents
        to Krishna his "confusion," which is really a plea to inaction,
        to avoidance of conflict, thinking that such a negative condition
        is peace, whereas peace is a positive state, not the mere absence
        of unrest and conflict. It is also reached only through unrest
        and conflict, however little we like the fact.

        Running away from spiritual obligation–and therefore spiritual life
        itself–is a common activity of the awakening soul, which brings
        all its ingenuity to bear on justification of such avoidance.
        Arjuna veils his aversion with words of compassion for others,
        when in actuality he is the sole object of his "compassion."
        He simply does not wish to see others suffer because that will
        make him suffer–and feel guilty for their suffering. Krishna makes
        this clear to him. The Stoic, Epictetus, was once visited by a
        man who told him that he loved his daughter so much he had run
        from the house rather than see her suffering from illness.
        Carefully, gently yet firmly, Epictetus led him to understand
        that it was his self-love that motivated him, not love for his
        child.

        It is the same with us; ego-involvement–addiction, actually–grips
        us, and we are the only ones who can free ourselves from it.
        And battle is the only means.

        ------
        Swami Nirmalananda Giri is the abbot of Atma Jyoti Ashram near the
        small desert town of Borrego Springs, CA, USA. More of his
        writings, and much more, may be found at
        http://www.atmajyoti.org/

        I hope people find this article informative.
        Swami Tarakananda

        Dear Swamiji,
        I really enjoyed this post and appreciate your posting it here.
        I hope you will consider continuing to share more of Swami
        Nirmalanda Giri's Gita commentaries. Perhaps you could
        find the time to post one per week. In any event, thanks
        for letting this wonderful knowledge appear at this time.
        Peace and blessings,
        Bob
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