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Re: Bhagavad Gita Commentary: Battlefield of the Mind

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  • 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 1 of 2 , Sep 5 4:01 PM
      --- 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

      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

      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,
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