“Now, Arjuna, I will tell youabout the three kinds of happiness.The happiness which comes from long practice,which leads to the end of suffering. which at first is like poison, but at lastlike nectar – this kind of happiness,arising from the serenityof one’s own mind, is called sattvic. Rajasic happiness comesfrom contact between the sensesand their objects, and is at firstlike nectar, but at last like poison. Happiness is called tamasicwhen it is self-deludingfrom beginning to end, and arisesfrom sleep, indolence and dullness.” Bhagavad GitaTranslation byStephen Mitchell[18.34-38] The Bhagavad Gita is a Sanskrit text, held within the ancient epic poem, the Mahabharata. The date the Gita was written is widely disputed, ranging from the 6thcentury BC to the 1st century AD. The Gita takes places on a battlefield, during the Kurukshetra War. It is a dialogue between two characters: Arjuna, the warrior, who symbolically represents each and every one of us, and Krishna who represents the incarnation of the ultimate mystery of existence (God, Om, the Higher Self, Divine Energy, Universal Consciousness – however you describe that which is bigger than us).
The Bhagavad Gita is a poem of the dialogue held between Arujuna and Krishna. Literally, it is about Arjuna’s hesitancy to wage war against his kinsmen. More deeply, it can be seen as an allegory – representing the good and bad qualities of human existence; our higher consciousness versus our senses, thought, and physical, death bound existence. The Gita is about a call to action. It gives personal instruction on how to live, showing the potential for transformation and ultimately divine realization. It describes the need for action – mindful and devotional action, in the context of a deathless, grander existence.
What I love about the stanza I have quoted above, is the paradoxical truth stemming from the internal battle between our search for happiness, and inevitable suffering we all face.
We look for happiness and freedom from suffering in all the wrong places – for example, the perpetual acquisition of material goods, staying extremely busy and active to avoid facing painful parts of your life that keep calling for attention, or numbing out with the use of alcohol and drugs. Although these may feel good in the short term, in the end they will lead to more suffering.
The wisdom of yoga reminds us that we cannot avoid our life – we cannot selectively numb ourselves to our bad experiences, anymore than we can try to cling to and hang onto our good experiences. Yoga teaches us a middle way, where we understand the nature of the mind as it relates to, and even creates our suffering. It is through this direct understanding that we work with our suffering, in order towork through it.
Contrary to popular belief, it is our experience of adversity and hardship that eventually creates wisdom and deep internal serentiy. Yoga invites us to understand the true nature of our minds, and fight our “battles” with proper consciousness and awareness – by neither dispelling and avoiding our experience or clinging to it.
To face the truth of our lives takes tremendous courage, over and over again, opening up to both the joy and the pain, all the while, practicing mindful conscious action; Which, inescapably comes from a place of not knowing the outcomes of our actions. And, from here the practice becomes surrendering to the mystery, and trusting that (with time) growth will prevail.
The imagry of the lotus is often used in eastern practices and cultures. The lotus grows and is nurtured from the muckiness in the bottom of the pond. It grows up through the murky water and into the air – a beautiful flower resting on top of the pond – gently moving with the ripples and tides of the water. Our yoga practice teaches us to trust that we can and will grow from the dirt of our experience…and that we will learn to flow with the tides of our lives.
A modern day quote that speaks about the age-old wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita, is wisdom from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Wherever You Go There You Are: “You might be tempted to avoid the messiness of daily living for the tranquility of stillness and peacefulness. This of course would be an attachment to stillness, and like any strong attachment, it leads to delusion. It arrests development and short-circuits the cultivation of wisdom.”