This week Sharath Jois, the Director of the KPJAYI, the landmark institute that preserves the purity of the practice and the teaching of Ashtanga yoga, is in Madrid. I appreciate Sharathji's knowledge and style very much, and it is under his guidance in Mysore when I have felt compelled to learn more about what yoga really is, beyond a merely physical discipline.
Along these lines, I wanted to write about one of the most iconic and relevant works in Spirituality, the Bhagavad Gita, or, as my pocket edition says, The Scripture of Mankind.
The Gita offers a well defined and pragmatic vision of what being a yogi in the world entails. It takes place on a battlefield, on the verge of a war that will confront two families, the Pandavas (the good guys) and the Kauravas (the bad guys).
When Arjuna, the best archer in the kingdom and the hero of our story, is about to engage he and his party in the fever of the battle, he looks across the battlefield only to find the enemy is way too familiar. It dawns on Arjuna that he will have to fight his own blood. Brothers, relatives and childhood friends stand in front of him. Even his archery teacher, the man he owes everything he knows, is there.
Overcome by despair, he drops his bow and his arrows and refuses to fight.
But his charioteer Krishna, who is God btw, has different plans for him. Krishna urges Arjuna to follow his duty, which is to fight, for that is the nature of a warrior. He shouldn't shy away from battle. Arjuna is then encouraged to take action and detach himself from the results of his fighting, for those are down to Krishna and him alone.
Aware of his friend's deep doubts and moved by his pain, Krishna engages in a dialogue with Arjuna in which the mysteries of life are revealed.
The real war narrated in The Gita is our own inner war, the battles we fight in our heads and in our hearts every day. The conflict between good and evil, between our lights and our shadows, and how to handle the troublesome situations that naturally come up.
One of the shlokas I like the most recites,
Be steadfast in yoga. Perform your duty and abandon all attachment to success or failure. That evenness of mind is yoga.
If we understand yoga not just as a twisting routine but as a path back to God/ Source/ Consciousness/ Universe/ Order/ Something Bigger than Yourself (name it as you wish), we must understand and honor our duty by fulfilling it. Following one's dharma is very important. As Krishna affirms,
It is better to do one's own dharma, even imperfectly, than to do another's dharma, even though perfectly.
Rather Average and Real than Outstanding and Fake :)
Also, the focus of our efforts should be placed on the action rather than the result. Arjuna's main concern should be taking the right action, which is fulfilling his duty as a warrior, and performing it to the best of his abilities while detaching himself from the outcome. It doesn't matter whether his party wins or loses as long as he does what he has to do.
Likewise, if we are to live in this world fully, we are encouraged to do the same. The stress should be placed on the journey rather than the destination. In knowing who we are and what has to be done. Through the engagement in right action, which is that in alignment with our nature, and by doing it to the best of our capacity, our mind becomes One with the Mind of God. That union with the Divine (Universe, Source, Order, Cosmos, Something Bigger than Yourself ... ) is Yoga.
The reason why we sweat on our mats every day is to become disciplined enough, stable enough and receptive enough to grasp and assimilate this knowledge. The expectations we place on our daily practice are good indicators of where we stand :)
Wisdom cannot be forced. Wisdom happens under the right circumstances. It is confusing at times, even frustrating, but the path has to be walked. Avoidance won't take us far.
The teachings from the Gita might defy common sense and challenge our goal-oriented Western mindset. Give them a chance though. Do your practice and Listen. Have some Faith. You are in the path of yoga for a reason. With patience and increased awareness, the pieces of the puzzle will slowly come together :)
For more on the Bhagavad Gita, I encourage you to read a commented version. I like Roopa Pai's very much for its clarity and relative simplicity.