Gita Discourses in Ancient Monastery

Pierre Chatel courtcard

Pierre Chatel courtcard

From April 25 to April 29th Babaji Satyanarayana Dasa gave a seminar on the second chapter of Bhagavad-gita to a group of yoga students of “Université Terre du Ciel” in France. The aim of this university, which is open to various traditions and faiths, is to give people a holistic approach to life, based on principles of spirituality, fraternity and ecology.

This is the fourth time Babaji has been invited by co-founder Alain Chevillat to the ancient former Carthusian monastery Pierre Chatel in the beautiful mountains of Le Bugey near Geneva. Groups of students on different levels of learning and practice regularly gather in the reclusive, peaceful atmosphere of the monastery to practice yoga sadhana, and learn about Indian philosophy.

Alain & Babaji

Alain & Babaji

Continuing from last year’s analysis of the first chapter of Bhagavad-gita, Babaji elaborated for two hours each morning and evening on the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Since Arjuna is Krishna’s friend and a great devotee, it has to be understood that he enacts this drama on behalf of us, who are faced with a similar dilemma. The teachings of Bhagavad-gita are very profound and can have a great impact on all of us individually.

Emphasis on character improvement

Babaji stressed that knowledge is very important because a person’s action and behavior depend on his or her knowledge. In India the emphasis has always been on improving a person’s character which depends upon having proper understanding of the principles of life. Merely possessing knowledge without using it as the basis for one’s actions is only a burden.

White Peacock at Pierre Chatel

White Peacock at Pierre Chatel

The first chapter of Bhagavad-gita is crucial to understanding Arjuna’s existential dilemma – his attachment to material ego – which represents the basic problem of every human being. Babaji explained how many people have difficulties in understanding the first chapter because, like Arjuna, they identify with their body and thus fail to grasp the implication of non violence. As long as this identification exists, there is no question of non-violence, because of the distinction between one’s own possessions and relatives, and that of others. Violence or non-violence is a type of consciousness, rather than the action itself. Only a self-realized person can be truly non-violent as he has nothing to gain for himself and works only for the welfare of others. Many people have the misconception that Krishna propagates violence, while in actuality he wants Arjuna to examine his heart and understand his dharma. If there is a duty to be performed it should not be avoided on the pretext of religion or compassion.

Allegory of spiritual advancement

Seminar room

Seminar room

Bhagavad-gita is an allegory of advancement in spiritual life. Our defects are our enemies. Since we cannot experience bliss until our heart is purified, the first step in spiritual life is to recognize our internal enemies, in the same way that Arjuna needed to see his opponents facing him on the battlefield. To become attached to God, we need to fight with these enemies which manifest as material attachments.

The Gita teaches us how to offer our material ego to God. It brings us to the level of being non-violent in the ultimate sense, beyond the dualities of material existence. Only if we transcend our material ego are we really free.

In the second chapter, before going into a spiritual discourse about the soul, varnashrama, and dharma, Krishna is attacking Arjuna’s ego. He sees through his seemingly noble compassion and exposes it as weak-heartedness. Arjuna is more concerned about his own image than about his relatives, and that his surrender is conditional.

Babaji Satyanarayana Dasa

Babaji Satyanarayana Dasa

In various ways Krishna instructs Arjuna that he is not his body. The understanding that we are immortal is the basic principle of spiritual life. Although we experience changes in our bodies, we are not the change itself, which is different from us. The consciousness of a conditioned soul is felt within the body, and the change of body is superimposed onto the soul.

Krishna’s definition of Yoga

Science can give external knowledge, but spirituality is internal. Only through scriptures can we know about the soul. Empiric scientists only understand material consciousness and the mind, but they cannot figure out the self or soul. Material elements cannot touch it. The soul can influence the body, but the body cannot influence the soul. When consciousness is turned inside, the soul becomes aware of itself.

Sin and piety only apply at the level of the body, not the soul. For a person on the spiritual level, the dualities of good and bad, sin and piety do not exist, since one sees everything in relation to God and acts for God’s pleasure. Such a person has no personal motivation. So Krishna explains that an action by itself is neither pious nor sinful; rather, the person who is attached to the result of his action is sinful or pious. If the action is performed out of duty, there will be no karmic reaction. Therefore it is not the action that needs to be changed, but the consciousness with which the action is performed. This is Krishna’s definition of yoga. Contrary to Patanjali’s yoga, which is part of jnana marga, the yoga Krishna recommends in the Bhagavad-gita is more practical. It is a path of action whereby the fruits of one’s activities are offered to God. Therefore Krishna asks Arjuna to accept his duty to fight.

Cloister corridor

Cloister corridor

Krishna then teaches that both happiness and distress constitute disturbances that need to be transcended. He explains to Arjuna the principles of karma yoga. Since action leads to bondage, the desire for the result needs to be given up. The result of the action should be offered to God. Problems lie neither with the object nor with the activity, which are both external–what counts is only the consciousness of the performer of action.

Babaji summarized Krishna’s teachings of the second chapter in three main points:

  1. To act, being situated in yoga
  2. To give up attachment
  3. To be equipoised in happiness and distress

The course was very well received by the students whose numerous inquiries were all satisfied by Babaji. In August, he is again invited by Terre de Ciel to continue with his lucid explanations of Krishna’s teachings on the third chapter of Bhagavad-gita.

Please find the Spanish version of this article here.

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