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The True Meaning
by F. A. Hutchison
Issue 9
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Isn’t it interesting how questions go unanswered for years, if answered at all? But, it seems to me that questions are always more important than answers anyway!

Take for example one question which was asked of me at the Hindu Vidapeeth School, Kathmandu, Nepal in 1998. It took until 2004, and a return trip to Nepal, for the question to be satisfactorily addressed.

I remember the day so vividly, the first time I’d ever been to the Hindu Vidapeeth School (1998), invited by my friend and the headmaster, Mr. C.M. Yogi. My visit, besides a tour of the facilities, included an assembly of the entire student body of three hundred. I was treated to their performances of song and recitation, and finally a Q. & A. period at the end. Of course, they were interested in an American, as they’d heard so much about the country where I was born. They couldn’t understand why I criticized it! ‘It is your motherland,’ one of them told me! Which brings up a point off the subject: the Nepalese don’t understand Democracy!

One of their questions I’ve never forgotten came from a young boy in the back of the auditorium. He had stood up and asked, ‘Sir, what is the true meaning of the Bhagavad Gita?[1]’ Well, needless to say I wasn’t qualified to answer such a question at the time. I turned to Mr. Yogi, and whispered, ‘Help me out here,’ and he did of course. I can’t remember how I responded, but I knew at the time I didn’t really know much about the Bhagavad Gita. Thus, the question has dogged me ever since.

After my visit to ‘Mr. Yogi’s School[2],’ I went to Pilgrim’s Book Store in Thamel and bought a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, read it, but I really didn’t understand its ‘true meaning’ at the time.

After living in Nepal for two years, I returned to the United States in 1999. Of course the question continued to plague me, as I would tell the story to my friends in the U.S.—how impressed I was with the students at HVPNepal School, and particularly this young boy who had asked, ‘Sir, what is the true meaning of the Bhagavad Gita? It’s like asking what is the true meaning of the Christian Bible? Note: Few adult Christians would be able to answer!

Just recently I returned to Nepal after five years, staying in the guest room at HVPNepal School—a homecoming of course, the memory of my first visit still vivid!

During one of my discussions with my dear friend, now Dr. Yogi, the subject came up as I reminded him of that day when I first visited HVPNepal School, the question asked of me, and how the answer has plagued me ever since. Of course, this time his answer and explanation had meaning to me (sometimes answers, like good wine, take time)! He said, ‘The Bhagavad Gita has been mis-interpreted by most.’

The next day, I returned to Pilgrim’s Book Store in Thamel, and purchased the, Yatharth Geeta, a commentary by Paramahans Swami Adgadanand. Later I purchased The Bhagavadgita, translated by K.T. Teland. Now having read both and understanding Dr. Yogi’s interpretation, I think I’m finally able to respond to the young man’s question (some six years later)—as it was asked more for my benefit than his own. Bless him wherever he is!

First, however, my own history with the Bhagavad Gita. I first saw the book in New York City in 1967, passed to me on the street by Hare Krishna devotees. I remember I had the hardbound copy for years, but never read it. No doubt I wasn’t ready!

Then in 1998, the question as posed by the young man at HVPNepal School…but, my first reading of the text unsatisfactory as I, no doubt, was still not ready to comprehend.

Then recently as an acting teacher, I used a story from the Mahabharat (from which the ‘Gita’ is taken): ‘The Eye of the Fish!’ This depicts an archery contest that Arguna wins, as he sees the target like no other. This is useful in making a point to actors: We can’t hit the ‘bulls eye,’ (become a character), without ‘seeing’ the ‘target!’ Arguna, in the story, actually ‘becomes’ the target (‘the eye of the fish)!’ This is the kind of ‘focus’ an actor needs!

So, what is the Bhagavad Gita all about, this simple myth, that’s spawned, hundreds of commentaries, over fifty at least in Sanskrit and a book that has bedeviled me for years? Why is my attempt to answer boy’s question even relevant?

‘It is said that one who has known the truth of the Geeta is a knower of the Ved, which literally means the ‘knowledge of God!’ Thus the Gita, unlike its ‘parent’ is not concerned with the historical battle, or ‘sustenance of physical life, the propagation of social or religious conventions, rites or customs.’[3] As Dr. Yogi says, ‘it is not grounded in time or place, nor refers to any dogma, it is for any and all of any religion.’ Thus, it is a true myth (a story to live by) in my opinion!

Certainly, the Bhagavad Gita, is one of the most important myths[4] in history, an episode of the great Hindu epic entitled, ‘Mahabharat’, the following context described in The Bhagavadgita (translated by K.T. Telang):

‘It appears, then, that the royal family of Hasinapura was divided into two branches: the one called the Kauravas, and the other the Pandavas. The former wished to keep the latter out of the share of the kingdom claimed by them, and so after many attempts at an amicable arrangement, it was determined to decide their differences by arms. Each party accordingly collected its adherents, and the hostile armies met on the ‘holy field of Kurukshetra.’ At this juncture, Krishna Dvaipayana alias Vyasa, a relative of both parties and endowed with more than human powers, presents himself before Dhritarashtra, the blind father of the Kauravas. Vyasa asks Dhritarashtra whether it is his wish to look with his own eyes on the course of the battle? Dhritarashtra, expressing his reluctance, Vyasa deputizes Sangaya to relate to Dhritarashtra all the events of the battle.

‘Then the battle begins, and after ten days, the first great general of the Kauravas, namely Bhishma falls. At this point Sangaya comes up to Dhritarashtra and announces to him the sad result, which is of course a great blow to his side. Dhritarashtra then makes numerous enquiries of Sangaya regarding the course of the conflict, all of which Sangaya duly answers. And among his earliest answers is the account of a dialogue between Krishna and Arguna at the commencement of the battle. This ‘conversation’ constitutes the Bhagavad Gita.’

Arguna, woefully lost, has no ‘stomach’ for the war he must wage, in his mind between relatives (family traditions), but in Krishna’s ‘mind,’ a war of a totally different kind! Arguna (archer/warrior/student) most humbly entreats Krishna (teacher/God) to enlighten him on what might mitigate this ‘battle,’ his fear to fight such a ‘battle,’ and ultimately what will bring him happiness.

The following ‘conversation’ between Arguna and Krishna (excerpted from K.T. Telang’s translation) is by no means the complete ‘Gita,’ but my synopsis of such. I recommend, if interested, you study the ‘Gita’ in as many versions as possible. I have also omitted indicating if it’s Arguna or Krishna speaking, as Arguna (disciple) asks, and Krishna (Guru) answers:

‘Tell me what is assuredly good for me? I am your disciple; instruct me, who has thrown myself on your mercy. For I do not perceive what is to dispel the grief after I shall have obtained a prosperous kingdom on earth without a foe[5], or even the sovereignty of the gods.’

‘You have grieved for those who deserve no grief, and you speak words of wisdom. Learned men grieve not for the living nor the dead. Never did I not exist, nor you, nor these rulers of men, nor will any one of us ever hereafter cease to be. As in this body, infancy and youth and old age come to the embodied Self. So does the acquisition of another body[6]. A sensible man is not deceived about that. The senses, O son of Kunti, which produce cold and heat, pleasure and pain, are not permanent, they are forever coming and going. Bear them, O descendant of Bharat. For, O chief of men, that sensible man who they afflict not, pain and pleasure being alike to him. He merits immortality! There is no existence for that which is unreal. There is no non-existence for that which is real!’

‘The states of mind of those who have no firm understanding are manifold and endless!’

‘What are the characteristics, O Kesava, of one whose mind is steady, and who is intent on contemplation?

‘When a man, O son of Pritha, abandons all the desires of his heart, and is pleased in his self only, he is then called of a steady mind. He whose heart is not agitated in the midst of calamities, who has no longing for pleasures, and from whom the feelings of affection, fear and wrath have departed, is called a sage of a steady mind. For his mind is steady whose senses are under control!’

‘If, O Ganardana devotion is deemed by you to be superior to action, then why, O Kesava do you prompt me to this fearful action (to ‘fight’ the indwelling ‘battle’)?

‘I have already declared, that in this world there is a twofold path, that of the Sankhyas by devotion in the shape of true knowledge, and that of the Yogins by devotion in the shape of action (yoga to ‘yoke’ to the supreme). A man does not attain freedom from action merely by not engaging in action, nor does he attain perfection by mere renunciation. For nobody every remains, even for an instant, without performing some action. Since the qualities of nature constrain everyone as there is no free-will.[7] But he, O Arguna who restraining his senses of his mind, and being free from attachments, engages in devotion which is far superior.’

‘But by whom, O descedant of Vrishni, is man impelled, even though unwillingly, to commit sin?’

‘It is desire, it is wrath, born from the quality of passion, it is very ravenous, this sin[8]. Know that this sin is the foe in this world! As fire is enveloped by smoke, a mirror by dust, the fetus by the womb, so is this enveloped by desire. Knowledge, O son of Kunti, is enveloped by this constant foe of the man, in the shape of desire, which is insatiable. Therefore, O chief of the descendants of Bharata, first restrain your senses, then cast off this sinful thing which destroys knowledge and experience (personal perception). It has been said, great are the senses, greater than the senses is the mind, greater than the mind is understanding! What is greater than the understanding is that which I teach. Thus, knowing that which is higher than the understanding, is restraining yourself, by yourself. O you of mighty arms! Destroy this unmanageable enemy in the shape of desire[9]!

‘He is wise among men, he is possessed of devotion, and performs all actions by seeing inaction in action and action in inaction[10]. The wise call him learned, whose acts are all free from desires and fancies, and whose actions are burnt down in the fire of knowledge[11]. Forsaking all attachment to the fruit of action, always contented, dependent on none, he does nothing at all, though he engages in action. Devoid of expectations, restraining the mind and the self, he incurs no sin, performing actions merely for the sake of the body. Satisfied with earnings coming spontaneously, rising above the pairs of opposites (Duality), free from all animosity and equitable of success or ill-success, he is finally free!’

‘Actions, O Dhanangaya, do not fetter one who is self-possessed, who has renounced action for devotion[12].

‘O Krishna, you praise renunciation of actions and also the pursuit of them. Tell me which one of these two is superior?’

‘Renunciation and pursuit of action are both instruments of happiness. But, of the two, pursuit of the renunciation of action is superior to the pursuit of worldly objects. As an ascetic has no aversion and no desire. The man of nothing at all, when he sees, hears, touches, smells, eats, moves, sleeps, breathes, talks, discards and acquires, he holds that the senses deal with the objects of the senses. He who, casting off all attachment, performs actions dedicating them to Brahman[13] is not tainted by sin. Devotees, casting off attachment perform actions for attaining purity of the self. He who is possessed of devotion, abandoning the fruit of actions, attains the highest tranquility.’

‘I cannot see, O destroyer of Madhun how just by devotion, you can achieve freedom? For, O Krishna the mind is fickle, boisterous, strong and obstinate, and I think that to restrain it is as difficult as restraining the wind?’

‘Doubtless, O you of mighty arms, the mind is difficult to restrain and fickle. Still O son of Kunti, it may be restrained by constant practice and indifference to worldly objects. Devotion is hard to obtain for one who does not restrain him self. But by one who is self-restrained and assiduous, tranquility can be obtained!’

‘Among thousands of men only some work for perfection, and even those who have reached perfection, only some know me (Krishna) truly. I am the taste in water, O son of Kunti, the light of the sun and moon. I am OM. I am the fragrant smell of the earth, refulgence in fire. I am life in all beings, and penance in those who perform penance. Know me, O son of Pritha to be the eternal seed of all beings. I am the discernment in the discerning ones. I am the glory in the glorious! Those who resort to me alone cross beyond delusion. I am the mind among the senses. I am consciousness in living beings!’

‘In consequence of these excellent and mysterious words concerning the supreme and individual soul, which you have spoken for my welfare, this delusion of mine is gone away. Oh God! I see within your body the gods. I see you, who are countless forms, possessed of many arms, stomachs, mouths, and eyes on all sides. Oh Lord of the universe, you are all forms! I do not see your end, middle, or beginning. By you is this universe pervaded, O you of infinite forms. I ask pardon of you who are indefinable!

‘Of the worshippers, who constantly are devoted and meditate on you, as the unperceived and indestructible, which know devotion?’

‘Those who being constantly devoted and possessed of the highest faith, worship me with a mind fixed on me, are deemed by me to be the most devoted. But those, who restraining the senses, who meditate on the indescribably, indestructible unperceived principle, which is all-pervading, unthinkable, indifferent, immovable and constant… They, intent on the good in all beings, attain me.’

‘As to those, however, O son of Pritha, who dedicating all their actions for me and holding me as their highest goal, worship me, meditating on me with a devotion towards none besides me, I come forward as their deliverer from the ocean of this world of death.

‘Concentration is better than continuous meditation. Knowledge is esteemed higher than concentration, and abandonment of the fruits of action, will acquire the tranquility desired!

‘That devotee of mine, who hates no being, who is friendly and compassionate, who is free from egoism and possessiveness, to whom happiness and misery are alike, who is forgiving, contented, constantly devoted, self-restrained, and firm in his determinations, and whose mind and understanding are devoted to me, he is dear to me.

‘The destructible includes all things. The unconcerned one is called the indestructible!

‘Lust, anger, and avarice, these are the three ways to darkness! Thus, deluded by ignorance, tossed about by numerous thoughts, surrounded by the net of delusion, and attached to the enjoyment of external objects. It is these (people) who are cast down into hell!’

‘What are the characteristics, O Lord of one who has transcended these three qualities? What is his conduct?’

‘He is said to have transcended these qualities, O son of Panda, who is not averse to light or delusion when they prevail, and who does not desire them when they cease. Who, sitting like one unconcerned is never perturbed by such, who remains steady and is self-contained. To whom pain and pleasure are alike, to whom a sod, a stone, and gold are alike, to whom what is agreeable and is disagreeable are alike. Who has discernment, to whom censure and praise of himself are alike, who is alike in honor and dishonor, who is alike towards both friends and foes, and who abandons all action (based on desire).

‘Those who are free from pride and delusion, who have overcome the evils of attachment, who are constant in contemplation of the supreme from whom desire has departed, who are free from the pairs of opposites (Duality), who call pleasure and pain the same. These, the undeluded, go to that imperishable seat!’

‘O you of mighty arms, O Hrishikesa, O destroyer of Kesin! I wish to know the truth about renunciation and abandonment?’

‘By renunciation the sages mean rejection of actions done with desire. The wise abandon attachment to the fruit of all actions done with desire.

‘He who frequents clean places, who eats little, whose speech, body and mind are restrained, who is always intent on meditation and mental abstraction, who abandons egoism, stubbornness, arrogance, desire, anger, who is tranquil, becomes fit for assimilation with me.

‘The Lord, O Arguna, is seated in the region of the heart. With him, O descendant of Bharata, seek shelter in every way. By his favor you will obtain the highest tranquility, the eternal seat!

‘Destroyed is my delusion, by your favor, O undegraded one! I now recollect myself. I stand free of doubts! I will do your bidding!’

Finally, in an attempt to answer the young man’s question of six years ago… ‘to do his bidding…’ ‘What is the true meaning of the Bhagavad Gita?’

First of all, the greatest battle you will ever fight is internal (with yourself)[14] not external (with others). It’s the ‘war’ between matter and spirit. And the battleground is the personal body, the mind the enemy, and where the ‘demons’ must be slain. The goal, to attain God consciousness, or direct perception of this unmanifested ‘thing’ we call God. This always being possible by its grace (unconditional love)! All we have to do is seek it[15].

‘Salvation,’ the concept, is found in all the religions of the world, and is discussed in some form in all the great holy books. The common theme: that salvation is possible in this life time, but that you must accomplish this yourself[16], when you are ready (open and prepared)! Hinduism purports it takes many life times, as we work our way ‘up a ladder,’ so speak.

In Christian terms it’s symbolized in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection: ‘You must die of the body (ego consciousness) to be reborn of the spirit’ (God consciousness). And what makes this possible? God’s grace (unconditional love)!

Yet, man, the unevolved and deluded, perverts this somehow into violence against others—as the solution (to their own lives). Unconscious man projects evils outward and onto others, rather than doing ‘battle’ with himself—much easier to put the blame on others of course!

It seems to me in the year 2004/2061 (Nepali calendar), what we need is less fundamentalist religion (be it Hindu, Moslem, or Christian) and more love! This to me is the answer to all the questions: more peace, less war! Let us stop the violence (against others)! Let us stop killing innocent people and children!

What needs to ‘be killed,’ according to the Bhagavad Gita, are the demons in our minds (the real enemy). And I would repeat this message to President Bush, Saddam Hussein, Tony Blair, Osama Bin Laden, Sharon, Arafat, Putin, and all the rest of the so-called ‘leaders’ of the world, including the King of Nepal and the Maoists! Perfect yourselves first before fomenting violence against others!

This, my dear young questioner, is the meaning of the Bhagavad Gita, to me! But, the meaning for you; the ‘true’ meaning, you must answer for yourself!

[1] ‘Song of our Lord’
[2] An article I wrote about my visit.
[3] From the ‘Yatharth Geeta.’
[4] I was lucky to learn from one of my intellectual mentors (David Carter ), many years ago, that myths are the great stories of how to live. We cannot live without these stories to guide us.
[5] Arguna here is referring to the literal foe in the literal battle (he fears to fight). He is yet to learn of the real ‘foe!’
[6] Of course, the idea of reincarnation.
[7] On the subject of ‘Free Will.’ As a philosopher, this is one of the great questions left for me… Do we have ‘Free Will?’ After studying B. Spinoza in The Netherlands, I believe we don’t (my life an example).
[8] When the word ‘sin’ is used, I am bound to quote C.G. Jung: ‘The only sin is unconsciousness!’
[9] See a motion picture entitled, ‘That obscure object of desire,’ by Luis Bunuel. I call such, ‘Nature’s Joke!’
[10] This is a very Taoist thought.
[11] To me, ‘knowledge,’ as used here is ‘consciousness.’
[12] This I take to mean giving up ego pursuits versus the pursuit of God.
[13] The God of the ‘first cause,’ in the Hindu trinity (including Shiva and Vishnu).
[14] Being a mountain climber (my original reason for coming to Nepal), I know the highest mountain I will ever climb is ‘Myself!’ ‘Mt. Self,’ if you will!
[15] I am reminded of C.G. Jung’s, inscription above his tower door at Bollengen (near Zurich, Switzerland): ‘Called, or not called, God shall be there!’
[16] The Hindus (via the ‘BG’) believe you must have a embodied Guru to become enlightened. I do not! The only ‘Guru’ I have is the unmanifested being my Master, Lord, and God—The Divine Lover!

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