Gita Talk #4: Why Is the Gita So Upsetting At First?

Via on May 9, 2010

In this blog we are discussing Chapters 1-2, thru p. 60.
(Reading for next week is Chapters 3-4, thru p. 80.)

Many people who love the Bhagavad Gita were frustrated or turned off when they first tried to read it. 

One reason is often the translation. There are many versions that are very hard to read—stilted, unnatural English, and lots of Sanskrit terms that have you jumping down to the footnotes every other word.  Another problem is the commentary, which is sometimes harder to understand than the text itself and can get very technical.

The Mitchell version, thankfully, doesn’t have either of these problems.  It reads easily and naturally, with no footnotes at all.  And the commentary is thoroughly enlightening. 

But it still has a third common problem which comes from the content itself.  Within a few pages of starting the Gita, the reader is told: 

–Women who are allowed to marry outside their caste are “corrupt”. (D)
–If the caste system is violated, society will collapse and those responsible will suffer in hell. (D)
–Men who refuse to fight will be disgraced forever as unmanly cowards. (D)
–Reincarnation will be our reward or punishment for our actions. (M)
–God thinks it’s a great idea to cajole the hero into fighting a bloody war against his relatives. (M)
–We should be indifferent when someone dies. (E)
–There is no real distinction between good and evil. (E)
–We should cut ourselves off from all sensual desires and pleasures. (E)

Is it any wonder that many readers stop right there and say, “I don’t need this.  I’m going to find something more uplifting to read”?  It certainly doesn’t live up to the promise of  “Falling Head-Over-Heels-In-Love With The Universe”.

It takes a little effort and insight to be able to handle these and other jarring issues that come up in the text.  Eventually, for each unacceptable or repugnant idea, you have three choices:

1) Decide to simply ignore it.  (Mitchell is right up front about this in a way few other translations are.  On page 209 he writes, “the Gita contains passages that are culture-bound and should be disregarded by readers who are serious about its deeper teachings”, and he goes on to list the specific stanzas this applies to.)

2) Turn it into a metaphor.  For example, war can be seen as a metaphor for whatever big challenges we face in life.

3) Further explain the troublesome idea in a way that it eventually turns out to make sense.

Each of you will have a different way to work this out.  There is no correct way.  For example, some people believe in literal reincarnation and some do not.   The Gita hits us hard with a lot of these problem passages right up front.  The effort to overcome them will be richly rewarded.   (I’ve coded my own personal decisions on the issues above with “D” for “Disregard”, “M” for “turn into a Metaphor”, and “E” for “makes sense when Explained”.  But that’s just me.) 

You’ll be encouraged to know that Arjuna, at the beginning of chapter 3, pretty much says to Krishna, “Are you crazy or something”.  He has some of the the same problems we do!

Now, before this turns into a lecture instead of a discussion, tell us what you think about the first two chapters.  What did you love?  What did you hate?  Does this relate to your life yet?  If so, how?  What questions would you like to ask?  What insights can you bring us from other versions you might have read? 

We would like to hear from all of you, even if it’s just to let us know you’re out there!

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About Bob Weisenberg

Bob Weisenberg: Editor, Best of Yoga Philosophy / Former Assoc. Publisher, elephant journal / Author: Yoga Demystified * Bhagavad Gita in a Nutshell * Leadership Is Like Tennis, Not Egyptology / Co-editor: Yoga in America (free eBook) / Creator: Gita Talk: Self-paced Online Seminar / Flamenco guitarist: "Live at Don Quijote" & "American Gypsy" (Free CD's) / Follow Bob on facebook, Twitter, or his main site: Wordpress.


165 Responses to “Gita Talk #4: Why Is the Gita So Upsetting At First?”

  1. Kath says:

    I almost always fall into the metaphor club. Women marrying outside their caste? Perhaps a metaphor for the search for the masculine archetype within. I have few problems with the text, but I do remember my first reading. It was alarming. I agreed with Arjuna's concerns and arguments.

  2. Meaghan says:

    Bob – Thanks for sharing your D M E system! Love it! One of the things I've discovered along my yoga path is that even at first if you disregard some teaching, eventually you may come to realize that with more explanation you can accept it. For example, on my first reading of the Gita I took the stance that cutting myself off from all desires and pleasures just didn't make sense in my life. So I disregarded it. But later, as I learned more about the Gita and Yoga in general I was able to see how, with more explanation, this could be useful! It's a process of taking in what you're ready to accept and learn at any given moment – the rest will seep in when you're ready to receive it.

    One question I have about the first two chapters is the use of the word "heaven". In some cases I can see that heaven is being used to refer to the state of Samadhi or enlightenment. But at other times it seems to be used as an arbitrary "place you go" when you die (sort of like the common use of the word in Christian teachings). For example:

    "If you are killed, you gain heaven; triumph, and you gain the earth."


    "Driven by desire for pleasure and power, caught up in ritual, they strive to gain heaven; but rebirth is the only result of their striving"

    In the first quote, heaven seems to be a place you go when you die. But in the second quote heaven is something you must work for, using the path of yoga.

    Maybe others are confused here too? Or have some insight into the usage of "heaven"?

    • Tali says:

      Meaghan, I am also struggling over the interpretation of "heaven". Thank you for bringing this up. I am very curious to hear what other's see "heaven" as according to the Gita.

      • Greg says:

        In Buddhism in what has been called the Tibetan Book of the Dead or The Great Liberation through Hearing we learn of the heaven realms.

        An excellent book with information on this is Luminous Emptiness by Fremantle (tutored by Trungpa).

    • Hi, Meaghan. Thanks for your question and thanks for including the quotes so we can see exactly what you mean.

      As usual, I have some thoughts about this, but I'd like to give others a chance to respond before I do.

      Others? Please help us with this question about heaven in the Gita.

      • Greg says:

        Part of the confusion relates to different meanings for heavens. Many heavens are actual places, though in what we would call the "subtle realms." Nonetheless, in spite of being of subtle density, they are actually located in space and time.

        And then there is a "universe of light" that is the foundation of this universe. It is a state that is often referred to as heaven. It is a fabrication that seems to be all one. Often creating confusion regarding a life force or energy that is primary. In actuality, it could be referred to as the first or primary fabrication. It is created energy.

        Then there is the release from all fabrication. In Buddhism this is referenced in Dzogchen. It is release into clear light. Or one might consider it to be pure being absent all fabrication. Pure consciousness. This might be considered the original "heaven" though it is rarely what one means by heaven.

        There are some wonderful passages in the material on the Buddhist bardos — the between lives stages — that speak to different realms of fabrication.

      • Meaghan says:

        Hi Bob, I'm still interested in hearing your take if you're interested in sharing.

        • Hi, Meaghan. Thanks for reminding me.

          I would apply my "Disregard / Metaphor / Explain" scheme to this tricky word, heaven.

          Any reference that implies that my current "self" (with a small "s"), recognizable as me, Bob, will show up in some other place someday after I die, I Disregard, whether that place is heaven or another creature on earth (literal reincarnation). I don't believe in this, although I know many do.

          The heaven I do believe in is well described in the very last stanza of Chapter 2:

          This is the divine state, Arjuna.
          Absorbed in it, everywhere, always,
          even at the moment of death,
          he vanishes, into God's bliss. (BG 2.72)

          This stanza goes to the heart of the Gita's meaning, as I've tried to summarize it in Gita Talk #5: Sublimely Simple, Profound and Livable.. The best metaphor I've found for this is that of the wave and the ocean:

          If you were a wave in the ocean
          And someone asked you what you are
          Would you answer
          “I am a wave”
          or would you answer
          “I am the ocean”?

          (from Yoga

          The passages you quoted in your comment would both fall in the "Disregard" category for me. There are many passages in the Gita that are completely out of sync with its overall message. I personally find it better to just ignore these passages rather than try to invent some deeper meaning. Mitchell advises the same thing on p. 209 in the notes to his introduction. But in other editions you can find in-depth historical explanations or metaphorical explanations.

          Please let me know if this makes sense.

          Bob Weisenberg

    • svan says:

      these verses at the end of chapter 2 sound a bit like "heaven" to me:

      "The man whom desires enter as rivers flow into the sea, filled yet always unmoving — that man finds perfect peace.
      Abandoning all desires, acting without craving, free from all thoughts of "I" and "mine," that man finds utter peace.
      This is the divine state, Arjuna. Absorbed in it, everywhere, always, even at the moment of death, he vanishes into God's bliss."

      samadhi can be a kind of death… or so I've heard.

      • Hi, svan. I know that's one common interpretation. I personally don't think of it that way. Rather to me it is ultra-awareness of the wonder of the universe and our oneness with it, not lack of awareness. God's bliss to me is ultra-awareness, not no awareness, because "God" is the unfathomable universe itself. And it's not some magical end-state, but something we can experience all the time in ordinary life just by paying attention. I personally feel advanced awareness is infinite everything-ness, not infinite no-thing-ness.

        Just another point of view. I appreciate yours, too, and know it is common. We will be coming back to this every chapter.

  3. John Morrison says:

    I think the first time I read this I did have issues with some of the content that you mentioned above. In some of the Buddhist sutras you will run into some of these things, particularly the way women are referred to. It is true that the Buddha did eventually ordain nuns – which was quite revolutionary for the time – but it was done grudgingly. In a talk I went to last year, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche raised this issue and basically said, we can disregard the cultural trappings of the time period. The Buddha had to speak in a way that his audience would be receptive to. This is why he taught in many different ways and with different methods – to match the capabilities and traditions of his audience in order to be of the greatest benefit.

    So I would think that we could do the same thing with the Gita. One needs to keep in mind that this work is something like 1,500 years old. In regards to violence, I don't think we need to take warfare literally. After all, Gandhi kept this text with him and read it constantly and of course, he was a tireless proponent of non-violence.

    If we strip it to its essence, the message of selfless service to others is what underpins the narrative itself in my opinion – it would be a tragedy to lose this message due to cultural trappings….like not noticing the beautiful view through the window because you dislike the color of the draperies….

    • Beautifully said, John. Thanks for bringing us the Buddhist perspective. I hope you will continue to do that for us.

      The Gita is actually thought be 2000 to 2500 years old, and maybe older as an oral tradition. We'll be getting into the pro-war vs. anti-war issue. I've see the Gita used to justify both. You may be aware that Mitchell thought so much of Ghandi's take on the Gita, that he included a Ghandi essay as the last word in this version of the Gita, p. 211-220.

      Thanks for being here. Please write again often.

      • Thanks for the reply Bob. Will have to jump to the end and look at Gandhi's essay on the topic. Thanks for the info on the time period as well – I had it mentally located around 400 CE, but I find it interesting to date it further back. At 2500 years it would be roughly contemporaneous to the Buddha's time period. This is interesting…really quite illuminating. I have experience with yoga of the exercise variety, but really very little grounding in the philosophy.

        Usually, when there are talks regarding meditation at the yoga center, they are conducted by one of the local Theravada Buddhist monk. Thanks for putting this online book discussion together and facilitating it. I'm quite interested in the comments of others as well – I like to see what perspectives others are seeing from outside a Buddhist frame of reference…

        Would love to drag some other Buddhists into the comments as well and see what their thoughts are too. Paging Waylon….

        • Yes, it was one of my hopes that we could get a lot of Buddhist perspective on the Gita. It might have been you to whom I wrote in another comment that when I have asked Buddhists if the Bhagavad Gita is considered part of Buddhist sacred literature, I've gotten responses ranging from "Absolutely" to "No, Absolutely Not".

          May be it depends on the tradition, although the person who said "Absolutely" was my local Zen priest, which is the opposite of what I would have expected, as Zen is the most geographically removed from the extensive cross-fertilization that occurred between Yoga and Buddhism, India and Tibet, down through the ages.

          Bob Weisenberg

          • I might also mention that one of the most recent translators of the "Yoga Sutra", Buddhist/Yogaist Chip Hartranft, felt that a fresh and rigorous translation of the "Yoga Sutra" reveals it to be more of a Buddhist tract than a Yoga one. He feels most translations prior to his were slanted to match the views of their Gita oriented Yoga guru translators. Some Yoga scholars have been critical of this, and others have said, "So what. Yoga is close to Buddhism. Duh!".

            See . (Note the publisher.)

            Bob Weisenberg

          • Have to add that to my reading list – sounds like very interesting. You did ask me about it and no Lama has ever pointed me in the direction of the Gita as a text to read. But there is a really vast canon of Tibetan Buddhist literature to read, so there is no dearth of relevant material for a Vajrayana practitioner to study.

            That said, Vajrayana was transmitted to Tibet from India, so one would assume there is an exchange of ideas at work between the traditions (something I will watch for in the book).

            It strikes me that karma yoga and bodhicitta are very similar processes albeit with slightly different motivations perhaps. We ought to rope in Mr. Schwartz or Shunyata Kharg into this discussion for more Buddhist perspective…

          • Greg says:

            The Gita is rooted in history that extends beyond what we know as history. It concerns views that stretch beyond this one planet. Likewise, Buddhism has its roots far beyond this planet's history. We find this in the Lotus Sutra.

            Thus, when one studies this material one is studying a deeper history, a history of spiritual being, and a history of fabricated existence. Buddhism, for example, takes one to the origins of all fabrication. This can be found in the teachings regarding dependent origination. In the Gita we find Krishna talking about all creation and our relationship to that creation.

            Thus, common roots.

    • callah says:

      Love the metaphor. I'll have to keep that in mind and I work my way through the Gita!!

  4. michele says:

    Oh my gosh, Jenny, I so resonate with what you are saying. I'm exhausted with all the ideas of "fighting my demons." Isn't there another way of transformation through love? I've just come from a "power vinyasa" background and at one point I felt like wow, if I just do one more chatauranga will I reach enlightenment….ugh! Richard Miller teaches that we need to sit and embrace our demons that they are here to teach us something. Personally, it seems like I am either in a state of striving or like Arjuna, giving up…

    What I love about this first section is all the discussion about "…you have the right to your actions, but never to your actions fruits.."

    What I don't like is, as Bob points out, is the no real distinction between good and evil and " have no cause to grieve for any being…"

    By the way, I watched The Legend of Bagger Vance last night and loved it—It is helping me think about concepts battling and letting go..

  5. Hi, michele. Thanks for your interesting comment. I have some thoughts on this, but let's see what others have to say first.

  6. freesoul says:

    I so can relate w/Michele, when you say "you have no cause to grieve for any being…" that just got to me, I had to read chapter two a few times and then I was ready to bag the whole book. I kept thinking how can I turn off my emotions so easily. And especially if I had to put myself in Arjuna's place and go fight against family. And of course, the whole war thing got to me. For some reason, when I read the Gita, I keep reading it literary. But its not like any other ancient poem, the Odyssey for example or an Ibsen play, if you take them too literary, you are lost in meaning, context, and period.

    Another line that rang true to me, in Chapter one, "What good is kingship, or happiness, or life itself, when those for whose sake we desire them….stand here in battle ranks, ready to give up their fortunes and their lives." So many times I watch as egos get in the way for cause and in the end what spoils does the victor come home with? Or the fruits of one's actions!

    I never realized that a book would bring up so much discomfort for me.

    • Dear freesoul. I'm so glad you hit us squarely with this issue: "Is the Gita telling us to turn off all our emotions, to live without passion?", because I'm sure this is on the minds of many readers. It certainly was on mine the first time I read it.

      I believe I can give you an answer that is crystal clear, profound, and readily usable in everyday life. But you be the judge.

      The Gita does not, as whole, endorse emotional repression, even though it seems to be doing exactly that here. What the Gita asks us to do is be human selves completely, feel deeply all our human emotions, but develop the ability to step outside ourselves and calmly witness those emotions in a completely non-judgmental way.

      Even though the text right here seems to say otherwise, the situation itself supports this idea. Think about it. Krishna is urging Arjuna to fight a battle to the best of his abilities. Does Krishna think Arjuna can can fight his battle (just make that a metaphor for whatever challenges we face in life) without emotion and passion?

      No, of course not. Even though the text isn't clear on this, the situation is. Krishna is telling Arjuna to fight his battle with all this usual passion, but to be able, at the same time, to rise above it and objectively see that he is also a part of the infinite, unfathomable, wondrous universe, where these emotions hold no sway.

      Tell me if this makes sense. And I hope other people will jump into this vital discussion as well. Your question really does go to the heart of the Gita.

      Bob Weisenberg

      • Karen M. says:

        Thanks Bob. That makes alot of sense. That is one of the problems I have when first approaching the Gita. I really like your explanation. I also get frustrated sometimes and even discouraged. The Path that Krishna describes in Chapter 2 sometimes seems unattainable in this goal-driven society where the senses are constantly being bombarded. Then in Verse 40, I take heart:" On this path no effort is wasted, no gain is ever reversed; even a little of this practice will shelter you from great sorrow."

        • Yes, I love that line, too. One thing I forgot to mention above is that many translators use Self with a capital "S" to denote the transcendent one-with-universe Self, and self with a small "s" to denote our ordinary human self. The very fact that the Gita makes this distinction supports my point above.

      • This is a great point to bring up freesoul and Bob. A lot of Eastern religion can seem nihilistic from one point of view. This notion of purging emotions, killing the ego and so on – which is a common thread with Buddhist thought. But really we aren't trying to lose our passion and our emotion, but rather to master it and no longer be controlled by their fickle whims.

        I'm not all the way through with the reading – but this might even be one way of reading the combat aspect of the Gita. The conflict is within, and against, oneself – on one level, as well as the struggle that is life….

  7. callah says:

    I actually quite liked the first 2 chapters. As a newcomer, my only knowledge on what the Gita would be about was gleaned through the intro, which as I previously commented jumped around a bit too much for my taste.
    However, I found the reading to flow very easily, and keep me interested through the pages of prose. I liked on p. 58 how the cycle of desire, anger and confusion perpetuates itself and continues until you are "self-controlled" with neither craving nor aversion.
    I can see how these texts can be off-putting to some, with the constant references to the Lord and God since Krishna is a main "character", if you will, in the book. I myself am slightly uncomfortable with this. I was raised Catholic, and currently my beliefs are in limbo as I decide where I really stand. Because of my own uncertainty, I have quite strong reactions to the constant references and I'm not quite sure if I'm going to get more accustomed to that. How do other people feel about this?

    • freesoul says:

      I kind of get what you are saying, although I have my own connection to God or that which I believe (which by no means is in the religious contexts), but it is a strong relationship. But it does remind me when I was in college I had to read the book of Job, and well I had a hard time w/the whole lets play with Job between God and Satan which I of course being Jewish don't get the whole Satan thing in the Catholic sense but the whole lets see what we can do to make this guy break, I was like what the hell, you got nothing better to do…

      So in some ways the fact that Krishna is the guiding to Arjuna in this whole battle, and maybe pulls the strings a little comes to mind. On the other hand I'm trying to get out of reading it so literally and trying to take what I can into my own practice, but I do find that I will read and reread a chapter and find that when I go back to reread it again, how much I've missed from the first read.

    • A short answer, to leave plenty of room for other responders. I was raised ultra-traditional Catholic and then married into a Jewish family. So I've had lots of experience with various definitions of "God". Rather than write a lot here, let me just refer you to this page in my eBook: “God” or “Reason” — Is There Really Any Difference?. And you'll get a little bit of Yoga history along the way.

      • callah says:

        Thanks for that link, Bob. It actually does help me digest the term a bit better, knowing that no matter "who's God" they could be referring to, they are all "driving us to love and goodness".
        Freesoul, I definitely agree I ill need to re-read it at a later point with fresh eyes, and not so literally!

      • Greg says:

        Not sure I agree with your analysis… Perhaps a factor that adds confusion is the nature of a "personal" God.

        In the realm of appearances we have fabricated identities. A body would be one example. We consider a body to be a person. So when one transcends such fabricated identity, a body, it seems we move into the realm of the impersonal.

        But this would be an error of seeing "personal" only in terms of a physical identity — for example, only imagining a personal God as one that had a physical identity.

        However, a transcendent God who lacks physical attributes, a God of pure being without fabricated appearance can still be personal as "personal" does not have to do with a fabricated identity but rather with a point of view, with a consciousness. One can have an immaterial God that is personal but not phenomenal. That is the concept that is difficult to imagine.

        This is the primary lesson of the first two chapters of the GIta. I believe you will find the same thing in Patanjali and the Upanishads. They do not present an option that leads to an abstract materialistic version of God, they do not lead to a "life force" that is non-personal and materialistic. That would be a confusion born out of western materialism.

        Not sure how one explains pure consciousness, god consciousness, other than through the practice. It may not make sense without the experience of complete detachment from all fabricated phenomena.

    • Mary says:

      I have also had quite a strong reaction to all the "Lord God" references. As a yoga teaching student I wonder if I really need to embrace this fundementalist religiosity…or can I be true to my own sense of spirituality that is not concerned with God!

      • Hi, Mary. I'm like you. I wrote my entire eBook, Yoga Demystified, which covers the same ground as the Gita, with almost no use of the word "God".

        If you feel comfortable with the term God to mean "The Infinite, Unfathomable, Wondrous Life-Force of the Universe, i.e. the universe itself", then you will feel completely comfortable with Yoga Philosophy. Whenever you a term for God in the Gita, just convert it instantly into definition above, and you'll feel quite comfortable with it, I think.

        And read that link I gave Callah above, if you haven't already. I think it will be very helpful, too. Please tell me what you think.

        • Meaghan says:

          Bob – I like this alternate definition of God. When I first read the Gita the teacher who was guiding me through was very careful to offer different alternatives to the word God. Really, that's one of the earliest experiences I remember of falling in love with yoga – the fact that I was given a choice in how or even if I wanted to relate to The Infinite, was pretty incredible. Most of the spiritual practices I had encountered up to that point really didn't provide those options.

          • I'm with you all the way, Meaghan. And it all starts with the Gita. It is startlingly universal in it's outlook. And you can be universal without allowing for all concepts of God.

        • Mary says:

          Hey Bob, Thanks for the link it has helped me get over my initial resistance to the text and let me get on with discovering the beauty of the ideas inside!

          • Great, Mary. I'm glad it was helpful. Thanks for taking the time to tell me.

            I went through all these obstacles myself not so long ago. So it's still fresh in my mind. And that makes it easier for me to think about what new readers or discouraged readers might need.

            Please keep writing. I think the blog I'm cooking up for Monday will be very helpful as well.

            Bob Weisenberg

      • Greg says:

        That may just be an issue of confusion over the meaning of God.

  8. […] Gita Talk #4: Why Is the Gita So Upsetting At First? […]

  9. Greg says:

    Absolutely brilliant chapters. Lays it right on the line. Truth writ large. Golden words. The "as it is" story.

    No need to ignore or metaphor. To do so would be to lose the truth in the thicket. If we choose to ignore or metaphor is it a demon that drives us into the thickets? How do we sit with the fear and not move but rather allow Krishna to pervade us?

    And to explain…oh, my. Does one dare try? As a result of practice the verses become crystal clear. Not sure there is any way to such clarity through discourse. (????)

    How would one explain when what has been explained by Krishna is rejected through ignore and metaphor? What more could one say? Very much puzzled. Which is excellent. Every day, literally, I face this question — how does one explain?

    Does anyone really want explanation, I wonder? Perhaps it is discovering "handles" one can offer that another can grab hold of and pull on…or pitons hammered into the rock so others can attach their ropes as they climb.

    Is it a matter of a positive explanation or, as the Buddha taught, a series of negative propositions that invite us to strip away that which is not true? Krishna takes this route as well. Arjuna points to that to which he clings and Krishna says, over and over, that is not Self. Release attachment. That is not Self.


    • Janaki says:

      Beautiful! The more I let go the less there is to hold on to ;-D

    • David says:

      The answer to the question is " Practice all is coming." If I think about being in headstand I fall, if I think about how kind and loving I am ,am I being that kind and loving? When I'm at my "best" I'm mindfull and being not thinking this is awsome ,this sucks,I like this not that,etc.I wonder how am I to know what to metaphor and what to ignore,I think I hear the ice cracking under foot when I try to decide which is which. Great post Greg namasti.

      • Hi, David. Thanks for joining us here.

        I have to confess, though, that I don't understand you're reply. Are you saying that thinking and writing about these things is the wrong approach to begin with?



        • YogiOne says:


          I can't reply for David, but his take seems to be more in the revealed knowledge/truth camp. He appears to propose that the Gita is absolute truth as revealed by Krishna, so who are we to take it as metaphor or ignore it or try to explain it? My question to David is about his claim that the meaning becomes crystal clear if we practice it. I'd like to know: Practice what?

          • You may be right, YogiOne. I hope David is still tuned in and will reply. Although if you are right, I could see how getting into a discussion about this is an example of the very type of thinking that might not be acceptable to him. David, are you out there?

            Bob Weisenberg

          • YogiOne says:

            I was actualy referring to Greg's original post, not to David's reply, but it looks like they have similar philosophies. I hope they both respond to this thread.

  10. Janaki says:

    Wow! This post is very deep and you make some great points

    I will make a humble attempt to try and answer how I view why Arjuna must fight and kill his own family. This is one of the most powerful moments in the Gita. Arjunas reaction might be the first recorded panic attack! He also tries to become a contentious objector and refuses to fight. But what Krishna is really waiting to hear is for Arjuna to ask for help! Krishna cannot intervene with teachings until asked… Just as we can not grow and move forward spiritually unless we too come to the point of realizing that we don't know and seek help or deeper meaning.

    I see the family members representing our desires and our attachments to our own desires. To me this is how hard it is to cut our own ego and desires because we love them so much…. We really are completely unaware of how deep these attachments run and we refuse to let go of them. they cause us much suffering and pain.

    Om Peace!

    • Rhonnie says:

      THANK YOU! Due to feeling a bit confused, I have resisted commenting this week. I have read this weeks reading several times. Stepping back and revisiting this in order to let go of the gripping feeling that I felt as I read.
      When you speak to family and the depth of these attachments, this was helpful. I do approach the reading as metaphor and when I relate to the reading my family suffering and pain was clear. And at the same time there is much written that I connect with that give me relief.
      As I have over the last several years and even now work through codependence and healing, I do know I have always felt "there is more" and when I have reached for "help" and guidance from my "teachers" I have discovered deeper meaning beyond the "story" at hand. Which bring me here.

      "…you have the right to your actions, but never to your actions fruits.." Spoke deeply to me as I work to assess why I choose a particular action….is it to gain or impart a particular result of behavior from something or someone to make me happy or comfortable or is it simply what I choose regardless of the result because it's what I trust I must do.
      Thank YOU!

  11. Sevapuri says:

    This is the first Gita and I have read and i have read a few that is in poem form without any commentaries. At first this was hard to wrap my head around as i was sort of exspecting an explanation to each verse as has been the method in other Gitas, but i am loving Mitchells style and its like I'm hearing the Gita for the first time.I can see how the Gitas statements about war and about women cause some consternation when reading it straight like it is and also i can see the value in the commentaries that can quickly give and explantion or viewpoint of the commentator about these issues.
    Mitchell's style lends itself to developing an independant understanding of the scripture and i was struck by the Gitas idea that "the scriptures dwell in duality" is this a hint on how to read the Gita or is the Gita beyond duality or beyond being a scripture?

  12. Sevapuri says:

    Callah raised a good point about using the word God and Lord and i had the same reaction when i first came to yoga, my teacher would talk about God this and God that and I remember one night thinking to myself if he mentions God again I'm walking out. This made me think about my view of God and i found it was a very one dimensional Catholic viewpoint, so i stared to explore this and my relationship to the God spoken about in Yoga and it did take some time before i felt that this seperation of Catholic God, Yoga God, whatever God you got is the thing that kept me stuck in my thinking about my own spirituality. Krishnas statements about no matter who you are, all come to me, and his explanation of who he is helped me understand that there is no differance in Gods all are one.

  13. lennonlover says:

    thanks. this is so interesting. i always heard people saying things like 'the gita will change your life!' and when I finally read it, I did not really like it…….or understand it… now I realize why.

    • Hi, lennonlover. Great to see you here. I had the same experience with the Gita. That's one of the reasons I'm so dedicated to Gita Talk. It would be very satisfying to me if I can help a few other people get through all the obstacles the Gita throws in one's path before it becomes wonderful.

  14. Hi, Seva. Now that the Australian contingent is up, I guess I'll have to stay up all night!

    Great to have you here. Thanks for your very interesting comment. My answer to your question about the duality of scriptures? The Gita is definitely a scripture, but one designed to take you beyond all scriptures.

    I think that one of the many startling aspect of the Gita–it sows the seeds for its own irrelevance! And it means it.

    Bob Weisenberg

  15. Kath says:

    My discomfort is always rooted in discomfort with me, myself, and I. Each character is a part of me. Their conflicts are the conflicts I feel or deny within. And each reading of the Gita shows me a glimpse of a different part of myself. It is never the same book twice because I am never the same person reading it.

    • Good point, Kath. Isn't that the way with the greatest literature? It's different every time around, because we are different every time around.

    • Karen M. says:

      In Ram Dass's book, "Paths To God, Living the Bhagavad Gita"; he says to read the Gita first as if you are Arjuna and then read it the second time as if you were Krishna !!!

      • I remember that, Karen. I loved that book, even though I was infuriated by his glorification of the drug culture (just another path to God) and his mind-deadening embrace of guru worship. But the analysis of the Gita itself is nothing short of brilliant.

        This book is a transcript of lectures he gave a Naropa in 1974 and even opens with an account of the debates he had with Trungpa himself. I've go to write a review. Thanks for reminding me.

        Bob Weisenberg

        • Sevapuri says:

          "Mind deadening embrace of Guru", is a pretty good place to be when what a lot of Yoga philosophy is telling us is to transform the mind, kill the ego, from the outside it may appear mind deadening but you can see a inner glow from Ram Dass that speaks of a differant view of reality. We have to die to be reborn- just sayin' :)

          • You left off the most important word of my phrase, "worship". I wrote "mind deadening embrace of Guru WORSHIP". I have no problem at all with embracing a Guru as a revered teacher. But Dass, as you know since you read the book, first celebrates his intellectual/spiritual liberation from his parents and from the West in general, then just plugs his Guru directly into this gap. As he describes it–if my Guru told me to jump off a bridge I would jump off a bridge. How could this be good for anyone?

            In the end though, this is just an curious oddity rather than a real problem in the book, because it is blasted away by his brilliant and very independent non-subservient analysis of every aspect of the Gita, which is totally out-of-synch with his occasional childlike tangents about his guru.

            Thanks for your response. Happy to discuss this further.

            Bob Weisenberg

    • Rhonnie says:


      Yes. This supports that I have had this version of the Gita on my bookshelf for 9 years, since the yoga teacher training that I went through in 2001. I did not connect and as I reflect it makes sense that I wouldn't, I wasn't available. While I deeply struggled and I knew that "there is more" I simply wasn't in a place to receive. As I embrace the Gita, now in a very different time and place, I am so grateful.
      Your words, "Each character is a part of me. Their conflicts are the conflicts I feel or deny within. And each reading of the Gita shows me a glimpse of a different part of myself." are very helpful. You wrote what I was feeling as I read this weeks reading.
      Thank You!

  16. freesoul says:

    While rereading chapters one and two this morning, I came across p.52 "but if you refuse the call to a a righteous war…" how do you know it's a righteous war? Same page "And your enemies will sneer and mock you: "The might Arjuna, that brave man he slunk from the field like a dog." What deeper shame could there be?" I have issue here, it seems Krishna is egging Arjuna on to fight for the pride of it. Praise, and ego, who cares what other's think about Arjuna fighting or not?

    • Hi, freesoul. You'll notice that that specific item is on Mitchell's "Disregard" list, and mine as well (it's the third dash down in my list above.) Don't struggle with it, ignore it and move on. I handle these jolts in just the way I describe in my article.

    • Scott says:

      Hi Freesoul. I understand your struggle with this. It is exactly the kind of argument that the powerful have always used to manipulate those under them. Religion is acting here in concert witrh government and that is always a bad idea. I wonder if we could read the Gita as a condemnation of this tactic and a catalog of all the ways that unchallenged power distorts and deranges human interactions. I disagree with Bob's suggestion just to ignore the bits that conflict with our current culture/mindset. I think we have plenty to learn from them even if they only provide an antidote to the worshipful adoration of this deeply flawed text. Thanks for posting about your struggles and I sure hope you keep it up.

      • Hi, Scott. I complete respect your disagreement here. I agree it's a difficult issue. I would love to hear your thoughts about the Ghandi essay in the back of the book p. 211-221. I'm not saying it will change your mind, by the way, I'm just interested in contrary opinions. Thanks.

      • freesoul says:

        Hey Scott, hey thanks for the support, that brings me back to my earlier comments on the book of Job, and how God and Satan play w/Job to see how righteous he may be or if one can break him, and then in the end, does that mean if you stand righteous, you get more than what you started with? Any maybe thats where spirituality comes in and how you look about the abundance of the world and your fair share. And round and round we go….

        I think though for myself, since I was just recently back home for a visit and well sometimes things can come up or someone can bring things up, I was struck by Krishna egging Arjuna on and well is it praise and ego to fight or walk away, and who cares what one thinks, while I'm dealing w/my own ego issues, and it struck me the first time, the second and now the third time again, so for me it must be important.

        And yes I go back to someone's comment of their own discomfort and well the Gita brings up a lot of discomfort for me. And that's not so bad. I'm with you though, just b/c should one walk away…

  17. Jenny says:

    Paul Reeder died yesterday.

    He was my first Bhagavad Gita teacher, a deep and wild man of enthusiasm and passion for yoga and the Bhagavad Gita and life and beyond.

    Namaste, Paul. Say hey to Krishna.

  18. Scott says:

    Bob – thanks for the short-hand DME. This is exactly how I tend to read most of these types of books. One thing that has bothered me though is that I don't think the author(s) of the Gita were using the war as metaphor. The Gita was written during a long period of "civil" wars when leaders and fighters repeatedly faced the dilemma of killing family members who ended up on the other side. Assuming that the book was not intended as a metaphor, it could very well be understood as one more example of the powerful using people's religious beliefs to manipulate them to do their dirty work for them. God and country anyone? If this is so, does it not bring into question the validity of the rest of the book? How many "M"s get turned into "D"s before we are forced to question the whole thing? Where is truth found in it if we simply interpret it to meet our own pre-conceived, culturally-bound dispositions?

    • Good and profound question. I guess the answer for me is, how does the troublesome material fit in the whole. For me the whole setting is almost irrelevant to the overall message of the Gita. Also in this particular case, the Gita was clearly grafted on to another massive epic. It doesn't really fit in, but then, if it hadn't been placed there, would we even know about it today?

      There is another interpretation that works for me. I don't think the war setting was intended as metaphor when it was written, but as an example of just doing what one does. Being a warrior was just what a large portion of the upper classes did in those days. But today most of us are not warriors, so we have transform the setting into something that makes sense for us today. So, if that's not too fine a distinction–it was not a metaphor, but rather an example, when writtten, but an example that must be converted today.

      Does that make any sense? Your question is entirely legitimate, and I can see others deciding to reject the whole Gita if they can't get around that in their heads.

      Thanks for writing.

      Bob Weisenberg

      • YogiOne says:

        Bob, I actually think it can be read on different levels. I have read it in the past using the method your describe and I got a lot out of it. In the same way, I don't think we have to understand a poem or a song exactly the way an author intended it to get something out of it. It seems to me that we can recognize those parts that are wrong or offensive without discarding them or being in denial about what they really mean. To do that, we have to let go of idealizing the Gita though, and I think that would probably allow for a much more objective reading of the book.

        Scott (yeah I signed up for a new intensedebate ID. I guess I'll be known as YogiOne where intensedebate is used now).

        • I agree completely, YogiOne. When I used the word "Disregard", I didn't mean never think about again, just more "Don't let it become an obstacle to seeing the deeper meaning of the text", just as Mitchell says.

          That said, I've read fascinating accounts in other versions of the historical setting, accounts of the actual war the Gita is a part of (Kurukshetra War), what it meant to be a warrior in those times (unlike today, the upper classes were part of the everyday warrior class), etc., etc.

          As you put it so well, it can and should be read on different levels. I enjoy the historical and sociological and pure literary levels, too. But in my experience most Yoga practitioners are, at first at least, looking to the Gita for personal spiritual enrichment and to deepen their Yoga practice. It is for this purpose I suggested one might want to disregard the more troublesome elements.

          Thanks for writing.

          Bob Weisenberg

          • YogiOne says:

            I agree about not letting these things be an obstacle to finding meaning in the text. In fact, having them in there was so shocking the first time I read the Gita that I had to continue reading to see why so many people thought it was such a great text. I also agree that many yogis are urged to read the Gita for spiritual reasons and to enrich their practice. It is enlightening to me that many of the things we reject in the Gita are rejected because they conflict with our sense of compassion, our own experiences of our higher nature and what we consider to be yogic values. Being mindful of the reasons we reject so much of this book is part of what makes it a worthwhile read for me. I believe this is also evidence that we have progressed spiritually as a species. Likewise, I find it illuminating that we also continue to engage in many of the deeply flawed beliefs and actions represented in the book. And so it goes. Thanks for doing this discussion. I find the forum format much better than the "live" discussions that were attempted over at the Namaste' book club.

          • Hi, YogiOne. This has been a really interesting interchange. Thanks for sticking with it through whatever technical problems were going on this afternoon. I actually had to go find my last reply above in Intense Debate history and repost it.

            Namaste is not designed for in-depth discussions. It's faster and lighter by design. But we love it anyway. Look at this list of the books we've read and discussed in the past year. I never would have encountered most of these without the discipline of Namaste!

            Heart Of Yoga by T. Desikacher

            Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swami Muktibodhananda

            Yoga in America by Deborah Bernstein & Bob Weisenberg

            Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald

            The Wisdom of No Escape: And the Path of Loving Kindness by Pema Chodron

            Yoga The Spirit And Practice Of Moving Into Stillness by Erich Schiffmann

            Downward Dogs and Warriors: Wisdom Tales for Modern Yogis by Zoe Newell

            Chakra Yoga: Balancing Energy for Physical, Spiritual, and Mental Well-being by Alan Finger

            Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Mathew Sanford

  19. I'm certainly all for reading things metaphorically, even when they're not intended as metaphor, since I think the experience of reader-interacting-with-text is what really counts.

    • At the same time, I think we're fooling ourselves if we think that, to the extent that authorly intent matters (which, if we view the Gita as infallible holy scripture, is a lot; if we view it as philosophy and/or poetry, that's up to us), that the war and caste stuff can be completely metaphored away. The caste system did and does exist as a central and very ugly part of Hindu society, comparable to racism in America (Gandhi actually considered it worse than British imperialism). And, as such, clearly the author believed in it, meaning that he probably thought that it would be a horrible thing if untouchables were treated as anything but untouchable). And, of course, wars existed and still do. And, whatever the author's metaphorical intent, he would have had to be a complete and utter fool to think that people wouldn't take this stuff literally and use the Gita as a justification of the caste system and war.

      • Personally, as is probably obvious by now, I'm most certainly in the philosophy and/or poetry camp. And, having Ispent a good part of my life being enlightened by the likes of Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky, which inevitably has meant separating the sparkling wheat from the classist, sexist, and anti-semitic chaff, have no problem doing the same here…

        • As a somewhat related gripe: I'm wondering why some people seem to be able to leave long rambling comments here, while mine have to be chopped up into pieces because they're "too long…"

          • Thanks for your very insightful comments, Jay. As a lit. major myself, I of course can relate completely to what you are saying. And having been raised ultra-traditional Catholic, I've experienced the scripture as direct word of God, too.

            I had the same problem with cut up comments until I switched to Google Chrome, where the problem vanished. It's at least twice as fast as Internet Explorer, too, so I've switched over almost entirely to Chrome. I love all the other Google products, too, especially the miraculous gmail and even more miraculous Google Reader.

          • YogiOne says:

            Uh, IDK. I am using IE and it seems to work just fine.

          • Hmmm. Must be the settings or operating system.

            Thanks for letting us know, YogiOne.

          • YogiOne says:

            OK, well my replys just weren't long enough. I just had one chopped up too.

  20. paramsangat says:

    Hi all,
    I just got to know about this Gita Talk and made the order of this translation of the Gita..It has been on my "list" for quite a while because I've heard its an easy-to-digest version…. so please let it be that way .. (didnt like the versions Ive read…ugh..)
    Looking forward to my book in the mail,

    • Welcome, paramsangat. I think you'll love the Mitchell version. I had the same reaction you did, but I kept hearing how important the Gita was, so I kept looking. If you don't like the Mitchell version, contact me and let's talk about it. I hope these "Gita Talk" blogs will help, too.

  21. Vanita says:

    Thanks for the great discussion, everyone.

    I always reject 2.57 and sentiments like it. "who neither grieves or rejoices if good or bad things happen'.

    It conjurs up images of Stepford wives, mothers, friends….. fill in the blank.
    For me, I prefer – greive for a moment, rejoice for a moment, then accept it and move on.

    Lucky for me "on this path no effort is wasted.. "(2.40). There is hope, yet.

    • Agree, Vanita. In the next chapter you'll read the seemingly contradictory line:

      All beings follow their nature.
      What good can repression do? (3.33)

      2.57 is actually part of a larger idea in Yoga philosophy called "Witness Consciousness", which means simply the ability to step outside ourselves and watch our emotions non-judgmentally.

      But that's not described fully in 2.57! Obviously the whole idea of being a witness assumes there is something to witness, that we are still feeling all our human emotions. In 2.57 we have only the witness with no mention of the witnessed! That's why I put and "E" for "Explain" next to this item in my list above.

      Does this make sense? Please ask follow-up questions.

      • Jenny says:

        from #gitatalk…I commented to Bob over in the twitterverse that I must not be very wise, as I feel sad at the loss of my first teacher of the Bhagavad Gita, and Krisha tells Arjuna (2. early on) that wise men do not grieve for the dead or for the living.

        Paul would be the first to let out a big belly laugh at that, I should think, that we would grieve at his unexpected and untimely death. Repressing emotions is not the same as witnessing the emotions. It's another paradox for me.

        As my friend Lani has noted, why is it that grief and joy feel just the same?

        • Hi, Jenny. Thanks for coming over from Twitter. I wrote the following response to freesoul about the very same question. See what you think if this idea. This is an expanded version of the "Witness Consciousness" answer to Vanita above. This my way of handling this challenging issue. I'm sure there are other ways, but this is what makes spiritual and textual sense to me:

          Dear freesoul. I'm so glad you hit us squarely with this issue: "Is the Gita telling us to turn off all our emotions, to live without passion?", because I'm sure this is on the minds of many readers. It certainly was on mine the first time I read it.

          I believe I can give you an answer that is crystal clear, profound, and readily usable in everyday life. But you be the judge.

          The Gita does not, as whole, endorse emotional repression, even though it seems to be doing exactly that here. What the Gita asks us to do is be our human selves completely, feel deeply all our human emotions, but develop the ability to step outside ourselves and calmly witness those emotions in a completely non-judgmental way.

          Even though the text right here seems to say otherwise, the situation itself supports this idea. Think about it. Krishna is urging Arjuna to fight a battle to the best of his abilities. Does Krishna think Arjuna can can fight his battle (just make that a metaphor for whatever challenges we face in life) without emotion and passion?

          No, of course not. Even though the text isn't clear on this, the situation is. Krishna is telling Arjuna to fight his battle with all this usual passion, but to be able, at the same time, to rise above it and objectively see that he is also a part of the infinite, unfathomable, wondrous universe, where these emotions hold no sway.

          Tell me if this makes sense. And I hope other people will jump into this vital discussion as well. Your question really does go to the heart of the Gita.

          Please let me know if this makes sense to you, Jenny. Thanks again for being here.

          Bob Weisenberg

      • Vanita says:

        Yes, it does make sense. I especially liked your repost to Jenny. It helps to make it more clear.

    • YogiOne says:

      I always wonder about the translation of items such as this. I wonder if in the original meaning, the terms that we translate as "grieves or rejoices" might not be better interpreted as depression and hysteria. If that is the case, then the ability to avoid these extremes would certainly be adaptive. I also think that there may be an implication that avoiding such extremes allows the person to avoid reactivity and the resulting consequences of acting without thinking. Maybe these are the nuggets of truth that have been lost though time and translation. Maybe not. I just wonder though.

      • Very interesting analysis, YogiOne.

        Interestingly enough, I find that the ability to be a "witness" to my deepest emotions makes me feel my emotions more deeply, not less, because there is no longer any reason to fight any of them. This corresponds very directly to modern psychoanalysis where repressed emotions are brought out into the open before they can be dealt with. It seems to me this is consistent with your thinking as well.

        Please see my replies above to Jenny and Vanita.

        Bob Weisenberg

        • John Morrison says:

          Yes, when one watches their emotions without judging – this is freedom. We can have emotions but engage them with equanimity. We are no longer swept along like a stick in a raging torrent, completely at the mercy of our own discursive thoughts and emotions. Instead we are a boulder within the river, watching the emotions pass around us. The boulder is not emotionless – it is effected by emotions – but it is not at their mercy….

    • Sevapuri says:

      i understand your feelings that this can be read as "just feel nothing" but i think Krishna is telling us to not let grief or joy overwealm us to the point where we forget who we really are. Krishnas dialogue is continually reminding Arjuna who he is, that he is not only Arjuna but part of the whole universe, this it what i think we can forget so easily when we get caught up in joy grief, pain pleasure etc.

  22. lindsayyoga says:

    First time reader here. So, a few things I noticed while reading these two chapters:

    I definitely appreciate that there is no commentary inserted into the reading. That drives me bonkers.

    I immediately related to Arjuna, his questions, his struggle.

    The imagery of this moment "As Arjuna sat there, downcast, between the two armies, Krishna smiled at him, then spoke these words" struck me. It seemed odd to smile in the midst of impending battle, however, I was intrigued by this image and found myself feeling sort of smitten with Krishna and his mysterious smile which I imagined to be a lot like the Mona Lisa. Was it amusement? Arrogance? Divine Love?

    Still processing a lot of it and trying not to get hung up on language and literalization. I am drawn to the story for sure.

    Yep, smitten.

    • Great, Lindsay. I so glad you're here. Your enthusiasm is contagious.

      Your comment startled me at first, because, as you can see, while most of us are all hung up on the difficulties of the text, you are entranced by Krishna's smile! Don't know if you saw the Schweig video yet, but if you watch it you'll see that Schweig would consider that mysterious smile of Krishna's as just the first hint of the explosion of cosmic love that's coming in future chapters.

      Love it.

    • Meaghan says:

      Hi Lindsay – I loved this post. Thanks for sharing. To me, that line elicits this feeling of "ahhhh, everything is going to be ok". And it sort of reminds me of great teachers I've had that, when asked a question to which they can respond from a place of personal experience and practice, answer with intelligent words but also a knowing smile like "you'll know what I mean when you feel it".

  23. Please be sure to see Gita God and Gita Emotions: A Highlight Reel if you haven't already.

    Also, if you would prefer to have a one-on-one Facebook discussion about any Gita Talk issue, just send me a direct message on Facebook.

    Bob Weisenberg

  24. Trimurti Buddha

    The majority of the epic Ramayana and Mahabharata were composed during period 200 BC – 200 AD, and the Pali canon of Buddhist lore (Tripitaka) was formalized. In the face of declining influence, Brahmana accepted the profitable suggestion made by Gautama himself, that the sacrifice of alms-giving to holy men is preferable to animal sacrifice. The Buddhist assertion that Moksha can only be attained through true perception was also accepted, leading to a new form of Brahmin worship (Puja), involving direct sight (Darshana) of the deity and alms giving (Dakshina) to Brahmana.

    Village deities and legends were Sanskritized, and (by c. 50 BC) each was assimilated, according to characteristics, under one head of a new Brahmanic trinity, which deifies the three Gunas as:

    Brahma (the unmanifest creator)
    Vishnu (the protector of manifest creation)
    Shiva (the cause of change ~ creation and destruction)

  25. Brenda P. says:

    Apropos of nothing…or maybe everything. In today's NYTimes there is an article about the New Delhi Metro, which appears to be a smashing success–clean, on time, on budget, inexpensive to ride.

    The project manager, Mr. Elattuvalapil Sreedharan, has been praised as fearless and incorruptible. He has assigned the Bhagavad Gita as required reading to his managers. (“It is a management text,” he said of the book, which is taken from the Mahabharata, an epic poem at the heart of Hindu philosophy. “It is the story of how to motivate an unmotivated person.” )

    Management text…hmmm.

  26. Sanjaya Yogi says:

    Sruti and Smriti

    First, Śruti, as sacred literature, needs to be seen against the background of culture. World-wide, sacred literature, such as the Bible, Koran, Bhagavad Gita – all will lose some of their meaning if not studied in the context of the time, language, and the culture in which they were initially conveyed to spiritual aspirants. The sacred literature is also subject to interpretation through translation to other languages, and the commentaries and language also need to be seen as a product of the translator's and readers culture and language.

    Smṛti, also served as a form of transferring common law in the form of stories, and literature, to help educate people in the manner of correct living. Once again, each of the modes of sugsequent translation, language and culture of both the translator, and reader will play a certain role in the interpretation and understanding of that which is heard and or read.

    The Bhagavad Gita, as part of the greater story of the Mahabharata, serves the reader to convey the reader to a sense of the role of the individual in the greater context of society, and also as a way to reminder to the reader of the greater purposes of life. In the Bhagavad Gita, there is the external context, and the inner message to direct the individual to the meaning and practice of yoga.

    Yoga, as a way of life and philosophical system is inherently without a cultural context, though historically its roots may be traced to India and possibly beyond. With Sanskrit, as the language, and Hinduism, as the cultural backdrop, the Bhagavad Gita is naturally colored by its cultural context and language. Once stripped of the cultural context and examined against the philosophy of yoga, the true message is revealed. It is often helpful to study the Gita with a teacher and or within a group of yoga practioners who understand the fundamental practices and precepts of yoga as a way of life and a philosophy. Much of the external language is then stripped away and the core messages of the Gita are revealed.

    It is also important to remember that the daily study of the Bhagavad Gita is a fundamental aspect of the way of yoga life and the method of study is important as well to truly understand the Gita. Gandhi even used the Gita as a way of improving his memory by memorizing the Gita in parts daily.

    Read the Bhagavad Gita daily.

    Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

  27. Lorraine says:

    Without a doubt, I had trouble reading these first two chapters. Even taking into consideration the time period and culture, it is still difficult for me. The 2nd chapter seems to be speaking about reincarnation and Krishna seems to be telling Arjuna that death doesn't really matter because all will be reborn. My first thought was, Where is the compassion?

    I don't understand the passage….

    "Indifferent to gain or loss,
    to victory or defeat,
    prepare yourself for the battle
    and do not succumb to sin."

    Is Krishna referring to Arjuna's refusal to stand and fight as being sin??

    Regarding action for action's sake, without regard to results…this goes against my own personal beliefs. Before acting, I always try to think ahead to avoid making a potential mistake or to avoid hurting someone. But Krishna is saying to act without grieving or rejoicing, without worrying if good or bad things happen. This is difficult for me. As a human being, I have feelings and I always do my best to act compassionately.

    Overall, I am enjoying this reading very much. I have read through Chapter 5 and it does get better!

    • Thanks for sharing your honest reactions with us, Lorraine. I certainly had those same reactions when I first read the Gita.

      There are troubling things like this throughout the Gita, but they really hit you hard in these first two chapters. That's why I wrote this blog like I did, "Why is the Gita So Upsetting at First", because I could see new readers reacting like I did at first, "What is all this crap and why should I even keep reading?"

      There are many things to say about your particular questions, but I'll try to be brief, since all of these issues will come up later as well.

      I think reincarnation was an accepted fact back then, so it had to be a key component of the Gita. Many still believe in literal reincarnation today, so it will make perfect sense to them. But for readers who don't, like myself, one needs to just disregard it or turn it into a metaphor for our impact on future generations.

      The word "sin" does not translate easily between English and Sanskrit. Another translator used the word "misfortune" for "sin" in the above passage, which make a lot more sense–Arjuna is not sinning by not fighting, but will suffer misfortune. Then if one takes the battle to be a metaphor for whatever challenges you are facing in life, this whole stanza turns into: Face whatever challenges you face in life with courage, otherwise you will suffer misfortune, which makes sense now, doesn't it.

      Your last paragraph about shutting off emotions, please see Dealing with Our Emotions and tell me what you think.

      You're right. I does get better. I was worried about losing people, so this was proactive blog. I'm sure your comment will help other people, too.

      Please tell me what you think and let's go back and forth about this a few times if it would be helpful to you.

      Thanks again for writing.

      Bob Weisenberg

    • Hi, Lorraine. I wrote you a long response to your comment above. It was showing up here before but now it seems to be gone. Please let me know if you read it while it was up. Otherwise I'll reconstruct it for you. Thanks.

      • Lorraine says:

        No, I didn't see it. I checked earlier this afternoon and there was nothing. I'm also not getting any comments via email or on intensedebate…..

        • Hi, Lorraine. I retrieved it from my Google Reader, which proves it was there then lost. You can see why I was so disappointed. I put a little time into it. I'm going to send this to you on a FB message, too, to make sure you get it. Elephant was making an upgrade today, so that may be the problem.

          Thanks for sharing your honest reactions with us, Lorraine.

          I certainly had those same reactions when I first read the Gita. There are troubling things like this throughout the Gita, but they really hit you hard in these first two chapters. That's why I wrote this blog like I did, "Why is the Gita So Upsetting at First", because I could see new readers reacting like I did at first, "What is all this crap and why should I even keep reading?"

          There are many things to say about your particular questions, but I'll try to be brief, since all of these issues will come up later as well.

          I think reincarnation was an accepted fact back then, so it had to be a key component of the Gita. Many still believe in literal reincarnation today, so it will make perfect sense to them. But for readers who don't, like myself, one needs to just disregard it or turn it into a metaphor for our impact on future generations.

          The word "sin" does not translate easily between English and Sanskrit. Another translator used the word "misfortune" for "sin" in the above passage, which make a lot more sense–Arjuna is not sinning by not fighting, but will suffer misfortune. Then if one takes the battle to be a metaphor for whatever challenges you are facing in life, this whole stanza turns into: Face whatever challenges you face in life with courage, otherwise you will suffer misfortune, which makes sense now, doesn't it.

          Your last paragraph about shutting off emotions, please see Dealing with Our Emotions and tell me what you think.

          You're right. I does get better. I was worried about losing people, so this was a proactive blog. I'm sure your comment will help other people, too.

          Please tell me what you think and let's go back and forth about this a few times if it would be helpful to you.

          Thanks again for writing.

          Bob Weisenberg

          • Ronnie says:

            Thank you Lorraine!
            I had the same question regarding the use of the word "sin". I automatically replaced it with aversion and I see "battle" as representative of experiences in life. Viewing "battle" as both what we perceive as "good" or "bad" experiences.

            Thank you Bob for the response to Lorraine. I was surprised to read that you don't believe in literal reincarnation. Just thought it interesting as I am learning about you through your responses. Also, maybe because I don't know fully what literal reincarnation is. I am ok with not knowing right now what I believe for now.
            Thank you.

          • Thanks, good thoughts, Ronnie. We'll be revisiting reincarnation later, I'm sure, and there have already been a variety of opinions expressed. That's one of the great things about the Gita–it's nothing if not provocative, in a good way.

            Should be interesting. Glad you're with us.

            Bob Weisenberg

  28. bethany says:

    I loved the concept of fighting the familiar. I see it as a metaphor as well. Personally, I feel this is what it is like to let go of a harmful addiction. The familiarity of addiction almost disguises it as good, a part of oneself. When you learn that killing off what has become like a family member or essential part of yourself is necessary, you can gain the courage it takes to walk away from a life that is not serving you.

  29. paramsangat says:

    Done with he first two chapters… :)
    * Tell us what you think about the first two chapters? : As a whole, enlightning,I liked it.
    * What did you love? I loved the clear text and the division with "the blessed Lord"/"Arjuna"/"Poet", made it delightful to read (insead of a confused read)
    * What did you hate? Nothing really, but the long row of names in the beginning makes me lil uncomfy 😉
    * Does this relate to your life yet? If so, how? Maybe you can say it relates. From meditation practice I feel much more comfy with all kinds of situation and not that cought up in details. Feels more like we are eternal and not as vunerable as we think we are. things aren't "that" serious.. take it lightly and being more playful makes life great :)

    (cont on next)

  30. paramsangat says:

    * What questions would you like to ask? I'm just asking myself (from the Intro) why Mitchell tought it wasnt a great idea with the war situation.. but I might have read that lil carelessly.. I'll look back at it again. I mean, its a great way of concluding that we are eternal.. not even a war is a big thing.
    * What insights can you bring us from other versions you might have read? I cant remember the other ones… too hard to grasp.. well I remember now when I read this one.. but mostly becasue I attended class about it during yoga trainings..otherwise I'll probably dropped the whole thing all together.. 😉
    I remember now though, I have acctually read a commentary I enjoyed. It was a talk of Osho, I only got hold of the 1st book (fisrt 4 chapters of the Gita commented on) and I didnt know it was on the Gita when I bought it. But it was a good one I recall now.

      • paramsangat says:

        thanks for telling me this, I'm glad you enjoy my answers.
        I'm enjoying this Gita Talk so I'm greatful you started it, and I'm really happy to find it joyous to read this time :)

        Well, that War thing.
        It comes back to one of the points in the Gita, that we are eternal.
        When you acctually get into a mind which KNOWS that we are, then things like that are just "action"…so…enjoy it while you are might win, you might not.. but as the Gita says: if you win, great!… and if you just return to "me" (to the Source ..or what you want to call it). If you are a warrior, then fight.
        If in a role play or a computer game you would be a warrior.. would you not fight? You would of course. And then, if you would die.. then "ehhhh ehhhh Game Over" :) but you'll get more chances..

        The life we live is very REAL, so its not a stange thing to feel akward about this thing. But I think the way to feel ok about it is to try to imagine how it would look like to someone really believing that we ARE eternal. (and not mixing that up with the own fear of.."..but.. what if we are not..??")

        I also found the reference of that thing in the Intro where Mitchell comments about the War. He refers to Tao Te Ching's view when he says "even a buddah would enlist for a war agaist Hitler".
        I think thats still missing the point of "eternalness". If we are , then we are. And all is like a computer game. VERY real it seams, well made (apprechiating that hahaha), but still is game..(or would be, according to Gita)

        • paramsangat says:

          (continued)… o and by the way…
          If you acctually were the one with the mind KNOWING that we are eternal…that death is only like a "Game Over" on your screen,,..evn though the life you live seems as real as it is… wouldnt you fall-head-over-heals-in-love-with -the-Universe"…?? :)

        • Very interesting, paramsangat. I love the way you think.

          Here's something else to think about. To me personally, being eternal is not a matter of belief (as you put it "What if we are" and "What if we aren't") but rather a matter of objective fact. In the same way as a wave is objectively also the ocean, no questions asked, each of us is objectively and even physically part of the universe.

          It's just a matter of how you look at the wave, not a matter of belief. For me this was the single most important breakthrough in my absorbing Yoga philosophy. I don't have to "believe" in anything. I just have to be aware of reality.

          If you were a wave in the ocean
          And someone asked you what you are
          Would you answer
          “I am a wave”
          or would you answer
          “I am the ocean”?

          (from Coming to Terms with Infinite Joy)

          Bob Weisenberg

          • paramsangat says:

            Thats a great way of putting it, thank you!

            When I put up those "what if we are" etc is to be able to understand where others might come from in their thinking here. And also where I have come from, "before meditation". I have this wave/ocean perspective now after a regular meditation, so it feels like fact to me now. Well, it is fact to me. Might not be for someone else. But for me, now, it is. And I love it that way.

            Thanks for the Quote from "…Infinite Joy" :)

  31. Deb B says:

    What a relief to know I'm not alone in struggling to get through the first 2 chapters! My struggle was much less about the the content and more about the format.

    I was not put off by the (seemingly) significant cultural differences (i.e. women are corrupt for marrying outside of their caste). And I say "seemingly", because our current day society does include different all sorts of chauvinism, bigotry, you name it…we're just programed not to admit to harboring any biases that are not 100% politically correct. Although I'm not suggesting this is "good", it just "is", and at least in Gita-times they made no pretenses to be anything other than what they were – a caste system. Again, not saying this is good, and I understand why it can be off-putting….but I believe it's a bit unfair to judge societies' norms from very different times in history…perhaps folks from the Gita-era would judge us just as harshly for charging people money to practice yoga?

    Anyway, I digress from my point which is to share why I did/do struggle with the Gita. I tend to learn best sequentially, with direct facts. I find metaphors, poetry and stories as a learning method distracting to my learning of concepts. So while I adore the Sutra's concise verbiage that allows me to apply the concepts to my own stories; in contrast, I had to keep re-reading the Gita's dialogue until I found the gems that resonated with me. However, there are endless "gems" in the Gita and it was well worth sticking with it!!

    Thank you, Bob for this fantastic forum and for encouraging me to dust off my Gita and remember why I love it.

    Your friend and co-Yoga in America editor,

    • Great to have you here, Deb. Thanks for your very interesting insights.

      Please continue to write comments as you work through Gita Talk. And I'm very interested in getting as much feedback as possible on how Gita Talk works as a self-paced online seminar. All suggestions welcome. I will continue to tweek it to make it a useful as possible to all readers.

      Bob W.

  32. Hello! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I really enjoy reading through your posts. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same topics? Thanks!

  33. […] Gita Talk #4: Why Is the Gita So Upsetting At First? […]

  34. Allen F Mackenzie says:

    Check out ''Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's commentary on The Bhagavad Gita''. His commentary is most enlightening.

  35. Hi, Andres. Yes, that idea of detaching my ego from the results, as opposed to not striving for anything, is one of the greatest lessons I've ever learned. The Gita tells us to go all out at whatever we think we're meant to do, just don't let your sense of self worth be affected in any way by the results. Here's how I applied it to my tennis game, but this is analogous to everything else in my life: "Yoga Tennis".

  36. Thanks for your very interesting comments, Jenny. Ultimately, for me, the Gita is about boundless inexhaustible inner peace that depends on nothing except realizing it's there. My personal take on the war setting is that this is just a metaphor for whatever challenge we face in life. Back then, being a warrior was an ordinary everyday challenge (and still is for many people–remember the comment on Gita Talk #3 from the mother of the soldier in Iraq?)

  37. Jenny:

    Really interesting thought about the nature of the conflict. Hadn't thought about this in terms of chod practice.

  38. Yes, svan. I think we are completely in synch. I think I did misunderstand your reference to samahdi as a kind of "death". I thought you were heading toward a kind of Buddhist nothingness, which I've always had trouble with. I prefer my new word "everything-ness", don't you?

    It does appear that e-mail notification is broken right now. I haven't been getting any either. So I subscribed to the Elephant comment RSS feed, which works fine with some delay. It appears that the RSS feeds for the individual blog comments do not include replies, so they're kind of useless.

  39. This may be a duplicate, so I'll keep it short. I agree! I think I did misunderstand your use of the word "death".

  40. Yes, svan. I think we are completely in synch. I think I did misunderstand your reference to samahdi as a kind of "death". I thought you were heading toward a kind of Buddhist nothingness, which I've always had trouble with. I prefer my new word "everything-ness", don't you?

    It does appear that e-mail notification is broken right now. I haven't been getting any either. So I subscribed to the Elephant comment RSS feed, which works fine with some delay. It appears that the RSS feeds for the individual blog comments do not include replies, so they're kind of useless.

  41. Anything that espouses oneness with the universe is completely in synch with the Gita. That become wildly obvious later in the text. Not only that, but the Gita is unequivocally universalist in its outlook, even when the spiritual ideas are not so similar as your own:

    However men try to reach me,
    I return their love with my love;
    whatever path they may travel,
    it leads to me in the end. (BG 4.11)

    (where speaker is the The Infinite, Unfathomable, Wondrous Life-Force of the Universe.

  42. Greg says:

    Naturalism is inconsistent with the Gita, with Buddhism, with Tantric views, with all religion.

    And it may be inconsistent with your views as well.

    The problem may have to do with the collapse of the supernatural (with its properties) into the natural (with its properties).

    With naturalism (also known as materialism) we conceive a closed box of cause and effect. We posit there are only natural causes and conditions.

    However, the natural realm does not possess the properties that allow it to bring itself into existence. In Buddhist terms, the natural realm is empty. It has no stand alone existence. It is dependent on something else for its existence. The supernatural realm of Buddha Nature has different properties. A Buddha is not dependently arisen. A Buddha is not conditioned upon something else. Buddha Nature gives rise to dependent fabrications.

    In western religions this same concept is captured in the idea that the entire natural realm is created. In other words, all things created have their origin in that which is uncreated.

    in the Gita we find this same discussion with Krishna who points out the transient and dependent nature of the phenomenal world and the true non-dependent or absolute nature of Self or God.

    One way to think of it is that one has a box which includes all the properties of that which limited, relative, conditioned, fabricated, created, etc. That box denotes one set of properties.

    And then one has a separate set of properties for that which is supernatural. Two different sets of properties.

    And the set or box of all natural properties is a subset of the supernatural — it is the set of that which is dependent upon supernatural mind. Buddha Mind, Krishna, God, etc.

    With naturalism we have a failed philosophy which does not account for the nature of all things observed but rather, arbitrarily confines itself to a limited set of properties.

  43. John Morrison says:

    If I may interject. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche (a fantastic young teacher from the Kagyu lineage) writes in "The Joy of Living" a really nice explanation of the Buddhist notion of emptiness / the Void / shunyata – which often gets interpreted as a dead, emotionless, nihilistic vacuum.

    He writes: "So when Buddhists talk about emptiness, we don't mean nothingness, but rather an unlimited potential for anything to appear, change, or disappear." So, you may be close with "everything-ness" or the "possibililty-of-anything-ness".

    If you want to see this on a scientific level – then think of the nominally "empty" vaccuum state which is the basis from which all subatomic phenomena arise….

  44. YogiOne says:


    Love that line. This to mne is also the essence of being a good Yoga teacher. I don't know where I heard the line, but applied to teaching, I've heard it said: "When a student takes one step toward you, take two toward the student."

  45. Yes, John, I agree. I came to a rousing version of this same reconciliation in a blog awhile back that you may not have seen. I'm going to reissue it soon, because it didn't get the readership it deserved because of my goofy title:

    "How Do You Get 48 Comments on a Light-Hearted Article Featuring Rod Steward Singing “If You Think I’m Sexy”?"

    Please read it and tell me what you think. (At the time I actually thought that title was catchy and would draw a lot of readers!)

    Nonetheless, I think I will always prefer Yoga philosophy to Buddhism, because in Buddhism you have to hunt a little for talk of the infinite wonder of universe, whereas with Yoga it's almost all about that. But I agree it's like two sides of the same coin.

    Bob Weisenberg

  46. Greg says:

    Perhaps the simplest approach to emptiness is to understand it means "empty of stand alone existence."

    This basically tells us all phenomena are dependent upon something else for their existence. They cannot stand alone. They rely for their existence on something else.

    The something else is Buddha Mind. So, essentially, all phenomena are thought projections or simply fabrications of the Mind.

    Another way of looking at this would be to know that all appearances, all phenomena, would disappear in the absence of consciousness. First there is consciousness and then appearances, dependent for their existence on that consciousness, arise. All is an "illusion."

    Trungpa has a wonderful quote posted on the walls at the Boulder Shambhala Center. Paraphrasing it says all life is a dream.

  47. I like that, too, YogiOne.

  48. John Morrison says:

    Great article – I did miss it. It took me a couple years in Buddhism to get myself past the notion that emptiness was a negation of everything (ie. my wallet is empty, my fridge is empty, etc are usually negative things).

    I'm a Buddhist most certainly – but I have an intellectual curiosity for other Eastern traditions – thus why I like to read what you write.

  49. Thanks, John. I do want to get back to this topic some day. The first time around I approached in a confrontational way (but polite and fun I hope), because that's how I learn. Next time it will be different I think.

  50. Greg says:

    The concept that is needed to sort out the discussion has to do with "identification with fabrication."

    This means falsely saying "I am that" which sets up an identification with thingness or phenomena. Identity = one.

    This is always false as Self is not phenomenal. One can pervade phenomena and assume the view I Am That but it is always a fabrication, a lie. A false self that one puts on for identity. It is a form of attachment to Things.

    Buddhism does not posit we are nothing (as in nihilism) but rather we are No Thing as in not a phenomenal appearance.

    Rather we are that which gives rise to all appearances. In essence we are a Zero of Thingness. No Thing. Not a Thing.

    The Gita heads in the same direction but gets altered by clinging to Thingness. As you interpret it we are Every Thing. All Energy is One.

    But that is identification with Thingness. It is taking on a false identity — I am Energy, thus I am Thingness.

    What the Gita appears to say, consistent with Buddhism, is that behind all Thingness lies the No Thingness that gives rise to Thingness. The Gita as well as Buddhism warns us to not become identified with What We Are Not.

    Identification is essentially Total Attachment. (This is a vital concept.)

    We cannot be more attached to something than to say I Am That. That is total identification with that which is Not Self.

    On the other hand, Self exists w/o any physical or phenomenal properties. A Zero of Thingness.

    Yogis can run into problems with this because they reach a state of awareness of an All One Energy, a brilliant White Light Universe.

    This White Light Universe was a common fabrication. There was a total co creation of beings in total synchronicity, which is experienced as Total Love. Total Oneness. But that White Light Universe was still a fabrication, a creation. It was THE Creation that anchors this universe. (About five to six thousand trillion years ago.) (All since then has been a karmic accumulation.)

    But, as the Buddha taught, one can go beyond that fabrication. One can go beyond that appearance. One can go beyond that co created universe. And when one does one goes beyond All One Energy to a Zero of Thingness.

    This would be Buddha Mind. It would be the timeless, formless, unconditioned Buddha Mind or God. It would be the Zero of fabrication. It would be Pure Consciousness Absent Thingness.

    The Gita seems to capture this but it is difficult to convey… though I thought the text was remarkable in pointing out these truths.

  51. Greg says:

    No doubt some hit-and-miss in terms of description. My experience is that they are basically the same phenomenon but just couched in different language.

    The concept of emptiness you reference is critical … the idea that all manifestations, dense or subtle, are mental fabrications that are dependently arisen plays a vital role. One can end up in the bardo states and find them to be extremely real and lose track of their emptiness.

    As you already know, it is very interesting to study the bardo states and use meditation on them to move toward an understanding of emptiness or sunyata.

    The Gita brings up some good topics to investigate.

  52. YogiOne says:


    Thanks for your response. I agree that there are parts of the Gita which are obviously inconsistent with naturalism. However, naturalism does not collapse supernatural into the natural, it denies that any such phenomena exist at all. You are right to point out that the Gita in fact does have strong dualist foundations, clearly separating supernatural from natural realms, similar to how western religions operate. That is also inconsistent with naturalism and other non-dualist philosophies.

    One foundational aspect of naturalism that most yogis will find very familiar is an openness to all phenomena that are actually experienced, detectable or otherwise measurable. Your assertion that it fails to account for all observations is simply false. Naturalism, Like yoga is more than a philosophy though. It also has a practice, or set of methods that arise from the philosophy, and in fact, naturalism is inseperable from its methods. Thus, Naturalism does ask these questions of all assertions: Where is the the evidence for your observation or hypothesis and what is the nature of your evidence? Is it reliable, valid and open to examination by all? Is it based on methods that are shared, examined and found valid?

  53. YogiOne says:

    So far, no assertions regarding supernatural phenomena have ever been able to pass through these questions without failing most of them. In contrast to your judgement that naturalism is a failed philosophy, it is in fact the robust rock of truth upon which all other philosophies have run aground and been smashed to pieces.

    That being said, I believe that naturalism, because of its explicit openness to experience and its natural ability to change and grow as more experience is digested, is exactly and perfectly aligned with Yoga. It is simply the next step in the evolution of Yoga.

  54. John Morrison says:

    Nicely said, my friend (Greg). And Bob, I did not think that your article was confrontational and I do think you should resurrect it. What i like about this site is that we can largely discuss things like the grown-ups that we all are. There is an awful lot of salacious backstabbing amongst Buddhists in some of the social media venue, so this is a welcome contrast!

  55. Greg says:

    Actually, naturalism fails in the observation category. It fails most dramatically in the case of consciousness. Naturalism cannot explain consciousness as c/s has properties of the supernatural.

    Interestingly, naturalism (materialism) comes crashing down on the very claim of observation. All observation is a matter of consciousness but naturalism cannot explain consciousness. Thus, the foundation of all naturalism runs aground. Without a thorough understanding of consciousness, naturalism rests on an arbitrary.

    The basic premise of naturalism turns out to be unverifiable, even in theory. It must be accepted on blind faith. The premise of naturalism is that all has a material or natural origin. It postulates consciousness is an emergent property of material conditions—brain chemicals, etc.

    However, if 1) consciousness is an emergent property and 2) consciousness is the only way we know anything then 3) all that happened prior to the emergence of consciousness is based upon speculation. The premise means that original conditions cannot be observed. One must rely on blind faith. Yikes! That shoots the observation argument in the foot.

    The opposite approach posits that consciousness precedes all natural or material conditions. With this premise, one has observation all the way to moment zero, to origins. One does not have to accept this premise on blind faith but rather it is something one can know. This supernatural premise can be verified by observation whereas the naturalist premise must always remain a matter of blind faith.

    And we find the Buddha, who undertook the most extensive study of consciousness ever done, did exactly that — he verified the supernatural premise that consciousness precedes all material conditions. And he laid out how anyone else could repeat that observation. Done deal. Supernatural premise confirmed, naturalism premise found false.

  56. YogiOne says:


    Thanks for your reply. I am totally on board with #1 and mostly with #2. When you change from what can be practiced to what someone might experience if they practice you lose me there. What if I experience something else? Is there any reason to be attached to the idea that karma is real or that what some claim as "subtle" manifestations are real? Maybe they are like many such concepts – poorly articulated experiences that have become reified (fallacy of treating an abstraction as if it were a real thing) over time.

  57. Greg says:

    Valid questions.

    Karmic imprints can be shown to be real. Subtle manifestations can be shown to be real. That would be part of the practice. Part of lessons in how to direct one's attention. Lessons in how to observe.

    Such observations have been repeated and repeated and confirmed by those who engage practices of this nature.

    It feels like you might have some skepticism on this topic. It might be fun and valuable to look, to observe, what thoughts might be involved in the skepticism. Instead of looking beyond the doubt, one looks squarely at the doubt itself and one attempts to learn its nature. Does that make sense? Can you see how that might work?

  58. YogiOne says:

    Naturalism has by far the most extensive, reliable and valid means of observation ever devised. This includes methods to observe one's own internal experiences and communicate them to others. So, your claim that it somehow fails in the area of observation is simply false.

    Naturalism has also produced the most extenise, detailed and rigorously tested exploration of consciousness on this earth. To think that consciousness is somehow beyond the process and practice of naturalism is also simply false.

    Naturalism is based on process – a process that is an ongoing enterprise of observation, description, explanation and interaction with natural phenomena. If you wish to define conscious as having a supernatural element, then you have simply proposed another in a long line of abstractions that have no basis in actual observation, and yes, those phenomena, like the flying spaghetti monster, are not proper subjects for naturalistic process unless you are exploring the nature of abstract thought.

  59. YogiOne says:

    As far as premises go – Naturalism does not go beyond observable phenomena to find them. There is simply no need to add something unnatural to describe, explain, understand or interact with natural phenomena, which are manifestly physical in nature.

    Consciousness is not the only way we can know the universe. Our intellectual abilities have allowed us to devise a wide variety of ways to detect and measure natural phenomena which we cannot experience directly via consciousness. Some of these methods allow us to have reliable and valid knowledge of events that happened before humans and human consciousness existed. So, your argument that any knowledge we have about phenomena that existed prior to our own consciousness is speculation/blind faith is also false.

  60. YogiOne says:

    Your assertion of an eternal consciousness is also an example of a reified idea. There is no shred of evidence for the existance of such a phenomenon. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence for consciousness found in the scientific literature. I will refer you to a scientist who is actually more in your camp than mine simply to point out that irrespective of the results or interpretation of them, the process and practice of naturalism does indeed address these issues.


  61. YogiOne says:

    I am intimately acquainted with the nature of my skepticism, so yes, I can look at it quite easily. What do you want to know about it? How are Karmic imprints shown to be real? You can't even prove that we have past lives, so how could you prove that something attributed to a past life is real? If subtle manifesations are real, show me the evidence. No one has ever been able to show evidence of the most widely known of these: Chakras. So, where are the goods?

  62. Greg says:

    If you pursue it further you will see the problem. One can observe one's thoughts and one can observe the body's sensations but that does not in itself answer the question of the nature of the observer. It does not explain the nature of consciousness itself. Thus, the mode of observation itself is not "calibrated."

    Naturalism actually has not produced an extensive exploration of consciousness. Those holding a naturalistic view have stopped short of such an exploration and have instead substituted an unverified hypothesis — it must be an emergent property of brain activity. They openly admit, however, they have no proof for this assumption.

    It is not a matter of defining consciousness as supernatural but rather one can observe that it has properties which are supernatural — properties which cannot be explained within the constraints of naturalism. This does not have to do with abstract thought but rather conscious observation separated from a material substrate.

    You may enjoy researching the work that has been done in Buddhism. The Mind & Life Institute that came out of the Dalai Lama's meetings with western scientists. The work of Michel Richard, a French molecular biologist turned Buddhist monk is also good. Much more but that is a start.

  63. Greg says:

    Right. But only up to a point. All natural phenomena cannot explain their existence. In other words, they do not have properties required to bring about their own existence. In Buddhism this is recognized as being empty or dependently arisen.

    When you study physics, more or less the foundation of naturalism, you find there are no explanations for matter, space, time. There is a huge dead end in the study at this time.

    Cosmology, or the origins of the universe, are also stuck in such a dead end. I used to participate in a listserv discussion with mathematicians and physicists working on such issues with the main focus by the group leader being a naturalistic cosmology. He could not get there. Time and again I was able to prove his work was flawed. You simply cannot get there within the naturalistic framework.

    Consciousness is the only way we can observe. This is a given. All our knowledge, all our awareness comes through our conscious awareness. Consciousness is the monitoring factor in all knowledge. In fact, there is no such thing as objective science as ALL science is grounded in subjective observation. All devised ways of measuring and speculating and putting forth hypotheses comes through our consciousness.

    Thus, there is absolutely no way to observe anything prior to and absent consciousness. It is a given. We cannot have scientific observation of anything that was in existence before consciousness as there would be no way to observe, there would be no observer. The best one can hope for is blind faith and speculation.

    It is a wonderful thought experiment to work with this… see if you can get around it. The process is golden.

  64. Greg says:

    Scanned Rick Hansen's list. It appears he deals with brain and neurobiology not consciousness.

    The idea of consciousness that transcends temporal existence has tons of evidence. The entire 2500 year history of Buddhism is filled with evidence. And there is evidence in yoga studies. One can also turn to the literature on out of body awareness and near death experiences.

    The fact is that there is significant material on disembodied consciousness and Buddhism, in particular, provides a path of cessation of attachment of consciousness to the physical.

    The history of Buddhism provides verification and repeatability. If you are diligent in the practice you will experience consciousness separate from the body.

    In neuroscience they have not verified equivalency between neural activity and c/s. They assume equivalency of brain and mind but cannot verify it. In fact, the top guns in the field have pretty much said they may never get there and they have moved on, resigned to working only on assumption.

    Meanwhile, the equivalency of mind and brain has been proven false over and over. The primary reason consciousness studies is hung up in this impasse is the blind acceptance of naturalism as a scientific and philosophical premise. Once we get past that arbitrary a priori, science will race ahead.

    There is a wealth of material on this subject that you most likely would find fascinating. It is not a good subject for debate as positions harden but rather something that is worth researching on your own at your own pace — I believe you will find the effort very worthwhile.

  65. Greg says:

    There are plenty of goods.

    You can work with karmic imprints in the study of Tibetan Buddhism if you wish. They are mental images. You can work with them in visualization and other techniques that will bring understanding of their nature.

    One can prove past lives. Happens all the time. Once again, I refer you to the practice. You can do it yourself. Others have opened up their memory in this regard. The study done at UVA was perhaps the most complete in terms of matching recall to physical histories. I did that on my own, but you can find studies that provide third party verification.

    You may not be acquainted with your skepticism at the level at which I am speaking. There are many manifestations of consciousness involved in the way we push away concepts and actual observations. In fact, the manner in which we use unconsciousness may be more pertinent than the effort to become conscious. In other words, as we go through the practice we are not turning on a new light as much as removing black fields of unconsciousness, removing self created blindfolds, etc.

    Much of the karmic storehouse consists of black screens of energy we use to limit our view.

  66. Greg says:

    I should add to the previous post that looking at skepticism involves actually viewing the blackness we create to impair our awareness. We are looking not so much for an absence of light as actually looking to see the blackness we have created. An actual mental picture of blackness It is this type of thing that dissipates turning very intense meditation. (At first it overwhelms us and we almost nod out but with continued diligent practice we find actual black masses of mental energy dissolving.)

  67. Greg says:

    No guidance needed if you can do on your own. You may be fighting shadows that are not present in what I am writing. Sounds like you have been betrayed.

    Not true on understanding of big bang. Theories (for example the inflationary theory) have been advanced and they are now turning out to be mostly wrong. You may not have studied this area closely. It is fast moving.

    You also misrepresent the work on consciousness. Brain mapping only identifies points of control of c/s over body. Of course one expects correlation — c/s uses the brain as a switchboard to run the body. The issue, however, is equivalency between brain and mind, not a correlation between brain and body parts controlled by brain. Neuroscience has not been able to verify an equivalency — and this is admitted. On the other hand, it has been shown (thousands and thousands of times) that c/s operates separate from the body/brain.

    The work is there to be researched if one chooses to pursue an understanding.

  68. Greg says:

    You might enjoy digging into the publications that have come out of the Mind & Life Institute in Boulder. The work comes from the Dalai Lama's discussions in this area. Many of these ideas can be found in those works. Also, the work of B. Alan Wallace is helpful. There is much more but that would be a start.

  69. Hi, mletag.

    Thanks for this very interesting and insightful comment. It really made me appreciate the metaphor of the setting more, which I had gotten in the habit of just ignoring. You made it fresh in my mind again.

    Bob Weisenberg

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