Welcome to our new Yoga in The Gita Sunday series!
Last Sunday, Braja Sorensen illuminated the need for buddhi, or intelligence, in identifying real love in our lives, by calling the Gita The Ultimate Guide to Love. Today I’ll begin our look into sacrifice and renunciation.
Love is certainly a most powerful driving force in life!
The human heart seems to be designed around seeking out and participating in loving relationships. So, as Braja asked last week, why would one require a guidebook for something that is so inseparable from our very nature?
These next two weeks, as we enter into the third phase in our Yoga in The Gita series, we’ll explore answers to this question by looking at everything we cling to that interferes with our experience of love, and our experience of yoga.
One of the main obstructions we can bring into our yoga practice, or into any love relationship, is our set of expectations.
It is rare to find a human being who does not import their own preconceived notions of how something will be before they experience it. Even if it is only at a subconscious level, we like to think we know what it should feel like, or look like, or what kinds of effects it will have on us. Usually, in yoga, the effects we imagine are all beneficial ones.
At the deepest level, whether humans seek out authentic love or authentic yoga, they do so for the same reason: because of a belief that tells them it is beneficial to do so.
What will these benefits look like? Every one of us imagines something different!
As our senses of perception only reach so far, none of us can possibly know what our future holds. In chapter four Krishna begins to speak about yoga as a fire into which we offer everything we think we already know. He gently reminds Arjuna that many of his troubling beliefs were a result of faulty, or incomplete information he acquired through his limited senses. Arjuna suffered because he clung to these beliefs. So Krishna described yoga to him as a process of letting go.
Yoga is a sacrifice of all the faulty and destructive beliefs we carry around that obstruct our progress in life.
Usually when we begin a yoga practice we think about all the wonderful results we will gain. Our mind paints pretty pictures of tranquility, health, vigor, peace, strength, bliss, etc. We don’t like to think of yoga as sacrifice because most of us connect the word sacrifice with loss. With giving up something we don’t really want to give up.
If we ever feel forced to renounce something we would rather not, then we are not practicing yoga. As love is never forced, yoga is never forced.
Before Krishna introduces the benefits of yogic renunciation to Arjuna, in chapter five, he continually engages the fire metaphor at the end of chapter four, to illustrate the connection between sacrifice and light, or real knowledge.
In yoga, sacrifices are made into the fire joyfully -not resentfully- as they are performed with the knowledge that what we are to gain from such sacrifices will always exceed in value what is being voluntarily let go of.
Yoga is practicing letting go.
We cling to things because they make us feel safe.
When we feel safe, we feel comfortable. Many of us are comfortable clinging to false and temporary sources of security, as Arjuna was in the Gita, because of conditioning, or habit, or what we were taught as children, or what a particular society or culture dictates. Krishna reminds us that yoga exists independently of all that.
This means that yoga is going to require us to step out of our comfort zones, and feel unprotected from time to time. It will require us to feel alone and face out fears. These are hardly the kinds of results people expect to get from practicing yoga! But, it happens.
Yoga will confront us with our worst fears and help us incinerate them.
At the most primal level, we cling to things in life because of fear: a survival instinct that tells us we must cling or we will die.
Whether it’s relationships, or junk food, or a destructive habit we can’t seem to break, we hold on to it because at the deepest level, in our lower chakras, we feel our life will be threatened without it.
This survival level of moving through life is colorfully emphasized on the battlefield of Kurukshetra in the Gita, where life and death are suspended in a precarious balance, and fear is given a starring role.
At the end of chapter four, in lovingly encouraging Arjuna to “Rise up in yoga!” past his fears, Krishna asks Arjuna to raise the “sword of knowledge” to cut through his doubts. This includes cutting through his misbeliefs about himself.
Like it was for Arjuna, letting go of our crippling beliefs of ourselves is often an uncomfortable process!
At the end of this pep talk, Krishna begins to pull the veil off renunciation. Not the kind where we find a yogi living all alone in a cave in the Himalayas, meditating all day and subsisting on air, but the kind of renunciation that we practice while moving through our daily activities.
Yoga is moving through life without clinging to rigid expectations.
It’s natural to have expectations in life. That is part of being human. But when we cling to them, we are not practicing yoga.
The Gita identifies this clinging, or attachment, as fear of being separate, being apart, being alone. We seek union, but, ironically, we are uniting with the very things that deprive us of experiencing that union! The challenge is to let go. Just let go! In chapter five, Krishna comforts Arjuna by informing him that when we do let go, we will not be alone.
In yoga we do not expound energy manipulating, strategizing, calculating and orchestrating our actions around specific, measured results, or fruits we wish desire to relish. Instead we let go of all this, in the knowledge that we don’t depend on anything to go the way we wish it would go. Or on anyone to behave the way we wish they would behave. In yoga we experience a relief from being free of all this.
Yoga is any action that flows from selfless motives.
Krishna invites Arjuna to do this at the beginning of chapter six. As the main part of Krishna’s exposition on renunciation, he shows us how crucial deep introspection is to a successful yoga practice.
We begin to hear questions like:
What kind of relationship do I have with myself? Am I a true friend to myself? Or do I act like my own worst enemy? Am I thriving in the relationship I have with myself?
The Bhagavad Gita illustrates how the quality of relationship we have with our self greatly influences the way we move through life, and consequently, the way life responds to us.
Yoga is treating our self with love.
Something amazing happens when we improve the way we treat ourselves: the world suddenly feels like a different, less intimidating place!
Although Arjuna did not change physical locations in the Bhagavad Gita, and his exterior world remained unchanged, the conversation he had with Krishna transformed the way Arjuna felt about himself. Consequently, the battlefield outside him began to seem less threatening.
But Arjuna had a lot of himself to let go of before this happened. He had to let go of himself as a prince, as a ruler, as a representative of his royal lineage, as a protector of his family, as a preserver of dharma and social order. He had to relinquish his role as a student, cousin, friend, nephew, grandson, etc to teachers and relatives he feared slaying.
Arjuna, the best of warrior, had to let go of himself as a warrior, and so many other identifications, only so he could pick them up again, and move forward in his life with a yogic perspective. Arjuna did not renounce the roles he was playing in his life, instead, he just adjusted his attitudes toward them.
Yoga is renouncing our clinginess to the world and our roles within it, without renouncing the world itself.
The yoga of the Gita does not ask that we renounce the world and reject everything in it, but that we change the way we relate to it.
In fact, Krishna tells Arjuna that a real practitioner of yoga is one whose practice will thrive wherever they find themselves in life.
Yoga is about the relationship between our inner and outer worlds.
So whether you are reading this in a solitary cave, or in a crowded city, in a peaceful yoga studio or on a battlefield, know that you have everything you need to practice yoga right where you are now.
The main sacrifices you will make in yoga are all internal ones.
As Braja reminded us last week, the lamp of knowledge will help you find them, when doubts appear. And, as Krishna tells Arjuna in the Gita, when it gets really scary, know that you are not alone, for all those who practice yoga share an interconnectedness that invigorates our actions in life.
“Absorbed in yoga through practice of yoga…
one’s self becomes connected to the self in all beings –
that one is not tainted even while acting” (5.7)
To keep track of all the articles on this series, go to Yoga In The Gita ~ Catherine Ghosh & Braja Sorensen
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