How sacrifice & renunciation pave the pathway to love. (Yoga in the Gita Series)

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on Apr 15, 2012
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Welcome to our Yoga In The Gita Sunday series!

Last Sunday, Catherine Ghosh led us into the third phase of our Yoga in the Gita series on the subject of Sacrifice & Renunciation with Time To Let Go.

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A lot but can be said about those two words, sacrifice and renunciation. But hey, we’re not taking vows, we’re not entering a religious order, or a convent on a mountain top observing vows of silence, or a monastery. We’re speaking about what yoga in the Gita means, how yoga is an integrated life practice, how it winds its way through our daily lives.

As I wrote in The Ultimate Guide to Love, we can “choose” to integrate the spiritual foundations of yoga into our asana practice or not. But if “or not” is your choice, then it’s kind of like licking the outside of the honey jar and trying to get a taste. Why? Actually Catherine said it beautifully:

Yoga is about the relationship between our inner and outer worlds.

In short, we don’t “do” yoga. I personally have a bit of an aversion to that term, “doing yoga.” And I’m pretty happy watching 2012 unfold and with it, the maturation and changing face of yoga in the west. We know it, we’ve heard it, we’re all learning it at different levels: yoga is not exercise, a health routine, an old-age prevention measure, a pain management system, a wellness regime.

Yoga is about the relationship between our inner and outer worlds.

The Gita walks us through every level we need to go through, to address, to view through clear eyes, eyes anointed first with knowledge and then with love. It’s not a bought-and-paid-for mantra, it’s not some unattainable realm of dread-locked yogis, it’s not a religion, it’s not Indian, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Christian, or Islamic. It’s simply life!

I’m in the Himalayas right now on a yoga retreat, and my teacher — whose lifelong spiritual practice and 40 year Iyengar practice make him something of a yogic philosophers’ stone — often says that yoga is not about doing, but about undoing. And like Catherine wrote last week, it’s about moving through life without clinging, without holding onto expectations.

So what do these two things I’ve mentioned — this week’s title of “Sacrifice & Renunciation,” and the repeated reference to love — have to do with us, right now, today, in yoga, on the mat and off, in our minds, hearts, bodies, yoga studios, houses…wherever we are?


Yoga is a complete science that integrates spirit, body, & mind, on an emotional, cellular, physical, and ultimately on a transcendental level.

Sacrifice and renunciation means, simply, understanding what it is we need to do to live in a state of loving consciousness. This isn’t some new-agey concept of feel-good, love-the-world, just-add-water hocus pocus. It’s a integrated process of understanding, of give and take, of conscious living: it’s reality.

And when we speak of sacrificing or renouncing when our goal is love, then it quickly becomes obvious that we’re speaking of giving up those things that are the obstacles to love: ego, pride, arrogance, anger, frustration, violence, cruelty, selfishness, ignorance, and so on. In other words, all those obvious qualities that block us from acting and living at our full potential: a potential built by, fuelled by, and whose goal is, love.

Right here, this is how sacrifice & renunciation pave the pathway to love…they’re not some vague or foreign lifestyle choices, but are actually part of the holistic science of love

And this is one of the lessons Krishna is teaching Arjuna in the Gita. In chapter 2, Arjuna asks Krishna, “what are the symptoms of one whose consciousness is thus merged in transcendence? How does he speak, and what is his language? How does he sit, and how does he walk?” In other words, “What does this whole thing look like?”

Krishna tells Arjuna straight up: “It means a person who can control their mind and senses.” He speaks about a peaceful mind, how the mind, when controlled, is reined in like a tortoise withdrawing its limbs. I experience this in pranayama, in meditation, in moments when I’m absorbed in my spiritual or yoga practices — no doubt we have all relished the withdrawal of mind and senses during our practices.

Being conscious of the Gita’s teachings while practicing yoga is putting it into a realm of reality. It becomes, then, what we’re aspiring for in our practice: a result that we can tangibly relate to.

Again, Krishna explains it so beautifully and artfully, with a simple little 3 word Sanskrit phrase that is one of my favorites: param drstva nivartate, which means, “experiencing a higher taste.”

We’ve all heard that old joke, “Giving up smoking is easy: I’ve done it hundreds of times!” And it is: giving up anything is easy. But as Krishna so eloquently says, it can’t be “given up,” but must be replaced with something that gives a higher taste, that satisfies the mind and senses…those limbs that keep sneaking out of the shell…

This whole process of Yoga In The Gita and yoga in our lives — the integrated practice of the external and the internal — takes maturity, wisdom, and years of practice to turn into a second nature, and then into an art form. We can begin by being conscious in our practice — our yoga practice and life practice.

In time, we’ll stop differentiating between “yoga practice” and “life practice.” Why? Because there is no difference…

But can we be a bit kinder to ourselves, to each other? We’re still on chapter 2 of the Gita — there’s 16 to go! As my teacher keeps saying up here in the beautiful cool studio in the foothills of the Himalayas, it’s about undoing as much as it is doing. And like Catherine says, it’s time to let go. Not that we give up, but we give it up — the clinging demands, the mind impositions, the unruly senses.

I’ll leave you with this to digest throughout the week:

Sacrifice and renunciation are not the harsh punishments they might sound like, but rather, they are gateways to real freedom…to love.

To keep track of all the articles on this series, go to Yoga In The Gita ~ Catherine Ghosh & Braja Sorensen


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44 Responses to “How sacrifice & renunciation pave the pathway to love. (Yoga in the Gita Series)”

  1. ValCarruthers says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Valerie Carruthers
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  2. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Totally in love with this series!

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  3. Myriam says:

    Your words sink deep into my being this morning. Are exactly what I needed to hear. With deepest gratitude, I thank you. Will now read your last two posts.

  4. Robert_Piper says:

    Great quote! "But as Krishna so eloquently says, it can’t be “given up,” but must be replaced with something that gives a higher taste, that satisfies the mind and senses."

  5. Thaddeus1 says:

    "Sacrifice and renunciation means, simply, understanding what it is we need to do to live in a state of loving consciousness. This isn’t some new-agey concept of feel-good, love-the-world, just-add-water hocus pocus. It’s a integrated process of understanding, of give and take, of conscious living: it’s reality."

    So wonderful!

    Posting to Elephant Bhakti. Be sure to Like Elephant Bhakti on Facebook.

  6. I appreciate this very much. Thank you for teaching us:)

  7. ValCarruthers says:

    Magnificent one, Braja! "In time, we’ll stop differentiating between 'yoga practice' and 'life practice.' Why? Because there is no difference…" That's the truth, the whole truth and nothing but….

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Valerie Carruthers
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  8. […] Yoga in the Gita: Give It Up! […]

  9. integralhack says:

    Well done, Braja!

  10. Thanks Thad….however, when a yoga article with a photo of Sean Corn gets 3 times as many reads as one with depth, I realize how shallow, superifiicial, and frankly uneducated and stupid America is about what they perceive to be "yoga," when all it amounts to is idol worship, exercise, and brand names. What a mess…

  11. Thanks Robert; understanding one sentence of this article is worth more than a hundred "yoga" classes in the new age gyms they call yoga studios 😉

  12. Much appreciated Myriam; I love the opportunity to unfold the real heart of yoga as it was spoken by Krishna…

  13. Thanks Tanya! I'm loving it too….though it seems to bounce off the thick skin of those more interested in how their ass looks in Lululemons 🙂

  14. Thanks so much Valerie….though I wonder if that change will happen in our lifetime? 🙂

  15. Thank you Rebecca…though I prefer the image of "unfolding," not "teaching"…. the Gita is is like that, many-layered….

  16. William Dudek says:

    Perhaps the reason a picture of Seane Corn gets three times as many hits as your article is because she isn't mean, critical and insulting and, as a result, people respond to her authenticity. Your comment said more about you than her. Sadly, I really liked your article until I read your responses. You sound incredibly narrow and rude, and I'm pretty sure there is not a place in the Gita that specifically supports generalizing an entire culture as "uneducated and stupid". Please re-read your own article and "sacrifice and renunciate" your own petty need to judge and malign others. If the "goal is love", perhaps you should give that a try, and I mean that kindly. I believe you are someone deeply devoted to this path, but your comments reveal you to be bitter. All the best.

  17. No, actually it gets that many hits because the self-promotional, market-savvy, narcissistic ego-based "yoga" that she's aligned herself with is having its effect on people who have some kind of need for that prop. Sorry that you find that insulting or rude. It's said that an honest man can hear the truth. What can I say. I'm sorry also to disappoint your conclusions of me but no, I'm not bitter at all 🙂 Obviously my comments sparked a response from you, but it sounds more like a defensive or reactionary response rather than an introspective, albeit reluctant conceding to a point that might be hard to swallow yet nonetheless accurate.

    As for the Gita supporting the generalization of an entire "culture" (if that's what you want to call it), actually it does: in fact, it elaborates quite clearly how the lack of culture, education, and spiritual wealth result in a fallen society of misdirected people. So that's about as specific as it gets. Of course, it's not only the US: most of the rest of the world suffers from the same poor fund of knowledge. However, I specifically mentioned the US as the country is possibly more responsible for the misguided direction that yoga has taken, and has turned it into the 21st century's alternative to aerobics in the 80s. That's what I meant about the aforementioned superstar yoga teacher, idol worship, tight buns, and brand names. Ergo, "a mess."

    Thanks for reading anyway, William. And sorry for how America has become what it has become 🙂

  18. myriamsofialluria says:

    Bravo, Braja! : )

  19. Thanks, Myriam. I think it's time America dropped the red-white-blue-star-spangled-banner approach to their deluded number-one-nation-on-the-planet mood and just sucked it up a bit 🙂 They've seriously turned yoga into a freak show carnival ride and there's thousands upon thousands upon thousands…ok millions!…of people, both in the US and out, in India and the rest of the world, who are sick to death of the whole shebang that presents itself as "yoga" in the US. It might be hard to hear it: I'm an Aussie and perhaps if someone started Aussie-bashing I'd react. Then again, I wasn't conditioned to be patriotic like a few generations of Americans have been, so actually I possibly wouldn't give a sh*t 🙂 We're a blunt lot, us Aussies, and I'm sorry if I offend, but I'm not retracting anything that's hard to hear yet still true. The embarrassing so-called "yoga culture" in the US needs to die a swift death and find it's roots in something far, far more genuine and less market-driven. It's sickening and some of us aren't afraid to say we've had enough.

    Yoga's source is the Gita, and this entire dialog is about love. That doesn't mean my words have to "drip with loving sentiment" to satisfy the masses. I'm not running for president, I'm not promoting myself, I'm not scared to speak the truth, and I frankly I couldn't care less what defensive or ego-sparked responses result from what I write. I'm not mean, judgmental, unnecessarily critical, insulting, or any other label that an insecure or challenged commenter wants to neatly package in "higher ground" sentiment and deliver to me.

    Bring it on. But be prepared to swallow great chunks of reality and truth and non gift wrapped facts….maybe I should redo my photo and get a tagline and promote myself and wear snappy designer yoga gear and blah blah blah and market myself and pretend I'm all goodness and light and happy thoughts and positive vibes and good people and wowwwwwww….

    Excuse me, but wtf does that have to do with yoga??

  20. yogasamurai says:

    Really nice work on this article, Viking Queen.

    By the way, I'd love to see somebody update that Brooke Shields Calvin Klein commercial from the 1970s.

    "Nothing comes between me and my Lulus. Nothing at all!"

    Maybe Nadie Sardini could do it?

    Brittany Norwood murdered Jana Murray in her Lulu wear, and even showed up in court for her arraignment wearing Lulu top to bottom, too.

    Commodity fetishism, like guru fetishism, is such a powerful force – especially, I must say, for yoga women.

    "All that is holy is profaned. All that is solid melts into thin air."
    — Karl Marx, on the awesome power of the capitalist marketplace

  21. myriamsofialluria says:


    I don't believe you have to change a thing! I love yoga in its pure form most, and everything I've heard or read about the Gita, from you, and from my teachers. But I also believe, everyone is not on the same path (spiritually and in life) to yoga, and I have learned to respect that, even if it's not my same view. I applaud you for responding to Mr.William Dudek with such conviction! For not backing down from your standards.

    By the way, to this day, I've never met an Aussie I didn't like. Full of passion and a standard for excellence! My four daughters and I all learned how to play tennis with Australian pros, in Miami and the mountains of North Carolina. My youngest (12) says she will only train with Aussies! Has been saying that for a few years now. I am Cuban by birth, and though I've lived in the U.S. for 51 years, it still courses through my veins. I share your passion for an undiluted yoga, for high standards and for speaking my truth, even if no one else agrees!

    I look forward to reading more of your writing on the Gita, and other topics.

  22. Wonderful article, Braja! This was my favorite part: "Sacrifice and renunciation means, simply, understanding what it is we need to do to live in a state of loving consciousness. This isn’t some new-agey concept of feel-good, love-the-world, just-add-water hocus pocus. It’s a integrated process of understanding, of give and take, of conscious living: it’s reality." Well said! Thank you for another meaningful contribution to the series.

  23. Respects to you, o writing buddy 🙂 Thank you for your continued inspiration and support, and the genesis of this series that blossomed from your heart. I'm thoroughly enjoying it and you're right, we need to expose and redirect the mainstream flow of thought away from the hedonistic (yes, hedonistic!) slant that "yoga" has taken: it's all about the pursuit of pleasure and self indulgence for the majority, or at least those who are dominating the yoga scene with "teacher training online" advertisements (please tell me this is a joke…), and artfully lit self promotion shots by teachers who act like rockstars. William, above, told me I sound bitter. What a (sorry) lame response to a very real problem. Bitter? Really? Why, because I'm not a rockstar yoga teacher? Holy crap, bro, some of us actually do not want that lie!

    The Gita is the source of love, spoken with love, directing its reader to love. How yoga emerged out of that into the freakshow marketing stunt we see today is beyond me. Pointing out its failure and those who promote and support that failure is not "bitter" or nasty or rude or any other such politically correct bullshit: especially when they're putting themselves in the limelight constantly. In short, it's the truth. In his purports to the Gita, Bhaktivedanta Swami writes about speaking the truth:

    According to social conventions, it is said that one can speak the truth only when it is palatable to others. But that is not truthfulness. The truth should be spoken in a straightforward way, so that others will understand actually what the facts are. If a man is a thief and if people are warned that he is a thief, that is truth. Although sometimes the truth is unpalatable, one should not refrain from speaking it. Truthfulness demands that the facts be presented as they are for the benefit of others. That is the definition of truth.

    So while I encourage discussion and I do love a challenge, I object to being called names simply because it hurts someone's ego to hear it, and I object strenuously to being told that the Gita doesn't support what I say when for 25 years I've studied it inside and out, I live my life according to the Gita, I practice what I preach, and I'll defend my right to do so until the cows come home 🙂

  24. Thanks Myriam; I promise I'll get an artfully lit studio production photo of myself doing "namaste" and autograph it for you :)) (and for those who lack a sense of humor, please know this is a joke….)

    Cuban? I think we share a gene, Aussies and Cubans 🙂

  25. myriamsofialluria says:

    : ) I'll contact you when I make it out your way-mAustralia – if you ever leave the place where you are now….and we can Namaste' in person..OYE!

  26. Everyone needs something to be attached to, to identify with, to stake their claim to…kind of liking marking their territory. It's natural, in the conditioned state of life. But we always have a choice what we attach ourselves to: for some, the superficial is sufficient. Worse, not only is it sufficient, it protects and provides a barrier from reality, from depth, from actually going deeper. The busier one is with the superficials, the less time they have to address that gaping need that cannot be filled by frivolities, but demands depth and honesty and quietness. Certainly, nothing comes between some people and their Lulus 🙂

  27. yogasamurai says:

    I certainly agree, but I think there's another side to this – the way you practice detachment. Even excessive attachment to one's "deep" spiritual practice can be unhealthy. At some point, to be true yogis, you must renounce yoga itself – the idol of yoga, and not just the asana, either, but the obsessive attachment to yoga, to the point where it becomes an icon, an idol, a fetish, and a dependency.

    If you learn to pray and meditate properly — and yoga's not the only or best way for everyone to do that — there is really no profound need for yoga. Don't ask me, just read the Sutras?

    All of the 7 deadly "sins," so to speak, can easily reappear in your life as spiritual pride, spiritual lust, spiritual jealousy, spiritual envy etc. The people who are clearest on this are the Christian mystics (St. John of the Cross) and the Buddhists. It takes a lot of vigilance, and life experience and the humility and acceptance that come with it – and it's beyond where most young Americans – especially young women in their 20s and 30s – are able to get to, developmentally. They're attaching in the way they feel most comfortable – but they are also being enabled in this by their elders.

    A lot of the problem is just the demographics of teacher training — and the absence of a serious, more publicly accountable yoga movement. The profit motive of the yoga studios is driving the teacher certification process, and this, and the commodification of yoga, sustained primarly by the LOHA consumer niche (rich white aging baby boomer women, mainly), is eventually going to kill yoga as a credible wellness practice that most mainstream Americans will invest their hard earned cash in.

    As William Broad rightly notes, there's time and space for reform, but only if yoga decides to "grow up" and more maturely meet the challenge of its own market. NAMASTE

  28. All true. And you've actually spotlighted next week's title in the Yoga in the Gita series, "Balance." Touche 🙂

  29. Andréa Balt says:

    Keeping that same quote.

    Second you on the "New Age gyms" Braja. Funny but true.

  30. I keep singing "oh yoga girrrrrrrl" 🙂

  31. Andréa Balt says:

    I loved this piece (and the main image, wink wink) and I'm taking a few quotes with me to meditate on throughout the day. But I loved the comments and the way you defend yourself even more. It resonates with all our writing and your definition of yoga and if some people fail to see that it's because they're mistaken yoga for the new "aerobics". 🙂 And I think you're doing a great job at changing that concept. So I guess I'm just gonna' say "Thank You" – since I hear that Namaste is now a trademark of the New Age Gyms. 🙂

  32. lizw says:

    I woke up this morning, telling myself affirmations. But I wasnt feeling it. I told myself its the first day of the rest of my life, but all I wanted to do was go back to bed. I read this Yoga in the Gita series and its just what I needed to help me be positive and get back on track.

  33. I only take "Namaste" from Indians 🙂 From anyone else it seems nothing but artificial….

    Thanks for the encouragement, Andrea. Catherine's idea for this series was a wonderful one, and we're having the best time doing it; we have a very similar understanding of the reality of the Gita and its teachings, both based on literally a lifetime of studying, writing, practicing, and living the principles of the Gita and other related literatures. We're both bhakti yogis, which is, by definition, the ultimate goal of the Gita: attainment of pure loving devotion.

    Love to you xox 🙂

  34. Thanks, Liz…nice to hear from you. I understand and accept the power of positive thinking, which I guess is what category "affirmations" falls into. Yet the difference between a spiritual or transcendental sound or vibration — be it written or spoken — and a material one is unfathomable. The material affirmations don't have any depth, any lasting effect, any substance or energy, whereas the spiritually charged words of texts written by devoted transcendentalists or spoken by the Lord or passed on by those following a bona fide spiritual path have spiritual potency. I'm so glad to hear you felt it in such a practical way, and hope we can continue to encourage you, onward and upward 🙂

  35. yogasamurai says:

    Yes, and I look forward to reading next week's piece. :o))

  36. Here here!! And onward we drive our chariots! :))) Loving the ride so far, even when it gets bumpy. It sure brings out the fire in your convictions! Which, I feel, many of our readers appreciate. Thank you for being you, dear Braja, and not compromising yourself. There is room for everyone's voice here. Carry on!

  37. […] Sunday, Braja Sorensen talked about sacrifice and renunciation as what pave the pathway to love. Today I begin the forth phase of our Yoga in The Gita series by introducing […]

  38. […] Catherine Ghosh’s premier article “Dynamic Participation In Your Daily Life” was a wonderful way to launch our new Gita Talk series, Yoga In The Gita. Braja Sorensen and Catherine alternate weekly postings, and Braja’s most recent covers renunciation as a path to love, in Give It Up! […]

  39. […] things are driven by our fear of relationships, of personalism. But what is that fear all about? We touched on this earlier in the series, when Arjuna asks Krishna what it actually looks like when a person is actually practicing the […]

  40. […] this Easter with my family has reminded me of all the everyday sacrifices and resurrections made for—and born out—of […]

  41. […] biggest message I took away from reading the Gita for the 10th time is […]

  42. lululemon says:

    As for my physical well being and my energy levels, what has not yoga done for me? I am so energetic. My body looks better than it ever has. I am strong. I am flexible. I sleep amazingly well and soundly. I have never done anything so good for my total well being.