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Bhagavad Gita | The Essence of Vedanta

Vedanta Society, San Francisco

Swami Tattwamayananda’s class on Srimad Bhagavad Gita is held at the Vedanta Society of Northern California, San Francisco (founded by Swami Vivekananda in 1900) on Friday evenings in the First Universal Hindu Temple in the West (founded by Swami Trigunatitananda in 1905). Classes are held on Friday night at 7:30 pm. All are most welcome.
The Srimad Bhagavad Gita is the most important spiritual classic of Hinduism.
Swami Tattwamayananda, currently the Minister of the Vedanta Society of Northern California, San Francisco, (originally founded by Swami Vivekananda in 1900) served in various centers of the Ramakrishna Order in India as editor, publisher, and teacher of Sanskrit, Advaitic texts such as Sri Shankaracharya's commentaries on the 'Prasthanatraya' (the fundamental Sanskrit texts of Vedanta philosophy), Buddhism and Indian philosophy. He underwent traditional training in Hindu scriptures, Sanskrit, Vedic and Vedantic literature for many years, from his early days. Before coming to the United States in January 2012 he was teaching Sanskrit, Vedantic scriptures and Indian philosophy at the Training center in Belur Math, the institution that trains the monks of the Ramakrishna Order at the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission, Kolkata, India. Apart from his traditional education, the Swami has also received modern University education in English literature, psychology, European history, and Western philosophy. He is frequently invited for lectures on Yoga, Vedanta, and traditional Hindu scriptures and for participating in interfaith dialogues.
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Chapter 3 Verses 1,2,3. The lecture was given by Swami Tattwamayananda on October 11, 2019.
-First and second chapters of Gita provide background on this entire spiritual classic. 55th through 72nd verses of 2nd chapter of Gita discuss the characteristics of an enlightened person.
-Second chapter concludes with: “In this state of Brahmi-Sthithi, one becomes fully established in Brahman, attains oneness with the all-pervading Absolute Reality, and is fully liberated from the life-cycle of birth and death (Brahmi -Nirvana)”. Buddhism’s ultimate goal of human existence through Ashtanga-Yoga is Nirvana, which is more or less identical to this state of spiritual attainment .
-Gita starts with Arjuna’s predicament towards a duty that he is expected to do, but that is unpleasant to him.
-To address Arjuna’s predicament, Lord Krishna first instructs Arjuna with the knowledge of Atman, which is within all of us – which is eternal, imperishable, immortal and cannot do harm to anyone. All things at the empirical level are transient. A man of refined wisdom doesn’t worry about what happens to the body, as he knows that within the body is the immortal Atman.
-Lord Krishna then instructs Arjuna with the knowledge of Karma Yoga. One should do his Swadharma, which is duty that naturally comes to us by virtue of our qualification and fitness.
-Lord Krishna then instructs Arjuna with the characteristics of an enlightened person who remains steady in spiritual wisdom and contented in his true nature.
-Lord Krishna finally instructs Arjuna about the highest state – Brahmi-Sthithi.
-Arjuna misunderstands the essence of all these instructions. He thinks that is he has a choice of (1) Karma Yoga, where action is involved OR (2) Brahmi-Sthithi, where no work is involved (as he wrongly interprets it) . He thinks he can avoid his predicament by choosing the highest state. He did not realize that people like Buddha/Christ, who realized this highest state, were very active after realizing that state.
-Arjuna thinks that he can avoid the problems and work by avoiding it. This is a very serious misunderstanding. That was why Arjuna was in need of a proper understanding of the dynamics of Karma-Yoga.
-Arjuna’s conflict tells us that he was a man of some refinement. Conflict doesn’t exist for people in two categories: (1) Who become like Buddha (2) Who are spiritually no different from animals. All great concepts in humanity came from people who experienced some inner conflicts. Among the five Pandavas, Arjuna was the most fit for Lord Krishna’s teachings.
-Karma-Yoga has three levels. Lowest level reflects as inaction and lethargy and is due to Tamas. Next level is a state of dynamism and is due to Rajas. The state beyond this combines dynamism with spiritual values such as unselfishness, where one looks beyond tangible rewards. In the highest state, whatever we do, we do as an offering to God or for the good of others, with a sense of sanctity and sacredness – we are then able to combine action and contemplation in our life.
-Arjuna had two misunderstandings. (1) He thought that the path of Karma-Yoga and the path of Jnana-Yoga are mutually different AND (2) He thought it is a matter of his own choice, which of these two paths to choose.
-Example is provided of a child who wants to choose between studying alphabets of pursuing a PhD at Harvard. It is not a matter of choice, rather one of evolution.
-In the first two verses of Chapter 3, Arjuna expresses his preference for the path of contemplation. He seeks clarity why Lord Krishna wants him to pursue the path of Karma-Yoga.
-Lord Krishna answers – The path of wisdom is for those who are spiritually evolved. Those who have desires, goals and obligations – such people should follow the path of Karma-Yoga. Once they do their duty without being enslaved by results, they will become free from all forms of desires. Then they can then graduate to the next level and follow the path of wisdom.
-When we do things that have no tangible benefit associated with them, we derive inner contentment (Chitta-Prasada). This is also a proof that we are moving in the right direction.
-Karma done as Yoga generates Chitta-Prasada. Karma done as karma alone does not generate Chitta-Prasada. Karma-Yoga generates spiritual wealth, frees the mind from conflicts and is a royal highway that takes one to the highest goal.
-Beyond Kant's Categorical Imperative.
-Sri Ramakrishna and Hazra’s story is discussed. Hazra had left his wife, children and old mother in his home, to pursue a spiritual life. Sri Ramakrishna scolds him for neglecting his duty as an householder and asks him to go back. God won’t listen to the prayers of one who neglects his duty.
-Parents should inculcate spiritual values in children and provide them with a higher ideal. This will help children to work towards success but also handle that success effectively.
-Arjuna’s conflict s...
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Chapter 2 Verses 71-72. The lecture was given by Swami Tattwamayananda on September 27, 2019.
-55th through 72nd verses of 2nd chapter of Gita discuss the characteristics of an enlightened person, how he deals with this world and how he is different from someone who is not enlightened.
-72nd verse: In the midst of being engaged in daily activities, he is able to connect with something higher than the mind (“yoga”), and attain “Shanti” (inner contentment), which is the positive, spontaneous and natural state of the mind.
-The mind of an enlightened person is like an ocean, always undisturbed in the midst of daily duties and obligations.
-The ocean neither rejects the rivers pouring waters into it nor goes out of the way to welcome them.
-If our mind is like a small stream, then even a tiny stream can cause it to overflow.
-True nature of the mind is one with Atman. Anxiety is alien to the mind. Mind connects with external objects through the senses – when it cannot attain what it desires, it becomes agitated.
-To identify its true nature, the mind should be linked to Atman (“yoga”), which is all-pervading, immanent, nature of bliss and always in a state of equilibrium. Then mind becomes peaceful.
-Psychological problems do not have permanent solutions at psychological level. The solution lies beyond the mind, at a spiritual level.
-The spiritually enlightened person is detached. He realizes that his true identity is beyond the body and mind and that “his real I” won’t be the enjoyer of empirical comforts. He as the “real I” is present everywhere and in everything.
-Hindu metaphysics approach existence from three angles. (1) Absolute reality or Paramarthika-sat, which is Atman (2) Empirical reality or Vyavaharika-sat, which is the changing world and (3) Conceptual reality, which we create in dreams.
-One of the causes of anxiety is that we expect permanence from things that are inherently impermanent. What we experience in everyday life is vyavaharika-sat. We need to understand that there is a transcendental reality beyond the empirical and approach pleasant and unpleasant situations in the empirical world without being affected by them. We should have a transcendental link to paramarthika-sat.
-Once we become aware of the Absolute Reality, we become established in the state of lasting contentment and peace. When the body comes to an end, we become one with the Absolute Reality and attain absolute liberation.
-This lasting peace can also be attained while living in this world. Buddha and Christ are examples of enlightened humans, who were active after enlightenment. They just looked at the world from a different perspective.
-Per Shankaracharya, one does not have to wait till the end. The divine truth can be attained by anyone who follows spiritual disciplines such as (1) Discrimination between unreal and the Real (2) Renunciation of what is unreal (3) Self-control: shama, dama, uparati, titiksha, shraddha and samadhana (4) Mumukshutam (5) Shravanam (6) Mananam (7) Nidishyasana.
-One should look upon all their duties and actions as “swadharma”. Do your duties with sanctity and sacredness - not for results, but for spiritual evolution. Then every action becomes a tool to achieve inner contentment. One feels: “I have done what I ought to have done” and “I have attained what I have ought to have attained”.
-Swadharma goes beyond Kant’s concept of duty and Categorical Imperative. It adds a sense of sanctity, sacredness and provides a path to inner contentment.
-Gita prescribes three paths for people with different temperaments. Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga.
-Karma Yoga: Our active tendencies can be given a spiritual upliftment. “Karma” means action and “Yoga” means a spiritual link. By giving every action a spiritual link, our karma becomes karma-yoga. Detachment in karma-yoga means that mind is linked to a higher ideal and not enslaved by the results.
-Bhakti Yoga: Our natural faith and religious practices are given a higher spiritual direction. As we evolve, we go beyond rituals and experience the presence of God both inside and outside the place of worship.
-True religion can be practiced every minute, in every action and in every thought. As we evolve, the line of demarcation between secular and spiritual vanishes. We see the whole humanity as one spiritual family.
-Who is the highest devotee of God? “One who feels the presence of God in everything, everywhere, in every action and in every word” AND “one who feels the presence of whole humanity and creation in God.”
-Jnana Yoga is the third path and is suited for those who may be agnostics and opposed to creationism. They can use this path to realize that there is one divine reality present everywhere and in everything.
-God is only an approximation of the highest non-dualistic experience. A sincere seeker will go beyond the conventional God idea and realize that the divine r...
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Chapter 2 Verses 69-70. The lecture was given by Swami Tattwamayananda on September 20, 2019.
-The central topics of the second chapter recapitulated
-Spiritual light and spiritual darkness in our life
-Reference to `Hitopadesha’ on the vagaries of life, recipe for disaster in life
-यौवनं धनसम्पत्तिः प्रभुत्वमविवेकिता एकैकमप्यनर्थाय किमु यत्र चतुष्टयं
-A person who possesses youth, wealth, power of authority, and no discerning wisdom or a sense of proper judgment is heading for disaster. Each one of these is enough for leading him to catastrophe in life. Then, what to speak of his fate when all these are present in him without the power of judgment!
-The 69th verse shows us the mutually conflicting paths of the enlightened ascetic and the sensual man.
-The enlightened yogi is dead to the world of sensual enjoyments and lives in the constant awareness of Brahman. But worldly-minded people are dead to the world of spiritual reality and are awakened only to the world of senses.
-The ocean does not invite nor reject the waters of rivers pouring into it.
-The mind of a स्थितप्रज्ञ: is like a calm undisturbed motionless ocean.
-If you are like a small pond, then even a tiny stream can cause floods. But an enlightened man is like an ocean remaining undisturbed even when hundreds empty their waters into it every moment. He remains unperturbed in the midst of the problems and challenges of the world.
-Reference to the views of Madhva and Shankaracharya.
-Expansion and gradual sublimation of ego towards its universal dimension
-The eternal pursuit of happiness and the consequent condition of human life
-Evolution from the lower desires to higher desires at the beginning of one’s spiritual life.
-The unpredictability of human life
-The smallest of desires can be a big obstacle in the path to inner peace.
-Life minus desire is not life minus action
-The dawn of peace at the end of all desires
-Stability and motionlessness of mind do not indicate emotional insensitivity and lethargy. They imply a higher state of mind.
-The transcendental experience of peace is a natural spontaneous effortless state of mental equilibrium. It heals the mind, body, and intellect.
-According to the ancient Indian medical scientist, Sushruta [“प्रसन्नत्मेन्द्रिय मनः स्वस्थ इत्यभिदेयते” (Sushruta Sutra)]
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Verses: 2.55, 12.13, 6.37, 6.38, 6.40, 6.41, 6.42, 6.43, 6.44, 2.56
-You can become a sage or a saint. Everybody can strive towards becoming a sthitaprajna.
-Grace and Self-Effort: we make an effort to be able to make use of God’s grace when it comes.
-We gain santushta (contentment) and krtarthita (the feeling that we have obtained that which was to be obtained), which cannot be taken away.
-First, we listen, shrutiya, reason, yuktiya, and then gain our own experience, svanubhutiya.
-Spirituality begins when we reach the experience level and it is the secret of the joy of spiritual seekers (Ananda), immortality (amrta), and the feeling that there is no other.
-What happens if we do japa, meditation, and lead a pure life, but are not able to completely succeed in this life? (6.37 + 6.38)
-Krishna answers Arjuna with great affection: Nothing is lost. All good actions leave a subtle residual effect (samskara) in our system. When we are reborn those good tendencies will manifest if a suitable environment becomes available to us. (6.40)
-When we reconnect, get an inexplicable feeling of being at home in a spiritual tradition, and continue our journey. You are never too late and nothing is ever lost.
-There should be no complacency/ procrastination, but there is also no room for anxiety. You can live in this life as a jivanmukta.
-Good samskaras will allows us to born in a good prosperous family to continue our practice. (6.41)
-A yogi that makes a tremendous effort but stil doesn't succeed will take birth in a yogi's family. (6.42) His mind will be filled with tremendous good samskaras. Even if he is unwilling, he will be forced to enter into the path. Swami Vivekananda is a great example, he was a saptarishi. (6.43 and 6.44)
-A muni, a contemplative, does not get overjoyed nor does he get depressed. (2.56) A yogi sees everything from a wholistic viewpoint, not just the tip of the iceberg. He goes beyond duhkha, suhkha because he knows he is beyond the body.
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Verses: 18.73, 2.54, 4.1, 4.2, 2.55, 2.48, 2.50, 4.18
-The Bhagavad Gita is a conversation between two great men of action. In verse 18.73, Arjuna has had his conflicts resolved.
-We must win the battle within between the senses and the spirit. When we win the battle, we assert our true nature.
-A sthitaprajna has had the real experience of Atman. In verse 2.54, Arjuna asks for the characteristics of a sthitaprajna.
-We should not just imitate these characteristics, we need to imbibe and acquire them ourselves.
-Samadhi is the focus of the mind on the all-pervading Atman. It is already our true nature.
-Sankaracharya's definition of a sthitaprajna
-A spiritual seeker who realizes he is not this psychophysical mechanism but is rather this Atman. This faith, conviction, experience, is very deep and therefore has very few conflicts
-How does such a person behave when he comes out of the monastery or cave and has to interact in the world?
-Verses 4.1 and 4.2 describe the ideal of a Rajarishi - the dynamism of a king with the wisdom of a sage. He works and takes care of all problems in the world without losing his balance because of the result of the work.
-This Yoga was lost because those who were supposed to teach it deviated from real Yoga so people were misled.
-Verse 2.55 – a stithaprajna can accomplish the greatest task with complete calmness. He gives up all desire and ambition. It is possible only when he combines the knowledge of Atman with a strong sense of duty.
Four stages of action are discussed:
1) Tamo guna: running away from our duties and responsibilities. There is great desire yet no ability to actually act to achieve those goals.
2) Rajo guna: strong ambition for accomplishing something great. This is much better than tamo guna but will likely swing between extreme joy and great disappointment.
3) Karma yoga: working with all efficiency but without anxiety as to the result. This is action without desire. (Verse 2.48, 2.50)
4) Highest stage – seeing action in inaction and inaction in action. (4.18) He sees the Atman everywhere, who does not participate in action. He transcends the three gunas.
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Chapter 2 Verses 60 – 63. The lecture was given by Swami Tattwamayananda on June 14, 2019.
- The mind: our master or our slave?
- Why does the mind revolt?
- When does our mind become our friend?
- Can we program our mind?
- Why we cannot program our mind.
- We cannot disown our accumulated impressions and samskaras.
- The problem of fragmentation of the mind.
- The pull of the sense-objects, the senses, the visual and the audio objects, the internet, etc.
- If the mind is dragged away from its ideal, it won't stop till it reaches rock-bottom.
- The analogy from Sri Shankaracharya's 'Viveka-chudamani'.
- The analogy of the ball falling down the ladder - The attraction of the senses. - ('Viveka-chudamani', an introductory text on Advaita Vedanta - verse: 326).
- The enslavement of the mind when dragged by unrestrained senses.
- A warning: we should never try to restrain the senses without first evolving a counter-focus.
- The mind compared to a drunken monkey, possessed by a ghost and bitten by a scorpion.
- 'Controlling the mind' does not mean suppression, it actually means sublimation.
- Keeping the senses engaged in creative work.
- Need for a higher ideal in life and going beyond the sensory system.
- Patanjali's concept of 'Parinama-dukha'.
- (Ref: साधन-पादः ॥ परिणामतापसंस्कारदुःखैर्गुणवृत्तिविरोधा च्च दुःखमेव सर्वं विवेकिनः ॥ २.१५॥ )
- The danger of keeping the mind in a vacuum, without a higher ideal, without a good job.
- Giving a promotion to the mind by feeding it with good food in the form of spiritual ideas.
- The importance of a healthy mind and disciplined senses: directing it into creative channels.
- Psychology of the five 'kleshas' from Patanjali's Yoga-sutras
- (साधन-पादः ॥ "अविद्यास्मितारागद्वेषाभिनिवेशाः क्लेशाः" ॥ २.३॥ ).
- Kunti's prayer to Lord Sri Krishna: "Please give me more trouble so that I will always remember you and will never forget you." (Ref: the ancient Sanskrit epic, 'Mahabharata' ).
- The imagery of the journey on a chariot from the Kathopanishad.
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Chapter 2 Verses 57-59. The lecture was given by Swami Tattwamayananda on June 7, 2019.
-The Absolute ('Paramarthika) and the Relative ('Vyavaharika'):
-Their practical implication in daily life.
-The need for setting new priorities in life.
-For a स्थितप्रज्ञ: 'Buddhi' is free from all entanglements of mind (verse:55).
-How, in the case of a स्थितप्रज्ञ:, mind reacts differently to the different stimuli: no excitement, no emotions (Verses: 56,57).
-How 'Buddhi' and mind, linked to the 'Atman', always remains stable and steady.
-In the case of a स्थितप्रज्ञ: senses ( इन्द्रियाणि) are completely withdrawn from the sense-objects (verse:58).
-The illustration of the tortoise withdrawing its limbs in the presence of a danger (verse:58).
-The ability to withdraw the senses where there is a problem is natural for a स्थितप्रज्ञ:
-When the स्थितप्रज्ञ: does not welcome the senses, they retire permanently.
-The internal (mental) 'filtering mechanism' which uses spiritual common sense in everyday-life situations.
-Illustration from Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra (Samadhi Pada: sutra: 33) & 'Nimi-Navayogi- samvaada' Bhagavata Purana-XI).
-'Pratyahara' of Yoga tradition, 'Uparati' of Vedanta and 'Prapatti' of Devotional philosophy.
-How certain types of mental entanglements can be suicidal: examples...
-The significance of the description of the qualities of a spiritually enlightened person (स्थितप्रज्ञ:):
1) These qualities serve as an ideal for the aspirant.
2) Managing everyday life with the help of Vedanta.
3) Need for a higher desire and a higher ideal.
- The parable of the Wise and the Foolish builders from the Bible.
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Chapter 3 Verses 1 – 7. The lecture was given by Swami Tattwamayananda on October 18, 2019.
-Arjuna had an unpleasant duty. He didn't want the challenges. Mind gives false excuses.
-Distinguishing three types of actions will go a long way towards
1)priyam: what we may obsessively enjoy, which may be bad for us.
2)pathyam: a discipline, which we may not like, which is good for us.
3)hitam: something which we should go for, which is also good for us. If we understand this, many of our problems can be solved.
-Gita says it is not possible to renounce all action. A spiritual person only renounces the selfish desire for actions.
-We renounce only the destructive ego. Great saints like Shankaracharya, Buddha, Vivekananda identify with the cosmic ego and leave a legacy of mankind.
-We must work by linking ourselves to a higher ideal.
-Shankaracharya is an example of action combined with a higher perspective. Such action becomes yoga. That action no longer binds.
-Gandhi did not need rest because he never felt he was working.
-Practicing to reach a higher ideal protect us from sliding in the other direction even if we are not able to actually practice the higher ideal.
-Subtle experiences, dream experiences have a powerful impact on the mind because they go deeper. Sri Ramakrishna praised aspirants who had spiritual dreams.
-Hypocrisy is a great danger: it blocks our real path to progress
-Nirguna means beyond all attributes.
-Self-imposed physical disciplines may be harmful if we are not fit to practice them. They can bring the mind down. BG 18.66 states that we should surrender all dharmas. This can be very misleading. Real meaning: when you are fully established in Dharma, you will naturally practice Dharma even without deliberate effort. Then, you will dedicate all your actions to God!
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