Doubts on the spiritual path

The following is an excerpt of the commentary on the Bhagavad Gita by Radhikaji from her forthcoming book to be published in 2017. Chapter 1 Verses 31-47 are covered in this article.

Verse 31-39: Escapism and the spiritual persona

Many have come to yoga because they have experienced pain. We have suffered and are searching for a solution to this bondage. In the search for this freedom from suffering many have come to yoga. The immediate idea therefore when one thinks of yoga is peace. We create a fantasy world where we all love each other. We desire peace and harmony by nature. There are few people who seek out strife and conflicts. However, in seeking harmony, peace and love we forget that if there are conflicts we cannot ignore them. We have to resolve them. But through our upbringing we have unconsciously developed a habit to avoid conflicts and fights. We carry this habit over in to our meditation, when we see the negative qualities in ourselves we don't want to look at them, we avoid them. Another word for that is suppression or repression. 

There is an aspect of escapism in some of us. We cannot escape this worldly life, as long as you have a body, you have to live in this world and you have to go through certain duties that you need to perform. So, when you want to progress on the path, you need to very aware, is this escapism or is this a deep longing for something permanent? There is a danger that certain people,  who are not able to cope with life, they convince themselves just like Arjuna is convincing himself that we should give up fighting. This fatalistic attitude is not the essence of the Bhagavad Gita.

With a little bit of self awareness, you may notice that often you have two aspects in you that seem to be in conflict. Perhaps one part is more introverted and quiet and in the other a bit egotistical and proud by nature. We find ourselves pulled in opposite directions. We may not want to look at that conflict, however we cannot have sustainable peace without resolving conflicts. When we have internal conflicts and these are not resolved, these issues will come back repeatedly and disturb the mind. it be There cannot be peace without resolution of conflicts. It means we have to train our manas to follow the guidance of our inner wisdom, we have to sharpen buddhi and unlearn thinking and behavioral habit patterns that make up our identity or ahamkara. Finally all this training leads us to the conclusion that the roots of negative traits have to be pulled out. If you merely manage the deep seated habit patterns they resurface and disturb the mind.

Arjuna  is standing in front of these great warriors and he is beginning to get shaky and he's beginning to wonder:  Am I on the right path, is the right thing? All of you have asked yourself this question: Am I doing the right thing? Is it right to take a job that gives me more time, I earn less, but I have more time for my practice, I have more time to devote to my family, for my own development. You begin to doubt yourself. These are conflicts we are facing all the time. 

Verses 40-45: Importance of lineages and the role of women

Our minds are the way they are because we are a product of this society and the state of our society reflects the state of our minds. At the same time society is a manifestation of the mind. The two are closely connected. The Bhagavad Gita is the essence of the Upanishads. The different Upanishads were composed at different times anytime between 8000 to 1000 BC. The human population at the time was very low,  and severe droughts, famines or natural disasters could wipe out entire populations, endangering the survival of humankind. Therefore preservation of knowledge was critical to human survival and the burden of responsibility lay on the custodians of knowledge. Thus the emphasis on lineages and tradition. 

There were 4 kinds of lineages:

  1. The lineage of professions like farming, craftsmanship
  2. The Brahmin lineage of scriptural knowledge
  3. The feminine lineage as custodians of social values
  4. The yogic lineage of eternal wisdom

The fourth kind of lineage is the most secret. This lineage is probably the only one that has withstood the test of time. The yogic lineages based on Oral Tradition exist to this day, though increasingly rare. These lineages are very important, they bring continuity into our lives. The yoga lineage hands down the teachings in the pure form, when the lineage breaks the teachings  based on direct experience are lost. 

Arjuna is arguing for the preservation of these lineages and for the welfare of society. These are valid arguments, however Arjuna is trying to escape from his own weaknesses and doubts.


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Verse 46-47: Neither passivity nor violence

Mahatma Gandhi understood that the Bhagavad Gita represents the internal battle of values, for upholding Dharma, external and internal through non-violent methods. You cannot succeed in the internal struggle with self violence. If you should ever find the key to mastering meditation you will find that the key is self acceptance, non-violence, ahimsa. This may sound confusing, because the setting of the battlefield lends to the idea that the Bhagavad-Gita is not only condoning violence but also encouraging violence. It is a symbol and it needs to be understood in this context. But it is definitely not encouraging passivity,  it is not encouraging a fatalistic approach to life, quite the contrary it encourages people to take their lives into their own hands. 

One person, who was deeply inspired by the Bhagavad Gita, was Mahatma Gandhi. He fought against the British Empire based on his understanding of the Bhagavad Gita. He did not believe it encouraged violence, but he did not believe it to be about passivity either. Passive resistance and non-violence need not mean cowardice, in fact they demanded great courage to take on an Empire. The freedom struggle in India against the British Empire was one of the most amazing turning points in world history because it showed how human beings can fight very powerful forces and authorities, if they  come together. Thus it was the Bhagavad Gita that indirectly inspired many other great freedom movements like that of equal rights movement of the colored people in the United States and the struggle against  Apartheid in South Africa.