How to recognize and approach a wise One

The following is an excerpt of the commentary on the Bhagavad Gita by Radhikaji from her forthcoming book to be published in 2017. Chapter 4 Verses 19-34 are covered in this article.

Verses 19-23: Who is a wise person?

Who is a pandit, a wise person? There are a lot of Brahmins in India who officiate in ritual ceremonies. They are also known as pandits, but they merely perform priestly duties. The term pandit  is also used tongue in cheek for someone who has scholarly knowledge. However, in the Bhagavad Gita a pandit refers to a person who is wise, not due to accumulated knowledge but because he has access to deep wisdom from within upon burning his samskaras in the internal fire of eternal knowledge.

Verse 24: Everything is food

This verse is an expansion of one of the Mahavakyas from the Upanishads, “Sarvam khalvidam brahma”: All this is Brahman, all this is Consciousness.

This verse is said as a prayer before meals. Food is an offering to the fire in the stomach, thus the food is consciousness, it is offered into a fire which is also consciousness and the the body that receives it is also consciousness.

The world itself is food for the senses. Therefore the first kosha comprising of the world and the physical body is known as Annamayikosha or the layer of food. Everything is food. Everything is Consciousness.

Verses 25-33: Tapas or fire sacrifice

Ritualists worship deities and this is their way of connecting to the higher Self. If done in a meditative way and not mechanically, rituals are also a path, though external. Virtuous karma does not mean mechanically feeding the pigeons in the temple courtyard. People perform good deeds of feeding the poor, or cows and pigeons, while at the same time, in the other areas of life they are nasty to their spouse or bully children. Good karma like feeding a cow or birds is not a prescription that allows you to do whatever you want the rest of the time.

Others offer the mind as a sacrifice. These are meditators. If you are able to coordinate the antahkarana, and it surrenders to that higher Self, then you are offering the mind. This is the highest offerings one can give.

Some offer the jnana indriyas, the cognitive senses. Does that mean that you stop hearing, seeing, tasting? No, it means you learn to regulate the cognitive senses. This form of tapas is a sacrifice and offering to Brahman. For instance, taste is one of the jnana indriyas and you can learn to regulate it as an offering to Brahman, by fasting or avoiding certain foods such as meat or alcohol. 

Some offer the active senses or karmendriyas.  We perform all sorts of actions with our karmendriyas. Speech is one of the most important karmendriyas. Restraint is also a form of sacrifice or tapas, such as mauna, keeping a vow of silence, even if only for a short while.

Verse 28 refers to offering of objects or tyaga. Those who renounce worldly objects are also performing sacrifice or tapas. This would be a form of aparigraha or non-hoarding, living a simple life following the motto, “Less is more.” It could also mean doing charitable deeds.

Raja yoga practices, studying scriptures, or taking strict vows are other ways that one can perform sacrifices or make a kind of offering. 

Verse 29 it is referring to pranavedins. Pranavedins offer the breath or energy itself.

Those who take a measured amount of food, during a “vrat” or vow of eating less eating or eating only certain kind of food or even a complete fast, also practice discipline over the senses or body. 

Verse 34: Guru-shishya parampara

Far more important than prostrating before the teacher is the bhava behind it. The bhava or attitude was that of showing respect and humility. This still holds true, you cannot learn anything from a teacher if you do not respect the teacher and if you do not have humility. If you think you already know everything then you are not receptive to the teachings. It is highly unlikely that a teacher can teach a person who is not receptive. You may recall that in school the teachers you learned the most from, were the teachers whom you held in respect. Thus the idea of prostration or bowing down to a teacher is not so much about the physical action but about the attitude.

The second point is asking questions. There is a great emphasis on active participation. This does not mean you have to bombard the teacher with trivial questions or questions in which you are just trying to show off your book knowledge or ask questions because you like to have attention. Approach the teacher by asking genuine questions, after contemplating with a curious mind. Most students are passively listening. When you passively listen, you misunderstand and forget. The active process of asking questions makes it clear to the teacher at what level you are. The teacher can assess such a student better, and direct him skillfully and gently in the right direction. If a student doesn't say anything, does not ask any questions, does not participate, the teacher does not know what is in the mind of the student. It is very difficult to guide such a student.

The word Upanishad means, “sitting close”. Sitting close to whom and why? Sitting close to the teacher, asking questions and listening carefully. “Sitting close” does not necessarily imply physical proximity but a close relationship. Arjuna and Sri Krishna shared a close relationship. Thus the emphasis on the Guru-shishya parampara or the Guru lineage. 

Over time a good student learns to express gratitude. Those who do not feel gratitude towards their own parents, always complaining, do not see the parents as human beings but expect some sort of perfect parents, are unable to develop. Expressing gratitude towards the teacher and Tradition is also an important step in spiritual development. 

There are different ways you can express gratitude depending upon the phase of your life, the intensity of the desire and the teacher and the tradition. One way is to help promote the teachings and the tradition. Service is an aspect that brings us closer to the teacher and the Tradition. You are a part of a living Tradition which is why even if only a small gesture whatever little service you offer is very valuable not only to the teacher, the tradition and the teachings but for the student as well. 

You can serve the higher cause in whatever form that you are able to do. One way is making small donations on a regular basis. Active service is always superior to donations, since you are then part of a fellowship or satsang, but monetary support is also essential.