ACHARYA DAS: Namaste. Welcome. So we are going to be doing a new series on the Bhagavad-gita. We are calling it, “From the Vision of Eternity: Eight Life Lessons from the Bhagavad-gita.”
So before we begin we would like to invite you to clear our hearts and minds with some chanting of this transcendental sounds, kirtan meditation. You will see the mantra on the screen so you can follow along with us.
Gopala Govinda Rama Madana Mohana kirtan
ACHARYA DAS: Thank you. So the Bhagavad-gita literally means the Song of God. The Bhagavad-gita was spoken about 5000 years ago, and what is quite extraordinary, it was spoken on a battlefield. The discourse was between Lord Sri Krishna and a very great warrior prince. His name was Arjuna.
The Bhagavad-gita is probably the best known of all of the Hindu or Vedic scriptures and is referred to, is used as a reference or a guide for any serious practitioner of yoga. It is quite different, in many ways, from other scriptures in that it brings a very profound knowledge about the nature of life, the purpose of life. It examines the question of identity, who I am, who we really are and where we can find perfection in our life. So over the next eight weeks, beginning with this week, we’re going to look at eight different life lessons, drawing from the Bhagavad-gita.
So the first one I’ve been asked to speak on today is on the subject of peace.
What is the significance of peace? We live in a world where people actually—they don’t consciously realise that everybody is actually searching for this condition of peace. If we look to the dictionary and look at the definition it describes peace as “freedom from disturbance” or, “quiet and tranquillity”. So that’s kind of very interesting when you look at that definition: “free from disturbance”. And then if we look at our life and what are the things that disturb us? And if we start drawing up a list we are going to run out of paper really fast, because our life is really filled with so much disturbance.
If we think about it from—I mean a lot of people think of peace as the absence of war. Yeah, that is also a valid definition. But war or armed conflict is only one type of grave disturbance. The world is really quite shaken by the amount of armed conflict and the great tragedy associated with armed conflict. In my lifetime it’s been quite astonishing how many wars are being fought all over the planet. Many of them people never hear of, but just because we don’t hear about it doesn’t mean it’s any less real or relevant.
We also think of disturbance in relation to bigger pictures, economic realities. You know, when economic markets collapse, as we experienced in 2008, and the world market took a massive nose dive which it still has not recovered from. And it has actually created a great deal of disturbance within society and things have become transformed.
It’s much more difficult for people to find work and to—people’s asset base, the homes that they own, their bank accounts have all been so radically eroded in the first world, if I can use that term, the more developed societies, that it becomes very disturbing, becomes very disturbing particularly for people that are approaching retirement and they start realising, you know, things are just not looking so good anymore.
And we have situations where unions negotiated for certain groups of workers in different countries, pensions. And now people are beginning to realise that they are not going to be able to meet those obligations—governments and large companies and different societies, and that creates yet another kind of disturbance that really affects people.
But it also gets down onto a little bit more personal level, (not that those things are not personal) when we consider the idea of friends or enemies—I mean you can’t have one without the other. And there’s always the tragedy of people feeling that someone was really a friend of theirs and someone that they could trust and that they relied upon, and some turn of events, something has happened; now that person has “unfriended” me (laughs) and I’m kind of like spazzing out because I’ve been “unfriended”. And it has other ramifications, especially when other people notice I’ve been unfriended. Then it’s kind of like, “What happened? What happened?” and now I’ve got to start talking about what’s going on. It’s like—it’s ridiculous.
Social media is probably responsible for a greater lack of peace than for peacefulness. People are searching and they don’t realise they are searching for peace and happiness of course. They’ve got the phone out, and they’re going, going, going, going, going [mimes swiping on phone] and I’m watching this person just like going. And I’m going like, “God how long is this going to go on for?” They’re really going, (continues miming using phone) Stop, stop, go, go, go, go, stop, stop, go, go, go. It’s like just looking at whatever feeds that they’ve got in front of them and seeing what somebody’s doing and you can see the look on the person’s face when they’re looking through. It’s like, what is it that you are looking for? What are you looking for? You’re always looking and looking and looking on the phone. What is it though that you are looking for? And you can’t say it’s, “I’m trying to see what my friends are doing.” Well you’ve been seeing what your friends are doing for the last four or five years and you haven’t stopped. You’re still doing it, and probably faster now than you were before. So it’s not like that’s what you are looking for. You’re looking for something else.
Another thing that brings disturbance into people’s life is this thought of not having something that they desire, or not having enough of it. And so they become all kind of agitated and disturbed, “I’m not getting enough of this sort of activity. I’m not getting enough out of this relationship. I’m not able to afford this new toy. I’m not able to afford something else, whatever. I’m just not getting enough of stuff.” And so I am feeling both distracted and a little disturbed and I’m looking for more. I want to find a way to get more, thinking that that is somehow I will not be disturbed anymore, which is a ridiculous idea. I can assure you that no matter how much stuff you get, money or anything else, it will never satisfy you. It will never satisfy you. So this will always be a disturbance.
Another thing that really disturbs people, especially younger people—the old guys are just like so over it, they’re just like—had enough already. The younger people are just like into the body image so much. Well, I mean some older people are into it, too. It’s like ridiculous. You’ve got somebody that’s like 80 years old and you look at them and they’ve had so many facelifts and so much body modification that they look stunning. But then after being told, “Oh, you look so great,” and there, “Oh, thank you very much,” they have to stand up and start walking and you suddenly become aware that, “Oh my God, this person’s actually 80 years old!” (laughs)—so the body image thing.
And amongst as I said, younger people, the self-image—I mean this is the age of the selfie. And for me, I’m sorry, I’m going to be really hurtful and politically incorrect. It’s such a load of cow manure. (Politeness reigns!) Yeah, it’s just like, you know, this pretence, that if you get the right look on and the right angle and you’ve got the selfie stick out and you just, like enjoying the moment. It’s just so fake. Nobody wants real video or real pictures. They don’t want a picture of themself brushing their teeth, you know, using the toilet, eating and, you know, dropping something on your clothes. They don’t want just, you know, be caught asleep on the sofa or something with saliva coming out the corner of your mouth. This is the real world.
I can remember, I had a guy I was doing some business with before in India. And he was living in a hotel. He was working for one of the big American financial houses and I had an appointment to drop by and see him, you know, just in his room there. We were kind of close friends. And he’s newly married and I knocked on the door and his wife opened the door thinking it was someone else, and she saw me and she screamed. I mean we were good friends! She screamed, “Aahh!” and covered her face and ran into the other room, because she didn’t have any makeup on. Because she always had this major presentation to the world, you know, the hair all done, and makeup, and the nails, and you know, the whole thing, and if you saw her without it, for her that was so disturbing and shocking.
How we want people to see us and relate to us and then this kind of leads into this other, actually very sad situation we see, where people are very much troubled by this idea of how acceptable I am, whether others can actually accept me, and whether I am lovable. You know people develop all of this self-doubt and all of this—they feel all this pain.
I can remember this guy in Australia, he doesn’t have any arms or legs. He was born in this condition and he spoke about being accepted and everything, and it’s like he had this whole auditorium of high school girls and boys, and most of them were in tears because they felt it, the intensity of it. And, you know, if I think back to when my body was much younger and what it was like with my friends and everything and how much we are troubled by, you know, this idea of whether we are acceptable or lovable.
And then of course we have this other thing, this idea of unfulfilled desires, things that we desire or that we want and we’re sort of like always just wishing and hoping and meditating on and thinking about, you know, whether I’m going to be able to get this thing, all with this idea that the disturbance that I’m feeling within my heart will be erased. I will be at peace if I can get these things, if I’ve got the perfect body image, if I’ve got, you know, what I consider enough possessions. I have so many friends and I don’t care about my so-called enemies, I’ve unfriended them, too. And you know, I’ve got these desires and wants and I just think if I can just get these things everything is going to be great. I’m not going to be troubled. I’m going to exist in a peaceful condition. And that is actually not true. It is the opposite of what is true.
It reminds me a little bit about my first quite close encounter with a person, or a couple, a guy and a woman that had a heroin addiction and I’d gone around their place to visit them when I was a young hippie. And the girl was there and the guy was out and they had not been able to score any heroin for about two days so they were hitting the bottle really heavy and they were suffering tremendously from the withdrawals. And while we were there talking with her, me and another friend, the guy shows up and he had scored. He was all happy, because they’d just moved to this new city, along with us and didn’t know anybody and he’d just made a connection and so now everything was going to be great. And the big struggle they went through, the whole ceremony of, you know, loading a needle and tying off your arm and getting ready, and he’s being a gentleman and trying to shoot up his girlfriend first and can’t find any veins, and they’ve tried both arms and now they’re on the thigh and they’re down on the foot like this. And he’s freaking out cos it’s right there and he feels he needs it so badly and he’s just being the gentleman and he’s not striking a vein anywhere with her so he tells her, “Well, you know, just have a drink. We’ll try a little bit later,” and then he shoots himself up and of course falls over. And then she’s just distressed and in tears because of her suffering.
And I was just struck with this vision. Here we have a couple of people that are utterly convinced that their suffering is attributed to so many things and that this small amount of white powder when mixed and fluid and heated and injected into your arm is going to solve all of your problems. And they feel if they can just keep getting a supply everything is cool, life is fine; and the reality is, to me seeing this is, my God the majority of their problems are arising because of their so-called solution. And that later led me to appreciate, in relation to the spiritual understanding that is taught in the Bhagavad-gita, that when you lead a life of sensual pursuit and think that by getting all these different things that you will find relief from your emptiness, relief from your suffering, that you will come to a state of fulfilment and peace, it’s absolutely not true. Actually the opposite is true.
There is a beautiful verse in the Bhagavad-gita the 2nd chapter, 66th verse, where it says:
One who is not connected with the Supreme can have neither transcendental intelligence nor a steady mind, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be any happiness without peace?Bhagavad-gita 2:66
So this, now, wow, this is just like if we were to really reflect upon this we would come to understand that the cause of material life, chasing all these things, instead of providing me with peace it agitates me even further. It creates more painful experience and it dims whatever intelligence I have. It is necessary for us to have very fine and clear intelligence, to see things with clarity, if we are to actually have a transcendental experience and come to the position of being fulfilled and experiencing peace. So in another couple of verses here, it describes this situation that I just spoke to which is—I’ll read from this verse:
As a strong wind sweeps away a boat on the water, even one of the roaming senses on which the mind focuses can carry away a man's intelligence.
Therefore, O mighty-armed Arjuna, one whose senses are restrained from their objects is certainly of steady intelligence.Bhagavad-gita 2.67-68
So this is a whole different idea, that instead of just madly chasing all of this—it’s like, you’ve heard the term “herding cats”? Have you heard this? Can you imagine trying to herd cats? If I gave you twenty cats, especially young kittens and you had one long skinny little rod and you had to try and keep them all together and move them like 150 yards down the road, how big of a job would that be? They’d just be like going in all directions, just like crazy. This is what it’s like. It’s like a herd of crazy monkeys or kittens or whatever. And they’re just like going in all direction and if we place our mind on one of those things and just follow it, things do not end well for us. We end up completely burned, scorched. It’s just like—it’s not a good scenario.
If we want to be able to achieve happiness, fulfilment and peace that comes with it, having, as it says here, having steady intelligence, is necessary and it’s also necessary that we are not endlessly chasing the demands of the senses and of our mind. A couple of verses later it states in the Bhagavad-gita:
A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires - that enter like rivers into the ocean which is ever being filled but is always still - can alone achieve peace, and not the man who strives to satisfy such desires.Bhagavad-gita 2.70
So this is actually a really big subject and we’re only just touching the surface of it, and we may not be able to bring people who are listening, particularly for the first time, to a full appreciation. The spiritual process where one engages in meditation, and particularly kirtan meditation, to bring about a purification of the heart and the mind, these are all essential components to developing an actual understanding. It’s not just that somebody can give you an idea or a spiritual idea.
We are seeing things, we are seeing this world through specific lenses and filters and it is necessary to gradually remove the different filters so we can see things very clearly - the nature of our own self, our own identity, the nature of this world and what it is that will actually bring us to the position of fulfilment and happiness.
So I can just tell you very directly: If you are going to dedicate your life to simply following your mind and following your senses, focussing your mind on all the different desires of the senses, you will not be able to come to the position of experiencing peace, to be free from disturbance. The chasing of desire is the same as putting gasoline on a fire. If I want to put a fire out and I add gasoline, okay it’s a liquid but it’s not like water, it doesn’t put the fire out. It makes the fire burn brighter. So if my life is spent trying to fulfil the desires that manifest in my senses and mind without any consideration of whether this will actually bring me happiness and whether this is a wise choice, then I will simply be experiencing an ever increasing agitation, an ever increasing disturbance instead of going the other way.
Later in the Bhagavad-gita in the fifth chapter, 23rd verse, it says that, “Before giving up this present body,” giving up meaning at the time of death,
Before giving up this present body, if one is able to tolerate the urges of the material senses and to check the force of desire and anger, he is well situated and is happy in this world.Bhagavad-gita 5.23
So there are very clear reasons for this. And once again I’ll just state that we don’t have sufficient time to get into all the details surrounding that, but what we’d like to do is just present food for thought, particularly for people that are newly hearing about these ideas. It is about the cultivation, you know, this undertaking, this spiritual undertaking. It is about actually finding fulfilment, actually finding the supreme pleasure or happiness and in order to do that one must cultivate transcendental or spiritual intelligence. Yet again from the Bhagavad-gita, another verse,
A faithful man who is dedicated to transcendental knowledge and who subdues his senses is eligible to achieve such knowledge, and having achieved it he quickly attains the supreme spiritual peace.Bhagavad-gita 4.39
So when we talk of this and just going back to the earlier example I spoke of, you know, of these guys I knew that were heroin addicts, you know they had—they were totally convinced—they would go through periods of, you know, “This is not a good life,” but they were only kind of like little glimmers that would show now and then. Mostly they were convinced that the way to get through the day and to just progress, to find some peace, cessation from that which is agitating me I need to take this stuff again. This is the medicine that’s going to fix everything. And this is the—exactly the same condition when it comes to the pursuit of material life, the path of materialism. If I am going to be on this path, if I’m going to cultivate these ideas, if this is really where I’m going to be going, this is really where I’m heading and focussing on, then I’m sorry, the result is not good.
All you have to do is visit any old age home, or if you’ve got very elderly parents or grandparents who are approaching death, spend time talking with people, this is what it’s like. This is where it all goes, unless one has a very clear spiritual objective, a very clear spiritual goal.
I will just share with you one more verse from the Bhagavad-gita, also the fifth chapter, 12th verse where it says,
The steadily devoted soul attains unadulterated peace because he offers the result of all activities to Me [Me being Krishna]; whereas a person who is not in union with the Divine, who is greedy for the fruits of his labor, becomes entangled.Bhagavad-gita 5.12
So the reason I’ve chosen this verse at the end is because it is at least an introduction to the idea of where the solution lies. We are embodied. We have a material body. We are living in this world. The important thing for us to do is to come to understand and appreciate what is the actual goal and purpose of our life. And that is to find this fulfilment that we desire, to experience the actual happiness that we desire, to awaken the natural condition of spiritual love and to have this very extraordinary and completely fulfilling experience of spiritual love and happiness. And it will come from taking one of two paths, only one.
We’re living in this world anyway. We’re engaged in activity and action. If we are following the path of materialism, the idea that I am material and I will feel or experience fulfilment simply in constantly bombarding my body and mind with sensual experiences, and I will attain some peace as a result of this, this is not true. This is actually a display of a lack of intelligence to do this. The intelligent path, as it is pointed out in the Bhagavad-gita, is when we instead engage in the activities of life but focus them. Focus them as an offering to the Supreme Soul, to dovetail our life in the service of the Supreme Soul and of other living beings, his unlimited children. If we live our life in this way instead of greedily trying to pick up things and suck the juice out of all this fruit that we get, hoping it will fulfil us, if we instead redirect our life and make it one of being connected with the Supreme Soul and with others in a mood of humility and service, then we will come to another experience. We will actually find that condition of unlimited peacefulness, of tremendous spiritual happiness and love.
So with that I’d like to thank you very much, and we will conclude as always with perhaps 10 minutes of kirtan, of this chanting. So I invite you to please join with us here.
Thank you very much for joining us today and we hope to see you next week when we continue with these eight lessons from the Bhagavad-gita. We’ll be speaking on the subject of freedom. Thank you.