Reflections on the Bhagavad Gita

Guest post by Christa Avampato

“As a man adorns worn-out clothes and acquires new ones, so when the body is worn out a new one is acquired by the Self, who lives within.” ~ 2:22

On Labor Day weekend in 2009, my apartment building caught fire. I was almost trapped inside and only by following my intuition was I able to get out in time. Almost all of my belongings were lost to extensive smoke damage. September 5, 2009 was a kind of death date for me; a date when stripped of almost all my material possessions, I realized that none of it mattered at all. I stood outside in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops, holding nothing but my keys, watching my apartment building burn. Looking back, I think of that day as a day when I stepped out of my old, worn-out Self, and into a new frame. I still don’t know what the art inside this new frame will look like just yet. I’m a work-in-progress.

Verse 2:22 in the Bhagavad Gita, one of the texts I had to read for my yoga teacher training, resonated with me, as does that image of Shiva, the Destroyer, dancing in a ring of fire. Sometimes we get in the way of our own personal development. We get bogged down with belongings, material and emotional. We need not stand on a burning platform, literally nor figuratively, to recognize that change is needed. Yoga can be the practice that helps us recognize our truth, our purpose, our dharma.

Verse 3:19 speaks directly to the danger that surfaces when we get lost in the demands of our society, demands that others put upon us that do not align with our own personal truths. “The awakened sages call a person wise when all his undertakings are free from anxiety about results; all his selfish desires have been consumed in the fire of knowledge. The wise…have abandoned all external supports.” After my fire and after studying these simple words laid down in the Bhagavad Gita, I’ve come to believe that being “resulted-oriented” and “goal-driven” cause us to miss so much of life. To be shooting for the result while remaining blind to every step leading to that result denies us the beauty of practicing the yama asteya, nonstealing. Yes, where we’re going is important, and it is equally, if not more important, to be mindful of how we’re getting there. If we miss the journey, we deny ourselves the wonder of discovery.

Bearing this sentiment in mind, I read the Bhagavad Gita as if it were a map, laying out a method of living whose goal is boundless freedom. And from that freedom all good things come – kindness toward others because we no longer see them as competitors but partners; justice because we recognize in realizing our own freedom that all people everywhere have the right to be free; peace because all we’re really fighting for is our own self-discovery which doesn’t involve any type of harm to another.

Several years ago, I read a book called Women Who Run with the Wolves. Although the actual words and anecdotes are different, the message is the same as the one delivered to us by the Bhagavad Gita around the question “How do we acquire freedom and mastery of the mind?” The answer: “crawl through the window of a dream.” The window may be small. Undoubtedly, we will have to leave things behind in order to continue our journey through it. We may wonder why on earth we have to struggle so much, why we should even try at all when the big room full of our belongings is really just fine.

That window will not be ignored. It will continue to stare at us until we take up the challenge of crossing over. Through that tiny little frame, lies samadhi, enlightenment. The only thing stopping us from getting there is our courage, our own belief in our abilities to make the journey at all. Arjuna struggled with this same quest, just as we struggle with it. We’re all in this together, across the globe, across the centuries. The struggle does not change; we have to change. The only way forward is through.

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