Vol 2 Issue 7
India's Secret Treasure
No metaphysical treatise has a setting as intriguing as India?s ancient philosophical classic, the Bhagavad-gita. Fratricidal friction within the ruling Kuru dynasty has erupted into a massive conflagration on the sprawling plains of Kurukshetra. As thousands of soldiers, chariots, horses and elephants stand poised for war, one of the principal warriors, Arjuna, suffers an emotional breakdown, being overwhelmed by the prospect of killing his own relatives. In the face of extreme adversity he loses sight of his duty and turns for guidance to his friend, Krishna, who is the Supreme Godhead playing the role of a human being. Then in the midst of the belligerent armies, Krishna enlightens his friend Arjuna about his temporal and eternal identity and duty.
Harmony is central to the message of the Gita, which asserts that all suffering has its roots in disharmony (15.7). Suffering is however not considered to be bad because it acts as the impetus for returning to harmony just as fever is the spur to take medicine. The highest happiness, the Gita continues, can be achieved only when the self is in harmony with the Superself (6.19-23). The Gita posits that the self is not the gross body or the subtle mind, but the non-material soul, which gives apparent life to the inanimate body (7.4-5). The constitutional nature of the soul is to be in a sweet harmony of love with the Supersoul, God. The Gita therefore culminates (18.66) in an unequivocal call for that harmony; Arjuna is told to subordinate his temporal obligation to his brethren to his eternal function as a harmonious part of the Supreme Whole. As the antagonist Kauravas, by their nefarious activities, were disrupting the law and order that facilitates divine harmony within human society, slaying them was essential for the material wellbeing and spiritual emancipation of everyone involved.
THE RELEVANCE OF THE GITA
In addition to being a historical fact, the setting of the Gita signifies a deeper conflict within our own consciousness. Within every human psyche is a lower self ? represented by the Kauravas and a higher self ? represented by the Pandavas. The Kurukshetra war thus represents the strife between virtue and vice within our own hearts. Arjuna?s breakdown signifies our own bewilderment about right and wrong in the face of intractable perplexity and Krishna?s instruction illuminates for us the path of the highest morality based on selfless devotion to God. Arjuna?s eventual victory after enlightenment represents the potency of the divine wisdom of Gita to empower us to ultimately triumph over our lower nature and achieve inner fulfillment in this life and eternal joyful life thereafter.
Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acharya of the International Society for Krishna consciousness (ISKCON), practically demonstrated the efficacy of this spiritual wisdom as a means to individual and social transformation during the period of the counterculture in the USA in the 1960s. Empowered by this divine knowledge, thousands of youths were able to break free of the shackles of all self-destructive habits and become selfless spiritual activists, dedicated to the holistic service of God and all living beings. Even today it is a globally repeated phenomenon that adoption of genuine spirituality by an individual concomitantly leads to character and compassion, the pre-requisites for sustained world peace.
A REAL LIFE STORY
A real life story of a miraculous transformation brought about by the adoption of the spiritual principles explained in the Gita can illustrate its potency even in modern times.
Chris Matthews, a youth from Atlanta, USA, started taking morphine in 1986 due to the pressures of youth and modern lifestyle. Gradually it became an addiction and, in order to get money for his compulsive drug needs, he started robbing people and stores in 1992. While burglarizing a drug shop in 1993, he took a heavy overdose and fell unconscious. On regaining consciousness, he found himself in a prison hospital. He was subsequently tried in 1994 and sentenced to eight years imprisonment. Devastated at being separated from his recently-wed wife, he resolved he would never have anything to do with God henceforth in his life. Soon however, he realized that, to get the inner strength to endure the withdrawal pains and the physical and mental rigors of prison life, he would need spiritual solace. In USA the crime rate has been spiraling unabatedly for the last several decades and the expenditure the US government incurs on prisons is astronomical. Secular efforts to reform prisoners have met with hardly any success and therefore the US government allows its prisoners to attend reformation programs conducted by various spiritual organizations. Chris attended classes on Christianity, Buddhism, Kabbala, Sufism, Islam, Advaita Vedanta ? whatever was accessible in the prison, but despite his diligent tries, nothing helped. After two years of fruitless groping, from the innermost core of his heart, he offered a prayer to God, admitting his helplessness and beseeching for guidance. Within days he came in touch with an ISKCON prison minister, who mailed him a copy of Bhagavad Gita As It Is. His physical hardship, mental agony and spiritual searching combined to make him a ripe candidate for enlightenment and, from his very first reading, he could perceive the eternal truths within the message of the Gita. He soon adopted the universal nonsectarian process of mantra mediation ? attentive devotional chanting of the holy name of God, specifically the maha mantra Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. Within a short time he became free from his addictive desires. In fact, though he was physically within the prison walls, he felt himself more free in spirit than he had felt ever before in his life because he was no longer shackled and tormented by self-destructive desires. Within the prison itself he became a vegetarian and started offering his food to the pictures of Krishna in the spiritual books he had with him in the cell. He started performing his prison assignments in a detached dutiful devotional spirit (nishkama karma yoga), as delineated in the Gita. Not only did he experience complete release from his drug addiction, but he became so composed, integrated and self-satisfied that he emerged as a source of inspiration and solace for many other prisoners in a similar plight. In 2000, he was released from prison and, as soon as he went home, he started teaching his daughters chanting so that they would be equipped to protect themselves from the ordeals he had to undergo. In 2001, he resolved to share his fortune with the many other souls who were languishing in the prisons of America and started serving in the ISKCON Atlanta prison ministry. Now he, a hardened former criminal, is now actively serving as a prison minister for numerous prisons in Atlanta, reforming many, many lives ravaged by crime. This is the dramatic transformation that genuine spirituality can bring about in the lives of people ? from prison to prison ministry, from prisoner to prison minister.
Shripad Shankaracharya explains, in his Gita-mahatmaya, the unique position of the Gita within the vast Vedic library. He compares all the Vedic scriptures to a cow, Krishna to a cowherd boy milking the cow, Arjuna to a calf and the Gita to the milk of the cow. Thus the Gita is considered to be the essence of all the Vedic literature. Appreciation for the Gita is not limited to Vedic circles. Many Western scholars have found the Gita to be amazingly coherent and cogent. Ralph Waldo Emerson?s remark is a sample, "I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad-gita. It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us." When Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupda, the founder-acharya of the International Society for Krishna consciousness (ISKCON), went to the West to teach the message of the Gita and was asked in the United Kingdom about the purpose of his visit, he poignantly replied, "When you Britishers ruled India, you plundered her off all her wealth, but you forgot to take her most precious jewel. I have come to give you what you forgot ? the wisdom of the Gita."
Investigating Reality from the Higher
Dimensional Perspective of Vedic Wisdom