Thursday, 19 May 2011

Bhagavad Gita 5:4, 5 & 6

This months verses ere chosen as their theme is very much about the concept and validity of Karma Yoga. Paramahamsa Satyananda reinstated what he saw as an ancient order of Sannyasa - Karma Sannyasa. Whilst a sage such as Paramahamsa-ji does not require any justification for his actions, it is said that he restored this order on the basis of writings in some of the more obscure Shruti and Smriti. However, right here in the Gita we see evidence that the concept, if not the order, of Karma Sannyasa is well established in the philosophy of the Gita.

These passages (5:4-12) are of great fascination to me, as Paramahamsa Niranjanananda, continuing in Paramahamsa Satyananda's tradition, continues to give Karma Sannyasa Diksha, and was gracious enough to give the same to myself and Poornamurti.

Here are the first two of these verses, from Mascaro (paraphrased only to remove the use of 'he'):
5.4 Ignorant people, but not the wise, say that Sankhya and Yoga are different paths; but who gives all their soul to one, reaches the end of the two.
5.5 Because the victory won by the person of wisdom is also won by the person of good work. That person sees indeed the truth who sees that vision and creation are one.
5.6  But renunciation, Arjuna, is difficult to attain without Yoga of work. When a sage is one in Yoga, they soon are one in God.
And from MacCuish (Walking with the Gita):
5.4 It is the childish, not the wise, who say that knowledge and action are different. The wise now that whoever applies themselves well to one will achieve the rewards of both.
5.5 Both followers of knowledge and action reach the same goal. They see clearly who understand that knowledge and selfless action are the same.
5.6 Perfect renunciation is difficult to attain without being engaged in action. But the wise who follow the path of action can quickly achieve the supreme.
The MacCuish translation is the more true in 5.4 in that the Sanskrit is indeed 'the childish', and not 'the ignorant'. Mascaro is more true in that the Sanskrit talks explicitly about Sankhya and Yoga, rather than wisdom and action.

5.6 is so different in each case, that I think we need to have a look at the original:
saanyaasas tu mahaabaaho
duHkham aaptum ayogatah
yoga yukto munir brahma
na chirenaadigach chhati

renunciation is great-hero
difficult to-obtain without-yoga
immersed-in-yoga impelled-to Brahma
not long-time-accomplishment cut-off
(The next time God chooses to walk the Earth, I hope he learns English.)

So, to try to make some sense of this:
Renunciation is, great hero (He's talking to Arjuna, remember)
Difficult to obtain without Yoga
If you are immersed in Yoga, and meditate on Brahma
It won't be long before you reach the end of your accomplishment.
Not  word about action, yoga of work, or karma.

Why is this?

Because in the Gita Yoga is almost synonymous with Karma Yoga. Whereas our modern understanding of Yoga is of asana, pranayama, etc., the conception of Yoga in the Gita is essentially one of work. This realisation comes about through later passages, where 'the yoga of work' is used interchangeably with simple 'yoga'. Almost every translator then takes this understanding back to the early chapters, and where in the sanskrit text we may see just 'Yoga', most translators will often put 'Yoga of Action' or even 'Karma Yoga', because it is 'obvious' that within the historical context, this wold have been the accepted understanding. Because our modern conception of Yoga is different, the translation has to be qualified in this way.

And that's why we get such different translations: each translator tries to make the meaning of the text more clear to our modern minds, by changing it slightly in this kind of way. With my bias towards the Satyananda tradition, there is an obvious way to re-translate this:
Renunciation is, great hero,
Difficult to obtain without Karma Yoga
If you are immersed in Karma Yoga, and meditate on Brahma
It won't be long before you reach the end of your accomplishment.
So, the two versions of 5.6 given above, each convey the same message, but they use slightly different words and phrases, because they are trying to convey the meaning of the Gita, and not the words of the Gita.

But here's an interesting thing: Sannyasa is renunciation, but Karma Yoga is action? And the Gita is saying one cannot readily achieve renunciation without being immersed in action?

Surely the point of renunciation is to give up action? A renunciate leaves the normal world, and goes to live on an ashrama, and sit shady groves, spending all day in meditation, surely? Surely, one of the points of renouncing, is to renounce 'action'?

But this is not so. And anyone who visits a Satyananda ashram will learn it in short order! Satyananda ashrams, particularly those in India, are places that are full of action. And full of renunciates.

So how can this be? How can one be renunciate and be immersed in work?

We'll need verses 7-12 to answer that one!

There are a few copies of 'Walking with the Gita' available via Amazon Marketplace:
It is a wonderful book. As well as a modern and pleasing translation of chapters 1-6 of the Gita, it offers daily practices, and gives the musical notation to allow chanting of the Gita in Sanskrit. It's a terrible pity that Volume 1 is out of print, and Volume 2 was never published...

Catching Up

Well, the May event happened, and was really good. We had, I think, ten people on the night, and we can run to a few more with a bit of creative seating.

A couple of people mentioned that they would be happy to do more chanting than we have been doing, so I'm going to look towards adding a couple more mantras into the mix.

Unfortunately, we didn't get chance to talk about the Gita this time, which is perhaps as well, as even I hadn't looked at the verses in preparation, and I chose them!

So, I tink this time we'll keep the same verses. They can be found in this post (Chapter 5, verses 4-12), and I wil start to put my thoughts about them together as soon as I can.

When Yoga Can Really Help

I met Gary (Syd) Bloomfield more than 25 years ago, and we were instantly good friends. We did some crazy stuff together in our teens and early twenties.

We settled down to a strong and lasting friendship, and as those early-life friends dispersed and went their separate ways, Gary and I remained as true life-friends. When I married Poornamurti, Gary was my Best Man.

Gary's own marriage broke up soon after that, and he went through a rough period. He'd always liked a drink, but by his own admission, at that time, he took things a bit too far. A few years later, he was very ill for a while, but they eventually sorted his medication, he cut right back on his excess, and everything seemed relatively ok.

Over the last few years, he was admitted to hospital about once a year, usually when a chest infection hit him hard, due to his condition. So, when a couple of weeks ago I got a text from him saying he was in hospital again, but would be home in two or three days, I didn't think too much of it.

So it came as a real shock when yesterday I got a phone call from Poornamurti, telling me his brother Craig had rang, and Syd had taken a turn for the worse, and died. He was 47 years old.

I have to confess, it hit me hard. I took the call at my desk at work, and had to leave. I beat myself up for not having visited when he told me he was in hospital. I had done every other time, but I thought if he was going to be home in two or three days, then it wasn't worth bothering. I still think it's a shame I didn't see him one last time. But then, even if I had, neither of us would have known what was going to happen, so it would have been just another half an hour added to years of friendship, so in the great scheme of things, not a great deal - but at the same time, certainly not enough.

So here I am. My very closest friend (besides Poornamurti) - and one of only three people I really call friend - has gone.

But I know he hasn't ended. And that's more than a comfort, for it allows me to see my grief for what it is: I have no sorrow for Gary; it's all for me. I know he is no longer suffering - no longer trapped in a body that was growing in discomfort and slowly failing him. And I know and that soon he we will have another turn on the great merry-go-round of life. I also know he was fundamentally a very, very good person. Sure, he liked a little mischief. But it was only ever at his own expense, and he never willingly caused anyone any harm or upset. So I know he's ok.

The grief I feel is because I wil miss him. We won't be having the boys nights in any more, where we play cards and chat about the meaning of life, the universe and everything. I won't have anyone to introduce me to new realms of music anymore. How many Dr John's or Thelonius Monks are there that he knew well, and I never encountered yet? I won't have the benefit of him recounting the fascination of his latest readings, whether it be the life of Tony Benn, or the works of Marx (Karl or the Brothers).

So my grief is for myself, and knowing that makes it a little easier to handle.