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Jai: Grandma, I have a hard time understanding the teachings of the
Bhagavad-Gita. Would you help me?
Grandma: Of course, Jai, I will be glad to. You
should know that this holy book teaches us how to live happily in the world. It
is an ancient holy book of Hindu Dharma (also known as Sanātana Dharma or
Hinduism), but it can be understood and followed by people of any faith. The Gita
has eighteen (18) chapters and a total of only 700 verses. Anyone can be helped
by daily practice of only a few of its teachings.
The word ‘Bhagavad’ means God or The
Supreme Lord, Bhagavān in Sanskrit. ‘Gita’ means song. Thus The Bhagavad-Gita
means the Song of God or the Sacred Song, because it was sung by Bhagavān
Shri Krishna himself.
is the introduction to the Gita:
In ancient times there was a king who
had two sons, Dhritarāshtra and Pāndu. The former was born blind;
therefore, Pāndu inherited the kingdom. Pāndu had five sons. They
were called the Pāndavas. Dhritarāshtra had one hundred sons. They
were called the Kauravas. Duryodhana was the eldest of the Kauravas.
After the death of king Pāndu,
his eldest son, Yudhisthira, became the lawful King. Duryodhana was very
jealous. He also wanted the kingdom. The kingdom was divided into two halves between
the Pāndavas and the Kauravas. Duryodhana was not satisfied with his
share. He wanted the entire kingdom for himself. He tried several evil plots to
kill the Pāndavas and take away their kingdom. Somehow he took over the
entire kingdom of the Pāndavas and refused to give it back without a war.
All peace talks by Lord Krishna and others failed, so the big war of Mahābhārata
could not be avoided.
The Pāndavas didn’t want to
fight, but they had only two choices: fight for their right because it was
their duty or run away from war and accept defeat for the sake of peace and
nonviolence. Arjuna, one of the five Pāndava brothers, faced this choice
in the battlefield.
had to choose between fighting the war and killing his most revered guru, who
was on the other side; his very dear friends, close relatives, and many
innocent warriors; or running away from the battlefield to be peaceful and
nonviolent. The entire eighteen chapters of the Gita are the talk between
confused Arjuna and his best friend, mentor and cousin, Lord Krishna --- an
incarnation of God --- on the battlefield of Kurukshetra near New Delhi, India,
about 5,100 years ago. This conversation was reported to the blind king,
Dhritarāshtra, by his charioteer, Sanjay. It is recorded in the great
All lives, human or nonhuman, are sacred, and
nonviolence or Ahimsā is one of the most basic principles of Hinduism. So
when Lord Krishna advises Arjuna to get up and fight, this may confuse you
about the principle of Ahimsā if you don’t keep in mind the background of
the war of Mahābhārata.
spiritual talk between the Supreme Lord, Krishna, and His devotee-friend,
Arjuna, occurs not in a temple, a lonely forest, or on a mountain top, but on a
battlefield on the eve of a war.
Jai: This is an interesting story, Grandma. Can you tell me more?
Grandma: If you come to where I sit every evening,
Jai, I will tell you the whole story, one chapter each day. Just make sure your
homework is done and you have time to listen. If you agree, let’s start
Jai: Thank you, Grandma. I’ll be there to hear more.
Jai: I would like to know first how Lord Krishna and Arjuna happened
to talk on the battlefield, Grandma.
Grandma: It came about in this way, Jai. The war of Mahābhārata
was about to begin after peace talks by Lord Krishna and others failed to avoid
the war. When the soldiers were gathered on the battlefield, Arjuna asked Lord
Krishna to drive his chariot between the two armies so that he could see those
who were ready to fight. Seeing all his relatives, friends, and soldiers on the
battlefield and fearing their destruction, he became compassionate.
Jai: What does compassionate mean, Grandma?
Grandma: Compassion does not mean pity, Jai. That
would be looking down on others as poor, pitiful creatures. Arjuna was feeling
their pain and their unlucky situation as his own. Arjuna was a great warrior,
who had fought many wars and was well prepared for the war, but suddenly his
compassion made him not want to fight. He spoke of the evils of war and sat
down on the seat of his chariot, his mind full of sorrow. He saw no use in
fighting. He did not know what to do.
Jai: I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t want to fight either. Why do people
fight, Grandma? Why are there wars?
Grandma: Jai, there are not only wars between
nations, but quarrels between two people, quarrels between brothers and
sisters, between husband and wife, between friends and neighbors. The main
reason is that people are not able to let go of their selfish motives and desires.
Most wars are fought for possession and power. But all problems could be solved
peacefully if people could see both sides of the problem and work out an
agreement. War should be the last resort. Our holy books say: One should not
commit violence towards anyone. Unjustified
killing is punishable in all circumstances. Lord Krishna urged Arjuna to fight
for his rights, but not to kill needlessly. It was his duty as a warrior to
fight a declared war and establish peace and law and order on earth.
humans also have wars going inside all of us. Our negative and positive forces
are always fighting. The negative forces within us are represented by the
Kauravas and the positive forces by the Pāndavas.The Gita does not have
stories in it to illustrate the teachings, so I will add some stories from
other sources to help you.
is a story about negative and positive thoughts fighting each other that Lord
Krishna Himself told to Arjuna in Mahābhārata.
1. Mr. Truthful
There once lived a great hermit, who
was famous for telling the truth. He had taken a vow not to lie and was popularly
known as “Mr. Truthful.” No matter what he said, everyone believed him because
he had earned a great reputation in the community where he lived and did his
evening, a robber was chasing a merchant to rob and kill him. The merchant was
running for his life. To escape from the robber, the merchant ran towards the
forest where the hermit lived outside the village.
merchant felt very safe because there was no way the robber could find out
where he was hiding in the jungle. But the hermit had seen the direction in
which the merchant went.
robber came to the hermit’s cottage and paid his respects. The robber knew that
the hermit would tell only the truth and could be trusted, so he asked him
whether he had seen somebody running away. The hermit knew that the robber must
be looking for somebody to rob and kill, so he faced a big problem. If he told
the truth, the merchant would certainly be killed. If he lied, he would incur
the sin of lying and lose his reputation. Any immoral act that may harm others
is called sin. Ahimsā (nonviolence) and truthfulness are two most important
teachings of all religions that we must follow. If we have to choose between
these two, which one should we choose? This is a very difficult choice.
of his habit of telling the truth, the hermit said: “Yes, I saw someone going
that way.” So the robber was able to find the merchant and kill him. The hermit
could have saved a life by hiding the truth, but he did not think very
carefully and made a wrong decision.
Krishna’s purpose in telling Arjuna this story was to teach Arjuna that
sometimes we have to choose between a rock and a hard place. Lord Krishna told
Arjuna that the hermit shared with the robber the sin of killing a life. The
robber could not have found the merchant if the hermit had not told the truth.
So when two noble principles conflict with each other, we have to know which
one is the higher principle. Ahimsa has the highest priority, so the hermit
should have lied in this situation to save a life. One may not tell a truth that
harms a person in any way. It isn’t easy to apply Dharma (or righteousness) to
real life situations because what is Dharma and what is Adharma (or unrighteousness)
can sometimes be very difficult to decide. In such a situation, expert advice
should be sought.
Krishna gave another example of a robber coming to a village to rob and kill
the villagers. In this situation, killing the robber would be an act of
nonviolence because killing one person may save many lives. Lord Krishna
Himself, on several occasions, had to make such decisions to win the war of Mahābhārata
and put an end to all the evil-doers.
Jai, do not tell a lie, and do not kill any living being or hurt anybody, but
saving a life comes first.
Chapter 1 summary: Arjuna
asked his charioteer friend, Lord Krishna, to drive his chariot between the two
armies so that he could see the Pāndava’s army. Arjuna felt great
compassion to see his friends and relatives on the opposite side, whom he must
kill to win the war. He became confused, spoke of the evils of war, and refused
KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
Jai: If Arjuna felt so kind-hearted for everyone he was supposed to
kill in the war, how could he go out and fight, Grandma?
Grandma: That is exactly what Arjuna asked Lord
Krishna. He said: “How shall I strike my grandfather, my guru, and all other
relatives with arrows in battle? They are worthy of my respect.” (Gita 2.04)
Arjuna had a good point. In Vedic
culture, gurus, the elderly, honorable persons, and all other superiors are to
be respected. But the scriptures also say that anyone who acts wrongly or
unlawfully against you or others, or anyone who supports such deeds, should no
longer be respected, but punished.
was confused about his duty and asked guidance from Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna
then instructed him on the true knowledge of Atmā and the physical body.
Jai: What is Atmā, Grandma?
Grandma: Atmā is also called the Spirit, or the
soul. Atmā is never born, never dies, and is everlasting. Our body takes
birth and dies, but not Atmā. Atmā supports the body. Without Atmā,
the body becomes dead. Atmā supplies the power to our body, mind, and
senses, just as air burns and supports fire. Weapons cannot cut Atmā, fire
cannot burn it, wind cannot dry it, and water cannot make it wet. Therefore, we
should not grieve over death of the body because the Atmā inside the body
never dies. (Gita 2.23-24)
Jai: What is the difference between Atmā (Spirit), soul, and body Grandma?
Grandma: One and the same Atmā dwells inside
all bodies. Our body changes with time. Our old-age body is different from our
childhood body. But Atmā does not change. Atmā takes a childhood
body, a youth body, and an old-age body during this life, then takes another
body after death. (Gita 2.13) The Sanskrit word Atmā is translated as
Spirit in English. Spirit is universal and all pervading. The English word
spirit or soul also means the Spirit residing in individual bodies. In Sanskrit
language, we call this individual soul Jivātmā or Jiva (also spelled
as Jeeva). If Spirit is compared to a forest, the individual soul (spirit or Jiva)
can be compared to the tree in the forest.
body is called a garment of Atmā. Just as we get rid of an old, worn-out
garment and put on a new one, similarly, Atmā gets rid of the old body and
takes a new one after death. So death is like changing the garment of Atmā.
(Gita 2.22) All beings are visible between birth and
death; they can’t be seen before birth or after death and remain in
their invisible form. (Gita 2.28) Therefore, we should not grieve over death of
the body. We are not the body. We are Atmā with a body. Death just means
our soul passes from one body to another new body.
Jai: Then why did Arjuna grieve over deaths of loved ones on the battlefield?
Why didn’t he want to fight?
Grandma: Arjuna was a very tough warrior, Jai, but he
wanted to run away from the horrors of war and lead an easy life of a Samnyāsi,
a wandering hermit. Lord Krishna taught us to face the battle of life by giving
Arjuna the beautiful science of KarmaYoga, the art of peaceful and prosperous
living. Chapter 3 of the Gita tells us more about this. Arjuna was worried
about the results of the war, but Lord Krishna asks us to do our duty without
worrying too much about the results, such as gain and loss, victory and defeat,
success and failure. If you are constantly worried about the results of your
studies, you will not be able to put your heart and soul into them for fear of
Jai: But Grandma, how could Arjuna fight his best if he wasn’t
fighting to win and gain something?
Grandma: Arjuna must fight to win, but he should not
weaken his will by worrying about the result while he is fighting. He should
put all his attention and energy into every minute of the fight. That energy is
what will bring the greatest result.
Krishna tells us that we have full control over our action, but no control over
the results of our action. (Gita 2.47) Harry Bhalla says: A farmer has control
over how he works his land, yet no control over the harvest. But he cannot
expect a harvest if he does not work his land with best effort and with tools
should do our best at the present moment and let the future take care of
Jai: Could you tell me more about the secret of success as told by
Krishna to Arjuna?
Grandma: We should be so
completely absorbed in work or study as to become unaware of everything else,
even of its results. To achieve the best results from what we do, we should be
focused on the action with undivided attention.
Action should be done sincerely
without worrying about its results. The results of the action will be greater
if we put all attention and energy into the action itself and do not allow our
energy to be diverted by thinking of results. The result will depend on energy
put into action. We are asked not to worry about results during the course of
action. This does not mean that we should not care about results. But we should
not expect only positive results all the time.
secret of living a meaningful life is to be very active, and do our best
without thinking of our own selfish motives or even the results. A
Self-realized person works for the good of all.
Jai: What is a Self-realized person like, Grandma?
Grandma: A Self-realized person is a perfect person,
Krishna tells us the mind of a perfect person is not shaken by difficulties,
does not run after pleasures, is free from fear, desire, greed, and attachment,
and has control over mind and senses. (Gita 2.56) A Self-realized person does
not get angry, is peaceful and happy.
Jai: How can we keep from getting angry, Grandma?
Grandma: We get angry if our desire is not
fulfilled. (Gita 2.62) So the best way to control anger is to control or limit
our desires. We should not want too many things. Desires begin in the mind, so
we should control our mind. If we don’t control our mind, we drift like a ship
without its rudder. The desire for pleasure takes one to the dark alley of sin,
gets us in trouble, and prevents our progress. (Gita 2.67) As a student, you
should set a higher goal for yourself than pleasure. Put forth your best effort
and concentrate on your studies.
was a very good example of such concentration. Here is a story about him.
2. The Graduation Test
Guru Drona was the
military teacher for both the Kauravas and the Pāndavas. At the end of
their military training came final examination time. Drona put a wooden eagle
on the branch of a nearby tree. Nobody knew it was just a doll. It looked like
a real eagle. To pass the graduation test, every one of the students was
supposed to cut off the eagle’s head with one arrow.
Drona first asked Yudhisthira, the eldest of the Pāndavas: “Get ready,
look at the eagle, and tell me what you are seeing.”
replied: “I see the sky, the clouds, the tree trunk, the branches, the leaves
and the eagle sitting there”
Drona was not very pleased with this answer. He asked the same of all the
students, one by one. Every one of them gave a similar answer. Then came
Arjuna’s turn for the test.
asked Arjuna: “Get ready, look at the eagle, and tell me what you are seeing.”
replied: “I only see the eagle and nothing else”
then asked a second question: “If you are seeing the eagle, then tell me how
strong is its body and what is the color of it’s wings?”
replied: “I am only seeing its head and not the entire body.”
Drona was much pleased with Arjuna’s answer and asked him to go ahead with the
test. Arjuna easily cut off the head of the eagle with one arrow because he was
concentrating on his aim with a single mind. He passed the test with flying
was not only the greatest warrior of his time, but also a compassionate
KarmaYogi. Lord Krishna chose Arjuna as a medium to impart the knowledge of the
all should follow the example of Arjuna. Read the Gita and be like Arjuna.
“Arjuna Bano, Arjuna Bano,” my dear grandson! Whatever work you do, do it with
single-minded attention and put your whole heart and mind into it. This is the
main theme of KarmaYoga of the Gita and the secret of success in anything you
A word for the youth from Swāmi Vivekananda:
"Whatever you are doing, put your
whole mind on it. If you are shooting, your mind should be only on the target.
Then you will never miss. If you are learning your lessons, think only of the
lesson. In India boys and girls are taught to do this".
Chapter 2 summary: Lord Krishna
taught us, through Arjuna, the difference between Atmā and body. We are
Atmā with a body. Atmā is unborn and indestructible. One and the same
Atmā dwells inside all bodies, human or nonhuman. Thus we are all
connected with each other. We should do our duty to the best of our ability
without worrying about success or failure. We must learn from our failures and
go forward without letting our failures defeat us. To become a perfect person,
we need to control or limit our desires.
KARMA-YOGA, THE PATH OF DUTY
Jai: Why do we have to control our desires, Grandma?
Grandma: When you choose wrong behavior for sense
enjoyment, you also choose its results. That is why work has to be done for the
welfare of all and not just to satisfy your desires or for personal gain. One
who practices KarmaYoga is called a KarmaYogi. A KarmaYogi finds the right way
to serve and turns her or his work into worship. In KarmaYoga, no work is more
important or less important than other work.
Jai: Uncle Hari left his family and home and went to an Ashram last
year to find God. Do we have to leave home to seek God?
Grandma: No, we do not. In the Gita, Lord Krishna
has given us different paths to God-realization. The path you choose depends on
your individual nature. In general, there are two types of people in the world:
the inward (or studious, introvert) type and the outward or active type. For
the introvert like Uncle Hari, the path of spiritual knowledge is best.
Followers of this path go to a spiritual master or a guru where they study
Vedic scriptures under proper guidance. In this path, we learn who we are and
how we can lead a happy and peaceful life.
Jai: Do we have to read all the scriptures to understand and find God?
Grandma: There are many scriptures in our religion,
such as the 4 Vedas, 108 Upanishads, 18 Purānas, Rāmāyanas, Mahābhārata,
various Sutras and many others. Reading all of them would be a difficult task.
But Lord Krishna has given us everything we need to know about God in the Gita.
The Gita has the essence of all the Vedas and Upanishads for the modern time.
Jai: Uncle Puri is a farmer and has no interest in studying the Gita.
He says the Gita is difficult and not for common people like him. So how can
Uncle Puri realize God?
Grandma: Uncle Puri should follow the second path,
the path of KarmaYoga that is described in this chapter of the Gita. This is
the path of duty or selfless service. This path is better for most people who
work hard to support a family and have no time or interest to read scriptures.
Followers of this path do not have to leave work and go to an Ashram. They give
up selfish motives and do all work for the greater good of society, instead of
just for themselves.
Jai: But people will work harder if they have selfish motives, won’t
Grandma: It is true that people may earn more if
they work for selfish gain, but they will not find permanent peace and
happiness. Only those who do their duty selflessly for the good of all people
will find real peace and satisfaction.
Jai: If people don’t work for personal gain, will they still do their
best and not become lazy?
Grandma: A true KarmaYogi works hard even without
personal gain. Only the ignorant work just for personal gain. The world runs
smoothly because people do their duty. Parents work hard to support their family,
and the children do their part. Nobody can remain inactive or idle all the
time. Most people engage in some activity and do what they can. Brahmā,
the creator, gave his first teaching to humanity when he said: Let all of you
progress and prosper by helping each other and by doing your duty properly. (Gita
Jai: What happens if people work hard just for their own benefit?
Grandma: They commit sin, Jai. It is wrong to perform
any action selfishly without considering its effect on others. Lord Krishna
calls such a person a thief, useless, and sinful. (Gita 3.12-13) We should
never live and work just for ourselves. We should help and serve each other.
Jai: What does a person gain who follows the teaching of Lord Brahmā and works for the good of society?
Grandma: Such a person attains peace and success in
this life, reaches God, and does not take birth again on this earth.
is a true modern story of how selfless service, discussed in Chapter 3, works
wonders in life.
3. Sir Alexander Fleming
poor Scottish farmer one day, while trying to make a living for his family,
heard a cry for help coming from a nearby swamp. He dropped his tools and ran
to the bog. There, sunk to his waist in the swamp, was a terrified boy,
screaming and struggling to free himself. Farmer Fleming saved the lad from
what could have been a slow and terrifying death.
next day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman's simple home. A well
dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy
that Farmer Fleming had saved.
want to thank and repay you," said the nobleman. "You saved my son's
can't accept payment for what I did," the Scottish farmer replied, rejecting
that moment, the farmer's own son came to the door of the family hovel.
that your son?" the nobleman asked.
the farmer replied proudly.
make you a deal. Let me provide him with the level of education my own son will
enjoy. If the lad is anything like his father, he'll no doubt grow to be a man
we both will be proud of."
that he did. Farmer Fleming's son attended the very best schools and in time
graduated from St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in London and went on to
become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the
discoverer of Penicillin.
afterward, the same nobleman's son who was saved from the swamp was stricken
with pneumonia. What saved his life this time? Penicillin.
name of the nobleman? Lord Randolph Churchill.
son's name? The famous Sir Winston Churchill.
once said: What goes around comes around. This is the universal law of Karma,
the law of cause and effect. Help fulfill someone’s dream, and your dream shall
be fulfilled too by the Lord!
Jai: Please give me
more examples of true KarmaYogis, Grandma.
Grandma: You have read the story of Rāmāyana.
Lord Rāma’s father-in-law was Janaka, the King of Janakapur. He attained
God by serving his people as his own children, selflessly and without attachment
to the results of his action. He did his duty as worship of God. Work done
without any selfish motive, as a matter of duty, becomes worship of God because
it helps God run the world.
Gandhi was a true KarmaYogi, who worked selflessly all his life without any
personal motive, just for the good of society. He set an example for other
world leaders to follow. There are many other examples of selfless persons.
Jai: Is that how our leaders should work?
Grandma: Yes, a true KarmaYogi shows by personal
example how to lead a selfless life and attain God by following the path of
KarmaYoga. (Gita 3.21)
Jai: If I want to become a KarmaYogi, what do I have to do?
Grandma: KarmaYoga requires doing our duty in life
the best we can, unselfishly, without attachment to the results of our work. A
KarmaYogi remains calm in both success and failure and has no likes or dislikes
for any person, place, object, or work. Work done as selfless service for the
welfare of humanity produces no good or bad Kārmic bondage and leads one
Jai: It would be hard to work without wanting to gain something personally
from it. How do we do this, Grandma?
Grandma: Spiritually ignorant persons work just for
themselves. The wise work for the welfare of all. The ignorant work to enjoy
the result of their labor and become attached to it because they think they are
the doer. They do not realize that all work is done by the power supplied to us
by God. With the power to do our duty and the intellect to choose between right
and wrong action, we become responsible for our actions. People act wrongly
because they don’t use their intellect and don’t think of the results of their
action on others.
wise offer all their work to God with no selfish desire of their own. The
ignorant work only to fulfill their personal desires. (Gita 3.25)
Jai: Can a common person like me do what great people like King Janaka
and Mahātmā Gandhi have done?
Grandma: With a little effort, anybody can follow
the path of KarmaYoga. Think of whatever work you are doing as your gift to
society. If you are a student, your duty is to attend school, do your homework,
respect your parents, teachers, other elders, and help your brothers, sisters,
friends, and classmates. In student life, prepare yourself to be a good,
productive citizen by getting a good education.
Jai: What kind of work should I do when I graduate, Grandma?
Grandma: Choose the work that you like and can do
well. The work should be suited to your nature. (Gita 3.35, 18.47) If you
choose work for which you don’t have a natural skill or attraction, your
chances of success are limited. You know what you can do best. Trying to be someone
you’re not is the greatest cause of failure and unhappiness.
Jai: But shouldn’t I try to find good work, like engineering,
teaching, or government service?
Grandma: There is no such thing as good or bad work.
All types of workers are needed to keep society running. Some work pays more
than others, but higher paying jobs are usually more difficult and stressful if
you are not qualified for them. If you are qualified for a lower paying job,
lead a simple life and avoid unnecessary items. A simple life means not
desiring too many material things. Limit yourself to the basic needs of life.
Keep your desires under control. Lord Buddha said: Selfish desire is the cause
of all evils and misery.
Jai: Is selfish desire the reason why people do bad things?
Grandma: Yes Jai, our selfish desire for enjoyment
is the cause of all evils. If we don’t control our desires, our desires will
control us, and we will become the victims of our own desires. Control your
wants because whatever you want, wants you also!
Jai: Then are all desires bad?
Grandma: No, all desires are not bad. The desire to
serve others is a noble desire. The desire to enjoy pleasures is bad because it
leads to sinful and illegal activities. Always remember that desire never ends
after you get what you want. It just leads to new desires and creates greed.
And if you don’t get what you want, you feel angry. People do bad things when
they are angry.
Jai: How can we control our desire for pleasures?
Grandma: One way is by the knowledge given in the Gita
and by the power of thinking. Before you act from desire, always think first of
the results of that action. Desires start in the mind and stay there. You can
control your mind by intellect and reasoning.
you are young, your mind becomes dirty just as the clear water of a pond
becomes muddy during the rainy season. If your intellect doesn’t control your
mind, your mind will run towards sense pleasures. This will keep you from
achieving the higher goals of life. So set a high goal in life to keep your
mind from getting dirty by sensual pleasures like smoking, alcohol, drugs, and
other bad habits. Bad habits are very hard to get rid of, so avoid them to
start with. Always keep good company, read good books, avoid bad people, and
think of the long-term result of your actions.
Jai: Since we know right from wrong, Grandma, why can’t we just avoid
Grandma: If we don’t control our mind, it will try
to weaken our will and take us for a ride to the wrong road of sensual
pleasures. We have to watch our mind and keep it on track.
Chapter 3 Summary: Lord
Krishna mentioned two major paths to peace and happiness in life. The path
chosen depends on the individual. It is easy for most people to follow the path
of KarmaYoga, the path of selfless service. To help each other is the first
teaching of the creator. This keeps society going and progressing. We should
all do our duty to the best of our ability. Choose the career best suited to
your nature. No job is small. It’s not what you do, but how you do it that is
important. Finally, Lord Krishna tells us we must control our desire for
pleasures. Uncontrolled desires for pleasure lead us to failure and suffering
in life. We must think about the results of an action before taking it up.
Avoid bad company at all costs.
THE PATH OF RENUNCIATION
Jai: The Gita reports what was spoken on the battlefield, but who
wrote it, Grandma?
Grandma: The teachings of the Gita are very old.
They were first given to the Sun-god in the beginning of creation by Lord
Krishna. Over time, this knowledge got lost. The Gita in its present form is
the teaching by the Supreme Lord, Krishna, to Arjuna about 5,100 years ago.
Jai: So is Lord Krishna the author of the Gita?
Grandma: Yes, Lord Krishna is the author of the Gita.
It was put together by sage Vayāsa who also edited the four Vedas. Sage
Vayāsa had the power of recalling events of the past and future, but he
could not do the work of both recalling the Gita spoken by Krishna on the
battlefield as well as writing it down. He needed a helper to write the Gita.
Lord Ganesha, the lord of wisdom, offered to do the work of writing.
The Gita was first translated from the
original Sanskrit poetry to Sanskrit prose and fully explained in Sanskrit by
great guru Adi Sankarāchārya in the year 800 A.D.
Jai: Why is Lord Krishna so important?
Grandma: Lord Krishna is considered the eighth
incarnation of the Supreme God. The Supreme God comes to earth in different
forms from time to time whenever the forces of evil try to disturb and destroy
the world peace. Lord comes to set everything right. He also sends prophets and
teachers to help mankind. His birth and activities are divine and each
incarnation (Avatāras) has a purpose. The Shrimad Bhāgavatam (or the
Bhāgavad-Purāna) gives details of all ten major Avatāras of God.
Lord Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Mohammad and saints and sages of other religions are
also considered minor incarnations of God. At the end of the present time
period, known as KaliYuga, the Kalki incarnation will happen in the very
Jai: Will Lord Krishna give us whatever we want in prayer or worship?
Grandma: Yes, Lord Krishna will give what you want (Gita
4.11), such as success in your study, if you worship Him with faith. People may
worship and pray to God by using any name and form of God. The form of God is
called deity. One can also worship God without the help of a deity.
Jai: Will we still have to study if we want to do well in
Grandma: Yes, you must do the work. Do your best and
then pray. The good Lord will not work for you. You will have to do your own
work. Your work should be free from selfish desires, and you should not hurt
anybody. Then you will not earn any
Jai: What is Karma, Grandma?
Grandma: The Sanskrit word Karma means action. It
also means the results of an action. The word Karma is most commonly mispronounced
as Karmā. Every action produces a result called Karma, which can be
good or bad. If we do our work only to enjoy the results ourselves, we become
responsible for the results. If our action harms anyone, we get bad Karma,
called sin, and we will have to suffer in hell for it. If we do good to others,
we earn good Karma and get rewarded by a trip to heaven.
own Karma is responsible for our rebirth to enjoy or suffer the results of our
deeds. Karma is like depositing money in the form of good and bad action in the
bank. We do not take birth when all our Karma is used up. This freedom from the
cycles of birth and death is called liberation, Nirvāna, Moksha or Mukti.
In Mukti one becomes one with God.
Jai: How can we avoid Karma when we live and work in society?
Grandma: The best way not to earn any Karma is not
to do anything just for yourself, but do it for the good of society. Always
keep in mind that Mother Nature does everything; we are not the real doer of
any action. If we strongly believe this and work as a servant of God, we will
not earn any new Karma, and all our past Karma will be wiped out by
Self-knowledge. When all Karma is finished, we become liberated. This method of
uniting with God is called the path of selfless action (KarmaYoga).
Jai How do we get rid of the Karma from our past lives?
Grandma: A very good question! True knowledge of the
Self (or God) acts like fire that burns away all Karma from our past lives. (Gita
4.37) Selfless service (KarmaYoga) prepares one to receive Self-knowledge. A
KarmaYogi automatically gets Self-knowledge in due course of time. (Gita 4.38)
One who has true knowledge of the Self or God is called a Self-realized or a
Jai: Are there other ways to get liberation, Grandma?
Grandma: Yes, Jai, there are different methods or
ways to reach God. These methods are called spiritual practices or Sādhanā.
Any action that is beneficial to society is also called Yajna, Sevā or sacrifice.
Different types of Yajna are: (1) giving money as charity for a good cause, (2)
doing meditation, worship and yogic exercises, (3) reading the scriptures to
gain knowledge of God, and (4) having control over the mind and other five
senses. (Gita 4.28)
Lord is pleased by those who sincerely
perform any one of these Yajna and gives them the gift of Self-knowledge to
reach God. Such a person becomes happy and peaceful. (Gita 4.39)
Jai: How about those who just worship a deity everyday? Can they also
Grandma: Yes, those who worship the deity with full
faith also get whatever they want. (Gita 4.11-12) Most Hindus worship God in
the form of a chosen deity to fulfill their desires. This path is known as path
of worship and prayer. There is a story in the Mahābhārata of a
devoted KarmaYogi and an ideal student who worshipped his guru and got what he
4. Ekalavya, the Ideal Student
Dronāchārya (or Drona) was the military teacher (guru) appointed by
grandfather Bhishma for all the Kaurava and Pāndava brothers. Many other
princes also took military training under him. Drona was very much pleased by
Arjuna’s personal service and devotion to him, and he promised him: “I will
train you to be the best archer in the world.”
day a very gentle boy named Ekalavya from a nearby village came to Drona and
wanted to learn archery from him. He had heard from his mother about master
archer Dronāchārya, who was the son of the sage Bhāradwāja
and a disciple of sage Parashurāma.
was a jungle boy, belonging to the hunters' community. Then, and even today,
such communities were considered socially inferior. Drona was worried how he
could teach a jungle boy along with the royal children. So he decided not to
keep the boy with him there, and told him: “Son, it will be very difficult for
me to teach you. But you are a born archer. Go back to the forest and practice
well with deep interest. You too are my disciple. May you master archery as you
words were a great blessing to Ekalavya. He understood his helplessness and
felt confident that the Master’s good wishes were with him. He made a clay idol
of Dronāchārya, installed it in a nice place, and began to worship it
respectfully by offering flowers, fruits, etc. He worshipped this idol of his
guru everyday, practiced the lessons in archery in the Master's absence, and
mastered the art.
would get up early in the morning, bathe himself and offer worship to the
master’s idol. He cherished the words, actions, and training methods of Drona
that he had seen at guru Drona’s Ashram. He faithfully followed the
instructions and continued his practice.
Arjuna had personally mastered archery from Drona, learning from him firsthand,
Ekalavya achieved equally impressive skill while worshiping the Master from far
away. If he could not do a particular technique, he would rush to Drona's
image, present his problem, and wait in meditation until a solution appeared in
his mind. He would then proceed further.
story of Ekalavya demonstrates that one can achieve anything in life if one has
faith and works sincerely to reach the goal. The story continues:
Kaurava and Pāndava princes once went to the forest on a hunting trip.
Their leading dog was running forward. Ekalavya, a dark-skinned young man
dressed in a tiger skin and wearing strings of conch-beads, was engaged in his
practice. The dog, on approaching him, began to bark. Probably wishing to show
off his skill, Ekalavya sent down a series of seven arrows in the direction of
the barking dog, and his arrows filled its mouth. The dog ran back to the
princes, who were surprised at this skill in archery and wondered who the
seeing this, was not only surprised but also worried. He wanted to be known as
the world's best archer.
princes went in search of the archer who had hit their dog with so many arrows
in such a short time, and found Ekalavya.
said: “Your skill in archery is great. Who is your guru?”
guru is Dronāchārya,” replied Ekalavya humbly.
was shocked at the mention of Drona's name. Was this true? Could his dear
teacher teach so much to this boy? If so, what about the Master's promise to
him? When did Drona teach the boy? Arjuna had never seen Ekalavya before in his
Drona heard this story, he remembered Ekalavya and went to see him.
said: “Your learning has been very good, son. I am deeply satisfied. With
devotion and practice, you have done very well. May your achievement become an
example for all to follow.”
was very happy and said: “Thank you, oh Gurudeva! I too am a disciple of yours.
Otherwise, I do not know whether I could have done this much.”
said: “If you accept me as your Master, you must pay my fee after your
training. Think it over.”
smilingly replied: “What is there to think over, Sir? I am your disciple, and
you are my guru. Please say what you wish, Sir. I will fulfill it even if I
have to sacrifice my life in the effort.”
I have to demand a supreme sacrifice from you to fulfill my word to Bhishma and
Arjuna that nobody would ever equal Arjuna in archery. Pardon me, son! Can you
give me the thumb of your right hand as my fee?”
stared at Dronāchārya for a while. He could understand the Master's
problem. He then stood up, walked to the Drona’s idol with determination,
placed his right thumb upon a stone, and cut it off in an instant, using his
left hand and an arrow.
while feeling sorry for the injury he had caused Ekalavya, was at the same time
deeply touched by such great devotion. He hugged him saying: “Son, your love
for guru is unmatched. I feel a sense of fulfillment in having had a disciple
like you. May God bless you!”
got victory in defeat! With the right thumb gone, he could no longer use the
bow effectively. But he continued his practice using his left arm. By virtue of
his supreme sacrifice, he received the grace of God and achieved distinction as
a left-handed archer. He proved that nothing could stop a totally sincere
effort. By his actions and behavior, Ekalavya, showed that your inferior or
superior status is not determined by the community you belong to but by your vision
and qualities of mind and heart.
was a great guru, Jai. But there are many false gurus in the world who will try
to cheat you.
Jai: Do we need a guru to reach God?
Grandma: We definitely need a teacher to learn any
subject, spiritual or material. But to find a real guru is not so easy. There
are four types of gurus: the knower of a subject or a teacher (guru), a false
guru, a SadGuru and a ParamaGuru. There are many false gurus who just pose as a
guru. SadGuru is a God-realized master and is very hard to find. Lord Krishna
is called the JagadGuru or ParamaGuru, the world-teacher.
you graduate from a college and enter family life, you will need to find a guru
or a spiritual guide. Meanwhile, follow your scripture and culture and never accept
defeat in life.
Chapter 4 summary: Lord comes
to earth from time to time in a life-form to set things right on the earth. The
Lord fulfills the desires of those who worship Him. There are four types of
spiritual practices or Yajna. Both selfless service and Self-knowledge free the
soul from the bondage of Karma. The Lord gives Self-knowledge to those who do
selfless service. Self-knowledge burns all our past Karma and frees us from the
wheel or cycles of birth and death.
THE PATH OF RENUNCIATION
Jai: Previously, you mentioned two paths. Which path is better for
most people, Grandma, the path of spiritual knowledge or the path of selfless service?
Grandma: A person who has the true knowledge of God
believes that all work is done by the energy of Mother Nature and he or she is
not the real doer of an action. Such a person is called a Samnyāsi or
renunciant and has Self-knowledge.
A KarmaYogi works without a selfish
motive for the fruits of work. KarmaYoga prepares one to receive
Self-knowledge. (Gita 4.38, 5.06) Self-knowledge leads to renunciation. Thus
selfless service or KarmaYoga forms the basis of renunciation (Samnyāsa).
Both paths finally lead to God. Lord Krishna considers KarmaYoga the better of
the two paths because it is faster and easier for most people to follow. (Gita
Jai: Doesn’t the word renunciation usually mean leaving worldly
possessions and living in an Ashram (monastery) or in a lonely place?
Grandma: The word Samnyāsa in the
strict sense means renouncing (or giving up) all personal motives, worldly
possessions and objects. But it also means living in society and serving
society by doing one’s duty without any personal motive. Such a person is
Some spiritual leaders, such as Adi
Sankarāchārya, consider the path of renouncing all worldly
possessions as the highest path and the goal of life. He himself became a Samnyāsi
when he was a young boy.
Lord Krishna says: “An enlightened
person or a Samnyāsi (or hermit, one who has given up all personal motive)
sees the Lord in all. Such a person looks at a learned person, an illiterate
person, the rich, the poor, an outcast, even a cow, an elephant, or a dog with
an equal eye.” (Gita 5.18)
am going to tell you the story of a great spiritual leader, hero, guru, Samnyāsi
and thinker. His name is Adi Sankarāchārya. A student of the Gita
owes him great respect and honor.
5. Adi Sankarāchārya
Sankarāchārya (or Sankara) is the author and promoter of
non-dualistic philosophy of Vedanta. It states that entire universe is nothing
but God. He was born in the state of Kerala in the year 788 A.D. By the age of
eight, he had learned
all four Vedas, and by the age of twelve, was well versed in all Hindu
scriptures. He is believed to be Lord Shiva in human form.
He wrote many books, including a
commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, Upanishads, BrahmaSutra and many others. The
holy Bhagavad-Gita was hidden in Mahābhārata as a chapter before
Sankara brought it out to us. Sankara took the Gita from Mahābhārata,
gave it chapter headings, and wrote the first commentary of the Gita in
Sanskrit. The first English translation of the Gita was done by a British ruler
in the 19th century.
Sankara established four main
monasteries in different corners of India: at Shringeri, Badrināth, Dvārkā,
and Puri. He stopped the spread of Buddhism over Hindu ideals, and restored
Hinduism to its past glory. According to his non-dual philosophy, the
individual soul (Jiva) is Brahma (God), and the world is the play of Māyā,
the illusory kinetic energy of Brahma.
certainly was a Self-realized man. But at first, he had the feeling of duality,
of high and low caste. His faith in the absolute God (Brahma) was not very
firmly established in his heart.
day, he was going to the Shiva temple in the holy city of Banāras after
bathing in the holy Gangā river. He saw an untouchable, a butcher,
carrying a load of meat. The butcher came on his way and tried to touch
Sankara's feet in respect.
shouted angrily: “Get out of the way! How dare you touch me? Now I have to take
a bath again.”
sir,” said the butcher, “I have not touched you, nor have you touched me. The
pure Self cannot be the body or the five elements out of which the body is
created.” (There are more details in Chapter 13.)
Sankara saw the vision of Lord Shiva in the butcher. Lord Shiva had Himself
come to Sankara to firmly implant the non-dualistic philosophy in him. Sankara
was a much better person from that day by the grace of Lord Shiva.
This story illustrates that equality
with all beings is difficult to practice all the time. To have such a feeling
is the mark of a truly God-realized person or a perfect Samnyāsi.
Chapter 5 summary: Lord
Krishna considers the path of Selfless service (Sevā) to humanity without
attachment to its results as the best path for most people. Both paths, the
path of Self-knowledge and the path of Sevā, lead to a happy life here on
the earth and Nirvāna after death. Samnyāsa does not mean leaving
worldly possessions. It means not being attached to them. An enlightened person
sees the Lord in all beings and treats everybody equally.
PATH OF MEDITATION
Jai: Grandma, you said there are several paths leading to God. You
told me about the path of duty and the path of spiritual knowledge. Please tell
me about other paths.
Grandma: The third path is called the path of
One who is united with God is called a
yogi. The mind of a yogi is peaceful and completely united with God. A yogi has
control over his mind, senses, and desires. He is free from anger and greed. A
clod, a stone, and gold are the same to a yogi, who sees God in everything and
everything in God. (Gita 6.08, 14.24) A yogi sees every being with an equal
eye, whether friend, enemy, hater, relative, saint, or sinner. (Gita 6.09) The
mind of a yogi remains calm even during the worst time. (Gita 6.19)
Jai: Is there a method of meditation simple enough for children,
Grandma: Yes, there is, Jai. The mind is your best
friend as well as your worst enemy. The mind is a friend for those who have
control over it and an enemy for those who do not control it. (Gita 6.05-06) So
you should try to control this enemy. The mind is like wind, very restless and
difficult to control, but you can control it by regular practice of meditation.
(Gita 6.34) Guru Nanak said: Master the mind, and you master the world.
A Simple Method of Meditation
best time to meditate is in the morning before going to school. Sit in your
meditation or Poojā room. Hold your waist, spine, chest, neck, and head
erect, motionless and steady. Close your eyes, take a few slow, deep breaths. Remember
your favorite deity and ask his or her blessing. Mentally chant OM for five
minutes. If your mind starts to wander here and there, bring it back gently to
concentrating on your favorite deity.
There is a story of a child named
Dhruva in our scriptures who got his wishes fulfilled using the path of meditation.
6. The Story of Dhruva
was the son of king Uttānapāda and Suniti. King Uttānapāda
was very fond of his second wife, Suruchi, and used to be mean to Suniti,
Dhruva's mother. One day, when Dhruva was five years old, his step-brother was
sitting on his father's lap. Dhruva also wanted to sit there. But his
step-mother stopped him and dragged him aside.
She spoke rudely to Dhruva, saying:
"If you want to sit on your father's lap, you should have been born to me
instead of to your mother. At least now, pray to Lord Vishnu, so that He will
make this happen."
Dhruva was deeply hurt by his
step-mother’s insulting words. He went to his mother, weeping. His mother consoled
him and told him to take his step-mother's words seriously and pray to Lord
Vishnu, who is the helper of all beings.
Dhruva left the kingdom for the forest
with a determined mind to see Lord Vishnu and reach a higher place. On the way,
he was met by the celestial sage Nārada. Nārada gave him the
12-syllable mantra: "Om namo bhagavate vāsudevāya" for
worshiping the Vishnu form of Lord Krishna. Dhruva worshipped Vishnu for six
months, and Lord Vishnu appeared before him. Vishnu promised that Dhruva's
wishes would be fulfilled and he would reach the highest heavenly seat of the
Polestar, which is not destroyed even when all the worlds are destroyed.
Dhruva returned to the kingdom. When
the King grew old, he decided to crown Dhruva as the King. Dhruva ruled for
many years and in the end reached the Polestar granted by Lord Vishnu. It is
said that the entire Zodiac is made up of planets, stars, etc. All rotates
around the Polestar. To this day, when Indians see the Polestar, they remember
Dhruva, the devotee of perfect purity of mind and firm determination.
Jai: What happens to a yogi who does not become successful in this
Grandma: No spiritual practice performed by a yogi
ever goes to waste. The unsuccessful yogi is reborn into a rich or spiritually
advanced family. The unsuccessful yogi regains the knowledge he had in the
previous life and tries again to become perfect from where he or she left off.
No spiritual effort is wasted.
Jai: How can I become the best yogi, Grandma?
Grandma: To be the best yogi, see all beings as
yourself and feel their pain and pleasure as your own. Lovingly think of God
with supreme faith, and always keep your mind on Him. (Gita 6.47)
Chapter 6 summary: The third
path to God is yoga of meditation. To be the best yogi, see every being as
yourself, and feel the pain and pleasure of others as your own. A very simple
method of meditation uses the sound vibration of OM. No spiritual practice is
SELF-KNOWLEDGE AND ENLIGHTENMENT
Jai: How was our whole universe formed, Grandma? Does it have a creator?
Grandma: There is a creator behind any creation,
Jai. Nothing can be created without somebody or some power behind it. Some
power is needed, not only to create it, but also to support and run it. We call
that power God, the Absolute, the Supreme in English, and Krishna, Ishvara,
Bhagavān, Shiva in Sanskrit. Other religions call that power Allah, Father,
Jehovā, Devi and many other names. In a
real sense, God is not the creator of the universe, but He Himself becomes everything
in the universe. He manifests as Brahmā, whom we call the creator. Actually,
Brahmā and all other deities (gods and goddesses) are just names of different
powers of the one and only One God. People think Hindus worship many gods and
goddesses, but that is due to lack of true knowledge. The entire universe is a
manifestation of God. This is the highest philosophy that you may not
understand completely now.
Jai: How does one God become so many things in the universe?
Grandma: According to the Sāmkhya theory of
creation, God’s energy (Atmā or Spirit) itself becomes Nature or matter,
made up of the five basic elements. The entire creation is born and sustained
by different combinations of these two energies: Spirit and Matter. (Gita 7.06)
He is in the form of light in the Sun and the Moon; He is in the form of mind
and strength in human beings. He digests our food and supports our life. We are
all connected by the same Spirit as jewels in a necklace are connected by the
same thread. (Gita 7.07)
Jai: If God is everywhere and in everything, why doesn’t everyone understand
and love and worship Him?
Grandma: That is a good question, Jai. Generally,
people have a false idea of God because everyone is not given the power to
understand Him. Just as some people can’t understand calculus or even
elementary mathematics, so people who have no good Karma, can’t know, understand,
love, or worship God.
Jai: Then who are the ones who understand God?
Grandma: There are four types of people who worship
or seek to understand God: (1) those who are sick or in some kind of trouble or
seek help in doing well in their studies or work, (2) those who are trying to
get the knowledge of God, (3) those who want money, and (4) the wise ones who
know God. (Gita 7.16) Lord Krishna considers all four types of people as
devotees. The wise one is the best because a wise person worships God without
wanting anything from Him. Even such wise ones completely know God only after
many births. (Gita 7.19)
Jai: If I worship Krishna, can I get good grades in an examination or
get rid of sickness?
Grandma: Yes, He fulfills the desires of all who
believe in Him and who always worship and pray with firm faith. God is both our
Father and Mother. You should ask God what you want in a prayer. He fulfills
the desires of His sincere devotees. (Gita 7.21)
Jai: Then why doesn’t everybody worship Krishna? Why do we worship
Lord Ganesha, Shri Hanumāna, Mother
Sarasvati and many other deities?
Grandma: Lord Krishna is the name of the Supreme
God. Some sects of Hinduism call the Supreme God as Lord Shiva. People of other
religions call Him Buddha, Jesus, Allah, Father, etc. Other deities (gods) are
a part of His power. Just as all rain water goes to the ocean, so worship of
any deity goes to Krishna, the Absolute. But a beginner should chose just one
of the many deities and establish a personal relationship by doing Poojā,
or at least Namaskāra, everyday to the chosen deity. The personal deity
then becomes your personal guide and protector. The personal deity is called
IshtaDeva or IshtaDevi, your personal god.
Jai: You said that the entire universe is only another form of God. Is
God formless or can God take forms?
Grandma: This big question not only confuses
children, but also puzzles adults. Answers to this question created various
sects or groups in Hinduism. One sect, called Arya Samāj, believes that
God cannot have forms and is formless. Another group believes God has a form. A
third group believes God is formless and takes forms. Still others believe God
is both with form and without form.
believe everything has a form. Nothing in the world is formless. God has a
form, which is invisible to our physical eyes. He cannot be understood by the
human mind or described by words. Supreme Being has a transcendental (or out of
this world) form and a Supreme Personality. He has no origin but is the origin
of everything. He has no beginning or end. The invisible God is the cause of
the visible world. Invisible does not mean formless. Everything we see is
another form of God.
is a story about practical application of seeing the Supreme in all beings as
mentioned in Gita 7.19.
7. See God in All Beings
a forest lived a holy man who had many disciples. He taught them to see God in
all beings and to bow down before them. One day a disciple went into the forest
to get wood for fire. Suddenly he heard a shout.
“Get out of the way! A mad elephant is
Everyone but the disciple of the holy
man ran away. He saw the elephant as God in another form, so why should he run
away from it? He stood still, bowed before the elephant, and began meditating
on God in the form of the elephant.
The mahout (trainer) of the elephant
shouted: “Run away! Run away!”
But the disciple didn’t move. The
animal grabbed him with its trunk, threw him to one side, and went on its way.
The disciple lay unconscious on the ground. Hearing what had happened; his
god-brothers came to him and carried him to the hermitage. With the help of
some herbal medicine, he regained consciousness.
Then someone asked, “When you knew the
mad elephant was coming, why didn’t you leave the place?”
He answered: “Our guru has taught us
that God is in all beings, animals as well as human. Therefore, I thought it
was only the elephant-god that was coming, so I didn’t run away.”
At this the guru said: “Yes, my child,
it is true that the elephant-god was coming; but the mahout-god asked you to
get out of way. Why didn’t you trust the mahout’s words? Also, the elephant-god
does not have the Self-knowledge that all are God!”
dwells in all beings. God is even in the tiger; but you cannot hug the tiger on
that account! Be close only with good people, and keep away from the
evil-minded. Keep away from the unholy, the evil, and the impure.
8. The Unseen
One day a 6-year-old girl was sitting in a classroom.
The teacher was going to explain evolution to the children.
The teacher asked a little boy: “Manav, do you
see the tree outside?”
Teacher: “Manav, do you see the grass outside?”
Teacher: “Go outside and look up and see if you
can see the sky.”
Manav: “Okay. (He returned a few minutes
later.) Yes, I saw the sky.”
Teacher: “Did you see God anywhere?”
Teacher: “That’s my point. We can’t see God
because he isn’t there. He just doesn’t exist.”
A little girl spoke up and wanted to ask the boy some
questions. The teacher agreed, and the little girl asked the boy:
you see the tree outside?”
Little Girl: “Manav, do you see the grass
Little Girl: “Did you see the sky?”
Little Girl: “Manav, do you see the teacher?”
Little Girl: “Do you see her mind or her brain?”
Little Girl: “Then according to what we were
taught today in school, she must not have one!”
God cannot be seen with our physical eyes. He can be seen
by the eyes of knowledge, faith, and devotion only. (Gita 7.24-25) For we walk
by faith, not by sight. He answers our prayer!
Chapter 7 summary: There is
only one God, who is called by many names. Devas, Devis, or deities in our
religion are nothing but the names of different powers of One Absolute God.
Deities are different names and forms of God’s powers to help us worship and
pray. Four types of people worship God. The entire creation is made up of five
basic elements and the Spirit. God is both formless and with form. God can take
any form. One cannot know the true nature of God unless one has spiritual
THE ETERNAL BRAHMA
Jai: I don’t have a big spiritual vocabulary, Grandma, so I don’t understand
many words that I hear at the temple. Can you explain some of them in a simple
Grandma: I will explain some of the Sanskrit words,
so listen very carefully. You may not completely understand these terms at your
The Spirit that is inside all living
beings is called Brahma in Sanskrit. Brahma not only supports living
beings but also supports the whole universe. This is the formless nature of
God, the Absolute. Brahma is beginningless, endless (or everlasting) and
changeless; therefore, it is also called Eternal Brahma. The word Brahma
often gets confused with the word Brahmā, the creative force or
creator of this universe. The word Brahma is also spelled as Brahm or
Brahman. The word Brahman often gets mixed up with another term, Brāhmana,
also spelled as Brāhmin,
which refers to the upper caste or intellectual class of people in India. I
will explain this term later in Chapter18.
ParaBrahma, Paramātmā, Father, Mother is the Supreme Being,
Who is the origin of everything, including Brahma (Spirit or Atmā).
word Karma has several meanings. Generally, it means to do or work. It
also means the stored up fruits of one’s work over past lives.
Various powers of Brahma are called Daiva
(or Deva, Devi, Devatā). We worship these
powers to get our worldly desires fulfilled.
Ishvara is the power of God
that stays in the bodies of all living beings to guide and control us.
means powerful. This term is used for God. We call ShriKrishna also Bhagavān
Jiva or Jivātmā
means living beings that take birth, have a limited life span, and die or
Jai: How often should I remember and worship God to make sure that I
remember God when I die?
Grandma: We should form the habit of remembering God
before taking our food, before going to bed, after getting up in the morning,
and before starting any work or study.
Jai: Are we always reborn as human beings?
Grandma: Human beings can take any one of the 8.4
million life-forms on earth. Hindus believe in life after death. Lord Krishna
said: “Whatever object one remembers at the time of death, that object one gets
after death. During death, one remembers whatever thought existed during most
of one’s lifetime.” (Gita 8.06) Therefore, one should always remember God and
do one’s duty. (Gita 8.07)
Here is a story to illustrate the
theory of transmigration of souls.
9. The Story of King Bharata
Sage Vishvāmitra was busy creating his own universe; Indra, the King of
heaven could not tolerate that. So he sent a beautiful heavenly dancer, Menakā,
to disturb him from his work. She succeeded and bore sage Vishvāmitra's
daughter, Shakuntalā. She was raised in the hermitage of sage Kanava after
Menakā left for heaven.
One day a King named Dushyanta
wandered in the hermitage of sage Kanava. There he met and fell in love with
Shakuntalā, whom he secretly married in the hermitage. Afterwards, she
gave birth to a baby boy named Bharata. He was very handsome and strong, even
during his childhood. Bharata looked like the son of a Deva. When he was only
six years old, he used to play in the jungle by tying up baby wild animals,
such as tigers, lions, and elephants.
Bharata became the king after
Dushyanta. Bharata was the greatest king of the land. Even today we also call
India BhārataVarsha, the land of King Bharata. He had nine sons, but none
of them seemed fit to rule after him, so he adopted a qualified child, who took
over the kingdom after Bharata. Thus, King Bharata laid the foundation of democracy.
There have been several other rulers
by the name of Bharata such as Bharata, the younger brother of Lord Rāma
and Mahārāja Bharata. Here is
a story of Mahārāja Bharata:
named Mahārāja Bharata, the son of a saintly King Rishabha Deva, also ruled
over our entire planet. He ruled for many years but eventually renounced
everything to take up spiritual life of an ascetic. Although he was able to
give up his opulent kingdom, he became attached to a baby deer. Once when the
deer was absent, Mahārāja Bharata was so
disturbed that he began to search for it. While searching and lamenting the
deer's absence, Mahārāja Bharata fell
down and died. Because his mind was fully absorbed thinking of the deer at the
time of his death, he naturally took his next birth from the womb of a deer.
This is the theory of transmigration
of the soul, which we believe. Some western philosophers believe in reincarnation.
The reincarnation theory is based on the assumption that a human soul takes
birth only as humans, not as animals. The theory of transmigration seems more
universal than the theory of reincarnation.
Jai: If living beings go through cycles of birth and death, how about
the Sun, Moon, Earth, and stars? Do they also take birth and get destroyed?
Grandma: The entire visible creation has a life
span. The visible worlds, such as stars and planets, have a life span of 8.64
billion years. During this period, the entire visible cosmos is created and destroyed.
(Gita 8.17-19) But Brahma is everlasting and is never destroyed.
Jai: If some people do not come back to this world after death, what
happens to them? Do they go to heaven and live there forever?
Grandma: Those who have done good work here on earth
go to heaven, but they have to come back after enjoying the pleasures of
heaven. (Gita 8.25, 9.21) Those who have been naughty and bad go to hell for
punishment and also come back to earth. Those who have gained salvation (Nirvāna)
do not take birth again. They become one with God and go to His Supreme Abode,
called Parama-Dhāma). The Supreme abode is higher than heaven.
Jai: How can we gain the Supreme Abode, the house of God?
Grandma: Those who have the true knowledge of God
are called God-realized and reach the house of God. They do not reincarnate.
This is called the path of no return. (Gita 8.24) This path is blocked for the
ignorant and persons without the necessary qualities, such as austerity, faith
in God, and knowledge of God. Only those who have these qualities will walk
this path of no return. Those who have not realized God, but have done good
work, go to heaven by virtue of their good Karma and take birth on earth again
until they perfect themselves and become Self-realized. (Gita 8.25)
Chapter 8 summary: Some of the
common Sanskrit terms have been explained, which you will understand better as
you grow older. The theory of transmigration and the cycle of creation and
destruction of the universe were also explained. A very simple and easy method
of God-realization is to always remember God and do your duty.
SUPREME KNOWLEDGE AND
THE BIG MYSTERY
Jai: If God comes sometimes on earth, is He the same as we are, or is
He different from us?
Grandma: This is a very good question, Jai. It has
been answered both ways. For example, look at my chain and my ring and this
gold coin. They are all made of gold, so you can see them as gold. And you can
see everything else made of gold as gold. They are different forms of gold. But
you can also think of them as separate things --- a chain, a ring, or a coin.
The chain, the ring, and the coin are nothing but different shapes and forms of
gold. In the same way, we can look at the Lord and His creation as nothing but
an expansion of the Lord Himself. This viewpoint is known as non-dualistic (or
The other viewpoint sees God as one
reality and creation as a different reality but dependent on God. This dualistic
(or Dvaita) philosophy considers objects made of gold (such as a chain and a
ring and a coin) different from gold. (Gita 9.04-06)
Jai: Is that what people mean when they say God is everywhere and in
Grandma: Yes, Jai, God is the Sun, the Moon, and the
wind; fire, trees, earth, and stones, in the
same way as everything made of gold is gold. That’s why Hindus see and worship
God in the stone and the tree as if these are God Himself in that form.
Jai: If everything comes from the Lord, then will everything become
the Lord again, as everything made of gold can be melted into just gold again?
Grandma: Yes, Jai, the cycle of creation and
destruction keeps on going. It’s like turning my chain and ring and coin into
gold again and then using the gold to make new jewelry and coins. (Gita
9.07-08) The entire creation appears and disappears again and again.
Jai: If Lord is us, and we all come from the Lord, then why doesn’t everyone
love and worship Lord?
Grandma: Those who understand this truth worship
God. They know the Lord is our Lord, and we are from Him, for Him, and we
depend on Him, so they love and worship Him. But the ignorant do not understand
or believe in universal God.
Jai: If I pray to God everyday and love Him and offer Him flowers or
fruit, will He be pleased and help me in my studies?
Grandma: Lord Krishna said in the Gita that He takes
care of all the needs of His devotees who worship Him with strong faith and
loving devotion. (Gita 9.22)
Jai: Does that mean that God loves only those who pray and worship
Grandma: God loves all of us the same, but if we
remember Him and pray to Him, we come closer to God. So we all should think of
God, worship Him, meditate, and bow down to Him with faith, love, and devotion.
Jai: I would like to be close to the Lord Krishna, Grandma. How can I
have more faith in Him and love Him more?
Grandma: Just think of all the nice things God does
for us. He gives us so many different foods we enjoy. He gave us the Sun for
heat and light. Look at the beautiful sky with the Moon, the stars and clouds
in the night. This is all His beautiful creation, so think how beautiful the
creator Himself must be! Worshiping God is saying thank you for His kindness.
Praying is asking for what we need from God. Meditating is connecting with the
Supreme power to get help and guidance.
Jai: If there is only one God who gives us everything, why do you have
so many deities in your prayer (Poojā) room, Grandma?
Why don’t you just worship the one Lord Krishna?
Grandma: Lord Krishna said: “Those who worship other
deities, also worship Me through those deities.” (Gita 9.23) We can worship any deity we feel close to.
That favorite deity is called IshtaDeva, our own personal god (or the guardian
angel) who becomes our personal guide and protector.
Jai: Why do we offer fruits and flowers to God?
Grandma: Lord Krishna said in the Gita that anyone
who offers Him a leaf, a flower, a fruit, water, or anything with love and
devotion, He not only accepts it, but eats the offerings! (Gita 9.26) That’s
why we always offer our food to God with a prayer before we eat it. Food
offered to God is called Prasāda or Prasādam. Anybody can reach God
who worships Him with faith, love and devotion. This path of devotion is open
to all of us.
is a story about the power of faith.
10. A Boy Who Fed God
noble man used to worship his family’s deity everyday with food offerings. One
day he had to go out of his village for the day. He said to his son, Raman:
Give the offering to the deity today. See that God is fed.
The boy offered food to the deity in
the shrine, but the image would neither eat nor drink nor talk. Raman waited a
long time, but still the image did not move. But he totally believed that God
would come down from His throne in heaven, sit on the floor and eat.
Again and again he prayed to the
deity, saying: “O Lord, please come down and eat the food. It is already very
late. Father will get angry if I did not feed you.” The deity did not say a
The boy wept and cried: “O Lord, my
father asked me to feed you. Why won’t you come down? Why won’t you eat from my
The boy wept for some time with a
longing soul. At last the deity came down smilingly from the altar in human
form and sat before the meal and ate it.
After feeding the deity, the boy came
out of the prayer room. His relatives said: “The worship is over. Now bring the
Prasādam for us.”
The boy said: “God has eaten everything,
He did not leave anything for you today.”
They entered the prayer room and were
speechless with wonder to see that the deity had really eaten every bit of the
The moral of the story is that God
does eat if you offer food with full faith, love, and devotion. Most of us
don’t have the faith Raman had. We don’t know how to feed Him! It is said that
we must have faith in God like a child or we shall not enter the supreme abode,
the house of God.
Jai: Grandma, what if a person is a sinful thief or robber. Can that
person also love God?
Grandma: Yes, Jai. Lord
Krishna has said in the Gita: If even the most sinful person decides to worship
Me with loving devotion, such a person soon becomes a saint because he or she
has made the right decision. (Gita 9.31)
is a story about such a robber.
11. The Great Highway Robber Sage
We have two very popular epics or
historical tales. The first one is the Holy Rāmāyana. The other one
is Mahābhārata. The Bhagavad-Gita is a part of the Mahābhārata.
It was written about 3,100 years B.C.E. Originally, the Holy Rāmāyana
may have been written about 1.75 million years ago, according to latest
findings of NASA. The original writer of Rāmāyana was a sage named Vālmiki.
After Vālmiki, many other saints have written Rāmāyana, the
story of Lord Rāma that all children should read. The legend is that Vālmiki
was given the power by sage Nārada to write the entire episode before the
event actually happened.
In the early part of his life, Vālmiki
was a great highway robber. He made a living by robbing travelers. One day, the
great celestial saint Nārada was passing by when Vālmiki attacked him
and tried to rob him. Nārada asked Vālmiki why he was doing that. Vālmiki
said that this is how he supported his family.
The sage told Vālmiki: “When you
rob a person, you commit sin. Do your family members want to share that sin
The robber replied: “Why not? I am
sure they do.”
The sage said: “All right, go home and
ask everyone if they will share your sins along with the money you are bringing
The robber agreed. He tied the sage
against a tree and went home and asked each member of his family, saying: “I
bring you money and plenty of food by robbing people. A sage told me that it is
sinful to rob people. Will you share my sins?”
No one in his family was willing to
share his sin. They all said: “It is your duty to support us. We can’t share
Vālmiki realized his mistakes and
asked the sage what to do to atone for his sins. The sage gave Vālmiki the
most powerful and the simplest “Rāma” mantra to chant and taught him how
to worship and meditate. The highway robber gave up his sinful activity and
soon became a great sage and writer by the grace of guru Nārada, the power
of mantra, and his sincere spiritual practice.
Here is another story, Jai, that you
should always remember. It illustrates the verses of the Gita that say Lord
Krishna takes care of all of us. (Gita 9.17-18)
12. The Footprints
night, a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the
Lord. Across the sky he saw scenes from his life. For each scene, he noticed
two sets of footprints in the sand; one belonging to him, and the other to the
When the last scene of his life came
before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many
times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also
noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life.
This really bothered him, and he
questioned the Lord about it.
“Lord, You said that there is no one
hateful or dear to You, but You are always with those who worship You with love
and devotion. (Gita 9.29) I have noticed that during the most troublesome times
in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I
needed You most, You left me alone.”
The Lord replied, “My dear child, you
are my own soul. I love you, and I would never leave you, even if you leave Me
sometimes. During your time of trial and suffering, when you see only one set
of footprints, that was because then I carried you. When you have trouble, it
is caused by your own Karma. That is when you are tested and can grow
The Lord Krishna said in the Gita: “I
personally take care of the needs of devotees who always remember and love Me.”
Chapter 9 summary: The
dualistic philosophy sees God as one reality and creation as a different reality
dependent on Him. Non-dual philosophy sees God and His creation as One. God
loves all of us the same, but He takes personal interest in His devotees
because such a person is closer to Him. It is like one gets more heat if one
sits close to the fire. There is no unforgivable sin or sinner. The fire of
sincere repentance burns all sins.
MANIFESTATION OF GOD
Jai: If Lord Krishna said He
will take care of us if we always remember and adore Him, then I want to know
and love God. How do I do that, Grandma?
Grandma: The love of God is called devotion
(Bhakti). If you have devotion, God will give you the knowledge and
understanding of the Self. (Gita 10.10) The more you know and think about God’s
glory, power and greatness, the stronger your love will grow. Thus the
knowledge and love of God go together.
Jai: God is so great, and powerful, how can I really know Him?
Grandma: Nobody can fully know God. He is the cause
of cosmic energy and power, a cause that will remain a big mystery. God is unborn,
without beginning or end. Only God can really know God! (Gita 10.15) If anyone says, I know God, that person does
not know. Anyone who knows the Truth says: I do not know God.
Jai: Then what can we know about God, Grandma?
Grandma: God knows everything, but nobody can know
God. According to Sankara, the entire creation is nothing but another form of
God. The creation has come out of God’s energy called Māyā.
Everything comes from Him and eventually goes back to Him. God is One, but has
become many. He is everywhere and in everything. (Gita 10.19-39) He is the Generator or creator, Operator
or maintainer, and Destroyer of all beings. He
creates everything, including the sun, moon, stars, wind, water, air, fire, and
even our thoughts, feelings, intellect, and other qualities. We can see His
glory and greatness throughout creation. The beautiful sky with earth and all
the planets you see is only a small part of His glory. Seeing God everywhere
purifies our mind and makes us a better person.
is a story about why we know very little about God. (Gita 10.15)
13. The Four Blind Men
blind men went to see an elephant.
touched the leg of the elephant and said, “The elephant is like a pole.”
second touched the trunk and said, “The elephant is like a thick club.”
third touched the belly and said, “The elephant is like a big jar.”
The fourth touched the ear and said, “The
elephant is like a big hand fan.”
they began to quarrel amongst themselves as to the shape of the elephant.
passer-by, seeing them thus quarreling, said, “Why are you all quarreling?”
They told him the problem and asked him to be the judge.
man said: “None of you has seen the elephant. The elephant is not like a pole;
its legs are like poles. It is not like a thick club; its trunk is like a thick
club. It is not like a big jar; its belly is like a big jar. It is not like a
fan; its ear is like a fan. The elephant is all these --- legs, trunk, belly,
ears and much more.”
the same way, those who argue about the nature of God have known only a small
part of His Reality. That’s why sages say God is “neither this, nor that.”
Jai: What about people who do not believe in God?
Grandma: Such people are called atheists or
disbelievers. They do not believe in the existence of a creator because they
cannot comprehend how such a cosmic person or power can exist. So they question
and doubt the existence of God. Their doubts may be erased someday when they
find a real spiritual master or guru by the grace of God. Atheists are those
whose journey towards God has not yet begun. Doubts arise even in the minds of
believers; therefore, just have faith, believe in God, and do your duty.
Chapter 10 summary: Nobody can
know God, the Supreme Being, because He or She is the origin of all beings, the
cause of all causes. Everything, including our body, mind, thoughts, and
feelings, comes from God. He is the creator, supporter, and destroyer of all.
He is infinite and has no beginning or end. The entire universe is the
expansion of a tiny fraction of His energy. (Gita 10.41-42) All deities are
just the names of His various powers. Worshiping God with faith, using any
name, form, and method gives us what we want
and helps us become good and peaceful.
THE VISION OF GOD
Jai: You said we can know a little bit about God. Is it possible for
people to see God, Grandma?
Grandma: Yes, Jai. But not with our physical eyes.
God does not have hands and legs like we have in our world. But when God is
pleased by our selfless service (Sevā) and devotion, He may appear in a
vision in dream. He can show Himself in any form, or in the form of one’s
personal god (IshtaDeva).
Jai: Is there any other way to see God?
Grandma: The best way to see God is to feel His
presence in everything because everything is part of God. Yogis see the whole
world as God’s expansion. Everything is just another form of God. Knowing this,
we can see God all around us. The entire universe is God, and we are His
children and tools. (Gita 11.33) God uses us to do His work. He is within all
is a story about God being always with us, but we cannot see Him with our
physical eyes. (Gita 11.08)
14. God Is with You
man wanted to smoke and went to a neighbor’s house to get fire to light his
charcoal. It was in the dead of night, and the householder was asleep. After he
had knocked and knocked, the neighbor finally came down to open the door.
the sight of the man he asked, “Hello! What’s the matter?”
man replied, “Can’t you guess? You know I am fond of smoking. I have come here
to get fire to light my charcoal.”
neighbor said, “Ha! Ha! You are a fine neighbor, indeed! You took the trouble
to come and do all this knocking at the door in the dead of night! Why? You
have a lighted lantern already with you!”
we seek is very near and all around us. Everything is God in different forms.
Everything in creation is within His gigantic form!
way to see God is to develop devotion and good qualities. Lord Krishna said if
we have no attachment, selfish desires, hatred, enmity, or violence towards any
being, we can reach and see God. (Gita 11.55)
Jai: Has anybody seen Krishna as God?
Grandma: Yes, many saints and sages have seen Lord
Krishna in various forms. Mother Yashodā saw Krishna’s cosmic form. Arjuna
also wanted to see Krishna as God. Because Arjuna was a great soul and a very
dear friend of Krishna, Lord showed him His cosmic form. What Arjuna saw is
described in great detail in Chapter 11 of the Gita.
is a brief description of the cosmic form of Krishna that Arjuna saw. He saw
the whole world with all gods, sages, Lord Shiva, as well as Lord Brahmā,
seated on the lotus in the body of Krishna. Lord had many arms, mouths,
stomachs, faces, and eyes. His body had no beginning or end. Bright light was
shining all around Him. Arjuna also saw all his cousins, along with many other
kings and warriors, quickly entering into Lord’s fearful mouths for
destruction. This cosmic form of Krishna was very frightful to see, so Arjuna
wished to see Krishna in the four-armed Vishnu form with a crown, holding a
conch, discus, club and lotus in His hands. Krishna then showed His four-armed
Vishnu form to Arjuna.
Krishna showed His beautiful human form and comforted Arjuna, who was afraid.
Then Arjuna became peaceful and normal again. Lord Krishna said that He can be
seen in this four-armed form only through devotion. (Gita 11.54)
Chapter 11 summary: We cannot
see God with our human eyes. We can see Him only in a vision or trance (Samādhi).
We can also see Him all around us. The entire creation is nothing but the body
of the creator, and we are part of the cosmic form of God.
PATH OF DEVOTION
Jai: Should we worship or meditate every day, Grandma, or just on Sundays?
Grandma: Children should do some form of worship,
prayer, or meditation everyday. Good habits must be formed early.
Jai: You said that God is formless but also has forms. Should I
worship God as Rāma, Krishna,
Shiva, Durgā, or should I worship a formless God?
Grandma: Arjuna asked Lord Krishna the same question
in the Gita. (Gita 12.01) Krishna told Arjuna that worship of God with a form
with faith is easier and better for most people, especially for beginners. But
a true devotee has faith in everything: the formless God, and God with a form,
such as Rāma, Krishna, Hanumāna, Shiva, and the Divine Mother Kāli,
Jai: How should I worship, Grandma?
to the worship or meditation room before going to school and pray. Sit
straight, close your eyes, take a few slow and deep breaths, remember your IshtaDeva
and ask his or her blessing. Focusing your mind on your IshtaDeva with eyes
closed is called meditation. You may also silently repeat a mantra such as ‘OM’
or ‘Rām, Rām, Rām, Rām, Rām’ a few times.
Jai: When I start to meditate, I can’t concentrate my mind, Grandma.
My mind starts to go everywhere. What should I do?
Grandma: Don’t worry, this even happens to adults.
Try to concentrate or focus again and again. With practice, you will be able to
focus your mind well, not only on God but also on your study materials. This
will help you get good grades. You can also pray to God and worship by offering
fruits, flowers, etc. to your IshtaDeva with love. Also, remember the Lord of
learning, such as Lord Ganesha, Hanumāna, or Mother Sarasvati before
starting your studies. Don’t be selfish. Work hard. Accept the results of your
work without getting upset by bad results. Try to learn from your failures.
Never give up and improve yourself.
Jai: Is that all I have to do, Grandma? Did Krishna say anything else?
Grandma: You should also develop good habits such as
obeying your parents, helping others in need, not hurting anybody, being
friendly to all, saying sorry or asking forgiveness if you hurt anyone, keeping
your mind calm, being grateful to those who have helped you, and saying thank
you. God loves and helps those who act in this way. Such people are called
devotees or Bhakta. (Gita 12.13-19) If you don’t have any one of these good
habits, try hard to develop them. (Gita 12.20)
Jai: Is it possible for a child to be a Bhakta?
Grandma: I already told you the story of Dhruva. Now
I will tell you the story of another child Bhakta. His name was Prahlāda.
15. The Story of Bhakta Prahlāda
was the king of demons. He performed a very difficult spiritual practice, and
Lord Brahmā gave him a boon that he could not be slain by man or beast.
The boon made him arrogant, and he terrorized all the three worlds, saying that
there were no gods other than himself and everybody must worship him.
had a son named Prahlāda, a religious child who always worshipped Lord
Vishnu. This angered his father greatly; he wanted to drive the thought of
Vishnu from his son’s mind, so he turned him over a strict teacher to train him
to worship only Hiranyakasipu as God and not Vishnu.
not only refused to listen to the teacher, but started teaching the other
students to worship Vishnu. The teacher was very angry and reported this to the
King burst into his son’s room, and shouted, “I hear you have been worshipping
Prahlāda said softly, “Yes father, I have.”
me that you will not do that again!” demanded the king.
“I cannot promise,” Prahlāda immediately
I will have you killed,” shouted the King.
unless it is the wish of Lord Vishnu,” replied the child.
King tried his best to get Prahlāda to change his mind, but nothing
He then ordered his guards to throw
Prahlāda into the ocean, hoping that would frighten Prahlāda into promising
not to worship Vishnu anymore. But Prahlāda remained loyal to Vishnu and
kept praying to Him in his heart with love and devotion. Guards tied him to a
huge rock and threw him into the ocean. By God’s grace, the rock fell away and
Prahlāda floated safely to the surface of the water. He was surprised to
see Vishnu on the shore.
smiled at him and said, “Ask me anything you want.”
replied, “I don’t want kingdom, wealth, heaven, or a long life. I just want the
strength to always love You and never turn my mind away from You.”
Lord Vishnu granted Prahlāda’s wishes.
Prahlāda returned to his father’s palace, the King was stunned to see him
brought you out of the sea?” he demanded.
Vishnu,” said the child, simply.
not say that name before me,” shouted his father. “Where is your Lord Vishnu?
Show him to me,” he challenged.
is everywhere,” replied the child.
in this pillar?” asked the King.
even in this Pillar!” replied Prahlāda confidently.
let him appear before me in whatever form he wants,” cried Hiranyakasipu and
broke the pillar with his iron club.
from within the pillar jumped a being called Narasimha, who was half man and
half lion. Hiranyakasipu, stood helplessly before him. Frightened, he called
out for help, but none came.
picked up Hiranyakasipu and placed him on his lap, where he mauled his body and
tore it apart. Thus Hiranyakasipu met his end.
blessed Prahlāda for the deep faith he placed in Him. After the death of
Hiranyakasipu, demons were crushed, and the Devas took over the world once
again from demons. To this day, the name of Prahlāda is counted among the
Chapter 12 summary: The path
of devotional love of God is very easy to practice. This path consists of daily
deity worship, offering fruits and flowers, singing hymns (Bhajans) in praise
of the glory of God, and developing certain good habits.
CREATION AND THE CREATOR
Jai: Grandma, I can eat and
sleep and think and talk and walk and run and work and study. How does my body
know how to do all this?
Grandma: The whole world, including our body, is
made of five basic elements or matter. These elements are: earth, water, fire,
air, and ether or an invisible element. We have eleven senses: five sense
organs (nose, tongue, eye, skin, and ear); five organs of action (mouth, hand,
leg, anus, and urethra); and a mind. We smell through our nose, taste through
our tongue, see through the eyes, feel touch through skin, and hear through our
ears. We also have a sense of feeling by which we feel pain and pleasure. All
these give our body what it needs to work. (Gita 13.05-06) The Spirit or Atmā
inside our bodies is also called Prāna. It supplies power to the body to
do all work. When Prāna leaves the body, we are dead.
Jai: You said God is the creator of the universe. How do we know there
is a creator or God?
Grandma: There has to be a creator behind any
creation, Jai. Somebody or some power made the car we drive and the house we
live in. Somebody or some power created the sun, the earth, the moon and the
stars. We call that person or power God or the creator of this universe.
Jai: If everything has a creator, then who created God?
Grandma: This is a very good question, Jai, but
there is no answer. God has always existed and will always exist. God is the
origin of everything, but God has no origin. Good Lord is the source of
everything, but He or She has no source!
Jai: Then, what is God like, Grandma? Can you describe Him?
Grandma: It is impossible to describe God directly.
The Supreme Being can only be described by parables, and in no other way. His
hands, feet, eyes, head, mouth, and ears are everywhere. He can see, feel, and
enjoy without any physical sense organs. He does not have a body like us. His
body and senses are out of this world. He walks without legs, hears without
ears, does all works without hands, smells without a nose, sees without eyes,
speaks without a mouth, and enjoys all tastes without a tongue. His actions are
wonderful. His greatness is beyond description. God is present everywhere at
all times, so He is very near (living in our heart) as well as far away in His
Supreme Abode. He is the creator (Brahmā), the sustainer (Vishnu) and the
destroyer (Shiva), all in one. (Gita
best way to illustrate why no one can describe God (Gita 13.12-18) is the story
of the salt doll.
16. The Salt Doll
a salt doll went to measure the depth of the ocean so it could tell others how
deep the ocean was. But every time it got into the water, it melted. Now, no
one could report the ocean’s depth. That’s how impossible it is for anyone to
describe God. Whenever we try, we melt into the big, mysterious ocean of His
can’t describe Brahma. In a trance we can know Brahma, but in trance reasoning
and intellect stop altogether. This means one does not retain the memory of
experiences in trance (Samādhi). One who knows Brahma becomes Brahma-like
(Gita 18.55) and does not talk, just as the salt doll melted into the ocean and
could not report the ocean’s depth. Those who talk about God have no real
experience. Thus, Brahma can only be experienced and felt.
Jai: Then how can we know and understand God?
Grandma: You can’t know God by mind and intellect.
He can be known only by faith and belief. He can also be known by
Self-knowledge. One and the same God lives in the body of all beings as spirit
and supports us. That is why we must not hurt anybody and must treat everybody
equally. (Gita 13.28) Hurting anybody is like hurting your own Atmā. The
spirit in the body is the witness, the guide, the supporter, the enjoyer, and
the controller of all events. (Gita 13.22)
Jai: What is the difference between the creator and His creation?
Grandma: From a non-dualistic point of view, there
is no difference between the two. The difference between the creator and
creation is like the difference between the sun and the sun’s rays. Those who
have Self-knowledge truly understand the difference between the creator and the
creation and become God-realized. (Gita 13.34) The entire universe is His
expansion, and everything is nothing but Him. God is both creator and the
creation, the protector and the protected, the destroyer and the destroyed. He
is within us, outside us, near, far, and everywhere.
God’s blessing comes to you, He will let you know who you really are and what
your real nature is like.
is a story how Supreme Soul becomes individual soul (Jiva), forgets its real
nature and tries to finds out its real nature. (Gita 13.21)
17. The Vegetarian Tiger
a tigress attacked a herd of sheep. She was pregnant and very weak. As she
sprang on her prey, she gave birth to a baby tiger and died within a couple of
hours. The baby tiger grew up in the company of the lambs. The lambs ate grass,
so the baby tiger followed their example. When they made sounds, the baby tiger
also made sounds like a sheep. Gradually it grew to be a big tiger. One day
another tiger attacked the same herd of sheep. The tiger was surprised to see a
grass-eating tiger in the herd. Running after it, the wild tiger at last
grabbed the cub, and the grass-eating cub began to make sounds like a sheep.
wild tiger dragged it to the water and said: “Look at your face in the water.
It is just like mine. Here is a little meat. Eat it.”
this, the wild tiger put some meat into the vegetarian tiger’s mouth. But the
vegetarian tiger would not take it and began to make the sound of a sheep
again. Gradually, however, it got the taste for blood and began to like the
the wild tiger said: “Now you see, there is no difference between you and me.
Come along and follow me into the forest. ”
have been thinking that we are this body which is limited in time and space. We
are not this body. We are the all-powerful Spirit in the body.
Chapter 13 summary: Our body
is like a miniature universe. It is made up of five basic elements and powered
by the Spirit. Any creation must have a creator or some creative power behind
it. We call that power by various names such as Krishna, Shiva, Mother, Father,
Ishvara, Allah, God, Jehovā, etc. God cannot be known, seen, described, or
understood by a human mind. The creator Himself has become the creation like
the cotton has become the thread, the cloth, and the dress.
THREE MODES OF NATURE
Jai: Grandma, sometimes I feel lazy, and at other times I am very
active? Why is that?
Grandma: We all pass through different states in
order to do certain things. These states or modes (Gunas) are three types: the
mode of goodness (Sattva), the mode of passion (Rajas), and the mode of
ignorance (Tamas). We come under the influence of these three modes. Sometimes
one mode becomes more powerful than the other two.
mode of goodness makes you peaceful and happy. In this mode you will study scriptures,
will not harm anybody, and will work honestly. When you are in the mode of
passion, you become greedy for wealth and power. You will work hard to enjoy
material pleasures and will do anything to satisfy your selfish desires. When
you are in the mode of ignorance, you can’t tell the difference between right
and wrong action, and will do sinful and forbidden activities. You become lazy
and careless, lack intelligence, and have no interest in spiritual knowledge. (Gita
Jai: Do these three modes of nature control us, Grandma, or do we have
control over what we do?
Grandma: Actually, these three modes are the doers
of all the actions. (Gita 3.27) When we are under the influence of the mode of
goodness, we do good and right actions; under the influence of the mode of
passion, we do selfish actions; and under the influence of the mode of
ignorance, we do bad things or become lazy. (Gita 14.11-13) We must rise above
the three Gunas to attain liberation (Nirvāna). (Gita 14.20)
Jai: What are we like when we have risen above the three Gunas?
Grandma: When we have risen above the three Gunas,
we are not affected by pain and pleasure, success and failure, and we treat
everybody like ourselves. Such a person depends on nobody but God.
Jai: It must be very hard to rise above these three modes. How can I
rise above the three Gunas, Grandma?
Grandma: To rise above the three Gunas is not very
easy, but it can be done with a little effort. If you are under the mode of
ignorance, you must stop being lazy, stop putting off what you should be doing,
and start helping others. This will bring you to the mode of goodness. If you
are under the mode of passion, you must give up being selfish and greedy and
help others. This will bring you to the mode of goodness. After reaching the
mode of goodness, you can rise above the three Gunas by devotion to God. Lord
Krishna said: One who serves Me with love and devotion rises above the three
Gunas and becomes fit for God-realization. (Gita 14.26)
is a story about the nature of three Gunas.
18. Three Robbers on the Path
a man was going through a forest when three robbers jumped on him and robbed
of the robbers then said, “What is the use of keeping this man alive?”
was about to kill him with his sword when the second robber stopped him,
saying: “What is the use of killing him? Tie him to a tree and leave him here.”
robbers tied him to a tree and went away.
a while, the third robber returned and said to the man: “I am sorry; are you hurt?
I will untie you.”
setting the man free, the thief said: “Come with me. I will take you to the
a long time, they reached the road.
the man said: “Sir, you have been very good to me. Come with me to my house.”
no!” replied the robber, “I can’t go there. The police will know it.”
forest is this world. The three robbers are the three Gunas: goodness, passion
and laziness. It is they who rob us of Self-knowledge. Laziness wants to
destroy us. Passion ties us to the world. Goodness frees us from the grasp of
passion and laziness. Under the protection of goodness, we are rescued from
anger, passion, greed, and laziness. Goodness also loosens the bonds of the
world. But goodness is also a robber. It cannot give us the pure knowledge of
God. It can only show us the path leading to the house of God. We have to rise
above the three Gunas and develop love of God.
Chapter 14 summary: Mother
Nature puts us into these three modes or gears to get her work done through us.
Actually, all work is done by these three Gunas of nature. We are not the
doers, but we are responsible for our actions because we are given a mind and
free will to decide and choose between right and wrong action. You can escape
the influence of three Gunas by sincere effort, devotion to God and His grace.
THE SUPREME PERSON
Jai: Grandma, I am confused by the difference between Supreme Spirit,
Spirit, Divine Beings and individual souls. Will you please explain them again?
Grandma: Yes, Jai, these are terms you should
Supreme Spirit is also called the Supreme Person, the Supreme Being, the
Supersoul, the Absolute, Father, Mother, God, Ishvara, Allah and by many other
names. The Supreme Spirit is called ParaBrahma, Paramātmā, ParamaShiva,
or Krishna in Sanskrit. The Supreme Spirit is the source or the root of
everything. There is nothing higher than the Supreme Spirit.
(Brahma or Atmā) is a part of the Supreme Spirit that expands and supports
the entire cosmos.
Beings (Devas, Devis), such as Vishnu, Brahmā, Shiva, and many others, are
the expansions of Brahma (Spirit).
Souls (soul or Jiva), such as all living beings, are the expansions of Divine
Supreme Spirit and Spirit do not change and last forever. Divine Beings come
out of Spirit and have a very long life span. Individual souls or the living
beings have a very limited life span.
you compare the creation with a tree, then the Supreme Lord Krishna (the
Supreme Spirit) is the root of the tree. Atmā or Brahma (also spelled as
Brahman, Brahm) is the trunk of the tree. The cosmos are the branches of the
tree, and the holy books, such as the Vedas, Upanishads, and Gita, Dhammapāda,
Torah, Bible, Koran, etc. are its leaves. Individual souls, such as living
beings, are the fruits and flowers of the tree. Do you see how everything is
connected and part of the Supreme Being?
Jai: How about planets, such as the Sun, and the Moon and the stars?
Grandma: The entire visible world, such as the Sun,
Moon, Earth, other planets, and galaxies, was created by Lord Brahmā and
is supported by Lord Vishnu and is destroyed by Lord Shiva. Remember that Brahmā,
Vishnu, and Shiva are a part of the energy of the Spirit or Brahma. The light
energy of the Sun also comes from Brahma, and Brahma is a part of the Supreme
Being, Lord Krishna. The sages tell us that everything is nothing but another
form of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Being. Krishna is inside and outside everything.
He has actually become everything. The One has become all. He also comes to
earth in human form to establish law and order (Dharma) when needed. (Gita
is a story when the Supreme Lord Himself incarnated as Krishna about 5,100
19. A Story of Baby Krishna
Krishna had an elder half-brother named Balarāma. Both played together in
the village of Gokul. Krishna’s birth mother’s name was Devaki. His father’s
name was Vasudeva. Krishna is also called Vāsudeva. Krishna spent His
childhood years under the care of Aunty Yashodā. Both Balarāma and
Krishna were the favorites of the village milkmaids. Their mothers loved them
proudly. Yasodā and Rohini (Balarāma’s mother) dressed their young
boys colorfully, Krishna in yellow with a crown of peacock feathers in His hair,
and Balarāma in blue. The two boys went from place to place, making
friends wherever they went. Most of the time they got into a lot of trouble!
One day, they were playing outside
with a few of the other village boys, digging in the dirt, making mud pies, and
getting very dirty. After a while, one of the older boys ran to mother Yashodā
and said, “Krishna has been a bad boy, He has been eating clay!” Yashodā
was annoyed with her young son. She had also been hearing other complaints from
villagers that Krishna had been stealing butter from their houses.
came out of her house and asked Krishna angrily, “Did you really eat clay,
Krishna? How many times have I told you not to put things in your mouth!”
didn’t want to be punished, so he played a trick on mother Yashodā. He
opened His mouth wide and said, “See, Mother, I haven’t been eating anything.
These boys are just lying to get me in trouble.”
looked inside Krishna’s mouth. There, in the little boy’s mouth, she saw the
whole universe --- Earth and stars, the wide empty space, the entire galaxy and
the Milky Way, the oceans and the mountains, the Sun and the Moon. All were
contained within His mouth. She realized then that Krishna was Lord Vishnu
incarnate, and she was about to fall before Him and worship.
Krishna didn’t want her to worship Him. He just wanted her to love Him the way
mothers love their children. He could have come to earth in any form to fight
the demons, but He liked being a little boy to a mother and a father who had
performed many difficult spiritual practices to have God as their child. Baby
Krishna realized that His trick had been a big mistake!
He spread His power of Māyā over her. The next minute Yashodā
was holding her son as usual, with no memory at all of what she had just seen
in Krishna’s mouth.
should read interesting stories of Krishna’s adventures and tricks with village
milkmaids when you get time.
Lord also comes as a saint or a teacher to teach us from time to time. Here is
a story of such a saint:
20. The Story of Shri RamaKrishna
Lord came to this earth as RamaKrishna, born on February 18, 1836, in the
village Kamarpukur of West Bengal. Most of the stories I have told you are from
his “Tales and Parables of Shri RamaKrishna.” Swami Vivekananda was one of his
most famous disciples. Swami Vivekananda was the first Hindu monk who came to
the USA in 1893. He established the Vedanta Society in New York. RamaKrishna
led a very simple life, depending on God for his daily food and other
necessities of life. He would not accept any money. He was married to Sāradā
Ma, whom he treated like his mother and never had any child. Sāradā
Ma used to tell her disciples: “If you want peace of mind, do not look into
others’ faults; rather, look into your own. No one is a stranger; the whole
world is your own.“ Sāradā Ma also warned her disciples not to be too
close with persons of the opposite gender, even if God came in that form.
RamaKrishna worshipped Goddess Kali as his personal deity in a temple at Dakshineshvar
near Kolkatta. This temple still exists today.
Chapter 15 summary: The
creation is changeable and does not last forever. It has a limited life span. Brahma
or Atmā does not change and is eternal. It is the cause of all causes.
Krishna is called ParaBrahma or the Supreme Being. He is also called the
Absolute because He has no origin. He is the source of Brahma. Everything in
the universe comes out of Brahma. The entire visible world and its creatures
are created by Brahmā, the creative power; sustained by Vishnu’s
sustaining power and destroyed by Shiva.
DIVINE AND DEMONIC QUALITIES
Jai: I meet different types of students in the class. How many types
of people are there, Grandma?
Grandma: Generally, there are only two types (or
castes) of people in this world, the good and the bad. (Gita 16.06) Most people
have both good and bad qualities. If you have more good qualities, you are
called a good person, and if you have more bad qualities, you are called a bad
Jai: If I want to be a good person, what qualities must I have?
Grandma: You must be honest, nonviolent, truthful,
without anger, calm, without harmful talk, kind, not greedy, gentle, forgiving,
and humble. These are also called divine qualities because they lead us to God.
Jai: What bad habits should I avoid?
Grandma: Hypocrisy, telling lies, arrogance, pride,
jealousy, selfishness, anger, greed, harshness, ungratefulness, and violence
--- these are bad qualities because they lead us away from God. Bad qualities
also lead us to do bad things and get us into trouble. Do not be friends with
people who have bad qualities because they do not know what to do and what not
to do. Always be grateful to those who have helped you. Ingratitude is a great
sin for which there is no remedy.
Desire, anger, and greed are very
destructive. Lord Krishna calls these the three gates to hell. (Gita 16.21)
is a story about how greed leads to sorrow.
21. The Dog and the Bone
day a dog found a bone. He picked it up in his mouth and went to a lonely
corner to chew it. He sat there and chewed the bone for some time. Then the dog
felt thirsty and picked up the bone in his mouth and walked over a small wooden
bridge to drink water from the creek
When he saw his own reflection in the
water, he thought there was another dog with a bone in the river. Becoming
greedy, he wanted to have the other bone also. He opened his mouth to bark and
take the bone from the other dog. As soon as he opened his mouth to grab the
other bone, the bone dropped out of his mouth and fell into the creek. The dog
realized his mistake, but it was too late.
can be overcome by being satisfied with what one has. A satisfied person is a
very happy person. A greedy person cannot find true peace and happiness in
Jai: How can I know what to do and what not to do?
Grandma: Follow your holy books, Jai. Saints and
sages tell us what to do and what not to do in our holy books. Have faith in
God, and listen to your parents and elders.
should develop as many good habits as possible. But no one has only good habits
and no bad habits. Good Lord usually puts good and bad habits in the same
is a story about how Queen Draupadi discovered this truth from her own
22. The Story of Queen Draupadi
was the common wife of five Pāndavas. She was the daughter of a Rishi in
her past life. She was very beautiful and virtuous, but in her past life, due
to her past Karma, she had been unable to get married. This made her unhappy.
So she started austerity to please Lord Shiva. After a long and difficult
austerity, she pleased Lord Shiva, who asked her to choose a blessing of her
choice. She asked for a husband who would be very religious, strong, a very
good soldier, good looking, and gentle. Lord Shiva granted her wish.
the next life, she was married to five brothers, but she was not very happy
with this strange situation. Draupadi was a great devotee of Lord Krishna, who
knows the past, present and future of all beings. He knew of her sorrow and
explained what she had asked for in her past life. Lord Krishna said it was
impossible for one man to have all the qualities she wanted in her husband, so
she was married to five husbands in this life, who shared all these qualities
hearing this explanation from the Lord Krishna Himself, she, her parents, and
her five husbands cheerfully accepted what fate had given them and lived
moral of the story is that one cannot find a husband or wife with all good or
bad qualities, so one must learn to live with whatever is given by fate. There
is no perfect spouse because no one has only good habits and no bad habits.
Chapter 16 summary: Generally,
there are only two types of human beings: the good or divine and the bad or
demonic. Most people have both good and bad qualities. Getting rid of bad
habits and cultivating good habits are necessary for spiritual progress.
Jai: Grandma, how do I know what foods to eat?
Grandma: There are three types of foods, Jai. (Gita
17.07-10) The foods that bring long life, virtue, strength, health, happiness,
and joy are juicy, smooth, substantial, and nutritious. Such health foods are
the best. They are called Sattvik or healthy food.
Foods that are very bitter, sour,
salty, hot, oily, and acidic are called Rājasika or undesirable foods.
Such junk foods are unhealthy, cause diseases, and should be avoided.
Foods that are not well cooked,
spoiled, tasteless, rotten, burned, left-over, and impure (such as meat and alcohol)
are called Tamasik or bad foods. One should not eat such foods.
Jai: How should I speak to others?
Grandma: You should never tell a lie. Your words
should not be harsh, bitter, nasty, or insulting. They should be sweet, useful,
and truthful. (Gita 17.15) One who speaks politely wins the heart of all and is
liked by everybody. A wise person should speak the truth if it is helpful and
keep quiet if it is harsh. To help those in need is the universal teaching.
Jai: How should I help others?
Grandma: It is our duty to help those who are less
fortunate and can’t help themselves. Help anyone who needs help, but never
expect anything in return. Charity is not only the best, but also the only use
of wealth. We all should help a good cause. Give back what belongs to the
world. But there are responsibilities. Money given in charity should be earned
by lawful means. And we must make sure that the receiver is not a person likely
to use the gift for evil purposes. (Gita 17.20-22)
Jai: Will God give us what we want if we sincerely pray for it?
Grandma: Full faith in God makes things happen.
There is nothing impossible for faith. Faith works miracles. One must have
faith before starting any work. It is said in the Gita that we can become whatever
we want to be if we always think about it and pray to God with faith. (Gita
17.03) Always think about what you want to be, and your dream can come true.
is a story about a crow that had faith.
23. The Thirsty Crow
was a hot summer day. A crow was very thirsty. He flew from place to place
looking for water. He could not find water anywhere. Ponds, rivers, and lakes
were all dry. The water in the well was too deep. Crow was very thirsty for
water. He flew and flew. He was getting both tired and thirsty, but he did not
give up the search.
last he thought death was near and remembered God and started to pray for
water. He saw a pitcher of water near a house. This made him very happy as he
thought there must be water in the pitcher. He sat on the top of the pitcher
and looked into it. To his great frustration he found that the water was at the
bottom of the pitcher. He could see the water, but his beak could not reach the
water. He became very sad and started to think how he could reach the water.
Suddenly an idea came into his mind. There were stones near the pitcher. He
picked up stones from the ground, one by one, and started dropping them into
the pitcher. The water began coming up. Soon the crow could reach it easily. He
drank the water, thanked God, and happily flew away.
it is said, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” The crow did what we all
should do. He did not give up. He had faith that his prayer would be answered.
is another good story:
24. The Rabbit and the Turtle
turtle always moves very slowly. His friend, the rabbit, often laughed at the
slow turtle. One day, the turtle could not bear the insults and challenged the
rabbit to run a race with him. All the animals in the jungle laughed at the
idea because a race is usually between equals. A deer volunteered to be the
race started. The rabbit ran fast, and soon he was ahead of the turtle. As the
rabbit came closer and closer to the winning post, he felt sure of winning. He
looked back at the slow moving turtle, who was far behind.
rabbit was so sure of winning that he thought, “I will sit under the tree and
wait for the turtle. When he comes here, I shall run fast and cross the finish
line before he does. This will make turtle angry, and it will be fun to see the
rabbit then sat under a tree. The turtle was still far behind. A cool wind was
blowing gently. After some time passed, the rabbit fell asleep. When he woke
up, he saw the turtle crossing the finish line. The rabbit had lost the race!
All the animals in the jungle were laughing at the rabbit, and he learned a
and steady wins the race.”
can succeed in any work if you work hard with strong faith. Be enthusiastic
about what you want, and you will get it. We are the creation of our own
thoughts and desires. Thoughts create our future. We become what we always
think of. So never think a negative thought or allow doubt to enter your mind.
Keep going toward your goal. You cannot get anything through laziness,
negligence, and delay. Keep your dream alive in your heart, and it will come
true. All difficulties can be removed by faith in God and a firm determination
to succeed. But the fruits of success must be shared with others. If you want
your dream to be fulfilled, help fulfill someone else’s dream!
is a story of a man who learned that God helps those who help themselves.
25. A Man Who Never Gave Up
was the son of a sage who practiced hard penance to get the blessings of Indra,
the King of Devas. He tortured his body with austerities and thus awakened the
sympathy of Indra. Indra came before him and asked why he was hurting his body.
answered: “I wish to be a great scholar of the Vedas. It takes a long time to
learn the Vedas from a teacher. I am practicing austerities to get that
knowledge directly. Bless me.”
smiled and said: “Son, you are on the wrong path. Return home, find a good
teacher, and learn the Vedas from him. Austerity is not the way to learn; the
path is study and study alone.” With these words, Indra went away.
Yava would not give up. He did his course of spiritual practice (austerities,
penance) with even greater effort. Indra again came before Yava and warned him
again. Yava announced that if his prayer was not answered, he would cut off his
arms and legs one by one and offer them to the fire. No, he would never give
up. He continued his penance. One morning, during his austerities, when he went
to bathe in the holy Gangā River, he saw an old man on the bank throwing
handfuls of sand into the river.
man, what are you doing?” asked Yava.
The old man replied: “I am going to build a
dam across the river so people can cross the river easily. See how difficult it
is now to cross it. Useful work, isn’t it? ”
laughed and said: “What a fool you must be to think you can build a dam across
this mighty river with your handfuls of sand! Go home and do some other useful
old man said: “Is my work more foolish than yours of learning the Vedas, not by
study, but by austerities?”
now knew that the old man was Indra. Yava earnestly begged Indra to grant him
learning as a personal wish.
blessed him and comforted Yava with the following words: “I grant you the wish
you want. Go and read the Vedas; you will become learned.”
studied the Vedas and became a great scholar of the Vedas.
secret of success is to keep thinking about what you want all the time and
never give up until you get what you want. Do not let negative thoughts, such
as delaying to start work, laziness, and carelessness stand in your way.
starting or ending any work or study, repeat OM TAT SAT, the threefold names of
Jai: What does OM TAT SAT mean, Grandma?
Grandma: It means Krishna, the Almighty God, only exists.
OM is used before starting any work or study. OM TAT SAT or OM Shantih,
Shantih, Shantih, is also used at the end of any act.
Chapter 17 summary: There are
three types of food --- Sāttavik, Rājasik and Tāmasik --- and
they affect our well-being. Tell the truth in a pleasant way. Give charity to a
deserving candidate, and give it wisely to avoid its misuse. You can become
whatever you want to be if you work hard towards your goal.
LIBERATION THROUGH RENUNCIATION
Jai: Grandma, I am confused by different terms you used. Please
explain to me clearly what is the difference between renunciation (Samnyāsa) and selfless work (KarmaYoga)?
Grandma: Some people think renunciation means
walking away from family, home, possessions, and living in a cave or the forest
or any other place outside society. But Lord Krishna defined Samnyāsa as
giving up the selfish desire behind all work. (Gita 6.01, 18.02) In KarmaYoga
one gives up the selfish desire of enjoying the results of one’s work. Thus a
Samnyāsi is an advanced KarmaYogi who does not do anything for personal
Jai: Does that mean I can’t do anything for myself that gives me pleasure?
Grandma: That depends on what kind of pleasure you
have in mind. Actions such as smoking, drinking, gambling, and taking drugs
appear enjoyable in the beginning, but definitely produce harmful results in
the end. Poison may taste delicious when you drink it, but you know its deadly
results when it is too late. On the other hand, actions, such as meditation,
worship, and helping the needy, seem difficult or boring in the beginning, but
give very useful results in the end. (Gita 5.22, 18.38) A very good rule to
follow is to avoid any activity that seems pleasurable in the beginning but
causes harmful effects in the end.
Jai: What kinds of activities in society are available, Grandma?
Grandma: In the ancient Vedic way of living,
activities of human beings were divided into four universal types of human
labor described by Lord Krishna. (Gita 4.13, 18.41-44) These four divisions ---
Brāhmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra --- were based on the mental,
intellectual, and physical abilities of persons. The worth of the individual
--- not the birth or social level one was born into --- was the deciding factor.
But these four orders are often mistaken for the caste system of modern times
in India and elsewhere. The caste system is based on birth only.
who were interested in learning, teaching, preaching, and guiding people in
spiritual matters were called Brāhmanas or intellectuals. Those who could
defend the country, establish law and order, prevent crime, and administer
justice were called Kshatriyas, the warriors. Those who were good in farming,
cattle-raising, business, trade, finance, commerce, and industry were known as
Vaishyas or businessmen. Those who were very good in service and labor work
were classed as Shudras or workers.
are born with certain abilities or could develop them through training and
effort. Birth into a family at a certain social level, whether high or low,
does not decide one’s worth.
The four Varna system was work assigned according
to individual’s skills and ability. Unfortunately, the four work
classifications became degraded into hundreds of rigid castes to the detriment
of this great Dharma. Swami Vivekananda considers modern day caste system in
India as a big blot on the face of our great way of life (Dharma). Even some of
our educated immigrants from India are forming caste-based associations here in
Jai: How can anybody living and working in society attain liberation?
Grandma: Work becomes worship when done as a service
to the Lord and without selfish attachment to the results. If you work honestly
for which you are suited, you incur no Kārmic reaction and attain God.
you take on work that was not meant for you, such work produces stress, and you
will not be very successful. It is important to find proper work that best
suits your own nature. So you should know yourself before you can decide on the
job that will be suitable for you. (Gita 18.47) Then your work will not produce
stress and will encourage creativity.
is no perfect job. Every job has some faults. (Gita 18.48) You should not be
concerned about such faults in your duty in life. You can attain God by doing
your duty with devotion to God and keeping your senses under control by some
following story illustrates that one can attain Self-realization by sincerely
doing one’s duty. (Gita 18.46-58)
26. I am no Crane
holy man named Kaushika had acquired great spiritual powers. One day, he sat
under a tree meditating. A crane at the top of the tree soiled his head with
its droppings. Kaushika looked up at it angrily, and his angry look killed the
bird instantly. The holy man was pained when he saw the dead bird lying on the
time later, he went as usual to beg for food and stood before the door of a
house. The housewife was busy serving her husband with food and seemed to
forget the holy man waiting outside. After her husband had been fed, she came
out with food, saying, “I am sorry to have kept you waiting long. Forgive me.”
Kaushika, burning with anger, said: “Lady, you have made me wait for a long
time. This is not fair.”
forgive me,” said the woman. “I was serving my sick husband and hence the
“It is good to attend the husband,” replied
Kaushika, “but you seem to be an arrogant woman.”
kept you waiting only because I was dutifully serving my sick husband,” she
replied. “Please do not be angry with me. I am no crane to be killed by your
angry thought. Your anger cannot harm a woman who devotes herself to service of
her husband and family.”
was surprised. He wondered how she knew of the crane incident.
continued: “O great one, you do not know the secret of duty, or that anger is
the greatest enemy that dwells in human beings. Go to the village Rampur in
Mithilā and learn the secrets of doing one’s duty with devotion from Vyādha
went to the village and met the man named Vyādha Rāj. He was
surprised to learn he was selling meat at a butcher’s shop. The butcher got up
from his seat and asked: “Honored sir, are you well? Did that pure lady send
you to me? I know why you have come. Let us go home.”
butcher took Kaushika to his house where Kaushika saw a happy family and was
greatly amazed at the love and respect with which the butcher served his
parents. Kaushika took his lesson from the butcher on doing one’s duty. Vyādha
Rāj did not kill the animals; he never ate meat. He just carried on his
family business after his father retired.
Kaushika returned to his house and began to serve his parents, a duty which he
had neglected before.
moral of this story is that you can reach spiritual perfection by honestly
doing whatever duty is yours in life. This is a true worship of God. (Gita
Krishna lives within all of us and guides us to work out our own Karma. (Gita
18.61) Put forth your best effort, and gladly accept the results as His will.
This is called surrendering to God. (Gita 18.66) The gift of spiritual
knowledge is the best gift because the absence of spiritual knowledge is the
cause of all evil in the world. Spreading spiritual knowledge is the highest
devotional service to Lord Krishna. (Gita 18.68-69)
peace and wealth are possible only when you do your duty well and also have the
spiritual knowledge given in the Holy Gita by Lord Krishna. (Gita 18.78)
Chapter 18 summary: Lord
Krishna said that there is no real difference between a KarmaYogi and Samnyāsi.
A KarmaYogi gives up the selfish attachment to the fruits of work, whereas a
Samnyāsi does not work for any personal gain at all. There are two types
of pleasures --- helpful and harmful. Society has different work to suit
different people. One should choose work wisely. You can get God-realization
while living in society by following the three D’s --- Duty, Discipline and
Devotion to God.
Writer: Ramananda Prasad, Ph.D.
Editor-in-chief: Doret Kollerer
Kajal Virendra Khiani
A note on pronunciation:
"ā” is hard
“a” sound as in Rāma.
letter “a” in Sanskrit or
Hindi words is soft “a” different from “ā”