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Excerpt from "The Bhagavad Gita"

Lessons Learned

by Jack Hawley, PhD


Twenty-five years ago my wife and I were traveling across India’s Deccan plateau in a non-air-conditioned taxi in the middle of summer. Late in the day, wet and wrinkled, we stopped at a modest guesthouse to quench our thirst and lay our heads on a pillow. Thirsting also for something to read, I noticed a lone book, The Bhagavad Gita, resting on the only shelf in the room. I had been introduced to this ancient text some ten years earlier and had read a few memorable excerpts, but the teachings had never gained a foothold in my awareness.

As I flipped through its dog-eared pages, I stopped at chapter seven where Krishna, the heroic Divinity figure of the Gita’s story, begins to describe the very nature of the Divine. I was enthralled and began reading aloud to Louise, explaining that this was “God” talking:

I am Pure Consciousness, the underlying essence of all elements and beings.

I am the innate nature of everything.

In pure water I am the sweet taste.

In the sun and moon I am the radiance.

In the very center of human beings I live as virility and courage.

I am the slight, delicate scent, the sweet fragrance of the earth.

I am the brilliance in both fire and sun, and I am the light of Divinity in all beings.

I am the subtle spirit in spiritual practices that gives them their existence — the love in the devotee, the simple austerity in the ascetic, the sweet sense of charity in the giver.

This narrative on Divinity picks up several times throughout the book, but in those first few words of chapter seven we are plunged pleasantly into what has become a lifelong love affair with the wondrous Bhagavad Gita.

Since that encounter in the guesthouse, I have researched and written three books on the Gita. This one is the basis, the source, the reservoir of practical spiritual knowledge from which the others rise. Over these years we have traveled the world lecturing and doing workshops on the Gita’s teachings.

Five Beguiling Lessons

With the advent of New World Library’s new paperback edition of the book, I would like to share some of things I have learned over the years.

1. I learned that there is a crucial difference between regular and spiritual reading.

This difference makes a big difference. Our everyday reading, which is part and parcel of living and working in the world, is primarily for gaining worldly information. Spiritual reading has loftier purposes — to reposition us beyond the worldly and lead us into spaces the mind could never imagine, to touch the Divine in each of us. We may skim during regular reading, but we need to approach our spiritual reading with a higher awareness.

I once met a young man in a local restaurant in India. His English was good but he had a thick European accent. I found myself leaning a bit closer to make sure I could hear. He told me how much he was enjoying reading and rereading my Bhagavad Gita book.

I asked how he liked the German translation. “Oh,” he said, “I’m reading it in English — and I like reading it in En-glish because it makes me think. If I was reading it in German, I would go through it too fast, like I always do, and then, when finished, I would fool myself that I had understood it. But that would not be true!

“Reading it in English, not my native language, makes me think about every idea and word, and ask myself, ‘Do I truly understand this?’ The extra work puts it deeper inside me, and I end up knowing it better.”

We all zoom through our reading piles as he does. Whether the content is important or not, we click into a mindless, autopilot mode and thus take in a tiny percentage of what we skim. Speeding might be appropriate for most reading jobs, but speed kills spiritual reading. We have to lean a bit nearer to it.

2. I learned that two of the points I made in the earlier edition need to be emphasized.

First, contrary to its title, this book is not a simple “walkthrough.” When the book first came out, I wrote in the Introduction that the stroll may not be bump free. In retrospect, that wasn’t clear enough. The book is written in easy English, but reading it entails positive effort. One reviewer said it’s a book that asks much and gives back so much more. Moving through it is a great exercise for your spirit, and like any exercise, physical or soul based, you emerge in better shape.

Second, when I wrote the how-to-read-it pointers in the Introduction a decade ago, I conveyed the idea that getting the most out of this book is largely a matter of one’s attitude and mood. At that time I sensed the importance of this, but now, having lived with the book in the real world, I know it! One’s frame of mind while reading truly does make a difference. So when you read the Introduction (especially the last two paragraphs on page xxiv), inhale the suggestions — turn your reading into a receptive meditation.

3. I learned that the spiritual journey is the central expedition of your life, and this book may well be the most important reading you ever do. Period.

4. I learned to communicate the Gita’s vastness by narrowing my own focal point.

A few years ago I struggled mightily for days, weeks, trying to write an article on what the Gita’s splendor and utility mean to me. The prospect of composing yet another intellectual analysis or codification of the principles bored me. As I pondered, an ancient voice within me whispered, “Share your love.” The aha doors opened....

I love the Gita’s basic goodness, and how it pushes me beyond merely striving to be a good person, toward becoming my own Divinity within. I love that it provides me with page after page of methods for calling forth that extreme goodness. And I love how it continually reminds me to do that.

I love my inner peacefulness whenever I enter the Gita’s teachings. I love how almost all my anger has been eliminated, and how worldly agitations are largely things of the past for me.

I love the Gita for its depth, its breadth, and mostly its height — the way it pulls me upward. I love it for its humanness as well as its sublimity.

I love the ultra-honesty in the Gita about religion — how it lives in the open space beyond religious dogma and yet embraces a reverence for the scriptural teachings of all faiths.

I love the Gita’s insistence that we consciously live by our own inner truth. I love how it doesn’t compromise an iota on this, how it won’t put up with any excuses where truth is concerned.

I love the Gita’s clarity about how we have to live with the consequences of our actions, good or bad, but with no hint of punishment. I love how it neither excuses nor overlooks humanity’s dark side, and yet doesn’t dwell there. Sanskrit, the precise, spiritual language of the Gita, has no word for damnation.

I love the antiquity of the Gita, appreciating that it precedes by thousands of years the societies we Westerners think of as the cradles of civilization. This isn’t merely “older is better” snobbery. The Bhagavad Gita has passed the persistent tests of countless centuries, and yet it remains the basis for all the spiritual teachings known in the world today.

I love the Gita’s teachings on acceptance — not mere compliance, but acceptance as an overpowering state of mind and way of being, a receptiveness so elevated that one’s life forever soars when touched by the magic of it. This all-embracing acceptance is the most shining facet of love, the very essence of spiritual surrender.

I love the happiness in the Gita and thoroughly appreciate its careful explanation of how to attain real bliss. I also appreciate that it lays out what happiness is not and is so clear about the pitfalls in the way of lasting happiness.

I love that the all-powerful Divinity described in the Gita is loving and nonpunitive.

I love that the Gita looks death (and life) squarely in the eye and offers a straightforward system for not just conquering our fear of death but triumphing over death itself!

Finally, I love the Gita’s emphasis on application rather than airy theology — insisting that putting the teachings into practice will lead to a happier, more graceful life.

5. I learned that there’s an enthralling paradox in all this.

In the final analysis, it’s not about this book, and it’s not even about the brilliant, never-changing principles and teachings of The Bhagavad Gita itself. It’s about you. It’s about you, learning to rid yourself of your worldly suffering and find true happiness. It’s about you, learning to slip quietly into your own True Self Within. The only real destination in life is your inner Divinity. In the end it’s all you have.

Excerpted on the book The Bhagavad Gita © 2006 by Jack Hawley. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com <http://www.newworldlibrary.com/> or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.

Jack Hawley, PhD, has emerged as one of the preeminent teachers of The Bhagavad Gita in the world today. Each year, he spends six months in India studying and lecturing at a spiritual community, and six months in the U.S., living and teaching the wisdom of the Gita.


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