In "Essential Wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita," Jack Hawley offers introductions to and selections from parts of this ancient work of Hindu scripture. The following is his introduction to one of the Gita's chapters, followed by an excerpt of his translation.

Eastern philosophy is not complete without an application component. We must put into practice the high knowledge we have imbibed; merely understanding these moral and spiritual principles is not enough. In the earlier chapters of the Bhagavad Gita, our heads and hearts are lifted skyward, and our feet are planted in practical application. Now the cosmic plantings become more rooted.

In this chapter Krishna presents numerous secrets for living a truly spiritual life. Among them are a practical model for being an illumined soul (karma yoga) and the vital Law of Sacrifice. We learn the importance of being indifferent to notions of pleasure and pain, stilling our thoughts through meditation, and cultivating yogi-like virtues such as humility, harmlessness, and so forth. We learn also to develop spiritual vision and thus transform our whole spectacle of the universe. Krishna lays out the dire consequences of the lack of human unity, as well as the three major paths to higher spirituality. We come face-to-face with our ever-approaching death and learn that we can cause no greater harm than to disregard and not follow our own inner truth. We confront the profound choice we all have to make between living a Divine or a degenerate life. “Be instruments of the Divine,” Krishna implores.

The teachings follow:

Becoming Illumined

“Begin by learning to overcome your thirst for pleasures. Seek to abandon all selfish desires, cravings, and torments of the heart. Grow to want nothing, nothing outside of the true self, the soul within!

Try to keep your mind ever intent on achieving the goal of life, which is union with Divinity. Become absorbed in the deep peace and serenity of the soul. Gradually grow to be unperturbed by sorrow and adversity, and learn to neither rejoice nor get depressed when faced with good or bad fortune.

Diligently strive to free yourself from the three traits that most tarnish the mind: greed, fear, and anger.

Put increased attention on taming your wayward senses and learning to deftly withdraw the senses from attractions of the world — just as the turtle pulls in its limbs to protect itself.

Become steadily more still and undisturbed despite the constant flow of desires and attachments into your life. This is how you move from agony to bliss and become illumined.”

The Secret of Selfless Action

“Let me explain karma yoga, a workable spiritual discipline for living a more effective, happier life in this saddening, ever-changing world. Karma yoga literally means union with Divinity through worldly action.

Strive to make selfless (egoless) action your path; then you can live a spiritual life while staying fully active in the world. When your everyday activities are not based on desire for a reward, it is easier for you to steady the mind and direct it toward the soul, the Atma.

Do your worldly work with your heart fixed on the Divine rather than on outcomes. Learn to be unattached to, or unaffected by, the results of your work, whether favorable or unfavorable.

The crux issue, dear friend, is desire and the consequent lack of inner peace. Desire for the rewards of your acts brings worry about failing, which pulls you from the present into an imagined, usually fearful future. This robs your energy, and you become miserable and lapse into inaction.

Gradually learn to do your duty uncontaminated by desire. This frees you of suffering and leads you to increased effectiveness as well as inner peace. Selfless, egoless, desireless action is the secret of living a life of real accomplishment and success, a contented, satisfied life.”

The Law of Sacrifice “Balance your life by giving more than you receive. To receive without giving is stealing. The whole scheme of nature is not centered on grabbing but on offering loving, selfless service, which is sacrifice.

Sacrifice in spirituality has nothing to do with self-neglect or abuse. It means offering up, worshipping, helping, and being devoted to the welfare of humanity. This is a universal law of nature. Sacrifice is sharing; it’s the spirit of giving that permeates all of creation.

Increasingly make all your acts sacrifices by offering them and any results that come from them up to Divinity. Your whole life can be turned into a sacrifice if you direct it to the service of the universal Divine. When you do your work with this attitude, you accrue no karma (which refers to the consequences of all your actions, good or bad, in this and all previous lives), and the universe becomes elevated and sublime.

Become more aware of this wondrous law in your daily dealings. Even learn to eat your food in the spirit of sacrifice because this frees you from attachment to tastiness and enjoyment. Sages say that eating merely for pleasure is a sin, as it diverts you from life’s true goal, achieving Divinity.

All of life hinges on this Law of Sacrifice. To turn your back on it and ignore the needs of others is to live in vain and squander your life.

This law may seem distant to you, but each selfless act done by you or anyone anywhere is an important contribution to the whole.”

Seeking Neither Pleasure Nor Pain

“As soon as you are born, you are led to believe that the world around you is ‘real.’ You forget your oneness with Divinity and fall into any number of unconscious habit patterns.

Mainly, you begin to believe that you can actually avoid pain and only experience pleasure. Though this belief is understandable, it is totally, absolutely, utterly impossible to achieve. This misleading dream rules your life to this day!

Awake from this dream. Become aware of this mental conditioning and strive to free yourself from it by developing more and more awareness of spirit. Know with certainty that pleasure and pain always go together, that when you ask for pleasure, even subconsciously, pain invariably comes too, uninvited. Become a serene person unaffected by worldly feelings and sensations. Be the same in both pain and pleasure.
Steadily learn to free yourself from notions of pleasure and pain and thus be neither attracted to nor repelled by anything of the natural world.

This may seem unattainable to you now, but you can progressively grow to be indifferent to loss or gain. You can learn to neither rejoice nor grieve and to react similarly to pain and pleasure, victory and defeat. Over time, you can condition yourself to be neither elated by good fortune nor depressed by misfortune. Learning to do this is the great yet achievable secret to removing suffering from your life.

Begin by developing the skill of remaining tranquil and centered in the Atma, which is your very soul, your true self. Achieving this will surely lead to spiritual growth and lasting happiness.”

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