We’re spending a few days unpacking these lines:
Those who know me as their own divine Self break through the belief that they are the body and are not reborn as separate creatures. Such a one, Arjuna, is united with me. Delivered from selfish attachment, fear, and anger, filled with me, surrendering themselves to me, purified in the fire of my being, many have reached the state of unity with me. (BG, 4:9-10)
The central revelation in Hinduism is that Atman (the soul, or Self) is Brahman (God, ultimate reality). The Self is divine. But—not to make light of this revelation—it depends on what the definition of “is” is.
When we say “self,” we aren’t talking about the ego self, the functional self that we identify with most of the time. In my day-to-day world, I am locked in my own head, imagining conversations, dreaming dreams, carried along by the flow of thinking and feeling that makes up most of human existence. I get angry because someone moves their car in front of mine in a way I don’t like. I feel slighted because someone didn’t give me the attention I felt I deserved. I worry about tomorrow because I imagine lots of different scenarios that might happen but that aren’t actually real.
My brain is generating all of this, of course, because it has evolved this ability to keep me alive. It is a problem-solving and problem-anticipating organ. I am grateful for this amazing organ. But I am not my brain.
In times of deep prayer and meditation, deep stillness, I become aware of this other “Self” riding along with “me.” In psychological terms, we call this “metacognition,” thinking about thinking. I can take a step outside of my thoughts, as it were, and observe them impartially, but with compassion. “Oh look, David is imagining how a conversation might go, and it’s causing worry. Poor Dave!” From this perspective, I can give myself the grace to change.
This impartial, observer self is not disturbed by anger, or fear, or worry. It regards my life with equanimity and love. Even my mistakes and boneheaded decisions it looks on with compassion. In this state, I am most like Christ, and I understand how intimately I am connected to God.
Consider this passage from Paul:
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus… (Philippians 2:1-5).
I used to think that Christianity demanded self-negation. I heard church people pray to God, “Less of me, more of you.” And when I read this passage by Paul, where he says to “regard others as better than yourselves,” I thought it was about false humility.
But I have since come to understand that Christianity is not about denigrating the self. It is about seeing Christ in those who are struggling (Matthew 25:40) and identifying with Christ ourselves: “Let that same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” And Jesus did not regard himself as a worm, as unworthy of love, as deserving of death; He saw himself as God’s own child, and even more intimately, as “One” with the Father.
God, you love me as your own child. Let me see that family resemblance, your incarnate self, everywhere I look—in the poor and oppressed, in Creation itself, and in the mirror.