As we go through this study on the Bhagavad-Gita and the Bible, I’m struck by how applicable some of the lessons are to our current moment. We are living during a mass extinction due to climate change, in a global pandemic, in Depression-era unemployment, with non-existent federal leadership, in the midst of civil unrest over systemic racism, police brutality, and surging racial and economic inequality.
An exploration of consciousness may seem abstract and metaphysical, but remember: all of the dialogue in the Bhagavad-Gita takes place in the moments before a great battle. This is all preparation for a fight. Awakening and enlightenment are not about escape from the world, but about engagement with it. Krishna tells Arjuna to “act without attachment to the results,” to practice “non-duality and non-attachment.”
When we feel helpless and don’t know what to do, this is what the Bhagavad-Gita says to return to: see the Lord of Love present in every creature; recognize that we all come from God and all return to God; marvel at the mystery of life; reject simplistic binaries of right and wrong or black and white; understand that even your enemies are on a journey; and finally, without selfish desire, act courageously for the sake of life and the world.
For me, that means standing up to bullies and showing up for the oppressed. It means addressing white supremacy and systemic injustice. I may lose the fight. I may win, but at enormous cost. I may win, and still do harm I regret. I may make mistakes. I may sometimes feel that no good deed goes unpunished. I may be criticized and publicly shamed. I may get accolades and feel hollow.
None of that is the point. Overcoming our timidity about love and justice is. We need not act with a divided mind if we are not attached to the outcomes. Winning or losing is not the point. We shouldn’t even be too attached to “being right!”
Martin Luther, in his letter to Philip Melanchthon, wrote “God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and sin boldly, but let your trust in Christ be stronger.” He was not exhorting people to sin, but to recognize that we do not earn rewards by picking the “right” behaviors. We may sin, intentionally or unintentionally, but it is better to own it and trust God’s mercy than to tiptoe through life.
In the movie Princess Mononoke, the main character, Ashitaka, is cursed and forced to leave his home. He can only be cured by finding the source of the pollution, a war with many competing factions that is destroying the forest. In order to discover the cure, he has to “see with eyes unclouded by hate.” He stoically accepts his fate and wades into the conflict, showing all the virtues of a Buddhist warrior-monk.
Knowing the “Self” helps us to act. And by acting, we come to know the “Self.”
Let my contemplation lead to action. Let my action lead to contemplation.
NOTE: Because of the protests around the murder of George Floyd and the heightened consciousness of systemic racism, I’m going to take a brief intermission from the Bible and the Bhagavad-Gita next week. I will spend a few days talking about Drug policy and the Church. Drug policy and criminal justice are some of the main vectors of systemic racism in the United States.
I hope you will stick with these devotionals for this intermission. We’ll return to the Bible and the Bhagavad-Gita on June 15.