Essential Wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita: Ancient Truths for Our Modern World
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Essential Wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita: Ancient Truths for Our Modern World

by Jack Hawley

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Over 5,000 years old, the Bhagavad Gita is written as a tale set on a battlefield, a metaphor for the battles all humans face as they live, grow, age, and die. In Essential Wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita, longtime student and teacher of the Bhagavad Gita Jack Hawley has done away with the sometimes-baffling story, extracting the pure wisdom and organizing it


Over 5,000 years old, the Bhagavad Gita is written as a tale set on a battlefield, a metaphor for the battles all humans face as they live, grow, age, and die. In Essential Wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita, longtime student and teacher of the Bhagavad Gita Jack Hawley has done away with the sometimes-baffling story, extracting the pure wisdom and organizing it into helpful categories that are perfect for reading and study. Chapters address five important questions spiritual seekers have been grappling with for millennia: Who am I? What is my purpose in life? Who, or what, is God? What should my relationship be with the Divine? Is it possible to live a fulfilled life in a world that doesn't seem to support it? Within each chapter are short extracts from the ancient text, arranged under headings that are relevant to today's readers, such as “Know the Real You,” “Be Active in the World,” and “Develop Spiritual Vision.”

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Essential Wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita

Ancient Truths for Our Modern World

By Jack Hawley

New World Library

Copyright © 2006 Jack Hawley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57731-730-2


Rediscovering the Self

* * *

Who am I?

"But Krishna," Arjuna moans, "My arms and legs suddenly feel heavy. My mouth is dry, and the hairs on my arms stand on end. My body is shaking. My skin burns all over. My mind whirls in sadness. I can barely stand! God, I don't even know myself anymore!"


* * *

In this chapter, Krishna (the embodiment of Divine intelligence) informs us that the warrior's anguished pleading arises from the fundamental misconception that the individual is this physical body. Krishna teaches us that we are far more than the body.

This is startling because we tend to go through life believing and behaving as if our body is who we are. Along the way, however, we intuit that we've got to be more than this leather bag with nine or ten holes in it. At funerals, for example, we understand that the true essence of the person whose remains we're viewing has gone elsewhere and is no longer there. At times of life-and-death importance, we know what reality is. Krishna's immediate response to the warrior-prince's overwhelming despondency is to soar high above it, to lift the dialogue toward the Atma, the soul, the life force. The Atma is the true self within, the very core, the highest spiritual truth. Krishna reminds Arjuna that one's spirit is above and quite distinct from the body and that it is imperative to distinguish between the two if we are to overcome our worldly despondency.

To help us rise to these heights of comprehension, Krishna presents three key teachings: One, we must learn the truth of the Atma, the mysterious soul-self inside. Two, we have to embrace this elusive principle of Atma and live at a higher level of awareness. Three, we need to eventually grasp the even more breathtaking reality that the self in the individual is the same self in all!

"This," Krishna tells us, "is true knowledge. To seek anything else is to seek ignorance."

And now, Krishna's teachings ...

Being the Real You

"You may grieve sincerely, but it is without cause. Your words, thoughts, and feelings may seem wise to you, but the truly wise person grieves neither for the living nor the dead. Let me explain.

Real, in spirituality, means that which is eternal, indestructible, and never changing. Anything impermanent, even if it lasts a long time, eventually changes — and thus does not have true reality.

Your body, according to this logic, is not real, and neither is your grief. But there is something that dwells within your body that is real — it's the Atma, your soul. Atma is existence itself. It is awareness itself, pure consciousness and your conscience as well. It pervades the entire cosmos.

The real you, this Atma, was never born, nor will it ever die. In fact, this indwelling reality never undergoes any changes; it is never-ending and can never be destroyed. Just as clouds appear in the sky but do not cause the sky to grow apart to make room for them, so too grief and sadness cannot touch the Atma.

Getting to know the Atma, this mysterious soul-reality within, is the fundamental goal of spirituality."

Grasping Soul

"Your physical self will end someday, beloved friend, but the true self within will never cease to exist! The Atma does not die, and the body does not stay.

Do not identify yourself merely with this mortal body. Things in the material universe come and go, appear and disappear, but the soul, the Atma, the very life force within you, remains ever itself! As a person sheds a worn-out garment, the soul casts aside its timeworn human frame and dons a new one.

It is not easy to fathom this mysterious concept. Some see the Atma as wondrous, others speak of its glory, and many listen but do not comprehend it at all. Few even think of inquiring into what is beyond the physical world.

The ones who understand this elusive principle of Atma realize that they are at a rare plane of comprehension, a level of consciousness where no worldly agitation or suffering can exist!

The sages say that the mysterious Atma is 'subtler than the subtlest.' Water in its steam state (its subtlest form) is never soiled. Similarly, the Atma, though it dwells in every being, can never be tainted by any negativity — nor even by optimism.

The darkness of night vanishes when the sun rises. Similarly, the darkness of ignorance, delusion, and anguish is dispelled when you gain knowledge and experience of the true self, the Atma."

Seeing the Self in All

"Even highly evolved, cultured persons who are supposedly living a truth-based life miss this reality of the Atma. The confused, suffering mind cannot know the real truth.

Get to know the breathtaking, staggering truth that the self in the individual is the self in all! When you finally come to live in this constant spiritual awareness, you will never lose your feeling of oneness with the Divine, nor will the Divine ever lose you.

There is only one truth: the Divinity within all beings is the one truth — and the Atma, your soul, is truly Divinity! This I declare to be true knowledge. To seek anything else is to seek ignorance."


Finding Meaning

* * *

Why am I here?

"To be tied to the worldly is certainly not the purpose of life. Focus instead on the universal spirit that lies beyond...."


* * *

We constantly hunger to find life's purpose and discern why we're here in this world. We know that we are not here to merely be born, to drift along like a leaf in a stream, just doing-doing-doing, and then, worn, wan, and water-soaked, to sink. Our intuition whispers to us that we are here for a higher, nobler purpose. The numerous lives we have lived without tasting this purpose have sharpened our hunger for it so that it now gnaws at us.

Krishna feeds us in this chapter. He makes it plain that we are here to fulfill a rare and graceful plan and lays out four essential purposes:

• We are here to be fully active in the world and do good work beneficial to humanity, not to live a reclusive life.

• We are here to gradually achieve the perfection of our own Divinity by way of performing our worldly duty, our dharma.

• We are here to pursue an uncommon path, to become the one in many thousands who truly knows the Divine.

• We are here to eventually achieve the pinnacle of all spiritual pursuits, to actually merge into the supreme universal soul and never again return to our worldly woes.

Krishna also reveals two principal means for attaining this Divine merger. One is the power of love — as it is through unswerving devotion that we achieve these heights of consciousness. The other is to become absorbed in our Atma, the mighty principle of our own Divinity within, which is the same Divinity that infuses the entire world.

The teachings follow....

Being Active

"People get mixed up and think that the spiritual life is necessarily a nonactive existence. This is not true, but the misconception causes much distress and agony, especially among those who mistakenly seek to withdraw from worldly activities. You cannot attain the supreme goal — which is self-realization — through merely shirking your worldly duties and deluding yourself that you are renouncing the world.

First, act! Inaction for even a moment is impossible; eating, sleeping, breathing, subconscious mental activities, the heartbeat — they are all actions. Mere refusal to act gets you nowhere. Even the supposedly passive goal of contemplation or meditation cannot be attained without action!

Action exists throughout nature; from the whirling atom to the entire universe, all is in movement, all is in action. Sitting motionless but ever thinking of worldly sense attractions — that too is engaging in action. Assume otherwise and you delude yourself, and your delusion brings pain."

Living by Your Dharma, Your Inner Truth

"Living by your inner truth is the essence of your duty in life. Your very nature dictates that you perform the duties attuned to your disposition. These are referred to as your dharma, your natural calling.

People often think of duty too narrowly, as their life's work or professional role. View duty instead from a loftier perspective, as your duty to your highest self, the Atma. Think of it as your duty to the Divinity that dwells within you.

If you try to avoid your duty because you face doing some things that you fancy are painful, you will be violating your inner truth. This violation is disturbing because inner truth is the vital and essential root basis of your life; it is the very source of your contentment!

Your purpose in life — the very purpose of all humanity — is to gradually achieve spiritual perfection, which is your own Divinity. Being devoted to your duties helps you eventually find this perfection; detesting or avoiding your duties helps you lose it."

Only One in Thousands

"It may seem impossible to you, but a mere human can indeed come to know the Divine — not merely know about Divinity, but fully know it. When you reach this level of understanding, you in essence become that Divinity. Set this lofty understanding as your rainbow's end. And be sure, old friend, that it is attainable.

To reach this towering place you need both knowledge of Divinity (jnana) and wisdom of Divinity (vijnana).

Knowledge of Divinity means knowing it on an intellectual level. Wisdom means realizing Divinity fully and applying it in your daily living. You gain knowledge through your senses and mind — through seeing, hearing, thinking, and so forth. You gain wisdom through direct grasp — through insight, intuition, and personal experiences.

Only one in many thousands of beings seeks to truly know Divinity in its entirety. Of these, only one in many thousands gains that knowledge. But despite these odds, it is the loving intent of the Divine source that all beings in due time achieve the supreme serenity and peace of Divinity."

Merging with the Divine

"Beyond even the mysterious state into which all beings dissolve at cosmic nightfall, there is another unmanifested reality. It is the Godhead, the thing in itself that is beyond time and does not perish even when existence itself dissolves.

This eternal, absolute thing in itself is the eventual goal. All those who come to this ultimate home come to Me, the supreme spirit, never again to be separate, never again to return to worldly woes.

The only way to reach this immortal state is through love — unswerving devotion to Me, the universal soul. As the individual wave does not exist independent of the sea, the separate soul does not exist apart from Me."

Becoming the Atma

"The wise ones who become firmly established in Atma, the true self within, know the real meaning of self-sufficient. Those who seek and find the pure contentment and peace of this highest true self will be fulfilled. They will have nothing more in this world to accomplish and no more obligations to meet, even while they continue to operate in their worldly roles.

As they have in essence become the Atma, these Godly ones become witnesses of worldly activities, beyond all entanglements and suffering."


Knowing the Divine

* * *

Who, or what, is the Divinity many call "God"?

"Arjuna, I know every being, past, present, and future, but nobody knows Me completely."


* * *

In chapters 1 and 2 we began to deal with the stupendous issues of who we are and why we're here. Now we meet head-on our more cosmic-level queries about the very nature of God.

This is indeed the big question. There is an awesome loftiness in the quest to know God. Although we can never know the Divine in its entirety, we can move closer to an understanding of it. This first requires a drastic reprogramming of mind, away from the notion that God is an entity with a human personality and toward realizing the Divine as the Infinite Supreme — as everything there is!

This is a challenge, but Krishna eases us into it. He first teaches that the Divine exists within each of us as our "godly attributes" — love, wisdom, patience, serenity, and so forth. He then makes several declarations about the vastness yet closeness of the Divine and gives a number of essential truths about the nature of God.

He lifts us toward the most abstract aspect of Divinity, the supreme universal soul, almost beyond the imagination.

At the end of the chapter the warrior-prince Arjuna, in awe, shares his dawning understanding of the true meaning of Divinity. Krishna summarizes the teachings by reiterating that everything — every thing in creation — is the Godhead!

The teachings follow....

Seeing Divinity in Ordinary Humans

"Neither the gods nor the great sages really know My beginning. As I am the origin of them all, My glory remains only partially known to them. Like children who repeatedly ask about their parents' birth and childhood, people can never fully understand My mystery, no matter how much they inquire.

Certain godly attributes of ordinary humans are My creation. I am in all living beings as the following: love, wisdom (especially knowing the Atma), intellect, patience, serenity, peace of mind, control of ego-self, discrimination between right and wrong, nonharm to other beings, self-discipline, charitable giving, lasting happiness (bliss), and other positive traits.

All these human refinements proceed from Divinity and are in fact aspects of the universal soul expressed by individual souls in diverse ways. Regardless of how distant you might have grown from your spirit, these godly aspects within you are the main stepping-stones to your eventual liberation from suffering."

Krishna's Divine Declaration

"I taught these same eternal truths to the unimaginably ancient Sun God. He passed them on to the very earliest man, and he in turn to his sons so they could better handle worldly duties."

Arjuna, puzzled, interrupts, "How could you, a modern man, have instructed an ancient one? We have been close friends for many, many years, and I love you dearly, Krishna, but you are only five or six years older than I am."

Krishna says, "You and I have passed through many births, but you are unaware of your soul, your lasting reality. This unawareness is the cause of your great pain. I, on the other hand, am aware of My continuity through the countless ages. That is the difference.

As the Divinity in all creatures and all of creation, I am birthless and deathless. And yet, from time to time I manifest Myself in worldly form and live what seems an earthly life.

I come in times of spiritual and moral crisis, age after age, whenever evil grows stronger and dharma weakens. Dharma, which is goodness and right action, is the moral basis of the whole world, and it must not give way to wrong action. When this starts to happen, I make myself a body and come as a human to serve as the model for others and uplift and transform society.

Most people cannot comprehend that the supreme spirit is actually here in human form. Few dare to learn the secret that I, the cosmic soul, am the operator within themselves."

Knowing the Godhead

"The subtlety and mystery of Me, the supreme Godhead, is incomprehensible to the nonpurified mind; but knowing the Divine in your heart is the goal of spiritual wisdom.

The supreme Godhead is both being and non-being, both manifested and unmanifested, both formed and formless. It exists throughout all creation, in all hands and feet. It appears to be many but is one, undivided.

This ultimate Divinity, which is bliss itself, dwells in each individual body as the soul, the Atma. To those who do not know the truth of the Atma, the Divine is distant; to those who do know, It is near."

The Very Nature of Divinity

"Listen closely, old friend, and I will explain the essence of Divinity. I, the supreme universal soul, have two aspects, a lower and a higher. My lower aspect is the realm of nature. My higher aspect is the realm of spirit — the mysterious life force and consciousness in all beings.

The commingling of these two aspects — nature and spirit — is the source of the entire universe and of life itself.

I am pure consciousness, which means that I am the underlying essence of all elements and of all beings. Nothing whatsoever exists separate from Me. Nothing! There is no power in the cosmos that does not emanate from Me and belong to Me.


Excerpted from Essential Wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita by Jack Hawley. Copyright © 2006 Jack Hawley. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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