Friday, June 26, 2020

Living Bhagavad Gita 21: Loser Mindset, Winner Mindset

A series of short articles on the Bhagavad Gita for people living and working in our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times filled with stress and fear. This scripture born in a battlefield teaches us how to face our challenges, live our life fully, achieve excellence in whatever we do and find happiness, peace and contentment.

[Continued from the previous post]
Alas! How sad that we are ready to commit the great sin of killing our own people out of greed for the pleasures of the kingdom! It would be better for me if the Dhartarashtras kill me in battle with their weapons while I am unarmed and unresisting. BG 1.45-46   
Arjuna is a winner. Perhaps the most common among his many other names is Vijaya, meaning the victorious one, a winner.  His mindset is that of a winner, through and through. Among the many splendid warriors in the Mahabharata, he is the most consistent winner. Fearless in battlefield, a master of strategic moves, the greatest living master of the martial arts, he possesses the secrets of more weapons empowered with powerful mantras than anyone else [not counting Krishna, of course]. At the same time he is a sensitive human being, highly ethical, uncompromising in his values, ideal in his social behaviour towards his elders – he is the acme of what the ancient world expected a man to be.
His concerns about having to kill his grandfather and his guru are genuine, his guilt about killing one’s own people is genuine. We all should feel what he feels in similar circumstances, not feeling such concerns and such guilt makes us subhuman. Krishna is not going to ask Arjuna not to have such feelings but to do what needs to be done for the sake of dharma, virtuous ways of living and leading, for lokasangraha, the common good, in spite of such feelings, rising above such feelings. Not being able to do so, to rise above such feelings and do what needs to be done, is to behave like a loser – which is what he is doing at the moment, perhaps for the first time in his life. The winner mindset tells us to stand and face our challenges whatever they are and take the right steps needed to be a winner, whereas the loser mindset tells us to run away from them.
There is an invaluable lesson that Kunti, a winning mother in every sense of the term, gives us in the winner mindset exactly seven days before the incidents we are discussing happens. It is perhaps the most empowering message ever given by a mother to her son. The message was given not to Arjuna but to Yudhishthira and it was sent through Krishna. The message is known as Vidula Upakhyana and was one of the inspirations for our freedom fighters when we were trying to overthrow the yoke our colonial masters had put on the shoulders of Mother India.
The language of the message is harsh, the words as sharp as whiplashes, because Kunti felt nothing less than that would arouse her son who had sunk deep into the mire of the loser mindset. She gave this message to Krishna when he came to see her and take leave of her after the failure of the peace talks in the Kuru assembly. As he touched his aunt’s feet by way of paying respects to her and told her he was now hurrying to the Pandavas because there was no time to lose, she gave him this message for her eldest son and then added a few words for her other four sons and for Draupadi, with whom she shared an amazing relationship, as though they were twin souls.
Kunti never minces her words. She tells Krishna to tell her son what a shame he has become. He has forgotten his dharma and has became a worshipper of piece at all costs because of which she had to wait for the kindness of other people even for the food she eats for thirteen years, says she referring to the twelve years the Pandavas spent in the forest and the one year they lived incognito in Virata while she lived in Hastinapura. She says peace at all costs is not the way of kshatriyas who should live by the might of their arms and look after their subjects by it. She compares her eldest son whom the world calls the embodiment of dharma to a brahmana who does not know the meaning of the mantras of the Vedas but parrots them. As Kunti sees is it, Yudhishthira does not know dharma but only the words of dharma. She reminds Yudhishthira that kshatriyas are born of the arms of the cosmic person, the virat purusha, God, which makes them God’s arms on earth to establish righteousness, justice, equality, fearlessness, truth, kindness, compassion and all other godly ways that the Gita calls daivi sampada in its sixteenth chapter.  
There is a beautiful story of a master carpenter. He was a house builder and every house he made was a masterpiece. The doors were strong, the windows opened to the winds from the east and west, the roof could withstand any storm, and you felt you were stepping into a temple every time you entered one of his houses. Passing years did not touch them, the seasons were gentle to them and they delighted in the elements rather than quiver in fright.
But he had made enough houses and wanted to retire and live the rest of his days in quietude. Though he had thoroughly enjoyed every house he had built, he had discovered the passion for building was no more in him. He wanted to take morning and evening walks, watch children at play, be with the kids that gamboled in the field, sing again the songs he had sung as a child, swim in rivers, climb mountains, enjoy passing breezes and just lie under the open sky. No more house building for me, he decided.
So he went to his master, the lord whose servant he was, and told him he would build no more houses. The master shook his head and said, “Build just one more house. A last one. And I shall ask you no more to build houses.”
Reluctantly the master carpenter agreed. But there was no passion for building houses in him anymore. There was no magic when he held his tools in his hand, no rush of energy. They felt heavy for the first time in his hand. He felt no thrill, his heart did not dance when he used the chisel and the hammer.
The house he built was unlike any he had built earlier. There was no joy in the house just as there was no joy in him when he built the house.
When he finished he came to his master, the lord, and told him it was done. And the lord knew there was no need to look at the house – the master carpenter had built it.
With a glowing smile on his face, with the glitter of joy in his eyes, he told the carpenter, “This house is my gift to you! It is an expression of my gratitude for all the houses you have built for me. Go, spend your remaining days in that house!”
And the master carpenter was condemned to live the rest of his days in that shabby house he had built without any love.
We too are like that carpenter. Each one of us is condemned to live in the world we make.
Kunti reminds Yudhishthira that if he is suffering, if he is living a life of grief and misery and making his brothers and Draupadi live such a life, it is because of himself. As the king it is his duty to practice dandaniti which includes punishing the wicked too, she reminds him, but instead of that he kept speaking of peace at all costs even when the enemies were trying to kill him and his brothers all means including poisoning and setting fire to their house. There were times when he should have taken up arms and fought, but he did not. She quotes a well known statement of the day that I have quoted innumerable times in my leadership training programmes:
kaalo vaa kaaranam raajnah raajaa vaa kaala-kaaranam; iti te samshayo maa bhoot raajaa kalasya kaaranam.
“Let there be no doubt in your mind as to whether the age makes the king or the king makes the age. The king makes the age.”
We hear Bhishma quoting the same verse to Yudhishthira again after the war has ended and he goes to Bhishma lying in the bed of arrows to learn from the grandsire the art of governance.
The king then is responsible for making the age good or bad. Satya yuga, treta yuga, dwapara yuga and kali yuga do not come in succession as is generally told, but the king – the leader – has the power to create them on earth. Kunti explains to Yudhishthira:
raajaa kritayuga-srashtaa tretaayaa dvaparasya cha yugasya cha chaturthasya raajaa bhavati kaaranam.
It is the king that creates kali yuga on earth, and it is he who creates treta, dwapara and satya yugas. He makes all the four ages.
If he implements dandaniti rightly, says Kunti, he creates satya yuga and if uses it with partial effectiveness, then the other two yugas are born. If he fails completely in practicing dandaniti, then the age of kali is born.
And then Kunti adds: tato vasati dushkarmaa narake shashvatees samaah. And then [when he creates the age of kali on earth], he lives in hell for an eternity.
Arjuna has just expressed his fear if he will not be thrown into hell for an eternity for killing his own people even if they are wicked, and Kunti here, in her message to Yudhishthira just before the war begins, says a king is sent to hell for an eternity for not punishing the wicked!
After these introductory words, Kunti tells Krishna the story of Vidula as her message to Yudhishtira. Vidula was the mother of a prince called Sanjaya [a name that means the winner!] who had been vanquished by his enemy, had psychologically accepted that defeat and was living a life of shame losing all his past glory. As we can see, Kunti who has been living in Hastinapura, as she says by looking up to her enemies even for the food she eats, is in the same position as Vidula and we must look upon Vidula’s words to Sanjaya as Kunti’s words to Yudhishthira. Fearless is the mother here, whether she is Vidula or Kunti, and her words give us goose bumps as we listen to them.
Kuinti’s words hit us with power of a thunderbolt. She says:
“You who increase the joys of your enemies, you are not my son! You are neither my son nor your father’s. Where have you come from? You with no anger in you, no thirst for vengeance, you cannot be counted a man. You look like a man and yet you are not a man – so what are you? A eunuch, that’s what you are!
“You have no right to sink into despair so long as you live, you coward! If you wish your own welfare, accept the burden of your challenges on your own shoulders.
“Don’t be a shame on your soul.  Never be satisfied with little. Fix your mind on your own good and don’t be scared. Abandon your fears! Rise, coward, rise! Don’t you lie down accepting your defeat, delighting your enemies and making your friends grieve. Don’t you have any sense of honour?
“Tiny streams are filled with a little water. The palms of a mouse are filled with little. And so does a coward become satisfied with little!
“Pull out the fangs of a deadly snake and die doing so – that’s honourable. Don’t you die like a miserable dog! Exerting your utmost, risk your very life and do all you can to be victorious! Be like the eagle in the vast sky that soars high and wanders infinite spaces. Keep your eyes on your enemies for the opportune moment and strike fearlessly!
“You are lying there as though you are but a lifeless body. Have you been struck by lightning? Rise up, coward! Aren’t you ashamed to sleep after you have been vanquished by your enemy? Why are you miserably hiding from the sight of all? Let the world know you by your deeds. Never be contented with anything less than the highest position. Nothing less than the best should satisfy you! Be a winner, be the very best, be the first! Don’t you be satisfied by being the second or the third or anything less.
“Be like the Tinduka wood! Blaze up! Blaze up even if it is only for one moment! Don’t smolder like chaff without flames! Cultivate your desires! Ignite them! Nourish their fire! And achieve glory!”
Kunti has only contempt for the kind of ahimsa that Yudhishthira speaks of and practices. That is not the way of kshatriyas, she says. She reminds him kshatriyas are an acursed lot, condemned to live by cruelty – by kroora karma. To kill and slaughter for praja paripalana, for looking after his subjects, is a kshatriya’s lot. To punish the wicked, if necessary with the ultimate punishment – that is the way of kshatriyas, kings. That is what he is born for, that is what the creator fashioned him for and for that reason that is how he should live.
Kunti’s advice to Yudhishthira and the story of Vidula she tells him are long – it runs into several chapters of the Udyoga Parva of the Mahabharata. But she did not foresee her son Arjuna would need the message as much as Yudhishthira needed it. Because Arjuna was a winner, the very epitome of winners. When he was born, the gods had predicted that Arjuna together with Bhima would vanquish all the Kauravas and shake up the whole world.  With the help of Krishna, he would slaughter his enemies in war and will achieve victory over the entire earth. His fame would reach the very skies.
So she did not foresee Arjuna would need her message as much as Yudhishthira needed. She did have a few words for him, though. And those few words are unforgettable. The essence of what this winning mother had to tell him was, “draupadyaah padaveem chara.” Follow the path of Draupadi. Follow the path that Draupadi treads, follow the path that she shows.
Kunti and Draupadi had an amazing relationship between them. They were the ideal mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, unlike the saas-bahu relationship we see in television serials today. They were twin souls.
And just as they were twin souls, Krishna and Draupadi too were twin souls too, says Indian culture – if anything, more twin souls than Kunti and Draupadi. They were one single entity, Krishna and Krishnaa were, born in two bodies, one male and the other female, but a single soul, born for the same purpose: the destroy adharma, to destroy the kshatriyas who had turned evil, and to reestablish dharma, virtues ways  of living and leading, says Indian culture.
Kunti says her grief is not about the failure in the dice game or the kingdom being stolen from them. It is not about her sons being sent to the forest on the exile. What she grieves over are the merciless words Draupadi had to hear from Duryodhana while she wept in agony and shame in the royal dice hall. 
Kunti wants Krishna to remind her sons the most hurting incident in their entire life. And she tells Krishna to tell Bhima and Arjuna: yadartham kshatriyaa soote tasya kalo’yam aagatah. Time has come for that for which a kshatriya woman gives birth to sons.   Powerful words that ask her sons to be victorious in battle or to die the death of heroes.
Our deep buried traumas attack us in our weakest moments. Born of our psychological reactions to threatening real life experiences, they are like wayside robbers that attack us in our weary moments and loot us of everything we have. A single powerful traumatic experience can destroy our life. I have heard about a brilliant surgeon who was the best in his field but whose hands started shivering the moment he picked up a scalpel. What happened was that when he was a student one of the professors in the medical college was demonstrating a surgical procedure. The professor asked him to fetch a particular scalpel and he brought the wrong number. The professor shouted at him calling him an idiot, a good for nothing and said he would never amount to anything – he said this in the presence of the other students, several boys and girls, who were watching the demonstration as he was. He humiliation and insult he felt became a powerful traumatic experience. As a surgeon, every time he touched a scalpel, he heard the professor’s words from deep within him, “Idiot, good for nothing, you’d never amount to anything!” and his hands started shaking.
That’s the power of a single traumatic experience.
I have read about a girl whose left arm became paralyzed because one day while she was sitting at the dining table along with some of her friends, her father picked up a fork and threw it at her hitting that arm. He was angry at her for some small thing but that humiliation in the presence of her friends paralyzed her left arm for twenty years until she was healed of the trauma by a therapist.
Arjuna’s whole life is filled with traumatic experiences. He had grown up knowing that he is not the son of his father Pandu. That Pandu couldn’t have children and all his children were born through niyoga was not a secret to anyone. Then his father had failed to control himself and had sex with his wife Madri and died in the final moments of the act – on Arjuna’s birthday while Kunti was serving a feast to brahmanas. Pandu’s act was a kind of suicide because he knew sex would be death for him and yet he had given himself to it. Following Pandu’s death, Madri had committed ritual suicide by entering his funeral pyre. The years he lived in Hastinapura as unwanted cousins hated by Duryodhana were not happy years at al during which innumerable attempts were made on their life and they had to live in constant fear. And then there was the lacquer house incident, their escape and subsequent life in the forest for several years. And perhaps the most traumatic of all incidents – what happened to them in the dice hall and what was done to Draupadi there.  He had to live as a eunuch in the Virata palace, and more than that, he had to endure the shame of having to watch the glorious Draupadi living as a maid to the Virata queen. 
The list of traumatic experiences that fills Arjuna’s life is endless, any single one of which is enough to destroy a man. It is no less than a miracle that in spite of all this he not only survived but flourished and became the winner he became.
But traumas can strike us in our most vulnerable moments, which is what happened to Arjuna as he stood between the two armies and watched his grandfather, his guru and others standing on the opposite side whom he will have to kill in battle.
As we shall see when we journey into the Gita further, Krishna begins by giving him a shock treatment, which is one of the ways of shaking up people deep in traumas out of their helplessness and awakening them to reality. When Kunti sends her message to Yudhishthira and her other sons, what she does is no less than a shock treatment. Sometimes that is the only way to bring people out of their apathy that traumas push them into. It is interesting that Krishna attacks Arjuna as he begins his teaching by calling him a kleeba [eunuch, which was a shocking term of abuse for a warrior in the Mahabharata times] and Kunti uses the same term for Yudhishthira at the beginning of her message to wake him up from his apathy.
What Kunti is teaching Yudhishthira and her other sons through her message is the winning mindset. And what Krishna teaches Arjuna through the Gita too is the same: how to be a winner. Of course, a winner in a still higher sense than what Kunti means. Kunti sees things through a mother’s eyes, while Krishna sees things through God’s eyes.
Krishna wouldn’t let his friend be a loser. On one occasion in the epic, Krishna says such is his friendship with Arjuna that he would pull out his very flesh and give it for his sake. How can he then let Arjuna act like a loser as he is doing now?      

Living Bhagavad Gita 20: The Other Side of Death

A series of short articles on the Bhagavad Gita for people living and working in our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times filled with stress and fear. This scripture born in a battlefield teaches us how to face our challenges, live our life fully, achieve excellence in whatever we do and find happiness, peace and contentment.

[Continued from the previous post]
I have heard, Krishna, that those who destroy their family ways dwell in hell for boundless years.

BG 1.44
A samurai once came to Zen Master Hakuin and asked him, “I want to know about heaven and hell. Do they really exist?”
Hakuin looked at the soldier and asked, “Who are you?” “I am a samurai,” announced the proud warrior.
“Ha!” exclaimed Hakuin. “What makes you think you can understand such insightful things? You are just a brute soldier! Go away! Don’t waste my time with stupid questions,” Hakuin said waving the samurai away with his hand.
The enraged samurai couldn’t take Hakuin’s insult. He drew his sword, ready to kill the master and Hakuin responded calmly, “This is hell.”
The soldier was taken aback. His face softened. Humbled by the wisdom of Hakuin, he put away his sword and bowed before the Zen Master. “And this is heaven,” Hakuin stated, just as calmly.
Exactly as this story tells us, the heaven and hell we are told we will go to after death are states of mind, not geographical places.
Let’s take a good look at what is meant by heaven and hell.
Greek mythology talks about the Furies, also called the Erinyes, who punish those who commit grave sins or crimes. According to some traditions they were born from the drops of blood that fell on Gaia, Earth, when the Titan Cronus castrated his father Uranus and threw his genitalia into the sea and it is this horrifying nature of their birth that gives them their vengeful nature. Their descriptions and functions vary in different stories told about them but they are generally described as ferocious foul-smelling winged females with burning breath, snakes for hair, blood dripping from their eyes, bat wings and black skin, who could also appear as storm clouds or swarms of insects.  They are vengeful and pitiless in their pursuit of justice, particularly justice for the dead.
In the Greek playwright Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy, for instance, King Agamemnon before sailing to Troy for the Trojan War sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia to Goddess Artemis for getting good weather. While the king is away his wife Clytemnestra takes Aegisthus as her lover. Later when Agamemnon returns after the war, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus together murder him and Aegisthus seizes the throne. Agamemnon’s daughter Electra fearing for the life of her young brother Orestes takes him away and gives him to her father’s friend King Strophius who raises him as his son.
As a grown up man, Orestes goes to the oracle of Delphi and asks him what he should do to avenge his father’s murder and is advised by the oracle that he should murder his mother and her lover. He now goes to his country Mycenae and there kills his mother and her lover in spite of the mother’s pleas that a son should not kill his own mother, after which the Furies pursue him relentlessly for his matricide.
Greek mythology also speaks of Oedipus being pursued by the Furies for killing his father and marrying his mother, though both actions were done unknowingly.
Greek mythology tells us numerous tales of the Furies pursuing those who commit heinous crimes or sins. India does not have the concept of Furies but India says the same thing in a different way: what India says is that our evil karmas pursue us relentlessly. Avashyam  anubhoktavyam kritam karma shubhaashubham: We must all experience the results of our karmas, both good and bad. There is no escaping them.
From a psychological point of view, the Furies could be seen as our sense of guilt. And guilt will be there whether the action was done consciously or unconsciously and in that sense the Furies pursue you even for wrong actions done unknowingly, which explains why Furies pursued Oedipus though his patricide and matricide were both actions done unknowingly. That is true about karmas too.   
But what exactly are karmas then? Let us try to understand this with the help of Transactional Analysis, since to many of us today the rational language of western psychology is easier to understand than the language of ancient wisdom.   
Transactional Analysis [TA] is a branch of psychology/psychiatry born in the 1960s and shot instantly to fame, particularly because of what it told us about our interpersonal behaviour and the intrapersonal processes that go on in our hidden depths on which our outer behaviour is based. Among other things, TA speaks of what are called scripts, speaking of which transactional analysts say that “in the life of every individual the dramatic life events, the roles that are learned, rehearsed, and acted out, are originally determined by a script.”
According to psychologists Muriel James and Drorothy Jongward, these psychological scripts are very much like theatre or film scripts. As they say in their best-selling book Born to Win, “Each has a prescribed cast of characters, dialogue, acts and scenes, themes and plots, which move toward a climax and end with a final curtain. A psychological script is a person’s ongoing program for a life drama, which dictates where the person is going with his or her life and the path that will lead there. It is a drama an individual compulsively acts out, though one’s awareness of it may be vague.”
Transactional Analysis tells us that these scripts begin to be written, or programmed, in early childhood, based on the transactions between parent figures and children. Depending on the nature of these scripts, children become “heroes, heroines, villains, victims and rescuers and – unknowingly – seek others to play complementary roles.”
Eric Berne, one of the founders of the Transactional Analysis movement says: “Nearly all human activity is programmed by an ongoing script dating from early childhood, so that the feeling of autonomy is nearly always an illusion – an illusion which is the greatest affliction of the human race because it makes awareness, honesty, creativity, and intimacy possible for only a few fortunate individuals. For the rest of humanity, other people are seen, mainly as objects to be manipulated. They must be invited, persuaded, seduced, bribed, or forced into playing the proper roles to reinforce the protagonist’s position and fulfill his script, and his preoccupation with these efforts keeps him from torquing in with the real world and his own possibilities in it.”
Transactional Analysts explain how these scripts are originally formed. Pointing out that children are amazingly sensitive and pick up messages about their self-worth right from the beginning, they explain that the first experiences of the infant are extremely important in this. From whether they are touched and hugged or ignored, from whether they are given warmth or left coldly alone, and later from other forms of behaviour of the significant people around him, like whether they are crooned to or spoken to without affection, from the messages in the eyes of these people, from their smiles and frowns and other facial expressions and so on, the child makes conclusions about himself and his self worth. These initial conclusions he forms become powerful scripts in his unconscious and they influence his future behaviour powerfully. In later stages, when they are grown enough to understand, children write scripts based on the verbal messages they get from their parents and other significant people. For instance, a mother’s comment watching her child explaining something to her doll that she would make an excellent teacher one day can become an unconscious script in her that eventually leads her to choose teaching as her profession. Or it could be a visiting relative’s unthinking comment that that the little boy is going to be a terror when he grows up that takes the shape of a script.
These scripts are then based on our unconscious reactions to our life events. 
In whatever way they are formed, these imprints on our psyches are non-verbal and are hidden deep in our unconscious. That is, they are in the form of images, feelings and so on, and not in words, and are hidden from the light of our consciousness. And they exert powerful influences on us and shape us and our lives. These scripts decide what we become, what our strengths and weaknesses will be, how we act and react, whether we will be winners or losers, whether we will derive success and happiness or defeat and unhappiness from life, whether we will be persecutors, victims or rescuers, whether we will be heroes and heroines or villains, whether we will be healthy, balanced and effective or suffer from anger-proneness, assertiveness problems, communication problems, relationship problems, sexual problems, violence, manias, phobias, neurotic behaviour and so on.
Ancient India refers to what transactional analysts call scripts, the unconscious imprints on the psyche, by several names. One of them is Chitra-Gupta, the accountant of Yama, the god of death. According to Indian mythology, Chitra-Gupta keeps an account, much as Gabriel does in Semitic mythology, of every deed we do on this earth and of every thought we think. And when we die and go to the other world, Chitra-Gupta opens the pages containing our account in his book and depending on whether we have done good or bad, depending on whether we have acquired punya [merit resulting from virtuous thoughts and deeds] or papa [sin], or it is a more or less equal balance of the two, he sends us on our onward journey, to heaven to enjoy or to hell to suffer or to the earth to be reborn.
Chitra-Gupta literally means pictures [chitra] that are hidden [gupta] – what Transactional Analysis calls our life scripts hidden deep in our unconscious. It is these that make us what we are at all times, do what we do. Chitra Gupta decides our future not merely after our death, but does so at all times. It is Chitra Gupta that has decided what we are now. For, our present is a result of these hidden pictures generated in our dark depths by our past thoughts, actions and reactions. And what we will become in the future is being written now – in the same dark depths of our psyche, by our present thoughts, actions and reactions, in form of images.
Indian philosophy uses other words to describe what TA calls scripts. Karmas, vasanas [psychological dispositions] and samskaras [inner culture] are nothing but TA’s scripts. Karmas are the deep imprints that we write on our psyches through our thoughts, actions and reactions. It is these karmas that give shape to our vasanas and samskaras.
Both Transactional Analysis and India believe that while scripts are powerful, they are alterable. Millennia ago India developed ways of altering our karmas, one of which was meditation, and TA talks about re-scripting, which is essentially a method of altering our life scripts. One of the aspects that I covered in Management Development Programmes for corporate officers included sessions in which I helped the participants to deep relax consciously and in that deep relaxed state to replace old scripts with new ones using such western methods as the swish technique and so on.
However, there is a major difference between the approach of TA, essentially a product of western thinking, and Indian philosophy. While transactional analysts say that scripts are decisive in shaping our self perceptions, behaviour patterns and life events, they say that the earliest scripts are formed in our early infancy, or, according to some, in our pre-natal state. Indian philosophy, however, tells us that we carry these scripts [karmas/vasanas/samskaras] with us from life to life.
Just as our life when we are alive and our rebirth after our death are decided by our karmas or life scripts, the life we live in our post death state too is decided by these life scripts or karmas that we carry with us when we leave the body behind and travel into what the yogis of Tibet call the bardo state – except that in that state the experiences are entirely mental since we do not have a physical body.
In our death and the journey into the bardo, we leave behind just the physical body, everything else travels with us. That is why it is said that death is no more than a change of clothes.
Since the experiences of the bardo are bodiless, mental, they are very much like our dreams. Just as in our dreams our experiences become intense, frequently far more intense than in waking life, and absolutely real so long as they last, so are the experiences of the bardo. In dreams beautiful things are far more beautiful than in real life, ugly and repulsive things are far more ugly and repulsive, and so are our pleasures and pains far more intense than they are in real life. And just as our dreams are illogical, so are our post death experiences. And bardo time is exactly like dream time – a dream that lasts just a few minutes of waking time can appear to last years in the dream, sometimes beginning with us as children and ending when we are old. That is why some cultures speak of hell and heaven, both of which no than what we dream in the bodiless state, as eternal.
Indian culture speaks of hells as endless in number – for instance, the Garuda Purana speaks of andhatamisram, rauravam, maharauravam, kumbhipakam, kalasutram, sukaramukham, andhakupam, taptamurti, and so on and on. This is because exactly as the life experiences of each of us are unique, exactly as our dreams are unique, so are our bardo experiences. Each one of us experiences our own unique pains and pleasures in what we call hell and heaven, but they are experiences generated by our mind based on our thoughts, emotions, feelings, memories, the life scripts we call karmas and so on, and all experienced within our mind. Apart from this, we do not go to any heaven or hell in any geographical place or separate dimension.          
Arjuna’s fear that those who destroy family traditions will have to spend endless time in hell when he tells Krishna “I have heard, Krishna, that those whose family traditions have been destroyed will have to live in hell for an indefinite period” is unfounded. In his desperate search for justifying his decision to abandon war and run away from his duties, he is giving this as yet another reason. Even if we go by the traditions of the day, the belief in the Mahabharata world was that the kshatriyas who die courageously in war go to the heaven of the heroes – the veeraswarga. Going by the story of the epic, we find men like Duryodhana in heaven after their death because he fought the war fearlessly as a true warrior should, even though he is an atatayi, a felon who committed terrible crimes throughout his life and was more responsible than anyone else for the millions of deaths in the Kurukshetra war.
Since our post death experiences depend on our present life and thoughts, what religions and ancient spiritual traditions tell us is that just as lust, anger, greed, pride, and other asuri sampada make us suffer while we are alive, these will continue to torture us after our death too. So unless we want to suffer in the bardo, we must live a life of love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness and so on.
Desire for vengeance is one of the most powerful negative feelings we can experience and so is guilt. These two can haunt us not only throughout our life, but also across lifetimes, as the story of the Roman brothers in Tales of Reincarnation tell us. Because the elder brother felt the need for vengeance at the moment of his death and the younger one felt intense guilt about causing his elder brother’s death though accidentally, the two of them are born again and again innumerable times for two thousand years, in each life living out their vengeance and guilt.
Forgiveness is the way out of vengeance and acceptance of the past, of what happened, is the way out of guilt. That and never repeating our mistakes, never causing harm to anyone consciously.
Atonement is another way, as thousands of cases tell us. One such case is discussed by the English novel Atonement [and the movie of the same name based on it]. Atonement tells the story of a thirteen year girl who lives in pre-World War II England. She witnesses a scene of intimacy between her elder sister and her lover, misunderstands it and commits a terrible crime against the two. Her guilt when she realizes the truth of what she witnessed and what she did eats away at her for years and she seeks atonement for her sin by dedicating her life for reducing the pain of those who suffer.
Knowledge of the self, knowledge of what we are, not theoretical but experiential knowledge, is the ultimate way to come out sins, says the Gita. It is the mind that commits sins and we are not the mind. We are not touched by the sins of the mind just as the waking man is not tainted by the sins he commits in his dreams. We are something far beyond the reaches of the mind, something that cannot be touched by sin or virtue, something that weapons cannot cleave, water cannot wet, fire cannot burn, something that has neither birth nor death, something that is forever beyond what is in the technical language of Vedanta called doership and enjoyership, kartritva and bhoktritva.  Sins are there only so long as the ego is there, only so long as the mind is there. That is why Krishna says in the Gita that even if you are the worst sinner of all sinners, you shall cross the sea of your sins by the raft of knowledge: api ched asi paapebhyah sarvebhyah paapakrit-tamah; sarvam jnaana-plavenaiva vrijinam santarishyasi. [BG 4.36]  
To Hinduism, sin too is an illusion like everything else; there is no everlasting sin and there is no eternal punishment, there is no eternal heaven and there is no eternal hell. Once you go beyond the mind, you are freed from all illusions, including the illusions of sin and virtue. There are no bad karmas then, just as there are no good karmas. Continuing his earlier statement about crossing the sea of sin with the raft of knowledge, Krishna says yathaidhaamsi samiddho'gnir bhasmasaat kurute'rjuna; jnaanaagnih sarvakarmaani bhasmasaat kurute tathaa [BG 4.37]. Just as the blazing fire reduces everything it consumes to ashes, Arjuna, the fire of knowledge reduces all karmas to ashes.
Vivekachudamani, the masterly poem of Shanakara Bhagavadapada has this to say about the nature of the entire world:
na hyastyavidyaa manaso’tiriktaa
mano hyavidyaa bhava-bandha-hetuah
tasmin vinashte sakalam vinashtam
vijrimbhite’smin sakalam vijrimbhate

There is no Primal Ignorance other than the mind. The mind itself is Primal Ignorance that causes the bondage to the world of constant becoming. When that is destroyed, everything is destroyed. And when that manifests everything becomes manifested.
All joys and sorrows are part of the illusory world born of Primal Ignorance and for that reason, when Primal Ignorance is destroyed, everything that causes the sufferings of the world as well as its joys is destroyed. What remains then is our true nature: ananda, boundless bliss.    

As has been very wisely said, we are not punished for our sins but by our sins. Our sins are their own punishments. Anger is its own punishment, lust is its own punishment, jealousy is its own punishment, hostility is its own punishment, desire for vengeance is its own punishment, and so are all the negative qualities Krishna calls asuri sampada in the Gita – qualities such as pride, haughtiness, arrogance, crookedness and cruelty. Asuri qualities are like the dementors of the Harry Potter series of books.  They drain peace, hope, happiness, joy and serenity from the very air around them, they drain people of all that makes life beautiful. They destroy what Tibet calls drala, the beauty of ordinary things. They make it impossible for you to relax – and without relaxation there is no joy in life, there is no beauty, no peace. You don’t climb mountains anymore, you don’t sing and dance, you don’t laugh from your heart, you don’t let go and enjoy yourself.
This is as true of the other side of death as it is of this side of death.  

Living Bhagavad Gita 19: The Religion of the Upanishads

A series of short articles on the Bhagavad Gita for people living and working in our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times filled with stress and fear. This scripture born in a battlefield teaches us how to face our challenges, live our life fully, achieve excellence in whatever we do and find happiness, peace and contentment.
[Continued from the previous post.]

When families are destroyed, timeless family traditions are destroyed. And when that happens, families plunge into lawlessness. And with families plunging into lawlessness, women become corrupt. And when women become corrupt, Krishna, varna sankara results. Varna sankara [the intermixture of varnas] leads to hell both those who destroy the families and the families themselves. Deprived of the offerings of water and food, the spirits of the ancestors fall. By these evil deeds of those who destroy families, causing confusion of varnas, the eternal dharmas of families and castes are destroyed. BG 1.40-43  
The religion of the Upanishadsis very different from religion as we commonly know it. It is a religion that takes us straight to the very heartof spiritual seeking. They tell us what the only way worth living is. They show us the only way to end all bondage and achieve ultimate freedom. They show us the path to reach the goal all humanity is pursuing, consciously or unconsciously. And they do not beat about the bush when they do this.  
The Upanishads do not give much importance to rituals. The term Upanishads use for rituals is ishta. Ishta comes from the same root word from which ishti comes and as is well known, ishti means Vedic rituals like putrakameshti. The word ishtika, another word of common origin, means bricks and it is because all vedic sacrifices are performed in vedis or kundas [sacrificial pits] made of bricks that they are all called ishtis or ishtas.
They speak of rituals as the lowest form of religion. Some of them openly reject rituals altogether so that people climb to the true heights of spirituality without getting trapped in the lower world of the religion of the rituals.For instance, the Maitreyi Upanishad says “The real temple is the body wherein resides the living soul, jeeva, the one and only Shiva” The Upanishad arranges sadhanas in a hierarchical order and says the best spiritual practice is meditation on the truth [uttamaa tattvachintaiva], then comes the analysis of the scriptures as the mediocre way [madhyamam shaastra-chintanam] and the lowest is the preoccupation with mantras [adhamaa mantrachintaa cha – repetition of the mantras, mantrajapa]. But there is one thing that is worse than the lowest – endlessly roaming from one pilgrimage site to another [teertha-bhraanti adhamaa-adhamaa].
Let me talk of one more mantra from the precious Upanishad to make the spirit of the Upanishads clear before we move on.
Worshipping idols of stone, metal, jewels, crystals and clay will lead the seeker only to repeated births in the world of bondage. For that reason, if he wants liberation, freedom from the cycle of births and deaths, the committed seeker should offer worship in his own heart and abandon external worship.     
What the Gita teaches is the religion of the Upanishads. The Bhagavad Gita is the essence of the Upanishads retold by Krishna for the modern man – of his day and of today. One of the dhyana shlokas of the Bhagavad Gita traditionally chanted before any study of the scripture begins says:
Sarvopanishado gaavah dogdhaa gopaala-nandanah
Paartho vatsah sudheer bhoktaa dugdham geetaamritam mahat
The Upanishads are all cows and Krishna is the milkman. Arjuna is the calf and intelligent men are those who get to drink the milk [of these cows]. And the milk itself is the supreme nectar called Gita.
So the Bhagavad Gita is the milk of the Upanishads.
A great modern teacher once said that religions begin with the profound spiritual experiences of great masters, but in the hands of their disciples, they are reduced to philosophy and over generations of these disciples they end up as mere rituals, by which time there is very little that is true religion or spirituality left in them.
But in spite of that, to the common man rituals mean much. In fact, for the vast majority of people, religion is nothing but rituals – the daily rituals you perform at home, the rituals performed in places of worship, the ones performed on special occasions like birth, marriage and death, rituals performed as part of religious festivals and so on. When Arjuna says the ancestral spirits [pitarah] shall fall from their worlds when varna sankara takes place because they then will not get the offerings of water and food offered to them through rituals [lubdha-pindodaka-kriyaah], he is referring to rituals like shraaddhas and so on. Let’s now take a look at this argument he forwards as a reason for abandoning his duty as a kshatriya and running away from the battle for dharma leaving power over people in the hands of those who believe in power for the sake of power and not for the good of people.
Nga Nyo and Ba Saing were two poor twenty years old friends who lived in a Burmese village called Chaungo who made a living by selling betel leaves. One day Ba Saing borrowed some rice from Nga Nyo but was bitten by a snake and died before he could return the rice. This happened sometime between 1270 and 1280 of the Burmese Era, corresponding to the beginning of 20th century CE.
Sang was now reborn in Nyo’s house, perhaps because his dying thoughts were of the rice he had borrowed from his friend and not returned. He was born not as a human being though, but as a cockerel and Nyo trained it in cock fighting. The cock won its first three fights, but lost the fourth fight and in anger Nyo brutally dashed its head on the ground holding it by its legs. Carrying the dying cock home, he threw it down near a water pot, where his cow came and touched it gently by its lips.
The affection of the cow apparently touched the dying cock deeply. After his death as a cock, Saing was reborn as a calf to this cow. His tragedy doesn’t end here either. When the calf was a year or so old, Nyo sold it to four of his friends who butchered it and cut up the meat in preparation for a feast, which Nyo himself was to join. A clerk from the nearby town and his wife happened to pass by them at that time and the woman, looking at the calf being cut up, said she wouldn’t have slaughtered it so cruelly had it been their calf. “Even if it had died a natural death,” she added, “I wouldn't have the heart to eat its meat. I would just bury it."
The calf is now reborn as the child of this couple. He remains without speaking until the age of seven, perhaps because of the pain of his previous life experiences which he still remembers. One day his father tells him that it was his payday and he will bring some fresh clothes for him, but he must speak. That evening the father comes home from office with pretty clothes for his son. And for the first time in his life the child speaks. His first words were, “Pay back Nga Nyo’s measure of rice.”
When the father agrees he would do anything for him, pay back not just a measure of rice but a whole bag if necessary, the boy tells him in that case they should go to Nyo and settle the debt immediately.
Guided by their seven-year-old son at each step, the father reaches Nga Nyo’shome, carrying with him a bag of rice in a cart. Instantly recognizing Nga Nyo and delighted at seeing his old friend who is by now an elderly man, the boy asks him, "Hey Nga Nyo, don’t you remember me?" The elderly man is offended when he is thus addressed by his name by a mere childbut is pacified when the clerk explained that the child believes he is old friend of Nyo.
The boy then tells Nyo that he is actually his old friend Ba Saing. He recalls several of their experiences together when they betel sellers and explains how he had died by snake bite and had been reborn as a cockerel in his house. He recalls the cockfights and Nyo’s killing the cockerel in anger and his subsequent birth as a calf because of the kindness a cow had shown him. Saing then recalls to a by now silently weeping Nyo how he was butchered as a one year old heifer to be eaten in a feast by him and his friends. He recalls the compassionate words of his present mother to the dying heifer as a result of which he was born as their child, adding that he has come to repay the rice he had borrowed from him as Ba Saing.
As the Bhagavad Gita says, death is the individual leaving one body to move on to another – in the words of the Gita, like discarding old clothes and using fresh ones. It is something that happens to all of us – jaatasya hi dhruvo mrityuh. And just as death is certain to the living,it is equally certain that everyone who dies is reborn – dhruvam janma mritasya cha.
This cycle of birth, life and death, and again birth, life and death goes on and on endlessly. Because of what happens between death and rebirth, because of the trauma of the life in the womb [which the west does not accept as painful but considers the most blissful state] and the trauma of the process of the birth itself [which the west accepts], most of us do not remember our past lifetimes. It is only rare individuals who escape this vismarana, the erasing of the memory oftheir past existences, though people who remember their past existences in their childhood are not as rare as we would like to believe. For instance, lots of children in their moments of great fear, like during a nightmare, scream for their father or mother but fail to recognise them when they come running and continue screaming and looking for their mother or father as was portrayed frighteningly in the movie The Reincarnation of Audrey Rose. Even in the case of people who retain these memories, practically all of them lose those memories over time.  Nga Nyo seems to be a rare individual who retains these memories.
Speaking to Arjuna in the Gita, Krishna tells his friend that both of them have had numerous lives in the past and he remembers them all though Arjuna does not:
bahooni me vyateetaani janmaani tava cha arjuna
taany aham veda sarvaani na twam vettha parantapa BG 4.5
As we saw in the Burmese story above, after Ba Saing is killed by snakebite he is immediately reborn as Nga Nyo’s cockerel – there does not seem to have been much time gap.  And after the cockerel is killed by Ba Saing, it is soon reborn again as a calf – again without much time gap. And then after the calf is slaughtered, it is reborn as the son of the clerk while Ba Saing is still alive, though by now he has grown old. All the four life times of Ba Saing happen within a single life time of Nnga Nyo.
In the Mahabharata we have the story of Princess Amba of Kashi who kills herself in a ritual fire she ignited with the desire to be reborn as Bhishma’s killer. She is subsequently reborn as Drupada’s daughter Shikhandini while Bhishma is still alive.
The Padma Purana tells us that the washer man who criticises Rama for keeping in his house Sita who has lived in ‘Ravana’s house’ was in his previous life one of a pair of birds whom Sita in her childhood had separated from its mate. The bird kills itself after cursing that it would soon be reborn and will cause Sita’s separation from her husband in that life.    
The understanding of India’s epics and Puranas, as well that of other scriptures, is that rebirths happen is fairly quick succession and the bodiless state, the state between death and rebirth, is usually not long.
One of the books that talks most authentically about death and explains what happens in the moments of death and immediately afterwards is the very unusual book called The Tibetan Book of the Dead or Bardo Thodol, authored by Tibet’s great Yogi Padmasambhava about a thousand years ago and first translated into English in 1924 by W.Y. Evans Wentz and published with an introduction by Dr Carl Jung. It is a book based on the experiences of great yogis who die consciously, live in the post-death state consciously and then take birth consciously. The book discusses what happens to us immediately before death, during the moments of death and following death. It describes in great detail the experiences the bodiless individual undergoes during the first forty-eight days after death. Bardo Thodol stops with the forty-eighth day because practically all dead individuals find a new body to be reborn into by then. The book describes how the dead individual searches for an appropriate body and chooses one among the available ones according to his karmas – his driving psychological needs – and enters it to be reborn again.
Let’s now look at a case of reincarnation from the western world discussed by Rosemary Ellen Guiley in her Tales of Reincarnation – that of Gail Bartley, an attractive young woman who worked as an advertising professional in New York. Let me reproduce here part of an article of mine called Reincarnation, Transactional Analysis and Karma [available online] in which I discuss her case as narrated by Guiley.
“Soon after her marriage ended in divorce, she fell in love with Roger. As an advertising executive she had ample opportunities for meeting other attractive young men, she did not really like Roger, her mother took an instant dislike for him and a voice in Gail’s head kept screaming all the time, ‘Get away. He hates you. He is trying to destroy you!’ In spite of all these Gail felt irresistibly drawn toward Roger. And he abused her constantly, hurt her emotionally and did not hesitate to beat her up occasionally; once he even tried to choke her to death during one of the fairly frequent violent outbursts between them. The relationship had wrecked her personal life, drained her emotionally, destroyed her self-esteem. However, in spite of all this, Gail found herself unable to get away from the man – and she completely failed to understand her love-hate relationship with this man, as did the other people around her. 
“It was this riddle of her relationship with Roger that eventually sent her to a past life regressionist. Upon regression, reaching her first past life experience, Gail found herself standing in a bedroom with high ceilings. She was now a twenty-three year old woman called Joyce in the 1920s. The experience, completely new to Joyce, was strange and eerie: she was at once the woman Joyce and Gail, who was watching her. Gail experienced that Joyce was shaking with fear, fear caused by a man who was with her in the room, lying on their bed – and that man was none other than Joyce’ s husband and the man Gail knew as Roger.
“And then Gail experienced the man getting up from their bed and walking towards her. Joyce was now shaking in terror and Gail’s breathing changed as she watched it. She began to hyperventilate and the regressionist asked Gail what was happening and she told her the man was strangling her. Joyce fell on her knees at the violence of the attack and then collapsed on the ground as the man continued to throttle her. However, Joyce did not die. Before that could happen, the man released her throat and walked away, leaving her on the ground, struggling to breathe.
“In a later part of the regression, Gail once again felt Joyce’s terror. Joyce was in their room again, that same night, and she hears him approaching her, climbing the stairs leading to their room. As he comes near, she sees he has something in his hand, which he is hiding behind him. His eyes are cold and she breathes in the hatred that emanates from him.
‘He rips open her gown with the knife he was hiding behind him, and brutally stabs her with it. Gail feels choked, her breath escapes her and she realizes she is experiencing the last moments of her life as Joyce. Coming out her body and hovering in a corner of the room, Joyce watches what is happening. One of the things she witnesses is her husband’s utter shock at what he has done, his complete disbelief and intense remorse.
“Further regressions reveal a sad tale of revenge and guilt spanning across life times, centuries and continents. It all started in ancient Rome where Roger and Gail in a long ago lifetime lived as brothers. The two of them loved each other deeply and thoroughly enjoyed their life as Roman citizens. In her regression, Gail sees herself as the younger brother, a blond young man filled with raw energy and impatience to win a chariot race that is about to begin. The race begins and his chariot takes off like a storm, another chariot keeping abreast with him. And then the tragedy takes place. His chariot swerves violently, hits the other chariot, the man driving that chariot thrown off his balance and falls, his head hitting his own chariot wheel, causing an instant death. In the middle of his shock he realizes the saddest truth: the man killed by his mistake is none other than his beloved brother.
“This life follows a series of lifetimes revealed by the regression, in each the elder brother is violent and vengeful, and the younger brother, Gail of this lifetime, is his victim. In one of these, Gail is a boy of seventeen, George, who lived in the Old West of America with his ill tempered, hateful, domineering father and his mother who was terrified of him. On one occasion his father catches George with his girlfriend, a girl who had grown up with him as his playmate. The two were together in the barn and they were kissing and feeling each other. The father orders George back into the house and then rapes George’s girlfriend. One night the boy is asleep in his tent while camping out with his father in the wilderness. He wakes up hearing repeated dull thuds and realizes his father is digging something in the night. His father has been furious with him that evening about some small thing, maybe he hadn’t tied up the horses properly. Sudden realization comes: his father is digging a grave for him! And then the father hits him on the head with a shovel and he is dead and out of his body. He sees his father dragging his body to the pit he had dug and burying him in it.”
More regressions reveal more such lifetimes in each of which the elder brother who was killed in the accident is the violent aggressor and the younger brother his victim. They are born again and again, repeating their life pattern that is now more than two thousand years old. 
As this real life past life regression story too tells us, the dead does not live forever in some mysteriousdimension, but are born again and again, directed by their life scripts that India calls karmas. 
Dr Brian Weiss is today the most widely known authority on rebirth and past life regression in the western world who uses his knowledge and expertise for healing people from diseases which cannot be explained by causes in their current life. In his best seller books like Many LivesMany Masters and Through Time into Healing, he talks about people being born again and again and when regressed reliving their past lives. In his work too what we come across is every one of us being reborn after our death, as the Gita speaks of when it says jatasya hi dhruvo mrityuh dhruvam janma mritasya cha: Those who are born are certain to die and those who die are certain to be born again.
Even though the Upanishads reject ritualism and the path the Bhagavad Gita teaches is not of rituals but of the yogas of bhakti, karma, jnana and so on, rituals do have their own beauty if you practice them with the right vision. For instance, bali and tarpana are offered to the dead ancestors  in the rituals of shraaddha. Shraaddhas are offerings made out of shraddhra for ones ancestors – love and reverence for them. They are also expressions of our gratitude and indebtedness to them – we wouldn’t have been born but for them. In that sense they are beautiful. But what Arjuna means when he says that when varna sankara happens these ancestors will fall from their worlds is that these ancestors are not reborn on earth but live permanently in another world where they are sustained by the tarpana we offer to them and would fall from there if tarpana is not offered by their children.
As the Gita says, to quote again verse 2.27 quoted earlier, jatasya hi dhruvo mrityuh dhruvam janma mritasya cha: those who are born are bound to die and those who die are bound to be reborn. If the ancestors are already born on earth and living their lives here as new individuals, with new identities, in new families, with new parents, then sending offerings for them into some other world does not make sense, apart from the question how something physical offered here can reach them in their world.
Shraadha rituals are exactly what the name says – expressions of our love, reverence and indebtedness to the dead. As far as sustenance in post-death existences is considered, what sustains us there is our own karmas and not what others do.
So Arjuna’s argument that the war will cause varna sankara and that will ultimately make our ancestors fall from their worlds does not hold water. That is yet another argument he gives for running away from the unhappy challenge he has to face in the battlefield.   

Living Bhagavad Gita 21: Loser Mindset, Winner Mindset

A series of short articles on the Bhagavad Gita for people living and working in our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times...