03 Yoga Notes

THE WISDOM OF YOGA

The Bhagavad Gita is a primary Sanskrit text (ca. 700 BCE) within the story of Yoga and provides us still today with tools and guidance to help us with the struggles of daily life through our Yoga practices.

Chapters 3 and 4 of the Bhagavad Gita are crucial to the understanding of the Gita as a whole as they introduce two of the three types of Yoga discussed in the dialogue between the despondent warrior Arjuna and his divine charioteer Lord Krishna. Krishna tells Arjuna of two ancient forms of Yoga, Karma Yoga (the Yoga of Action) and Jñana Yoga (the Yoga of Wisdom). The third type of Yoga, or Bhakti (Devotion) is discussed later in the conversation. As Karma, which simply means ‘action’, cannot be avoided, for even non- action, or a-Karma is still Karma, and even Krishna, who is the creator of all, is still compelled to act in order to keep the cosmos in motion.

However, ultimately it is Jñana Yoga that receives the higher praise from Krishna. Yet, the two are intertwined at a fundamental level, namely that of Dharma. Dharma, like Yoga, can carry many meanings in various contexts. In the context of the Gita, however, the meaning is rather clear. Dharma is one’s ‘duty’ in life, but not as in something you are compelled to do, but instead something that you ought to do. No one is forced to follow his or her Dharma, but not to do so can have dire consequences. If Krishna, for example, did not follow his divine Dharma, the Universe itself would disintegrate.

Krishna tells Arjuna (Gita, 3.35) that it is better to fall short living one’s Dharma than to succeed at living someone else’s Dharma, even to the point that it is better to die doing your true Dharma than to live mistakenly following another’s. This sounds a bit negative, but has interesting implications. The first question, however, is ‘How do we know what our Dharma is?’ Herein comes Jñana Yoga. As with Socrates’s motto from the Oracle at Delphi, that is ‘Know Thyself,’ Jñana Yoga’s principle goal is just that—know thyself through Yoga (which again has many meanings). Although the modern-day Asana-based Yoga was not what was meant here, the foundations are the same. Through self-study (svãdhyãya) and meditation, one can come to learn about one’s Self, or Atman, better and as a result, discover what one’s Dharma is.

Through Yoga, we can learn about ourselves and cultivate this sense of Jñana, or wisdom, that can help us find the path in life that best suits our Dharma. Too often we try to follow the path of others, which can be fine, but is quite often not the path that corresponds with our Dharma. Peer pressure or worrying about what other’s might think are culprits in this self- deception, and we may fear to take the path that we know is right, through our wisdom of self-awareness in Yoga, but falter at times to pursue that path. Yoga is a life-long process of nurturing this wisdom and gaining the confidence to see our Dharma for what it is, and furthermore to pursue it, and likewise performing Karma, or action in accordance with that Dharma.

In short, Jñana Yoga challenges us with one simple, though not easy, challenge: Find your Dharma, and live it!

-Robert

Robert has a PhD in Comparative Literature from The University of Texas and has integrated his Sanskrit and Philosophy backgrounds with a physical Yoga practice for over 20 years.

Join Robert each week for classes at Radiant Light Yoga Brussels AND ANTWERP