World-renowned philosopher and spiritual teacher Ram Dass—author of the groundbreaking classic "Be Here Now"—presents the contemporary Western audience with a lively, accessible guide to the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, the classic Hindu text that has been called the ultimate instruction manual for living a spiritual life.
This book's reviews were featured in MBS magazines e.g. "Kindred Spirit" and "Spirit and Destiny". It is the only companion to readers who are interested in expanding their understanding of the sacred Hindu text. The author is a world renowned philosopher and spiritual teacher. For centuries, readers have turned to the Bhagavad Gita for inspiration and guidance as they chart their own spiritual paths. As profound and powerful as this classic text has been for generations of seekers, integrating its lessons into the ordinary patterns of our lives can ultimately seem beyond our reach. Now, in a fascinating series of reflections, anecdotes, stories, and exercises, Ram Dass gives us "Paths to God", a unique and accessible road map for experiencing divinity in everyday life. In the engaging, conversational style that has made his teachings so popular for decades, Ram Dass brings the heart of the Gita to light for a Western audience and translates its principles for contemporary life. "Paths to God" is the first vital companion guide to this classic: a do-it-yourself workshop and a way of coming into a new relationship with your life, from one of the most trusted experts.
Ram Dass received his M.A. from Wesleyan and Ph.D. from Stanford University. Since 1968, he has pursued a variety of spiritual practices, including guru kripa; devotional yoga focused on the Hindu spiritual figure Hanuman; meditation in the Theravadin, Mahayana Tibetan, and Zen Buddhist schools; karma yoga; and Sufi and Jewish studies. Many of his books, including Be Here Now, are international bestsellers and classics of their kind.
"Blessed brilliance and luminous heart wisdom--Ram Dass at his best. These lectures were joyous to attend and exquisite to read." --Jack Kornfield, author of A Path with Heart "With wisdom, humor, and great compassion, Paths to God illuminates the liberating power of the Gita--a rare gift in these unsettled times." --Joseph Goldstein, author of One Dharma: The Emerging Western Buddhism
"Through offering a wide variety of approaches to spiritual happiness, Paths to God is one of the most inclusive and inviting books available to us." --Sharon Salzberg, author of Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience
Chapter 1 Context and Conflict Before we approach the Bhagavad Gita, we need to have a contextual framework for the way it fits into the Mahabharata, of which it''s a part. The Mahabharata is one of the two great Indian epics (the Ramayana being the other). The Mahabharata is a huge book-a typical edition runs to nearly six thousand pages. It is said to be the longest literary work in the world; it is seven times the length of The Iliad and The Odyssey combined, and the only unabridged English edition runs to twelve volumes. It''s thought to have been written somewhere between 500 and 200 b.c., and it covers a distant period of Indian history: tradition places the battle of Kurukshetra in 3102 b.c., although historians say it was probably more like 1400 b.c. when the events that inspired the Mahabharata took place. At one level, the Mahabharata is an historical study of a kingdom; but at another level, it is an extraordinary symbological study of all human interactions, of all human emotions and motivations. It''s like an incredible psychology book cast in the form of a drama, and it''s written from a very conscious point of view, which means that although it can be read just for its romantic, melodramatic story line, it can also be read to uncover its deeper symbolism. And right in the middle of the Mahabharata, on the eve of the climactic battle between the kingdom''s two warring families, comes the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna that''s called the Bhagavad Gita, or "the Song of God." The story of the Mahabharata concerns the kingdom of Bharat, in northern India. The king of Bharat had two sons, Dhritarashtra and Pandu. Dhritarashtra was the elder brother, and ordinarily would have been next in line to inherit the throne after their father died; but he had been born blind, and the traditions of the time didn''t allow for a blind king, so Pandu became the king instead, and ruled the kingdom. Now, what it is that Dhritarashtra''s blindness represents in the story is something that has been expounded upon with great relish by countless Hindu pundits over the centuries. Some say his blindness represents his attachment to his son, Duryodhana, which makes him blind to the dharma, blind to truth or to higher wisdom. Some say the blindness represents the nature of the human condition, which is blind because it lacks the higher intellect. The symbolism is very rich. Pandu, the younger brother, the king, had two wives-Kunti and Madri-and he had five children by them. Of these five children (and these turn out to be the good guys, by the way-the Pandavas), Yuddhisthira was the eldest. Yuddhisthira was virtually the embodiment of dharma, although he did have one minor failing, which was that he gambled-he liked to play dice-and that, we will see, is what ultimately leads us to the predicament we find ourselves in at Kurukshetra. Bhima, Pandu''s second son, was very strong and rather reckless. Arjuna, the third, was pure, noble, chivalrous, and heroic; he turns out to be our hero in the Gita. And there were two younger sons, twins by Madri. Dhritarashtra-the elder, blind brother-had a hundred children, all by one wife. (I know a hundred children-but we''re just going to have to allow for these strange things in the Mahabharata. We make room for them in the Old Testament, with 120-year-old men having scores of children. So let''s just assume that things are different in different times.) Dhritarashtra''s wife, Gandhari, was incredibly devoted to him. She was so devoted that since he couldn''t see, she kept her own eyes bandaged throughout her entire married life, because she said that it would be unseemly for her to see when her husband was blind. That''s devoted! Well, a few years into his reign, Pandu accidentally killed a Brahmin. Killing a Brahmin, even by accident, is a very bad thing to do, so to atone for it, Pandu retired to the forest to do tapasya (penances), leaving the kingdom in the care of Dhritarashtra. After some years, while he was still away in the forest, Pandu died as the result of a curse, and Dhritarashtra just went on ruling Bharat. As the children grew up, Duryodhana, Dhritarashtra''s eldest son, grew more and more jealous of Yuddhisthira, the eldest son of Pandu. You can see that the laws of succession would be a little hazy in this situation, but it looked as though Yuddhisthira, as the eldest Pandu son, was going to be the one to inherit the kingdom whenever Dhritarashtra died-and Duryodhana wanted it for himself. He pulled every dirty trick in the books to try to get it; the Mahabharata devotes hundreds of pages to descriptions of all the ways Duryodhana went about scheming to get rid of the Pandavas, so he could take over the kingdom. Finally, Duryodhana held a huge celebration, and invited all the Pandavas to attend. He had a magnificent palace built to house them, but he had it made of some very flammable material, and during the night, when he expected all the Pandavas to be asleep inside, he set the building afire. Luckily, the Pandavas had been forewarned by a loyal servant, and so they-the five boys and their mother-had escaped through an underground passage and gone off into the jungle, into hiding. Now, just to give you a little more of the flavor of this story: While they were in hiding, living in a cave in the jungle, the Pandava boys heard that there was to be a swayamvara, a husband-selecting ceremony, for Draupadi, the beautiful daughter of a very high king, to find a suitable mate for her. All the princes would be there, of course, because they all wanted to marry this rich, beautiful lady. At the gathering, a number of tasks were set for the would-be suitors: stringing a magical bow, shooting a target by looking at its reflection in a pool of water, feats like that. All the princes tried, and all the princes failed. Then this poor young Brahmin priest came along, and he easily accomplished all the tasks, one after the other. That was Arjuna in drag, of course. So Arjuna won Draupadi''s hand, and he and his brothers took her and headed back to their cave in the jungle. As they approached the cave where they were living, the boys yelled out to Kunti, their mother, Come out, Ma! See what we have brought today! Kunti was in the cave and couldn''t see her sons, but she called out, Whatever it be, share it equally among all of you. That''s a good thing for a mother to say to her five children-usually! But this time it meant that all five brothers ended up being the husbands of Draupadi-she had five husbands by the mother''s "boon." Well, after some years in hiding, the Pandavas made their way back to the kingdom of Bharat, and Dhritarashtra (who wasn''t a bad guy, really-it was his son who was out of control) insisted that Duryodhana give them a piece of land to rule. Duryodhana, as you''d expect, picked out the worst piece of land in the kingdom to give to the Pandavas; it had nothing going for it. But in spite of that, Yuddhisthira and his brothers made a go of it, and created a very good kingdom, prosperous and well ruled. That just made Duryodhana more jealous than ever, of course; he grew insanely jealous, and all he could think about was plotting against the Pandavas. Duryodhana remembered that Yuddhishthira, the oldest Pandava brother, really liked playing dice, so he challenged Yuddhisthira to a dice game, and got a crooked dice player to play opposite him. The two of them played out their dice game, and in the course of it Yuddhishthira lost everything: He lost his kingdom, he forfeited his brothers into servitude, he sold Draupadi down the river-everything he had, went. Duryodhana was ecstatic! He was so haughty about what he''d done that he had Draupadi brought in, planning to strip her naked in front of the court, to shame her. But when he went to pull off her sari, he found that no matter how many saris he pulled away, there was always one more underneath. He had piles of saris everywhere, but Draupadi was still clothed, because she was protected by the purity of the dharma. (And, of course, Krishna, whom the Pandavas had met while they were off in hiding, was helping secretly, on the side.) When Dhritarashtra heard about the episode with Draupadi, he was so embarrassed by his son''s behavior that he offered Draupadi three boons. She said, Well, for the first one, let my husbands go free, and for the second, give them back their weapons. And that''s enough-I won''t even need the third boon. They''ll be able to take care of things from there." Well, Dhritarashtra kept his promise and freed the Pandavas; but as soon as the brothers were free, Duryodhana sucked Yuddhisthira into another dice game. (Yuddhisthira just never seems to learn, does he?) In this dice game, the losers (who, of course, turned out to be Yuddhisthira and his four brothers) had to go off and live in the jungle for twelve years. And then, in the thirteenth year, it got even worse: They had to hide out for that whole year, because if they were found by Duryodhana during the thirteenth year, they''d have to do still another twelve years in the jungle. But if they made it through all that, Duryodhana promised that at the end of their exile they''d get their kingdom back. So back they went to the jungle. They did their twelve years, and in the thirteenth year, in order to hide out, they became servants to a king in a neighboring kingdom. Duryodhana tried everything to find them, but he couldn''t. At the end of the thirteenth year, they came back to Bharat and presented themselves before Duryodhana and said, "OK, we did it. Now we want our kingdom." Duryodhana said, Tough. I''m keeping it. He said, I wouldn''t even give you enough land to carry on
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