wisdom across ages

These couple of posts are a little unique in that the first one – this one – will simply share excerpts from the Bhagavad Gita. The ideas are powerful. That is to say, they hardly need interpretation.

Not that we won’t do it, mind you. Just that we’ll save our commentary for part 2, in deference to the text itself. And that you, dear reader, can experience it largely unqualified, and may even realize some context for your own journey.

A family of four sits in front of Mount St. Helens

Saw Mount St. Helens for the first time at age 42 (37, 9, & 7)

take what you like, leave the rest

These passages are spiritual in nature. Yet, the aspect I’m moved by has to do with choosing work (busy-ness, occupation) as duty. A deep enough topic without trying to save your or my soul.

Saying that to say, take what you like and leave the rest. If you find the reading a little rich for your taste, you can go directly to part 2 where we intersperse the text with commentary about our own thoughts, experience, and story.

Mist over the canyons across the waters. Hell's Canyon Oregon (far side, Idaho near side)

Mist over the canyons across the waters. Hell’s Canyon Oregon (far side, Idaho near side)

about the translation

These passages are excerpted from bhagavad-gita: the song of god, translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood. A Signet Classic, published by New American Library.

excerpted from the Bhagavad Gita, book 3 the yoga of karma:

You have the right to work, but for the work’s sake only. You have no rights to the fruits of work. Desire for the fruits of work must never be your motive in working. Never give way to laziness, either.

Perform every action with your heart fixed on the divine. Renounce attachment to the fruits. Be even-tempered in success and failure; for it is this evenness of temper which is meant by yoga.

Work done with anxiety about results is far inferior to work done without such anxiety, in the calm of self-surrender. Seek refuge in the knowledge of God. They who work selfishly for results are miserable.

Children petting a goat at Youngs Jersey Dairy Farm, Yellow Springs, Ohio

Youngs Jersey Dairy Farm, Yellow Springs, Ohio

From the calm of self-surrender you can free yourself from the bondage of virtue and vice during this very life. Devote yourself, therefore, to reaching union with God.

To unite the heart with God and then to act: that is the secret of non-attached work. In the calm of self-surrender, the seers renounce the fruits of their actions and so reach enlightenment.

Then they are free from the bondage of rebirth, and pass to that state which is beyond all evil.

A man walks along the surge wall at Lighthouse Way in Crescent City CA

Surge wall at Lighthouse Way in Crescent City CA

When your intellect has cleared itself of all delusions, you will become indifferent to the results of all action, present or future.

At present, your intellect is bewildered by conflicting interpretations of [messages about values]. When it can rest, steady and undistracted, in contemplation of the Soul, then you will reach union with the Soul.

When a man has found delight and satisfaction and peace in the Soul, then he is no longer obliged to perform any kind of action.

He has nothing to gain in this world by action, and nothing to lose by refraining from action. He is independent of everybody and everything.

Children petting sea anemone at Ucluelet Aquarium, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Ucluelet Aquarium, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Do your duty, always; but without attachment. That is how a man reaches the ultimate Truth; by working without anxiety about results.

In fact, many saints reached enlightenment simply because they did their duty in this spirit. Your motive in working should be to set others, by your example, on the path of duty.

Whatever a great man does, ordinary people will imitate; they follow his example.

A family winds through Spooky Canyon in backcountry Utah

Spooky Canyon, Utah

The ignorant work
For the fruit of their action:
The wise must work also
Without desire
Pointing man’s feet
To the path of his duty.

Let the wise beware
Lest they bewilder
The minds of the ignorant
Hungry for action:
Let them show by example
How work is holy
When the heart of the worker
Is fixed on the Highest.

A family studies a signboard in Yosemite National Park

Signboard in Yosemite National Park

Every action is really performed by the [qualities of nature]. Man, deluded by his egoism, thinks: “I am the doer.”

But he who has the true insight into the operations of the [qualities of nature] and their various functions knows that when senses attach themselves to objects, [qualities of nature] are simply attaching themselves to [qualities of nature].

Knowing this, he does not become attached to his actions.

The illumined soul must not create confusion in the minds of the ignorant by refraining from work.

The ignorant, in their delusion, identify the Soul with the [qualities of nature]. They become tied to the senses and the action of the senses.

A young boy completes a scavenger hunt at Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum, Chantilly, Virginia

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum, Chantilly, Virginia

Shake off this fever of ignorance. Stop hoping for worldly rewards. Fix your mind on the Soul. Be free from the sense of ego. Dedicate all your actions to the Highest. Then go forward and fight.

It is better to do your own duty, however imperfectly, than to assume the duties of another person, however successfully. Prefer to die doing your own duty: the duty of another will bring you into great spiritual danger.

Wow! What a read, huh!

If you made it this far, congratulations. We’ll see you in the next post…

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