What I do in this life, and have done in past lives, will determine the circumstances in which I find myself in the next life. Then the choices I make in the next life will determine the circumstances of the one after that. So that by repeated efforts I can improve and become more free and have more choice and more vision. Yes, it is a most beautiful doctrine and if it is well presented one can believe it for about half an hour. If it is extremely well presented one can believe it for half a month and if it is brilliantly presented you can believe it for half a year. Then you start thinking, “How do they know? It does account for the unevenness and inequalities in the world. It does inspire us to make efforts. But how do they know?” Well, the Gita points out that unless there’s a flash, a glimpse of immortality in this very life, we can never be sure that there will be immortality afterwards encompassing all the lives – and it gives the methods by which we can have a glimpse of something immortal.
You could say, “What are those methods?” First of all the Gita says, “Our lives are tangled.” They are tangled by fears, by anticipations, by hopes, by ambitions. A whole tangle of meaningless trivialities, quite often, fill our lives. This is an oral tradition. Some teachers explain it like this – when the hands are locked you can’t see through them but if they can be loosened just a little bit, you can catch a glimpse of what is beyond, you can become aware that there is a beyond. So two elements in the Gita are given – to reduce the flood and turmoil of thoughts and hopes and fears and calculations; then, secondly, at certain times, to enter into meditation so that the mind, instead of wavering and being dispersed, will come to one.
Now the first is what is called karma yoga action. These are oral teachings, but somebody has got to bring it alive, as distinct from just stating principles. Say we are doing a job, perhaps I am typing. Maybe I am a good typist in an office, and I am copy typing away. I don’t have to look down, I am just copying. Then out of the corner of my eye I see somebody coming and standing there – even very experienced typists will tell you that your typing tends to get disturbed. They are not doing anything, they are just standing there. But you start thinking, “Is it the boss? Is he checking how many mistakes I am making or that I am making no mistakes? If I make no mistakes, shall I get promotion? What is it? Is this an office inspection?” That interferes with the typing.
[It’s the same] in any action. If I am cleaning the floor, I am scrubbing. If I start thinking, “When I have finished this one I will go onto that one, and that will be the end of the row” that impedes the action, this thought of that and that. If my mind becomes calm and simple, so that I am just polishing, scrubbing this stone place, then I don’t get tired. The action is smooth. But if I have any disturbances – if I think, “Well, I suppose people will come in with filthy, muddy feet the moment I finish. What thanks do I ever get anyway for doing this sort of thing? They are all out leaving me here to do this.” – all these things come in and they impede the action.
The karma yoga action is to become serene and clear, regardless of the results of the action, the anticipation, the motive, what it might bring, what it might not bring, and simply to do the action itself. Then the action will begin to become bright. The senses change. There is a riddling verse in the Gita that has never been explained. ‘When through the senses’ – and the senses are the receiving senses and the acting senses – ‘light begins to shine, then sattwa (the principle of spirituality) is becoming apparent’. Those who practise these things will find that when the mind becomes calm and the action is performed in that calm, the senses become bright and the action becomes smooth and efficient. This is the outer side of karma yoga action. It is to discard the meaningless turmoil of thought which doesn’t help at all, it only hinders – simply to be able to scrub with joy.
One example that was given, like the scrubbing – we can sit by the seaside on the beach, and we can see the waves coming in. They come in, and perhaps there’s a post or something like that, or a little rock, and they hit it, and there is a little froth, isn’t there? Then it goes out again and the next wave comes in and hits it, and it makes another little froth, not quite the same. Then it just spreads out and another one comes. It is never quite the same, but it is similar. We can look at this for quite a time, it is most beautiful and it is very calming. The same thing is happening when I am scrubbing the floor – the action of the brush is producing this foam. If the karma yoga action is done, and the mind becomes calm, then we see the same beauty in the foam that comes up in the scrubbing action, as we see with such joy when we are on the beach. This is the first element in the yoga practice, and it is to reduce this frenzied current and just to have the clear thing.
The second one is to practise meditation. This means to go to a retired place and practise. Just as when we learn to swim we go to a place where the water is calm. You are not a swimmer until you can swim in rough water, but you don’t start learning in rough water, you learn in calm water. Then you practise bringing the attention, for instance, to this point here (the spot between the eyebrows). If you would like to just try, press the fingernail here, between the brows, and just shut or half shut the eyes. Use the after sensation, when you have taken your finger away, and just bring the mind to this point and keep it there, as if you were watching a little flame burning. This is one of the practices which is done. It is developed in meditation. It is a practice which can be done when we are waiting for a bus or when we are very tense and we are waiting for some critical thing to happen. Normally, when we are waiting in a crisis we start getting fidgety with the hands and the feet move – but if we had a little facility in this, it is a great advantage in the world.
These are two of the practices given in yoga. If they are done – and they have to be done regularly, at the same time every day, for at least six weeks – then there begins to be a change. We may not perceive that change, but after three months the change becomes perceptible internally. The Gita is experimental – it doesn’t give things which can’t be confirmed. It talks about the great Self, then immediately afterwards it gives the technique by which a glimpse can be had of that immortality, by which the tangle can be just at least a little bit eased and we begin to just catch a glimpse. Finally in meditation, if the meditation goes well – and it depends on the day, some days it is 20% successful, some days 80% successful – the tangle can be removed. We can see it clearly. This makes a difference to our life, a new space is added to our life.
© Trevor Leggett
Talks in this series are:
Part 1 : Bhagavad Gita 03.04.1991
Part 2 : There is a self which is immortal
Part 3 : Reincarnation is beautiful doctrine
Part 4 : Strong passions and fears