Excerpts from The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita

(2:39) I have thus explained to you the ultimate wisdom of Shankhya. Now hear the wisdom of Yoga, equipped with which, O Partha, you will break the shackles of karma.

This last passage appears variously translated in different texts. In fact, however, the version given by Paramhansa Yogananda is the most accurate. The word, “wisdom” which appears in the original, is conjoined with “Shankhya”, and does not mean Gyana Yoga as some have it. Other translations refer to Karma Yoga, which doesn’t even appear in the original text. What the Gita does speak of is that which “will loosen the bonds of karma”. I have rendered the English translation more poetically by writing, “break the shackles of karma”. The meaning is, of course, the same.

Paramhansa Yogananda discussed the three main philosophies of India: ShankhyaYoga, and Vedanta. He explained that the wisdom taught in Shankhya underscores the need to escape from maya, or delusion. Yoga tells the sincere seeker how to make good his escape. And Vedanta (literally, “Summation,” or “End,” of the Vedas) describes the nature of Brahman.

(2:40) In this path (of yoga action) there is no danger of “unfinished business”, nor are there latent within it the opposite, canceling effects of duality. Even a little practice of this religion will free one from dire fears and colossal sufferings (which are inherent in the unceasing cycles of death and rebirth).

It is important to realize that in yoga practice as well, of course, as in any sincere search for God (the one Self, beyond all duality), there is no wasted effort, and no karmic rebound. There is, in other words, no “catch” to seeking God. With any other effort, no matter how glorious the consequences, it is always legitimate to ask, “What’s wrong with it?” Only with the divine search is the answer a resounding, “Nothing’s wrong!” Even to fail in this quest brings only good karma.

(2:70) Contentment is his who, like the ocean, calmly absorbs into himself all the rivers of desire. One (on the contrary) whose desires trickle outward (as if from a pond) is soon drained (of energy).

Generous desires – for example, to bring joy to others – do not drain your reservoir of peace, but add to it by the joy they awaken.

Whenever you feel pleasure, let it remind you of soul-bliss, inwardly. Whenever you see beauty, take into yourself the joy you feel in it. Let every worldly happiness remind you of the much greater happiness of the Self.

Some yogis recommend complete indifference to the world. What a dry outlook! Far better is it, my Guru taught, to enjoy with God the beauties and the pure delights of this world, by focusing on the inner joy you feel during experiences that uplift the heart’s feelings. Raise those feelings toward God, rather than suppressing them with dry, intellectually “inspired” apathy. In this way, too, one can absorb into himself, instead of leaking outward, whatever joys and pleasures the world gives him.

(4:3) Today I have taught you, My devotee and friend, that ancient science of Yoga, the secret to the highest blessings for mankind.

It is a thought wondrous to contemplate: As the devotee advances spiritually, he is accepted by the Lord Himself not only as a devotee, but as a friend. The relationship with God as Friend is in some ways the sweetest. For even the thought of God as Mother, which many consider the sweetest of all relationships, carries a hint of human presumption that God must take care of us, and pardon all our sins. As Yogananda taught people to pray, “Mother, naughty or good I am Thy child: Thou must release me!” When one is advanced enough, however, to think of God as Friend, there steals into the heart that sweet confidence by which one feels, “But of course You love me! I am Yours; You are mine. How could either of us ever turn away from the other? We are one!”

The very science of Yoga should be taught and practiced with love, and not as an invitation to ego-boosting power. Love and devotion help the seeker to grasp the true essence of Yoga, which unlocks the inner door to the highest blessings that can be known.

(4:36) Even the worst of sinners can, with the raft of wisdom, cross safely over the ocean of delusion.

Krishna offers this supreme encouragement to all humanity: No matter how steeped you are in bad habits, vice, self-degrading depravity, or evil, you are still a child of the one, infinite Lord who created masters and saints. Nothing less than divine bliss itself can define you forever!

Never, therefore, tell yourself, “I am evil!” Never say, “I have failed!” If you accept any failure as your reality, it will be so, at least for this lifetime. But if after every setback you say, rather, “I have not yet succeeded!” you can win – even in this incarnation!

Pray to God as the Divine Mother, all-forgiving and ever-accepting: “Mother, whether naughty or good, I am Thy child! Thou must release me! Cleanse me of all sin.”

“God doesn’t mind your faults” Yogananda used to say. ” He only minds your indifference!”

(6:8) That yogi who is blissfully absorbed in the wisdom of the Self is known as being unshakably united to Spirit. Unchangeable, the controller of his senses, he views with equal gaze a clod of earth, a stone, and a bar of gold.

(6:9) He is a supreme yogi who gazes equally upon patrons, friends, enemies, strangers, peacemakers, those who cause trouble, relatives, virtuous, and the ungodly.

These last two stanzas do not mean that the yogi isn’t capable of recognizing the differences between one material object and another, or between a good human being and an evil one. As my Guru once put it, “He is not dumb!” The difference between the wise yogi and the ordinarily ignorant human being is that the yogi accepts with equanimity whatever is. To him, all things, and all creatures, are simply plays of divine light and shadow on the screen of duality. He reacts appropriately to all, both virtuous and the ungodly, but in his heart he sees both as aspects of the eternal drama of God.

(6:30) He who beholds Me everywhere, and who beholds everything in Me, never loses sight of Me; nor do I lose sight of him.

My Guru very often quoted this last stanza. His tone of voice and his expression, as he did so, were blissful. He was reminding us that God is ever near. What seems to hold the Lord at a distance is only our indifference. If we will do the work needed to calm our thoughts and feelings (above all), we will find Him there, waiting for us. People who wail miserably over His continued silence, and His seeming heedlessness of them in their suffering, need only apply the principles that they already know from daily life.

Do they want worldly success? They know – or learn soon enough – that it won’t be dropped into their laps: They must work for it. Do they want human love? They know it won’t come to them if they simply sit at home, languishing. Do they want rubies, diamonds, gold? These things are not found lying about on the ground: They must be mined by someone with great effort, and paid for by others at great cost.

How is it that people think God owes them an answer for their brief, restless, and usually shallow prayers? Anguished prayers? Sometimes – but the anguish passes, and they soon forget Him again as they go off in pursuit of some new will-o’-the-wisp. God sees all this and says, “I will wait”. He wants to be sure of our love, for He has been seeking it, with hardly ever a glance in His direction from man, for millennia!

(10:9) Their thoughts engrossed in Me, their beings surrendered to me, enlightening one another and conversing of Me, they are ever contented and filled with joy.

Ordinary human beings, accustomed to the pleasure of conversing together, of gossiping and retelling the latest news coupled with their various opinions and reactions, imagine that in God all this fascinating variety will be lost. Krishna suggests, in this stanza, that such is far from the case. Not only is the bliss of Satchidananda “ever-new“, as Yogananda declared, but those who know it find, even in conversing together of divine matters, a level of delight that worldly people never know. People’s sheer need for variety indicates the barrenness of their hearts, which drives them to seek anxiously a few raindrops of diversion in hope of somehow slaking their thirst. When two people meet who know God, they may not converse much, but the flow of divine love and bliss between them is completely satisfying to them both.