Gita for Children
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Gita for children

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Spiritual Disciplines

1   Karma Yoga (Yoga of Action)

2. Dhyana Yoga (Yoga of Meditation or Raja Yoga)

3. Bhakti Yoga (Yoga of Devotion)

4. Jnana Yoga (Yoga of Knowledg


Gita for children

A simplified approach to understanding the Gita

Young girl: Mommy! Can you solve this riddle for me?

Mommy: Well, my little darling, I can try.

Young Girl: What is it that can speak any language; does not speak until spoken to and it is sometimes strong and sometimes weak?

Mommy: It must be very clever. Can speak any language, did you say? And very polite too; does not speak until spoken to. I wonder! You can tell me the answer.

Young girl: It's an Echo!

Mommy: That's a very clever riddle. I enjoyed that.
Now it is my turn to ask you a riddle. Can I?

Young girl: Yes Mommy.

Mommy: What is it that weapons can not cut it; fire can not burn it; water can not make it wet and the air can not make it dry?

Young girl: Mommy, if weapons can not cut it and fire can not burn it then it is something indestructible, and waterproof on top of it! Mommy, please tell me what can it be? Now I am really curious to know.

Mommy: It's the Soul also known as the Self or the Atman. This riddle is taken from the Bhagavad Gita, second chapter, verse 23. It is written in Sanskrit language and reads:

"Nainam chhindanti shastraani, nainam dahati paavakah,
Na cha enam kledayanti aapah, na shoshayati maarutah".

Na=not, Enam=this (Soul or Self), Chhindanti=to cut,
Shastraani=by weapons, Na=not, Enam=this, Dahati=burns,
Paavakah=by fire, Na=not, Cha=and (even), Enam=this,
Kledayanti=wet, Aapah=(by) water, Na=not, Shoshayati=dries,
Marutah=air (wind).

'Enam' refers to the Soul within the body (the embodied soul).

Young girl: If the Soul is indestructible, then what happens to it when a person dies? And what happens to the body when a person dies?

Mommy: In order to understand the relationship of the soul with the body, let me make it very simple by asking you to play the part of the wooden puppet Pinocchio. If we want Pinocchio, the wooden puppet, to be alive, and be able to behave like us, then Pinocchio will have to be provided with some highly specialised equipments.

Let us begin with the tongue. Pinocchio will have to have a tongue with which to experience different tastes such as sweet, bitter, sour, salty, pungent (hot) etc.

Going up the face from the tongue, we come to the nostrils. Pinocchio can smell different types of smells, fragrances and odours. When Pinocchio comes home from school, at times he can tell by the smell of the delicious food from the kitchen that his mommy has prepared his favourite dish.

Going further up the face , we come to the eyes. Pinocchio will acquire the power of vision that will enable him to see different types of shapes (forms), and different types of colours as well as intensity of light (bright or dark).

Next to the eyes are the ears. Without the ability to hear, Pinocchio will not be able to learn how to speak. His ability to communicate with people will be restricted. Without the hearing abilities of the ears, Pinocchio will not be able to listen to the sounds of musical instruments or hear songs. In the wilds, he will not be able to hear and thereby be warned of the presence of wild animals.

So far we have talked about the tongue, the nostrils, the eyes, and the ears. One more, from amongst the five highly specialised equipments is still to be considered. Can you tell me what it can be?

Young girl: Something to do with touch?

Mommy: You are absolutely right. Touching by the skin provides information such as cold or hot, sharp or blunt, hard or rough or soft etc.

These five equipments are known as organs of (sense) perception (Gnana indriya); Gnana = knowledge, indriya = organ.

These five organs of perception gather information or knowledge relating to taste,smells,vision,sounds and touch. The eyes are like the lenses of cameras, capturing the vista before the cameras; and the ears are like microphones capturing sound.

Young girl: Mommy, are there any more equipments besides these five organs of perception?

Mommy: Oh yes! Again, to make the explanations very simple, I will relate about an incident in the life of Pinocchio.

One day, Pinocchio was very naughty and did not want to listen to his mother. So his mother scolded him and Pinocchio got upset and was very cross.

Can Pinocchio get cross with his skin or with his ears? Obviously not. Pinocchio will have to be provided with the mind to take care of his emotional needs.

Another day, Pinocchio was very helpful to his mother, and upon being praised by his mother, he was feeling happy and elated. The mind was feeling the emotion of happiness.The mind provides the emotional needs which produce joy and sorrow, happiness and unhappiness anger and peacefulness etc.The mind is also an equipment but it is not visible and therefore it is called subtle. The mind's work is far more specialised and complex than that of the five organs of perception. In fact, without the mind, the organs of perception will become powerless to register the information or knowledge they gather.

And yet, there is still one more highly specialised equipment, without which Pinocchio will be greatly handicapped in life. To illustrate the point:

One day, Pinocchio was at school and the teacher was teaching maths to his class.The teacher wanted to test the pupils and asked them to spot an error.

On the black board the teacher had written 2 + 2 = 5. Many of the pupils raised their hands to point out to the teacher that two plus two makes four and not five.These pupils demonstrated the ability to distinguish between right and wrong.

Now, for doing the job of distinguishing (discriminating) between the right and the wrong, Pinocchio will have to be provided with intellect. Intellect is also an equipment. It's more subtler than the mind. The intellect will exercise the faculty of discrimination. It can be trained to tell the difference between what is Real and what is unreal. It can make out what is right and what is wrong in the spiritual and social fields connected with ethics, morality, justice, conduct or behaviour, speech etc.

Swami Chinmayanand referred to these equipments as B-M-I (body-mind-intellect).The big question is: If the five organs of perception attached to the body,plus the mind, plus the intellect are all equipments,then WHO AM I?

I am the Soul or the Atman also known as the Self. The body-mind intellect (B-M-I) equipments are attached to the body. The indwelling (embodied) Soul enables these equipments to function. Often the example of electricity is cited. Electricity is invisible but the effects of electricity are seen or felt as in an electric light bulb or a heater, an electric fan or a hot plate on an electric cooking stove. A radio or a television set is enabled to function when powered by electricity. Similarly the B-M-I equipments are powered by the Soul.

The body can remain functioning even when some of these equipments are damaged. The body can function without the power of vision in the eyes or the power of hearing in the ears. A person can be mentally deranged and can still be living. Another can be brain damaged, but still be alive. The presence of the indwelling Soul keeps it alive.

The indwelling Soul or the embodied Self is described in the Bhagavad Gita as being:

Eternal, indestructible, and immeasurable.
(Gita, Ch.2. verse18.)

Unborn and inexhaustible (Gita, Ch.2 Verse 21).

Stable, immovable, ancient. (Gita Ch.2 verse 24.)

Unmanifested, unthinkable, unchangeable
(Gita Ch.2. verse 25.)

The Soul passes unchanged from the baby into childhood, from childhood to youth to middle age to old age.Thereafter the Soul passes unchanged from one body and enters into another body.
-(Gita Ch.2, Verse 13.)

The embodied Self or the Soul is not killed when the physical body is killed.(Gita Ch.2. verse 20.)

Just as a man replaces worn out clothes and acquires new garments or clothes, in the same way the embodied Self separates from the worn out body and enters into another body which is new.
(Gita Ch.2 verse 22.)

An eternal law taught in the Vedas is: That which has a beginning must have an end; the one who is born must die.

Gita, Ch.2, verse 27 explains:
It is an absolute certainty that the one who is born must die, and birth for the dead is also an absolute certainty.
Therefore, one should not grieve over what is unavoidable or inevitable.

The body is said to have an end (Gita Ch.2 verse 18.)

The body is subject to constant change. There is not even a fraction of a second when the body is not undergoing change. We can notice, after a few days that our finger nails have grown, and that our hair have grown. The skin is entirely replaced in a month. The lining of the stomach renews itself in a week. Scientists have concluded that all the atoms in the body are replaced within a period of about five years.

The Rishis were seers with highly purified minds who could fine-tune their minds to establish contacts with the cosmic or divine all pervading Consciousness and receive intuitive knowledge. The Rishis had realised since the ancient times that not only the human body was subject to constant change but everything in nature was subject to change. This included animals, birds, insects, plants and trees, rivers, mountains, the earth, the sun and the moon, the planets and the stars; in fact everything that is external to us.

(Continued below)

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The Rishis also observed that everything that may be described as internal (mind, intellect etc.) was also subject to constant change. The different states of the mind will make us experience happiness that can change into unhappiness, peaceful mind can become restless mind, timidity can change into valour, fear can change into fearlessness, hatred can turn into love.

The Rishis found that the Soul or the Self was not subject to any changes.

To get to know the Soul is our first goal in life. Since I AM THE SOUL, do I not know the Soul? The answer is a definite NO! The scriptures and the Rishis have said so. The reason given is that a veil of ignorance keeps us in the dark from knowing our Self. When we remove this veil or layers of ignorance, then the Self is realised. This is called SELF REALISATION. When we remove a thick layer of dust from the surface of a mirror, then our reflections can be seen in the mirror.

If I feel hungry then I must eat food to overcome the hunger. If I feel hungry in my stomach, it will not help if I ask another person to eat the food to eliminate my hunger. Self realisation is to be experienced by the individual.

The second goal after self realisation is described as SALVATION or LIBERATION. The merging of the indwelling Soul with the all pervading Super Soul (Supreme Reality or God Consciousness). The indwelling soul is liberated from the rounds of births and deaths. Then it is said to have achieved Liberation..

When we buy a new gadget, a new motor car or a television set, an instructions manual comes with, telling how to make the best use of the gadget or the equipment. Similarly, there is an instructions manual that tells how to make the best use of the body-mind-intellect (B-M-I) equipments.

Young girl: Mommy, how nice! I would really like to get to know how to make the best use of the B-M-I equipments. Please tell me where I can find this manual?

Mommy: Well, for the purpose of our understanding, what we call the B-M-I manual is the Bhagavad Gita. We usually refer to it as the Gita.

The Gita has eighteen chapters and the subject matter or the topics are divided into three sections of six chapters each. Actually, the three sections of the Gita somewhat overlap the topics.

Spiritual Disciplines

The first six chapters
The first six chapters of the Bhagavad Gita predominantly relate to the path of action or karma yoga also known as the yoga of action. (The relationship between the body and the soul is explained in the second chapter).

The middle six chapters

The middle six chapters (7th to 12th) explain the paths of meditation (Dhyana Yoga) and devotion (Bhakti Yoga). The sixth chapter already begins to deal with the mind through the topic entitled as Dhyana Yoga or the Yoga of Meditation. Here, the mind is the equipment that is involved. For the purpose of our understanding, it will help to remember that the mind has two fold tendencies. 1. The mind can be full of emotions and can lead a person to the path of devotion or bhakti. One can sing the praises of the Lord and cultivate the very fine emotions of pure love (eg., Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Mirabai). 2. The second tendency of the mind is its ability to lead a person into meditation. The Yoga of meditation is also known as Raja Yoga.The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Maharaj are the best guide since the ancient times, for the practice of Raja Yoga.

The last six chapters

The last six chapters (13th to 18th) relate to the path of Knowledge or Jnana Yoga. This relates to the intellect portion of B-M-I.

Thus we are able to emphasise four major Yogas of the Bhagavad Gita.

1. Karma Yoga (Yoga of Action). 2. Dhyana Yoga (Yoga of Meditation).
3. Bhakti Yoga (Yoga of Devotion). 4. Jnana Yoga (Yoga of Knowledge)

The imagery associated with the Bhagavad Gita is that of a chariot with four horses. Arjuna is inside the chariot and the chariot is being driven by Lord Krishna.  The human body is the chariot and Arjun is the embodied soul. This body (chariot) is being driven by the Supreme Lord. God's will prevails. The explanation about this imagery is taken from :
The Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva, Section CLVIII

It is Krishna who gave unto Arjuna a number of white steeds (horses). This world (or human life) represents his chariot. He (Krishna) it is that yokes that chariot for setting it in motion. That chariot has three wheels (viz., the three attributes of Sattwa, Rajas, and Tamas). It has three kinds of motion (for it goes upwards or downwards or transversely, implying superior, inferior, and intermediate birth as brought about by acts). It has four horses yoked to it (viz., Time, Predestiny, the will of the deities, and one's own will). It has three naves (white, black, and mixed, implying good acts, evil acts and acts that are of a mixed character).

The Gita is the Song Celestial; a dialogue between the Supreme Lord and the individual soul.

(A similar imagery from the Katha Upanishad describes a chariot (III.Up.I.2.3. -13 & 14.) "Know that the Self is like the Lord of the chariot, and the body is his chariot. Know that the intellect is the charioteer and the mind the reins. The senses, they say, are the horses, the objects of the senses their roads. When the Self is in union with the body, the senses and the mind, the wise call Him the enjoyer."

The four Yogas of the Gita are of invaluable help in developing the human personality. The human personality can be likened to a table with four legs. Each of the four legs is important. The four legs or the four pillars of human personality are 1. Action 2. Will Power 3. Emotions 4. Reason.

1.Karma Yoga or the Yoga of Action makes us aware of the importance of the human body which is to be dedicated to the Supreme Lord as an instrument through which God's grace can flow. But before the human body (with its B-M-I equipments) can be dedicated, it must be made presentable. Just as we will not offer to another a bouquet of flowers made from dilapidated and wilted flowers. The sieve that is clogged up cannot strain liquids or flours. We cannot pour pure water in a tumbler that is filthy. It will pollute the water.

The end result of actions must be divinely inspired; guided by the scriptures. The body performs the actions but the actions are guided or controlled by the mind. The mind in turn is guided or controlled by the intellect, which in turn is governed and controlled by Vasanas.
[For related articles  click here > Karma Yoga (Yoga of Action)

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Vasanas are subtle impressions which the individual soul will carry with when the soul separates itself from the physical body upon the death of a person. To understand this new term VASANA, first think of ice, which is gross. It is solid; can be touched or felt and can be cut into different shapes. Water is subtler than ice. Water cannot be cut into shape, although it will assume the shape of its container. Water is liquid and not solid like ice. Steam is subtler than water. We cannot hold steam in our hand as we can hold water. Steam is visible for a while and then it becomes invisible. Humidity in the air is subtler than steam. The presence of humidity in the air cannot be seen.

The vasanas are like the humidity in the air; subtlest of all. The vasanas undergo transformation at the level of the intellect into thoughts. The thoughts in turn undergo transformation at the level of the mind into desires; and the desires undergo transformation at the level of the physical body into actions.

Vedanta can give a hundred percent assurance with total confidence that a sincere seeker after spiritual advancement can reach the highest goal, and this is because Vedanta operates from the level of the vasanas as well as from levels that are even more subtler than vasanas (the Soul or the Self is subtler than the Vasanas). The analogy of a computer can be used where the hardware parts are the computer disc drive, the monitor screen, the keyboard etc. These are like the physical human body. The software or the programmes that run the computer is like the vasanas. The Vasanas govern the actions of the physical body through the process of becoming thoughts; thoughts becoming desires and desires manifesting as actions.

The latent impressions or vasanas will start functioning when the soul enters a new body. It is like a seed which has the potential of a huge tree stored within the seed.

Thus to make the body presentable, the vasanas must be purified (generally used phrase is 'to purify the mind').Swami Nikhilananda taught that the mind is by nature pure and clear, and capable of reflecting reality. The impurities in it, which distort the image of reality, are created by desires and attachments. Being foreign to it, they may be removed; and this is effected through the practice of spiritual disciplines (Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga). Work, when performed as a spiritual discipline is called Karma Yoga.

Without achieving a degree of purification of the mind, an attempt to put into practice instructions of the scriptures will remain of short duration.

(Continued below)

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Karma Yoga

Sri Raman Maharshi wrote in his Upades Saram, verse 3:

"Acts performed without any attachment and in the spirit of service to God, cleanse the mind and point the way to salvation".

In the Gita, Ch.3, verse 9 reads: "Yagna arthaat karmanah anyatra lokah ayam karma bandhanaat" Meaning "Actions that are performed in the service of the Lord will not bind the person. Actions that are performed in any other manner (other than dedicated in the service of the Lord) bind the performer of those actions to worldliness".

Actions thus dedicated to the Lord will purify the mind.

Gita, Ch.2, verse 47 reads: "Karmaanye va adhikaaraste maa phaleshu kadaachana" Meaning: "Your right or duty is confined to performance of actions only, (but) never with their fruits or results which may be good or bad. The expectations of the fruits of our actions should not be the motive. If we own a house and decide to donate that house to a temple. After donating the house, all the benefits deriving from the house (such as rent money) must go to the temple and therefore that benefit is not ours to expect. Any repairs to the house will be the responsibility of the temple authority. Similarly, when we dedicate all our actions to God, their results or fruits whether good or bad, are not ours to expect.

Bhakti Yoga

2. Bhakti Yoga or the Yoga of Divine Love. Love as a force of attraction operates at different levels: the material, the human, and the spiritual. On the material level it draws together the particles of an inanimate object; on the human level it joins friend and friend, parents and children, husband and wife; and on the spiritual level it unites a man with God.

Love is a creative force, and through creation one seeks joy and immortality. Desiring this joy some who are virile in body beget offspring, and some who are virile in mind create art, compose poetry, write philosophy, organise states, or engage in similar pursuits. There are yet others, virile in spirit, who through love beget God-consciousness, the bestower of the highest good.

Spiritual love or Bhakti, is directed only to God. When a man obtains love of God, he loves all, hates none, and becomes satisfied for ever. When the love of God is fully developed, the lover forgets both the world and the body. This love cannot be exploited for any worldly purpose- neither for health, nor for wealth, nor for longevity, nor for happiness in heaven. It cannot be genuine if the lover shows the slightest attachment to the world. In it there is no room for jealousy or hatred, because the devotee sees everything as the manifestation of God.

The discipline of Bhakti is the easiest and the most natural of all spiritual disciplines, because it does not demand the suppression of normal impulses; it only tells the devotee to turn them to God.
-Swami Nikhilananda, Sri Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Centre, New York.

In Bhakti Yoga (Yoga of devotion), the devotee establishes a near and dear relationship with the Lord. He cultivates slowly any one of the five bhavas (attitudes) according to his temperament, taste and capacity. The five attitudes are 1.Santa Bhava (the attitude of peaceful adoration), 2.Dasya Bhava (attitude of servant towards the master), 3.Sakhya Bhava (attitude of a friend), 4. Vatsalya Bhava (attitude of a parent to the child), 5.Madhurya Bhava (attitude of the lover towards the beloved).

The devotee adopts these attitudes towards the Lord. The last (Madhurya Bhava) is the culmination of devotion. It is merging or absorprion in the Lord.

The devotee adores the Lord. He constantly remembers Him (smaranam or sumiran). He sings His name (kirtanam). He speaks of His glories. He repeats His name. He chants His mantra (japa). He prays and prostrates. He hears His Lilas (divine plays). He does total, ungrudging, and unconditional self-surrender, obtains His grace, holds communion with and eventually gets absorped in Him.

The devotee begins by worshipping the idols or the symbols of God Then he performs internal worship of the Form. Ultimately he is led to the supreme worship of the all-pervading Brahman (para-puja)

The Bhagavad Gita, Ch12,Verse 5 reads:""Greater is their trouble whose minds are set on the unmanifested; for the goal (the unmanifested), is very hard for the embodied to reach."

Worshippers of the saguna (with form as in idol or murti with attributes), and the nirguna (without form, abstract, without any attributes) Brahman reach the same goal. But the latter path of nirguna is very hard and arduous, because the aspirant has to give up attachment to the body from the very beginning of his spiritual practice.--Swami Shivananda, Divine Life Society, Rishikesh

Raja Yoga

3. Raja Yoga.The spiritual discipline prescribed in Raja Yoga relates to the the study of the mind and its control. In the Yoga-sutras, these disciplines have been systematised by the ancient Rishi Patanjali. The method of Raja-Yoga, practical and rational, has been tested again and again by Indian Yogis. Its technique can be followed in varying degrees by all, irrespective of their religion, in their practice of meditation and concentration.

Maharshi Patanjali has defined yoga as the restraining of the mind from taking various forms (vrittis). Consisting of subtle material elements, the mind is the inner organ.The mind functions in four different ways and is given names appropriate to its functions. One part of the mind, called the Manas (mind) creates doubt. Buddhi (intellect) makes decisions. The Chitta is the storehouse of memory, and Aham (ego) creates I-consciousness.

The nature of the mental states is influenced by the three gunas -sattwa, Rajas and Tamas. The darkened mind, filled with tamas, is dull and passive.The scattered mind, with an excess of rajas, is restless. No higher perceptions are possible through either of these states. By the disciplines of Yoga the darkened mind and the scattered mind can be gathered and made 'one-pointed'. Then alone does the yogi attain total absorption or samadhi, and realise the true nature of his self (as when the waves subside, one sees the bottom of the lake).

Maharshi Patanjali states that Raja Yoga consists of eight 'limbs' or parts:

1.Yama, 2.Niyama, 3.Asana, 4.Pranayama, 5.Pratyahara, 6.Dharana, 7.Dhyana, 8.Samadhi.

Yama is discipline of the mind and includes non-injury, truthfulness, non-covetousness, chastity, and non-receiving of gifts.

Niyama signifies certain habits and observances, such as austerity, study of the scriptures, contentment, purity of body and mind, and devotion to God.

Asana is proper sitting posture.

Pranayama is generally called control of the breath. When the breathing is regulated the whole physical system functions rhythmically. The breath supplies the motive power to all parts of the body.

Pratyahara consists in training the mind to detach itself at will from a particular sense-organ. By means of pratyahara, the yogi can check the outward inclination of the mind and free it from the thraldom of the senses.

Dharana consists in holding the mind to a certain part of the body. For instance, the yogi may remain aware only of the tip of his nose.

Dhyana is meditation. in this stage the mind acquires the power to think of an object uninterruptedly.The flow of the yogi's mind to the object is unbroken.

Samadhi or total absorption, a state of mind in which the yogi rejects the external part- the name and form- of the object of meditation, and contemplates only its essence. Samadhi is a super conscious state of the mind, in which ego is completely transcended. After experiencing it, a man becomes a saint or a prophet.

- Swami Nikhilananda, Sri Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Centre, New York.

"The man who has not turned away from his evil ways, who is not tranquil, who has no concentration of mind and whose mind is not at rest - he can never reach this Self through mere knowledge".

-Katha Upanishad III. (Up.I. 2.3. -11.)

Jnana Yoga

4. Jnana Yoga. (Yoga of knowledge) is the discipline of philosophical discrimination between the real and the unreal by which jnana or the knowledge of Brahman (the Supreme Reality) is attained. This discrimination springs from the intuitive conviction that the eternal and unchanging Brahman alone is real, and all other objects are transitory and unreal.

The Gita is divided into three sections illustrative of the three words of the Mahavakya or the Great Sentence of the Sama Veda _Tat-tvam-asi (That Thou Art). In accordance with this view, the first six chapters of the Gita deal with the path of action or Karma Yoga, and the nature of the thou (tvam-pada). The next six chapters explain the path of devotion or Bhakti Yoga and the nature of That (Tat-pada). The last six chapters treat of the path of knowledge or Jnana Yoga and the nature of the middle term art (asi-pada) which establishes the identity of the individual and the Supreme Soul.
-Swami Shivananda, Rishikesh.

Related articles

Raja Yoga
Karma Yoga

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