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Curriculum Lectionary

Texts

GilgameshGenesisBiblical prophetsGospelsQur'anRumi and Kabir
Bhagavad GitaUpanishadsDhammapadaHeart and Lotus SutrasTao Te ChingAnalects

Sessions

Session 1
Tell Me Which Is the Better Path
Session 2
Following the Path of Service
Session 3
Meditation and Devotion
Session 4
Wisdom Beyond Knowledge

Leader Notes

In this session on the Gita we run into names of characters that are by and large unknown in Western culture but known to just about every Indian child. For this reason there is not much exposition about them in the Gita, and participants might be concerned that they are missing something important in not knowing them. But while knowing these characters and their backgrounds can add layers of meaning to the story, they are in no way necessary to understand it; indeed, we are skipping over a whole host of names that appear at the beginning of Chapter 1, and these characters all but disappear from the scene before the end of Chapter 2. This is not a story with multiple characters to keep straight: it is essentially a poem about the mysteries of human existence as explained by a divine being.

In this session we see the framing story of Arjuna and the battle at Kurukshetra, but only for a bit. Once Krishna begins to speak, he goes straight into a description of the central teachings of the Gita; in fact, Chapter 2 is in many ways a short compendium of the teachings that will be developed throughout the Gita.

There are many translations of the Gita into English. We will be using The Bhagavad Gita, translated by Eknath Easwaran. For an online version that includes both traditional pictures and audio recitation of the Gita, we recommend http://www.bhagavad-gita.us. For ease of reading online, though, we recommend Ramanand Prasad’s version at http://eawc.evansville.edu/anthology/gita.htm.

 

Words Used in Today’s Reading:
Arjuna – One of the Pandava brothers who are fighting against the Kauravas; the friend of Krishna and the hearer of his words in the Gita
Bhishma – One of the elders fighting for the Kauravas
Dhritarashtra – The blind king whose son is leading the charge against Arjuna and the Pandavas; he is the one
Drona – The general of the Kaurava army
Duryodhana – The son of King Dhritarashtra and the one who is leading the charge agains the Pandavas
Gandiva – Arjuna’s bow, a gift from the god of fire
Krishna – An incarnation of Vishnu who came to re-establish the original law of goodness. He personifies spiritual love.
Kuru – A king who is the ancestor of both the Karuavas and the Pandavas; however, his name is most associated with the Kauravas, whose name means “sons of Kuru”.
Sanjaya – The sage who is able mentally to see the battle being waged. The Gita is set up as Sanjaya reporting his remote vision to King Dhritarashtra.
Self - the Atman or what might be called the soul, which is one with Brahman

Goals
  • To begin to gain an understanding of the teachings of the Gita
  • To think about how they communicate and whether it promotes nonviolence
  • To consider the basis for moral action
Preparations
  • Print copies of the readings for this session from Leader Resource 2, if necessary
  • Familiarize yourself with the process of nonviolent communication. Leader Resource 3 provides a short introduction to the process.
  • Print out copies of Leader Resources 3 and 4 for use with Activity 2.
Supplies
  • Chalice with candle and matches
  • Whiteboard, chalkboard or large piece of paper and a way to post it on a wall
  • Markers or chalk
If You Only Have One Hour
  • Skip the second practice session in Activity 2 and skip all of Activity 3.
Overview

Chalice lighting and opening meditation (5 minutes)

Historical Introduction to the Bhagavad Gita (5 minutes)

Activity 1: Reading and Discussion (25 minutes)

Activity 2: Violence and Non-Violence (35 minutes)

Activity 3: Moral Action (15 minutes)

Chalice extinguishing and closing meditation (5 minutes)

Chalice Lighting

Ask a participant to light the chalice as you read the quotations below. Set the purpose for this class session by inviting participants to spend a few moments in silent meditation on living in wisdom.

They live in wisdom who see themselves in all and all in them, who have renounced every selfish desire and sense craving tormenting the heart.

Neither agitated by grief nor hankering after pleasure, they live free from lust and fear and anger. Established in meditation, they are truly wise. Fettered no more by selfish attachments, they are neither elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad.

Bhagavad Gita 2.55-57

After a few moments have passed, ring the tingshas or bell to signal the end of the meditation.

Activity One

Historical Introduction to the Bhagavad Gita

Introduce the overall purpose of the class (to consider a classic of spiritual literature in a Unitarian Universalist context.) Drawing on Leader Resource 1, give a brief historical introduction to the text.

 

Reading and Discussion

Read the noted section and then work through the discussion questions.

1. Chapter 1.21-37, 47

The Sanskrit name given to this chapter is Vishada Yoga, The Yoga of Despair. Arjuna, normally a confident and even cocky warrior, is overcome by despair at the thought of having to kill those he loves in order to wage this war.

  • Have you ever been in a situation in which you were faced with choices that all seemed wrong to you? What did you do, how did you choose, where did you turn for guidance?
  • Did you see this at the time as a spiritual problem? Do you see spiritual implications in that situation now?


2. Chapter 2.1-9

Krishna chastises Arjuna for straying from his duty, and tells him that in doing so he is moving away from the path to liberation.

  • Do you see “doing your duty” as a spiritual obligation?
  • If Arjuna was your friend and was there before you refusing to fight, what advice would you give to him?

 

3. Chapter 2.11-28

In verse 16 we see one of the central points of the Gita, that true reality lies only in what is eternal, not in the fleeting sensations of life nor even in the bodies we inhabit.

  • This understanding clearly takes reincarnation as a given, but do you think that a belief in reincarnation is necessary to hold the view that the real lies only in the eternal?
  • What are your own views on reincarnation? How do your views affect your experience of loss and grief?
Leader Resources
Leader Resource 1: Historical Introduction -
Leader Resource 2: Readings -
Activity Two

Violence and Non-Violence

The Bhagavad Gita is set within a framework of war, and some people have seen it as authorizing the use of violence; others have seen this framework as metaphorical and believe that the message of the Gita points to nonviolence. All agree, however, that it stresses doing what is right without being focused on the results or consequences of the action (often called “renouncing the fruit of your action”) as a necessity in moving toward the divine. Gandhi, who was deeply influenced by the Gita, saw ahimsa (nonviolence) not as a goal in itself but as a direct consequence of this renunciation:

Let it be granted that, according to the letter of the Gita, it is possible to say that warfare is consistent with renunciation of fruit. But after forty years’ unremitting endeavor fully to enforce the teaching of the Gita in my own life, I have, in all humility, felt that perfect renunciation is impossible without perfect observance of ahimsa in every shape and form.

                                    The Bhagavad Gita according to Gandhi, pg 23

In this activity, we will ask participants to think about how they speak and relate to others in situations of conflict, small or large, and then to practice the skills of speaking compassionately.

Pass out copies of Leader Resource 3, which gives a very brief overview of the process of nonviolent communication, and ask participants to read through it. Then ask them to work in pairs to practice. Leader Resource 4 suggests some situations of conflict; assign one of these to each group and designate one person in each group to be Participant A. Those taking the role of Participant A should begin the discussion using the process they read about in Leader Resource 3 to communicate about the conflict; those taking the role of Participant B may or may not be attempting to communicate non-violently. Allow about 10 minutes for this part of the activity.

Then ask participants to switch roles, this time with those playing the role of Participant A coming up with situations from their own lives, and have them go through the process again. Allow another 8 minutes for this part.

Bring the group back together and ask them to describe their experience of nonviolent communication. Do they see it as a useful way of communicating in situations of conflict? Did it feel forced? Do they think they might employ some of this process into their own lives and relationships?

Leader Resources
Leader Resource 3: Nonviolent Communication -
Leader Resource 4: Situations of Conflict -
Activity Three

Moral Action

The Gita begins with Arjuna about to enter a battle where he leads one side and his cousin Duryodhana leads the other. At the sight of all his kinsmen lined up to fight, Arjuna falls into despair and says, “We would become sinners by slaying these men, even though they are evil” (1.36).

Arjuna believes that his enemies on the battlefield fight for an evil cause and that his own cause is good, but he is not sure that the actions necessary to further that cause are good – how can it ever be right to kill those whom you are supposed to love and protect? He is caught in a moral quandary of epic proportions.

Krishna’s response is to lead Arjuna to see that while it is his duty to act out this scene of battle, in truth he will not bring harm to those he faces – for no one is ever truly killed. He goes on to talk about how one should let all actions come from God and be done in the service of God. Rather than a set of actions that are predetermined to be good or evil, this creates what can be considered a moral framework in which the situation dictates what actions are good and what are not.

Quesitons:

  • Do you think that there are moral laws that are absolute, that should be followed at all times, no matter the consequences?
  • Do you believe that morality is relative, and that different or even opposing actions can be moral in certain situations?
  • Or does morality lie somewhere in between?
Chalice Extinguishing

Ask a participant to extinguish the chalice. Read

I find a solace in the [Bhagavad Gita] that I miss even in the Sermon on the Mount. When disappointment stares me in the face and all along I see not one ray of light, I go back to the [Bhagavad Gita]. I find a verse here and a verse there an I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming tragedies…

Mohandas Gandhi*

*Quoted in The Bhagavad Gita as a Living Experience, by Wilfried Huchzermeyer and Jutta Zimmerman, p. 105. 

Before Session 2
Tell participants the topic of the next session: selfless service. Encourage them to look at chapters 3 and 5 and consider the idea of selfless service on their own before session 2.