Home
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 we will be discussing a central theme of the Gita: karma yoga, the path of selfless service. (You can read more about the 4 paths of yoga in Leader Resource 6.) You may need to help participants understand the difference between karma, the law of the consequences of action, and karma yoga, the path of selfless service.  This path often seems familiar to many Westerners, who feel that it is akin to the Christian injunction to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” You may want to explore where you all find these concepts to be similar and/or different.

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
Atman – the Self or what might be called the soul, which is one with Brahman
Brahman – the changeless Reality behind all of creation
Godhead – another term for Brahman
guna – one of the qualities which together make up the material world and the human person: tamas (ignorance), rajas (passion), and sattva (harmony or goodness)
Krishna – An incarnation of Vishnu who came to re-establish the original law of goodness. He personifies spiritual love.
outcaste – one at the lowest rung of Indian society
rajas – the guna (see above) of passion
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 practice how to let go of attachment to the results of actions
  • To consider the possibility of selfless service in their own lives
Preparations
  • Print copies of the readings for this session from Leader Resource 2, if necessary
  • Print a copy of Leader Resource 5 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
  • Paper and pens or pencils for use with Activity 2
If You Only Have One Hour
  • Skip Question 3 under Activity 1 and all of Activity 2, Letting Go of Results
Overview

Chalice lighting and opening meditation (5 minutes)

Activity 1: Reading and Discussion (25 minutes)

Activity 2: Letting Go of Results (25 minutes)

Activity 3: Service Right Here (25 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 being united with the divine.

Whoever has God in mind, simply and solely God, in all things, such a [person] carries God with him into all his works and into all places, and God alone does all his works. He seeks nothing but God; nothing seems good to him but God. He becomes one with God in every thought.

Meister Eckhart*

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

*Quoted in the “Introduction” to The Bhagavad Gita, translated by Eknath Easwaran (p.37)

Activity One

Reading and Discussion

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

1. Chapter 3.4-10, 15-18

Here we are introduced to the idea of selfless service, acting in the world for the good of others as a spiritual practice.

  • Most people would agree that acting for others is a moral practice, but do you see it as a spiritual practice? Do you feel that your selfless actions affect you spiritually?
  • Krishna tells Arjuna that selfless actions begin in Brahman – in effect, that those who engage in selfless action are simply vehicles for the divine. Does this make the concept of selfless service more or less attractive to you?

2. Chapter 3.36-43

Selfish desire is presented as the enemy of selfless service, and thereby of self-realization.

  • We tend to think of desires as arising from the senses, but here Krishna states that they arise from mind and intellect as well. Does this create a battle between mind/intellect and spirit?
  • How is it that the Atman can rule the ego?

3. Chapter 5.7-8.18-21

Here we get a focused depiction of selfless service: actions are done by Brahman (through the medium of the doer) for Brahman (in the shape of the receiver). Seeing the Self – the Atman, Brahman – in all creatures, the one engaged in selfless service loses the sense of “self” as separate identity.

  • Do you see a connection between acting selflessly and this sense of unity of all things? Have you ever experienced it personally?
Leader Resources
Leader Resource 2: Readings -
Activity Two

Letting Go of Results

“The awakened sages call a person wise when all his undertakings are free from anxiety about results” (Chapter 4.19).

As the Gita unfolds the practice of karma yoga, the yoga of selfless service, it explains that a vital component of this service is that the person serving not be attached to the results of his or her actions. We cannot act selflessly, it tells us, if we expect to get something back in return, whether that “something” is as simple as thanks or as profound as the changing of an unjust law. Gandhi, whose life and work were deeply informed by the Gita, saw the completeness of this teaching, knowing that if he and his followers were attached even to something so good as the goal of winning liberty, then at some point they would not hesitate to use bad means to attain it.

This activity is designed to help participants practice not being attached to the results of their actions. Leader Resource 5 contains a number of different situations; some are for individuals, some are role playing for pairs, and one for the group as a whole. Depending upon the size and makeup of your group, you will probably want to do a few different exercises, perhaps choosing either an individual or pair exercise and a group exercise.

We encourage you not to introduce the purpose of this activity before the first exercise that you do. Simply give the participants the task and allow them to feel the frustration or anxiety, if it arises, from the situation. Then introduce the concept of nonattachment to results, perhaps reading the quotation and first paragraph above, before performing the second exercise, this time with the specified intention of not being attached to the results of their actions. Afterward, work through the questions below with the group as a whole.

Questions:

  • How did you feel during the first exercise? Were you anxious, relaxed, frustrated or calm?
  • Did your experience change during the second exercise? Do you think the outcome would have been different if you had not entered the exercise with goal of nonattachment in mind?
Leader Resources
Leader Resource 5: Letting Go -
Activity Three

Service Right Here

When we think of selfless service, we often think of those who go “above and beyond”, working in the slums of Calcutta or in refugee camps in southern Africa. But the Gita calls us to such service in the middle of our own dharmas – our own life paths and the duties attendant upon them. So how do we engage in selfless service in the midst of our own lives as accountants, homemakers, laborers, CEO’s, educators, etc.?

Ask participants to discuss the following question for a few minutes: What is selfless service: is it actions, is it intentions, or is it a combination of the two?

When you feel that the group has a basic sense of selfless service, pass out pieces of paper and pens or pencils to participants. Working slowly through the following list to give them time to think, read the following:

Please write down

1.   the name of the first family member or close friend of whom you think, and then one act of selfless service that you can perform for this person. This should be something that does not involve money. It can be something very simple, such as taking a child to a park after work and school, doing the dishes on a day when it is your partner’s turn, or offering to drive a friend to a doctor’s appointment, etc.

2.   the name of the first co-worker, neighbor or acquaintance of whom you think, someone who you do not know as well, and then one act of selfless service that you can perform for this person. Again, it can be something very simple: bringing coffee to a co-worker, offering to mow an older neighbor’s lawn, etc.

3.   one way that you can perform selfless service for the wider community. Maybe you can pick up trash in your neighborhood, or work in a community garden, serve in a soup kitchen once a month, volunteer for work day at your church or with a community organization, etc.

Questions:

  • Do you think that these services are doable in the midst of your busy life?
  • Do they seem like spiritual practices to you? Do you think that in the midst of, say, washing the dishes, you would be able to see this as a spiritual practice of selfless service?
  • Do you want to commit to them? There is no commitment being asked of you, no commitment to this group or to anyone else; this is simply about you and your own spiritual practice.
Chalice Extinguishing

Ask a participant to extinguish the chalice. Read

You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself – without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind.

Chapter 2.47-48

Before Session 3
Tell participants the topics of the next session: meditation and devotion. Encourage them to look at chapters 6, 9 and 12 and consider these ideas on their own before session 3.