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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

This session deals with teachings that can be more difficult than those found in the other 3 sessions associated with the Gita. The theme tying these together is jnana, wisdom: it is wisdom about the true nature of the Self that brings a seeker into full knowledge of the workings of the gunas on the human personality and what lies beyond them (addressed in Activity 2) and the cosmic working of the entire universe (addressed in Activity 3). Knowledge of the Self is knowledge of Brahman, and therefore at least incipient knowledge of all things.

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:
Day of Brahma – one cycle of the universe in its manifested form, lasting 1000 yugas, or approximately 4.3 billion years; this is followed by a Night of Brahma
Formless – another name for Brahman, the changeless Reality behind all of creation
guna – one of the qualities which together make up the material world and the human person: tamas, rajas, and sattva
Krishna – an incarnation of Vishnu who came to re-establish the original law of goodness. He personifies spiritual love.
Night of Brahma - one cycle of the universe in its unmanifested form, lasting 1000 yugas, or approximately 4.3 billion years; this is followed by a Day of Brahma
prakriti – energy in the form of nature; that which forms both the material and mental elements of our world
rajas – the guna of passion
sattva – the guna  of harmony
Self – the Atman or what might be called the soul, which is one with Brahman
tamas – the guna of ignorance
Unmanifest – another name for Brahman, the changeless Reality behind all of creation
yugas – epochs or eras of the universe; there are 4 such eras, repeated 1000 times, during one Day of Brahma 

Goals
  • To begin to gain an understanding of the teachings of the Gita
  • To think through what qualities have precedence in their own spiritual lives
  • To explore ideas about creation and the interdependent web
Preparations
  • Print copies of the readings for this session from Leader Resource 2, if necessary
  • Familiarize yourself with the descriptions of the gunas in Leader Resource 8, or perhaps print
  • Either print copies of Leader Resource 9 to show participants, or prepare a way to show the pictures digitally via computer or projection screen
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 for whiteboard or chalkboard
  • Paper for participants
  • Pens and markers
If You Only Have One Hour
  • Skip Question 3 under Activity 1 and all of Activity 3

 

Overview

Chalice lighting and opening meditation (5 minutes)

Activity 1: Reading and Discussion (25 minutes)

Activity 2: Harmony, Passion and Delusion (25 minutes)

Activity 3: Creation and Interdependence (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.

     You are the eternal spirit, who existed before Brahma the Creator and who will never cease to be. Lord of the gods, you are the abode of the universe. Changeless, you are what is and what is not, and beyond the duality of existence and nonexistence.
     You are the first among the gods, the timeless spirit, the resting place of all beings. You are the knower and the thing which is known. You are the final home; with your infinite form you pervade the cosmos.

Chapter 11.37-38

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

Activity One

Reading and Discussion

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

1. Chapter 7.16-20, 24-25, 28

Here we are told about those who follow the path of jnana yoga, the rarest of the paths. This path of wisdom involves learning to see clearly that nothing is separate from the Ultimate Reality, so that all duality resolves into an overarching unity.

  • Does the idea of seeing God/Krishna/Brahman “everywhere and in everything” sound like beauty or absurdity to you (i.e., seeing God in a toothbrush as well as a mountain, in both a river and in the pollution clogging it, etc.)?
  • What about the idea of seeing God in everyone, from the saintliest to the most despicable? Is this another way of speaking of the inherent worth and dignity every person?

2. Chapter 14.1, 3-9, 19, 22-23

In the mental and material world of prakriti, the gunas (qualities or characteristics) are necessary for action to occur, but they also create karmic threads that bind us to our actions. In popular parlance, we often think of karma as being based mostly in our negative actions (“what goes around comes around” tends to be heard when someone is talking about a mean or selfish action, not one that is kind and helpful), but here we see that sattvic actions, those based in love and harmony, also create bonds of karma.

  • Does the idea of love and harmony as things that bind you rather than freeing you seem valid? Why or why not
  • Can you envision a wisdom that lies beyond love and harmony, such as this passage is pointing toward?

3. Chapter 8.17-20, 9.7-10

We are given here a vision that goes beyond the universe. A Day of Brahma would be the time that a universe is in existence; a Night of Brahma would be the time between universes; and the reality that lies beyond even these Days and Nights is the Ultimate Reality, Brahman, ever Unmanifest.

  • Most religious traditions have a creation story (Hinduism has many), but here we see a story of perpetual cycles of universes coming into and going out of existence across immense spans of time. Do you find this surprising in the oldest living religious tradition in the world?
Leader Resources
Leader Resource 2: Readings -
Activity Two

Harmony, Passion and Delusion

Hindu teaching on the psychological and spiritual makeup of the human being talks about the gunas, the qualities or characteristics that together form what we might nowadays call the ego. The two gunas on the ends are the easiest to understand: sattva is pure luminous goodness; tamas is inertia, greed and darkness; but rajas has elements that we tend to think of both positively and negatively. It is energy and movement, both valor and anger, both the passion of love and the passion of grief. Leader Resource 8 gives much lengthier lists of characteristics found in the Mahabharata about each of the gunas; you may want to draw on these if participants want a fuller description. All three of these gunas are present in all people, but to varying degrees. Which predominates? Which is subordinate?

In this exercise, we ask participants to look at some visual representations of the three gunas, which can be found in Leader Resource 9. You may want to project these onto a screen, show them on a laptop, or print copies to pass around. Allow participants time to think about what the images represent to them, and then pass around paper and pens. Ask participants to draw or write their own representations of the gunas in images or words drawn from their own lives.

Allow about 10 minutes for this part of the activity, and then have participants share what they have drawn or written, asking them also to explain what guna they feel is most prominent at this point in their own spiritual lives.

Leader Resources
Leader Resource 8: Description of Gunas -
Leader Resource 9: Images of Gunas -
Activity Three

Creation and Interdependence

In the Tao Te Ching, we read that
          The Tao begot one
          One begot two
          Two begot three
          And three begot the ten thousand things
                    Chapter 42 (Feng and English translation)

“The ten thousand things” is a term meaning “all material things”, so we have here a vision of unity giving rise to multiplicity, just as we read about when Krishna describes the Day of Brahma in Chapter 8 of the Gita: “When the day of Brahma dawns, forms are brought forth from the Unmanifest” (18).

Creation Spirituality is a form of spirituality that focuses on understanding creation as a blessing and humans as an integral part of, rather than dominating over, creation. It situations humans within a deeply connected universe and rejoices in this connection.

In this activity, we ask participants to think about the connections they see or feel between these various understandings of creation and the 7th Principle of Unitarian Universalism: “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”

Pass out copies of Leader Resource 10, which gives a short description of the Day of Brahma and lists the 12 principles of Creation Spirituality and the 7th Principle. Ask participants to read through these and then discuss these questions:

What connections do you see between the Day of Brahma and Creation Spirituality?
What differences do you see?

Pass out copies of paper, pens and markers. Ask participants to think about any new insights that this exploration of the Day of Brahma and/or Creation Spirituality might give them into their own understanding of the 7th Principle, and to write, draw or otherwise convey this understanding. After about 10 minutes, ask participants to share these thoughts or drawings with the group.

Leader Resources
Leader Resource 10: Creation and Spirit -
Chalice Extinguishing

Ask a participant to extinguish the chalice. Read

When you keep thinking about sense objects, attachment comes. Attachment breeds desire, the lust of possession that burns to anger. Anger clouds the judgment; you can no longer learn from past mistakes. Lost is the power to choose between what is wise and what is unwise, and your life is an utter waste. But when you move amidst the world of sense, free from attachment and aversion alike, there comes the peace in which all sorrows end, and you live in the wisdom of the Self.

Chapter 2.62-65