Tag Archives: Bhagavad Gita

Wisdom in the City

Yesterday evening I attended the ‘Gita Wisdom’ class at Jivamukti Yoga, near Union Square. It has been running for about five years now, and is taught by Joshua Greene (Yogesvara das), a seasoned bhakti yogi and dedicated student of the Bhagavad Gita.The class takes place in one of the large, bright studios and hosts a sincere group of spiritual seekers from different walks of life. Many are yoga teachers, eager to integrate these spiritual teachings into their physical asana practice and pass this on to their own students.

Last night was the final class for the chapter by chapter study that has run for the past few months. It started out with a few minutes of simple Hare Krishna kirtan that set a meditative mood. All of the thirty-odd students sat on the floor, unpacking notebooks and pens, and well-thumbed copies of the Gita. Joshua began the summary of the final eighteenth chapter by talking about the character of Vidura. I loved the way he brought the characters to life. I think one of the most important things about studying any scripture is to understand its reality – these characters are not mythological – they were real, living breathing, thinking, feeling, and their struggles, lessons and successes can be directly applied to our own lives if we perceive them in this way.

I’m always amazed at how lessons from the Gita that I’ve heard hundreds of times growing up can strike me with a shocking freshness, again and again. When Joshua explained that spiritual life is experienced in progressive stages, and that what Krishna tells Arjuna at the very end: ‘Fully surrender unto me’, couldn’t have been spoken at the beginning without being preceded by deep explanation, I thought deeply about my own spiritual progress. I often give myself a hard time for not doing better; not getting up early without fail every day; for not being more disciplined and regulated; for my moments of ‘weakness’ when I just long for home comforts, or turn a blind eye to my responsibilities.

The truth is, we are all struggling somehow on individual journeys. Just as Arjuna’s dilemma is not an allegory, but very real, our daily choices and activities present so many real, sometimes frightening challenges. It’s tempting to think that there must be a way of side stepping. Perhaps by choosing a ‘spiritual life’ we can just be peaceful and avoid the inner battle. But these things have to be faced as a part of our path to remembering who we really are, a blissful soul in an eternal, loving relationship with God. With challenges come realisation and increased opportunity to depend on God in humble, loving surrender.

Every morning I wake up here in New York and have a ‘What am I doing here?’ moment. It’s scary to not have the full picture. It’s humbling to realise how small I am in this sprawling, frantic city. But I am so thankful that I have the Gita to help me remember that this time is a gift from Krishna. These challenges are a vital part of the big picture.

Check out the Gita Wisdom facebook page, for photos, recipes and links to watch the class live each week.

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Filed under Inspiration!, Krishna Consciousness, New York

Just a Shanti-Banti Soul

I shouldn’t really be blogging –  way too much work to do right now, but I had to post this picture, sent to me this morning by Anand from Chennai. He saw my photostream on flickr and sent me this message:

Its good to see your collections..
im surprised you a westerner have adapted indian culture.. its strange..
whereas in india people down here got attracted towards western.
I could smell the indian flavour throughout your wesbite..

Well, i gotta funny idea when seeing one pic.. so i tried some what
you might like..
plz do take a look

jahnavihindianlook

Apart from making me laugh out loud, this also made me remember how as a child, I’d sometimes wish I could wake up brown. I wanted to be Indian so that my spiritual and cultural life wouldn’t be so commentworthy for people – particularly at school. I suppose for a shy girl, all I wanted to do was not stand out. Having red hair and white skin and belonging to a community that wears traditional Vedic clothes and all the rest, is a pretty good way of attracting attention.

As I grew up, and grew into my own skin and identity, I became more comfortable with it. I even began to enjoy shocking people that hadn’t previously guessed my background, with my knowledge of something Indian. I could laugh off stares and comments ranging from the amusing, to the downright rude. Once I got interrogated by an old lady in a supermarket while I was dressed in a sari – ‘Do you know what you’re wearing? Do you know where it comes from?’ She seemed amazed that I did.

Of course sometimes it was still an issue. Particularly when performing in Indian classical music and dance performances, a white face means standing out in a much more obvious way than in everyday life.

Now, I’ve gradually come to see it as a blessing. People noticing and asking questions gives me the opportunity to examine my deep philosophical beliefs that I learnt as a young child, but didn’t always consider growing up. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna talks about the body as being no more than the discardable covering for the soul, which is eternal. With this knowledge, I can understand that my external is irrelevant. I can’t imagine how confused I might be without knowing that I am not really any of the labels that society chooses to give me, whether it be wannabe-desi, white girl or HinJew. In Israel I got ‘shanti banti’- what young Israelis call white people that get into Eastern culture. It’s all fine. I am an eternal soul, and even if sometimes I think a suntan might be nice (!), I no longer wish to become any different on the outside.

In the words of the singer India Arie:

I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am not your expectations no no,

I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within.


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