Gita Marathon Retreat 2022 in Krishnalaya, Piercy, California,
With Pujya Swami Swaroopanandaji
Pujya Gurudev held a Gita Marathon camp in Krishnalaya, Piercy, California in May 1991 covering all 18 chapters of the Srimad Bhagavad Gita over a span of 2 months. Thirty-one years later, we were blessed with Pujya Swami Swaroopanandaji’s intention to hold a Gita Marathon Camp at the same sacred venue for 2 weeks over 3 summers. Pujya Swamiji covered every verse of the first 6 chapters in detail from July 1-July 15, (2 weeks). The intention is to cover Chapters 7-12 next summer (2023) and the final 6 chapters (13-18) in 2024.
Pujya Swamiji explained why he chose this venue and why he chose the Gita Marathon Format of 6 chapters each year over 3 years:
Pujya Gurudev brought the Bhagavad Gita to the masses and made it available to all. Our devotees, members & others all over the world have enjoyed these precious discourses that were recorded and made available for general viewing. Gurudev had the uncanny ability and wisdom to adapt the teachings to fit our mindset in the modern times. The greatness of Gurudev was that he explained the verses in a way that our mind would be able to grasp these teachings for generations to come. Gurudev’s teachings, based on the Bhagavad Gita, were undoubtedly, powerful statements of a Yuga Purusha. That was the mastery of Pujya Gurudev.
The grounds of Krishnalaya are sacred because Pujya Gurudev came and stayed here for a long stretch to provide Sri Bhagavan’s teachings. Typically, Gurudev would take one or two chapters during a 10 day yagna. Over time these yagnas became 5-7 days. While each chapter is complete in itself, there is something magical about receiving the consolidated teachings over a longer period such as Pujya Gurudev did for the Gita Marathon camp in 1991. Additionally, to receive the knowledge in this quiet, serene setting, on the sacred grounds of Krishnalaya, allowing the mind to absorb the knowledge in depth will help enormously for the sadhaka’s growth and transformation. Given that work-style and commitments have changed over the past few decades, Pujya Swamiji thought it would help if the course was 6 weeks divided into 2 weeks each summer, enabling maximum participation. Pujya Swami Swaroopanandaji’s intention when he envisioned this course, was to share the teachings the way he learned them from Pujya Gurudev. The uniqueness of Swami Swaroopanandaji’s style was that he was able to share Pujya Gurudev’s examples intermingled with additional modern-day examples & applications. It is a fitting tribute to Pujya Gurudev and Bhagavan Sri Krishna to repeat these highest of teachings on these holy grounds of Krishnalaya.
This article provides a glimpse of the schedule, activities and a brief summary of the discourses.
Swami Ishwaranandaji of Chinmaya Mission Los Angeles and Brahmachari Soham Chaitanya of Chinmaya Mission San Jose led a pre-camp Bhajan session in the evening on June 30 to honor Pujya Guruji, Swami Tejomayanandaji on His birthday. Devotees had the opportunity to listen & sing along as the melodious compositions of Pujya Guruji were presented by Sri Sohamji and Swami Ishwaranandaji. This was followed by a video presentation of Pujya Guruji’s offering of songs on his birthday.
Each day started at 6:15 am with contemplation and meditation led by Swami Ishwaranandaji. Discourse 1 was at 7 am by Swami Swaroopanandaji, followed by breakfast and time for reflection. Discourse 2 started at 10:30 am, followed by lunch and reflection time. Discourse 3 began at 4:30 pm followed by daily aarti and dinner. At 8 pm, every other day, Sri Sohamji would speak on selected dohas (verses) from the Garuda-Kakabhushundi Samvada from Uttarakanda of the Ramacharitamanas, aligned with & supplementing what was said in Pujya Swamiji’s discourses.
There were ample opportunities for satsang with both Swamijis & Sri Sohamji in the form of walks or discussions over meals or informal after-dinner gatherings. Morning, afternoon & evening walks surrounded by the pristine Northern California lush-green hills, star-gazing in the evenings, visits to the Eel Ganga River (as named by Pujya Gurudev), and seva, were part of the daily routine. All camp delegates, including both Swamijis and Sri Sohamji took a field trip to The Founders Grove situated in the beautiful Avenue of the Giants, a forest of tall, majestic, ancient, giant redwood trees. Pujya Gurudev visited these forests whenever he came to Piercy. On the eve of our last day at camp, we had a campfire where our Teachers & devotees sang songs, shared jokes and even held an antakshri of spiritual chants and songs.
Devotees were blessed to participate in performing the Guru Paduka Puja on Guru Purnima day (July 13). The entire puja, including Pujya Swami Swaroopanandaji’s talk on Guru-Purnima, following the puja was web-casted and can be viewed here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5icrSf_RsCc
Brief summary of the first 6 chapters:
In Chapter 1 (Arjuna’s Grief), we see that Arjuna is overcome with attachment upon seeing his grand Uncle Bhisma, Dronacharya and others on the battlefield. Arjuna thinks of the loss of life and bloodshed and the massive impact of the war. As is common, when we do not want to do something, we start rationalizing why it would be incorrect & even adharmic (morally wrong) to carry out an action. The chapter ends with Arjuna saying he would rather die or be killed than to fight. He sits down wallowing in self-pity and deep despondency, saying nothing. Up until now, Bhagavan Sri Krishna has listened patiently, allowing Arjuna to vent and get everything off his chest.
In Chapter 2 (Sankhya Yoga, Yoga of Knowledge), Bhagavan opens powerfully, directing Arjuna to shake off his self-induced negativities, confusions, and weaknesses. Lord Krishna purposely uses Arjuna’s other names, Scorcher of Foes (Parantapa), One who has made many conquests (Dhananjaya), Son of Kunti (Kaunteya) and other bold names, reminding Arjuna of his great lineage & immense strength and what he was originally trained to do. And so begins the dialogue (samvada) between Arjuna and Bhagavan Sri Krishna.
The sacred teachings begin in Chapter 2. Without holding back, Lord Krishna gradually convinces Arjuna on three levels to fight this righteous war.
- From the highest standpoint, (Paramarthik Drishthi), Bhagavan asks Arjuna to fight the war knowing that his own Self (as eternal, unconditional, pure awareness, omniscient, omnipotent, all-pervading, changeless) is his true nature and this Eternal Self neither dies nor causes anyone else’s death. You are not the body, declares Sri Krishna. The wise grieve neither for the living nor the dead.
- From the standpoint of Dharma or Duty, Arjuna’s duty as a Kshatriya, as a contributing member of society, based on his abilities and skills, must participate and fight for the sake of his people. Pujya Swamiji puts it very clearly when he says, this War is not a fight for “rights” but it is fighting for what IS right.
- Finally, from the stand point of a common man, Bhagavan convinces Arjuna to fight the war without any hesitation because he has everything to gain and nothing to lose by engaging in it. Even if you die fighting this war, you will be remembered as a hero who would not back down. And if you win, you will be remembered as the great warrior who fought for a just cause and fought on the right side of history. Someone who cared for his people and stood up for the right principles in life (dharma).
Bhagavan proceeds to enlighten Arjuna on how to conduct himself in battle (in the field of action):
- In this world of constant change and pairs-of-opposites, nothing lasts. With this understanding, change what you can and endure situations beyond your control. Remaining equanimous and calm, stay steady and inspired in knowing the Permanent. Unaffected by the gunas, surrender to the Lord with an alert, serene mind and be established in the Immortal Self.
- Performance of an action will yield fruits (results). When an action is performed with the mental attitude of gratitude and surrender to the Supreme and when an individual offers the fruits of the actions to that Supreme, this individual DOES NOT accumulate more new desires while exhausting the old desires. This will lead to the purification of the mind, which finally results in liberation (Moksha). This is the supreme goal of human existence.
- Fight this righteous war without any anxiety of winning or losing since it is the right thing (dharmic) to do. Your intentions are pure and therefore, you should have nothing to fear regarding any of the repercussions or fallout from this war.
Arjuna is still confused. Thus, Chapter 3 (Karma Yoga) begins with Arjuna asking for clarification on which of the paths is superior and will help him reach the Highest. Is it Jnana Yoga or Karma Yoga? Sri Krishna answers that both lead to the Highest Bliss and then further elaborates. It is really only one path. Pujya Swamiji put it well when he shared the saying, “All roads lead to Rome.” In our case, “All roads lead to Ram.” It is easier for the majority of us to take to the path of Karma Yoga because the majority of us are action-oriented due to our vasanas (inherent tendencies and desires). We all have the ability and capacity to do action. We have the free will to decide what action to perform and how to act but we must accept that the result will be based on the Law of Karma. Results unfold by the benevolence, wisdom and grace of the Lord. Everything we do is a result of many factors and not just subject to our own doing. Do not be anxious about the results. “Do your best and leave the rest” as Pujya Gurudev would say. Drop the ego that I am the sole cause of the result. Do your duties, offering them to Bhagavan out of gratitude. With ego comes pride, selfishness, arrogance, and possessiveness, which results in more likes, dislikes, and desires (raga, dvesha, vasanas). Do not be attached to inactivity (laziness) or non-action. Any action IS Yoga if it is done with the above attitude (offered to Bhagavan with no ego and no anxiety for results). If the action is selfless (i.e., not desire-prompted) and brings equanimity of mind, it is yoga. As Pujya Gurudev would say, “Yoga is skill in action”. Actionless-ness is not a state of physical non-activity. Rather it is where actions are not desire-prompted and selfish. The attitude adopted is that of one who is fulfilled, contented and satisfied. There is no brooding, no regrets of the past coloring our actions, no undue excitement for the present and no anxiety or expectations for the future. Work cheerfully in the dynamic present, without anxieties, expectations, and regrets. Offer all your actions with love and gratitude to the Lord. Accept all results as HIS prasad. We are closest to our Blissful Self when we work this way. This is Meditation in Action.
Chapter 4 (Renunciation of Action in Knowledge, Action ending in Knowledge) begins with Bhagavan explaining to Arjuna that this Knowledge has been taught before. In fact, this same ancient Yoga has been “taught to you today by Me”. It is what the wise ones follow. Whenever there is a decay in righteousness and a rise in unrighteousness, I manifest Myself. For the protection of the good, for the destruction of wicked and for the establishment of righteousness, I am born in every age. Over time, because of desires and accumulated negative tendencies, people make compromises in Dharma, thus, losing touch with their True Nature. The demand for this Knowledge reduces due to selfish living. This is why this Eternal (Ancient) Knowledge must be imparted from age to age.
“Renunciation” or giving up must be giving up of the EGO, and the fruits of the action, not the work. The wise one is he, who recognizes “Inaction” in “Action” and “Action” in “Inaction”. This is what the Yogis do.
Through Karma Yoga, purify the mind and develop the ability to receive the Higher Knowledge. The still and quiet mind will enable Self-Knowledge to unfold. Approach the Sadguru with humility, reverence, and surrender. Enquire intelligently. With faith and devotion, serve Him by living the teachings. Attune to the wisdom and Knowledge imparted by Sri Guru, and “cut asunder” your doubts born of ignorance. With an equanimous mind, arise and claim your right to true happiness.
Chapter 5 (Yoga of True Renunciation of Action) begins with Arjuna asking for clarification again, “You praise renunciation of action (Jnana Yoga) and again performance of action (Karma Yoga). Tell me conclusively, that which is the better of the two.”
Once again the question is posed as was asked earlier in Chapter 3. Bhagavan, with patience and compassion, says that both lead to the Highest Bliss. The path that one undertakes depends upon each one’s own personality. Bhagavan advises Arjuna to do Karma Yoga because that would be most suitable for him. Seekers are in different stages of their life. It is the mental attachment that binds us, not the action. The unveiling of Truth is simply the removal of ignorance that comes with Knowledge. He who is truly established in one of these paths, obtains the fruits of both.
Two mighty forces, obsessive desire and anger, prevent us from experiencing real happiness. Resolve to master these impulses. Empowered by higher thinking, recognize your potential, and intelligently win the mind with faith and devotion.
In Chapter 6 (Yoga of Self-Control/Meditation), Bhagavan elaborates on the importance of self-control, withdrawal and carefully lays out the steps to Self-abidance or Meditation.
That which separates us from Self-Abidance are our thoughts. Continuously think of Bhagavan or the Self in all that you do. In this way, abandon the sense of doer-ship and enjoyer-ship. Rise above the pairs of opposites. Remain equanimous. Keep the mind steady. Starting with verse 10, Bhagavan provides the blue-print for meditation. Bhagavan advises Arjuna to practice sincerely and consistently. With this single-pointed and consistent practice, the vasanas are reduced and the mind becomes quiet and still.
Bhagavan declares: One who sees Me everywhere, sees Me as the Self of All. No distinctions, One and all, all in One and One in All.
Upon knowing the Self as the source of true happiness, be your best friend and spread happiness to all. Lift yourself by yourself. In this way, align yourself with The Divine Presence. Revel only in the Self. Be fulfilled with the Self. Be contented in the Self. There is nothing more “to do”.
Sri Krishna assures Arjuna that those who are striving to be One with Him (Sadhakas) and those who are already One with Him (Jnanis) are equally dear to Him.
The first 6 chapters focus on the “Twam” pada (the subject, I). The next 6 chapters will focus on the “Tat” pada (the object, That). The final 6 chapters will focus on the relationship between “Twam” and “Tat”, the union, hence the Mahavakya, Tat Twam Asi.The next 6 chapters will indicate who and what to meditate on.
With Sri Bhagavan’s and Pujya Gurudev’s grace we received in-depth teachings on every verse of the first 6 chapters from Pujya Swami Swaroopananda ji and eagerly look forward to continue our practice until we meet again next summer.
Jai Gurudev, Unto Him our Best,
At His Feet,
Prepared by Sevaks from the Gita Marathon Camp 2022
(under the guidance of Swami Ishwaranandaji and Sri Sohamji)