Positive K has a song, “I’ve got a man.” It was a big hit in 1992. In this song, Positive K is playing the role of a Casanova-type as he and a woman he deems “kinda pretty” throw rhymes back and forth. The woman says she’s in a relationship, which we can assume is traditional in that monogamous way. She keeps saying, “I’ve got a man,” 100 or so times as Positive K parries with, “What’s your man got to do with me?” Is he not getting the hint or perhaps he wants to assert that his relationships and affection follows a different set of rules. “You got-a WHAT? How long you had that problem?”
Positive K and I have a sort of kinship going. I, too, have had this feeling that a different set of rules just might apply to me. I’m different. I’m special. My particular brand of angst is special, too. Even though one thing might have worked for a million other people, I just can’t assume that it is going to work for me.
I’ve been spending time with the Bhagavad Gita again, and I’m a little hung up on all those teachings about Krishna and his magnificence. A lot of Krishna’s teaching has to do with that particular message and I keep wondering, “What’s that got to do with me?” Like Mr. K, the question started as an assertion that different rules just might apply to my bad-ass self. But over time, this question has evolved from assertion to sincere inquiry. This text has been around for a looong time, it is meaningful to a lot of people, and I’m starting to see that my angst (joy, experience) is shared by plenty of other humans. So what does that have to do with me? Can all the conversation about sublime mystery, divine power and Krishna’s totality have meaning in my life?
The Bhagavad Gita is an allegorical tale of the warrior, Arjuna, who asks his charioteer, Krishna, to drive him to the center of the battlefield just before the clashing of irons begins. The battle call has already sounded and Arjuna freaks out. He doesn’t want to go through with his warrior duties because that would mean fighting and killing the bad cousins, uncles and teachers on the opposing side. What follows is a conversation between Arjuna and Krishna in which the central teachings of yoga are discussed. It’s really great.
Many teachings in this allegorical tale are dedicated to the description of all that Krishna is and what he isn’t. The first, second, maybe even third times that I’ve read this, I glossed over these teachings. Flip, flip, flipping through the pages because I was pretty convinced that they didn’t have all that much to teach me. There are a lot of stanzas that seem to be trying to get across the point tat Krishna is amazing, he’s everywhere, he didn’t have a beginning, he doesn’t end,. and when we are dedicating our efforts to him, then life is much better. He can help us get to this place of not being bound up in pursuing the fruits of our actions. We can experience equanimity and peace. Okay. Nice. Got it.
Initially, I chalked up my resistance to, “Yeah. I get this. Why read different versions of the same thing 100 times?” flip, flip, flip. Reading again, I decided that I didn’t have to give all this higher-power conversation that much thought because, “Well, I’m not Hindu.” Flip. Reading it again, resistance might have been something about, “This sounds a lot like what I heard about the magnificence of the Christian God in church all those years, and that experience left me with a shit-ton of unpleasant baggage…” supress, flip, ignore feelings, flip, “I’m so beyond that now.” Flip.
Even with all the resistance, I keep coming back to the Gita. This time through, that Positive K tune starts bumping in my brain and as Krishna is describing himself in greater and greater detail, I start to really wonder, “what’s that got to do with me?” So the images of a thousand fiery, flaming mouths doesn’t really move me to spiritual awakening and yet there’s something that draws me in and keeps me reading about magnificence and wonder and destruction and creation.
I am the self abiding
in the heart of all creatures
I am their middle and their end. 10.20
Whatever is powerful, lucid,
splendid, or invulnerable
has its source in a fragment
of my brillance. 10.41
What use is so much knowledge
to you, Arjuna?
I stand sustaining this entire world
with a fragment of my being. 10.42
This is what came to me, and I would have been knocked over if I hadn’t already been lying down in my bed. As Krishna is describing all the massive and amazing power that he has and holds he is also saying again and again that he is connected to all of us, he is within us, he is the seed of us. In all this talk it hits me. He is giving us a glimpse of the divine that is inside of each of us. He has to say it in 100 different ways so that we’ll have a chance of actually hearing it. He says,
I am impartial to all creatures,
and no one is hateful or dear to me;
but men devoted to me are in me,
and I am within them. 9.29
He is in us. And if we are on board with this idea that, Krishna, or what he represents as this ultimate divine being, is actually a part of us, then we have a heck of a lot of strength, power and amazingness going on in there– destruction and creation, being and non-being, supreme and endless. Wow.
There’s a lot of talk about trembling and fear and amazement when, in chapter 11, Krishna gives Arjuna a divine eye so he can see the god in his totality. I guess it makes sense that we don’t see all of that all of the time. If we actually knew the depth of what our connection to the divine gave us, then we’d be a mess, trembling right along with all those gods, celestial musicians, demigods, demons and saints. (11.22). Arjuna has the eye and gets to see Krishna in his totality but then he really wants Krishna to go back to his other form, his intimate form, so they can keep talking and Arjuna doesn’t have to be freaking out. Arjuna says,
I am thrilled,
And yet my mind trembles with fear
What has not been seen before.
Show me, God, The form I know-
Be gracious, Lord of Gods,
Shelter of the World. 11.45
I think this is like what can happen when we find ourselves in a situation, usually a really difficult one, where we have to bust-out some serious power to make it through. Sometimes it’s sickness, maybe in our own body. We lose someone we love. We lose our job. We see or experience violence. We come clean about something that we did wrong. It’s in these times that we might get the magic eye so we can glimpse how much divine and how much power and magnificence is inside of ourselves. Sometimes it is really frightening. There might be trembling and we might want to go back to what it was like before we knew such frightening strength. Alas, this cannot be.
So what do we do with all this knowledge of who we are and what we are capable of? How do we hold all that knowledge and responsibility that comes with the divine magnificence inside of ourselves? We don’t. Through devotion, we are given the peace and equanimity. We don’t have to hold it all. Krishna talks a whole lot about this devotion thing. This is a key piece of having all of this magnificence. We own it at the same time that we give it all away to it’s source and creator. I think this is part of how we both hold and don’t hold the massive stuff that we’ve got going on.
By devotion alone
can I, as I really am,
be known and seen
and entered into, Arjuna. 11.54
Acting only for me, intent on me,
Free from attachment,
Hostile to no creature, Arjuna,
A man of devotion comes to me. 11.55
This part of Krishna’s message has a lot to do with me—with all of us. We are spiritual beings (I can’t really deny this any longer). But the nature of spirit is that it is in us as it is in all things. It is also outside of us, and this is really important. We relinquish the “I’m so great and special and amazing” because we start to see that we all are so great and special and amazing and that there is something else out there– something divine that is out there that gives us the great, special and amazing. It isn’t me, I just happen to be a part of it, and I’m learning to work with the misidentification and the trembling.
There really is a good reason that works like the Gita, the Bible, and other holy books are long lasting. They help us to deepen our understanding of the spiritual self. In the Gita, all of these stanzas dedicated to describing Krishna and what he is is a way for language to begin to stir feelings of recognition of what is already inside of us. Barbara Stoler Miller translates the Gita so beautifully. She helps us English speakers to feel the gentleness and the extraordinary power that Krishna, Arjuna, I, you, all of us, are capable of. We come to see that devotion is key to embracing this stuff within. You should definitely check it out.
And, to bring it all back home, you should check out this video, too. Positive K can sure throw down some rhymes and some attitude.
Might you like to sport an orange unitard and 3lb weights on your next jogging expedition?