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This sermon is rooted in a teaching from the Bhagavad Gita. A teaching that helps keep the knots of my heart untangled.
I hope it will serve your heart as well.
Action & Devotion, Bhagavad Gita 3.30
- How do you connect with spaciousness, with stillness?
- How do you practice remembering what’s most important to your heart?
- What are you devoted to?
- And how do you practice devotion?
The Earth is what remains. This is a phrase I heard a few months ago and I’ve been repeating it ever since. The Earth is what remains. We come from the Earth. Someday we’ll return to the Earth. The Earth holds everything and everyone that came before us. The Earth is our original ancestor. It holds all of our human and animal ancestors. The Earth is what remains.
Everyday, I walk in the woods and I pray to the Earth, I pray for the Earth, I pray with the Earth. I greet the sun as it moves through the sky. I greet the old Cedar tree. I check the water levels in the 3-season stream. I feel my body surrounded by Nature and my heart fills with wonder and gratitude, which takes on the feeling of devotion.
In the Yoga Church Community Hub, we’re studying the Bhagavad Gita, and we’ve been talking a lot about devotion–about what we’re devoted to. The Bhagavad Gita tells the story of a warrior named Arjuna on the eve of a great battle. Arjuna realizes that he’s going to have to fight his own family and he panics. He tells his charioteer Krishna, who unbeknownst to him, is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, that he can’t fight in this war.
This war between relatives taking place in the Bhagavad Gita is a metaphor for the inner battle happening inside each one of us. This ancient Hindu scripture asks us to examine our actions and our attachments. It asks us to examine our understanding of the cosmos and our role in the world. It asks us to examine our sense of devotion. Are we devoted to our ego-self, with its ever changing likes and dislikes, or are we devoted to our higher-Self, that part of us connected to a larger vision of Being?
In the third chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna: “Offering all your actions to Me, mindful of your deepest Self, without expectation, without self-occupation, struggle without agitation.” (BG 3.30). In his commentary, Ravi Ravindra writes:
“[This verse] is the essence of karma yoga [the yoga of action]. Don’t abandon the battle, struggle with skill but without agitation. Do the necessary and the right thing, without expectation of this or that reward and without attachment to success or anxiety about failure, without self-occupation or concern about me-me-me, but mindful of the deepest Self. And above all, surrender all your works to Krishna–not this or that person called Krishna, however exalted, but the Essential Being seated in your body, but not of the body; the Supreme Lord lodged in your heart, yet beyond all longing of the heart and imaginings of the mind.” (pg 68)
This short commentary is so packed with deep teachings. I’ve been reading it over and over again lately. How often, when the tasks of the day feel overwhelming, do you want to pull the covers over your head and scream “I quit!?” How often, when you’re working on something important, does your mind bounce back and forth between dreams of success and anxieties about failure? How many of your thoughts are spent on what other people think of you? We all struggle on some level with selfishness, with the inability to take action, with attachment and anxiety. Don’t beat yourself up. Remember you’re not alone in this project of being human.
But let’s also remember that we have the power to direct our attention. As we move through the ever changing moments of our lives, what are we devoted to? As we make choices and take action, as we live in relationship with people and animals and the Earth, what are we devoted to? What’s the larger vision of Being that helps us keep things in perspective? What’s the larger vision of Being that helps us remember and stay connected to something bigger than ourselves?
Let me read this verse and Ravindra’s commentary again. As you listen, I invite you to hear the invitation being offered–the invitation into a deeper sense of devotion and Being:
“[This verse], ‘Offering all your actions to Me, mindful of your deepest Self, without expectation, without self-occupation, struggle without agitation,’ [This verse] is the essence of karma yoga [the yoga of action]. Don’t abandon the battle, struggle with skill but without agitation. Do the necessary and the right thing, without expectation of this or that reward and without attachment to success or anxiety about failure, without self-occupation or concern about me-me-me, but mindful of the deepest Self. And above all, surrender all your works to Krishna–not this or that person called Krishna, however exalted, but the Essential Being seated in your body, but not of the body; the Supreme Lord lodged in your heart, yet beyond all longing of the heart and imaginings of the mind.”
This teaching calls us to Mystery. To transformation. It calls us into a deeper understanding of existence and purpose. A new understanding of action and devotion. This verse asks us to devote every action we take to a larger vision of Being. This teaching asks us to remember that while each one of us has a vital role to play, we are but one part of an ever expanding universe. I find this truth to be inspiring, humbling, freeing.
But, sadly, it’s a truth that can too easily slip from my awareness. It’s a truth I forget when I get lost in my own small world. It’s a truth I forget when my schedule feels too overcrowded. It’s a truth I forget when my mind gets stuck on some old pattern of attachment. Because forgetfulness is so real, my daily practice is devoted to remembering. How do I remember a larger vision of Being? How do I stay connected to the wisdom of my heart? At this point in my life, I know the only way to move back into a state of remembering, is to create a bit of spaciousness. The only way to untangle the knots that keep me stuck in forgetfulness is to pause and connect with the stillness always and already present within.
When I forget my larger vision of Being, when I lose my connection to Divine Mystery and my own heart, I return to the woods. I feel my feet on the Earth. And I remember that someday my body will return to the Earth. I feel my breath and I remember what a gift it is to be alive. I remember to hold things lightly. This practice of remembering is a form of meditation. It’s a form of redirecting my attention to what’s most important. It’s a form of devotion.
I’ll close with my adapted translation of this verse from the Bhagavad Gita. I offer it to you as a prayer:
Let every action you take be an offering to the Highest Good. Stay rooted, always, in the Truth of your Being. Release the feverish call of the ego, crying for ever more attention. Release the capitalist metric of success, measuring everything through the lens of profit. Show up to your life and your work in the world with skill and inner freedom.
We all benefit from the wisdom of spiritual community. And community means more than one voice, so please add yours to the conversation. What did this week’s sermon and reflection questions spark in you?
Summer, your adapted translation of the verse made me gasp, literally. It’s going on the altar. Maybe on a t-shirt, too. Thank you for a beautiful sermon.