Beyond Pain and Pleasure: Realising Peace Within (Bhagavad Gita; Paths of Yoga)

A/C | Words by Sarah Picton, student of Stewart Gilchrist at ELSY 2019/2020
– Written July 2020 as part of ELSY 200hr YTT course.

Rippling through time and space we find an historic, timeless spiritual guide which holds its relevance firmly in the present-day. This sacred book is The Bhagavad Gita.

Written by Sage Vyasa, and meaning “The Song of the Lord”, The Bhagavad Gita (shortened to The Gita) is considered essentially an Upanishad[1](Easwaren). While composed thousands of years ago, at the heart of this sacred dialogue (spanning 700 verses) between Warrior Prince Arjuna and his friend, charioteer and spiritual guide Sri Krishna is a message which rings as a contemporary call-to-action for spiritual awakening as the only real solution to survival. When Prince Arjuna finds himself feeling lost in the (internal) battlefield, he turns to Sri Krishna for help; Sri Krishna, we discover, is also Arjuna, and Vyasa! (Easwaren). This gives hint to the nucleus of the Gita: “The Lord dwells in all” (Easwaren, pg 254).

The Gita speaks to themes expounded in the Sutras too (letting go; detachment in 9.27, for example), and explores questions of a spiritual origin; its discourses sounding out direction, helping steer each and every spiritual aspirant on his or her journey within.

Reading Source Bhagavad Gita Easwaren
Right: Sage Vyasa’s The Bhagavad Gita (Easwaren translation)

To journey within – to realise God – we traverse the sensory external world full of pains and pleasures, to the internal discovering a place beyond time, beyond space; pausing to take refuge in a sanctuary of strength and stillness, (stiti, from 2.46) clarity and bliss. A place of meditation; total integration, samyama.

The path inwards is one of Meditation; a path of Yoga we learn more about in the Gita. In Chapter 6.23 Easwaren translates the verse as “the practice of meditation frees one from all affliction,” adding “this is the path of yoga.” If we dig deeper adding the perspective; knowledge gained from 6.1 (on Meditation and detachment), then we see new understanding: Yoga is the practice of “working without expectation of rewards (6.1)”, which frees one from pain.

A poignant point made by BKS Iyengar in The Tree of Yoga is how “there is a tremendous disintegration in each individual between body, mind and soul, and the art of yoga was given by the sages of antiquity to bring together these disturbed vehicles of the self so that humanity as a whole might develop oneness between them” (Meditation and Yoga, page 127, BKS Iyengar).

BKS Iyengar’s Tree of Yoga

The practice of Yoga, of Meditation, of integration of disunion[2]cuts us loose from pain. More succinctly: Yoga (integration of the Spirit) is the abhyasa (constant practice) of vairagya (renunciation from the rewards of action). The freedom (separation) from pain is the journey and the goal of the spiritual path of Self-Realisation; a path requiring discipline, will/determination, patience, perseverance and belief in God; a path which reflects truth – God – shining from within.

Freedom – Peace (being God!) – is realised only when letting go; severing one’s own desire to accomplish freedom.

Commenting on letting go (aparigraha) in a discussion on the yamas, Trip Levine says: “To practice aparigraha welcome uncertainty,” (Yoga Sutras app) mentioning reference to Zen tradition of Koan. Further commentary on the Sutras includes a poignant note on the second niyama, santosha (contentment): “Start by letting go of suffering you’re clinging on to,” says Levine. His use of “clinging” is so important as it speaks to the inherent – human! – union to suffering!

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Sri Swami Satchidananda translation)

Thus the path of meditation is a journey of letting go, cutting ties, breaking the bond, severing our union with pain! (Suffering comes from our attachment to the ego desires; never satisfied, trapped in ignorance.[3])

Every spiritual journey is a path of abhyasa and vairagya – and all paths of Yoga (integration of the Spirit) are just that: Spiritual; where God is ever-present, in everyone, in oneself, in the trees, river and water, in the good and the bad, the light and the dark (13.27). God – PEACE, Contentment, Joy – is not sought out; it is realised! “You are the love you seek!” – says Levine on brahmacharya in his commentary on the yamas, gracefully defining it as “Kindred Love” (Trip app).

BKS Iyengar Light on Yoga
BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga

Love shared is fuel in the journey inwards, whichever the path taken.

Maitri (loving kindness) and karuna (“compassion coupled with devoted action” – BKS Iyengar, Light on Yoga) are our fuel every step of the way. Why? Because every path is devoted in God! Love is God! Peace is God (Swami Satchidananda, The Living Gita).

The journey to Self-Realisation is an internal one; a spiritual path. The very nature of this quest being based in the divine supports the belief of each individual’s path being slightly different (Mark Stephens quoting Sri Aurobindo on Integral Yoga[4]), and The Gita “offers something for every kind of spiritual aspirant” (Easwaren).

This “divine dialogue” (Easwaren) – for more than two thousand years – has been a pivotal reference; spiritual guide to human cavitation’s greatest quest: traversing the landscape within.

As touched on in my introduction, when it comes to timeless questions of self-transcendence, of ego transcendence, of waging the battle within – the Gita has, and still remains, an inclusive go-to source. But, something worth noting which Easwaren stresses in his ‘commentary nod’ to abhyasa is: “Like any handbook, the Gita makes most sense when it is practiced.” Putting philosophy into practice, for those who seek spiritual guidance the Gita provides direction in describing paths to Yoga, to Self-Realisation. 

The main paths are Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Raja Yoga, and Bhakti Yoga (Easwaren, pp48-49).

Karma Yoga, or “The Way of Action”, is the active path of selfless service (3.3), the goal of karma yoga or yajna being “liberation and spiritual wisdom” (Easwaren, p114) – offering a harmonious opening to Jnana Yoga, “The Way of Wisdom”, as “the contemplative path of spiritual wisdom” (3.3; 9.15). Simultaneously actor and witness, “every act [of the wise] is done with complete awareness” (4.18) with all work being done in the “…spirit of service…” (4.23). 

And thus a beautiful message of synchronicity is revealed in regards to Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga: They are, in essence, one in the same (5.4); as “the true goal of action [Karma] is knowledge [Jnana] of the self” (Easwaren, p125; 5.5). Such people, steady in mind, rest in Brahman (5.19). Echoed in the niyamas (Ishvarapranidhana), it is those who “surrender all selfish attachments to Brahman” (5.10) who’ll be “free from anger and selfish desire, unified in mind…” (5.26). Krishna says “Those who possess this wisdom have equal regard for all” (5.18) – a verse which speaks to every spiritual aspirant with a message which cuts through the pages of time shouting out the message of equality, equanimity and non-violence (ahimsa). 

Everyday Ubuntu by Mungi Ngomane
Mungi Ngomane’s Everyday Ubuntu

Seeing ourselves in others is a message also expounded in Ngomane, Nompumelelo Mungi’s book Everyday Ubuntu: Living better together, the African way. It is a more than a message: it is a call-to-duty. To Act. To stop eating meat; stop destroying natural habitats! To learn about where your food is coming from; find out where your clothes are made, by whom? Not causing harm (ahimsa) underpins everything in Yoga! 

Drawing from personal experience, svadhyaya, the online Insta-everything age today is one of instant gratification – the allure to say something for social gain; to feel better; even just to feel connected can become all too addictive. The himsic thinking – i.e. “am I being heard?”; “Has someone commented?”, “Why is no one responding?” – combined with the endless ability to scroll (stealing your time) plus endless visual overhaul of size 4, bikini-wearing close-ups are a trigger for causing self-harm. So one solution – at the moment – is stay off it and/or focus on those pushing for positive change. 

@WeAreBoogieSound & @Jivamuktikaro’s Black Pride Matters Yoga Fundraiser (circa July 2020)

And there really are some fierce individuals in the yoga community using social media present-day to promote ahimsa and make a stand for causes which beat incessantly in the The Gita (and the Sutras). London-based Keri Perkins, founder of We Are Boogie Sound, is one example. Her selfless actions ring familiarity to the paths of yoga introduced in the Gita, namely Karma, Raja and Japa/Mantra via the use of Sound as a vehicle to transcend.

“Bring[ing] together authentic modern hatha and vinyasa [Raja] yoga with music and sound [Japa]”[5]WeAreBoogieSound collaborated with @jivamuktikaro to host a Yoga Fundraiser for Black Queer Trans Resistance NL via Facebook on July 19 (pictured above) [6].

Georg Feuerstein’s The Yoga Tradition

The third path is Raja Yoga[7] (“The Royal Path”); the “Royal Secret”, “Royal Knowledge” being how the combination of faith (vijnana) and wisdom (jnana) frees one from evil (9.1) This Royal, Scientific Path is most closely linked to Ashtanga Yoga[8], its real treasure is in the realisation that God; Peace exists within (9.34). This royal discovery is celebrated in the sacred statement: “Tat tvam asi” – meaning You are That.

The unifying thread in Karma, Jnana and Raja – and any true path of Yoga – is the foundation of the fourth path: Bhakti Yoga (“The Way of Love”). Accompanied by a steady mind, the way of love is a life of devotion – devotees being compassionate, patient, impartial, self-controlled, friendly, forgiving, non-violent (ahimsic), inclusive, detached and non-competitive (12.13-16). 

Beyond the four primary paths are a kaleidoscope of others paths, including Meditation (as explored at the start), Renunciation (“as path to real peace of mind” Easwaren p252), which we find two approaches: sannyasa order which “renounces all worldly thoughts and desires,” (Stephens, p34) vs. tyaga explained in The Gita as the “…renunciation or abandonment of self-will…” (Easwaren, p206)

Further paths introduced in The Gita include Japa and Integral yoga (Swami Satchidananda’s commentary on 2.39[9]gives nod to Samkhya Yoga; combining – integrating – Philosophy with Action ). 

Sri Swami Satchidananda’s The Living Gita

Discussed in the Gita, Japa (defined as a repetition of a mantra) is the “simplest and best practice for concentration”, comments Swami Satchidananda in regards to 10:25 in the Gita. Easwaren, in his commentary on Chapter 10, says: “Krishna is consciousness, the syllable Om and the mantram or holy name,” continuing to mention that Krishna does not neglect the relevance of the study of Sanskrit and grammar – important in ancient India and experiencing a revival today. Sanskrit has been reintroduced as a living language thanks to Brahmananda Ashram, and Swami Sivananda Saraswati (born in 1887); and shared with the many yogis and yoginis of the 22nd century by inspiring individuals like Gabriella Burnell

In Chapter 2 Krishna ascertains all the main paths of yoga taught in the Gita (Easwaren), which, is essentially what Integral Yoga essentially is: Combining the major paths. In the 20th Century the integral yoga movement took flight thanks to two pioneers – Ramaswamy Satchidananda and Aurobindo Akroyd (Stephens) – each taking a different approach to the movement.

With “Integral Yoga” officially coined by the Swami Satchidananda group in 1985, the roots of Swami Satchidananda’s approach lie in the Sannyasa order of renunciation, while Sri Akroyd’s approach influenced by tantric philosophy[10].

Mark Stephens’ Teaching Yoga

The common element among both approaches to Integral Yoga also resides in all paths of yoga: The spiritual element. All paths of Yoga go beyond the mat! Again, this brings us back to Bhakti and how all selfless action is rooted in devotion, not to Instagram, the physical, the Likes and the Follows which have saturated society. The Gita is very much a modern guide. Opening its pages we discover “…a set of guiding principles for a life of conscious action” (Stephens). It isn’t the action Krishna says we must renounce, but the selfish reasons for doing said action! Yoga of selfless Action – Kriya Yoga[11] (Tapas; Svadhyaya; Ishvarapranidhana) – is, like all paths, rooted in God.

So the path, whether Meditation, Japa (Mantra), Renunciation, Jnana, Karma, Bhakti, Raja (Ashtanga) or Integral (Synthesis) – is a path of selfless Devotion; selfless Action. We detach from ego desires in order to SERVE! Disunion (detachment from reward) frees from pain, thus opening the door for selfless service to compound; and the current call-to-action is for us to fight for humanity. You; Me – we! –have the choice to clean up our consciousness and cultivate better choices – and when you feel a little lost inside don’t worry, don’t give up!  Open up the Gita and wisdom will reveal itself. If book isn’t in your access, then, as Christopher Hitchens said: Remember the Love bit.

One request: when you close the book, pause to look in the mirror and you just might notice that the fresh pair of eyes you found in the Gita have been looking at you (like a reflection) all along! And you will share a smile with your Soul – igniting as a spark of true love to forever echoes through space and time. Because true love, dear friends, comes from within and knows no limits.

Call-to-action: Practice Maitri (loving kindness)


[1]Easwaren describes Upanishads as “Ancient mystical documents found at the end of the four Vedas” (Glossary)

[2]In The Tree of Yoga, BKS Iyengar writes: “Meditation is integration — to make the disintegrated parts of man become one again…meditation brings[s] you back to integration…it is something which separates the body from the brain, the brain from the mind,…the mind from the soul…” (The nature of meditation, page 129, The Tree of Yoga).

[3]Source for Kleshas: Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – Chapter 2.3-9 | FYI: Trip Levine source (click here to purchase app)

[4]Mark Stephens, Teaching Yoga, p33



[7]Raja Yoga, or Classical Yoga, became popular in the 16th century CE (Georg Feuerstein, The Yoga Tradition)

[8]Follows a three-tiered approach combining one part Hinduism (Vedanta; non-dualist), one-part Jainism (extreme non-violence, ahimsa), and one-part Buddhism (Yamas and Niyamas) 

[9]source The Living Gita: The Complete Bhagavad Gita by Sri Swami Satchidananda

[10]Rig-veda containing foundation of Mantra Yoga (Tantra approach) – Georg Feuerstein, The Yoga Tradition

[11]source: Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Chapter 2

Header picture: Quote by Rumi | Thanks goes to my teachers StewG @ ELSY, Khaled Kendsi, crew at Yogahub; family; friends and our adopted Cinnamon girl – and to all those out there who are joining in to fight the good fight!

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