The word dharma is often translated as truth, duty and purpose. We all have a purpose in life and it’s our duty to figure out what our purpose is. In Oklahoma City where I live, yoga has exploded over the past four years. We seem to have yoga studio on top of yoga studio, which means we have also had an explosion of people teaching yoga. The studio my wife and I own offers a teacher training program. One of the questions we ask on our application is why do you want to teach yoga? People discover yoga, fall in love with the practice and often have a desire to share what they’ve discovered for themselves. There is nothing wrong with wanting to share what you yourself love, but does that mean you should become a yoga teacher? Pursuing our desires often keeps us from discovering our dharma, our purpose in life. For example, I enjoy cooking and sharing good food with friends, but being a professional chef is not my dharma.
If you’ve been around yoga long enough, you’ve most likely heard of or even read the Bhagavad Gita. The answers to some of life’s most important questions can be found within this text, including who should teach yoga and who should not. One of my favorite quotes is by Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” This one sentence summarizes the entire Bhagavad Gita, the greatest book on yoga, written in 500 – 200 BCE. Emerson first read the Bhagavad Gita in 1843, writing, “It was as if an empire spoke to us—nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of old intelligence.”
“To be yourself” is a Pandu quality, the side of the war our hero Arjuna is on in the Bhagavad Gita. “Something else” reflects the opposing side of the conflict, the Kuru family. The “greatest accomplishment” is winning an internal conflict – I am this versus I should be that. Not only is the world constantly trying to define who we should be, we also impose such judgment on ourselves. Why is it so hard to be ourselves, completely open, honest and without pretense?
“I am this – I should be that” comes from our lack of self-worth, desperately trying anything and everything to be accepted by our family, friends and society. The Bhagavad Gita is a how-to book on transformation—which can be understood as letting go of who we used to be—our Kuru-self. Renunciation is a main theme throughout the Bhagavad Gita. Renunciation means motiveless action. My favorite definition for renunciation is dropping the outside reflections for the reality within. The Kurus represent the outside reflections, our selfishness, desires and attachments. The Pandus are the reality within, our truth, purpose and dharma—one of the central concepts in the Bhagavad Gita.
The Bhagavad Gita can be summarized in to three words – Dharma – Actions – Destiny. However, there is a huge difference between actions originating from desire or from dharma. One of the first major teachings in the Bhagavad Gita comes in Chapter 2, Verse 47: Never think about personal gain or impressing others. Perform all your actions without being attached to the outcome, whether of success or failure. Verse 49: An ordinary action performed with desire is greatly inferior to an action coming from the guidance of wisdom (dharma). The question we have to ask ourselves, is whether or not our actions originate from our desires or from our dharma?
The Kurus represent desire and the Pandus represent dharma. The primary message of the Bhagavad Gita is to align our actions on the side of dharma. Actions performed with desire are often a means of projecting, enhancing or conforming to a false image. By aligning our actions with our dharma, our actions are performed for their own sake—not trying to appear greater than we actually are. In Chapter 2, Verse 50, Krishna tells us that yoga is the art of proper action. When I stated earlier that renunciation means motiveless action, this is to what I was referring—actions originating from dharma, not desire.
Joseph Campbell said, “We must let go of the life we have planned so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.” This one sentence is yet another way of approaching the Bhagavad Gita. Within this one sentence, we have the teaching of renunciation – we must let go. We also have the teaching of desire versus dharma – the life we have planned versus the life that is waiting for us – our destiny.
Another important teaching from the Bhagavad Gita concerns maya, the power of illusion that veils one’s true nature – I am. This is the source of our low self-worth, making us feel unworthy, inadequate, unappreciated, unwanted, unheard, unloved and undervalued. This illusion of a lack of self-worth is so powerful—we believe it to be true. When we try to make ourselves appear greater than we actually are, it’s because of our own self-worth issues. We don’t think we’re enough as we are. We don’t need anyone or anything outside ourselves to validate our existence. What we’ve been seeking our entire lives is simply to be who we are.
Yoga studios and teachers come and go. No one opens a yoga studio thinking they will fail and I doubt many people start teaching yoga thinking they would not be very good instructors. People are successful when they perform without any personal desires (motiveless action). The underlying desire is to feel worthy, appreciated, wanted, heard, seen, loved and valued. Looking outside ourselves for validation, trying to make ourselves look better than someone else, pretending to be someone we are not, lying and trying to prove ourselves is all connected to a lack of self-worth.
Your desires are not your dharma. If you teach yoga to somehow make yourself look better than others, you are a Kuru, and Kurus shouldn’t teach yoga. This is the metaphorical war represented in the Bhagavad Gita: learning to be yourself, without pretense—the greatest accomplishment.
Ted Cox is the author of Warrior Self – Unlocking the Promise of the Bhagavad Gita.
Ted is also the owner of Spirit House Yoga in Oklahoma City. www.spirithouseyoga.com
Follow Ted on twitter @warriorself