Category Archives: Karma and Yoga and Jane Austen

Can We Talk Romance?

While it is true that Jane is writing about love and marriage, she wants us to recognize love on a higher level.

With nary a kiss between lover and beloved, Jane Austen wrote what are considered the most romantic novels ever written. This is noteworthy yet there’s more to such ‘self-help’ oriented writing because she gets us thinking —and I wish to encourage you also think about what exactly makes a good character…and one worthy of falling in love with. Austen’s stories stimulate our consciousness because they are set in a moral universe with real life choices and consequences. Also her characters are so vivid and realistic as to pull us into their lives as they learn about themselves and others, and try for the best course of action to find happiness. Invariably, the process they use is meditation! Meditation gives calmness and clarity of thought while preparing us for making better choices. Today we need these skills more than ever as we navigate a world full of narcissistic people, fueled by social media and insatiable greed. Jane Austen’s heroines, even though written 200 years ago, are going head-to-head with some pretty egotistical characters. They must deal with the mind games of the Thorpes in Northanger Abbey, Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride & Prejudice and Mrs. Norris in Mansfield Park. These are some of the darkest characters in her novels and in every case, despite being young and unworldly, they deal thoughtfully with the Dark Side of the Force when required. This requires some greatness of mind.

In a world where people are just trying to keep up with social media and consumer trends, deep thinking is almost a lost art. We are philosophically ‘hydroplaning’ our way through life. Jane Austen primes our intellect by depicting a metaphysically based world. Her so-called ‘romances’ are like little stages productions, which she originally wrote to share with her family,–with delightfully acute detail. The heroines (and heroes) are intelligent and inquisitive about consequences (or karma) for their actions. There are also characters unaware of this concept whose actions and words show their indifference to the harm they may do to others. Let’s face it, narcissists rarely consider such things. Just remember how unconcerned Henry Crawford was as to the effects of his insincere attentions to the Bertram sisters in Mansfield Park. Jane Austen considered this sort of behavior —whereby the man raises ‘expectations’ in the woman so as to elicit an emotional attachment in her! — and with no real intention to carry through, to be barbaric. The only woman not fooled by Henry was Fanny. How did she get this sort of bulletproof wisdom? By self-knowledge.

Wisdom is the source of happiness and happiness is developed by self-knowledge, or as we now call it, self-realization. It begins with understanding that the real ‘self’ is a conscious, eternal being, and not the body. External distractions draw our attention away from this fact but meditation keeps us awake to this understanding. In the beginning of our spiritual search, we might not see how limited our knowledge is yet even a little practice and the simple acknowledgement of our incomplete understanding can change our lives, as when Elizabeth Bennett was undeceived while reading Mr. Darcy’s letter. She then reflected, “Until that moment I never knew myself!”

Now a little historical background: Jane wrote two centuries ago, when happy endings were the norm in any literature with a moral message. Basically the idea was that happiness is the result of a good life. Even today, people would agree with this. So we might wonder why so many movies now seem to promote the belief that rational happiness is not ‘sexy’ enough or that romantic happiness lacks realism yet this is not true. A healthier and more realistic message would be that normal, healthy human beings seek rational happiness in stable relationships. There’s plenty of room for comedy and error. I mean really! Even some animal species mate for life so why deny the possibility for humans to grow closer? Any message that denies the possibility of normal human relationships cannot be psychologically healthy.

I enjoy the humorous romance movies of Charlie Chaplin, for example. Not overly sentimental or ‘mushy’. Jane Austen strictly avoided excessive sentimentality as did all of the best writers, such as Shakespeare. Witty and rational characters are typically more interesting, their struggles also tend to inspire us. Better characters naturally make for a better story. Getting a few excellent heroines and heroes into the mix adds great power. Consider Pride and Prejudice, where there are not just one but two, very attractive characters. Of course they are initially presented as flawed beings, by which we can easily relate to them. While being both comical and endearing, they eventually, cleverly, find their way out of their confusion by discovering the ignorance of their own perceptions. This is excellent material for romance! It inspires us to reimagine reality, and if romantic happiness is not to be expected, then what else of ‘transcendent’ importance do we have to live and aspire for?

Modern films often confuse things and present intimate relationships based on selfish motives as completely normal. Of course, no one with any sense wants a relationship with a selfish jerk. It is sign of these narcissistic times that so many cannot understand the basics of good relationships and the fact that civility and respect are necessary for romantic love. This is why I love Jane Austen’s novels.

So how does Jane depict romance in a moral universe? Let’s take a look at Pride and Prejudice, one of her most romantic novels. Many folks see nothing wrong with Charlotte Lucas’ choice of Mr. Collins as a partner yet the fact is that Jane Austen meant to create a stark contrast. There is a significant difference between Charlotte’s ideas about matrimony, and the heroine, Elizabeth’s. We are first presented with what a romance should definitely not look like. Poor Charlotte Lucas chooses her marriage partner so unwisely that she leaves herself devoid of true comfort, as hers was a comfortable home “only when the owner could be forgot” and his company was so irksome that her domestic arrangements were prioritized by how well they assisted her in avoiding her husband’s company! Mr. Collins was a “conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly” man and yet Charlotte would overlook everything but the ‘comfortable’ home. Charlotte’s marriage may be considered ‘prudent’ as to fortune —and that’s all! Mr. Collins, too proud of his situation, ironically tells Elizabeth that he and his wife seem to have been “designed for each other.” Truer words were never spoken as neither truly loves the other.

Charlotte explained that she was not the ‘romantic’ type yet does this really make her decision more rational? Not at all. On the other hand, Elizabeth only seems to want more than what is rational in making the declaration, “I am determined that only the deepest love will induce me into matrimony,” yet she follows through with her decision . She waits for the right person. She is not in a hurry. She shows discernment.

One more thought: Even though some may claim Mr. Darcy’s wealth was the primary reason for Elizabeth choosing him as a partner, this can be easily proved false. If her choice had been all about money and a comfortable home, Lizzy would not have rejected his first proposal. Furthermore, if she had accepted Mr. Darcy before he had changed for the better then her marriage would not have been any better than Charlotte’s and probably would have been much worse. The happy ending is in large part earned by Elizabeth’s higher character and her accepting the good advice of her aunt, Mrs. Gardiner, who hinted to her to be cautious and who gently seems to have corrected her bitterness against Mr. Darcy. In contrast, Charlotte did not take Elizabeth’s warning and disposed with all such higher principles. In modern language she ‘settled.’

Elizabeth considers her friend’s situation as something to think of with concern:

“Poor Charlotte! it was melancholy to leave her to such society! But she had chosen it with her eyes open;… she did not seem to ask for compassion. Her home and her housekeeping, her parish and her poultry, and all their dependent concerns, had not yet lost their charms.

—Pride and Prrejudice

No, they had not lost their charms, or at least not yet. Still, a thoughtful person can imagine what her life will soon become when those insignificant little charms do wear off. Here’s a link to hear Professor John Mullan present the unthinkable awkwardness of Charlotte’s marriage situation. In Jane’s description of a romance based in the ‘deepest’ love, we find love based in true friendship!

Leave a comment

Filed under Karma and Yoga and Jane Austen

Krishna West – Learn Bhakti Yoga with Us

The Krishna West movement is about sharing all aspects of bhakti-yoga, and making spirituality and philosophy easy and accessible for westerners.

Leave a comment

Filed under Karma and Yoga and Jane Austen

Jane Austen and Meditation

In Jane Austen’s day, even if people were nearly as financially straightened as many are now, they certainly had a more developed awareness of the need for contemplation. 200 years ago, Jane chose the word, ‘meditation,’ or “the act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed”,[24 to describe her heroines’ strategy for mental balance. For Jane’s heroines, it was a way to find peace and a sense of balance. For everyone and at all times, it is the best support for a healthy psychology, rational perspective and freedom from anxiety

Meditation is a the only true panacea, clearing negativity and promoting an evolution from confusion to enlightenment, from negativity and The Dark Side of the Force to, you know, your better self. We can attain a whole lot of this peace of mind for the low low price of a few minutes of your time! It gradually purifies the mind and trains it to be nice–to you! No more raging mind is a blessing yet most of us live chaotically with the untrained mind. This practice turns the breaking-bad mind around because it has the power to pull the mind away from darkness. ‘Man‘ means mind and ‘tra‘ means to ‘free,’ so this mantra frees the mind from anxiety and ignorance. People have been practicing mantra meditation—or chanting the names of God—for thousands of years. Our “New age” friends, or those who are traumatized by the ‘God’ concept, can think of it as addressing the source of our existence. It works for those who ‘work’ it. Now we will explain a bit further. Those of us who practice this ‘bhakti-yoga’ approach sincerely appreciate all the holy names but yet the name of Krishna (a Sanskrit word meaning “All-attractive”) indicates the being who possesses, unlimited beauty, wealth, fame, knowledge, strength, power and renunciation. If an extraordinarily beautiful, famous or rich person walks into the room, it is natural to be attracted and if we hear about a billionaire giving a lot of money away in charity (an act of great renunciation), we are naturally impressed. As the possessor of every opulence in full, Krishna is naturally most attractive as well as being the very source of our existence.

It is a travesty that we are living in such an unbalanced world, one which contributes to our ignorant condition. By meditation, we reawaken our dormant spiritual consciousness and find relief from stress and anxiety because we reestablish our connection to the supreme being. As is stated in many scriptures, the supreme is present in the sound of His (and Her) divine names.  Any holy names will do, yet there is a mantra that I prefer to chant which has been given as the perfect antidote to this crazy world, and it packs enough potency to break through the ignorance of this age. I want to share it with you, and hope you will share with others. Of course you will because your friends will ask you how you became so peaceful and content. You can tell them that by practicing self-knowledge (self-realization) the solution is achieved.

The founder and spiritual mentor of our society, who is affectionately called Prabhupada (pronounced “pra-boo-pa-da”), explains the way mantra meditation works:

Krishna Consciousness is not an artificial imposition on the mind; this consciousness is the original energy of the living entity. When we hear the transcendental vibration, this consciousness is revived…This chanting of Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare, is directly enacted from the spiritual platform, and thus this sound vibration surpasses all lower strata of consciousness–namely sensual, mental and intellectual… As such anyone can take part in the chanting without any previous qualification…

To bring The Force into your life, try chanting the names of Krishna, Hare (the Feminine Divine) and Rama (the Supreme pleasure potency) every day, as a part of your normal operating procedure. Here is a link that further explains the mantra. A little chanting goes a long way. Think of it as a sort of mental hygiene. Even 20-30 minutes in the morning before your day starts will make a big difference in your peace of mind. It is so easy that you can chant anywhere and any time, while driving, taking a walk or cooking dinner. George Harrison of ‘The Beatles’ enjoyed chanting and wrote many songs that glorify Krishna. “My Sweet Lord” was one of his most popular tunes. I’ve been chanting for over 40 years and it only gets better. Here is a link explaining the mantra. It is interesting that Saint Theresa of Avila (pictured above) recommended 2 hours of mediation per day and that is what I do myself. It is wonderful. I hope that you will try it and experience a life of freedom and happiness.

If you enjoy this blog please consider subscribing!

Leave a comment

Filed under Karma and Yoga and Jane Austen

Self-Knowledge means Self Realization

In Winchester cathedral, on a wall near Jane Austen’s remains, there is a lovely quotation from Psalms, “She openeth her mouth with wisdom and on her tongue is the law of kindness.’   We know that she wrote with wit, humor and irony but also much truth and wisdom, that the heroines dropped tiny doses of philosophy (combining the words “philo” or “love of” with “sophia” or wisdom).  We get truths even from the mouths of flawed characters.  In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett begins to understand herself as she pieces together the cause of her past prejudice which blinds her to Mr. Wickham’s duplicity and to Mr. Darcy’s worth.  She analyzes herself in this way:

Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself.” –Elizabeth Bennett, Chapter 36

It can be challenging to face our flaws and to really know ourselves and besides that we have to deal with the effects of the modern world.  Honestly, when does modern social media or any media promote wisdom?  If we trust the mundane propaganda and these materialistic leaders who often try to lead us further from the truth in their quest for a bigger slice of the ‘pie’ then what force is there to bring us back from the edge of complete illusion?  Where do we find knowledge related to consciousness?  From what I can tell, people are now far from being interested in this kind of knowledge, due to misunderstanding themselves to be the body.   Modern entertainment, to keep up sales and ratings, fills our heads with sex and violence and keeps us far removed from philosophical contemplations.  People are also slogging so hard that they are almost too tired and stressed to stop and think about what real peace would look like.  It’s very sad to see entire populations so misled.  Here we are, these amazingly beautiful eternal beings and yet we are bombarded by advertisements that urge us to believe that the temporary things of this world will satisfy us.  How can we become a little more rational and really know ourselves, and what can save us from such perverse ‘truths’?  The heroine Elizabeth admits that she ‘hardly knew herself,’ and we hardly know ourselves.

Consider the probabilities of errors in ‘knowing ourselves’ when at virtually every moment we are encouraged to be as narcissistic as possible, to think of ourselves as perfect and flawless.  For example, universities now coddle students in so-called ‘Safe Spaces’ because some of them, like infants, still believe that they are the center of the universe and are unable to encounter anyone holding a different opinion from their own–and if they do hear someone with a different opinion than their own it becomes a medical emergency.  Jane would not approve of this kind of lame narcissism, where students are entering a place of learning with an intolerant attitude towards new ideas.  What is happening here and how does society become so warped and manipulated?  Well, don’t forget that we listen to ads telling us that we are perfect (or we will be perfect if we just buy their products).  Our rational faculties are being weakened, controlled and blinded by vanity.  It was, “vanity working on a weak mind” that misleads Harriet in the novel, Emma. Absorbed in vanity, weak minds see no value in philosophy and are easy targets for the flattery of advertising agencies, social media and, not least, the pressure to conform. Purchasing what we hope will gain us social acceptance, we find frustration  and dissatisfaction.   The soul is sadly, starved for true knowledge and real happiness. Again, how do we return our minds to a state of objectivity and the force of honest evaluation of ourselves?  For truth seekers, there is spiritual practice.

Yes, spiritual practice and the reading of Jane!

I’d like to compare finding the path to self-knowledge to Lizzy Bennet’s finding out where she would ‘be at’ as they used to say.  In Pride and Prejudice, the heroine, Lizzy, often torments herself to the point of ‘an headache’ while trying to make out Mr. Darcy’s character.  Then she got the important letter from Mr. Darcy. Before the letter she was positively consumed in thoughts about his apparent incivility, and after the letter she is finally able to do away with all her ignorant notions and prejudiced ideas and sort out her heroes from her villains. Mr. Darcy’s good information gave her the roadmap to finding her way back to the truth, and to finding her way to happiness. She even declares, “Til this moment I never knew myself.” Exposure to the truth is such a cathartic experience! From this moment Lizzy “could only think of her letter”…and of course the happy ending follows. When one gains this knowledge of self understanding, the effect is something like being obsessed by the happiness of knowing. Otherwise, like Lizzy, before her letter, the mind spins us round and round, and we never arrive at a solution

My own teacher-mentor introduced me to dear Jane and it changed my life.  Before that, I had persistent yet vague intuitions in the department of self-understanding and knew that my life was not proceeding in a positive direction yet I had no idea how to actually live and to change my consciousness.  It was like being stuck on that train “going nowhere.  I was sincere and did a lot of praying yet there was a bad experience with a bad teacher-mentor and there were also people who tried to convince me to give up my search.  They only wanted to control and exploit me and were not my friends.  I sometimes compared my experience to poor Catherine Moorland in Northanger Abbey, who was tormented by the conniving (Isabella and John) Thorpe siblings who were shamelessly manipulating her.  After a while she became aware of their schemes and was able to escape them.  In this world there are many who have similar agendas, despite being educated.  Northanger Abbey teaches us that we may have to fight against such people to attain our freedom and that we must appreciate and search out good society.  Catherine stays the course and finally comes to recognize the truly ‘heroic’ characters (Mr. Tilney and his sister), and the ‘happily ever after’ followed, of course.  There is a relevant verse from Bhagavad-gita (Ch. 2. verse 41) which says that those who are sincerely following this path of self-knowledge are ‘single-minded’ and their ‘aim is one.’  It is the focused determination of the yogi (or yogini in the case of ladies engaged in this process).

Like many Americans, I had a desire to be rational and scientific about existential questions and yet science cannot explain consciousness.  Bumping into this meditation practice and meeting my teacher was truly my good fortune.  Now, I am so interested in Jane Austen’s novels and the spiritual science of yoga that is found in the teachings of Bhagavad-gita.  Both books are gifts that help us gain better awareness of ourselves.  The honest scientist must be open to a serious exploration of consciousness, and to a rational journey into higher consciousness.  I hope you are enjoying my blog and if you are then please take a minute to subscribe.

Leave a comment

Filed under Karma and Yoga and Jane Austen

Jane Austen’s Moral Universe and Karma

“Instant Karma” videos on YouTube can be quite interesting. Usually someone is engaged in risky or illegal actions and is rewarded with injury, arrest or even death. When I watch ‘Darwin’ Awards videos, my first thought is, “this guy or woman (it’s often a guy!) really didn’t have to do this! Why are they acting so willfully oblivious to consequences?” Consequences are another name for karma, which refers to the universal law of ‘action and reaction’ or, “what goes around, comes around.” Essentially, karma is a function of universal justice. It’s like a mirror used to give us a better view of our behavior. We know Jane Austen took civility very seriously. Heroines (and heroes) learn about the duty to be civilized human beings. Considering the lack of karmic awareness in the modern world–maybe even in her time–Jane wrote about the personal dealings between a variety of high and low characters and the varieties of consequences–either tragic or comedic. In her novels, and in the timeless spiritual text, Bhagavad-Gita, we learn about acting with the understanding of an essential connection between souls. The basis of our connection with all other beings comes from our connection with the Supreme Being, who is the source of our existence. As they say, “we are all connected.” This understanding of the equality of all spiritual (conscious) beings is the basis of metaphysical science. The yogi focuses within and finds real pleasure within the self (B.Gita 5.21). Jane had grasped this truth of inner consciousness. Through her art, she shared this principle of seeing with intelligent vision, the equality of all souls. On a plaque at Winchester Cathedral, where Jane’s remains lie, is a quote from Psalms: “She openeth her mouth with wisdom and on her tongue is the law of kindness.

This idea of equality of all beings was the basis of the Declaration of Independence, “…all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights…” This conception is different from recent demands for ‘equality’ based on the body because it is futile to attempt to prove physical equality when the fact is that bodies are all different. Any mundane test you can devise will clearly show that we are, empirically, unequal in terms of intelligence, physical strength, artistic talents, mathematical ability, etc. Yet spiritually we are all equal and to practice yoga –and yoga means ‘to connect’– is to see everyone equally and this is the rational basis for being civilized towards others. My teacher writes about this ‘equal vision,’ called, samatvam in sanskrit, and the problem with the current social trend of ‘identity politics.’

“Samatvam, spiritual equality, requires and inspires true compassion, beyond the attachment and hatred that usually infect political and social causes. Such causes, based on duality, sew the seed of future hostility even as they address present conflict.”

A Comprehensive Guide to Bhagavad-Gita-by HD Goswami (pg.68)

A civilized society demands something more important than polished appearances and exhibitions of wealth. It places importance on respecting others. Jane Austen shares the same message in her novels. In Sense and Sensibility, there is a profound transformation in the heroine’s (Eleanor’s), younger sister, Marianne, who was rather clueless about civilized behavior and had a great intolerance for other points of view. She also nearly destroys hers physical body by a reckless policy of uncontrolled emotions. Eventually, Marianne comes to value Eleanor’s exceptional behavior and she finally, thoughtfully confesses, “I compare [my behavior] to what it ought to have been. I compare it with yours.” At this point, Marianne becomes a heroine–yay! So there you have it. Jane Austen is providing all her dear readers with characters like Marianne (one of my favorites) so that we can feel inspiration to change–even if we are also beginning our journey with somewhat extreme views or sensitivities (called ‘sensibilities’ in Jane’s day). How do such characters work to change us? They influence us because in a Jane Austen novel, such well-written and famously realistic characters provide not just interesting reading but also a powerful tool for affecting our psychology. This is natural since, if we can appreciate a character as complex and flawed and basically, real enough, then we can be sufficiently affected. Assuming that we are not ‘dull elves’ and have introspection enough, we can catch at Austen’s message and it becomes natural for us to make critical associations and comparisons. This inspires changes to happen in our feelings, mind, motives and behaviors–and it affects the quality of our lives.

Today, every has heard of karma. All mundane actions create a reaction, either good or bad. When we act selfishly or immorally we create bad karma–of course good actions also create good karma. Rule #1: The more wisdom we painlessly adopt, the less suffering from inpulsive actions. For example, when Lizzy Bennett first detects the serious error of her first impressions concerning both Mr. Darcy, and Wickham, she declares, “Until that moment, I hardly knew myself!” When challenged by the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Lizzy courageously sticks to her guns and declares that she owes it to herself to pursue her best life, without reference to the demands of anyone unconnected to her. As they say, “You go girl! Knowing the self helps us to not believe or follow the many narcissistic people who are only after their own self-interest and who only want to sell you the latest gadget or to dominate and exploit the world. This consumer culture is built on confusing people as to their real self-interest.

Austen meant to educate and enlighten us about actions and reactions so that by the end of any novel, those who are paying attention get a clear picture of the most common delusions which oblige mortal beings to suffer undesirable results–and the happiness of those who act wisely.  We cannot but be sorry that Lydia Bennett chooses to abandon moral principles and her family. And also we cannot but appreciate that Lizzy and her eldest sister, Jane, also receive (and deserve) the better results of their more exalted behavior. Elizabeth tells Jane, in Pride and Prejudice, “Until I have your goodness, I cannot have your happiness.”  So karma is real and we can learn about goodness by reading Bhagavad-gita (and of course by reading Jane Austen’s novels!). Like a scientist we can discover the distinction between real and false roads to perfect life–and if we are not happy then there must be a reason or an error of judgement in our thinking and actions. We keep learning and adjusting our lives until we reach wisdom, self-knowledge and rational happiness and contentment.

Thanks for reading and if you enjoy this blog please take a minute to subscribe!

2 Comments

Filed under Karma and Yoga and Jane Austen

Your Best Life – Control the Mind

We all have a little difficulty with our minds occasionally. Anyone who has ever been unable to make a relatively easy decision because their mind kept bouncing back and forth between options knows the feeling of having a ‘monkey’ mind. Something like a bad hair day but having more to do with a glitch in the self-control mechanisms. Someone got it right in a funny song that calls the uncontrolled mind a, “24/7 obscene phone call.” According to wisdom traditions, it is the job of the intelligence to sort and prioritize the almost continuous flow of options being presented by the mind. Almost like a child, the mind requires constant observation and guidance. It also requires the oversight of sufficient intelligence, in order to hold it steady. This is not impossible for anyone engaged in bhakti-yoga. A yogi gains self-control over the senses as a natural result of purifying the intelligence. The yogi is said to have ‘single-minded’ intelligence and yet it requires sincere effort to achieve. In the Bhagavad Gita, it is stated that the mind is more difficult to control than the wind, yet it can be trained by constant practice and ‘detachment.’ For years and lifetimes even, we have been the slave of the mind and its focus on objects of the senses, almost relentlessly and so yoga is the way.

To begin to understand mental self-control we have to think about how the mind, an amazingly impulsive thing on some occasions, has no sense of the practical or the rational. Only the intelligence has this power of discrimination. The mind offers ideas and options every waking hour of the day and you may even find–at least I do–that the mind is “waiting for you” when you wake up in the morning. The mind is what drags you to the chocolate cake and pizza…for breakfast. It’s the, “I wanna…” or the, “I don’t wanna…” voice in your head, when you know, perfectly well, that this or that behavior is bad and yet your mind seems to be drawing you into doing it. On the other hand, picture intelligence as sort of ‘James Bond 007,’ that operates by making a cool analysis of a situation and choosing the best-calculated plans.  We all want to function like this! We often regret impulsive acts yet when we use our intelligence the outcomes and choices are generally much more beneficial for attaining happiness. Philosophers and yogis know this. Mind control is most easily accomplished by yoga practice. It is by spiritual awareness or, as Jane Austen would say, ‘self-knowledge,’ that we come to the point of ‘single-minded’ intelligence, and we also come to the detachment needed. Spiritual practices, done regularly, counteract the mind’s serious attachment to sense gratification. To put it simply, yoga helps us develop the needed determination to make choices that prioritize intelligence! The only alternative is to abandon our lives to the quasi-insane mental platform–not a great plan for a good life. Here’s a story that might illustrate, in a simply way, what I mean:

I was once camping in a beautiful national park and was thinking of diving into a crystal blue mountain river. It was a perfect day and it was all gorgeous scenery. Anyone could see that a dip would be refreshing.  Unfortunately, my mind was noisily protesting, “I don’t wanna!” Surely the water was cold yet so what? It was rational to seek the coolness of the water on such a warm day. Yet there was my mind…acting up and staging a protest even up to the nano-second before I hit the water.  “Noooooo!” …splash!  It was so amusing to get this chance to catch the mind “in the act” and what the heck was it all about? What was up with all that mental noise?   It was loud. It was obnoxious. And it was the same sort of mental commotion that was going on in the minds of the many people whom I saw standing nearby. Everyone seemed to be staring at the beauty of that blue water and yet no one was going in. Finally, one man approached the river in his swimming trunks. He stood nearby, poised on the edge of the water, and obviously trying to will himself to dive in. He appeared frozen in indecision. I had just come out of the water and, seeing his predicament, I called out, “You want dive into that beautiful water, right?”  He agreed without taking his eyes off the water. I began to coach him, “Pay no attention to that voice in your head.” “Just ignore it and dive in.” He thought for a moment, then he did just that! In a few minutes, and after a few more dives, he thanked me repeatedly and expressed his happiness at not missing out on the experience.  To have helped another person having problems with their mind really struck me. I realized in a very personal way that all living beings have this problem of being beleaguered and paralyzed while ‘stuck’ on the mental platform. We can do something about it, too!

If nothing else, the story above is proof that the mind can be a big party-pooper and will, if unrestrained, lead us around based on impulse and immediate gratification. Just remember that the mind does not ‘think.’ This is why it can sabotage our life and even prevent happiness. The intellect is necessary for making good choices, especially when we are choosing relationships. This is a big Jane Austen theme. In Pride & Prejudice Elizabeth’s youngest sister, Lydia, sadly ruins her life by choosing the wrong man. Her parents do nothing to restrain her wildness. After month of having “nothing but flirtation and officers in her head” she is set on a course for disaster. It is true that Lydia is quite young, only 15, and she is described as having strong ‘animal’ spirits which means that her physical desires will all the more rule over her. Unfortunately she is not given instruction as to how to think ‘seriously’ on topics which will lead to a good life. It is sad to think of anyone making choices that lead to a less-than pleasant future. Many people are very sorry that Lydia makes the worst possible choice in running away with Mr. Wickham. The wise see that some choices create a sort of path of “no return” because some behaviors have enough force to irreversibly destroy our freedom of choice. In some terrible cases, people develop an addiction to drugs and can no longer choose to use them or not. We can understand then, that consistently making good choices is important to having a good life, which centers on a life of freedom.

Jane Austen wrote about making good decisions, and her novels, though entertaining, center around her heroines’ choice of friends and marriage partners. They may initially be misled by some sort of attachment to the wrong people, yet they are sure to come to the point of intelligence, and often just in time.  In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett is almost duped by Mr. Wickham, who has good looks and a soft-spoken sort of manliness. Fortunately, she takes some good advice from her aunt to ‘not be in a hurry’ and this gives her just enough time to find out the truth. In contrast to Elizabeth’s cool and rational behavior, the otherwise sensible Charlotte Lucas professes ‘unsound’ ideas as to what a woman should look for in a husband and, as we find out, make no use of reason in her choice of a marriage partner. Against every finer sense of feeling, she agrees to marry the socially awkward and exceedingly irksome Mr. Collins for the sake of a guaranteed ‘comfortable’ home. She leaves all her good sense behind with this choice.

I know that some Jane Austen readers and critics will justify Charlotte’s behavior by talking about the lack of opportunities for women at that period, yet still, there is no doubt that Jane Austen did not approve of this kind of calculated approach to matrimony. We read that Charlotte was looking for man who could supply her with material stability, yet not at all interested to know the character flaws of the person she was going to marry. Her only interest was for the ‘comfortable’ home. This is blatantly nothing but a ‘taker’ mentality. In contrast, Elizabeth said that she would only be induced to marry when she had found the ‘deepest’ love. She was looking for mutual respect and friendship, not just a good situation. We are sad for Charlotte’s choice because her plan for selfish pleasure will lead her to the most impermanent happiness. This is what Elizabeth is most concerned about as she leaves the newlywed Charlotte in Kent.

“Poor Charlotte! — it was melancholy to leave her to such society! — But she had chosen it with her eyes open; and though evidently regretting that her visitors were to go, she did not seem to ask for compassion. Her home and her housekeeping, her parish and her poultry, and all their dependent concerns, had not yet lost their charms.”

Not yet, but eventually… poor Charlotte, indeed! Thus Jane is teaching what the Gita repeatedly confirms, which is that pure love is eternal and based in reality, and therefore our best relationships on earth are not simply those which supply some temporary material comforts. The Gita also defines lower pleasures as, “having a beginning and an end.” Jane hints at the truth that loving relationships are, in fact, not ‘illusory’ when we understand that we are all spiritually connected. Reality means seeing by means of the intelligence, that souls are eternal and that material objects (including our material bodies) are unconscious and temporary and thus are not to be considered a true source of happiness. Of course, we still maintain the body nicely because it is a gift and a vehicle we use to attain spiritual consciousness and happiness.

One may ask, if the first principle according to the Bhagavad-Gita, is to practice control of the mind, then what is the exact mechanism for self-control and how does it occur?  The Gita (3.43) explains that the mind, optimally, works like the reins in controlling five powerful horses, corresponding to the five senses–sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing.  The intelligence is the driver holding the reins and the passenger is the soul, or consciousness.  In the best circumstances, the soul directs the driver-intelligence, which expertly reins in the mind so as to maintain control over the five senses. A favorite example of a consistently intelligent person appears as Mr. Knightley in the novel, Emma. This hero embodies the cool and deliberate nature of intelligence and as a friend, he steps in very regularly to correct Emma’s mischief.  He stands in stark contrast with other characters, even Emma herself. Again, the important point is that in all things yoga and all things Austen, there is a balanced approach and some room to safely experiment. As when riding a horse, one cannot be perpetually pulling on the reins without driving the horse to rebellion, so there’s no need to panic if you have occasional difficulties. The idea is not to repress every normal innocent inclination. In fact, for a serious urge-repressing society, look to England’s Victorian age, which immediately followed the more relaxed Regency period.  My point is that the Gita and Jane Austen’s novels promote a balanced approach.  In Northanger Abbey, our heroine, Catherine Moreland, a very innocent young heroine-in-training, gets into trouble when she allows her imagination to run wild–in the Gothic style of ‘fevered imagination’– with serious suspicions about the hero’s father, General Tilney.   She suffers some temporary mental anguish when the hero discovers her suspicions but she begins to understand the principle of controlling the mind (and her imagination) and all turns out well.


In any case, we may occasionally indulge in chocolate cake or even staying up a little past the usual bedtime–especially when attending a Regency ball!  We only desire that as far as possible the worst consequences are, well, inconsequential. As a friend, and following in the footsteps of Mr. Knightley, I do my best to combine these teachings from the Bhagavad-Gita and Austen’s novels.  I find that they compliment each other very well, even though they were composed thousands of years apart and originate from very different cultures.  Please join me again soon and let me know that you do enjoy them by subscribing or leaving a comment.

1 Comment

Filed under Karma and Yoga and Jane Austen