Continuing our series on spiritual psychology, we explore the concept of the Avatar of Krishna from the Bhagavad Gita (the Divine Song) to help us understand how to connect with our divine self. This episode is an exploration of the psychology of the mind when it comes to relating to spiritual aspects. We discuss:
- Who is Krishna in the Gita and what did he represent?
- The main teaching of the Gita that helps us in our everyday life.
- Understand how the idea of an Avatar of the Universal Self helps us relate on a psychological level to deeper aspects of our own true nature.
- How Jungian Psychology complements these teachings to transcend our ego and become our true self.
Debra Maldonado 00:00
Welcome to Soul Sessions with CreativeMind with Debra Berndt Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado of CreativeMind. Join us each week for inspiring conversation about personal development based on Jungian philosophy, Eastern spirituality, and social neuroscience. Spend each week with us to explore deep topics in a practical way. Let’s begin.
Debra Maldonado 00:28
Hello, welcome to Soul Sessions with CreativeMind. I’m Debra Maldonado, here with Rob Maldonado. We are excited to continue our series on spiritual psychology. Today we’re going to be talking about the avatar and how we use the avatar to connect with the divine in a psychological and also spiritual way. But before we begin, I’d love for you to subscribe to our channel. If you’re watching us on YouTube, just click the button in the corner. If you are listening to us on Spotify, or iTunes, or other podcast programs, please don’t forget to subscribe so you do not miss another episode. Thank you for joining us. So what is an avatar and how does that help us connect to our divine self?
Robert Maldonado 01:22
We’re in luck because there’s a couple of movies called Avatar. It’s the same idea. In the movie, they’re using some kind of teleportation mechanism to put themselves in the bodies of these blue people, I do not remember the name of the tribes. But that’s an avatar, essentially, in the movie their human consciousness goes into the body of this alien, and they’re able to operate in that alien world. Talking about Krishna, Krishna is an avatar of Vishnu, which we didn’t mention in the beginning. Krishna is embodying and representing the divinity that is put in his body. Krishna is Vishnu, which is the divine deity from Hindu mythology that is much older than the idea of Krishna. Essentially, Krishna is the incarnation of the divine. That’s the process of becoming an avatar, the divine takes a human form and is able to reincarnate. Actually, Krishna is only one of a series of avatars that represent Vishnu. Vishnu is the sustainer God. You have Brahma, not Brahman, but Brahma, the creator God, who creates the world, Vishnu that sustains the world, and Shiva who destroys the world. But they’re all one.
Debra Maldonado 03:41
You can’t separate them, separate creation from destruction.
Robert Maldonado 03:46
Anyway, Vishnu comes down to earth in the form of Krishna to intervene in this incredible epic that’s called the Mahabharata. We’ll talk about that later in the podcast.
Debra Maldonado 04:04
When we’re saying an avatar, the benefit of having an avatar is really to be able to relate to this huge concept of the Divine, or God, or the creator, in a human form.
Robert Maldonado 04:22
We see it in many cultures. This is one aspect of comparative religion, comparative mythology. We see this idea play out throughout human history. The God, the deity is able to incarnate, to take a human body in order to intervene or to teach and to be in the world.
Debra Maldonado 04:49
Would it be the same as the myth of Jesus and the idea of Christianity? All religions have very similar mythology, the stories and the incarnation of the Divine. Let’s go back to the Gita, the distillation of the Upanishads, I love the idea of it being the cliff notes. The Upanishads are hundreds of books. The Gita is one book, one chapter, or a song that helps encapsulate all the teachings of the Upanishads.
Robert Maldonado 05:42
Let me back up a bit, because we want to state the approach we’re taking. We’re not taking necessarily the scholarly approach to try to figure out where this literature comes from, its dates, its origins. We’re more interested in these psychological concepts. We’re taking the Jungian perspective of comparative mythology to look at what these myths are talking about. With all due respect to Hindus and anyone who follows Krishna as a deity, we’re speaking solely as students of the mind in the Jungian sense. There’s this epic called the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata is considered one of the longest poems in human history. I forget the count of the verses, but supposedly, if you put all the Iliad and the Odyssey, some of the Homeric poetry together, it’d be longer than all that literature put together. Mahabharata is an incredible story of warring cousins, or families, fighting for a kingdom in ancient India. Krishna serves as an advisor to one side, which is the Pandavas, Arjuna is one of the primary players in that family. He is the principal warrior of the Pandavas. In choosing sides, Krishna agrees to serve as his charioteer. If any of you have read it, we enter the Gita as a chapter of the Mahabharata, essentially when the two armies are on the battlefield, ready to war each other. Sanjay is starting to narrate what he’s observing on the battlefield to these dignitaries and kings. That’s why it seems confusing to some people, this is a weird way to start a story but it’s because it’s picking up in the middle. In the Gita, Krishna is the charioteer and Arjuna is the warrior that’s on the chariot. He’s going to shoot his arrows and fight the battle on top of the chariot. That was the way they did wars. They had incredible weapons. If you read the Mahabharata, they were looking for these supernatural weapons of mass destructive powers. The story of the Gita, or the divine song, is that Arjuna loses his nerve when he sees these powerful armies arrayed against each other, he drops his bow and arrow and says “I can’t do this” to Krishna, who is the charioteer, the driver of the chariot, the advisor, guide, and teacher at this point. He says “Can you take the chariot to the very middle of the battlefield? I want to see the whole thing from that vantage point.” They drive to the center of it. Krishna at that point begins to teach him the divine song, the distillation of the Upanishads. In the middle of this battlefield, which is symbolic, of course. In the middle of the battlefield, these two people, a warrior and his charioteer are having a philosophical discussion on the nature of the mind, the nature of reality, the nature of consciousness.
Debra Maldonado 10:56
I think we can relate to it symbolically in our life. If we think about how do you fight a war or battle that you can never win? It’s a winless battle because no matter what you have to accomplish in life, you’re going to die eventually. Life is this duality in a way, you can’t really hang on to it.
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Debra Maldonado 12:24
How do we work with our mind? How do we live our life when we know we’re going to end up not having it last forever? Nothing lasts forever. How do we deal with that? How do we find comfort? Arjuna was thinking “If I win, I kill my cousins because they’re family who are fighting. If I lose, this side of the family dies. No matter who wins or loses, there’s going to be loss. Why do I even fight?” We all come to this point in our life, where we say to ourselves “What am I doing here? Why am I doing this?” That’s really the conversation start. If you’ve had that question before, you’ll have that question in the future. This is the point where Krishna is giving him advice “This is how you work with the mind. This is how you overcome these human difficulties, see winless situations, and transcend it.” The winless situation of being in the body, having the ego, having attachment, all the things we have to battle with in our own life. It’s really the inner battle that it’s representing.
Robert Maldonado 13:38
Some people protest, because they’re saying, “Isn’t Krishna talking about peace and harmony and spiritual practice? Why is he in the middle of a war?” If you read the bigger story, the Mahabharata, you see that Krishna is playing a trickster role. He’s not necessarily trying to stop the war.
Debra Maldonado 14:04
He’s the devil’s advocate in a way, testing Arjuna’s resolve on what he wants to do and who he is, digging like a coach — that person who challenges the client to ask deeper questions of why you think this choice or that choice is better, as a guide.
Robert Maldonado 14:27
His teachings, the divine song that he sings, these traditions, this narrative was traditionally passed down through chanting or through memorization of these chants, the divine song that he sings. At this point, it is the distillation of the wisdom of the Upanishads. The Upanishads are much older, they go back to Vedic period, where a lot of the rituals were the emphasis. The Upanishads were commentaries on the Vedas that explain the psychology of these rituals, their purposes and how they were enticing the divine to come into human life.
Debra Maldonado 15:30
Gita is more practical, hands-on, anyone can read the Gita and learn in the modern world. They don’t have to do all the rituals.
Robert Maldonado 15:43
In part, because if you read the Upanishads, they seem in tone and in the nature of their teaching, very different than the Vedas. The Vedas are essentially instructions on how to build a fire, how to pour milk, instructions on how to do a ritual in a proper way. The Upanishads, what I imagined and what some scholars talk about, is that after a period of intense meditation and withdrawing from the societal obligations, priest, yogis, seers, they’re called rishis, had these incredible insights. They do mention soma, which was maybe a plant or a concoction that gave them hallucinogenic powers, or they were able to transcend their ego state of mind and peer into the deeper unconscious mind, what you might call the collective unconscious. They were gathering information, gathering wisdom from deep inside the collective unconscious, then writing the Upanishads, instructions, teachings on how to do proper mental disciplines that would allow the students to transcend their ego.
Debra Maldonado 17:30
It’s basically to transcend the ego which is very in line with Jungian psychology, which is individuation, which is the same process of how to become my true self versus my conditioned ego self. Let’s go back to the Gita and how the Gita and the avatar fit into this.
Robert Maldonado 17:56
If we read this as spiritual mythology, we see that there’s this duality, this war, these two warring principles that are instructional in some sense. If we pay attention and read it correctly, they’re there to instruct us, not necessarily just to make us suffer. Because that’s one of the primary messages Krishna conveys to Arjuna: if you approach this battle as the ego, as your persona, you’re going to experience suffering because you’re seeing yourself only in that limited perspective, your ego self, you’re having to fight against teachers, cousins, family members, and kill them. Arjuna himself says at one point, “I don’t desire to kill these people. If I kill them, I won’t even enjoy my victory.” Krishna is instructing him to drop his attachment to that ego persona that he’s playing.
Debra Maldonado 19:19
When we talk about non-attachment, a lot of people think it means you don’t desire anything. It’s your ego’s desire, and the ego desire is very limited, it’s all about survival, it’s not from a divine place of growth and expansion. It’s very different to be non-attached. When we’re attached, we feel like a certain outcome is going to be good or bad. In non-attachment, we don’t know if the outcome is good or bad. We let go of whether it’s good or bad, and just keep moving toward our desires, but every one event isn’t going to make or break us. Non-attachment is one of the keys.
Robert Maldonado 20:00
Non-attachment and the continuation of doing his duty. Notice here that Krishna is not instructing Arjuna to abandon the world, to withdraw into the forest and meditate for the rest of his life. He’s saying, “Stay and do your duty, but do it as sacred duty.” You continue to play the role of a warrior, do the best you can in the war, but drop the attachment to the results. This was a breakthrough in spiritual practices because it allows us to stay in the world, to continue to act in the world, but to also reach Samadhi, which is that transcendence of ego. This was a breakthrough because before then the only way to do it was to withdraw from the world. You had to remove yourself from the actions that conditioned you and created this karmic constraint on you. Karma was essentially a wheel that trapped you.
Debra Maldonado 21:23
Like conditioning, it’s unconscious, you’re trapped in it, unless you make it conscious.
Robert Maldonado 21:29
The karmic imprints themselves created this illusory world for you. It was very subjective. It was essentially your own conditioning, your own way of seeing things. Maya, the appearance of the world, continuously presented that image of your own conditioning, your own karmic imprints, instead of seeing things as they truly are. Dropping the attachment to the results was a way to free yourself from the karmic, reach enlightenment, but to continue to be in the world.
Debra Maldonado 22:16
it’s not spiritual bypassing where you’re using spiritual principles to further your attachment, which is what a lot of spiritual bypassing is. I’m going to use my desire for money and the spiritual tools I have to manifest money. That’s bypassing because you’re still attached, and ego’s like, “I’m better now because I manifested this.” At non-attachment, we have the desire, but the money, or the love we attract, or the health we have is always for a higher purpose versus to serve the ego. That’s the difference. Non-attachment doesn’t mean we don’t desire things. It’s that we desire them from a higher place. Desiring money to start a business or to expand your career can be very sacred if you drop the attachment and do it because there’s a bigger picture. “I want to express the fullness of myself, I want to make a bigger impact in the world, I want to do this other thing that’s going to help others” is very different than “I need to feel important, I need to feel safe, I need to feel money so I can be acknowledged or get attention,” or all those other things attachment creates. What causes suffering is the attachment, not having the thing. It’s really the attachment to it that causes the suffering. Let’s go back to the avatar. What’s the importance of the avatar in this thing? How can someone use an avatar? What is this message of Krishna? The teachings but also the avatar itself? How can someone use that in their everyday modern life without going on the battlefield with their chariot? Can we integrate an avatar into our life?
Robert Maldonado 24:14
This is an incredible aspect of the Upanishads. I know of no other literature that speaks in such a profound way, yet also frees us up, liberates us to make our own choices. It’s not saying, “If you don’t believe what I’m writing, what these writings say, you’re doomed to hell, you’ll be forever in ignorance.” It says, “Test these out for yourself, find a way to apply these, and look for yourself.” The great message is that it says it’s very difficult for the human mind to conceive of this cosmic awareness, which is the self, without having an image, without having a focal point.
Debra Maldonado 25:16
For me, as a young girl, thinking of God as this man with a beard, it was hard to relate to. But some people look at the cross or at a symbol. But there’s something about a human, a humanized avatar, because we’re social creatures, we relate on that relationship. It’s a relationship with a divine, not a submission. That’s the beauty of the Avatar.
Robert Maldonado 25:49
Krishna in the Gita is speaking as the avatar of Vishnu, the divine, the deity in human form. He’s saying, “If you can’t do this difficult thing of conceiving of the self as everything,” because he had to think of everything, the universe and all its manifestation, not only the outer manifestation but the inner world of the psyche, “If you can’t hold your mind in that difficult position of thinking of the self as everything, focus on me as the representation, the embodiment of that divinity, of that cosmic self.”
Debra Maldonado 26:45
It’s just easier. What I love in the Gita, he says, “I’m your friend.” It’s a friend relationship versus the submissive child. We should think of that divine part of ourselves as a friend to us, not something we have to obey, or feel intimidated by. It’s that friendliness inviting as part of us.
Robert Maldonado 27:14
Psychologically, what’s happening is that, as we learn to transcend our ego, to disidentify with this individual persona, ego aspect of our individuality, the question becomes, “Who am I? What do I focus on? How can I direct the mind if I don’t think of myself as mind body?” There’s the answer. You start to identify that friend within that wisdom as the voice of Krishna, who is the avatar of the divine, Vishnu, or even Brahma, because in the Gita, Krishna is pretty much speaking as the true cosmic self.
Debra Maldonado 28:10
I always get confused with all the different Vishnu, Brahma, all the different deities. It’s so much simpler to just think about it as Krishna or some divine image.
Robert Maldonado 28:23
The self is the most important concept that emerges from the Upanishads. The way it’s explained is if you think of what is the awareness within you in this moment, not in some abstract form, what makes you capable of being aware, of paying attention, of perceiving, of thinking, of hearing consciousness, the Upanishads say it’s the self within you, the true self. It’s very different than the concept in the West. In the West, we always think of ourselves as the individual within us, the personality. The Upanishads say, “You’re not the personality, you’re not the body. These are apparent aspects of consciousness.”
Debra Maldonado 29:24
Even in our dreams, we are other people and have other experiences outside of this. We all have the ordinary dream, reliving familiar scenes. But we have these big dreams where we’re in a different planet or a different place and different time, we’re different people. All that consciousness is us. Everything in that dream, every character in that dream is an aspect of ourselves. It can be overwhelming for people to think “I’m all that.” Awareness is a simple way to think about it because there’s a part that’s aware of everything, of all the dances and movements of life.
Robert Maldonado 30:06
That consciousness, which is at the core of you, is the universal self. It connects you to the universe completely, there’s nothing else you can really be, except the universal self.
Debra Maldonado 30:27
Would Krishna represent the universal self?
Robert Maldonado 30:31
Krishna represents the path to the realization of yourself as the universal self. That’s the key.
Debra Maldonado 30:42
He’s like a guide, the helper on the hero’s journey, the teacher. We have an inner teacher within us.
Robert Maldonado 30:56
The metaphor of him driving the chariot is an apt one. He says is the self is the owner and the creator of the chariot. The horses are the senses that pull us into life.
Debra Maldonado 31:15
Would you think of the body as being the chariot?
Robert Maldonado 31:18
Yes, exactly, because without the body we don’t have senses.
Debra Maldonado 31:23
We have two parts: Arjuna, who is the ego, caught up in the world, and Krishna who is the higher self, the awareness, watching the whole thing happen and guiding us. Even if you’re not Hindu, or these concepts might be hard for you to grasp, the idea that you have within you a divine guide that’s you, it’s not separate, and that there’s an ego self, it’s helping out your ego self. The ego is important because it’s connected to the body, as long as you have a body, you have an ego. This is the part of us that enjoys the fruits of life, suffers when we have a loss. We have the whole gamut of human experience we can we can enjoy and experience in a deep way, have that spectrum, but then also have this other part of us that’s watching. In the Upanishads, they say there’s two birds sitting in the tree, one that eats the bitter and sour fruits of life while the other one watches in non-attachment. These myths seem far away, we’re not in ancient times anymore, with chariots and wars. But we want to look at them from a psychological perspective and how they symbolize our own journey to our own divine self, that self-realization, or self-actualization of how to transcend the ego, how to live in this world and not get so caught up in it that we’re suffering, how to free our mind. That is the ultimate key. Not getting caught up in the labels, but the symbols and what they represent to us, and how we can apply that in our life.
Robert Maldonado 33:15
If the horses are the senses, driving us to seek the pleasure of objects and experience the world, the reins are the mind. How do we drive this chariot, our individual life, through the mind? Yoga is what Krishna prescribes to Arjuna as the way to drive the mind, the discipline of mind, of understanding the nature of the mind, that allows you to take the reins of your life and drive it.
Debra Maldonado 33:58
Instead of being caught up in letting the senses drive you, which is the ego’s conditioning, and getting in touch with the mind and that awareness, this guide that’s saying, “Let’s steer our life in a different direction and be consciously directing our life versus passively reacting to life.”
Robert Maldonado 34:18
The driver is the intellect. The intellect to the body-mind, in psychology, we’d call it meta consciousness, or metacognition. Metacognition is the ability to think about our own thoughts, to observe our own behavior, our own emotions, our own feelings. If any of you practice meditation, you might have noticed that what you’re doing is learning to observe your own mind, learning to observe your own thoughts from that detached or non-attached perspective.
Debra Maldonado 35:04
Not analyzing, but more observing without attachment.
Robert Maldonado 35:09
What it means is that if you’re experiencing an emotion, you’re able to observe the emotion not from within the emotion, not being caught up in the emotion but as a neutral observer. That ability has to be cultivated. That’s one of the great lessons of yoga. It’s not going to be there naturally, you have to cultivate it. But everyone has that capacity, if you’re willing to cultivate it, you’re able to create a sense of observing your own mind, observing your thoughts, your emotions, your own behaviors. What that does is it allows you to direct your life from a higher vantage point, instead of from the conditioned ego. It’s useful because then you do have control of your life. You’re able to drive the chariot in a conscious way. One of the great lessons Krishna teaches Arjuna is discipline of yoga, which is yoga philosophy. What does this all mean for us? If we learn to translate from a spiritual psychology perspective what these higher teachings are able to tell us about the nature of human consciousness, the nature of reality, then these lessons become very useful to us.
Debra Maldonado 37:01
The Gita is very powerful. Gandhi carried the Gita around with him when he was liberating India from the British Empire. When I was first starting out, getting my book Let Love In published, I was going to all these speaker events, networking events, writers’ conferences, trying to get a deal. I carried the Gita around with me, I kept reading the words. Success or failure is the same, pleasure or pain is the same, you’re the same in each of these places. Even if I didn’t fully conceptualize the whole vision of the Gita yet, until years of study, there were certain phrases I needed to hear today. It helped me stay non-attached in those moments. I was first starting off as an entrepreneur, there’s ups and downs, the ego’s all caught up in a lot of things, success, what everything means, what your projection is, if this is going to work or not. A lot of challenges is a battle with your mind when you start as an entrepreneur or any project. I found the Gita very helpful in remembering these basic principles, not to get caught up in the ego. The ego is the one creating suffering, the distortion where you’re not even seeing possibility. If you can discipline your mind, it helps you have a clearer mind. You can see opportunities, you can create more with your life. It’s not about being spiritual sitting on a cloud, but about making the most of your life and how to use this practical knowledge in the Gita. We can focus on the idea of Krishna as the avatar, the evidence of the divine, instead of thinking, “I’m gonna ask the universe for something,” there is nothing solid to relate to. It’s like an empty space we’re projecting our thoughts into. We have an image, that’s really the value of the avatar, to bring a personal relationship with the divine. The Gita is the divine song.
Robert Maldonado 39:32
It’s an incredible mythology. Even if you just read it as mythology and story. I highly recommend the Mahabharata, the Gita, and the Ramayana as well.
Debra Maldonado 39:47
Thank you for joining us. We hope to see you next week for another episode, continuing our series on spiritual psychology, talking about these interesting topics. If you’re listening to us on one of the podcast services, make sure you subscribe, so you can hear every episode of Soul Sessions. Thank you and hope you join us again soon.
Robert Maldonado 40:11
See you next time.
Debra Maldonado 40:13
Thank you for joining us. Don’t forget to subscribe to CreativeMinds Soul Sessions. Join us next week as we explore another deep topic where you can consciously create your life with CreativeMind Soul Sessions. See you next time.