This is my paper for my Eastern Religions class this semester. I felt hesitant to share it, because this paper formed part of an intensely personal experience. I am uncomfortable opening up so much publicly; however, every person that I have shared it with so far has expressed appreciation for the opportunity to read it, some have asked if they can pass it on to a loved one that might benefit from reading it, and it just feels right to share it.
I hope that those who read it will not judge me too harshly. I hope that my feelings and thoughts touch you and invite you to be happy with who you are.
Observing My Own Law: the Path to Peace and Perfection
Each man attains perfection by devoting himself to his own task: listen how the man who shoulders his task finds this perfection. He finds it by honoring, through the fulfillment of his own task, him who motivates the creatures to act… One’s own Law imperfectly observed is better than another’s Law carried out with perfection. As long as one does the work set by nature, he does not incur blame. One should not abandon his natural task even if it is flawed… for all undertakings are beset by flaws as fire is by smoke.
My interpretation of this quote from the Bhagavadgita is that we should know our individual purpose in life and work toward fulfilling that purpose. This task is difficult, humbling, and fraught with failures and frustration as we stumble while climbing up the path of progression. Understanding that God expects me to identify and fulfill my purpose is essential to a truly happy life. This perspective eases the pain that accompanies the struggle of preparing for my mission, and it motivates me to continue my journey when I lose hope and momentum.
My mind seems cursed with a self-deprecating inner voice. This voice whispers that I am inadequate, that I never will be good enough, and that I should give up hope. This voice teaches me to feel self-loathing. Every day, in some way, a painfully acute awareness of my flaws, failures, and weaknesses assaults my self-confidence. I look with jealousy to those around me. I compare my inability to remember pertinent verses with individuals intimately familiar with the scriptures. I shrink back while extroverts entertain a group of friends. I feel stupid when a classmate brings up a relevant quote or idea and contributes to the discussion in a way I feel unable to do. I read blogs and articles written by acquaintances and know that I will never write with such power and clarity. Often, I am unhappy, and that unhappiness is the toxic byproduct of my failures: real and perceived.
I realize that such thoughts and emotions are damning. Jealousy serves no purpose; it only frustrates me and distracts me from what I need to do. I focus on the vast difference between others and me; consequently, I struggle to see my path clearly, because all I see is my inferiority. My frustration compounds the disappointment I feel in myself. Thoughts that I can never write well cast a depressing shadow on my attempts to write, and I quickly surrender to that depression. Thus, my writing progresses slowly, if at all. I could give more examples, but the pattern is clear. Thankfully, the Bhagavadgita offers advice to counter the downward spiral of comparing myself to others. This advice, simplified, is to be myself.
Comparing myself to others is living by their law. It is playing by rules not meant for me. My own law, or natural task, is my purpose and mission: it is what God put me on Earth to accomplish. I am better off pursuing my own role, because trying to be like someone else dishonors my individuality. Allowing myself to wallow in jealousy is a selfish act. Krsna instructs Arjuna to let go of such desires, saying, “Relinquish all your acts… be absorbed in me, embrace the yoga of the spirit… when you are too self-centered to listen, you will perish.”
I do not believe that Krsna’s use of the word perish meant to imply the end of mortality. I think he means that when we waste our efforts trying to be someone we are not, or when we give in to despair and depression, we are unable to progress. In the quote above, he offers two recommendations to overcome this type of death. Yoga and listening are both important in combating self-centeredness.
Yoga is a set of practices that connect one with self and with the Supreme. Yoga develops concentration and focus, increases strength and flexibility, improves awareness, and cleanses body and mind. I have used yoga recently to process negative emotions and center my consciousness. This powerful exercise helps me accept and love myself in spite of significant flaws in my character. Calming my mind through physical exertion increases my ability to listen. I listen for the reasons behind the emotions I experience and the lessons they offer me. Recent reflection opened my eyes and my heart as I remembered my time spent in Uganda last year where I taught teachers about leadership education. In spite of my imperfect delivery of the message and my inability to communicate perfectly, over a dozen teachers now see their role in a new light. They are participating in education more effectively. Several of them recognize and prepare for their duty to preserve liberty and contribute positively to society. My attempts were severely flawed, but this is consistent with Krsna’s words in the opening quote, “all undertakings are beset by flaws as fire is by smoke.” There is no shame in imperfection if we are focused on our “natural task.”
I was born to defend liberty through education. I did this in Uganda, and my memories of that time are full of satisfaction and hope. Understanding my role gives me peace and direction. Each imperfect step on my path is not a failure, for it takes me that much closer to perfection. Additionally, each step invites others to participate in this journey to greatness. If they choose to heed that call, they too will progress toward their divine purpose and bless those around them. I conclude with the wise words of Marianne Williamson:
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking… We are all meant to shine… We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
 The Bhagavadgita in the Mahabharata. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1981. 143. Print.
 Ibid 143
 I refer here to Astanga yoga. There are other forms, but Astanga is the most recognized by Americans. Information on Astanga and other forms can be found at http://hinduism.iskcon.org/practice/index.htm.