Who knew our weekly Zoom discussions on Bhagavad Gita would be so much fun?
By Ram S. Gupta
Ours is a close-knit family of three generations. first are the grandparents, then our son and his wife, and our two daughters with their husbands, each of whom have two children—our grandchildren.
Many of us have been religious for decades, participating in and leading monthly puja groups, as well as going on religious pilgrimages, performing daily prayers, observing Hindu customs and rituals. More recently we’ve been involved in the opening of the first Hindu temple in our area. However, exposure to the spiritual aspects of Hinduism has been limited. Lately this is changing, through study of Vedanta books and lectures, meditation and increased self-awareness—and conversations within the family.
Recently, while discussing health issues, we all thought that studying the Bhagavad Gita together over Zoom would be a good way to tap into the power of spirituality, to aid healing and to support each other morally. We embarked upon a weekly Family Gita Study Group four months ago. The participants: we grandparents in Rhode Island; our son and his wife in Rhode Island; one of our daughters in Virginia; our other daughter’s husband (our son-in-law) in Delhi; and our daughter-in-law’s mother in Delhi.
We start each session with Sanskrit recitation of Chapter 12, on bhakti yoga, which has long been the family’s tradition. Then we study a couple of shlokas with translation and commentaries, followed by discussion and sharing of personal experience.
Because of our trust in each other, and in the absence of a Gita authority among us, we were able to explore mutual challenges without a sense of judgment or vulnerability. Family support served as a bridge to the faith to embark and progress on the spiritual journey. Each has served as a model for others, to help each other and give assurance that spiritual progress is possible, real and meaningful, although at varied levels.
With no specific goal, our sessions are engaging and meaningful to each of us. There is no rush to get through a curriculum. We can spend an entire session discussing one shloka. There is no designated leader; everyone takes turns reading, interpreting, asking questions and providing perspectives.
Although we have not gotten the kids to participate fully, some do join the sessions from time to time. We also arrange small exposures for them—such as getting one to try meditation, and two others to join in pujas. This will instill samskaras in them. Hopefully, their participation will gradually increase.
The gatherings have been deeply beneficial to us all, inspiring greater reflection on oneself and others, less conflict and argument in households, appreciation for other points of view, openness to recommendations and suggestions; and a willingness to try spiritual practices, such as meditation. Here is some feedback I gathered from the group.
Family member one recognized the need to calm the mind, the role of ego in creating sorrow, the value of meditation, and the role of effort and practice rather than awaiting God’s grace.
Member two was impressed by the deeper understanding she is gaining of a text that she had read countless times before. The practical approach, with family participation, has given her assurance that change is possible and worth striving for. Participant three is thrilled by how much the sessions have improved relationships among family members. She has gained a deeper awareness of the connections between bhakti, jnana, karma and raja yogas.
Member four listed many benefits: “There is a greater awareness of who I am in relation to others. This has resulted in a willingness to reflect before reacting. Dinnertime conversations about our Gita discussions are uplifting for everyone, including those who don’t attend the sessions. It has been incredible to have these deep conversations. Now I feel more connected to Mom and Dad, especially Dad. I was not very religious before and had a tough time spending time reading the Gita, because something else always took precedence. In this model, there is low-level accountability, which is really nice. I think it’s amazing we haven’t missed a weekend!”
Family member five shared, “I am slowly getting into it. I go back and re-read the shlokas, building confidence gradually. At a funeral recently, I was able to explain to others the connection between the soul and the body. I am getting softer in communicating with family members, not getting as angry, not contradicting everything, trying to become silent, trying to maintain peace at home. I know we don’t have to be saints. There are lots of people who live simply and do only seva.”
Family member six spoke of the spiritual impact: “The Gita sessions and ancillary discussions have deepened my search for answers to the eternal questions of existence. It is becoming clearer to me that the truth resides in self and that our attention and awareness are the creative source of our universe. My own mind is seeing this grand search becoming simpler and simpler over time. I am now able to grasp a bit of what our saints have always been saying—the search is all internal; the playful drama is an interaction, but to search the truth, the long journey can be done sitting within a room. At a mundane level, the sessions have helped me be more creative and spontaneous at work, trusting my instincts and the answers my mind brings up during my consulting sessions.”
Ram Gupta (see above photo, at bottom left with his wife) after a long professional career, currently devotes his time to spiritual studies/discourses and devotional services at the temple, and teaching Hindi and culture at HARI Vidyabhavan.