The new book by Mary Taylor and Richard Freeman

For many practitioners of Ashtanga Yoga, the name Richard Freeman is very well known: he is a very special combination of a yoga teacher (his wife and he himself call themselves „yogic teachers”), Buddhist and philosopher. For many years, he and his wife Mary Taylor have directed an Ashtanga Yoga studio in Boulder, Colorado, US, offered teacher trainings and also taught a lot internationally. The studio in Boulder has been passed on to the next generation (Ty Landrum) and Mary and Richard have established a second home on Koh Samui in Thailand. You can regularly study and practice under their guidance at the Samahita Retreat – at least when there is no lockdown or  restrictions for the immigration of foreigners into Thailand. They are also quite present on the internet with many interesting contributions, again, not just for Ashtangis.

At the end of September they published another book together: “When love comes to light – Bringing wisdom from the Bhagavad Gītā into modern life.”

The Bhagavad Gītā 

The Bhagavad Gītā (or shorter just the Gītā) reflects a very short passage within a much larger drama, the Mahābhārata. This gigantic opus is over 100.000 verses, describing the long-lasting conflict between two families who are related to one another, the Kauravas and the Pāṇdavas. The Mahābhārata is the longest existing poem worldwide – ten times longer than Homer’s Ulysses and the Iliad put together. It is about 2,500 years old, and  approximately 1,500 years ago reached the version in which it is known today (even though  there are still many different adaptations).

The Gītā with its manageable  700 verses describes only one single scene out of the drama: the moment just before the start of the epic military battle between the two armies that both families lead against one another.

Kṛṣṇa is teaching Arjuna, right in the middle between the two armies

The Gītā depicts the dialogue between Arjuna, one of the brothers of the Pāṇdavas, and his charioteer, Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa is, in his main job within the Hinduistic pantheon, the deity of delight and passion – and he turns out to be a benevolent teacher for Arjuna at the very moment when Arjuna loses all his courage before this battle against his relatives, friends and playmates of his youth. This teaching is also the reason for the title: Bhagavad Gītā can be translated as “the song of God”.

The content

Mary and Richard’s book is, in my view, an artful and interesting combination of an innovative and at the same time concise introduction into the Gītā. It also contains a new word by word and sometimes quite creative translation of the Gītā. In the appendix, the book offers very practical exercises that are meant to help embody the different aspects of the teaching , i.e. how one can integrate the teachings into one’s own body and mind and of course one’s life.

How does one react in a dignified way when thrown into a huge conflict and having remorse even though one knows what would be the right course of action? Is there a higher perspective on the issue? What is our task, our duty, our karma?

How can we express love in our behaviour – allow love more space in the situation at hand?

Mary and Richard argue that often our self-made (or adopted) concepts for love and loving behaviour lead to the opposite result: fierce arguments, conflicts, battle, suffering. In order to avoid such ”pitfalls“, we need clarity about the actual situation, to be really awake and to check  our perception over and over again.

The battlefield in daily life

The transfer from the conflict on the battlefield into our daily relationships may be surprising at first glance, but it is well explained by Mary and Richard and absolutely appropriate.

Of course, it is not surprising that Mary and Richard interpret many aspects of the classical Hindu text from a Buddhist perspective, in light of the fact that Richard has studied Buddhism intensely and also lived as a Buddhist monk. It is in addition absolutely fitting, as in the times of the first creation of the Bhagavad Gītā (around 150 BC plus or minus a century) the individual philosophies and religions were not crystallized, but were in active exchange with one another and thus enriched each other.

Should you find the subject of interest, you can listen here to a podcast of the couple about their new book at Ashtanga Dispatch. Should you be practicing at my shala, you can also find the book in the library and are welcome to take it home for a few days to check it out.