The Gita on Good Friday

Cambridge, MA. In the past weeks of Lent I have used passages from the Bhagavad Gita to gloss, illumine, shadow, enhance texts and themes familiar from the Lenten season. (Find here the most recent, which contains links to the others.) Underlying it all, however, is really an invitation to read the Bhagavad Gita during Lent: find a recent translation, read it, and hear it in the background as you travel the Lenten season.

I am just back from church on Holy Thursday, and want to post a second to last entry (saving the last for Easter), to lead us into Good Friday. It is late, and for this occasion I will simply invite you to read the ancient Christian hymn, the Crux Fidelis (related to the Pange Lingua) by Venantius Fortunatus (6th century), a meditation on the sacrificial death of Christ often used during the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday — with a  passage from the 4th chapter of the Gita (in the R. C. Zaehner translation), where sacrifice is understood in different ways by different people. To save words (and time) tonight, I simply interweave the texts here, and invite you to read and study them, back and forth. You can also listen to each: for instance, try the lovely recitation of the Gita 4 by Sri Vimal Vyas here (if you want the exact passage, skip ahead about 5 minutes and 50 seconds and start there); for the Crux Fidelis, there are a number of settings available online, try this Gregorian Chant rendering of it.

And here are the texts, interspersed for your meditation, the Gita verses indented. As you start, remember, then for a moment forget, everything you know about sacrifice and Good Friday:

1. Sing, my tongue, in exultation of our banner and device! Make a solemn proclamation of a triumph and its price: how the Savior of creation Conquered by his sacrifice!

The offering is Brahman, Brahman the sacrificial ghee offered by Brahman in Brahman’s fire: ·who sinks himself in this sacrificial act which is Brahman, to Brahman must he thereby go. (24)

2. For, when Adam first offended, eating that forbidden fruit, not all hopes of glory ended with the serpent at the root: broken nature would be mended by a second tree and shoot.

Some adepts offer sacrifice to the gods as their sole object; in the lire of Brahman others offer sacrifice as sacrifice which has merit in itself. (25)

3. Thus the tempter was outwitted by a wisdom deeper still: remedy and ailment fitted, means to cure and means to kill; that the world might be acquitted, Christ would do his Father’s will.

Yet others offer the senses — hearing and the rest — in the fires of self — restraint; others the senses’ proper objects — sounds and the like — in the fires of the senses. (26)

4. So the Father, out of pity for our self-inflicted doom, sent him from the heavenly city when the holy time had come: He, the Son and the Almighty, took our flesh in Mary’s womb. 

Others offer up all works of sense and works of vital breath in the fire of the spiritual exercise of self — control kindled by wisdom. (27)

5. Hear a tiny baby crying, founder of the seas and strands; see his virgin Mother tying cloth around his feet and hands; find him in a manger lying tightly wrapped in swaddling-bands!

Some offer up their wealth, some their hard penances, some spiritual exercise, and some again make study and knowledge their sacrifice — religious men whose vows arc strict. (28)

6. So he came, the long-expected, not in glory, not to reign; only born to be rejected, choosing hunger, toil and pain, till the scaffold was erected and the Paschal Lamb was slain.

Some offer the in — breath in the out — breath, likewise: the outbreath in the in — breath, checking the flow of both, on breath control intent. (29)

7. No disgrace was too abhorrent: nailed and mocked and parched he died; blood and water, double warrant, issue from his wounded side, washing in a mighty torrent earth and stars and ocean tide.

Others restrict their food and offer up breaths in breaths. All these know the sacrifice, and by sacrifice their defilements are made away. (30)

8. Lofty timber, smooth your roughness, flex your boughs for blossoming; let your fibers lose their toughness, gently let your tendrils cling; lay aside your native gruffness, clasp the body of your King! 

Eating of the leavings of the sacrifice, the food of immortality, they come to primeval Brahman. This world is not for him who performs no sacrifice — much less the other world. (31)

9. Noblest tree of all created, richly jeweled and embossed: post by Lamb’s blood consecrated; spar that saves the tempest-tossed; scaffold-beam which, elevated, carries what the world has cost!

So, many and various are the sacrifices spread out athwart the mouth of Brahman. They spring from work, all of them; be sure of this; for once you know this, you will win release. (32)

10. Wisdom, power, and adoration to the blessed Trinity for redemption and salvation through the Paschal Mystery, now, in every generation, and for all eternity. Amen.

Better than the sacrifice of wealth is the sacrificeof wisdom. All works without exception in wisdom find their consummation. (33)