Whether you’re a practicing yogi or a spiritual scholar, you’ve likely come across the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. These texts form the historical, ethical, and spiritual foundation of modern yoga, but many seekers have found the teachings of the Vedic Scriptures to extend beyond the realm of yogic study. To get a deeper sense of their universal and relatable teachings, we spoke with Elleke van Kraalingen, founder and teacher at La Borde Blanque retreat center in the French Pyrenees.
First, the Yoga Sutras. This text can border on unapproachable for some, who see its many translations and scholarly analysis, then run the other way. But with the proper translation and teaching, says Elleke, the teachings of the Sutras can be powerful. “They are quite universal no matter what religion people may have or [if they] have no religion at all. People can relate to the universal teachings of the Yoga Sutras. And why it’s so meaningful is that they’re actually about self-management, about managing the mind.”
The word sutra refers to a short teaching or aphorism, each something like a short rule or distillation of a core principle. In that sense, the Sutras, authored by the mysterious Sage Patanjali somewhere before 400 CE, serve as an instruction manual for those who desire to live a yogic lifestyle. Follow the “rules”, and learn to manage your mind.
Then? Dive into the majesty of the Bhagavad Gita. Elleke explains, “The Bhagavad Gita is a little bit more embedded in a cultural background. It’s a story, it’s full of symbolism. And there's a lot of talking about God and the Divine, so sometimes I need to translate that a little bit to people that instead of the word ‘God’ you can also think of universal consciousness or universal wisdom, universal love.” In times when many are conflicted about the word “god”, creating greater space to substitute aids in the Gita’s accessibility.
“The Bhagavad Gita offers very practical tools of how to deal with daily problems, personal crisis, and especially the theme of when to act and not to act. And what is ‘doing’ and what in me is ‘doing’ it, what is my intention behind it? And those are very essential things that can be applied to everyday life.” The Gita reads like an epic story - the tale of Arjuna, the warrior and Krishna, his charioteer (who is actually a god in disguise), at the front lines of a battle. As a reader, it is easy to get drawn into the dynamism of the tale and, from there, absorb the story’s teachings.
Elleke believes that the tale offers a deep message that is much needed in our world, where people feel pulled towards a mindset of achievement and drive. She says, “In our society, people are very goal oriented and the Gita teaches us to act according to our purpose regardless of the outcome. And I think that adds meaning to life - when you can act in that freedom of mind - that many people are lacking and many people can benefit from.”
What is that meaning, exactly? The tale of the Gita is focused on purpose, or dharma: the wisdom of the gift that can only be known from within and which, when allowed to lead, will always guide you true. Elleke explains the core question of the Gita: “‘What is the longing of my heart?’ Because I see the heart as another gateway to self-consciousness. And when you really follow the longing of your heart, (and many people have many excuses for themselves not to do so) then your heart will lead you automatically… towards your life purpose. Finally.”
“Yes,” says Elleke, “what comes from the heart is always inspired by love, compassion and it’s good for the larger community, in whatever way. What comes from the Ego looks as if it’s good for you in the first place but it’s not necessarily good in the long term, and not necessarily for the community.”
“What comes from the heart can be good for both; because what is really good for you and leading towards more growth, more compassion, more love, more light, more wisdom, more connection, being connected, that is always good for the community. The Ego is very often inspired by fear and logical reasoning. What comes from the soul or higher self through the heart is not always logical, but feels exactly right. It clicks within you.” And this is what the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita are pointing towards: the universal truth of the heart’s wisdom.
Whether you’re at home on your mat or have never done a single sun salutation, the teachings of the Vedic Scriptures might just add a potent and beautiful flavor of wisdom, insight, and heart-centering goodness to your path. Visit La Borde Blanque in the stunning landscape of the French Pyrenees to immerse yourself in the Scripture’s beauty under the tutelage of a passionate teacher. Then? Watch them come alive in your heart.
Elleke van Kraalingen has been teaching the classical form of Raja Yoga and Meditation for over thirty years and has trained teachers for more than twenty years. Elleke is a psychologist, naturopathic therapist, life coach, author of various books, and a mother to four children. She co-owns La Borde Blanque, in the Midi-Pyrenees, France with her husband Pieter. Pieter has a background in physiotherapy, cranial sacral therapy, and energy healing. To learn more, visit La Borde Blanque's Center Page.