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Recommendations for conducting a study group

1. Start at the very beginning of Volume One (the Introduction). Omit nothing. Some would prefer to skip Chapter One and start where Lord Krishna begins to teach Arjuna in Chapter Two. Many valuable things will be missed if that is done.

2. When the text is read, ensure everything is read aloud (verse, word-by-word translation, prose translation, commentary). Some will prefer to read only the prose translation and commentary. Read everything. People may struggle to pronounce the Sanskrit, but be encouraging. Know the transliteration scheme yourself so that you can help them if needed.

Making the effort to read the Sanskrit is valuable and should not be ducked. Everything is there for a purpose. Respect for the language of the Gita is obviously important (bringing as it does better engagement with the text) and will not be encouraged if its reading is avoided. If you can chant Sanskrit properly, in the correct metre, do so. Then, perhaps, others will be encouraged to do so too.

3. Begin by holding just one session a week and keep it to no more than 90 minutes—longer tends to be too much. If interest is sparked, some may want to have two sessions a week, but try to keep all together i.e. do not push everyone to have two sessions. Find a balance. However, two sessions per week brings the greatest enthusiasm and comprehension. It also adds a useful discipline to life.

4. Read ahead beforehand yourself and think carefully about what you are reading. As the leader of the group, people may tend to turn to you first for answers to their questions. If so, reading ahead will allow you time to consider what is being said before the group meets it, giving you time to form a sound response to questions. If, when reading ahead, you meet something you don’t understand, ask for clarification. Never let the people in your group think you know more than you do, however; never appear too wise! Pujya Swamiji alone is the teacher.

5. Encourage ‘slower' group members with praise, encourage faster ones with penetrating questions to see if they have understood the text as well as they perhaps think they have. Asking people to express in their own words what has just been read aloud soon reveals any errors in understanding. Gently correct them. As Pujya Swamiji says in his commentary on Ch. 10 verse 9:

“Only when you discuss what you think you know do you discover what you do know. Clarity takes place only when you begin to part with the knowledge you have, sharing it with another person. Because there is a pair of eyes looking at you, they become a check for you. If there are any fallacies in your thinking, it will become very clear. Any vague areas in your thinking also become very evident, because if you commit a mistake, those eyes will reveal that something is wrong. When you see that, your mind becomes alert. It begins to discover those areas of vagueness.

“The sharing of knowlege can also be mutual in a discussion among seekers. Both are part of brahmābhyāsa, the sādhana for knowing Brahman, which is not different from yourself. There is no other sādhana. It is not something that is going to emerge at some time in the heat of meditation. The self is yourself. It is never hidden at any time. The only thing that covers it is ignorance. Therefore, listen and reflect on what you have understood by sharing it with others and in discussions among yourselves.”

6. The best format is to ask someone to read aloud while everyone follows in his or her own book (sharing books is, of course, possible but not ideal). Pause the reading after a while or after a difficult concept has been read and ask, “Is there anything to say about that?” or “Anything on that?” These neutral questions give a chance for those who may not have followed to say so without implying stupidity. Never assume all have understood equally well. Some will be shy to admit they haven’t understood; gently prise them out of their reluctance to speak by asking them what stood out for them personally in that passage. Alternatively, summarise the key points yourself.

7. Some may be over-eager to read aloud. Conversely, some are shy about it, usually because they feel ‘exposed’. One way to handle this is to give everyone an equal share of the reading. However, if someone really doesn’t want to read, don’t insist; suggest they practice at home (implying that you still hope they will read one day).

Avoid letting anyone read page after page after page, even if they are very good at reading aloud. People switch off after a while, even with the best readers. Changing readers helps keep attention bright, shows the timorous that they too should consider contributing and taking their turn. Usually, pausing for discussion at the next heading in the commentary is helpful, as is reading some passages twice—especially if the piece is complex—and gives an opportunity to change readers. This can be a few paragraphs away or a page or more.

8. Finally, don’t let the weekly meeting descend into mostly a social event. Keep chat to a minimum. Don’t allow people to wander off the point when making remarks or asking questions. Keep to the topic. What stops the class becoming mere socialising, or a platform for opining, is your passion for knowledge, your priorities, your focus. If you are focused on understanding the text, everyone else is more likely to be. Be sociable, but first and foremost, be there to learn.

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