Uprightness, as explored in the Bhagavad Gita, is the key to unlocking our divine potential and living authentically.
In the realm of spirituality, the virtue of uprightness serves as a beacon, guiding us towards our true, divine Self and authentic living.
Kriya Yoga is a philosophy and practice for waking up to the spiritual truth of our being and living in harmony with that. The goal is Self- and God-realization—the liberation of consciousness—freedom from the fundamental error of spiritual ignorance that causes suffering. This freedom supports a wholesome, healthy, purposeful, serviceful, happy life.
Uprightness unlocks our highest potential. It’s living the simple, straightforward truth of our divine Self with courage and commitment. Embracing uprightness paves the way for genuine self-discovery and alignment with our innermost values.
"The key is to do whatever we are doing without losing contact with our divine Self."
—Yogacharya Ellen Grace O'Brian
Uprightness is the instruction Krishna gave to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. Arise! Stand up! Don’t be afraid to battle your lower drives and tendencies. Your divine qualities are equal to the task, and your divine nature will prevail.
Claiming and cultivating those divine qualities contributes to our overall well-being, greater skill in relationships, and ultimate liberation.
Twenty-six divine qualities are described in chapter sixteen of the Bhagavad Gita, as well as those lower drives which are termed “demonic.” In his commentary on this chapter, Baba Hari Dass writes: Both the divine and demonic natures are in the mind. The demonic qualities start fading away, and the path of liberation becomes clear for one who lives a disciplined life and develops positive qualities. 
Be an upstanding human being. With courage and commitment, live the simple, straightforward truth of your divine life. Uprightness unlocks our highest potential. Arise!
The divine quality of uprightness is arjava in Sanskrit which means: to make straight or straightforwardness, honesty, rectitude, and righteousness.
Explicitly describing the quality of uprightness, Baba Hari Dass writes that it “refers to one who is free form crooked impulses in dealing with others, who has no mischievous or deceiving intention, and who is not pretentious in order to achieve respect from others. Instead, such a person is always straightforward in all actions, intentions, motives, conditions, and aspirations. That person is harmonious in thought, word, and deed. This is a very important quality for one who is seeking Self-realization.” 
A straightforward person is self-honest, honest with others, naturally dignified, free of pretension, doesn’t try to manipulate or impress others, and free from “impression management”—the tendency to say or do things to influence others to respond in a certain way. Such a person is self-possessed, self-confident, and self-contained.
My initial life lesson in arjava came from my first guru, my grandmother. I deeply loved and respected her. She was wise, strong, hard-working, and dignified. When I was about seven years old, my parents went on a vacation, and my grandmother came to our home to take care of my brother and me so we wouldn’t miss school. I loved having her there.
One day at school, some of the older kids told me a dirty joke. I felt incredibly grown up and happy to be included. I couldn’t wait to get home to tell my grandmother!
As soon as I got home, I told grandma the new grown-up joke. I was surprised at her response. She didn’t laugh, and she was obviously displeased. She looked at me and said, “We don’t tell stories like that.” “Why not?” I asked. She replied, “Because that is not who we are.”
It wasn’t clear to me at that age who we were, who I was, or was supposed to be, but my grandmother’s teaching was very straightforward. I got the intended message: Aim higher. She didn’t wash out my mouth with soap, as was often the custom of the day for children who said something considered “dirty” or foul. Instead, she pointed me toward my higher self. She demonstrated “who we are” by her example.
As an adult, when I met my spiritual teacher Roy Eugene Davis, I recognized that same quality of uprightness in him. He was dignified— just watching him walk into the room could make me sit up taller. He was straightforward, honest, and unpretentious in his manner and how he taught us the philosophy and practices of Kriya Yoga. No frills. That authenticity in him shined forth as an imperative to drop your pretenses when you were in his presence.
Once I was at his retreat center when they were getting ready to welcome guests for an upcoming program. One of my brother disciples was working especially hard. He was hurrying from house to house, cleaning and preparing the spaces. He was dripping with sweat. I was impressed by such hard work and told my teacher that. He said, “It’s not useful.” “Why not?” I was still asking years later. “It’s not dignified,” he replied. He taught me that we can still be self-contained, balanced, and upright even in hard work.
The key is to do whatever we are doing without losing contact with our divine Self. That connection is our connection to being upright. We learn to move through the world with a natural balance when we have the courage to be authentically who (or what) we are.
Paramahansa Yogananda taught: “Our true personality comes from God. God is Absolute Consciousness, Absolute Existence, and Absolute Bliss…By concentrating within, you can directly feel the divine bliss of your soul within and also without. If you can stabilize yourself in that consciousness, your outer personality will develop and become attractive to all beings. The soul is made in God’s image, and when we become established in soul awareness, our personality begins to reflect [God’s] goodness and beauty. That is your real personality. Any other characteristics you display are more or less a graft—they are not the real ‘you.’” 
Yoganandaji’s comments on our real personality bring me to a profoundly important part of this teaching. Although uprightness is a quality that reveals our essential goodness, it is not about trying to be good. It does not come from putting on airs of piety or attempting to appear spiritual. It arises from authenticity—from being who and what we truly are.
We are each an expression of the One Absolute Reality commonly known as God. Not one of us is the same as another, so the light of divinity will shine through each of us uniquely. Being straightforward, being upright is the consummate skill of being who we are.
I’ll conclude with a story about the great Rabbi Zusya, told by Martin Buber in his Hasidic tales. Rabbi Zusya was on his deathbed when he was suddenly overcome with despair and began to cry. His students gathered around him were puzzled; they didn’t know how to comfort him. They asked him, “Rabbi, why are you crying? You have led an exemplary life. You are wise like Moses and truly hospitable like Abraham. Surely God will judge you favorably.”
Zusya answered them: “When I get to heaven, I won’t worry so much if God asks me, ‘Zusya, why were you not more like Abraham?’ or ‘Zusya, why were you not more like Moses?’ I know I can answer these questions. After all, I didn’t have the righteousness of Abraham or the faith of Moses, but I tried my best to be both hospitable and contemplative.
But what will I say when God asks me, ‘Zusya, why were you not more like Zusya?’
To be upright, to be authentically who we are, is both the most significant challenge and privilege of our life.
Stephen Mitchell sums it up in his version of verses eight and fourteen of The Tao te Ching:
When you are content to simply be yourself
And don’t compare or compete,
Everybody will respect you.
Just realize where you come from:
This is the essence of wisdom.
 Srimad Bhagavad Gita, translation and commentary by Baba Hari Dass, (Santa Cruz: Sri Rama Publishing, 2015), 235
 Ibid, 224.
 Paramahansa Yogananda, Where There is Light: Insight and Inspiration for Meeting Life’s Challenges, (Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1988), 4
© 2023 Ellen Grace O’Brian