Swamiji on Facebook Swamiji on Twitter Swamiji on Youtube

Commentary on the Bhagavadgita

by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 10: The Fourth Chapter Continues – Methods of Worship and of Self-Control

Daivam evapare yajnam yoginah paryupasate, brahmagnav apare yajnam yajnenaivopajuhvati (4.25).
Srotradin indriyananye samyamagnishu juhvati, sabdadin vishayan anya indriyagnishu juhvati (4.26).
Sarvanindriya-karmani prana-karmani capare, atma-samyama-yogagnau juhvati jnana-dipite (4.27).
Dravya-yajnas tapo-yajna yoga-yajnas tathapare, svadhyaya-jnana-yajnas ca yatayah samsita-vratah (4.28).
Apane juhvati pranam prane’panam tathapare, pranapana-gati ruddhva pranayama-parayanah (4.29).
Apare niyataharah pranan praneshu juhvati, sarve’py ete yajna-vido yajna-kshapita-kalmashah (4.30).

In these verses from the Fourth Chapter there are further details as to actually putting the spirit of yajna into practice in daily life. We have heard a lot about yajna – sacrifice – in the earlier chapters. We envisaged in a philosophical light what yajna, or sacrifice, is. Now in a very, very down-to-earth, practical way we are told how we can practise spiritual sadhana as a yajna, or a sacrifice, and what the methods of actually manifesting yajna in our daily performance are.

Varieties are the ways of the daily performance of yajna. Some people offer everything, including themselves, to the gods in heaven. They worship Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Ganesha, Devi, Durga, Surya. Every day there is a dedication of oneself in an act of submission and surrender, through prayers offered by way of Veda mantras or verses from the Puranas and Epics, or from the Tantra and Agama Sastras. The gods are worshippedaccording to the injunctions that are given to us mostly in the Agama Sastra, which is a scripture dealing with the rituals of worship.

We may have seen people worshipping gods either in a large temple of public worship, or personally in their own house, to a little image kept in front of them: a Siva linga, or Vishnu’s image, or Surya’s sphatika, or whatever it is. They perform varieties of entertainment to the god who comes to their house as a royal guest. Actually, the ways of worship in temples, particularly in large temples of public worship, are similar to the ways in which we receive a king into our house. Suppose we are informed that tomorrow the emperor is paying a visit to our house – what do we do? There are a series of things that we do. We clean the premises and make everything tidy. We arrange a beautiful seat for him. We receive him with honour and say, “Please be seated.” Afterwards, in Indian tradition, we have to wash his feet. This system may not be there in the West, but in India one of the important gestures of reception given to an honoured guest is to offer him a very, very comfortable seat and wash his feet. Afterwards we enquire how he is and whether there is anything we can do for him, and then offer him something to eat or drink, give him some clothing or jewels, and place before him fruit and all the delicious dishes that we have prepared. We wave a sacred light before him, called arati, and then calmly sit and enquire about his welfare. We serve him a meal, and afterwards – very, very honourably – we bid him farewell. This is what is done in worship in very large temples like Tirupati. They do not go into all these details in small temples.

God comes to us as an emperor, and he comes every day by way of invocation. After some time, we bid Him farewell (and so the next day, we have to invite him again). After bidding a guest farewell, the person leaves. Every day this gorgeous reception is given to the honoured guest who is God; and finally, we offer ourselves: I am Thine.

Daivamevapare yajnam yoginah paryupasate: Some of the spiritual seekers or yogis worship gods in a ritualistic manner by chants, by performances of ritual, or even by actual contemplation. Brahmagnavapare yajnam yajnenaivopajuhvati: Or we contemplate the Supreme Absolute in our own personality. We surrender ourselves to that ocean of the Absolute so that we melt into that Supreme Being Itself. The greatest worship we can think of is where we offer ourselves instead of offering delicious dishes, clothes, gold and jewels, etc. They are secondary in comparison with what we ourselves are. We offer ourselves in the great brahmayajna that we practice – the contemplation of the Supreme Absolute. Brahmagnavapare yajnam yajnenaivopajuhvati.

Srotradin indriyanyanye samyamagnishu juhvati: Some yogis offer the very powers of the sense organs into the fire of self-control. Self-control is visualised as a kind kunda, yajnasala – a special pit in which the holy fire is lit. Our performance, or act of self-control, is itself a holy fire that we have lit in ourselves into which we offer the very sense organs themselves, which we pour as an offering of ghee into this holy fire. The perception and all the perceived objects of perception are offered into this fire of complete withdrawal. All the five senses – the eyes and the ears and the other perceptive sense organs – in their capacity as powers of perception and cognition are abstracted from their involvement in the objects, brought back and offered, as ghee is offered, into the fire. The sense organs are offered into the fire of total withdrawal – pratyahara, we may say. Here pratyahara is described as the offering of the very powers of the sense organs into the fire of self-restraint.

Srotradin indriyananye samyamagnishu juhvati, sabdadin vishayan anya indriyagnishu juhvati. There is another reverse action to what has been mentioned, which is also regarded as a kind of sacrifice. What we mentioned first is that the sense organs which are involved in the objects are withdrawn and poured into the fire of self-restraint. Here, in this second half of the verse, it is said that all the objects of sense are offered into the fire of the sense organs through the media of the perceptive organs. The very objects of perception are offered into the mind, and from the mind they are offered into the intellect. This is the reverse process of self-control. We may either withdraw our connection to the sense objects and then offer the powers of the senses into the fire of our self-control; or we may melt the very form of the objects themselves, as is done in samadhi, samapatti, etc., according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sastra. This is also mentioned in the penultimate verse of the Second Chapter of the Bhagavadgita: All the desires and the desired objects come and pour themselves into the ocean of the seer – apuryamanam achala-pratishtham samudram apah pravisanti yadvat, tadvat kama yam pravisanti sarve sa santim apnoti na kamakami (2.70).

We need not be afraid of the world. This is a higher form of self-control. The lower form of self-control is to sever connection of the sense organs with objects, and to pour their energy into the mind in self-control. The other is more difficult, which is to melt the very concept of objects. Objects do not exist. They are only configurations of cosmic force. Objects are only energies – sattva, rajas, tamas – concentrated in their permutation and combination, and when they are thus melted, as hard ice may melt before the sun’s hot rays, the objectivity vanishes and the entire cosmos of physicality may melt into liquid, as it were; and like rivers flow into the ocean, the whole world will flow into us. This is a kind of higher self-control, which only great masters can perform. We cannot melt the world so easily and make it flow like a river into our own ocean-like Self: sabdadeen vishayananya indriyagnishu juhvati.

Sarvanindriya-karmani prana-karmani capare, atma-samyama-yogagnau juhvati jnana-dipite: All the sensations and the very activity of the pranas are concentrated in the Self. There are five sense organs – seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching – and these are the five sensations. There are also five forms of breath – prana, apana, vyana, udana, samana. The prana causes the breath to exhale, and the apana causes the breath to inhale; and when we put a stop to this process of inhalation and exhalation it is called kumbhaka, (mentioned little later in further verses). Vyana is a pervading sakti, or force, which causes circulation of blood throughout the body. Samana equalises the forces; it digests food.

These functions of the pranas, together with the fivefold function of the sensations mentioned, are concentrated on the Self and emanate like rays of the sun from the self of one’s own existence. The five pranas and their functions, and the five sensations, may be visualised as the rays of the sun, as it were – the sun being our own Atman. So sarvanindriya-karmani prana-karmani: All the sensations and all the prana activities are concentrated in the Self. Atma-samyama-yogagnau juhvati jnana-dipite: Lit up with the highest form of wisdom, endowed with the knowledge of the Ultimate Spirit of the universe, a yogi or a spiritual seeker is enabled to perform this otherwise very difficult task of concentrating the pranas and the senses in his own Self, so that there are no multifarious activities taking place. There is a total action taking place, total perception taking place; and that total perception is called insight or intuition: atma-samyama-yogagnau juhvati jnana-dipite.

Dravya-yajnas tapo-yajna yoga-yajnas tathapare, svadhyaya-jnana-yajnas ca yatayah samsita-vratah: Yogis, students of yoga, offer physical substances to the gods in heaven as a form of worship. This is called material offering: dravya yajna. Others offer themselves through the performance of tapas. Tapas is the creating of the heat in one’s own body or mind by subjugating the sense organs. There is an energy content in ourselves which always maintains an optimum. It never increases or decreases. As they say, the total energy in the cosmos is always stable – it does not increase or decrease – but, it can increase or decrease under certain circumstances. When the consciousness is contemplating an object of sense which is outside, particularly with an emotional charge upon it, the energy flows through the channel of the perceptive organ – and to that extent, the energy quantum is diminished. And the more we are emotionally conscious of an object, the weaker we are in mind and body, and the worse we are in every way. The greater the power of the consciousness to not allow itself to move in the direction of the objects of the sense organs and stabilise itself in itself, the greater is the energy quantum in us. And then indomitable strength, invincible power and such things as siddhis may develop in one’s own self if our energies are maintained in ourselves and they are not allowed to move outside in the form of objects or move through the sense organs to the parts of the body.

We have seen the beauty of a little baby. Why does an old man look ugly while the baby looks very beautiful? The reason is the equidistribution of energy in the baby’s system. As the child grows into an adolescent and an adult, the energies begin to concentrate themselves in the different parts of the body, and the equidistribution ceases. The harmony with which the energy is distributed in a baby makes every part of its body beautiful. There is no comparison of one part with another part. Whether it is the nose or the leg or the foot, all are beautiful. But when the energies get diverted due to the desires of the adult, they concentrate themselves in the eye or the nose or the tongue or the other organs, and the energy leaks out as water may leak out through a pot with many holes. This should not be allowed.

Tapas is the strength that we exercise in ourselves with which we maintain our energy in ourselves, and we do not wish that energy to go into some other object of sense, or even a particular part of the body. It should be equally distributed everywhere. Hence, children who are innocent and have no desires, and also saints who have no desires, have beautiful and radiant faces. But ordinary people who have desires feel compelled to let out the energies towards objects through their sense organs. This is called tapo-yajna.

Dravya-yajnas tapo-yajna yoga-yajnas tathapare: In terms of the practice of yoga, we do a yajna in a spiritual sense. It is left to us to determine what kind of yoga Bhagavan Sri Krishna means here. It may be karma yoga, it may be bhakti yoga, it may be the raja yoga of Patanjali, or the jnana yoga or brahmabhyasa of the Yoga Vasishtha and the Upanishads; by the practice of this kind of yoga, the highest kind of yajna is performed.

Dravya-yajnas tapo-yajna yoga-yajnas tathapare, svadhyaya-jnana-yajnas ca. There are people who are devoted to sacred study. Every day they read the whole Gita, or the whole Srimad Bhagavata, or the Ramayana, or the Mahabharata, or the Bible, or the Koran, or whatever their holy text is. They pour themselves into the theme of the text, so that this tremendous concentration that they are bestowing on the theme that is delineated in the sacred text becomes a kind of concentration. Svadhaya is sacred study. Svadhaya does not mean reading books in the library – just picking up anything randomly and reading it. It is a concentrated study of a single text or a single group of texts – Upanishads, Bhagavadgita, Vedas, etc. – so that the thoughts of the great masters who wrote these texts will have such an impact upon their minds that they are virtually meditating not only on the thoughts of these great sages but also on the noble themes which are delineated in the text. Thus svadhyaya, sacred study which is to be conducted every day by everyone, is also a yajna, a great sacrifice that a spiritual seeker ought to perform and must perform.

Jnana yajna is again mentioned as the pouring of the soul into the cosmos, the melting of ourselves into all the five elements, and ceasing to exist as individuals – existing only in God. The Yoga Vasishtha is especially devoted to jnana yoga. It tells us how to melt ourselves into the Supreme Being and deny the whole world as an existent subject itself – to see only God permeating everything, and know that only God is.

Dravya-yajnas tapo-yajna yoga-yajnas tathapare, svadhyaya-jnana-yajnas ca yatayah samsita-vratah. Apane juhvati pranam prane’panam tathapare: Some people offer the prana into the apana as an oblation in a sacrifice. The offering of the prana into the apana is done by taking the breath inward. As I mentioned, the prana takes the breath outward. The apana pulls it down. So when we breathe in, the prana which is otherwise outwardly motivated is restrained from its outward activity and poured into the apana, as it were. This pouring of the prana into the apana by way of inhalation exercises is also a yajna of pranayama.

Prane’panam tathapare: Some offer the apana in the prana. That happens when we exhale. When the prana goes out, the apana is pulled up; the prana wants to take the energy of the downward pull together with it, and we exhale. But when we deeply inhale, the opposite action takes place: The prana is offered to the apana. So, apane juhvati pranam is actually a description of inhalation and exhalation. Puraka is filling; rechaka is exhaling. Hence, what is mentioned here is nothing but the process of puraka and rechaka, inhalation and exhalation, as part of the pranayama process. Apane juhvati pranam prane’panam tathapare, pranapana-gati ruddhva pranayama-parayanah: Some people practise only inhalation or only exhalation, but some people restrain both the outward breath and the inward breath at a particular spot. That is called kumbhaka, retention, which is true pranayama. Therefore, this verse actually describes the pranayama process – the inhalation process and the exhalation process, and the stopping process.

How will we stop the breath? Generally people do it by closing the nostrils, though it causes a little suffocation. That is one way, but the better method of stopping the heaving of the breath is to concentrate the mind on one particular object. The more is the concentration on one thing, the less is the breathing process. Suppose we are walking on the precipice of a deep gorge; the path is only one foot wide, and if we step outside it even a little we will fall down into the gorge. What would we do? Suppose we are walking on a tightrope in a circus. So much concentration is required! If we waver even a little bit, we will fall down. Therefore, concentration of the mind on a particular thing is a better method of bringing the breath to a stop. It cannot stop completely, but it becomes the minimum of inhalation and exhalation, so that the breath which usually extends about twelve inches in the ordinary process of breathing will become shorter and shorter. In the end, in perfected pranayama, the breath will move only inside the nostrils. It will not move outside. We will not even know whether the person is breathing unless a piece of cotton is put near his nose. This is type of pranayama is also one of the yajnas in spiritual practice.

Apane juhvati pranam prane’panam tathapare, pranapana-gati ruddhva pranayama-parayanah. Apare niyataharah pranan praneshu juhvati: Others restrain themselves by abstentious diet. They take a minimum diet. Niyataharahahara is a food of the sense organs. Though generally ahara means the food that enters through the mouth, in the yogic sense it can also be considered as anything that the sense organs take into themselves. Colour and form are the food of the eyes, sound is the food of the ears, smell is the food of the nose, taste is the food of the tongue, and touch is the food of the skin. Therefore, these are also food. So when we are abstentious and eat very little food, we not only diminish our chapatti and rice but also diminish the desire to see, the desire to hear, the desire to smell, the desire to taste and the desire to touch. All the sensations become diminished in their activity, and they become virtually controlled. This is niyataharah – restrained diet of the sense organs.

Apare niyataharah pranan praneshu juhvati: We can offer the senses unto the gods who superintend over the sense organs. Tell the god of the eyes, “Take your property.” Tell the god of the ears, “Take your property,” etc. We distribute the belongings which are not ours, which we borrowed from these gods. We give them back, and then we offer a terrible sacrifice of ourselves completely in terms of the dismemberment of the sense organs, and the pranas are offered into the cosmic prana. The senses are offered to the gods, the divinities that superintend or control the senses, so that the senses no longer work independently. They are centralised in the cosmic divinities. Similarly, the pranas are centralised in the cosmic prana, Hiranyagarbha.

Apare niyataharah pranan praneshu juhvati, sarve’pyete yajnavido yajnakshapitakalmashah: All these processes of self-restraint that have been mentioned are equally good, and whoever takes to any one of these practices is to be considered as a real spiritual seeker, a real sadhaka, a real tapasvin. We can resort to any one of these methods of self-control that have been described by Bhagavan Sri Krishna in these great verses in the Fourth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita.