Commentary on the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 15: The Sixth Chapter Continues – Requirements for the Practice of Meditation

uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ nātmānam avasādayet
ātmaiva hyātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ (6.5)
bandhur ātmātmanas tasya yenātmaivātmanā jitaḥ
anātmanas tu śatrutve vartetātmaiva śatruvat (6.6)

Ᾱtmaiva hyātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ: We must not criticise our own selves or deprecate our own selves or feel diffident about our own selves when we are on the spiritual path, because it is said elsewhere that even a little practice that we do is a great credit in our name and there is no loss of effort. No effort in the direction of spiritual practice is going to be a loss. It is always going to be a gain, even if it is a very insignificant gain. Nehābhikramanāśo’sti pratyavāyo na vidyate (2.40). It is mentioned in an earlier chapter that no effort in the direction of spiritual realisation can be a waste. Even a penny that is credited in our bank is a credit, though it is only one penny. So no one should imagine that there is some serious defect in one’s own self when one has decided to tread the spiritual path. Once one has taken the step, one should not turn back due to diffidence. It is said that he who has put his hand on the plough cannot look back. Once he has started doing the work, no diffidence is permitted. Hence, uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ: The self has to be raised with the Self’s power. Nātmānam avasādayet: Do not depreciate your effort. Ᾱtmaiva hyātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ: We are our own friend, and we are our own enemy. All troubles come to us due to our own errors; also blessings come due to our proper adjustment of personality with reality.

Bandhur ātmātmanas tasya yenātmaivātmanā jitaḥ: When we have conquered our lower self with the power of the higher Self, we have become our own friend. When the lower self disobeys the regulations and rules of the higher Self, we become an enemy of our own self. This is because our real self is the higher Self, and the higher we go, the more real we become in our own personality. The lower we go, the less and less we are in our own reality. When comprehensive regulations of the higher Self restrain the instinctive activities of the lower self, we are supposed to be our own friend. The higher Self is our friend because we ourselves are the higher Self.

Anātmanas tu śatrutve vartetātmaiva śatruvat: God Himself may look like an enemy when we disobey His orders, which operate in the form of rita and satya.

Bandhur ātmātmanas tasya yenātmaivātmanā jitaḥ, anātmanas tu śatrutve vartetātmaiva śatruvat: The more we are attached to the objects of sense, the more are we inimical to our own Self. The lesser our desires and greater the capacity of our consciousness to establish itself in itself, the more are we friendly with our own Self.

Actually, there is no separate God sitting somewhere in the cosmos. It is the largest dimension of our own Self that is called Brahman. The miniature of that Brahman is the Atman. That itself, expanding to the widest dimension, is Brahman. Hence, there is no God outside us. There is an immanence of that Universal Being in our own selves. Therefore, if our so-called self is inimical to the regulations of the highest realm, it is acting against the requirements of the highest Self, and there will be a reaction from the cosmic forces in the form of karma phala, or nemesis. This is the way in which God works if we disobey God’s law. Thus, obedience to the law that is operating in the cosmos is the way in which we can accommodate the highest reality into our own self—which is to be a friend of the highest Self, and which is equal to being a friend of one’s own self also. To be a friend of the highest Self is equal to being a friend of one’s own self, because we are the highest Self. Otherwise, the lower self will take an upper hand, the instincts will take revenge, and the sense organs will set up a revolt; and in that case, we will become a friend of the lower self, which is the enemy of the higher Self—which is another way of saying that we are an enemy of our own Self.

This is a psychological foundation which is laid in the first few verses of the Sixth Chapter, from the first sloka onwards, describing the actual practice of yoga. The Sixth Chapter concerns itself with the actual practice of yoga. Apart from a few minor details, it is similar to the yoga of Patanjali in many ways. Actually, some commentators, such as Madhusudhana Saraswati, have appended many sutras from Patanjali to supplement their explanations of the Sixth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita. There are abundant quotes from Patanjali in Madhusudhana Saraswati’s commentary on the Gita’s Sixth Chapter.

Yogī yuñjīta satatam ātmānaṁ rahasi sthitaḥ, ekākī yatacittātmā nirāśīr aparigrahaḥ (6.10): A yogi is a person who is attempting to practice yoga, and a yogi is one who is established in yoga. Whether we are in the second standard in primary school or we are studying in college at the postgraduate level, we are undergoing education. So ‘yoga’ is a common word that applies to the preliminary stages of attempt, as well as to the final establishment. Therefore, a yogi who is a student of spiritual practice in any level—the first, the second or the third, or whatever level it is—such a person should undergo certain disciplines that are described in this chapter in order to carry on meditation.

Yogī yuñjīta satatam ātmānaṁ rahasi sthitaḥ: Aloneness being our friend—living in a secluded place and not in a place of disturbance or noise—we try to collect ourselves into ourselves. We collect our energies, muster the forces of the mind and the senses, and try to be more and more in ourselves instead of being more and more in the objects of sense. This is the meaning of this half-verse: yogī yuñjīta satatam ātmānaṁ rahasi sthitaḥ. We have to unite our self with our own Self. The uniting of one’s self with one’s own Self is a process of psychological integration, whose methods have been described in the previous five chapters.

Ekākī: We should sit alone in a secluded place for meditation, unbefriended, unknown. Yatacittātmā: Bringing about a union of the mind and the intellect and the Self, so that there is no disparity among the thoughts of the mind or the understandings of the intellect or the yearnings of the soul. They must be in a state of balance. Such a state of attaining balance is yatacittātmā. Ekākī: Being alone to oneself and united in mind, intellect and spirit.

Nirāśīr aparigrahaḥ: Expecting nothing from the world outside, having no desires for anything in the world is nirāśīḥ; and aparigrahaḥ means expecting no gifts from anybody. When we have abandoned things, we may expect gifts to come from different sources—and actually gifts will come, as that is the law of action and reaction. The more we renounce things, the more are things abundantly poured on us. The more we try to renounce the world, the more it will try to pursue us and become our friend and be with us. Therefore it is said that when we are desireless, we should not expect any recompense or remuneration for our desirelessness. Expecting to obtain something as a result of being desireless is another kind of desire and, therefore, the desire to receive something because of our desirelessness has also to be given up. That is aparigrahaḥnirāśīr aparigrahaḥ. Yogī yuñjīta satatam ātmānaṁ rahasi sthitaḥ, ekākī yatacittātmā nirāśīr aparigrahaḥ.

Śucau deśe pratiṣṭhāpya sthiram āsanam ātmanaḥ, nātyucchritaṁ nātinīcaṁ cailājinakuśottaram (6.11). We have to sit on a seat which is a non-conductor of electricity. That is why it is said a grass mat may be spread on the ground. A grass mat is a non-conductor of electricity. Some people place a deerskin or some such thing over the grass mat, and then spread a cloth to sit on. The seat should not be directly on the ground, nor should it be too high. Nātyucchritaṁ nātinīcaṁ: Neither too high nor too low. This is because if the seat is too low, insects may crawl on us and disturb our session; and if it is too high, there is a possibility of our falling down while in the state of concentration. The seat should be of moderate height. A very practical suggestion is given here that we should sit in one particular posture. The yoga meditation posture is the same posture in which most of us are sitting now (crosslegged on the floor with spine held upright), or it can be any other meditation pose such as padmasana, siddhasana, etc. Whatever is convenient to us and does not cause us discomfort is the posture that we may assume for meditation. In Patanjali’s Sutras, a very non-committal description is given of the asana: sthira sukham āsanam (Y.S. 2.46). Patanjali does not say that we should be seated in padmasana, sthira, etc. Nothing is mentioned; no nomenclature is used. We can assume any pose which will enable us to be fixed and not cause pain in the knees or the joints. The pose should be fixed, and it should also be comfortable: sthira sukham āsanam. Whatever be the pose that we assume, it should be fixed and comfortable. Śucau deśe: In a pure spot be seated. Nātyucchritaṁ nātinīcaṁ cailājinakuśottaram: The seat should not be too high or too low.

Tatraikāgraṁ manaḥ kṛtvā yatacittendriyakriyaḥ, upaviśyāsane yuñjyād yogam ātmaviśuddhaye (6.12). Then, what should we be doing while seated there? We should try to bring the mind to a point of concentration. Yatacittendriyakriyaḥ: By restraining our mental function and restraining our sense functions by pratyahara, we should try to bring the mind to a point of concentration. Tatraikāgraṁ manaḥ kṛtvā yatacittendriyakriyaḥ, upaviśyāsane yuñjyād yogam ātmaviśuddhaye: For the purification of the self, for the raising of the lower self to the higher Self, one should resort to the practice of yoga which is meditation.

Samaṁ kāyaśirogrīvaṁ (6.13): We must be seated erect with the head, neck and the spine in a straight line so that the prana may move harmoniously through the channels of the body. If we sit in a distorted position, it will be difficult for the prana to move in a harmonious manner. Therefore, we remain in a stabilised pose in order to help the prana move in a stabilised fashion. We should be fixed; there should be no shaking of the personality.

Dhārayannacalaṁ sthiraḥ: With eyes neither open nor closed, we should gaze as if we are looking at the tip of the nose. It does not actually mean that we should concentrate on the tip of the nose. This is only a metaphor for not opening the eyes entirely because objects outside—colours and forms—may disturb our mind. So we should not keep our eyes open, nor should we close them completely, as that may lead to sleep.

Saṁprekṣya nāsikāgraṁ svaṁ diśaś cānavalokayan: Therefore, the eyelids are half-closed, as if we are looking at the nose.

Diśaś cānavalokayan: We should not look here and there, in different directions.

Praśāntātmā vigatabhīr brahmacārivrate sthitaḥ, manaḥ saṁyamya maccitto yukta āsīta matparaḥ (6.14). Praśāntātmā means subdued in one’s own self, calm and quiet, and never susceptible to any kind of disturbance from outside events or sources. Praśāntātmā also means calm, quiet and subdued because of desirelessness in the mind. We are not agitated either by the operations of the mind inside or by the activities of people externally.

Vigatabhīḥ: Fearless are we. Fearlessness comes only when we are sure that we have a very secure position individually. If we are insecure, fear will haunt us from all directions. Yoga is the attempt at assuming a tremendous security of oneself in the world of cosmic rulers. In the Yoga Vasishtha, it is clearly mentioned that an ardent student of yoga who is sincerely attempting to achieve perfection will be guarded by the rulers of the cosmos. The divinities that superintend over the powers of nature will open their eyes and befriend us and, therefore, we need not be in a state of agony or insecurity. The more are we dependent on people outside, the more are we insecure. The more we are dependent on the inner forces that are commensurate with the cosmic forces, the more are we fearless. But many a time doubts arise in the mind, and these doubts cause a diminution of the level in the state of meditation. Then we may suddenly come down from the level in which we are protected by the cosmic forces, and we may feel disturbed, as if some tremendous trouble is going to take place.

These fears do not come in an ordinary manner. They come in a tremendously ferocious form, and are highly disturbing. It is impossible to describe what kind of fears can come upon us. The terror and the temptations that Buddha had to face during his meditations are described in a beautiful poetic style in the sixth chapter of Edwin Arnold’s Light of Asia. Edwin Arnold was a very good writer who also wrote Light of the World, which is about the life of Christ, and Song Celestial, which is the Bhagavadgita rendered in English poetry.

The sixth chapter of Light of Asia is a description of the fear, agony, temptation and torment that Buddha had to undergo before he attained illumination. These temptations and troubles—the devils attacking us from all sides—may be a phenomenon that everybody has to face one day or the other, because what one person has experienced may be the experience of everyone else also. Because there is only one road to God, whatever we see on the way has been seen by others, and future meditators will also see the same thing. Vigatabhīḥ: Therefore, we must be fearless by establishing ourselves in ourselves and having confidence in ourselves.

Praśāntātmā vigatabhīr brahmacārivrate sthitaḥ: Completely restraining the sense organs from disturbing the energy of the body and the mind is called Brahmacharya. Brahmacharya does not mean a physical dissociation from contact with things. Viṣayā vinivartante nirāhārasya dehinaḥ, rasavarjaṁ raso’pyasya paraṁ dṛṣṭvā nivartate (2.59): Physical dissociation is not Brahmacharya, because the mind will be brooding. What our body is doing is not actually our action. What the mind is doing is our action. Therefore, there should be a withdrawal of the desire to see through the eyes, and a withdrawal of the energy that makes the ears hear. There should also be a withdrawal of all the powers of the ten sense organs—the five organs of perception and the five organs of action. All these must be restrained. There must be no inclination to move at all. We are seated in stability. That condition is the filling of our entire personality with the total energy that we consist of, and no energy should leak out through any organ of sense. Then we become indomitably strong, physically as well as mentally, and we develop a sharp memory that will not forget things.

Praśāntātmā vigatabhīr brahmacārivrate sthitaḥ, manaḥ saṁyamya maccitto yukta āsīta matparaḥ. This is the first time that the Lord uses the words “depend on Me”. Later on it will be told in more elaborate form. In the Bhagavadgita up to this time, the Lord has not said, “You should depend on Me.” He has only said, “Do this work,” “Do that work,” “You should not be reactive,” “You should conduct yourself in this fashion,” “This is the discipline that you have to practise,” and so on, but he did not bring God into the picture. In a way, he brings God here by saying maccitto yukta āsīta matparaḥ: “Depending on Me entirely, be united with your own Self.”

Manaḥ saṁyamya: With great effort, restrain the mind. The mind will not yield so easily. It will wander here and there. Wherever it goes, from there we bring it back, as we control a horse with the reins. The sense organs are like horses, and they have to be restrained by the power of the higher reason. Maccitta: entirely depending on God’s grace, and on nothing else. Manaḥ saṁyamya maccitto yukta āsīta matparaḥ: United with our own Self, integrated in our psyche, fearless in our behaviour and vision of life, depending entirely on the grace of God for His mercy and His coming to us quickly, thus we should be seated for this highest form of concentration and meditation.

Yuñjann evaṁ sadātmānaṁ yogī niyatamānasaḥ, śāntiṁ nirvāṇaparamāṁ matsaṁsthām adhigacchati (6.15). We should do this practice continuously, every day. It may be for a few minutes in the beginning, and later on for half an hour, one hour, etc.; nevertheless, this practice should be carried on daily, continuously, and without remission.

Śāntiṁ nirvāṇaparamāṁ: One who has restrained oneself perfectly attains a peace which is a reflection of Ultimate Bliss. Nirvana itself is reflected in our personality, and heaven throbs in our mind, as it were. We will automatically feel such bliss inside, and will not know from where that happiness comes.

Matsaṁsthām adhigacchati: Actually, this bliss comes from God. The meaning is that this internal joy or satisfaction which we feel in this form of contemplation or meditation is a reflection of God Himself in our personality.

Certain formulas are now mentioned so that we may not go to excesses in the practice of yoga. Yoga is a practice of a kind of harmony in every kind of behaviour. Nātyaśnatas tu yogo’sti (6.16): We should not eat too much. A glutton cannot practise yoga. This is because as gluttons we make the body so heavy and tamasic that sattvic qualities cannot manifest in us and, therefore, we cannot practise yoga. Na caikāntam anaśnataḥ: That person who is abstemious to an extreme extent and is starving also cannot practise yoga. This is because if we go to the other extreme, which is starvation, we cannot sit or stand or breathe. We cannot even think. At that time, the mind will not concentrate. Nātyaśnatas tu yogosti na caikāntam anaśnataḥ: Neither a glutton nor an abstemious person going to the extreme is considered fit for meditation.

Na cātisvapnaśīlasya jāgrato naiva cārjuna: A person who sleeps too much is so tamasic that he is not fit for meditation. But a person who never sleeps at all is also not fit for meditation because his mind is disturbed by certain psychological or biological factors, which is why there is sleeplessness to such an extent. It is a kind of illness. Therefore, a person who is always awake, who never rests, as well as a person who always sleeps, cannot practise yoga.

Then who is fit to practise yoga? Yuktāhāravihārasya yuktaceṣṭasya karmasu, yuktasvapnāvabodhasya yogo bhavati duḥkhahā (6.17): Yoga, which is the destroyer of all sorrow, will come to us; yoga, which is the destroyer of all pain and suffering, will come to us. When will it come? It will come when our diet is harmonious, when our behaviour is harmonious, when our activities are harmonious and not disturbing to anybody. One who is harmonious in his waking and his sleeping, such a person is fit for yoga because he is himself in a state of harmony.