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The Teachings of the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 6: Self-Restraint and the Nature of the Self

Chapters four, five and six of the Bhagavadgita in a way dilate upon the discipline that is required in the practise of yoga. Some aspect of it I touched upon yesterday, and the study we made already is the foundational character of spiritual discipline, in a sense. Spiritual discipline, which may be considered to be almost the same as what you regard as self-control, is a many-sided, spiritual effort. The whole of yoga is self-restraint and a simultaneous self-recovery. It is dying to live, as Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to say many a time. The process of vairagya and abhyasa constitutes a sort of dying, for the sake of a living in a higher sense. This dying is not a loss – you will bring back to your memories what I told you yesterday – it is a gaining of the originality of things by awakening from one's involvement in the phenomenality of things. Thus, a rising of the spirit from this world involvement is not a loss of contact or relationship with the world; it is a rising to the consciousness of the true nature of things.

It is hard for the common person, common individual, the lay mind, to appreciate the meaning of this self-recovery or self-establishment, inasmuch as the human mind is so much engrossed in relational contact with objects of sense that the objects and the body of one's own personality have become more real than what you consider as the originality of things which, to our present state of understanding, appear as mere abstractions. Realities look like concepts – while, when we go deep into the matter by a thorough analysis of the circumstances of life, we will realise our experience of this world is a conceptual involvement, a phenomenal association, a contrivance, a makeshift, a tentative adjustment which cannot be regarded as a permanent state of affairs. The transitional character of the world, so much spoken of, is the outcome of a necessity felt in every corner of creation to effect moment-to-moment adjustments between subject and object, on account of it being impossible for any condition to be perpetually in that condition only. The urge of the finite in the direction of the Infinite is a perennial call from the Infinite. It is an incessant movement of the finite towards the Infinite, a flow which is continuous like the movement of waters in a river. Our life may be considered to be such a movement, a flow, an analogy with which we are not very unfamiliar. Life is like the flow of a river, or the burning of the flame of a lamp which appears to maintain a substantiality and a solidity for all perceptional purposes, but is in fact a process rather than an existence.

 Thus, the reality of the world seems to be a process rather than being as such. So we are many a time told that man needs to be – he never is; we are to be yet. This is a slant given to the conditions of life in certain discourses of the Buddha, a point made out in Buddhist philosophy concerning the transient nature of things – which has been given a metaphysical touch by certain modern thinkers like the well-known Alfred North Whitehead, a physicist-turned-philosopher, who speaks like Buddha and speaks like Acharya Shankara, speaks like Hegel, speaks like Einstein, and speaks like Plato, from many angles of vision. What we learn from all these discussions and analyses is that this world we live in is not a permanent home of any person. We are located in a particular condition of a process, which is incessantly active, which never rests, and which moves without sleep because of the fact that the relationship of the finite to the Infinite is an indescribable impulse of the whole phenomenal nature in the direction of the heart of all things, the core of all existence, which is a consciousness of an infinite centre operating at the back of all phenomenal diversities.

So, when we enter into the path of yoga, we gradually discover and come to know that in this arduous adventure of ours, we are tending to become more and more non-individual in our perspective, in our needs, and in our operations, so that the practise of yoga ceases to be a purely individual affair – it has relationships with many other things and perhaps all things of which this vast universe may consist. As threads are involved in a widespread fabric, our so-called individuality is involved in this network of creational process. Though due to the hardness of the ego – the intensity of our psychophysical affirmation – we may not be cognisant of our larger involvement in the set-up of things and may grow complacent that we are merely this hard-body individuality, when we analyse our involvement psychologically and we become more philosophical in our thinking, we would be compelled to shed this complacency, and we will be face-to-face with a new vista of things wherein and whereby we discover our involvement in a larger set-up of the nature of the universe. This is a great solace which will be administered into us by the Bhagavadgita as we proceed further and further through the chapters, until we reach an apotheosis of this analysis and the truth is unveiled in a sort of apocalypse – the Vishvarupa to be described in the eleventh chapter.

I try to continue the thread from where I left yesterday concerning the relationship between the lower self and the higher self, to which a reference will been made in the fifth and the sixth chapters particularly. The essence of yoga practice may be said to be summed up in two verses towards the end of the fifth chapter, to be detailed further on in the sixth, and these two verses are concise and pithy: sparśān kṛtvā bahir bāhyāṁś cakṣuś caivāntare bhruvoḥ, prāṇāpānau samau kṛtvā nāsābhyantaracāriṇau; yatendriyamanobuddhir munir mokṣaparāyaṇaḥ; vigatecchābhayakrodho yaḥ sadā mukta eva saḥ (Gita 5.27-28). These two verses sow the seed for the elaboration in the sixth chapter on dhyana yoga or meditation – the integration of personality.

The senses are to be withdrawn from their contact with the objects. The objects are to be shut-out from their relationship with the senses: sparśān kṛtvā bahir bāhyāṁ. Here, there is something interesting for us to know. The necessity to sever sensory contact with external objects arises on account of a basic error involved in this contact. All contacts are wombs of pain, says the Gita in another place: ye hi saṁsparśajā bhogā duḥkhayonaya eva te ādyantavantaḥ (Gita 5.22). The desire of the mind to come in contact with objects through the senses arises on account of the mistaken notion that pleasure rises from the objects. As milk is oozed out from the udder of the cow, it appears that objects ooze out satisfaction, joy – nectar seems to be milked-out of the objects by the senses through their contact. This is a gross mistake; there is no such thing taking place. The joys of life arise on account of a circumstance quite different from what we imagine in our minds, out of point altogether from the connection of the senses with physical objects.

Firstly, a real contact with objects is not possible, due to the operation of a differentiating factor which cuts off the subjects from the objects – space and time. This screen, which is hanging in front of our eyes, space-time as you call it, prevents a real communion of the subject with the object; and all contact is finally a desire for such a communion which is never attained. Thus the desire is never fulfilled, finally, because the contact, which is the objective behind the manifestation of a desire, is never really attained. There is only a tantalising phenomenon taking place, misleading the mind and completely defeating the senses of their purpose. The objects repel the senses because of the impossibility of coming in contact with the objects.

The desire for an object, as I mentioned, is a desire for union with the object, possession of the object, enjoyment of the object – by an entry into it, if it were possible, and the bringing the object so close to one's self that the distinction between one's self and the object is abolished in a space-transcending experience; but this is not possible in this world of space and time. We can never really come in contact with anything in this world; we cannot possess anything in this world because of this difficulty. The externality principle which is space-time, or you may call it by any other name – is so vehemently active that it will not permit the coming in contact of one thing with another in the manner of a communion or an entry of one thing into another. 'A' can never become 'B'. 'A' is 'A', 'B' is 'B', subject is subject, and object is object. Thus everyone gets defeated in this world, and no one goes from here with the satisfaction that the objectives of life craved for have been really fulfilled or attained. This is one of the reasons why the desire for contact with objects of senses is futile, finally. Pariṇāma tāpa saṁskāra (Y.S. 2.15) are some of the points mentioned in a sutra of Patanjali as factors which should dissuade anyone from enshrining in one's heart an inordinate longing for anything in this world. The consequence of the fulfilment of a desire is an increase of the desire, and not a fulfilment of the desire. Desire flames up like raging fire which is fed with clarified butter when it is attempted to be fulfilled, and desire is never extinguished by its being fed with the fuel of sense objects. The reason is that every enjoyment, every sensory contact effecting this imagined satisfaction, acts as a medium to confirm this error – that joy arises from the objects. There is a reinforcement of the error – that joy is embedded in the objects – so one goes more and more towards the objects, and does not learn a lesson that a mistake had been involved in this craving of the senses for objects. Thus the consequence of the fulfilment of a desire is an increased impetuosity of the desire, not the fulfilment. A desire is never fulfilled; it only gets increased.

Secondly, there is anxiety attending upon the desire to enjoy or possess the objects of sense. There is restlessness of mind before one comes in contact with the object of one's longing, distress regarding the possibility or otherwise of one's success in obtaining one's objective: "Will I succeed, or will I not succeed?" This is the agony and the anguish that attends upon the desire to come in contact with an object. But once the contact is established and there is a conviction that the object is under one's possession, there is another anxiety – namely, "How long will it be with me? I may be dispossessed of it." Because subconsciously we know that no object can be possessed by us for a long time, much less forever, there is a subtle, distressing feeling at the root of our personality, even during the process of the so-called enjoyment of the object of sense. So there is no unadulterated happiness even when we are apparently enjoying the so-called imagined happiness by contact of the sense of sensory objects. There is sorrow at the root of all things, even at the base of this apparent, momentary satisfaction. Such a joy is compared sometimes in our scriptures to the cool shadow that we may enjoy under the hood of the cobra. It is cool no doubt, and we also know many other things about it; such is this world. There is anxiety before, and anxiety during the so-called possession of the object, and we need not mention our condition after we are dispossessed of the object; we are in hell. "Oh, there is bereavement, there is loss and there is destruction. I am done for!" So, we were not happy earlier, we are not happy in the middle, and we are not happy afterwards. So in past, in present and future, desire keeps us in tender-hooks, though there is no joy in this world. Ye hi saṁsparśajā bhogā duḥkhayonaya eva te ādyantavantaḥ.

There is also samskara-dukha, mentioned by Patanjali in one of the sutras. The impressions created by the fulfilment of a desire will be enough to cast us, hurl into rebirth, because the samskaras, vasanas, or the grooves formed in the mind by the erroneous notion that joy is in the object. These grooves will become conditioning factors of the future destiny of the individual, and they will go on playing the same tune like a gramophone record, so that we will never forget an earlier enjoyment. They will be harassing us even in our dream, and they can persist even after the shedding of this body. Rebirth is caused by unfulfilled desires. The frailty of this body and the fickleness of our social relationships are such that all desires cannot be fulfilled in the short span of life. Hence something always remains as a residue unfulfilled, which rockets forth our subtle body to that particular condition in space-time, where these unfulfilled longings can materialise; this process is called rebirth. Thus, the agony continues even in the future life – samskara-dukha.

Fourthly, there is a philosophical or a metaphysical reason behind the impossibility to come in contact with real happiness in this world, that is, the perpetual rotation of the very constituents of prakriti: sattva, rajas, and tamas. What we call happiness is the preponderance of sattva, the equilibrating power of nature – which we rarely pass through in experience in life on account of our being mostly under the pressure of a desire which is unfulfilled, which is nothing but rajas acting, distracting our attention. There is a perpetual other-consciousness, an awareness that things are outside, which keeps us in a rajasic mode. Rajas is a condition of consciousness where it is forced to be aware of things other than its own self – duality-consciousness, separation-consciousness, object-consciousness – and all these things attending upon this consciousness come under the activity of rajas which separates, dissects, cuts off one thing from the other, especially the subject from the object.

The movement of prakriti, the rotation of the wheel of this natural process consisting of sattva, rajas, and tamas, never allows us to be in a permanent condition. Like the movement of a wheel which is in motion, conditions of prakriti are perpetually moving for the fulfilment of their own purpose, which is not necessarily our individual purpose. When there is a momentary cessation of rajasic activity – a flash of a second as it were, when we come in contact with an object – there is a preponderating feeling that the need for the movement of our mind towards the object ceases. When we are in possession of an object of desire, the need for the mind to be conscious of the object as an external something ceases, rajas does not operate for the flash of a moment, and the cessation of rajas is also a cessation of this other-consciousness, object-consciousness, which is tantamount to self-consciousness. We turn to our own Self for the split fraction of a second, as it were, and consciousness which is the essence of our Atman or the Self, tastes its own Source, licks the bliss of its own essentiality and finds itself in a state of ecstasy, because the more we are in union with our own Self, the more intense is the satisfaction we feel, the rapture that we are in, the delight that we experience. All ananda, all joy, is a union of the subject with its own Self.

Now, I turn your attention to a definition of this Self, which is a crucial point in our study of the sixth chapter of the Bhagavadgita, which describes the art of meditation, the science of self-integration by means of an inward communion of the lower self with the higher Self – this was the subject of our study yesterday. We have, first of all, to de-condition our minds from assuming any notion already about the characteristic of the higher Self, the lower self, etc. All of our learning about this has to be foregone for the time being because many of us may not have a correct notion of what this Self means. We are mostly under a misapprehension concerning the nature of the Self. If you can recollect what I told you yesterday, it is a name that we give to pure subjectivity of awareness. We are never in this condition at any time in this world. We do not enjoy an experience of pure subjectivity at any time, except in a perforce way in the state of deep-sleep when we may be said to be purely subjective; but that does us no good because of an absence of what is happening to us there. Incidentally, the intensity of the joy that we feel in the state of deep-sleep is due to our union with our own Self – unconsciously though. However, the point is that this union with the pure Subject has to be effected in a conscious way; and a conscious endeavour on the part of one's self to commune with this true Self in the various levels or degrees of its ascent may be said to be the function of yoga practise. All yoga is the art of communing one's self with one's Self. Again we are here in a difficulty in the matter of understanding what this 'one's Self' means. Everyone knows what this one self is. "I am here myself, you are there yourself." We speak in this train, but this is a physical, social and psychical way of defining the self. But the Self, to reiterate, is pure subjectivity; and the psychological, physical or social self is an objectified form of Self.

In the language of the Vedanta, the Self is supposed to be understood by us in three ways – namely, the apparent self, which we seem to recognise in all objects of our longing or desire; a self which seems to be present in everything with which we are vitally connected, especially through our emotions, known as the gaunatman or the secondary self. The son loves his father, the father loves his son. We cannot say that the son is the father, or the father is the son. There is no intelligible explanation as to why the father should cling to his son as if he is his own self. However, the father loves his son as if the son is his own self, and the joy of the son is the joy of the father, the sorrow of the son is the sorrow of the father. Anything that happens to the son happens to the father. The birth and death of the son is the birth and death of the father, as it were, as we see in social parlance. How come the father sees himself in the son, the rich man sees himself in his wealth, and anyone fired up with an intense passion of any kind sees himself or herself in that object which is the target of this feeling?

This particular object which forces the subject, directs its attention towards itself, this power in the object which necessitates the subject to pour itself upon itself on the object, is the bondage of the individual. The power by which we are compelled to be intensely conscious of that which is other than ourselves is the samsara, so-called – the involvement of every individual in a terrible, unintelligible network of suffering. The gaunatman, or the secondary self, is the object of our desire, to put it precisely; it may be son, it may be daughter, it may be wife, it may be husband, it may be any blessed thing. Now, why do we call these objects as our self? In what sense do we regard them as an Atman, though it may be a secondary self or a gaunatman? It is impossible to love anything which is not a self; the Atman or the Self alone is the object of desire – no one can love anything except the Self. And even when we love anything apparently other than our self, we convert it into our self in some artificial manner; otherwise, love for a thing or for a person is unthinkable in this world. So even when we love our father, or son, or husband, or wife, or wealth, we are loving our own self in a terribly mistaken manner. A person is totally out of gear psychologically, in a terrible misconception, when one's affections are poured over those things which cannot, in any way, identify with one's self, for reasons already mentioned in the context of that sutra of Patanjali – Parinama papa, etc. We can never come in contact with them – yet, we have no more regard in this world except the desire to come in contact. Life is a contradiction, it appears. It pulls us powerfully from two different directions in contrary ways.

The gaunatman, therefore, is the secondary self – a self which is imagined, foisted upon that which can never become the self. The object can never become the subject, and our object of love or affection cannot become us. It cannot satisfy us, it is not us, we have no connection with it – yet we seem to be concerned only with that. This is the wisdom to which we are initiated by the social atmosphere in which we are born, and the education that we receive in this world. This is a travesty indeed, in which we find ourselves.

You know very well why there should be withdrawal of consciousness from such contacts in the process of self-control, in the execution of the art of yoga. There is also the other false self, called the mithya-atman, which is the psychophysical individuality – this so-called 'I', this physical 'I', this body 'I', this psychic 'I', this sensory 'I', etc. "I am coming, I am seated here, I shall go there, I shall do this, I am hungry, I am thirsty, I am happy, I am unhappy." When you make statements of this kind you are referring to a false self in which you are involved. This false self is called the mithya-atman, consisting of the five sheaths to which we have already made reference – the koshas, so-called. They are the physical, vital, mental, intellectual, and the causal – annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya, anandamayakoshas, which are accretions grown over the central consciousness which is the true Atman, the mukhya-atman, the primary self. These accretions are not vitally connected with the self – as much unconnected as clouds are in relation to the space in which they exist. You know how thick clouds can hang over our heads and appear to contaminate space and cloud even the sun itself. But the clouds do not cover the sun, and they do not contaminate space, though it appears that they do this. Like thick layers of clouds, this mithya-atman consists of unfulfilled longings. They include what you call the subconscious layer, unconscious layer, etc. They are the psychic personality of ours – the emotional, the vital, the volitional, etc., and even the physical bodily self. Other than this gaunatman, or the secondary self, the object of our love and hatred, other than this false self, the five koshas, there is a true subjectivity in us, in the direction of which we move gradually along the lines of the cosmological scheme laid before us by the Samkhya, which the Vedanta also accepts in many of its features.

"The self has to be raised by the Self," says the Bhagavadgita: uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ (Gita 6.5). "The Self is the friend of the self": bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ. Your own Self is your friend, and your Self has to guide your self. You may become your friend, and you may also become your enemy, under certain given conditions. Ātmaiva hyātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ: "You have no friends outside you, you have no enemies outside you – you are your friend, you are your enemy." When you see friends outside and enemies outside, again you are committing this mistake of identifying yourself with the gaunatman. The secondary self takes possession of the true Self, as it were, with such a power and intensity of grasp that we seem to be seeing ourselves in our so-called externalised forms of friends and enemies, while really we have gone against the larger dimension of our own higher Self when we confront enemies in this world, and we are in harmony with the dimension of our own higher Self when we see friends around us. Thus, the objects of the world do not concern us, unless our self is connected with them in some way or the other, positively in love, or negatively in hatred.

Thus, we are living in a world of 'Self', and not in a world of objects. The so-called objects are not our concern. They become our concern, they become even the objects of our awareness of their being there on account of the consciousness moving towards them and enveloping them, entering them, possessing them, and getting identified with them in some manner, which is the epistemological process in the perception of an object. We cannot even know that the world exists unless we move outwardly in space and time in the direction of another location where we place ourselves, for the time being, either in love or hatred, so that even there we are coming in contact with our own selves – only in a larger manner. Thus, idaṁ sarvam, yad ayam ātmā (Brihad.U. 2.4.6): All this universe is Self laid out before the experiencing consciousness, with which the self is identified, and vice versa. The whole universe is Self and the objects, so-called, are misconceived locations and spatially-concealed positions of this universally pervasive Self, which is the Atman. This is a philosophical background of the necessity for the practise of self-control and meditation. When you understand this background you will also know automatically the techniques that you have to adopt in the control of the senses, in the practise of self-restraint, in meditation on Reality, which will be the subject of the sixth chapter.