A Study of the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 6: Sankhya – The Wisdom of Cosmic Existence

From the point of view of the values of life based on our ordinary perception of things, it would appear that there is very little chance of the cosmical view entering into the normal modes of perception. We never look at things from a cosmical point of view. Everything seems to be at some place only, and perhaps for some time. Something is here, something is somewhere else, and there is apparently, from the perceptional point of view, no vital connection among things. We seem to be living in a world of values based on our sense perceptions which cannot embody anything that we can consider as universal or cosmic. There is nothing to prove in our daily life that cosmicality operates in us consciously. Every act of ours, every thought and every engagement or conscious relationship is sensorily bound, physically related and socially conditioned. Where is the cosmicality behind our daily life?

The contrast that seems to be there between the fact of life – which is universal inclusiveness – and the way of life we are living through the sense organs is brought about in an interesting verse towards the end of the Second Chapter of the Gita: yā niśā sarvabhūtānāṁ tasyāṁ jāgarti saṁyamī, yasyāṁ jāgrati bhūtāni sā niśā paśyato muneḥ (Gita 2.69). For us, this world of sense perception looks like bright daylight with every kind of clarity before it, and all things seem to be very well with us; but actually, we are in darkness in view of the fact that the truth of the universe is not as it is presented to us through the sense organs. The daylight of the sense organs is the darkness of the spirit. The true spirit, which is universal, is sleeping, as it were, while the senses are awake and are active in the daylight of their activity.

The cosmic vision sees our sensory world as a kind of darkness, while we, living in a sensory world, consider the cosmic world as darkness. The Universal is completely obliterated from our vision, as if it does not exist at all. It is pure darkness before us. But the world of sense perception is obliterated from the vision of the cosmic saint and sage, to whom this world is darkness. While we are awake in the world of the senses, the spirit is sleeping. When the spirit awakes to its own universal inclusiveness, the senses will sleep. Sri Krishna was born in the midnight of the sense organs. All the guards were sleeping. It is in that pitch darkness of the sense world that the light of the spirit awakens itself.

So the daylight of clarity of perception, so-called, to us, is really a mass of ignorance that is before us – darkness to the spirit. And to us who rejoice in the perception of things through the sense organs, God Himself does not seem to exist. Who is conscious of the existence of God? He is non-existent to the sense organs; and to God, the sense organs do not exist. This is a contrast, an interesting difference, a distinction drawn between spiritual universal existence and diversified sensory existence. Yā niśā sarvabhūtānāṁ tasyāṁ jāgarti saṁyamī, yasyāṁ jāgrati bhūtāni sā niśā paśyato muneḥ.

How would you, then, make yourself fit for the universal vision if you are rejoicing in the world of the sense organs? Another verse gives a little clue in this matter. Āpūryamāṇam acalapratiṣṭhaṁ samudram āpaḥ praviśanti yadvat, tadvat kāmā yaṁ praviśanti sarve sa śāntim āpnoti na kāmakāmī (Gita 2.70): A person filled with desires cannot have any vision of the Universal Spirit. If it could be possible, by way of intense austerity and restraint of sense organs, to withdraw the forces of the senses into your own self; if all the desires can merge into your universality as rivers merge in the ocean or as waves subside in the ocean; if the multifarious longings of the senses can melt down into the universal background of your own existence; if you are satisfied with what you are, and do not ask for what you do not have; if you do not go for things outside but are happy with your own self; if your loneliness is what you want and not the diversity of things outside – that is to say, if all your desires melt down in Pure Being, which is your essence – then the senses will not distract you in the way they do in ordinary life. You are basically universal in nature, and yet you perceive diversity in the world. There is contradiction between your daily perceptions and your spiritual longings.

So here is a clue given in this verse of the Bhagavadgita. If you are stable like the majestic ocean which is never disturbed by any kind of tumult on its surface; if you can stand mightily like an elephant before the howling jackals of the senses; if you can be satisfied with what you are and not merely with what you have; if these desires which are wrongly oriented on account of the pressure of the sense organs can revert back to your own self, then you will expand the dimension of your existence instead of looking like a finite individual. When so, desires enter into you and they do not proceed out in the direction of objects, and you attain peace: sa śāntim āpnoti.

Peace cannot be had by possession of things. You cannot have peace of mind by contact with external objects or any kind of external relation. Peace is the outcome of unity of vision, integratedness of personality. The five koshas – Annamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya, Anandamaya – which are the finitising sheaths of your personality, should again melt down into the spirit from where they have arisen. Then you have peace. This is the greatest achievement that you can conceive. If this could be possible, you can be sure that you are established in the Absolute.

Eṣā brāhmī sthitiḥ (Gita 2.72): This is the Absolute state. This is the state of Brahman. Which is the state of Brahman? It is where desires trouble you not, where you want nothing except your own Self because of the fact you are cosmically connected to creation as a whole. If you can establish your consciousness in this state even for a few minutes, you should consider yourself as blessed.

Nai 'nāṁ prāpya vimuhyati (Gita 2.72): Having attained this state, nobody is confounded afterwards. Once you have awakened, you will not be sleeping once again. Having established yourself in the consciousness of this absoluteness of your existence, you will never get confused. No doubt will arise in your mind.

Sthitvā 'syām antakāle 'pi brahmanirvāṇam ṛcchati (Gita 2.72): Even if at the time of passing from this world – for a moment at least – you are established in this state, you will not be reborn into this world. If you can be blessed with this vision, this perception of the universe, even at the last moment when you are quitting this world, that would be blessedness. You will enter into the Absolute. The quantity or the length of life that you have wrongly lived in this world will not affect that quality of perception, even if it comes to you at the end of life. This is the great blessing, this is the great achievement, this is the greatest attainment, and this is the aim, the purpose, the whole of life. With this verse, the Second Chapter concludes.

Arjuna, the student, hearing all this, was not able to grasp much of the profundities of this teaching because the Second Chapter of the Gita is packed with verses which become the seed of the exposition of the subsequent chapters. One or the other verse of the Second Chapter is the seed for the exposition of one or the other succeeding chapters. So it is a condensed teaching, also called Sankhya Yoga. It is a chapter of knowledge. But it was too much for Arjuna. "What is this that you are telling me, my Lord? You are emphasising on the one hand the wisdom aspect of life which makes out that I have to be established in the universal perception of things and withdraw myself from all kinds of sensory activity, and be what I am. On the other hand, you say 'Why are you throwing down your bow and arrows like a coward, not doing your duty? Get up! Do your work.' I cannot understand what you are speaking. On the one hand, it is universal vision, and on the other hand, duty, do work. I am confused by what you say. Please clarify your point."

The answer to this question of Arjuna is the commencement of the Third Chapter of the Gita. "There are two ways of approach to things," says the great Master, once again repeating, in more detail, what he said earlier. Sankhya and Yoga are the two ways of approach, but they are actually not different from each other. Whatever one can achieve through Sankhya, one can achieve through Yoga also. Contemplation and action, wisdom and work, are not differentiated vitally, basically. You cannot do anything without establishing that modus operandi of action on a perception which is Sankhya, or knowledge; and knowledge, which is Sankhya, or wisdom, is also meant to be applied in your daily relative existence.

The Bhagavadgita teaching is an expert handling of the inner harmony that exists between God and creation, the universal and the particular, that which is Sankhya and that which is Yoga. What is the relationship between God and His creation? What is the relationship between subject and object? What is the relationship between consciousness and matter? What is the relationship between contemplation and action? All these questions amount to only one question, finally – namely, the absolute and the relative, the inner and the outer or, rather, the universal and the external.

Sri Krishna's point of view is that it is not possible to emphasise or stick to only one side of the matter. We are, as human beings, phenomenal as well as noumenal at the same time. We are immortal, and also seized with death. Something in us will not die, and something in us dies. We speak of ourselves in two ways: We are bound to die one day, and we are imperishable. The imperishability of our nature has to be reconciled with our perishable nature. The phenomenal aspect of our personality is the relative aspect of it, which is bound to transform itself continuously in the process of time, and this process is called birth and death. But metaphysically, noumenally, we are imperishable.

The fear of death itself is the proof of the immortality of our soul. If we are really death-bound, we will not fear death. If our essential nature is transiency, we will not be afraid of transiency. If poverty is the only thing that exists and there is no such thing as freedom from it, nobody will be afraid of poverty. There is something other than what we are; therefore, we are afraid of what we are. The perishability of our nature, which is the fear of death that may come tomorrow, while it frightens us on the one hand, also explains why we are frightened. The fright is due to the fact that we are really not going to die. Essentially we cannot die. Because of the fact that essentially we are not going to die, the fact of impending death on the other side frightens that aspect which is not going to die.

The deathless immortality of ours is the reason why we are afraid of anything contrary to it, which is the phenomenal extinction of our personality. We are involved in space, time and causation, and materiality, which is the embodiment of our personality. Inasmuch as space, time and motion, and materiality and causation are in the process of time-bound evolution, then we, being involved in this process, also undergo this same transformation from moment to moment. So phenomenally, we cannot escape death. That is to say, the phenomenal aspect of our personality cannot escape death.

These five koshas mentioned – Annamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya, Anandamaya – this body, this social relation, this matter, this possession, this wealth, this whatever you have, they are all extraneous to your immortal essence, and therefore they are bound to leave you. Bereavement is the law of phenomenal existence. There is a verse towards the end of the Mahabharata which says that all accumulation will one day end in dispersion. All rising will end in fall. All accumulation will end in extinction. Life ends in death, and it is a fool who has occasions of joy and sorrow several times in a day. Sometimes you are elated, sometimes you are grief-stricken. There should be no occasion for you either to exult or to be grief-stricken, considering that these waves of joy and sorrow frequently dashing on you are caused by the process of time. Your duty is to follow dharma.

So one aspect of your personality, which is phenomenal, talks in this strain, and the other aspect tells you that you are going to achieve infinite existence. God-realisation, moksha, is your aim. This is what your spirit will tell you again and again. Your aspirations are endless. Unending is the asking of the soul. Nothing in the world can satisfy you; not all the grain, not all the gold, not all the silver, not all the domain in the world can satisfy even one person. Not even one person can be satisfied by the wealth of the whole world. Such are the desires of man, like the flaming march of a conflagration in a forest.

As there are two aspects of a human being, there are also two approaches to the problems of life. One approach is Sankhya, another is Yoga, but they are not connected by an 'and'. They are two phases, two wings of a single bird that is flying – simultaneously, indivisibly, as it were. Yoga is defined as action. Yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam (Gita 2.50): Expertness in action is Yoga. But what kind of action? What is meant by 'action'?

Here, in the beginning of the Third Chapter, a clue is given to us as to how action can bind or not bind. If the mind is not connected to the actions that you perform, you cannot call it real action. It will become like an automaton moving, a mechanical activity. If the body is moving and the mind is not thinking, it cannot be called real action. So while a person sits quiet without doing any action, we may imagine he is doing nothing; but he does something when the mind is conscious that he is not doing anything. If the mind is roaming over various questions of life or even entertaining desires as a daydream, but the sense organs are not active – neither you eat, nor you see, nor you smell, nor you talk, though you have a desire to eat and a desire to see, a desire to come in contact with people, but you are not allowing the desires to fulfil themselves by restraining the activity of the operative organs – this is real action. Even if you are physically doing nothing but are mentally doing something, you are an active person from the point of view of the psychology of your personality. But if your mind wants nothing, it has no desires of any kind, it contemplates not anything in this world but physically you are engaged in work, then that action cannot be called action. Mind, intention, purposiveness, causation, impulse – these are the actions. So physical activity, whatever be its nature, cannot be regarded as action of any kind if the mind is detached from it.

So there is a danger, especially in the case of a spiritual seeker, when one is prone to imagine that sitting quiet is a state of inaction, and freedom from the bondage of action. Action binds because of the thought involved in it. Action by itself does not bind, because consciousness is not connected with it. The binding factor is the charging of consciousness. When consciousness vitalises action, it becomes a specific action. When there is a devitalisation of the action process by the withdrawal of consciousness or mentality in it, it ceases to be meaningful action. Knowing this, one has to try to reconcile in one's finite existence here the two aspects of one's nature, the phenomenal and the noumenal.

The verse of the Third Chapter says when God created this world and the individuals of various species, He ordained that there is a binding factor perpetually operating between the individuals and the cosmic process. Sahayaj–āḥ prajāḥ sṛṣṭvā purovāca prajāpatiḥ, anena prasaviṣyadhvam eṣa vostv iṣṭakāmadhuk (Gita 3.10). At the beginning of creation, Prajapati, the Creator, willed, as it were, that all created evolutes are to be bound back to the universal perspective through some bond, which is known as sacrifice. Yajna is the clue to the way in which we have to conduct ourselves in this world. Life is considered as a sacrifice. I mentioned to you briefly that sacrifice is something like charity, the giving away of one's own being in some extent. That is, you share the finitude of your personality for the welfare and survival of other such finitudes with which you are all internally connected. By this process you diminish your own finitude and, simultaneously, you produce an alternate effect of increasing the dimension of your personality. You gradually become more and more non-finite by charity.

'Yajna' is a word which is well known. Yajna, sacrifice, is generally understood in the popular sense to mean some offering in a sacred fire, somebody performing a yajna somewhere. When you are told this, you understand that some sacred fire is lit and oblations are offered for the satisfaction of the gods. This is one way to understand yajna because as a sacrifice, yajna may be external or internal. It can also be universal. This threefold aspect of yajna will be dealt with when we come to the Eighteenth Chapter of the Gita.

So, externally yajna would mean offering oblations in a sacred fire. This yajna, which is offered externally by ritualistic chanting of mantras, etc., is also one kind of sacrifice. You offer something in the sacred fire for the satisfaction of a divinity as you have observed priests, pundits offering oblations. The yajamana, or the conductor of the sacrifice, is asked to repeat the word 'namama'. Indraya svaha indraya idam namama: May this be to the satisfaction of Indra, not for me. Namama: I am not doing this yajna for my satisfaction. It is for the satisfaction of the god. Who is this god? These Indras, Varunas, Angis, etc., in the Veda mantras are actually the adhidevas. The adhyatma is the performer of the sacrifice, the adhideva is the deity to whom the offer is made for his satisfaction. So even in external sacrifice, yajna is very valuable, provided it is done with a pure spirit of understanding of the offering, the adhideva, and the adhyatma yajamana. The kunda, the actual altar, is the adhibhuta preparation. The sacred altar that is prepared for the performance of this sacrifice, ritual performance or yajna, is part of the adhibhuta-prapancha because it is made of bricks, mortar, etc. On the basis of this adhibhuta preparation of the altar, the adhyatma, which is the individual concerned, offers a symbolic gift, as it were, to that invisible, internal connecting link of divinity, the adhideva. So you understand to some extent the meaning of these external homas, yajnas, sacrifices, etc.

This intricate process of a yajna is not merely offering something mechanically for no purpose, but is an inwardly oriented vital action of the inward relationship between the adhyatma, the adhibuta and adhideva. So even in an external ritualistic homa or yajna, a universal setup is produced by the contemplation of the yajnamana, or the performer. In a passage of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the question is raised by a member of the audience in the court of Janaka who addresses Yajnavalkya: "Any offering that is made is perishable. All actions lead to results which will cease one day or the other. So all sacrifice ends in a perishable result. How would the performer of sacrifice attain immortality through sacrifice? Answer this question, Yajnavalkya."

Yajnavalkya says, "What you say is correct because the offering is a limited, finite substance. It may be some charu, some ghee, or some preparation like porridge; it is a perishable unit indeed. The altar is also a limited substance. Where is the unlimitedness there? How would heavenly enjoyment or immortality accrue to the performer if perishable objects are offered at a perishable altar? The perishable nature vanishes and the impershability implied in the performance of the yajna manifests itself, provided the yajnamana at the same time contemplates the divinity that is between the adhyatma and the adhibhuta. If the yajna or action, or whatever it is, is performed minus the consciousness of the adhideva, then it becomes a perishable deed."

So yajna, even done ritualistically, is a great thing, and you can offer material substance, as is done usually in sacrifices, as symbols of your gesture of offering to the divinity; or yajnas can be performed only mentally. Agastya, as is told to us in the Mahabharata, seems to have performed a great yajna without any material whatsoever – no alter, no vessels, no ghee, no charu, no porridge, no yajamana, no priest, nothing was there. He was sitting there contemplating the whole process, and it produced the result. Mental action is more powerful than physical action, but physical action can also assume meaning if the mind is connected with it. So yajnas can be outward or inward, and in the Fourth Chapter it will be mentioned how varieties of yajnas are possible – dravya yajna, yoga yajna, and so on.

The point is that this yajna principle which was apparently instituted by God Himself at the time of creation, as is mentioned in this verse, implies that you are bound by a bond of sacrifice to the universal Whole right from the birth of your personality. That is, you are duty-bound. This is an emphasis further laid on what is already said in the Second Chapter. You cannot be free from the obligation of duty because the gods sustain you, and you are supposed to be grateful to them. The adhideva is sustaining the adhibhuta and the adhyatma connection. If the divinity adhideva surya prapancha, or the power of the solar existence in the sky – which is controlling the process of visual perception – is not to act, you will not see anything in the world. The world is not jumping into the eyes; the eyes also do not contact the objects outside. Both are physical in their nature, but there is conscious perception taking place when we open our eyes and see things. This conscious perception is made possible by the action of a principle between the object outside and our own sensory organs. In the case of vision, it is supposed to be surya. The solar existence is the reason behind our vision, and many other divinities are connected with other organs.

So whoever consumes things for himself, without being grateful to the gods who are responsible for his very existence, is a thief. The benefits that accrue to you in this world are the gifts of the gods. It will be so if you appreciate that the adhideva is controlling you, even when you breathe. The connection between you and the world, which is what you call life in this world, is actually caused by the action of something which is neither you nor the world outside. Should you not be grateful for that? Gratitude is the greatest virtue. If you are not even conscious of the gifts that you receive from the higher sources and imagine that you are the doer and the enjoyer, while you are neither the doer nor the enjoyer because it is the adhideva that is actually pushing you and making you an instrument of action in the world, you are considered as a grabber, as a thief.

This is a little commentary on the principle of action in this world. Act you must; work is your duty. It is so because of the fact you are involved phenomenally in this body, in space, time and causation. You cannot wrench yourself from the relativity in which you are involved just because of the fact that Universality is your existence.

So the Bhagavadgita brings about a beautiful blend between the relative and the Absolute. It does not go to the extreme of emphasising only the earthly existence of political and social relations, nor does it sever the relationship of your relative existence with the cosmic existence. God and man walk together in the principle of the Bhagavadgita. They shake hands, as it were, as friends. Krishna and Arjuna are considered as eternal comrades. The God of the universe and the relativity of the individual are not to be segregated. Nara and Narayana are the symbols divinely portrayed of man and God. The relationship between man and God, the world and the cosmic, the relative and the Absolute, is the relationship between Arjuna and Krishna. Two birds perched on the same tree, living together, one eating not the fruit of the tree and the other engaged in the enjoyment of the fruit, is another analogy that we have in the Rigveda mantra and also in the Upanishads, the two birds being God and man.

This body, this world, this creation, is itself the tree on which two birds are perching. One bird is God; the other bird is myself, yourself. You are engaged in eating the fruit in this world, which is so delicious, and are not even conscious of the other bird sitting near you, unconcerned and merely gazing. Where is the freedom? This is perhaps the fruit which you should not eat. What you require is the vision of that which is sitting quietly inside you, the unconcerned spectator of the universe. This spectator of the universe is God, Ishvara, who is your friend, Narayana. He sits quiet in the chariot of Arjuna, doing nothing. Arjuna is very busy every moment. The intense activity of Arjuna and the so-called calm, quiet seatedness of Krishna are great contradictions indeed. The Bhagavadgita wants to bring a blend between these. "Act! Do not be a coward. Rush forward!" says the one who does nothing Himself. And the last verse of the Bhagavadgita will also be a further exposition of the necessity of the blend of Krishna and Arjuna, Narayana and Nara, God and man, the Absolute and the relative.

Sankhya and Yoga therefore, while they appear to be two ways of approach to things, are two ways of a single approach only, in the end. The singleness of this approach arises from the fact that we are simultaneously phenomenal and noumenal. We are not today phenomenal and tomorrow noumenal. We are in God and in this world – you may say, in heaven and in hell – at the same time. So it is necessary for us to be cautious in the sense that we are able to be an expert manager of our own person in this world of an apparent division or a contradiction between the universal and the particular. Expertness in this performance is necessary, cosmically as well as individually; else, there will be a rift in our personality. We will be a psychological derelict. There will be non-alignment of our inner psyche.

There is a gradational necessity to integrate the personality from the lowest of our levels to the highest. Physically also we must be integrated; otherwise, we will be sick bodies. The maintenance of the body in its anabolic and catabolic processes should be a blend of action taking place every day. Neither not eating nor eating too much; neither sleeping too much nor not sleeping at all, etc., will be told to you later on. So is the case with your senses. Neither indulge them nor starve them. So is the case with the mind. It has two desires – to ask for the endlessness of things and to satisfy its own craving through the desire.

A very careful handling of the situation is necessary, as it was necessary for Arjuna to handle the Mahabharata context with the guidance of Krishna that was coming to him perpetually. Thus, you have to be healthy in body, restrained in the sense organs, calm and quiet in your mind, logical in your intellect, and happy within. This is how you can integrate your personality. Then there should be integration of society. You should not create conflict between yourself and people outside. The yamas of Patanjali's Yoga tell you that you should be in harmony with society. So integration starts with your own personality first, and then it extends to society – you are a friend of your own self and a friend of everybody else also. Then you become a friend of nature and the Cosmic Being. This is how the apparent conflict between the objective side and the subjective side can be brought together into a state of harmony.

Sankhya is the knowledge of cosmic existence; Yoga is the art of performance of duty in this world. They are not two different things. You have to be conscious of your cosmic existence and, at the same time, perform duty in this world as a phenomenally bound individual. You have to be always with Krishna, though you yourself are an Arjuna only.

These few verses at the commencement of the Third Chapter highlighting work on the basis of the relationship between Sankhya and Yoga and yajna mention what our duty is. Therefore, duty of the human being, in the context of the teaching of the Bhagavadgita, is a divine living from moment to moment. We are not living like beasts, animals. We are not instinct driven, as the cattle in the forest. We are logically conscious of the pros and cons of our actions. The past determines the present, and the present determines the future to some extent in our case because of the connection of our consciousness with the past, present and future. It is only at the human level that we are able to make decisions and be logical in our approach. When we approach this human level, attain this state of humanity, we suddenly become conscious of the higher and the lower at the same time. The animals, the plants and the trees and the stones and the atom are not supposed to be conscious of what is beyond them. They are limited to their own existence, bound by instinct, and there is no reason operating in them; they have only instinct. The lower mind operates, but not the logical reason. The logical reason, the pure rationality, manifests itself only in the human being – the pure reason, as we call it, the higher buddhi, which tells us where our limit is, and what is beyond.

We have a sense of duty in this world, and also a longing for that which is not in this world. These two aspects operate in us continuously. We always long for something that is more than this world, and yet we are bound to this world, of which we are very conscious. Our consciousness of our being in this world as an individual bound to duty and obligation to people goes simultaneously with our consciousness of a longing that is above this world. Therefore, we are transcendent and immanent socially, personally, in every way, at the same time.

The Bhagavadgita gospel is a guide for us in every walk of life, in every crucial moment, to solve every kind of problem because here, in this gospel of the Gita, we have a presentation before us of the total setup of things, bringing together the visible and the invisible, the world and the eternal, time and timelessness, that which is and that which ought to be.