The Spiritual Import of the Mahabharata and the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 13: Centring the Mind in the Heart

The yoga of the rise of the soul from this world is the main subject of the eighth chapter of the Bhagavadgita. Usually the soul reverts to this world on account of the pull that the world atmosphere exerts upon it, as the power of gravitation can pull everything towards the earth. All our desires connected with the world are the forces that drag the soul back to the world, and any kind of impulsion to which the soul gets subjected becomes its bondage. Liberation of the spirit is freedom from such subjection. How can this be achieved? This is answered in a few verses of the eighth chapter. Sarva-dvarani samyamya mano hrdi-nirudhya ca, murdhny adhayatmanah pranam asthito yoga-dharanam. Om ity ekaksaram brahma-vyaharan mam anusmaran, yah prayati tyajan deham sa yati paramam gatim. The whole of the yoga that one has to engage oneself at the time of the departure from this world is described in these two verses. All the doors of the senses have to be closed; that is the samyama or the restraint of all the gates by which the senses move towards their objects. It is not easy to shut out the senses from their activity in connection with their objects, because this is not a physical doorway which we can close at our will. This is an impulse which is hard to restrain, in the way that we cannot control the movement of wind, for instance, by any amount of effort.

The methodology of sense restraint is described in various places in the Bhagavadgita, in different contexts. The control of the senses is not easy, if we are to confine ourselves merely to the area or the field of sense activity. We have to apply a higher power in order to restrain a lower urge, and unless we resort to a higher resource that is within us, we will not be able to draw enough strength in order to handle these impetuous sense organs. If we were to think of the senses and then merely by the power of thought attempt to control them, we would not be entirely successful because the lower mind, which is the sense mind, is in collaboration with the senses, and it is the mind that approves the requirements or demands of the sense organs. Thus, the lower mind is not going to be of help. The higher mind, which is the superior reason within us, has to be employed in order to harness a greater power for dealing with the senses, which move of their own accord towards the objects. For that, a prescription is given in this very verse—mano hrdi-nirudhya ca. The mind has to be centred in the heart, and this instruction follows the other, whereby we are told that the gates of the senses have to be closed—sarva-dvarani samyamya mano hrdi-nirudhya ca.

The centring of the mind in the heart is an art by itself. It is to locate the mind in its own centre, where its own roots are to be found. We hear in the studies of psychology, for instance, that there are layers of mind beneath the conscious level, and the conscious operations are mostly a surface activity of our consciousness. There are deeper layers which are buried beneath the conscious activities, and they are the impulsions which propel the mind to approve the activities of the senses. The centring of the mind in the heart is, in a way, the directing of the mind to pure subjectivity of feeling. The heart is the centre of all feelings which are the immediate expressions of our true being. Our essential nature reveals itself in the psychic expressions which we know as feelings. They are very powerful—everything is controlled by feeling, finally. The mind has to be centred in the root of feeling, the very base of all emotions and sentiments, and this has to be done by an effort of mind itself. Usually, whenever we are wakeful and conscious of external objects, we think through the brain. We have to apply an inward technique of driving the mind inwardly to the heart, which is not necessarily the physical heart, but a state of feeling which is inseparable from the location of what we call the heart centre. We have a subtle body, inward to the physical body, and a psychic heart. Though it is not identical with the physical heart, it can be regarded as an inwardised counterpart of the physical heart. So the yoga practice mentioned here is not a physical activity. It is an effort of consciousness, whereby the whole of the arena of the senses and of the mind is restrained by a superior consciousness which centres itself in its own self—sarva-dvarani samyamya mano hrdi-nirudhya ca, murdhny adhayatmanah pranam asthito yoga-dharanam.

There is another instruction which makes out that the pranas should not be allowed to move in the way in which they are moving at present. There should be an automatic restraint exerted upon their activities by an act of the concentration of the mind. The technique especially mentioned here is the concentration on the centre between the eyebrows, the bhrumadhya, as it is called. This is not the only method of yoga, there are other methods also, but this is one specific technique that is precisely mentioned here in these two verses, apart from the various other instructions that we find in different places elsewhere in the very same scripture. Perhaps the intention of this admonition is that our reason and feeling should go together in the act of concentration on God. We should not be purely rationalistic individuals, minus feeling; nor should we be merely emotional, sentimental, feelingful people, without understanding. The two have to go together, and this again is a very difficult feat. We are driven by emotions or dry logic, with a preponderance of this or that at different times, and rarely do we become integrated personalities where our rationality combines with feeling, which is the deepest essence in us, psychologically. Intuition, in a way, may be said to be a blend of understanding or reason, and feeling. If you feel what you understand, and understand what you feel, you become a complete being.

But normally this is not done. We generally keep these two apart, with no intimate relationship between them, so that it is not necessarily true that we feel what we understand or even understand what we feel. There are irrational instincts, as we call them—our deepest feelings, which, like a cyclone, blow over us and drag us in the direction they move, like a tempest or a tornado, and the rationality behind them is beyond us. We always say, “Well, we did it somehow, by an impulsion, without understanding.” On the other hand, there is also the logician’s brain, which is bereft of human feelings. The mathematical approach to the personal and social existence of people cannot be regarded as the whole of life. Mathematical logic cannot be always humane. It may be a precise instrument, like a machine, but a machine has no feelings. It does not understand the sentiments or requirements of people. To be a true human being, in the complete sense of the term, there has to be a coming together of understanding and feeling.

When this is carried to its limits, the farthest end of this combination, we are on the borderland of the flash of intuition. Intuition is a total approach of the subject in respect of the object. Here we are discussing the supreme object of meditation, God Himself, and not merely an ordinary object. This method can also be applied in respect of lower things. We are told of various techniques of samyama which are the themes in some of the sutras of Patanjali, for instance, where it is mentioned that this directing of the being in concentration can be done in respect of anything in this world. But at present, in the context of these verses of the Bhagavadgita, we are speaking of the salvation of the soul, the liberation of the spirit, and are not speaking merely of samyama, or powers or siddhis, in respect of the temporal things of the world. In concentration on God, the whole of the personality is gathered up and focused. Every cell of the body unites in collaboration with every other, and every thought combines with every other thought, as a whole nation can voluntarily offer itself for conscription if there is a tremendous danger which threatens the entire country. There is a uniting of powers on account of the necessity felt due to the exigency of the occasion.

What can be a more serious occasion than the departure of the soul from this world? It is the most consequent event that can ever take place in our lives, where our future is decided, where the last judgment is to be declared in respect of the destiny of the soul that has to leave this world for its future career. So the great Teacher of the Gita tells us that we have to gather ourselves up into a soul and not merely a psyche. The psyche melts into the soul. The mind and the reason become one with the Self within us, the Atman or the consciousness, when buddhi and manas, reason and feeling, come together. The head and the heart go hand in hand and not as two divided powers—murdhny adhyatmanah pranam asthito yoga-dharanam.

Now, towards this end, another advice is given here. All this is not easy to practice. Whatever be the details of the instruction we may listen to in respect of this great yoga, when we actually come to it, we will find that it is beyond us. The mind will revolt and the senses will clamour for satisfaction. Even at the point of death, desires do not cease—they become more acute. Oftentimes it is said that when the desires sense the destructive stroke that is going to be dealt at their very root by the phenomenon of death that is about to take place, they become extremely strong, and even those desires that we would not usually have in normal life will come to the surface when we are about to quit this world. Everything that we have pushed into the subconscious or the unconscious level comes up at the time of the departure from this world. We will be in a miserable condition when they all come up and ask for their dues. Death is the shaking up of the whole of the body and the entire psyche, and all the sheaths of the body. There the concentration of the mind on God is a practical impossibility for an ordinary person. Some advice in the direction of making ourselves ready for this practice is concerned with the chanting of ‘Om’ or pranava. Om ity ekaksaram brahma-vyaharan mam anusmaran—there are two pieces of advice in this half-verse. Reciting the great mantra which is pranava or Om, and absorbing the whole of our being in the Being of God, we have to leave this world and depart to the higher realms. The recitation of Om or the chanting of pranava is prescribed as a part of this practice of yoga, the antimayoga of the eighth chapter.

The recitation of Om is a common practice among all religious devotees. The pranava is attached to every mantra, and whenever we begin any religious performance or ablution, we repeat the mantra Om. The idea behind this recitation is to gather up our energies into completeness, so that we become filled with a vibration which is to be in sympathy with the vibration that originated this universe itself. The Om mantra that we chant is not merely a word that we utter, it is not a sound that we produce, but a vibration that is generated from every part of our system. Often it is said that the chant of Om has to rise from the nadi or the navel, the root of our body, and not merely from our lips or throat. This means to say that the whole of our being has to be shaken when we chant Om. This word, this letter, this sound symbol Om is recognised as the word of God, the seat of all wisdom and knowledge, the origin of all language ultimately. Any language can be traced to this root of Om, the comprehensive word wherein the entire vocal system begins to operate totally. In the utterance of the letters of the alphabet—ka, kha, ga, gha and so on in Hindi or a, b, c, d and so on in English—only the part of the system that is the vocal chords begins to operate. But here, the whole of the sound box begins to operate. This is perhaps the reason why linguists and philologists have opined that the chanting or the recitation of Om is equivalent to the repeating of every letter or every word, or producing every kind of sound which goes to constitute the letters of any alphabet of any language.

The significance behind this chant is, again, not merely to utter a word or make a sound, but to set up a vibration. And what sort of vibration it will be can be known by each one of you by actually resorting to this practice. The chanting has to be done with a calm and settled mood. The personality has to be felt as if it is melting away into the atmosphere, so that the vibrations that are the sum and substance, or the material of the things of the world, become in tune with the substance of our own body or personality. This means to say, we reduce ourselves to the Ultimate Cause from which the effects have come forth in the form of the various bodies of individuals. All bodies can be reduced to a single vibration, a universal continuum of energy, whether it is the body of a man, the body of an animal, the body of a tree, or the body of a stone—it makes no difference. Any substance, any body, any embodiment can be converted into an energy which reduces itself into the minimum of reality, inseparable from this very same minimum of reality forming the essence of every body in this world. So, psychologically, mentally and by effort of the mind, we dissolve ourselves gradually into this universal energy.

Om is more a vibration than a sound. There is a difference between sound and vibration, just as energy is not the same as sound, because while energy can manifest itself as sound, it can also manifest itself as something else, such as colour, taste, smell, etc. Just as electric energy can manifest itself as locomotion, as heat, as light, etc., the various configurations in the form of bodies or things in this world are expressions locally of this universal vibration which is the cosmic impulse to create, the creativity or the will of God that is identified with a cosmic energy. Om is the symbol of this comic force.

Nada, bindu and kala are the terms used in some of the systems of thought to designate the various stages of development of this energy into grosser and grosser forms. From a single point it expands itself into the dimension of this universe in space and time, and from being merely an impersonal, unthinkable, supernatural power, energy or vibration, it becomes visible, tangible, sensible, thinkable and reasonable when it manifests itself as this gross universe and our own bodies. In this yoga practice, we concentrate on the aspect of the dissolution of the physical body in the subtle, the subtle in the casual, and the casual in the cosmic substance. So the chant of Om is not merely a word, but also an effort of the mind in the dissolution of the personality in the causes thereof, and this is what is advised in this verse of the Gita: Om ity ekksaram brahma. It is said it is the Absolute itself. It is saguna and nirguna—it is with form and without form. The vibration can be conceived as identical with the Absolute in its original causative aspect. It can be also conceived as the seed of the cosmos. Therefore it is called saguna and nirguna both. It is absolute Brahman because it is all-comprehensive; there is nothing outside it, just as the continuum of energy, the force that is the source of this world, cannot be regarded as having anything outside it or external to it. Brahman is that, outside of which, nothing is. That which comprehends all, which includes everything, into which everything is absorbed, wherein anything can be found, any form, at any time and under any circumstance—that completeness is called Brahman, and Om is the symbol which represents the supreme Absolute.

This yoga is therefore combined with the chanting of Om in this prescribed manner: Om ity ekaksaram brahma-vyaharan mam anusmaran. It is not merely a chant or a recitation in a verbal form that is prescribed, but also an inner attunement of our feeling, mind, reason, and consciousness. The thought of God is essential, together with the recitation of the chant. The mind should not wander. When we chant Om we must also feel what we are chanting, and not merely feel, but also understand what it is. The whole being is there; that is called yoga—the union of the totality of being with the wholeness of the object. Such a person who departs from this world by the practice of yoga in this manner reaches the supreme state. He is not reborn; he does not come back to this world of mortality—yah prayati tyajan deham sa yati paramm gatim.

All this may look very terrific, almost impractical for people living in this humdrum world of activity and business. “Is this yoga meant for me?” The great Teacher says: “Do not be afraid; I am very easy of approach. I am not a difficult person, as you may imagine Me.” Ananya-cetah satatam yo mam smarati nityasah, tasyaham sulabhah partha nitya-yuktasya yoginah. “I am easy of attainment by those who are united with Me, who want Me and want nothing else.” The great qualification that is expected of a devotee or a yogi is the asking for God, and not learning or study of scriptures. We need not hold a degree or be an academic master in theoretical philosophies—no qualification is necessary on the path of God. Even rustics, unknown persons who never went to school or had any field of training could become vehicles of the expression of God, as the history of religion demonstrates to us. The whole soul should require God, and this requiring God is the qualification. The mind should not affiliate itself with anything other than this supreme object. This is called ananya-cethsa—the mind not engaging itself in any other thought. There should be one thought.

This one thought is the most difficult thing for many of us, because we have never known what this one thought could be. The difficulty arises because the soul does not ask for God. The reason may be asking, in its logical manner, but the soul is beclouded by the dark longings of the senses which, when they are not fulfilled, remain like a cloud covering the light of the Atman. We cannot concentrate on one thing, because we do not want that thing, really speaking. Our asking for God is not an asking by the mouth—a prayer that is uttered by the chanting of a song, or a linguistic prayer. It is a surging of our feelings and an impossibility to exist without God. Great saints and sages have passed through this crucial hour and difficult moment when they began to feel that even death is better than the loss of God’s consciousness, because the soul writhes and wriggles to catch That, without which it cannot even breathe. For us who have not been accustomed to this whole-souled devotion, the practice of yoga remains a kind of alien instruction.

Ananya-cetah satatam: Tremendous conditions are laid, though it is said that the whole attainment is very easy. It appears, if we try to understand the meaning of this sloka, that the Teacher, the Master of the Gita is telling us that He is easy of approach, provided that something is done. This provision is a very difficult one again; the whole mind has to be united—we have to be ananya-cetah. This ananya-cetah or the unitedness of our thoughts or feelings, the mind and the reason with the Supreme Being should be continuous and not be with remission of effort. Satatam: The whole day and night we should be thinking of That only. Ananya-cetah satatam yo mm smarati nityasah: Daily we should resort to this practice—continuity, daily practice in the unitedness of all our being with God. Tasyaham sulabhah: To such a person I am easy. Nitya-yuktasya yoginah: To the yogi who is united with me perpetually, I am easy of approach. Tasyaham sulabhah partha nitya-yuktasya yoginah.

After attaining God, there is no rebirth. Mam upetya punar janma duhkhalayam asasvatam, napnuvanti mahatmanah samsiddhim paramam gatah: Reaching all the planes of existence lower to God, there can be a reversion of the soul to those conditions where its unfulfilled desires can manifest themselves for fulfillment. When God is the sole object of desire, when desires fulfil themselves entirely at one stroke, there remains no other desire to pull the soul back to the earth or any lower plane of existence. Punar janma, rebirth, as I mentioned earlier, is not necessarily a rebirth in this world. It is a rebirth in any condition of being, any plane of existence anywhere in creation, any part of the cosmos—which are supposed to be infinite in number. Any state which is less than the realisation of God is a rebirth; it may be in any lower plane. But the whole process of reincarnation is rent asunder, cut at the root when the cause behind rebirth itself is plucked out from its very roots. The cause of rebirth is the sense of individuality, the isolation of oneself from God, the assertion of the ego and everything that follows from it as a consequence. The whole of samsara, the whole drama of life is the affirmation of the ego personality of the jiva, as if it is all-in-all and the master of its own self, reigning supreme in this world of mortality, in this world of desires and their fulfillment of the same. This is the sorrow of man.

But no desire can be fulfilled in this manner. The ego is futilely attempting to fulfil its desires by grabbing things in this world. The more it desires, the more are the multitudes of desires that crop up, like the raktabeeja we hear of in the story of Devi Mahatmaya. The more we shed the blood of that rakshas, the more he multiplies himself into a large army which takes up weapons in the field of battle. This raktabeeja in the Devi Mahatmaya is nothing but desire itself. Desire cannot be rooted out completely; its fulfilment is not its destruction. On the other hand, any kind of pampering of a desire by merely satisfying it in an externalised form intensifies it. The samskaras or the impression that is created in the mind at the time of the so-called satisfaction or fulfilment of a desire forms a groove in the mind, and that groove becomes a source for further impulse from within to repeat this experience, and desires continue like a chain reaction, without cessation.

Desires cease when their root is pulled out. The root is the affirmation of the ego. The ego cannot absolve itself from attachment to its own being unless it dedicates itself to God. The ego will never turn to God, because it is also an affirmation—an affirmation contrary to the All-being of God. While God is All-being, ego is individual being; that is their difference, so one does not go with the other. The dedication of the ego to God-being becomes difficult, because the ego does not accept the fact that its desires can be fulfilled by an abolition of itself. The greatest sorrow of the ego is its feeling that its existence is going to be affected by the devotions of religion. People are afraid to turn towards God because of the feeling that they will lose things of this world. Religious devotees sometimes have a subtle suspicion at the back of their minds that the gain of God may imply a loss of things of this world. Now here we are in a difficult situation. Nobody wishes to lose anything that is worthwhile, and who can say that the world does not contain worthwhile things. The world is grandeur, and it contains riches that can entertain anyone in this world indefinitely and infinitely. The individual soul, which recognises the values of the grandeur of the world, feels that the absorption of itself in the Being of God would be not merely be a loss of things, but a loss of its own self.

It is foolish to imagine this, because gaining God is not losing all things, but gaining all things. The things of the world are reflections of reality—they are not originals. God is the origin of all things. The trees that we see, the mountains, the sun, moon, stars, you and I are all reflections. And therefore one shadow is running after another shadow, as it were; there is no reality here in this world. The originals are in a superior realm, and the highest original of all things that are reflected here in the form of perceptions and experiences is God the Absolute. So it would be stupid on the part of anyone to imagine that to move towards God would be to lose things in this world. We are losing only stupidities, unreality, shadows, reflections, imaginations and chimeras. But the mind is not tutored and educated properly in this manner, so it clings to phantoms in spite of instructions repeatedly given to it by the masters, sages and scriptures.

We have to instruct ourselves adequately into the great truth that the movement of our soul to God is our only duty in this world. We have no other duty here. All our duties—family duties, national duties, public duties and private duties—are summed up in this all-consuming duty of the movement of the soul to God. But again, the mind will not accept it. To make it accept and to make it understand is to educate it in the proper manner. The Bhagavadgita is a great instruction, a great education provided to the soul in the matter of enlivening and illuminating it in the direction of what is truly good for us. Mam upetya punar janma duhkhalayam assvatam, napnuvanti mahatmanah samsiddhim paramam gatah. Great souls, blessed ones who have realised the truths of life, resort wholeheartedly to this fulfilment and performance of the great duty of all duties—the love of God, devotion to Ishvara and a continuous practice of meditation—whereby the whole of us is consecrated as a sacrament at the altar of God.

This world is full of sorrow, dukhalayam. Everyone knows what this world is made of. Whatever we touch becomes pitch and coal. We are frustrated at every step; we are defeated in our endeavours to grab the satisfactions of this world. All the fruits of life which we put into our mouth appear to turn to dust and ashes, which we realise only too late in life. In hot-blooded youth and the energy of jubilant enthusiasm when we are young, we do not realise what is going to be our fate when we grow old. All our desires become emaciated. The things of the world look insipid and tasteless. All that we run after looks ugly and meaningless when life wanes like an evening flower—its beauty goes in a minute Therefore we are admonished again that it is a world of sorrow, dukhyalaya, and it is impermanent—it is not a permanent existence. To this sorrow-ridden world we will not return having attained God through this practice of the unitedness of the entire spirit with the Supreme Being of God.