by Swami Krishnananda
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.