PART II: THE YOGA OF THE BHAGAVADGITA
(Spoken on September 15, 1976.)
It is proposed to place before all seekers, the main principles that underlie the gospel of the Bhagavadgita in its aspect of practice or the Yoga of Meditation. It is well-known to everyone that this celestial gospel, the Divine Song of the Lord, is a message that is communicated to mankind as a whole; and it is much more than merely a historical occurrence in the context of the Mahabharata, as most people would regard it to be.
The Bhagavadgita has a multi-faceted significance. It is a social message, a political gospel; it is a historical narrative, an epic of the greatest conceivable magnificence and also the enunciation of a spiritual principle and the most valuable instruction on the way of life in general that can be applied equally without exception to every human being. It is as difficult to understand the true meaning of the Gita as it is problematic to comprehend the many-sided personality of Bhagavan Sri Krishna Himself. It has often been said that the best commentary on the Gita is the life of Sri Krishna, and not any printed book that is available to us today. The idea behind this view about the Bhagavadgita gospel is that it touches every type of being that is in the universe and puts its finger on every kind of problem that is conceivable; and it is a solution to all troubles, whether they are caused by external factors or engendered by internal causes. The difficulty of comprehending the meaning of this gospel is, therefore, very simple. It is a message of the Almighty to humanity. It is not an individual speaking to another individual. It is not Krishna, as a person, speaking to Arjuna, as an individual, at a time remote in historical time. It is principally a message to the aspiring spirit, the soul of man, the 'Jiva' that struggles to regain its lost dignity. It is a description of the path that leads from the earth to the Supreme Absolute. It is a detailed account of the various vicissitudes and transformations that one has to pass through and undergo in one's attempt to rise from the relative to the Eternal Being. It is a beautiful, artistic presentation of the many-sided attempts that the soul of man endeavours to forge in its struggle to grasp the goal of life at every step of its ascent.
The point that has to be underlined in this context of the gospel of the Bhagavadgita is that it is a message for every stage of life, for every step that we take, even the least and the most initial of steps in our attempt to rise higher, so that it cannot be said that it is a religious message, or a Hindu gospel, that it is a Yogic scripture of India, that it is applicable only to a certain section of mankind, a type of people or orders of life etc. It is a message to you, to me, to everyone, under every condition, in every circumstance, at every stage of life, right from the lowest to the highest conceivable, the goal of human aspiration.
With this little introduction in connection with the meaning of the message of the Gita, may I propose to dilate upon what would be the central teaching of this great message of the Supreme Master, Bhagavan Sri Krishna, to the seeking soul. It is, to put it precisely in one sentence, 'the message of the practice of the presence of God in the life of an individual'. It is a message of practice, how we have to conduct ourselves in our daily life with relevance to our relationship to the Ultimate Reality. This is perhaps the gist and the quintessential essence of the Gita's message. While it is a gospel of Yoga, the practice of spiritual life in general, it is a comprehensive artistic touch that is given by the many-sided personality of Bhagavan Sri Krishna to this unique way of approach, which may be called the science of life. The religious individual, the 'Sadhaka', the renunciate, the spiritual seeker, is likely to misconstrue the significance of the presence of God in practical life by an over-enthusiastic approach to the idealistic concept of God's existence, which, due to this fundamental error, is likely to bifurcate God from the practical life of the ordinary individual in the world.
The life of Bhagavan Sri Krishna, as I mentioned, is the best commentary on the Bhagavadgita, an explanation of its true meaning. If you would like to know what the message of the Gita is, you have to know what the way of life was which Sri Krishna followed in his day-to-day conduct and programme. Can you call him a Sannyasin? Can you regard him as a Yogin? Can you say he was a warrior? Can you call him a householder? What can you imagine about his personality? Was he a worldly-wise man, or an absorbed, totally withdrawn spirit, contemplating the transcendental Absolute, unconcerned with the turmoil of practical life? What would be your view about this peculiar enigmatic character of the life of Bhagavan Sri Krishna? That, then, is the message of the Bhagavadgita. Sri Krishna lived what he taught, and taught what he lived. There was no gulf between his teaching and his life. The intention for us is that we are supposed to approximate our life to that life which he lived ideally as an example before us. It may be that, to us, this ideal would appear as a remote one, but it is, again, the teaching of the Gita that this so-called remote ideal of perfection which was demonstrated in the life of Bhagavan Sri Krishna is to be brought down to the level of the lowest conceivable individualistic practical life, and reconciled with it in a blend and harmony.
It is the beauty of the gospel of the Gita that it can come down to the level of the lowest from the pedestal of the highest perfection without losing the vitality of that perfected state. This coming down of the supreme perfected being to the level or the status of the lower does not involve a diminution in the divinity of that perfection that one has attained. This is the beauty and this is the difficulty, too, in understanding this beauty. Generally, when an elevated personality steps down to a lower level, it is usually regarded to be a demotion, a coming-down of the very value of the person, but here the peculiarity and the beauty is that the significance, the value, the worth or the comprehensiveness, the power of this perfection does not get diminished even a whit, though it appears to have descended to the lowest of levels.
One can well imagine how breath-taking it is to conceive this meaning that seems to be hidden behind the teaching of the Gita. Perhaps, many may imagine, 'this is not meant for us'; 'not for me'; 'my mind is not trained to think like this'; 'I have not been educated in this fashion'; 'my learning is inadequate to the purpose'; 'what I have studied appears to be out of point altogether if this is going to b your interpretation of the Bhagavadgita and your reading of the meaning behind the life of Sri Krishna'. But this is the grandeur and this also is the practicability of the message. While this message is the most transcendent and the most difficult to conceive, it is at once the easiest and the most practicable of all things. While it is the breath-taking grandeur of the Supreme Perfection of the Absolute that is behind the gospel of the Gita, it is also the most motherly, tender and homely teaching which can be understood and appreciated and applied to even a child in its own level. There is something in the Gita which is beneficial to everyone. The Gita has something to give to every being; the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the old and the young, man and woman, learned and the illiterate. Whatever be the condition of a person, that person has something to receive from Sri Krishna; that person has something to get from the Gita, and there is some aspect of solace which one can hope to have from this all-comprehensive ocean, which is the real 'Ratnakara', God has bestowed upon us.
But there is another interesting aspect in this message which I would like to point out here; an aspect which is beautifully stated in an advice given by Sanjaya to Dhritarashtra in the context of the Udyoga-Parva of the Mahabharata, wherein we are told that on the eve of the coming of Sri Krishna to the court of the Kauravas for the purpose of the peace mission, Dhritarashtra calls Sanjaya and says I am told that Krishna is coming tomorrow. I do not know why he is coming and what we can do for him, and what he expects from us. What kind of person is he and what best can we do to satisfy him? Will you kindly give me an idea of what he is, why he is coming? Can I see him? Sanjaya, having given a practically long sermon to Dhritarashtra on the necessity of establishing peace with the Pandavas, and avoiding the imminence of a war, states briefly, You want to see Krishna. I am surprised that you make this statement before me."
Nakritatma kritatrnanam jatu vidyat Janardanam. O king, the 'Kritatman', that is Bhagavan Sri Krishna, cannot be beheld by any 'Akitatman'. This is all that I can tell you. No one can see a 'Kritatman' unless he himself is a 'Kritatman'! What does he mean by 'Kritatman'? In the second half of this verse, we are told what 'Kritatmata' means.
Atmanas tu kriyopayo nonyatrendriyanigrahat. Self-control is the hallmark of 'Kritatmata'. An uncontrolled being cannot behold this controlled being that is Krishna. King! This is all that I can tell you as an answer to the query you have put before me. Here is a principle that speaks loudly the perfection indicated by 'Atmavinigraha' or self-control. Sri Krishna is the visible embodiment of self-control. You see in him, with your physical eyes, in colour and shape and contour, what self-control is. That is Sri Krishna. He is an incarnation, veritably, before us, of 'Atmavinigraha', self-control, and no one who has not controlled his self can see him.
Such a being is behind this gospel and in a sense we may say that the teaching of the Gita is a teaching on 'Atmavinigraha', 'Atmasamyama', or the restraint of the self in its various ascending degrees and stages. It is a gospel of the control of the self for the purpose of the realisation of the Self It would look strange indeed that in order to experience the Self, we have to control the self first. Does it not look like a contradiction, an enigma? While our aim is the realisation of the Self and experience of the Self; and the purpose is the entering into the very being of the self, becoming one with It, the way to it is supposed to be the restraint of the self! What is one to mean by this contradiction in the teaching? Am I to control the very thing that I want to realise? Is it expected of me that I have to restrain with the reins of my mind and put a check upon that very thing into which I want to enter and which is supposed to be the goal of my existence and aspiration? What is the meaning? How can one try to control that which one is aspiring after? 'Atmasakshatkara', Self-realisation, is the goal, and 'Atmavinigraha', self-restraint, is the means. This is what the Bhagavadgita would tell us, a point which it elucidates beautifully in the sixth chapter particularly, and in certain other places, too.
It is difficult indeed to grasp the meaning of this so-called contradictory placement of values, that 'Atmavinigraha' is the precondition of 'Atmasakshatkara'. But the difficulty vanishes like mist before the sun if we are to understand what this Atman, or Self, is, what we really mean by the Self that we are supposed to restrain and to realise.
The Atman which is to be controlled and the Atman which is to be realised are not two different Atmans. It is one and the same Atman or Self that is to be restrained in one of its aspects and is to be realised in another of its aspects. What, then, is the peculiar side of the Atman which is to be checked, put down under 'Vinigraha' which is supposed to be the means, and which actually is what we call the practice of Yoga?
The practice of Yoga is the same as 'Atma-samyama', or self-control. While Yoga is defined as union or the coming together of the essence of one with the essence of another, it also means all the pre-requisites and the preconditions necessary for the achievement of this purpose. So, Yoga is both the means and the end. It is the means that we adopt as well as the goal that we reach. Both these are defined by a single term, 'Yoga'.
While Yoga means union, let us leave aside for the time being the question of the definition of what this union means. While it means 'union', it also means 'withdrawal'. To use two significant terms of the Bhagavadgita itself, we may say that the Yoga of the Bhagavadgita is 'Vairagya' and 'Abhyasa' put together in a beautiful blend. These two terms occur in the Gita itself, in the Sixth Chapter. 'Vairagya' and 'Abhyasa' constitute the Yoga of the Gita, and it is a little delicate to use the word 'and' between the two terms, because they are not two different things as water-tight compartments. They are two facets of the same crystal of the practice or, we may say, they are like the obverse and reverse of the same coin. At one stroke, instantaneously, we are supposed to be capable of practising 'Vairagya' and 'Abhyasa', not that we have to do 'Vairagya' today and 'Abhyasa' tomorrow. There is not even the difference of the least time duration between the one practice and the other. They are simultaneous, and we have to be an expert in bringing about this real Yoga, or union, of 'Vairagya' and 'Abhyasa' in our practical day-to-day life. At every moment of life we must be experts, adepts, and adroit in 'Abhyasa' as well as 'Vairagya'. We have to be withdrawn and we have to be, at the same time, concentrated. This is the meaning of the practice of 'non-attachment' and 'steadfastness' as the principle behind this Yoga of the Bhagavadgita. It means that we have to be very vigilant. We cannot be wool-gathering at any time. The Yogis, even those who are only aspiring to tread this path, cannot afford to forget the importance of this requirement. One has always to be cautious. 'Pramada' or forgetfulness, or weakness, is regarded as a great error, a blunder indeed, in this great journey of the soul to its perfection. So, expertness in the art bringing together 'Vairagya' and 'Abhyasa' is a necessity, something unavoidable. And, sometimes, the Gita tells us that this expertness in the conducting of oneself in life is itself Yoga: Yogah karmasu kausalam. It is the capacity that you exhibit in your day-to-day life, to tune yourself to every condition, that is Yoga; because every condition is a timeless occurrence, from the point of view of the message of the Gita.
While we appear to be living in time, in a succession of instances of duration, we are perpetually in contact with a timeless meaning that is hidden behind this duration of the time process in which we seem to be involved. We are never cut off from the vitality of the timeless, so that we cannot say that we are out of touch with the presence of God at any time, even in our lowest of levels, even in a fallen condition. There is no such thing as falling from God. It cannot be.
The practice of this 'Atma-samyama-yoga,' which is the meaning of the Sixth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita, is, therefore, conditioned by certain disciplinary processes which will make one fit to become expert in the blending together of 'Vairagya' and 'Abhyasa'. At the very commencing admonition of the Chapter we are given a succinct definition of this pre-condition, this necessary discipline that has to be the practice.
Yam sannyasamiti prahur yogam tam viddhi pandava,
Na hyasannyastasankalpo yogi bhavati kaschana.
Sannyasa is defined here as the relinquishment of an attitude of the will or the psychological organism within. It is something very difficult to grasp, again. Sannyasa is described in the Bhagavadgita in a novel fashion, something about which many would not have thought properly. You would not have bestowed sufficient thought on this aspect of the definition of Sannyasa. 'Sankalpa-tyaga' is regarded as Sannyasa, which means the renunciation of the usual habit of the desireful will of the individual, and a harnessing of this potency of the will towards the practice is 'Abhyasa'. This is called Yoga. The withholding of the flow of the current of the will in the direction of multitudes of perfections by which the energy of the individual is dissipated and the harnessing of this energy that is so conserved for the purpose of the practice of meditation is the essence of the Yoga of the Bhagavadgita.
So you have to perform a double feat at the same time, the withdrawal of your personality, the controlling of your will, the renunciation of the creative habit of the psychological organ, and the tuning of this controlled energy thus acquired for the purpose of concentrating one's total being on the totality which is the goal, or the aim of Yoga. This is the deep philosophical meaning of this verse referred to above. No Yoga is possible where the separatist will is allowed to affirm itself as an isolated reality.
And the Chapter goes on in a little detail, giving us some more information about how we can actually try to make ourselves fit in our daily life for this unique practice. This has been stated in some of the following verses of the very same Chapter, perhaps the immediately succeeding one tells us something very meaningful:
Arurukshor muner yogam karma karanam uchyate,
Yogarudhasya tasyai'va samah karanam uchyate.
There is, generally, a feeling, even among advanced seekers on the path of the life spiritual, that, evidently there is a vast difference between the life of withdrawal and the life of activity in the world, an attitude which is the primary cause behind the unfortunate problems that face mankind today, the problem of a conflict, as it were, between religion and social life, which is the very thing that the Bhagavadgita tries to solve, the problem which it wishes to break through completely. In this verse cited there is a clue to the meaning of this technique:
At the outset, when you are starting, when you commence this great Yoga of spiritual living, which is the Yoga of living in general action is supposed to be the means, 'karma karanam uchyate'; and when you ascend higher and reach an advanced or particularly accentuated state, serenity is supposed to be the means, samah karanam uchyate .
These words 'samah' and 'karma', serenity and activity, have been variously commented upon and interpreted by different authors, as if they mean two contradictory things altogether, as if the Gita is going to tell you that the higher state is bereft of the principle of action. But this is precisely what the Gita would refute. The Gita gives us various definitions of 'karma', and while it rises from the lower to the higher stages in a beautiful gamut of ascent, it does not disregard the significant values of any lower stage, so that it would be proper to hold that the Yoga of the Bhagavadgita is a growth of personality into the various degrees of perfection, rather than an attempt which would involve a rejection of any significant meaning in life or an abandonment of any truly existing value. It is, to an extent, like the growth of an individual from childhood to the adult condition, where the growth does not imply loss of personality or abandonment of any value that is worth the while, but is an absorption of values in a higher meaning, so that at every higher level, one is a gainer and not a loser. Thus, at every stage of this practice, call it 'karma', or 'sama', whatever be the word you may use to signify its meaning, you are going to rise to a higher level of greater comprehensiveness and inclusiveness wherein all living values of the lower stages are sublimated in a quintessential essence.
Let the fear go from the minds of people that the approach to God may mean a loss of the values or the pleasures of life. Though, intellectually, you may say, 'Yes, we understand this,' the heart has a reason which reason does not know. Your heart revolts against this intellectual conviction and rational deduction that the approach to God does not mean any loss of values. The heart tells you: 'My dear friend, you are going to lose something,' and, therefore, there is a reluctance on the part of even a sincere person to tread the path of God in its real meaning; and one cannot avoid being a little bit of a hypocrite in one's inner personality, even in the presence of this most high Divine Being, the All-pervading Omniscience. The heart does not really want God, fully. This has to be accepted by everyone who is honest and sincere. Wanting God implies a special attitude which we are not prepared to adopt, because of wrong notion of the very meaning of God, a tradition into which we have been introduced from our childhood, in spite of the repeated hammering by saints and sages that God is all-pervading, and is the All. 'May be He is all-pervading, I know it very well. He is here under my very nose. I accept it, but my heart tells me another thing, my sub-conscious weeps behind the veils at the very name of God, because it has a subtle suspicion that the bliss of God does not include the pleasures of life', 'If this is so, I have to think thrice before I take the step', retorts the mind.
The Bhagavadgita tells us, Friend, the bliss of God does not exclude the pleasures of life, though the bliss of God is totally different in kind from all that you can regard as the pleasures of life. Everything that is worthwhile in life is included here, and if you think that the pleasures of life are also worthwhile, they too are included there, but not in the way you conceive of the pleasures. The distortion and the error that is involved in what you call the pleasures of life is eliminated from the perfection that is the bliss of God. Would you like to carry some error and distortion also in your life, into the goal that you are aspiring for? Would you like perfection or distortion?
The pleasures of life, whatever be the degree of these pleasures, are a drop of the Divine bliss involved in a complete distortion of meaning, which aspect the Yoga tries to eliminate so that the purity of the bliss is retained and the divinity aspect present in it is brought to relief. The aspect of divinity and perfection present even in the worst of things becomes a means to the rise of the soul to its great goal, and it is this that makes one see beauty and happiness even in ugliness and pain.
So, I may again iterate that the gospel of the Bhagavadgita, or you may say the gospel of meditation, or the gospel of life spiritual, is an all-comprehensive parental teaching, a mother's advice and a father's comfort, which gives you everything that you need, which provides you with the necessities of every stage of your life, every level of your personality and every aspect of your requirement. God, being all-comprehensive and present everywhere, offers to you every necessity, wherever you are, and whatever you feel like lacking in you, and what you consider from the bottom of your heart as the values of life. In God, everything is everywhere at every time, and God is All-Being.