PART II: THE YOGA OF THE BHAGAVADGITA (Part 2)
(Spoken on September 16, 1976.)
It was pointed out that for the seeker who is attempting to climb the ladder of Yoga, 'action' is the means; and for one who is established in Yoga, 'serenity' is the means: Arurukshor muner yogam karma karanam uchyate; Yogarudhasya tasyai'va samah karanam uchyate. This precise and pithy statement in a single verse has been interpreted almost by every expounder of the Bhagavadgita, as implying a difference, if not a contradiction, between one type of means and the other mentioned here 'action' is the means, and 'serenity' is the means.
Generally speaking, we cannot bring together action and serenity on one platform, because our way of thinking is such that action appears to be the opposite of serenity. There is a disturbance caused by a manifestation in the form of activity of any kind, and therefore, the term 'serenity', used in the Gita, has been regarded as a stage which is equivalent to withdrawal from action and not compatible with action in any manner. Also, there is another aspect of this interpretation. What is action which is supposed to be the means for the beginner and from which one is supposed to withdraw according to this interpretation in the application of the second means? We cannot think of activity except in terms of the physical body; and also, an activity is associated with movement of the physical body. So action has somehow come to mean, by tradition, a movement of the organism of the physical system, and inasmuch as every movement is caused by a motive, a sense of want or lack, a feeling for the realisation of an ideal that is yet remote, it has been taken for granted that the causative factor of every action is indicative of absence of serenity in the mind. This is the reason why the expounders of the Gita have thought that serenity is different from action, and samah (serenity) is not the same as karma (action). Also, it is an accepted feeling of the teachers of the gospel, as we have today, that serenity is higher in the quality of achievement than the state of action in which one is involved. So there is always a struggle on the part of the seeker to withdraw from activity, under the impression that every activity connotes a lower stage and the higher one is characterised by absence of activity, which is serenity.
If this is to be taken as the standard meaning of this verse, if on the basis of this interpretation, 'samah' or serenity is to be considered as absence of activity, Bhagavan Sri Krishna cannot be regarded as a Yogin. He would not be a 'Yoga-Arudha', because he was bristling with activity throughout his life; and we cannot say that he was lacking in movement of any kind. It was all movement and dynamism from top to bottom. So, considering the life of Sri Krishna himself, at least, who has been acclaimed as the 'Supreme Yogeshvara', or Master of Yoga, we have to bestow a second thought upon the meaning of this verse and try to find out if there is a hidden significance behind these terms, 'action' and 'serenity', which are held to be the means of the different stages of Yoga.
We, as normal human beings, living in society, have a particular notion of action into which we are born and through which we are bred up. We cannot conceive of activity or action except in terms of movement and, as I stated, we cannot think of movement except in terms of the physical body; and so, we are obliged to interpret action as a kind of succession of position of a particular event or an object. Every activity, according to our way of thinking, is a procession in time, a change of location, a transformation in condition, implying a sort of momentary application of concentration on the part of the one that is involved in this process.
We have been always told that the 'Yoga-Arudha', or one established in Yoga, is a personality who is identified with absolute fixity. This is a very subtle point which always misses our attention in our attempt to understand the meaning of fixity, serenity or composure; and the difficulty is in the understanding of the difference that exists between The character of sattva and tamas. In tamas there is fixity, stability, an absence of movement or activity of every kind; and in sattva which is the opposite of tamas there is another kind of fixity, a stability which can be mistaken for the same kind of fixity as characterised by tamas, but totally different from it in quality. To give you a homely example: if an electric fan moves in a slow speed, you can see its movement. The wings of the fan are seen moving, but if the rapidity of the movement increases to a high pitch and there is tremendous movement of the wings of the fan, you will not be able to see the motion at all. It will appear as if the fan is not moving. It is fixed. The appearance of a total absence of activity on the part of the fan may be really the highest type of activity in which it is engaged. If you want to know whether the fan is moving or not, you have only to thrust your finger through it (or beware, put a thin stick through), though you cannot see its movement because of the intensity of the rapidity of its movement. So, a visual perception of movement is not always the criterion of the judgment of the nature of action. There can be movement and yet it may not be perceived. As a matter of fact, perceived action is a low category of action. It is not heightened activity.
Now there is a third aspect of this point apart from the two already mentioned. Activity does not necessarily mean movement of the physical body, though this is the way in which we usually understand the meaning of activity. From the point of view of the gospel of the Bhagavadgita, from the standpoint of the ideal of spiritual life, the meaning of action is something different from what we associate with ordinary activity. There can be intense activity even if the physical body is stable. A stabilised physical body can engage itself in a different kind of activity by which it can move even mountains. This is a strange kind of action altogether, different from what you know and what you can imagine. The great events of the world are caused and motivated by forces which are not necessarily physical. It is not the physical activity of any individual or any particular physical object or body that is the cause behind great transformations that take place through history. There are other meanings hidden behind visual activity and these are generally called the forces of the world which control the destiny of mankind as a whole. The forces behind the visible activity of physical nature and human society are not physical, necessarily. They are something different from physical bodies and physical actions, because they cannot be contacted by physical means. A high frequency of motion can transcend the realm of physicality, and may be impervious to the entry of physical instruments, incapable of perception by physical organs and yet more powerful than any physical instrument that you can think of. A stage may be arrived where physicality may completely drop out altogether and the forces may assume a new shape absolutely, in which condition it is difficult to call them physical. Even the discoveries of modern science have almost led themselves to this conclusion. The so-called physical matter of materialism, of crass material perception, the physical objects of nature which are tangible to the senses, have gradually evaporated into a substance which is really substanceless, which is absolutely incapable of physical contact, which cannot be observed even by the subtlest of instruments through a laboratory, and far subtler than even atoms as they can be conceived.
Matter has been de-materialised for reasons difficult for the mind to comprehend, and matter has become something quite different from what it is and what it has been taken to be. It has ceased to be an object in the sense of any perceivable content; and it appears to have withdrawn itself into a different realm of being which is inseparable from subjectivity rather than the realm of objects. This is just to cite an instance of modern discovery. The physical particles of nature, the objects that we see with our eyes and contact through our senses are associated with activity, generally speaking; and we cannot think of action except in terms of these physical objects. But, what could be the character of an action, or an activity, or a movement in a condition where physicality appears to have disappeared altogether and objects seem to enter into the structure of one another, mutually, where we cannot make a sharp distinction between one thing and another thing, as in the case of the waves in an ocean, for instance. One wave enters into the bosom and the structure and the bowels of the other. You do not know where one ends and the other begins. If forces of the world are to act in this manner and put on this shape in their activity, if one is not capable of existing without reference to the other, what would be your definition of action?
Now, I would draw your attention back to the illustration I gave of the movement of an electric fan where intense activity can appear to be absence of activity, rather the highest activity may look like no activity at all. The difficulty in understanding this point, which does not occur before our eyes and is not a phenomenon usually observed in human society, makes it also difficult to understand the meaning of the verse which mentions two different means in the practice of Yoga, action on the one hand, and serenity on the other. It may be safely said that this verse of the Bhagavadgita which speaks of 'karma' and 'samah', action and serenity, does not speak of a contradiction between two types of means, but rather a difference between a lower state and the higher state, the higher state always being inclusive of the lower, as we had occasion to note earlier. The higher cannot be said to be different, from the lower in any manner, whatsoever, inasmuch as the vitality and the values of the lower are always contained in the higher, just as we cannot say that an adult who has grown out of babyhood is in any way different from the baby merely because adult-stage is different from the child-stage; for the values that are associated with childhood are transcended in the adult's state and not lost. So the higher means applied in Yoga is not a contradiction of the lower means but an absorption of the lower in the higher, an inclusion of the lower in the higher, a sublimation of the lower in the higher, so that instead of there being a contrast or a difference between one means and the other, there is a continuous growth and persistence of uniformity between what we usually call the lower and the higher. Here we come to the vital point of issue that is brought out as a significance in this verse as we are studying.
The difference that is struck here between 'karma' and 'samah' is, therefore, something quite other than what we understand to be a difference between one thing and another thing. There is no question of inferiority or superiority here. It is an absorption of a lower means in a higher means, again to reiterate, the lower being included in every respect in the higher. Also the higher, when it is said to include the lower, cannot exclude the meaning of action, that which is signified by action, because action or 'karma', which is supposed to be a lower stage of means, if it is to be included in the higher, naturally, cannot lose its sense when it becomes the higher. So, the higher stage which is regarded as serenity or 'samah' is not absence of activity but a heightened form of activity, something quite superior to the ordinary type of action which is of low frequency, just as we cannot see with our physical eyes the high frequency light-waves, alpha, beta, gamma, cosmic rays, etc. about which we hear of these days. There are high frequency waves of light whose very existence is not known to us because of their being not capable of perception through the eyes or sensation by the senses. What we call sunlight, the most brilliant form of light we can think of, is a low frequency light which is capable of being caught by the retina of the eyes because of the frequency of the light-waves of the sun being commensurate with the capacity of the retina of the eyes. If it had risen to a higher state of frequency, we would see darkness everywhere. The whole of the world, then, would be as pitch, not because there is no light but because the light has become so intense that it is blinding, and the eyes cannot know that the light exists at all.
We are told in the Mahabharata, again, in the Udyoga-Parva, when Bhagavan Sri Krishna assumed the Cosmic Form and shone like brilliant suns, thousands in number, people closed their eyes as the whole phenomenon was dazzling to such an extent that what they saw was darkness. If you gaze at the sun for some time, you will see only darkness before the eyes; you will not see the light, because the eyes will be blinded by the glare of the sun; not because there is no light, but because you cannot perceive the light. Our incapacity to comprehend the meaning of a higher type of dynamism is the reason behind this water-tight compartment that people have struck between 'action' and 'serenity' in their commentaries on the Bhagavadgita on verses of this kind. There is a fight which is going on from time immemorial between 'jnana' and 'karma', knowledge and action, life in the world and the life of Sannyasa the life of activity and the life of withdrawal to serenity, which is a phenomenon come out as the outcome of incapacity on the part of the human mind to grasp the truth of the whole situation. There is no such thing as withdrawal really speaking from what is there really. The real cannot not be, and the unreal cannot be.
If a thing is really there, we cannot withdraw ourselves from it. If it is not there, from what are we withdrawing ourselves? We cannot withdraw ourselves from that which is not there, nor can we withdraw ourselves from that which is there, because we have already said it is there; it is real, and the real cannot become the unreal. So the question of withdrawal or renunciation of action about which people speak so much, loses its sting when we try to understand what 'karma' or action is, and what 'samah', or serenity is. It is not a withdrawal in the ordinary physical sense of the term. Serenity or 'samah' is not renunciation or relinquishment of a particular mode of conduct in life but a rising into a heightened form of that conduct which is inclusive of all the significances of that particular conduct in its lower stage.
The human mind is not made to understand this meaning entirely, because we are born into a tradition of thinking which is social and personal, spatial and temporal; but this meaning that is hidden behind the great message of Karma-Yoga in the Bhagavadgita is neither spatial nor temporal. It is spiritual and, therefore, it cannot be associated with anything that we regard as important either in the society or in the world of space and time. This is why, perhaps, it has been said that the meaning of the Gita is really known to Krishna only, and nobody else knows it. Arjuna knew a little of it. Suka knows it. Vyasa knows it. Others only hear it.
It is necessary on the part of a true seeker to reconstitute the pattern of his thinking, for the time being, in order to be able to comprehend the meaning of spirituality itself. Spirituality is not a social conduct. It is an internal transformation of consciousness, and this transformation is of a different quality and character altogether from the transformations we observe physically in the world of nature. This is why we require an initiation into this technique of thinking. This is called Guru-Upadesha. Why do you go to a Guru for initiation if you can understand everything merely by reading a book, by hearing a lecture; where comes the need for a master, a spiritual guide and initiation? The need arises because it is difficult to think in this way, because we are not being used to thinking in this manner. Our ways of thinking are the same ways from which we started in childhood. Even when we are seventy years of age we think in the same form qualitatively as we have been thinking when we were children. The pattern does not change though the content of thought may vary because of the growth in age. The quantity also may increase but the quality and the structure of thinking does not change. The old man thinks in the same way as a child thinks. But it is highly essential that the very mould of thinking has to change in order that one may become spiritual. The spiritual transformation that is called for in the practice of Yoga is not a physical or a social revolution but an inward reconstitution of personality, a new mode of consciousness itself; and inasmuch as it has the touch of the non-temporal in it, it becomes difficult to grasp it, because all our thought is temporal and the principle of the non-temporality or eternality present in this way of thinking to some extent, in some percentage, makes it difficult for us to stomach its significance.
What we make out from the third verse in the Sixth Chapter of the Gita is that we are not asked to renounce anything that is really there so that the gospel of the Gita, while it is, no doubt, one of renunciation, means a renunciation not of any existent meaning, value or thing, because it has already been said that the existent is the real and the real can never become the unreal.
The withdrawal or renunciation the Gita speaks of, the 'Anasakti' which is its great teaching, is not a renunciation of an existent something, because the existent cannot be renounced. It is absurd to think of abandoning what is really there, but the renunciation is of the error involved in thinking. So the renunciation is not of a meaning that is valuable on real, but of a mistake that is there in thinking. The blunder that we commit in our thinking is to be renounced; and when this is eliminated from the process of thinking, it gets purified, and the mistaken activity which is ordinary 'Karma' that binds, becomes Divine action and dynamism which is purifying and liberating. That is called Karma-Yoga. The 'Samah' that is mentioned in this verse, the serenity which is regarded as the higher means of practice, is a higher type of dynamism or 'Sattva' which cannot be compared with the dynamism or the absence of it in 'Tamas'. We have only to bring back to our memory the small illustration that a heightened movement may look like no movement. Divine action or the work of God is such a dynamism; it has raised itself to the status of such an intensity of frequency that not only the senses but even the mind cannot grasp this force. The speed of the mind is the highest of conceivable speeds, but the speed of consciousness is greater. That is why, perhaps, the Isa Upanishad tells us in some place that before one reaches a place, it is already there. Even before the mind tries to reach a particular destination with all its inconceivable speed and velocity, consciousness is already present, because its speed is greater than the great speed of the mind. The dynamism of consciousness is a peculiar type of heightened activity which is different from physical activity. For all purposes, it is absolute cessation of all action. But that is God's way of action. It may appear that God does nothing at all. God-Being is self-posed, self-absorbed. The Lord Siva is often depicted thus in our Puranas and in our tradition. You might have seen painted portraits of Siva seated in 'Padmasana', with closed eyes, and completely absorbed, as if He is unaware of what is taking place outside. He is closed to all activity. He is oblivious of what is taking place in the world, as it were; but the truth is that the absorption of Siva in the height of meditation is not a darkness of ignorance and an absence of the knowledge of what is taking place in the universe. It is certainly an intense awareness of things which is likely to be mistaken for absence of awareness altogether. What the Bhagavadgita is expecting us to perform in the practice of Yoga is to rise from a lower type of activity to a higher type of activity. Here we have to add a marginal note that we have to understand the meaning of activity in its proper setting, its proper connotation. It is not movement physically, and so when we rise higher and higher in the realm of the spirit, in the reaches of the spiritual life, we do not become inactive in the sense of a useless individual, but we rise to be a more useful and comprehensive personality, capable of a greater action and endowed with a capacity to effect a greater achievement with the apparent absence of physical movement, where thought becomes intense.
Mental action is the real action; physical action by itself is no action. It is the mind that motivates even the physical body while it acts. If the mind is not active, and the body appears to be acting mechanically, nevertheless, disassociated from the consciousness of the mind, such action loses its significance. It is lifeless action. What binds or liberates is the mind and not the body. If we are bound here, it is because of the mind thinking in a particular manner; and if we are going to be liberated, that, too, is because of a peculiar change that is going to take place in the way of thinking. The body may be there in the same way, as it was. The Jivanmukta has a body which is the same as that which was there when he was born as a child, but he has changed inside. His mind has transformed itself and his consciousness has attained to a higher type of concentration. He has become a different being though he is endowed with the same body. The meaning of all this intricacy is brought out in a little more detail in the subsequent verse: One is said to be established in Yoga, when one attaches oneself not either to the objects of the senses or to actions, and has renounced, all creative affirmation of the will. The word Sannyasa, meaning renunciation, occurring here is often defined as a mode of living disassociated from action. Now, inasmuch as the mind means everything in the performance of an action, we have to change our idea of Sannyasa itself, though we may tentatively, take for granted that Sannyasa suggests withdrawal from action. But, what is action? 'Sarva-sankalpa-sannyasa' is held to be the criterion of Yoga. The creative will or the affirmations of the psychological organ may be safely regarded as the cause of our bondage, and a re-orientation introduced into this system of creative willing is going to be the means of liberation. The individual will becomes the Divine Will when liberation is attained. While the individual will independently acts, one is supposed to be tending towards bondage. When the Divine Will acts and takes possession of one's personality, there is liberated Will operating. Here we have to bestow a little thought on the nature of the individual will and the Divine Will; because 'Sankalpa' is nothing but will, and we are told that there should be an abandonment or relinquishment of all such willing for the purpose of getting established in Yoga, to become 'Yoga-Arudha'. What does one mean by willing or 'Sankalpa'? And we have no bondage in life except the will.
The great author Schopenhauer wrote a masterpiece in three volumes, known as 'The World of Will and Idea', making out through his thesis that there is nothing in this world except the will. In the different stages of its meaning, the will is bondage and the will is liberation. The will that is binding is a particular type of will and it is this binding will that we are asked to renounce for getting established in Yoga. The binding will is the first self-affirmative urge within us which insists on the independence of the individual and an isolation of personality cut off from relationship with others. In short, it is the selfish will, the will that asserts the individual self, the bodily self, the personal self, the localised self; this is the binding will. It is this will that we are asked to renounce when we are supposed to become 'Sarvasankalpa-sannyasins'.
This is the hidden and the real meaning of 'Sannyasa'. The individual will urges and demands and clamours for isolation and absolute independence of personality. The 'I' is the meaning behind this will, 'I' in the individualised sense tethered to the bodily encasement. The bodily 'I' is the individual will. We know how much love we have for this body and what meaning we associate with bodily existence. Every value is sunk in the bodily life. Our pleasures are physical. The life that we live is physical, and every objective that we are pursuing in life is also associated with the existence and continuance of the physical body and its needs. Such an affirmation is the individual will, which is the binding will. We may raise a question: How does it bind? How does this will that affirms the physical individuality or the isolated personality bring about sorrow? It binds by bringing grief in a series, and this happens on account of the fact that the truth of things is different from what this individual will is affirming vehemently.
Truth succeeds, and it alone can succeed. Nothing else will succeed. What triumphs at all times is truth. Untruth has to be subjugated one day or the other. The affirmations of the individual will are not the truth. The truth is something different, and this the individual will is unable to comprehend or understand. It has a mistaken notion about truth and this notion is known as avidya. This is the ignorance that people are speaking of through all types of philosophy. This avidya is binding; the source of bondage is ignorance. We are told this again and again. What is this avidya which is binding? This ignorance or avidya is nothing but the inability of the individual will to understand that its affirmations are not the truth. The truth is something quite different, and this truth is inaccessible to the instruments that are available to the individual will and, therefore, the individual will is always sunk in sorrow, grief. It has not the means of approach to the truth as it is; and ignorance passes for knowledge, as the only value that is available and conceivable. The reason why the individual will or Sankalpa binds is because it has disassociated itself from the real which is the same as the true. Truth and Reality are the same. As a matter of fact, the affirmations of the individual will cannot work at all; there cannot be any individual function unless there is this disassociation from truth. The truth which we are referring to here as distinct from the affirmations of the individual will is the goal of life. This is the Satya that the Vedas proclaim, and this is the thing that asserts itself forcefully in every nook and corner of creation and through every event that takes place anywhere at any time, and the individual will struggles hard to repel the entry of the nature of this truth which also is persisting in gaining an entry into every nook and corner of creation. This is the Mahabharata or the Ramayana of the cosmic existence. This is the epic of creation, the Devasura-Sangrama, as we are told, the fight between the Devas and Asuras, about which so much has been written in the epics of mankind, the struggle between truth and untruth, the war that is there perpetually going on between the Divine Will and the individual will. the individual will cannot succeed because it is not the truth; and therefore it is punished with rebirth, a series of re-incarnations, again and again; and in the gospel of the Bhagavadgita, Bhagavan Sri Krishna teaches us a technique by which the very roots of this individual will can be cut off.
This is the Yoga of the Bhagavadgita, the art of snapping at the very root the affirmations of the individual will or sankalpa, in order to become a Yoga-Arudha, which is nothing but the establishment of oneself in the status of the Divine Will.