Commentary on the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 10: The Fourth Chapter Concludes – Methods of Worship and of Self-Control

daivam evāpare yajñaṁ yoginaḥ paryupāsate
brahmāgnāvapare yajñaṁ yajñenaivopajuvhati (4.25)
śrotrādīnīndriyāṇyanye saṁyamāgniṣu juvhati
śabdādīn viṣayān anya indriyāgniṣu juvhati (4.26)
sarvāṇīndriyakarmāṇi prāṇakarmāṇi cāpare
ātmasaṁyamayogāgnau juvhati jñānadīpite (4.27)
dravyayajñās tapoyajñā yogayajñās tathāpare
svādhyāyajñānayajñāś ca yatayaḥ saṁśitavratāḥ (4.28)
apāne juvhati prāṇaṁ prāṇe’pānaṁ tathāpare
prāṇāpānagatī ruddhvā prāṇāyāmaparāyaṇāḥ (4.29)
apare niyatāhārāḥ prāṇān prāṇeṣu juvhati
sarve’pyete yajñavido yajñakṣapitakalmaṣāḥ (4.30)

In these verses from the Fourth Chapter are further details as to actually putting the spirit of yajna into practice in daily life. We have heard a lot about yajna, sacrifice, in the earlier chapters. We envisaged, in a philosophical light, what yajna, or sacrifice, is. Now in a very down-to-earth, practical way we are told how we can practise spiritual sadhana as a yajna, or a sacrifice, and what the methods of actually manifesting yajna in our daily performance are.

Varieties are the ways of the daily performance of yajna. Some people offer everything, including themselves, to the gods in heaven. They worship Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Ganesha, Devi, Durga, Surya. Every day there is a dedication of oneself in an act of submission and surrender, through prayers offered by way of Veda mantras or verses from the Puranas and the epics, or from the Tantra and Agama Shastras. The gods are worshipped according to the injunctions that are given to us mostly in the Agama Shastra, which is a scripture dealing with the rituals of worship.

We may have seen people worshipping gods in a large public temple or worshipping a little image kept in front of them in their own house—a Siva linga, or Vishnu’s image, or Surya’s sphatika, or whatever it is. They perform varieties of entertainment to the god who comes to their house as a royal guest.

Actually, the ways of worship in temples, particularly in large temples of public worship, are similar to the ways in which we receive a king into our house. Suppose we are informed that tomorrow the emperor is paying a visit to our house. What do we do? There are a series of things that we do. We clean the premises, and make everything tidy. We arrange a beautiful seat for him. We receive him with honour and say, “Please be seated.” Afterwards, in Indian tradition, we have to wash his feet. This system may not be there in the West, but in India one of the important gestures of reception given to an honoured guest is to offer him a very comfortable seat and wash his feet. Afterwards we enquire how he is and whether there is anything we can do for him, and then offer him something to eat or drink, give him some clothing or jewels, and place before him fruit and all the delicious dishes that we have prepared. We wave a sacred light before him, called arati, and then calmly sit and enquire about his welfare. We serve him a meal, and afterwards—very, very honourably—we bid him farewell. This is what is done in worship in very large temples like Tirupati, though they do not go into all these details in small temples.

God comes to us as an emperor, and He comes every day by way of invocation. After some time, we bid Him farewell; and so the next day, we have to invite him again. After bidding a guest farewell, the person leaves. Every day this gorgeous reception is given to the honoured guest who is God; and finally, we offer ourselves: I am Thine.

Daivam evāpare yajñaṁ yoginaḥ paryupāsate: Some of the spiritual seekers or yogis worship gods in a ritualistic manner by chants, by performances of ritual, or even by actual contemplation. Brahmāgnāvapare yajñaṁ yajñenaivopajuvhati: Or we contemplate the Supreme Absolute in our own personality. We surrender ourselves to that ocean of the Absolute so that we melt into that Supreme Being itself. The greatest worship we can think of is where we offer ourselves instead of offering delicious dishes, clothes, gold and jewels, etc. They are secondary in comparison with what we ourselves are. We offer ourselves in the great brahmayajna that we practise—the contemplation of the Supreme Absolute. Brahmāgnāvapare yajñaṁ yajñenaivopajuvhati.

Śrotrādīnīndriyāṇyanye saṁyamāgniṣu juvhati: Some yogis offer the very powers of the sense organs into the fire of self-control. Self-control is visualised as a kind of kunda, a yajnasala—a special pit in which the holy fire is lit. Our performance, or act of self-control, is itself a holy fire that we have lit in ourselves, into which we offer the sense organs themselves, which we pour as an offering of ghee into this holy fire. The perception, and all the perceived objects of perception, are offered into this fire of complete withdrawal. All the five senses—the eyes, the ears, and the other perceptive sense organs—in their capacity as powers of perception and cognition, are abstracted from their involvement in the objects, brought back and offered, as ghee is offered, into the fire. The sense organs are offered into the fire of total withdrawal—pratyahara, we may say. Here, pratyahara is described as the offering of the powers of the sense organs into the fire of self-restraint.

Śrotrādīnīndriyāṇyanye saṁyamāgniṣu juvhati, śabdādīn viṣayān anya indriyāgniṣu juvhati. There is a reverse action to what has been mentioned, which is also regarded as a kind of sacrifice. What we mentioned first is that the sense organs, which are involved in the objects, are withdrawn, and poured into the fire of self-restraint. Here, in this second half of the verse, it is said that all the objects of sense are offered into the fire of the sense organs through the media of the perceptive organs. The objects of perception are offered into the mind, and from the mind they are offered into the intellect. This is the reverse process of self-control. We may either withdraw our connection to the sense objects and then offer the powers of the senses into the fire of our self-control; or we may melt the very form of the objects themselves, as is done in samadhi, samapatti, etc., according to Patanjali’s Yoga Shastra. It is also mentioned in the penultimate verse of the Second Chapter of the Bhagavadgita that all the desires and the desired objects come and pour themselves into the ocean of the seer: apūryamāṇam acalapratiṣṭhaṁ samudram āpaḥ praviśanti yadvat, tadvat kāmā yaṁ praviśanti sarve sa śāntim āpnoti na kāmakāmī (2.70).

We need not be afraid of the world. This is a higher form of self-control. The lower form of self-control is to sever the connection of the sense organs with objects, and to pour the energy into the mind in self-control. The other is more difficult, which is to melt the very concept of objects. Objects do not exist. They are only configurations of cosmic force. Objects are only energies—sattva, rajas, tamas—concentrated in their permutation and combination, and when they are thus melted, as hard ice may melt before the sun’s hot rays, the objectivity vanishes and the entire cosmos of physicality may melt into liquid, as it were; and like rivers flow into the ocean, the whole world will flow into us. This is a kind of higher self-control, which only great masters can perform. We cannot melt the world so easily and make it flow like a river into our own ocean-like Self: śabdādīn viṣayān anya indriyāgniṣu juvhati.

Sarvāṇīndriyakarmāṇi prāṇakarmāṇi cāpare, ātmasaṁ- yamayogāgnau juvhati jñānadīpite: All the sensations and the very activity of the pranas are concentrated in the Self. There are five sense organs—seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching—and these are the five sensations. There are also five forms of breath—prana, apana, vyana, udana, samana. The prana causes the breath to exhale, and the apana causes the breath to inhale; and when we put a stop to this process of inhalation and exhalation it is called kumbhaka, which is mentioned a little later in further verses. Vyana is a pervading shakti, or force, which causes the circulation of blood throughout the body. Samana equalises the forces; it digests food.

These functions of the pranas, together with the fivefold function of the sensations mentioned, are concentrated on the Self, and emanate like rays of the sun from the Self of one’s own existence. The five pranas and their functions, and the five sensations, may be visualised as the rays of the sun, as it were—the sun being our own Atman. So sarvāṇīndriyakarmāṇi prāṇakarmāṇi: All the sensations and all the prana activities are concentrated in the Self. Ᾱtmasaṁyamayogāgnau juvhati jñānadīpite: Lit up with the highest form of wisdom, endowed with the knowledge of the Ultimate Spirit of the universe, a yogi or a spiritual seeker is enabled to perform this otherwise very difficult task of concentrating the pranas and the senses in his own Self, so that there are no multifarious activities taking place. There is a total action taking place, total perception taking place; and that total perception is called insight or intuition: ātmasaṁyamayogāgnau juvhati jñānadīpite.

Dravyayajñās tapoyajñā yogayajñās tathāpare, svādhyāyajñānayajñāś ca yatayaḥ saṁśitavratāḥ: Yogis, students of yoga, offer physical substances to the gods in heaven as a form of worship. This is called material offering: dravya yajna. Others offer themselves through the performance of tapas. Tapas is the creating of the heat in one’s own body or mind by subjugating the sense organs. There is an energy content in ourselves which always maintains an optimum. It never increases or decreases. As they say, the total energy in the cosmos is always stable—it does not increase or decrease—but, it can increase or decrease under certain circumstances. When the consciousness is contemplating an object of sense which is outside, particularly with an emotional charge upon it, the energy flows through the channel of the perceptive organ—and to that extent, the energy quantum is diminished. And the more we are emotionally conscious of an object, the weaker we are in mind and body, and the worse we are in every way. The greater the power of the consciousness to not allow itself to move in the direction of the objects of the sense organs and stabilise itself in itself, the greater is the energy quantum in us. And then indomitable strength, invincible power, and such things as siddhis may develop in one’s own self if our energies are maintained in ourselves, and they are not allowed to move outside towards objects or move through the sense organs to the parts of the body.

We have seen the beauty of a little baby. Why does an old man look ugly while a baby looks very beautiful? The reason is the equidistribution of energy in the baby’s system. As the child grows into an adolescent and an adult, the energies begin to concentrate themselves in the different parts of the body, and the equidistribution ceases. The harmony with which the energy is distributed in a baby makes every part of its body beautiful. There is no comparison of one part with another part. Whether it is the nose or the leg or the foot, all are beautiful. But when the energies get diverted due to the desires of the adult, they concentrate themselves in the eye or the nose or the tongue or the other organs, and the energy leaks out as water may leak out through a pot with many holes. This should not be allowed.

Tapas is the strength that we exercise in ourselves with which we maintain our energy in ourselves, and we do not wish that energy to go to some other object of sense, or even to a particular part of the body. It should be equally distributed everywhere. This is called tapoyajñā. This is why children who are innocent and have no desires, and also saints who have no desires, have beautiful and radiant faces. But ordinary people, who have desires, feel compelled to let out the energies towards objects through their sense organs.

Dravyayajñās tapoyajñā yogayajñās tathāpare: In terms of the practice of yoga, we do a yajna in a spiritual sense. It is left to us to determine what kind of yoga Bhagavan Sri Krishna means here. It may be karma yoga, it may be bhakti yoga, it may be the raja yoga of Patanjali or it may be the jnana yoga or brahmabhyasa of the Yoga Vasishtha and the Upanishads; by the practice of this kind of yoga, the highest kind of yajna is performed.

Dravyayajñās tapoyajñā yogayajñās tathāpare, svādhyāyajñānayajñāś ca. There are people who are devoted to sacred study. Every day they read the whole Gita, or the whole Srimad Bhagavata, or the Ramayana, or the Mahabharata, or the Bible, or the Koran, or whatever their holy text is. They pour themselves into the theme of the text, so that this tremendous concentration that they are bestowing on the theme that is delineated in the sacred text becomes a kind of concentration. Svadhyaya is sacred study. Svadhyaya does not mean reading books in the library, just picking up anything randomly and reading it. It is a concentrated study of a single text or a single group of texts—the Upanishads, Bhagavadgita, Vedas, etc.—so that the thoughts of the great masters who wrote these texts will have such an impact upon their minds that they are virtually meditating not only on the thoughts of these great sages but also on the noble themes which are delineated in the text. Thus, svadhyaya, sacred study, which is to be conducted every day by everyone, is also a yajna, a great sacrifice that a spiritual seeker ought to perform and must perform.

Jnana yajna is again mentioned as the pouring of the soul into the cosmos, the melting of ourselves into all the five elements, and ceasing to exist as individuals—existing only in God. The Yoga Vasishtha is especially devoted to jnana yoga. It tells us how to melt ourselves into the Supreme Being and deny the whole world as an existent subject itself—to see only God permeating everything, and know that only God is.

Dravyayajñās tapoyajñā yogayajñās tathāpare, svādhyāyajñānayajñāś ca yatayaḥ saṁśitavratāḥ; apāne juvhati prāṇaṁ prāṇe’pānaṁ tathāpare: Some people offer the prana into the apana as an oblation in a sacrifice. The offering of the prana into the apana is done by taking the breath inward. As I mentioned, the prana takes the breath outward. The apana pulls it down. So when we breathe in, the prana, which is otherwise outwardly motivated, is restrained from its outward activity and poured into the apana, as it were. This pouring of the prana into the apana by way of inhalation exercises is also a yajna of pranayama.

Prāṇe’pānaṁ tathāpare: Some offer the apana in the prana. That happens when we exhale. When the prana goes out, the apana is pulled up; the prana wants to take the energy of the downward pull together with it, and we exhale. But when we deeply inhale, the opposite action takes place; the prana is offered to the apana. So, apāne juvhati prāṇaṁ is actually a description of inhalation and exhalation. Puraka is filling; rechaka is exhaling. Hence, what is mentioned here is nothing but the process of puraka and rechaka, inhalation and exhalation, as part of the pranayama process.

Apāne juvhati prāṇaṁ prāṇe’pānaṁ tathāpare, prāṇāpānagatī ruddhvā prāṇāyāmaparāyaṇāḥ: Some people practise only inhalation or only exhalation, but some people restrain both the outward breath and the inward breath at a particular spot. That is called kumbhaka, retention, which is true prana-yama. Therefore, this verse actually describes the pranayama process—the inhalation process, the exhalation process, and the stopping process.

How will we stop the breath? Generally, people do it by closing the nostrils, though it causes a little suffocation. That is one way. But the better method of stopping the heaving of the breath is to concentrate the mind on one particular object. The more is the concentration on one thing, the less is the breathing process. Suppose we are walking on the precipice of a deep gorge. The path is only one foot wide, and if we step outside it even a little, we will fall down into the gorge. What would we do? Suppose we are walking on a tightrope in a circus. So much concentration is required! If we waver even a little bit, we will fall down. Therefore, concentration of the mind on a particular thing is a better method of bringing the breath to a stop. It cannot stop completely, but it becomes the minimum of inhalation and exhalation, so that the breath which usually extends about twelve inches in the ordinary process of breathing will become shorter and shorter. In the end, in perfected pranayama, the breath will move only inside the nostrils. It will not move outside. We will not even know whether the person is breathing unless a piece of cotton is put near his nose. This is type of pranayama is also one of the yajnas in spiritual practice. Apāne juvhati prāṇaṁ prāṇe’pānaṁ tathāpare, prāṇāpānagatī ruddhvā prāṇāyāmaparāyaṇāḥ.

Apare niyatāhārāḥ prāṇān prāṇeṣu juvhati: Others restrain themselves by an abstentious diet. They take a minimum diet. Niyatāhārāḥahara is a food of the sense organs. Though generally ahara means the food that enters through the mouth, in the yogic sense it can also be considered as anything that the sense organs take into themselves. Colour and form are the food of the eyes, sound is the food of the ears, smell is the food of the nose, taste is the food of the tongue, and touch is the food of the skin. Therefore, these are also food. So when we are abstentious and eat very little food, we not only diminish our chapatti and rice but we also diminish the desire to see, the desire to hear, the desire to smell, the desire to taste, and the desire to touch. All the sensations become diminished in their activity, and they become virtually controlled. This is niyatāhārāḥ—restrained diet of the sense organs.

Apare niyatāhārāḥ prāṇān prāṇeṣu juvhati: We can offer the senses unto the gods who superintend over the sense organs. Tell the god of the eyes, “Take your property.” Tell the god of the ears, “Take your property,” etc. We distribute the belongings which are not ours, which we borrowed from these gods. We give them back, and then we offer a terrible sacrifice of ourselves completely in terms of the dismemberment of the sense organs, and the pranas are offered into the cosmic prana. The senses are offered to the gods, the divinities that superintend or control the senses, so that the senses no longer work independently. They are centralised in the cosmic divinities. Similarly, the pranas are centralised in the cosmic prana, Hiranyagarbha.

Apare niyatāhārāḥ prāṇān prāṇeṣu juvhati, sarve’pyete yajñavido yajñakṣapitakalmaṣāḥ: All these processes of self-restraint that have been mentioned are equally good, and whoever takes to any one of these practices is to be considered as a real spiritual seeker, a real sadhaka, a real tapasvin. We can resort to any one of these methods of self-control that have been described by Bhagavan Sri Krishna in these great verses in the Fourth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita.

The way of spiritual practice can be variegated, as designated as the different forms of yajna which are described in a few verses in the Fourth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita. A yajna is a sacrifice, an offering, and the offering can be a visible material something, or it can be an offering by way of an inward contemplation. Śreyān dravyamayād yajñāj jñānayajñaḥ paraṁtapa, sarvaṁ karmākhilaṁ pārtha jñāne parisamāpyate (4.33): Better than material offering is the offering through knowledge. Jnana yajna is superior to dravya yajna. The imparting of knowledge is a greater service than giving a lot of money to a person as charity, because all value is centred in the extent of knowledge that we have of ourselves, of the world, and finally of God—of life and death.

Every activity culminates finally in knowledge. Sarvaṁ karmākhilaṁ pārtha jñāne parisamāpyate: Every activity directs itself to a state where activity itself ceases and, in the end, all action finds itself in a state of the abolition of all necessity for action. The movements of the rivers cease when they reach the ocean, which is their destination. There is no further movement in any direction after the rivers reach the ocean. Until that time, there is intense activity. Hence, all activity is an obligation that arises on account of the consciousness getting lodged in the physical body’s individuality, and it ceases to be an action when it assumes a super-individual dimension.

The flowing of a river is an action, the blowing of the wind is an action, the bursting of a volcano is an action. Do we find a difference between these actions and our actions? The difference is the extent of the personality-consciousness, ego-consciousness, individuality-consciousness involved. If our actions have an impact upon another person, it produces a nemesis by way of a reaction; but if the Ganga overflows and demolishes millions of villages, no reaction will be set up against the Ganga. If tornadoes blow, tear out trees, make the ocean rise up and destroy all kinds of life, the wind will not have any nemesis or reaction to its action. If a volcano kills millions, it will not have any karma reacting upon it. But if we do anything—if we destroy a village or break something—we will get the nemesis thereof.

The cause of nemesis, or reaction, is the extent of the individual consciousness that we maintain; and jnana is the total abolition of individual consciousness. Knowledge here does not mean academic learning in a college. It is not a gathering of information through books. It is an insight into the very substance of all things. It is Realisation that we call knowledge. Knowledge here means identity of consciousness with being. Even if a professor knows much about how the stars are formed, how the sun moves, how the solar system works, he cannot be said to have a true knowledge of these things, because true knowledge is identical with the being thereof. Having true knowledge of the sun would mean becoming the sun itself, and to know the stars would be to become the stars themselves. As no professor of knowledge has that acquisition of insight by which he can become one with that which he teaches, all professorial and academic learning keeps us away from the object of true knowledge.

Here the knowledge that is referred to in the Bhagavadgita, wherein all actions are supposed to melt down, is not the ordinary learning of any kind of academician. It is not panditya, or scholarship, but it is the very being of the object getting identified with the knowledge of the object. Sat becomes chit. Existence becomes Awareness. Knowledge is identified with the being of the very object that we know. It is this kind of knowledge that is spoken of as a highly exalted achievement, wherein all actions melt and cease forever.

All material offerings are inferior in comparison to the greatest of offerings of one’s own consciousness into the very object of consciousness. Jnana yajna is higher than dravya yajna or any kind of yajna involving objects which are material in their nature. Yathaidhāṁsi samiddhognir bhasmasāt kuruterjuna, jñānāgniḥ sarvakarmāṇi bhasmasāt kurute tathā (4.37): As a blazing fire reduces firewood into ashes, all karmas are reduced to ashes by this blazing fire of knowledge.

Arjuna is stupefied. “What is being told to me now? It was told that I should take up arms and fight. That was told at the beginning, and that is the import of the very teaching itself. What is the relation between my being asked to fight in the battlefield, and now being told that everything I do melts in the highest knowledge, which identifies itself with the object of knowledge?” Great doubts slowly arise even in Arjuna, the best of students.

All karmas get burnt to ashes in this great knowledge. Yogasaṁnyastakarmāṇaṁ jñānasaṁchinnasaṁśayam, ātma- vantaṁ na karmāṇi nibadhnanti dhanaṁjaya (4.41): He who has renounced all attachment through the identification of himself with all things, he who has dispelled all doubts through this knowledge which has been described just now, and he who is established in the consciousness of the Self, no karma can bind him. That is the meaning of this pithy verse, yogasaṁnyastakarmāṇaṁ jñānasaṁchinnasaṁśayam, ātmavantaṁ na karmāṇi nibadhnanti dhanaṁjaya: He who is a knower and a yogi, he who is established in the Self, him no action can bind.

Tasmād ajñānasañbhūtaṁ hṛtsthaṁ jñānāsinātmanaḥ, chittvainaṁ saṁśayaṁ yogam ātiṣṭhottiṣṭha bhārata (4.42) is the last verse of the Fourth Chapter. “Therefore, I am telling you, Arjuna, dispel this ignorance that has been born of misconception, and cut aside all doubts with this knowledge; with the sword of insight, establish yourself in yoga. This doubt that is harassing the heart of everybody and compels everyone to see things in a wrong fashion, dispel this ignorance with the sword of knowledge—jñānāsinātmanaḥ. Remove all doubts of every kind: ‘What kind of relation have I with myself?’ ‘What is my relation to the world?’ ‘What is my relation to God?’ ‘What is the relation of the world to God?’ Remove all these doubts at one stroke with the insight which is known as knowledge, or highest wisdom. Get up! Be bold! Bravo, O hero Arjuna!”