Commentary on the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 14: The Sixth Chapter Begins – The Characteristics of a Sannyasi and a Yogi

anāśritaḥ karmaphalaṁ kāryaṁ karma karoti yaḥ
sa sannyāsī ca yogī ca na niragnir na cākriyaḥ (6.1)
yaṁ sannyāsam iti prāhur yogaṁ taṁ viddhi pāṇḍava
na hy asaṁnyastasaṁkalpo yogī bhavati kaścana (6.2)
ārurukṣor muner yogaṁ karma kāraṇam ucyate
yogārūḍhasya tasyaiva śamaḥ kāraṇam ucyate (6.3)
yadā hi nendriyārtheṣu na karmasvanuṣajjate
sarvasaṅkalpa sannyāsī yogārūḍhas tadocyate
uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ nātmānam avasādayet
ātmaiva hyātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ
bandhur ātmātmanas tasya yenātmaivātmanā jitaḥ
anātmanas tu śatrutve vartetātmaiva śatruvat
jitātmanaḥ praśāntasya paramātmā samāhitaḥ
śītoṣṇasukhaduḥkheṣu tathā mānāpamānayoḥ

This Sixth Chapter, which we are commencing now, is a culmination of the very spirit of the first six chapters of the Bhagavadgita. The first six chapters of the Bhagavadgita deal with the discipline of the human individual. It starts with the lowest condition, as is described in the First Chapter, which is a state of conflict. From the state of conflict, the mind is gradually raised to the necessity to have knowledge of a wider perspective of things. Greater and greater detail about this is provided in the Third Chapter, even more detail is provided in the Fourth Chapter, and an even wider detail on the very same theme is given to us in the Fifth Chapter. Bandhur ātmātmanas tasya yenātmaivātmanā jitaḥ, anātmanas tu śatrutve vartetātmaiva śatruvat. All these are graduated descriptions of the ascending series of self-discipline that is absolutely necessary to become totally disciplined in one’s own individuality.

Our psychological apparatus is not aligned properly; it is mostly disarrayed. The non-alignment of the psyche consists of various functions—understanding, feeling, willing, etc.—and their not being in a state of psychological mutual collaboration splits the personality into fractions. Therefore, a person who is not properly integrated in his psyche behaves differently in different conditions, and one cannot know which mood a person will put on at what time because of the possibility of putting on different contours of behaviour. This is because of the fact that people generally live a fractional life; they never live a whole life. They are either emotionally moody or disturbed in some other way, or they are arrogant due to their understanding and their academic qualification or wealth or power, etc. Under different conditions they behave in different ways, the emphasis being laid on one or another aspect of the mind. This is the characteristic of an undisciplined mind, a mind that has been dissected into little pieces of behaviour and conduct due to a non-aligned personality, a disturbed personality, an undecided personality, a changing personality, an unsettled personality and, finally, an unhappy personality.

This has to be gradually overcome by a process of integrating the so-called fractions of the mind into a gestalt, as it is called in modern psychology, so that all thinking becomes a total thinking. Towards the achievement of total thinking, the chapters gradually take us to higher and higher levels, as medical treatment gradually moves in an ascending order from the worst of conditions, which is the illness of a patient, towards a gradual improvement in health, until it becomes total perfect health.

The final integration process is described in the Sixth Chapter. We are still only in an individual state. In the first six chapters we are not told what is beyond the individual, as there is no use speaking of what is beyond an individual to someone who is incapable of receiving this knowledge. What is beyond the individual is not an individual. Therefore, it is not possible for an ordinary split personality to receive knowledge of higher realities that are super-individual. So it becomes necessary to prepare oneself for the reception of this knowledge through graduated training in psychological integration; and the highest integration is achieved through dhyana, or meditation, which is the subject of the Sixth Chapter.

Anāśritaḥ karmaphalaṁ kāryaṁ karma karoti yaḥ, sa sannyāsī ca yogī ca na niragnir na cākriyaḥ. In ancient India, Sannyasins were supposed to be in a mature condition, transcending the Brahmacharya, Grihastha and Vanaprastha stages. The Grihastha, or the householder, maintains a sacred fire which is to be worshipped every day. When he takes Sannyasa, he no longer worships that fire. This verse says that merely because a person does not maintain a fire, it does not follow that he is a Sannyasin. Na niragnir na cākriyaḥ: A Sannyasin is supposed to be a person who does not take part in active work of any kind. The verse says that, in this regard, it does not mean that a person is a Sannyasin merely because he does not do any work.

In the traditional pattern, there are two characteristics of Sannyasa. A Sannyasin does not do any work in the ordinary social sense, nor does he worship fire as a householder does. So can one give up doing any work, and give up worshipping the fire of the householder, and say that one is a Sannyasin? Bhagavan Sri Krishna says here that it does not follow that a person is a Sannyasin merely because he has given up fire worship and he is not doing any work. The characteristics of Sannyasa do not mean non-work, nor do they mean the non-worship of fire. The characteristics of Sannyasa are an internal illumination, a maturity of thought, and a widening of perspective. It is an internal achievement, and not an outward performance.

When a person does not depend on the fruits of an action—anāśritaḥ karmaphalaṁ—and yet goes on doing the work for the welfare of the world, he may be considered to be a Sannyasin. That is, work does not in any way hinder a person from being a Sannyasin; but work hinders if it is done with an ulterior motive for achieving some future fruit. Not depending on the fruit of action, we have to engage ourselves in action. This has been described in detail in the earlier chapters. The duty that is incumbent upon an individual is performed. Duty is a must on the part of every individual. There are different types of duty that are called for—physical, psychological, social—and these duties are incumbent on the individual merely because of the fact that the individual exists in an environment which calls for such work or duty.

Therefore, such a person can be called a Sannyasi—sa sannyāsī—such a person can be called a yogi—ca yogī—who performs duty for duty’s sake, and works not with a motive for the fruit. But a Sannyasi is not necessarily a person who does not do any work and keeps quiet, nor is a Sannyasi a person who does not perform the rituals of a householder. External dissociation does not mean internal illumination. Yoga and Sannyasa are internally connected: yaṁ sannyāsam iti prāhur yogaṁ taṁ viddhi pāṇḍava. Sannyasa and yoga finally mean one and the same thing in the sense that a person who has not totally withdrawn himself from attachments of every kind cannot unite himself with the cosmic spirit. The union that we attempt with the cosmic spirit is yoga, but this cannot be attempted unless there is a total detachment of the consciousness of the individual from involvement in external objects. Yaṁ sannyāsam iti prāhur yogaṁ taṁ viddhi pāṇḍava: Whatever is called Sannyasa is also called yoga, and whatever is yoga is also Sannyasa. A person who is united with the cosmic reality is automatically detached from every kind of sense contact; and conversely, a person whose consciousness is totally detached from contact with objects is also a yogi because he enters into a wider dimension of experience due to the withdrawal of consciousness from sense contact.

Yaṁ sannyāsam iti prāhur yogaṁ taṁ viddhi pāṇḍava, na hy asaṁnyastasaṁkalpo yogī bhavati kaścana. A Sannyasin has another quality: he does not will that something has to be done. He has no volition in any particular direction. He does not decide that something should be ‘like this’, and he does not decide that it should not be ‘like this’. Such a decision, such a determination, such a wish does not arise in his mind. He has no sankalpa. Sankalpa means a kind of desire-filled determination of the will. As a Sannyasin does not have any desire, he cannot have a determination in respect of doing something and avoiding something else. The Sannyasin, having withdrawn his self from contact with sense objects, cannot have a desire to decide matters in favour of certain things or against certain other things. Na hy asaṁnyastasaṁkalpo yogī bhavati kaścana: A person who is asaṁnyasta-saṅkalpa—that is, a person who has not freed himself from this desire-filled willing in terms of achievements in the world—such a person who has not attained this freedom cannot become a yogi.

We cannot commune ourselves with realities until we are free from contact with unrealities. We cannot attain to the Self until we are free from the clutches of the non-Self. We cannot attain the Atman until we are free from contact with the anatman. We cannot attain the Universal until we are free from clutches of the external. The external and the Universal are opposites, and the externality that characterises ordinary sense perception precludes all possibility of Universal Consciousness. Therefore, a person who is not a Sannyasi—that means to say, a person who has not freed himself from desire for contact with objects of sense—such a person also cannot become a yogi. This is because yoga is union with Reality, and that is possible only if one is free from the life of unreality, which demands attachment to things, etc.

Yaṁ sannyāsam iti prāhur yogaṁ taṁ viddhi pāṇḍava: “O Pandava Arjuna! Know that whatever is Sannyasa, that is also yoga.” Perfect renunciation is the same as perfect attainment. The highest achievement is effected through the highest renunciation. The total withdrawal from contact with externals is automatically contact with the Universal, and contact with externals is automatically an obliteration of the consciousness of the Universal. Thus it is that Sannyasa and yoga are identical in their meaning, and one who is not one also cannot be the other: na hy asaṁnyastasaṁkalpo yogī bhavati kaścana.

Ᾱrurukṣor muner yogaṁ karma kāraṇam ucyate, yogārūḍhasya tasyaiva śamaḥ kāraṇam ucyate. This is a very difficult verse, whose meaning has been brought out in various commentaries on the Bhagavadgita. Literally, this verse means that action is the means to perfection for a person who attempts to practise yoga, and non-action is supposed to be the characteristic of a person who has already attained yoga. This is the literal translation. God, in the form of Bhagavan Sri Krishna teaching the Bhagavadgita, does not propagate non-action, as we have already seen. Therefore, we cannot interpret the word ‘śama’ as absence of activity, although many a commentator has thought that śama, which means internal tranquillity, automatically means withdrawal from external activity. This is what commentators generally say. But we cannot conclude that the word ‘śama’, or tranquillity, which is supposed to be the characteristic of one who is established in yoga, is opposed to activity or work, because throughout the Gita the point is hammered into our ears again and again that inaction does not mean yoga, and inaction does not mean Sannyasa. Hence, the state of total, perfect establishment in yoga should not necessarily be interpreted as a state of total negativity, or absence of action.

The other day, I gave you a homely example of intense activity appearing as no activity at all. The higher forms of activity do not look like the ordinary activities of a labourer in a field. Even in ordinary parlance, a person who is sitting quietly on a chair in an office may be doing greater work than a labourer carrying bricks on the road, although visibly the labourer is doing more work than a person sitting in an office. This is because a person who administrates a big office works in a different way and in a different realm altogether. His actions are of a higher quality, though in quantum it appears as if the bricklayer is more active. As the level of administration rises higher and higher, it may appear less and less active to the onlooker, though in quality it is actually an increase in a person’s responsibility—and responsibility is the same as work.

When a person is beginning to practise yoga, there are preparatory actions of self-purification—ārurukṣu—which are: sandhya vandana, or the daily worship in the morning and evening; worship of Suryanarayana through surya namaskara, etc.; Gayatri japa, etc.; and in the case of a householder, the performance of the pancha mahayajnas and the worship of the holy fire, and charity. All these activities are the visible forms of work that are self-purifying in their nature because these actions are done with no motive for the fruit of action. These actions are done as a perfect duty and, therefore, it purifies the self; and this kind of purifying activity is supposed to be a means to perfection in the case of a person who is attempting to practise yoga.

In the case of a person who is totally established, action is not supposed to be the means. Śama, or tranquillity, is the means. ‘Tranquillity’ is a very intriguing word because, as I mentioned, various commentaries have looked upon it from various perspectives. But keeping in view the total vision of the intention of the Bhagavadgita, we should consider the life of Bhagavan Sri Krishna as the best commentary of the Bhagavadgita. There is no commentary on the Gita greater than the life of Bhagavan Sri Krishna himself. How did he live? This is perhaps his intention in teaching the Bhagavadgita. He wants us to be a Bhagavan Sri Krishna ourselves, and to think and act as he thought and acted. In my opinion, Sri Krishna’s life is perhaps the best commentary on the Gita, and not any other commentary, academic or otherwise.

Sri Krishna was a total inclusive personality. Was Sri Krishna a householder? Was he a Sannyasin? Was he a warrior? Was he a saint? Was he a Brahmin or a Kshatriya? What kind of person was Bhagavan Sri Krishna? We will not be able to have a straight answer to this because it is an incarnation of the Absolute that came in the form of Sri Krishna. The Absolute does not behave like a householder, and it does not behave like a Sannyasin. It does not behave like a person who keeps quiet. It may appear to behave like a warrior, but it does not mean that it is really behaving like a warrior. It is calm and quiet—utter tranquillity. And, the Brahmana-Kshatriya distinction does not apply. As a matter of fact, from a purely physical point of view, Sri Krishna was a Kshatriya, and not a Brahmin. Sri Rama was also a Kshatriya.

The power that Sri Krishna wielded is commensurate with the knowledge that he had. Sri Krishna was a mastermind who had the power to contact even Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. He could immediately contact these great gods, and he could work on earth as a labourer in the battlefield, driving Arjuna’s chariot with five horses into the battle. He could speak the highest philosophy as in the Bhagavadgita, and he could be in his palace in Dvaraka like an emperor. He could be like a child, a baby in the lap of Yasoda. He could be a terror to wicked people like Kamsa. What kind of person was he? It is like asking what kind of person God is. Our minds are not fit to accommodate these characteristics of total personalities. We call these people supermen. Since supermen do not behave like men, we should not interpret their behaviour in terms of human behaviour. Many people read the Mahabharata and say that Krishna did this and Krishna did that. They are judging things from the human point of view. It was a superhuman intervention of divinity that behaved in the necessary fashion from the cosmic point of view and, therefore, any kind of human ethics should not be applied to divine activities.

Thus, Sri Krishna was not an inactive person; nor can we say he was an active person restlessly moving about here and there, trying to uplift the world, doing charity, and building hospitals or schools and colleges. Neither was he that type of person, nor was he the type who kept quiet without doing any service. And no Sannyasin could equal him. Millions of Sannyasins could not stand before him, and yet he was a general and a field marshal. What a contradiction: a Sannyasin behaving like a field marshal before whom no warrior could stand! No Sannyasin could stand before him, no yogi could stand before him, and even the gods could not stand before him. What kind of a person was he? This is the kind of personality that he wants us to become, and that state is the ultimate tranquillity that we achieve in the condition of establishment in yoga: the divine tranquillity of God Himself, Who is not a restless individual. Yogārūḍhatva is a state of utter tranquillity in the divine sense, not in the sense of absence of activity, because we cannot say that God is free from activity. Varta eva ca karmaṇi (3.22): “I am always busy,” is what Lord Krishna tells Arjuna. But his being busy is totally different from our being busy—because we are busy physically, socially and psychologically, but Lord Krishna is the Absolute itself working. We cannot know how the Absolute acts because its action is within itself and, therefore, it may look like non-action. An action that is taking place within itself is no longer an action, and yet it is a tremendous action, a most heightened form of action. But because it is the highest form of action, it looks like no action. Śama, which is the tranquillity that is spoken of here as the characteristic of a perfect yogi, is to be understood in this sense. This is my own individual commentary based on my own insight, as it were, and not based on any book or academic knowledge. My feeling about it is that we have to work like God Himself, and that is what Bhagavan Sri Krishna is telling us in the Bhagavadgita: yogārūḍhasya tasyaiva śamaḥ kāraṇam ucyate.

Yadā hi nendriyārtheṣu na karmasvanuṣajjate, sarvasaṅkalpasannyāsī yogārūḍhas tadocyate: This state is when there is no contact of the senses with objects, and we do not see anything even with open eyes. We can keep our eyes open, and yet see nothing. Our ears can be open, and yet we hear nothing. This is possible. Opening the eyes and apparently looking at things, but yet seeing nothing, is called sambhavi mudra. People say that Ramana Maharishi was doing sambhavi mudra. He would appear to look at things with open eyes, but he was seeing nothing. The mind becomes withdrawn from the outer organ which is the eye. Similarly, we may not even hear a gunshot if the mind is concentrated on something and does not register the sound of the gunshot. When the sense organs do not receive reports from outside objects, when a person is not attached to the activities of the sense organs, and does not get attached to any kind of ordinary fruit-yielding actions—yadā hi nendriyārtheṣu na karmasvanuṣajjate; when a person is rid of all decisions in a particular direction—that things should be ‘like this’ or should be ‘like that’, and feels that either way is all right—such a person who has no particular will in any given direction is called a sarvasaṅkalpasannyāsī, and he is also called yogārūḍha, established in yoga.

Uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ nātmānam avasādayet, ātmaiva hyātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ. Never feel despondent. Never complain that you are not able to achieve anything in meditation. Do not put on a sour and castor-oil face, as Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to say. He used to say, “Don’t put on a Sunday face.” Do not feel diffident. Do not feel discomfiture within yourself that you have come to the ashram and have been practising yoga under the guidance of Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj’s blessings for so many years but you have achieved nothing. This kind of feeling should not arise. How do you know that you have not achieved anything?

There was a person called Madhusudhana Saraswati, and a person called Vidyaranya. They did twenty-four purascharanas of Gayatri, and no divinity appeared before them. They were great masters, more powerful in their minds than any one of us. They were wonderstruck that after so much tapasya they had no experience at all.

A voice said, “You shall not have a vision of me in this life.”

The person who was called Vidyaranya, who wrote the Panchadasi and other works, was known as Madhava in his pre-Sannyasa days. He was a very learned person. His brother, called Sayana, wrote a commentary on all the four Vedas. They must have been geniuses. We cannot imagine such great wisdom.

Madhava did Gayatri purascharana for attaining siddhi, and a voice said, “You shall not have a vision of me in this life.”

He got disgusted that after having done so much, nothing had come. He took Sannyasa.

When he took Sannyasa, immediately the divinity appeared and asked, “Why are you doing do much purascharana? What do you want from me?”

To that Madhava said, “You said that you will not appear before me in this birth.”

“But this is a second birth,” the voice said. “You have taken another birth. Therefore, I came.”

“I want nothing now,” said Vidyaranya. “I was a poor man. As the householder Madhava, I would have certainly asked for wealth and riches, and anything that would make me prosperous. But I have taken to renunciation, the path of Sannyasa. Now I cannot ask for anything. So I am very sorry, great divinity. You have come too late, and now I cannot ask anything from you.”

But the divinity said, “I cannot go without giving something. When I appear, I must give something before going.”

“But I cannot ask for anything.”

“You must ask for something.”

“But I want nothing.”

Then the divinity said, “Because you want nothing, you shall have everything,” and it vanished. And Vidyaranya became omniscient.

What I mean is, you should not say that after twenty-four purascharanas you have achieved nothing. Some pratibandhaka karma, some rajasic karma of your previous birth has obstructed the appearance of divinity, but it does not mean that you have not progressed. The purascharanas have destroyed your sins, and when all the obstacles have been eliminated completely, immediately illumination will come. This was the case with Buddha also. The day before illumination, he felt as if everything was a waste. He was crawling like a half-dead man, and he felt that all the tapasya that he had done was a waste; but that very night he had illumination. As they say, the night is darkest just before sunrise. It does not mean that it is really dark; illumination is to immediately take place. So even if after many years of meditation in an ashram you have achieved nothing, it does not mean that really you have achieved nothing. You have achieved something; some obstacle is there which is being eliminated gradually. So do not be despondent. Do not complain about yourself. Do not complain against God, and do not be diffident. Do not have a lack of faith in the scriptures, in the Guru, and in God.

Raise yourself: uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ. Always be positive in your nature: “I am strong. I am healthy. I can walk three miles without any fatigue, and I can digest any food that is given in the kitchen. I have no problem.” Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to say, “My disciple can digest any food. He can wash vessels better than any servant. He can walk three miles and not feel any fatigue. He can type better than a good typist. He can speak better than professors. Such is my disciple. My disciple is not a diffident man; he is a very confident man. My disciple is unequalled in any field.” So he is a genius, almost like a superman.

Therefore, uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ nātmānam avasādayet. Never become depressed. “It is a waste! So much japa has been done. What is the good of it? God may be there or may not be. I don’t understand anything. The scriptures may be saying a hundred things. I don’t know which path to pursue. This Guru has been telling me something, but finally he has brought nothing. I will go to another Guru, and I will stay in some other place. I will go to Uttarkashi. I will go to Benares.”

These kinds of ideas should not arise in the mind. You should feel, “I have taken to this path, and I am sure that I will get it.” If there is no visible progress, it is due to some rajasic karma operating in you. It does not mean that no progress has been made. So do not deprecate yourself. Never condemn yourself. Do not say that you are a sinner. “I am not a sinner. I am a disciple of a Guru and a devotee of God, and I will attain the final liberation one day. So why should I think that I am unfit? I am as fit as anybody else.” Have this confidence, and you will really become that—because what you think you are, that you really become.

Uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ nātmānam avasādayet: Never deprecate yourself. Raise yourself by the power of the Self. Uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ nātmānam avasādayet, ātmaiva hytmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ: You are the friend of yourself and you are the enemy of yourself. If you go on condemning yourself, you are actually becoming the enemy of your own self; but if you raise yourself with the power of the spirit of higher aspiration, you are becoming the friend of yourself. You will be healthy, strong and prosperous.