The Philosophy of the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 10: Forms of Sacrifice and Concentration

There is another important theme expounded in the Fourth Chapter, viz., sacrifice as a practice of Yoga, in which context certain details of the variegated methods of the performance of this sacrifice as Yoga are delineated. The adoration of the gods, the celestials, or the deities of religion is a sacrifice. And any sacrifice is also a Yoga, because sacrifice means a parting of one’s own self in some measure in the direction of the achievement of a larger Self, so that in every form of sacrifice a lower form of self is surrendered or sacrificed to a higher form of Self.

Whenever the mind fixes its attention on something other than itself, which is supposed to be wider in its comprehension than the contemplating mind or the self, that process is to be regarded as a sacrifice. A lower principle has to be sacrificed for the sake of a higher principle. Contemplation on a Deity, as we conceive it, is the aim of religion, wherein the surrender of oneself in such a contemplation is implied. This is one kind of sacrifice, a religious performance, and it is Yoga, because it is the union of the lower with the higher by means of adoration. The surrender of the lower self to the higher Self is regarded as Brahma-yajna, jnana-yajna—sacrifice of knowledge, or sacrifice in knowledge, or through knowledge, for the sake of union with the larger Self which is a manifestation of Brahman, the Absolute.

When the senses are withdrawn and fixed inwardly, a sacrifice is performed, and this is also a part of the practice of Yoga. When the senses are concentrated on objects which are regarded as helpful in the sublimation of desire, a kind of sacrifice is performed for the realisation of a higher good. When the powers of the mind, the intellect and the senses, together, are centred in the Self, or the Consciousness within, a sacrifice is performed, and it is a Yoga. When the vital energy inside moving in the form of the breathing process is regulated through systematised exhalation, inhalation and retention known usually as rechaka, puraka and kumbhaka, a sacrifice is performed. And that is also a way of Yoga.

Any act by which the propulsion of the mind and the senses outwardly is checked for the purpose of the utilisation of the whole of one’s consciousness for contemplation on a ‘being’ which includes one’s own self, and is therefore larger than one’s self, is a great sacrifice. Whenever our joy is shared with another, we perform a sacrifice. And the great joy of everyone is to retain the ego. The maintenance of one’s own ego-sense intact is the greatest of satisfactions, and when we share this satisfaction a little of the ego is diminished in its intensity, thereby we part with a measure of our personality, we share a little bit of our being, the lower self, by which act we expand our consciousness in the direction of that which includes the so-called lower self of ours as well as that on which we are contemplating. When we were discussing the concept of the Deity we had touched upon this theme.

All these are yajnas, or sacrifices, or a tapas, and therefore they are Yoga. Study of scriptures with concentration and a holiness of spirit is also regarded as a sacrifice, because concentration is involved there. But we are admonished that sacrifices which require physical material are lower than those forms of sacrifice where the mind alone functions and any physical appurtenance is not necessary. A feeling of charitableness, for instance, is an act of the mind, which is superior to the physical expression of it by way of parting with any external material when the inward feeling is absent. It is the feeling that counts, and it assumes a significance only when it is genuine, when it becomes a tendency to rise above one’s lower self to the higher Self, which includes the person or persons towards which one expresses the charitable feelings. Any kind of austerity by which the senses are restrained and the ego is overcome in any percentage is superior to material sacrifices. And the highest sacrifice, or the loftiest concentration, the greatest form of Yoga is the centring of consciousness in the Consciousness of a larger dimension. “Dispelling all doubts by the awakening of knowledge, and converting or transforming every action into Yoga, root yourself in your higher Consciousness,” are the concluding words of the Fourth Chapter, which message is continued in the Fifth and Sixth Chapters with certain other forms of detail.

Knowledge and action are not two different things. Samkhya and Yoga are like the obverse and reverse of the same coin. Therefore, renunciation of any kind is impossible unless the separatist tendency in one’s self is overcome to the extent necessary. We always feel that we are separate from the world and from creation as a whole. This tendency to the isolation of oneself from everything outside is the opposite of Yoga, and if Yoga is a gradual movement towards the affiliation of one’s self with all things, aiming at union with things finally, if Yoga means that, renunciation of any kind is impossible without this Yoga; because renunciation, at least in the spirit of the Bhagavadgita, does not mean a physical dissociation from objects or persons, but a withdrawal of the consciousness of the externality of things, so that renunciation becomes a function of consciousness and not an activity of the body. Hence renunciation, which is the essence of Karma Yoga, cannot be dissociated from the forms of concentration and meditation which are normally known as Yoga.

Meditation and action are the same, if they are to be defined in the way we have stated. When the senses move among objects, a desire is not moving; that is the caution we have to exercise when we perform actions in the world. Mostly, when we cognise or perceive things, this process is charged with a desire, a motive within. When we gaze at things or look at objects or hear things or perform any sense function, we would realise, if we are properly investigative, that there is some kind of impulsion from inside in the direction of a self-satisfaction in the lower self, and a desireless perception is unthinkable for us. However, Yoga is not the repression of sense-activity but the freeing of sense activity from involvement in desires which usually propel the activity. All activities get infected with some desire concerned with the ego sense. And Yoga is a gradual freedom that is to be attained in this activity of the sense organs by means of the dissociation of the same from this disease called desire. Activity is permissible, and the Bhagavadgita tells us that it is unavoidable, but it also insists at the same time that we have to be careful to see that desire is not going there side by side or parallelly with the activity of the senses. It is not necessary that activity should always be with some desire. In fact, the most noble form of action is desireless action. And a desireful action is really culpable, ultimately.

When one realises that the impulsion of the senses in the direction of objects is a cosmic function, a thing that was explained in detail in the Third Chapter, one begins to be inwardly happy in a higher sense on account of the attunement of oneself with the great forces of the universe, which are the real agents of actions and whose movement is the reason behind the movement of the senses towards the objects. As we have already noted, it is not the senses that move towards the objects; the gunas of prakriti move among the gunas of prakriti. Prakriti is moving towards prakriti. The forces of Nature commingle with the forces of Nature, so that there are no sense organs and there are no objects of the senses. There is a continuity of movement which has neither a beginning nor an end in the entire cyclic motion of cosmic activity, and we do not come into the picture there as individuals. Rather, we do not exist. What exists is the universal force. Prakriti-shakti manifests itself as sattva, rajas and tamas. We will not feel at that time that we are doing anything at all, just as when a vehicle is moving, in which we are seated, we do not feel that we have made any contribution to this movement. We are taken by the force of the movement of the vehicle.

This is a hard thing for the mind to entertain, because no human being is accustomed to think in this manner. We have a stereotyped way of thinking which is the traditional outlook of life, which is essentially selfish, personal and materialistic, physical and rooted in the utter isolatedness of sense from the whole of the environment. The very quintessence of Yoga practice is stated in two verses towards the end of the Fifth Chapter, which is detailed out in an expanded form in the Sixth Chapter.

The contact of the senses with objects outside has to be severed. This is the first instruction. Here we are likely to make a mistake in understanding the meaning of this statement. The objects have to be severed from their contact with the senses. Generally, what we understand by this suggestion is that we should run away physically from the objects. Geographically there has to be a movement from place to place, from where the objects are located. We move to go to other places where these objects are not available. This is the crudest and the lowest form of renunciation.

But we have been cautioned in one place, in the Second Chapter, that physical isolation need not necessarily mean absence of desire for things. The mind may not be dissociated from its contemplated objects, while physically there may be a distance between the body and the objects. The severing of the senses from the objects of their perception means here, in this context, not merely a physical distance to be maintained between ourselves and the objects, but the extrication of our consciousness from the clutches of externality or objectivity, and coming to a realisation or experience that the objects are not really externally placed.

To come back to the theme of the Third Chapter, again, we have to be convinced at the bottom of our being that the objects are not placed externally in space and time. This is a mistaken view of the mind. If they are not really external to us, there cannot be any sensory contact with them and, therefore, there is no question of a desire for them. The whole thing drops at one stroke. This is true renunciation, and this is abiding, and this is the significance of this admonition that there should be a severance of the senses from the objects of the senses.

The gaze or the attention is to be fixed in the centre, where the mind is located. This is a little bit of psychic instruction. Esoteric psychology holds that the mind has a certain location. In the waking state it is supposed to be functioning through the brain, and its root is supposed to be the point between the two eyebrows. In the condition of dream, the mind is said to be moving through the nerve centre located in the throat, or the region of the neck, and in the condition of deep sleep the mind goes down into the heart, and that is the ultimate seat of the mind.

Here, in the verses referred to in the Fifth Chapter, we are told that the mind has to be concentrated on the point between the two eyebrows. The gaze has to be fixed on the ajna-chakra, as it is called, by which what is implied is that the mind has to concentrate itself on its own seat. Thereby, it becomes easier to control the mind than when it is moving away from its centre. Neither should we close the eyes completely nor should we open the eyes fully, which appears to be something like looking at the tip of the nose. The idea is not that we should actually concentrate on the tip of the nose, though that is one form of concentration people generally try sometimes. What is implied is that there should be a half-closed posture of the eyes, by which we neither close them wholly and get induced into a mood of sleep or torpidity, nor do we open them completely and be distracted by the presence of objects outside.

Together with this function we begin to breathe slowly, leisurely, with a sense of freedom from engagements and obligations and duties of every kind at that time. The prana moves calmly, harmoniously, beautifully, only when we have no commitments psychologically. If we have any kind of engagement attracting our attention inwardly, towards that direction the prana also will move. And the agitation of the prana is due to distractedness caused by the desires of the mind, by commitment to activity. Hence, when we sit for meditation, there should be no preconceived background of obligations of any kind. Otherwise, a part of our mind, subconsciously or unconsciously, will be tying itself to the engagements towards which also it has to move, and which it has on its hands. When we sit for meditation, there should be no background of obligations of any kind, except the obligation to concentrate.

It would be advisable for every person who is after the practice of meditation to see that immediate obligations are fulfilled before sitting for meditation. Well, we cannot be free from all obligations, of course; that is very clear. It does not mean that the entire commitments of the whole of life should be stopped. That is not possible. But there should not be any pressing need compelling our immediate attention elsewhere. At least for a few hours we are to be free, may be for half a day we have no engagements, and then we feel a little bit of rest, there is a leisure felt inwardly, then the pranas automatically settle down of their own accord, for there is composure of mind.

There is also, then, a spontaneous harmony of the movement of the pranas. The whole attention should be on freedom of the self in the absorption of consciousness in God. The senses, the mind and the intellect should stand together as if there is a single flame of life emerging from the self within. Usually the senses work somewhere, the mind is thinking something, and the intellect is acquiescing in the activities of the mind and senses; they never work in harmony. We are agitated personalities on account of the lack of harmony among the senses, the mind and the intellect. Like three flames of light joining into a single flame, the power of the senses and the power of the mind and the power of reason should stand together in unison. And the comparison given in the Sixth Chapter is that the flame should be unflickering like the glow of the lamp which is placed in a windless place. Such is the consciousness we attain to when there is no desire behind the working of the senses and there is no personal impulsion goading the mind towards anything outside, and the reason is satisfied.

One’s only goal is moksha, salvation, and there is no other aim in life. We have to be a hundred percent convinced that moksha is the goal of life, the liberation of the spirit is the aim of all our activities, all our studies, all our engagements, anything that we do, in any manner. Non-hatred, non-anger, non-greed follow automatically from this whole-souled attention of the consciousness on the ideal of the salvation of the spirit in the Absolute. This is Yoga in essence, says the Fifth Chapter.

All this is very inspiring, no doubt, but when we actually take to the practice, we will find that the senses are not yielding so easily. They are like turbulent horses which drag the vehicle, or the chariot, in any way they like, and to maintain a control over these horses which pull the vehicle of this body, the personality, is a hard job, indeed. The whole process of the practice of Yoga is a gradual one, not a sudden impulsive movement. We do not jump into action when we enter into Yoga. We take one step at a time, even as the mason keeps only one brick at a time when he raises a wall for a building; he does not place a thousand bricks in a heap. There is a gradual raising of the building by the architect or the workman, there is a steadiness and fixity maintained right from the bottom or the foundation, and a lot of time is to be taken in seeing that the foundation is strong, that every brick is laid properly in position, and firmly, with the requisite cement. Otherwise, there is a chance of the crumbling of the edifice. There should be no break or haste in any successful action, whether it is in raising a building structure, printing a book, writing a text, listening to a lecture or contemplating on God. Everything has to be done with great caution, passivity, leisure, and composure inwardly, and we will not be losers if we take time in this, because it is wiser to take time to understand each step, than to rush up and lose everything that was gained.

Therefore, in this connection, the Sixth Chapter, which is known as ‘The Yoga of Meditation’, tells us that nobody can be a Yogi who has not renounced the personal will or the mood of taking initiative for the satisfaction or the well-being of one’s own lower self. When the senses have no desire for any objects and they have no impulsion whatsoever towards any personalistic action, and one has inwardly renounced all motives of every kind, then it is that one is established in Yoga.

Yoga is a step that we take in the direction of establishment in impersonality, whatever be the degree of it. And every personalistic will or desire or action is a rootedness in personality. Impersonality is Yoga, which is attained by the stages mentioned in the Yoga scriptures. It is, again, mentioned that Yoga is the concentration which the lower self practises on the immediately superior, higher Self. There are various degrees of self, and so we may say that the whole universe consists of only Self, and nothing but that. There are no objects; there are only selves, by which what is intended is that unless an element of selfhood is present even in the so-called objects of sense, there cannot be love for the objects. Love is only the recognition of the presence of the self in that which we love. If the self is not there, love is unthinkable. All love is self-love in various connotations of the meaning of self. It is not without meaning that the metaphysicians of the Upanishads tell us that the whole universe is the Self, the Atman is all things.

But one has to be careful, again, in understanding what the Upanishads mean, or the Bhagavadgita intends, or anyone connotes. When they say that the Self and the universe are identical, it is easy to misunderstand the statement and it is hard to make out the significance thereof. The self is that which we regard as our own psychophysical individuality, the Mr. or Mrs., the “I” that we regard ourselves to be, this is the self for our practical purposes today. But if we analyse the motives behind the moods and activities of the so-called self of ours, we will realise that its intentions are selfish—‘selfish’ in a particular interpretation of the meaning of the self. The urge of the senses towards the objects is the action of the self. It is the self that is propelling the senses towards the objects through the instrumentality of the reason and the mind, to come in union with the objects, under the impression that union with objects is the satisfaction of the self. So it is the satisfaction of the self that is the intention behind the coming in contact with the objects of the senses, and it is not the love for the objects that is the prime motivation. There is no love for objects, absolutely. There is love only for the satisfaction of one’s self, which is impossible, we feel, in a sort of illusion, unless we come in contact with the objects. Various reasons are given as to why this situation supervenes, or takes place. How is it that we make this mistake?

There is a psychological explanation and a metaphysical one. Psychologically, the satisfaction that we feel at the time of coming in contact with the desired object is the result of the extinction of desire, the result not of the possession of the object or the enjoyment of the object but of the cessation of desire at the time of coming in contact with the object, which happens on account of the feeling in the mind that its purpose has been served. The purpose of the senses is to possess the object, make it their own, unite it with themselves and feel a non-separation of themselves from it, which purpose seems to be achieved when the object is possessed, made one’s own and there is no further need for the senses and the mind to contemplate the object. “It has already become mine, and it is I, in one sense.” The senses have subsided into the mind, the mind has gone back to the reason, and the reason is in the self. There is, then, a self-possessedness. Consciousness has rested itself temporarily, though only for the flash of a second, and we feel an exhilaration inside, a happiness and satisfaction that we have possessed and enjoyed and got what we want. This is a blunder on the very surface of it.

Metaphysically, the reason is something different. The Self is present everywhere, there is only One Self, the Universal Being, which exists in the objects. The objects pull us, we are pulled towards the objects, and conversely, we too pull the objects towards ourselves, on account of the Self beckoning its own Self in the form of a presence outwardly in space and time. The Infinite is summoning the Infinite in every act of desire, in every process of sense perception, and what we ask for even in the least of our actions and desires is the Universal Self, and nothing short of it. But the senses do not know the purpose behind their activity; they are again in ignorance. When we ask for anything, we are asking for this Universal Being, and we are not asking for anything else. This is the ontological explanation, the metaphysical interpretation or reason given behind the movement of the senses, mind and intellect towards objects. It is the higher Self which is the object of the lower self in every form of contemplation. And when the self which is lower tunes itself up to the higher Self, it is in a state of Yoga.

This higher Self has various degrees of manifestation, and the higher Self need not necessarily mean the Absolute at once. There is, to come back to the theme of yajna mentioned in the Third Chapter, a Deity that superintends over the circumstance of the relation between the subject and the object. This Deity is the higher Self for the time being, the synthesis between the subject and the object. This Deity, again, becomes an individual subject in the light of a higher realm of cognition which has its own objects.

Difficult is all this for the mind to understand, and we are not supposed to go too high when we are in a lower stage. We will know what is above us when we reach the stage that is immediately below. Each time we are given only the vision of one step ahead; we cannot have the total vision of all things at the stroke of a moment. Just now we can have an inkling of what is immediately above us, and further on we cannot know anything. When we reach that second step, or achieve the immediately higher level, we will have the vision of the next higher level. Nature reveals its secrets by degrees, and the whole secret cannot be given in one instant.

The Bhagavadgita, in its Sixth Chapter, tells us that the higher Self is the controlling principle of the lower self. The higher Self is the object of meditation by the lower self, and the higher is the aim of the lower. To the extent the lower is in union with the higher, to that extent we are successful in our endeavours. To the extent we are selfish and ignorant of even the presence of the higher, to that extent we are not going to be successful here. The higher Self becomes the friend of the lower when the lower is tuned up to the higher, and then it helps the lower. But the higher Self may appear even to be an enemy. Sometimes it appears to us that God Himself is setting aside all our motives and is not compassionate enough, all because we are not in tune with His purposes, His motives, and His Laws. So the Self is the friend of the self, and is the enemy also, which means to say that the higher Self is the friend and the benefactor of ourselves to the extent we are in tune with its purposes and laws and regulations, and to the extent we are dissonant in respect of its laws, we are a failure in life. With this caution, a friendly admonition, the Yoga of Meditation in the Sixth Chapter continues. This is a very important section which stresses the need for self-control in a scientific manner. The Yoga, here described, is to an extent similar to the one propounded in the Sutras of Patanjali.

There should be a time for us to sit for meditation, and the time should be such, as it was already pointed out, that we have no engagements otherwise, and we are free from all compulsive attention at that moment. We can take a deep sigh of relief, “I have done my duty today, now I am free.” It is only then that we can sit for meditation, not when we feel after half an hour, “I have a tremendous work, I have to run up to that place to do something.” Then meditation will not be possible, because, unconsciously, we are dragged in another direction quite different from the one on which we are supposed to be meditating. So, the time and the place are important in the sense that they should not cause any kind of distraction to the mind.

The posture we maintain in the body also should be such that there should not be any kind of ache or pain felt in the system. Suppose we are seated in padmasana, or sukhasana, or any such asana for the purpose of meditation, we should not feel pain in the knee, or the back, etc. Then that posture would not be suitable. One is a master of one’s own self, and we can choose our own posture. Patanjali is generous when he says that the posture to be maintained for the purpose of meditation is any one, provided it is comfortable. He does not speak of padmasana, siddhasana, and all that. Any comfortable posture—comfortable in the sense that it does not distract our attention and does not compel us to pin our attention on the body—is advised. The purpose of the maintenance of the posture in meditation is to gain freedom over the consciousness of the body and not to think of the body thereby. Suppose we feel pain somewhere, we will be thinking of the aching body. Hence, we choose our own posture, whatever it be. Here is entire freedom given to us. But the posture should be such that we are able to maintain a spontaneity of consciousness and do not allow the mind either to go into sleep or be aware of the pains of the body. Neither should we get distracted by the presence of the body or any kind of object of sense, nor should we tend towards sleep or moodiness due to an inappropriate posture that we have assumed. For instance, if we lie down on a bed, we are likely to go to sleep. So, lying down is not a suitable posture. Any kind of aching posture is also not suitable. Standing also is not a suitable posture, because we may fall down when we are concentrating. We have to choose a convenient position of the body. That is called asana in meditation.

And place and time have been mentioned. We have, then, to select the object of our meditation. All that has been told up to this time through the different chapters is enough to indicate what that object should be. There is no need to expatiate on the theme further. We persuade our consciousness to concentrate itself on the great objective of Yoga as described in the earlier chapters. If we cannot do this for any reason, we choose any other object which is to our satisfaction. The satisfaction here suggested is the absence of the necessity to think of anything else at that time—that is the meaning of satisfaction here in regard to concentration on an object.

The object of meditation should be chosen in such a manner that there should be no need felt at that time to think of anything else. We should not be hungry, for example. Else, we will be thinking of a little breakfast or of going to a restaurant, etc., when we sit for meditation. Why should we sit for meditation when our stomach is pinching? Do not have any kind of agony. If you are thirsty, drink water and sit peacefully; if you are hungry, eat, to some extent; and if you are tired, go to bed for half an hour, and have some sleep—that does not matter. Why should you tire yourself? Yoga is not a painful discipline that you inflict upon yourself. It is not a torture that we are undergoing; it is not a medical treatment. It is a happy process spontaneously undertaken, joyfully, by the whole self, of its own accord, without any kind of external compulsion. We have to understand this. Yoga is a spontaneity of the movement of the lower self to the higher Self.