A Study of the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 8: The Stages of Yoga

We have almost entirely covered the fundamentals of the Gita teaching. Whatever follows is in the form of an exposition in greater detail of what has already been very pithily and briefly stated in the preceding chapters.

I already mentioned to you that many of the commentators of the Gita believe that the Second Chapter is the seed of the whole of the Gita. Every chapter from the Third onwards till the end is an exposition of one or two of the verses already occurring in the Second Chapter. Especially Madhusudhana Saraswati, in his classic commentary, explicitly states this, and whenever he starts commenting on a particular chapter, he quotes the relevant seed sloka of the Second Chapter, showing thereby that the root of the entire gospel is in the Second Chapter itself, which is Sankhya and Yoga combined; and in our expositions, which have been in sufficient detail, we have covered a wide area of knowledge, perhaps omitting nothing important.

The name of God does not occur until the Fourth Chapter commences. There is a peculiar situation which is wholly artharthi, wholly worldly, in the First Chapter, and the commencement of the direct teaching in the Second, and an implementation of this teaching in a more profound manner in the Third. The emphasis up to the Third Chapter has been the duty of the individual, the work that is incumbent upon every person, but the name of God has not been taken.

The operations of God as incarnations have been touched upon for the first time in the commencement of the Fourth Chapter. Previously we noticed the circumstances under which God takes incarnations, avataras, to which I need not revert now. We can proceed further to know what other things we can gather from the coming chapters. I have taken a lot of time to take you to the conclusion of the Third Chapter, but as we have not much time at our disposal in the course of this Academy session, I have to go more rapidly over the themes that follow; otherwise, it will take another three months to go to the end of the Eighteenth Chapter with this extent of detail.

Apart from the brief statement of the nature of the incarnation of God in the beginning of the Fourth Chapter, this chapter also touches upon certain other themes which are not relevant to the avatara of God or the very concept of God, but to actual Yoga practice and the understanding of the nature of work or action which, pertinently, is the theme of the Third Chapter.

Karmaṇy akarma yaḥ paśyed akarmaṇi ca karma yaḥ, sa buddhimān manuṣyeṣu sa yuktaḥ kṛtsnakarmakṛt (Gita 4.18). It was told to us that work we must. Silent we cannot be. Na hi kaścit kṣaṇam api jātu tiṣṭhaty akarmakṛt (Gita 3.5): Not a moment can pass without your being active in some way or the other. Karmaṇy evā ’dhikāras te mā phaleṣu kadācana (Gita 2.47). It was also added that your duty is to engage yourself in such action as can be regarded as a participation in the cosmic process, but you cannot expect the fruit of that action because the expectation of a fruit of a particular engagement is to consider the value of your work in a future context. If the value of what you do in the future has no value in the present, then you cannot take sufficient interest in your work. The present is a means to what you are expecting in the future, and so your eye will be on what will be expected in the future and you will have no interest in what you are doing. “Whatever I am doing, that is a different matter. It must bring that result.” And you will adjust and adapt your modus operandi of work now in such a manner as, in your opinion, is productive of that result in your mind. There will be some kind of selfishness creeping into your so-called duty because this duty that you perform is done for the sake of something which is other than duty.

What emanates from you is sacrifice; but the fruit that you expect is not something that emanates from you, so the sacrifice is spoiled to some extent. You throw cold water, as it were, on the yajna when you perform your duty with the expectation of a result that has to follow. Every duty is a sacrifice, a kind of sharing of your personality to some extent. But what kind of sharing is there when you are expecting something from it? “I should get whatever I have given, and perhaps I should get more than what I have given.” This is the attitude that may subtly enter into your mind when you work and perform your so-called duty with a creative interest for the fruit of what you do.

As we are living in a world of causes and effects which are separated from each other, the cause produces the effect; therefore, the effect is a future event that follows from the present context of the cause. We are bound by this causal relation in a whirl of space and time, and we cannot understand what duty for duty’s sake can be. You may go on scratching your head one thousand times to understand how it is possible for you to work only for the sake of work, expecting nothing from it. Your mind will be telling you again and again that you are a foolish person. Who will do work for no purpose? Purposeless action is meaningless action. The moment you introduce a purpose into it, somehow or other you bring into it the futurity of its purposiveness. You distinguish between the present and the future, and you are not in the place where you are working – you are in some other place which is yet to be – and your work does not become a cosmic participation; it becomes an expectation of what is not yet present.

This is the difficulty that we face in understanding this pithy statement that your duty is to do duty only: karmaṇy evā ’dhikāras te mā phaleṣu kadācana. Mā karmaphalahetur bhūr. Do not be attached to the fruit of your action. Mā te saṅgo 'stv akarmaṇi. Then you may say, “Why this problem? I don’t want to do anything at all, because if I do something you cause trouble to me by saying that ‘You are not working properly. You have some eye to the fruit’; and so I will do nothing.”

Attachment to the fruit of action and attachment to non-action are equally bad. Do not have an eye on what is to follow from your action and the fruit thereof, and do not sit quiet because you are afraid of being entangled in some mistake that you may commit in the performance of duty. Fear of mistake in the performance of duty is not to be regarded as inaction. It is also an action. Fear should not be the ground for your attitude toward anything. Right action is not what you do out of your own agency consciousness, but out of your expanded feeling of a sense of belonging to the cosmic whole. Tasmād asaktaḥ satataṁ kāryaṁ karma samācara, asakto hy ācaran karma param āpnoti pūruṣaḥ (Gita 3.19): Unattached, therefore, do your work.

The sense of being unattached is also to be understood properly. You are told again and again: be not attached. From what are you going to be detached? You are going to be detached from your concept of the nature of work itself. Work is a mental operation, basically; it is not a physical action. That has been told in the Third Chapter. The movement of the body cannot be regarded as work. The association of the mind to the work of the body is actually work. Therefore, participation in the cosmic process being the real nature of unselfish action, this has to be hammered into your mind again and again. Finally, you will realise that you cannot do anything worthwhile in this world without entertaining in yourself an element of God-consciousness. That is why until the Vishvarupa-darshan was shown in the Eleventh Chapter, Arjuna had doubts and more doubts, endlessly. The doubts ceased only when the Visvarupa was shown. Unless cosmic consciousness enters into you, you will never be able to understand what actually is happening to you.

So there is a gradational ascent of the teaching of the Gita right up to the Eleventh Chapter, which is the apotheosis of the teaching. Yogasaṁnyastakarmāṇaṁ jñānasaṁchinnasaṁśayam, ātmavantaṁ na karmāṇi nibadhnanti dhanaṁjaya (Gita 4.41). Yogasaṁnyastakarmāṇaṁ: having renounced attachment to the fruit of the action by the Yoga of the consciousness of universal participation. Yoga is the consciousness of your participation in the universal process. Having entertained this consciousness, having established yourself in this consciousness of your being only an instrument or a participant in the cosmic process, renounce any kind of isolation of your work from the fruit that may follow.

Actually, no fruit can follow from the work that you do, because the work that you appear to be doing is only a necessary sharing of your personality with the Cosmic Person. You are not working, actually speaking, when you seem to be working. You are only sharing. It is a dialogue between man and God – a constant Nara-Narayana Samvada, Sri Krishna-Arjuna Samvada taking place in your demeanour. Every moment of time you are having a concourse with God in your approach to things, in your attitude, generally speaking, and in anything that you do. In everything you do, you are contacting God. You have a dialogue with the Absolute, with nature, with all things.

So with this Yoga, in which you have to get established, you have to renounce all the particularities, isolations, externalities and space-time involvements. Isolation of any kind of factor from actual performance of your work separates you from the integratedness that is essential in your participation. The moment you think of a fruit that is outside the work that you do, you have sundered your personality from the environment to which you should actually belong, but to which you do not want to belong.

The environment of the process which seems to be producing the fruit, so-called, of the action, is a part of your larger personality; therefore, the fruit cannot be regarded as something isolated from the work, and in a way you may say the work itself is the fruit. Duty automatically brings privileges, and you should not say, “What privilege will accrue to me if I do this work? How much salary will come?” There is no salary in this world.

The Gita’s concept of work is not the concept of social welfare work as politicians and social welfare workers think. It is not social welfare work, it is not commerce, it is not business, it is not political administration; it is a different thing altogether. It is a divinity that is expected to dominate every nook and corner of your involvement in life. That meaning is involved in this one word which comes towards the end of the Fourth Chapter: yogasaṁnyastakarmāṇaṁ.

Doubts may arise: “What are you saying? I can’t understand.” With the wisdom of the analysis and synthesis of the processes of creation, which you have been through in the study of the earlier chapters, rend asunder all doubts from your mind: jñānasaṁchinnasaṁśayam. A very pithy, very meaningful verse is this. Yogasaṁnyastakarmāṇaṁ jñānasaṁchinnasaṁśayam: Having thus breached the gulf that appears to be there between you and the so-called fruit of action by establishment in this Yoga of the consciousness of the participation of yourself in the cosmic process, integrating that atmosphere of fruit in your own self, and removing all the doubts by the wisdom of this scripture, ātmavantaṁ na karmāṇi nibadhnanti: you become the true Self at that time. It is only when you understand what duty is in the sense of participation that you become the true Self that you are. You have a larger and wider Self apart from the little self that you seem to be in the integration that you are effecting by clubbing together the entire atmosphere with your own self. You widen your consciousness, widen yourself, and you become the Self that you are really, and not the self that you appear to be.

As a little self you seem to be working even in the dream state, but you are a larger self in the waking state. The so-called distractions and diversification, and the varieties of the dream world, get absorbed into a larger self of your waking consciousness. In this Yoga that is briefly stated here, you raise your lower self to the higher Self that you are, and you become atmavan – true possessor of your own Self. You have lost yourself now by the wrong notion that things are outside you; therefore, you have to possess them or reject them. The desire to possess and reject arises on account of the wrong notion that the things that you want to possess or reject are outside you, not knowing that they are organically connected to your higher self, which is your true Self.

If, with this consciousness, you perform work in this world as a cosmic participation – na karmāṇi nibadhnanti – action cannot bind you. The karma theory will break, and no result will follow as a binding factor through the work that you perform. The wind blows; it is not bound by what it does. The sun shines; it is not bound by its shining. A river flows to the ocean that is there before it. They are not bound because they do not have self-consciousness. When you work thus with super-consciousness of your larger individuality, wider selfhood, you are free from the so-called bondage of work.

Asmād ajñānasañbhūtaṁ hṛtsthaṁ jñānāsinātmanaḥ: Therefore Arjuna, rend asunder, break this darkness of ignorance that is veiling your consciousness. You have to rend asunder this veil by the effort of your own mind. Here is a very concentrated statement on what Yoga practice is. More details will be told in the Sixth Chapter. By Yoga, by jnana, by attainment of true Selfhood, you pierce through the veil of ignorance which makes you feel always that you are a finite individual, not knowing the fact that there is an infinitude that is around you in the form of this very vast space-time cosmos. This space-time cosmos itself is your larger self. Your true being is as wide as this vast space. Can you imagine that you are as wide as space?

The consciousness that you are finite is also involved in the consciousness of there being something above the finite. How would you know that the finite is actually finite? How do you know that you are bound, unless there is a consciousness of it being possible not to be bound? You have already assumed the presence of an infinitude of yourself in the very consciousness of your being finite. A finite thing really cannot know that it is finite. As a larger involvement of it is already there beyond the boundary of finitude, it vaguely feels that it has to break through this finitude. Unless you are immortal in your nature, you will not fear death. A thing that is really bound to death cannot fear death. The fear of extinction of personality, which is death, is due to the immortality of your essence. You are really undying in nature; therefore, you would not like to know that death will take place. And you are restless in your finitude because you unconsciously feel inside that there is something more in you than the finitude that is harassing you. Unless you become as large as space itself, your finitude will not diminish. As wide as space and enduring as time has to be yourself. Infinity and eternity should blend together in one single experience, which is God-experience. Until this is reached, you will never have peace here. Even the heaven of the gods is not adequate for your longing.

Brahmārpaṇaṁ brahma havir brahmāgnau brahmaṇā hutam, brahmaiva tena gantavyaṁ brahma-karma-samādhinā (Gita 4.24) is a little higher teaching that comes afterwards. The consciousness of the Universal should decide and determine your every thought, feeling and action. Whatever you do should be in the light of the Universal, of which the so-called particular is a part and parcel. The consequence that is in your mind when you perform an action should be considered as integrally connected with the action itself. It is not something that will take place in the future. Then all action becomes a little bit of the Universal, and it is not a little work that you do from your own initiative. All that you do is an offering to the Absolute. This is the greatest yajna, or sacrifice, that can be conceived.

A sacrament which is dedicated to the Supreme Being is brahmārpaṇaṁ. What you offer to the Supreme Absolute cannot be something that is external to you. That which is external to you does not really belong to you, so it cannot be offered. How will you give a gift of something which is not your property? What is really yours can be offered; then it becomes charity, a gift. That which is totally outside you is not your property, because of the fact it is outside. So any amount of material gift is no gift unless you yourself are also there as a part of the gift. Something of you has to go.

What you have to offer to the Supreme Absolute is Atman, and not anything material. Atman is offered to the Paramatman. The jiva consciousness is dedicated to the Universal Consciousness. You are offered, nobody else. You offer yourself in the altar of the great yajna of Universal Consciousness – brahmārpaṇaṁ. This is the greatest dedication that you can give to God. If God asks you, “What will you give me?” you cannot offer God some bananas or sweets because they are not your possessions. Only you are your possession. You have no right over anything in this world except your own self. Not even one needle can be your property, so the offering that you have to make to the Universal Being is only yourself. This is jnana yajna, the wisdom sacrifice, as it is so called. Into the flame of the wisdom of the all-pervading nature of God, you offer yourself in the consciousness of a practical annihilation of your individual existence.

When you offer something into the holy fire in a yajna or a sacrifice, you seem to be offering some substance – some material of ghee or rice, etc. But here in this wisdom sacrifice, what you offer is not some article from the world outside. It is a part of yourself. A little of yourself goes gradually with every little sense of belonging to the whole. This is brahma havir. Brahmāgnau brahmaṇā hutam: You offer yourself into the flame or the fire of God so that you get burnt into the ashes of a non-entity altogether.

Who is offering this? You are offering. Who are you? Now another difficulty is placed before you. The offering is not made by you; it is made by itself, to which you are making the offering. It is offering itself to itself. The war of the Mahabharata is waged by the Universal Virat. It is not engaged upon by Arjuna, Bhima, the Kauravas. “I have come to engage upon this great work.” Kālosmi lokakṣayakṛt pravṛddha (Gita 11.32). The Viratsvarupa, the Cosmic Form, speaks in the Eleventh Chapter. The great war is the universal war. It is motivated by the Universal Being for its universal purpose, and the Universal is offering itself in the sacrifice of the yajna of the Mahabharata war. You cannot lift even a finger unless the central Universal Will operates, even as without the order issued by the total muscular setup of your personality, your fingers cannot lift, your eyelids cannot move; so is anything that you think or seem to be doing in this world. Even this so-called yajna that you are trying to perform is a motivation that comes from the Universal Being. The Universal offers itself to the Universal. God knows God. God contemplates God. God offers Himself to God: brahmaṇā hutam.

Brahmaiva tena gantavyaṁ: The aim, the purpose, the destination of this kind of cosmic sacrifice is the attainment of God only. God, through the performance which is also God, reaches God through the sacrifice, which is also a movement of God within Himself. This is the drama of God in this world which is Himself, where He is the director and the actor, the arena and the light, the audience and the performance. This is the cosmic drama that God seems to be playing for His own pleasure, and not for your pleasure, because you cannot have any pleasure unless this pleasure is there behind you, animating your existence.

Brahmaiva tena gantavyaṁ brahma-karma-samādhinā. This kind of sacrifice as mentioned is a kind of communion that you establish with God. Brahma-karma-samadhi is the inner communion cosmically attempted by your so-called individuality. Samadhi is communion, equilibration of consciousness, an establishment of total harmony between the subjective and objective universe so that no one knows who is seeing what – whether the world is seeing you or you are seeing the world. They coalesce into a single existence. That is called samadhi. And in this consciousness of the sacrifice of yourself in God-consciousness, you are entering into a veritable samadhi condition while you are actually working in the world. Sahaja samadhi is also the name given to this kind of experience. Varieties of samadhi, or divine communion, are described. In one state of samadhi there is an obliteration of your existence, a consciousness of a flood inundating you from all sides, and an experience of Being as such; in the other state of samadhi you see the variety of the world, and yet you are in the state of the Infinite.

Are you not seeing the variety of the limbs of your body? So many fingers, so many toes, so many limbs, so many kinds of operation in the alimentary canal, in the respiratory system, in the blood circulation; but are you different things? You are one single, indivisible entity in spite of the multifarious activities that seem to be taking place in your organism. The unity consciousness is pervading the diversity of activity even in the physical organism. So is the experience that you will have in one kind of communion where you will see the whole world lit with the light of God. Trees will be scintillating with radiance, mountains will be shining like diamonds, the sun will pour forth rays of nectar, the moon will be inundating you with beauty, and you will not actually know whether you are in hell or in which place. This is the penultimate samadhi, as some people call it. Some of the Upanishads go into great details about this. The Yoga Vasishtha, the great mystical text, is very expanded in its exposition in these matters of the gradational consciousness of the seeker in communions which come one after the other, which are all designated by different words.

There will be a flash of consciousness in the beginning. You will see lightning flashing. As if lightning strikes in the sky, your mind will experience a kind of delightful lightning flash. It will come and go. Yoga does not come always, all twenty-four hours of the day. There will be a flash, as if you are seeing something which is not of this world. A vision, a sound, a taste, an odour, some music or a touch which is celestial in its nature will be your casual experience occasionally. This is the effect of one kind of communion which your mind establishes with the higher levels.

After some time the communion will intensify itself, and you will feel a sense of belonging to this light that is in front of you. You will not merely see or hear or touch or smell these experiences as if they come from outside, as if they are the music of the spheres; you will feel that you are somehow connected to these operations and you are a part of this orchestra of this celestial being. You are not merely the listener of the music; you are participating in it in some way or the other, and you will feel an ecstasy, as if you want to dance. This will be another communion that will intensify itself a little further on.

The Yoga Vasishtha says the experience will intensity itself further, and you will see lightning flashes everywhere in the sky – not only one strip in one place. It will be a floodlit sky, and you will also be a part of that experience. You will see radiance in your own personality, and one flame will not be able to distinguish itself from the larger flame which is like a conflagration in the whole sky. Then the light alone will be there. These are the communions. Brahmārpaṇaṁ brahma havir brahmāgnau brahmaṇā hutam, brahmaiva tena gantavyaṁ brahmakarmasamādhinā.

All this experience should not be expected to come like a windfall, though sometimes it can be a windfall. There are miracles possible in this world. Sudden experiences are also practicable due to the maturity of some of the karmas of your past lives, but usually it is an exercise that is expected on your part through the Yoga process, as is very systematically described for instance in the Sutras of Patanjali – Ashtanga Yoga, the eight stages.

The process of this practice of Yoga is again briefly described in the Fifth Chapter, which is the cue, as it were, to the further exposition in the Sixth Chapter. Sparśān kṛtvā bahir bāhyāṁś cakṣuś caivāntare bhruvoḥ, prāṇāpānau samau kṛtvā nāsābhyantaracāriṇau (Gita 5.27); yatendriyamanobuddhirmunir mokṣaparāyaṇaḥ, vigatecchābhayakrodho yaḥ sadā mukta eva saḥ (Gita 5.28). Two verses will tell you briefly what Yoga is. First of all, you have to shut out all the entry of external consciousness into your meditational mood. This is done by what is called pratyahara technique. The contacts of the senses with externality have to gradually be diminished in their intensity, which you should do by diligent practice.

The objects of the senses have such an impact upon the senses that whenever you see something desirable or abhorrent, you are disturbed in your mind; therefore, in the initial stages of Yoga practice, the student is advised to place himself or herself in an atmosphere in which there will not be temptations. Do not be in a supermarket or a cinema hall or a theatre. These are not places for meditation. As far as possible, also isolate yourself physically from atmospheres of temptation and distraction, disturbance, agitation, and feelings of sorrow. Physical isolation is important – otherwise, why do people come to an ashram, Uttarkashi, Gangotri, and other places?

And then, when you have succeeded to some extent in weaning yourself from the consciousness of the desirables and the undesirables, you have to chalk out a process of the concentration of the mind on the objective that is before you – what it is that you are aiming at in your Yoga. So the verse says, sparśān kṛtvā bahir bāhyāṁś: externalising them totally, not allowing the mind to come in vital contact with anything that is an object of desire.

Cakṣuś caivāntare bhruvoḥ: not actually opening the eyes entirely nor closing entirely. Semi-closing of the eyes is prescribed here. Commentators tell you that this prescription is specifically because of the fact that if you open the eyes entirely, you will go on seeing things and there will be some kind of distraction. If you close the eyes entirely, you may fall asleep. So the position of the eyelids is supposed to be as if you are looking at the tip of the nose. Some say you may actually concentrate on the tip of the nose, but the actual significance of the prescription seems to be, it should be as if you are looking at the tip of the nose. You are conscious, and yet not externally conscious.

This consciousness of something which is not actually an external consciousness is also the reason why often people prescribe early morning hours for meditation. In sleep there is total unconsciousness, and in waking there is external consciousness. Neither of these states is suitable for actual meditation. So early morning, Brahma-murta, just before sunrise or somewhat at that time, your consciousness seems to be just awakening to a perception of the world outside but it has not actually perceived the world outside, nor are you sleeping. So there is a semi-consciousness. It is a consciousness, not unconsciousness, not outside consciousness – a consciousness, pure and simple. This is the reason, they say, for the instruction that the early morning hours would be good for meditation.

Similarly is the case with the instruction that before you go to bed would also be a suitable time because you are slowly absorbing all your activities at the end of the day. The mind becomes calm; the senses become less active. A similar state as in Brahma-murta will follow to some extent before you go to bed in the evening, so both in the morning and in the evening you may try to practice Yoga.

Sparśān kṛtvā bahir bāhyāṁś cakṣuś caivāntare bhruvoḥ: concentrating your mind in this manner. Sometimes it is said that you can concentrate on the centre of the eyebrows. This verse also refers to that. Cakṣuś caivāntare bhruvoḥ: The middle of the eyebrows can be regarded as the point of concentration. It is not that everyone should concentrate only in this way. This is one way among many other possible ways. One of the reasons for the efficacy of concentration in this manner on the centre of the eyebrows is psychologically, mystically, from an occult point of view, it is said that the point between the eyebrows is the centre of the mind in waking consciousness. The mind is supposed to be working through the particular spot here, through the brain which acts through the centre of the eyebrows, the Ajna Chakra as it is called in occult science. In dream the mind is supposed to be operating in the throat, and in sleep it goes to the heart. So as the mind is already there in the waking state spontaneously occupying its own seat in the point between the eyebrows, it will be comfortable for the mind to concentrate there itself. You just make it work in the very place where it is sitting. That is perhaps the reason why this instruction is given that you can concentrate on the point between the two eyebrows: cakṣuś caivāntare bhruvoḥ.

Prāṇāpānau samau kṛtvā: When you breathe in and breathe out, the mind also oscillates like a pendulum. The more intense is the heaving process of breathing, the more is the agitation that the mind feels. And so the seatedness of yourself in a calm and quiet posture will also eliminate the intensity of the activity of the prana. The inner breath and the outer breath will slow down to some extent, as if they merge together. It is prana and apana – prana is the exterior breath, and apana is the interior breath. You breathe out, the prana is operating; you breathe in, the apana is there. Both will join together, as it were, when the mind is calm and quiet: prāṇāpānau samau kṛtvā.

Nāsābhyantaracāriṇau: You will not know whether you are breathing through the right nostril or the left nostril. It is just a little breathing in a harmonious manner.

Yatendriyamanobuddhi: restraining the five senses, the mind and the intellect in the manner described in the earlier chapters, and in the light of what we have studied already, to which process a little reference was made towards the end of the Third Chapter of how we can control the kama and krodha, desire and anger, restraining thus the senses, the mind and the intellect. Muni: Silent, calm and quiet, non-interfering, minding one’s own business – such a person is muni, or you may call him a saint if you like, wanting nothing but liberation of the self. What do you want? “Liberation, Universal Existence, and everything conducive to that, which is my duty. I am not interested in anything else.” Wanting only that, he is a mumukshu, wanting God: mokṣaparāyaṇaḥ.

Vigatecchābhayakrodha: free from every kind of binding mortal desire, having no fear because God is in front of you. He is at the back, He is on the right side, He is on the left. He is guarding you, so what fear do you have? Therefore, vigatecchābhayakrodha: without desire, without fear, without anger; yaḥ: whoever is in this condition; sadā mukta eva saḥ: that person should be considered to be already liberated.