The Heart and Soul of Spiritual Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 8: The Quintessence of the Bhagavadgita

You must have heard that there are four types of yoga. Actually, these supposed four are not like the four legs of a cow, each one standing independent of the other. The word 'yoga' suggests a harmonisation and union of all the facets of personality. The four yogas mentioned are four aspects of the working of your person. You are very active in your life. No one can afford not to be active, and this compelling aspect of your personality requires to be accommodated into the practice of yoga. You are a person with feeling, emotion and affection, you are a person with determination or will, and you are a rational, reasonable, intelligent being. Since the exercise of reason, will, emotion and the impulse to act are not four different, independent things taking place in you – they are there simultaneously in you – it appears there is only one yoga, as you are one single person and not divided into four things.

This aspect of your being a total individual highlights the importance of exercising great caution in the adventure of yoga practice. Immature minds – not properly tutored along the spiritual path – take a one-sided view and call themselves karma yogis, bhakti yogis, raja yogis, jnana yogis, and so on. You cannot segregate any impulsion of your personality; they have to be taken as a whole. You are all these things at the same time. Yoga is a total action of the whole of your being that is taking place.

In this context, I advise you to make a serious study of the Bhagavadgita. What does the Bhagavadgita tell you? All kinds of commentaries have been written. Some say it is pure knowledge that Bhagavan Sri Krishna is teaching. Others say it is work, activity; it is a karma yoga shastra. There are others who emphasise what may be called raga yoga – the Patanjali aspect. There are others, like Ramanuja, Madhva and others, who emphasise only the devotional aspect. If you read the original Bhagavadgita as it is, without having a predisposition to any commentary, and place before yourself the picture of the mighty Sri Krishna speaking to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kuruksetra – looking at it with your own eyes and with your own mind – you will find it is none of these aspects as have been emphasised excessively. "Act, do work" – this seems to be dinned into the ears of the hearer, again and again, in the Bhagavadgita. But, what kind of work? It is not a political activity or a social welfare work that Bhagavan Sri Krishna is speaking of.

Every action that is done with a motive behind it will have a reaction and bind you. But, can you think of any action without a motive behind it? You work in the office because you want a salary. If you do anything else, you expect recompense from it. A non-recompense activity is unthought of by the mind. It will become a drudgery, like counting the leaves on a tree, which is to no purpose. Why should you count the leaves on a tree, though it is also a kind of work? What is the use, the utility, of counting the waves of the ocean? You do not like to do anything without a utility behind it. This utility is called the fruit of work in the language of the Bhagavadgita. "Expect not the fruit," is another injunction that follows the instruction that work is imperative and unavoidable. These two instructions seem to be very terrifying because you seem to be pushed into something with which you cannot really reconcile yourself. If you go on telling a person again and again, "Do this work", without giving him a chance to know why he should do it at all, what would be the condition of the mind of that person who is subjected to this kind of activity?

The whole Gita should be studied at one stroke, not chapter by chapter as if they are different limbs of its body. With great concentration of mind and analytic capacity you must study the verses of the Gita. You will find that every injunction is inter-linked with another injunction, which, independently taken, looks like a contradiction of something else that is said elsewhere.

Action becomes yoga. This is the great point made in the Bhagavadgita. Action becomes yoga only when it is non-motivated action. But such a thing is unthinkable to any one of us. Nobody will unnecessarily engage in a work which has no meaning whatsoever. Though there is meaning in work – it is, of course, very clear – it should not be a meaning connected with a result that is to follow remotely from it. Expecting the result of work is to expect something which is far away from the actual location of activity. There is a distance between the fruit accruing and the actual action, so it creates anxiety in the mind. The distance between your expectation and your performance causes distress in the mind: "Will I obtain what I expect from this work?" Secondly, there is an erroneous notion of how action produces a result. Mostly you have seen in your life that the expected fruit, or the result, does not follow from a particular enterprise. There is dissatisfaction and melancholy of the mind because the expected result has not followed.

An action is a kind of disturbance that you are creating in the cosmic process of nature as a whole; it is an interference. As nature abhors any kind of interference, it kicks up some dust, as you may call it, and produces a reaction equal in force to the force of the action that you have performed. Actions and reactions are equal and opposite. If you want to avoid the reaction following from an action, then you must know the art of performing such an action. You may ask, "Why should I not expect some reaction, which is, of course, very palatable to me. I expect a good result to follow from my good actions." But what do you mean by "a good result"? And how do you judge the nature of an action in terms of being good or bad? Nature has no ethics. It has no human morality attached to it. It is a pure scientific organism, we may say. The only law that operates in the cosmos is cause and effect. If something is done, something follows. Apart from this law, no other law exists anywhere. Other laws are manmade for the purpose of social solidarity.

Sri Krishna's emphasis in this connection is that you have to apply reason before you set yourself to any action or work. Buddhi yoga, the yoga of understanding, is expected to be at the back as a determining factor of every enterprise or work. It is not only work that is mentioned there; it is a rational work – action based on buddhi, or understanding. An unintelligent action is not action in terms of yoga. What is the understanding that is required before you embark on doing something? In the Bhagavadgita there is a gradational rise of thought from the first chapter to the eleventh chapter. You are taken stage by stage, step by step, until there is what may be called the apocalypse, or the final answer to every question, which is the eleventh chapter.

The bringing of your entire personality together into a single focus is something which is not known to you, to which you are not accustomed. Every day you may do something, think something – but fractionally. You cannot think and do anything in a total fashion. That is, you ignore certain aspects of your person when you are interested in certain other aspects. You are involved in certain types of conflict every day, from moment to moment, as it were, and the Bhagavadgita is an answer to this great conflict of life. You have to face something every moment. It is a war in which you are engaged. You are engaging yourself in a battle every moment of your life because you have to confront something. If there is no necessity to confront anything, there is no need for work. Your struggle to overcome the stress and strain of a confrontation in terms of conflict is the battle spoken of. You can never have peace of mind even for a moment in this world because you are always anxious about your future – the next moment. To see that the next moment is palatable and comfortable, you struggle hard to move earth and heaven to do something in order that a result may follow which will free you from the untoward reactions of your action. But, this is attempted in an unintelligent manner.

You are buffeted, to speak briefly, in four different ways. There is a push that you feel from human society outside. You can never ignore, even for a moment, that you are a unit of human society. In a mood of despair, agony or anger you may feel, "Who cares for this world of society? I am totally independent. I would like to be in an anarchical atmosphere." You do not want to be controlled by anybody. This is only a word of despair that sometimes comes unintelligently from the mind of a person. You are not only an individual with a certain amount of freedom which you seem to be having through the activities of your body and mind, but you are also a unit in society. What is society? Great studies have been made along this line, by specialists, to find out if there is really such a thing as society or if it is only a bundle of individuals. Do you regard society as a heap of individualities? Or, is it an organised system of operation for the welfare of each and every person? Society can give you comfort; it can also give you discomfort. You have seen this in your practical life.

This instance will reveal the fact that you are vitally connected with the existence of other persons. There is a community feeling, an interpenetrating influence exerted by one person on the other. You know very well that you cannot independently get what you want without the cooperation of other people. How will you get on with human society, which is often seen to be a wretched thing which is harassing people? Let us take for granted that society is a harassing medium which has no sense, sometimes. Yet, you have to live in the midst of this wilderness of human cooperation. You cannot discard this location in which you are placed. Your duty is dependent on the nature of the location in which you are placed.

A great thinker, Francis Bradley, wrote a tome – a huge book itself – on this subject: My Station and My Duties. Your duty arises from the circumstance of your life, which means that there are different aspects of duty. It is not that everyone will do the same thing. Everybody is a merchant, everybody is a warrior, everybody is an officer – it cannot be like that. The circumstance in which you are placed, personally as well as socially, conditions the duty that is called upon you. This is to briefly tell you the connection that you have with human society, of which you have to be very wary, and you cannot ignore it. There is no total independence from social circumstance. Aristotle said that a human being is a social animal. A human being is like an animal, and this will come into high relief if total freedom is given to all people. Give a hundred percent freedom to every individual – let anyone do as they please – then you will see what follows. The subliminal potencies of the lower species through which they have passed will come up to the surface of action, and they will behave like wolves, as the great political philosopher Thomas Hobbes made out in a huge book that he wrote on this subject, called Leviathan - monster. He considers government as a monster because it can act like a monster if it so wishes – though it is not supposed to be like that if it is taken in a Platonic sense.

The Bhagavadgita is a way to find a recipe for being in perfect harmony with human society first and foremost, before you take a step in any other direction of yoga. The yamasahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacarya and aparigraha mentioned in the sutras of Patanjali – are a recipe for how to act and behave in such a manner that you do not come in conflict with other people. You should not take anything for granted. Niyama is necessary though not so important, but yama is incumbent. Yamas – the five mentioned ways – are only ways in which you have to behave with people, and perhaps behave with yourself also. The yamas are nothing but ways of self-restraint, social as well as personal. You can be a friend of all people if you like, if you are intelligent enough to adjust yourself to the conditions prevailing in the world. There is no necessity to create enemies. The adjustment of personality with society is necessary even on the path of yoga, because otherwise if the society presses you in some direction not comfortable to you, your meditation will not take place.

There is another aspect of your personality. You are living in this world of nature. If you go against nature, you will fall sick. You may become seriously ill if you go against the law of nature. There are laws of gravitation and laws connected with sunlight, air, water, food, etc., with which if you dabble erroneously, you will have to pay the penalty. You must know how society acts. You must also know how nature works. It is a large living body that is before us which is called nature – and you know how a living body acts and reacts. I will not go into details along these lines because it is almost clear to you how dependent you are on nature's contributions to your very existence itself. Even your body is made up of the five elements. The building bricks of this body are earth, water, fire, air and ether. If that is the case, you seem to be having only a borrowed existence. The bricks with which the body has been built are the substance of the five elements. And you are alive due to the contributions made by these five elements – food, water, air, sunlight and the like – which is like saying that you do not exist outside nature. It is working through you, as is very obvious.

There is a third factor, which is your own self. Let society be there, let nature be there. What about yourself? How are you? What are you made of? Maybe you are made of the five elements, but are you made of something else also? Are you only the body of five elements? You have faculties of thinking, which work in many ways. Sometimes your understanding does not go hand in hand with your feelings. The personality is not always aligned properly. There is non-alignment of the internal constituents, mostly, in persons. You may be a great, highly learned person – a professor in arts and sciences, with a PhD, highly respected – but your emotions may be torn and you may be a very puny nothing in your house. You grieve and weep when you are alone, though you are a mighty learned person in outer society.

If your will, your emotions and your understanding do not go hand in hand, one with the other, you will be a torn personality, not an integrated one. A psychological cohesion of the parts of the faculties inside make you a whole being and not a sick individual. You may be physically sick, but the worst thing is to be mentally sick. To struggle with your own mind is worse than struggling with anything else. Today you think one thing; tomorrow you think another thing. Today you like this, and tomorrow you do not like it, without knowing why you are feeling that way. You may diagnose everything in the world, but you should diagnose your own phases of action inherent in the psyche. Knowledge of yourself is the greatest of knowledge, it is said. The knowledge of your own mind, to which I made reference previously, is greater than the knowledge of physics, chemistry, biology and astronomy. There is, on the other hand, your contribution to nature and society, which is very clear on the surface of it. But, what contribution can you make if you are a torn individual, with wrecked emotions?

The attempt to keep yourself in a cohesive, integrated mode – this attempt is highlighted and described in great detail in many of the sutras of Patanjali's Yoga Shastra. Yama, is there, of course, but there are other methods. You are hammered in from three different sides. On the one hand, you seem to be confronting yourself every day and finding it difficult to manage your own mind; secondly, you also cannot easily manage your connection with people outside; and thirdly, physically you fall sick in many ways due to interfering with nature's forces in an unbalanced manner. There is a fourth crowning factor in life – namely, the whole centre of the cosmos operating in you. There is an unknown factor behind everything in the world which is, perhaps, the deciding factor. All your efforts are decided, finally, by this Supreme Judiciary of the cosmos. Finally, it has to give assent to whatever you do, whatever you think.

There is a verse in the Bhagavadgita which mentions how your actions are determined by different factors and not only by your intention, individually, by itself. The condition of the body, whatever it is, decides to a large extent the capability of your performance. Every person has a different type of physical frame, fitted for a particular purpose. So the kind of contribution that you make through your activities is decided especially by the nature of your physical constitution. Secondly, there is another determining factor – namely, your capacity to resolve to fulfil the work and carry it on until the end. There are many people who start a work and then leave it in the middle, due to many difficulties. If they face a difficulty, they drop that work. To engage in some action and then drop it because of fear of troubles arising from it is called tamasa, or the worst kind of action, says the Bhagavadgita. This is another factor.

The third conditioning factor is the capacity of your sense organs themselves. If you are weak in your eyes, your ears and your sensations, your contribution to the world and contribution to your own performances, also, will be limited to that extent. Another factor that limits your performance is the diverse motives that you have behind your action. Why are you doing anything? Though you may think that the idea is clear in your mind, you will find that it is not always a clear idea at all. Your requirements, as you think them, seem to change their moods and their nature as time passes and you advance in age and, perhaps, in the process of evolution. But, there is a final thing. It has to be sanctioned by the structure of the cosmos. Whatever you may do should be approved by the constitution of the government. You cannot go against it, saying, "That is wonderful for me. I shall do that"

This is the fourfold conflict that you are facing every day – social conflict, personal conflict, conflict with nature, and conflict with the Almighty Creator Himself. You are distanced from society, distanced from your own self, distanced from nature, and distanced from God. This is the tremendous war of the Mahabharata before you. Everything is pell-mell and chaotic, and you do not know what you are supposed to do. "I am helpless in this condition. My mind is not working. Tell me, what is my duty?" This is what Arjuna spoke to Bhagavan Sri Krishna. Intelligent man that he was, with great willpower, and having decided to do something, he collapsed when he was required to exercise a total type of understanding in regard to what he was expected to do.

The body shakes, the mind trembles and the emotions are fear-struck when you take to the path of yoga, on account of the associations you wrongly make in terms of these four facets of your relation. The Bhagavadgita is an answer to all these conflicts. It answers your query concerning your duty towards society. This is highlighted intensely throughout the chapters, and all other things are also highlighted, gradually. The eleventh chapter, which is the crowning edifice of all the teachings, tells you there is only One Person doing all actions in the world. "Everything is My view, My action." Even if you lift a finger, it is not your action, finally. The muscles and nerves are there, of course. Your will also is there. But all this that you have inside yourself, and what you are, is a replica of the original, which is far away – beyond space and time, as it were – and which controls you totally.

Who is doing anything in this world? If you are a good student of your relationship with these facets of philosophical theme, you will realise that there is a great truth in this wondrous statement of the Bhagavadgita, "I do everything; you act as an instrument." This appreciation of One Being actually performing all actions – this acceptance from the bottom of your heart – will not only free you from conflicts of this kind, but will give you such a hope of possible perfection in your life that you will feel a sense of energy entering into you, energy which you had blocked by assertion of your personality or ego-ridden individuality. If you open the avenues of the entry of these forces which are operating throughout the world, you will find a peculiar strength arising from within. It is not the strength of the food that you eat, or the money that you have, or the esteem in which people hold you; it is another strength altogether – an intrinsic strength, you may call it. All other strengths that you have are extrinsic because they are contributed by factors which are outside you. But here, a total factor of the creative process entirely takes an upper hand. Here is the gospel of the Bhagavadgita for you. It is not karma, it is not bhakti, it is not raja; it is nothing of the kind. It is all things at the same time. Reason and will and emotion and action go together and make up one enterprise.

Sa brahma-yoga-yuktatma sukham aksayam asnute (B.G. 5-21), says the Bhagavadgita. It is not called by any known name. It is called Brahma-yoga, the yoga of the Absolute. Your personality rises into action, totally, in all the layers of your being – not merely the physical, the astral or the causal. The entire spirit rises up as the sun in the sky dazzles in all its glory when the clouds of these sheaths of our personality – which are not solid objects, really, but are layers of condensed energy – are dispersed by the light of the sun of the soul that is illuminating and shining within you, for ever and ever.

This, I believe, is the gospel and the teaching of the Bhagavadgita. There is no need of reading too many books. As the Cosmic Being spoke the Gita, an individual person will not be able to appreciate much of its meaning. It was spoken by all mouths, all ears, and all eyes. The Mighty Person of the total cosmos spoke it and, therefore, a puny mind is unable to appreciate its connotations. Hence we require so many commentaries. The Visvarupa, as it is called – which is the whole of existence speaking from all sides – is the context of the gospel of the Gita. In a verse it is said that nobody knows what the Gita says. Krsno janati vai samyak: only He who spoke it knows what He spoke. Arjuna knows something of it. Actually, he forgot it totally. Later on he asked Sri Krishna, "I have forgotten everything that you told me at the beginning of the battle. Would you kindly recite it to me once again?" Sri Krishna's answer was, "I cannot repeat it again. I was in union with the Absolute when I spoke that and you should not ask me to recall it again." It was the Absolute that spoke, in a cosmic form, from every angle of vision. Vyaso va vyasa-putro va: Vyasa knows what the Gita is; he himself recorded it. Vyasa's son Suka knows it, and Vyasa knows it. Anye sravanatah srutva: others only hear it as anything that is told to them. It does not enter the heart.

Make a thorough study of the Gita. Of course, you are free to read any commentary in order that you may be facilitated in forming an opinion about it. If God speaks to you, you know how you will think at that time. Place yourself in the context of God speaking to you. "My dear boy, listen to me!" If God speaks to you like that, what will you do at that time? That kind of attention is necessary in order to do yoga practice.

Yoga is not a profession. It is not even a religion. It is not something that you are expected to do among many other things. It is the only thing that you have to do, and in that one thing that you do, every other activity is included. It is included because it is a comprehensive focussing through all the aspects of life to which I made reference just now. For a moment, think deeply; place yourself in the context of God speaking to you. That is the Bhagavadgita speaking to you. And God speaking to you is not yesterday's matter, or tomorrow's; it is just today's.

So, I gave you a free and brief conspectus of the system of yoga which operates in various phases on account of the response emanating from the different aspects of your personality. Remember: the practice of yoga is everything. Meditation is all things. It is a wrong notion that meditation is somewhere, sometime in life, and all your other time goes to your duties. You think that all other things that you do are your duties, and that meditation is not a duty, that it is only a concession that you are making to some religious requirement. It is nothing of the kind.

All your duties are summed up in one duty of meditation on this stupendous theme of your placement within the context of the reality within everything. Sarvatah pani-padam tat, sarvato'ksi-srio-mukham; sarvatah srutimal loke, sarvam avrtya tisthati (B.G. 13.13): Everywhere It has eyes, everywhere It has ears, hands and feet. If you touch anything, you are touching His legs, His feet, His hands; your eyes are His eyes; your ears are His ears. The whole of the Gita is this much. Its quintessence I have placed before you. The All-yoga – karma, bhakti, raja, jnana – everything is inside this.

Remember again – I want to repeat this once more – yoga is not one of the things that you are doing; it is the thing that you are doing, inclusive of all things. You will be a very good office worker, a very good cook, a very good sweeper, a very good soldier – everything you will be if yoga is operating through you at that time. You will be the best in every field of life because you are in the best of circumstances when you are in deep meditation. Be happy that you may be blessed and good days are coming to you!