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A Textbook of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 8: The Yoga of the Bhagavadgita

Yoga is a positioning of oneself in a state of perfect equilibrium. What is this ‘oneself' which has to be so positioned? This has been the subject of our studies. We have, in this connection, noticed that this so-called oneself has at least three definitions, three aspects, and may be said to constitute a threefold reality: the external self, the personal self, and the universal Self.

The first six chapters of the Bhagavadgita are engaged with this subject of the positioning of the personality by disciplining it gradually from its lesser, grosser entanglements until it reaches a position of self-integration, as it may be called. There is a distracted atmosphere around us in the beginning; nothing seems to be in order. This is the presentation before us in the First Chapter. Not only are things not in order, they seem to be at loggerheads with one another. A situation of war, the worst thing that we can think of, is before us in the First Chapter of the Gita.

This is exactly what we see in the world when we look at it with the naked eye. Nothing is in a state of alignment. Everything is independent, as it were, maintaining its self-identity in a state of conflict with another, which also maintains a similar self-identity. What is war? It is a clash of entities which maintain their self-identity irrespective of what another is or what one's relation to another is. Selfishness gone to the extreme in a person, a community or a society leads to battle and war. Seen on its surface, human society, the world as a whole, appears to be of this characteristic. “Each for oneself and the devil take the hindmost,” is an old saying which tells us how the world seems to be going on. “Do what you like, I mind my business; and if you interfere with my business, war will take place.” Here is the First Chapter of the Bhagavadgita.

There is something else about it, which is not the subject of our studies here, namely, the inability of the individual to engage itself in war while war is actually going on, for a reason which may be considered as purely personal. The world is so big, humanity is so large, that we seem to be isolated before it, and it would be next to impossible for us to think of facing it. Yet, we have no other way than to face it every day. This was Arjuna's peculiar predicament. He had to face it; otherwise, what would he do in the state of a conflict that had already arisen? But actually, when he was face to face with it, he found that it was too big for him. It was too large.

The world appears to be bigger than us, and people around, constituting humanity, are vaster and perhaps stronger than us as particular individuals. How will we face this world, and people in general? One of the questions and doubts of Arjuna was: “This is an impossibility. What is the good of waging war when there is no surety of victory? Do we go only to die there?” No one engages in war merely to die; the idea is to win victory. And everyone has a hope in their heart of hearts that they will win victory over the conflicts that seem to be between themselves and the world outside. Every minute is a struggle of every person against the odds that are created by the world of humanity and of nature. Otherwise, if we have always a fear that this will not go far, or nothing will come, or it is certain that we will be crushed by the world, we will not lift a finger. There is a hope inside that victory is ours. “Let the world be big and people be many; what does it matter? I shall overcome them, and I shall have my say.” This is why we struggle. But yet, there is a diffidence that this may not be as simple as it appears. So we think: “Let me sink down into an inverted, hibernating condition of self-satisfaction and self-complacency. Let the conflict be there.”

There is a dual factor involved in this situation that is before us. On the one hand, there is the finitude of our individuality in comparison with the largeness of the world of humanity and nature. On the other hand, we cannot rest quietly with this consciousness of finitude in us. How long can we go on feeling wretched? It is intolerable. Can we always go on thinking that we are prisoners, weaklings, helpless persons, unwanted individuals? Can this state of affairs go on for a long time? We want to overcome the barriers of our personality.

The first six chapters of the Bhagavadgita engage themselves with these interesting methodologies of gradually introducing into the sense of finitude of the individual a sense of largeness, not of a social character, but of the character of true infinity. There is a difference between largeness in the sense of quantity and largeness in the sense of infinity. Infinity is not quantity; it does not mean something big. Infinity means something else altogether. The fullness of feeling that may be sometimes in us for certain reasons cannot be identified with a quantity or a substance. We can feel full, filled to the brim with satisfaction as if everything has come to us, but this feeling of inclusiveness, completeness, is not to be equated with the quantity of possessions in the sense of things in the world.

If we have a large estate, a lot of money, and authority over humanity, that may appear to be an extended form of our existence, but it is merely a thought operating. An individual remains an individual, a finite person remains a finite person, notwithstanding the fact he may look like the emperor of the whole world. A king is not identical with the world that he rules. This is the difference between true infinity and false infinity. If we are the ruler of the sky, the entire space and the whole world, it does not mean that we have become as big as space because rulership is a concept in the mind; it is not an existent reality.

But the integration of personality that is to be attempted in yoga is an endeavour towards the achievement of infinity. Unfortunately, language has no better word than ‘infinity' to describe a condition which is both super-quantitative and super-qualitative. The sense of fullness, which is the characteristic of infinity, is neither a quality nor a quantity. It does not mean that when we are really happy our happiness has somehow or other been foisted upon us, or that we have been whitewashed, colour-washed or dressed up with happiness. Our sense of fullness, which is the satisfaction that we feel at that time, is not a quality that is added to us as an adjective; it is we ourselves. If the happiness were only a quality that had been added to us, we would remain something other than that quality; therefore, we would not be happy because it is outside us. But we do not feel that a kind of qualitative adjunct has been placed on our heads in the form of satisfaction; we have ourselves become the satisfaction. This is to give an indication of how true infinity differs from possessiveness or the satisfaction of having something outside oneself.

The Bhagavadgita techniques are difficult to under-stand, and many people do not know what it says. Some people say the Gita tells us to work hard. “Do! Do! Do not keep quiet. Your duty is to stand up, be brave, be a hero, fight.” This seems to be, in the eyes of many readers of the Gita, the message it conveys. The Bhagavadgita does say that; it is perfectly true. Vigorous, enthusiastic words are used by Bhagavan Sri Krishna to instil into Arjuna a force necessary for girding up his loins for intense activity in the form of battle. By reading these words, by emphasising this aspect of the teaching, many people say the Bhagavadgita is a karma yoga shastra because it tells us to do something. From the beginning to the end, there is only a hammering on doing something. But the Gita is not merely that. It is a doing of a different characteristic, of a different nature altogether. It is not doing something like digging in the field or doing business in a shop. It is not that kind of doing that the Gita speaks of, though we have to agree it is a kind of doing.

It is to be remembered that Arjuna's questions did not cease until the Eleventh Chapter. Until then, he went on asking question after question. A kind of inclusive presentation had to be injected into the very consciousness and feeling of Arjuna in order that all his queries may cease forever. We think that he saw a total inclusiveness of true Infinity, which is called the Virat Svarupa; but the Virat Svarupa cannot be seen. It is experienced, just as we cannot see our happiness as an outside something. It was a tremor of the soul—an earthquake, as it were, of the entire personality—that shook up Arjuna's existence, and God invaded the very existence of man. At that time, the consciousness of doing gets transmuted into a divine operation. What would we do at the time when our soul is in tune with that presentation of inclusiveness? That ‘doing' is actually the doing of the Bhagavadgita; it is a God-man's action.

It is always emphasised in the Bhagavadgita, together with its injunction to work, that action should be based on understanding. Buddhi yuktah is the word used in the Gita. Bereft of understanding, activity loses its significance. You will say, “I very well understand what I am doing. What is the difficulty?” Understanding the work that you do in the office is not the same kind of understanding that is referred to in the Bhagavadgita. That understanding is explained to us in the Third Chapter. It is called sankhya, the actual relationship of subject with object, purusha with prakriti, consciousness with matter, oneself with the universe. That understanding is lacking in us, though we have a little, puny type of understanding when we are actually working at a desk.

It is only in the Sixth Chapter that the Bhagavadgita achieves its purpose of explaining the theme of total self-integration, the positioning of the individual for the purpose of meditation. This positioning is what is called asana in a higher sense. Asana, as we noticed earlier, is a physical posture, a seatedness of the body for the purpose of higher contemplation; but this is a positioning of the whole personality, and not merely the physical body. As mentioned at the end of the previous session, this personality is involved in various layers, and the knowledge of them is also essential. Our personality is not like a solid rock. There are constituents inside our personality which make up what we are. These constituents are called layers. In Sanskrit they are called koshas: annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya and anandamaya koshas. They are sheaths which cover the true us, or the soul that is inside us—the true soul that we are. Like onion peels, one inside the other, there are peels of our personality. But in an onion, one peel is different from another peel, whereas here the peels are not so very different. There is a gradual tapering of one peel into the other, so that we cannot easily say where one sheath ends and another sheath begins.

Imagine a part of a lake becoming frozen in cold climates. The surface becomes hard ice, but there is water beneath it. This liquid underneath gradually gets solidified into the ice on the surface. ‘Gradually' is the word. There is no sudden jump from the liquid to the solid. In the beginning, it is a tendency to solidification—an impulse of the liquid to become other than what it is in the form of solidity, gradually, so that we cannot easily say where the water ceases and the ice starts. Something like that is what is happening in the formation of our personality. In the process of creation, to which we have made sufficient reference, what has happened to the individual is a cutting off of a centre of awareness from its universality. This is what is called the fall of man. The isolation of a part from the whole is the fall.

In the Aitareya Upanishad particularly, this nature of the fall is described in very artistic detail. When this severance takes place, for whatever reason, it looks as if a blow is dealt upon the head of this little self-affirming, isolated part. This blow is the kick that is given by the Universal to the particular. It becomes unconscious, as happens when a blow is given to anybody. We are completely oblivious of what has happened. Darkness prevails, whose symbol we see in the state of deep sleep. The severance of the part from the whole is not a joke; it is worse than death. Even death is better than that. It is the vitality of one's own self being severed, as if every nerve is torn from one's own existence. No one can imagine what that state is. When pain is intense, we are not able to feel it because we become unconscious. We can tolerate a little pain, but cannot bear too much, and so we become unconscious. It is death, as it were.

The obliteration of the Universality, of which the individual is an integral part, is the darkness that is seen in front, which is identified with one's own self. “Darkness prevailed in the beginning of things,” say the scriptures. “God brooded over the waters of creation.” These waters of creation are nothing but a universal darkness that was created for the purpose of giving some significance to the individuals who have been severed from the Universal.

Now, there is the tendency of this individualised condition of the obliteration of consciousness to germinate into activity. Consciousness never dies. Seeds may be lying in the earth for years but, when rain falls, they germinate into tendrils. Likewise, how long this darkness continued, how long there was this obliteration of consciousness, one cannot say. But a time came when there was an upsurge of activity. This darkness, the original covering, is what is called the anandamaya kosha—a thick layer of dust and darkness, clouds piled up one over the other. Since consciousness is always alive and it is never destroyed, it wishes to be conscious of itself. Consciousness has to be conscious of itself; otherwise, it is not consciousness. One cannot always lie in a condition of death, as a corpse. It is said that for some time it lies like a corpse. At the time of creation, a blow was given and it cried in pain, says the Upanishad: “I feel the agony of my limitation.” We know the sorrow of feeling finitude inside. We experience it because even now we are finite, and are very miserable indeed. But we wish to forget that misery by imagining that many things belong to us and all is well with the world; we have many friends and a lot of property to take care of us. This falsehood of feeling keeps us intact. Otherwise, we would have died in three days. This is why they say that the world is unreal.

This consciousness that is in a state of obliteration of its union with Universality asserts itself in a different manner altogether, in an inverted fashion. It begins to see itself as if in a mirror. Consciousness has to be conscious of itself, as I said, but in this condition of darkness, it cannot be conscious of itself as it ought to be. It has to be conscious of itself as we are conscious of ourselves in a mirror. We cannot know ourselves except as we appear through a reflecting medium, that is, a mirror. It projects a medium, and creates an aperture for the manifestation of itself. It objectivises itself. Pure subjectivity is only infinity, and that has been severed. Now there is an objectivised feeling of one's own existence. A false subjectivity through the object is created by a consciousness of itself through the aperture it creates through the darkness. The principle aperture is the intellect. The intellect is the greatest faculty available to the human being. All our rationality, logic, philosophy, and the greatest genius we can think of is in the intellect, but it is a manifestation of darkness, ultimately. It is objectivised.

The highest intelligence available to man in rationality, reason and intellect is a clouded form of the otherwise infinitude. This is why it is said that the intellect is not always a safe guide. It can be scientific, it can be objectively logical, but it cannot present us with the universal Truth of things. Intellect is an externalised medium of consciousness, and Truth is not externalised; it is universal. Therefore, we cannot know Truth by reason alone. And inasmuch as the highest faculty available to us is reason, in this condition of ours—of intellectuality, scientific observation, experiments, etc.—Truth cannot be known.

But some sort of truth is necessary. We cannot live only in falsehood. So consciousness projects a world of apparent reality, called vyavaharika satta, which is pragmatic reality, empirical reality, workable reality, tentative reality. It manufactures, in the form of visualising the Universal as an external to itself, the world before us. This world that is seen in front of us is actually the Universal manifesting itself, but we cannot know that. The intellect tells us that it is outside us.

The faculties with which man is endowed are called, in our present-day style of speaking, psychological operations. The psyche that is spoken of in psychology is inclusive of various types of operation, one aspect being intellect or reason. But we do not always think and argue only in terms of reason. There are other ways of our reaction to things, namely, there is a faculty called feeling. For the purpose of manifesting another function, which is feeling, the reason adjusts itself to another aspect of its functioning, called mind. In Western psychological parlance, the word ‘mind' includes all types of psychological function. It is only in Indian psychology that a distinction is made between certain types of psychological function. The word ‘mind' has to be used cautiously; it is an English equivalent of psyche, but usually, in Indian psychology, the mind is a designation for one type of psychic functioning, especially feeling.

We know how feeling differs from reasoning and intel-lection. We can understand certain things very well, but we may not feel them. So the internal organ—the antahkarana, as it is called—has various functions to perform, four of which are laid before us for our consideration.

Intellect is one aspect. It is the faculty of judgment and decision, logical argumentation—the mind which feels and thinks in an indeterminate manner. The perception of the mind is indeterminate, and the perception of the intellect is determinate. When we see something in front of us, the mind thinks that there is something in front, but does not know what it is; this is called indeterminate perception. “I am seeing something in front of me.” The mind says that something is there, and then the intellect says that it is a tree, or a stump, or a person is standing. That is determinate perception. So the intellect and the mind differ by way of determination and indetermination of their perceptive function: intellect and feeling.

The third—though it may be called the first because it originated in the beginning—is a faculty called egoism. The word ‘egoism' also has to be understood properly. When we say a person is very egoistic, we mean he is a proud person who boasts, who gives airs to himself. Such a person is called egoistic. But in the philosophical parlance of yoga psychology, ego has to be understood in its very subtle signification. It does not mean merely pride. Pride is only a very crude form of its manifestation. The translation of ego is ‘self-sense'. The feeling that ‘I am', this consciousness of ‘I-am-ness' as an individualised identity, this self-sense, as we usually call it, is the ego sense, asmita. Asmi means ‘I am', and the ‘I-am-ness' is the ego sense. This is also a psychological function.

Yoga psychology tells us there is a fourth aspect, which is what is called memory. Our mind, our psyche, our antahkarana can know now what happened sometime back. Therefore, knowing is not always direct perception through the sense organs; it can be memory, or even inference.

After creation takes place and individuality is formed, consciousness projects these faculties for the purpose of its sustenance in this world of individuality. I am describing how personality is created in the process of creation. First of all, there was Universal Existence. Then there was an isolation from it. A part came out and lost the sense of its identity with the Universal. There was darkness. There was no knowledge of anything. Then there was intellection and mind, and the other faculties mentioned. The perceptions now gradually become grosser and grosser. When we become grosser and grosser in our perception, the objects become more and more distant from us. They become more and more solid in appearance. In the earliest of stages, there was no object at all. Later on there was only the appearance of there being something external. Then it became solid content, solidity to such an extent that it cannot be associated with the perceptive consciousness in any manner whatsoever. “I am one thing, and you are another thing.” Total distinction between the seer and the seen took place.

How long can we remain in this condition of isolation from our true identity with the Universal Being? Not for long. But, though veritable hell has befallen this ‘part individuality' in this state of wretched experience, it has to make good the loss. Great loss indeed is the loss of contact with the Universal, but what is the use of weeping that we have lost it? Something has to be done to make good this loss. “It is better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven,” said the poet. Why should we be a servant of the Universal? Be a lord in hell, that is better. We would not like to serve even a king because, after all, we are a servant. We would like to be an authority, even if it be in a piggery. We have authority over the pigs. What is the harm? Why should we be a servant of the king? It is not good. Let us rule with authority, though it is in hell, but never serve in heaven.

With this peculiar contortion of feeling, the individual self-sense manufactures a world of its own, an individuality, and an implementation of sensations to contact an apparent world which it has projected outside for its own satisfaction in this so-called hell. These appurtenances, these tentacles or antennae that it manufactures for the purpose of sustaining itself in this wretchedness, are the sense organs: the eyes, the ears, and so on. They tell us that everything is well with us. “Don't weep. Everything is nice. Beautiful colour, good sound, soft touch, good taste, good smell—what else do you want? Are you satisfied?” The soul says, “I am satisfied.” It is crying inside, and outwardly it says, “I am satisfied.” What is use of being satisfied with beautiful dress, golden gowns and a crown on the head, when there is typhoid fever inside? This kind of satisfaction is no satisfaction, yet we have to say something. We are crying inside, but we say, “I am all right, no problem.” This is the world in which we are living.

It is incumbent upon everyone to see to it that the prodigal son returns to the father one day or other. One cannot always be a prodigal emperor; it is no use. Prodigality will make us weep, as the story in the Bible tells us. Afterwards the son cried, and had to go back to his parent to recover his original identity that was of real utility. Yoga practice, spiritual life, religion proper, is the attempt of this wretched soul to go back to its originality, which is the true heaven of its existence, and not merely try to go on ruling in the hell that it has manufactured here.

The soul projects sense organs for this purpose. It then solidifies itself into a true existence which it wants to feel as really and perceptibly there, and manufactures this solid body. We cannot go on merely thinking that we are existing; we must be seeing it also. Imaginary wealth is no wealth. “I must see it and touch it. Here it is. This body is solid. I can see it. I can take a photograph of myself.” Do not take photographs of this stupidity; there is no purpose in it. As some mystics say, a photograph is a shadow of a shadow. This body is a shadow of the Universal Being, and you are taking a shadow of that shadow.

The Bhagavadgita tells us that we have to build up our true personality which was originally there before we ran away from our true Father. In the Sixth Chapter, it tells us how we can safely position ourselves in an act of concentration with that Supreme Identity which was originally ours. The first six chapters of the Bhagavadgita are a psychological preparation for building up a self-identity necessary for the purpose of higher meditation.

I mentioned that our movement is from the external to the internal, and from the internal to the Universal. Some commentators on the Bhagavadgita say that the first six chapters are concerned with the external and the internal, the next six chapters, from the Seventh to the Twelfth, are concerned with the Universal, with which we have to get united, and the last six chapters consist of the manner of our identity with the Universal.

In the beginning, we were distracted psychic entities. This distraction has ceased. A kind of alignment of the inner components of the personality has been achieved when we reached the apex of the teaching of the Sixth Chapter. The Bhagavadgita is the greatest yoga shastra. Everybody should know what it teaches. It should not merely be learned by rote and chanted as a holy text. It is a medicine for the illness of the soul of the human being. No yoga shastra can equal the Bhagavadgita. That one book is sufficient for us. As it is difficult to understand, it has to be read with great caution, under the guidance of a teacher.

The Sixth Chapter is the art of the integration of personality. These layers or sheaths that I mentioned are not always in a state of harmony among themselves. Psychologists call it a non-alignment of individuality. Some patients say that they are not aligned inside, and so they suffer. What do they mean when they say that they are not aligned? They think something, feel another thing, understand a third thing, and want a fourth thing altogether. Their relationship with things is slipshod.

Our connection with things in the world is not clear. One day it looks like this, another day it looks like that. Today we say we want this, and tomorrow we say we want something else. Today we say this place is good, and tomorrow we say that place is good, and so on. This is a non-alignment of the psyche, and it has to be taken care of appropriately. A systematic alignment of these layers has to be attempted. They have to be positioned. Asana is of the entire personality, not merely of the body.

All the koshas are in a state of unison. Yadā pañcāvatiṣṭ-hante jñānāni manasā saha, buddhiś ca na viceṣṭati, tām āhuḥ paramāṃ gatim (K.U. 2.3.10), says the Kathopanishad. In one sloka, in one verse of the Kathopanishad, the whole yoga is described. Yadā pañcāvatiṣṭhante jñānāni manasā saha. Pancha means five. When the five sense organs do not agitate among themselves, do not clamour for different types of satisfaction, when they stand together with the idea of one thing only and the intellect does not oscillate, one is in a state of attention. This is called yoga.

What the eyes see, what the ears hear—what the sense organs cognise—what the mind thinks and the intellect understands, all these should be uniform. They should be one and the same thing. That is real attention. Hearing one thing, seeing another thing and thinking a third thing is not attention. The senses have to be melted down into the substance of which the psyche is made. The psyche has to melt down into the pure reason, and this has to be the subject of concentration.

The concentration of the mind in yoga is not an ordinary, distracted or isolated function. It is not one part of the psyche that is meditating; it is the total psyche. In yoga psychology, the word ‘chitta' is used. Yogaś citta vṛtti nirodhaḥ (Y.S. 1.2): The restraint of the chitta is yoga. That is Patanjali's terminology. Here, chitta means the total psyche. The reason, the feeling, the memory, the inference, thought of any kind, all stand together in unison. Who is meditating in yoga? Do not say, “My mind is meditating.” You are meditating, not your mind. It is not your servant that is doing the work; you yourself are doing it. Otherwise, you could tell a servant to meditate for you. You have to do it for yourself.

The Bhagavadgita tells how you can become the ‘true you': an individual who is a totally aligned, complete, compact whole, who is satisfied and wants nothing else. Such a person can leap across this sea of the gulf between you and the Universal, as Hanuman jumped across the sea to Lanka.