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This article is a chapter from the book "Yoga Samhita".
Bhagavad Gita Yoga
Sri Swami Sivananda
The Bhagavad Gita is a gospel of the life spiritual. It concerns not merely some remote other-worldly life unconnected with practical activity here, but the whole gamut of experience, and lays down rules of disciplining life here on earth. No aspect or phase of life is excluded from the scope of the Bhagavad Gita way of self-transfiguration. Life is a process of series of experiences which are mysteriously and inextricably connected with the entire universe in all its planes of existence. Hence, when the Gita offers a solution to the problems of life and prescribes methods of regulating and harmonising its modes, it has to take into account everything in the universe to which life is related. The greatness of the Gita lies in the integrality of its scope, the universality of its teachings, the all-comprehensiveness of its doctrine. The Perfect Man gives the Perfect Science of the Perfect Life. This Perfect Science which is the Bhagavad Gita aims at unveiling the deepest secrets in a language which is at once simple and grand, charming and dignified, revealing the glory of the Spirit, the majesty of the Divine. This secret is the relation between man and God, between man and his environment. When once this secret of existence, this art of living, is known, man is lifted from penury to a blissful fulfilment, from limitation to self-completion in the Infinite.
The Bhagavad Gita discloses the fact that the primary cause of the troubles in which man finds himself is the erroneous notion which he has about his relations with the body and the world, and virtually with God. The perishable nature of the body and the world, and the immortal nature of the conscious soul within is forgotten, and man clings to the reverse of this truth, thinking that the body and the objects amidst which it is placed have a permanent value, and that the self is a dependent entity entwined in inter-relations with things that seen to sustain it. Sri Krishna openly declares the immortality of the soul and the transience of all its extraneous appendages. "The non-existent never becomes existent, and the existent never becomes non-existent." (II-16). The soul is the existent, and all objective phenomena are the non-existent. The non-existent is to be understood as that which is not ever enduring, which does not persist in the changing processes of time. Affection for the non-existent and the wrong notion that objects bring pleasure to the self, strike at the root of the peace of the soul, for these loves and false ideas spring from ignorance. "The pleasures that are contact-born are wombs of sorrow: the wise does not rejoice in them" (V-22). The pains of life have this ignorance and wrong notion as their basis.
Buddhi or the higher reason should be made use of in distinguishing between the truth and the falsehood of life. Discrimination between the real and the unreal is possible only when the light of understanding is thrown upon the facts and events which become contents of consciousness. But, mostly, it is found that reason in the human being works in co-operation with the senses and becomes a mere tool of the latter, carrying out the function of transmitting to the individual, the characteristics of the objects of sense-perception. It interprets life in terms of space, time and objects, and degrades experience to body-consciousness. The joys and sorrows of life, even good and bad, are judged from the standpoint of sense-experience, and reason seems to play second fiddle to the clamourings of the senses. But the fact is that true happiness cannot be had by resort to body and its physical companions. The knowledge of this fact can come to the reason of man only when it is purified and gets freed from the shackles of the senses. Reason which reflects the characteristics of sense-experience is different from the a priori reason which draws sustenance from the Inner Self and commands the sense-powers, independent of spatial and temporal relations. But the senses will continue to work even when an independent purified reason is developed. Man cannot cease from action. Action is the law of individual life. To act, and not to allow the reason to get attached to the acts, is the essence of Karma Yoga. "He who has no sense of doership, whose intellect is not attached even while destroying all these worlds (or people), neither destroys these nor is bound" (XVIII-17).
Cessation from physical action is not non-action. For one can be physically inactive and yet be performing actions in a different sense. Vital, emotional, mental and intellectual action is real action. Cessation from actions like these would be real inaction. But man has no freedom to do this. He is forced to act by the very nature of his being. All actions generally disturb the phenomenal vestures of the personality of man. On account of this disturbance, he feels a non-normal state in his being. And to maintain a state of equanimity even in the midst of disturbing activities he should act in a spirit of self-sacrifice, self-surrender, self-restraint or self-knowledge. The universe is a living organism, every element of which perforce tends to and does fulfil the unitary law of the organism. And the duty of everyone, therefore, is to be conscious of this Great Organism and work in loyalty to it. Karma-Yoga which Sri Krishna teaches is action based on the consciousness of the absoluteness of God, the surrender of oneself to God, or one’s steadfast concentration on God. Love and service should become the mottos of one’s life. Absolute negation of action, is not possible for man; but he can neutralise the effects of actions, by turning them into Yogic activity.
No person can really afford to happily lead a completely selfish life. The universe works on a co-operative basis. One thing is dependent and hangs on another thing. Experiences of individuals are relative to particularities, and the absolute worth or value of any experience can be known and realised only in the Universal Consciousness of which all are parts. The benefits that one enjoys in life are the products of co-operative action on the part of all individuals of the universe, put together, and he who tries to appropriate things for his own individual satisfaction is a veritable thief (III-12). The caste system in society is established for the welfare of all, for providing a ground for co-operative action, in accordance with the knowledge and aptitudes of persons. The social good cannot be isolated from individual good. Man is not estranged from his environment. The individual, the family, the society, the nation and the world are gradually and progressively arranged fields of the pervasion and activity of consciousness, where it becomes wider and wider until it grasps the whole universe within its comprehension and gets absorbed in the reality of its own Higher Self. Everyone of these stages should become a field for the dynamic practice of Yoga, in different degrees, and every act should become a contemplation of the Divine being.
The Lord promises that He shall take care of him and look to the needs of him who thus contemplates on Him ceaselessly. It is useless and even foolish on man’s part to worry himself about his food, clothing, shelter, etc. For, he shall be provided with all the necessaries, the moment he learns to live in consonance with the Will of God. And when he is not in tune with Him, no effort on man’s part can bring him the desired fulfilment and satisfaction. Surrendering all other duties, the seeker should throw himself open in humility and devotion before the Supreme Master of all beings (XVIII-66). When this is done, all is done.
The sense of possession is the greatest of deluding factors in man’s life. Truly nothing belongs to anyone here. Things are what they are in relation to the Universal Being, and not what they appear to be in relation to specific individuals. The Lord ordains all things justly, irrespective of what ignorant man would like Him to do. Selfishness has no place in the scheme of the universe, and when its ghostly presence is felt at any place, there crop up the tormenting evils of desire, fear, anger and consequent suffering. Selflessness in the state of real ‘Selffulness’, non-attachment in the condition of God-consciousness, activity while being rooted in the Absolute, is the pith of the gospel of the Gita. All things belong to God; He is the thread connecting the discrete forms of the universe (VII-7). And, also, all things belong to him who recognises the supremacy of God. Those who indulge in sense pleasures defy His supremacy and assert the divisibility of existence. They descend to lower births on account of their consciousness being distant from that of God (XVI-19). He who does his own duty (Svadharma), in obedience to the Law of Supreme, exalts himself to the status of a true Yogi, and helps others too, to attain to that state (Loka-sangraha).
An important hint that Sri Krishna gives to the wise man (Pandita or Vidwan) is that he should not unsettle the mind of he ignorant (III-26). He should skilfully direct the consciousness of the ignorant to the higher stages of understanding. Always intelligent methods should be applied in moulding the intellects of the ignorant. Statements which may shock the feelings of persons should never be made; nothing should be asserted in a dogmatic way. To enter into the heart of others and lift them to more elevated states of consciousness by rational methods is an art which very few are capable of knowing. ‘Blunt’ ways of dealing with people are the outcome of insufficient insight into the truth of things. Sri Krishna was a master of the art of ‘intelligent instruction’, and he expects every wise man to be an expert it its application. The teacher should not be merely a man of theory; he should be able to stir the hearts of all to rise to higher levels by his own personal example.
The Bhagavad Gita Yoga may be called ‘Anasakti-Yoga’, the Yoga of non-attachment. Sri Krishna speaks again and again of the evil of contact with externals and exhorts all to cut down the tree of worldliness with the axe of non-attachment. The world is sustained by desire and affection for things perishable. Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, three primordial properties of Prakriti, constitute the stuff of the world of the senses. Sri Krishna is the Supreme Self, and every one should seek shelter under Him; this is the path to Perfection, to Immortality. As the Lord is everywhere, devotions to Him would mean detachment from particularities; for, the consciousness of particularities is other than the consciousness of Universality of Being, which is God. Asakti for God means Anasakti for the things of the external world.
In addition to the scientific Yoga technique of total withdrawal of personality-consciousness and fixing of attention in the External—which is an extremely difficult method of self-transcendence—Sri Krishna gives the clue to the easier and simpler way of proceeding towards the Supreme in and through the world. "He who does action for my sake, who considers Me as the Supreme, devoted to Me, who is free from attachment, devoid of enmity towards other beings, reaches Me, O Pandava" (XI-55). As a thorn that has entered the sole of one’s foot is removed with the aid of another thorn, the bondage of action is overcome by means of ‘transformed’ action or action divinised by the magnetic touch of the consciousness of one’s union with God. When the individual takes up the bow of action, by being backed up by the Eternal Being who is the unfailing guide of all in the universe, when action is based on universality of consciousness, there come about prosperity, victory, happiness and firm polity! (XVIII-78).
The essential spirit of the Bhagavad Gita teaching is the continuous consciousness of the Absolute while the routine duties of life are discharged without reluctance and with the joy of the knowledge of the fact that the entire activity of the universe is an overflow of the process of the Divine Consciousness. Sri Krishna Himself, by personal example, sets forth the system of the perfect life. To be in the world and yet out of the world, to behold the universe of plurality in the light of unity, to move on earth as man and yet be ever conscious of the Highest Spirit, to work as a master, to live like God, to act as a humble servant of humanity, to sport in the relative while resting in the Absolute, is the lesson which Sri Krishna teaches to the world.
Sri Krishna Himself is the moving Spirit of the Bhagavad Gita. The life of Sri Krishna is an illustration of how an ideal, exalted life is to be lived. The best commentary on the Bhagavad Gita is the life of its own author. Sri Krishna lived what He taught and He taught what is of the highest and the greatest value. Sri Krishna was an integral person who led the integral life of a consciousness of the integral Reality. He was one of the busiest possible beings, a matchless statesman, an expert in sciences and arts, living in the midst of a large family of heterogeneous elements, undertaking to bring peace to the earth by destroying antagonistic powers and raising aloft the downtrodden Dharma. And yet, with all these multifarious activities of an all-comprehensive type, He was ceaselessly aware of His True Self, the Absolute. To study the life of Sri Krishna is to study the Bhagavad Gita in action. Sri Krishna was a synthesis of the One and the many, a reconciliation of the unmanifest and the manifest, a soldering of the Infinite and the finite. For Krishna there is nothing to acquire and nothing to renounce, for He is the Truth between the two opposites. He is a "Cosmic Man" who acts in this world with ‘eyes wide open’, whose actions are based not on Personal interests, but on Truth-Consciousness, not on the particular but the General Being. No greater man, and yet no greater Divinity has ever appeared before the human eye, than Sri Krishna. Look at His many-sided personality! The same Krishna, the friend of the simple cowherds, the same humble servant who washed the feet of the guests in Yudhishthira’s royal sacrifice, was that all-devouring Virat, the Universal Being that dazzled the representative of man, Arjuna, struck him with awe, and thundered forth the Bhagavad Gita in the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The Bhagavad Gita expects every man to become a Krishna, a paragon of the wise man, a Yogeshvara, a man of universal action, and a centre, of all love. Sri Krishna is the ideal superman of the East, and the Gita is the exposition of the science of man’s rising to this State.
Krishna represents God; Arjuna represents man. Krishna is knowledge; Arjuna is action. Krishna is Grace; Arjuna is effort. Krishna is the Goal; Arjuna is the means. Krishna is the Absolute; Arjuna is the relative. The purpose of the Gita is to bring about in man’s life a union of the two; and this it seeks to achieve by the Yoga of the consciousness of Brahman in the midst of action. The Goal of action is Brahman. The instrument of action is Brahman. The process of action is Brahman. The agent of action is Brahman. For one who acts in this spirit, ever in tune with the Eternal Brahman, seeing Brahman in action, there is no bondage, no pain, no death. He attains to Brahman alone (IV-24). To such knowers of the Truth, absolute freedom is everywhere. They are in beatitude (V-26).
The purpose of human life is the recognition of the Divine Law and the practice of Yoga in daily life, as described in the Bhagavad Gita. Man! Abandon your vain conceit and reflect upon the essential immanent Spirit that illumines your life, and without which your enterprises have no value. It does not mean that everyone should abandon their homestead and chattel and embrace a life of poverty and reticence. The Gita has a very liberal doctrine. It throws open to every man the possibility of realising the Divine. Every step towards selflessness is a step taken in the path of Yoga. Every sacrifice that is done is a stage in the Bhagavad Gita Yoga. Children, women and persons belonging to all types can be taught this Yoga of the Eternal, in accordance with their own stages in evolution, if only the Teacher is an expert, one who knows the true spirit of the Gita, who lives a life in harmony with that of Sri Krishna. Give the hands to work, with the mind dedicated to God. Let your life be a process of the spiritual consciousness. Try to emulate the Lord, Sri Krishna. May you all learn the Yoga taught by Him in the Gita, and become inheritors of the Kingdom of the Infinite.
Last Updated: Sunday, 11-Dec-2005 21:37:46 EST
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