"Unflinching devotion to the Teacher is paramount in the life of a true seeker. To begin with, an external God can be the object of faith. But once the devotee grows to be a seeker, only a Wise Teacher can fulfil his quest.  It is then for the seeker to get purified and enlightened by the words of wisdom from his Guru.  Their bond and attunement put the Teacher on the pedestal of God.  Such an impeccable Guru-sishya bond alone bestows wisdom, strength and fulfillment to the seeker."

The Guiding force of Narayanashrama Tapovanam & Center for Inner Resources Development

Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha

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The last three verses of the 5th chapter briefly referred to the intense practice of meditative absorption. Krishna pointed out how such an exclusive effort frees the mind from the hold of iccha, bhaya and krodha (desire, fear and hatred) and bestows mukti (liberation). By this Krishna was hinting at a discussion of the exclusive meditational practice in the next chapter. The 6th chapter, called “Dhyana yoga”, is also known by other names – “Abhyasa yoga” and “atma-samyama yoga”. All these names clearly denote meditation.

Meditation is an exclusive effort involving one’s own personality, especially the inner being. Unlike as in rituals and other exercises, here, the emphasis is on eschewing all external activities and dependence.

Meditation essentially means to sit in a place quietly, free of actions, to silence the senses and be focussed on the mind and mind processes, until at last the mind dissolves in its own inmost essence, the Self. In meditation the mind alone is involved. There is no physical movement, activity or involvement with any other object.

Though meditation (dhyana) is the subject of the 6th chapter, Krishna spends a great deal of time explaining the pre-meditational and post-meditational discipline, purity and refinement. Of the 47 verses in the chapter, only 7 verses describe the process of meditation. This evidently means that the non-meditational life of purity and refinement is far more important than it is taken to be. For, until these ‘pre’ and ‘post’ phases are properly understood and lived, the seeker will not be able to employ his mind on meditation effectively.

Keeping this important aspect in mind, the seeker should read the chapter, which begins with a classical description of the renunciate, sannyasin. Why should Krishna speak so much about sannyasa, when he himself is not a sannyasin, nor is Arjuna one? The point needs study and contemplation:

अनाश्रितः कर्मफलं कार्यं कर्म करोति यः ।
स सन्न्यासी च योगी च न निरग्निर्न चाक्रियः ।।

Whoever does all that he has to do without dependence on, or attachment towards the mental responses to the outcome of what is being done, verily becomes a sannyasin as well as a Yogi – not the one who has formally abandoned the rituals or the worldly pursuits.

Traditionally, sannyasa is the fourth order of life, a natural culmination of the earlier three phases – brahmacarya, garhasthya and vanaprastha. The entry into sannyasa necessitates abandoning all kinds of ritualistic disciplines as well as family and domestic involvement. Either alone or in the company of the Guru, the renunciate lives his life given only to spiritual pursuits. Hearing or reading the Scriptures, ruminating over their message and then meditating exclusively, become the sole occupation of a renunciate. These being the practices prescribed for a sannyasin, Krishna forbids such a step for Arjuna.

Krishna, throughout Bhagavad Gita, extols sannyasa as an inward spiritual accomplishment, enrichment. It is related to the mind and intelligence, which become pure and sublime, free from their usual dross and constrictions. Such an inner enrichment – the true spirit and purpose of sannyasa – is possible for any seeker provided he yearns and strives for it vigorously.

Standing in the Kurukshetra battlefield, wielding weapons, Arjuna and Krishna are clearly away from the practice prescribed for sannyasa. Both are plunged into the midst of the most intense activity of human life. The question before them is how best their fighting mission can be accomplished without hindrance. Where is then any scope of physically abandoning or renouncing actions? At the same time, Krishna wants Arjuna to be enlightened on the unique merits and blessings the great pursuit holds, without which any religious or spiritual life will remain unfulfilled. That is how Krishna offers his own description of sannyasa.

Krishna’s task is thus to infuse the full benefits of sannyasa into active life. How this can be done is the sole quest and discussion of Bhagavad Gita. Seekers should not miss this.

Karma – the very pulse of life

Karma is something that none can escape or eschew. Nature keeps every living being incessantly active – a point Krishna has already stressed and substantiated in the 3rd chapter (Karma-yoga). He wants everyone to remain constantly engaged in his own karmic life.

If karma is thus inevitable, there arises the natural enquiry – what, then, is to be renounced? Karma-phala alone, is Krishna’s answer. The phala Krishna refers to or implies is certainly not the object-results of actions. For, these are something that can never be avoided by anyone.

Any karma has its clear objective. When rightly pursued, that objective will be gained. In fact, the completion of an action is itself, in a way, the emergence or gaining of its result. Where is the question then of separating the objective of an action from the action itself?

Every objective-result can evoke only one of the three distinct mental responses – pleasant, unpleasant or a combination of the two. These inner, mental results alone Krishna wants the seeker to deal with and sublimate. The way to do it has already been discussed beginning with the 2nd chapter, when he first defined karma-yoga (2.48). The repeated, and hence constant mental sublimation or evenization of the karmic results, has ever since become the focus of his dialogue. In various words and settings, Krishna has mentioned samatva, samya, sama-buddhi, sama-darsana, driving home their comprehensive relevance and benefit.

While undertaking an action, the actor should not be obsessed by the possibility of desirable or undesirable or partially desirable result. He must set his objective and begin his faithful effort to realize the objective. By the laws of nature and the processes at work, the natural outcome will follow. And whatever that be, the actor should accept it without any reluctance and be reconciled to it. Such a reconciling attitude does not in any way adversely affect the fruition of what he does, rather it is a help and a support for the right outcome.

That the objective effort for the object-result aimed at, gives a beautiful opportunity to strengthen such a reconciliation, is what every seeker should repeatedly contemplate upon and understand. Besides the objective effort and object processes at work, the performer also strives simultaneously for his subjective, spiritual sublimation and elevation. And this has the effect of harmonizing his actions, making them more effective and powerful every time.

Thus, the process of action and its pursuit should flow naturally and harmoniously. Not to allow it, or to try to intercept it in one way or another, will be against the natural scheme of things. This natural attunement, integration and harmony is what constitutes the essence and enrichment called sannyasa, renunciation. Krishna ardently emphasizes this fundamental truth.

True asceticism implies arriving at such an inner sublimation and enrichment, through proper study, reflection and meditation, whatever may be the circumstantial activity the ascetic is engaged in. The core attainment is always inner – it is in the nature of mind-sublimation and mind-enrichment.

True Spirit of Sannyasa

Pointing out this great fact, nay principle, Krishna declares that mere retirement or renunciation of the ritualistic practices (niragnih), or abandonment of domestic, social and worldly activities (akriyah), will not entitle one to true sannyasa. Such a step, he says, is but physical, in the bodily level, and is not likely to have its desired bearing on the mind. If the spirit and purpose of sannyasa have to be gained, it is imperative to proceed with the necessary introspection and sublimation, without relinquishing regular life and activities that life demands. Let the focus be on the mind, and the intellect. For, it is the mind and the intellect alone that have to verily strive to attain the enrichment of renunciation, in the true sense of the term. Krishna speaks more on this in the subsequent verses:

यं सन्न्यासमिति प्राहुर्योगं तं विद्धि पाण्डव ।
न ह्यसन्न्यस्त सङ्कल्पो योगी भवति कश्चन ।।
(Bhagavad Gita 6.2)

Whatever others speak of as sannyasa (renunciation), know that to be verily yoga alone. For, without eschewing desires and sankalpas (desire-motivated-deliberations), none can hope to be a yogi in truth.

This is a very subtle but clear statement. By the word ‘sannyasa’, people generally have the fourth order or stage of life in mind. But Krishna wants to make it clear that ‘sannyasa’ implies a distinct ideal to be pursued. Ascetics do their austere pursuits with a view to achieve the real sannyasa in their mind and intelligence. That inner mental attainment is no other than the yogic enrichment, Krishna has been expounding right from the 2nd chapter.

For karma-yoga to be wholesome and functional, the seeker has to renounce and lay at rest all his desires and desire based sankalpas. Without renouncing such sankalpas (asannyasta-sankalpah), none can hope to become a yogi. As long as sankalpas fill the mind, the mind will be in a state of tension and oscillation. The oscillation of the mind and intelligence (sruti-vipratipanna-buddhih – 2.53) should be set at rest. This is a point Krishna has been emphasizing all along.

So, in the very pursuit of karma-yoga is implied the scope and content of sannyasa. No real seeker can afford to ignore this fact.

Krishna then points out the exceptional situation in which even physical renunciation may become relevant:

आरुरुक्षोर्मुनेर्योगं कर्म कारणमुच्यते ।
योगारूढस्य तस्यैव शमः कारणमुच्यते ।।
(Bhagavad Gita 6.3)

For one who aspires to ascend the pedestal of yoga, actional involvement is necessary, appropriate. For one who has already reached that pedestal, withdrawal from such involvement will become relevant.

Nature’s compulsion for being active cannot be set aside or dishonoured. To attempt to flout it will be gravely disharmonious and will only invite undesirable consequences. Knowing this, the right course will be to fall in line with Nature and be active. For the striving soul, to be attuned to the normal activities is the harmonious option.

In order to have the spiritual aim fulfilled what the seeker should do is to discerningly sublimate his mind and intelligence through such active pursuits. Herein comes the role of yoga, as Krishna has described it – samatvam yoga ucyate ( 2.48).

Let the seeker continue to be active. When his nature has become sublime and pure, and the urge for actions and indulgences in passions and prejudices gets toned down adequately, he can think of taking to physical withdrawal from active life. Samah is the discipline of overcoming desires and fascinations. Instead of being motivated by desires, the seeker tries to be desire-free and to look for the comfort that arises from such an inward orientation.

When a desired object is gained, the satisfaction that follows is generated by the internal mind, not by the external object. By the right understanding and sublimation of desires, that mind which used to generate joy through a desired object, now begins to bestow joy by the process of ‘no-desires’. This is sama-sukha. The other is called kamasukha. When sama-sukha takes precedence, and kama-sukha ceases to be of interest, then is physical renunciation harmonious. No step at physical withdrawal from the usual active pursuits is to be attempted until the seeker has advanced in yogic orientation and has reached a stage when sama-sukha appeals to him, in preference to kama-sukha. This is a very clear lesson Krishna drives home here.

How does a seeker, who has remained active and has been pursuing the yoga, know that he has reached the required level of yogic attainment? Krishna takes up the subject matter next:

यदा हि नेन्द्रियार्थेषु न कर्मस्वनुषज्जते ।
सर्वसङ्कल्पसन्न्यासी योगारूढस्तदोच्यते ।।
(Bhagavad Gita 6.4)

When, by virtue of renunciation of all desire-oriented thoughts, the seeker does not feel any attachment with either the sensory objects or his actions, then is he regarded as a yoga-arudhah (having ascended to the pedestal of yoga).

Krishna makes it clear that by the pursuit of yoga, the way he has described and explained it, the mind of the seeker gets purified and sublimated by every action. This becomes evident by the note of renunciation that emerges in the seeker’s mind towards desires and desire motivated pursuits. This is the renunciation that verily counts in spiritual seeking and attainment. The identified mind becomes disidentified. The agitated mind becomes free of such agitation. What causes agitation and agony is not the mind but the desire-oriented thoughts it generates and sustains. When the same mind learns to function, free of desire-oriented constrictions and imaginations, it becomes light, peaceful and expansive. The benefit of renunciation is precisely this. Krishna calls it sankalpa sannyasa or sankalpa tyaga. For him sannyasa denotes tyaga.

What can a seeker forego or give up by way of tyaga? None can abandon his body, for it lives governed by the laws of Nature. None can leave his mind also. Thus, if anything can be renounced, it is the wrong evaluations, assessments of the mind, and the erroneous identification and attachment these bring about. The mind is free to do this. Karmayoga is a pursuit in and by which, this purification and purging is constantly attempted and achieved, a requisite for fruitful meditation.

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(From the Series Essential Concepts In Bhagavad Gita - Volume 3)