The magnificence of Bhagavad Gita is that it is a loving tuition given by a wise Teacher to a deserving student; it is not just a book of essay or literature. We have thus the benefit of a direct personal Guru-sishya dialogue. Every time Krishna puts forward a proposition, instruction or explanation, Arjuna has the opportunity to look into himself and find out whether he has understood what he heard. If there is doubt or apprehension, he can instantly raise it and seek clarity. Vyasadeva who penned the dialogue has thus made the message vibrant and wholesome, useful and relevant to all seekers and students.
As long as human mind thrives on the earth, the message of Bhagavad Gita will remain relevant. For, Bhagavad Gita is a gospel on mind, coming from intelligence, the mind’s guide and tutor. Intelligence when illumined by the direct knowledge of the Self – the Impersonal, Impartial pivot of external and internal existence – gets empowered to deliver such a lofty message. In fact, the gospel of Bhagavad Gita will live and echo in every civilization, delivering timely enlightenment and inspiration, strength and sustenance.
In order to ensure the usefulness of the dialogue, it highlights the doubts of the listener, illustrating how these form an inevitable part of the assimilation process. We thus come to a very significant phase of the Text.
Krishna discussed the first and last notes of meditation and Self-absorption. He also depicted their effects on the perceptions and interactions of the Knower. By discerning everything as no other than the single uniform Self, Krishna points out how the vision of the Knower remains sublime and sovereign continuously.
Desultoriness of mind
Arjuna understood the instruction well. But it led to some doubts and questions. He expressed them faithfully. Vyasadeva must have felt that seekers in every era will encounter the same doubts:
O Madhusudana, the yoga you have described is in the nature of ‘evenness’. I am not able to see its stability and prevalence because of the restlessness of the mind. The mind is desultory by nature. It is turbulent, powerful and unbending. To bring control or moderation to the mind is like controlling the wind.
By this query Arjuna expresses his correct understanding of yoga described by Krishna, as the practice and perfection of evenness, samatva. He is very much aware of the fleetingness of the mind. Naturally, Arjuna wonders how to achieve samatva controlling such a vacillating mind.
Krishna hears Arjuna’s question. He is quite artful and considerate in treating the doubts. Any question arises but from the questioner. It has to be considered as a part of the questioner’s personality. To remove a doubt is verily to assuage the doubter.
Conscious of this fact, Krishna compliments Arjuna first and then confirms his doubt, only to clarify immediately that the samatva-yoga is very much attainable. He points out the two distinct qualities that empower one to attain this yoga without fail:
It is true, O mighty armed, that it is very difficult to control the mind. The mind, by nature, is extremely restless. But, with the right attempt and practice, coupled with ample dispassion, any mind can be sublimated. For one without regulated behaviour, samya yoga is hard to achieve. But for one with a regulated personality, it can be gained with skilful ease.
Herein reign the wisdom and compassion of Krishna, the Instructor. He does not denounce the question or discredit the questioner. On the other hand, he only confirms what Arjuna apprehends – that the mind is certainly given to swinging and swerving. Arjuna’s estimate about applicability of yoga is quite rational. Spirituality is considered to be a subtle subject, hence abstruse. Despite being so, the true seeker must be able to go into it and grasp the points. Arjuna has succeeded at least in grasping the mind’s subtlety and complexity in the yoga context.
Mind is indeed desultory. But that does not prevent the true seeker from achieving the necessary mind-control or mind-sublimation. One important factor, says Krishna, in yoga practice is perseverance, endeavour. The seeker should pursue the samya-yoga relentlessly. Consistency and dedication (abhyasa) are indispensable. Once these are ensured, the rest will easily follow. Another factor, adds Krishna, is the cultivation of dispassion. The two together – abhyasa and vairagya – he assures, will nurse and strengthen the mind to achieve the samyayoga. They have the power to purify the mind and protect it against all possible adversities of the world objects.
Krishna adds that in pursuing and achieving samya-yoga, the well-regulated person excels. Others will but fail. The watchword is wholesome regulation (vasyatmatva) in interaction and in all aspects of one’s life. Human life is intended to attempt and gain regulation and refinement. In achieving both, moderation is indispensable at every stage.
Krishna has briefly expressed his confirmation of Arjuna’s views, and then he affirms his own. Whatever Krishna or any true Instructor says is to be received, absorbed and pursued. Every iota of spiritual instructions is meant for actual daily practice.
Arjuna became more alert. When he thinks of putting the message into practice, he finds the probabilities not encouraging. Has not many a seeker too felt dissuaded by similar notional impediment? The pursuit is not a short-term matter. Abhyasa denotes definite commitment – sustained attempt and adherence to it. How long will it take to complete and conclude? This brings indefiniteness, and hence elusiveness too. To take up yoga means to drop other things. Krishna had already emphasized this point right in the beginning. His words were:
He also categorically said:
To take up yoga in all earnestness is to give up the conventional rituals and belief in their hold. However hoary and adorable these may be, the true seeker with discrimination must bid goodbye to them. Only then the mind will get attuned to yogic orientation. Then, will not there surely be a spell or duration in which the practice and support so long preserved cease, and the new one is not yet stabilized? Will not the seeker be stranded—neither here nor there’? Is not this intermediate period risky?
Suppose the seeker is not able to survive this and does not complete his yoga-sadhana before he drops his body. What would follow? Having left his earlier refuge, at the same time the higher goal not attained, will he not be meandering, helpless without shelter?
Whatever be the truth of the matter, Arjuna’s mind could not but apprehend such a danger, the transitional risk. Mind is given to thinking. And the thoughts about future always hold the unpredictable, the assortment of uncertainties. In thinking about the past, mind is clear because the events that have already taken place alone, it has to recount. The present is also unmistakable, because everything is tangible, clear like day. But the future is not so perceptible. So, one’s mind can become vary and turbulent in its imagination. Arjuna’s is no exception. And so comes his next question on the indefiniteness about the safe outcome and reward of spiritual pursuit.
Fate of the seeker fallen from spiritual path
In three verses, he sets forth his thoughts. These constitute a very significant facet in the Bhagavad Gita gospel. What confronts the seeker and how Krishna redresses it, needs to be studied and ascertained in all clarity and fullness:
Though with faith and attention, if one, unable to make the necessary striving, slips from the path, and does not reach his goal, what fate will befall him? Losing both, the erstwhile rituals with their promises as well as the new yogic reward and fruition, will he not, like the wind-blown clouds, be driven to destruction, deluded and lost in the Brahmic path? This indeed is my grave doubt, Krishna. You have to dispel it for me. I cannot find a better instructor for the purpose.
Arjuna’s words are clear; his apprehension quite genuine. He sets forth his reasons also. Yoga is a unitary path. It calls for exclusive reliance on its wholesomeness and conclusiveness. Whereas other religious paths have multiple aims and means (bahu-sakha: hyanantasca), as Krishna puts it (2.41), path of yoga is undoubtedly different. Exclusiveness till the end is something the desultory mind finds hard to preserve. Quite possibly it cannot avoid disruption.
Is not such a ‘neither here nor there’ plight disheartening? Arjuna’s question is quite relevant thus. There is, no doubt, a time lag between leaving everything else and getting at the yoga fruition. If during this period, yoga-pursuit becomes abortive, either due to lack of exclusiveness or shortage of life span, what will be the outcome? Will not the seeker, wonders Arjuna, be a spiritual destitute, bereft of earlier religious anchor and the subsequent spiritual prop? Such a plight, denied by the rewards of either is terrible to encounter.
The clouds lifting water from the expanse of the seas, waiting to shed on the plains, suddenly get blown by powerful wind! Getting scattered, failing in their mission, they get lost abruptly! Is not the plight of the unsuccessful yoga-seeker alike? It is this doubt that Arjuna wants Krishna to dispel.
Auspiciousness wards off adversity
Not only Arjuna, but many indeed are the sadhakas who seek this hope, this clarity. Krishna takes a wholesome stand, practical and effective. It calls for deep study and contemplation by all seekers and thinkers:
O son of Kunti, for him neither here on earth nor in the higher worlds, can destruction ever be. One intending to do good (set on auspicious path), will never meet an adverse plight. Such is the spiritual law.
In the spiritual field, no question or doubt is merely objective, theoretical or impersonal. It has its relevance first and last to the person who fosters it. Unless the question is treated at the questioner level, the mind level, the full purpose will not be served. Krishna’s answer is thus objective as well as subjective, impersonal and personal alike. This is the excellence of the Bhagavad Gita dialogue.
Krishna assures that for the yoga practitioner, no decline or downfall will ever be; he adds, ‘either here or elsewhere’. Why say much, declares Krishna, whoever aims to do something good and auspicious, will never meet any peril or adversity. Any fear, doubt or apprehension in this regard is purely imaginary or puerile. To imagine risk or danger is the characteristic of the mind, especially the deluded one. Whether the imaginations are factual, and whether the events and courses in one’s life will take such a turn, is altogether another consideration.
So far as yoga-pursuit is concerned, it has the intrinsic merit and strength to safeguard the performer assuredly. Fire burns, water flows and the wind blows, naturally, irresistibly. So too, does goodness safeguard the human and fetches felicity for him. Krishna’s words are an enunciation of a mental, spiritual law – a truth, a principle. It stands wholesomely with Krishna. In fact, all such statements of Bhagavad Gita as well as the scriptures are thus intrinsically potent, forceful.
Is this a sudden revelation? Remember how Krishna, at first, introduced karma-yoga (2.40): “In this no abhikrama nasa (loss of the effort already made) is there; nor is there any pratyavaya (adverse result). Even a small measure of this yoga practice will deliver one against the mighty fear of worldly life.” Are not these sufficient explanation, promise and safeguard? What more is needed to understand that yoga-pursuit is wholesome and benevolent?
Krishna now goes on to show how one who has slipped from the yoga path maintains continuity of his efforts in later births. The next five verses (6.41 - 45) describe the possible destinies of such a blessed soul.
What is the highest reward a ritualist would get, as promised by the Vedas? At best the holiest worlds above, like heaven, including the brahma-loka, Creator’s world. The merit of rituals does not last long. It has an end, as the ritual itself. The ritualist may, after his term in the higher worlds, come back to the human kingdom, or to the lower ones (imam lokam hinataram va visanti - Mundakopanishad 1.2.10)
But the holy merit of yoga is not so. It entitles the yoga practitioner to live in the higher virtuous world till he feels like coming down. And then, the fate is far better than the one awaiting ritualists. For the yoga sadhaka the possibility of entering the lower levels is not there at all. What a great insurance!
When the yogi gets reborn on earth, Krishna says, two fates are possible: either it will be in good clean families blessed with prosperity and resourcefulness – is this not a covetable promotion, safeguard? – or he will get into a yogic family, intelligent, keen and discriminating.
Between the opulent family and a yogic one, which is better and more fortunate? The rich may not have a kindly and benevolent heart. They may not be able to discern the merits of spiritual life. And that may pose a conflict for the seeking mind and its resignation, hindering the seeker in his mission.
Such a disharmony and ill-attunement will not be there in the case of ascetically inclined families. Such a birth in a family where amity and spiritual disposition reign, is very rare, pronounces Krishna.
In such an encouraging and harmonious set up, the seeker irresistibly gets back his old touches. Persuaded and inspired by the latent tendencies, he intensifies his search and sadhana. Perseverance befriends him; its outcome draws him nearer to the goal. Both together lead him further. His mind sheds all its dross and stain, making him free of blemishes. He attains to the supreme elevation. There is no question of his effort going wasteful or reward being denied. It is a promotion, elevation and progression towards fulfillment, every time, everywhere.
Arjuna’s questions were met and fully answered. Perhaps he was happy and clear in his mind. But, for the readers and thinkers, now as well as of any other time, this exposition of Krishna can pose a grave conflict with what Krishna himself began with. He was vociferous in driving home (i) the eternal existence of the Soul (ii) its singular nature (iii) its unaffectedness (iv) its unborn, undying and non-acting character. If this was the first and last truth Krishna wanted to convey, how can he now suddenly speak of the going and coming Soul, and what more, it being rewarded for what it is doing now?
The message of Krishna, of Bhagavad Gita, is unambiguous. It is to become a sthitaprajna, a sthitadhi. That will result only from a full knowledge of the Immortal, Impersonal and unaffected Soul. The first and the last attempt of one, who has listened to and absorbed this truth, must be to realize the Soul in its fullest nature and magnitude. But if seekers do not pay attention to this supreme fact, and instead they get lost in the inferior views and desires, what is to be done?
The purpose of any enunciation is to make it felt so that one is guided and inspired by its content and worth. If the exposition fails to ensure this, then the exponent serves no purpose either to himself or to the others. Thus the questioner is more important than the question itself. Krishna takes stock of the questioner, and adds whatever is necessary to make his words and their essence relevant and easy for assimilation.
The effort in the form of sravana and manana at knowing the Supreme Truth, like any religious worship or ritual, has its benevolent effect. That makes it virtuous, holy, and as such merits reward. Krishna raises the reward to greater heights than what Vedic rituals would themselves fetch, thereby, making rituals far inferior to the enquiry of Truth and its pursuit. The fear or doubt as to whether by taking up this enquiry one would be adversely hit is also removed in the process. The cause of the exposition is served only when the fear about its pursuit also is looked after.
Then, when one actually takes up the pursuit, he will be guided by the merit of the pursuit itself. The yoga-sadhana which aims at harmonizing, evenizing and integrating the mind excels by far. Is not this itself a sufficient and fulfilling reward? The other palliative statements are only for the doubting minds, to strengthen their right focus on the truth and its pursuit. Beyond this, it has no meaning, relevance or purpose. Krishna’s position earlier, now and even later is the same. The Soul is immortal. In knowing It as so, does human life finds its meaning, purpose and fulfillment.
Yogi excels the usual ascetics. He equally excels the Vedic scholars. He excels even the rituals and likewise performers. Therefore, O Arjuna, become a yogi, take to the yoga-sadhana, by all means.
Asceticism has its merits. Austere life is no doubt good and great. Vedic study and practice too have their status and supremacy to offer. Rituals do carry their religious sublimity with them. So too good and benevolent actions cannot be discounted. They have the power to bestow purity to the performer. But all this apart, samya-yoga (the yoga of equal vision) alone is the supreme and the best. It anoints the mind with so much peace, wisdom and freedom that the mind does not want to covet anything here or hereafter. It enriches, fulfils and crowns human life with excellence, exemplariness and enlightenment.
For Arjuna and also for all seekers at all times and at all places, Krishna’s ultimate dictum is: tasmad yogi bhava - Therefore, become a yogi.
(From the Series Essential Concepts In Bhagavad Gita - Volume 3)