With Krishna’s concluding comments after the visvarupa darsana episode, the Bhagavad Gita dialogue opens into a new critical phase. Of the 18 chapters of the Text, the first six, dealing with the spirituo-philosophical wisdom, expose primarily the universal Presence. It was described by Krishna as the unborn, undying, impersonal, self-luminous Soul animating the body and empowering all the organs of knowledge and activity.
The six chapters that follow instill a very strong overtone of devotion to the supreme Power. Krishna discusses at length Creation and Existence as an intriguing aggregate, describing what its constituents are and how these are interlinked to make a harmonious whole. In the process, Krishna also reveals how the whole creation is but an elusive and illusory mystery, despite its visible powers, potentials and possibilities (9.5).
On listening to the amazing nature of existence, its grounds as well as incredible grandeur, Arjuna wanted to have a glimpse of how the whole multi-pronged display emerges and prevails with all its interactional worth and purpose, despite its illusoriness and transitoriness. Visvarupa revelation transpired as a sequence.
To conceive the supreme Reality and foster a vibrant connection with It, the factor that counts first and last is guileless and wholesome devotion. Compared to the sublimity of such a devotional allegiance, all other disciplines and austerities are of no real value and effectiveness (11.53).
Enquiry about the two-fold devotional pursuit
The stunning declaration Krishna thus made on the supremacy and effectiveness of exclusive unreserved devotion, instantly makes Arjuna wonder how to relate Krishna’s earlier advice to contemplate on the impersonal, imperishable Soul. So, he comes up with his enquiry.
Thus commences the 12th chapter of the battlefield dialogue with Arjuna’s pertinent enquiry on what Krishna just said (11.55). The manner in which Krishna acknowledges Arjuna’s enquiry and answers him, clarifying his doubt, thereby assuring and consoling him, deserves special attention. By this, Krishna sets a living example and guidance for all Teachers and Exponents as to how the seekers should be addressed on their mental and intellectual difficulties.
At no point of time, a genuine doubt of the seeker should be belittled or set aside. First give due place to the mind’s problems, and then set forth the right thinking – not only bestowing clarity to the intelligence but also appeasing the mind. The objective should not be at any time to indulge in dialectics. The mind of the questioner is the supreme factor to be dealt with. Arjuna asks:
Those devotees, worshipping the supreme Reality with continuous, all-fold mental attunement, and the others given to exclusive contemplation upon the Imperishable Self – which of the two kinds does attain the fruition of Yoga best?
Arjuna’s question is quite simple, but extremely practical. Krishna’s stress at the end of the earlier chapter was two-fold: That to conceptualize the universal nature of the Supreme is something quite rare; and to have an unquestioning acceptance of the Supreme, in spite of the fact that the world around constantly displays flagrant conflicts and contradictions, needs unflinching devotion.
Did not Krishna list a number of distinct notes constituting the vibrant creation and existence? The good and the beautiful have unquestioned place in creation. Equally so feature the bad and the ugly. The world juxtaposes the cruel with the gentle. The pairs of opposites exist in an inextricable mixture.
This gives no room for any mind to foster strong preferences or prejudices. Total acceptance of whatever is, together with full reliance on its causal source, alone is the right course. To embrace whatever comes without any trouble or torment, at the same time be lovingly devoted to the Supreme, the Lord of all, is normally not easy at all. However, such exclusiveness will give ample release and a sense of assurance to the seeker that everything will go on well.
Naturally Arjuna felt an affinity for the wholesome devotional approach. At the same time, Krishna had elaborately explained how the whole world is but ephemeral, asat (2.16, 17). While transitoriness of existence is easily visible before the senses, its eternal substratum will be understood only by the enquiring intelligence. The eternal is the cause and substratum of all existence and expression. Can any rational person disregard this fact and fall a prey to the transitory?
Thus arises the question as to which of the two kinds of seekers and sadhakas – those given to worshipping the Supreme through all their words, deeds and thoughts in a functional and interactional manner, or the others given to pure contemplation on the subtlest imperishable Presence – is better. One is a regular interactional pursuit, and the other a dispassionate contemplative approach.
Krishna had no hesitation in answering Arjuna:
There is no doubt that those, with their mind attuned to the Supreme, through constant infusion, impelled by the highest attitude and aim, are the most united.
In very few words, Krishna again describes the path of wholesome devotion. He makes reference to no paraphernalia the devotees are found to be associated with. Krishna’s prescription of supreme devotion consists solely of the mind and intelligence. Both should be fully attuned to the devotional goal, namely the Supreme. And in so doing, the devotees should be free of all narrow worldly thoughts, desires or motivations. The highest attitude and aim alone should inspire and guide them in their resignation and exclusiveness (sraddhaya paraya upetah).
Thus, supreme or exclusive devotion is a quality and enrichment adorning the mind and intelligence. The two inner constituents in man, namely the mind and intelligence, must remain wedded to the Supreme through a note of full attunement and identity. There should be no distraction or aberration due to divergent thoughts or ambitions. When this is ensured, says Krishna, it unites the devotees best. But he does not stop there.
Contemplation of the Imperishable
In contrast, what about the others, becomes the next question. Krishna has a clear answer to this too. But in spelling out his verdict he becomes more specific and deep. Thus come forth the following two verses, where he refers to ‘worshippers’ of the Imperishable, as he puts it:
Those, on the other hand, given to the all-fold contemplation of the Imperishable also reach the supreme Reality alone. Although they are given to contemplate upon the qualities of the Imperishable, namely unthinkability, all-permeation, ineffability, eternality, immobility, unmanifestness and immutability, they should be imbued with ample sense-restraint and equal-vision. They must equally foster a constant note for the welfare of all creatures.
He first of all defines what the other kind of worship, namely contemplation on the Imperishable (akshara) is. In it, the seeker’s focus will be on the subtle qualities of the supreme Reality, as against the form, shape, etc. As does space in the visible world, so reigns the Imperishable as the ground or substratum for the whole illusory creation.
Of the five constituents (panca-bhutas), the gross four are quite visible and distinct. But in the fifth, akasa (space), no such distinctness or decipherability is possible. Yet, that it exists is a fact. Just as akasa is cognized, the Imperishable substratum of the whole perishable creation should also be comprehended.
Seekers of the Imperishable are left with only its salient qualities to help and guide their contemplation. Krishna thus refers to some of the characteristics of the Imperishable – like permanence, all-pervasiveness, immovability, inconceivability(acintya), etc. Each of these words does and should convey a great deal to the minds of seekers of the Imperishable. Intelligence should grasp these characteristics, and introspect over them as deeply and wholesomely as possible.
Krishna is very particular that on the ground of their contemplation upon the Imperishable, the seekers should not breed any indifference or inattention in any matter. Attention, moderation, discipline, refinement and benevolence, which are indispensable virtues to enrich interactional life, must remain very dear to them. Untold neglect and disregard often thrive in the seekers’ minds, in the name of spirituality. Krishna does not approve of any such lack or disharmony.
Sensory discipline, thus, says Krishna, should constitute an important part of the Imperishable-worship. True spiritual pursuit should inaugurate a life of expansion and elevation. Liberality and universal acceptance must be the conspicuous traits of excellent spiritual life. Keeping this in mind, Krishna emphasizes that the seekers and Knowers must have an abiding interest in the welfare of all beings in the world (sarva-bhuta-hite ratah).
Worship or contemplation of the Imperishable does not and cannot brook any kind of callousness or neglect towards anything of creation. Instead, the love for the Imperishable must stimulate a deep fondness for everything around. For, the whole creation has emerged from the Imperishable. Whatever expansion the usual life is unable to bring about, spiritual pursuit must. Only then such an effort becomes magnificent. Sarva-bhuta-hite ratah (engaged in the welfare of all beings) are Krishna’s words on this fundamental point. Of all people in the world, the spiritual Knower is the one who can display, without any fear, an all-fold love and benevolence.
While explaining the concept of true sannyasa (renunciation) in the 5th chapter, Krishna has used the same words ‘sarva-bhuta-hite ratah’. From this, it is clear how Krishna is emphatic about the fact that spiritual life should always ensure and promote all-fold welfare of the world. Once this is ensured, even those seekers given to the love of the Imperishable will reach the same Supreme.
The hindrance is more for those who are given to the path of contemplation on the Imperishable. Because of identity with their bodies, it is very difficult for them to get attuned to the imperishable goal.
This should answer as well as console Arjuna. Here Krishna admits that living in a body, it is very difficult for anyone to begin to think that he is not the body. It is easy to accept that the one living in a house does not become the house at all. He is but its resident. So too, to live in your body should instantly make you know that you are not the body.
The distinction between the body and its indweller is not difficult to understand, once you begin to think in this manner. But somehow, the delusion at work is so widespread and deep-rooted that people in general, find it difficult to get at the body-different Soul. Krishna recognizes this common trouble and agrees that the thought and contemplation of the Imperishable, as a pursuit, is indeed difficult.
But this is no hindrance at all. For, the words Krishna uses in the first line are “klesah adhikatarah”, meaning difficulty in this case is more. By using the comparative degree, he clearly alludes that in the other path, the path of devotion, as well there is klesah, hardship.
To be an exclusive devotee, thereby to steep all one’s actions, words, thoughts and understanding in the fondness and reliance towards the Supreme, is not very easy. You have to be constantly active variously, at the same time think that all that you do is not for your own sake, but for the sake of the Supreme. Does it not mean annihilating and obliterating all possessiveness? To shed the ego and install the Supreme in its place is, in a way, to lose all thoughts of self-importance and personal desires. This too is rare and in a way difficult for the ordinary people.
Likewise, while pursuing the path of seeking the Imperishable, a constant contemplation on the imperishable, impersonal and impartial Absolute has to be preserved. It virtually means disowning all actions, as Krishna has described earlier (verses 2.19, 5.8 & 5.9). To be doing, speaking, thinking, etc. and equally to be dispossessing all these, constitutes a seemingly grave contradiction. It naturally calls for a very high degree of spiritual perception. For embodied people, says Krishna, such loftiness may appear to be more difficult. What is the conclusion or exhortation? Devotional path, as he has described, is relatively easier and better.
Role of Intelligence in Devotion
Krishna clearly said that ‘wholesome worship’ of the Supreme is easier than seeking the Imperishable, although the latter path has its own distinct status and appeal. In verses 12.6 to 12.8, he explains what this wholesome devotion means and why it proves easy and practicable for ordinary people. If the seeker scrutinizes and understands well what Krishna says, he will find what the true nature of devotional pursuit is and how it ultimately rests solely on oneself – the seeker’s mind and intelligence.
For those who surrender all their actions to the Supreme and worship the Supreme with exclusive unwavering meditation, the Supreme very soon becomes a deliverer from the death-ridden worldly life. For, O son of Prtha, such people are attuned to the Supreme wholesomely.
Therefore, the best to do will be to fix the mind on the Supreme, fix the intelligence also on the Supreme. Once the devotee ensures this mind-intelligence attunement with the Supreme, he will virtually be dwelling in the Supreme, not in the perishable world.
Krishna’s words are quite unambiguous and their meaning and implication are not complex at all. He is emphasizing only two points: Wholesome interest and reliance on the Supreme. Once these become true of the devotee, they inevitably lead to the sense of renunciation. But the renunciation in this case is not one of total negation and relinquishment of all actions. Instead, it is one of offering one’s activities in full to the Supreme. The motivation or compulsion to make such a dedicated renunciation arises because the devotee’s mind is filled with only one interest, that of the Supreme.
Generally the world is considered to be different from God or the Supreme, and therefore, worldly interactions do not appear to be divine or sublime. Because of this bheda-buddhi (differential notion) the mind inherently suffers from, all the so called worldly activities seem to bring conflicts in the mind of the seeker. They distance the seeker from the Supreme instead of linking him to his goal.
Krishna wants the seeker to drop and outlive any such differential notes, and install in their place a vision of all-fold divinity. Instead of making the seeker distanced from the Supreme, interactions in the world should bring to him a greater touch of the Supreme. This is called devotional wholesomeness. This fundamental change, however strange or difficult it may seem, is certainly possible, and that is the crux of the whole devotional sadhana.
This means, the seeker should not the least divide his activities as devotional and non-devotional, as spiritual and worldly, feeling that the two are contradictory. All actions equally take place within the ken of creation. And everything has its ground as well as sustenance in the same Supreme. The entire universe is a display of the Supreme.
Right from the 7th chapter, it is this aspect of wholesome divinity that Krishna has been explaining and emphasizing repeatedly, from different points of view. Till chapter 6, it was a deep philosophical exposition about the nature of perceptions, their transitory and elusive character and the art and wisdom of dealing with them harmoniously and effectively.
In the past five chapters, Krishna has made it amply clear that there is nothing like the spiritual and material, godly and worldly, contradicting each other. It is all a Grand display of the One, viewed differently. The elemental world itself is a godly outcome. To be within it, interacting and experiencing its majesty, is itself quite enriching and elevating, provided one can rise to the level of wholesome perception. To help such a benevolent and edifying outlook did he expatiate so much on what creation is, how the creator remains linked in and through all. At the same time, he also explained how in the ultimate analysis the whole display is but a sensory illusion.
By this, his purpose was to dissuade the seeker from all undue attachment to the transitory world, and make the mind sufficiently detached and dispassionate, so that it will be able to cherish wholesome devotional sublimity. With the revelation of visva-rupa, Arjuna came to know just in an instant how a single source can give rise to the whole complex creational display. The whole world around can be brought into being as well as withdrawn just in an instant, thereby showing how its source is quite distinct and supreme.
In such a background, to think of the Supreme and remain mentally connected thereto will be a very natural process for the seeker. Krishna wants seekers to pursue this point of view and make it the sole basis for wholesome devotion. He says: “Link every act, without distinction, to the Supreme, as and when it is performed.” The attitude a seeker usually has towards a special religious act, must equally govern all actions in general.
Every action should be identified with the Supreme, which is the cause of the entire creation. This will be so, provided the devotee’s sole interest becomes the Supreme and the Supreme alone (mat-parah). When the all-enfolding nature of the Supreme is conceived, to pin all interest and concern on It should not be difficult. Rather, that will become the natural step. To ensure that such an all-fold interest and dedication grows deep and constant, the seeker has to take to sufficient contemplation. His whole worship must be in the way of contemplation or meditation. That alone touches and involves the mind and intelligence of the seeker. That is why Krishna enjoins contemplation as the necessary corollary of this wholesome devotional pursuit.
How the Supreme redeems the devotee
Now comes the immediate result or fruition of such exclusive seeking: For those who remain exclusive in their devotion to the Supreme, says Krishna, the Supreme soon stands as the deliverer (na cirat samuddharta bhavami). The devotee is delivered from what? From worldliness, which is full of death or transitoriness. Transitoriness implies death, in the sense that when anything undergoes change, its present content or character changes into something else. This transition or replacement, in other words, means death or destruction. Hence the transitory world is death-full too.
To attain immortality is to be delivered from the transitory worldliness. In place of fear, anxiety or agitation, which worldly life imposes, the devotee will start feeling natural and harmonious with everything. It is not a physical escape at the gross level, but is a subtle inner spiritual redemption, which one experiences while living and moving in the world.
And this happens only by dint of the single attunement – mayyavesita-cetasam. The minds of such devotees are completely fused into the Supreme, through devotional fondness, recognition and renunciation. Do not think whether spirituo-devotional pursuits have a remote fruition, or such fruition is available only after the body falls. True spiritual life is to be adopted while living here and now. It is unlike ritualistic life that promises rewards to be gained after the fall of the body.
The difference between the focus of spiritual life and that of ritualistic life thus becomes quite clear. What Krishna said in 2nd chapter, while introducing karma yoga (2.49) is fully authenticated by his words here. The whole change is worked by the devotee’s mind and intelligence. The seeker has to develop the right perception (2.50).
Therefore what should earnest devotees do, and what is the exact nature of their devotional wholesomeness? Krishna gives out a twin formula for the wholesome devotional seekers:
Fix your mind on the Supreme alone, and then establish the intelligence too in the same Supreme. If you do so, you will abide in the Supreme from that moment onwards. There is no doubt at all.
What a simple, revealing statement, nay a divine assurance! By this, Krishna confirms what he said earlier at the beginning of his narration in this chapter. There (12.2) he used a different set of words, but laid down the same proposition indicating that the devotee’s mind should be fully infused in the Supreme, through exclusiveness of reliance and dedication.
Here he does not say all that. No adjective, no colourful description. He simply says that the mind and intelligence should be dissolved in the thought and reliance of the Supreme. Within the body of anyone, there are only two personality factors: the mind and the intelligence. Mind consists of memories, thoughts and emotions. Each of these has its force and persuasion to propel sensory activities. Intelligence, given constantly to knowledge and its pursuit, delights in reason, enquiry and analysis. By this, it propels the mind, giving it directions from time to time.
From emotion to intelligence
In fact, the mind should constantly heed the intelligence, adhere to what it points out. If the intelligence too does not get riveted to spiritual or devotional reliance and dedication, then the mind’s fusion with the Supreme will get shaken. There will arise conflicts. This is what generally intercepts the devotional progress and fruition.
It is not sufficient if one gets emotionally drawn to the Supreme. That will have no long-lasting effect, unless the knowing intelligence also participates in the process, and the two remain integrated. The knowledge and exposure that intelligence gets must be such as to persuade the mind to follow the path of spiritual dedication and renunciation, with sublimation.
What is in fact, Krishna’s purpose by this dialogue? What was Arjuna’s state, when the dialogue began? He was in tearful confusion. He had laid down his bow and arrow with the final words “Krishna, I will not fight this war.”
His emotional mind led him to such a miserable step. By whom and how will such a plight be treated? Intelligence alone has the power and means to act upon the mind any time. This means that enquiry, higher investigation, knowledge and the compulsions arising from them will alone do the magic and bring about the desired change.
Did not Krishna explain in sufficient detail (7.4) what is true Divinity, how it consists of eight constituents beginning with earth? Is not all that a genuine treatment to the intelligence? The whole dialogue is nothing but a full-fledged intelligential treat to the seeker.
Take Sreemad Bhagavatam for instance. Its 18,000 verses deal with the subject of devotion, God, Self and the world, the divine character of everything visible and invisible. By reading and reflecting upon this beautiful narration, both the intelligence and the mind get sublimated, enriched with spiritual and philosophical magnificence.
Most of the devotees, however, just listen to the great narration and enjoy the unique ecstasy the text provides. They do not get into the depths of its message, the profundity of the text, as did the first listener, King Pareekshit!
Left to itself, mind is desultory, unbridled. If its thoughts, responses and attitudes are to be transformed or refined, then intelligence will have to intercept the course and give its own corrective and sublimating inputs. This unique role of proper guidance played by the intelligence will result in integration of the devotional personality.
It is a grave mistake to think that devotion is all emotional, and the mind and heart alone are involved in its pursuit. One must understand that mind merely sub-serves the intelligence, and intelligence is the one to be properly refined and stabilized. And for this, wisdom is the only effective input any time. Any devotee, sooner or later, will have to find his way to a proper Teacher who can give him the right guidance, enlightenment and spiritual resolve, to steer his mind. This is what is happening in the case of Arjuna also.
Remember what Krishna said in the 10th chapter (10.10): “To those given to worshipping the Supreme wholeheartedly, the Supreme bestows buddhi-yoga – the yoga of wisdom – by virtue of which they will be able to attain the Supreme.”
How does this wisdom-yoga work? What is its special relevance to the devotee? Krishna clarified that too (10.11): “Out of compassion, the Supreme, dwelling in their within, ignites the lamp of knowledge that dispels the darkness of ignorance from their mind.” And they are able to understand what is the truth about themselves, about the Supreme, and where exactly reigns the focus of spiritual attainment.
Whether it is the path of devotion or any other, finally it is a question of the devotee’s intelligence getting properly purified and illumined. Mind and intelligence together have to strive for the pursuit and bring about its right fruition.
That is why Krishna said in the 2nd chapter (2.49): “All the activities, in whichever name they are performed, are far inferior to buddhi-yoga – the pursuit of wisdom that makes one even-minded. Therefore, O Arjuna, seek refuge under buddhi.”
Devotional practice, in truth, is a wholesome pursuit. It involves and occupies the mind and intelligence of the seeker. But, can all take to such an inward, wholesome pursuit, wherein the mind and intelligence alone are involved? The study of the humans has clearly shown that such a wholesome inner devotional pursuit is not feasible for many. Naturally, the question arises as to what should one do to express his devotional affinity and pursue the same effectively to its natural goal?
Krishna answers this proposition quite well. The very purpose of sastras is not to exclude any category of people. Instead, the scriptural stand is to embrace one and all. For, only then the sastras will be fulfilling their role as the mother of one and all. Krishna thus lists one step after the other, which can be taken up and pursued by those who are not able to take to devotional wholesomeness in their mind and intelligence:
If you cannot devote your mind fully to the Supreme in an attitude of devotional resignation and acceptance, the next best step will be to take to yoga of practice. Thereby aspire to reach the Supreme.
That is why we have developed the system of Temple worship and other similar practices. How many temples are there! How many holy places too! Pilgrimage to distant shrines and holy spots, taking bath in various confluences of rivers, adhering to bodily, oral and inner disciplines and vows – like upavasa (fast) – come under these devotional steps.
The variety of rituals Krishna described in the fourth chapter (4.24-32), including pranayama, also come under this abhyasa (practice) category. Whatever be the nature of the practice, each is meant to have its effect on the sadhaka’s gross and subtle personality. In this land, a variety of austerities, disciplines and practices are in vogue. Some of them are stunning to see or to think about. If one takes care to go into their genesis, relevance and utility, he is bound to recognize how diverse the human mind is, and what an astounding variety of aspirations, temptations and predilections it harbours.
While Krishna gives ample scope for a variety of effective devotional practices, the need to exercise timely discretion to distinguish the right and promotional practices from the wrong and derogatory indulgences cannot be overstated. Whatever practice is resorted to, should imply austerity, purity and refinement. Offering sayana pradakshina (rolling on the ground around the Temple on the pathway), for instance, something very common with devotees, is a harmless, but intensely austere devotional practice. The intention is to roll on the dust of the devotees’ feet.
But Krishna does not stop there. He knows quite well that not all are given to devotional thoughts or affinity. For those who lack devotional susceptibility, there are other options, says Krishna. He does not want to keep anyone away from the immense benefit of devotion:
Even if you are unable to take to any practice, surrender all actions to the Supreme. Doing all actions for the sake of the Supreme, you will attain fulfillment.
Abhyasa or practice is always a time-bound effort. But when an all-fold general attitude like mat-karma-paramatva is adopted, it works in association with all that one does. It is a wholesome, sublime and all-embracing note. To enable such wholesomeness, the intelligence has to be active and provide the necessary insight and motivation.
We are born into this world, when our body is delivered by the mother. Ever since, the body rests on the earth. Does the earth belong to anyone? The air we breathe also has no claimant. So too, the water, sun, moon or other life-sources have no visible ownership. Wherefrom do all our actions originate? Who designed them? Whereto do all of them proceed? There cannot be a doubt or question about the answer. Whatever or whoever is the progenitor of our earth and whichever Power or Presence preserves it, to the same source alone are directed all our activities and movements.
Dedicate the whole of your activities to the Supreme, and nurse this feeling throughout. Let not the ego or any sense of possessiveness interfere. This is more an attitude-culture – an inner orientation, growing a sense of belonging and dedication. The wholesome allegiance that emerges from such an attitude, should survive, getting only strengthened every time. All the attention and focus must be towards this. If the devotee pursues this kind of all-action or all-fold attunement, that in itself will be a full-fold sadhana, and it will lead him to spiritual perfection and fulfillment.
Krishna is sufficiently considerate and thoughtful. He always upholds wholesome, all-embracing nature. Thus he adds that even if one is not able to take to this kind of wholesome dedication and attunement, there is an effective alternative:
If remaining attuned to the Supreme, you are unable to do even this, then take to the practice of self-control and abandon inwardly all kinds of subjective results accruing from actions.
Even if the path of wholesome attunement is not found suitable or feasible, says Krishna, do not lose heart. There is still another alternative. Adopt the principle of self-control. Let a consistent note of moderation and control be there in speech, thought and action. Self-restraint, indispensable for healthy individual and social life, is something all can accept and also imbibe. But something more should be there to make the seeking fruitful and fulfilling. The seeker must make it a point to keep away from the mind’s dual involvement, namely the feeling of desirability and undesirability about the results his actions fetch.
Needless to say, the karma-phala that Bhagavad Gita speaks of is not objective at all. It is the subjective triple results: ishta, anishta and misra (desired, undesired and a mixture of the two). When these triple notes are abandoned, it ensures the inner welfare and progress of the seeker.
Knowledge and Meditation – the core of devotion
Having said this much about the different levels and degrees of devotional practices and their feasibility, Krishna pronounces a comparative assessment about the whole matter:
Knowledge is surely better than practices, and meditative introspection is superior to mere knowledge. From such reflective meditation, results renunciation of the internal results of action, and from that follows peace or contentment.
Practice in any field has great importance and effects. But in the field of devotion, aacaaras, namely formalities and practices are far below vicara, dedicated introspection or reflective recession (dhyana). The plight of Arjuna himself reveals this. It is not that he was not an austere person. The deficiency was that he was not given to reflection – reflecting upon values, enrichment and also the goal of life. That is why even after thirteen years of severe austerities, he crumbled in Kurukshetra, just when he was in front of Bheeshma, Drona and the rest, as if he did not expect them to fight against him!
What was there new at all in their participation in the fateful war? Arjuna’s debility was sheerly the lack of proper insight, wisdom, which calls for sufficient reflection and sense of enquiry. In such a context, Krishna’s words become amply meaningful and relevant. In fact, all devotees and seekers should imbibe what Krishna says with extra attention.
Krishna rates jnana (wisdom) as superior to mere practice. True devotional life thrives on a variety of practices and ceremonies. They are believed to carry a substantial measure of sanctity too. But the truth is that in all of them, employment of senses – oral or actional – plays the major part. Action is an outward expression, whereas wisdom is an inward dawning or fruition.
How far any religious practice is able to generate true wisdom, is the crucial question to evaluate its real merit. Did not Krishna say that all actions have their finale or consummation in jnana, wisdom (4.33)? Of all yajnas, jnana-yajna – not dravya-yajna – is superior and most fruitful, he said. Gaining knowledge, the degree to which any act or practice engenders knowledge, is the true criterion in evaluating devotional life.
While the cow eats fodder and other concentrates, does the animal ever know the relative merits of what it takes? The animal obviously does not have any idea of nourishment and the value of each item of its food. But, a man knows and is also taught about the need and quality of nourishment and the value each item of food contains in this regard. To do something does not mean to know all about what is done. Knowledge calls for distinct efforts.
People who are devoted to God are not able to make their devotion wholesome and fulfilling, only because they fail to know well what their devotion and the object of devotion mean and imply. If only the comprehensive nature of the Supreme is brought home or comprehended by devotees, they cannot but become exclusive and wholesome in their devotional attunement. To enter the human core and bring about qualitative change or improvement, knowledge alone is effective. It is indispensable.
Krishna’s evaluation or assessment, thus, is that knowledge and the effort to gain it is better than any kind of practice. No practice is worthy unless it conduces to emergence of knowledge in the practitioner.
Vajasravas of Kathopanishad did an elaborate yaga, and the son, Nachiketas, found that the holy sacrifice was being vitiated by his father because of disharmonious and improper attitude. While the performer continued to foster the harmful tendencies, looking at the whole performance, Nachiketas felt greatly concerned. This led to the son’s illumination and the father’s degeneration. What better example is needed to show clearly that true knowledge is far more effective than mere ritualistic or ceremonial indulgence?
The knowledge Krishna refers to, is the spiritual knowledge, the one relating to the Subject within oneself, which is noted for its sublimating and elevating effect. Any subjective, inner effect can be expected only by rumination or introspection. And that is why Krishna holds meditation to be even greater than mere scholarly knowledge which is generally a derivative of intelligence. By meditation alone, the seeker has a chance to know the mind, its vagaries and dross, and to strive to redress these. A person averse to meditation – no matter whether he is a devotee or not – cannot grow spiritually.
The first half of the statement thus means: Knowledge is superior to practice, and greater than knowledge is meditation. In the second half too, the message conveyed is dhyanat karmaphala-tyagah: From assiduous meditation alone, the seeker will be able to be free from the bondage of the karma-phala. Meditation will instill purity to his mind, and that in turn will bestow contentment and peace.
Dhyanat means: “from meditation”. To instill the spirit and content of renunciation, the seeker has to be enriched and empowered by meditation and its benefits. The fallacy of fostering the twin-attitude of desirable and undesirable, happiness and unhappiness will be clearly sensed by the meditative mind. That in turn will give the seeker untold strength to take to any activity wholeheartedly, disregarding what it may fetch in the form of objective result. In acting itself, he finds sufficient joy. He does not carry any risk, indecision or fear about actions or their place and purpose in life.
Assiduous introspection on human life, the nature of objects, their ultimate place in our mind is an essential corollary of spiritual life, and hence devotional life too. Krishna concludes the sequence by stating, “tyagat santih anantaram”, meaning, peacefulness results from such renunciation. The divisive outlook instantly brings strong preference and prejudice, likes and dislikes, leading to all kinds of agitation and distraction.
The question before the seeker is quite conclusive: Do the objects and their impact overpower him, or will his mind overwhelm all kinds of inputs from objects and get enriched and empowered constantly?
The point to be understood is that though Krishna elucidates the path of devotion, he makes it an occasion to lead the devotee to grow inwardly and imbibe expansion. Devotional sadhana may appear to revolve around the Supreme, but in reality it is revolving round the devotee’s inner being itself. If this primary message is understood and acted upon, how great the benefits will be!
Krishna has completed his dissertation on devotion and devotional sadhana. What he states further is a description of who are the best of devotees whom he would like most, thereby giving a practical insight into the character and interactions of devotees.
(From Essential Concepts In Bhagavad Gita - Volume 4)