Immortality – here and now
Krishna speaks of Immortality as a distinct goal to be attained here and now, in this very life. He also explains the process. Mind and intelligence alone are the means. The redemption, when gained, will reflect a wholesome harmony in one’s personality. The knowledge of the guṇātīta Self is the foundation on which this spiritual redemption rests:
Having gone beyond the three guṇas arising from the embodiment, one becomes freed of torments of birth, death and decrepitude, and experiences immortality.
The guṇa influences and interplay, says Krishna, are more an outcome of body-association and the involvement it brings about. These cannot be avoided. The seeker should learn to transcend them effectively.
One does not have any control or option over one’s embodiment and what follows. Allow then the guṇa influences to have their play, but transcend them with the help of spiritual wisdom. Such a possibility is quite within every one’s reach. This transcendence makes the seeker free of birth, death, decrepitude and grief.
With the dawn of wisdom the seeker realizes that he was never born; nor is there any death for him. It becomes evident that both birth and death are hearsay only. At no time has anyone experienced his birth, nor will one experience his death.
Sorrow is an outcome of the non-sublimated mind. When the mind is enriched by spiritual wisdom, the impact of sorrow will decline steadily and inevitably dissolve too. Such dissolution of sorrow is the sure characteristic of liberation. It will be experienced without let or hindrance. Liberation will shine even through the incidences of sorrow and grief. These transitory notes will be like waves in water on which the seeker, due to the merit of his illumination, will remain afloat, waving his limbs of discrimination and dispassion.
The agonies of old age also will dwindle. They will not assail the Knower as they do the ordinary people. His abhimāna of the body will be minimal. Yet he will keep the body functional as much as possible for loka-saṅgraha.
As explained earlier, here too the transcendence is preserved inspite of these bodily notes. They cease to torment or dislodge the seeker because of his wisdom and the sense of freedom. Nothing is destroyed or displaced. It is only that the seeker gains the ability to rise above worldly afflictions, which are a part of embodiment.
Process of transcendence
Right at this point, Arjuna raises a question, as he did in the second chapter, when Krishna pictured the climax of Yogic sādhanā and accomplishment (2.53). If Arjuna’s enquiry then was about the sthitaprajña and sthita-dhī (one of stable-mindedness), here the enquiry is related to transcendence of the guṇa influences and effects. Arjuna’s words are quite relevant and to the point:
O Lord, what are the features through which one is able to transcend these three guṇas? How, and by undertaking what, does one transcend these three guṇas?
Arjuna wants to know the art and process by which the seeker can rise above the irresistible guṇas. What are the features and excellences that distinguish the Knower who is able to rise above the clutch of guṇas?
Then, preserving his inner transcendence, how does he live and move in the world, how does he interact with the world? Arjuna also wants to know how spiritual sādhanā can result in such evident victory over the powerfully operative guṇas. Can the inner spiritual wisdom have such visible worldly effects?
Krishna gives his answers unambiguously. His words are so well structured that they radiate as a beacon light for the sādhaka. Four verses constitute the clarification that Krishna gives:
Seated firmly like a witness – uninvolved person – he who does not get unsettled by the play of guṇas, knowing clearly that they alone act (and not the higher central identity), he who remains well established, unshaken to the core;
Viewing sorrow and happiness alike, resting firmly in oneself considering a clod of earth, stone and a piece of gold with equal importance, evenly disposed towards the desirable and detestable, poised, regarding praise and blame alike;
One who is alike towards honour and dishonour, impartial towards friends and enemies, and has abandoned all forms of doership – such a one is said to have transcended the guṇas.
As described already, the three guṇas will continue to operate. Sattvaguṇa will shed light, wisdom and happiness, rajo-guṇa will arouse activity and its motivations like passion and prejudice, while tamoguṇa will breed lethargy, ignorance and delusion.
These effects will follow one after another, depending upon the guṇa operating each time. Thus every one has to have the impact of sattva for a while, to be followed by those of the other two. Then again the former will take hold, leaving its place to the latter. Like day and night operating on the revolving earth, the seasons visiting one after another, like the incidence of hunger, its appeasement and further hunger, like the exit and entry of air into the lungs, the guṇa displays also will be alternating relentlessly.
So when sattva effects manifest, the discreet seeker should not be enamoured by it. Likewise, when rajas takes over, no disharmony should arise in the mind. There should be no resentment about the plight. Tamas also has to be met in the same manner, with poise and acceptability.
This means, one wholesome attitude of harmony should grace the seeker whereby he will be able to welcome each guṇa as it manifests and be at home with it. Neither the presence of any guṇa nor its absence should cause any unsettlement or concern. In other words, like sukhaduḥkhas, these guṇas and their display are also fleeting.
To respond evenly to their predominance as well as subsidence, calls for true spiritual wisdom, which alone has the sublimity to infuse the mind with the spirit of transcendence and poise. Wisdom works from the inmost level. It is a powerful perception that generates a sustained integrity and harmony. No struggle, no dislodgment, no confrontation or disharmony is to be felt by the seeker. The whole process is one of attunement and harmonization.
The seeker has to know the complexity of Nature and he should make this knowledge a functional integrator and coordinator. As a result, the whole personality becomes a beautiful instrument performing and pursuing whatever is necessary from time to time. Like the earth itself revolving steadily and going round the sun ceaselessly, the enlightened individual remains attuned and sublime.
This bestows a great unshakable position on the Knower. He unconditionally accepts whatever comes and goes, nevertheless remaining what he verily is. He understands that guṇas alone operate, whether in an individual, group, the society at large or in the inert things like earth, water, fire, air and space, or their various combinations. Even the trees, clouds, hurricanes and cyclones are governed by the same law.
In short, in all events, planned or accidental, the guṇas in smaller or greater measure come to play. This fundamental awareness shines undimmed in the Knower, like the sun. That illumines the whole of his personality – the mind, its thoughts and emotions, the senses, their working and vagaries.
Krishna then goes on describing the different aspects of this great guṇa-harmony, to make matters clearer. But the description he makes and the words he uses for the purpose are the same as he has already given earlier. This shows clearly how the thread of the dialogue remains intact throughout.
For instance, Krishna describes the guṇa-atīta as a svastha (self-seated). Krishna adds that for this, he should be equally disposed towards sukha and duḥkha. But did not Krishna enjoin this point strongly while commencing the sāṅkhya yoga – sama-duḥkha-sukham dhīram (2.15)? In concluding the theme also, he stressed the same point – sukhaduḥkhe same kṛtvā (2.38). While presenting the model devotee in the 12th chapter, he emphatically laid down that he should be samaduḥkha-sukhaḥ (12.13).
Treating desirable and detestable, praise and blame alike (tulya nindā-stutiḥ) is another discipline and enrichment Krishna has insisted upon earlier (12.19). Does this not show beyond doubt that excellence of the devotee makes him a guṇa-atīta as well?
Equipoise is an inevitable part of spiritual sādhanā, whatever be the path the seeker adopts. Krishna says that honour and dishonour should be met with equipoise (māna-apamānayoḥ tulyaḥ). As he stressed earlier (6.7, 12.18), he brings it here too (14.25). To be equally disposed to the friend and enemy is a similar embellishment he pointed out while describing a model devotee (12.18). Krishna includes it here too, as a characteristic of the guṇa-atīta state (14.25).
Sarvārambha-parityāgī is another paramount quality Krishna upholds (12.16 & now 14.25). This should not be construed as shunning all undertakings or pursuits. For, that is neither allowed by nature nor possible when otherwise thought of. To be active is a compulsion of our body. As long as the body is nourished and it generates blood and energy, activity has to result. Nature, says Krishna more than once, through its three guṇas, keeps every being irresistibly active. None can escape in this regard. In fact there is nothing in the universe which is stationary. It is an inexorable law of Nature to preserve creation.
Sarvārambha-parityāgī thus means, like a Knower and a Devotee, the guṇa-atīta also should clearly feel the supremacy of Nature and safeguard against any kind of ego – the sense of doership and possessiveness – about whatever he does, thinks or speaks. In effacing the ego lies the wholesome integration and harmony of spiritual life. In the 5th chapter (5.8,9) as well as the 12th chapter (12.16) Krishna has included it in the descriptions of a Knower and a Devotee.
What is the summary message of all this, so far as spiritual sādhanā is concerned? The mind, given to strong notes of partiality, prejudice and resentment, should be steadily transformed to enable it to function with full sublimity, harmony and integration.
This is purely an inner process and achievement, resting solely upon the mind. Intelligence, imbibing the spiritual truths, should facilitate the process. The plural outlooks and responses of the mind should be integrated, unified. It will then be empowered to receive all world inputs to bring forth the timely outputs with confidence and clarity.
While the weak worldly mind totters and stifles before interactional inputs and outputs, the strong expansive guṇa-atīta mind stands ready to welcome anything and all, providing timely persuasions to ensure functional excellence. Guṇa-atīta, whenever needed, is a Master Performer, Master Enjoyer and Master Sufferer!
Look at the whole dialogue. It preserves the same focus. Right from the 2nd chapter, which portrays the sthita-prajña and sthita-dhī, through the 12th which pictures an exemplary devotee, then in the 13th which presents the Knower (tattva-vit), we hear the same tune and song, as we find here for Guṇātīta.
It is of even-mindedness, of integration and inner harmony. On analysis, the whole plurality of the world, as it touches the senses, gets reduced to a mere set of five, corresponding to the five senses. The five types of sensory inputs, on reaching the mind, instantly sort themselves into a mere two – the mental sukha-duḥka duo, which is then sublimated by spiritual wisdom and introspection to shine as a homogeneous One.
This makes the whole personality stand as an integrated whole. The intelligence, mind and the senses then begin to work in great harmony as mutual complements. To reach this state of Oneness, is the purpose of this entire description of guṇas.
The ego becomes expansive, refined and wholesome. In one sense it gets effaced. In another sense it engulfs the whole Universe, to be itself universal indeed! Imagine how effective is such an elevated inner framework, in actual interaction:
Whoever takes to worshipping the Supreme with unflinching devotion will also be able to transcend the guṇas. He is fit for becoming Brahman in the end.
The last 6 chapters of the Bhagavad Gita dialogue, dwelling upon the essentials of Spiritual Wisdom and hence described as the ‘wisdom section’, are equally intertwined with devotional pronouncements. In the first 6 chapters also, delineated as ‘karma yoga’, Krishna did instill elements of devotion and knowledge, the sthita-prajña and sthita-dhī descriptions being the beginning of it. Picturing turbulent senses ready to pull the mind away any time, as does the hurricane a ship, he asked Arjuna “to regulate all the senses, integrate them and sit with inner absorption, thinking wholesomely of the Supreme (yukta āsīta matparaḥ)”. As the dialogue advanced, Krishna brought in more of devotional elements. These became quite pronounced in the central six chapters – the ‘devotional section’.
The same devotional undercurrent finds its prominence here too. Spiritual wisdom is always a corollary and climax of devotion and vice versa. There is no question of distancing devotion from spiritual wisdom. Both are mutual complements.
Despite its focus on God, devotion in any form is an expression and effort of the devotee alone. It is meant to nourish, enrich and fulfill the devotee himself, not God at all. This understanding of the basic nature of devotion is essential in spiritual sādhanā.
Devotion is a sādhanā. Karma yoga also is. Jnāna yoga is even more so. The seeker’s personality – in its sensory, oral, mental, emotional and intelligential levels – is employed to interact with the world. The source and terminus of interactions is the same inner personality, which warrants improvement, enrichment and fulfillment. This truth should never be lost sight of.
Bhagavad Gita thus carries a full devotional thread throughout. In the last chapter, Krishna prefaces the devotional pronouncements with “I am disclosing to you the greatest of all secrets” (18.63,64). There is no spirituality without its full relevance to devotion. Nor is there any yoga without its strong devotional links.
(From Essential Concepts of Bhagavad Gita - Volume 5)