Experimental religion is the method of Self-realization

Experimental Religion Experimental religion is the method of Self-realization presented in the ancient sacred text called Bhagavad Gītā. Here faith is not blind. Its conclusions, provisional at first, are to be confirmed fractionally in the early experiments; on that basis, faith stretches out to further experiments, in the reasonable expectation that these too can bring confirmations. The method is called yoga, and one who practises it is a Gītā yogin. The practice centres round mind-control in outer life, and meditation within. In time, there is a general inner tranquillization; automatic reactions become fewer and fewer. Free from the tangle of fruitless associations, feelings are integrated, thought and action become clear-cut and effective. Yoga is a religion in that, at the beginning, God is a hypothesis, not known definitely as either existent or non-existent. He is revered on the authority of others, sometimes reinforced by an obscure inner stirring on rare …

Read moreExperimental religion is the method of Self-realization

Bhagavad-Gītā means literally ‘Sung by the Lord’

Bhagavad Gītā Bhagavad-Gītā means literally ‘Sung by the Lord’. What are sung are extracts from the Upaniṣad-s, early Indian mystical texts, here put into 700 verses of simple Sanskrit. The Upaniṣad-s had not been taught openly: in the Gītā the secrets are made available to all. It has been called the Bible of India, but corresponds rather to the Gospels, which contain teachings for everyone’s daily life, but also riddling indications of higher truth. What are these riddles? Surely the message of the Gītā should be simple and straightforward, as is Christ’s message of Love in the Gospels? Not so, and not so. In the Gītā the Lord says: ‘Though I have created all this world, know me as one who does no action.’ As always in the Gītā, the cosmic declaration has to be applied to the individual also: ‘He sees, who sees that all action is performed by …

Read moreBhagavad-Gītā means literally ‘Sung by the Lord’

The Two Traditions in the Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gītā (Song of the Lord) is an ancient Indian mystical poem, declaring that the world-process is a divine trick-of-illusion, into which the Lord himself has entered as the inner light of consciousness seemingly held fast in each individual self. He has set himself the problem of struggling free into his universal nature. The Gītā is a revelation from the Lord-in-freedom to the Lords-in-bondage, expounding the truth, and giving the practices for returning to freedom. The Mystical Tradition The earliest surviving texts are the Upaniṣad-s, some of them pre-600 BC. They declare the divine origin of the world, its illusory character, the divine manifestation in every element of it, the apparent bondage of the soul, and the methods for attaining freedom. These last are mainly independence of entanglements, search for the divine, leading to profound meditation, then transcendence of the mind in God-realization, culminating in freedom. The Upaniṣadic sages …

Read moreThe Two Traditions in the Bhagavad Gita

Translation of verses from the Bhagavad Gita by Trevor Leggett

The Translation The Gītā is a book of practical mystical instruction. Though there are descriptions of the world-scheme, it is not an argued metaphysical treatise. The text is in beautiful but simple Sanskrit verse, easy to memorize, and arousing devotion, energy, intuition, and finally peace in the memorizer. To know exactly what the Gītā text says, read the 1913 Harvard University Press The Bhagavad Gita by Franklin Edgerton, a great scholar who made a special study of this text. He set himself (for the sake of students of Sanskrit) to follow the exact pattern of the original verses, so that each line of the English corresponds to that line of the Sanskrit. In spite of some oddities of English construction, the translation still reads reasonably: in its own terms, it is a masterpiece. Students of the present book are recommended to get the 1972 paperback edition (which omits the Sanskrit). …

Read moreTranslation of verses from the Bhagavad Gita by Trevor Leggett

The Setting of the Bhagavad Gita

The Setting Queen Kuntī has been given the boon of a night visit in successive years by six gods of her choice. By them she has six sons who are thus half-brothers. Five of them are adopted by her husband King Pāṇḍu, and thus called Pāṇḍavas. The eldest, Yudhiṣṭhira, is to inherit the kingdom. The next two are the fierce Bhīma, and Arjuna who becomes a master archer, and later the disciple in the Gītā. The last two Pāṇḍavas play no part in the Gītā. The other infant, who will be the heroic Karṇa, is abandoned, but found and adopted by a charioteer. This is an important point. The cousins of the Pāṇḍavas, headed by the cruel Duryodhana, trap Yudhiṣṭhira into a gambling match against a dice sharper; he loses the kingdom to Duryodhana. The Pāṇḍavas are exiled, pursued by the new king’s murderous hate. The noble Bhīṣma the commander-in-chief, …

Read moreThe Setting of the Bhagavad Gita

Arjuna reinforces his refusal to fight in the Bhagavad Gita

The Smile Arjuna reinforces his refusal, or rather inability, to fight by gilding it with moral sentiments. He presents himself as seeing things from a higher standpoint; from that elevation, he condemns what he had till now wanted to do, but suddenly finds he does not want to do. He had been enthusiastic about the righteousness of the battle, and boasted about what he would do in it. In reliance on his skill and bravery, others had joined his side. Compassion for the members of his family on the other side had not worried him then, any more than it worries his brother Bhīma now. But here he is: I.38 Even if they, blinded as they are by greed, do not see The sin of conflict within the family And the crime of striking at a friend, 39 Yet we should know enough to draw back from this wickedness, When …

Read moreArjuna reinforces his refusal to fight in the Bhagavad Gita

Final knowledge is already there but not recognized

The usual way of teaching a subject is to build up information to higher and higher levels, each resting on the lower ones, which cannot be dispensed with. It could be called Teaching Up. But there is another method, Teaching Down, for cases where the final knowledge is already there but not recognized. The method is used extensively in the Gītā, and by Śaṅkara following the Gītā. In the Gītā as a whole, first the highest truth of the Self is presented. It is not accepted by Arjuna (as is shown in IV. 4 when he queries the immortality of the Self). Now karma-yoga is given, in very uncompromising form. It has three main elements: (1) enduring patiently the pairs of opposites; (2) performing well directed skilful actions with evenness of mind in success or failure; (3) bringing the mind to complete one-pointedness in samādhi meditation. The whole programme is …

Read moreFinal knowledge is already there but not recognized

The Supreme Self Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2

Chapter II Supreme Self The Gītā is a poem, which sets out the practice for realization of the Supreme Self. That Self is all-pervading, one, unchanging, imperishable, and beyond the grasp of thought. Though it is ever-present, man clings to personal identity, namely restrictions which he thinks are his self. Clinging to limited personality obstructs awareness of the universal Self. Sometimes it is supposed that a poem, however beautiful, can do little more than create a mood; it cannot give accurate information. This is not so. To take a example from the West: a few years ago, a meteorologist analysed Shelley’s poetic masterpiece ‘Ode to the West Wind’ and concluded that it gave an accurate account of a storm in the Alps, which his own science could not better. Most of the Gītā consists of instructions given by Kṛṣṇa, who in the fourth chapter – but not at first – declares …

Read moreThe Supreme Self Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2

Karma Yoga the yoga of action

Karma-Yoga The yoga of action, karma-yoga, has three elements: (1) stoical endurance of changes in the world; (2) performance of right actions without laying any claim to their further results (technically called ‘fruits’); (3) practice of the profound samādhi meditation, in which mind is focussed and still, undisturbed by anything external or internal. No efforts in yoga are ever lost, Kṛṣṇa tells him. (This is another piece of instruction which Arjuna does not really accept, as will appear later.) The first element, brave endurance of the opposites like heat and cold, pleasure and pain, honour and disgrace, is a constant Gītā theme. It is shortly referred to in II.14: It is the contacts with material things that cause heat and cold, pleasure and pain. They come and go, impermanent as they are; do you endure them bravely II.38 Then treating alike pleasure and pain, gain and loss, Success and defeat, …

Read moreKarma Yoga the yoga of action

Yoga of the Self Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3

Chapter III Yoga-s of the Self The third chapter has more on the two paths, and particularly action, including self-interested righteous action which is not yogic at all. Near the beginning there is a description of the principles of performing largely ritual sacrifices as worship of the gods, in the justified expectation that they will make a return in the form of blessings and prosperity. This is the assumption that underlies the Book of Job, but is transcended in the final vision. The Gītā refers in a number of places to such beliefs, sometimes with guarded approval. (The present day recognition of ecology, and even the Gaia hypothesis, are belated acknowledgement of the importance of reverence for nature.) But it points out that they are not yoga. They lead only to improvement of outer circumstances and sometimes of inner ones also. They do not free from the prison of individual …

Read moreYoga of the Self Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3

Arjuna’s Disbelief

Arjuna’s Disbelief In typical traditional pictures of the Gītā scene, Arjuna is shown with palms joined in reverence, looking at Kṛṣṇa in an attitude of devotion and faith. But this is not what is described by the Gītā itself, in which Arjuna shows from the very beginning that he does not really recognize Kṛṣṇa as a teacher or as a god. For a long time he has little confidence in what he is told. There is a series of indications, which can, however, easily be overlooked. It is a great advantage to readers today that the doubts are brought out so clearly. There is a tendency to think: ‘Oh, in those times they had absolute faith in what they were told: of course that’s not true for us today.’ In ancient times there was just as much scepticism as today. Already in the time of the Buddha (fifth century BC) …

Read moreArjuna’s Disbelief

How Arjuna Addresses Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita

How Arjuna Addresses Kṛṣṇa in the Gītā In XI.41 Arjuna begs forgiveness for (among other things) having used familiar language in addressing the Lord: ‘Kṛṣṇa’ ‘Yādava’ (descendent of the Yadu tribe, equivalent to ‘Scotty’, etc.) This, and the change after seeing the Universal Form, are illustrated by the terms in the Gītā itself. I.21 Acyuta = firm one (also lit. not leaking away, not falling, etc.) 22 Kṛṣṇa (lit. black) 31 Keśava (lit. hairy) 32 Govinda – cow-herd Kṛṣṇa 35 Madhu-sūdana – slayer of demon Madhu 36 Janārdana – jana (men) ardana (distributer); excitant, stimulator, nuisance, gadfly 37 Mādhava: related to spring, vernal; descendant of Madhu 39 Janārdana 41 Kṛṣṇa Vārṣṇiya – Vṛṣṇi clansman II.4 Madhu-sūdana 34 Keśava III.1 Janārdana 31 Vāṛṣṇiya V.1 Kṛṣṇa VI.33 Madhu-sūdana 34 Kṛṣṇa 37 Kṛṣṇa 39 Kṛṣṇa VIII.1 ‘Best of men’, Puruṣottama (no Śankara comment: not supreme Spirit here) X.13 Supreme Brahman, supreme Light, supreme …

Read moreHow Arjuna Addresses Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita

Action Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4

Chapter IV Action The chapter begins with a statement by Kṙṣṇa that the ancient yoga has now been taught. Elaborating on a single word – purā, of old – in III.3, he gives briefly its history. He taught it to the first king, and it was handed down through king-sages (not through priests, an important point). This account Arjuna immediately pronounces impossible. The first king-sages were in the distant past, but Kṙṣṇa is here now, so he could not have taught it to them. How can I make sense of this? he demands. Kṙṣṇa replies that he has had many births, and so has Arjuna also. I know them all; you do not know, because (adds Śaṅkara) your natural omniscience is obstructed by your binding acts of right and wrong. This interchange shows that the Gītā does not teach narrow worship of Kṙṣṇa, that being merely one birth out of many. …

Read moreAction Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4

Knowledge Bhagavad Gita Chapter 5

Chapter V Knowledge Readers are advised that Śaṅkara in this chapter uses technical terms and concepts to establish his position on knowledge. On a first reading it does not have to be studied in detail. The Lord has said in IV.3 that the highest secret of yoga has now been taught. Nevertheless he has to continue to explain it in different ways because Arjuna has not fully accepted it. As is said at the very end, the Gītā will continue till Arjuna can understand, and incorporate it into his own being. At the beginning of the chapter Arjuna asks one of his questions, which show he has no clear idea of what he has been told. This time it is about the Two Paths. Kṛṣṇa answers that for one who has not yet seen the truth, the path of action is better, meaning (says Śaṅkara) that it is more feasible for …

Read moreKnowledge Bhagavad Gita Chapter 5

Formal meditation posture

The Thinker, East and West It has been an axiom for thousands of years in the Eastern traditions that the body reflects the mind, as the mind reflects levels deeper than itself. Rodin’s ‘Thinker’ is here side by side with the 8th Century clay figure of a Chinese Lohan or Buddhist saint. Both of them have been thinking, but what a great difference! In fact, the wonderful technique of Rodin conceals the unnaturalness of the posture. Most people, asked to sit like the famous ‘Thinker’, put their right elbow on the right knee. They are quite surprised to find out that it should be on the other knee, an uncomfortable position that cannot be held for more than a short time. The knuckles of the right hand are pressed so hard against the mouth that the lips are pushed out of shape. In spite of the apparent calm of the …

Read moreFormal meditation posture

Meditation Bhagavad Gita Chapter 6

Chapter VI Meditation Chapter VI is on meditation technique. It speaks both to the karma- yogin, the man of action for whom samādhi is only one of the three parts of his training, and then to the Knowledge-yogin, for whom it is the main part. In fact, for the Knower it is natural that mind remains in samādhi while life lasts; the only effort for that mind (but it can be a considerable one) is to keep away from following mirages of past associations. The whole tenor of the chapter is self-effort: ‘let one raise himself by himself, let him not degrade himself’ (verse 5). But there is a difference in the means for the two stages: VI.3 For him who is still trying to attain yoga, acting is said to be the means; for the same, when he has attained yoga, quietening is said to be the means. Before he has …

Read moreMeditation Bhagavad Gita Chapter 6

The Lord Bhagavad Gita Chapter 7

Chapter VII The Lord Chapter V and VI have been mainly on samādhi-meditation. For karma-yogins, it was described as performed by individual effort: for Knowledge-yogins, it is a natural continuation of their realization. The four chapters that follow, VII to X, are mainly for karma-yogins who cannot find the resources in themselves to control their passion or inertia. They are to regulate the feelings by concentrating them on the Lord, whose perfection will naturally attract and refine them. At the beginning of Chapter VII, the Lord states that the revelations now given are to be understood theoretically, and then experienced practically in yoga meditation. What is first a matter of faith must become direct experience. An example is this. The Lord describes his projection of the world, and says that he is its dissolution too. He continues: VII.7 There is nothing higher than I On Me all this is strung, like chains of …

Read moreThe Lord Bhagavad Gita Chapter 7

Yoga Power Bhagavad Gita Chapter 8

Strength of Yoga The practice of the eighth chapter presents mainly meditations on the Lord felt as within the body. First the mind and the prāṇa currents of vital energy are focussed at a centre in the heart. Then the focussed attention moves up with them to a point on the forehead roughly between the eyebrows. People who try this soon find that the concentration becomes confused. They are not sure when they have enough concentration to begin the move upward, and become indecisive. The Gītā explains that it is done, and can only be done, by what it calls the ‘strength of yoga’. Śaṅkara explains that this strength is in fact the after-effects of long practice, repeated till the saṃskāra-impressions have been formed strongly in the causal part at the root of the mind. The process is then accomplished spontaneously, so to speak, independent of the discursive mind. Repeated …

Read moreYoga Power Bhagavad Gita Chapter 8

Glories Bhagavad Gita Chapters 9 & 10

Chapter IX and X Glories In these two chapters, there is a flood of pictures for meditation and devotion. The aspects of the Lord are not restricted in time or place. There are some Indian references, but they are incidental; the main presentation is in terms of the whole world. This is not worship in a Kṛṣṇa cult. There are no accounts of incidents in the life of Kṛṣṇa as a personal avatar, such as are needed for the basis of a cult of one particular divine incarnation. Important verses are IX.17 and 19: 17 I am the father of this world, the mother, the establisher, the grandsire, The aim of knowledge, the purifier, the syllable OM, and sacred hymns and chants. 19 I give heat, I hold back and send rains. Both immortality and death, the existent and non-existent, am I. Verse IX.19 refers to the so-called laws of nature. …

Read moreGlories Bhagavad Gita Chapters 9 & 10

Face to Face Bhagavad Gita Chapter 11

Chapter XI Face to Face The chapter begins with Arjuna’s confident belief that his delusion has been dispelled. He has by now heard the supreme mystery of adhyātma, in the Lord’s declarations of his own glories. Arjuna has forgotten that in Chapter VIII the adhāyatma was explained as the self-nature (sva-bhâva) in every man, not only the Lord outside. Again, he has heard the Lord say (X.20) ‘I am the Self in the heart of all beings, ‘but he could not incorporate that into his experience. There was an unspoken reservation: ‘but not in me.’ He could not apply the divine adhyātma glory to his own inner self. Similarly in II.17 it is said that the Self is everywhere: but in nearly all hearers there is an inner whisper: ‘Yes, but not exactly here.’ Arjuna asks to see the universal form of the Lord directly. He assumes that what he will see …

Read moreFace to Face Bhagavad Gita Chapter 11

Devotion Bhagavad Gita Chapter 12

Chapter XII Devotion This short chapter, which follows the overwhelming vision of the universal form, is important for practice. The Supreme, as Kṛṣṇa, answers Arjuna’s question: is it better to practise yoga samādhi on the universal form, or on Self alone without attributes? Through the mouth of Kṛṣṇa, that Great Self replies that in general it is more feasible to meditate on form, that is on the Lord-with-attributes, because to meditate truly on the pure Self means dropping body-consciousness. Many students of the Gītā, in the East and West, claim to take to the yoga of the attributeless, as based on pure Knowledge. They say that the Gītā itself places this higher, inasmuch as all forms of the Lord, like other forms, are associated with māyā, namely display-of-illusion. So worship and meditation on the Lord-with-attributes is in fact reinforcing illusion. They do not usually realize that Identificative meditation on the absolute …

Read moreDevotion Bhagavad Gita Chapter 12

The Field Bhagavad Gita Chapter 13

Chapter XIII The Field Chapter XIII is said by Śaṅkara to be mainly a Knowledge-chapter. It begins with the knowledge of the Field (body, mind, also the deep causal layer that holds them together) and the Field-knower, which is the witness-consciousness that sees and is not affected or bound by what it sees. The Gītā itself states that this doctrine comes from the Upaniṣad-s: ‘set out in the sūtra-s on Brahman, well reasoned and definite’ As in many Upanisad-s, the world is first taken as provisionally real, but ultimately with no independent existence of its own. This chapter elaborates the brief description of the Self in Chapter II. II.17 But know: that is indestructible by which this all is pervaded; This imperishable one, nothing can destroy. 24 Neither can He be cut nor burnt, nor wetted nor dried; Eternal, present everywhere, fixed, immovable, everlasting is He. 25 Unmanifest is He, unthinkable is He, …

Read moreThe Field Bhagavad Gita Chapter 13

The Gunas Bhagavad Gita Chapter 14

Chapter XIV The Guṇa-s The doctrine of the three guṇa-s or basic elements of the cosmos is presented in the Gītā. It is not a central Upanisadic doctrine. The Gītā prescribes a knowledge of them as an aid to practice in daily life. The treatment is mainly in Chapters XIV and XVII, with a group of verses in Chapter XVIII. Chapter XIV in fact begins with one of the analogies of the world- process, which come in several places in the Gītā. It is represented in terms of fertilization of Nature by the Lord. A major point of the analogies is, that the world-appearance is a conscious divine projection; delusive and a source of suffering when not recognized as such, it is bliss when realized as the Lord. The Lord must be realized not only externally, but as the Self, the Knower of the Field. Each analogy is intended as a stimulus to …

Read moreThe Gunas Bhagavad Gita Chapter 14

One and Many Bhagavad Gita Chapter 15

Chapter XV One and Many Chapter XV is a summary presentation of the Gītā teachings, as the chapter itself declares in the last verse. It is also one of the shortest chapters, only twenty verses. Anyone who seriously intends to practise the yoga of the Gītā must learn some central part of it by heart, in order to get some inner resources to meet difficult or bewildering situations. The twenty verses of XV make a firm basis for practice. It begins with one of the analogies of the world-process, this time as a tree. The analogy of the sacred fig-tree, called in Sanskrit asvattha, like others in the Gītā, is taken from an Upanisad. This time it is the Katha Upanisad, VI. 1. The Lord has already said in Gītā X.26: Among all the trees, I am the sacred aśvattha. The symbolic tree has its main root in heaven, showing that the …

Read moreOne and Many Bhagavad Gita Chapter 15

Passion Struggle Bhagavad Gita Chapter 16

Chapter XVI Passion-Struggle The chapter begins with a list of things innate in those in whom the impulse towards liberation is becoming strong: they are said to be of divine nature. Those who fear it, cling to their own individuality and hate competing individualities, are of demoniac nature. The chart below sets out the present list, alongside XIII.7–10 (qualities to be cultivated by a seeker of Knowledge), and the programme of Austerity in XVII, and XVIII 42–14 which identifies actions ‘natural’ to Brahmins, warriors, businessmen, and men of service. Many of them appear in more than one list; for instance, dhṛti or firmness is said to be natural to a warrior; nevertheless XIII says it is to be cultivated by Knowledge-seekers, and by all who desire liberation, according to XVI. It is clear that these ‘innate’ qualities, or actions as they are called in XVIII, are not self-sufficient. Compare a talent …

Read morePassion Struggle Bhagavad Gita Chapter 16

Faith is sattva rajas tamas

Faith XVII.2 Deep-seated in the nature of man is faith, which is threefold: of the nature of Light (sattva), of Passion- struggle (rajas) and of Darkness (tamas). 3 A man is what his faith is. As his faith is, so is he, undoubtedly. Dr Shastri says: ‘This chapter starts with a description of the basic tendency in the nature of each individual, which gives rise to, and colours, his thought and action. Our mental, emotional and physical activities are actuated by this deep mystic tendency which is called Faith. It is the aggregate of the subtle impressions left by our past lives on our causal body. Man can create, control and change this tendency; it is not an unalterable fate.’ The ‘subtle impression’ is what is technically called ‘saṃskāra’. We are familiar with this in ordinary life. If we touch an electrical appliance and get a shock, we thereafter approach …

Read moreFaith is sattva rajas tamas

Worship, Gift, Austerity Gita Chapter 17

Chapter XVII Worship, Gift, Austerity The main part of this chapter, and a good bit of the next (XVIII.18–45) are centred on the effects of the guṇa-s. What the Gītā calls man’s ‘selfnature (sva-bhāva) consists of tendencies he is born with, as an effect of the saṃskāra dynamic latent impressions laid down in previous births. A selection of some of them, which can consistently manifest together, come together as a block, so to say, determining the conditions of the present birth. It is not unalterable fate, but comparable to the physical make-up of the present body, which can be greatly modified by persistent effort, and by other means also. The state of the innate nature is reflected in what is technically called one’s Faith. This is what one really believes in, as distinct from surface attitudes. The super-nationalist’s belief in the divine mission of his group, for which he is willing …

Read moreWorship, Gift, Austerity Gita Chapter 17

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 18 Conclusion

Chapter XVIII Conclusion Like II, this is said by some commentators to be a summary of the teachings of the Gītā. It begins by recalling the familiar distinction between (1) physically giving up (saṃnyāsa) actions, except for a few semi-automatic ones which preserve the body, and (2) energetically performing the actions proper to one’s role in life, but without any attachment to the action or to its fruits: this is called tyāga. The Lord selects worship, gift and austerity as the best of all actions, to typify righteous action in general. XVIII.5 Actions of worship, gift, and austerity must not be abandoned, but rather performed; Worship, gift, and austerity are purifiers of the wise. 6 But these actions must be done giving up attachment to them, and all claim on the fruits: This is My definite and final judgement. Then he repeats the point already made several times in the Gītā, …

Read moreBhagavad Gita Chapter 18 Conclusion

Krishna speaks of reincarnation

The Two Paths When Arjuna appeals for help, he is not asking for a knowledge of the Universal Self, nor for freedom from the limitations of the world. He wants to know what to do: he is caught in a dilemma, each branch of which is disaster and misery for him and for his world. In most of the Upaniṣads, on the other hand, the inquirer is one who seeks to know the truth about the universe, or the truth about himself. The wife Maitreyi who liked to talk about Brahman (no prejudice against women in the Upaniṣadic tradition) rejects offers of property and says: ‘What should I do with that which will not make me immortal? Tell me that which you know, which gives immortality’. (Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad) Nachiketas refuses similar offers of distraction: ‘These things last but till tomorrow. Tell me the secret of death – this is the …

Read moreKrishna speaks of reincarnation

Sankara’s Presentation of the Bhagavad Gita Paths

Śaṅkara’s Presentation of the Gītā Paths Yoga means a method, and in the Gītā several times the Lord teaches two methods: the method of Action (karma-yoga), and the method of Knowledge (jñāna-yoga). Note that Knowledge too is a method, which is often called Renunciation, because that is its chief characteristic. In a few places, the Lord says that the Action path is better than, or easier than, the Knowledge path of renunciation. From these statements, it can be supposed that the paths are self-contained alternatives. It is tacitly assumed that the path of Action is for an extravert who feels alive only when acting. The path of Knowledge is then thought to be for an intellectual introvert who acts only reluctantly. In spite of his actual experience that he is the body, this withdrawn introvert is supposed to cherish a belief, or hope, that somehow he is not. The Gītā …

Read moreSankara’s Presentation of the Bhagavad Gita Paths

Sankara analyses cases of illusion

Illusion Why is it that the Gītā so often puts the texts of the two paths close together? It is because ordinary experience is based on a sort of illusion. Some of the classical examples of this kind of illusion are outside our normal experience, and make no impact on a Western reader. In India, to ‘see’ a snake where there is only a rope can give quite a little shock, and to an Indian the example is telling. But many Western people have never seen a snake outside the Zoo. As Indians say humorously: ‘If you saw a snake, you would call the police!’ Since, then, we never see snakes, we do not see illusory snakes either. I realized this when with a friend I was looking for something in a London flat. I whisked open the door of a big wall cupboard. It happened that a thick black …

Read moreSankara analyses cases of illusion

Bhagavad Gita contradictory doctrines

Interpretation Śankara established his standpoint by commenting on sacred texts such as Upaniṣad-s and the Gītā. The latter is the Upaniṣad-s put into verse for aspirants heavily involved in worldly concerns. He insists that he is presenting nothing new. He wrote a short commentary on the Chapter of the Self in one of the law-books, and a lengthy one on the Yoga Sūtra-s of Patañjali. He wrote at least one independent work, called the Thousand Teachings. A couple of others, out of the very many attributed to him, may be authentic. But he saw himself primarily as a transmitter of the holy truth which passed through the Upaniṣad-s. He interprets his texts by putting others alongside them, and applying constructive reasoning. The reasoning is constructive because the texts record actual experience of ancient sages; that experience can be, and must be, confirmed by students of the present day who want …

Read moreBhagavad Gita contradictory doctrines

Complete independence of the opposites.

Verses on independence of the opposites come in nearly every chapter. The instruction is first about physical effects: II.14 It is the contacts with material things that cause heat and cold, pleasure and pain; They come and go, impermanent as they are. Do you endure them bravely. Śaṅkara points out that some, such as heat and cold, register on the senses, and these are invariable effects. Other opposites like pleasure and pain are appreciated by mind, and the same thing can have varying mental effects. For instance, a given degree of heat or cold can give pleasure in one situation and pain in another. A nearby blazing fire might be intolerable on the equator, but welcome in the Arctic. Śaṅkara stresses the emotional element involved in pleasure and pain. In one of his other commentaries, he gives the example of a father delightedly lifting his newborn son high above his …

Read moreComplete independence of the opposites.

Worship for Sceptics

The steps in yoga, says Patajali’s Yoga Sütra, are: Faith, Energy, Memory, Samādhi meditation, Prajñā-knowledge. That rules me out’, replies the sceptic; ‘one cannot believe to order. I don’t accept these things in the first place. You are not asked to believe’, replies yoga, ‘it is suggested only that you experiment.’ Yoga makes its own experiments. It investigates consciousness directly, and does not depend on inferences from experiments on material events. It gives methods which can, and must, be tried. Without actual trial, yoga would be no more than a rather unlikely theory. A few things are assumed for a time, as working ideas, but they have to be experienced directly before they are finally taken as true. One such assumption is that there is an all-powerful, unlimited, creator and controller, who projects himself in limited forms to help seekers to realize him. The forms may be human, such as …

Read moreWorship for Sceptics

Samskara impressions are latent and dynamic

Line of Light Spiritual training at the outset can look unrealistic. It says: ‘Do this!’ or ‘Don’t do that!’, but a bare command can defeat its own purpose. It is like the King in Alice in Wonderland, who angrily tells the trembling witness: ‘Give your evidence. And don’t be nervous. I’ll have you executed if you’re nervous!’ There are some things that cannot just be commanded. We feel that an order not to be nervous is like an order not to feel cold, or an order to like eating something unpleasant. The question is whether feelings can be controlled by a simple order, even when backed up with a threat of beheading. In yoga the words used are more gentle; perhaps something on these lines: A student of yoga should do his actions without personal hopes or fears about the result. But the point remains: how is this to be …

Read moreSamskara impressions are latent and dynamic

Karma Yoga Action

Karma-Yoga Action In karma-yoga defined by Śaṅkara in II.39 commentary, there are three elements: (1) calm endurance of opposites, (2) yogic action, (3) samādhi practice. The first of these can be roughly summed up as Independence, and was looked at in a previous chapter. This chapter is concerned with the yogic action, from which karma-yoga takes its name. Yogic action is presented, in the Gītā and in Śaṅkara, in slightly varying ways: abandonment of, or evenness of mind towards, results good or bad; dedicating, or consigning or depositing, results of actions, to God or Brahman; dedicating, etc. the actions themselves to God or Brahman; having no personal motive for actions; giving up attachment to action as such; giving up attachment to inaction. It may be asked, why is inaction brought in? In the yogic analysis, even one sitting still, thinking ‘Now let me be happily at ease’, is still classed …

Read moreKarma Yoga Action

Samadhi of karma yoga

Samādhi The samādhi of karma-yoga is a method of tranquillizing the whole mental process, purifying the deep layers of the mind where the latent dynamic impressions lie, and focussing the stilled and purified mental energy on divine manifestations. Finally the higher mind is able to focus on the cosmic intelligence, the source of all manifestations. When such a mind comes to rest, time and space and body-consciousness forgotten, without even the thought I am meditating’, the subject of meditation blazes forth in its own true nature: that is called samādhi. The samādhi of the Gītā is not imagining as existent what does not exist. In the world, meditations can be used as auto-suggestions which can be helpful though not literally true. For instance, Japanese wrestlers, whose art consists mainly in pushing the opponent out of the ring, meditate: ‘I am a great wave.’ A champion attributed his success to practising …

Read moreSamadhi of karma yoga

Sattva suddhi Purity of Being

Purity of Being (Sattva-śuddhi) When the three elements of karma-yoga have been practised for a long time, or a shorter time with more intensity, things become simpler. Independence of the opposites, acting in evenness of mind, and samādhi-meditations on aspects of the Lord, produce an inner peace and energy. Life becomes like walking over open countryside towards a clear objective, instead of being lost in crowded streets, assailed by tricksters, beggars, tempters, shouters, and radios at full blast. In this connection, Dr Shastri sometimes used the simile of electricity to give students an idea of the practice: Don’t act so much that your soul will be tired, and don’t be so fond of solitude that you do not fulfil the reasonable expectations of the world. Man charges his being with spiritual electricity, and discharges that electricity by means of his thoughts and by means of his actions. The soul has …

Read moreSattva suddhi Purity of Being

I am Brahman

When karma-yoga practice – endurance of the opposites, samādhi practice, and performance of actions in evenness of mind – has purified the basis of the yogin’s being, Knowledge arises. Sometimes it is said that the Lord gives the Knowledge; sometimes that the Lord in the heart lights the flame of Knowledge, sometimes that Knowledge comes naturally. The difference in expression depends on how far the Lord is still regarded as external and apart. Although the word knowledge has to be used for the Sanskrit word jñāna, it is not an exact equivalent. Knowledge in English means knowledge-of-something. In the phrase Knowledge Is Power, the first word means having objective information, for instance, a secret. But jñāna can also mean what we could only call pure Awareness, irrespective of any object. When it is occasionally said that Brahman is Knowledge Absolute, it points to awareness beyond the dualities of mind processes. …

Read moreI am Brahman

Samnyasa Throwing Off Action

It was expected, as a natural result of the Knowledge T am Brahman’, that the surviving body-mind complex would continue to move for a time under its own momentum. Śaṅkara gives the example of the arrow. In medieval times, a battlefield message could be sent by binding it round an arrow, which was then shot to land in front of the intended recipient. If, after it was released, a sudden event made the message unnecessary, or even misleading, the arrow would still inevitably go on to complete its course. If however it had not yet been shot, though already on the string, it would be quietly replaced in the quiver. The illustration is given by Śaṅkara in his Gītā commentary. After God-realization, those actions which have already begun to produce their effects – already in the air, so to speak – will go on till their force is spent; but …

Read moreSamnyasa Throwing Off Action

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!