Where the levels are presented one immediately one after the other, in chapter 3 verse 20 and Shankara distinguishes them carefully. His Karma Yoga has the three elements and they’re based on the buddhi – which means the actual feeling, not the intellectual idea, as it’s sometimes translated – of being separate, of being an agent and of being an experiencer and of being separate from God. The Knowledge Yoga is based on the buddhi (exactly the same word, although the translator sometimes translates it as intellectual idea – but the word used is the same) – the vision, it’s a direct vision of the Self and the Jnana Yoga goes on from there.
Now meditation, Samadhi Yoga, which is the third element of Karma Yoga as given by Shankara in his first definition – this is the third element. Calm endurance of the opposites is the first, the second one is actions for the sake of worshipping God and the third one is Samadhi Yoga – those are his actual words.
On what is he to meditate? There are many lists in the poetical sections of the Gita where the Lord declares, “I am the fragrance in earth; I am the different elements; I am death; I am the seed of all life.” There are many of them and in chapter 10 Arjuna specifically asks, he says, “Tell me some of these things on which meditation should be done.” Krishna doesn’t tell him to meditate, he says there are things to be meditated on and then he lists them. Shankara says, “First of all” – and he gives the Samkhya standpoint – “the Self at the heart of every living being.” This is the first one. Then after that he gives a string: “I am the beginning, the middle and the end of all beings” right on to “I am the beginning, the middle and the end of all creations.” He says these are for people who cannot yet meditate on the Self. And one thinks, “Well, we can meditate on the Self. Who can’t meditate on the Self if they were determined to?”
Now the Gita is a poem written with tremendous poetic skill and it doesn’t make these arbitrary distinctions without illustrating them. It gives actual illustrations and this point is illustrated brilliantly in the course of the verses in chapter 10, where the teacher, Vasudeva – Krishna is his name and he is of the clan of Vrishnis – he’s teaching Arjuna, whose nickname is Dhanajaya – meaning winner of golds at archery – and who belongs to the family of the Pandavas. He gives a list in this beautiful poetry of these things to be meditated upon. He has said at the very beginning: “I am the Self, seated in the heart of all beings”.
Then he goes on, “I am the beginning, the middle and also the end of all beings; of radiances I am the resplendent sun; of the Vedas I am the Sama Veda; of the senses I am the mind; I am the intelligence in living beings; of the great rishis I am Bhrigu; of words I am the syllable OM; of offerings I am the offering of silent repetition of the mantra; of unmoving things I am the Himalayas; of weapons I am the thunderbolt”. And so he goes on: “Of purifiers I am the wind; Rama of warriors am I; of fishes I am the shark; of streams I am the Ganges; of creations I am the beginning, the middle and the end; I am all-seizing death; I am the splendour of the splendid; I am victory; of the Vrishnis I am Vasudeva; of the Pandavas I am Dhananjaya; of the saints I am Vyasa; of the great sages I am Ushanas.”
Now in this wonderful repetition; “Of purifiers I am the wind; of unmoving things I am the Himalayas; of the Vrishnis I am Vasudeva; of the Pandavas I am Dhananjaya…” And there’s no reaction at all. It’s been said by his teacher, the God, “I am you!”, but there’s no reaction at all. The poem simply goes on, “Of the great sages I am Usanas; what is the seed of all beings, that is mine.” This is an example. The Self actually doesn’t mean anything to him yet. It will, but in this passage it is shown clearly. Unfortunately the word used is Dhananjaya, so it is not so clear that this is Arjuna himself, but Shankara makes it clear. The Lord is saying, “I am you”, but he’s not able to even think of that, there’s no reaction at all. If he were British he would say, “O really?” Karma Yoga, he says, leads to a right vision and sometimes it’s said the Lord confers this directly by his grace and sometimes it springs up when there’s purification by Karma Yoga.
What would that be? He’s seeing now the true Self in all beings. One of the really great politicians of the war-time was Ernest Bevin. He’d left school when he was eleven, but he was a man of great integrity, very hard working and he made his way up through the trade union movement and finally he became Foreign Secretary. Our teacher knew him. There are one or two references to him – they’re not by name – in some of our teacher’s lectures. When Bevin made his last appearance in Parliament, the whole house, both parties, stood in silence as he came in as a tribute to him and our teacher occasionally spoke of him with great regard. Bevin had to meet the Russian Foreign Minister, Skryabin, who called himself Molotov – and our Foreign Office used to try to persuade Bevin to be more amiable to Molotov, who was by no means a very amiable man himself. But Bevin knew that Molotov had had a direct hand in the killing of at least a quarter of a million people. We know now it was much more. He was unable to be amiable with Molotov, so they said, “Smile a little, be friendly, try to understand him.” He said, “I understand him perfectly; he was a mass murderer.”
© Trevor Leggett
This series of talks:
Section 1: The Transformation of Karma Yoga