This yoga is given for people who can’t see, who can’t get a glimpse of the great self, which is declared first. Then, in chapter three, the teacher develops this further. He explains that, ‘For those who can catch a glimpse of the great self, then the means is to make that continuous and free from obstruction. But to those who can’t, they have to perform the actions with a mind serene. They have to practice indifference for the opposites of good and bad, as they seem to us, and pain and pleasure.’
Then he says, ‘You will not be able to do this, unless you practice yoga meditation.’ He tells Arjuna, “You will not be able to control the senses unless you practice yoga meditation. You won’t be able to control your thoughts unless you practice meditation.” This is repeated again in the 18th chapter, which says, ‘Without the yoga meditation, you can control, sometimes, the thoughts and the feelings.’ But then he speaks of a devotion to the Self manifesting as an external lord, but there’s only one reference in chapter three.
We can note that, although the teacher, Krishna, is teaching and Arjuna is supposed to be accepting this, Arjuna has his doubts. Because at the end of chapter two, he asked, ‘What is a man like who has control over his mind and whose knowledge is beginning to become steady? How does he talk? How does he sit? How does he move?’ Well, he has an example right in front of him. If you are sitting with a famous judge, you don’t say to him, “Do judges, at teatime, constantly give arbitrary decisions or niggle over small points?” You have an example. You’re sitting with it.
So he has certain reservations, and these reservations come to a head at the end of the chapter and the beginning of the next chapter. Krishna says, “I have told you, now, the highest secret.” Then Arjuna did not believe it. Krishna says, “I’ve told you this great secret, which I taught at the very beginning of creation.” Arjuna says, “How could you have taught it at the beginning of creation? You’re here now,” which shows that he didn’t believe what he was told: that the great self never dies; it takes on a different body.
So then the Gita goes on, and other instruction is given, though all pointing in the same direction. Well, we can say, “It seems odd to be told that there’s this highest secret.” Then the Gita goes on after the highest secret, “And this is going to come again and again.” The Gita will say, in chapter seven, ‘Now, I’m going to tell you about the great knowledge, beyond which there’s nothing more to be known.’
But again, in chapter 15, he will say, ‘Now, I will give you the great knowledge, the great secret.’ In chapter 18, at the end, he said, ‘Now, I will tell you the greatest secret of all,’ but he’s already told him the highest secret. “Well, how can we make sense of this?” as Arjuna says. And Shankara says, “This is not simply a question of Arjuna individually. He is speaking for all the future generations who will listen to the truth, and you feel that, in a way, they believe it, but have interior reservations.”
So the Gita then continues, “The great Self was announced first. Unmanifest beyond cause and effect, beyond thought, unchangeable, indestructible.” This was announced first of all, only then it didn’t strike this spark of realisation in Arjuna. Then the Karma Yoga was given of how to act in evenness of mind, and how to practice formal meditation at fixed times, and bring the mind to stillness.
Then Arjuna makes his objection: “How can you have taught this?” He doesn’t believe the great Self. Then Krishna gives the first example of the great Self assuming an illusory form like the rest of the great world illusion. He says, “I’m born again and again to declare the truth, whenever there’s a need for it.” The word is ‘Yuga, Yuga’. It means, literally, age after age. But ‘Yuga’ can also mean a junction. In fact, the words have the same root.
One teacher has said that this can apply to the junctions in life where we come to a great difficulty or a terrible disappointment. This is like a joint junction in life. He said, “In these times of extreme difficulty or crisis, then the Lord appears, if he can be recognised.” He says that the Chinese give an example that a bamboo has the smooth stem, and then there’s a knot, and then there’s another smooth period. But the new branches can only grow from the knots; they can’t grow from the smooth part.
So there’s a Chinese teaching that when your life is very smooth and comfortable and easy, it may go quite well, but nothing new will come out of that. But it’s in the knots of life – the disappointments, the breaking of some long-held belief or habit or reliance- It’s from that knot that the new spiritual branch can appear, where new spiritual life appears.
Well, then, in chapter five, again, the two paths are mentioned. There’s a path of realisation, which begins with a glimpse of the self and the knowledge of the self. He says this again and again: ‘The path of knowledge is for those who have realised the self.’ The path is to remove the obstructions and distractions from that realisation.
Or there is the path of Karma Yoga, which consists in the evenness of mind, in action, which means being able to give up the reliance and hopes and fears on the results of motives of action.
But then the end of chapter five and chapter six are on the formal meditation. Careful instructions are given about how to sit. The Eastern traditions says that in the West, people don’t actually know how to think. They have no way of thinking. If you look at the most famous picture of the thinker, it’s Rodin’s Thinker, whose elbow is on the opposite knee, and the fist is pushing into the face, so it distorts the mouth. They say if you compare this with the Buddha’s statues, this is one who knows how to think deeply.
We can think effectively superficially, but they have learnt how to think more deeply.
© Trevor Leggett
Talks in this series are:
Part 1: Marionettes and Free Agents
Part 4: Teaching of devotion