Bhagawad Gita

Truth in Essence

Swami Vivekananda, in his Karma-Yoga classes, had explained the situation of Arjuna and the true nature of ‘non-resistance’ as:

In reading the Bhagavad-Gita, many of you in Western countries may have felt astonished at the second chapter, wherein Sri Krishna calls Arjuna a hypocrite and a coward because of his refusal to fight, or offer resistance, on account of his adversaries being his friends and relatives, making the plea that non-resistance was the highest ideal of love. This is a great lesson for us all to learn, that in all matters the two extremes are alike. The extreme positive and the extreme negative are always similar. ...

One man does not resist because he is weak, lazy, and cannot, not because he will not; the other man knows that he can strike an irresistible blow if he likes; yet he not only does not strike, but blesses his enemies. The one who from weakness resists not commits a sin, and as such cannot receive any benefit from the non-resistance; while the other would commit a sin by offering resistance. Buddha gave up his throne and renounced his position, that was true renunciation; but there cannot be any question of renunciation in the case of a beggar who has nothing to renounce. So we must always be careful about what we really mean when we speak of this non-resistance and ideal love. ...

Arjuna became a coward at the sight of the mighty array against him; his "love" make him forget his duty towards his country and king. That is why Sri Krishna told him that he was a hypocrite; Thou talkest like a wise man, but thy actions betray thee to be a coward; therefore stand up and fight!

In Vedanta, Guru can guide disciple only after a true spirit of discipleship has come upon the disciple; unless that happens, the ego of disciple will hinder the progress and the teaching will not be fruitful. Arjuna’s grief and delusion was not allowing him to surrender fully to the Lord and he was putting forth arguments in support of his mental condition. But as soon as Sri Krishna used a few powerful words and then maintained meaningful silence, Arjuna’s condition improved and he could put his problems sensibly; he said that I am in a mental condition which makes me to give up the fight and I can’t decide which path is better, hence with an attitude of genuine discipleship, I seek your superior wisdom.

Sri Krishna smiled compassionately and re-assuringly – a smile indicative of total calmness and command over entire situation – and then He correctly diagnosed that Arjuna’s grief and delusion (शोक व मोह Shoka and Moha) was due to the attachment of ‘me and mine’ (अहंता व ममता Ahamtaa and Mamata), which in turn was due to the ‘ignorance’ of the real Self (आत्मन् Atman). This problem of grief and delusion is not only Arjuna’s problem but it is experienced by all humanity at almost every step of life; it is the result of conflict between our attachment to people and objects of the world on one side and Truth on the other. We experience the distinction between ‘I’ and ‘world’ and feel that ‘I’ am separate from ‘others and world’; this is due to ignorance and it creates further mental and emotional problems (at conscious, sub-conscious, and unconscious levels). Only after we realize our true infinite Self – which is transcendent to body-mind-complex – can we be free from this separation and from all miseries.

Samkhya Buddhi (Path of Knowledge)

Hence now, in the second chapter of Gita, the ‘Truth in essence’ is expounded which is applicable for all humanity. Sri Krishna starts explaining the infinite, Pure Consciousness-Bliss nature of the real Self from eleventh verse till thirtieth verse of second chapter in following words:

  • We are in essence the immortal Self; birth, life, and death are passing phenomenon on/in the Self which can not affect the Self in any way.

  • The Self is neither born nor does It die; It always remains unchanged, hence Self-realized people never come under grief and delusion for the ephemeral body, worldly objects etc. (Arjuna was talking like wise-man but was grieving like unwise-man) The Self is Eternal; It has no limitation of time. Eternity (नित्यत्वम् nityatvam) could be of three types:
    1. Relative Eternity (आपेक्षिक नित्यत्वम् apekshika nityatvam) like that of long duration of life in heaven

    2. Cyclic Eternity (प्रवाह नित्यत्वम् pravaha nityatvam) like that of apparently continuous and unending flow of time encompassing all spheres of existence (लोकः loka, युग yuga, कल्प kalpa etc.)

    3. Absolute Eternity (पारमार्थिक नित्यत्वम् paramarthika nityatvam) like that of the true Self; infinite and non-dual – ‘here and now’!

  • Just as we pass through childhood, youth, and old age, similarly we pass through birth, death, and re-birth; but we as Self remain unchanged (निर्विकारित्वम् nirvikaritvam), hence wise persons do not get deluded over these.

  • The true Self being immortal and unchanging, wise people do not come under delusion regarding, not only death and destruction but also the dualities of life like heat-cold, pleasure-pain. They see these dualities as passing phenomenon to be endured, as long as they appear to last, with the right knowledge that these are the temporary products of contact between senses and sense-objects which does not affect the Self in any way. The Self remains un-associated (असङ्गत्वम् asamgatvam) with the apparent pairs of dualities.

  • Self-realized souls (तत्वदर्शी tatvadarshi) experience the unreal (differentiated phenomenon of world and beings) as ‘never existing’ while the real (infinite Pure Consciousness) as ‘ever existing’ (सत्यत्‍वम् satyatvam). In the unchanging ‘Pure Self’, the illusory phenomenal world and beings – which are like waves of names and forms on the infinite ocean – appear and disappear and their play does not affect the Self; the Self being all-pervading and changeless Infinite. The numberless bodies and their destruction are but a play of the Self which remains ever-present, destruction-less Witness.
    • तत् Tat = That (i.e. Brahman) and तत्व tattva = Exact nature of That
      तत्वदर्शी tattwadarshi = Those who have developed the capacity to grasp the Exact nature of That (e.g. I am not psycho-physical entity but ‘I Am That’)

    • When the Self/God is said to be ever-present and destruction-less, it is to be understood that the Self is not like Earth, Stars, Space etc. which appear as ever-present to human scale of vision (apekshika nityatvam) but in fact are temporary appearances in Self, while the Self is infinite and sole existing substratum for all phenomenal appearances (paramarthika nityatvam).

  • If the killer thinks that he is killing someone and if the killed thinks that he has been killed by someone, then both of them are ignorant about their true Self which, being infinite and immortal, can neither be a killer or killed. The reference to the ‘action of killing’ is mentioned here since Arjuna is on battlefield, but it should be inferred that the Self is neither associated with any action nor is It acted upon in anyway (अकर्तृत्‍वम् akartrutvam and अभोक्तृत्‍वम् abhoktrutvam). The Self is neither born nor does it die; It is ever-present, un-created, unchanging, and indestructible (अविनाशित्‍वम् avinashitvam).

  • Just as we throw away old clothes and take up new ones, similarly the Self discards the old and decrepit body and takes up new one; the Self cannot be destroyed by any weapon, nor can It be burnt, water can’t wet It and air can’t dry it. It ever remains unaffected by the five elements of Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth; It is all-pervading, eternal, unchanging (अविक्रियत्‍वम् avikriyatvam), ever-present, un-created Reality of everything. It is subtler than the subtlest, attribute-less (निर्गुणत्‍वम् nirgunatvam), beyond thought and imagination; knowing such a Self, the seer transcends all sorrow.

After explaining the real nature (स्वरुप Swarup) of the self to Arjuna, Sri Krishna also guides Arjuna according to the ‘everyday-experience-rationale’, i.e. according to Arjuna's psycho-physical nature (स्वभाव Swabhava); Arjuna’s mental make-up was that of a warrior King (क्षत्रिय Kshatriya) and for a King there is nothing more glorious than a righteous war which provides him with an opportunity to perform his duty here on Earth and enjoy glory in Heaven. So even from ‘everyday-common-sense’ point of view, it is not proper to get overcome by sentimentalism and sorrow.

Yoga Buddhi (Path of Selfless Action)

In the initial part of second chapter, Sri Krishna explained the highest transcendental truth which deals with the true nature of human being; this path of Knowledge (ज्ञान मार्ग Jnana Marga) is termed as सांख्य योग Samkhya Yoga in Gita and the heart/intellect which is illumined by it, is called सांख्य बुद्धि Samkhya Buddhi. (सम्यक् ख्यायते/प्रकाश्यते स वैदिकि सम्यक् बुद्धि = संख्या and 'the Truth comprehended by such a बुद्धि' is सांख्य).
Those who have renounced all desires for sense-enjoyment here and hereafter; those who constantly abide in Self alone are said to have ज्ञान निष्ठा Jnana Nishtha; in this path there is no relativity, no trace of any thought or action (कर्म Karma). It is completely transcendental to ordinary mental and physical life; Sri Krishna himself says about it as: ‘some see this Truth as wonder; some others speak and hear of It as wonder; and some, even after hearing about it, can’t understand It!’ Exceptional souls who have developed this transcendental Buddhi have the consciousness that ‘I am infinite Pure Consciousness-Bliss’, but in the relative sphere – the sphere of duality where action is predominant and to which most of humanity is accustomed – this highest philosophy may seem impractical and unattainable because most of us have the consciousness that ‘I am in control of actions and hence I am the enjoyer of results of actions’, ‘I have to make efforts for spiritual realization’ etc. Arjuna too has similar view and hence Sri Krishna now explains another type of Buddhi called योग बुद्धि Yoga Buddhi.
Those who are striving towards attaining Jnana Nishtha and are doing work in spirit of worship to God are said to have कर्म निष्ठा Karma Nishtha and it can specifically be termed as ‘Practical Vedanta’ – a philosophy of life in which action and contemplation both go hand in hand so as to take human being gradually towards the ultimate spiritual goal. In this ‘Practical Vedanta’ philosophy – which is the main theme of Gita – every human being can find guidance for his/her journey through life and a way towards ultimate spiritual realization. This Yoga Buddhi matures into Samkhya Buddhi in due course of time.

While performing actions with this Yoga Buddhi there is no fear of unfinished attempt or sin or imperfection. Even a little of this practice saves one from great fear and it makes the intellect sharp and heart pure. As opposed to this, those who look for sense pleasures here on Earth and hereafter in Heaven, make their intellect dull & diversified and heart impure; no personal or social benefit can be derived from such distracted minds. As against this, one who realizes the Self becomes Bliss itself and whatever he/she does becomes beneficial to entire universe. Sri Krishna further tells Arjuna that ‘to work you have rights and not to its results; do not keep an eye on results and yet do not remain idle’. The actual verse is:

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन ।
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि ॥

This is a famous verse in Gita and one which is prone to misunderstanding if studied with superficial attitude. The mind which is attached to the results of actions, wastes half of the energy thinking about the results and thus the work-quality suffers, furthermore expectation of the results strengthens the chain of transmigration for the soul. On the other hand if the duty is performed in calm and detached manner then not only does the quality of work improve but also mind is able to remain in equipoise state; this makes mind pure and capable for deeper penetration in search of Self/God. This calm, detached, and equipoise mind – which remains unaffected by the results of action and surrounding environment – is the Yoga Buddhi; such a mind helps one reach the Stillness of Self within and perform selfless actions without. This dual efficiency in work, internal as well as external – with primary focus on inner efficiency/Stillness – is Yoga (योग: कर्मसु कौशलम् Yogah Karmasu Kaushalam). Work (कर्म Karma) with Yoga Buddhi (i.e. कर्मयोग Karmayoga) is essentially the spiritual evolution of कर्ता Karta (performer of actions) and the external aspects of work are secondary though not unimportant. The work done without the Yoga Buddhi i.e. work without awareness of Self, may become successful, even useful to society, but it won’t be spiritually helpful for the ‘performer of the actions’. Humanity today is prone to neglect the inner Stillness required during work and hence it is worth understanding the true import of Bhagawad-Gita teachings.

A spiritual aspirant must not be attached to results (earthly or heavenly) of his/her action; even worrying about the results related to spiritual practices and spiritual progress is not good! Sometimes during spiritual journey an aspirant connects his/her mental states and external events to the Grace of Self/God and accordingly experiences happiness, sorrow etc. or sometimes he/she tries to speculate the progress achieved till now; this sort of subtle attachment must also be renounced in order to practice perfect Karma-Yoga. Work/duty done with this detached and self-less way purifies the mind and frees one from the cycle of transmigration by establishing the mind in infinite Self/God.

Characteristics of Sthitaprajnya (Steady Wisdom)

After listening to Sri Krishna’s exposition of Samkhya Buddhi and Yoga Buddhi, Arjuna asks the question: ‘how does a स्थितप्रज्ञ Sthitaprajnya (a being whose Buddhi is established in Self) behave, talk?’

Sri Krishna now expounds the 'characteristics'/'behavioral patterns' observed in a Self-realized soul who has achieved Wisdom either directly through Jnana-Yoga or indirectly as 'Karma-Yoga-maturing into Jnana-Yoga'. Self-realized seers do not require any effort to behave in the prescribed manner, rather their 'Consciousness-Bliss-filled-inner-state' expresses Itself as their external behavior. The description about Sthitaprajnya’s behavior is extremely useful as a guideline for a spiritual aspirant on his/her path. These characteristics form the content of last 18 verses of the second chapter:

  • When a being renounces all the desires in heart/mind and abides in Self alone then such a being is Sthitaprajnya. As long as soul is afflicted by desires, the cycle of transmigration, of phenomenal existence, continues and true joy, fulfillment is not achieved. The desire-less state of a Self-realized soul is not a miserable, lonely, perverted state but rather it is a state filled with infinite bliss and contentment arising from the knowledge of the inner Self. For pure bliss, such a soul is not dependent on anything in the outside universe; the source of joy and bliss is within him/her.

  • Those who do not get disturbed even by greatest misfortune and misery and are not swayed by extreme pleasures and joy are Sthitaprajnyas; they have overcome attachment, fear, and anger and thus remain even-poised in good or bad, favorable or unfavorable circumstances. Just as a tortoise withdraws its limbs within it's shell when it senses danger outside, similarly a Sthitaprajnya withdraws his/her mind from sense-contacts and keeps it settled in true Self always.

  • In some ascetics and even in medical patients we can observe the abstinence from sense-pleasures; but in them there remains metal attachment to the sense-objects. Such is not the case of a Sthitaprajnya, for he/she has transcended the sense objects and established in Pure Consciousness. The spiritual aspirant should also strive to establish his/her spiritual practice, purity, and equanimity on Self/God, else there remains great risk of a fall from ideal due to the force of sense-cravings.

  • If the aspirant – even if he/she is intelligent and well-versed in scriptures – does not pay attention to the proper control of sense-organs then due to the downward pull of the sense-organs towards sense-objects, his/her mind is forcefully dragged to lower planes. Hence observing proper sense-control and always establishing the heart/intellect/mind in Self/God is the indispensable spiritual practice; and only with these (i.e. spiritual practices continued - with utmost careful attitude - for a prolonged period) can the true infinite Self/God be realized. If an aspirant does the opposite i.e. if mind thinks about sense-objects then they appear desirable and mind gets attached to them; it craves for them and if their attainment is obstructed the mind is overcome by anger; once anger takes control then mind loses its capacity to discriminate between right action and wrong action; this loss of critical discrimination verily paves the way to spiritual downfall.

  • The aspirant who has controlled his/her senses and has freed the mind of attachments and hatred, is able to move freely in the world without getting affected by its allurements. Such a person experiences freedom from all anxieties, worries, problems etc.; the natural bliss of the Self shines forth through his/her mind since it has attained Infinite Peace and Bliss. As opposed to this, if there is no control of senses and mind is scatted in sense-objects, then such a mind can never be inclined towards Self-Knowledge and consequently it can never know peace and happiness. Just as a boat is diverted from its path due to strong wind-currents, similarly the drag of sense-objects can divert the mind of an aspirant and ruin his/her spiritual progress. Therefore all the senses should be properly controlled and mind should be always directed towards Self/God.

  • For majority of beings who identify with body-mind complex and live in duality, the infinite Pure-Consciousness-Bliss Self - the source of all beings and world - is like a dark night since it is not experienced owing to their un-purified and gross mind. While for spiritual aspirants and realized souls, who have purified their heart and have made their minds subtle, the shadow-like, flimsy world of duality is similar to dark night, since they clearly see the futility of pursuing ephemeral sense satisfaction. Such souls are awake in the Self/God while worldly souls are awake to sense-pleasures and forms!

  • Just as ocean remains same irrespective of amount of water entering into it, similarly the Self remains unaffected by the innumerable desires entering into It. And hence Self-realized alone achieves absolute peace and not others who run after desires. Those who have realized their true infinite Self are free of all selfishness, all ideas of ‘me and mine’; they are perfectly unattached and even though they appear to be alive and functioning, they are not even attached to life/body; they remain ever free from delusion.

Thus Sri Krishna explained the characteristics of a Self-realized being to Arjuna and said that only such souls are liberated. Even if one achieves this state at the time of death, he/she is liberated.

With this ends the second chapter of Gita, which in essence describes the nature of absolute Reality, way of self-less action as a means to purify heart/mind, and characteristics of a Self-realized being. These precious truths about human life were meant not only for Arjuna but for every human being in general and spiritual aspirants in particular.