Private Gita Page

Chapter 1: The Yoga of Despondency of Arjuna

Seminar 1: Introduction

In this session, there is a brief introduction into the practices and routine that we are starting our journey with.

You will also hear a basic introduction into the story that the Bhagavad Gita evolves from, and practise mantras that we will be using daily.

So the Bhagavad Gita, as many of you here already know, is a very short book. When you have a copy without the commentary it can literally be less than a pocket size little booklet of 700 verses. And this is great because it is considered to be a condensed version of the epic that it sits in, which is possibly the most voluminous epic ever written, of about 200,000 verses. Something like almost 2 million words. And this is a story that is based on a historical event, but it has been heavily edited later on to become a story for teaching, to become a story to demonstrate how to live a proper life, what possible things can happen to a person, how to overcome those problems.

And the Bhagavad Gita is written in the most incredible circumstances, because the Mahabharata is an epic about a war that happened thousands of years ago due to an injustice that was done. And it’s not necessary to go into all the detail as to how the story evolved, but suffice it to say that on one side there was a usurper king who, due to abusing the power that he has been given, he was a Prince Regent for his blind father who couldn’t accept the duties of the king. But he then assumed the role of the king himself and decided not to give a fair share to the other side, to the other half of the family, who are represented by five brothers. 

Now, here already we see that this story is very much modified to really represent that even this war is not to be seen as just some kind of historical event. Because it is to be seen as the continuous and constant daily struggle of the tendencies, of the helpful tendencies, the dharmic tendencies that we have in us. And they have to oppose the various limiting tendencies that we also have acquired in this life and previous ones. And so the negative side are represented by these Kauravas, by the aggressor. They are a hundred brothers in number. Whereas the good side, they are only five. 

However, also in the story, just to introduce, because the Bhagavad Gita kind of jumps into this whole process. These five brothers, they were all products of some kind of higher divine intervention. They were not born in a usual way. Because their father Pandu, for reasons that you can research in your spare time, he wasn’t able to father any of his children, and so they were all products of invoking higher power that then manifested as quite a perfected human being. 

So here we already see that the good qualities, they are not necessarily high in number, whereas the bad qualities and the bad tendencies, they are innumerable, or they can seem to be dominant. But at the same time, the good tendencies they have a much broader spectrum of action, and they can overcome, the light will always overcome the darkness, no matter how much of that darkness, and how little that light is. I hope that this makes sense.

So we can already see how the war was going to be from this. Now, the figure of Krishna also comes in, who in this story, his life of course is the subject of a lot of study from childhood to old age, but in this study, in this context, he’s a powerful king with a great army, as well as the avatar, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu himself. And in the Gita, there will be a lot of references, especially in the beginning to this war that is happening and Krishna basically encouraging Arjuna his disciple to fight. So to put that in context, before the war Krishna did everything that he could to avert the war, and to dissuade the aggressor king Duryodhana from pursuing this course. But here we again see in the character of Duryodhana, the evil king, that again, this is a story for learning. 

So Krishna, who obviously as a divine incarnation should have a great authority on anyone who he comes in contact with, was not able to persuade Duryodhana not to pursue the war. And he was even told quite blatantly that “Yes, I know what is right, but I’m not attracted to that. And I also know what is wrong, but that’s exactly what I’m compelled to do.” And that’s what he did. So he really represents the obstinate aspect of the ego, which when it is unchecked, when it is allowed to control the majority of the stuff of the personality, then we see the reckless behaviour and selfish behaviour, achieving goals at any cost. And so Duryodhana was representing that kind of aspect. And that is the leader then of the whole army of negative tendencies. This ego as we will see also in the teachings of the Gita later on, that is the main culprit that needs to be understood and methods of its management need to be discovered and applied. 

So how the Gita begins. The two armies are arranged. And they already are preparing to fight. So this is where the story takes place in a flash. This whole discussion between Krishna and Arjuna that will happen is essentially a direct kind of transmission that can only happen when a competent master, competent Guru such as Krishna can impart such energy to a competent disciple such as Arjuna. 

And today we will also practise some chanting of the Gita. Today we will do 6 verses, so we will skip, we will go slightly ahead compared to the book. And we will do this because talking about the verses will further introduce the starting of the Gita, and also we practice the chanting of these mantras. With this chanting, it may sound a little complex and it’s fine if you’d like to just listen, that’s OK, but it has a very subtle effect on the mind also, so it’s a good practice.

Discussion 1:1-2

Dhritarashtra said: What did my people, and the sons of Pandu and do when they had assembled together, eager for battle, on the holy plain of Kurukshetra, O Sanjaya? Sanjaya said: Having seen the army of the Pandavas drawn up in battle array, King Duryodhana then approached his teacher Drona and spoke these words.

So first we’ll introduce the king Dhritarastra. As I said, on the good side we have these Pandavas, and they are the sons of a person called Pandu, and his brother Dhritarastra only became king when Pandu had to renounce the Kingdom. And Dhritarastra was blind. Now, again from the metaphysical side, he represents the blind attachment. He represents also the functioning of the lower mind, which really is blind – the light of knowing comes from a different place. So we could say that this is a person living on an unevolved kind of state. Not necessarily evil, evildoer, or otherwise malevolent. But not able to see clearly, and very attached. So he was so attached to his son Duryodhana that he just let him do whatever he wanted really. 

And one very interesting thing here is that he asked this question in the past tense. So this is almost like asking about the result of a battle that we are just about to start hearing about. Now the place where the war is about to happen has been called Dharmakshetra, or the holy plain, or the place of virtue. So the place where the effort should be made to eliminate the negative, the restricting, the evil tendencies. And so, as we will see very shortly, the will was not necessarily there to fight this war. But it was necessary to uphold righteousness, to uphold dharma. And so here we see that the setting is that this is a war that simply has to happen for some reason. It’s not that it is all just some kind of aggression. 

Now Sanjaya, who is the narrator of all this, is a person, the name literally means one who has achieved perfect victory. Perfect victory over his own likes and dislikes. So he’s an accomplished yogi, and on account of his accomplishment, he is able to have this direct vision of distant events. So he was there in the royal palace. But he could see everything, not just what was happening on the battlefield, but what people were thinking and talking about and so on. So he had this telepathic vision. And the first thing Sanjaya said here is that king Duryodhana, the General, the king of the evil Kauravas, then approached his teacher. And this is actually, better first hear the context of what was said, and then we’ll see even on this, at first sight that it seems like a detailed description of various names and so on, but even this then signifies Duryodhana’s character.

Discussion 1:3-6

Behold, O Teacher! This mighty army of the sons of Pandu, arrayed by your wise disciple. Here are heroes, mighty archers, equal in battle to the main Generals of the Pandavas, such as Bhima and Arjuna, and they are great warriors, they are mighty warriors. Dhrishtaketu, Chekitana, and the valiant king of Kashi, Purujit and others, the best of people. The strong Yudhamanyu and the brave Uttamaujas and others, the sons of Draupadi, all great heroes.

In the first chapter, until we come to the story of Arjuna himself, we often need to reach back a little bit into the story of Mahabharata to try to understand the first of the verses. The first chapter is very important as we will appreciate the definitely by the end of it, because it allows us to assess or analyse our own standing in life, material and spiritual. And where we need to start our journey also. 

But right now we are going deeper into the description of the story and why is it not so black and white always also to do this in cleansing work. So both armies contained very noble people. It was not that one side was full of really selfish usurpers and the other side was full of righteous people. Not like that. But this teacher that Duryodhana approached, he was possibly the most famous teacher of the whole family before this war began. So from both sides people were trained by him. And he was not exactly pleased with having to fight the war at all in the first place, and also by having to, due to this previous commitments, to be on the Kaurava side. 

And so Duryodhana here points various people who had some kind of personal story with the teacher that was not that pleasant, just to get him more involved in the cause. And also, all of these people just as a matter of curiosity, they all died at the hands of the Kauravas back in Mahabharata war. So what Duryodhana is trying to do is corrupt the goodwill or the good disposition of even this most noble teacher, by also mocking that look, some of your disciples are now on that side. So here really in Duryodhana we have a character who does not, who can’t stop himself even from insulting others. There are all these different edges of the ego that we sometimes also manifest in different times of life. He represents and embodies them all in this character. 

So this was just a short introduction. Because rather than introducing the Gita itself, we will just go through the various verses. But I hope it serves also as a little warning that in the beginning, the Gita is not the most easy text to do absorb, due to this first historical setting. And then basically starting with, the whole chapter is called ‘The Yoga of Despondency of Arjuna.’ So here the teachings are not yet present. Here the effort should be also, as we reflect in the morning on the verses, as to how we can apply what is being heard in our daily life. So in the first part of the Gita, it’s not so much the application of teachings, but it’s more about from what area that I may not have thought about can I now analyse my life, my own happiness, my wellbeing. And let’s see how we go this first month. So I hope this has been helpful.

3 January | Verses 9 and 10

Having arrayed on their respective sides, the two armies are being introduced by Duryodhana, the wicked usurper and instigator of the war, who also represents the recklessly selfish nature of an ego-based individuality fully given to material identification.

Today, we see that in spite of his arrogance, he has doubts about the outcome of the impending war, knowing deep down that his cause, based on deceit, manipulation and lies, is most likely doomed.

These verses are also a brief excursion into the mind of such a person – an element that every embodied being has to deal with, and thus relevant for self-introspection: scheming, planning and worrying are a part and parcel of the life of a dishonest person, preventing the peace of mind necessary for self-correction and transformation.

So here Duryodhana is saying, after approaching the teacher who was Dronacharya, that there was a description of the various warriors that are arrayed in battle. And we’ll see that because Duryodhana, who represents the ego-based desire, is not certain about his position. He is, after all, a usurper, in the same way that in spiritual life we think of the soul or the pure consciousness as being the rightful ruler, but the rules of the lordship over the body has been usurped by the forces of the ego, which then has to always be anxious about this wrongfully acquired property. And in the same way, Duryodhana commands a huge army. And we have heard several of the names from both of the camps. And the army of the Pandavas, the good forces, the spiritual forces, is much smaller. But yet Duryodhana is quite afraid, and rightly so, as we will see. 

In verse 9, Duryodhana says to the teacher, or Drona, that there are numerous warriors in the army that are ready to die for my sake in the battle. And then in the next verse he says that even though our army is so big, I have a fear that it is insufficient. Whereas the other army, they have limited means, but they are likely to be quite sufficient. Now there are two different levels to explaining this. One is the obvious or the material reason. And this is because the smaller army of the Pandavas, they have one unified goal, a purpose, which is a rightful claim that they are fighting for, whereas the Kauravas, they are held together by various alliances, promises that needed to be kept. And a lot of people in the army are not happy, first of all that the war is taking place in the first place, and then also with their alignment with the Kaurava side. And so there is disunity, there is doubt. There is, from the material perspective, all the odds are in their favour. But as we see even from various world events, when a small force is dedicated, devoted and disciplined then it can also defeat a much larger force that is full of disarray. 

And this is again also true for the metaphorical or transcendental understanding of this. So the qualities in spiritual life that we try to cultivate, they’re not so many, but they have a broad range of action, whereas the armies of the ego-centred tendencies, they can be much bigger, much larger but ultimately, they are not based on reality. This is why the goodness, no matter how much it is suppressed at any point in a person’s life and evolution, is always bound to prevail in the end. 

So here Duryodhana, he really represents the force of material desire. Bhishma, this General of his army, represents the force of the ego. And so Duryodhana is trying to make sure that the ego is supported, that the ego is taken care of, so that all the other elements of material identification can remain. In every level of life, we have these opposing tendencies. In our body we have the forces that lead us to better health and better physical shape and so on. There are forces that fight against that. In our mind we have so many conflicting tendencies that we have accumulated in the course of this life and the previous ones. We have conflicts in our emotions, in our feelings about things and people and so on. 

And this also happens in the deeper levels, like the chakras. They are all active. They allow us to live our material life also. But when they’re not balanced, the influence of the gunas or the qualities of nature which we will be talking about a lot later on, the darkness, the inertia, the aggressiveness or assertiveness, and the luminosity. These three are always present, and by the dominant power that operates at any given moment, all these different areas of life can then express themselves negatively, destructively, or positively and constructively. 

So these are the two armies we have now heard more and more description of. And even when we think of this as an inspiration, that the destructive desire which is right now engaged in quite a terrible action, is doubtful, is fearful, when the army of the spiritual life has been arrayed. So no matter how great this evil may be, no matter how many different limitations and obstacles we have to overcome, this is like an assurance before even the teachings begin, that it is possible, and with the right effort we will prevail. Let us now reflect on this for a few moments.

4 January | Verses 11-13

As the spiritual journey is about to commence, we are given an insight into the kind of intensity of experience necessary for any real search to begin.

Therefore, do you all, stationed in your respective positions in the several divisions of the army, protect the General Bhishma alone. The glorious grandsire Bhishma, the oldest of the Kauravas, in order to cheer Duryodhana, now roared like a lion and blew his coach. Then, conches and kettledrums, other drums and cow horns blared forth quite suddenly. And the sound was tremendous. 

Here we still have the vivid description of the situation, the very moment in which the Gita begins. And we have seen from the optics of the General of the aggressor army, Duryodhana, who represents the material desire that is not being checked by any higher faculty. We saw that the situation on both the sides is quite different. On one side we have the smaller army who however are unified under a righteous goal. And who therefore are very much feared. And on the other side, we have an army, we have a group of people who have been brought together because of politics, because of allegiances, not because of their own free will. And this is particularly visible on the top, in the top ranks, because this General or the prince Duryodhana, he knows deep down that this is an unrighteous cause, that this is something that was possibly a mistake. But the pride of such a person prevents them from acknowledging it, turning the turn of events, and backing out. 

And this is something we can always look at, all these different personalities in the Gita, as the types of tendencies or personalities that we can embody ourselves, and that also other peoples around us, other people around us embody. So this is the situation on that Kaurava side, that the great General Bhishma, he has allegiances, he favours both sides. He is not fully convinced of the Kaurava cause. And even the teacher Drona, who was the guru of both the Kauravas and the Pandavas, he is very much indifferent. In fact, Duryodhana was just talking to him, and he did not even respond. So there is tension in that army. And as a response, because the General Bhishma saw that Duryodhana was being given this cold treatment by his teacher, he blew the conch just to cheer him up. But everyone else thought that this was the signal to start the war, and so now it all kind of begins. 

So this is the dramatic turn of events, if you can imagine the conches blown by thousands of people and drums and so on. So this is where, this is the very moment that we’re coming to, where the teachings of the Gita will start being revealed. And when we go into the metaphorical view of these verses, Bhishma here represents the ego, the ‘I’-ness, which is then supported by the force of habit, which is represented by Drona. And by this material desire, and this ego is then the source or the centre of all the other traits, of all the other characteristics of any person. So whether that person has predominantly positive or negative qualities, it is all centred around the ego. When that vanishes, then that personality as we know it ceases to exist. And so of course, when the ego blows the conch, then everything else is energised, everything else comes into its play. And similarly, the ego is sustained or supported, or its life is being held together by all these other tendencies. 

So this is this is the description of where we are heading in the Gita. The fight, if we think of this as a slowed down time, this can be even a decision that a person is making, such a war can be happening that we have so many good tendencies, so many negative tendencies, and then depending on which one prevails, then we take our action. So the Gita can be seen as both a whole lifetime of struggle, and it can be also seen from this momentary point of view. Right now, the two tendencies, the two groups of tendencies, are about to clash. 

Reflecting on how, when we allow the tendencies of the ego to run unchecked, we can get involved in so many situations that we can’t really control anymore. The ego has many different qualities, many different factors. And one very powerful trait is that we can both feel courageous or self-confident, but on account of lack of vision, limitation of the ego-based individuality, we actually get into less freedom, by getting entangled in the material world.

5 January | Verses 14-19

Every thing has a name; every name tells a story. The first chapter of the Gita, thanks to the condensed descriptions of the scene of battle and its participants, offers a great opportunity for deeper research pertaining to the enormous epic of Mahabharata and its value as a guide and inspiration. Today we hear about the valiant heroes of the Pandava side, with their divine powers, blowing their celestial conchs representing the inner sounds of spiritual awakening.

In these verses we get a vivid description of Krishna and Arjuna and all the other warriors, as they blow their respective conches. The conches and the horns and the various drums were used to signal the start of the war. Yesterday we heard the enemy army blow their conches and make the terrifying sound to intimidate the other party. And so today we have the response. And I will not go through all of these names. In the first chapter of the Gita, there are many verses in which there are references to the wider context of the Mahabharata, so please free feel free to do your own research here, it can be very interesting to study these names and their relationships and also what they symbolise. 

But before I read some of the meanings of these verses, there is a story in the Mahabharata before the war, where Krishna offers to both the parties either his vast and powerful army or himself, but with the caveat that he will not fight. And these two things can be seen to represent in this context, on one side the multitude of worldly temptations and worldly power and riches and so on. Whereas Krishna himself represents the innermost soul, and the function of that pure consciousness is to observe, it does not act outside in the world. And we will see that further on the Gita as to how the self relates to the manifest reality. 

But of course, Duryodhana chose the army, because he was fully involved in the material identification. And Arjuna, who is a spiritual aspirant, he chose Krishna to be his charioteer. And so here in verse 14, it says: “Then, after the enemy army have blown their conches, Krishna and Arjuna, seated in the magnificent chariot yoked with white horses, blew their divine conches.” Just this one image is a very potent symbol for how the human body, mind and spirit all relate with the external world. The body is often compared to a chariot, a car that is pulled by the senses, the five senses here meaning the five horses. And these horses are white, which here represents purity. Because when Krishna is the charioteer of that body, sense and the mind complex, Arjuna here represents the individual consciousness. So the individual consciousness is driven by universal consciousness, in the chariot of the body with the five horses for the senses. So this is the image that we get here.

And then the blowing of the conches commences. So here we hear the description of how Krishna blew his conch, Arjuna and all the other warriors. And these can be said to represent the transcendental sounds that are present in very deep states of meditation. Krishna’s conch is called panchajanya, and this represents the control over the five elements. And the sound of that divine conch is none other than the sound of Om, which is the substrate or the primal sound from which all other sounds evolve. 

There are different descriptions of these Generals of the army, and from here I will just pick Yudhishthira. Yudhishthira is the oldest of the five brothers who are fighting the righteous cause against the enemy army. And he represents goodness, an accomplished person who is so good in character that he was actually tricked out of his kingdom by the evil Duryodhana in a game of dice, that’s how the whole war began in the first place. And then there is Bhima. And Bhima literally means terrible, terrible deeds. The doer of terrible deeds he is called here. And again, this goes back to the story of the Mahabharata where Bhima is this incredibly strong person. By the way, in many of these Indian epics you can see the seeds of the idea of a superhero and the whole superhero culture. And so he, from one point he represents that indomitable power, he was born to the wind God, indomitable power of the assertiveness of the spiritual search, one that does not stop before anything, destroys any demon, pushes through any kind of difficulty. And there were many attempts on his life, he always emerged victorious. So here we have this description of these glorious heroes who are each blowing their conches and making all the other war sounds. And in the last of these verses, in verse 19 it’s said that this tumultuous sound rent the hearts of Dhritarashtra’s party, making both the heaven and the earth resound. So we heard that horrible sound from the other party first. But when the spirit awakens, and it starts making the sound of war against those evil tendencies, then their existence is threatened. Because ultimately existence of everything is based on the reality of the soul. And it is one big part of the spiritual search to realise that that is the only reality and everything that appears to be different is just that, an appearance.

6 January | Verses 20-23

We are slowly coming to the point where the introductory activity and linear evolution of a story comes to a halt. From this point onwards, the events of the impending war stop, and what will follow is a vertical journey into personal and transpersonal psychology, philosophy, and the innermost realms of the individual and cosmic soul.

Let us recapitulate a little bit as to what has been happening until now. We are being introduced into the starting point for the Gita. If the Mahabharata war or story is imagined as a horizontal event flowing in one direction, then the Gita is where the time stops, and there is a vertical journey into the depths of one’s consciousness. And we have been given the descriptions of the two opposing armies. One is vast, has a lot of powerful personalities, but is also in disarray. They are fighting for all the wrong reasons. On the other hand, we have the righteous side, represented by the Pandava brothers. The king Pandu is called the white king, as in he represents purity. And the offspring of purity, are all the good qualities. Like Arjuna representing self-control and discipline. His brother Bhima, indomitable power of prana. Yudhishthira, righteousness, and so on. And now we are coming to that point where the time will stop.

So after this tumultuous sound that both armies were making to intimidate each other, seeing the people of Dhritarashtra’s party standing arrayed, and the discharge of weapons about to begin. Arjuna, the son of Pandu, whose ensign was a monkey, took up his bow and said the following to Krishna: In the middle between the two armies place my chariot, O Krishna, so that I may behold those who stand here desirous to fight. And so that I know with whom I must fight when the battle is about commence. For I desire to observe those who are assembled here to fight, wishing to please in battle the evil-minded Duryodhana. 

So here, the images of two armies preparing to fight, and one of the main Generals of one of the armies asks his charioteer to be placed between them. By itself, that is already quite an unusual thing to do, because it’s in shooting range. But Arjuna, here we can see that he’s eager to start, he’s eager to fight, and all he wants to do is to see as to how this is even happening. Who are the people who are joining this selfish cause of Duryodhana. And we’ll learn about that tomorrow. 

Here are several things are said, such as the monkey ensign. And so Arjuna has a chariot, and it has a flag that features a monkey on it. And there are two different reasons for this. As we said yesterday, the whole complex of the chariot, the horses, the person who is the passenger, and the driver, that representing the combination of the body, the senses, the mind and the spirit. And it is often said that the mind, the untrained mind, is like the mind of the monkey. Because it jumps from place to place at all times, and is very difficult to train, is very difficult to control. In fact, there’s an evolution of that image, as a drunken monkey bitten by a scorpion. That is when you realise just how much the mind is disobedient. Then the monkey is a symbol of that. 

And Arjuna is, on one hand a very accomplished person. He is accomplished with everything that a person of his stature could have accomplished. But as a spiritual seeker, he is also very much evolved. But he has not reached the final stage. And this is the kind of person that the Gita is for. Most people in the world don’t even begin the spiritual search. There are some who do. But they don’t have the guidance, and so they go from one place to the next. And then there are those who have reached the end of the journey. They are very few, if any, existing today in the world. But it is only someone who has the will, the desire, and the awareness that, ok, I can improve, I can grow in life. But the guidance is then necessary, and this is the state that Arjuna is in. The guidance he is about to get from Krishna is in the way of transmission. And so this monkey is symbolic of this unfinished job that needs to be done. 

It has also a different meaning in one of the stories in the Mahabharata. The Pandavas met Hanuman. Hanuman the monkey God, who is the great superhero of the Ramayana. And he is also the incarnation of Lord Shiva. And he blessed them, that if you carry my emblem, then I will protect you in this fight. And Hanuman represents the indomitable power of devotion and self-surrender. And people who are endowed with these qualities, they can achieve very great things because they are not limited by the smallness of the ego. So here we have the finish. Krishna as the charioteer of Arjuna has taken the chariot between the two armies. And what comes next, we’ll learn tomorrow.

7 and 8 January | Verses 24 to 31

A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Spiritual life is certainly not an instant affair – and to begin the search in all earnest, a disruption of some sort has to come into the seeker’s life. Something that will make one question one’s own beliefs and ideas, however deeply ingrained.

Arjuna, being extremely advanced in yoga, is ready for the final step – and Krishna has accordingly put him in the most difficult situation imaginable…

Before we begin the chanting of the verses, let’s reflect for a few moments on the motivation, on the point of life that brought us to seek something deeper, that brought us to spiritual life in any form. Yoga, meditation or otherwise. What was that original reason? For many people, if not all, this is some kind of crisis in life. Dissatisfaction with where we are, and what we do, and how we do it. And this can be quite intense or mild, physical or mental. Try to recall what was that inspiration in your own case.

Discussion verses 24-27

Sanjaya said: Thus addressed by Arjuna – who, as we remember from last time, requested Krishna to place the chariot between the two armies – having stationed that best of chariots, O Dhritarashtra, in the midst of the two armies. In front of Bhishma and Drona and all the rulers of the earth said: O Arjuna, behold these Kurus gathered together. Then Arjuna saw there in these armies stationed fathers and grandfathers, teachers, maternal uncles, brothers, sons, grandsons, and friends, too. He saw fathers-in-law and friends also in both the armies. And Arjuna, seeing all these kinsman thus standing arrayed, spoke this, sorrowfully, filled with deep pity. 

So what Arjuna spoke, we will learn in a moment. But here we come to a very important moment, if not the most important moment, in the life of every spiritual seeker. It is the moment when we have to confront our greatest fears. Our deepest apprehensions, limitations. And it is also where the real spiritual search will start. Now just to understand who we are dealing with here, namely Arjuna and Krishna. Arjuna wasn’t just a very skilled warrior. He was a very accomplished yogi. He wasn’t a beginner disciple. So really this is a story of a very qualified disciple who is being given the ultimate guidance from the most qualified Guru there ever was. Yet we see that even in the life of such an accomplished seeker, there can be rejection and fear and depression. 

How do we know that Arjuna was such a qualified disciple? Here he is addressed not as Arjuna, but guda kesha. And guda kesha means the person who has conquered sleep. Now perhaps you have read in various books on yoga that this is an ideal of a yogi. That an accomplished yogi essentially never sleeps, because even during sleep awareness continues and meditation therefore replaces sleep completely and the person does not really need to sleep. So this is achieved through many, many lifetimes of dedicated practise until a person can reach this kind of level. And Krishna is addressed as Hrishikesha, which means the Lord of the senses. And we will talk about the concept that I’d like to mention here in a few further points in the Gita. 

In the Shaivite tradition, there is a concept of Pashupati, meaning the master of the animal. That is the epithet given to Lord Shiva. And pashu means the lower animal nature. Which is where the mind is driven by the senses. The senses are directed outwards to be attracted to the sense objects, and the uncontrolled mind is unable to rein them in. So that is the animal consciousness, the animal state. And pati means master. Master who skilfully and carefully and gradually has developed the control over the senses, just like the master of the actual animal that we’re trying to train. There is no suppression, there is no giving complete freedom. There is a very careful method by which we need to restrain the senses so that we are the master of the animal and not the other way around. So this is Krishna, Hrishikesha. 

And here we also see the action of a Guru. Guru is not someone who just gives us information, is not like a teacher, but rather he or she is a person who will make us realise where we need to, or make us see things that we haven’t seen before about our own lives, and will put us in situations that we need to confront these inner enemies, and also give us techniques and tools and guidance to do that. 

So the guidance will come later from Chapter 2. Right now we see that Krishna positioned the chariot, in verse 25 it says in front of Bhishma and Drona. Now I know these names can be quite a lot. But if you remember Bhisma and Drona, they are both extremely respected personalities on both sides. Bhishma is someone who has lived a life of absolute purity all his life, so much so that he was granted the boon of being able to choose his own time of death, so he was essentially immortal, even though he dies in this war. And Drona was the acclaimed Guru and teacher of all of both sides. So Krishna placed the chariot right there where Arjuna could see exactly these people, and all the people he was familiar with. You will remember from previous verses that Arjuna was all gung-ho into the war just until this point, talking about the enemy army as the enemy that needs to be fought. And now he’s realising that actually he will have to try to kill or wound people who he holds very, very dear. 

Now this is an analogy that every sincere seeker will come across eventually in their life, because the ego will cooperate with our spiritual efforts only so far as it doesn’t feel threatened, that the identity that is formed around the sense of ‘I’ is not threatened. The various habits, the various identifications and attachments and so on. As soon as we realise that they are actually limitations to be overcome and not something that is helping us in life, there is great fear, and there is every possibility that that the seeker will abandon the search, and abandon the spiritual path. This is also the case even in an advanced yogi like Arjuna. 

Discussion verses 28-31

Arjuna said: Seeing these, my kinsmen, O Krishna, arrayed, eager to fight. My limbs fail, and my mouth is parched. My body quivers and my hair stands on end. The bow, my bow gandiva, slips from my hand. And also my skins burns all over. I am unable even to stand, and my mind is reeling, as it were. And I see adverse omens, O Krishna. I do not see any good in killing my kinsmen in battle. 

So here we see that the crisis that Arjuna is going through is of a very tough kind. People come to spiritual life for various reasons. Some people come for yoga because they have a bad back, some people because they have existential problems. Some people are going through very difficult crisis and that brings them to the search, the inner search. So what could be more terrible than the realisation that one has to kill his own family and friends. So Arjuna is put in the ultimate predicament here, quite unimaginable. And so, even in spite of his accomplishment, and his glorious life and his training and his practice, he is now in a state of complete depression. There was a description of complete paralysis, the bow slips from the hand, there is inability to move and so on. And as soon as this realisation has come over Arjuna, it took over completely his intellect. And this is what happens when we get into the state of depression of any sort. The clarity is gone, the connection with our intellectual faculties is gone. And we may have all kinds of beliefs and ideas about life, and all of this is now tainted, coloured, confused, in a state of depression. 

And then everything starts working in a different way. Even the intellect, even the memory, and everything. In the last verse, Arjuna says that I see bad omens. And what could they be? The science of omens is still alive very much in India. But the importance that they are given or their interpretation will depend on the person’s level of awareness, and right now Arjuna is not able to have proper perception, and so any omens that he’s seen, they are all possibly the opposites of what is about to happen, because ultimately Arjuna’s side will win the war. So what could these omens be? And we will see further on how all the entire life philosophy of Arjuna will be now put on its head. And Krishna will then have to do quite some work on him to get him out of this state. 

Let us now reflect on what we heard. And perhaps any events in our life where there was a realisation that the various helpful things that you considered helpful in life are actually not helpful for spiritual progress. In material life, we are driven by greed and anger and all of these things, they are very much present there. Or jealousy. And they can be seen as motivators for people to do actions. Even envy can be a motivator. We envy someone something, then we also try to acquire it. But when we come to the realisation that all of these are obstacles that we need to overcome, then we will see that large parts of our personality that we have identified with and that we held dear, need to be abandoned, need to be changed.

9 January | Verses 32 and 33

We will be learning a lot about the overarching role of desire as the single most detrimental factor limiting our spiritual progress – although its force can be used constructively, too. Today, we hear about the crisis one experiences upon realising that all one’s joy has been dependent on external, perishable sources of happiness, which on top of that are about to be transformed in a major way.

I do not desire victory, O Krishna, nor kingdom, nor pleasures. Of what avail is dominion to us, or pleasures, or even life? Those for whose sake we desire kingdoms, enjoyments, and pleasures, stand here in battle, having renounced life and wealth. 

This is the continuation of Arjuna’s first-hand experience after Krishna has placed the chariot between the two armies. And let’s remember that originally, Arjuna was eager to start the battle. Referring to the Kaurava side as enemies to be conquered. And now he’s feeling dejected because he’s realising that on the other side, there are so many familiar and beloved people that he has respected and who have helped him in life, including his archery teacher. Arjuna is known as the greatest archer of his time. But he owes that skill to Drona, who is on the other side of the army. 

And of course, here we look at the symbolic meaning of this. When we start spiritual life, or when we start reflecting on the various teachings, and we are at a certain stage where we are eager to follow that path because we connect with those teachings. We understand that yes, this is good for me, the results of this process will be good for me. And so we are eager to start the battle, the spiritual battle. And then we get various experiences. These are related to the symptoms or effects of spiritual life. Swami Sivananda says that how to assess that we are continuing, or that we are progressing in spiritual life, it is by lessening desires. That when my desires for the enjoyment of material wealth are lessened, that means that I am progressing on the path. 

But for this, one is to have a very strong philosophy in life, so that the joy that used to be taken from the sense enjoyments, it’s not just cut off and not replaced with anything else, because this is the danger, that one becomes a kind of dry, joyless person if this is not taken care of properly. This is why great synthesis of yogic techniques and systems is necessary, so that we can derive the higher kind of joy that is not based on sensory experiences from our lifestyle, and not dependent on any people and things and places. And this actually comes with a lot of fear, because that’s all we know. So in our previous life, in our current life, when we think of what makes us happy, it is generally connected with some kind of external perishable things. And when we realise, either through deep meditation or when the various practices that we do start having their effects on us, when we realise that we need to really overcome our attachment to those things or that they are not giving us that joy anymore, then there is great fear.

And this sentiment has been described here by Arjuna, in a way that is related with what is happening on the battlefield. But this is the sentiment that, ‘What is the point of lessening desires, if that makes us not happy?’ And we don’t have the concept of that which lies ahead. Swami Satyananda used to talk about this as a stage where we have left the one bank of the river, or one shore, and we haven’t reached the other one yet. So there is a kind of vacuum that needs to be traversed. And a vacuum, compared to fullness of sensory experiences, is quite a scary thing. 

So let us reflect for a few moments on this sentiment that has been expressed here. And perhaps many of you have had this kind of experience, perhaps not in the battlefield, but certainly in the battlefield of the mind. The need to reassess our relationship with the external world. This is why faith is so important. Faith is the bridge, or the guiding rope, that helps us to stay on the path to continue even when the experience is not there yet. And also reflecting on the fact that the end result, or even the partial milestones of spiritual life, bring a lot of freedom. We need to always look at the positive inspiration, so that we can bear the hardship of the process. 

10 January | Verses 34-37

Many things that help and drive us in material life become obstacles to spiritual life. And even when we know that rationally (Arjuna calls them here “felons”), due to the inexperience of the lasting spiritual joy, we are reluctant to give up material desire as the joy based on the fulfilment of desires is the only joy we know… or so would the ego have us believe.

And today we continue with the Gita, along the lines that we started a few days ago.

Teachers, fathers, sons and also grandfathers. Maternal uncles, fathers-in-law, grandsons, brothers, brothers-in-law, and other relatives. These I do not wish to kill, even if they kill me, O Krishna. Even for the sake of dominion over the free worlds. Leave alone killing them for the sake of the earth. By killing these sons of Dhritarastra, what pleasure can be ours, O Krishna? Only sin will accrue to us from killing these felons. Therefore, we should not kill the sons of Dhritarastra, our relatives. For how can we be happy by killing our own people O Krishna? 

This, as we remember, is the vision that Arjuna gets when he beholds the people who are eager to fight on the enemy side. And we spoke about the most venerated teachers that he saw there in the army. But also there were familiar links, familial links. Sons, grandfathers, maternal uncles, and so on. And the sentiment here is that when this confusion has come, the normal rational thinking that Arjuna would have had, which would be in line with his dharma as a warrior, is now overtaken by a completely different kind of rationalising. And so first there is this recognition that these are family members and therefore how can I possibly fight them? 

And we skip the verse 35 for now, but in verse 36 he says that “Only sin will accrue to us from killing these felons.” So even this refers to Arjuna’s quite extensive knowledge of the various scriptures. He was not just a skilled archer; he was also a very educated person. And we know even from the Raja Yoga Sutras one of the yamas is ahimsa, or nonviolence. So how can we engage in this violence against our own people, that would be simple and that would be deleterious to us. 

Now verses 35 and 37, they both indicate this horrifying realisation that all those things, all those parts of our identity – this is now on the symbolic level – that all these parts of our identity that we had thought of as who we are, they are now being threatened. This is the ego holding on to the various experiences. And this comes in the life of every devotee, every aspirant, even as advanced as Arjuna, because the spiritual experiences will only come when these mundane attachments are all, not necessarily severed, but in a way they have to be let go of. Not necessarily, we don’t need to let go of things that we do, we will see this much later in the Gita also, but our attachment to them has to go, for us to have the higher experience and so we don’t have it yet. 

The only experience we have is of those material pleasures and joys, and also sorrows, but even those we know, and so we can be, and often are attached to them too, rather than the unknown and possibly bland, it seems part of spiritual experiences. And bland because what is there, always at the beginning, just like the yamas and niyamas, the restraint, modification of behaviour. And intellectually we may know that yes, this is all very good, but then to put it in practise sincerely, then the ego will only cooperate for as long as it is not threatened by having to revise the various parts of the identity that have been acquired in the course of this lifetime, and many others. 

So in verse 35, Arjuna expresses this quite clearly, that these desires, let’s think of these attachments and desires, which I know that by pursuing them I get some kind of reward, or this is what motivates me to live in life. So this is the fear, if these go, what will motivate me, it will be just an empty void. And this fear is quite real. And if it’s not worth even then staying in the world, and I don’t know what will then happen in the spiritual world, so what is the point? Now, whether we can identify any of this as relevant to your own experience or not, let us reflect for a moment on these verses. And whatever learning has been acquired, let that sink in while the awareness is slowly spreading into the whole body. The subconscious mind can, and does, do a lot more work once the seed has been planted.

11 January | Verses 38 and 39

When governed by the wisdom and luminosity of the inner Self, the intellect becomes a powerful tool for masterfully conducting the entire personality in the best possible way. At a time of confusion, anxiety and fear, however, its rationalising capabilities will be used in all manner of ways only to protect the precious “family” (strong attachments) of the ego.

And before we begin our verses for today, let us remember what has happened most recently. After Arjuna’s request that Krishna puts the chariot between the two armies. Arjuna saw the various venerated teachers and family members, preceptors, fathers, brothers-in-law, and so on. Now, apart from the external aspects of this situation, we can also see this as a very advanced stage of spiritual inquiry or meditation, where the practitioner is confronted with the innermost identifications of the ego. And the realisation that they are still part of the ego, the barrier between the individual and the cosmic consciousness. And they are familiar to us. We know what they are. The ego always does actions to repeat, to increase its own identifications, and so these are like family to us. 

Whereas we don’t really know what lies beyond, what’s in the transcendental dimension. And so the fear comes over. And there is also the aspect of transcending the three qualities, the gunas that we will talk about and hear about a lot more later on. The idea that we need to transcend even the concept of good and bad, goodness itself, in order to attain final liberation. And this is also, this has the aspect of wisdom. We need to abandon all the beliefs that we have had. And about that, we will hear today in verses 38 and 39. 

Even though they, with intelligence overpowered by greed, see no evil in the destruction of families, and no sin in hostility to friends, why should not we, who clearly see evil in the destruction of families, turn away from this sin, O Krishna. 

So here the aspirant, who may have been well qualified to achieve very important achievements in spiritual life, is now confronting the innermost last barriers to taking the last step. The intellect which is not fully merged or fully aware of the luminosity of the self is generally, in the case of an advanced yogi, or in the case of any person who really is able to take that light no matter how dim, and guide us in material life. But when there is confusion, then the intellect turns the other way, and it becomes subservient to the influences of that confused mind. 

And this is what we see in Arjuna right now. That he completely forgot why he is there. Who he is. What is the situation. What is the reason why the fight is going on. Like an analogy, in spiritual life we can be all gung-ho, doing our practise, our meditation, and then some experience comes from within that we don’t like. And all of a sudden all of that drive is also gone, and the clarity and the purpose of the goal is also gone. So this is where we need really the guidance. In Arjuna’s case, he was lucky, he had the guidance of God himself Incarnate. 

But even in the absence of having a physical Guru, we can always have the guidelines of a system that we know is the system that is right for us, and that we can follow systematically and progressively until we reach the goal. And that will help us to stay focused and with the faith that the practices and the lifestyles will help us evolve. Then we can go through the little dips and the highs also, and stay consistent on the path.

So, even though we have said that Arjuna is this very advanced disciple, this doesn’t mean that the Gita is only applicable to people like him. We will see later on when the teaching starts that this is applicable to everyone. But it’s also important to understand because there is one theme that will come later on, that the personal effort that we can make only can take us so far. And beyond a certain point, we need a higher kind of help, which Arjuna is now getting into the situation where this is possible to happen. 

So let us reflect for a few moments on these two verses. And also reflecting on how reasoning can be used both to justify courage, and also cowardice, depending on whether we feel that we’re going to prosper or suffer. There are so many situations like that. Intellect can be used in both ways. And there is always the need to focus it on things that make it clear and strong.

12 January | Verses 40-42

When the ego is being threatened, it will use the unenlightened intellect as a shield, with an ability to quote respectable sources and otherwise appearing reasonable, hiding weakness behind virtue. Given Arjuna’s actual predicament, though, is his reaction all that surprising?

Remembering our current stage of the Gita readings. We have witnessed the change of heart of Arjuna as he observes the opposing army. And with his intellect previously well-functioning and about to be engaged in the process of the war, is now backtracking. Is now finding various excuses not to follow the prescribed duty and expectation. And along these lines, we will today chant and talk about verses 40, 41 and 42. 

In the destruction of a family, the immemorial religious rites of that family perish. And on the destruction of spirituality in that way, impiety indeed overcomes the whole family. By the prevalence of impiety, O Krishna, the women of the family become corrupt. And women being corrupted, O Krishna, there arises intermingling of castes. Confusion of castes leads to the slayer of the family to hell. For their forefathers fall, deprived of the offerings of rice ball and water. 

So here we have, in a few verses, a progression that Arjuna has been experiencing from that first experience of shock, having seen the enemy army arrayed, containing so many family members. And that is the key here, so many family members also. Because it’s obvious to anyone that any soldier, whether they are regarded as friends or family or enemy, they are somebody’s family. So before, Arjuna was not really concerned with destroying the families of those enemy soldiers. But now that the ‘I’ comes in, ‘Oh but this is my family.’ Then all these thoughts start coming up. 

And arjuna is here quoting various principles of how the society should be governed, how the society should continue. And he’s not wrong about any of these things, and we will see Krishna also acknowledging that. That this is just a limited field of vision, rather than complete delusion. But this is an example of how the distressed intellect will try to find any kind of justification for the preservation of our ingrained beliefs. 

And so here, Arjuna appeals to an age-old custom or belief, which I’m sure is still present in some way or another quite widely, that the worship of, or paying tribute, homage to the ancestors is a way to strengthen and keep the family together. And if the family is destroyed, then also these ancient traditions will also perish, and the whole system will collapse. Now what happens also in every war is that women and children are left behind, and the whole society has to then reform because all of the old family structures and so on are gone. 

Now when it comes to the castes, these can be simply thought of as different duties which pertain to the way that society is run, whether castes are an official kind of arrangement, like they are in some places, or they’re not, they are a reality in the sense that every kind of person has their own type of work where they will excel the best. And this is then, rather than focusing on the individual being here, when we think of society as a whole, we all have certain roles to fulfil. And an event like this, like a terrible war where all these structures are destroyed, then this also becomes all confused and there will be a downfall of that society. 

So here Arjuna is reasoning with Krishna. After saying that ‘My bow is slipping out of my hands, and I don’t know what to do.’ It’s a giving up, and now the reasoning for giving up is being given. But we also talk about the symbolic meaning of these verses in the first chapter. And in that regard, this is really when the innermost layers of the ego are being threatened. There is an existential fear, because the ego really, as a source of identification, is not really a reality. The sense of ‘I’, the pure sense of ‘I am’, that is at the core of that ahamkara or the ego principle. But ‘I am this’ and ‘I am that’, those are the gradual coverings or identifications that we absorb, and make part of our reality since the time we are born. So it is not real, and at the core, probably it knows it’s not real. So when we go really deep, then the fear also arises, existential fear that if I destroy this, then what will I be? Rather than being aware, as we will see later on, that this small ‘I’ is really nothing compared to the great ‘I’ of the divine nature that we are trying to discover within ourselves. 

13 January | Verses 43 and 44

The problem with the ego is that to the vast majority of people, its drives, motivations and beliefs determine one’s perception of self, regardless of the fact that the numerous “personalities” that play their part within our consciousness change all the time.

When the core principles (“family”) that form the basis of our self-identification are about to be transformed, how could there not be fear (of the unknown)?

And gradually also remembering our current stage of the Gita reading. We have seen the great hero Arjuna have a change of heart upon realising that the people he’s about to fight belong to his near and dear ones – well many of them do. And after the initial shock, there is now the process of rationalising as to why the duty originally assumed, and even being enthusiastic about it, is now to be abandoned. And Arjuna is giving Krishna reasons that are to do with common knowledge about society, both universal we could say, and also particular ones at this time. So today the verses are 43 and 44.

We have said yesterday that the war, or the effects of the war, some of them, Arjuna perceives as deleterious, because of the of the confusion of the castes that the society is composed of. So verse 42: 

Confusion of castes leads to hell the slayers of the families, for their forefathers fall. Deprived of the offerings of rice ball and water. (That was yesterday.) By these evil deeds of the destroyers of the family, which cause confusion of castes, the eternal religious rites of the caste and the family are destroyed. We have heard, O Krishna, that inevitable is the dwelling for an unknown period in hell for those people in whose families the religious practices have been destroyed. 

Here, Arjuna appeals to wisdom that is quite easy to understand for all of us. The tragedies of war are all too easy to identify, and of course, there should be the effort to prevent any such suffering at any cost. And as we know, as we have heard previously, before the Bhagavad Gita starts, there was a lot of effort on the part of Krishna to stop this war. But since the war is now taking place and it has become inevitable, this is now a matter of the motivation behind the war. And it was clear to Arjuna in the beginning that theirs was the right cause. And that the Kaurava side, they were on the wrong side of history. 

But all of this was only apparent and intellectually, rationally clear, until this strong sense of personal attachment came over Arjuna. And so now he’s pointing out that whenever there is a war, there is the destruction of the culture, of the customs. And things that have been kept alive for thousands of years abruptly come to an end. And this is true for any war, including the ones for today. And so Arjuna’s logic here seems almost unassailable. We could almost think, well what is Krishna now going to do? How is this going to be justified when Arjuna is so right about these things? 

And also the mixing of the castes, this is something that, when we think of the ideas behind the caste system, which is simply an effort to arrange society based on the abilities and needs of different types of people. When it all works fine, then the society as a whole also works OK. It’s like an ant colony, where every part of the colony has their own allotted space, and as long as the ego does not rise its head, well of course in the ant colony it won’t, but in the human society, there is always that conflict between individual freedom and being part of a greater whole, where everyone needs to fulfil a certain function for the whole to function as such. 

So when the awareness of these castes is broken, then we have very much the state of the world that we see today, where people with the wrong skillsets are either forced or inspired to do things that are not in line with their dharma. And that there is confusion, there is discord. It’s like, we could almost say that the merchant caste is now the ruling elite in the world, and what ensues is greed and lack of consideration, because this is not part of the mindset of someone whose dharma is to do trade. And so we see that these worries are quite reasonable, that Arjuna is now mentioning to Krishna. 

However, we also know that these stories also have a symbolical meaning, and we have spoken previously, yesterday and before, about the role of desire in inspiring us to do anything in life really. And this existential crisis that Arjuna is going through could be likened to the state where there is the realisation that all of which has driven me until now, if that is cut off, if that is destroyed, then will I not be just a dreary empty husk of a person? There is no joy that I can expect from cutting away the things that I have been used to, that are giving me joy and pleasure. And so this is the realisation of a seeker who needs to get into that unknown space, the void, as it were, where the old identifications don’t hold true anymore, and there is no knowledge of what’s on the other side. 

So let us reflect for a few moments on meaning of these two verses. And also remembering just how tricky the ego can be. Inspiring us one moment, and giving us a lot of fear and apprehension the next moment. Especially when it comes to spiritual life. The inspiration to transcend is there, until the actual act of transcending the lower natures comes about. Then the old personality will fight nail and tooth, because its very existence is threatened by the actual reality that is being awakened and connected with.

Chapter 2: Sankhya Yoga

14 and 15 January | Verses 1:45-47 and 2:1-3

Today we end the first chapter with the vision of a severely distraught seeker – Arjuna – and his ever-calm and composed master, Krishna, giving him the first round of support and thus commencing the teachings of the Gita.

Today we are completing the first chapter of the Gita, and also starting the second. So we’ll do 3 and 3 verses separately.

Discussion verse 1:45-47

Alas! We are involved in a great sin, in that we are prepared to kill our kinsmen, through greed for the pleasures of a kingdom. If the sons of Dhritarashtra, with weapons in hand, should slay me in battle, unresisting and unarmed, that would be better for me. Sanjaya said: Having thus spoken in the midst of the battlefield, Arjuna, casting away his bow and arrow, sat down on the seat of the chariot, with his mind overwhelmed with sorrow.

So with these verses ends the chapter called ‘The Yoga of the Despondency of Arjuna.’ Now we see from the name of that chapter that this despondency is not just some kind of introduction to be skipped. Hopefully by now we have seen that reflecting on these verses, even though outwardly they may sound not that relevant just by the look of it. But it provides a very important insight into the various crises that we come across in life in general and spiritual life in particular. 

And, so here Arjuna has gone through a very quick process which Krishna as the charioteer could observe in real time as he of course masterfully drove the chariot exactly to the place where it needed to be. So when we remember when Arjuna requested Krishna to bring the chariot in between the armies, it was with a, almost a swagger we could say. Because Arjuna and many people on his side were the most respected, most feared warriors of their time. And so the attitude was, ‘Well this is the enemy, let me have a look. Who has chosen to fight us? Why would they do such a thing?’ 

And then in a very short span of time, Krishna could see Arjuna go from that attitude to a complete dilapidation. And saying that, well I can’t do this. I can barely stand, let alone hold my bow or fight. It’s better that I die. That is the attitude here. And we shall see the first response; the whole of the Gita will be a series of tackling this original state of despondency from every possible angle that there is, showing us that even if the crisis in life is at its extreme, and this is really understanding, or even just, this is what the external descriptions in the first chapter are very good for, that we can really understand the predicament, the actual predicament of Arjuna on the battlefield. And thinking that, well, if the Gita contains a method to overcome even that kind of predicament, then what of my normal daily life predicaments, surely there will be ways to overcome this much more easily. 

And so this is the note that the chapter ends on, and we can also see often in our own lives that the start of a spiritual journey is a state of crisis, of some kind of deep dissatisfaction. So this is also one way to approach what we have heard just now. It’s not just this crisis at the threshold, or the threshold towards the end of spiritual life of a very advanced practitioner such as Arjuna, but this is also indicative of the fact that when we approach any kind of spiritual practice, this is generally to address some kind of deeper need or crisis that we need to resolve. And Krishna the psychotherapist is now going to give the first attempt to take Arjuna out of this state.

Discussion verse 2:1-3

Sanjaya said: To him who was thus overcome with pity, and who was despondent, with eyes full of tears and agitated, Krishna spoke these words. The Blessed Lord said: ‘From where is this perilous strait coming upon you, this dejection, which is unworthy of you, disgraceful, and which will close the gates of heaven upon you, O Arjuna? Yield not to impotence, O Arjuna, son of Prita! (sp?) It does not befit you. Cast off this mean weakness of the heart! Stand up, O scorcher of the foes!

So, here we have the first response by Krishna. From here onwards, we still have a little bit more Arjuna here, but from the second chapter, the teachings of the Gita begin. And in the beginning of the second chapter, Krishna will put various types of arguments before Arjuna, to understand that no matter what point of view, you can look at this situation that is now happening other than the ego-centred attachments that Arjuna has just experienced. Who will come to the conclusion that all of this that we have been saying may sound right, but actually is completely wrong given the situation. 

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here, various names have been used. Krishna is now of course going to become Arjuna’s teacher. Already that relationship has been dormant there, but now it is going to become apparent and official, so to speak. And the names that are used here, Krishna addresses Arjuna as Prita, and this refers to the fact that they have a familial connection between Krishna’s family and Arjuna’s family. So this is an intimate kind of address that is used to boost the spirit and develop a close connection. But then in the same verse, he also reminds him that you are the great hero. 

Now, just to understand, we won’t go into much detail into the stories of the Mahabharata, but Arjuna has acquired great fame by his prowess as a warrior, killed many demons. He even fought with Lord Shiva in disguise, who then gave him a bow as a token of his valour. So he had this kind of reputation, and yet here he was in the chariot, cowering and dropping the bow and crying. So, the very first step Krishna takes is to remind him: remember what you were just a minute ago, before we drove this chariot here. And this is this kind of attitude that he had developed is based on false premises. And you are not that. 

Here I’ll just touch up on, before we end for the day, on the one of the philosophies, one of the main pillars of the philosophy that the Gita is comprised of, and this is called Vedanta, in which the main principle is that there is only one reality that exists, that transcends space, time and causation. And this is known as Brahman. And the existence of anything else, any kind of form, material existence is basically known in the wrong light as having its independent existence, whereas actually the existence is dependent on Brahman, and not the other way around. Therefore only Brahman exists, everything else is Maya, or something that is not really there by itself. And one of the first practices so to speak, in that tradition is the remembrance that ‘I am That’: I am not this body, not this sensory experiences, not the desires of the mind, and so on and so forth. But I am this reality, and then the goal of life becomes to experience this. To have the experience of this, to see the unity behind diversity. So that is the jolt, so to speak, that you are ‘that’, that you are not any of this nonsense that you have been just saying. 

So let us reflect for a few moments upon the stage of evolution, of our journey into the Gita. Just quickly revising, remembering the setting. Two great armies full of warriors that are famous for their skill, ready to start the war. And in between them, a single chariot, with a confused disciple. Who has not yet become a disciple, but he was being pushed by circumstances, good ones, we will see at the end. Right now the starting point is a complete dejection. Yet who better treat that dejection than God Himself, and that is the incarnation of Krishna, who is steering Arjuna’s chariot.Chapter 2: Sankhya Yoga (pt.1)

14 and 15 January | Verses 1:45-47 and 2:1-3

Today we end the first chapter with the vision of a severely distraught seeker – Arjuna – and his ever-calm and composed master, Krishna, giving him the first round of support and thus commencing the teachings of the Gita.

Today we are completing the first chapter of the Gita, and also starting the second. So we’ll do 3 and 3 verses separately.

Discussion verse 1:45-47

Alas! We are involved in a great sin, in that we are prepared to kill our kinsmen, through greed for the pleasures of a kingdom. If the sons of Dhritarashtra, with weapons in hand, should slay me in battle, unresisting and unarmed, that would be better for me. Sanjaya said: Having thus spoken in the midst of the battlefield, Arjuna, casting away his bow and arrow, sat down on the seat of the chariot, with his mind overwhelmed with sorrow.

So with these verses ends the chapter called ‘The Yoga of the Despondency of Arjuna.’ Now we see from the name of that chapter that this despondency is not just some kind of introduction to be skipped. Hopefully by now we have seen that reflecting on these verses, even though outwardly they may sound not that relevant just by the look of it. But it provides a very important insight into the various crises that we come across in life in general and spiritual life in particular. 

And, so here Arjuna has gone through a very quick process which Krishna as the charioteer could observe in real time as he of course masterfully drove the chariot exactly to the place where it needed to be. So when we remember when Arjuna requested Krishna to bring the chariot in between the armies, it was with a, almost a swagger we could say. Because Arjuna and many people on his side were the most respected, most feared warriors of their time. And so the attitude was, ‘Well this is the enemy, let me have a look. Who has chosen to fight us? Why would they do such a thing?’ 

And then in a very short span of time, Krishna could see Arjuna go from that attitude to a complete dilapidation. And saying that, well I can’t do this. I can barely stand, let alone hold my bow or fight. It’s better that I die. That is the attitude here. And we shall see the first response; the whole of the Gita will be a series of tackling this original state of despondency from every possible angle that there is, showing us that even if the crisis in life is at its extreme, and this is really understanding, or even just, this is what the external descriptions in the first chapter are very good for, that we can really understand the predicament, the actual predicament of Arjuna on the battlefield. And thinking that, well, if the Gita contains a method to overcome even that kind of predicament, then what of my normal daily life predicaments, surely there will be ways to overcome this much more easily. 

And so this is the note that the chapter ends on, and we can also see often in our own lives that the start of a spiritual journey is a state of crisis, of some kind of deep dissatisfaction. So this is also one way to approach what we have heard just now. It’s not just this crisis at the threshold, or the threshold towards the end of spiritual life of a very advanced practitioner such as Arjuna, but this is also indicative of the fact that when we approach any kind of spiritual practice, this is generally to address some kind of deeper need or crisis that we need to resolve. And Krishna the psychotherapist is now going to give the first attempt to take Arjuna out of this state.

Discussion verse 2:1-3

Sanjaya said: To him who was thus overcome with pity, and who was despondent, with eyes full of tears and agitated, Krishna spoke these words. The Blessed Lord said: ‘From where is this perilous strait coming upon you, this dejection, which is unworthy of you, disgraceful, and which will close the gates of heaven upon you, O Arjuna? Yield not to impotence, O Arjuna, son of Prita! (sp?) It does not befit you. Cast off this mean weakness of the heart! Stand up, O scorcher of the foes!

So, here we have the first response by Krishna. From here onwards, we still have a little bit more Arjuna here, but from the second chapter, the teachings of the Gita begin. And in the beginning of the second chapter, Krishna will put various types of arguments before Arjuna, to understand that no matter what point of view, you can look at this situation that is now happening other than the ego-centred attachments that Arjuna has just experienced. Who will come to the conclusion that all of this that we have been saying may sound right, but actually is completely wrong given the situation. 

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here, various names have been used. Krishna is now of course going to become Arjuna’s teacher. Already that relationship has been dormant there, but now it is going to become apparent and official, so to speak. And the names that are used here, Krishna addresses Arjuna as Prita, and this refers to the fact that they have a familial connection between Krishna’s family and Arjuna’s family. So this is an intimate kind of address that is used to boost the spirit and develop a close connection. But then in the same verse, he also reminds him that you are the great hero. 

Now, just to understand, we won’t go into much detail into the stories of the Mahabharata, but Arjuna has acquired great fame by his prowess as a warrior, killed many demons. He even fought with Lord Shiva in disguise, who then gave him a bow as a token of his valour. So he had this kind of reputation, and yet here he was in the chariot, cowering and dropping the bow and crying. So, the very first step Krishna takes is to remind him: remember what you were just a minute ago, before we drove this chariot here. And this is this kind of attitude that he had developed is based on false premises. And you are not that. 

Here I’ll just touch up on, before we end for the day, on the one of the philosophies, one of the main pillars of the philosophy that the Gita is comprised of, and this is called Vedanta, in which the main principle is that there is only one reality that exists, that transcends space, time and causation. And this is known as Brahman. And the existence of anything else, any kind of form, material existence is basically known in the wrong light as having its independent existence, whereas actually the existence is dependent on Brahman, and not the other way around. Therefore only Brahman exists, everything else is Maya, or something that is not really there by itself. And one of the first practices so to speak, in that tradition is the remembrance that ‘I am That’: I am not this body, not this sensory experiences, not the desires of the mind, and so on and so forth. But I am this reality, and then the goal of life becomes to experience this. To have the experience of this, to see the unity behind diversity. So that is the jolt, so to speak, that you are ‘that’, that you are not any of this nonsense that you have been just saying. 

So let us reflect for a few moments upon the stage of evolution, of our journey into the Gita. Just quickly revising, remembering the setting. Two great armies full of warriors that are famous for their skill, ready to start the war. And in between them, a single chariot, with a confused disciple. Who has not yet become a disciple, but he was being pushed by circumstances, good ones, we will see at the end. Right now the starting point is a complete dejection. Yet who better treat that dejection than God Himself, and that is the incarnation of Krishna, who is steering Arjuna’s chariot.

16 January | Verses 4 to 6

Why it is so hard to change our habits and personality traits, even when the light of inner wisdom has shown them to be detrimental?
It is due to the force of attachment that we feel towards what we know, and the fear of losing it – even when reminded that what we eventually gain from such renunciation is far greater than anything experienceable through the senses. Arjuna’s extreme predicament as the first step towards yoga can be interpreted as a sign that a soul that is near-ready for final emancipation can expect to be put through the toughest trials possible…

Let us remember our current position, current stage in the Gita. We have just begun the second chapter, which starts with Krishna admonishing gently Arjuna, reminding him of his greatness as a warrior, his prestige. And questioning this state of depression that is taking hold of Arjuna as the product of erroneous understanding. 

Arjuna said: How, O Krishna, shall I fight in battle with arrows against Bhishma or Drona, who are fit to be worshipped. Better it is indeed, in this world to accept alms, than to slay the most noble teachers. But if I kill them, even in this world, all my enjoyments of wealth and fulfilled desires will be stained with their blood. We can hardly tell which will be better, that we should conquer them, or that they should conquer us. Even the sons of Dhritarashtra, after slaying whom we do not wish to live, stand facing us.

Here, first from the surface, let’s look at the names again that have been mentioned here. These two names, Bhishma and Drona, have been used as just a short representation of the entirety of that other party in terms of Arjuna’s attachment to them. And this is because in the story of the Mahabharata, we see that Bhishma had a very fatherly, was a fatherly figure to Arjuna. A very affectionate relationship was there as a kind of grandfather of the whole family. And Drona was the teacher who taught Arjuna his skill. And not only that, but Drona had his own son also who he was training. But Arjuna got better training than even Drona’s own son. So there was some very, very deep attachment on the part of Arjuna to these two people, and this is precisely why Krishna decided to place the chariot right in front of them, to create a situation where Arjuna will then have to start doubting and questioning everything in life. 

So this is the predicament. Arjuna now realising that the most venerated teachers have to be killed. And this is of course unacceptable for a disciple to kill their own master. And so here Arjuna has completely forgotten even the reasons for the war in the first place. We have heard him say, after realising that he would have to kill his own kith and kin, that the courage that Arjuna was espousing before that is all but gone. And the motive with then completely transformed in his head. Originally the motive is the righteous cause, the righteous reason for the war. And that has been forgotten, and now Arjuna is basically superimposing the motivations of the other party on himself. With the other party, they are fighting for wealth and selfish reasons, not Arjuna. 

So in this confusion, and we often see this in our own life also, when the mind is confused, when there’s some kind of great suffering going on, there is no clarity and even the life’s wisdom that we have accumulated up to that point will confuse us, will not help us at all. Now from the symbolic point of view, Bhishma here represents the force of the ego, the sense that ‘I am’. And that is the most fundamental illusion that every person has about themselves, that ‘I am something or other’. This idea of ‘I am’, we’re not quite born with it, but it develops at a very early stage in life. And so when the fear of spiritual transcendence comes in, and we realise that even this sense of ‘I am’ has to be eliminated, then of course there is fear, in the same way that the air that is inside the bottle and the air that is outside of the bottle are identical, but this is like the bottle being afraid of being shattered for the air to become one again with the surrounding air. 

And Drona represents the force of habit. Which is again, habits that we develop in our life, they are like our teachers, there like our guides, because the mind really only ever operates through force of habit. So what will we be? What will be the nature of our individual existence if the ego and the habits that we are so used to are going to be, have to be transcended, or transformed. And then the sons of Dhritarashtra in verse 6, they then represent the sum total of all that we know, whether good or bad, of all of the sense enjoyments. Pleasure and pain and all the rest of it, the normal experiences of life. They all also have to be transcended. 

So here we have this existential fear. And many masters have been asked about this. And once when Swami Satyananda gave an answer to a question like this, as to what will happen if, when my individual existence is transcended. Will I lose myself? And the answer was that a very tiny fraction is lost, so to speak, but so much more is gained. By this realisation that what I have thought of as myself until now is just a tiny, tiny part of who I really am. But the fear of realising that, the fear of losing our small little space that we are used to, that is a very powerful element in the life of a seeker. And this can come in small doses, even during practice of meditation. As soon as we go a little bit deeper than usual, a fear comes, fear of disconnection from what we know, what we hold on, and what we hold dear. 

Let us now reflect for a few moments. We are slowly coming to the point where the Gita can begin in all earnest. For any teachings to truly take root deep down, there has to be a complete surrender. Complete surrender of the ego, and of all acquired knowledge, at the feet of the master. So that the teachings can come in. As long as we are full of our own ideas, then the guidance can never be truly given.

17 January | Verse 7

A disciple who has realised that they have come to the end of their own efforts and knowledge is ready to surrender to the guidance of a competent guru – which Krishna is about to give aplenty.

And also remembering where we are in the Gita. At the beginning of the second chapter, we had first the interjection by Krishna. But then Arjuna is again explaining his unwillingness to fight. And today is a very important verse. Only one verse for today; verse 7. So let’s see what it says.

My heart is overpowered by the taint of pity; my mind is confused as to duty. I ask you, tell me decisively what is good for me. I am your disciple. Instruct me, who has taken refuge in you.

So, previously, yesterday specifically, Arjuna kept pointing out that even though he’s aware of his duty as a warrior; there is a great deal of confusion or depression on the realisation that these various venerable teachers are in the opposing army and about to be slain. And so to this, the first statement by Arjuna today refers: the heart is overpowered by the taint of pity. And this is a state that is quite relatable. When, as we said previously, one becomes sorry for the things that one thinks one might miss, or that are part of one’s personality and are about to be changed or taken away in some way or other. 

And this is a very overpowering state indeed, which can cloud the wisdom and the reason that has led us on a certain path. And when this kind of reaction comes, like a wave that washes over a shore, washing away anything, all the castles that we might have built in the sand. And so this taint of pity is the first kind of block that prevents that courage of that warrior nature that Arjuna otherwise embodies, to be actualised in this moment. 

No, we come to one of the most important topics that the Gita presents for us to reflect and make part of our life, and this is the concept of duty. Duty like seeing everything that we do in life as a duty to be done is possibly the best method, as we will see shortly in this chapter and beyond, to take the ego out of anything that we do, and in this way become more expansive, less ego-centred. But the concept of duty here presented by Arjuna is mixed with confusion. And this is also the seed of a great journey. Because one’s duty is sometimes quite clear, we have various duties that we have to do; in relation to our own body, we need to keep it healthy and clean and so on, and the space around us. There are various duties that we knowingly or unknowingly do already, and we don’t even think twice about that.

But the whole life taken as a life of duty, that’s a very complex thing. And there can be times and situations when there is a lot of confusion. And so that is the seed for searching, and for finding answers in scriptural study, which is very important. And lucky for us, Gita is one of the texts that are universal, and so we are not discouraged or barred from reading a scripture that even if the Gita does not do that for us and if we accept something as an authority that comes from a higher place than my own mental processes, then I can subjugate, or I can align my mind with that expression of that higher mind, if that’s what the scripture means for me, then that is the one to follow. And this is where this confusion as to duty is the seed of that search.

Then, Arjuna tells Krishna that: tell me decisively what is good for me. And Sanskrit has a lot of words that can be translated as good or goodness. In this one, the word shreyas is used. And that is specifically a word that signifies the spiritual good, the transformative process, that if I get this goodness, if I I know how to reach that, then that will be also the destination of my life. That is the word shreyas, the goodness that comes in the same package as the final goal of life. 

And then he says: I am your disciple. So here, we change the narrative. Because until now, Arjuna was trying to use his logic and his rational justifications. And that then came up against the wall of Krishna’s first answer, saying ‘Oh what are you talking about, you are a warrior, this is not worthy of you. Get out of this state.’ And so now Arjuna is really left without any resources. And that is the point, that is the necessity here. Because if we are to be, if we think of the mind or the personality as a cup to be filled with the divine light of wisdom, then first it needs to be emptied of whatever was there before. And that is the sentiment given here by Arjuna, that I have come to the end of my knowledge, now I surrender, you guide me. And let’s see how that evolves. Reflect on any part of what has been spoken today. The need for guidance even in the case of an advanced disciple like Arjuna. Then what greater need we have also for qualified guidance.

18 January | Verse 8

“What good is being surrounded by wealth and possessions, when the desire for them is no longer there?” When we realise that some of our deepest and longest-held beliefs and most cherished desires are detrimental to our progress and evolution, what will we do?

Arjuna is on the brink of giving up – but then it is only when one reaches a rock bottom that one can spring back up with force…

And let us remember the current scene of the Gita. As we had heard before, we have the external and internal understanding of all these verses. So from the external point of view, Arjuna is seated on the chariot driven by Krishna in the middle of two armies. And has now been reasoning as to why continuing the fight on his part is not what he thinks should be done. And today we have another very revealing verse. 

I do not see that it would remove this sorrow that burns up my senses, even if I should attain prosperous and unrivalled dominion on earth, or Lordship over the Gods.

So after Krishna reacted to Arjuna’s despondency from the first chapter by saying that, ‘Where has this dejection that has come over you come from? Stand up and fight.’ So now Arjuna is responding that he’s now doubting the very reasons for this war. And of course the predicament is that he now believes that he’s destroyed so many members of this family and teachers and so on. But when we look at it from the spiritual point of view, this is actually a very important stage that we need to be aware of as we continue on the spiritual path. And that is the realisation that the objects of pleasure that we have been pursuing in our quest to satisfy the various desires associated with those objects, they don’t actually have any intrinsic value or effect on our inner state of happiness. All of that comes from within ourselves. 

And this is most easily shown when a person is in a state of depression or grief, then no matter what kind of external object or situation or environment that person is put in, there will be very little response in the sense plane to all these otherwise joyful things, because the inner connection is blocked and we are unable to imagine that this or that thing or person or so on will make us happy. 

So this is what Arjuna is now realising. And because what we think makes us happy is all based on our previous conditioning, and the spiritual experiences are hidden or subtle or not very many, or they’re not easy to understand, so we don’t know what else could possibly give us the joy and pleasure of life. So then we start doubting as to well, it is this even worth it? Should I continue on this path of losing interest or losing the drive to pursue desires and pleasures in life. Then will it not just be a dreariness?  And surely this is a fear that is very present, whether we are aware of it or not, because it can be something that prevents people on the mass scale to practise spiritual life. It is considered as something alien to this normal experience of life where all the desires, all the motivators in life are related to the various sensual pursuits. 

And so here we are led to understand right from the beginning, even before Krishna starts explaining these things in detail, that really everything that we believe in life and everything that motivates us is all based on past conditioning, and also on our previous karmas and relationships that we built in life. And the attachment to these things, rather than their actual presence, is what causes us misery and suffering. And we will see that what Arjuna is afraid of, there is actually no reason to be afraid of. And Krishna will show us with that, from many different angles, that this fear of losing any kind of joy or motivation in life is misguided. But this is where we are now. So this is the stage where Arjuna is being prepared to fully surrender to the teachings of Sri Krishna. This will happen very soon.

So let us reflect on what has been heard so far. And how relevant perhaps some of these things are for our own approach and attitude to spiritual life in any form that we may be practising it. Whether it be yoga or meditation or anything else. We need to always ensure that the motivation is positive; that we are aware of the greater good if ever we need to sacrifice anything immediate. And then we’ll avoid such situations as Arjuna is in, even though of course he is in a very difficult predicament right now.

19 January | Verses 9 and 10

The moment of surrender has arrived. The devotee feels, “in spite of all my knowledge and effort made, I am unable to face the innermost obstacles to spiritual progress and evolution.” It is only when one has come to the end of one’s own means that one is able to fully surrender to the instructions of the master.

However, with the starting attitude being a defeatist “I will not fight”, this is not going to be an easy task: we are now starting the first of seventeen different approaches to solving this crisis, and along the way, all other crises an individual can have.

And as we are slowly entering the phase where the Gita begins, where the teachings really begin, let us recap for a few moments this whole scenario that we have experienced, that we have heard, that we have learned about in the beginning. The situation of the war. One side fighting the selfish cause. The other side fighting a righteous cause. In between, a hero, an accomplished warrior, and an advanced sadhaka, practitioner of yoga. Completely dejected, confused. But under the guidance of none other than Krishna, an incarnation of the absolute, of the divine awareness, the divine consciousness. And so he has a guru who is able to now teach him and show him the way out of his despondency. 

And of course, on the symbolic plane, the Pandava side, the righteous side represents all the good tendencies that we’ve inherited from the positive influences in this lifetime and in previous ones. And on the other side, the various negative tendencies, the forces of the ego, which are always there to hamper or prevent the good forces from winning and allowing us to expand and to evolve. 

And more specifically, more currently, we have heard Arjuna reason with Krishna as to why the war should not be fought, and express great fear, or rather, dejection over the realisation that when that which we are attached to is about to be broken, then how can there be happiness? This is the effect of us being bound by the senses to the perishable world, which has a beginning and an end. And which therefore creates the pleasure and pain, sorrow and happiness pendulum that we all swing on. And today we have verses 9 and 10.

Sanjaya said: Having thus spoken to Krishna, Arjuna, the destroyer of foes, said to him: I will not fight, and became silent. To him who was despondent in the midst of the two armies, Krishna, as if smiling, O Bharata, spoke these words.

So the words that are going to be spoken are tomorrow. But here we have the conclusion of the introductory part of the Gita. And we come back to the figure of Sanjaya. Sanjaya, we might remember from the beginning, is the narrator of the Gita. He talks to the, he is the Minister of the blind king Dhritarastra, whose son, one of the sons Duryodhana, is the General of the aggressor army. Just as a little recap. 

Now, there are some words used here in these verses, and you will see that when you do your own study also, that there are many, not synonyms, but there are many names that are used both by Arjuna and by Krishna to address each other. And they carry a lot of meaning. So here Krishna has been addressed as Hrishikesha. And this is a name also used previously, which means the Lord of the senses. And this is the indwelling consciousness which is awakened, and therefore it is the master of the senses, rather than the unawakened consciousness which is pulled by them in all directions because of the untrained mind. 

And so here the emphasis is to see Krishna as the master who is now going to impart the teachings to the disciple. And again Arjuna is here referred to as guda kesah, or the one who has conquered sleep. So again we are reminded that Arjuna is not a beginner disciple, and therefore this kind of learning, this kind of instruction, this kind of guidance is being given because the disciple has reached a stage of preparedness; both the stage of preparedness to receive such instruction, and now has been brought to a situation where he has to surrender completely, because he’s come to the end of his resources. 

So these two are useful, or even important things to remember in our own approach to spiritual life also, that one should strive to become like Arjuna really, rather than try to make ourselves believe that we can just take any guidance out there that attracts us. But we need to be able to surrender to it. And also, we need to do our practices diligently and become ready in terms of also the regulation of lifestyle and all of those other things that we are about to be told in the Gita. But the goal should not be the transcendence itself, as we will see, that is the role then of the of the higher consciousness that needs to do the final step for the aspirant, but the goal of the aspirant should be to be as prepared as possible. So like the conquering of the sleep indicates.

However, the surrender is not complete, we see from verse 9, because Arjuna says “I will not fight.” He just sits there in the chariot; the bow is down on the floor. And that’s when he stops talking. So he is not yet fully surrendered. But he has emptied his own his own mind sufficiently for Krishna to be able to give the teachings. Until now it was this outflow from Arjuna’s mouth. And Krishna then started speaking, and it says here ‘as if smiling.’ And this is because, this is to indicate the gentle attitude that the guiding force has, as embodied by Krishna, to this devotee who even though he said, “I will not fight”, so it could have just been left at that: “Well, I told you should. You don’t want to. Well, off you go.” But now, because Krishna knows that all that is needed to get Arjuna back on track is to remove his sorrow, his doubt. And because of being such a deserving disciple, he’s going to get all of that and a lot more. 

So let us reflect on this for a few moments. The need for regular meditation to keep the mind strong, relaxed, reduce the need for sleep, among other things. Asana, pranayama. But also the adjustments of the inner behaviours of the mind. Keeping the thinking constructive and positive. And improving the relationships in our environment to reduce any friction and discord. And all of this together will then prepare the ground.

20 January | Verse 11

Now that Arjuna has finally stopped taking and reasoning about the incomprehensible, Krishna is able to guide him – us – on the path towards freedom. How much we are able to imbibe and apply remains to be seen; Krishna’s first advice to us is to stop grieving over that which is not worth all the mental energy thus spent, by virtue of being “dead”, useless, or unnecessary.

Remembering the stage where we are in the Gita. So, Arjuna has recently almost surrendered. He says, “Tell me decisively what is good for me. You are my teacher; I am your disciple. I don’t know what to do.” But he also says, “I will not fight.” However, the last words of the verse from yesterday is that he became silent. And this now allows Krishna to interject and to start giving us the teachings. And he does so with a smile, as we have heard. 

Now, we can now see Arjuna as the archetypal seeker. And for the purposes of studying the Gita, identify with him. And then the teachers that Arjuna is being given, those are also more or less relevant for us. And we will see that because the Gita covers such a great variety of topics and approaches, we’ll see that some of them are more relevant to us than others, and that is also the whole point that we find something that speaks directly to us. Then we can build up from that, we don’t need to necessarily consider and try to embody everything that’s spoken about in the Gita, because it’s such a vast source of practical information and guidance. So the first guidance for the seeker comes today in verse 11.

The Blessed Lord said: You have grieved for those that should not be grieved for; yet, you spoke words of wisdom. The wise grieve neither for the living, nor for the dead.

Here, Krishna in just one verse does quite a few things. First, he acknowledges what Arjuna has been saying. He says: “You have spoken words of wisdom.” He doesn’t deny any of those complaints or justifications that Arjuna has been giving him. Because they are all based on logic. However, as we have indicated before, in order for us to be prepared to really make a serious step and open ourselves up and surrender to instructions of the Guru, an event has to happen that will take us to a situation where intellect is no longer able to solve problems, because only then we can truly surrender the ego, when we can no longer justify or understand what needs to be done. 

And so this wisdom has been spoken, but Krishna now also indicates that ‘You have grieved for those that should not be grieved for’, and then ‘The wise don’t do that. The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead.’ So he’s basically saying, you have spoken words of wisdom, but you are not wise, because you don’t see this. And the grieving for those who should not be grieved for, that can be understood on different levels. Krishna will explain to Arjuna, and then much later on also directly show him, that the war that is about to happen has in fact already happened. When the vision is greater, when we when we take ourselves out of the immediate happenings around us, we see that everything that has happened in the past and everything that will happen in the future is an unbroken line, and only because we don’t have that vision, we grieve over the past, we worry about the future, and we think that we have some kind of agency in all of this. 

And so this grieving about things that should not be grieved for is both related with the fact that Arjuna is now seeing relatives who are about to start fighting. And it will be shown to Arjuna that their fate has already been decided whether he joined the effort or not. And so those are not to be grieved for, because that’s inevitable. But also, the living and the dead, this is something that can be also understood in the sense of sentient and insentient. This will be elaborated on in much greater detail later on, but just for now, the two extremes could be taken to taken to be the material realm, the physical body, the physical existence, which by itself is just inert matter. And that is animated by much more subtle forces of energy, and then ultimately the consciousness that gives the light and the life to all of the temporary forms, but by itself remains unaffected by time or by change. 

And so that is the living, that is the living thing, that is life itself which will continue. Nothing can ever happen to it, so it should not be grieved for. And the material, the physical, the perishable, which comes and goes, which is created And is sustained for some time and then destroyed, that also should not be grieved for, because that is a natural process that is happening. So this is where Krishna indicates that through wisdom is to see that, is to understand the wider context, not just the immediate situation; to have this greater vision, and that also to understand that whatever is dead in the past, that should not be grieved for. This is something that determines so much of what we do in life, our past. And we are attached to so many things in the past; and that’s the burden that prevents us from experiencing life right now in the fullest. 

So that’s not what the wise person does. And how to become wise, the first step, according to Krishna, is to get out of this state of grief over that which is gone, which is dead. And also worrying about the living because that will just keep living, and we need to just do the best with the life that we have. Reflecting for a few moments on this verse. The limitations, and also the uses of intellect. And how much our attachments to the past: things, places, relationships, is actually a burden that should be let go of, so that we are lighter and free.

21 and 22 January | Verses 12 to 15

Before we can tackle the root causes of a crisis or a conflict, we must first be elevated from the “heaven-closing” defeatist attitude and other detrimental mental and emotional states. Then, the effort should be made to understand the wider context of the situation – something that Krishna has done today in the ultimate manner, by reminding Arjuna of the immortal nature of Self as opposed to the perishable nature of the forms that it assumes in the beginning-less and endless process of birth and rebirth.

Let’s come back to the Gita. We have now begun the teachings, where Arjuna the disciple has become quiet and receptive. And Krishna, the master, the Guru, the teacher, can now begin to clarify his doubts and impart the necessary wisdom. And let us recap what we have heard so far. In the therapeutic approach that Krishna has chosen, we have seen that the first response to Arjuna’s dejection was to first get out of that gloomy state. The appeal was for Arjuna to remember his strength, his resolve. And to cast off this, as he called it, mean weakness of the heart. And then he told him to stop grieving over the things that are no longer necessary or, so to speak, alive anymore. 

And here we see that this is the necessary first step to managing any crisis. If there is any crisis that affects us deeply, then first we need to manage that effect. And we need to get out of that state which prevents us from seeing clearly and being able to define solutions to that crisis. And so, now that the first step has been made, Krishna is going to explain to Arjuna as to why the grief was not founded on a firm basis. 

And we have 4 verses for today, and we will start with the first two, and then the second couple because they are quite different in theme.

Discussion verses 2:12-13

Nor at any time was I not, or you, or these rulers of men. Nor verily shall we all ever cease to be hereafter. Just as in this body the embodied soul passes into childhood, youth and old age, so also does it pass into another body; the firm person does not grieve at this.

So yesterday we heard Krishna say to Arjuna that this grief that he was experiencing, he was having it for those who should not be grieved for. And for various reasons, as we shall presently see, and I mentioned yesterday, the inevitability of the war is a big factor here. And so what is about to happen is about to happen, and the problem that Arjuna has is the personal involvement in that. So rather than seeing himself as part of this greater event taking place in, the vision is now being limited to just experiencing my own little space, my own little grief and so on. 

So this is why the approach to be had to solving any of crisis is to first get out of that limiting, paralysing state. Now Krishna continues now to explain to Arjuna straight from the highest perspective that of course Arjuna as part of the very educated class of his time will be well aware of all these things that Krishna is now telling him, but he had forgotten because of that personal grief and the limitation of knowledge. So here directly Krishna starts talking about the immortality of the self, as opposed to the perishable nature of the form that the self is using to express itself in the material realm. 

And here it’s good to remember one very important difference in how the majority thinking is in the East and in the West about the relationship between consciousness and matter, even though in the West also now there are many schools of thought that are getting closer to the Eastern model. For many years we have been sort of, the main thinking was directed by the scientific materialism which postulates that consciousness is the product of the functioning of matter. Whereas the Eastern view is that consciousness creates the form in which it then operates, and the creation of that form is dependent on past karma. So it’s not that the individual consciousness consciously creates the next body into which it will then incarnate, but this process is taking place according to the rules of nature, and rules of preservation of energy and matter and so on. 

So this is one very important point to mention here when Krishna says that the embodied soul is not something that can perish when the physical form is destroyed. And he, straightaway in verse 12 he says that the illusion that we are only here now while we live in these two bodies, it’s just that, it’s an illusion. In reality, time is not a factor for the Self. And so here, Arjuna is reminded of this imperishable nature of the Self. 

There is a beautiful little approximation that Swami Venkateshananda has in his commentary, that childhood, youth and old age, they are like commas in a sentence in the sentence of life. And death is just a semi-colon, then another partial sentence continues. So Krishna here says that just as we change different clothes when the old ones have been worn out, in the same way the embodied self, which has not been affected by anything that happened to the body, is just simply going to pass into another one. So here we are reminded of the wisdom pertaining to the imperishable nature of the Self, and the fact that it keeps on incarnating in different forms. So now we have verses 14 and 15.

Discussion verses 2:14-15

The contacts of the senses with the objects, O Arjuna, which cause heat and cold, pleasure and pain, have a beginning and an end; they are impermanent; endure them bravely. That firm person whom these afflict not, O chief among men, to whom pleasure and pain are the same, is fit for attaining immortality.

As we will see in much of the Gita, these thoughts that Krishna is presenting to Arjuna are very condensed direct teachings that will be evolved in more detail later on. But in just four verses, we have been reminded of the immortality of the Self, the reality of reincarnation. And also the root cause of all of our misery that we can experience in life on account of identification with the body, which in turn operates through the senses and the lower thinking mind. And as long as this identification is present, then we also undergo the experiences of the body which can be pleasurable or painful, all these pairs of opposites that operate, heat and cold, pleasure and pain, success and failure and so on. 

So these are bound to be happening to the body, to the senses, to the mind, as long as the body exists. And so these cannot be stopped. But the identification with them is something that we need to look into if we are to experience lasting happiness and freedom from these factors that we cannot really control. And for that, the main practice or attitude that Krishna is now telling us about or instructing is titiksha or endurance. 

And again Swami Venkateshananda has a good comparison, that if we are in a cold space, and suddenly for some reason you lose a piece of clothing, then we feel intensely the cold on the suddenly naked part of the body. But the same cold was experienced just seconds before by the face and we got so used to it that we didn’t even notice it. And this is the example of how practising endurance, making the experience of pleasure and pain both the same in a way, such as taking a cold shower in the morning, or doing things like that to numb the shock response or the aversion response of the mind. All of these will help us to be stronger and to be able to not be so swayed by these pairs of opposites. And that will give us the inner stability to then be able to be successful in spiritual life and material life both. And so important is this, that Krishna says that such a person is fit for attaining immortality. 

So on that note, let us reflect for a few moments on what has been heard today. There is the reminder that whenever we are in a state of despondency or crisis, then rather than trying to solve that crisis while we’re in that state of despondency, we should use all the means at our disposal to get out of it, get a clear mind. Remember the bigger picture. Get out of our little space. We can think of all negative emotions like this, as constricted, closing the space around us. And joy, creativity, courage, the openness, they are expansive, that allow us to expand outwards in all dimensions. Then the question of the Self comes. For this we can use inquiry, observation. Seeing that the different personalities that manifest throughout the day, throughout life, have a common centre. And the value of endurance, strengthening body and mind, the nervous system, doing the groundwork first for solving any crisis.

23 January | Verse 16

When analysed in detail, every single verse of the Gita is packed with meaning and lots of material to reflect on. However, every now and again there is a verse that encapsulates not only the teaching of the Gita, but of the most fundamental principles of sanatan dharma (“eternal law”), from which all the practical philosophies of the East originate.

One such verse is 2:16. To reflect on what is real (permanent i.e. true) and unreal (ever-changing i.e. illusory) is a practice that can give us answers to many questions in life if we take to it seriously.

And gradually remembering what you can from the Gita so far. Krishna has started allaying Arjuna’s fears and apprehensions by first explaining about the nature of reality. So rather than trying to tackle the individual or partial problem that Arjuna is facing right now, we are starting from the beginning. We are starting from the essential understanding that we need to develop all that is useful to develop before we begin any kind of practices or methods. So that we have a roadmap, so that we have a path ahead of us. So what is this understanding? It is encapsulated in the verse that we have for today, verse 16.

The unreal has no being; there is no non-being of the Real; the truth about both has been seen by the Knowers of the Truth (or the Seers of the Essence).

So, what does this sentence mean? Previously, Krishna told Arjuna that he is grieving for those that should not be grieved for. And the primary reason for there not being a reason to grieve is that there is only an apparent reality of everything that exists in the material realm. All the forms, including the physical body, have a beginning, a duration and an end. And they also don’t exist before the inception, and they cease to exist after the disintegration. And so there is only a short time during which the Self, which always exists, which is always luminous, manifests as a temporary form that comes and goes. 

And if we identify with these forms that come and go, then of course we will be always subjected to happiness and despair, pleasure and pain, and so on, because these things are not permanent. And permanent and real, these are not quite synonyms, but this is how we can think of the meaning of this verse. So what is real? Real is that which doesn’t change, which is permanent. And when we look at anything to do with the external world, then we will very quickly come to the conclusion that if permanence and reality are the same thing, then the world cannot be real, because we change constantly from moment to moment. Everything around us changes constantly, moment to moment. 

Even our personality is really a combination of many different types of personalities, which are all held together by the force of the ego. But we can see that if this force is disturbed, such as in the case of schizophrenia, then these personalities are actually so different from each other that there is inner conflict. And so this shows us that the thinking that I am a real entity and that the world is real around me, that is a sort of illusion that in the same way that when we dream, we also think that the dream is real until we wake up. So when we say that the world is not real, it doesn’t mean that nothing exists and there is just some kind of imagination going on. But it means that we cannot see it properly. We cannot see for what it really is. Because of our limited vision. And also because we are the impermanent process that is also taking place in another impermanent process of the world, and so we are like a fish that’s in a fish tank that thinks that the whole world is the fish tank, whereas a person who has realised or seen the reality knows, stands apart from the fish tank and sees that the fish tank is just a tiny little space. 

And when we think of the unreality of the world, many different examples have been given, such as seeing a rope in the dark on the ground, and the mind will superimpose the image of a snake into that rope. This is a very commonly used example of how to understand the concept of unreality of the world. It is not that there is nothing there, there is the rope, but we see the snake and that is the illusion, that is the unreality. So what Krishna is saying here is that that which is real, that which exists will never cease to exist. And that which is constantly changing and therefore is not really real, that will never become real. We are only assigning reality to it because of our lack of vision and understanding. 

And in the case of Arjuna, or the predicament that he is in, the lack of vision refers to the fact that he has forgotten about the impermanence of the physical body and the permanence of the soul or the spirit which creates the body, which discards it when it’s no longer necessary, and which then assumes another body, just like Krishna reminded us a few verses ago. So the unreal material world is not something that we should worry about too much. That is also what Krishna told us earlier, that this grief is not really for that which, we are not really applying this energy usefully, because we are grieving for something that we don’t have any control of, and which is dead anyway. 

So who is the knower of the truth? That is the yogi, that is the person who has developed the inner vision, who has been able to see the rope in the snake. And the whole goal of spiritual life is to develop this inner vision. How to do that? Of course, there is a lifetime of struggle, and there are many different methods and processes that we can and should use, and we’ll hear about them all in the Gita. But the fundamental understanding should be there underlying all of our further study, that to allow this thought into the mind, that what I see is not really all that is there. That what I see is a partial reality, it is not the full reality. That when my mind tells me I know something, I know that that is incomplete. 

And just by understanding this, just by allowing this thoughts to come in, to manage the arrogance of the ego that always makes us feel that we know what’s happening, we know who we are, and so on and so forth. Which we then only realise during crisis situations, that is not the case. But the yogi tries to keep this awareness always, so that also the crisis situations are not happening so much, and are not necessary for the teaching. So the unreal has no being, the real never has no being. And the striving should be to experience the real, and then to realise that everything that we have been thinking of as real until now is actually an illusion. 

Swami Sivananda says that the whole world should be treated like a long, long dream. And the effort or the intention, the goal of life should be to wake up. Let us now reflect on this for a few moments. Whether there is a clearcut concept of soul or spirit or not. Through reflection on our experiences throughout life, we do come to the conclusion eventually that what I can see, what I can imagine, what I can think of, those are all just parts of a very limited world. And that if I can expand the vision, the understanding, then the experience of life will go to a whole different level.

24 January | Verse 17

In order to perform any kind of rationalisation and reflection, it is essential to have unshakeable faith in axioms – generally accepted truths – as the foundation to build on; only the greatest minds can then dare to venture into the depths and insecurities of the unknown (these are the jñānīs of India – or the genius scientists of the West to name a few examples).

There are many historical reasons why the modern materialistic view of the world developed, persisted and conquered the Western mind, whereas in India such philosophy (known as chārvāka) was firmly rejected as untenable thousands of years ago.

What we need to understand – and sometimes it may take some serious revision of our own beliefs – is that the principles of life (material and spiritual) as outlined in the authoritative scriptures on yoga, tantra, sankhya and vedanta are nothing like the intellectual analyses and ruminations of so many Western philosophers.

Instead, it is useful to remember that the word for philosophy (“love of wisdom”) in Sanskrit is darśan, meaning something that has been seen / experienced, rather than merely thought of.

And so, since it is so important to truly understand the fact that what we know ourselves to be is but a fleeting, dim, and extremely limited fraction of the unlimited Totality that we are an inseparable part of, Sri Krishna is bringing this point home repeatedly from the very outset.

In the Gita yesterday we heard one of the very fundamental ideas, that there is no being to the unreal, and that the real never ceases to exist. Building on this, we shall first chant, and then hear verse 17.

Know that to be indestructible by which all this is pervaded. None can cause the destruction of that — the imperishable.

So yesterday we heard that the reality that Krishna is talking about is something that is not related to the ever-changing phenomena of time-based existence, such as the body and so on. And just as in physics, we have that law of preservation of energy, saying that energy can only be transformed, it cannot be lost or destroyed. In the same way, in spiritual life we have this law of the constancy of existence. Sat, the existence, is eternal. It never stops, it never was created, and it will never cease. And it gives rise to the various changing phenomena that we are part of in this manifest dimension. 

And the truth about both has been seen by the knowers of the truth. Still from yesterday’s verse, Krishna is telling us that the ultimate knowledge is the realisation of this apparent reality of the world and the true reality of that which is its substratum, the spirit. Hearing verse 17, it is referred to as ‘that’. In Sanskrit the word is ‘tat’ – so that’s quite similar, you can remember that. And this is to indicate not that it is somewhere far away, as in this is this and that is that, but because it is indescribable. By saying ‘this’, we indicated we know what we’re talking about because it’s nearby and we can analyse it, we can think about it, we can talk about it. But ‘that’ is ephemeral, it is not easy to grasp at all. 

However, the importance of realising ‘that’ is right here in this verse. It cannot be destroyed. And it pervades everything. It is the support of everything. It cannot be destroyed and so if the identification of the Self is with that, then how can there be any fears, how can there be any frustration, dissatisfaction with the changing phenomena of the world. So this is the ultimate point, this is the ultimate goal of life in general, a spiritual life in particular. 

And also it is the indication of what the what the word yoga really means. Yoga, as you will know, means union, and by various authors it has been described as the union between this and that, mind and body and so on. But those are not really the full kind of definitions. Even in the Gita we have some definitions of yoga from different points of view which are very amazing, very beautiful and very important. But at the end of the day, the aim of yoga is to realise that there is only one existence that never changes. And that all apparent differences are just that; apparent, they’re not real. 

Very gross examples can be given here to illustrate this point, such as objects made of metal as opposed to the raw lump of metal. There is no real difference between them, so we could think of that lump of metal as that ‘that’ as the divine essence, and then everything that is fashioned out of those objects has its own individual form and, so to speak, personality. But ultimately it is nothing but that lump of metal or clay or water, ocean and so on. So the ocean is ‘that’, and the waves of the ocean that have a shape and duration and which come and go, those are the individual beings that exist in that eternal ocean of existence. 

So we start here. We start right here. In the practical sense, in yoga we start with very basic things. We start with working with the body, making it healthy and so on. And then perhaps later on we may delve deeper into the philosophy. But here, this is a very traditional, very powerful approach for those who already on the path. Because here we are given the goal in the beginning, we are given the ultimate inspiration, so to speak, right in the start. And then we are given various nuances of that, and we are given various ways in which we can approach that and experience that as a reality. 

So ‘that’ is indestructible. Everything is pervaded by that. But it is not trapped in any of those forms, any of those evolutes. So it is unlimited. And we have made of it are limited. And the whole goal, the whole journey of the Gita, the whole journey of spiritual life, is to realise that, and in the end, to surrender to that great indescribable divine force. But of course that has to be the experience. We cannot think ourselves into it. And so while reflection on these verses is very useful, important, then also we need to be diligent with our regularity, lifestyle practices. That will then turn this from theory into experience. 

Let us reflect for a moment on what’s been heard. And while reflecting on the meaning of the verses we just heard, also be aware of how they can relate to your own life. What is the usual understanding, conditioning? What is the personal conditioning that you have personally, and no one else? How close or far are the ideas that you have espoused until now to this vision of complete unity behind the apparent forms, divisions, differences. And how important the experience of that unity is for there to be peace of the individual, social, and global levels.

25 January | Verse 18

Following along the same line of thought – that the Self is imperishable and all-pervasive – Krishna now reminds us that the opposite is true for all time-and-space-bound forms: they do indeed perish.
This being inevitable, the reasoning goes, a wise person refrains from involving themselves in the world to the extent that it causes grief and other limiting states.

And gradually also coming back to the Gita. Krishna has been telling us, through Arjuna’s ears, about the imperishability of the self, as opposed to the perishable nature of the physical body. Talking about the everlasting existence of that which is real, and the everlasting illusory existence or non-existence of that which is transitory, that which has a beginning and an end. So today we follow along the similar line in verse 18.

These bodies of the embodied Self, which is eternal, indestructible, and immeasurable, are said to have an end. Therefore fight, O Arjuna.

So this continues from a similar line of thought, but yesterday the emphasis was on the all-pervasiveness of this element. And today the emphasis is more on these perishable forms, which, just like the waves in an ocean constantly come and go, and soon as a wave is gone, it’s gone and no one remembers even the shape or where it was or anything. But the ocean remains just as it was before, completely unaffected by what’s happening on the surface. And while we identify, while the vision is limited by identifying with these time-based forms, then we are unable to see the greatness of the ocean and the fact that the substance from which that wave is made is actually that same vast ocean. And this of course gives rise to various fears. 

So here Krishna also reminds Arjuna by calling him various names in the various verses, such as destroyer of enemies, or the one who conquered sleep, just to remind him that Arjuna is actually a very advanced practitioner who should also know to apply some of these attitudes, and who has proven that he can, but now the grief has gone so deep that even a very accomplished person can lose their path. But the emphasis here is on this immeasurable self which is indestructible, which is eternal, whereas the physical forms are always perishable. 

Now this may all sound like a theory to the unenlightened, to the undeveloped mind, because it feels like such a different, such a distant kind of experience or point of evolution. But we need to really bring this home for the practical understanding, both by examples of those who have reached this state, and also by reflecting a little bit on that which is constant, or at least we have the taste of the experience of constancy in our own lives. And this can be well achieved through reflection and meditation. And through this process, through this practice that Swami Sivananda always recommends, to observe any kind of experience, any kind of thought, any kind of emotion, and trace it back to its source, because then we lose the awareness of the diversity of experience and realise that the experiencer, the awareness that experiences it all, is actually always the same. 

So there is something that we can find even through practical process that allows us to see this; maybe not this eternity, indestructibility and immeasurability, but something that is like the thread that is constant, doesn’t change, and that we can somehow always find within ourselves, no matter how much movement or distraction there is in the outside world. And by reminding Arjuna of the fact that every embodied being will eventually perish and meet its end, this is actually a very potent kind of meditation that many spiritual traditions recommend. To reflect on one’s own death in some way or other, as an inspiration to live every moment as fully as possible knowing that the death is not something that we can really decide on, it will come anytime. And this is present in Buddhism also, and this is quite a common practice. 

And it also allows us to lessen our attachments to superficial things that otherwise we spend so much energy running after. What is really important in life? That becomes the question that we start asking when we reflect on our own perishable nature. And so this is not to depress Arjuna, rather it is reminding that these perishable bodies are only just like those clothes that the person wears and uses as necessary, and when they are worn out, they get thrown out. So let us reflect on this for a few moments. These bodies of the embodied self, which is eternal, indestructible, and immeasurable are said to have an end. Therefore fight, O Arjuna.

26 January | Verses 19 to 20

What is it that gives us a sense of continuity, of “being”, even as we go through so many fundamental changes in life? Why is it that during meditation, we often get the experience of familiarity – or even flashes from much earlier parts of our lives?
We get experiences like this whenever we are able to connect with that single thread of the experience of being, which passes through all other experiences and events in life, unaffected by them in the least.

When hearing about the vast differences between the Self and the physical realm, we may be forgiven for thinking of It as something so distant and ephemeral as to be irrelevant to our day-to-day affairs.

Given the immeasurable influence of external conditioning on our view and experience of ourselves and the world around us, where we are constantly reminded of our littleness and insignificance, how can one accept a statement such as “in reality, you are eternal, immeasurably vast and indestructible”?

Here Krishna is not asking us to perform autosuggestion – what use would it be to swap one belief for another? However, to be able to embark on the process of experiencing the deeper layers of our being, it is essential to at least keep the mind open to that possibility, and reflect on teachings such as this along with reflection on one’s own life experience, with a witnessing attitude developed during meditative practices.

And remembering gradually the story of the Gita thus far. Before we commence any kind of practical expositions, any kind of practical teachings, we are now being given some fundamental teachings about the differences between the perishable nature and the self, which the perishable nature is based on, and which it arises from. But which is different from it. This will be discussed in much greater detail later on. But this difference between the body and the soul, the body and spirit, needs to be understood properly. And so we continue along the same lines today with verses 19 and 20.

He who takes the Self to be the slayer, and one who thinks it is slain, neither of them knows. It slays not, nor is it slain. It is not born, nor does it ever die; after having been, it again ceases not to be. Unborn, eternal, changeless and ancient, it is not killed when the body is killed.

Here we are external predicament that Arjuna is facing. And this is why the words that are used here are about killing. So this is only pertaining to the physical body. And how the relationship between the Self and the body, what the relationship between them is, it will become clearer later on. But suffice it to say for now that the Self which is at the same time the substratum or the basis or the source of the material time-based perishable nature, it remains as existence at any point, because only it exists. 

And so from the point of view of just ‘being’, the Self is always present. However, when it is embodied in the various forms, then, with the exception of the enlightened masters who have realised the reality of the Self, as opposed to the transient nature of the physical realm. The self is trapped in a set of three bodies; it’s like a Russian doll with three different layers. One of them is the physical body, which we all are very familiar with. Another of them is the subtle body. This is also something that we experience on a daily basis. This is the energy system. This is the mental energy. This is what powers the physical body in and makes it conscious. 

And then there is the causal aspect, which is the innermost layer or covering, where the experience is only that of joy, of bliss, but it’s still a limitation, it’s still a separation of that individuality from any other individuality. And so we see that at the core, there is always that one single existence, which is the same, exactly the same in every living or non-living being. But then, as we go through the external manifestations, they differ quite a lot. Quite obviously, bodies differ from each other, minds different from each other. 

But out of these three bodies, only the one, the physical one perishes when the time comes. The other two bodies continue, because the involvement with the world through interactions, through desires, through karmas is not finished, and so if the physical body dies before all the karmas are finished, then the consciousness has to come back to work them out. And this is the endless cycle of birth and rebirth, which we are trapped in until we find a way out, and the Gita will offer us that also. 

So here Krishna is reminding us of this reality, that just as when we pass from childhood to adolescence to 20s and then adulthood and then old age, the personality is quite different. We were quite a different person years and years ago than we are now, but the sense of Self remains. There was no death between these phases really, and so there is always something that remains the same; the sense of self, the self-awareness is there. 

And we can have the experience of that constancy a little bit, a little taste of that experience oftentimes when we do various practises such as meditation. Especially in the beginning when people are not familiar with these techniques. Yet we sit for meditation, we practise something and we feel a sense of familiarity, as if we have experienced this before. And this is because these practices such as meditation, deep relaxation and so on, they allow us to switch off these external manifestations of the mind, of the body, of the senses and so on, and come back to that quiet, wordless, thoughtless silence, which is the nature of that Self that continues no matter what the body and mind are going through. 

Now most of the time we are fully identified with the body, with the mind, with the senses. And because they go through so many different challenges, and of course they are so vulnerable, and we can get an accident or, God forbid, die any time really. The importance of connecting with this changeless, timeless Self is very big if we want to be happy in life or less affected by the turbulences of life. And so, before even beginning the process of coming to the source, we need to understand that there is such a thing as a changeless, timeless source, aspect of our being which doesn’t undergo the same changes as the mind and the body. 

And of course, even just by thinking that, surely when I’ve realised that, when I’ve realised that I’m far more than just the body, far more than just the mind, then surely life will be very different. So let us take this as an inspiration. And know that rather than trying to reject the reality that we are experiencing now, what we are embarking on is an effort to expand the experience. Not just this; much more than that. Not just this; much more than that. Not just the body, not just the mind. And what it is, that cannot be talked about, that can only be experienced. Reflecting for a few moments on what has been said. The indestructible nature of Self, as opposed to the fleeting nature of everything that exists on the material plane, including the body. And the knowledge that ultimately ‘I am that’, even if the experience is distant for now27 January | Verse 21

Having told us about the eternal, changeless nature of Self, now we are shown how the realisation of That reality manifests in a person’s attitude and experience: when one begins to see the body and mind as mere instruments of matter moving in the stimuli of matter, and to see oneself as the singular existence that is the Being of all, there is both a complete disinterest in pursuing one’s own goals at the expense of others, and remorse or guilt if a terrible action must be done for a greater good or as duty.

And preparing slowly for further discussion on the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita. Where Krishna has been telling us about the indestructible and eternal nature of the Self, as opposed to the eternal and ever-changing, very much perishable nature of the body. And following the same train of thought, verse 21 is for today.

Whosoever knows the Self to be indestructible, eternal, unborn, and inexhaustible, how can that person kill, Arjuna or cause to be killed?

So we have heard about the nature of the Self, its indestructible nature which never dies. And that this is the substratum, this is the basis for the physical existence which comes and goes. And if we find a way to experience and identify with that changeless nature, then today we hear what the effects are of that. So the person is for us to also be inspired, to apply these teachings so that we can also experience this within our own lives. So the person who has experienced this cannot possibly have the intention to kill, because if everything around me is felt as part of my own being, then it doesn’t require much imagination to understand that such a person really will not have any enmity towards any kind of being, it’s not really possible. 

And on the other hand though, we have situations in the external life which do demand actions that on the surface can be seen as against the various principles of dharma, or righteous behaviour, such as wars, and we have them aplenty even today. And we see in the case of soldiers who more often than not suffer from PTSD, trauma and so on. Because this vision is not there. There is the identification that ‘I am the killer’, and of course that would then rebound vary gravely on the personality. And Krishna is now telling Arjuna that the act of killing might not be possible to prevent, just as we heard in our introduction to the Gita, that there was an effort to prevent this war, but that failed. So now it’s happening, and it’s inevitable. And even then, the fact that Arjuna is now experiencing the pangs of pain because the enemy contains so many of his beloved people. 

And so Krishna is now telling Arjuna, well because this is already happening and you are involved in this, you need to change the attitude. So the person who has realised the Self will not have any inclination to kill. But if the situation is such that this has to happen, they will also not be, the inner personality will not be disturbed by that, because the person sees themselves, or the body rather, and the senses as part of all of nature. And we will hear about this later on that the processes in the materials are really mechanical and automatic. And so the person who was realised the underlying reality beyond that will not identify with these ever-changing and mechanical processes. By definition, if the process is mechanical, then we have no control over it. So if we identify with that, then we have a lot of fear because we fear that which we can’t influence and control. 

So here Krishna is saying to Arjuna that you cannot really kill if your vision is different, and your attitude, your intentions are different, because if the intention with which we do a karma or any kind of action, will then determine the effects that will come back to us, not so much the actual actions. This is a very important point to remember. And so then could be a little bit of a contradiction. One could say that if the Self is incapable of killing or be killed, then why is Krishna encouraging Arjuna to do this action? And the answer is a very important point to make, because not understanding this point properly might lead us to some wrong conclusions as to how to apply the teachings in practical life. 

And this is that even though the reality of the world is really contested, in the sense that we don’t really know what is reality, we only know our own partial and confused understanding. But spiritual life often goes in contradiction, or the principles of it are in contradiction with how the material life should evolve, or the inspirations or the aspirations in it are different. But we still have to, we can’t just renounce it and go live in a cave. Rather, we need to be aware that the world is not really real, in the same way that dreams are only real until we wake up. But we have to live it as if it were real, and to the best of our ability. 

This is a thought that we will come across in several places. But there is another book called the Yoga Vasishtha where this is described in quite detail. It describes the story of Rama, another incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who before he became a full-blown avatar, he was being trained by his Guru Vasishtha. And he had experienced a depression, a similar kind of depression as Arjuna, but not due to the threat of war, but just the realisation that everything is perishable and what is really the point of being a prince and doing all these duties, and having all the wealth and so on. And Vasishtha explains through a very intricate process that, yes, this is right. Everything is really just a nothing. But still, the way to be free from that is to live our duties, live out our duties to the best of our abilities in this world. 

And so on this note, you should understand that the reality is different, but act outwardly as is we are fully involved in the process of the world. So there’s a lot to unpack in this little verse. Let us reflect on the ideas that stayed with you the most, or are the most applicable. A reflection like this will make concepts such as realisation a little bit more practical and desirable perhaps.

28 and 29 January | Verses 22 to 25

How can we comprehend something that is “unmanifested, unthinkable and unchangeable”? The short answer is, we cannot – and that is the whole point here: Krishna spares no effort to remind us that to experience the fundamental reality that is the substratum of all there is, we cannot rely on the help of the physical body, senses, mind or intellect. For a yogi, all these are the object of constant adjustment, pruning and disciplining, so that they can all be quietened down and eventually transcended.

After all, there is no single set of actions or thought processes we can go through at any given time to “feel like myself”: pure being defies any effort to pin it down, which is why the Self is both the innermost reality of every person, and by far the most elusive concept to grasp.

So, as it is impossible to define what the Self is, we need to start by understanding what it is not. In this way, we will be less likely fooled by the imaginations of the ego-centred mind, and be able to go ever further down the path of self-discovery and self-realisation.

And remembering before we begin our reading for today what we have been hearing in the past couple of days about the nature of the innermost self. The reality that remains when all limited understanding has been adjusted. When the thinking mind has ceased to operate. That reality is not related with the changes that the body is subjected to, or the fluctuations of the mind, or anything else. And we are reminded that is who you really are. Today we continue with verses 22, 23, 24 and 25. 

Just as a person casts off worn out clothes and puts on new ones, so also the embodied Self casts off worn out bodies and enters others which are new. Weapons cut it not, fire burns it not, water wets it not, wind dries it not. This Self cannot be cut, burnt, wetted, nor dried up. It is eternal, all-pervading, stable, immovable, and ancient. This Self is said to be unmanifested, unthinkable and unchangeable. Therefore, knowing this to be such, you should not grieve.

Here we are once again reminded of the eternal and unchanging nature of the Self. Change is inherent in everything to do with material life. There are no two moments which are the same. Everything is always in a state of flux. And this is why the state of natural joy or happiness cannot be maintained as long as we are identified with these ever-fluctuating cycles that are part of this grand automated chain of karma of cause and effect, which the nature comprises of. And beyond this ever-changing reality, there is this single strand of existence. Like the ocean, which down below the surface is completely still, there is no light, there is no movement, but on the surface, there can be a hurricane. 

So in the same way the Self is not affected at all by what happens to the body and the mind. But because of the disturbances and because of the constant fluctuation of the mind, we are not capable of experiencing this, and therefore of identifying with it. And so the whole process then becomes not to try to imagine anything based on what we hear from the scriptures, but these verses serve as an inspiration so that we know what the Self is not. And only then, we can then make effort in order to manage the various aspects of the manifest world, including our mind, including our own body, and so on, and the various behaviours that affect us in various ways, so that we can actually experience that reality. 

This is not something that we can define. And this is why, from the practical point of view, the last of these verses is very important, verse 25. When we know the Self to be unthinkable, unmanifested and unchangeable, then we know that whenever we are experiencing any change, or whenever the mind is thinking, then we know that this is not the behaviour of the Self, this is not the experience of the Self. That can be only had in complete stillness when the fluctuations of the mind have come to a standstill. And the experience cannot be had through the mind. And knowing this will help us to prevent any kind of self-delusion when we misinterpret various internal experiences as various awakenings and so on. We know only when there is no thinking, there is no experience of individuality even. That is the experience of the Self. 

So in this way, when we know it to be such, then we will not fool ourselves into thinking that we have achieved some kind of spiritual progress. We know that as long as the mind is affected by the pulls of opposites, as long as the senses are uncontrollably driven to the external world, then we know we have work to do; and that only when we have been able to manage everything in such a way that the peace inside is not disturbed by anything, that’s when we become eligible for the experience of the self. 

In verse 24 and 23, there is the reminder that the Self is not subjected to the effects of the elements. So water, fire, air or earth in this sense of cutting. So whatever happens to the material form, like the clay pot which has air inside, when it’s broken, the air inside becomes one with the air outside. That’s it. So Krishna basically is saying here now, the wise person does not grieve over the breaking of the pot, because the wise person knows that I am the air, and therefore I am everywhere, and the pot is just a limiting factor really for an enlightened yogi. 

This was shown in a relatively recent history by the example of the great Ramana Maharshi, whose life and teachings are very worth studying. But when he was about to leave his body and his followers were anxious as to what will we do now, who will lead us, who will inspire us? And he just said, this body is going, but I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be right here with you and I’ll keep guiding you. And this is exactly the experience that people still have when they visit the Ramana Ashram. 

So the presence of the Self is independent from the existence of the body. But in the most practical sense, this knowledge will allow us to practise this internal reflection on Who am I? Who am I really? And by knowing that any kind of label that I can put with my mind on who I am is false. Because the Self has no labels, no definition, no nothing. Then we can always go deeper and deeper and deeper. Because there is no point at which we can say, oh, now I know. If the sense is there that I know, then we know that we don’t know. Because the experience of the Self is beyond knowing itself. 

Let us reflect on this for a few moments. It may be hard to imagine when we are enclosed in this perishable, vulnerable (not sure if this was right word?) body, as to how the Self would be this eternal, changeless reality. Yet that is exactly what we are being told here. There is no quick answer to the question ‘Who am I?’ But the starting point is to realise, to understand who I am not.

30 January | Verses 26 and 27

The Bhagavad Gita is a universal scripture for several reasons: one, it deals with subjects universally applicable to one and all in any age, and two, it is a synthesis of diverse schools of thought whose principles are often contradictory on the surface.

And gradually taking the awareness also to the journey into the Gita that we continue day by day. Right now, we have heard from Krishna that what truly represents, what truly constitutes the individuality of a person at the most fundamental level is not affected by the play of the elements of nature, and including the birth and death of the body or any kind of damage that may happen to it. And this has been shown to us from many different angles. And also the reason for trying to realise this fundamental reality has been given. Because once we can identify with this changeless reality, then the quality of life, even in this embodied form, will be transformed fundamentally, and will not be affected by the ups and downs of life. But now a slightly different thought will come. So let us hear and then reflect on verses 26 and 27.

But even if you think of the Self as being constantly born and constantly dying, even then, O mighty-armed Arjuna, you should not grieve. For certain is death for the born, and certain is birth for the dead; therefore, over the inevitable, you should not grieve.

We have had a short introduction into what Krishna will elaborate on in much more detail later on, and that is the lower nature and the higher nature. By the higher nature we can now understand the Self, which as we heard before is not affected by the elements; it cannot be cut, wetted, dried and so on. It is not affected by the birth and death of the body. But there is also this lower nature which behaves in his own ways, which also has the element of continuity and indestructability. Which, of course, we know thanks to science is in the form of genes, so even though the physical form may die, it will ensure its continuity through the genetic information.

And in the same way, when we think of how intelligence manifests in the different forms, we see that it is very much dependent on the complexity of the form. We see that when many stupid little things come together and become organised, a much greater intelligence will emerge, whether it is in the case of bee colonies or ant colonies, or on the most fundamental level, the fact that this physical body is essentially a huge combination of the various colonies of microorganisms who specialise and cooperate, and at their individual level, the consciousness is quite rudimentary. So the intelligence that holds all this together, that is what continues, even if the physical body is destroyed and it is then modified by the experiences that the form gets in life that then determines also how it will transform in the future. 

So we could say that the ego temporarily is dissolved, but then it is reborn again in a modified form, depending again on what physical form it assumes. And so Krishna is now telling Arjuna that even if you leave out this idea of the soul, of the fundamental reality as being part of the process, because it is so hard to understand or to comprehend from an unenlightened mind, then even then you should not grieve, because there is no way that anything is completely destroyed. It will be reassembled and re-emerge in a different form. 

So we can’t really die forever, even if we leave the idea of the Self or the soul out of the picture. And as I mentioned before, the three bodies that we’re really composed of, that the encapsulation of the consciousness is composed of, the soul is not directly manifesting through the physical body. There is a relay, there is this causal body first in which the experience is essentially the same as the experience on the pure consciousness level. There is just bliss, there is no awareness of separateness. But there is separateness, and because of that, that is called the causal body, because it is then the cause for the manifestation of the subtle body, which is much more complex. It includes the prana, the energy, the mind, the memories, the chitta, the individualised consciousness. And that then projects the physical body through which it then operates in the physical realm. 

So this is the understanding that the yogis have acquired through deep meditation, through deep reflection, and through repeated experience of the great yogis over many thousands of years. So these two bodies, the subtle and the causal, they do survive the death of the physical. That’s what Krishna is now telling Arjuna, that even if you don’t think of the individualised consciousness, the pure consciousness, but only of the part that then assumes a new form, then why grieve? 

Let us reflect for a few moments on the meaning of these verses, in context of what we have heard before. Reflecting on this continuity of individuality. In spite of all the changes that our minds go through in the waking state, the dream state, the deep sleep state when we have disconnected from any perception, yet the person survives, and in the morning again assumes all these different identifications. But there is something there that doesn’t change.

31 January | Verse 28

Existence as such (known as “sat”) is permanent, changeless and formless. In this infinite vastness arise vibrations that give rise to time and space-bound forms, ranging from very simple like ocean waves to quite complex ones such as the human body – but before and after these processes, only the substratum remains…

Remembering what we have heard in the Gita recently. Krishna has been presenting various ideas about the Self, so that we can understand how the fundamental nature of our own existence is separate from and is not affected by the physical body and its weaknesses and its vulnerabilities, or the mind and its fluctuations, its doubts. And also its indestructibility, as opposed to the perishable nature of matter. And today we will have also a very important aspect in verse 28. 

Beings are unmanifested in their beginning, manifest in their middle state, O Arjuna, and unmanifested again in their end. What is there to grieve about?

This vision is directly pertinent to the relationship between the changeless reality of the Self, and the temporary time in space-bound manifestation, which we call the body or the manifest universe. And here we see that from the substratum, from this changeless reality that is always present, that is always there, that never changes, there is a temporary excitement, temporary activity, which has a beginning and an end. 

One good way to visualise this is like the waves in the ocean. This is a very commonly used example, and it’s a very good one because it’s so simple. The water is simple, the forces that create the waves are also quite easy to understand, the current, the temperature, the wind and so on. And so we see that from this changeless and motionless mass of water, motionless when we go deep enough, it hardly moves. Yet on the surface the various forces have given rise to this wave, and while it lasts, it is separate from other waves. It is defined by shape. But what is it really? It is not even the same mass of water. It is just an event that is happening. Yet we can see that it has an individuality, and then when it subsides, we understand that the water didn’t go anywhere, and the same water mixes up with the rest of the water and then gives rise to another wave at some other time. 

So we can understand that clearly with the example of a wave. But it is much harder for us to understand that when we apply that to ourselves or to other living beings. Because on this level, we are those waves. And we are made of matter much more complex than the water, the forces that brought us into being are also much more complex. Therefore our duration and the actions that we take in the world are much more complex. And plus we are self-aware, and part of our individualised consciousness is that we have the illusion of continuity, or the desire for stability, and this is because at the fundamental level the Self is stable and changeless. 

So unconsciously we desire that, but because we don’t have the experience of the Self, we impose that on the process that we are. And the process always changes. Just like the water in the wave always changes, the matter in our bodies always changes. So we are just like those waves, except unthinkably more complex. And Krishna is now telling us that, well, we didn’t know what we were before this body has come about. We have no idea what we will be after it has gone, but the existence is preserved. So what is there to grieve about? 

Now, just slightly more complex, but still understandable way of thinking of this is like striking the string on an instrument such as a guitar. When you look from up close, the quiet string which you can see as various details and patterns. Once you strike it, you can’t see those anymore. You see a surface, a flat surface that vibrates and rotates in various ways, it’s active, it’s alive, it makes a sound. And so that is the existence – somehow, all of a sudden it’s not the string anymore, it’s its own thing. But eventually it quietens down and then we can see again that it is just a string. 

And in the same way, we are invited to reflect on the nature of the body, that it was not there in the beginning, it was unmanifested. And then something happens that creates a vibration, and sound really is the source of form, as some of you may know. Or as we can see in these cymatics experiments, where you vibrate certain medium with a frequency, and the medium like sand arranges itself in various we are just like that strike of an instrument, but again, first of all, very complex, and second, self-aware. And confused about what we should be identifying with, the string or the process. 

The worldly mind, the sense-oriented mind will only be able to connect with the process aspect, not with the Self aspect, and for that we need the various tools that we are given. First of all adjusting the lifestyle so that the vibration resonates and the dissonance doesn’t then distract us from the internal search, and then to do the actual internal search through meditation, through reflection, and so on. 

And the one last image that I’d like to share is from Swami Sivananda, who compares the life and how we act and interact with each other in it to the stream or a river in which there are various plants and leaves and so on, and they come together and they separate. They think that they have control over that, but actually they’re just brought together by chance. Just like we are with other people, or a big public inn where people meet and then they separate. And that is the whole life, the whole world is a big public inn. 

So let us reflect for a few moments on this. Beings are unmanifested in the beginning, manifested in the middle for some time, then again become unmanifested. When this has progressed from intellectual idea to an experience, then how is grief going to be possible anymore?

1 and 2 February | Verses 29 and 30

The Self is the only thing there is – but because It is literally everything, it is not possible to conceive of It through the means of the intellect, however much those who have experienced it may try to explain…

Remembering for a few moments where we are in our journey into the Gita, where we have been hearing about the indestructible nature of the Self. The perishable nature of the forms that the Self produces to manifest in the world of senses. And the need to identify with this steady, indestructible nature, in order for us to be more resilient, and able to be happy and content regardless of what is happening in the outside world. Now the verses for today are 29 and 30. First we’ll do the first one.

One sees the Self as a wonder; another speaks of it as a wonder; another hears of it as a wonder; yet, having heard, none understands it at all.

So in this verse we have a sentiment that perhaps naturally comes to us also when we hear about the nature of the Self, and about its nature, about its characters, such as being unlimited in space and time. And even though it gives existence and it gives rise to all the time and space-bound forms, it itself remains unaffected. And this is really hard to understand, because as long as we are identified with the mind, which is drawn out into the world by the senses, uncontrolled, unable to look within, then it’s very hard to comprehend something that is so fundamentally different from our own experienced reality. 

Yet the experience is possible, and it has been the source of all the teachings that we have been getting from all the masters over the ages. They are all based on the experience of the Self. And in some traditions, such as in Buddhism, the emphasis is so much only on the lifestyle and the practices, and the recognition of this unspeakability, unthinkability of the Self is so prevalent that there is no even discussion or there is no talk about the transcendental nature, because it is simply not possible to understand it with a non-transcendental mind. 

However, for inspiration and also to understand the difference between Self and non-Self so that we can perform our self-inquiry properly, some idea of this transcendental reality is always helpful, is always useful, and also reflecting on the various paradoxes or contradictions that are always bound to occur when we speak of something that is really unspeakable. We also get internal revelations or knowledge when the inquiry goes deep. But always we should remember that whatever we hear, whatever we see, whatever we have been told, it is not possible to understand the Self through the intellect. 

And so this experience that cannot really be described, as even though it can’t be described, many masters had tried and so we get these various ways to understand the Self as ‘not this, not that’. The statement has been ‘Neti, Neti’ in the Vedas, meaning that whatever has been heard, whatever we have been telling you, this is not it, it is not the whole reality. And Swami Sivananda says that this verse can also be interpreted in a way that there are so few people who have experienced this reality, that even though they may try to explain this to all the rest of us, it is very rare, it is very uncommon, and therefore the knowledge of the Self is hidden from most people. 

Now in verse 30 we come back to the idea of indestructibility of the Self. So let us chant it first. 

This, the indweller in the body of everyone is ever indestructible, O Arjuna, therefore, you should not grieve for any creature. 

The Self that is the unlimited consciousness in which there is a potential to exist as anything really, that only manifests as a form that is born, that lasts for some time, and then ends. As a part of the lower nature that we’ll be hearing about later on, but the actual consciousness that gives rise to the body will then also survive the disintegration of the body. So it is like a force of a magnet that is always there. But when the magnet comes in contact with some iron filings then they will arrange themselves in various shapes. When the magnet is removed, then there’ll be again chaos. But the magnet itself is not attached; it’s not affected by those filings in any way. 

So in the same way, we can think of the Self as something that has given rise to the body, to the mind, to the senses. But it was there before they came into existence, and it will also be there when the form is no longer there. And so the attitude of a yogi is that ‘I protect all life I cherish, I value, I respect all life.’ Because life as such, that is the consciousness, that is the Self of all beings. But at the same time, I will not be elated or saddened by the appearance or disappearance of any form. So this is the state that we are trying to come to, that there is both this universal acceptance, love, knowledge that everything is one, that my Self is the same as the Self of all beings, but that itself brings with it the other side, that if any form is no longer there, then there is no reason to grieve because the consciousness that gave rise to that form continues and nothing can ever happen to it. 

Let us reflect for a few moments on these verses. First, the elusive nature of the Self, which is closer than the body, closer than breath, closer than prana, energy, is the innermost centre of every being. And yet as close as it is, it is next to impossible to understand. It only ever exists in the now. There can be no concepts to limit it. And this unfathomable Self always exists. It was there before this body came into being. And it will be there when the body disintegrates into its constituent elements. ‘I am that’ – that is the attitude of a yogi. 

3 February | Verses 31 to 33

Having given Arjuna philosophical reasons for sticking to his duty as a warrior, Krishna now emphasises the importance of adhering to one’s swabhava (nature) and swadharma (one’s own personal duty / purpose in life). Only when these are fully understood and followed to the best of one’s ability can one hope to succeed in life, whether spiritual or material.

We have been hearing Sri Krishna explaining to Arjuna the nature of the Self. And the fact that it cannot be affected, or let alone destroyed, when the body in which the consciousness is dwelling perishes. And today we will have a very important moment which we need to consider when we think of spiritual matters or the Self. And that is in regards to how we live in the external world. To hear what Sri Krishna has to say about that, the verses are 31 to 33.

Further, having regard to your duty, you should not waver, for there is nothing higher for one belonging to the warrior class than a righteous war. Happy are the warriors, O Arjuna, who are called upon to fight in such a battle that comes of itself as an open door to heaven. But if you will not fight this righteous war, then, having abandoned your own duty and fame, you shall incur sin. 

Right up to this point, Krishna has been giving Arjuna the philosophical reasons as to why his dejection was misplaced. And why the intention to abandon his duty was also ill-founded. However, as Swami Venkatesh makes a very good point in his commentary, spiritual philosophy will only be fruitful, and will only have the right direction, when it is combined with the awareness of, and the performance of, one’s own duty in the outside world. 

And we have this dichotomy all the time. On one hand, we have the philosophy of the Self, the oneness of existence, the complete lack of difference between the Self of any being with others. But at the same time, we are also individuals, with our own particular characteristics, each with our own nature, purpose in life, dharma. And as we will see in all of the Gita, and as Krishna makes very clear right from the outset here, the adherence to one’s own duty is more important than anything in life. 

There will be a verse much later in the last chapter that says one’s own duty performed even lousily, is better than the duty of another performed well. And this duty, the discovery of what is it that is my place, what is my purpose in life, is the most important thing we can do in life. Because we need to be in line with it, to be harmonious with our own nature. And this is very difficult in our current times, in an age of standardisation. Where certain areas of life, certain professions are considered valuable or worthy and others unworthy, unvaluable, not taking care of the whole spectrum of human abilities, drives in life, characteristics, predominance of the various aspects of nature, which we will get to later on. 

And so the homework or the purpose of every single person who wishes to evolve is to really find out how to best operate in the outside world so that we are in line with our own nature. As Swami Niranjan puts it, if you are a banana, don’t try to be an orange. And Arjuna’s predicament here is quite difficult because his duty here involves killing people. But even then, Krishna says that because this is who you are, this is your purpose. You are a kshatriya and you are a warrior. And there is nothing more honourable than to fight a righteous was. And this is what we have emphasised in these verses, we need to look at every word. 

So remember that the war is unavoidable, it is already happening. And it is for the right cause, and Arjuna has earned great fame, great power, great respect. And he’s the warrior whose responsibility is to lead an army to victory. And so, Krishna is now reminding him of that, that when things get difficult, even then you have to follow your own duty. You have to perform your own duty and be true to your own nature. 

In the various scriptures, it says that if a warrior dies for a righteous cause on the battlefield, he will go straight to heaven. So this is what verse 32 refers to. So Krishna is now giving Arjuna both the spiritual reasons and the worldly reasons as to why the fight will have to take place, whether Arjuna likes it or not. And how to best cope, how to best change the attitude with which the action is being done. 

And let’s reflect on this for little while because it’s such an important subject. Many people when they come to spiritual life, they see this huge difference between the Self and the non-self. And the motivation can be to leave society, to live as a recluse, to abandon one’s duties and so on. Krishna now tells us that this is not the way to go. Because we are all part of the world, we are all part of the society. And it is only through being perfect as much as we can in performance of our own duty that we can then look within and successfully practise the spiritual systems and techniques. Otherwise they may lead to a lot of delusion. 

Reflecting on your own motivation also to follow the path. Knowing that performance of our own duty towards ourselves, our own bodies, our own environment, families, work; they all have to be harmonious, so that we can develop the necessary peace and natural happiness that allow us to go deep within. Without this, most practices such as meditation and others will only have superficial results.

4 and 5 February | Verses 34 to 38

The principles that govern the spiritual world are quite different from the rigid rules of the world of matter. We exist on both planes at the same time – but the effort is to become aware of, and identify with, the spiritual nature that is hidden from the grasp of the intellect and senses.

How do we bridge this gap? Krishna says, it is through the development of equanimity in all things we do and experience. Equanimity not as the result of some kind of desensitisation, but of a careful, gradual process of extricating the ego and its attachments and repulsions from all action and ideation.

In the story of the Gita thus far, we hear the discussion between Arjuna the warrior and Krishna the divine incarnation, who is his charioteer. But as we know, this story is also symbolic of our own struggle against the negative, limiting, restrictive tendencies. And to support the constructive, the expansive aspects of our own being. And along with the emphasis on the reality of being, as the Self which is unaffected by space and time and everything that happens in them. We are also now made aware of the importance of behaving and acting in the outside world in a way that will support the inner spiritual search. Today the verses are 34 through to 38. And they describe both the reasons, and perhaps the danger of not pursuing the spiritual efforts. And also the way in which we can approach this that will make it a little simpler to think about.

Discussion verses 2:34-36

After having told Arjuna, as we heard yesterday, that if he is not going to fight the righteous war, he will incur sin. Now we continue.

People too, will recount your everlasting dishonour, and to one who has been honoured, dishonour is worse than death. The great warriors will think that you have withdrawn from the battle through fear. And you will be held lightly by those who have thought much of you. Your enemies also, jealous of your power, will speak many abusive words. What is more painful than this? 

Here we see quite a different viewpoint from just a few verses ago, where Krishna was reminding Arjuna of the most fundamental aspects of existence and the indestructibility of the Self and how that should be the identification of a yogi, that Krishna is now inspiring Arjuna to remember that he is, and also to become more advanced than that. But now we see, first of all, that there is an emphasis on the duty that one is born into, and that one also has been shown through life that, OK, this is my life, this is me, this is my duty, and I have to do it in order to be myself. And if I don’t do it, then I will be not in line with who I really am, and therefore my potential will be inhibited. 

So this is always the awareness that has to be present, and even when something unpleasant lies along the way of following that duty or the dharma, then we need to push through, even at the expense of some discomfort. 

Now, these verses here can be interpreted in several ways. First is, on the face of it, is the emphasis on the importance of reputation as a part of our social interactions. Good reputation opens doors. Being thought of as a dishonourable coward certainly does not. And also it brings us into very different kinds of company as well. And as we know from so many stories in current public life, there have been many people honoured, worshipped even, and they have fallen into serious disrepute. And looking at them now, it truly seems that death is preferable to one who has been honoured before, and then has lost that honour. 

And so the life of someone who has withdrawn from the battle is not really a happy affair. But also these verses can be seen from a more internal kind of perspective, because this battle that we are fighting every day against the limiting, the negative, the destructive, can be exhausting. But then when we have reached a certain level of progress and we have given up certain attractions, desires and so on in the process. When we then give up, then we have not only not reached the state that we have been looking for, but we have also lost something along the way, and then the losses double; both of the high state of awareness and of the, at least the substitutes for that which are in the form of the sensory pleasures. 

And so this is a warning, given that the aspirant should always strive to be courageous, always keep the energy high. And be prepared to go through some struggle. And these warriors who will “speak lightly of you”, they can also be understood as the higher faculties or qualities that we have, that are available to us when we are in line with our dharma, when we make the effort. And they are not available to us where we are in the restrictive state of depression or grief because of some identification with the ego, and the negativity that we perceive will take place if we follow a certain action. 

And so they will not be available. If we compare the personality in that higher state and the personality in that lower state, there are like two very different people who don’t have much in common with each other. So after giving this warning, Krishna is now going to give us also a key method to overcome this. So verses 37 and 38. 

Discussion verses 2:37-38

If you are slain, you will obtain heaven. Victorious, you will enjoy the earth. Therefore, stand up, O Arjuna, resolved to fight. Having made pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat the same, engage in battle for the sake of battle. Thus, you shall not incur sin. 

Here in these two verses we have two very important thoughts condensed. First, for inspiration. When we think that I can have no guarantee that I will succeed in my effort, then what is the point? If I can’t reach the goal, or if I’m not confident that I will reach the goal, then will I not be just a loser. And Krishna says emphatically that, no – slain, you will obtain heaven. So if death comes before the effort has come to an end, then the transformation that has been achieved up to that point will result in the consciousness having been moved to a higher state. This will be described in more detail later on in the Gita, but this heaven, so to speak, refers to a transformation of consciousness after the death of the physical body, which will then result in a different kind of rebirth. 

So rather than continuing in the same uncontrolled way of a chain reaction of karma, there will be a shift, and the next birth will then be more auspicious and more conducive to further progress in spiritual life. So this is the heaven part, that if we don’t manage to come to the end of the effort, if we die in the battle, then we will enjoy heaven. And victorious. So if the person has been able to achieve this lofty state of self-realisation, then Krishna here says you will enjoy the earth. This again is, this refers to the state known as jivanmukta, where the person returns from a certain kind of death, as it were, the death of the ego takes place, but the physical death is still a long way away, and then the person lives in a very different kind of state of consciousness, and generally only exists, only chooses to exist in that state to help others grow. 

And so this is from the inspirational point of view. And now from the practical, we are first being introduced to the idea of samatwam or equanimity. Which, as we will see later on, is one of the definitions of yoga, according to Krishna. That the maintenance of equanimity between pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, and so on, that is the way to stay unaffected by the world of the senses and stay centred in the awareness of the Self as being separate from it. And then when that is deepened, when that continues, when it is made a reality, then this is the way to achieve that victory that the previous verse talks about. 

And one super-important aspect which will also again be mentioned again and again: engage in battle for the sake of battle. So this is the renunciation of the idea of achieving something through my action, and instead of focusing just on the action itself, trying to perform it to the best of one’s ability, and accepting whatever outcome comes. So if I do my best, then I couldn’t have done anything more, so therefore even if there is failure, I’m prepared for that. And you will hear this from any kind of successful entrepreneur even, that this is the attitude, to take risks, and be prepared for defeat. Learn from it and keep on going until success arrives. And in this way, Krishna says you will not incur sin, unlike what we heard a few verses ago, that if you do not follow the duty that you have, you will incur sin. 

Now let us reflect for a little while on all that has been said. Both the importance of having a good self-image projected outwards, and also by behaviour, gaining a good reputation in all the different ways: personal life, work life. The importance of being considered as someone who has a high moral ground, and who has earned it also. How much stronger that position is than someone who has given up to weaknesses. Then the aspect of no loss of effort as we strive to perfect ourselves. And last but not least, the importance of inner peace, strength and equanimity that is achieved through complete lifestyle. There is no single magic bullet.Chapter 2: Sankhya Yoga (pt.2)

6 February | Verses 39 and 40

In these verses we understand, among other things, why the name of this chapter – unlike all the others – remains untranslated. The word sankhya is used here as reference to the knowledge imparted earlier, pertaining to the Self and its (non)relationship with the world of senses.
Knowledge, however, must be paired with appropriate action to result in practical wisdom. For this reason, we are now introduced into the science of appropriate action – or rather, all action – karma yoga.

Let’s prepare for a few more verses of the Gita. Krishna has now been telling Arjuna all kinds of philosophical reasons, and also worldly reasons for adhering to his duty. And all of these are pieces of wisdom, we could even think of as theory. And so now, Krishna will continue with some practical advice, or will start an exposition on a different kind of approach. So the verses today are 39 and 40.

This, which has been taught to you, is wisdom concerning sankhya. Now, listen to wisdom concerning yoga, endowed with which, O Arjuna, you shall cast off the bonds of action. In this there is no loss of effort. Nor is there any harm. Even a little of this knowledge, even a little practise of this yoga, protects one from great fear. 

So we now come to the word that is used here in the first of these two verses, which is sankhya. And there is a philosophy called Sankhya which is very much present in the Gita, as we will see later on. And perhaps this is why this particular word has been used here also. But the meaning here, considering what has been said up to this point, is wisdom. Swami Sivananda joins these two words, sankhya yoga, to indicate that it is different from the Sankhya philosophy. Sankhya yoga means, is a part of the philosophy of Vedanta, which teaches of the oneness of existence and there only being one element, one existence called Brahman, and then the illusions of separations are called Maya.

So this is the central teaching of Vedanta that we will also talk about later. But sankhya yoga here is a specific part of the system which deals with the individual consciousness, the atman, and various ways of realising it. And this is what we heard before when Krishna was telling Arjuna about the indestructibility of the Self, its timelessness, and its not being affected by whatever happens to the container of that consciousness. And so some authors, some commentators even translate this literally as jnana yoga, the yoga of introspection or inner wisdom. 

But the word used here is sankhya, and we will see later on that sankhya is a very important part of the Gita. And what it is, in a very brief kind of understanding, it deals with two very important aspects. One is the tree of elements it describes and shows the hierarchy in the relationship between many, many elements that comprise the manifest creation, all the way from the causal to the subtle, to the gross, to the tangible, and their relationship with the organs of the senses, with the senses and the organs of action, and so on. 

And another thing that it deals with in great detail is the law of causation. Cause and effect. It describes different types of causes that produce different types of effects and so on. So this is a very important knowledge to be had. And this is why the knowledge as such can be also here seen that Krishna has now told Arjuna some knowledge, although much more detail will come later. And now he says having known, having been shown, having been told about the theory, as it were, now we need the practise. And so here the word yoga is used specifically for karma yoga. Karma yoga is the branch of the complete yoga philosophy that deals with one’s attitude towards any kind of action, physical, mental, any type of action in order to extricate the ego from anything that is being done, so that we allow things to just happen, and they no longer happen to ‘me’. 

So that is the whole purpose of karma yoga, to remove through observation, through readjusting the inner attitude, to remove the ego from, and its likes and dislikes and all that, from everything we do, so that we do what needs to be done and not behave according to the whims of the mind. So this is, in a nutshell, karma yoga. Where we then see as Krishna says in the second verse, that it protects from great fear. And we can easily see how the fears that we have all come from the identification of the ego with this or that external event, or with the body, which also is external very much to the consciousness. And so by reducing the involvement of ego in everything we do or think or feel, where is the fear then? The fear goes with the ego. And one very important point that is mentioned here also, and very inspirational, is that in this effort there is no loss. There is no loss of effort when we practise karma yoga. Even if we try and fail, that will still count. It will not cause a downfall. And this is also related to what it says here that it causes no harm. 

And we know from other types of yoga that this is not always the case, or other types of spiritual practises. Even various rituals and so on, and we will see later on the Gita that those very much depend, the success in other types of approaches very much depends on the attitude, the purity of intention and so many different things. But here in karma yoga, any effort we make will simply remain with us, and there will be no downfall or no risk. Like in Kundalini yoga there are many risks if we don’t observe so many different rules; in karma yoga, there are no risks. It protects from great fear. And there is no loss of effort. 

And on that note, let us reflect for a few moments on these two verses. And the importance of combining knowledge with action, and thereby gaining wisdom. Applied knowledge is wisdom. Sankhya, which we will learn about more in the future, gives us the roadmap. But by itself, can become just an object of intellectual gymnastics. Whereas action, when it’s guided by wisdom, is sure to give us results.

7 February | Verse 41

Before telling us about the principles of karma yoga, Krishna begins by assuring us that it is well worth the effort – among other things, by “removing great fear” – and that that effort will not go in vain regardless of how successful we may be in pursuit of our goal.

Now that goal comes into focus: while these will differ from person to person in the details, a sincere yoga practitioner will always choose a goal that is practical and lofty at the same time, ensuring long-term inspiration and gradual fulfilment of achievable semi-goals.

This way of life is very different from that of a person who is wholly absorbed in the externalising and conflicting pulls of the senses and their attractions and repulsions, often relying on instinctive (animal) impulses as the confusion clouds the intellect and its ability to discriminate between right and wrong.

Most people’s starting point is somewhere between these two extremes – but the principles of karma yoga that Krishna is about to instruct us about apply to one and all.

Yesterday we have heard of the importance of combining knowledge and action in a concerted manner, so that progress on the path is ensured. And Sri Krishna had started talking to us about karma yoga, one of the most fundamental methods that are described in the Gita. Suitable for one and all, necessary for one and all. And before we hear about more details of this path, there is some inspiration in the beginning, and we’ll see this pattern whenever any new subject is introduced. First the goal, the inspiration, and then the methods. So the verse for today is 41.

Here, O Arjuna, there is but a single one-pointed determination. Many-branched and endless are the thoughts of the irresolute. 

So here we have the first principle of karma yoga. And also, we could say, a goal. Because when we think of karma, karma meaning action, this encompasses any kind of action; be it of thought, be it emotion, be it a behaviour, or performing any kind of work. And when karma is being done with the aim to purify the Self, then it becomes karma yoga. And the purification of the Self becomes the one thought, the one goal. And everything else becomes subservient to that. And so the person both during the practice, and as a goal, has one single goal, once single path. And therefore can achieve results. 

And when the mind is identified with the world, and we have heard in the previous verses as to what the difference is between the two, then of course, there will be the constant sway between attraction to some things, repulsion from other things. And also the objects obviously in the world, they are endless. Even in our own limited scope of action and understanding, we can be quite overwhelmed by all the various choices we are driven to do. And so the Self on the other hand is one singular existence, is one singular reality, that has no divisions, that doesn’t exist even in the divisions of time. So it is only one thing. 

And therefore when we have that as a goal, then also our minds become more and more one-pointed. Whereas, quite logically, the karma which is not driven by the singular determination, will always be, the energy will be dissipated into so many different things. And plus the attachments will also be driving energy out into pursuing something or someone or whatever. And then that can get frustrated, and then all that energy is lost. And as we heard yesterday, Krishna says that, on the other hand, in karma yoga there is no loss of effort. That whatever effort we put into this practice, into this lifestyle, we will not be drained, like we are by the uncontrolled karma. So uncontrolled karma on one hand, karma yoga on the other hand. These are two ways of living life. They are not to be seen as, karma yoga is not to be seen as something that we add into the mess of life. It is trying to live with the same life differently, with a different attitude. 

And as we’ll see shortly, it is not the karma itself, it is not the action itself which we are asked to modify, but it’s very much more than that. The inner attitude and the motivation, the motive for doing actions, which is important. And that is the whole process of karma yoga, to purify that. And the action itself is secondary. And this is important to understand because the ego will always try to throw out some self-protection as to, oh now I’m trying to change the way I am, it’s against my nature, and so on and so forth. So we need to watch out against that; that this is actually coming closer to our real nature, unconditioned nature. 

So in this karma yoga there is this one-pointed determination, which is of course helped by other approaches such as bhakti yoga, where we develop a concept of a divine nature and we, through the various stories that we reflect on, or the various characteristics of that divine nature that we hear about, we get a description of a sort of perfect personality to emulate. And so then we have that endless source of just beauty, truth, goodness, and we identify with that more and more. It attracts us more and more. And so when this emotional aspect is added, then the concentration, the one-pointedness, becomes much more easy. Which is why bhakti and raja yoga, they always come together. We practise the concentration, and also we involve ourselves emotionally in that, and that becomes then much more powerful. 

So one last thought to be mentioned here is that spiritual life is often compared to the cultivation of a garden or of a field. And this is because it’s just like in a garden where the weeds, they come uninvited. They always will come, and they always have to be taken care of. There’s no stopping unless we want to use horrible pesticides. And what we want to cultivate, that doesn’t come uninvited. We need to make the effort, and protect it. And just like in the garden, this never stops. So we can’t just say, oh, I’ve achieved something that I wanted to achieve and now I’ll take a break, because then the weeds of course will overtake. So the way to see this is that the yogi has to understand and accept the fact that there is no end to the effort ever. But also trusting the process, because just like in any effort that we learn in life and it becomes automatic, this is also how we should think of it, that the effort will never stop, but it will become so automatic eventually that it will stop being effort, just like driving a car or whatever. And this will be the transformation of the behaviour that karma yoga is trying to effect. 

So let us reflect for a few moments on this verse. In karma yoga, we try to develop one-pointed focus through reflection on the importance of this in our lives. And how we can best apply these principles. And how much more struggle there is when the mind is not driven or guided along a path. And instead, is endlessly swayed by the pulls of the senses, and the ideas of good and bad, influences from outside. The need to always strive to maintain contact with that peace within, the strength within. Which increases when we have a goal, and we make little steps with little successes along the way towards that goal.

8 February | Verses 42 to 44

Anti-spiritual forces in society are not a modern phenomenon – although the forms and expressions may change through the ages. Warning of pitfalls is an integral part of any comprehensive instruction, and here Krishna is giving us one in regard to motivation – which in turn gives direction to one’s life.

We have been briefly told where the end lies for both of the paths – the spiritual and the material – and while identification with the former does not negate the latter, the opposite is true in reverse: if we identify fully with the sensorial experience, we bar ourselves from ways to arrive at the inner, spiritual experience.

And preparing to come back to the Gita. Krishna has now started telling us about the goals and principles of karma yoga. One of them being one-pointed determination. And today we have a very important point that Krishna is going to make regarding the anti-spiritual tendencies that we can often encounter in the outside environment, as well as in our own conditioning, in our own nature. So the verses are 42 to 44.

Flowery speech is uttered by the unwise, taking pleasure in the eulogising words of the Vedas, O Arjuna. And they say there is nothing else. Full of desires, having heaven as they goal, they utter speech which is directed to various ends. Leaving to new births as the result of their works. They prescribe various methods abounding in specific actions for the attainment of pleasure and power. For those who are attached to pleasure and power, whose minds are drawn away by such teaching, that determinate reason is not formed, which is steadily bent on meditation and samadhi or the superconscious state. 

These verses can be seen from various dimensions. First, on the face of what Krishna is saying in relation to the various Vedic rituals at the time of Krishna, or even to a certain extent. The Vedas have been always considered to be the sum total of all knowledge that has been gained by people, knowledge not just of the internal, the spiritual, but also of the external, the material. And so there is a blend of what today we call science and physics and metaphysics. There is no difference. There are various rituals prescribed in the Vedas which are designed to achieve some kind of material gain. And they are very specific, they are described in great detail. 

And the reference to these people who utter flowery speech is referring to the fact that there are these eulogising hymns in the Vedas which then they claim that there is nothing beyond this, there is nothing beyond the sensory experience, and the rituals are given the main importance. But as Swami Sivananda points out, the Vedas have two basic, two main parts. One is called Karma Kanda, and one is called Jnana Kanda. The Karma Kanda, that is just what I described, these rituals for attaining specific goals. And the Jnana Kanda, this is where we have all the texts dealing with the nature of reality, nature of Self, such as the Upanishads, or other texts that deal with these subjects. 

So this can be seen as the anti-spiritual kind of thinking back in the day, a long time ago. But the same kind of tendency exists today, except we don’t refer to the Vedas. Veda by the way literally means science, even in many languages in Eastern Europe, for example. So we can really transpose this meaning to this science worship, we should say. Science as such is of course extremely necessary, essential, useful. But it is this arrogant kind of scientific, materialistic thinking which draws people away from the spiritual. Because we see even in this, in the old Vedas, as well as in the history of the various spiritual philosophies in India, that they were never in conflict with science. It was always, there was always cooperation, there was always the understanding that there is something we can experience and study through the senses, and some things that we have to experience from within. 

And so by only being interested in achieving material goals and some kind of station in life in the outside world, we are really coming away more and more from the inner nature that the spiritual seeker is trying to discover. And as we will see in the Gita, there is no need to not be involved in the material world, quite the opposite, but it has to be done with a different attitude about the Self, and also about how to act in the outside world. 

So there is this warning in verse 44 that for those who are to given to this superficial ‘flowery speech’ of those who arrogantly claim they know when they don’t. Then of course, our own wisdom is going to get clouded, confused. And this is part of, this is a reason why mental hygiene and a wise choice of stuff to put in our heads, such as conditioning through what we’re doing these mornings, where we start the day with some inspiring thoughts, which also reach quite deep into the consciousness. So this is one little effort we can make. Of course, the whole lifestyle should be arranged in such a way that we fill the mind with that which is useful, positive, constructive, and let go of and empty of all the things which are binding us to the automatic life of a materialistic mindset. 

So let us now reflect on the importance of these teachings. And the need to find a good balance between the internal exploration, evolution and growth, and also being involved with the world of the senses, which contains all the useful things that can be helpful for us in life, as well as countless detrimental things that can bring us down. And the effort of the yogi is to always choose wisely.

9 February | Verses 45 and 46

The “Vedas” of the Gita and “science” of our modern times are interchangeable terms in these two verses. While the importance of the external, sensorial experiences and even more so of their conscious management is not being denied, Krishna makes it clear that the knowledge of the Self is not attainable through the pursuit of worldly desires; rather, these are seen as major stumbling blocks, especially when cloaked in the garb of spirituality.

We are also reminded of another common pitfall: attachment to practices and systems. Krishna tells us, “all these are nothing but means to an end”, and “as useless as a reservoir of water in a flooded place” for one who has reached the end. With this approach, we will be able to adapt our lifestyle and practices to best suit external changes and inner revelations, rather than making the means into an end in itself – which is such a common occurrence with so many people who identify as religious.

In Hatha Yoga Pradipika (I:15), “adhering to rules” has been mentioned as a hindrance to sadhana. This certainly does not refer to the rules of spiritual life one should strive to observe: it is a direct warning to understand all rules as a necessary roadmap – to be used when useful and necessary – and not make a religion out of them…

We have heard yesterday Krishna warning us of certain pitfalls that are present in the world around us. And also the various philosophies or approaches to life that are present, or even prevalent, which are often quite opposed to the principles of spiritual life, or a balanced life. And a mention has been made of the Vedas, which here represent all of the worldly knowledge. Of course the Vedas also contain spiritual knowledge, but here the distinction is made so that we know what to choose from this endless body of knowledge. And today two very important verses come: 45 and 46.

The Vedas deal with the three attributes of nature. Be above these three attributes, O Arjuna. Free yourself from the pairs of opposites, and ever remain in the quality of sattwa or goodness, freed from the thought of acquisition and preservation, and be established in the Self. To the Brahmana, one who has known the Self, all the Vedas are of as much use as is a reservoir of water in a place where there is a flood. 

So first we are reminded of the fact that the Vedas, and here really we can see them as science. Veda and science are not synonymous, but one of the meanings is that. And so this is very relevant for the modern world also. Because science also deals with the external nature, the three attributes of nature, Krishna says here. And according to the Vedic and other, and also Sankhya philosophy, all of nature consists of three attributes, and this will be dealt with in more detail later. But they are tamas, which means – there are different dimensions to these – it can mean solidity, stability, but then also psychologically it means darkness, inertia or confusion, chaos and so on. Then we have the quality of rajas, which by itself means dynamism. And again, psychologically this can be in the positive aspect, assertiveness, in the negative aspect, aggression and violence. And then there is the quality of sattwa, which is luminosity, harmony, balance, expansiveness. 

So we have this dense dark aspect. Then the expansive luminous aspect. And in between them there is the dynamism which, depending on how it’s used, can take us towards the sattwa, or it can take us towards the tamas. And so here Krishna is saying that the Vedas deal with only these three, whereas the experience of the Self is much beyond all of them. However, right in the same verse it says that the way to be above this, because that’s what the recommendation is: be above these three qualities. And the way to do that is to remain in the quality of sattwa. 

So to transcend these three, we need to first establish ourselves in one of them, in that luminous quality. And so this is very important to consider because sattwa involves not just any particular area of life, but all of life. So as we will see later on, there is food that can be sattwic, rajasic or tamasic; there is thinking, feeling, action. Everything, everything is coloured by these three attributes. And so in order for us to be able to transcend these, we first need to be established in the luminosity, in the harmony. And this is the whole point of spiritual life. 

So it is alright to say that the person who has experienced the Self is beyond good and bad, beyond the three qualities, and so on. But to get there, the whole process is then necessary. So whenever a question arises as to why should I become a good person? It’s not always convenient in the material world, it can actually lead to a loss. Well, the reason is that it is only when we become harmonised, peaceful, balanced and aware that we can even think or consider or be ready for the transcendence and the real awakening of the inner potential. 

And the thought of acquisition and preservation is mentioned here as the primary focus to be made on how to adjust one’s behaviour. So anything that fattens the ego. And the little ego always tries to grow bigger by increasing whatever we identify with. So if we identify with material possessions, we will only want to have more and more of those. This can be in terms of human relationships or power or whatever it is. So acquisition and then holding onto what has been acquired. Which is then also related with fear of losing it. All of this completely destroys the mental equilibrium that is necessary for the peace, the quiet, the harmony in which the reality of the Self can be experienced. 

So it’s all about that. First we need to get there somehow, then once the experience takes place, that there will be a complete transformation. But that’s a long way away, because first we need to establish ourselves in this luminosity and goodness or sattwa. And then in verse 46, the result is given, that once the Self is known, then all the techniques, all the methods, all the scriptures, and even all the worldly knowledge is not really, is really just a little piecemeal bits of that huge body of realisation that the person acquires. 

So let us reflect on these two verses for a few moments. Without wondering too much about the details on the three qualities, unless you are already familiar with the subject. Being aware of how these teachings can apply to our own life. How the desire to acquire and to increase and to maintain various external perishable objects ultimately makes us unhappy, frustrated. And that also we are not asked to give up anything. Only to change the inner attitude, and be free from the pulls of the objects outside. Ever content in the peace of the Self.

10 February | Verse 47

A complete summary of the core principles of karma yoga has been given in this verse:

  1. You have a right to work. Use it, and wisely.
  2. That right is to work only. Analyse the (lack of) connection between an action and its fruit, by reflecting on all the elements necessary for the performance of an action that are beyond your control.
  3. Let not the fruits of an action be the motive for the performance of that action. In other words: do your best, utilising all the qualities and abilities, without thinking of personal gain or expecting a definite result.
    In other words still: stop thinking of yourself as the doer of an action, or the owner/enjoyer of its fruits. Responsibility for work lies with its performer; responsibility for the fruits does not.
  4. Do not get attached to inaction. The idea of inaction, as Krishna will clarify later on, is really just a fallacy: it is not natural for an embodied being to be free from action, and the very attempt not to do anything is itself an action, and a highly detrimental one as it is inhibitive and limiting in nature.

These principles are relatively easy to understand, and the benefits immense: imagine a life with no burden of guilt, no constricting feelings of responsibility and ownership, and being able to rise above the constant cycle of momentary elation and long-term unhappiness that accompany a life of servitude to desires and fancies, instead being more and more established in the constant peace, strength and joy that are inherent in one’s true nature.

It is the application of these principles that requires painstaking striving, lots of time and patience – but as Krishna points out from the start, there is no loss off effort on this path.

We have now begun the discourse on karma yoga within the second chapter, where it is very much connected with buddhi yoga, the yoga of wisdom. And any of these verses are quite good to read over and over and contemplate on. Today there is one of the verses that encompass the whole central teaching of the Gita. And so just one verse for today, 46. 

Your right is to work only. But never with its fruits. Let not the fruits of action be your motive, nor let your attachment be to inaction. 

There are four different teachings condensed in this short little verse. And this really encompasses the whole philosophy of karma yoga. And when we think about it, what it implies, it’s really easy to understand how it works, and also what are the immense benefits for us. In this karma yoga, just like bhakti yoga and jnana yoga are quite different from the more practical yoga such as hatha and raja, which have so many different techniques and stages, so much instruction is needed at every stage. And there’s a lot of work to combine those practices and so on. In karma yoga, the principle is quite easy, is very simple. Not much needs to be said. It is the application of that, in day to day, in moment to moment awareness, which takes a lifetime or more. 

Here just in this one verse we can see how to approach the whole subject. First of all, there is the idea of the fruits of action not being the motive for the action to be done. And this is a whole different paradigm, because normally, in normal material life the entire drive to do anything is to achieve something, is that goal of that action. And so this is not wrong. This is the natural way of the material world. But Krishna now tells us that if we want to grow inwardly, if we want to grow spiritually, if we want to evolve, then we don’t need to necessarily change the actions that we do, but we need to completely refocus our awareness from, we need to completely reshuffle our motivations, our intentions. 

And this is because when we desire the fruit of an action, then we become attached to it when we get it, or we become very frustrated when we don’t get it. And because it is not really up to us what the fruits will be, because there can be so many factors that we cannot influence. And so the idea of agency is actually just a trick of the ego that Krishna is asking us to look into and to recognise. So the approach should be to only care about the work itself, try to do it with the best of our ability, and then not be careless about the fruit that we are trying to achieve, but not take ownership of it, or feel responsibility for it. That’s the best way to put it. Basically it is like being an employee, following an instruction, something goes right, or something goes wrong. It is not up to that employee if they had done everything they were supposed to. 

And in the same way, when we approach everything in life in this way, then we are just as free as that employee in the sense that if something goes terribly wrong, they do not bear the responsibility for it. It is that responsibility that we have when we have the idea of agency and ownership of fruits that we experience suffering when we lose something, or undue pride when something is achieved. And then there is also the fear of losing it and the frustration when someone attacks it, and so on and so forth. All the frustrations in life that we experience in daily life altogether will vanish when the idea of agency and ownership is renounced. 

So this is one way to understand that, but also when the word ‘right’ is emphasised, then we really have the right to our own work. But without the idea of agency; one should always feel that I am instrument through which things are happening. So as I said, easy to explain, easy to understand and how it also works. But then how do we extricate, how do we disconnect the ego from the various things that we do and the expectations that we have and so on. That is the hard part. 

‘Let not the fruits of action be your motive.’ So here really we are asked to disconnect the motivation for doing any action from the result of that action. This again takes a lot of mental reprogramming so that I joyfully and happily do whatever task is required of me as a duty. And then I’m not responsible for the outcome. If it’s a good outcome, well and good, if it’s a bad outcome, not my responsibility. 

But the last part of the verse is also very important. ‘Do not let your attachment be to inaction.’ So what happens to a lot of people when they misunderstand the various spiritual teachings is that they need to refrain from performing actions, certain actions because they are considered impure or whatever. And then a certain sloth comes in in the person’s thinking. Or they become too detached, disconnected from everything. And this is not, this is an unhelpful status. It’s tamasic, it leads to lethargy and idleness, and this is not where any kind of change can happen. So Krishna will be warning us against that on quite a few occasions. 

So how to approach karma yoga? What it really is, is that we go through life performing action that needs to be done, without looking at the result of the actions, and even without thinking of myself as a doer, just thinking my body is doing this, my mind, my senses are all involved in this task. But it is just happening, the action takes precedence over the actor, and then we can of course be more efficient, and also more desired in a team for example. This has many, many implications. So karma yoga in a nutshell in verse 47. 

So reflecting now for a few moments on what has been said. And on the effects on our own actions, on our own mental state. How much do the various attachments and desires and the drive to fulfil them interfere with the inner connection with who I am? So many people in the modern world lose this connection. But it’s always there when we know where to look.

11 and 12 February | Verses 48 to 50

The meaning of yoga as “union” seems to apply quite universally: in today’s verses, we see a union between the process and the goal – yoga’s own version of “fake it till you make it” (which itself is a valid and effective approach to many things in life).

Two fundamental aspects have been given: samatvam (evenness of mind) and yogah karmasu kaushalam (“skill in action is yoga”). These are both the natural behaviours of a fully awakened mind, and qualities to develop patiently and gradually to come ever closer to that goal, as the method.

All other practices of yoga, whatever they may be, can be seen as tools to aid these two efforts in life, which should be the primary focus of any serious aspirant: trying to maintain even-mindedness in all circumstances, and doing all actions utilising our full potential and skills, yet without clinging to the rewards or fruits of actions in general.

We will shortly continue our journey into the Gita. The instructions on karma yoga are being given, and some very important aspects or principles are being taught at the very outset. And on this train of thought, we shall continue today with the verses 48, 49 and 50.

Perform action, O Arjuna. Being steadfast in yoga, abandoning attachment, and balanced in success and failure. Evenness of mind is called yoga. Far lower than the yoga of wisdom is action, O Arjuna. Seek refuge in wisdom. Wretched are those whose motive is the fruit. Endowed with wisdom or evenness of mind, one casts off in this life both good and evil deeds. Therefore, devote yourself to yoga. Yoga is skill in action. 

So in these three verses we have two very important definitions of yoga as both a state and a process. First the method to perform karma yoga is given in verse 48. Action is to be performed while being established in yoga, here defined as balanced mind, equipoise or evenness of mind. Balanced in success and failure. And this is the natural behaviour of a personality, of a mind which is in tune with the higher consciousness. And so we are trying to imitate that behaviour as the process, so that we get established in the state. 

So that is the path. It is not just a piece of information that yes, when you have known the Self, your mind will be even, but it is to seek evenness of mind, regardless of the opposing pairs of these opposites, success and failure and so on. And abandoning attachment to the fruits of action. Now, why this attachment to the fruits is mentioned so often? Because when we think of desire, it is always for something partial, some kind of object, some fruit of some kind of action. So desire as such really, when we say desire for fruits of actions, we could just as well say desire. 

Because at the core, every kind of desire comes from the one single force of desire. Tantra talks about this as the three different forms of Shakti, or energy. And they are what drives and motivates everything in the universe. And they are iccha or the force of desire, iccha shakti. Then there is jnana shakti, the energy of wisdom or knowledge. And kriya shakti, the energy of doing or doership. So at the core, every being is driven by these three, and the force of desire is what motivates us to do anything. 

But the problem is that because of the delusion and the misidentification between the Self and the non-Self, the external, the body, the mind, and the internal, the Self. This desire is not directed to its natural goal, which is the experience of the higher consciousness, but it is misdirected into various objects. And because the experience of Self is so vast, the desires also have no end. So when they are misplaced into objects, then once the object is acquired, it is natural for the desire to simply be redirected to something else, or a bigger object, or more of it, or whatever. So this is why it is endless, and the only way to satisfy the endless desire is to experience the endlessness of the Self. 

So this is why Krishna always emphasises, and not just in the Gita but in spiritual life in general, it is emphasised that the desire should be removed from the external objects so it can be redirected and actually experience the source of the desire itself, turn it on itself. And this evenness of mind then is achieved. 

One important point also is to be made when we think of these pairs of opposites is that when the mind oscillates between attraction and repulsion, pleasure and pain, and so on, we are not really trying to be somewhere in the middle, neutral, emotionless, dry or anything like that. Swami Satyananda always used to say that to manage these opposites, we first need to focus on repulsion, dwesha. So first remove any negativity, hatred and so on. And then when only raga remains, it’s no longer raga, it’s no longer attraction or it’s no longer clinging to something, because that clinging, as it were, is expanded to everything. 

So then if nothing partial is being sought, then there is no swinging between the pairs of opposites, there is just the love. So there is none of the dryness, neither attraction, nor repulsion, but there is the elimination of the negative. And so this is why the masters, they always emphasise also this need to stay joyful and jubilant, and never give into this kind of spiritual dryness that we get when we misunderstand the various teachings and misapply them in our own mental management. 

And in verse 49, it says that far lower than the yoga of wisdom is action. Action here means just karma without the yoga. So when we practise action with the expectation of the fruits, then we achieve something, so it doesn’t say here that it’s all for nothing, but far lower than the yoga of wisdom is action. You can see it as two paths, or trying to get from A to B either by walking or by taking a fast train. So the yoga of wisdom is like taking that train and just doing karma, it is said that after millions and millions of incarnations, every soul will reach the end point of life. But why wait? 

“Wretched are those whose motive is the fruit” – so that is quite self-explanatory because of how these object of desires, as I said before, never stop attracting and increasing. And another definition, both equally important as the samatwam, as the evenness of mind, is in verse 50: yoga is skill in action. So again, a yogi, one who has perfected themselves, will always exhibit great skill in whatever they do, and also, they’ll be able to do so many more things and so much more impactfully than ordinary people. But to develop this again, we go from the other end. Try to be as good at anything that is being done. Do it with love, like a piece of art. That is the general kind of recommendation as to how to develop this attitude, no matter what it is, how mundane or non-mundane it may be, developing this skill in action and at the same time the skill of not being attached to the fruits of that action. 

This may sound like a lot, but really, in these three verses, and several ones before, we have the complete philosophy of karma yoga and how to approach every moment in life with this new outlook, so that we grow on the path. So we don’t need a lot of instruction in karma yoga. Just read, reread, reflect on these verses. And try to apply as much as we can, so that we see the effects manifest in daily life. 

Let us reflect for a few moments on these instructions, on these principles. The effort to maintain a balanced mind, no matter what, is the ultimate practise of yoga. All the hundreds of techniques that are for the body and the mind and so on, they are to help us in this process. But the central effort is to maintain equipoised in success, failure, pleasure, pain, heat, cold. Remembering this will make yoga practise a lot more meaningful. And in the expressive side of life, skill in action. Again, a lifetime effort. In these three verses, we have been given a lifetime of practise, evolution, growth.

13 February | Verse 51

Having learnt about the core principles of life lived in the spirit of karma yoga and buddhi yoga, we now hear about the result: a veritable kingdom of heaven – or “place beyond all evil” – which is not a distant place in another dimension reachable after death, but a living reality of a person who has perfected themselves through rigorous discipline under competent guidance and adhering to one’s innate nature, talents and abilities.

Recently Krishna has been giving Arjuna, and therefore us also, the most fundamental teachings on not only karma yoga, but really this very much involves what is known, what is called here, the buddhi yoga, or yoga of wisdom. Living in life, living in the world in such a way that we flow with the current of nature, but are not affected by it. Krishna tells us here it is possible. And the way has been described in a very condensed way. All these verses are very worth reflecting on regularly, that have been given until now, especially these about the definitions of yoga as evenness of mind and skill in action, these are to be remembered no matter what other teachings come later. And today we’ll hear about the result or the main purpose of this lifestyle. The verse is 51. 

The wise, possessed of knowledge, having abandoned the fruits of their actions, and being freed from the fetters of birth, go to the place which is beyond all evil. 

So, the wise – who are the wise? They have the buddhi yoga knowledge. They are the ones who have the evenness of mind and who therefore can, as it was explained in that verse yesterday, cast off all good and evil deeds. Now, of course this is to be understood properly. The being beyond good and evil doesn’t mean that the person has the licence to do whatever they want. It simply means that they have transcended the dualities of life and are in tune with what is known as, what is called the divine will. 

And so the freedom really is from the enthrallment in the material identification and there is the singular devotion or awareness also of that one singular reality which is always present in the moment. Which is why also people who have reached this exalted state of consciousness, their behaviours can never be fully predicted by the rest of us. I you have ever lived near a great master, you will see that also, that they will also have some kind of original way of dealing with every present moment, rather than being a creature of habit. 

Now the abandonment of the fruits of actions is the important point here. The example of a farmer is often given, because the farmer has to prepare the ground and sow the seed, and then just let the seed grow. The conditions have to be created, then the seeds will grow. And whether that farmer has had a selfish motive for doing that or not, whether the motive was that I’m doing this for a higher reason or as a duty or, this egoless inner attitude can be there; the result will be the same. The grain will come. And so the external effect will be the same, but the effect on the personality will be very, very different, because there will be no attachment. Which means that if something happens to the crops, the person will not be affected, whereas the former will be. There will be the lack of fear of losing it and all the rest of it which comes from being attached to the fruits of our actions. 

And so this is important to understand that we are not being asked to renounce any kind of action or be some kind of fool who will work for free because I’m not attached to the money that comes out of my work, nothing like that. It is only not to be the slave to all these things which are perishable in nature. And so this is why then the person is ‘freed from the fetters of birth’ also, because even taking birth is seen really as a result of a desire unfulfilled in the previous birth, because death comes in the middle of some process that has not been finished. 

So the striving of a yogi is to complete all the karmas that need to be completed, exhaust them and not accumulate new ones and the ability not to accumulate new baggage of karmic bondage is to live the life of karma yoga, where the action is done through me, not by me. The ego is taken out of the picture, and that stops the accumulation of karma. 

And the end result is that we go to the place which is beyond all evil. Which can really be translated as what in the Bible is called the Kingdom of Heaven. And this is not some kind of place that we need to wait to enter until the death of the physical body, but rather it is a state in which a yogi, a perfected, not necessarily the yoga aspirant, but one who has reached this state lives in. So this is also the important part to remember that to be able to be in this state, a very certain set of qualities and behaviours is required. 

And we see these behaviours in those who have achieved that state. We should try and do our best to find the seeds of those behaviours and qualities in us, because they are there. We’re not trying to import something from outside, build on that and make this, what really is the higher human nature as opposed to the animal nature which is preventing the human nature from flourishing. We always try to support that and minimise the influence of the other. And we have both, as we’ve seen our brains, we have the animal brain down below, the human brain on top of it. So we are wired for this kind of conflict. But the process of yoga is to become more and more human, less and less animal. 

And with that, we shall reflect for a few moments on this verse. One who has established themselves in the samatwam state, evenness of mind. One who has been applying skill in action to the best of their ability consistently and with critical thinking, with an open mind, with passion and one pointedness, and yet non-attachment. That in a nutshell is the recipe for how to approach any action, so that it allows us to grow rather than binds us down. And in that way, Krishna says here, we can experience that immense, timeless being, even while physically we are still enmeshed in this ever active world of nature.

14 February | Verses 52 and 53

The term buddhi is used in two different contexts: one, as the mahat, or great mind, the luminous first partial thing to emerge from Nature (Prakriti) in its infinite, non-manifesting state (more on this later on). The second context is when it denotes intellect, as one of the four aspects of the antah karana or inner instrument, the other three being manas (cognition, rationalising), chitta (memory) and ahamkara or ego.

Buddhi yoga can be seen as the attempt to purify one’s individual intellect so that it ever more reflects the light of its original source, the higher mind, which itself is a reflection of the light emanating from the Self that we have been hearing about and reflecting on.

Ultimately, however, all activity – including that of the intellect – has to stop: a mirror, however clean and reflective, is still just a mirror. The Self has been described as infinite, and while that is an impossible concept to grasp with a finite mind, we can appreciate at least intellectually that surely it must then include things that are contradictory or opposite to each other – everything means everything…

This is why, when we deeply reflect on the seemingly contradictory statements given even within a single scripture with equal authority and emphasis, the intellect will eventually stay somewhere in the middle… still… “immovable and steady in the Self”.

Now we have heard from Krishna about the core principles as well as the effects or the goal of karma yoga. And some more thoughts, some more teachings will be given towards this today. The verses are 52 and 53.

When your intellect crosses beyond the mire of delusion, then you shall attain to indifference as to what has been heard and what has yet to be heard. When your intellect, which is perplexed by the text which it has read, shall stand immovable and steady in the Self, then you shall attain Self-realisation. 

Here we have a seamless connection we see between the idea of karma yoga and the buddhi yoga, the yoga of wisdom. They are not really separate; they are two sides of the same coin. And why it is called buddhi yoga, because here we work with buddhi, with the intellect. We are trying to purify and harmonise the higher faculties, because they are capable of controlling the lower animal nature, in the same way that physiologically also the higher centres of the brain, ‘the human brain’ is able to inhibit, control and guide the activities of the instinctive portions of the brain. 

And so here, even on the physiological or neurological viewpoint, these senses have to be trained. So even the hardware that we come equipped with has this kind of limitation that the instinctive mind comes pre-programmed, like a firmware that we are born with, that doesn’t need any training, no one is to teach us how to sleep, to be greedy and so on and so forth. But the higher faculties, they all have to be trained through education, through discipline and so on. And so through the help of a purified intellect, we can make sense of the messy world and when this purification has taken place on a large scale, then this whole false idea of the world being something that is separate from the Self, something that has all these externalising tendencies, all of that ceases to be a reality for the yogi, and therefore the whole experience of life becomes completely different. So there’s the crossing of the mire of delusion. 

But in verse 53 we have a very important and interesting point, that the intellect can only be used up to a certain point where we can still understand the various principles, how they apply to our own life. And this is especially useful when we think of the practices, when we think of the lifestyle that we need to adopt, we can intellectually analyse the benefits of that and then we can choose our own path accordingly. However, for the realisation of that transcendental reality, intellect is simply not going to cut it – we can’t climb the ladder up into the sky, we can only climb the ladder to the helicopter pad, but then need to take the helicopter. And so the intellect has to be disabled, as it were. 

And this takes place through reflection, very deep reflection on the various truths that are given in the various scriptures, even in the Gita itself. We don’t even need to have conflicting ideas from different scriptures because only in one of them, there is the idea of action, inaction and how they both are one thing for a yogi. This is something that the intellect cannot understand logically. In the same way, there are in Zen Buddhism for example, there are these koans, the riddles that are supposed to perplex the mind in such a way that the intellect can’t function anymore. 

And this is when the insight, the intuitive insights can actually come from within. It is when the lower mind, when the manas, the thinking, the rational mind, and the buddhi, the intellect. As long as they are active then the reality of the Self, which is only perceivable when there is no activity of the mind, cannot be perceived. And so the way to disable the intellect is to deeply reflect on the various principles. Even in the Vedas, for example, there is the path of pravritti and nirvritti, which is the path of action or the renunciation of action. And all of these, they both can be understood separately by the intellect, but how they all are valid at the same time, that is something that the intellect is not capable of resolving. 

And so by this constant process of reflection, called manana, we can achieve this effect of, as it says here, perplexing the intellect. And then it will stay, as Krishna says, immovable and steady in the Self. So first we have the need to cross the, what is called ‘mire of delusion’. And when this happens, then there is, as it says in verse 52, indifference to what has been heard and what is yet to be heard. What has been heard, this can refer to various things; instructions to spiritual life. It can also mean past sense experiences. And then what is yet to be heard, that is the striving or the question, how should I proceed? Or it can be in future sense enjoyments, and so on. 

So as long as we are involved in the process, these are very valid, these are quite relevant. But once the whole illusion of material existence has been seen for what it is, then none of this will matter anymore, in the same way that there was a statement before that all the scriptures in the world are essentially useless to one who has achieved the goal that the various scriptures are trying to lead us towards. 

So let us reflect once more on these verses. ‘When your intellect crosses beyond the mire of delusion, you shall attain to indifference as to what has been heard, and what is yet to be heard. When your intellect, perplexed by the conflicting ideas which you have read, stands immovable and steady in the Self, then you shall attain Self-realisation.’ Reflecting on these thoughts for some time, especially if there’s anything in these verses that is speaking to you particularly.

15 February | Verse 54

What is it that we are trying to achieve by making spiritual efforts? A universal recommendation for achieving success in any area of life is to create a clear-cut image of the person one is trying to become, and adopt the thinking and behaviours that are in line with that ideal personality, rather than allowing old conditionings retain precedence.

So, how does a self-realised being speak, sit and walk? The answers that are about to be given come from various angles, but as will be made very clear in all of them, outward appearances are all but irrelevant, while the inner attitude is everything…

We have heard most recently Krishna explain the principles and the goals of karma yoga and buddhi yoga, the yoga of wisdom. And the question on everyone’s lips might be as to how does that person who has experienced the Self, for whom this has become the living reality, differ from the rest of us? And that is what Arjuna is also going to be asking today, so the verse for today comprises his question, verse 54.

Arjuna said: What, O Krishna, is the description of one who has steady wisdom, and is merged in the superconscious state. How does one of steady wisdom speak? How does he sit? And how does he walk? 

Yesterday Krishna told us about the steady intellect. And this steadiness of the intellect is then achieved through a lifestyle of discipline where we try to extricate ourselves from the reaction to pleasure and pain, hot and cold, and all these pairs of opposites. And we can see these pairs of opposites like two sides between which a pendulum swings, the pendulum of the mind or the unawakened intellect. And in the middle, there is no movement. When the person can be balanced in these opposites, then there is a certain steadiness achieved through that. So the wild pendulum stops swinging. 

And another way, or rather the complementary way of achieving this, is to deeply study scriptures that deal with this transcendental reality and the ways to experience it. And because that transcendental reality is transcendental, it doesn’t behave according to our beliefs, rules and so on. We need to make the intellect steady, and capable of understanding the things that can only be understood when the mind is steady. And so how does that then manifest in the outward behaviour of such a person? 

Not everyone has the fortune to be around an awakened master. But generally what you will see is that the person behaves in a very original way, there is no way to really predict how they’re going to act at any given moment depending on their external behaviour, because the internal experience is something that shines through, that attracts people to this great master, because it speaks to something that lives within themselves. But the master themself, the master himself or herself is not influenced back by this dynamic, by these other people. So this is one very important aspect. It’s like a lamp that only shines outwards, doesn’t need anything from anybody. It only gives the light. 

That is the state in which an awakened person lives, because there is no need, there is no desire, there is nothing that the person is driven to do. Everything that is done is from choice. So this is a life of great freedom, inward freedom, even though externally these people generally don’t have much freedom because they are swarmed by great crowds of us. And so there is nothing showy in that behaviour. Everything is done with a purpose, with a higher purpose in mind. So the external faculties of that person might not change very much. They have a body, they sit, they walk, they speak. But the place from which they operate is very, very different. 

And Krishna will of course give Arjuna different kinds of answers to this question, but the simple answer is that the way the person of steady wisdom speaks, sits or walks is not necessarily different from everyone else. It is the inner attitude, what is driving the person, all of that is quite different. And it is based on the freedom. Freedom from the instinctive behaviour, freedom from desires, and thereby the person is able to joyfully reside in that changeless nature. And because they have so much of that experience, they are free to give it away to the rest of us, freely, and in great quantities.

So there is not much else to talk about in this verse, but in case we have also been wondering as to where we are actually trying to go. Are we trying to become some kind of saintly person, or what is it that we’re trying to do when we talk about purification. Where does this whole path lead? Let us reflect on that for a few moments, including on your own personal ideas that you have acquired until this moment. With spiritual life, we always have to be careful not to believe the various constructs of our own mind. This is why scriptural study is so important, because the scriptures, they contain various universal principles that apply to one and all. Which is quite different from the various thought processes of our own little minds. However, an idea of the goal is always good to have. Where am I trying to go? What am I trying to achieve? Where is this path taking me?

16 February | Verse 55

“Steady wisdom” is the wisdom of a mind that does not fluctuate. Why do the minds of the vast majority of people fluctuate? The answer could be given in volumes upon volumes of analytic texts on psychology – or simply in one word: desire. And since the many desires – from the cravings of the body to the fancies of the mind – are present in just about everything we do, it could be said that “to manage the force of desire” in one’s life is the same as saying “life management” in general.

This is why there is no simple and quick solution to the problem of material entanglement: it is necessary to adopt an entire lifestyle… whose many elements are covered in depth within the Gita, as we shall see.

Yesterday Krishna asked Arjuna as to what are the characteristics of a person who has merged with the superconscious state, who has steady wisdom, sthitaprajna. And he asked how does such a person speak, sit or walk? And let’s see what Krishna has to say to that. Verse 55. 

The Blessed Lord said: When a person completely casts off, O Arjuna, all the desires of the mind, and is satisfied in the Self, by the Self, then one is said to be one of steady wisdom. 

Now, we will be hearing about the role of desire. And especially the material desire, which is always particular, which is always for something specific. And which is always placed on something that is transient, temporary. And therefore leads us to a lot of sorrow and unhappiness. In order to achieve this state of steady wisdom, Krishan says that these desires have to be cast off completely. 

Now, how can we completely cast off desires? As I mentioned before, desire in its pure form is one of the three types of energy that drive any kind of living being. And so surely this is not to be stopped. That’s part of, that’s just how we operate in this manifest universe. But just like with the ego, desires also can be understood from different perspectives. So the pure ego, for example, is simply the sense that ‘I am’, nothing more than that. There is no arrogance to it. There is none of those negative associations that the word ego generally gets. And these negative associations are there because of the awareness of ‘I am this or that’, that is where the problems start, when we identify with various particular traits, or various particular things, then we have the need to acquire more, or reject some and so on and so forth.

But the pure ahamkara, or ego sense is simply the awareness that ‘I am’, I am an entity. And in the same way, the desire, if it’s understood as the force that drives us to do anything, then that is not a bad thing. Swami Venkatesh has very good points in today’s commentary, that hunger is a natural desire for nourishment, and we without that we would not be driven to eat, to nourish, and we would perish. But the desire of the mind is, for example, a craving for chocolate or something like that. So this is what the desires of the mind are. That’s why we need to read these verses quite carefully and look for every word. 

So a yogi always strives to reduce all these fanciful desires of the mind, which really are not in line with one’s needs. So the analysis of one’s needs comes in, and whatever is not needed is discarded. So there’s a very patient, gradual process. The warning is given against some kind of quick fix that we cut ourselves off from the objects of desires while leaving those desires to actually fester within. That is not the way of a yogi. So when we can use the intellect very successfully here, when you really think, well is this thing that I desire actually useful for me, or am I wasting my energy trying to attain it? 

So this really saves a lot of energy, and we always need to remember that the experience of the Self – and here we need to take the words of those masters with experience in themselves – is so far more satisfying, complete and final, that once that experience has been achieved, then desires will follow automatically. It is only the process that we need to follow to get there that can be sometimes difficult or that can feel like austerity or too much discipline and so on. But there is always this, there needs to be this positive relationship with that whole idea of Self as it being the source of, or the place that we superimpose on the different objects that we then chase. 

And this can work in the material realm for some time. There are people for whom it works lifelong. The whole maya, the whole material world is simply working fine. A good relationship, good work, with all of that combined. But as we can see that all of these things are always in danger of falling apart, something can happen at any point. And then, especially if the achievement has been high, then the loss will also be felt much more greatly. And so we are not trying to stop ourselves from acting in the outside world, because in the material realm, desire is really the only motivator. 

So for a completely worldly person, this idea that one should cast off desires is unthinkable, because then what would one become, just a couch potato. But a yogi understands the role of desire and is then able to consciously choose which desires are to be fulfilled, and to what extent, and which desires are to be completely cast off. So all the desires of the mind have to be cast off eventually. But it’s a long, long process, so there should be no hurry in here. And then the satisfaction of the Self is so that the wisdom doesn’t waver anymore. 

So it’s very interesting to see how if the society was spiritual, or if the spiritual ideas were prevalent in our society today, it would look so very different. Our entire economies are based on people following their desires that they don’t really need, buying stuff they don’t really need. We would not have capitalism; we would not have the way we live really. So this is not something that is compatible with the mainstream thinking in society. And the spiritual seeker will always do best to do this inner work, never to preach anything, and evolve inwardly regardless of what is happening outside. 

Let us now reflect for a few moments on the teachings of this verse, where Krishna tactfully brushed over Arjuna’s question about the external faculties, or external manifestations of someone with steady wisdom. And instead tells us how to achieve steady wisdom.

17 February | Verse 56

A vital point many strivers seem to miss is that spiritual discipline is not about living a dry life bereft of enjoyment. What Krishna emphasises again and again is that rather than the object itself, it is the longing for what is perceived as pleasurable and loathing for what is perceived as painful that are the two thieves of mental equilibrium, happiness and peace, accompanied as they are by attachment, fear and anger.

Recalling where we are in our journey into the Bhagavad Gita. Yesterday, Krishna defined a person of steady wisdom, sthitaprajna, as one who has completely cast off all desires of the mind, that was his specific qualification, and is satisfied in the Self by the Self. And experience that inner luminosity. And knows that it is the reality, that it is the foundation of one’s personality. Then one is of course not going to be fooled into thinking that anything external from that can take precedent. And today is verse 56, which follows along a similar line.

One whose mind is not shaken by adversity, who does not hanker after pleasures, and is free from attachment, fear and anger, is called the sage of steady wisdom.

There is a lot packed in this verse. And apart from the statement on the face value, it also has a lot of implications for our personal practise and lifestyle. So first, the mind of a yogi is not shaken by adversity. And this is because the inner stability has been found. How do we find inner stability through yoga? In the science of Tantra, this is explained through the chakras, and the need to harmonise and balance their function. In this particular case, the mooladhara chakra, the root chakra, provides the sense of stability and security. And the person with a balanced mooladhara chakra, even while the external circumstances might not be favourable, will feel stable and secure. The person with an imbalanced one, even when the circumstances are favourable, will feel the need to constantly be protected in some way, rather hoard wealth and so on so. 

So the sense of stability or inner strength, that is not entirely, that is not so much dependent on the external factors. And as we continue the path of inner exploration, then we will also eventually come at this stage where the external things that happen do not have such an impact on the inner experience. A yogi does not hanker after pleasures. One important point to be made here is that Krishna does not say the yogi rejects pleasures, or never has pleasures. 

Rather, in another place in the Gita, he says that a yogi is content with whatever comes uninvited. And doesn’t crave that which does not come uninvited. So that is the inner attitude. A yogi will experience something pleasurable and be thankful for it as an event that was nice, and that was it. It’s an experience that can be put into the memory and there will be no effort to repeat that or to make it bigger or whatever. So that is the huge difference between a yogi and a person who is given to material desire. There is this hankering. It is not the pleasure itself that is the culprit. 

A yogi is free from attachment, fear and anger. So this is the freedom of, it says vita raga. Raga is, as we know from raja yoga is one of those five afflictions. It is the belief that an object, any kind of object or person or whatever, it has the ability to make us, to change our inner state. And we give this value to objects, not realising that it is our own energy that is being projected into those objects that bounces back on us. The only times when people realise this without reading about it or without reflecting on it is, for example, in a state of depression. When the mind is withdrawn, when the energies are withdrawn, and then no matter how many pleasurable foods, objects or whatever activities might be happening around us, they will not have the effect of cheering us up, because there is no connection. 

So that’s just one example, but like this we can really see that the value we put into objects is not really what they are. And so a yogi doesn’t do that. There is always the creative use of intellect for reflection. And apart from reflecting on the benefits and on the strengths that are achieved through a virtuous life, a yogi also does the opposite, reflecting on the false, the flaws, the negative effects of leading an uncontrolled live. And like this the mind can be trained not to want the ‘bad things’, and to want the good things. This is a very patient process. But many people have experienced this in some way or other, like for example, when we try to adopt a new, better diet, we can learn to like good things, and think of all of the ill-effects of eating the bad things. 

So like this, we can be free from attachment that is unreasonable, irrational, and is not helping us. In fact, it then creates those desires which when they are hampered, when they are frustrated, we are angry. So the anger comes in as the result of this hankering after pleasures and then not getting them. And fear – that is a big aspect of our lives which was programmed into our firmware by nature. When we were not quite at the top of the food chain, but yet we still have it a lot. So we have these irrational fears that we harbour in the deeper recesses of our mind, and they manifest every time there is something unknown or when we are afraid of losing something that we possess. 

And this is removed, of course, through a process of meditation, reflection. This is where practices like yoga nidra, antar mouna come in, and where the stuff from the subconscious is gradually cleared. And then irrational fears are much reduced or eliminated, and that of course gives less fear response to the outside world also. So there’s a lot more peace. And as we know, only when the mind is peaceful can we go deep and experience that luminosity within. So all of this is implied by when we say a sage of steady wisdom. 

Let us reflect on what has been said for a few moments now. Picturing the luminous version of yourself, having lived a lifestyle like described in these verses. What would it be like to be free from fear and this hankering after so many things. And without the waves of anger that can completely throw us off balance. A sage or a yogi experiences this peace within at all times, even though the mind, the body can sometimes be used to outwardly expressed these, when the situation still requires. And that is the secret. Not trying to become a passionless vegetable, but a luminous yogi, always in contact with the inner peace.

18 and 19 February | Verses 57 and 58

The practices and systems of yoga have a much broader scope of action than what is generally perceived and thought of – and sees useful connections that are not necessarily obvious at first sight.

For instance, by knowing about the relationship between the outlets of energy in various parts of the body (called marmas), the health and function of surrounding organs, and the effects of energy flows on mental and emotional states, a yogi can control any sensory experience and thought current by giving or cutting off the supply of energy that powers them, rather than resorting to suppression or restraint through force.

We can infer from Sri Krishna’s instructions that a balanced lifestyle is the fundamental pre-requisite for achieving the elevated state of “steady wisdom”, one where sense pleasures are not denied, but also not sought and longed for – and where painful experiences are appreciated as gifts of equal value (as teachings and reminders).

We have been hearing about steady wisdom. The wisdom of a yogi who has learned how to stay unshaken by the various pairs of opposites and the pushes and pulls of the material realm. And today we continue with two verses that describe first the state that we are trying to achieve or that the yogi manifests. And then in the second verse we have a method. So before we talk about them.

One who is everywhere without attachment on meeting with anything good or bad. Who neither rejoices, nor hates. That person’s wisdom is fixed. When, like the tortoise which withdraws on all sides its limbs, the yogi withdraws his senses from the sense objects, then his wisdom becomes steady. 

So in verse 57, Krishna says that the way to be is everywhere without attachment. So the yogi by being in constant contact with the internal source of stability, and as we as we will learn a little later, this is actually not so much to be visualised as some little thing that resides somewhere in the physical body, or in the space of the physical body, but rather the physical body and the entire universe is contained in it. So that’s why a person who has experienced that inner reality cannot possibly be shaken by these little fluctuations of the material, space and time-based objects. But there will be always, there will be activity on the surface. But the inner experience will never change. And so the wisdom is fixed. 

Now obviously that is a very advanced kind of state to conceive. Those of you who have read more books on various other aspects of yoga will know of the four states of consciousness. And the waking, the subconscious, the unconscious and the superconscious, the turiya state. Which is the state of a yogi, and it implies that the awareness stays present, the awareness stays constant. Like here it says fixed wisdom. We can also call it steady awareness, which is always present, no matter what state the superficial aspects of the mind are in. So even in deep sleep the awareness continues. 

And this is why it said that the yogi never sleeps. The physical body does sleep, just like any other person’s. But the awareness is there, and this is also why so much wisdom can come to these people, because these are the places where all the information is accessible, that is not accessible to the mind that is completely externalised and attached to the external objects. So that is the steady wisdom that we are seeking. 

Now how to how to tap into this inner source? The method is pratyahara. Pratyahara is the sensory withdrawal, the fifth stage of raja yoga. And we see from the evolution of raja yoga also that it is preceded by pranayama. Pranayama meaning the restraining of the life force. So we see here that this is not some kind of life of severe austerity necessarily, that we need to cut ourselves off from the objects because they cause us to desire them, and so on and so forth. Because we have these techniques such as pranayama, pratyahara. We have regulation of diet, we have regulation of sleep, we have regulation of daily routine, exercise and so and so forth. And when these things are taken care of, we don’t need to worry about the mind ten per cent as much as when we are not taking care of them. 

So we should always see the larger context of what is being said. Because sometimes when we just read some of the verses, we may think that we need to just be some kind of neutral person who doesn’t experience pleasure or pain, just some kind of automaton, which is not at all the case. So what this means, what pratyahara implies in practical life is that the influence of the senses is always under the control of the person. So a sense will still operate in the same way as with any other person, but the yogi will be aware of that physiological, pranic activation, and will be able to switch it off if it’s not useful, if it’s not necessary, it it’s not needed at the time, and therefore not be slave to these impulses which are really all connected with the more primitive parts of our brain, and also the more primitive behaviours of the mind. 

And so a yogi harnesses that energy rather than allows it to drag the personality, the mind into some unhelpful states. So here we have both the goal which has been described and from various perspectives, the steady wisdom. And when it’s understood correctly, when we also then see the connection between what we know from our practical exposure to yoga, then we can really blend these knowledge together with this new understanding that we get, and the effects also will increase. 

So let us reflect for a few moments on all this. Whenever we hear that yoga needs to be everywhere at all times without attachment on meeting anything good and bad, this may sound like a daunting prospect comparing to our own life experience. But we always have the description of the goal and the path. And you can always understand them from our own starting point. And make use of whatever we can – pranayama, yoga nidra, antar mouna, ajapa japa. All practices that relate to this technique, this habit of the mind called pratyahara. That’s how they should be seen, as training to then be applied in real life. Now from thinking about the practice, let us now do the practice.

20 February | Verse 59

The result of spiritual efforts – steady wisdom – is a complete freedom from selfish desire, and therefore a level of control over one’s life that is inconceivable to us while steeped in the material identification.

The process of getting there involves a skilful combination of practices done regularly, and a constant internal effort to “advertise” spirituality to the mind – in accordance with our own understanding developed through study and reflection – and to “discredit” the false attractions of the world of senses by reflecting on the ill effects of pursuing desires that lead us astray.

The mind will automatically run towards objects it perceives as attractive. This is a great weakness for those whose value system is materialistic in and out – but knowing that this is how the mind works is the secret weapon of the conscious yoga aspirant, which can be cleverly used to wean the mind off its obsessive habits and adopt new, healthier ones.

And gradually remembering the most recent teachings that we have been learning about in the Gita. Yesterday, or rather on Saturday, Krishna told us that the steady wisdom can be developed through the practise of pratyahara. Pratyahara is not a practice in which we numb the senses, or otherwise try to become some kind of neutral unresponsive being. But it is making the mind the true master of them. And deciding, being able to decide whether and when the senses are to be allowed action and influence the mind and whether, when they should be just ignored. So there is a very different approach to life as compared to a person who is fully unaware and therefore driven almost automatically or instinctively by the various desires. 

And the likeness that was given is like that of a tortoise withdrawing the limbs when it’s endangered. In same way, when the danger of some kind of strong sensual experience threatens to disturb the inner peace, the yogi is able to withdraw the energy, the prana from the senses so that they don’t draw the mind outwards, but the mental energy is able to turn inwards. And this is in general, the principle with which yoga operates, that we try to find the source of any experience, and then rather than trying to act on it, rather than allowing the mind to act on it, we try to revert or withdraw that energy back into the source. So no suppression – suppression is when we try to block the flow of energy, but this is more like a recomposition that the energy that is within is not allowed to express inappropriately, or in the way that the yogi doesn’t wish to. 

And this is of course a very long process, but today Krishna will tell us about both process and the goal and how they are related. So the verse is 59. 

The objects of the senses turn away from the abstinent yogi or the abstinent striver, leaving the longing behind. But this longing also turns away on seeing the Supreme. 

So, rather than both these statements apply to a yogi, we can say that the second one applies to a yogi, the first one applies to the aspirant who is trying to reach that state. The objects of the senses turn away from the person who abstains. This is known as depriving senses of their objects, of their food. Swamiji would often give us the example of two dogs. One is black and one is white. And they are both the same build, the same age and so on. Which one will be stronger? The answer is the one that will be fed more than the other. 

And so there is this important combination of the two aspects or approaches called kshama and dama, which mean sensory restraint and mental restraint. And they have to be always combined. Because when there is no sensory restraint, especially in the beginning, then the mind will not be able to find the composure, the inner peace, the strength to create a disciplined kind of lifestyle, which means simply that we live according to principles we believe to be right and not according to our instinctual drives. And so without some sort of sensory restraint, this is hardly possible. But then when the sensory restraint is the only thing that we practise, then this will not lead to lasting results, because maybe there may be a temporary lessening of the craving, when the habit of fulfilling the craving has been blocked, but the inner desires continue. The cravings, the longing for fulfilling that desire will always be there. 

And we often see that when we try to live some kind of disciplined life and we practise a lot of self-denial and restraint, if the inner desires are not taken care of, then as soon as we lessen the effort a little bit, we will rebound or perhaps even be worse than to start with. And so the mental restraint has to come in. But this is a very tricky subject because the senses, they can really just be stopped from enjoying the objects of the senses. But how do we stop the mind from operating the way that it is used to? The mind does not accept vacuum. The mind does not accept suppression. And so when the force of desire arises, we can’t just block it, stop it and wish for it to go away. 

What needs to be done is to understand that the mind always automatically runs after that which it finds more attractive, more interesting. And so this is the process of what Swami Sivananda calls pratipaksha bhavana. It is that substitute of ideas that power the various desires that we have. So if a desire arises, the first step is always to be able to stand back to observe. And for this, the practises of pratyahara, the practises of pranayama are very important, because they allow us to have some degree of control over the mental energy that powers both the thinking process and the more powerful desires. 

So the first step is to stand back. The second is to see the origin or the drive that is playing out in the mind. And the third is to think of something more powerful, more interesting, which however, is in line with where we want to go in life. And so in this way, the energy that goes into the craving, into the desire is not being stopped, it’s not being blocked. But something even better is being given to the mind for the energy to redirect. And this, of course, is a very long-term, very, very painstakingly long process. But it’s very worth it, because once we realise that we can develop this mental habit of redirecting the energy, it becomes less of an effort. And when the inner response becomes automatically different from what it used to be, then our whole behaviour also changes in a positive way. 

And so pranayama, pratyahara, the sensory withdrawal, meditation of course, both to focus the mind and to develop the attitude of a witness. These are very important practices if you want to really do this yoga of steady wisdom. And the one aspect called smarana or remembrance, which is very important, we need to remember the goal that we’re trying to achieve, we need to remember the inspiration with which we are following any kind of path. And this will give us the stability, something to hold onto so that we don’t fall prey to the various tricks of the ego. 

So, to recap. The process is by combination of sensory and mental restraint. The fruit of that effort is that the objects of the senses turn away from that person who is abstaining. However, to be truly free from the longing, we need to experience the Supreme. Because only then we realise that that is the source of every experience, including all of those things that we crave, which individually will lose all their appeal. Let us reflect on this for a little while.

21 and 22 February | Verses 60 to 63

It is not hard to understand why senses ought to be under control of one who aspires to be established in sthitaprajna (steady wisdom). It is much harder trying to actually do that, even with the right method. Krishna here assures us that that does not mean there is something wrong with us: even a “wise person gets carried away violently” by the power of the senses.

The risks of not undertaking that effort, however, are too great to ignore. The clear-cut chain of causality from an ill-chosen idea in the mind to a complete loss of discrimination and balance in life is also quite easy to understand, and apply to our own life experience.

Let us now use this knowledge to understand the real inner work of yoga, known as pratipaksha bhavana, or substitution of ideas: if every detrimental idea or thought is substituted for its more powerful opposite as soon as it arises – before even the subsequent element, desire, has had a chance to take root – how much effort and energy will be spared compared to having to fix the sometimes grave errors we commit when we recognise the whole cascading process a little too late…

Here the mind is internalised, even though the activity of the senses continues. The senses are like the tentacles of an octopus, and the mind is like the head. And when active, they always externalise the mind, make it agitated. And in that way, we can act in the external world in a limited capacity. But we won’t have the capacity to internalise and to experience the peace and luminosity of the Self. This has been the subject of the Gita, as well as the method, pratyahara, the withdrawal of sense awareness. Now in verses 60 through to 63 we shall continue with the subject.

The turbulent senses, O Arjuna, do violently carry away the mind of a wise man, though he may be striving to control them. Having restrained them all, he should sit steadfast, intent on me. The wisdom is steady of one whose senses are under control. When a person thinks of objects, attachment for them arises. From attachment, desire is born. From desire, anger arises. From anger comes delusion. From delusion, loss of memory. From loss of memory, the destruction of discrimination. From the destruction of discrimination, he perishes. 

So in these four verses, we are given a lot of insight into the relationship between the mind, the senses, and the restraint of the senses and experience of that steady wisdom that we have been talking about. In the first of these, Krishna reassures Arjuna that it is not a defect on anyone’s part that the mind is so difficult to control or that the senses are hard to rein in. Because even the wise person, even one who has developed themselves to a large degree, is not safe from their violent pull, as Krishna puts it here. 

And we see this in our own life, that we may be in a balanced state, the intellect is able to operate properly, and then some news comes in that brings an emotional response. It’s almost like the gates of energy that powered the intellect are cut off and the energy is redirected into a very different kind of activity in the mind, a very different response. This may be due to fear, infatuation or anything. All of these, they are like the wave that washes over our little sandcastle that we’ve been building meticulously for a long time, and then we need to start again. 

So this is simply how the senses are designed to operate. They are automatically drawn to the objects of the senses. And these both causes the difficulty, because they are so automatic, we can’t just easily switch them off. But also it means that we have a method that when we know that this is how it’s happening, that we are less likely to beat ourselves up for failures. 

Now, with the process of pratyahara, when the senses are exhausted, in the sense that we allow them free rein. But we don’t allow the mind to be drawn by them. This is a process that we know from various meditation techniques like antar mouna, where the senses are not, we’re not trying to suppress them, but we are acutely aware of the actual sense experience and not allow it to create any kind of mental thought process. So we are just experiencing the raw hearing or touching or smelling or all of these things, and that will allow us to, eventually, that will allow the mind to eventually withdraw from that experience and turn in. 

Now then what to do next? Krishna here says that the yogi should sit steadfast, intent on me because one’s wisdom is steady whose senses are under control. This ‘intent on me.’ The idea of a transcendental reality or God is the exact opposite of the various manifest objects. We can think of it in various ways, and Krishna will give us a lot of ways in which we can comprehend or approach this transcendental reality. But it is transcendental. It is not going to lead to any kind of attachment of the senses to any kind of object. And so to think of that rather than the various objects is the way to use the mental energy for this internalising spiritual process. 

Swami Sivananda says in his commentary that this can also be understood in that Vedantic sense that the yogi contemplates ‘I am that’ – I am no other than that. I am not this body, I am not the senses, I am not the mind. I am that the reality. So this is the practice. Now, when we don’t do that practice, what happens? We have the whole chain of cascading events. And we can quite easily comprehend this. A thought, even a random thought, is capable of triggering an emotional response. And here this, this chain of action that begins with a thought, then desire. Then that desire gets frustrated; anger comes in. And we can see how from a little pebble, a whole landslide then takes place.

So the warning has been given, as well as the need for the practice. The practice itself is only mentioned because of course in the spiritual traditions of the East, one should always, traditionally at least, approach a Guru for the details. And so here we have the concepts, the principles, but then of course, with the practices themselves we need to consult a competent teacher. 

So let us reflect for a few moments on what has been said. First, the acceptance that this is going to be a difficult process. Because the senses are not easily controlled, even by someone who has made a lot of effort. At the same time, we know that there is no other way. Because if the senses are allowed to reign freely, then we can forget about any kind of evolution or maintenance of inner peace, and rather will be subjected to the various pulls of opposites of so many kinds. Allowing now the thought processes to continue in the depths of the mind.

23 and 24 February | Verses 64 to 66

Verses 60 to 66 are worth noting down as a collection to be revisited again and again, as they present in a complete, if condensed, manner a way and direction of life, indicating the type of efforts one should make in life to translate knowledge into action, and thus become established in steady wisdom, also known as prasad, peace ⇄ happiness.

Slowly remembering the Gita. And what we have been discussing lately. The teachings about restraint of the senses, which will lead us gradually to their control and the ensuing peace, in which the steadiness of wisdom can be experienced and utilised in daily life also. And today we have verses 64, 65, and 66. 

But the self-controlled person, moving among the objects with the senses under restraint, and free from attraction and repulsion, attains to peace. In that peace, all pains are destroyed, for the intellect of the tranquil-minded soon becomes steady. There is no knowledge of the Self to the unsteady. And to the unsteady, no meditation is possible. And to the unmeditative, there can be no peace. And to one who has no peace, how can there be happiness? 

Here Krishna, before we even go deeper into the verses, makes one very direct connection between happiness and peace. You might have recognised in the chanting of the verses to word prasad. And manah prasad, which is the happy state of mind, the joyful state of mind, is synonymous with the peaceful state of mind. So this peace is definitely not going to be achieved by some kind of physical shutting ourselves out of life, isolating ourselves from the world. But it is this inner attitude, and inner habit of the mind which is to be developed, that will allow us this state that is described in verse 64. 

‘The self-controlled person, the yogi moves among the objects with senses under restraint.’ So here we get the first clue. The yogi is moving constantly among all the objects just like everyone else, but everyone else’s senses jump at those objects, whereas the yogi’s senses are under control, and the yogi then chooses how to use the senses and when. 

‘Free from attraction and repulsion.’ We have discussed this before, that the way towards this is first by eliminating the repulsion. Especially when the repulsion is to things that are useful for us or good for us. There is also growing knowledge today among people that one needs to seek pain in order to get pleasure, whether this is through physical hardships, workouts, ice baths, and whatever. On the physical plane or exercising restraint and discipline mentally and then benefiting from it by not having a disturbed lifestyle. Like this, some kind of effort, some kind of ‘pain’ is necessary to get real joy that is not then dependent on, that is not gotten by some kind of shortcut like what people use, various bad habits that we know about. 

So the result of all this is this peace. And the yogi has the ability to really withdraw the senses at will. This is quite important to understand when we practise the practices of pratyahara, such as yoga nidra or antar mouna, that yes, they also have the therapeutic value that they reduce the stress levels immediately and so on, allow us a better asleep and so on and so forth. But they should be seen as practices to develop a habit of the mind that is to be then applied in daily life. So rather than having to spend 30 minutes with the eyes closed to attain that state, one should strive to stay in that state while awake, while doing things. 

The awareness expands, not splits, but expands because the higher mind can then also illumine and control the lower mind. This is what is meant by the steady intellect. The unsteady intellect is dragged by the mind and justifies whatever good or bad things the mind and the ego come up with. But the mind of a controlled person who has steadied themselves in that peaceful state will be able to observe both the senses and the mind simultaneously and not identify with the mind, and so there will always be the peace no matter what those two are doing physically. It can be quite a lot of activity going on. 

And this freedom from attraction and repulsion really, the practice to that is known as titiksha or practising endurance, not just physically, although that is a helpful starting point. The peace and happiness are linked. And so is this other chain of causality that is mentioned in verse 66. We can go backwards, that when we substitute the negative for positive that the steady person has knowledge of the Self, and meditation is possible for them. And for the one who meditates, they will attain peace. And for one who has attained peace, they will be happy. And of course, the reverse has been given here as a warning that this effort should be undertaken. Because we need to realise that the higher faculties, they are the real, they are much closer to the real me, the real Self, as the ever-changing phenomena and attractions of the senses and the mind. 

So there is a very good book called ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ in which a renowned psychologist has described the process, has described how our minds are basically, there are two minds present in us. One is the automatic, instinctive mind, or the fast mind that acts without thinking, through habit. And this is important, because so many things can be done this way for efficiency. But the slow mind is the one that rationalises, that can understand, that can feel into situations and people and so on. But it’s lazy, and it requires word of energy. The automatic mind is efficient and is really quick. And so the effort in the person should be to really train this slow mind to be active much more often and then develop better habits in that automatic mind. And this steady intellect is really what we’re looking for, one that doesn’t serve the pulls of the senses and the mind, one that can guide them. And then we can really live life according to choice, towards a certain goal, and we will be much more likely to succeed. So let us reflect on this for a little while.deo

25 and 26 February | Verses 67 to 69

Having summarised the need for becoming established in steady wisdom and the dangers of not undertaking that effort, Sri Krishna summarises the vast difference in attitude to and experience of life between a yogi and a bhogi (person given to the pursuit of sense enjoyments): what is “day” (attentiveness, wakeful state) for the former is “night” (lack of awareness, indifference) to the latter – and vice versa.

This only makes sense when we understand that the experience of the Self, which the yogi is established in, is so much more vast and powerful than any experience that can be had through the senses, that this “slumberful” attitude of the yogi towards the world of sensory enjoyments is not at all a wilful effort, but a natural consequence, a fruit of efforts done previously.

And feel this peace and steadiness within. Which is a little easier to establish when we sit quietly in a meditative posture than it is when we move about in our daily routines. However, we should always remember that the different practices of mediation, yoga nidra and so on are not there just as therapies or momentary relief from stress, but to develop a habit, so that inwardly the mind can remain in that state, even as the body and the senses are moving around, working and so on. Today, the verses are 67, 68 and 69.

The mind which follows in the wake of the wandering senses carries away one’s discrimination, just as the wind carries away a boat on the waters. Therefore, O mighty-armed Arjuna, one’s knowledge is steady, whose senses are completely restrained from sense objects. That which is night to all beings, in that the self-controlled person is awake. When all beings are awake, that is night for the muni or sage who sees. 

In the first two of these verses, Krishna sums up what has been said previously, that a mind that is not established in that inner steadiness is then by definition going to be dragged out. It’s like not having an anchor or a peg that will prevent the mind from leaving its proper zone. That is the steady wisdom in which one is to be established, and how to be established in it, we have heard before. 

There has to be a lifestyle in which there is minimum excitement or conflict, so all of these yamas and niyamas come in place that we have in raja yoga and other systems. And regular practise of meditation and lessening of the wall of the ego that prevents us from experiencing or purifying the intellect so much that right knowledge is, we have discrimination between what is right and what is wrong. Not just what is wrong, but what is false and what is right. And so this is why we cannot allow the senses to let the mind be distracted. 

However the senses will always respond to the objects, they are programmed to do that. And so the restraint has to be beyond, has to come from a place that is beyond just the thinking, the rational mind, which is only the operator of the senses, because if we do that, there will be always conflict, like trying to stop a craving without managing the inner identification with what is we are craving. So the management of the mind, the management of the senses, they all have to be intelligently, slowly, be mastered. 

And then the steady knowledge, the complete steady knowledge, Krishna then defines as the complete mastery of the senses. So not the practice that is for all of us to do, but once that mastery has been achieved, then that knowledge will be steady, then the intellect will be steady, and the yogis, so to speak, safe from all the pulls of the material world. And this is what is then expressed in verse 69. Which is that, it’s worth reading again: ‘That which is night to all beings, in that the self-controlled present is awake, and when all beings are awake, that is night for the one who truly seeks.’ So this sleep and wakefulness can be interpreted, these are metaphors for the attraction or the excitement or the inspiration that one feels to pursue something, as opposed to indifference to it. 

So these two are reversed in the material person and in the yogi. The yogi will be devoting all the energy and enthusiasm into the spiritual pursuits, and realising the inner nature and caring about these things, reading about these things, there’s a whole spectrum of things that we do in life that are determined by what we’re actually passionate about. So in a yogi, all of this is turned to one single goal. And then the experience also comes, the result comes. So that is the wakefulness, and the indifference is to the material objects. It is not that there is a rejection of them, there is actual, well, if it comes, fine. If it doesn’t come, I’m not bothered. And with that attitude, that’s like a sleep. 

For a materially minded person, that kind of attitude sounds very alien. And this is why a spiritually minded person and the fully materialistic person, they will have a very, very different basis from which their behaviour operates. And so the beings, or the beings are awake, that means that the maya or the operation of nature, the automatic processes of nature, the uncontrolled beings or the people with lower level of awareness, they are fully engrossed in that, fully awake to that. And for them the very idea of spirit or soul or anything that transcends the senses and matter is complete darkness. They are indifferent to it also. So this is the sleep and the wakefulness. 

And so let us reflect on this for a little while, because this is a very important point. This drive that we have to pursue anything in life and where is it pushing us, in which direction? More identification with the world, with the senses. More desires to be fulfilled. Or are we naturally drawn to the higher experience. The experience of bliss of the Self that we hear about, and that we also can have glimpses of here and then. That is the source of all other experiences, just like sunlight is the source of all the colours of the light when it’s broken down. 

And so this experience of the Self will naturally lessen attraction to material desires or material objects. It is said that spiritual progress is measured by how much less the desires are intense, or how much they are present. The more they fall away, the more we can say that we are progressing. And one more point. Not being judgemental about any outcome of this reflection. Whether the realisation is that ‘Oh, I want more material things’ or ‘I want to go deeper in spiritual life.’ Or anything in between. Explore that. What is it right now for you?

27 February | Verse 2:70

If elimination of desires is the way towards peace, and if desires are the prime motivator of worldly-minded persons, how is it that a yogi – living in the world – is not enslaved to them anymore? Is it only due to the rigorous practice of austerity and self-denial?

Here we get the answer: while desirelessness is something to be practised while we walk the path, it is a most natural state for a yogi to be in: When the experience of completeness is such that the wanting itself dies away, desires for anything lesser than that ultimate completeness become trivial, even ridiculous, and the yogi is as unmoved by them as the ocean is by the influx of rivers.

Even a river that appears huge and menacing when we are immersed in its waters and feel the pull of the current becomes still and loses its identity altogether as soon as it merges with the ocean that gave it birth in the first place…

We are slowly coming to the end of the second chapter. Sankhya yoga or yoga of wisdom. And we have been given various hints and instructions as to how to understand the steady wisdom, and the need for its development. Yesterday we heard that the experience of a yogi can be seen as quite the opposite of the experience of a worldly minded person, in that the yogi is aware or is awake to the reality within and is not bothered much by the appearances outside. Whereas the worldly person is only given to these temporary, fleeting appearances, and has no contact or is ignorant of that stability, the peace and the luminosity within. And today we have a verse that will give us a very good way to approach or to think of this subject. The verse is 70. With that different melody today. 

One attains peace into whom all desires enter as waters enter the ocean, which, filled from all sides remains unmoved. But not the person who is full of desires. 

So desires are here compared to the various rivers that flow into the ocean. And they can be many, they can be few. To the ocean, it doesn’t really matter because the ocean remains unmoved. And this is the identification of the person who has experienced the luminosity within. The desires are compared to the experience of the Self, in which the experience of complete desirelessness is had, which is also known as ananda or bliss. 

What is that, how is that different from, it is as different from the experience of fulfilling the different partial desires as is the size of the ocean compared to the rivers. This is important to understand because it may often feel that in spiritual life, we are asked to lead a kind of dry or passion-free life. And that is not so. Because it is always emphasised by all the masters that the experience of the Self is so much greater than the experience of any kind of sensual enjoyment, that there is a natural desire to, or the natural state is to be established in that. And the outside objects don’t really have any power to cause these oscillations of the mind, and therefore the sage is always established in the peace within, no matter what the body and the senses and the mind are doing. 

So this is how we can approach the subject. That the desires during the process of trying to experience the inner reality, the desires have to be managed through the intellect, and also through awareness while fulfilling these desires. Swami Satyananda made a very good point as to how to approach this. He says that either fulfil your desires or realise their uselessness. 

So that is the process with which we are approaching this subject, we are not trying to just cut off or stop chasing all the different desires that we have been, because those are habits in the mind, and the mind will always continue revolving in his habits, because that is just how it functions. And so the first step is not to stop ourselves from experiencing what we have been experiencing heretofore, but do all those old actions with a new kind of awareness to really experience the effects of pursuing various desires or even achieving them, and how that effects on our inner being, inner peace and so on. And then we make conscious choices based on that realisation, based on that experience. 

So we shouldn’t just read a book and see, oh, I like this teaching, let me now change my personality to be in line with this teaching. That can be, we can all try every now and again, but the main approach has to be the realisation that fulfilling desires or the drive to fulfil desires is not a useful way to use my energy and rather it depletes my energy. And so I should collect all this prana, all this energy, not let it seep out, and thereby getting established in this inner peace more and more. But then also realising that the final step, the final realisation of ‘I am the ocean and not the river’, that is the goal, and only then we are safe, only then we can relax the efforts. 

But until then, it is always this process of reflecting on how any particular desire has as an effect on my inner being, how fulfilling it will affect my life. And like this, gradually, gradually the pulls of desires are lessened. But it has to be hand in hand with the inner experience always, so that we don’t feel like we’re losing anything, because that will then lead to a rebound. Any kind of suppression of desire will always lead to some kind of rebound. 

So let us reflect for a few moments on this vision, on this thought. That this is how, this is where we’re trying to go, this is where we’re trying to get, this is how we’re trying to become. As unmoved by the different pulls of the senses, by the different desires as a huge ocean is, no matter how big the rivers are that flow in it. Also remembering that for this process, it is important to create a vision of the ideal person that you are trying to become. The effort is to gradually bridge the gap between where I am now and where I want to be. Knowing that true freedom is the freedom from desires, not the freedom to do the bidding of the ego, as it is often misunderstood.

28 February | Verses 2:71 and 72

In the last two verses of the 2nd chapter of the Gita, we are given a succinct summary of the goal and the means to it, the conditional relationship between desire and peace, and a subtle warning that “it ain’t over ’til it’s over”: alert awareness is to be nurtured and maintained right up until the last breath – though owing to the desirelessness and the ensuing peace developed previously, this is bound to be far easier for a yogi than a non-yogi…

We are coming to the end of the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita in which two verses are given as final instructions, all following on from the topic that has been discussed all along.

That person attains peace who, abandoning all desires, moves about without longing, without the sense of mine, and without egoism. This is the Brahmic seed or eternal state, O Arjuna. Attaining to this, none is deluded. Being established therein, even at the end of life, one attains to oneness with Brahman. 

Here we have another condensed couple of verses in which the teachings are contained with various implications when we reflect on the various parts of the verses. So let us look at 71 first. The attainment of peace is here equated with a state where all desires have been abandoned, and when there is no longing, the sense of mine, and egoism. The sense of mine and egoism are the wall that separates the individual consciousness from the omnipresent cosmic consciousness. The individual consciousness is only present whenever the body and the mind and the senses are awake and alert. And that’s not even always the case fully in the waking state, let alone in various other states. 

And so the comparison is really, in terms of nature, it is the same. In terms of experience, it is entirely different. And so the reduction of ego as this wall that separates the two, in any way possible is to be considered to be the practice of yoga. And for this, karma yoga is particularly useful. Because there the attention and the energy is always directed to what is being done, and not to the actor. So we’re taking our awareness kind of outside of this limited space and into the wider context of what is being done, and thereby we eventually arrive at the realisation that I’m just an instrument of all of these different things that are happening in the present moment, I am part of that, through me things are happening. And then there is no ego, there is no attachment to whatever comes out of that action naturally, not because it’s a philosophy being practised, but because it’s an experience. 

And the abandoning of desires is also to be seen in a positive way, because we know that states of, it’s like a kind of pain, the desire, the burning desire, especially the strong desires, to achieve something, or to leave something, to get out or something. They overpower, they create a kind of spasm in which the awareness narrows down, it shrinks. It cannot expand. And then if this is the baseline of the mindset of a worldly-minded person, then of course the effort is to fulfil that desire, because whenever that happens there’s a spike of happiness, there is a release, there is a relief from this, from this tension. 

But because we are moving objects interacting with other moving objects, and within those objects there are these movements of desires which constantly change, which transmute into each other, we may give a sense of, or the idea of permanence to any object, but it’s just not there. It’s going to move, it’s going to evolve. And that’s why then the desire gets frustrated, or the fulfilment evaporates or expires, and then we are again back in that sort of grumpy state. And the yogi, of course, the path of a yogi is to lessen these desires by reflecting on the futility of pursuing them in the first place. And then of course redirecting the energy into something positive, as we have said before. We can’t just stop the flow or suppress any kind of desire; we need to redirect the energy into something better, stronger, more interesting. Which also is more elevating. 

So after this long process, the experience of the Self, of the reality beyond the appearances comes. And that is like the source of heat, we could say, towards which the desire comes close, and the fulfilment of a desire is somewhere towards that experience of the bliss which is within. But if the experience is always of it, then the desires don’t really play a role. They may still be happening somewhere on the surface of the mind. But they will not really affect the mind of the yogi. So there will be absolutely no wilful suppression or even awareness of those desires. 

And this is then called the eternal state. Because even during one’s lifetime, one can experience that which transcends the body and the individuality altogether. So it is called the Brahmic seat. And here it is said that when this consciousness is maintained even at the end of life, and this will be further discussed later on in the Gita, then the awareness simply continues. The body drops away and there is no effect on the consciousness of the yogi. But this is also a warning. Because even at the end of life indicates that there can be slips, there can be drawbacks, there can be accidents on the path. And we may achieve a high state of awareness, but then something happens, and we will not be able to maintain that awareness as the body drops away, and that will lead us again to another rebirth. And you will see this in many, if not all Eastern traditions, this emphasis on cultivating certain type of awareness to be had at the time of death, so that the next rebirth is more likely to be more auspicious. Or in the case of more evolved souls, so that there is no rebirth at all. 

So let us now reflect on these final teachings of the second chapter. The steady wisdom, sthitaprajna, that is to be had as a goal to achieve in life. And the various methods. The constant remembrance of the goal, the practice of karma yoga, and as we will see, many more approaches can be also used. Allowing now these teachings to sink into depths of the mind.Chapter 3: Yoga of Action

Chapter 3: Yoga of Action

1 March | Verses 3:1 and 2

It is often the case that when searching for answers in spiritual teachings, more questions crop up in the process. The question on Arjuna’s mind is to do with the relationship between wisdom and action. If these two have to always go hand in hand, how do we reconcile the need to perform a difficult action even if it is for a greater good, with our life philosophy and value system?

As we shall see presently, it is the limitations of knowledge that we have when restricted to sense perceptions and physical awareness that blind us to the experience of reality, whereas with the advent of transcendental insight, questions themselves become irrelevant.

Preparing for the Gita. We have now begun the third chapter; we’re now starting the new chapter. And it will start with a question by Arjuna, and perhaps some of us have also had similar questions.

Arjuna said: If you say that knowledge is superior to action, O Krishna, why then do you ask me to engage in this terrible action? With this apparently perplexing speech you confuse, as it were, my understanding. Therefore, tell me that one way for certain by which I may attain bliss. 

So this question, the first part of it, refers to what Krishna has said prior in the second chapter, where wisdom was brought to the forefront. The word for wisdom there is also interesting, we came across that in the beginning. It was sankhya, which normally we would use for one of the philosophical foundations that the Gita is both based on, and which combines with others. But this wisdom has been given the main function because without it, any action done in the world will be binding and eventually taking us further and further from the experience of that inner luminosity that we’re trying to achieve through spiritual life. 

And karma was karma without the wisdom, or we could say karma that is not done as karma yoga, meaning without attachment and without attachment to the fruits, and without the sense that ‘I am the doer of the action’. So without this attitude, karma leads to bondage. And especially if we identify with the karma, then if the karma itself is terrible, as in Arjuna’s case, then of course this will lead to a great confusion. So the separation from the idea of agency, the importance of that is quite obvious here, especially in this kind of action. But even all actions, even those significantly less impactful will have a binding effect if we don’t have this inner renunciation. And renunciation will be huge topic discussed later on. 

Yet in the same chapter, Krishna even in the very beginning is imploring Arjuna to, if you remember, ‘Cast off the mean weakness of the heart and get up and fight’, because that was his duty. Now, in the second verse we come to one very important point. That Arjuna says here, ‘this apparently perplexing speech’. The perplexing nature of spiritual texts is often something that we need to get to terms with, because intellectually, and you will see this with those people who are so sceptical or not deeply involved in the study of these texts, that there is a rejection on the basis of these contradictions. Because they exist, and the intellect cannot grasp them, therefore it’s just nonsense. 

But as we know, when we really look deeply into the subject, and also when we read these books, there is an inner response that we feel that yes, this is right, yes I feel that this corresponds with fundamental beliefs about truth and universe that we all have, that we can’t express until we read these things. And yet they are perplexing, they are conflicting. And so first of all we need guidance, which Arjuna here is been given by Krishna himself. And for the rest of us, we either are fortunate to meet a physical guru, or some kind of genuine tradition that is connected with a living lineage, which can also give us the techniques which correspond to the goals of the path and are not just taken for some other goals such as physical performance and so on. 

So that’s a little bit of a tangent, but the important part is that first of all we need guidance and second, when we have that proper guidance, then we simply need to open ourselves to these apparently perplexing teachings, so that they stop the intellect, and this was also mentioned by Krishna earlier. When the intellect is disabled by the conflicting verses of the scriptures, then the wisdom becomes steady, the pendulum of the mind stops swinging, and the true understanding dawns. 

One way to possibly bring this to a more practical level of experience is when we experience a state of flow, when we are simply part of what is happening around us and we are at peak efficiency and all the other aspects of that state coming, the lightness in the body, the energy to focus, we can’t really grasp that state. It is happening because certain conditions were fulfilled, and if we try to grasp it, it’ll disappear, it will go away because the mind will interfere, the ego will interfere. So we see even from these experiences that we can have in daily life, that the absence of ego really is the desirable, and to be really practised, to be developed. And that can only happen when the intellect really is not doubting anything or grasping anything, and is simply established in that steady wisdom. And then, any kind of karma is simply external. It is not happening to me; it is happening through me. And ‘me’, what is it even? 

So hopefully we also have some more questions to be answered tomorrow and later on. Let us now reflect on these two verses. What understanding do we have so far of this relationship of karma and jnana, of action and knowledge, action and wisdom. Not just from the Gita, but also from life experience. And with a mini resolve to let this wisdom guide our actions today, let us now continue with a short meditation.

2 March | Verse 3:3

The first thing Sri Krishna tells his disciple as an introduction to the science of karma yoga is that the path is twofold: yoga (here, “karma yoga”) and wisdom blend into each other, and as they do, the experience as well as the lifestyle of the practitioner will evolve, too.

“Yoga of steady wisdom” requires an exceptionally strong character, purified intellect, and a mastery over one’s senses and desires. Karma yoga is the way by which all these qualities can be developed gradually. To make things simple, we could approach this by thinking thus: Having the ideal (sthitaprajna, or steady wisdom) as the goal to attain, one should give oneself wholeheartedly to the practice of karma yoga, and not worry about when and how we may be ready for the next steps.

Let us prepare for today’s verse of the Gita. We have begun the chapter called Karma Yoga or yoga of action. It started with a few questions by Arjuna to reconcile the path of knowledge and the path of action. And the first of the answers will come today. 

The Blessed Lord said: In this world there is a two-fold path as I said before, O Arjuna. The path of knowledge of the sankhyas, and the path of action, of the yogis. 

Let us break down this verse a little. Here, Krishna refers to Arjuna as anagha or ‘the sinless one’. We can see in these verses that Krishna and Arjuna address each other with various epithets. And here Krishna refers to Arjuna’s previous accomplishments in life, in spiritual life particularly, indicating that he’s more than ready to receive this knowledge. And not only to receive it as in intellectually, but to receive it in a way that will transform the inner being. As we will see, the teachings of any kind of scripture or any master are only as effective as is the receptivity of the student. And for someone like Arjuna, just hearing the Gita is enough to effect a major transformation. For most of us, this will serve as inspiration to continue on our path. 

The twofold path that is mentioned here, it indicates a combination. Not that there are two paths opposite to each other, but that there is a system that involves these two paths and they somehow flow into each other, connect with each other, and eventually bring us to the final goal. For the sake of understanding, it has been divided into the path of knowledge and the path of action. And the path of action refers to karma yoga, because it is the path of action of the yogis as Krishna says here. And karma yoga is the means really to be then established in the wisdom that is required for the yoga of wisdom. And so we should start with this effort, that is the implication here. There is no hierarchy here really, as in karma yoga is the step for sankhya yoga. But sankhya yoga, as we heard before, requires many, many qualifications. 

Swami Sivananda talks about the various qualifications that are necessary, as, for example, the set of four virtues. And that is the discrimination, dispassion, longing for liberation, and a set of traits called satshampat, which is really six different things such as mental control, sense control and so on. So we can see that this is quite an advanced approach – if a person already exhibits these qualities, then they are ready for the very direct path of jnana yoga, where the intellect is used in a very powerful way. It has to be purified first in order to directly intuit the truths hidden within the experience of the Self. But jnana yoga as a separate path is really only suitable for these very highly evolved individuals. But yet it is to be seen as the final step. So all the other yogas really merge into this yoga of wisdom.

And karma yoga is now going to be expanded by Krishna as the major path that will help us to purify the Self, purify our actions, attitudes. And in this way we become gradually more and more qualified to even think and to reflect on the various truths that, when we are not prepared, they don’t make any sense, they are simply not going to help us. So at every stage of the way, there is a way to expand, to evolve somewhere further. But the starting point is always karma yoga. And so it is good to maybe summarise a few of the concepts of karma yoga as we have heard them so far. 

So first of all, there is the effort to separate ourselves from the idea of agency and to take the work, any work that we do as the end, not worrying about the results, but as the Buddhists say, the path is the goal. In the same way for the karma yogi, the karma itself is the final point of concentration, and beyond that there is complete non-attachment to the fruits. This is the starting point, and eventually this process will lead us to a state of experience that ‘I am not the doer’, akarta bhava this is called, the attitude of non-doership. And eventually the final state is called naishkarmya siddhi, which means complete freedom from karma: whatever action is being done does not have the effect of binding us to the material experience. So karma yoga by itself can be the path that takes us from the start right up to the end, but it evolves. And as we evolve, so does the path. And eventually we shall be ready for that yoga of steady wisdom that we have heard about before. 

Let us reflect for a few moments on what has been said in this verse. It can also be understood as the need to combine wisdom, knowledge, with any action that we do. Action not guided by wisdom is going to be likely to have detrimental effects. And wisdom that is not supported by action is just fruitless intellectual rumination. When these two combine, then we can have success in spiritual and material life both.

3 March | Verses 3:4 and 5

Before we can truly understand karma yoga, we need to get some background into the relationship between karma, nature, the (lower) self and the ever action-less Self.

To deeply reflect on the meaning of verse 5 will help us understand the need to keep the mind constantly occupied – including by a variety of physical activity to balance , i.e. that incessant action is inherent in nature and thus to find true peace among the infinitely fast and complex movement is to engage in karma yoga.

All other attitudes to actions will inevitably bind us, however lofty the ideals behind them might be.

Now we are gradually coming to the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna will give us two very important teachings today in verses 4 and 5.

Not by non-performance of actions does man reach actionlessness; nor by mere renunciation does he attain to perfection. Verily none can ever remain for even a moment without performing action. For everyone is made to act helplessly indeed by the qualities born of nature. 

Further along in the Gita, Krishna will give us some more detailed insight into the relationship between what is then referred to as the higher nature and the lower nature of the same divine being. It is this lower nature which Krishna is now talking about, which is called prakriti. Prakriti is the sum total of all the manifest things that comprise nature in everything that we see in the universe. Everything that is perceivable, but also it contains the more subtle forces that govern the world of matter and object and senses. 

And what is being said here is that this totality of nature is completely subjected to the law of karma, the law of cause and effect. And one cause leads to an effect, which then itself becomes the cause for other types of effects. And the theory of sankhya describes in detail the various types of causes, which leads to various types of effects and how they combine. It’s a very mechanical, so to speak, process. And this is how a yogi views it also, as a mechanical process. And the wisdom or the vision of the yogi is to experience even their own body and senses as simply parts of this automatic mechanical system, which Krishna here describes as the movement of the qualities of nature, the gunas, which again will be described in a lot more detail later on. These gunas, just in short, are sattwa, rajas and tamas, or luminosity, balance and expansiveness; tamas on the other hand, is the opposite of that. It’s inertia, darkness, chaos, but also solidity and heaviness. And rajas is the dynamism, the dynamic force that can lead us either towards sattwa or towards tamas.

And that is an important point to remember when we think of what is being said in verse 4, that we are trying to reach actionlessness, which is the nature of the Self. The Self doesn’t do anything, it observes, it is the witness. And the body and the senses, they are involved in this constant action. But to reach this passive nature of consciousness, we have to perform the right type of action. We cannot just be inactive, because trying to be inactive on the physical plane is actually an action, which is a detrimental action. Detrimental because, as we see from verse 5, the gunas of nature are in constant motion. We can never find any kind of stability as long as we identify with prakriti, with the body and everything that it implies. 

And this is why trying to not act is actually going against the movement of prakriti. And that will mean that we will go down, we will go backwards, we will lose out. There is a good comparison between, for example, being lazy, idle, or sleeping too much and then not having good sleep, not feeling rested, not feeling invigorated. Whereas, after a long day of hard work, hard physical work, one sleeps like a baby. And in the same way, the spiritual laziness will lead not to even staying in one state, but there will be regression. 

And so we need to choose the right type of action so that we recognise the movement of prakriti and make use of it so that we evolve towards this actionlessness. Those of you who have experience of nada yoga, for example, or longer periods of chanting will know that afterwards the mind is really not even there, not even present. The thoughts are minimum, if any. And this indicates, this is a little taste perhaps, of the actionlessness which is, in the ultimate form, it is the stopping of the vrittis or the modifications of consciousness that raja yoga talks about. The chitta vritti nirodhah. It’s the stopping of that oscillation of the mind so that we can experience the luminous, the peaceful, the actionless nature of the Self, and not identify with the ever-moving senses and the mind. 

There is a term called manonasha which means the destruction of mind, but what it really means is the stopping of that wild pendulum between attraction and repulsion, staying centred. And that is the real actionlessness. It’s like the eye of a hurricane which is completely passive, completely still. But the power that is happening around it is huge, but yet nothing affects the centre. So that is the ideal here. The yogi acts in a wise way, in the correct way, as karma yoga without involving the ego in anything. And thereby eventually this actionlessness, naishkarmya, is achieved. 

So let us reflect for a few moments on the importance of understanding what has been said in these verses, and how we can best apply that in our day-to-day life.

4 and 5 March | Verses 3:6-9

The way out of the infinite whirlpool of karma and rebirth sounds simple enough: change your attitude from selfish to selfless, and offer all actions (of the lower nature) as sacrifice (to the higher nature, or the Divine).

When we analyse the motives behind what we do day to day, however, it does not take long to realise that this means nothing less than a complete restructuring of the entire personality… Daunting as that may sound, though, there is an opening/letting go/moving on, up and beyond at every step of the way.

For this reason, it is far better to commit to a path that one firmly believes in, renouncing the idea of expecting results, rather than work with expectations that are bound to be frustrated at some time or another.

Let us remember the current stage of our journey into the Gita. Yesterday Krishna has reminded us that nature, of which all the physical aspects of our being are made, including the more subtle ones like the senses and the mind, they are all subjected to the laws of nature, laws of karma, which involves constant movement. Nothing is ever steady, nothing is ever stable. And literally the expression was ‘every being is made to act helplessly by the qualities born of nature’. And today Krishna will give us a way out, or a way to approach or manage nature, so that we can attain this actionlessness, this peace, which is beyond all the movement. The verse for today will be 6 through to 9. We’ll do two and two at one time.

Discussion verses 3:6-7

One who, restraining the organs of action, sits thinking of the sense objects in mind. Such a person of deluded understanding is called a hypocrite. But, whosoever controlling the senses by the mind, O Arjuna, engages oneself in karma yoga with the organs of action without attachment, such a person excels.

So first we are reminded of what was said yesterday, that the qualities born of nature and the elements of nature, they are in constant movement. And therefore when we try to restrain the senses, we are really going against nature in a sense. The senses, they operate just like, they are evolved from the elements. For example, the sense of smell is related with the earth element, taste with water and so on. And so we see even from this that the senses are completely linked with the elements, they will always run after the various objects made up of those elements, that’s just their nature. 

And so, by thinking that by stopping action of the physical body, if the mind has not been purified, if the mind is still going after the various sense experiences, then really this is the action, this is the action that is taking place and there is no actionlessness. So it is really self-delusion, and that’s why Krishna here says that by thinking along these lines that if karma is bad then I shouldn’t be doing anything, then that is a sort of spiritual hypocrisy, and this can come in different shades. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is just literally sitting doing nothing. It means not engaging oneself in the actions that really one should be engaging themselves in, on account of the wrong understanding of the principles of karma yoga. 

And this is now explained in verse 7 that this is not the way. The restraint of the senses while the mind is active is not the way, because the senses they have to be used, but they have to be used wisely, with control. So this is really the difference between a yogi and a bhogi, a person engrossed in the material identification. Is that in the latter case, the senses, they drive the mind and there is this constant attachment to the various desires, and then the effort to fulfil them. Whereas the yogi also operates in the world, but consciously choosing every action because the senses are under control. 

So both people will have to do action in the world, that’s what Krishna is saying. There is no way to stay actionless in the world. But the way to perform action is karma yoga. And about this spiritual hypocrisy, there is a wonderful story that illustrates that, about a church that was next to a brothel. And it so happened that the priest and the prostitute died at the same time. And the priest was held up at the gate, whereas the prostitute was let in. And so he was then complaining with the guardian angel, saying that ‘How come? I was doing your work all my life and you don’t let me in, whereas this loose woman was doing the job that she did and you let her in.’ And the angel said, ‘This is because of the inner attitude. That while she was doing her work, her mind was on the church bells and what was happening in the church and thinking of God, whereas you were saying sermons, but your mind was across the road in that brothel.’

And so this really explains, this really illustrates that it is not what we do outside in the world that matters, but with where is the mind. What is the inspiration behind what we do in life, and with what attitude we do it? So karma yoga is the way to practise, to carry out action, but not become bound by it. 

Discussion verses 3:8-9

Do perform your bounden duty, for action is superior to inaction. And even the maintenance of the body would not be possible for you by inaction. The world is bound by actions other than those performed for the sake of sacrifice. Do therefore, O Arjuna, perform action for that sake, for sacrifice alone, free from attachment. 

Once again, the point has been made from a slightly different perspective. We are told that even the maintenance of the body would not be possible without performing actions. So here we really are reminded of the fact that every breathing moment, every thought, every movement is an action, and so we will really be deluding ourselves if we think that we can remain without action. 

And two very important points are made here. Two attitudes really, with which to approach every single action and by which to train the mind also, to see every action as either duty or sacrifice, or a blend of both. So when any action is performed as a duty, because it ought to be done, then one becomes simply an instrument for making something happen. But if the ego is there, then the same action will also have all the effects on the person. And ultimately, even the unfinished desires that we have at the end of life, they still are the force that then brings the consciousness back to the manifest dimension. And so everything that is done as a duty both prevents the karma that is being done from having a binding effect, but also purifies us from the effects of past karmas. 

And so duty and sacrifice are the two attitudes to nurture, to develop. And when everything is done as sacrifice, then we attain that inner purity, that inner wisdom, which is inherent in the word that is used in sacrifice. Yajna is the word. And ‘jna’ is the component of wisdom, knowledge which is revealed when the animal is sacrificed. We may know of the animal sacrifices, where literally animals are sacrificed, but the symbology of that is the giving up of the animal nature, so that it is managed, so that it is reined in. And we can experience the more, the higher, the luminous nature. And this is the path, this is the goal.

Let us reflect now on what Krishna told us. The impossibility of not acting. The importance of acting right. And the need to sacrifice everything that is related with the ego. Remembering that you are not being asked to sacrifice any particular action, property, relationship. But our own internal relationship with all these has to change quite completely. And the path to that is karma yoga.

6 March | Verses 3:10 and 11

When the true spirit of sacrifice is understood and, most importantly, applied to one’s thinking, feeling and behaviour to the extent that it becomes part of one’s nature, the effects on one’s own experience of self and the world, as well as on the world at large, are bound to be profound.

And gradually let us come back to where we have left off. In verse 9 of the third chapter, Krishna told us that ‘the world is bound by actions other than those performed for the sake of sacrifice’. In verses for today 10 and 11, we shall delve into the subject of sacrifices. 

The creator, having in the beginning of creation created humanity together with sacrifice, said: By this you shall propagate. Let this be the milch-cow of your desires. The cow which yields all the desired objects. With this you nourish the Gods. And may those Gods nourish you. Thus nourishing one another, you shall attain to the highest good. 

We mentioned previously that the spirit of sacrifice is something that will lessen the involvement of the ego, and will thin the wall of the ego, so that we can experience the higher nature. And Krishna is now bringing the subject of sacrifice into a different realm so that we also understand the deeper nature of sacrifice and how by making it a part of our behaviour, we are actually going to be more in tune with how the universe operates, with how nature operates. 

Because sacrifice is inherent in nature. A seed has to break for any kind of plant to sprout out. Any kind of fruit that we want to achieve, we need to go through some effort, we need to sacrifice some of our time, energy and so on. The sacrifice is in all dimensions. And of course, the most visible or general experienced types of sacrifices are for example those of the parents, in friend relationships, various types of service that people do, and so on. But here we are brought to the understanding that everything should be done in this spirit, so that really the selfishness disappears altogether. And we could then say that just as from the seed, the tree will sprout from the hard shell, hard seed of the ego, the divine consciousness also will come about. 

And the selfishness as opposed to sacrifice, they are really the breaker and the maker of both the inner personality and of larger groups and society as such. Because selfishness is what causes separation. It causes conflict between individuals, and it causes fractured societies also. Whereas the spirit of sacrifice, when the greater good is on the mind of everyone – it’s a very utopian kind of thought, but let us imagine for a moment that everyone is the yogi, everyone is sacrificing themselves for the sake of the common good – then we would really develop a very different kind of society, very coherent, possibly even the kind of high mind that we can see in various other species where they come together and a whole different higher consciousness develops. There are some theories about that right now. 

But the sacrifice is the key here as the inner attitude to develop rather than me making my own ego identification bigger and bigger by accumulating what it wants. We ignore what it wants, and sacrifice our lives towards a higher goal. Now various words were used in these verses, such as Gods or sacrificed as yajna, the cosmic fire. Or even just fire, the fire of sacrifice. So the Gods are, the literal meaning of the world devata, which is translated as Gods here, is ‘the shining one’. And these are the forces that govern nature. 

And we can understand what is said here as that a person should try to attune themselves with the flow of nature, with the laws of nature. And that will in turn nourish the person and allow the growth, rather than when we’re in conflict with these forces. And even various methods have been prescribed for this, to develop this inner attitude, and there is a very beautiful practice that people do when they come to live in the ashram for a longer time. And this is tree worship, tree puja. It’s a very simple practice where you sit in front of a little tree, or a big tree, any tree that you can do this comfortably – perhaps not in a public park. And you just light a little candle or an oil lamp, light some incense, and basically sit there and feel at one with that tree, feel the life in that tree, communicate with that tree in a nonverbal sort of way.

And this, when it’s done regularly, has a very beautiful effect that we become more sensitive to the vibrations of nature. And more likely to also protect it naturally, as a natural behaviour rather than thinking that we need to do something. And we see that in natural societies even today, that there is a worshipful attitude towards nature, and respect. And when we treat nature with respect then we don’t need to think much about protection of natural environment and so on. These things have to be thought of and enforced, unfortunately, in our societies, because we are so de-naturalised. And in such a situation, there is exploitation, when there’s no respect, when there’s no worshipfulness of nature, there is exploitation even of the cruellest kind, as we know. 

So these verses don’t need to be understood in a kind of religious way. But really the attitude of reverence towards the nature that has given birth to us. And also with our own inner nature. With the attitude of sacrifice, we will connect with all of that and with each other, and also with the high reality within.

So let us reflect on this for a little while. The importance of sacrifice. The freedom that it brings, as opposed to the attachments that pursuing personal desires brings. The need to nurture this kind of thinking within oneself, it not being exactly very present in most of the current thinking. Letting go now of all the mental effort.

7 March | Verses 3:12 and 13

The dimensions of sacrifice, continued…

We have been introduced to the subject of sacrifice by Krishna. And it is a very important point to think about, to reflect on. And just how present or absent it is from daily life, daily experience. The spirit of sacrifice has been mentioned here as the best way to approach any kind of karma, any kind of action. And we are now given some practical as well as esoteric reasons for this. Continuing along this thread with verses 12 and 13. 

The Gods, nourished by the sacrifice, will give you the desired objects. So one who enjoys the objects given by the Gods without offering in return to them is verily a thief. The righteous one who eats the remnants of the sacrifice are freed from all sins. But those sinful ones who cook food only for their own sake, verily eat sin. 

Here in verse 12 we are told that the sacrifice that we perform, which again is any action done in that spirit, will be nourished by the sacrifice, that the Gods will be nourished. Now the Gods we mentioned earlier are, they are the various powers that govern nature. And this also refers to the powers that govern our own senses, the mental faculties. And even the physical health, physical body. And if we live in this spirit of sacrifice, Krishna says that they will be beneficial, these forces will be beneficial to us. And then that will result in also good physical health, among other things. And success in endeavours, which is then also mentioned in verse 13, that even the simple act of cooking food, it can be done as a sacrifice. 

And this kind of attitude will ‘free us from sins’, or free us from the bondage of the karma. And this offering to the Gods, this is using all of our faculties properly, this is using restraint when necessary. And placing the, so to speak, needs of the Self, of the higher nature before the needs of the ego. So everything is done not because of a selfish desire, but because of the one unifying desire to experience the luminous nature. And really, the ego is often seen as a thief, a thief that steals from the true master, from the Self. And so the effects of the ego or the behaviours of the ego are always to be brought under control. And then these Gods will be pleased, it says, and they will give us the desired objects. 

Now what this also refers to is that we have seen, we have heard before that the principles of karma yoga are always to focus on the action, not on the fruit that we may derive from that action. Because as we shall hear presently, there is no influence that we can have over the fruits of the action. Those are up to the higher nature. Krishna says that “I am the dispenser of the fruits of actions. Your right is to the action only.” 

But here we are told that if we perform actions as sacrifice, then this will certainly influence our chances of getting the fruits that we desire. So there is a little door towards us being in control a little bit over the results of the actions, not by actually trying to exert any kind of control, but by renouncing any desire to control, we will get more. Like Ramdas used to say, “Give it all up to get it all.” That is the principle. So the more we renounce selfish desires, the more we actually get. And the more we pursue something, the less likely we are able to receive the abundance. So Krishna now is inviting to get into this spirit. 

And Swami Sivananda is to be a great advocate of this and also in the practical way. Even by giving away every, all the property of the ashram, much to the discontent of the inmates. And then more donations would just flow in. Something like that would happen almost magically. So we don’t need to, of course there could be a little warning: “Do not try this at home.” We don’t need to give all of our property away, but definitely the attachments, the selfish desire to pursue something and then to maintain it, to protect it. Those are great disturbances that prevent any kind of deeper spiritual search to take place. 

And so even this simple act of cooking food, which is used as an example of the sacrifice in verse 13, we offer it even if it even if we are cooking just for ourselves. Are we cooking because of craving something tasty or because we want to nourish the body? And those two don’t need to be in a conflict, but what is the motive, even in that simple act? That will also determine not even what we cook, but also how we eat, what effect it has on the body. So from this little example we can take this all the way up to how we influence the world around us and our place in the universe. So spirit of sacrifice is definitely the one to be adopted, and even a small action done in that spirit is far superior to some kind of flashy charity done for personal fame or some kind of reward. 

And these verses also can be of course interpreted on the more face value as that there are certain rituals, and those of us who have had the opportunity to be exposed to these various techniques and practices will know that they have some not easily explainable purifying effect on the inner personality, such as the havan, the fire ceremony, which used to be and still is very much a part of many people’s lives in India. But definitely in the Vedic civilisation it was part of everyone’s daily routine. They developed this very respectful nature where any kind of transgression, any kind of destruction of life, we seek some kind of reconnaissance with that, and we seek harmony with nature. So with this integrated approach, both practical material actions to take, and also various mantras, rituals and so on then complement this effort on a hidden, more subtle plane. 

So let us reflect on this for a little while. The internal and the external sacrifice. And most importantly, like with any kind of teaching, we often already behave in certain ways, like these desired behaviours in the scriptures. And we just need to find that, discover that, ‘Oh, this is what I’m actually already doing’, and then build on that. Rather than thinking that ‘I need to import some new way of thinking from outside.’

8 March | Verses 3:14 and 15

Sacrifice is far beyond just a kind of activity we can practise, regularly or not (though sacrificial rituals have their important place in the life of many seekers). Krishna here presents it as an integral part of a chain of manifestation, from the unspeakable, definition-defying Akshara Brahman (The Imperishable), to Brahma the creator and all the way down to “food” from which all living beings are produced.

Thus by adopting the attitude of (self-)sacrifice and the associated breaking down of the barriers of the ego, we get attuned to the movements of nature, allowing us to find the peace and stillness at the centre of them all.

We are coming back to the subject of sacrifice. Not as necessarily an external act that we do every now and again, or even regularly. But as an inherent part of life, of how nature operates. And we see that every second of every moment of every day. Different lifeforms are sustained by consuming other lifeforms, who can be then said to have sacrificed their form, their being, for the sake of something greater. The whole food chain can be seen as a chain of sacrifice. So this is present everywhere. But we as humans who are not necessarily always integrated into this cycle of nature, we have this selfishness that is against this kind of process, and which creates disharmony between us and the natural environment also. And so by adopting the attitude of sacrifice, we are really connecting with nature. In the same way that it is said that the actual sacrifices such as the homas, the yajnas, the havans, the fire ceremonies, they actually purify the environment. This has been tested also. So let us continue along this thread. The verses for today are 14 and 15. 

From food come forth beings. From rain, food is produced. From sacrifice arises rain. And sacrifice is born of action. Know that action comes from Brahma. And Brahma comes from the imperishable. Therefore, the all-pervading Brahma ever rests in sacrifice. 

Here we have a beautiful chain of causation, one that we might not necessarily put together by any kind of intellectual process. But when we read these verses from the back, we have this unspeakable, unimaginable reality, that is even higher than what is called here Brahma or the created consciousness. And Krishna causes the imperishable. So that is the unmanifested dimension where nothing exists, everything is in its potential state. And then vibration arises in that unmanifested state, and that vibration is then the source of light, the light is source of water, water is then source of earth, and we have this whole evolution of elements also. 

And we can see that also in the physical realm; we always have these explosive elements like hydrogen and oxygen, and they come together to create mild wet water. So this we had from that unmanifested state all the way down to the gross elements. But at the first stage is this unmanifested reality then the creative consciousness, then action. This action, this karma, is that movement, the movement that causes then manifestation. And from that is born sacrifice. So this is where, in that whole chain between food, from which come the beings, and the imperishable Brahman – somewhere along in the middle is this sacrifice as a fundamental principle that governs then all that comes after that, which is rain. 

And this can be seen both physically and symbolically. And that is then the cause of what is called your food, or basically all matter that comprises together with the water all the living forms. The rain here, if you know the meaning of rain in a place like India, where it doesn’t really rain for much of the year, and then this downpour of monsoon comes. And it’s quite an incredible experience, because life of all kinds just floods from all sides, from insects to plants to animals to everything. So it is a very good symbol here to use as that injection of life, which again comes from sacrifice. 

And the beauty of the Gita is that we can read these verses particularly as very esoteric meanings with a very esoteric kind of approach of the whole causation or genesis. But also it indicates, it talks about sacrifice, which can be even meant as the physical sacrifice. Where, as I said in the beginning, by performing a fire ceremony with mantras, with healing herbs and so on, the environment is purified. And there are even, there are specific yajnas where, they call it ‘seeding the clouds’, and there has been one done in one of our ashrams, and quite well documented also, where huge fires are built, and eventually little clouds start forming in an otherwise clear sky. And then the whole sky fills with them.

So whether we have an experience like that or not, the concept here is that sacrifice is necessary for this whole cycle of creation to continue, and if it is stopped, then the cycle is also damaged, it is broken. And this is why adopting a life of sacrifice means that we will be able to flow with the flow of nature rather than going against it and feeling the consequences. And the more we are in the flow with nature, the more we are also in touch with that stable centre around which everything revolves. 

Let us reflect for a little while on what has been said here. And about how much we can be in that state of flow when the ego is not present. To simplify the concept of sacrifice, we can simply see it as doing any action without consideration for the desires, and likes and dislikes of the mind. But instead connecting with duty, understanding what ought to be done. And doing it with a spirit of sacrifice. That, in short, is the complete lifestyle of a karma yogi. Simple in theory. Hopefully simpler and simpler in practise also. Let us now move on from the active reflection to the observation of breath.

9 March | Verses 3:16-18

It does not take much effort to understand just how vastly different the experience of life is between a yogi and a non-yogi: the materialistic person believes freedom to consist of opportunities to fulfil their desires while the yogi knows that the sense of fulfilment itself can only ever come from within and thus that true freedom is the freedom from desires – and acts accordingly.

And remembering the latest teachings of the Gita. We were talking about sacrifice and its importance in daily life, as well as its place in the scheme of creation in how nature operates. And today we shall continue with verses 16, 17, and 18. 

One who does not follow here the wheel thus set revolving, who is of sinful life, rejoicing in the senses, lives in vain, O Arjuna. But that person who rejoices only in the Self, who is satisfied with the Self, and who is content in the Self alone, verily there is nothing to do. For such a person, there is no interest whatever in what is done, or what is not done. Nor do they depend on any being for any object.

First, we are reminded of what has been said before. That this whole chain of manifestation from the imperishable all the way down to matter and all the beings whose forms are created out of that matter, the process involves sacrifice. And it has been said this is the law of manifestation, the law of creation that has been given to us, that Krishna has mentioned. And now we are told that if we are going to be involved in it, if we are going to, through the attitude of sacrifice, we are going to be involved in this process, yet experiencing the actionlessness of the Self – that is the experience of the yogi. The bhogi, the person who enjoys only the sensual experience, will be caught up in that wheel that keeps on spinning really fast. And therefore there will be no ability to experience the peaceful nature and the strength of the Self. 

And from the spiritual point of view, you will hear this often in the texts, in the various texts, it is really considered a waste of the human incarnation. Because it is only here that we are capable of living according to choices, living according to ideals. We are in a special position where the animal nature is still very much present, but because of the influence of the intellect and so on, there is a loss of this connection with the free flow of nature, like what animals and plants are fully in tune with. And so we need to choose all of our actions carefully, consciously, mindfully. And if we don’t do that, then we have really failed as humans, because it is the duty of the human incarnation to train and to act in that way. The human who acts in servitude to that animal nature is really a very destructive force. 

And what is then the result of being in that state where things just flow through the person rather than the person being an agent. That is explained in verses 17 and 18. And this is not only to tell us about some state that we may be able to achieve in the future. Every time we hear about the behaviours of an accomplished person, these are the behaviours to emulate in our own lives so that we can come closer to that ideal also. 

So what are these aspects, what are these traits to emulate? First of all, there is the independence of the person’s inner state or happiness from any kind of external objects. So this is quite a strong and very powerful position to be in, if a person does not feel the need, or any kind of dependency, and how much of the internal freedom is experienced. And if this contentment comes from the Self, it is not falsely projected on the external objects. And therefore any kind of, anything that happens to those external objects or people or places and so on will have a material effect on the person, but not the effect on the experience of the Self. 

And even complete freedom from the effects of karma is then experienced. This is in verse 18. A very high state, where it doesn’t matter whether the person does anything or doesn’t do anything. There will be no ill-effects accruing from any action or inaction. So the path then is to really analyse our own attractions and repulsions. And in the yogic way, through a meditative process, analyse them and let them go back to their own source. So rather than acting on the various desires, which may be necessary in the immediacy of daily life, but through a gradual process of meditative awareness, we take a good look on all the things that drive us, and decide which ones are helpful in life, which ones are not. And always the effort is to realise through experience that really happiness only ever comes from within. And the more we realise that, the less we are then attracted to the various externalising forces in the world.

So ultimately, the person who is, as Krishna puts it, ‘Content in the Self, and who rejoices in the Self’, will only ever want to give because there’s nothing that they need from the outside. And this is why these selfless people who live a life of sacrifice are such a huge magnet for the rest of us. Because really the energy just flows out and there is no feeling that there is a dependency being formed. So this is really the ideal that the texts on yoga tell us to live. That to be like a lotus flower with the roots in the mud, the stalk growing through the muddy waters, so the whole body of the lotus flower is dependent on, and it grows out of this dirty muddy substratum, but the flower itself is both water-repellent and it seems that it doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the plant. And this is the way that the yogi lives in the world, that there is a connection, it all comes from the same source, but the consciousness is somewhere in a very different place observing the sky, not the mud below. 

So let us reflect for a few moments on what has been said here. And this idea of independence of happiness from any kind of external happenings, objects, people. Reflecting on how when we place the importance into objects, then we become dependent on them, and will be fearing for their loss, will be expecting things. Whereas a yogi tries to be free from all these – accepting what comes uninvited, not craving what does not.

10 March | Verse 3:19 

One of the many beautiful things about spiritual teachings is how simple they are in theory – just as simple as the single reality of the Self (which again contains in itself the potential to create entire universes).

This is useful as they need to be remembered at quick call when the habitual forces of the selfish ego raise their head to cause delays on our journey.

We have heard a lot about sacrifice, and the importance of selflessness is quite easy to understand intellectually, even if it is a bit more difficult to apply in practise. Today we have a short and sweet summary of how a yogi should approach the world so that the involvement is there, but the attachments and the bondage is not. The verse is 19.

Therefore, without attachment, do always perform action which should be done. For performing action without attachment, one reaches the Supreme. 

‘Therefore’ obviously connects us with the verses before, where we were told that there is a certain process inherent in nature, which starts with the unmanifested potential reality, the imperishable Brahman, and ends all the way in the world of the material elements and all the forms that are made out of it. And when we live in a certain way of life, then this constant motion of these infinite motions which are inherent in this big cosmic process, no matter how fast or how wild they may be on the outside, if we live in a certain way, then the internal experience is always like that of a hub of a wheel rather than the wheel that can spin quite fast. 

So that is the goal. Not to withdraw ourselves from life or to somehow try to go against the flow. We have been warned against that. We’ve been told that we are always going to be subject to the movements of nature. And helplessly thrown hither and thither until and unless we can find this inner stability, inner balance, that changelessness beyond the movement, the unity beyond diversity. And so this way is here in this one sentence in this one verse. Without attachment, always perform action which should be done. That’s it. Even the second half can be left out for the practical reasons. 

So when we analyse any kind of action that we do, we always need to remember that from the material perspective it may be true that the type of action we do is important for the result that we that we get on the material level. But from the spiritual perspective, it is the intention, the motivation with which we perform action, which will determine its effect on the personality. And on either fattening or starving the ego. And a yogi is one who keeps on starving the ego until it’s all gone. Whereas the material person keeps on feeding it, until it sometimes reaches quite tragical proportions. 

So we can see really the difference or the opposite nature of material and spiritual action. In the material action, the Self or the centre of the personality, which is hidden, it is not understood, it is not heard, it doesn’t play part in that person’s life. It is at the same time the source of the energy of the life that we then utilise both, either for the worldly or the spiritual efforts. But the direction is outwards, so the energy goes into the lower mind, there’s the senses, which then are dragged or attracted by the various objects. And spiritual action is really the reverse of that. 

First we need to realise the fact that it is not the objects that give us any kind of internal experience, but it is our own projection is reflected back on us. And this is done through reflection supported by meditation. And also by observing ourselves in how we respond to different objects while in different states. That is always going to tell us just how independent the inner experience is from external objects. And of course, once we have decided upon a certain lifestyle, then we consciously choose to avoid, to disconnect from certain things, and to connect with others. And then in the meditative process, the energy is withdrawn from the senses, withdrawn from the mind. And reflected back on the Self. 

So really the material and the spiritual are two different things. It is known in the yogic terminology as yogamaya. Yogamaya is one thing. It is one energy. In fact, the whole Shakti concept or the cosmic force, the cosmic energy, has been called yogamaya, the force that can bring us to yoga or dissipate the energy into the experience of maya or illusion. So this is really the simple way to understand that a yogi is one who is focusing on the yoga aspect. And the sensual person, the bhogi is one who is given to the maya aspect. 

And so here, in short, we have a method to live life. Worth repeating once again. Without attachment. Always perform action which should be done. Here it is implied that this is the duty that we have heard about before. Not that I want to do, not what I like or dislike. But what I ought to do, what should be done by me. And to develop this wisdom, the discrimination, it is also a part of life. But even continuing by making mistakes from which we then learn, it is better to commit mistakes rather than not try at all. 

Reflecting on how much freer, how much more expansive the experience of life can be without the cravings, hankerings, attachments. Quite the opposite ideal of freedom, as defined by material freedom, financial freedom. These are also important. But only to a limited extent. Far more limited than the spiritual freedom that we seek, whether we know it or not.

11 and 12 March | Verses 3:20-24

Many spiritual seekers – especially in the West, it seems – are quite fond of the dictum that as the individual Self is identical with the Cosmic Self, an individual is essentially Divine…

This may be truth in the ultimate analysis; however, for all practical purposes, the main message of this teaching that a seeker should adopt is the realisation of what the Divine actually does: EVERYTHING, all the time! There is not a single moment when the enormous clockwork of universal existence stops or slows down. Similarly, a yogi keeps his/her mind busy constantly.

Swami Satyananda used to say, “rest is rust”, and likewise, Swami Sivananda would remind us that the best rest from one type of work is another type of work; “an idle mind is the Devil’s playground”.

Yet the ultimate result of all this incessant activity – always guided by the wisdom of common sense in combination with a sincere effort to understand the true meaning of scriptural teachings – is the complete stillness and peace experienced constantly, in the same way that a hub of the wheel is always steady relative to the movement of the wheel itself, no matter how fast and bumpy the ride…

Yesterday we heard from Krishna a very succinct description of the process of karma yoga, of the principles of karma yoga. And the recap is quite simple also. Simply do any action that should be done. Which also implies do not do actions that should not be done. And whatever is being done should be done without attachment. And that’s it. The second half of the verse yesterday said that by acting in this way one reaches the Supreme. And from this we shall follow with the verses for today. There are a few, namely five. So we’ll do the first two first and then the remaining three. So 20 and 21 to begin with. 

Discussion verses 3:20-21

Janaka and others attained perfection verily by action only. Even with a view to the protection of the masses you should perform action. Whatsoever a great person does, that the other people also do. Whatever he sets up as the standard, that the world follows. 

In verse 20 we are told above the glorious example of King Janaka. Janaka is a character in the Ramayana, so very worthwhile studying also. And he exemplified this ideal that is often found in the Indian scriptures, which is actually quite different from the understanding or rather misunderstanding possibly of the teachings of Jesus here in the West, and this has to do with the relationship between material accomplishment, material wealth and spiritual accomplishment. Janaka is one of the so-called rajarishis. Raja means king, and rishi means seer or sage. And so he was both a king, administering a large kingdom, ruling over many subjects, and at the same time he was completely detached from it all, and fully immersed in the experience of the Self, in communion with the divine. And he was considered to be an extremely just ruler, very disciplined, to a very high extent and so on. 

So what Krishna here mentions is that this very, very great personality was respected universally everywhere, attained perfection simply by karma yoga. So here the science of karma yoga and the practice are elevated to a very high level, so that we are also inspired to take to the path seriously. Because often you may find that the attitude of seekers who use yoga as the path of spiritual awakening will look at karma yoga is some kind of complementary thing to keep in mind while we do of our glorious practices of raja yoga and so on. But here we see that, no, karma yoga is actually the path for most people in the world to follow. And that path alone can lead us to the perfection that was talked about in the second chapter and will be talked about later. 

So why then a person like that would even act, if the motivation for doing any actions is not related with my outside involvements. Then why even act in the outside world, why not just live in a cave? And the answer to that is given in verse 20 itself, that these people still choose to act with a view of the protection of the masses, or because of what is said in verse 21, of this natural trait that we all have, that we all imitate people who we respect, or who we consider to be our superior, that is just an automatic feature that we have from birth, from childhood, that’s how we learn everything. And so here Krishna says that the perfected person does not really have to do anything. But they still choose to do actions that are appropriate, that are desirable, because that sets an example to the masses. 

And now Krishna is going to give us the ultimate example of that in verses 22 to 24. 

Discussion verses 3:22-24

There is nothing in the three worlds, O Arjuna, that should be done by me. Nor is there anything unattained that should be attained. Yet I engage myself in action. For should I not ever engage myself in action, unwary, people would in every way follow my path, O Arjuna. These worlds would perish if I did not perform action. I should be the author of confusion of castes, and destruction of these beings. 

So here, and many other places, we see that Krishna is giving example of himself as the example to follow. And this is what we find in any kind of spiritual path, this idea that the emulation of the behaviour of the perfected being is itself a path towards becoming that, towards discovering that within oneself. And so here Krishna gives the ultimate example, just like he says in other parts of the Gita that the perfected being, perfected sage is no different from me, is not different from the divine. In the same way, here Krishna gives the example that well, if the divine consciousness that gives structure, that organises, that is able to evolve and uphold and hold together. That is the function, this being and this holding together, which is related with dharma. Dharma literally means holding together. If that was not happening, then of course everything would just fall apart. 

And we have the mention of the castes here. In the beginning of the scripture, of the Gita, there was a mention of them when Arjuna was complaining about the effects of the war. And later on there will be more references to the castes. But it will be always made clear that this  refers to the natural divisions among people based on the predominance of the gunas, the qualities of nature that will come to later. It is not some kind of political or social structure. It is basically, it is like four stages of evolution from the least to the most enlightened. And every human being will move past eventually through all these stages. 

But of course here Krishna says that if I, if the creative consciousness of the universe was not performing action, if that was not the defining feature of all of creation, then there would just be chaos, there would not be life. It would be just chaos. So this is why all the beings that exist in this manifest universe behave according to these laws of the original creation. And so we can’t really choose, we have to act. And the whole point of Krishna here is to say that we can’t stop acting, but we have to act wisely, in line with the Dharma, in line with our nature. And as an offering, so that the ego is gradually eliminated and we become part of this cosmic play. 

So let us reflect for a few moments on what has been heard. First, that karma yoga is by itself the way towards perfection, towards illumination. These principles are act without attachment that which needs to be done. And by doing that, by making that part and parcel of daily life we can become quite wise and great even here on this earthly plane. And then be more likely to achieve that liberation from the cycle of birth and death altogether.

13 March | Verses 2:25 and 26

Positive changes to one’s motives and attitude while doing any kind of work are at the core of karma yoga. Yet, desire being the sole motivator of all embodied beings, there needs to be some kind of desire even in the case of a yogi; indeed, history tells us that many have forfeited their rightfully earned liberation from all embodied existence only to return to the world in order to help humanity grow.

Such a lofty motivation for work might not be easily acquired by a person engrossed in the din  and bustle of the world, but every effort to lessen one’s selfishness and become a force for good in the world will be rewarded by an increase in inner strength, spiritual growth, and a sense of purpose and usefulness, so direly missed by the vast majority of people in (materially) developed societies.

We have heard from Krishna about the nature of action. And that incessant action is inherent in all of creation. This is why any being that is part of the creation has to always keep on acting and there is no stopping. Yet, in the midst of all the activity, there is always the centre that doesn’t move, that doesn’t age, that is not limited by time and space. And that this reality, this true Self can only be found not by stopping action, but by performing action as karma yoga. The ultimate example has been given of the divine itself which is constantly involved in the functioning of the universe. And today the verses are 25 and 26. 

As the ignorant people act from attachment to action, O Arjuna, so should the wise act without attachment, wishing the welfare of the world. Let no wise person unsettle the mind of ignorant people who are attached to action. He should engage them all in all actions, himself fulfilling them with devotion. 

We have said before, and it has been said before, that it is not the action that matters in the spiritual realm, but it is the intention, the spirit, in which an action is done that determines its effect on our inner being, on our personality. But when we think about that, we may be slightly fooled into thinking that, well, I don’t change any action, I just develop this inner attitude. And we may get this idea that there is no relationship between the type of action we do and the intention or the purpose with which we are doing it. But here we are reminded that the yogi really does not have any selfish motives for performing actions, and that surely will also determine the type of action that they do. 

So if the aim behind performing action, if the sole motivation is the welfare of the world, then surely the actions that the person will choose will also be appropriate to that. So by remembering these two things that yes, it is the internal attitude with which we are doing things, and yes, that we don’t need to necessarily renounce the actions that we do, there is also this necessity to analyse the motives and make them as selfless as possible so that this principles of karma yoga can actually be applied with genuine kind of attitude. 

And so here we have the difference between the normal person who lives in the world, and the seeker who is trying to extricate themselves from the enthrallment to the world. And this difference is the motive. So the ignorant person acts from attachment to action, whereas the developed person, the wise person acts without any selfish motive. But verse 26 makes it very clear that even along the path, we should only consider it our own path. We should not try to change others, especially before the personality of the yogi is fully blown, fully grown. 

There should be no effort to unsettle the minds of those who are attached to action because a person who is completely immersed in the material identification, if the motivation that they have is taken away, if the illusions about life, and there are so many, from what a person should be like in the material realm, from how they should live in the society with relationships and so on. These may not be helpful for the attainment of happiness and inner joy. But for a person who is not involved in serious spiritual search, they are the only motivators. And so everyone really should only worry about their own spiritual evolution, and see how their own example is helping people also to grow. If it doesn’t, then it simply means that more work needs to be done. No preaching, no teaching, will ever help here. 

So a true spiritual seeker is never a, what they call a ‘Bible basher’. But rather the principles of the path that we are following are just for our own evolution. And here a beautiful way to handle or to deal with other people is given. That a person should engage these people who are at a lower state of evolution, a person on the higher stage of evolution should engage them in action. And fulfilling their own actions with devotion. This is always seen when you visit the ashram. Many people come there because they want to learn some kind of yoga technique or meditation, and what they get instead is lots of work. And many people understand the importance of it. Those who don’t usually leave very soon. 

But constant occupation of the mind, of the body in a positive way, in a way that is not based on selfish motives, that is the way. And we shouldn’t worry too much about how supported or unsupported we are by the environment. We need to create our own environment. And we see that when we do all these things intelligently, there will be no need for some kind of drastic external changes, which often alienates those who start a spiritual search from their original environments. So we don’t need to do any of that, but gradually, slowly changing, transforming the way with which we approach the world and our motivations, and reduce the selfishness more and more. This is a lifetime of practise, but now we know how it’s done and why. 

So let us reflect on it for a little while. Often many of our motivations already existing are quite compatible with the spiritual search, and they should not be abandoned. But each and every one of us also has various desires, traits, intentions which are ego-based. And these don’t need to be eliminated all of a sudden, but always their effects should be observed. How do my actions motivated by personal gain affect me? And how do actions done selflessly affect me? The experience is so different, so vastly different, that just by observing these two, we will naturally begin to do this work of becoming more selfless.

14 March | Verses 3:27-29

“I am the author of the actions of my body and mind.”
“The way I am is a given; it is not possible to make real changes within myself.”
“Satisfying the craving of the senses is the only way to get at least a little happiness in the otherwise dreary world”
“Some things/people are good whilst others are bad; the ideas about both are mine, and those who say otherwise are deluded.”

These and other such ideas play a vital role in the life of a materialistic person, and for as long as one is engrossed in that “reality”, such mental constructs are essential for the functioning of society. Hence, the yogi is advised not to unsettle the minds of non-yogis by making them question their most fundamental beliefs, in the same way that a primary school teacher cannot impart any knowledge to children by telling them that everything is relative.

However, in personal life, there should be a ruthless analysis and revaluing of every single belief we hold in life, discarding those that are unhelpful, and nurturing those that help us grow – no matter what the society around us is telling us about life…

And gradually let us come back to the teachings of the Gita, where we have been talking about action and the difference between actions performed by yogi and a non-yogi. And even more than the actions themselves, the internal attitude, experience of life. And today the verses are 27, 28 and 29.

All actions are wrought in all cases by the qualities of nature only. One whose mind is deluded by egoism thinks I am the doer. But one who knows the truth O Arjuna about the divisions of qualities and their functions, knowing that the gunas as senses move amidst the gunas as sense objects is not attached. Those deluded by the qualities of nature are attached to the functions of the qualities. The person of perfect knowledge should not unsettle the foolish one who is of imperfect knowledge. 

Here we have a wonderful way to think of the senses and their attractions to the objects. And also we understand that they are related, they are connected. And there is no way for the senses to avoid the attraction that they have to their appropriate sense objects. If we smell a strong smell or there is a tactile experience or any kind of experience, the senses will always automatically respond to that. And therefore the mind that has not being controlled through the various techniques and lifestyles of spiritual life, whatever tradition, whatever system one may follow, then the mind will always also be a complete slave to the pulls of the senses. But rather than going the way of the very strict ascetics, who after all, when we think about it, the idea behind the various self-mortification and other types of self-torture that we sometimes see people do is all based on the realisation that the senses are such a big problem for the internal experience to evolve, and so they should just be cut off, they should be annihilated, we should completely cut ourselves off these experiences. 

This is definitely not the way of yoga; this is not the way of the Gita. But it is not hard to understand that the seeker who is really trying to pacify the mind and so on is then completely disheartened by the fact that the senses always run out, they are so hard to control. But Krishna has a very different approach, and the yogic approach is very different. It is basically realising that the lower mind, which is essentially just a hub for the senses to operate, is far lower than the actual higher mind, with which we can operate as human beings, which can be developed through training, which can be developed through association, right association. That the lower mind and the senses can be completely controlled, the energy that is being put into them can be withdrawn, and this is done through techniques, this is done through karma yoga and so on. And once the realisation has been established, once the person has experienced that ‘I am not the mind, I am not the senses’, then the life becomes very different, the direction of life becomes very different. 

And so the way to think of the senses and the sense objects is along the lines of these three qualities of nature. They will be again described later on, but you might have heard of them before anyway. So the sattwa, the luminosity, the balance, the harmony, is the exact opposite of tamas, the constriction, the chaos, the ignorance or lethargy. And in between them the dynamism, the rajas, is basically inherent in the activity of nature. And once we realise that, that the senses are governed by these three qualities, the objects that they are attracted to are also governed by these three qualities, these three qualities always change over time, they are never the same. Theie proportion is different in different objects, different types of personality and so on. 

All of that is completely separate from that peaceful, unattached reality of the Self, and that is the reality. So this is what we are trying to discover within us. And that’s the whole process of spiritual life really, to understand that I am not the body, I am not the mind, I can control the senses. And this idea that ‘I can’ is also something that we need to develop, through understanding, through practise, because this is not something that is present in materialistic thinking at all. We can see this in those around us and even in ourselves, that there is a belief in various things like the good and the bad. The ideas of good and bad and what should be done, which should not be done, are all determined by our exposure to the environment, to our conditioning, and so on. And this is why they are not really in line with who we really are. So the whole process of yoga is to discover that the conditionings are external, even if we believe them to be the part of our own nature. And then to extricate ourselves from those conditionings and experience the true nature, which is beyond them all. 

And last but not least, the effort should be only for oneself, as we said yesterday. And we will never see the great masters to unsettle the minds of those with a lower level of awareness. Because when that happens, when we are told that the system of values that we have is all just a fantasy, then we end up as a nihilistic kind of person. And that is the exact opposite of where the consciousness of a yogi is. The consciousness of a yogi is in that sattwic state, the luminosity, the knowledge, the balance; whereas the idea that there’s no point, there’s no purpose, there’s no good and bad, I can just as well do anything, that is the nihilistic approach. And so this is why a warning is always given to those who have evolved themselves not to spread the ideas that they have discovered within themselves, without awareness of what it can do to those people who need to believe in a certain value system. 

So let us reflect on this for a little while. All the actions of the body and the mind, no matter how much we may think of them as coming from our own impulse, they are all according to Krishna simply the automatic process of nature. The three qualities of nature that we experience day to day, moment by moment, always change. And what we’re trying to find when practising yoga and other types of spiritual life is to find that stillness, that centre. Observing all the activities rather than feeling that ‘I am the doer’. And this we practise in meditation also, by observing the body, by distancing ourselves from the experience of the body, of the mind, we are training ourselves to become the witness. The silent witness, uninvolved, unaffected. And then the effort is to maintain this experience even in daily life while the body and mind are involved in all the activities that they should be.

15 March | Verse 3:30

With a little research, every verse of the Gita can be said to contain teachings far more extensive than what has been compressed into two short lines. That said, verse 3:30 is among those that provide a complete – if not detailed – instruction for spiritual life.

Swami Sivananda always said that it is far better to live in the spirit of one verse than it is to read books upon books but understanding them on the superficial level only. Today’s verse is an ideal candidate, if it speaks to you more than others…

Let us remember where we left off in the Gita. Today we have a verse, one of the verses that give a complete instruction to spiritual life. And so before we begin, let us remember what we heard yesterday. That the entirety of manifest world is simply the interplay of the qualities of nature, both in the form of the various objects, and in the form of the senses that can perceive these objects. Whereas the Self, which can also be called God, or so many other terms, is completely unattached, is the observer of this whole play of these gunas or qualities of nature.

Often, we hear some people say, “If there is a God, why is there evil in the world? Why does he not intervene?” When we look at the world and the Self in the light of the verses we heard yesterday, then it becomes quite clear that the world of senses is governed by nothing but karma, action. Constant action. And so the only way to experience the Self, which is beyond all action, is to purify the actions and also the motives with which they are done. Let us now hear the verse for today, which is 30.

Renouncing all actions in me, with the mind centred in the Self, free from hope and egoism, free from mental fever, do you fight.

Here in this very short verse we have a set of instructions as to how to extricate ourselves from this mechanical activity of the gunas, of the qualities of nature, and how to experience the changeless, timeless Self. The first point that is made here is the renunciation of all, of everything really. Of all actions, and especially the fruits of the actions. Knowing that I am not the doer, I am simply the instrument, and come whatever may. ‘Mind centred in the Self.’ This is the next instruction. 

How do we centre the mind in the Self? This is the process of introspection. This is the process of jnana yoga. And also all the meditative techniques, even though they begin at a very rudimentary, simple level. The more we do them, and the more we advance in the practise, the more we are able to see what is external and what is internal. And from the viewpoint of yoga, everything that is not the Self is external. Even the mind ultimately is seen as an external factor. And so we are basically trying to remove the identification as an object and identify with the subject. The ultimate subject, which is the Self. 

In normal waking consciousness, the mind is the subject. And then the various objects of the senses can be considered the object. But as we go deeper in meditation and we realise that thoughts, feelings, sense experiences, they really happen on the outside of what we perceive as who I am, what I am, then we get the taste of the experience, that I am not the body, I am not the mind, I am not the senses, and so on. To really go deep in this, we need to take to the practise of meditation seriously, but in order to do that, we of course need all the different preparations, such as hatha yoga and so on. So even just this centering of the mind in the Self, that teaching itself implies a whole lifestyle that we should follow. 

‘Freedom from hope.’ Hope here simply means expectation. And expectation can be a useful motivator in material life because generally we are able to conceptualise what it is that we are going to get. So we know exactly what we are going to get, and therefore the expectation is valid as a motivator. Even though it still creates discomfort in the mind or agitation in the mind. However, in spiritual life, where we are really entering an unknown zone, expectations are really huge blocks, because we don’t know what to expect and so the mind will create various fantasies based on what we’re hearing, various scriptures and so on. And then, of course, we get frustrated, we get disappointed because those fantasies don’t get fulfilled. 

And this is also coming back to what we had yesterday. If the hope is that just by being a good person or doing various practices or doing your prayers, all of a sudden some divine force will come and intervene. That may be tough luck. However, prayer is not useless, it is a very personal way to connect with the higher reality. But it also, in the life of a seeker rather than a materialistic person, the prayer is also directed towards the experience of that connectedness rather than trying to get some objects from somewhere. This also is of course related with the egoism, which is another aspect of this, which is another point that Krishna is making here. Freedom from egoism is one of the things we need to cultivate in order to get ourselves out from the world of the gunas and into the world of the Self. And this is done of course through karma yoga primarily. 

‘Mental fever.’ When we think of what the activity of the mind is like during intense worry or expectation, it is really, it is almost like a physical feverish state. So the fever is a very good approximation here. It can mean grief, expectation, longing. Everything that agitates the mind rather than makes it more peaceful. 

And last but not least, the instruction comes ‘do you fight’. Remembering of course that the instruction goes to Arjuna, who is a warrior and whose duty is to fight. Then this simply means do your duty, whichever duty you have been given, and of course that is for us to discover. Then that has to be done. So if we follow these points mentioned in verse 30, as well as other verses that are in the Gita, then we have a complete map, complete guidance. Of course, then we need to also understand what techniques, what practices, and how to approach these various aspects. 

So let us reflect for little while on what has been said. By centering the mind in the Self, we are removing the, so to speak, layers of the onion. Of the ego, of the lower mind, by understanding what is external to me, and what is really ‘me’? We get a lot of freedom from the various superimposed conditionings that we have since birth. So by renouncing all actions in the high reality, by centering the mind through meditation, and working on extricating ourselves from expectation, egoism, and mental fever, we should do our duty. This, Krishna says, is the way out of this matrix, so to speak, of the gunas, the senses, and the objects.

16 March | Verses 3:31 and 32

It may feel quite daunting to hear that the effort needed to attain freedom needs to be constant – unless we understand and accept the process in the same way as we do with the inevitabilities of material life: a garden whose keeper’s efforts are sporadic and erratic will most likely resemble a jungle or a wasteland, as the weeds won’t stop growing simply by them willing it…

Gradually let us return to the teachings of the Gita. We have heard yesterday a very brief, concise summary of all the different aspects that are necessary for us to be liberated from the various pulls of the external world and experience the peace, the greatness, the power of the Self within. And today we are given a few more additions to this line of thought, along with a little warning, as we will see is the process in the Gita in many places. The verses are 31 and 32.

Those who constantly practise this teaching of mine with faith and without envy, they too are freed from actions. But those who carp at my teaching and do not practise it, deluded of all knowledge and devoid of discrimination, know them to be doomed to destruction. 

Let us remember the teaching first. Krishna said: “Renouncing all actions in me, with the mind centred in the Self, free from hope and egoism and from mental fever, one should do one’s duty.” And this of course is the sum total of all the teachings. But of course the details and other aspects are given elsewhere. Now, how do we have to practise this in order for the effort to be successful? That we are told in verse 31. First of all, this is constant practise. This is where many people fail in spiritual life. Because even if regular practise of various techniques takes a couple of hours, there are certain types of sadhanas that can take up to three hours a day to practise, like kriya yoga and so on. That is not enough, that is still not enough, if then the whole rest of the day is just spent following the usual conditionings of the mind is like taking a step forward and a step back all the time, or maybe two steps back. 

So the practise has to be constant. Raja yoga and hatha yoga, they give us these techniques that are practised day by date so that the mind develops a certain habit. But then that habit has to be applied in daily life and that is where karma yoga comes in. Karma yoga, because it deals with karma in general, all types of karma, is constant, because karma is also constant. And so the effort has to be to constantly rein in the mind, observe the mind, and this is indeed quite difficult. But this is simply developing a new habit, and once the habit has been developed, then the difficulty is lessened. So it’s not that the effort can ever be relaxed, but it becomes easier over time. 

So this is the constancy that Krishna is talking about. ‘With faith.’ That is self-explanatory. If we don’t have the faith in whatever we’re doing, and this is true even in material life, then of course chances for success are minimised. ‘Without envy.’ This is a very important point. Because each person comes to spiritual life from a different starting point. And the starting point itself is determined by previous actions. To understand this, there is a wonderful text called Yoga Vasishta, even though that is only recommended for those who are brave enough to let go of conditionings. And there it says that there is no intervention of the various Gods and so on. Sage Vasishta says that those are stories for undeveloped people. But only karma determines one’s fate. Past karma determines our current situation, and our future is dependent on whatever we do right now. And so we should always remember that if someone seems to be progressing faster or slower or whatever, that is determined not by their own efforts right now only, but also by the past efforts. And so we should never compare ourselves with others, but only focus on our own path. 

And the warning is given in verse 32. Those who don’t practise this teaching then they will be just given to the pulls of the senses, to the constant pulls of the desires, and never find the peace that is necessary for any kind of sustained progress to take place. One very important point is to look at the word ‘me’ when Krishna says that. Because in other places in the Gita he makes it quite clear, he literally says in a different chapter that in whatever way people approach me, in whatever form, in that same form I shall reveal myself to them. So we should never think that there is only one particular path that is to be followed. 

And this seems to have been the thinking generally not so long ago. Something really bad happened in the world in the last few decades. And there’s a story that my grandfather told me, who used to be a musician and travelled the world as much as was possible during the times of the Iron Curtain. One of the fondest memories he had was from Syria, where, to his surprise, the Muslims there were very, very welcoming to all the Christians who came there for the festival. But they would always be quite apprehensive of those atheists or materialists who were also part of the group. So no matter what religion one followed, it was good for them, but the apprehension came when there was this rejection of all spirituality. 

And this this may sound also almost impossible today when we have been so caught up in these differences between different traditions that conflict is so ripe. And the great Ramakrishna exemplified this in his own life also. First he attained enlightenment by the worshipping of the goddess Kali. And then later on he manifested, he demonstrated that the same result can be achieved by following any other path, with sincerity, with devotion, with faith. And so in this way, when we look at it from the larger perspective, we are not only going to be picking on the various details when we look closely on our little playground, but we get a higher vision and we see ourselves in in the context of the whole world, of the whole humanity, knowing that there is one direction no matter what the path may be, but there’s one top of the mountain no matter how many paths lead to it. And so Krishna here is saying whatever you are inclined to practise, do that with devotion, do that with faith, and you will reach ‘Me’ in whatever form. But if you don’t, then you stay at the bottom of the mountain, and can only gaze at the top, with envy, with cavilling. 

So let us reflect on this for a little while. The teaching is that all actions should be renounced, should be dedicated, to the one goal, to the one divine reality, in whatever way we can conceptualise it. After all, all the concepts that we may form to help us along the path will naturally drop away when the realisation comes in. But the effort has to be made. And this also has to come from the personal realisation that if I don’t do this effort, where will I be? Why is it important? No matter what the general thought in the culture that we live in may be. This is always a personal path, personal connection. No need to congregate, no need to worship in temples. Even though that is helpful for those who are so inclined.

17 March | Verses 3:33 and 34

If you are an orange, don’t try to be a banana, says Swami Niranjan. On the one hand, one should always be aware of one’s innate drives and dispositions, and try to manage them and channel their action positively, rather than suppression.

On the other hand, as social creatures, we will always imitate each other whether we want or not; hence the importance of choosing the right people to associate with.

Most importantly though, as today’s verses make clear, we will only be subjected to the uncontrollable senses and cravings of the mind for as long as we swing on the pendulum of attraction and repulsion. Once one begins to see all the likes and dislikes as something happening on the periphery of one’s being, true freedom and peace are experienced within – the only place where they truly exist.

Yesterday we have been given both a licence to follow a path that is close to one’s heart, but also a warning that if we choose not to do anything, then we will not just stay where we are, but we will regress. The experience of life will suffer. And today we will get some more insight in verses 33 and 34.

Even a wise person acts in accordance with their own nature. Beings will follow nature. What can restraint do? Attachment and aversion for the objects of the senses abide in the senses. Let none come under their sway, for they are his foes. 

So these two verses, when we just read them separately, and also when we just use the translation, then verse 33 can sound a little confusing. Because we have been talking about the necessity for self-discipline, for the control of the senses and the mind through various means. And here we are told that even the wise person is subjected to nature and will act in accordance with their own nature. What can be restraint do? So first of all, let’s look at the nature. This is the acknowledgment that even though a wise person has the ability to experience and to – I mean this wise person here refers to the wisdom that we talked about before, so this is the accomplished yogi – they have the ability to experience and identify with the Self, and therefore their actions, attitudes, thinking is quite different from the unevolved people. But their personality doesn’t just disappear. They don’t all become clones of each other. 

And this is why the studying the lives of the various saints is so fascinating because we see that they come in so many different, from so many different backgrounds, with so many different starting life experiences and evolution and action in the world and so on and so forth. So their own nature is there preserved, and also they follow their particular mission in life. But all of us also do in one way or another. And all beings will follow nature. But when we see this in the context of what was said before, that nature, as mentioned here, consists of the gunas, of the qualities which constantly change. The effort is not to try and somehow manage that in all the hundreds of thousands of ways that it would be necessary, but rather realise that that is not who, that is not the substratum of the personality, but rather something much deeper, much more stable, luminous, knowledgeable is hidden within and that can be experienced. 

But one important point here is the word restraint. Because restraint, generally we translate it with the Sanskrit word sanyam. And that is the restraint that Krishna advocates as the means to experience the Self and manage the pulls of the senses and the external world. It is also, one meaning of that word is the culmination of the last three steps in raja yoga basically, from the concentration to the experience of oneness. But here, the translation is also restraint, but the word is nigraha. So that’s a very different concept. Nigraha means really restraining, like restraining a horse. And some of them you be familiar with pranayama, in the techniques of pranayama start as what is known as prana nigraha, that we are trying to restrain working with the breath. It is like a preparatory step, pranayama itself can be ultimate form is basically the cessation of the activity of prana in raja yoga. But that’s a little diversion. 

The means or the understanding of verse 33 comes in verse 34. And this is one very important aspect that we should remember, that the attachment and aversion abide in the senses themselves. And we can even quite easily understand that the senses are external to even the mind, let alone to the Self. And so here Krishna says that the attachment and aversion are there outside. So when we say, “I hate, I love”, it is actually a delusion, because that is inherent in something that is external from ‘I’, from the real Self. And when we understand that the qualities, the gunas and the senses, which are also governed by the gunas, they do this whole game out there, that is the whole aversion and attraction. And so if I can stay separate from that, all of that will then stop affecting me. So I don’t need to worry about “Oh, I should solve this problem or that problem or this habit that habit.” Instead, the understanding comes that “This is not me. Neither of that is me, neither the attractions nor the aversions.” And of course this has to come as an experience through reflection like this and practising techniques that help us manage the physical and the mental process that are necessary for the management of this. 

So this is a very important insight that I think is worthwhile noting down. Attachment and aversion for the objects of the senses abide in the senses. And the warning again comes: “Let none come under their sway. For they are the foes of the wise person”, or of the striving seeker, even though they are the motivators in the life of a completely worldly person. 

Let us reflect for a few moments on these two verses. And how they apply to our own experience of life. In verse 33 there is an acknowledgement that restraint is really difficult. And we know that from experience, surely. But then we are assured that all of those experiences cannot possibly be part of who I am. Because they happen on the periphery. And the true freedom lies within, separate from it all.

18 and 19 March | Verses 3:35-37

The key to a proper understanding of ourselves and the world has been given to us here: first one should acknowledge and make peace with one’s own nature, as well as the fact that trying to go against the current of manifest nature is a futile undertaking.

At the same time, we need to learn through experience, observation and reflection that it is the involvement of the ego in our actions that causes their varied effects to have an impact on our wellbeing and nothing else, no matter how present the tendency to look for sources of unhappiness outside of oneself may be.

In this way, we will stop feeling guilty and judgmental about the natural parts of our personality – especially as the range of anxieties and insecurities present in the lives of people today keeps on expanding to once unimaginable proportions – and direct attention and energy to where it’s needed the most: unlearning the unhelpful mental habits of jealousy, pride, arrogance, aggression, laziness and greed, everywhere they may be hiding.

Let us revise a little what we have heard in the Gita recently. From verse 33, Krishna was telling us that nature has its own ways, and it always moves. And everything composed of nature, including us, including the senses and the various objects, all of that is part of this process and there is not much we can do about that. Literally what can restrain do? But then we got a little bit more insight into as to how we can navigate in this world of nature in such a way that we remain connected with and always experience the motionlessness, the peace, stability of the Self. And today the verses are 35, 36 and 37.

Better is one’s own duty, though devoid of merit, than the duty of another well discharged. Better is death in one’s own duty; the duty of another is fraught with fear. 

Discussion verse 3:35

Let us stay with this verse first, then we will get to the other ones. So in verses 33 and 34, we heard that the gunas, the qualities of nature which are in constant flux, they control all the objects that are made up of these qualities. And then that the attachment and the aversion abide in the senses, and therefore are in this peripheral world of nature. And before we now come to Arjuna’s question about these two things, Krishna also tells us again about the importance of duty. And I think it’s good to look a little at the word used here for duty. So swadharma is one’s own duty. ‘Swa’ and ‘dharma’: swa means one’s own, and duty. 

So this is the part of dharma which is not universal. There is universal dharma, which is the universal principles that everyone can follow in their own way. And they are always universally applicable, but this swadharma, that means one’s own particular area in which one should act so that one’s nature becomes actualised, realised. In Arjuna’s case, this is being a warrior. And so his duty is to engage in the war. And as we can remember in the beginning, Arjuna was trying to withdraw from the war, not do this action which would go against this flow of nature. 

And this is the important point to remember, that the flow of nature takes place whether we want it or not. And then how we go about it, how we then move either with the flow or we try to block it or go against it, that depends on this sense of ‘mineness’ and sense of attachment to something that then creates the flow of desires and the attachment and aversion then hold sway and affect the inner personality. So Arjuna is now asking in verse 36:

Discussion verse 3:36-37

But impelled by what does one commit sin, though against their wishes, O Krishna, constrained as it were by force. 

So this is the question that of course we are bound to get. That if I know what is right and yet there is some kind of force that compels me to do what is wrong; and that’s the story of most everyone’s life. So why do we do that? Why do we have bad habits and so many other things? 

The Blessed Lord said: It is desire. It is anger born of the quality of rajas. All devouring, all sinful. Know this as the foe here in this world. 

So these gunas, the tamas, rajas and the sattwa, they can take no blame. They are the components of nature; they are the bricks of which the house that we live in is made of. But then how we go about life, that is determined by the amount of selfishness in every form that will then determine our actions and how they bind us. We can imagine the sattwa and the rajas as the two zones, the two stable areas in between which the rajas is flowing. But rather than imagining them as equal kind of zones, maybe kind of cone shape could be imagined. So tamas brings down, constricts, limits, and there is darkness, it’s away from the light. So light is up there, darkness is down there, and then sattwa goes up and expands, and eventually it merges with the experience of the oneness, of the Self. 

And rajas is that which moves us in between. So we are indeed helplessly carried by the current of time, obviously. So time takes us through space and the upward experience is toward sattwa; downward experience is towards tamas. So this will always be happening, and with other parts in the Gita we are also reminded of this, that the gunas always fluctuate, and one should just not worry about that too much. Not worry about being let’s say lethargic or hyperactive or whatever. These states fluctuate, and even the other aspects of these gunas always fluctuate. Rather, it is the observation of one’s motives and desires which is always going to be the focus in spiritual life. So rather than worrying about the externalities of life, we always delve deep into our own motives and try to purify them. 

And even this movement through space and time is managed through practices of yoga. What do we do when we sit down for meditation, for example? We limit the movement in space, the body is quite still, and then we are trying to bring the mind into the present moment as much as possible. And thereby not being just carried away by time somewhere into the future, but being right here, right now. There also desires can be managed not by expression, but by observation, where do they come from, where is the energy going? How can I channel that energy into a higher place, into an expensive kind of thought. The idea will bring that energy into an expensive state. If the idea is of a selfish kind, I can flip it into a selfless kind in the mind when the body is still and so on. So this tranquillity is the first step, and then we can build up on that. And whatever disturbs the tranquillity is to be eliminated gradually from a seeker’s life. 

So let us reflect for a few moments. A yogi is not trying to run away from the world, run away from the movement of the gunas, but rather learns the skills to navigate that current with skill. And always remembering that it is the inner motives, inner desires, inner drives that are  to be worked on. And the rest is important sometimes, but secondary.

20 March | Verses 3:38 and 39

The similes given in these verses are quite telling: not only does the smoke cover the light of the fire, but it is also produced by that same fire – on account of its contact with the fuel of deep-seated longings.

Desire is unstoppable – but the initial inspiration behind it determines its direction, as well. For this reason, rather than trying to suppress desires altogether, one should strive to desire the desirable, and thus spend the energy that would otherwise be channelled into the undesirable by the force of habit.

Hence the vision of a “constant gardener” is helpful when thinking of how to approach the general concept of spiritual life: the weeds grow naturally, and there is never a time when one can relax one’s efforts. This is why a lifestyle change is necessary:  these efforts must become habits, habits second nature, and then the second nature alone remains.

Only then can one hope to be qualified for the final pick-up by a higher force, necessary to cross the final threshold… but more on that later on in the Gita.

The question on Arjuna’s mind is that how do we square the circle, that we know what is right, but yet we are compelled to do what is wrong. We know what kind of actions take us towards the luminosity of the divine nature within, and yet, why do we do actions that take us away from it, and which fatten the ego? One single reason has been given by Krishna, to make things simple. And this is desire. However, as we know from daily experience, this desire has near infinite number of forms, and it comes in every way of life. So even though it is a singular culprit, a singular thief of the mental peace and equilibrium, it also takes a lifetime of practise to really manage it. We are getting a little bit more insight today into desire, in verses 38 and 39.

As fire is enveloped by smoke, as a mirror by dust, and as an embryo is enveloped by the amnion, so is this enveloped by that. O Arjuna, wisdom is enveloped by this constant enemy of the wise in the form of desire, which is unappeasable as fire. 

So first in verse 39, we had the definition of ‘this’ and ‘that’. And in verse 38, it says that ‘this’ is enveloped by ‘that’. By ‘this’ we mean the wisdom, and also it can mean the world, or perception of reality. And that is enveloped by desire, which comes in various forms. And the fact that it comes in various forms is illustrated by these three different examples. And when we look at them, they really represent, or they can be seen as representing the three qualities of nature, the gunas. 

So fire is enveloped by smoke. That could be sattwa, the sattwic kind of conditioning. Mirror by dust, that is the rajasic. And embryo by amnion, that is the tamasic, because we see that they are progressively harder to remove. To remove smoke from a fire, we just need to blow some air. To remove dust from the mirror, we need a cloth. And to remove an embryo from the amnion, a whole different process is required. But what is obvious in all of these is that what is being covered is always the same. So the light of the wisdom that is inherent in us is always there, just as the light of happiness and joy is always there within, no matter how many conditionings and coverings have been put on top of it, it remains the same. And so the process of life of a yogi is to remove these coverings. 

And what is also seen here is that all of these three, the fire, the mirror and the embryo, the coverings are not unnatural, the coverings are not to be unexpected. Because they all arise from within, that object itself, or they are somehow related with that object; it’s not something foreign. And this is why, this indicates that also our own desires don’t feel like they are foreign, or that they are based on some kind of external conditioning. They feel very much like part of ourselves, which is why it’s so hard to deal with them, especially some of them. It can really feel like ‘this desire determines who I am’. And it is never seen as something external. So the fire produces the smoke, which then covers and even can smother the smoke itself. And like this, we have this causal relationship, but a yogi understands that any kind of selfish desire is the product of the misapplication or the misunderstanding of who is the Self, who is the ‘I’ beyond the thought, beyond the action, beyond the feeling. 

And how does desire grow? In verse 39 Krishna says that it is as unappeasable as fire. And the nature of fire is that it cannot be appeased by putting fuel on it, but rather the opposite. So the satisfaction of desires is like putting the fuel on the fire, and just as when we have a small file and we dump a lot of wood on the fire it temporarily diminishes. That is like the satisfaction of the desire, but then the fuel catches on and the desire flares up even more than before. And because this is such an automatic process, it has no end. There is no check to it. It doesn’t matter how much a person gets, the desire continues, it is never enough. 

And so the yogi chooses not to put the fuel on the fire. And the fuel is of two kinds. First is the thought, the initial spark. And then if that thought is unchecked, it is continued, if it’s allowed to continue and develop, then that is then drawing the prana, the energy, the lifeforce towards fulfilment of that desire. And this is where the real fire begins. And so a yogi is always aware of their own prana, of their own energy, and also of their own thoughts. Ideally, a desire is stopped right there at the thought level, because at the time it doesn’t really have much power and managing it will therefore take a lot less energy than if we catch ourselves in the middle of the lighting up process. Where then we have to take different techniques, like mudra, like pranayama, like bandha. And also by mental redirection of prana, taking the energy away from the lower centres or from the externalising channels and redirecting it inwards.

So like this, intelligently, without suppression, but by constant observation, constant watchfulness, we can manage the development of desire. And then consciously choosing which ones to feed, which ones need to be. Because of course, desire is the sole motivator in everyone’s life. And so the seeker shouldn’t try to abandon all desires, but cultivate the useful desires, the ones that bring us towards the light, because those will fall away by themselves when we are ready. They will take us towards the goal, so developing desires for that which is good, for selflessness, for selfless actions, and reducing all selfish desire. That is the, in one sentence, the process of spiritual life post, the process of yoga. And through the various ways that we have spoken about, and will be speaking about. 

Let us reflect for a few moments on the relationship between wisdom, peace, equilibrium, and desire. Where there is one, the other one cannot be seen. Desire is always movement, whereas the wisdom is found in the peace within. And how our own personal desires, and in what way are the disturbing the inner peace. This is different in the case of every individual. But a sure sign that we have desires, whether we are aware of it or not, is the presence or absence of inner peace, strength, equilibrium. So we always know how far we have gone, and how far we have yet to go.

21 March | Verses 3:40 and 41

The weeds in any garden are of so many types, but they all have something in common: they come in uninvited, and if left unchecked, will spread everywhere, eventually taking over completely.

In the same way, multifarious desires crop up in the garden of the mind, and the constant weeding – in conjunction with fertilising / strengthening the helpful “plants” (ideas) – is necessary to be acquired as a habit in the lives of all those who want to be freed from their otherwise ever-tightening grip.

Remembering where we are right now in our journey into the Gita. And it is also worthwhile remembering that in spiritual life, we have to have some kind of faith in the beginning, faith in the path. And in our own ability to evolve. But then any further increase of faith should be supported by experience. But this initial faith is that the light is within, the happiness is within, peace, strength, the wisdom. They are all right there, they don’t need to be brought from outside. Because only then can make the effort to remove that which covers this light. That which is external. As opposed to the internality of the Self. And desire has been identified as the chief culprit that disrupts the peace that is necessary to experience this higher reality. Now we should hear a little about that in verses 40 and 41.

The senses, the mind and intellect are said to be the seat of desire. Through these it deludes the embodied by veiling their wisdom. Therefore, O Arjuna, controlling the senses first, do you kill this sinful thing that is the destroyer of knowledge and realisation. 

In verse 38 that we heard yesterday, Krishna said that wisdom is enveloped by this field of energy that moves as desires, because all these different desires that we have, desire is never just singular. That creates this kind of magnetic field, like a disruption, disturbance through which we can’t see the light within. And it is the stilling of these ripples which literally are called whirlpools, vrittis. That even we know from raja yoga that that is the definition of yoga, to stop these. And then the consciousness becomes calm and clear. Then we can see the substratum, we can see the source and identify with it, experience it, rather than just understanding intellectually. 

And just as the fire itself is the source of the smoke that then covers it and even can smother it when it’s too much of that smoke, in the same way the desires arise from deep within. But not deep enough. Because these layers: senses, the mind and the intellect, they are progressively deeper and deeper, but the Self, which is the light from which all these borrow their functionality, their energy, is much, much further, much, much deeper than that. 

And so the effort of a yogi is to manage these movements, manage these desires in a wise way. In a way that always redirects the movement to where it then eventually leads to the peace. So the tamasic tendencies and intentions and desires are always kept in check, but the energy that was put into them has to be redirected immediately to something higher, something uplifting. The effort should never be to suppress anything negative. And so in this way, we gradually lessen the movement and experience the reality. 

Now, just so that this doesn’t remain a theory. We’ve all had the experience of that higher mind, which knows without there having to be any kind of input from the senses. The various flashes of intuition. And when you simply know rather than having to understand intellectually. The problem is that these experiences are just fleeting, we have no control over them. They come at various times. But the yogi’s consciousness is established in a mind that doesn’t need to understand because it knows. Or they have access to that at will. 

This is known as vijnanamaya kosha also in the yogic terminology, this body of the intuitive realm which is much greater, much more expansive than the manomaya kosha, which is the normal, the more familiar activity of the mind. And so this reality, we can compare it to the vision of Earth. Because when we think of it, the crust that is on top of the planet is just really tiny insignificant part when we take the percentage of the whole thing, and yet that is our whole world, and we think everything is stable. And every now and again we get reminded that we are actually on a ball of molten rock. And it’s always not a pleasant experience, because that means there’s a volcano somewhere. 

In the same way, we think that our world is what we can see with these senses that have very limited reach, and the mind that is also very limited understanding. But the reality behind it is so much deeper, greater. And even to experience it requires to be qualified to experience, it requires quite some preparation, as we shall see a bit later on in the Gita. And so as a seeker, all we need to do is to remember that what I know, what I see, what I think is far, far smaller than the reality which I can experience. And when that experience comes, everything will make sense in this little world also. Because the person can then stand apart rather than be involved, and that is the direction of spiritual life, to have that bigger perspective, which is only possible when the ego awareness ceases, so that the consciousness can expand beyond this little confines of the mind and the senses. 

So let us reflect for a few moments on this. Desire is seated in the senses, the mind, and the intellect. And therefore through effort, once we begin to identify more with that observer within that stands apart from any experience, then you can start making progress towards the realisation. And Krishna says controlling the senses first is the first step. Controlling not through suppression, but by conscious choosing. Reflection on what is helpful, unhelpful. Turning away from the latter. And inviting more of the former.

22 March | Verses 3:42 and 43

In the inverted “tree” of the evolution of elements, shown below, we can see how the unmanifested, singular consciousness (Purusha) gradually descends into ever grosser levels and limitation, for the purpose of manifestation.

This is the “natural” evolution of matter; however, in every human being there is a longing to reunite with the Source of it all. This singular desire, present in sincere seekers, manifests as the many-branched desires of the materially identified person.

No matter what our outlook may be, the reality is that this gaping hole of emptiness within can only be filled by experiencing the infinitude of the Self within. Failing that, one will forever try to fill it with perishable, transient objects of the senses…

Let us prepare to hear and talk about the last two verses of the third chapter. They are verses 42 and 43.

They say that the senses are superior to the body. Superior to the senses is the mind. Superior to the mind is the intellect. One who is superior even to the intellect is the Self. Thus knowing the Self, who is superior to the intellect, and restraining the self by the Self, slay, O mighty-armed Arjuna, the enemy in the form of desire, hard to conquer. 

We shall explore the theory of causation of the philosophy of sankhya a little bit later on. Sankhya is one of the core philosophical systems which form the substratum of the Gita. And which, even though individually the various philosophies that are present here can seem quite contradictory, as we will see later on, in the Gita there is this beautiful merger of them all. 

Now what sankhya is known for is the hierarchical system of causation coming from the undifferentiated unmanifested nature. The first evolute of that is the wisdom aspect, the buddhi or the great mind. Out of that comes ahamkara or ego, the sense of ego. And dependent on the quality of that self-identification, whether it’s sattwic, rajasic or tamasic, we then have the evolution of either the gross elements or the senses. And that’s how we can also see the relationship between them, for example the relationship between the earth element and the sense of smell and so on. So it’s worthwhile studying because we see this interconnectedness and also the hierarchy. 

So we see that the mind, the lower mind, is like a hub for the senses to operate. Above it is the ahamkara, the ego, and above it still is the buddhi, the intellect. And the only thing higher than that is the Prakriti, which in this undifferentiated state is no different from Purusha or the consciousness, the pure consciousness. And why this is important to understand is that this is a really strong hierarchy, so the higher element controls the lower. The lower element compared to the higher one is insentient. Compared to the lower one is sentient. 

So the gross elements and the senses, they have also a hierarchical relationship. So here the body, what is known as the body is seen as simply the combination of the gross elements. The senses are superior to that because they are what allows the body to move and to function and to perceive. The body is just the, is like the manifestation of the functions of the senses, and depending on the life form, the various senses manifest as different organs. In the human body of course they are the eyes, the ears and so on. But they exist in other forms also. So the body is seen as just a mass of matter. 

The senses are what allows the body to function, and so the body is insentient, jara [sp?] compared to the senses. But the senses themselves are insentient compared to the mind, because the mind is what controls the senses and which is also able to process the information that is received by the senses. The directing intelligence, we could call it, some people call it, or intellect is higher still than the mind. So compared to that, the mind is insentient and the body is sentient. But all of these things together are really part of the insentient nature when we look at it from the perspective of the Self, which is the source of the light, the self-illuminating principle, which doesn’t need anything else to exist. Everything else is dependent on it, but it does not depend on anything. 

And so here we are given the structure, how we should approach life. That first we are aware of and manage the experiences and the expressions of the senses. Then we work with the mind, then we are able to work with the mind directly, when that has happened with the pratyahara, the sense withdrawal, we can then observe and change the way the mind works. And of course that is done with the help of buddhi, the higher mind. So we have these two categories: higher/lower, internal/external, conscious/inert, superior/inferior. But in practise these two systems are also lazy and automatic. 

So the higher mind is something that needs to be trained, that we need to actively work on. Whereas the lower mind is the mind of animal consciousness. It operates automatically. These are the first impressions; these are the habitual behaviours. And it’s important to have that, because otherwise we would have to consciously think of every single little thing we do. So it’s not that the lower mind should be somehow restrained and made to stop working, but at the same time the higher mind has to be activated more and more. And ultimately that is what makes us human, whereas the lower mind we share that with our animal colleagues and ancestors. 

So here we have this vision to reflect on. One beautiful way to reflect on it is also to visualise that carriage of ten horses, the chariot, the driver and the passenger. Just as we have the division of Krishna and Arjuna in the chariot, where the charioteer is the divine consciousness. The passenger is the individual consciousness. The senses are ten horses. The chariot is the body. And this whole complex that moves and joins either the side of the good side or the bad side in every kind of inner conflict that we may come across in life. 

Here it is also useful to remember the nature of the Self, which is all bliss, all wisdom, which is always steady, which is always peaceful and understanding. Whenever we are in line with that kind of experience, then we know that the light of the Self is able to shine through. Whenever we are frustrated, depressed, there’s limitation of wisdom and everything like that, then we know that we are engrossed in the non-Self. And the effort always is to go from object to the subject. And analyse what is the subject. Who am I? The effort always is to disidentify from all the negative first and eventually even from what is perceived as positive, because the transcendence has to be complete, but that’s a story for another time. 

Now let us reflect on these last two verses. The chapter is called Karma Yoga, the yoga of action. To understand the nature of action properly, we need to understand the relationship between the world of objects, the senses, the mind. And that there is something much higher than the usual normal thinking mind that we use 99% of the time. The effort is to change that ratio gradually, so that we are more and more behaving in line with the dictates of the higher mind, and not the lower animal nature.

Chapter 4: Yoga of the Division of Wisdom

23 March | Verses 4:1-3

Before we get to learn of the different types of wisdom and how they apply to our day-to-day experience, we are being given some insight into the ultimate origins of wisdom (consciousness) itself.

For a materially oriented person, this would be an irrelevant piece of information, or a meaningless statement from mythology.
For a seeker, the Source is the Goal, i.e. the direction of one’s mind and energy is reversed away from the world of senses with all its excitement and sorrow, and towards the Light where all is One.

But just as to attain yoga (union) we need to practise viyoga (separation, such as in “I am not the body, mind, etc.”), to understand the singularity of the illumined consciousness within, we need to become aware of the various types of differences (body vs mind, lower nature vs higher nature, and so on).

Here, Krishna shows us that just as in the period of the Gita – or rather, much more so – today we face a situation where the vast majority of people are behaving in accordance with non- or even anti-spiritual beliefs; yet another reminder that one should cultivate this new approach to life from within oneself, and strive for the inner communion with one’s higher Self regardless of what anyone else may be saying or thinking.

We are now starting the 4th chapter of the Gita, called Jnana Vijnana Yoga, or Yoga of the Division of Wisdom. And as an introduction, we shall hear and talk about verses 1, 2 and 3. 

The Blessed Lord said: I taught this imperishable yoga to Vivasvan, the sun God. He taught it to Manu. Manu proclaimed it to Ikshvaku. This, handed down thus in regular succession, the royal sages knew. This yoga by long lapse of time has been lost here, O Arjuna. That same ancient yoga has been today taught to you by me, for you are my devotee and my friend. It is the supreme secret. 

First let us talk a little bit about these names that were mentioned here. Vivasvan or Vivasvat is the sun, represents the sun or the created cosmic energy. Manu is the progenitor of the human race according to the Hindu mythology. And also the giver of laws or dharma, so he represents dharma here. Ikshvaku the founder of the kshatriya race or the warrior caste, represents here the intuitive eye of wisdom. And the royal sages represent the bringing of that divine consciousness into the world of senses. And they are the ones who uphold it also in the mythology. 

Now this follows the line of thinking that we have in the philosophy of sankhya also, where the undifferentiated, unmanifested consciousness gradually descends into the world of senses and objects. From the level of Purusha and Prakriti being in complete balance, then Prakriti the nature starts evolving the various evolutes, like we mentioned: the buddhi, intellect; ego, ahamkara; and so on. So we have both a historical kind of view here that follows another line thinking that is present in many different cultures that the ancient times where people were in communion with nature were the time where most, if not all people were what we would call enlightened. And then gradually over the ages, the consciousness really deteriorates up to the point where the materialistic consciousness is prevalent and the spiritual awareness is diminished. 

This has been also very interestingly portrayed in a very important book that personally I believe everyone should read. It’s called Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. And he talks about how we ancient groups of people, who lived in ways that we can still observe in some natural societies today, were in complete harmony with the nature around him. And also the societies were very egalitarian, there’s no need for a ruler, there’s no need for servitude, there’s no need for hierarchical structures in societies like that. And with the advent of agriculture, the limitation of freedom came, the limitation of even nutrition came. And so on as we progress throughout the ages. The connection with nature is all but lost in the modern thinking, the modern person. 

And so this of course is a process that has been happening for thousands of years. And that’s what Krishna is telling us here, that this wisdom, this natural wisdom has been lost. But it can be regained. And how can it be regained? In verse three we have a clue. Krishna tells Arjuna that even though this ancient wisdom has been lost in common knowledge of the people, it is ancient, it is permanent, it is universal. And he says to Arjuna, I now give you this secret because you are my friend and devotee. So if we become the friend and devotee of the divine in our own way, then also this wisdom will be revealed to us. 

And these verses are, you can find this type of verses in different scriptures also where it is almost like a self-reflective verse that talks about the scripture itself. We find it in the Yoga Vasishta also where the universality is promoted as being contained in the scripture, but at the same time there is also the idea that if one particular scripture does not fit with the mindset of the individual, then he or she is free to choose something else. But all of that because the teachings, the universal teachings of the different traditions, they all lead to the same goal. And so in Yoga Vasishta, for example, it says literally that this scripture itself is enough for you to gain knowledge if you follow the teachings contained within it. But if you feel that it is limited, that it is not telling the truth that you need to hear, then choose something else and follow that. There is no kind of dogmatic thinking that this particular philosophy which evolved from this particular tradition is the only way. 

There are different ways, and so we should see also these verses here that the teachings in the Gita are not the result of some kind of succession of particular people, all these names mentioned here, Vivasvat, Manu, Ikshvaku – perhaps they were real persons at one point in ancient history, but really they are symbolic of the evolution of wisdom that is common to all people. And this can be imparted to us by the luminosity that we have within, if we can connect within, if we can connect with it. And in order to connect with it, we need to connect with some kind of tradition, with some kind of teaching which takes us back through the line of succession all the way to the beginning of time. So here in the Gita, the cultural context has been given like this. But it does not diminish the universality of the scripture in any way, whatsoever.

Let us reflect for a few moments on this. The teachings of the 4th chapter will begin soon. Whereas the introduction a more general view is given. And we all branch out from the same tree when we go deep down into the recesses of history, we all find that we have a common ground, we have a common ancestor. And the teachings of spiritual evolution, no matter how they can be clothed on the outside are all the same.

24 March | Verses 4:4-6

What does an avatāra – a fully God-realised person – mean when they say “I”?

In a sense, we are all avatars – embodiments – of the great cosmic forces that manifest and animate all that exists.

Even when we ponder over what material science tells us about the origin of the elements that our bodies are composed of and dependent on – giant stars dying as supernovae many light years away from where we are now – it would take an exceptional mental “thickness” not to marvel at being literally the children of the whole universe…

But there is a fundamental difference between those who have been accepted as avatars/prophets/gurus by history, and the rest of us: while the former have the living experience of, and identify with, the stable, eternal, and infinitely great source of life itself, the latter identify with the external, transient forms/coverings, so woefully limited and inadequate in comparison.

However, unlike in the material sphere, where those who are accomplished often use their accomplishments to gain and maintain the upper hand over everyone else, these luminous souls spend their entire lives on the material plane trying to elevate everyone to their own level.

We have just begun the 4th discourse pf the Gita, called the Yoga of the Division of Wisdom. And on the outset, we are given a little glimpse onto how the different teachings and traditions are passed down to us. And also into the consciousness of someone who is identical with the higher self or God. These verses 4, 5 and 6.

Arjuna said: Later was your birth, and prior to it was the birth of the sun. How am I to understand that you taught this yoga in the very beginning? The Blessed Lord said: Many births of mine have passed, as well as of yours, O Arjuna. I know them all, but you know not. Though I am unborn, of imperishable nature, and though I am the Lord of all beings, yet governing my own nature, I am born by my own maya, or illusive power. 

Yesterday we heard how Krishna told Arjuna that the philosophy, that the yoga, that the science that is being presented was given to humanity at the very dawn of creation. And then passed on in the succession of the divine sages, and so on. And Arjuna here is asking quite a pertinent question as to how this can happen, and how Krishna, who is a personality of a particular age, could possibly have taught these teachings prior to the birth. Now this is a very, even if you don’t ask this question because we understand the theory of reincarnation intellectually, if not experientially. 

This is a very common misunderstanding that people have in relation to all the different masters and avatars that we hear about in history and who have given us the different traditions and teachings. Because they, or we, the undeveloped people, always assign the importance to the actual personality and the way they present things, the way they speak and so on, rather than focusing on the universal aspect of the teachings. Which is the same – the very definition of universal is that it applies everywhere to everyone. And so while the different masters who have come at different times use different language and their focus might have been slightly different, because the demands of that age required it. They all identify with this higher Self. 

We have been hearing about the difference between the Self and the non-Self; the identification with the body and the senses as opposed to the identification with the Self. But how does a person who has achieved that think? What do they mean when they say ‘I’? So when Krishna says, “many births of mine have passed”, this doesn’t mean that Krishna himself was reincarnated many, many times. It simply means that this divine potential which is sleeping in every single person, it is there at all times. It is in us, it is in other people, it is in all other people, it is in all other beings also. But for it to manifest in the same way that electricity manifests when something is plugged in, otherwise we don’t know about it, that is when the divine consciousness is said to descend. 

The word avatar means descent. But it’s just symbolic because it is actually the blooming manifestation. It is not something that comes from some strange faraway place. And to understand this, if every person in the world had this, at least a seed of this understanding, how much more peace we would have. Until today, we hear people say, “But such and such prophet says, ‘I am the way’, therefore that means that this is the only way.” So what to do then? To deny that God can manifest, or the divine nature can manifest in different times, in different places, in different people, is really, as Swami Venkatesh points out in his commentary, the real blasphemy, because it denies the omnipresence, the omnipotence of that divine energy. If you say that he or she or it can only manifest in one single prophet, one single person, then we of course deny the omnipresence and omnipotence of that energy, and create lots of conflict in the manifest dimension also. 

We could see the progression in spiritual life from the ordinary person in various stages. First, we become a seeker. Then the seeker, through lots of effort and guidance, becomes a yogi, becomes accomplished. But then after this point, there has to be destiny comes in. Not every yogi becomes a master, a guru who then leads others. For that, that has to be the person’s mission, that has to be the person’s dharma. And then whether the master and the avatar are higher or lower than each other, that’s a semantic kind of problem. Because it would seem, by looking at history, that the great masters are then later on, hundreds of years later, are proclaimed avatars. 

But the main, the most important thing is that these people have realised the Self. So when they say ‘I’, they mean God, they mean the divine nature. And not any particular kind of creed or tradition. And so our efforts should always be to become an accomplished seeker. Beyond that, there should be no more ambition in spiritual life. And in verse 6, Krishna gives us this insight that the nature, the true nature, is unborn, is imperishable. Yet in order for that energy to act in the world of matter and senses, it consciously recreates in this manifest dimension in order to guide people, in order to uphold dharma. And so we have these wonderful, great luminaries over the ages. And it is worthwhile studying their life, studying their teachings. But it is equally important not to be too concerned about the mind products of their undeveloped followers. 

Let us now reflect on what has been said. Whether there is any religious identification or not, the seeker should always strive to come to the core of the teachings, and discard the superficialities. And when this is done, then people of all convictions, all creeds can agree on a common ground. This is the only way to a lasting peace and harmony.

25 and 26 March | Verses 4:7 and 8

Literal interpretation of scriptures, and a failure to appreciate the need for “canonisation” of great personalities, have led innumerable people to the conviction that (a) divinity is something so far removed from the puny little person as to be reachable only after the physical body has been left behind, or (b) that it’s all just fables and myths, a figment of imagination and mass delusion.

As we shall see shortly, neither of these views are helpful in any way; rather, it is the sincere effort done over a long period of time – not limited to just one lifetime – that leads one to the ultimate liberation from all influences of matter, senses and ego.

After all, Krishna here defines an avatar as someone who has the ability to establish dharma – which applies to many different luminaries that have appeared in different places over the ages. When one lands in the presence of such people, however, one may be forgiven for thinking that they have “descended” from a different plane altogether!

As we have begun the 4th chapter of the Gita, it starts with Krishna giving us some insight into the, not so much theory as the reality of reincarnation. And also of the way in which the divine force manifests through various luminous people to enlighten all of us, in every age. And this is what we’ll be hearing today in verses and 8.

Whenever there is decline of righteousness, O Arjuna, and rise of unrighteousness, then I manifest myself. For the protection of the good, for the destruction of the wicked, and for the establishment of righteousness, I am born in every age. 

So, first let us talk about the words, some of the words used in these verses. What we have heard as righteousness, the word is dharma. And the reason why dharma is translated in so many ways is that is a very difficult word to really translate. because it comes from the root ‘dri’, which means to hold together. And so dharma is something that keeps the order, that keeps things from falling apart. Perhaps this is just an idea. Perhaps it is like the opposite of what is known in physics as entropy, which is the natural direction of matter. Which means that things will simply dilapidate and everything that is held together will be deconstructed so that there is least energy needed for matter to exist. 

Now this is a completely, this is just an image that we have because it seems that in the universe, life itself is like the force that goes against that. That matter itself is designed to just fall apart, become tamasic, become inert. And life is that which organises matter and holds things together. But of course, dharma can be understood on the more practical level as that kind of thinking, that kind of behaviour which helps to bring about harmony, love and bringing together. Another adharma is that which separates, that which creates conflict. And that which sets things and people against each other. 

And when we think of these various ages and avatars that we know about from the Indian mythology, then this is hardly applicable to the global sphere. And so we need to understand here who these avatars really are. These avatars are not some kind of injection of that divine force that all of a sudden manifests some kind of being on Earth, but they are all people who have perfected themselves over many lifetimes. And have discovered the luminosity within, to the fullest extent. This is the important point. This is what sets the avatars apart from the rest of the prophets and saints and so on. That there are degrees of realisation, and also degrees in which this realisation can be manifested and shared with others. 

So those who have fully, completely lost the identification with the body, with the mind, with this little self, and instead fully identify with the cosmic Self, with the universal Self. Those can be seen as the great masters. Now for someone to be then considered an avatar, that usually happens much, much later in history. There is a process which, in European Middle Ages, for example, is a very common thing to do with any kind of Saint, where any elements of life of that person which were related to the mundane are taken out, and only the holiness, only the divinity is being portrayed. 

And this is important, because as we can see even in our own lives, we seek perfection in the spiritual teachers that we want to learn from. And whenever some area of life is discovered about these people which brings them down to our own level, a lot of people lose respect because they don’t have the understanding that any embodied being cannot be perfect just by virtue of being embodied. But, be it as it may, there have been these luminaries among us, even in recent times, and whether they will be considered avatars before 100 years later, that time will tell. 

But this is important to remember that all these people, they have perfected themselves and that’s why they can show the way to the others. If some kind of angelic being just descended from some heavenly space, how could they be a model for the rest of us? It’s unattainable. So we should always think of Krishna, Jesus, Buddha, whoever, great teacher has inspired people to live a divine life as a perfected human being and not as some kind of divine being that cannot be emulated. 

Now the protection of the good and the destruction of the wicked. How does this work? When different kinds of people come in contact or into the presence of a master, there will be very different responses. Some people, even without any prior conditioning, any prior experience, will immediately connect with the luminosity of the master. Because what it really is is that the master is connected with the universal Self; universal Self means that I and you and everyone is the same on the most fundamental level. With normal worldly people we don’t experience that, but the master is in contact, in constant contact with that reality, and so that also awakens our own awareness of this energy. 

Many people will tell you that is not that some guru or saint loves everyone, but that when we are in their field, we also have that kind of mindset; the minds of a person who is at the lowest stage of evolution, spiritual evolution would be instantly elevated in the presence of that master. But this does not happen with everyone. It depends on how open we are, and it depends on how much this material identification has influenced our perception of the world. 

And at some point, this threshold is so high that there is not only an inability to perceive these spiritual vibrations, but they actually cause distress to the person who is ‘wicked’. And this is because the Self or this higher reality is beyond any kind of mental constructs that we create to understand the world around us and to live in it. And the seeker is ready to let go old conditionings. A person who is fully attached to them will be extremely insecure in the presence of a great master. And when someone’s whole construction of life is being destroyed, then that is like, it’s almost like a death. And it evokes great fear. And we often see that many of these luminous people are persecuted in their time by these wicked people. 

So what to take out of these two verses? That we don’t need to wait for these great avatars in order to get some kind of teaching or value in life. After all, we the last avatar who is supposed to come is going to be the last one, and the destruction of the world as we know it will take place, so maybe we shouldn’t really look forward to that very much. So what we have are these really luminous people, who no matter what they have done in their material plane before this illumination took place in their world, that is then what we can be inspired by. 

And that’s why studying the lives of these great saints is a very good practice for any seeker. It’s very much recommended. Not just from any particular tradition. Especially from different traditions, because then we see that no matter what the starting point was of that person, at the end they all come to that same realisation, that ‘sab ek’, there is only one reality. And this has been shown even in recent times by people like Sri Ramana Maharshi. Many people consider Swami Sivananda to be an incarnation of Lord Shiva himself. Just as this Trailinga Swami in Varanasi, who really lived a Jesus-like kind of existence, except in India it seems that these miracles are not considered all that special, because there have been so many different Gurus and masters who have shown people what can be achieved through self-effort. 

And so whatever inspiration we choose, whatever personality inspires us and whose lives and teaching inspire us, that is the best way to connect. Even if the teachings presented are from a different tradition, if there’s something that really inspires any individual, then that’s what they should follow. Just as the feeling of love is something that comes uninvited. In the same way, this inspiration should be natural, we don’t necessarily have to convince ourselves that one or the other type of teaching is the right one for us. 

So if these two verses, or any other verses inspire us to study more and to reflect on our own journey in life also, as well as remembering that every person is potentially a saint, an avatar, a yogi if they make the right effort, if they get the right inspiration and guidance. Then we can all always continue on our own path to the best of our ability rather than thinking that well all of this higher reality, it can only come from some kind of divine place that is unreachable from my own little space, then this will have been a useful reflection. 

So let us reflect on this verses for little while. And all the great people, who at different times, in different places have been the guiding lights. And also the importance of seeing these teachings from their original perspective, rather than the distortions that happened over the ages.

27 March | Verses 4:9 and 10

“My God is the best god; all others are inferior.”
“All gods are part of the One, and therefore equal.”

To understand the validity of both these statements at the same time is the trick to approach spiritual life from the point of bhakti yoga, about which we will hear more later on – but which is present in a subtle way all throughout the Gita.

The latter of the two is the easier one to understand intellectually, especially by a rational person who sees all gods and goddesses as mere symbols, but the former is no less important: for a person immersed in the separation-producing world of the senses, and the vast number of different paths one may take, there should be the conviction that “This path is THE BEST”.

With this twin understanding, one can make progress on one’s own path while also respecting all others. Without it, we get the world of constant conflict that is our unfortunate reality today…

Gradually let us come to the Gita. Krishna has given us some insight into the origin of the wisdom or the knowledge that we are trying to discover within ourselves. As long as we are progressing on the path there are bound to be differences between different people, between different teachings, different traditions. But at the end of the journey, the experience is of unity, oneness. The Self that is the real nature of every being is singular. No matter how many beings exist on the manifest plane. The verses for today are 9 and 10. 

One who knows in their true light my divine birth and action, having abandoned the body, is not born again, such a person comes to me, O Arjuna. Free from attachment, fear and anger, absorbed in Me, taking refuge in Me. Purified by the fire of knowledge, many have attained to my being. 

So first in verse 9, Krishna refers to what has been said earlier, just as a reminder. We have been speaking about the imperishable nature of this divine being. Unborn, imperishable, the Lord of all beings. Governing the nature, yet standing apart from it, not being affected by it. This is one point that will be made again and again, because it requires some reflection. It requires some effort to understand. And even though generally this ‘being’, without any qualification, not being this or that. But simply ‘being’ is the silent witness. In the form of the individual consciousness, it is the witness of all that is happening. It is not affected in the same way that the mind and the senses are. 

But there are special manifestations of that being also, which come to us in the form of the various luminous personalities that come from time to time to lead others along the path. And in verse 9 Krishna says that once this understanding dawns, that this birth of this divine consciousness, which is really an illusion from a certain standpoint because it is never born, and it never dies. But for the purpose of guiding the beings that are the products of nature, it also has to undergo all the processes that the nature is going through. 

And this is why it’s so difficult, this is what is so difficult to understand, that how can a person who is living in the body just like everyone else be so special. This is much easier understood when the seeker has had the good fortune to be around these great saints, but even in the absence of that, we know even from our own life experience that there are huge differences in the, so to speak, spiritual quality of people. Some seem to be quite asleep to the very idea of spirituality. And in some it has been awakened to an extent that those who come near or around those people are also affected by their vibration. This is why, especially in bhakti yoga, we are told about the importance of satsang, the importance of being in the presence of wisdom, in the presence of people who are manifesting this inner light. 

And then in the ultimate form of that, we have these very great avatars. And they are not confined to any single tradition, any particular place, any particular time. And this is what we have spoken about before. That when Krishna says ‘Me’, this doesn’t mean the particular form of Krishna. And even in the Gita this is made quite clear later on. In verse 10 we have a very important aspect of: “That free from attachment, fear and anger. Absorbed in me, taking refuge in me. Purified by the fire of knowledge. This is how many attain to my being.” This can be seen from both ends. Because there is a process and there is the attainment. 

The process is trying to manage these attachment, fear, anger. And also the ego identification, so a seeker is always trying to disidentify from the selfish inward tendencies of the ego, and instead experience the output flowing energy of the Self. The selflessness is always going out. Selfishness is like a gravitational pull towards the fattening, the increase of the ego identification. While we are in the process, we may attain various stages of wisdom, knowledge, and mastery over the senses, mastering over the various desires which are either active or latent. They can be sleeping, or they can be manifest. And while we are in the process, there is always the danger of losing the path, losing the wisdom. 

Here, Krishna tells us that once this has been perfected, once the fire of knowledge has really been lit, then there is freedom. Then there is freedom even from these latent samskaras, latent desires. Latent desires, this is the main problem that we have in life, that even if we suppress any kind of desire, it is still sleeping within. In a yogi, in someone who has really experienced the luminosity within, these seeds of desires are burnt, so to speak, and just as a regular seed can germinate when it’s fresh, cannot germinate when it’s burnt anymore. 

So the process requires patience, diligence, discipline. And the gradual revelations have to be protected, have to be supported. And the pulls of the senses have to be managed. But once the goal has been reached, then one can relax all efforts. And this is also what we see in the lives of the various saints, the various temptations and efforts that they had to make up to a certain point. And after that point, all that they ever do is just to give that light out, because there is nothing for them to achieve anymore in the world. 

Let us reflect for a little while on this. This is the process of every type of yoga. In the beginning, there are preparatory practices which are often used for therapeutic purposes. And these, if this is the final goal, if this is the final intention that we have, then it’s fine. But for those who try to evolve spiritually, they are to be seen as such; preparation. And they are also what gives us the discipline, that gives us the path, that allows us to continue and protects us from losing what we have achieved. But the actual goal, the final goal, is the complete freedom. However deep we wish to go, that depends on every individual. Reflect on how this applies to your own life. Knowing that ultimately, the only way to satisfy the never-ending desire is by filling the personality, filling the mind with the experience of the Self.

28 March | Verses 4:11 and 12

There is the lamp, a single source of light that spreads out evenly, illuminating everything within its range, and then there are the various reflective surfaces, all at different distances from the light, different opacities, and ability to reflect.

As long as one’s gaze is turned away from the light, one sees the infinite diversity, the apparent luminosity of the reflective objects, and the apparent darkness of the non-reflective ones. This vision can only result in the experience of difference and diversity, and if this continues without ever making the effort to turn the gaze upwards, one’s energies are bound to dissipate and deplete eventually.

This effort, however fluctuating its outcomes may be, makes one a seeker – as well as the constant remembrance of the fact that all that exists, no matter how luminous or dark in appearance, is but a lifeless, inert, superficial form without That Light Within that gives it function, purpose, and ultimately its very existence.

Verses 11 and 12.

In whatever way people approach me, even so do I reward them. My path do people tread in all ways, O Arjuna. Those who long for success in action in this world sacrifice to the Gods, because success is quickly attained through action.

When Krishna says, “In whatever way people approach Me”, we again need to remember what he means by saying ‘Me’. Here Krishna represents the ultimate divinity. Which here in the story of the Gita is personified as the figure of Krishna. But as Krishna himself makes clear, this is just the form of the formless. And there are countless other forms. What Krishna says here is that depending on the person’s intentions, depending on their desires in life, depending on their conditioning, and even just their own nature, these different forms will be approached. 

Now even if we have no concept of Gods as the personifications of the various aspects of manifest life and also the more subtle principles that govern the material realm, then we can think of we can really think of these Gods as simply personifications of let’s say wealth, wisdom, power, and so on. Or we can also understand this as no matter what the belief of the person is, the source of anything that the person gets is just one. But only those who really strive for spiritual illumination can eventually experience this oneness. Up to that point., we cannot avoid this partiality, because our minds cannot comprehend something that is infinite, that is formless, that doesn’t really act as such in the world, yet it is the source of all action. 

We often hear, especially in the West, these statements that as one vibrates into the universe, that is what they get back. And this is a good point really because, in this respect, because it is not necessarily what we want consciously that we project and that we then get back, but it is the sum total of who we are, what we want in life, and the various subconscious, unconscious drives that we have that determine how our focus in material and spiritual life also. And this is common knowledge in the philosophy, of you want to call it that, that is known as Sanatan Dharma in India, and which outside of India is known as Hinduism. Because these various divinities, they represent the various levels of a person’s evolution. So depending on the person’s spiritual evolution, they will be attracted to the various Gods and Goddesses. 

But in the same way, even without this knowledge, we are attracted to different kinds of things in life. Some people worship wealth. It doesn’t matter whether we worship it as wealth in an undefined form, or as Kubera, the God of wealth. It is the drive of the person that determines what path in life that they get, that they follow. And so one who wants to attain wisdom will worship Saraswati. Whether they know it or not, doesn’t matter that we have the image of the Goddess before our eyes. If one has the drive to be a renunciate, be apart from society, or not so much physically apart from society, but not be involved in this whole rat race of the world, there is Lord Shiva or Mother Durga in her various forms, as the protectress. 

And even people who in other traditions would be excluded from the whole spiritual life on account of their evil tendencies, so to speak, in this system every form of the divinity can be approached and with the devotion that is given, their wishes are fulfilled to the extent that they are sincere in their worship. So even thieves and people like that will have some kind of divinity that they can approach, and that does not devalue the divinity of that form. 

One very important point is also made in verse 12, that no matter how hard it may seem to achieve material success, it is all relatively easy compared to trying to achieve spiritual success, because the latter requires so much discipline, and also non-expectation. And yet full involvement. So for a material person it is completely impossible, because they need some kind of goal that they can hold onto and go towards. If that goal is something that needs to be experienced from within through a process of self-discipline and so on. And we cannot have any guarantee of success. Then it’s much more difficult, and this is why for real spiritual attainment to be possible, a very strong character is needed. But of course we don’t need to beat us up if this is not present in our own lives, because every step of the way that you make is going to help eventually. 

And Swami Sivananda makes a very important point in his commentary to this verse. He says that the rules of life set out by the Vedas or even the caste system and all these things, they only apply to the material realm in the same way that let’s say an ant colony has to have different layers, different types of workers in it for it to continue, in the same way, there is no avoidance of the fact that there will be different classes of people. And in our current times, there is this idea that everyone can be equal, that everyone can have the same sort of potential in life. And definitely the striving should be towards that, but also the realisation that it’s never going to be possible. The only way out of this rat race of the world is through spiritual life. 

Let us reflect for a little while on this. Reflecting on what has been heard. How it aligns or misaligns with our own current system of values. Reflecting on how imbalance is inherent in nature. It is at the core of manifest nature. The only place where there is perfect harmony, perfect peace and balance is the spiritual world. Different laws apply there.

29 March | Verses 4:13 and 14

Even today, many people say that the Bhagavad Gita sanctions the creation and existence of the rigid caste system that we see present in India up until today. While a discussion on the merits or demerits of any such system for the functioning of a society as a whole (i.e. disregarding the needs and rights of an individual) is more appropriate in the context of historiography and sociology rather than spiritual life, it does not take much effort to understand that no such thing is being promoted in the Gita.

Nowhere does Krishna say that one belongs to any caste by virtue of birth alone: it is the combination the predominant guna and the accumulated karmas of every single embodied soul that determines their “caste”, regardless of the social system in the place of their birth.

The importance of knowing one’s own nature is paramount, as each of these four types of people has a different type of dharma, or duty, to follow in order to evolve and prosper.

Verses 13 and 14.

The four castes have been created by Me according to the differentiation of guna and karma. Even though I am the author of these, know me as the non-doer and immutable. Actions do not taint Me, nor have I the desire for the fruit of actions. One who knows me thus is not bound by actions. 

First let stop at the first verse. When Krishna talks about the castes, it will become quite apparent that this is not a reference to any kind of social system. It is simply a recognition that there are four different types of people. And this is a universal rule, whether this has been enshrined in any kind of formal agreement, any kind of formal system like what we see in India for example today, or not, these are the four types of people. And it is actually quite useful not to think of any kind of social system codified because those always deteriorate over time. And also different types of karma. 

So what are these three gunas? We have mentioned that before. There is sattwa, the luminosity, balance, harmony. And the establishment in this state, the establishment in sattwa, in everything we do, including as we will see later on in the Gita, including things like the food we eat, in the kind of thinking, the kind of behaviour we have. All of these can be classified as sattwic, rajasic or tamasic. Rajas is the dynamism, even aggression, assertiveness. And this is the energy that is necessary for us to achieve anything, and it can be used to bring us up towards sattwa, towards expansion, luminosity, or it can drag us down to the tamas, the third quality, the darkness, the inertia, lethargy. And these come in every living being, in different proportions. And no one is free from the influence of these three as long as we are embodied. 

So what is the first caste, the highest caste, so to speak. This is known as Brahmin. In such a person, the sattwa is predominant. The wisdom, the luminosity, the harmony. And rajas and tamas are only present as minor influences. Then we have Kshatriya, which is known as the warrior caste. Here, rajas is the chief guna. And is informed or influenced primarily by sattwa. And tamas is supporting it. Then Vaishya, the merchant caste. Again, rajas is the primary guna, but is informed by tamas. This is seen quite clearly by those who represent this ‘caste’, so to speak. Because in the true warrior kind of personality, the rajas is used in a sattwic way, that means for the welfare of all. In the Vaishya caste, the rajas is used for personal gain. And of course, we see that very much happening today, that the rich are getting richer all the time at the expense of everyone else. And the Sudra. Here the tamas is predominant. And rajas and sattwa are present in a minor way. 

So we see here that there is no need to think of these castes in any kind of traditionalist way as some kind of rigid structure of society. That’s how these verses are often misinterpreted. But these are simply the four different types of people. And their quality of thinking and behaviour is due to the different ratios of these three gunas. But it’s not all just up to us really to decide where we are, we need to realise that. And the reason is that there are also different types of karma. Now, the theory of karma can be a little bit heady, but let’s try. 

So the three main types of karma are called vipaka, which means fruition. Sanchita, which means accumulation, and prarabdha, which means initiated karmas. Now let’s start with the sanchita. These are what is known as the seeds of karma. These are various tendencies that are latent. And they are waiting for the right time to manifest. So these are not something that we can really work with; this is stuff that is deep in the unconscious, subconscious realms. Prarabdha is the karmas that have come to fruition before our birth. So they are the results of past karmas that determine our circumstances in life, give us a starting point. And there is very little we can do about this karma also. 

And the third one, vipaka, the fruition, that is the karma that we experience in real time, the effects of past karma that we are experiencing within that field, that was determined by the prarabdha. Now that is the only one that we can really work with, and through our own efforts, we can change things. In Yoga Vasistha, it is said that even though everything about our lives currently has been determined by the results of our past actions, the statement is that the present is infinitely more powerful than the past. And so one should only focus on the present, accepting everything that can’t be changed, and change everything that one can. That’s also a statement that is useful to remember. 

Then also Krishna tells us that even though this comes from the nature, the lower nature as we will hear later on, there are two natures of this divine force. One is called the higher Prakriti and the lower prakriti, higher nature and lower nature. The higher nature, that refers to the Self, that refers to what is known as Brahman or the ever-expanding consciousness, the silent witness of everything. And the lower nature is also known as Maya or the illusory power. The illusion arising from, the illusion being that ‘I am the doer’, whereas actually everything is simply happening according to the laws of karma. 

So the whole effort of a seeker should be to realise that ‘I am not the doer, I am a witness and nature is doing everything’. And in this way, when this realisation dawns, when this sentiment also is cultivated, then karmas don’t have the effect on us anymore and we don’t accumulate more karma. And whatever is at being expressed is simply being expressed, but nothing new is being accumulated. And in this process, over many lifetimes, we eventually clear the whole storehouse of karma. And when there’s nothing more to do, that is when the person becomes liberated. And traditionally, it is said that for a non-seeker, it is required to go through all those millions and millions of incarnations until this point is reached. But the shortcut is the diligent and sincere application of spiritual principles in one’s life so that this process is sped up considerably. 

Let us reflects on the meaning of these two verses a little bit. On the need to discover what is our own nature. How much is the sattwa or rajas or tamas predominant in our own lives? Remembering that unlike in various limited traditions, in yoga, in Tantra, everyone can evolve from their own starting point. No one is excluded. But one needs to be honest with oneself. And not try to be what one is not.

30 and 31 March | Verses 4:15 to 4:17

The spiritual knowledge has been with humanity from the very beginning. While the external circumstances in which people have lived in different places and at different times have been changing drastically, the fundamental Being that is the source of the myriad different forms and events and ways of coping and adjustment and evolution (…) is but One.

This knowledge is sometimes alive in a society, and sometimes so dim as to appear to be non-existent – but not matter how many coverings are placed on a lamp to dim its light, the light itself remains exactly as it is, unaffected by them all.

At the core of this knowledge is the distinction between action and inaction, as well as their relationship and interplay. A tough nut to crack – as Sri Krishna Himself admits…

As we are coming back to the Gita. The nature of action and inaction. The nature of karma and dependence of our own life experience on the various accumulated karmas and the qualities of nature. These, in different combinations, give rise to the countless different personalities that are experienced on the external level. Yet all of these have their source in one singular reality. And in order to understand this even intellectually, but of course we are aiming for the experience, we need to know the nature of action and inaction. The introduction to that will be given today. The verses are 15, 16 and 17.

Having known this, the ancient secrets after freedom also performed action. Therefore, do you also perform action, as did the ancients in the days of yore. What is action? What is inaction? As to this, even the wise are confused. Therefore I shall teach you about the nature of action and inaction. By knowing this, you shall be liberated from the evil of samsara, the wheel of birth and death. For truly, the true nature of action enjoined by the scriptures should be known. And also of forbidden action, as well as inaction. Hard to understand is the nature of action. 

First of the verses, let’s stop there for a little while. “Having known this” – ‘this’ refers to what has been said previously that actions do not taint me, Krishna says, the higher reality. Nor there is a desire for the fruits of actions. And then in verse 15 it says that “the ancient seekers after freedom also performed action”. Now there is quite a lot of emphasis here on the tradition. The ancients in the days past, they also performed action. This refers to the fact that the traditions that we have even ‘til today, they all have their source in previous knowledge of various seekers all the way back to the beginning of time. 

The image of Lord Shiva is given as an example or as a personification of this desire to realise within oneself the higher reality. Even at the expense of renouncing every kind of material possession. And even though today Lord Shiva is the personification of the highest reality, we can think of him also as the archetype of perhaps the first ever human who has attained this higher realisation. And then from that, through a chain of Gurus and disciples of various traditions worldwide, this knowledge has been passed down. 

And this also can refer to the various personalities in the various scriptures that we can read to be inspired, such as the Ramayana and others. And we always get the example, such as with King Janaka in Ramayana is often given as a great example, because he was a powerful king with everything that comes with it. Wealth, armies, all of that, but he himself was absolutely unattached to any of it. Lived a very simple and disciplined life. And this is what we are invited to adopt in our own lives also. 

The image is given often of the lotus flower blooming in the muddy pool. The muddy pool represents the world of senses, objects, and so on. And the lotus is firmly rooted there, it comes out of there, is made up of the matter, just like everything else in that pool. But the roots and the stem are all immersed in the mud and in the water, but the flower itself is facing up, is looking at the sky and is actually water-repellent. So even if it rains on it, it will just not be effective. And this is the image that we get, that this is how the yogi lives in the world: utilising anything that is necessary, but not being concerned with any of it internally. However much we can come to this kind of state, depending on that will be our level of happiness, joy, peace and so on. 

And in verses 16 and 17, we are told by Krishna something that we kind of know already. It is not easy to understand these teachings. And this is why in the Gita there will be many, many repetitions. And also different angles given, including tomorrow. But for now, let us reflect on what we understand, what each of us understands about what is action and what is inaction, without being told anything further. Then we’ll see tomorrow how this knowledge compares to what Krishna has to say. Is action only physical? Is it mental, is it verbal? Is there such a thing as spiritual action? Now letting these questions start a process of inner reflection.

1 and 2 April | Verses 4:18 to 4:20

If karma – action – has a binding character, and if we can never be free from it for even a short moment, what is the way out? Krishna says, “to see action in inaction and inaction in action” is the way. Confusing as that may be, reflecting deeply on the verses in this chapter will eventually awaken the inner understanding… which then has to be applied in practice, however.

That practice? Constant, gradual, and as complete as possible reduction of attachment and selfishness in all forms. A sentence that only takes a second or two to say – but easily a whole lifetime (or more) to apply!

Verses 18, 19 and 20.

Discussion verse 4:18

One who sees inaction in action and action in inaction is wise among people. He is a yogi and performer of all actions. 

Before we move on to the next two verses, let us reflect on this one for a little while. One who sees inaction in action and action in inaction. These two are put against each other. And maybe some explanation or some insight should be made. Swami Sivananda says that the only way that we perform action is by having the idea of agency that ‘I am the doer’. This is what makes people identify with the actions that they do, and therefore also with the effects that come from those actions. If this idea varnishes, if the person thinks, feels and experiences that ‘I am not the doer’, then actions will continue. Because they must. 

We have heard that in Chapter 3, where Krishna said that every being is helplessly moved by nature, and there is no way that anyone can stay for even a moment without performing some kind of action. And for this reason, the idea of inaction is actually an illusion. We can’t, even if we sit still, some kind of processes will keep on happening, some thinking and so on. And so, if we see, if we then experience this subtle action, even while outwardly there is no action, this is called action in inaction. And it is due to the wrong attribution of the idea of agency to the Self. And here we need to remember that the Self is always seen as separate from the body and the mind and all of nature, which keep on acting all the time. 

So actions will always keep happening, but never to the Self. And the ideas that we have about ourselves, they keep on accumulating, they keep on evolving, they keep on being updated. In the case of a worldly person, this process is unconscious. And it depends on the exposure that we have to the environment and so on. Our upbringing and contact with other people and the life experiences. As opposed to a yogi who consciously chooses which ideas are to be held, and which ideas are to be abandoned. 

And of course, in the chapter on karma yoga, the idea of doership has been identified as the one to constantly revise so that we ultimately realise as a truth, as a living reality that ‘I am not the doer’. This is known as akarta bhava, the idea, the feeling of non-doership. When we say idea, we shouldn’t understand that is something just intellectual. Ideas are what creates, what forms our personality. And so we could say for simplicity that action in inaction refers to the experience of the worldly-minded person, whereas inaction in action refers to the experience of a yogi, because he or she will keep on performing all kinds of actions, but inaction is the experience. 

The identification with the Self will always be there as the silent witness. And my body, my mind may be doing things, but internally I do nothing. And this is then achieved through a method. This is achieved through what is then mentioned in verses 19 and 20. So we can say that things will keep happening. Except they just don’t happen to the Self, and a yogi knows that, realises that; whereas a worldly person will always be misidentifying with the body and the mind, and therefore also suffer the consequences of these ups and downs that these products of nature are always bound to be fluctuating in. 

Discussion verses 4:19-20

And now, how to arrive at this realisation? This starts with verses 19 and 20 and will continue further on in the chapter. Krishna says:

One whose undertakings are all devoid of desires and selfish purposes and whose actions have been burnt by the fire of knowledge, such a person the wise call a sage. Having abandoned attachment to the fruits of the action, ever content, depending on nothing, one does not do anything, though engaged in activity. 

So in a nutshell, this is the path towards that wisdom that ultimately will burn all the false ideas and also all the effects of the karmas. And while these are natural behaviours or attitudes of a yogi, they are also present, all these elements are present in one way or another in every one of us, and the goal is to find these within ourselves and then develop them to the best of our ability. You can go through them one by one. The yogi depends on nothing and nobody. This could be considered one of the goals to aspire for, to reduce our dependency on things and people and instead be the giver rather than thinking of acquiring something and increasing the ego identification.

Ever content. Contentment is just the other side of the same coin, and happiness is the other side. Contentment and happiness in many languages are actually even the same word. So this refers very much to the manah prasad, to the cultivation of the sense that there’s nothing that I miss, there’s nothing wrong with me, and I can therefore be content. And I have plenty to give, rather than I am the victim of this and that situation or of my own conditioning, and therefore I need to accumulate something to feel secure. 

Abandoning the fruits of the action. This has been discussed quite extensively in Chapters 2 and 3, and is a theme that will run through the whole Gita, because it is such an important aspect that we should focus on the action itself, on the karma and not the fruit of it. And perform every action as a duty, in which way that the influence of the ego will lessen. And the desires, selfish desires are also to be abandoned. Not necessarily the action that they inspired, but of course when we refocus the current of desire from selfish to selfless, then also the type of actions that we will do will change. 

So these are the different elements, and more will come. But I think it should be remembered here that when we read these things, a feeling might come that is the life of a yogi such a dry affair that one only does one’s duty, like some kind of robot. The answer is absolutely not, because there is always a motive behind every action, except the motive of a yogi is not selfish, it’s selfless, and that can only be called love. The true meaning of that word, where there is only radiating outwards, there is no expectation of anything coming back. 

And this is why the great saints, the great of masters, they have always been seen and experienced, their presence has been experienced as a manifestation of love. And just like the light of the sun falls on everything equally, on a dirty puddle as well as on a beautiful clear lake, in the same way that life, that light that emanates from a realised master is this highest form of love really. And that is the main motive, that is the motivation. That is the only reason why they do any action. 

So let us reflect a little bit on this. And even if one does not aspire to become a realised saint, which may not be everyone’s goal in life. Surely it should be understood that even a little bit of this, a little bit of progress towards that, will effect great changes in one’s life.

3 April | Verses 4:21 and 22

And gradually remembering the theme of the Gita that we have come to so far. The difference between action and inaction. The role of these two in the life of everyone. But particularly from the perspective of our spiritual efforts. And the need to experience inaction in action is actually by letting go of the idea that ‘I am the doer’. How this is done is similar to learning about the natural experience of one who has achieved that state. So that we know which areas of life we need to work on. And today the verses are 21 and 22, where we will get some more insights.

Without hope. And with the mind and the self controlled, having abandoned all jealousy, all envy, doing mere bodily action. A yogi, a sage incurs no sin. Content with what comes to them without effort, free from the pairs of opposites and envy. Even-minded in success and failure. Even though acting, the yogi is not bound. 

We have heard previously that the effort in one’s life should be to abandon all selfish desires. Not desires in general, not desire in general. Desire is what move us, what drives us to perform any action. But in the case of a seeker, the force of desire is not directed to the multitude of objects to please the senses. But it is gradually concentrated into one overriding purpose in life, which is the constant evolution towards liberation. And even though this may sound selfish that ‘I try to liberate myself’, the process towards that is by becoming completely selfless. And so this is the one desire that should be cultivated. 

In this regard, it’s perhaps useful to remember that we are all a conglomerate, a combination of so many different personalities. With a little observation, we can see this quite clearly. When we are in a certain state, and this will also be dependent on the predominant guna, the quality of nature, different types of personality come to the surface. And they can be quite different from each other. They have different tone of voice, different handwriting, different way of interacting with the world, different way of responding to situations. 

And a yogi always strikes to develop the one personality, the one ideal is had before one’s eyes of that liberated being, which is a personality that sleeps in every one of us. And sometimes it may come up as a behaviour when maybe the interplay of the gunas is in the right combination. But rather than leaving it to chance, a yogi always strives to develop that, and renounce everything else. And in this way, the word used in the Gita is the harmonised sage, a harmonised person, where all these different aspects of the personality are all geared towards that one goal of constant clearing, letting go of the unnecessary. And therefore becoming more expansive, becoming more able to give, and less inclined to take. 

And when we say, ‘without hope’, then the abandonment of these different hopes that we have or the particular, the partial aspects of material life, this brings so much freedom. Because hopes are, some of them are fulfilled sometimes, but generally they are frustrated. And with frustration comes resentment, comes anger. And loss of peace, loss of harmony. 

‘The mind and the self-controlled.’ This is, in just a few words, the sum total of all spiritual discipline. And we can understand this quite easily. The disciplined person will put that discipline before the desires of the ego. In a small way, this is what we’re doing even now, every morning, when the desire comes to just stay in bed and be lazy, yet we get up and we keep on doing our practice. So a little start like that is a very useful starting point. 

In verse 22 there is a very important aspect to think about. That if we are content with what comes without effort, then there is also the simultaneous loss of expectation or loss of desire. Oh, that that which doesn’t. And in the case of a true yogi, we will see that there is only the desire to give, because the yogi knows that by giving, they will also get back whatever is needed. And in the case of a material person, there is always the fear that if I don’t make the effort to achieve something, then how will I get anything? If I just keep giving then what will come back to me? 

So the pairs of opposites, they determine our normal material experience day to day. And the freedom from them is generally, the first step to get out of the pull of these opposites is to practise what is known as titiksha or endurance on the physical plane. And then through meditation, through reflection, and through abandoning this sense of doership or ownership of action, we get the even-mindedness also on the mental plane. So the physical and the mental actions, they have to go hand in hand. Just by practising endurance physically, that’s a very good starting point, but it will not lead us to this perfect balance. We need to also understand that when we attach the strings of the ego to the actions that we do, then because we are not in control of the fruits of actions, the loss of control or the sense that I have no control, that will also rebound on the self. And so a yogi just cuts all those strings, does the action because it needs to be done, and forgets about the rest. 

Let us reflect for a few moments on this. And how it can apply to the various things we do in life. How much of what we do day to day is informed, is inspired, is driven by selfish desire? And how much can we rise above that, and become this life that gives, rather than the black hole that absorbs everything into itself without giving anything out.

4 April | Verses 4:23 and 24

The body and mind are doing their own thing. I am separate from them both. This is the sentiment to be cultivated. When you are ready, verses 23 and 24.

To one who is devoid of attachment, who is liberated, whose mind is established in knowledge, who works for the sake of sacrifice, the whole action is dissolved. Brahman is the offering. Brahman is the melted butter. By Brahman is the oblation, the offering, poured into the fire of Brahman. Brahman verily shall be reached by one who always sees Brahman in action. 

In the first of these two verses, we have the single most important clue as to how to purify every action from its binding character. When we do everything as sacrifice, as offering, then Krishna says that the action itself is dissolved. We spoke about the three different types of karma. One of them being sanchita, the storehouse or accumulated seeds of karma that we have been accumulating ever since the beginning of time, in a way. And they are all just waiting for their moment to sprout. 

And this is because the actions that were done until this moment were done with the idea of agency. I am the doer. And I do this for myself. I do this or that for myself. When this is changed, when this idea, when this feeling, when this bhava as it’s called, is changed to a selfless one, to the offering, to the idea and the sentiment of offering, and it becomes a real offering. Offering is something that doesn’t come with any strings attached, with any desire for return or for award. Then the action itself will not be stored, will not become part of that storehouse. And in this way we are able to release what’s in there and not accumulate more. 

And this is important to remember, because otherwise the spiritual effort is like throwing something out from one door and then letting something else in from another door. So we close that door. And just keep on emptying, becoming lighter and freer. And however long this process takes depends on how much we have already done in this life and in the past. So there should be no expectations, because we have no way of knowing how long the path before us lies. But through gradual practise and observation of the effects of the practise, we know that we are releasing the old baggage and we know that the path is there and that we can get somewhere by following it. 

This second verse is probably one of the most famous verses of the Gita. And it’s a very beautiful one to also memorise in Sanskrit. But of course reflecting on the meaning also. It is chanted traditionally before every meal. And it’s a practise that is a very nice one to try, because before eating a meal, we get into this semi-meditative state, and we have this sentiment of gratitude while chanting this mantra. Then it actually has a direct effect on, it influences the effect of the food on our system also. Even if the food itself is not exactly the most sattwic, because sometimes we can’t ensure that, this kind of increases the sattwa in the food. But of course we should make an effort to eat properly. 

But the meaning is also very important. Because this is the vision of a yogi, a vision that was often expressed in different forms by Swami Sivananda. There is one beautiful story, if you read his autobiography. It starts with, it’s called “How God came into my life.” And there are many different stages of this realisation that Swami Sivananda describes. But the ultimate one was that even while giving a speech, even while giving a satsang – satsang is not a speech but for lack of better translation in this context – the feeling was that God as ‘me’ is saying something. God as the people is listening. The speech itself is the energy of God. 

And this is the actual feeling, this is the sentiment with which Swami Sivananda would give his discourses. So you can imagine how powerful this experience is, because this is the sentiment that all these great saints have. And of course if this vision will ever be become a reality for all of us is a question. But the reflection on verses like this and on the reality actually that we are all made up of the same stuff. Which is only, the differences are only apparent at a certain level when we go deep enough. We are basically vibrations in space. And this is what physics tells us with. We don’t even need to read the spiritual scriptures to understand that. 

So everything is one. And the idea of separation is an illusion. This is the central teaching of Vedanta, which is one of the core philosophies contained in the Gita. So Brahman is the offering. The act of offering, Brahman is the offering itself. The fire that consumes the offering is also Brahman. And the word Brahman is not something that we need to associate with any particular place or culture. Brahman simply means the ever-expanding consciousness, and it’s just one of the many, many words that we have for the absolute God and so on. 

So let us reflect for a little while on these two verses. The reduction of attachment. Increasing the knowledge, the wisdom. And doing all actions as sacrifice. These are the great purifiers that will lead us to the realisation that all is one.

5 April | Verse 4:25

Krishna has taught us how to act in the world in a way that will not bind us: everything should be done in the spirit of sacrifice. In today’s verse and more that are to follow, the various aspects, levels, and approaches to sacrifice will be presented so that every reader can choose the best way forward – the spirit of sacrifice is inherent in every person, and the effort should start by finding out our natural inclinations.

The feeling is ‘I am not the body. I am not the mind. Both are observed by me. I am the witness.’ Verse 25.

Some yogis practise sacrifice to the Gods alone, while others offer the Self as sacrifice by the Self in the fire of Brahman alone. 

We have heard previously that if an action is done in the spirit of sacrifice, if that is the motivation behind an action, then the action will not have any binding character. And in fact, Krishna says that the action itself will dissolve. Action will become inaction. And this is the process that a yogi tries to follow so that every action becomes really an inaction. This knowledge of course can only be fully gained once the reality of the Self has been realised. Because the Self never acts. And so if one identifies with that high reality, then the vision is only that the body and the mind are doing their own thing. But I do not act. 

But let us talk a little bit about the concept of yoga or sacrifice. And also the ritual, the purpose of ritual. In our current times, most people who practise rituals as part of their religious identification, these rituals are often not understood, or the spirit behind them is not understood. And the externalities of those rituals are given precedence over the original intention behind them. And we also see how these then combine in various ways, such as we have now Easter coming up. And we have all the Easter eggs and bunnies and all these things. And the same time we are told that Easter is the celebration of the rebirth, of the awakening of consciousness. But how many people think along these lines? 

So when the spirit of rituals is lost then it’s like, it’s just the external coverings that are being given importance, and because they differ between different traditions, they even become points of contention. And as nice and cute as the bunnies and the eggs are, they are also a reminder of how our spirituality in the West has become a political and social thing, because obviously these are pre-Christian elements, and then the Christian spirit was superimposed on it. But even that is gradually lost over the years. 

And so when we practise any kind of ritual, it is good to remember that the original spirit is a connection with the divine, with the divine within oneself. And not any kind of social gathering or even family or anything like that comes in there. And in our own tradition, our masters have been working quite extensively in bringing the various ancient rituals, some of them completely forgotten, some of them not used very much, to the forefront, so that people can experience the power of these rituals when they are done with the right spirit. 

Traditionally for many years, these yajnas, these great sacrifice festivals have been run by a very elite group of pandits they are called. Often times this is translated as priests, but the Western term priest and pandit, they are quite different. They come from one of the most celebrated places in India, called Kashi Vishwanath from Varanasi. And some people who have spoken with these great experts on rituals have said that they very much like coming to the ashram as opposed to anywhere else, because mostly they are called to organise these rituals for various weddings or to bless some kind of business venture or so and so on and so forth. But when they come to one of our ashrams, the spirit is all for the awakening of consciousness, for the prosperity and welfare of all. And with this selfless attitude, the yajnas become very powerful, and everyone who is in the presence of these rituals in that zone can experience that. 

So back to the purpose of ritual, it is really something that we do to connect with the higher reality. And this is a very personal thing. So we see again in India, there are some festivals where lots of people congregate on certain occasions like Holi or the Kumbh Mela and so on. But generally, worship is done in a very personal way, in the home or when one goes to the temple, it is a very, sometimes very quick experience. One has the vision or the experience of the deity that is present in the temple, gets the blessing and gets out. There’s no preaching, there’s no kind of social interaction very much. 

And so this is the spirit with which even a karma yogi will do worship. Sometimes we have this clearcut distinction between karma yoga, the yoga action, and bhakti yoga, the yoga of ‘devotion’. But they are not really separated from each other. So for a karma yogi, one who has devoted themselves to perfecting oneself through action, through karma, they still can practise rituals, but even they are done as a duty, without any selfish expectations. And in this way, they will help us to connect with the luminosity within, rather than when we attach something kind of expectation that we are doing this ritual because something else is supposed to happen. Then this will purify the Self also. 

And ultimately, one is to do even one’s own yoga practise as sacrifice, without the expectations of fruits. And the less expectations are there, the more effective the practice will be. Swami Sivananda says in his commentary to this verse that here the oblation, like we heard yesterday, Brahman is the oblation, Brahman is the fire and so on. The oblation is one’s own lower nature, one’s own self, with a lower case ‘s’. And that is offered to the higher Self, and that is the highest sacrifice. There’s no need for external rituals. What this means in practical terms is that the higher Self which we know through these various behaviours that are selfless, that are universal, the universal principles. 

Living in line with universal principles is getting closer to the higher Self. And so the actions of the lower self are subordinated to that. If there’s ever any conflict, if there’s conflict between my personal desires and what is my duty, the yogi will always choose the duty. And in this way the lower self is sacrificed to the higher Self. Now how much we can do this in our daily life depends on the level of awareness and the level of dedication that we have. But even a little experience of that is very eye-opening, that when a person does not just follow the dictates, the whims of the ego, but instead is concerned more with the welfare of all rather than just oneself, then this also brings a change in one’s consciousness. It makes one more powerful, more deep, more in line with that luminosity within. 

And even these jnanis, these people who have dedicated their lives to experiencing the luminosity within, through an internal process, they don’t need to do any external rituals, that is not prescribed for them. But actually they can be seen as the highest devotees because they are always intent on transforming that lower nature and experiencing the higher one. 

And we will hear much more about sacrifice in the coming verses, but now for now let us reflect on what has been heard. And how relevant, if at all, this is in our own personal lives. How we can best apply this teaching in our actions today.

6 April | Verses 4:26 and 27

Living the whole life in the spirit of sacrifice is the way to get out of the infinite entanglement of Nature. But language seldom manages to capture the true meaning of this concept. Here, we see that the term “sacrifice” has many different levels and dimensions; it is up to the practitioner to find out what works best, and apply that as much as one is able to, keeping in mind the purpose of it all.

Verses 26 and 27

Some yogis offer the organ of hearing and other senses as sacrifice in the fire of restraint. Others offer sound and other objects of the senses as sacrifice in the fire of the senses. Others again sacrifice all the functions of the senses and those of the breath in the fire of the yoga of self-restraint, kindled by knowledge. 

We continue the topic of sacrifice and the different dimensions of sacrifice. All of life is to be lived as sacrifice if we are to get rid of the ill-effects of karma and the bondage that comes from the identification as a doer of actions. And here it is made quite clear that we don’t need to practise any kind of ritualistic sacrifice, even though those have also their place for those who are so inclined. 

But here from verses 25, and today 26, 27 and beyond, we are given an insight into the mentality of a yogi, and these have different stages. Different kinds of yogic approaches have been mentioned here symbolically. Sanyam or restraint has been likened to fire. And in verse 26, we have the concept of pratyahara or sensory withdrawal. So when the yogi offers the organs of perception to the fire of restraint, that could be said to be the stage of raja yoga in which the pratyahara has been perfected. And those of you who are familiar with the text of the Raja Yoga Sutras will know that the three stages above pratyahara: dharana, concentration; dhyana, the unified flow of awareness, often translated as meditation, very insufficiently; and samadhi, the final merger. These three combined are known as sanyam. 

So when we talk about restraint, we shouldn’t think of it as some kind of forceful blocking of experience. Even pratyahara, the sensory withdrawal, it is not becoming some kind of permanent visitor to a sensory deprivation tank. The senses keep on operating, but the awareness is withdrawn in the sense that it is not allowed to be drawn outwards by the senses. But instead we keep on being in contact with the centre, with the experience of the Self within. And so this is the meaning of the offering of the organs of reception to the fire of restraint. And this refers to the process of raja yoga which we know that starts with behavioural adjustments and then steadying the body, steadying the breath. And then the senses are withdrawn. 

Then when it is said that “others offer sound and other objects of the senses as sacrifice in the fire of the senses.” This is known as the sensory control. I always confuse the shama and dama, so you can do your research in which of the two words it means, but it is basically the disciplined life that we don’t indulge in the sensory objects based on some kind of ego-driven desire. But there is a regulated life, and then only those objects that are ‘permitted’ are indulged in in moderation, and others are cut out, cut off. So this is the offering of the sense objects into the fire of the senses. 

And in verse 27 we have “sacrifice of the functions of the senses and those of the breath in the fire of self-restraint kindled by knowledge.” This refers to the real pranayama. Pranayama as we know it as a practice is actually a misnomer because the practises of pranayama in hatha yoga, they should be called prana nigraha. This means the regulation of prana. Pranayama as the effect that we seek through all these practices, the expansion of prana. It leads to a complete reorganisation of the whole energy system and how the senses operate. So then when the prana is controlled, when the person has gained mastery over prana, then any kind of sensory active action is automatically controlled. 

There is no need for any forceful discipline at that stage, because the prana is put into the senses or withdrawn at will. And the yogi is in, this is also of course done by a long process that is based on a lot of practise and a lot of knowledge. So the fire of self-restraint could not be likened to that fire or the heat that is generated when there is some kind of suppression or some kind of forceful behaviour. But it is ultimately the fire of that wisdom, the fire of knowledge, that has been mentioned before, into which everything else is offered. So the whole experience of the lower, so to speak, animal nature is offered into the symbolical fire of the higher wisdom. 

Let us reflect for a few moments on this. On the whole meaning of sacrifice as something that is not done for the pleasure of the ego, but rather the offering of the ego to the superego. This is done in various ways, little and big. Both in our practices as well as in life in general. And when we think of this, we should always start by discovering where we already exhibit these behaviours. These are all part of our own nature also, the higher nature which is present in all of us. And it is waiting to be awakened. Even if these teachings sometimes feel complicated or foreign, we should always find a link between what is being expressed and what we already naturally have in us.

7 April | Verses 4:28 and 29

When the inner attitude of sacrifice when doing anything becomes part and parcel of one’s nature, there will be a fundamental shift in how one perceives oneself, and the world. It is a completely different “ball game” from the often dreary, frustrating, and exhausting mundane toil and struggle – even as the involvement in activity becomes more, rather than less!

A person fully immersed in this unifying and invigorating energy of giving and sacrifice hardly needs to spend lots of time practising meditation and other techniques designed to relieve the symptoms of not being thus immersed: one’s entire life becomes a meditative process, a path leading right up to the highest experience possible for a human being.

With just a little bit of effort, we can get a taste of that experience; it is then up to us to maintain that flame of inspiration and keep on increasing it, rather than allowing it to be a fleeting moment of high spirits to be “framed” and put up on a wall of other memories…

And let’s reflect for little while on the concept of sacrifice in a materially-minded person. The effort is to accumulate, draw in in order to satisfy the ever-hungry ego. And this also leads to the accumulation of karma and bondage, dependency. As well as fears and many other detrimental factors. In the person who is striving to become a yogi, the effort is to turn this outwards, to offer, to give. And this can be summarily termed as sacrifice – the outward flowing energy. And this can only happen truly once there is the realisation that at the centre is an inexhaustible source, termed variously the Self, Atman, the soul. And no matter how much is given, it can never be depleted. We are now continuing this theme with verses 28 and 29. 

Others again offer wealth, austerity and yoga as sacrifice, while the ascetics of self-restraint and rigid vows offer study of scriptures and knowledge as sacrifice. Others offer as sacrifice the outgoing breath in the incoming, and the incoming in the outgoing. Restraining the course of the outgoing and the incoming breaths, solely absorbed in the restraint of the breath. 

We see in these two verses as well as the previous ones that if we take out the word sacrifice out of them, this is essentially a description of all of life, the internal processes as well as external behaviours. So when true charity is practised, where the giver is simply giving for the sake of giving, for the sake of supporting or improving someone’s life, then that that act itself is this fire of sacrifice, and whatever is being given is the offering. This of course does not apply at all, no matter how much is given, if there is the expectation of any kind of reward or self-aggrandisement. So if I’m giving something so that my logo is displayed on that person’s window display, then that is not charity or austerity or sacrifice. 

Now with yoga, this is a very important point for all of us who practise these various techniques of yoga. Because initially everyone comes to yoga with some kind of expectation, some kind of goal. Even if it’s something minor like a back problem or whatever it may be. But here we are talking about yoga practise as sadhana, as a spiritual practice. And in this spirit, even asana, even pranayama, is done in the spirit of sacrifice, without expectation, as an offering. And even just this change of attitude has a major influence on the experience that we have from these practices and on the effects that they give us, not just on the physical or mental plane, but how they also influenced then our entire daily life. 

The ascetics of self-restraint and rigid vows offer study of scriptures and knowledge as sacrifice. Here we see that this is not simply cramming knowledge into one’s head. But there is this insatiable thirst to understand, to expand the consciousness, and then the study of the scriptures is like the logs that we throw into that fire of spiritual hunger. 

And in verse 29 we have a very beautiful way in which we can understand the concept of pranayama, the hatha yoga pranayama, which is ultimately not the regulation of breath in the nostrils and so on, but it is the merger of the prana and the apana. These are now termed the incoming and outgoing breath. So when the prana is pushed downwards, the apana is pushed upwards, and they meet in the centre, at the navel centre, there is an explosion, there is a fire, so to speak, and that awakens the kundalini shakti. 

So here we see that every single aspect of life when it is done in the spirit of sacrifice, it will lead to an awakening, it will lead to an opening. And to liberation, even partial liberation from old constrictive habits, samskaras, the impressions. And we are ever more lighter and then also more inspired to go on further. 

So let us reflect on this for a little while. And also as an interesting point. Here we see that even though yoga is essentially in some way or other suitable for everyone and can be practised by everyone, it is not really going to happen. It is not possible for everyone to be a yogi, for everyone to just give. In the same way that in the material life, it is not possible for everyone to be rich, everyone to be a millionaire. There’s not enough resources for that. And here we see that it requires a certain level of understanding and spiritual evolution to even come to this kind of thinking. And so we should not judge those who haven’t arrived there yet.

8 and 9 April | Verses 4:30 to 33

Today we’re completing the subject of sacrifice with a wonderful summary, elucidating once more how it can be applied to literally everything we do. How much one applies this knowledge depends on the strength of one’s commitment to self-improvement and purification.

We are today completing the all-important subject of sacrifice with four verses: 30 through to 33.

Others who regulate their diet offer life breaths in life breaths. All these are knowers of sacrifice, whose sins are destroyed by sacrifice. Those who eat the remnants of the sacrifice, which are like nectar, go to the eternal Brahman. Even this world is not for one who does not perform sacrifice. How then can one have the other, O Arjuna? Thus, manifold sacrifices are spread out before Brahman. Know them as born of action, and thus knowing, you shall be liberated. Superior is wisdom sacrifice to the sacrifice with objects, O Arjuna. All actions in their entirety culminate in knowledge. 

A lot has been given to us in these verses. So let us start with the first one. It is said that the regulation of diet is akin to offering life breaths in life breaths. We can say uncontrolled or unconscious movement of prana into a conscious and controlled movement of prana. And the regulation of diet is a very important topic. When we, for example, practise very rigid, very serious hatha yoga sadhana, then there has to be a diet which is extremely pure, in moderate quantities, ideally only once a day. And this kind of approach to eating, it also includes the meditative approach to eating and even to cooking. It’s a whole different approach to eating food than just considering it as nourishment or let alone something that we do for pleasure. 

But this kind of regulation is only suitable for that kind of practise when one is in a very quiet, very peaceful, clean, pure environment, and has the opportunity to practise many, many hours of sadhana every day. So we should not misapply the teachings or the principles of the various types of yoga that are meant for those who are not really part of normal social life. And many people do that. And then they have the consequences. If one attempts a diet like that by living in the busy city, there’ll be the sensory overload that we get will become unbearable. 

And so we still need to though think of the quality of food that we eat, the regular timings and first and foremost the attitude with which we eat. So rather than eating a burger while walking on the busy street, we should make an effort to find a quiet place, somewhere to sit down. And before even the eating, get ourselves into the mindset of gratitude, of focus, so that we just eat and not check the phone and do all these things that people do while eating normally. And this will have a major effect, not just on the body. The physical effect is quite clear, the digestion will work better. There will be less negative effects of the food, even if it’s not the best possible quality, on the state of mind. But also it is a very direct influence on prana, on energy. When we eat too fast or too much then the whole energy system is disturbed. And so just by diet, we can control, we can regulate the movement of energy, of prana. 

And another point should be also made that different types of yoga, different paths of yoga require also different diets, or have more or less stress on this kind of perfection in diet. For example, one who lives karma yoga day in, day out burns incredible amounts of calories, even just by the brain functioning all the time, the focus that is necessary and that is required. The brain is actually one of the greatest consumers of calories, and so a person who lives from moment to moment in a meditative way but acts actively in the world, doesn’t really have to follow such a strict diet, they should make sure that there is enough food intake. 

In bhakti yoga also, the power of that energy of bhakti, of the devotional kind of approach when it’s really lived, again the body consumes large amounts of energy, and the person can eat, well not just about anything, but the rules are different also. So unless you are involved in practising pranayama for 3 hours a day, you don’t need to worry too much about these very, very purist thoughts on diet. 

In verse 31 we have a very important point and a beautiful analogy again with the physical ritual where oblations are offered to the fire. When you attend any kind of yajna or this great fire ceremony, you will see that there are different food items placed around the various places – it’s hard to describe in English – various points, the various parts of the setup of the place. And then those are distributed after the sacrifice is over. So they have been there, the mantras have been chanted, the food is offered to the divine forces that are being invoked. And then the remnants of that, meaning whatever the divinity didn’t consume, that energy that is being given, that is a given out to the people. 

So that’s the physical analogy. But we have heard of course of the various different kinds of sacrifice. And when we think of it, they are all, the attempt is to offer any kind of limiting aspect of one’s being, the lower animal nature, to the higher divine nature. So what remains there is the Self. There is nothing left after we’ve sacrificed all of that normal mundane to the divine. And so of course it is like nectar, that is the realisation, that is the union with that higher Self. And Krishna says that even on the material plane, if we don’t live in the spirit of sacrifice, then we suffer so many different consequences and bondage of karma. And let alone we can completely forget about any kind of spiritual experience. So this world, even this world, is not going to be a pleasant experience for a person who is just selfish, let alone the spiritual world. 

And “all these sacrifices are born all of action”, Krishna says in verse 32. This means that everything that is done is related to the world of senses and the mind. Even if everything that we do is sattwic, it is still some kind of action that is present, and we know that the Self is beyond all action. And so this whole process of sacrificing is an analogy to the process of completing all actions, all karmas that we have to exhaust, when that is done, there is nothing more to do. 

And last but not least, “the actions in their entirety culminate in knowledge.” Not just any particular action, but actions in their entirety. So when we are able to see that the body and the mind are doing actions, but not the Self, then that is the arising of the wisdom. And one last point: “The wisdom sacrifice is superior to sacrifice with objects”. So different levels of sacrifice have been given to us, including charity, including giving out stuff. 

And that is all very good, but we need to keep on moving up and inwards, and really sacrifice all the selfish thoughts that we have. And because they are binding, everything that is directed to the aggrandisement of the ego is binding us to that limited experience. And so we need to be like the seed that is ready to crack open and for the plant to grow. An egoistic person is like a seed that just doesn’t want to crack, and then there is no blooming. So wisdom sacrifice is superior to material. And let this be one of the thoughts to reflect on as we close the eyes. 

Reflecting on the place and purpose of sacrifice in our own lives. Finding the seeds of this sattwic kind of thinking and letting them bloom. Protecting them from all the other conditionings and influences which are detrimental. All the weeds that need to be taken care of. There is this luminosity and goodness in every person. That is the starting point. And when we realise that this is closer or close to the Self, then we can hold onto that and see everything negative as something external that can be eradicated, rather than part of our own personality which we need to fight with.

10 April | Verses 4:34 and 35

Wisdom has been received… by the mind. However, in order to make sure it will take root in the depths of one’s personality, one needs to turn the hard, rigid, impermeable rock of the ego into a soft, fertile soil – otherwise the seeds of wisdom that the great masters have given freely to one and all will simply bounce off…

Verses 34 and 35.

Know that by long prostration, by question, and by service, the wise who have realised the truth will instruct you in that knowledge. Knowing that, you shall not again get deluded like this, O Arjuna. And by that, you shall see all beings in your Self, and also in Me. 

Having explained to us about the meaning, the purpose and the importance of sacrifice, we are now given a very important instruction as to how we should approach this teaching, and spiritual teachings in general. And the words used here are long prostration, question and service. Of course these are, when taken literally, these are only valid if we are in close contact with an actual realised master. And that is also pointed out here, that not just anyone who has studied and knows the theory will be able to help us, even though people like that also have an important place in our lives. But only a master who has truly gone to the end of the journey can then lead us towards it. 

And this refers to the necessary attitude that we have to have in order for the teachings to really sink in and be able to transform the way we think and act so that we can actually continue on the path. In the same way that a child doesn’t question that 1 + 1 = 2, and just accepts that as a truth, in the same way, a spiritual seeker needs to become childlike in this regard, because otherwise, as we say where I come from, it’s like throwing peas on the wall. They just fall down. Nothing sticks. And so these prostration can be just simply understood as having the humility to understand one’s own limitations, and also combined with the faith that the master that is those teachings we are reading, reflecting on and following have the value, have the power to bring us to where we want to go. 

The question. Traditionally, in the eastern traditions, the masters would be questioned by the seekers, even regarding questions that you can read all about in books. But when you hear the answers from the master, it will always be something that will be personally relevant. In the absence of that, this simply would be the reflection on those teachings and questioning also our own preconceived ideas, and how we can align ourselves with that higher knowledge rather than sticking to the limiting ideas that we have accumulated from various other sources. 

And service. Again, when you’re in a place like ashram, it’s quite easy. You are given certain tasks that are appropriate for your own personal evolution. And then by that service, one gets purified. But the highest service to any great master is the application of their teachings. And so like this we can really see that when there is the humility, when there is the active involvement in the questioning, and when there is the effort to apply those teachings, then this will lead us towards the goal. 

And we need to here choose, not so much intellectually, but for a certain amount of time, it is OK to experiment with different teachings, different teachers. But once there is the inner realisation that this is my path, this is my way, then the intellect should go away. The doubts should be always observed and managed because they are the greatest obstacles to these teachings being able to percolate into the deeper aspects of our personality. And Krishna here assures us that once this knowledge dawns, then there is no more delusion. And that one’s own Self is then seen in all beings, and including that divine nature. 

When a person is completely engrossed in the material identification and only the functioning of the intellect is the highest source of knowledge, then there will always be duality, there will be conflicts, there will be discrepancies. And there is also not that much honest or experiential, there’s not so much experience of that higher reality or appreciation of the idea of God and so on. And one should not worry too much about that. This is why spiritual systems which are based on practise and experience are far superior, at least in my opinion, to various traditions where faith is being given as the only way, and if you don’t have it, well then you’re out of the game. Because the faith develops. So if there is no direct faith in any kind of higher reality, that’s fine. Simply continue doing the practices that you know work, and gradually the knowledge or the feeling will also develop. 

So people often ask how to love God. And the answer is well how to love anyone, anything. That feeling needs to spring up naturally. And it will, once the limitations of the intellect are overcome. And when the intellect is purified, then also there will be more appreciation, there will be more understanding of these various higher teachings. 

So with that, let us reflect on these principles, on these teachings for a few moments, and how they relate to our own search. The need for respect, the need for understanding that I am coming from a limited place, whereas the teachings are coming from the minds of people who have overcome limitations. And the necessary reverence that we need when we approach spiritual teachings, rather than the critical mind.

11 April | Verses 4:36 and 37

What is the ultimate result of consistently and wisely living in the spirit of sacrifice? In short, a single resolution of the seemingly endless problems of all sorts that life lived in a mundane way entails; a true and complete redemption.

Correction: In the session, I used the words “spiritual world” and “material world” – which can give rise to the idea that these two are some kind of different dimensions that barely overlap. A much better way of expressing what I meant would be “by spiritual means” as opposed to “by material means”.

Before reading the verses for today, let us recapitulate a little bit the subject of sacrifice. The different types of fire and the different types of offering, of oblation that were given to us in verses 25 to 30. And while they have been mentioned in an order, it is not necessary to think of them as a hierarchy. At first, the fire is Brahman, the limitless consciousness that is the source, the Self of all. The oblation is the little self, the limited personality. And it is offered into the fire of Brahman by the higher Self. The next type of fire is restraint. And the organs of action are poured into this fire. 

Next the senses are the fire, while the sense objects are the offering. This refers to the controlled use of senses. The prana and the energy of the senses is the next offering. And the fire is the yoga of self-restraint as Krishna called it. Selflessness and devotion is another type of fire into which wealth, austerity and the practise of yoga are offered. Then there is the fire of self-inquiry into which knowledge and intellect also are offered. Then the fire of awakening, the completion of pranayama is the fire. And the inhalations and exhalations or prana and apana, they are offered into it. And then through discipline and diet and overall disciplined life, the uncontrolled energy is offered into the fire of pranayama again. 

Now let’s continue with the verses for today. Verses 36 and 37.

Even if you are the most sinful of all sinners, yet you shall verily cross all sins by the raft of knowledge. As the blazing fire reduces fuel to ashes, O Arjuna, so does the fire of knowledge reduce all actions to ashes. 

First let us start with the second of these verses. And also some terms that have been used here. So the fuel of whatever we offer, we have been given all these different types of offering that can be offered into the fire of different types of knowledge, wisdom. The term used here is bhasma or ashes. And of course bhasma generally means just ash, but there is a process in the actual sacrificial fire ceremony, where the ashes from that ceremony are purified through quite a lengthy and complicated process where the ashes are taken, sieved and then mixed again with ghee, little balls are made and again that is burnt. And this is repeated over and over again until whatever matter has been put into the fire ends up being this extremely fine and very fragrant powder, the essence of whatever matter we put in it. And this is used in various ways for spiritual purposes. 

But the import of that is that no matter what was put in the fire originally, at the end we have just this really fine essence left. And in the same way. As Krishna says in verse 36, that no matter how horrible, debauched or disruptive the personality was in the beginning, if it goes through this process of purification, then the person can become a complete saint. And in fact in the mythology we know that even the author of the Ramayana for example, or many other examples like that, they started off as really unpleasant people. Valmiki used to be called Ratnakar, and he was a thief, he murdered many people for his own selfish purposes. And when a sage came to him and taught him the mantra Rama, he was so evil that he couldn’t even repeat the name properly. So the sage told him say it backwards – instead of Rama, he told him to repeat Mara, which means kill. But then as you repeat Mara Mara Mara Mara Mara, the mantra became Rama. And because he was so devoted to that idea that he needed to transform himself, he just did that over and over again. And then became Sage Valmiki, who then wrote Ramayana. 

So this is a story, but it illustrates that there is complete redemption possible in the spiritual world. Just as complete equality is possible by spiritual means as opposed to by material means [Note corrected here as per Mahesh]. And this is a point that is best understood by as many people as possible. That we should really strive for this spiritual awakening, because only then we can maybe transcend our own limitations and also become that light onto others as well. So even the most sinful of sinners can cross the ocean of sin with the raft of knowledge.

With that thought, let us close the eyes. And for a few moments reflect on this as an inspirational. Often we may feel overwhelmed by the amount of negativity and limitations that we face in daily life. As long as we are identified with the body and the senses only, and with the mind, there is bound to be frustration, dissatisfaction, disappointment. And the only true way out of that is the spiritual awakening. Let us also remember that the path is through karma yoga, which means active participation in the world. And so a truly wise person can have the best of both worlds when they try hard.

12 April | Verses 4:38 and 39

Everyone has faith and devotion within them, placing these in the things and ideas that drive them to perform actions in this world. Are we devoted to knowledge and its application (=wisdom), though?

Krishna says that when we can do this, and stick to the path without swerving, all the answers to all the questions will come in due course…

We are now slowly coming towards the end of the fourth discourse of the Gita. Yoga of the Division of Wisdom. The verses for today are 38 and 39.

Truly, there is no purifier in this world like knowledge. One who is perfected in yoga finds it in the Self in time. The person who is full of faith, who is devoted to it, and who has subdued the senses obtains this knowledge. Having obtained the knowledge, they attain at once to the supreme peace. 

We have now some affirmations given by Krishna, after having been instructed about sacrifice, its various types and its importance. We see that there is this kind of structure in the Gita, and we’ll see that many times. At first we are given the ultimate goal, then the process of how to get to that goal. And again extolling the virtues of practising these teachings, so that the inspiration can be kindled again and again. 

And here we are told that there is nothing that purifies more than sticking to and adhering to this wisdom, to this knowledge. And in the first of these two verses, we are reminded of one very important fact that is not necessarily present in the normal usual thinking of a materialistic person. Which is that we are basically born – there is even a term that used to be used when it used to be the priests who taught in schools – tabula rasa. Or the blank slate, that basically a person is born with a clean slate and the knowledge has to be fed into the person. 

Here we are given a very different kind of understanding. All the wisdom that we seek is already inherent in us and it is layers of ignorance that need to be removed in order for that wisdom, for that knowledge to shine through. So quite a big shift of thinking is required here. Sri Nisargadatta, one of the great philosophers of modern times, used to remind people of this quite a lot in his teachings, saying that one should observe this ignorance as a limitation to be removed. Where is it coming from? Why, if I am the light of wisdom and knowledge, then why do I have a block in terms of ignorance? That needs to be removed, and then the light will come through. 

This is also exemplified by the many stories of people who have had no formal education or were not even literate. And yet by following a certain lifestyle and purifying themselves, they were able to manifest great wisdom. Swami Satyananda tells the story of one very great teacher, he called her his first guru, a yogini called Sukhman Giri, who he met when he was a teenager. And she was just like that. She was from a very low caste, illiterate, uneducated. And yet she was a great tantric yogini, and all the wisdom of the Vedas just flowed out of her without her having ever read any of it, or having had a teacher to instruct her. 

So the Self, the consciousness, that is the Self of all beings, it contains within it all the wisdom, all the knowledge of everything. And it is waiting to be awakened. And once this knowledge awakens, then everything is, all the seeds of ignorance are burnt away, and the purification is complete. 

And in verse 39, we have a few points also to be considered. First of all, one needs to be full of faith. And one is to be devoted to wisdom, to knowledge. Now faith and devotion are present in every person, and they are what drives us to do anything. Except maybe for nihilists. But then, they are not probably present in this group. So the problem is that the faith and devotion of placed in things that make it a waste of energy. Because they are placed in the perishable, in the transient, in the limiting aspects of life. So when we are able to transfer that, to redirect that energy of faith and devotion to experiencing the knowledge, the wisdom from within, and then live a controlled lifestyle where the senses are subdued. 

So all these three: the faith, devotion, and the management of senses, which again has can be done through so many different means, adjusting the behaviour, habits, as well as the pranic aspect where we control the energy that goes into the senses through techniques. All of this together will lead us towards this inner illumination. And this is also the role of the guru. The guru is not someone who feeds us information, but the role of the guru is to remove darkness. That’s literally the meaning of the word guru: one who removes darkness. 

Let us reflect for a few moments on the importance of these two verses. And what has been said in them and how they can best relate to our own personal life experience. If someone believes that they are unintelligent, then they are blocking themselves against this process of inner illumination. So the first step is to have faith in the words of the scriptures. I am not the body, I am not the mind. I am the luminosity, the wisdom, the unlimited consciousness. These affirmations help in the beginning. And then we can separate ourselves from the layers of ignorance that cover this light.

13 April | Verses 4:40 to 42

Doubts has been likened to rats, secretly nibbling away at the floor of the boat and, if left unchecked, they’ll only multiply and the holes they make will eventually sink the boat altogether…

How to eliminate these pests? Blind faith alone won’t do, and merely indulging the doubting nature, thinking, “I am a rational person with a critical mind”, will only make things worse.

The process goes something like this: having a healthy dose of faith initially – in oneself, the path, and the goal – a seeker sincerely tries their best to apply the teachings in their thinking and behaviour. The experience thus gained will fan the flame of faith some more – and a happy, virtuous cycle will be started which, when sustained, will bring about a momentum that will carry one right up to the final threshold.

We are slowly coming towards the end of the fourth discourse of the Gita. Yoga of the Division of Wisdom. Verses 40 to 42.

The ignorant, the faithless, the doubting self goes to destruction. There is neither this world, nor the other, nor happiness for the doubting. One who has renounced actions by yoga, whose doubts are rent asunder by knowledge, and who is self-possessed, actions do not bind such a person, O Arjuna. Therefore, with the sword of knowledge of the Self, cut the doubt of the self born of ignorance residing in your heart and take refuge in yoga. Arise, O Arjuna. 

Here in the last verses of the fourth chapter, Krishna gives us one final push. Well, not final, because we’re still in the beginning of the book. But the importance of faith and removal of doubt is paramount. And there is always this step by step approach in which some initial faith needs to be had in the path, in oneself, in the teachings that are being followed. But then, through the application of those teachings, experience has to come and the faith has to be reinforced. And like this, gradually we peel the layers of the onion of doubt which cover, and of ignorance that produces this doubt, which cover the wisdom, the knowledge that is inherent within. 

Now here again we have a different way of, a different approach. Both from the, so to speak, religious perspective and from the materialistic perspective. Because the religious perspective only gives us that faith really. If you have faith, then you’re a part of this group or that group. If you don’t, then you’re an infidel. And on the other side we have the materialistic science, which is, some of you might know, defined by doubting. That’s what was the statement of the Enlightenment in Europe. Dubito, ergo coquito, ergo sum. I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am. Doubt is the defining feature of that kind of materialistic thinking. But as we also know from experience, that while this materialistic thinking can bring us material benefits, it definitely does not bring happiness. And we see that very clearly today. 

And so in spiritual life this virtuous cycle of faith and its reinforcement always has to be maintained. And the destruction of that self that is doubting is something that we need to be aware of, because ultimately it is the faith and the devotion that drive us to achieve anything, even in the material realm. And if we place it in only the transient, in only the temporary aspects of life, then gradually there will be dissipation of that. There’ll be just frustration, dissatisfaction, resentment. And those are of course states that are extremely unhelpful if you want to evolve or expand or become happy. And Krishna has given us the methods, so here it’s just recapitulated. The renouncing of actions by yoga. And the cutting asunder of the doubt by knowledge. That is the process in a nutshell. 

And last but not least, we are also reminded of the predicament that Arjuna is facing. And that all these teachings are really geared towards that upliftment of the person who is even in the worst possible situation, but still when they have this faith, wisdom, knowledge and it has become part of one’s life, then one can rise up from the ashes like a phoenix. 

With that, let us reflect on these verses, as well as on what we have heard in this chapter. Where sacrifice and renunciation of the idea of agency have been the main topic. Doubt and critical thinking can be quite useful when we approach things in the material realm, so that we are not fooled by those who wish to pull us. But in the spiritual world which is given to us by masters whose only intention is to help others, we should lay these weapons on the shelf. Let go, become innocent, open, receptive. And practise those teachings that we know inwardly are true and will help us grow.

Chapter 5: Yoga of Renunciation of Action

14 to 16 April | Verses 5:1 to 5:7

At the outset of the 5th chapter, we get straight to the point of how to best understand the seemingly contradictory ideas of renunciation of action, and the need to be constantly involved in action (in a yogic manner).

We have now come to the fifth chapter in the Gita called Karma Sannyasa Yoga, the Yoga of Renunciation of Action, where a synthesis of the various thoughts presented so far will be given. We’ll start first with verses 1, 2 and 3, and then we’ll continue with 4 through to 7. 

Discussion verses 5:1-3

Arjuna said: O Krishna. You have praised renunciation of actions. And then again, yoga. Tell me conclusively that which is the better of the two. The Blessed Lord said: Renunciation and the yoga of action both lead to the highest bliss. But of the two, the yoga of action is superior to the renunciation of action. One should be known as a perpetual sannyasi who neither hates nor desires; for, free from the pairs of opposites, O Arjuna, he is easily set free from bondage. 

We have heard of the virtues of karma yoga and of its importance previously. And also there is this concept of renunciation of action. And in the commentary, we have been given a little bit more insight perhaps than Arjuna has understood at this point, and we will see why. The renunciation of action that is talked about here has to be a natural result of one’s spiritual progress. If a person who is not ready for this renunciation attempts that, then there will be, this is a rather tamasic approach. Because without the necessary understanding, without the necessary experience, there will be the delusion that if I don’t move the body, if I don’t perform actions, that is the renunciation. And that is definitely not what we seek here. 

Swami Sivananda, in his commentary to verse 2, says that renunciation of actions with the knowledge of the Self is definitely superior to any kind of action, including karma yoga. However, Krishna here says that karma yoga, the yoga of action, is superior to renunciation. And this is because the Gita is meant for those who are neither at the very rudimentary beginnings of the spiritual path, or let alone who have not even started. Nor is it for those who have achieved the goal. It is for those who are in the middle – like our little group here. 

And this is why karma yoga is essential because we need to really take care of how we perform action with this attitude of non-doership. And of course very soon this will also be evident from the verses that will follow. So verse 3 is really the very important dividing point here. Sannyasi is one who has renounced. And there are different traditions in which renunciation is practised, including in the western traditions, some of the monastic orders. They are not really involved in society at all; they’re just closed communities where people are devoted to contemplation and so on. 

And this kind of approach is useful for a handful of people out there who, through their actions in their past lives, have achieved that state where there is really no need for them to act in the world, or there is no desire, there is no impetus. Because most of the karmas have been exhausted, and now the time has come to just clear out the last vestiges of it. But as you can probably feel from what is being said is that this could lead to a great hypocrisy, if a person imagines that they are at that stage when they are not. 

So who is the real renunciate? One who neither hates nor desires, who is free from the pairs of opposites. So that freedom from the pairs of opposites, and that freedom from hate and desire, that is achieved through the process of karma yoga, and this is why karma yoga is superior to this renunciation. And the clue is also given in the name of this chapter. Arjuna is asking whether renunciation or yoga are better, but the name of the chapter is Karma Sannyasa Yoga, yoga of renunciation of action, so these two coming together.

Discussion verses 5:4-7

Children, not the wise, speak of knowledge and the yoga of action as though they are distinct and different. One who is truly established in one obtains the fruits of both. That place which is reached by the jnanis (by the introspectors) is also reached by the yogis (or karma yogis here). One who sees knowledge and the performance of action as one truly sees. But renunciation, O mighty-armed Arjuna, is hard to attain without yoga; the yoga-harmonised sage quickly goes to Brahman. One who is devoted to the path of action, whose mind is quite pure, who has conquered the self, who has subdued their senses, and who realises their Self as the Self in all beings, though acting, is not tainted. 

Krishna calls the ignorant people who have no knowledge of the Self, children. And so this is also an indication that one has to really arrive at a certain point of evolution in order to be able to grasp these concepts. So it’s not a dismissive kind of term. It simply means that the person yet has to grow some more until this understanding of the relationship between renunciation of the idea of agency and action really arises in the person. So it is really the renunciation of the idea that ‘I am the doer’ which is what we seek, and not of action. So we should not really delude ourselves into thinking that we are ready to just sit and meditate. But we need to apply ourselves with all our talents, all the capacities. 

And we’ll see that the more we act, the more we keep the mind busy, constructively busy, the more we find the inner peace that we seek. Very often people who are stressed and frustrated, they seek various techniques of meditation, relaxation, and so on in order to get out of that state. And surely in the beginning, that is necessary, because if the nervous system is already quite disturbed and there is no clarity in the mind, then anything else is really difficult to do. But ultimately, Swami Satyananda used to say, “rest is rust”, and Swami Sivananda also emphasised that the best rest from one activity is to perform a different kind of activity. 

So for example, as is quite easily attainable experience that we have when we do a lot of mental work, the best break from that is not to sit down and watch something on the TV, but it’s to do something physical. And we get much more relaxation than we would in that way. And of course we know that the life of the modern person is often upside down in this way. So when we understand about the gunas, about the qualities of nature, how we’ve been taught previously, and the subject will again come in the future, then we will also know that the tamasic state can only be transformed by ignoring it and pushing through it really, unless there is of course complete exhaustion, and one needs to take a break. 

But when we understand the various duties we have towards our own body, towards the space in which we live in, towards other people, towards our own work, and then stick to that, rather than the desires of the ego, which can often be, or often are the opposite of what is to be done, then we’ll find that through this control of those external aspects of our lives, we get more contact with that centre, where there’s always peace, there’s always stability, no matter how busy we may get in the outside world. So karma yoga is the path towards the renunciation of karma. Let us reflect on this for a little while.

17 April | Verses 5:8 and 9

One of the many amazing things about the Gita (and other great scriptures of India) is that even as we hear the descriptions of the elevated state of an enlightened person, in the breath we get clues as to how to inch ever closer to that state. Here, the development of unbiased, witnessing awareness in every little detail of life is the technique; the realisation that “I do nothing” is the result and goal.

Let us remember where we are in our journey into the Gita. We have begun the fifth discourse which is starting by clarifying that there is no discrepancy between the renunciation of action and the path of karma yoga, where action is performed continuously. But with a different mindset, a different awareness. The verses for today are 8 and 9. 

I do nothing at all; thus would the harmonised knower of truth think. Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, going, sleeping, breathing, speaking, letting go, seizing, opening and closing the eyes – convinced that the senses move among the sense objects. 

Here we have an insight into the mindset of one who has realised the Self, which is beyond the body, which is beyond the mind. And this is quite important to understand, that when such a person says ‘I’, it means something very different from when we say that on the level of physical identification. And while various assertions or even auto-suggestion is sometimes recommended as a means to remind ourselves of where we’re trying to go beyond the sensory and physical awareness, it is very important to remember that until the actual experience comes, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that the ‘I’ refers to this small ‘I’, the little ‘I’, that Swami Sivananda clearly says that needs to be overcome. He uses quite strong words there: “Kill this little ‘I’. And realise.” So I do nothing at all. 

This kind of awareness is only possible when we have transcended the physicality of life. But the enumeration of the various aspects of our existence, they are quite useful in the practical application of these teachings. Because we are always taught to observe and to identify with the faculty of observation, rather than believing ourselves to be the combination of these sensory perceptions, which is the view of materialistic science. And because that worldview has been implanted in us since an early age, it may take some time to understand this intellectually. But through practise we can actually get a little experience of this also. 

So during the practices such as antar mouna or even when we go deeper into asana and pranayama and so on, we are always observing what is happening while we are doing it. So when we start practising asana for example, we focus on the form, we focus on the body, the breath coordination and so on. But then as we go deeper, the eyes are closed, there is the visualisation of what it is that we’re doing right now, visualising one’s own body as if it was something separate. And the reason for this, and also the experience of it changes, right, those of you who have experienced that will know that it will change the effects of the asanas also. 

But the ultimate purpose of it is that we gradually train the mind to establish itself in the witnessing awareness, and that is then applied to everything in life. Even the sight is observed. Who is seeing what? My eyes are seeing something. Who is the receptor of the visual perception, the speaking, hearing, touching, smelling. It is possible to develop this dual awareness that I am doing something, and I am aware that I am doing something. And even deeper, I am aware that I am aware that I am doing something. 

This is of course possible in the beginning only during practises such as meditation, or maybe for very short periods of time when the energy is harmonised and balanced. But gradually this is to be applied in all areas of life. And an advanced yogi is even able to be aware of the dream state. This is why it is said that a yogi never sleeps. It is not that the body never sleeps, or that you will never see a yogi sleeping, snoring, whatever. But the awareness is awake at all times. And because we can have a little bit of this experience, it is not just a theory, but we can only imagine what it must be like to be constantly established in that kind of awareness. 

Then that person will realise what Krishna has been saying here, that it is the senses that are moving among sense objects. The senses themselves composed of the various combinations of the gunas, the qualities of nature. And they will be also attracted to the gunas of the environment and the various objects. Whereas the Self always remains unaffected. The witnessing awareness is always constant. And in this way the person will never lose themselves in the externalising pulls of nature. So let us reflect on this for a little bit.

18 April | Verses 5:10 and 11

When we hear things like “sacrifice all your actions (and their fruits) to Brahman”, we may be at a loss as to how to do that: few people alive have the depth of experiential understanding necessary to truly feel that God alone operates in this world through his/her/its Nature…

This is why the context of all the teachings given in the Gita is essential: one should always choose one’s appropriate starting point, and wait for the process of purification to get to the stage that we can appreciate the higher truths.

For most people, it is the initial steps that one takes when attempting to practise karma yoga:

  • do every action with utmost care, love and attention, whatever it is
  • focus on the action itself, and not on oneself as the performer of those actions
  • constantly turn the mind away from any expectations, instead thinking of performing the action as a duty
  • remember the teaching “your right is to work only, not to the fruits of the work”
  • be patient: this is a “lifetime practice”, not something we can just try for a limited time, expecting whatever it is we mean by “personal transformation” to take place within any conceivable time frame. From this follows that we need to…
  • …have faith – but one that is constantly corroborated by the little bits of experience we get when we apply ourselves.

One who does actions, offering them to Brahman, and abandoning attachment, is not tainted by sin, just as a lotus leaf is not tainted by water. Yogis, having abandoned attachment, perform actions only by the body, mind, intellect, and even by the senses, for the purification of the self.

We see in this chapter that is called Karma Sannyasa Yoga, the Yoga of Renunciation of Action, that really it is a deepening of the understanding of karma yoga itself. We see that this is quite possibly the most important practical aspect that Krishna is presenting in the Gita. And this is because without the purification of actions, wisdom does not really arise. And so if we try to start by using the intellect before it’s purified, then we are very likely not to understand these teachings properly. And also there is the danger of being deluded, because the ego always has many tricks in its hat that it pulls out, and makes us think that we are somewhere where we are not. 

So the idea of agency is to be let go of more and more. There are different layers to that, and the more our understanding deepens, the more we are also able to do that. In verse 10, Krishna says that all actions should be offered to Brahman, and all attachment is to be abandoned. Now this has to be a, this offering to the higher reality, it has to be genuine, it needs to be a genuine effort. And so we have been given all these different examples of sacrifice and how we can apply it in our own life. But ultimately, what is the first step for us to be able to do that? It is to practise the first step of karma yoga, which is just doing everything with more awareness rather than automatically. And focusing on the action itself rather than thinking at all about the result. Or the result of course that we need to achieve provides the map for our actions. But there should be no attachment to it. We do our best and if it works, great. If it doesn’t work, we will learn from it. 

And in this way, we take our first baby steps towards this ability to offer to the higher reality, the higher Self is always the receiver of the offering, the lower self is what is being offered. And the lower self also, of course, comprises of the senses. the mind, the intellect, and the offering itself is acting, thinking and feeling in the way that will bring us to that higher reality, which we all have within us. So the behaviours of the higher mind, there are the various yamas and niyamas, the rules and ‘regulations’ of yoga and other spiritual paths. So when we align our lives with these, we also then get the experience of having more clarity, having more control over how the life is happening; and that that in turn will increase our faith. And like this we keep on growing and expanding. 

And this is a very interesting and important point, that this ‘sin’, which is a word that has been so much misused by the various religions present today, is to be defined as some – Swami Sivananda says that a sin is simply a mistake. And as long as we can learn from it, then we stop sinning. It is not something to be ashamed of or worry about, as long as there is the awareness that the action needs to be corrected. But a person who has this attitude of offering every single action to that higher reality is not tainted by it. 

But in verse 11, we then have first of all a throwback to what was said yesterday, that the yogi has the awareness that basically my body and all its components are simply doing their own thing, but I am not involved in it. It says “performing actions only by the body, intellect and the senses”. But the last point is very important: “for the purification of the self.” So this is the motive. If this becomes our motive for doing any kind of action, then those actions themselves will also change. Because when we just take the first part of that teaching that, “Oh, if I just offer any action that I may be doing to the higher reality, or to God”, this may lead some towards justification of just about anything they do. Because “ok, I’m sinning”, but I’m offering it to God, therefore I can just continue doing that. But of course, with some awareness we come to the realisation that that’s not how it works. And then we are also able to change our ways. 

So let us reflect on these verses a little bit. Choosing actions wisely. Actions both to be done by the mind, the intellect, the senses. But also not to be ashamed of anything that we habitually do, knowing that wisdom develops gradually, and mistakes are only done because of ignorance. And so the more we grow, the less ignorant we become, the better our actions will be also. The main thing we need to abandon, rather than any particular action, is the attachment to it, or to its fruits.

19 April | Verses 5:12 and 13

The state of a yogi, i.e. the state of being to aspire for, is beautifully described here: just as a person surrounded by the incessant activity in the middle of a busy city can find a quiet space where none of the noise can disturb, one who has been united with the innermost Self (yoga) – which in turn is achieved by a long and systematic process of separating from the many aspects of the non-self (viyoga) – can stay quiet and at peace even as the body and the senses are constantly active, performing a myriad actions in the spirit of karma yoga.

Identifying with this observing, witnessing presence, rather than any mental or physical activity. There is a lot of activity in the body taking place all the time. The senses are also perceiving all kinds of impressions. But the witness is always silent, impartial, non-judgmental, happy, and free. The verses for today are 12 and 13. 

The united one, having abandoned the fruit of action, attains to the eternal peace. The non-united only, impelled by desire, attached to the fruit, is bound. Mentally renouncing all actions and self-controlled, the embodied one rests happily in the nine-gated city, neither acting, nor causing others to act. 

Here the yogi and the non-yogi have been called with the words yuktah and ayuktah. And the word yuktah is also related with the word yoga. But it’s a slightly different kind of perspective that we get. The one who has been united with the Self within, and the one who has not. Swami Sivananda also translates these as the well-poised or the harmonised person and the unsteady or the unbalanced person. So these two, they have very different experience of life, and also very different motivations for performing actions.

As we have mentioned before, or as Krishna has mentioned before, the only motivation really for action of the yogi is self-purification. And also to set an example for others to follow. Because they have reached the place of incredible peace, beauty, harmony. And it seems that the people who have reached this state, their only desire is to help others to also reach that state. Because there is no kind of competitiveness, envy, none of these things that motivate and also make people imbalanced at the same time in the material realm. And here we see the end result. The united person, the yogi, has abandoned the fruit of actions and therefore attains eternal peace. Eternal meaning that it is not disturbed by anything. Whereas the constant drag of the desire of the non-united one leads to bondage. 

And a beautiful analogy has been given in verse 13. That the body is compared to a city with nine gates. Those are simply the openings in the skin through which the sensory perceptions are coming in, and also through which various other actions are being done. So seven of them are in the head and two of them are in the nether parts. And in yoga also, in hatha yoga also we have various techniques through which we can prevent the loss of energy from all of these openings. Many of you may know the practise of shanmukhi mudra in which the eyes, ears, mouth, nostrils are closed and then through practises of bandha we also manage all the other parts. And when we can then redirect the prana that’s going out through the senses back into the body, then of course we get more energy and we also get the ability to be more internalised and meditate more easily, but that’s a little diversion here. 

The analogy is quite good from the point of view that we can imagine being in a city that’s always busy. Yet even in a very busy city, we can get a little room where we can just sit down and be quiet. So in the same way, that is how the yogi perceives their own body as always doing some kind of action, always moving around. But the experience is of that person who is sitting somewhere in a quiet room, and even if is the busiest city in the world, there is peace in that room, there is peace in that Self. 

So mentally renouncing all actions. This is what is said here. Not just renouncing all actions. So even if there is constant action for the purification of the Self, for service, as sacrifice; the internal experience is that ‘I do not act, I do nothing.’ And there is neither the acting nor causing others to act. This ‘others’ Swami Sivananda tells us is the body and the senses. So they are allowed to do whatever they are designed to do, but the person does not identify with any experience, and therefore also with the ups and downs that come with these experiences, because experiences will always be pleasurable or painful. 

And a yogi is not free from that. The senses of a yogi do not all of a sudden become immune to these ups and downs, but because the awareness has been increased and purified, there is also the knowledge and the experiential knowledge that ‘I am not the mind, I am not the body, I am not the senses’, and therefore I am always at peace. And in this it’s useful to study the lives of those who have reached this kind of state, because it’s hard for most of us to even comprehend this kind of state. But this has been manifested by the various great masters who then have developed various ways for all of us to be able to gradually, eventually reach that state. 

So let us reflect on these two verses for a little while. We all seek peace and happiness. But there is a process that is necessary to follow. It’s not that easy to just think ourselves out of the various problems and obstacles to peace. And the yogi understands that the internal work is much more important, much more fruitful than trying to bend the outside world to fit our needs and desires.

20 April | Verses 5:14 and 15

Swami Niranjan has described the difference between a seeker immersed in materialism and a true seeker along these lines: while the former blames God / guru / destiny / fate etc. for all their failures and takes credit for all their successes, the latter does this in reverse.

What can be clearly see in this is that while the former is likely to be doomed to repeating the same mistakes over and over again, the latter, remembering that the divine essence within is ever pure and perfect, is then in the position to do the patient work of rectifying the various defects – which all belong to the lower, animal nature – one by one, until the luminosity within is able to overpower the last vestiges of ignorance and become the only living reality…

The Lord does not create either agency or actions for the world, nor union with the fruits of actions. It is only nature that acts. The Lord takes neither the demerits nor even the merit of any. Knowledge is enveloped by ignorance. Thereby beings are deluded. 

The word used here Prabhu means Lord. And we have this concept also from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, where it is referred to as Ishwara, the inner ruler, or antaryami. This is the Self that we are seeking. And these verses really indicate that all these ideas that people have superimposed on this divine nature are sometimes extremely misleading. That consciousness does not judge. It does not punish. It is always full of peace, love and purity. And that’s how it should always be thought of. And we see that this ignorance that Krishna talks about here has prevailed in the vast majority of people’s minds, even those who profess to be the representatives of the spiritual thought. 

Here we see that the idea of agency, the attachments to actions and to fruits of action, none of that comes from this divine source. And a very important point that is made here is that we don’t really deserve or undeserve the contact with that Self, neither the merit or the demerit are concepts that relate to that universal consciousness. All of that is related with the nature, and its evolutes. The question may arise in some people as to ‘Why is it? Why did this God or Lord devise such a world where there is ignorance?’ But then we need to understand or remember that the whole purpose of creation is for that universal, unmanifested consciousness to experience itself. And it has come many times in the form of the various saints and gurus to remind people as to how to live, what principles to follow, so that this can be experienced.

So we can’t say that we don’t know, we are just not inclined to follow these principles. And so we don’t really have anyone to blame. Because we have been told these various principles over and over again in different languages, in different places, at different times, but the message remains the same. And we often see in the teachings of the various masters, not only the love and the guidance that is being given, but also a certain sense of exasperation with the unwillingness of people to let go of their egotistical notions and to let the inner awareness flower and evolve.

So this is how one should think of whatever it is that we mean when we say God, Self, the absolute, and so on. It is beyond good and bad; it is beyond judgement. But we are not. And so how to begin the journey? The best approach is to first let go of that hate. And Swami Satyananda was always quite clear about this, that we shouldn’t think ourselves to be able to be beyond good and bad. We should choose the good and reject the bad. We should choose the love and reject the hatred. And if we can do that little by little, day by day, then we can gradually reach that state where there is no good, there is no bad. There is just being itself. 

Let us reflects for a little while on this. Neither agency, nor actions does the Lord create for the world. It is nature that acts. The Lord takes neither the demerit, nor even the merit of any. Knowledge is enveloped by ignorance. And by that, beings are deluded. The way out of that ignorance has been laid before us. But how much we choose to follow that path depends on each individual.

21 April | Verses 5:16 and 17

A yogi and a non-yogi both have the same faculties available: the body and the senses, the intellect and rationality etc. While the former utilises all these in service of the single, overarching purpose of realising the Self within oneself and all beings – which is done through a process of ego-neutralisation combined with expansion of awareness (TAN) and liberation of energy (TRA) – the latter will be always be in danger of wasting their potential due to the multidirectional and contradictory motivations of the different personalities that vie for supremacy in an untrained mind.

How many times do we get over-excited about some goal we find worth pursuing, and direct all of our energies to that, only to find at a later stage that the motivation for that comes from something that has an “expiry date”. Having a spiritual goal that guides our material ambitions is, therefore, a most practical aid for our journey through life.

Yesterday we heard Krishna say that the Lord, the inner ruler, the consciousness that is the Self of every being does not recognise the merit or demerit of any action. And that it is ignorance only that envelopes this consciousness. And these different layers of ignorance had to be removed one by one until that light is experienced. We’re continuing this thought in verses 16 and 17. 

But to those whose ignorance is destroyed by the knowledge of the Self, like the sun, knowledge reveals the Supreme or Brahman. Their intellect absorbed in that, their Self being that, established in that, with that for their supreme goal, they go to where there is no return, their sins dispelled by knowledge. 

In these verses and many others throughout the Gita we are reminded of that elevated state that is reached when one realises one’s true nature as being the Self, and not the body, not the mind, nothing to do with the senses and the mental experiences. And even though this state is impossible to really describe or to imagine unless we are actually in that state, the implications of that are many, of that realisation. And this should serve as an inspiration so that the realisation of this becomes the overarching aim in one’s life. 

In verse 17, it says that the intellect of that enlightened yogi is absorbed in that reality. The Self is that also. So the person does not identify the Self with any kind of limitation, any kind of physicality. And when we think of where our intellects are absorbed normally, what are the different things that we identify with? What are our goals? They are always many. And oftentimes they are contradictory to each other. And this misidentification or misapplication of the various faculties that we have keeps us in a state where there are ups and downs, where there is progress, where there is regression. 

But as Krishna says here that once these light of knowledge has been lit, then we can’t really go back. There’s no going back. There’s no downfall also. And the destruction of ignorance has to be complete, because as long as there is any kind of all of these layers still present, then we may achieve some kind of higher state. But then on account of various destructive karmas or attachment to the limiting aspects of life, we again go back to a lower state of awareness. And it is only when this light is awakened fully that we are safe. It is like the waking up from a dream, this is what it’s often likened to, that the dream can feel very real while we are dreaming it, but as soon as we wake up, we know it’s a dream. And there is no going back into that kind of delusion that the mind creates as a dream.

And this is why it is a recommendation also for a sincere seeker, especially when following this tradition of Vedanta that Swami Sivananda is a very great proponent of, and which is also very much present in the Gita. That one should treat the waking state as not very different from a dream. Yet within that dream, we need to live as if it was real, do our duties dutifully and with sincerity. But at the same time, maintain that awareness that it is not really real. Because only then we will have that drive to realise the reality, and to wake up from this mass dream that we are all experiencing, and in which we all interact in various ways, hiding the reality that there is only one existence. And not the diversity that we experience while confined to the body and the senses. 

And again, it probably is useful to remind ourselves that the road to that is through the disidentification from and the management of and elimination of all negativity. So instead of ‘that’, you could put the word love in that. Because this is something that we can understand. Just like when a person is in love with someone else, they experience oneness, the duality is removed. But of course, the physical, the worldly love is always subject to and in danger of being destroyed by various selfish desires and so on. So it is only a hint, it is not to be considered as a goal here. But it is really that management of our own negativities and various forms of hatred and so on that will allow us to expand the awareness and eventually get established in that state, which is beyond love and hate, which is beyond good and bad, and so on. 

Let us reflect for a little while on what has been said here. And without any judgement, knowing that we are all products of past karma and present conditionings. How much we are able to apply this in our own life. What do we believe in? Where is the intellect absorbed in the course of the day mostly? What are our goals? What is the supreme goal, if even there is such a concept?

22 and 23 April | Verses 5:18 to 5:21

The equal vision of a true master is something that they emanate naturally, and everyone in their presence (physical or through exposure to their teachings in any form) can bask in it with just a little receptivity and openness. It is so rare to meet such people that one may be forgiven for concluding it is all just philosophy or wishful thinking…

However, it is absolutely possible to get a taste of that state – through the application of the various disciplines and modifications of thinking that is are the basis of spiritual practice – and once one has been able to awaken the blissful state of equal vision for even just a moment, and understood that this is something that we can influence rather than it being a product of a lucky chance, there’s no going back…

Sages look with an equal eye on a Brahmana endowed with learning and humility, on a cow, on an elephant, and even on a dog and an outcaste. Even here in this world, birth and everything else is overcome by those whose mind rests in equality. Brahman is spotless indeed, an equal; therefore they are established in Brahman. Resting in Brahman with steady intellect and undeluded, the knower of Brahman neither rejoices on obtaining what is pleasant, nor grieves on obtaining what is unpleasant. With the self unattached to external contacts, one finds happiness in the Self. With the Self engaged in the meditation of Brahman, one attains to the endless happiness. 

It was mentioned before that through equality, through equal vision can only be achieved through the spiritual awakening. And while it is important to set certain rules in society that at least try to give equality before the law, and so on, the experience often is that when people are forced to pretend that there is equality, they can do that, but inside their own minds we know very well what kind of opinions people have, especially when they are able to express them anonymously. This is not how true equality in society, or even in one’s immediate environment, can be achieved. And what to speak, of course, of our attitude to nature, to animals, to plants. 

So only when we have really gained this higher vision, and not necessarily even the full enlightenment, the full illumination. But even as we progress on the spiritual path, we will see that we are naturally more inclined to be friendly with other beings, if not necessarily with other people to start with. But there is less of that animosity. And really the ability to destroy other forms of life also lessens, so the intention changes. And unless this is achieved, then there will always be that sense of separation, which in humans as a unique kind of life form, is always quite dangerous, because our intellects can justify this kind of behaviour. And then it becomes habitual. 

We can see in nature that even strong predators like lions or tigers or whoever, when they are full, when they have just eaten, then a gazelle or antelope or whatever other animal can just walk by peacefully. They can even help other life forms that they would normally eat. So there is this kind of automatic mechanism inherent in nature that prevents wanton destruction; except for beings with intelligence, but which has not been purified, which has not been trained. And so when we attain higher kind of state, then this vision, this feeling becomes part of one’s being. 

And of course, Krishna is now talking about the sage, the one who has truly realised that oneness of oneself and the Self of all beings, and there is really no distinction. In another point in the Gita, it says that Sage looks with an equal eye on a lump of gold and a lump of clay. Not in the sense that they would not understand the difference in their material value, but from this very high perspective, everything really looks the same. It’s a very good analogy, even as we soar above the earth and go into space, all the different orders, or the differences between land and water, they disappear, and it just becomes a blue dot. So in the same way, these great people have that kind of vision of unity. And then there is no sense of separation between them and anything else. 

And as it is mentioned in the last of the verses, this is where truly the happiness or the fulfilment of life is felt and experienced. Until that point we are always subjected to the highs and lows that come with being embodied in a physical form. But when one realises that one is not the body, and the body may suffer greatly, but the Self is not affected. And we have had experiences like that described in the various scriptures or even seen in the lives of the great saints who often towards the end of their lives experienced all kinds of physical conditions that would completely disable a normal person and make them quite unhappy and frustrated. 

One amazing video comes to mind of Sri Ramana Maharshi from the later stages of his life. When I believe that some kind of cancer developed and you can see the body shaking, you can see that the body is probably in horrible pain. But his eyes, his face emanates so much peace and solace. And he consoles the people who come there to cry over his imminent demise. So this is really something that can only be experienced, that can only be developed. And so the effort of a seeker is to come to that kind of state where nothing really matters except this higher divine reality. But of course any step towards that will give us a little bit more inside as well as the perspective and the broader vision in which we can include everything. And in this way, there will be a natural desire to protect life rather than to destroy. 

And so in today’s day and age, it is not so much the enlightenment, the illumination that one should seek, but becoming this force for good, so that we can continue living on this, in this beautiful world and be an example for others also to follow, because preaching doesn’t really change anyone’s mind. 

Let us not reflect for a little while on these verses. This timeless statement given to us by those who have realised that everything is one. In our own lives, how much do we obsess about the differences between us and others, between certain types of people and other types of people. And is it really necessary, rather than to find what we have in common, starting from the most fundamental levels. The body, mind, emotions. All is made from the same template, and all differences are superficial, no matter how great they might seem when the awareness is at a lower state.

24 April | Verses 5:22 to 24

As we have been shown before – and as a thoughtful analysis of our own life experience will easily corroborate – the contacts between the senses and the sense objects that they are programmed to respond to are all transient and therefore will always lead to the experience of highs and lows / motivation and demotivation / inspiration and rejection, and so on.

While an entirely worldly person will forever be subject to these, a yoga aspirant will eventually grow tired of this endless cycle and start seeking a way out…

The enjoyments that are born of contacts are only generators of pain, for they have a beginning and an end. O Arjuna, the wise person does not rejoice in them. One who is able, while still here in this world, to withstand the impulse born of desire and anger before the liberation from the body, such a person is a yogi, and happy. One who is happy within, who rejoice within, and who is illuminated within, that yogi attains absolute freedom or moksha, himself becoming Brahman. 

These three verses are, well, all verses in the Gita can be said to be quite important and useful for practical purposes and life. But these three taken either individually or in this combination are very good to remember. First, we are told that the enjoyments that are born of contacts are generators of pain. Contacts meaning between the senses and sense objects. When we think about how the pleasure derived from this contact is obtained, then we see that not only do the senses need to come in contact with an object, but the duration of that contact also has to be precise, for that enjoyment to take place. If there is too little, if there is too much, then again, even that contact will produce pain. 

One example is let’s say person is cold and then they go to a warm room, and it feels really nice and pleasant for a little time. But then if we stay there for too much then again we experience discomfort. Or if someone is hungry and they eat, then up to a certain point the enjoyment is felt, but if we continue eating until we are completely stuffed, then again comes pain, even from that actual contact, let alone when there is separation. When that contact ends and the sense disconnects from the object, then again there is longing, there is separation. And as long as we are trapped in the sensory awareness and we identify with the body, then it is the person, it is the self, with a lower case ‘s’ that experiences all this pain and pleasure and happiness and sorrow. And how can there be any kind of peace in that situation? 

Now, if we are to think of one method to go out of that, Krishna gives us that in the next verse, in 23. One who is able to withstand the impulse born of desire and anger is a happy person. So here, desire and anger, kama and krodha, are seen from a bigger perspective. Because many of you might know or remember that these two are also mentioned as part of that group of six: kama, krodha, lobha, moha, and so on. The anger, the lust, greed, infatuation, jealousy. But here they represent really the attraction and the repulsion, the raga and dwesha. 

But here they are called kama and krodha, because it is a stronger kind of word. We have the lustful kind of attraction to that which is considered pleasant. And then anger represents that rejection of that which we don’t want, as well as the frustration of the effort to achieve the pleasurable. And so they are really two sides of the same coin. And if we are able to stand back from both of these and maintain our inner balance, that is the primary practice of a yogi. And when that is perfected, then we get freedom from these two opposite, opposing forces. And that of course, is only possible to do when one has a high level of energy, high level of awareness, which in turn is achieved through the wise combination of the different types of yoga. 

We always start with hatha yoga, because without taking care of the physical aspects, without taking care of the physical health and the physical reasons for unhappiness, then we have to deal with the mind much more than we would normally have to do. So when the nervous system is managed, calmed down, harmonised through pranayama, when the body is healthy, there is 50 to 60 and maybe more percent of all the mental problems are gone. Then of course the process of raja yoga has to come in. Antar mouna, the distancing, the observation, has to take place, and has to become a habit in the mind. Through a regular practise we can then stand back and rather than identify with everything that’s happening, we learn to become the witness. 

Then through karma yoga and bhakti yoga, all of these benefits of hatha yoga and raja yoga, they are used in practical life. So through karma yoga we purify ourselves through action that is done with a selfless attitude, even if it is done for ourselves. But the attitude has to change. And bhakti yoga, where we manage the emotions through various means, from right association to mantra to all the different steps that are present in bhakti yoga. And the immediate method, apart from just being, observing, rather than identifying with the anger or with the desire, is the pratipaksha bhavana, the cultivation of the opposite. Because just observing is not enough. Because we can’t really be some kind of bland lifeless desireless being while we are embodied in the body. Rather, we need to change the energy, the direction of the energy that went into some kind of desire or into something that makes us angry into its opposite, so that it becomes a power that can lead us, guide us forward, and help us grow, rather than deplete our energy through this constant going into the ups and downs. 

So by making all the different parts of yoga an integral part of life, which includes everything. How we wake up, how we sleep, how we eat, when everything happens, and so on, then that provides the basis for us to be able to stand back from the currents of desire and anger. And that itself is then the practice that would lead us to liberation. 

Let us now reflect on this for a little while. The need to experience happiness within. Not through the contacts between the senses and the sense objects. And just how that relates to the concept of freedom. Complete freedom to choose how the senses then come into contact with what objects. Only a yogi can do that. Because there is also no need for that, that can be a conscious choice. Whereas a person without this happiness as a starting point, without this freedom, will always be occupied by trying to fulfil the various desires, and thereby become a slave to them. Freedom is lost.

25 April | Verses 5:25 and 26

Much can be learnt from the descriptions of the state attained by those who have realised the Self. After all, elusive as that concept may be, at the end of the day it is the sole reality that is at the basis of everyone’s experience, however much or little one may be aware of this fact.

This is why a sincere seeker will reflect on the verses such as these two with attention and an open mind, remembering that it is possible to reach that state with the right effort – but also that the level of that effort is dependent on much more than a momentary flash of inspiration, and mustn’t be forced lest we begin to delude ourselves regarding the perceived stage of our spiritual evolution which, just like the material evolution in nature, takes much longer than a single lifetime to develop.

We have been given various descriptions of a person who has attained the final liberation or final state, as something to hold before our inner vision, hold as a goal. And the various aspects, the various benefits, so to speak, of being in that state are being given, so that we are inspired to have this as our goal rather than to let the mind run after the various pleasant objects in the world which ultimately will only give us pain. Along these lines, we are continuing with verses 25 and 26. 

The sages obtain absolute freedom or moksha, they whose sins have been destroyed, whose dualities, or perception thereof, are torn asunder, who are self-controlled, and intent on the welfare of all beings. Absolute freedom exists on all sides for those self-controlled ascetics, who are free from desire and anger, who have controlled their thoughts, and who have realised the Self.

Let us reflect a little bit on the words that are used here. The absolute freedom. The word used for this is Brahma Nirvana. The word nirvana is quite popular and well known. But what does it mean? It comes from the root ‘nirva’, which is extinguishing or stopping, obliteration of suffering. And the only way to really overcome all suffering is to become one with the universal consciousness or Brahman. So it is also translated, Swami Sivananda translates this as ‘Brahmic bliss’. Absolute freedom and Brahmic bliss are one and the same thing. 

The word used for seer, for sage, is Rishi. And this comes from the word ‘rish’, which means to see. So these are the people who have experienced, who have seen that reality. And then who naturally, their sins have been destroyed through this experience, because they have overcome the duality, they have overcome the body consciousness completely. And they are then intent on the welfare of all beings because they know from experience that there is no distinction between their own Self and the Self of all other beings. 

Then we have the concept of self-controlled ascetic. And the word here that is used is ‘yati’. Now, that may remind you of something. It is the mutation of this word that has given rise to this word Yeti. So yeti is not the Abominable Snowman, it is simply the misunderstanding of this term. Because oftentimes these ascetics, they would be seen meditating in the mountains, in the Himalayas, in very austere conditions. And they are doing this not out of any kind of self-mortification – Krishna will talk much later in the Gita about the different kinds of this ascetic practises, one of which is tamasic, where the body is put through terrible suffering, but without the benefits, without the right spirit. And this is considered to be detrimental. 

But these ascetics who renounce the pleasures of the world, who spend all their time studying scriptures, reflecting on them, they have come to that kind of approach on account of realisation of the ephemeral nature of the world, and the fact that the superficialities of material existence cannot give satisfaction to the internal yearning to the innermost desire to realise the Self. And so this is not something that we can just take up on the whim. This is something that comes to a person naturally. So we have a hint of a kind of progression here. 

At first, we need to, through reflection, through awareness of our own experiences, and analysis of these experiences, we have to come to the point where we realise that by just following the mind and the senses, we are not going to evolve, we are not going to get anywhere. And a certain dissatisfaction then is present in the seeker, which is why we start seeking something in the first place. But for most people, the dissatisfaction and the satisfaction with the world are kind of alternating, and so at some point we are inspired to follow a spiritual path and then others who just completely leave it. 

But when this inner longing becomes very strong, then there is a natural need and desire to just not follow the whims of the senses, not follow the various sense pleasures, and instead to practise more rigorous self-discipline, self-study, and then one becomes a yati. And then when the vision comes, and when the realisation comes, one becomes a Sage, a Rishi. And with that comes that Brahmic bliss, which is not dependent on any kind of sense pleasure. But it is the experience, the natural experience of the Self within, which has been described as Satchidananda, that which exists, that which is conscious, and that where there is only bliss. 

So let us reflect for a little while on the terms and on the meaning of these verses. And also a little bit on our own position in the spiritual path. We are all here because we are seeking something, whatever it may be, which is beyond the normal mundane experience. But how far deep down the rabbit hole we want to, and we can go will depend on this spiritual evolution. A yogi will then see every kind of hardship as a calling, rather than as a failure in life. And a point will come when one seeks discomfort, and a certain type of suffering even, so that the spiritual search continues, the flame grows brighter. In a little way, we can achieve this by applying a little bit of discipline. We don’t allow the ego to lead us, but we are gradually making it the servant that it’s supposed to be.

26 April | Verses 5:27 to 5:29

The 5th chapter concludes with a wonderful synthesis of practice and lifestyle, and taken together, these three verses provide a complete guidance for life, condensed into just a few “bullet points”.
Practice and lifestyle, when combined, reinforce each other in a virtuous cycle, an upward spiral leading towards the highest goal.

If divorced from each other, practice may produce incomplete or even detrimental effects, while attempting to change one’s lifestyle without a sustained practical discipline is next to impossible…

We are today completing the fifth chapter of the Gita. In the verses leading up to this point, we have been given the description of a yogi who has become harmonised, who has become independent from the mind, the senses, and instead can experience that constant blissful nature that is inherent in all of us. But rather than relying on chance, the experience is broadened to steadiness through practise, and through a lifelong dedication to the goal. After this inspiration, we are now going to get some practical hints. Verses 27 to 29. 

Shutting out all external contacts and fixing the gates between the eyebrows, equalising the outgoing and incoming breaths moving within the nostrils, with the senses, the mind and the intellect ever controlled, having liberation as his supreme goal. Free from desire, fear and anger, the sage is verily liberated forever. One who knows me as the enjoyer of sacrifices and austerities, the great Lord of all the worlds and a friend of all beings, attains to peace. 

So in these verses 27 and 28, we are given a little glimpse into the yoga of meditation, which is the chapter that follows. And just as we will see when we start reading that chapter, we cannot extricate the practise from the whole context. So in verse 27 we are told that all the external contacts are to be shut out. And the gaze fixed between the eyebrows, the breath equalised. But right now this is referring to pratyahara, the sensory withdrawal and pranayama. That is given in one breath with verse 28, that the senses, the mind and the intellect are ever controlled. Liberation is to be had as the supreme goal. And freedom needs to be had from desire, fear and anger. 

This of course cannot be attained just by doing any single practice, because an entire shift in one’s lifestyle and outlook on life is required. So the whole process of karma yoga comes in, the attitude of sacrifice, of selflessness comes in. Because only then can we be, when we perfect this, we can be free ourselves from the pulls of desire and its frustration leading to anger. So here we see that practise and lifestyle always have to come together. And eventually that desire for all kinds of stuff, which then acts as so many different desires often going against each other, that has to all be concentrated, harmonised into one overriding desire to attain liberation. And then a person with this kind of mindset, they don’t even need to practise any kind of formal meditation. It is enough for them to just sit down and straight away they go to a higher state, as has been seen in the examples of the really great masters before us. 

So this is something to be remembered, that practise has to always come combined with the lifestyle, and in fact when it doesn’t, it can produce the opposite effects. Instead of helping us to manage the ego, it can inflate the ego. And this is often seen in practitioners who neglect the yamas and niyamas, the observances, the behaviours that have to be cultivated with the different systems. And so we should be aware of that and always go at our own pace, but in an integrated manner. 

In verse 29, we have the reminder once again of sacrifice. Krishna says, “One should know Him as the enjoyer of sacrifices.” And the practical application of this is something that we can all observe with a little effort. That when we manage some kind of bad habit or when we manage some kind of a desire by renouncing it, by developing self-control, this gives us power. This gives us a sense of strength. So this idea of sanyam ore restraint is not something that makes us weaker or inhibited, but when it’s done with the right spirit, it is the offering to that higher reality. And that gives us more confidence, more strength, more energy. 

And this is the real sacrifice, always sacrificing that which one is attracted to, or even obsessing about; when that is renounced, the power inside awakens a little bit more. So rather than thinking of this as some kind of invitation to start practising external rituals, where let’s say incense, flowers and foodstuffs is given. Those are all good if they are done with the right spirit, but they are not really what Krishna is asking us to do here. It is always letting go of everything that fattens the ego, because when that thins, the consciousness that provides the light that the ego simply steals and projects as its own, that increases within us, and we become ever more luminous and free. 

Let us request for a few moments on what has been said. The equalising of the breath, and having the awareness based between the eyebrows, this is something that we can practise, such as the little practice that we’ve been doing all along. But we should remember that this is just practise. It can be done in any kind of spare time that one has, even while walking, resting, and so on, so that it eventually becomes second nature. And the dual awareness develops where we are aware of the breath, the eyebrow centre, even while performing all kinds of actions with the body and the senses. These are to be seen as tools to help us identify with the passive witnessing consciousness within, rather than the active movements of energy, body, and senses.