by Swami Krishnananda
Esa brahmi sthitih partha nainam prapya vimuhyati, sthitvasyam anta-kale’pi brahma-nirvanam richhati (2.72). The Second Chapter of the Gita, which we practically concluded yesterday, is the core of the teaching of the whole of the Bhagavadgita and it is elaborated in the subsequent chapters, from the third onwards. Madhusudhana Saraswati, a commentator on the Bhagavadgita, has pointed out that the teachings of every subsequent chapter are a commentary on one or the other of the verses of the Second Chapter. So the Second Chapter is pre-eminently important because the whole teaching is on Sankhya and yoga, whose basic principles have been explained during the past few days. If you can remember the details of the Sankhya and the yoga as discussed during these days, you would have noticed that it is a complete teaching on the highest way of spiritual living, wherein there is a rapprochement of the world, God, and the individual at the same time. The world, the individual and God are supposed to be three metaphysical principles on which acharyas write commentaries, and on which theories of philosophy are propounded.
This being the complete teaching, one who is established in this never gets confounded afterwards. Esa brahmi sthitih – virtually the establishment of oneself in this understanding, vouchsafed through the Second Chapter as we have described, is an establishment in the Absolute. It is a rooting of one’s consciousness in the total envisagement of values. “Therefore, O Arjuna, this knowledge that has been communicated to you up to this time is enough for you to get established in that Brahman. Once you are established in this, you will never have any mental confusion afterwards. Everything will be perspicacious, everything will be clear. You will see all things as if it is in a mirror.”
Even if a person is able to remain in this consciousness only during the last moment of life, that will do. It is good that we maintain a consciousness of this reality throughout our life, day in and day out; but the compassionate Lord says that even if this is not practicable for us, at least if we are conscious of this state at the time of the passing of the breath from this body, then we are blessed. Sthitvasyam anta-kale’pi brahma-nirvanam richhati: He shall attain to Brahman. So we can understand the importance of the meaning of the Second Chapter of the Bhagavadgita.
After having heard all this, a question that usually arises in the minds of common people also arose in the mind of Arjuna: Jyayasi cet karmanas te mata buddhir janardhana, tat kim karmani ghore mam niyojayasi keshava (3.1); vyamisreneva vakyena buddhim mohayasiva me, tad ekam vada nischitya yena shreyo’ham apnuyam (3.2): “You have been telling me that all action has to be based on knowledge; and the very value of action seems to be dependent on the extent of the Sankhya knowledge on which it is to be rooted. Your emphasis seems to be on Sankhya – knowledge. Then why is that you are goading me to action? Sometimes you say Sankhya, sometimes you say yoga, sometimes you say ‘do this’, sometimes you say ‘do that’; you are confusing my mind.” It is a very clear teaching. There was no confusion in what Sri Krishna said, but it had not entered the mind of Arjuna – as perhaps it has not entered the minds of many of us also. It cannot be remembered always.
Now, Sri Krishna takes up the question of the relation between Sankhya and yoga, about which enough has been said in the Second Chapter. It has been mentioned again and again that all our activities have to be based on the knowledge of the Sankhya. But are they two different paths, or are they internally related to each other? Loke’smin dvi-vidha nishtha pura prokta mayanagha, jnana-yogena sankhyanam karma-yogena yoginam (3.3); na karmanam anarambhan naishkaryam purusho’snute, na ca sanyasanadeva siddhim samadhigachhati (3.4). Sankhya and yoga, or knowledge and action, are mutually related in an organic fashion. When it was said that action has to be rooted in the knowledge of Sankhya, the idea was not to bifurcate the adventure of life into two aspects, as if Sankhya and yoga are something like the two wings of a bird, or like the two legs with which we walk, or the two hands with which we grab and hold. They are complementary; and one being rooted in the other, or one being necessary for the other, does not imply any difference in the structure of Sankhya and yoga; it means that they are inseparable elements in the total perspective of life.
One cannot have merely an understanding of Sankhya in a theoretical sense minus involvement in the work of prakriti, or action; nor is it possible to be engaged only in action without its being rooted in the knowledge of Sankhya. If there is only an emphasis on the Sankhya or only emphasis on the yoga, it is a one-sided emphasis in which knowledge remains a theory and action becomes blind. Unintelligent movement cannot be regarded as yoga. Yoga is an intelligently directed movement in a given fashion. We have already noted that the practice of yoga or the performance of action according to the mandates of the Sankhya is a graduated movement in the direction of larger and larger dimensions of universal existence.
The Universality principle rules all actions that we perform, and also the extent of understanding that we entertain in our minds. Merely because we do not do something, it does not mean we have freed ourselves from the impulse to action. Na karmanam anarambhan naishkaryam purusho’snute: Freedom from action is not achieved by a physical abstraction of oneself from the performance of action. Na ca sanyasanadeva siddhim samadhigachhati: Nor by a mere act of renunciation of involvement in the world does one attain siddhi, or perfection.
We are involved in the world in a very, very mysterious manner. This involvement is actually the determining factor behind our correct way of approaching things. The involvement in the world is such that, as we have noted earlier, we are partly action bound on account of our psychophysical personality being constituted of the three gunas of prakriti. The mind is constituted of the tanmatras and the physical body is constituted of the physical elements, so both the mind and the body are, in a way, tools in the intention of prakriti, which is cosmic activity. Therefore, whoever has a mind or a body cannot abstain totally from action. It will be forced upon him because when the world moves, everybody in the world also moves. When the railway train moves, whoever is sitting in the railway train also moves. But yoga does not mean merely performance of action in a blind manner without understanding the rationale behind it. Reason is the philosophical aspect of action, and action is the implementation of reason. Both have to go together as complimentary aspects of a daily routine of our existence.
We have to pursue the course of prakriti, which moves in a process of evolution from lower stages to higher stages with the intention of producing the best species possible. Modern biologists, anthropologists and scientists tell us that prakriti – or nature, as they call it – is experimenting to find the best species possible. Nature experimented with the earlier, rudimentary forms of species. There were amphibians, there were aquatic animals, there were wild beasts, there were mammoths, there were dinosaurs, and there were wild human beings. With none of these was nature satisfied. There is a gradual intention of prakriti to produce the best product, which at the present moment seems to be the human individuality. [new para]
It is generally accepted that man is the apex of creation and his intelligence represents the final point that one can reach in the understanding of things; yet, man has to become superman. The intention of prakriti is not to allow man to be only man, forever. The superhuman character implicit in human individuality has to be manifest through further processes of such evolution – births and deaths; and in this work of prakriti for manufacturing, producing higher and higher forms of species, it is incumbent on us to participate. The Taittiriya and the Brihadaranyaka Upanishads tell us that the higher species of beings, which are invisible to our eyes, denizens of higher realms which are above the physical realm and, therefore, remain invisible – the Gandharvas, the Devas, Indra, Brihaspati – live in a larger dimension of consciousness. Their power and their happiness are a million-fold greater than human happiness. Hence, participation in the work of prakriti is actually participating in the work of educating ourselves in the direction of a larger knowledge that is available to us and which is our heritage, one day or the other.
Therefore yoga, when it is interpreted as a compulsory activity imposed upon the individual, becomes a necessary participation on the part of the individual in the work of prakriti for the evolution of higher and higher forms of existence. But, human individuals alone are capable of practising yoga. Subhuman species cannot understand Sankhya or yoga because there is a peculiar privilege that is bestowed upon the human individual – namely, the worth of reason. There is a kind of mind instinctively operating in the lower animals also, but logic and reason operate only in the human being. That is, human reason can draw conclusions from existing premises but animals, which are instinctive, cannot draw such conclusions. The restlessness that we undergo in this world and the pains that we suffer from are the premises from which we can draw a conclusion that this is not a happy state of affairs and there must be a state of affairs which transcends this miserable state of existence. That we do not like to undergo pain of any kind, that we do not want to die, that we do not want any kind of sorrow, is a premise from which we can draw the conclusion that we are in a position to conceive a state where there is no sorrow, no pain of any kind, and not even death.
Thus, the prerogative of the human reason is that it is able to draw conclusions which far transcend the ordinary sense perception. The senses cannot tell us that there is a possibility of the immortality of the soul. They can only tell us if there is an object of sense outside. But reason is not supposed to always play second fiddle to the sense organs. We have a higher reason and a lower reason. It is the higher reason that draws such conclusions which are capable of lifting us up from the ordinary experiences of life and enable us to have some premonition of the higher existences. The reason tells us that there is a possibility of attaining immortality, but the lower mind is completely conditioned by the sense organs. It is instinctive, and many a time we behave like animals when only the lower mind is predominant and is completely under the charge of the sense organs.
So we have two aspects of nature – the higher and the lower. In the Sixth Chapter of the Gita we are told that the higher self should rule the lower self. “The self is the friend of the self and the self is the enemy of the self” is what we are told in the Sixth Chapter. Which self is the friend of which self, and which self is the enemy of which self?
The higher self enables the higher reason to infer immortal possibilities; the lower self is pure mentation and individuality. The higher self is the friend of the lower self only if our instinctive action and our sensory activity is based on the inferences drawn by the higher reason. That is, in our daily activity we should not behave like unspiritual people. Even in the marketplace, our behaviour should be spiritual. Our higher self should be conditioning our lower mind which is purchasing vegetables in the market, or going to the railway station, etc. It does not mean that we become different persons under different conditions. If this lower mind, which is the jivatva, is not able to accommodate itself with the demands of the higher reason which says that there is a possibility of immortal existence, then the higher self becomes the enemy of the lower self – just as the law protects those who obey it but can be the enemy of an individual who disobeys it.
Hence, Sankhya and yoga represent two aspects of the behaviour of the human individual whereby there is participation in the work of prakriti in the process of evolution on the one hand, and there is an understanding as to where we are moving on the other hand. As I mentioned, Sankhya and yoga go together like two wings of a bird, as it were – and the bird cannot fly with just one wing. Merely abstaining from physical action is not inaction, because the mind may be acting. Our intention is the action. Our thought is the action. Our feeling is the action. The movements of our hands and feet are not action. If a person is inactive physically but is very active through the mind, he is verily performing action. But if a person has withdrawn his consciousness from the clutches of sense organs – and is conscious of the world as existing in an interrelated fashion – though he is aware of the world, he is not doing any action. Therefore, the mind is the criterion behind the action or the non-action of the individual concerned.
Another injunction that we have in the Third Chapter is that all action is binding unless it is performed as a sacrifice: yajnarthat karmano’nyatra loko’yam karma-bandhanah, tadartham karma kaunteya mukta-sangah samachara (3.9). There is a very interesting anecdote from Bhagavan Sri Krishna in the Third Chapter where he says: sahayajnah prajah sristva purovacha prajapatih, anena prasavisyadhvam esa vo’stvishtakamadhuk (3.10); devan bhavayatanena te deva bhavayantu vah, parasparam bhavayantah sreyah paramavapsyatha (3.11). When we were created by God, He created us together with an impulsion to sacrifice. Sacrifice means the cooperation that has to come from us in respect of other beings in the world. We have to necessarily cooperate with the demands for an equal type of existence from other beings also, whether they are superhuman, human, or subhuman. We have to be in harmony with the requirements of the gods in heaven. We have to be in harmony with the requirements of other people in this world. We also have to be in harmony with the requirements of animals in the jungle; we cannot ill-treat them. We cannot ill-treat human beings or even ignore their existence.
Prajapati, the Creator, appears to have created individuals with an injunction that they will survive only by sacrifice. If we are not able to do any kind of sacrifice by way of cooperation with another, we will not be able to survive; our existence as persons will be annihilated. The survival instinct in every individual also implies the recognition of an equal survival instinct in other people. If we want to survive, others also want to survive; and if we want to survive with a qualitative appendage to our existence, others also would like to do equally well. We would not like to be servants of somebody, which is to say that we qualify our existence and we would not be satisfied if we are merely permitted to survive. Would we like to survive like pigs or like persons who are ostracised from society? Therefore, permission to survive is not enough. The quantity of survival has to be qualified by another thing, which is the satisfaction that we gain. Hence, we have to be considerate enough in respect of other beings, including subhuman beings, that whatever be the manner in which our survival instinct operates, we must have the capacity to appreciate that the survival instinct exists equally in them. That is, we cannot interfere with the life of another individual. That is the meaning of cooperation.
We cannot consider any human being as a means to an end. Nobody is a means to an end; everybody is an end in itself. The whole universe is a kingdom of ends – which is to say, the whole universe is filled with Self. The end is nothing but that to which everything gravitates. The servitude that we are imposing upon some lesser individual is nothing but the manner in which we are trying to assert ourselves as an end, and using that other person as a tool. But that person is not really a tool; that person is also a self. The person has become a servant due to unfavourable social conditions; but when favourable conditions prevail, the self will rise up and assert itself as an end and will not want be a servant. So there can be an evolution and a revolution taking place in nature.
Therefore, Prajapati, when he created human beings, made it necessary for us to be in a state of harmony with other people, with the things in the world, and also with the gods in heaven. The gods in heaven are actually a theological point that Sri Krishna introduces into the concept of sacrifice – that is, we will not be able to extend a servicing hand to others, nor will we be able to recognise the value in other persons and things, unless the gods in heaven permit us to have this consciousness.
What are these gods in heaven? This is very difficult to understand. Vedanta philosophy tells us that every limb of the body is controlled and directed by some god. There are nineteen principles operating in the body. There are the five organs of perception or knowledge: eyes, ears, nose, taste and touch. There are also five organs of action such as hand, feet, speech, etc. The five organs of knowledge and five organs of action total ten. Then there are five pranas – prana, apana, vyana, udana and samana – which are the fivefold various functions of the breath in us. Ten plus five is fifteen. Then we have the psychological organs – manas, buddhi, ahankara and chitta – which perform a fourfold function. Manas merely thinks, chitta remembers, ahankara arrogates, and buddhi understands. Fifteen plus four is nineteen – the nineteen principles operating in the body.