by Swami Krishnananda
The second chapter of the Bhagavadgita deals with what is known as Samkhya Yoga, which is the yoga of understanding - an understanding which was not adequately present in the mind of Arjuna at the time when he was very much confused as to the duty to which he was obliged under the circumstance in which he was placed.
One cannot know what one has to do unless one's position in this world is known to one's self. Your duty, your attitude, the functions that you have to perform – all these are determined by the location of your personality in a given atmosphere. Thus, the concept of duty may be regarded as something relative, and not absolute. You cannot prescribe one particular function as the duty of a person forever and ever till eternity. The person we are speaking of, or referring to, is to a large extent identical with what we would call the 'individual' – the so-called 'me', 'you', etc. Our duty in this world, what the world expects from us, is dependent upon what we are, what we know, what we are capable of – and again, all these things depend upon where we are placed.
Last time, I tried to state briefly the outline of the cosmological process described in the Samkhya philosophy, to which reference is made in the Bhagavadgita. The study of cosmology is an important part of philosophical studies, because there are levels of understanding, and, at least from the point of view of one level in which the understanding operates, there seems to be a gradational relationship obtaining between the individual and his environment. I am using the word 'environment' purposely, suggesting that it is what you consider to be around you, though there may be other things around you whose existence may not be known to you, of which you may not be aware, though they may be there. People complain of the atmosphere, environment, etc., sometimes by limiting the concept of this environment to sociological or social conditions in life mostly, though the environment in which we are living is not necessarily restricted to human society. We are living in human society no doubt, but we are living also in a larger atmosphere than can be covered or even conceived by human society.
One of the problems that arose in the mind of Arjuna was the limiting of his notions to his social relations, which means to say, the relations with other people. Mostly, perhaps always, we are likely to think only in terms of other people in this world, which is called 'sociological thinking'. It appears from this limited view of thinking that the world consists of nothing but human beings; there is nothing anywhere in all creation except men and women – human beings. If it is true that we are mostly concerned with human affairs, and perhaps we are not concerned with any other affair anywhere, this was a question which troubled the mind of Arjuna and troubles the mind of everybody, even this moment here. But the 'world', using this word in a very, very large, expanded form of its meaning, is not exhausted by humanity only. Science, which is mostly physical, chemical and biological, has tried to lift the conceptualisations of mankind beyond mere political and sociological thinking, and demonstrated before man that there are laws and powers and systems of operation which cannot be exhausted by politics and sociology. The life on earth is not completely decided by what other people are thinking, or all people are thinking. The life of the earth, or life in general, is vaster than the concept you call political, social, communal – or, in any sense of the term, social. But there is a defect which infects human nature and infects every species you may say, dragging it to the level of that species only, and it cannot think in terms of any other species of existence - neither we are bothered about subhuman existences, nor superhuman levels of being. Let anything happen in the angel's kingdom, we are not bothered; we are also not worried about what happened in jungles, or in areas where humanity does not reside.
This is not a charitable way of thinking, to put it very politely. Even to be a little good, and charitable in our feelings, we must be considerate enough to accept that the world contains more things than man. However, the effect or the impact of human relationship upon the human mind is such that it will not permit the operation of higher laws in the present state of human thinking. This was the point made out by Bhagavan Sri Krishna when he said, "Arjuna, you lack samkhya – right understanding." From the point of view of a philosopher of history or a metaphysician of the process of human history, a pure political reading of human affairs may look merely puerile and almost childish. The process of human history is not the coming and going of kings and queens, or the wars that are waged, the births and deaths of people – this is not human history, from the point of view of a deeper study of the very process that underlies the current you call 'human evolution through history'. Likewise, from the point of view of an astronomer and a physicist, or even a scientist of any nature, political thinking will look very poor. It is not to the point, because the world is guided by forces which are not necessarily political or sociological.
Now, we are lifted to a higher level of thinking when the word ' samkhya' is used in the second chapter of the Bhagavadgita, meaning thereby an understanding of the true relationship that obtains between you and everything that is around you, and not merely that which appears to be around you. Though it may appear that there is nothing around you except people to whom you are concerned positively or negatively, by means of like and dislike, etc., there are more important things that condition our existence than the existence of other people like us. This was revealed to us to some extent by our study of the cosmology of the Samkhya. The very existence of human beings as individuals or isolated personalities is due to an event that has perhaps taken place in the process of the creational or the evolutionary activity of the whole structure of the universe.
You may have to remember what I told you last time; I need not repeat it once again. The individuality, the so-called 'me', is the subjective side that has arisen as a result of the split of the cosmic ahamkara – these terms you may remember for purpose of understanding what is going to follow further on. A cosmic self-consciousness is called ahamkara – not the ahamkara or the ego of man, but an impersonal metaphysical reality, which is the "I Am What I Am" of mysticism and religion that manifested itself, as it were, as the objective universe of perception and the subjective individuality which are the jivas, in the Sanskrit language. That which beholds the world as something outside is the jiva or the individual; it may be human or even superhuman, or otherwise. That which looks at the world as an external something is called the jiva. This jiva, this individual, is constituted of certain building bricks, which I narrated last time as the bodily structure of five elements: earth, water, fire, air, ether; and the internal components: the pranas, the senses, the mind, the intellect and the large reservoir of what we call the 'unconscious' in the English language, but something larger than what the psychologists call 'unconscious' – the potentiality of every future eventuality, and even rebirth, that is there at the root of our individuality. Transcendent to all these layers of our individuality is the 'Light Supernal' which is the Absolute peeping through our reason, through our mind and even the senses, and animating every cell of our body, making us feel "We are", "I am", etc.
Now, the second chapter and the third chapter have some sort of relationship from the point of view of the theme discussed. It is merely pointed out in the second chapter that right understanding is necessary, and only an introductory remark is made as to what samkhya means, so far as the second chapter goes. Right from the beginning till the end of the second chapter, the word samkhya is used in many, many places, suggesting that samkhya is the knowledge of the harmony that is there among all things – samatva – the equanimous, organisational, cooperative feature operating between one and another, thus cementing all particularities or individuals into a sort of cosmic organisation or universal society. This is the suggestion of the second chapter when it says: Samatvam yoga uchyate – Equanimity is yoga, balance is yoga, harmony is yoga, cooperation is yoga - not competition, not battle, not war, not exploitation, not animosity, not hatred. Also, a very subtle and potent, meaningful word is used in the very same chapter, connecting this principle of harmony or equanimity operating in all creation with the duties of man in the world, when it says: Yogah karmasu kaushalam – Yoga is expertness in action. This is a very pithy statement; no commentary is given here. We are not told as to what this expertness means, though we may impliedly take it to mean that harmony or balance of attitude should be the pre-condition of any kind of adventure or project in life. Every activity should be conditioned by a poised nature of the mind. You should not enter into activity of any kind with disturbed emotions or an axe to grind; there should be no selfishness. The words 'samatva' and 'kaushala', used in the second chapter of the Gita, exhaust, perhaps, what the Gita intends to tell us. But they are so difficult to understand because the word used is very subtle in its connotation, though we can extract lot of meaning from it by going into the context in which it is used. The necessity for maintaining a balanced attitude in mind, in our general attitude, while we perform works expertly, arises because of the fact of our location in this universe, which will devolve automatically from your knowledge of the very nature of our individuality in the light of the cosmological process described.