by Swami Krishnananda
The faculties of knowledge and action in the human individual correspond, practically, to the functions of reason, will, emotion, and the impulse to act. We rationally and intellectually consider the pros and cons of a particular step to be taken – this is the rationality behind our way of living. Apart from pure intellectual or rational assessment, there is also a faculty in us which goes by the name of will – volition – which decides and determines a course of action or a purpose to be fulfilled. There is also a very important contributory factor in all of our engagements in life, namely emotion or feeling, and there is also the vigour which impulses to act. Practically, the human being is exhausted by these operations: reason, will, emotion, and an impulsion to vibrate as activity in some direction or the other.
The way of life of the human being is also the way in which we live a religious life. Even our practise of yoga and our concept of God, everything for the matter of that which is connected with this, has to be cast in the mould of these endowments. We cannot go beyond the limitations set by these facets of human individuality. In our adventures in life, we operate one or the other of these faculties – sometimes one preponderating over the others, and often, some one faculty assuming such an importance that it may even bury down the other aspects as if they do not exist at all. But we are a blend of all these faculties. It is not wise to over-emphasise any of these, because we are a wholesome, total human organism; and health, whether it is physical or psychological, is to be considered as a balance of our forces – the forces which constitute us, whether they are physical or otherwise.
The religious life that we live is also conditioned by these principles of our psyche, and though it is true that we should harmonise the operations of all these faculties due to certain inborn traits in us, characteristics into which we are born right from the beginning of our life, we are not capable of paying equal attention to all these. There is an automatic preponderance of one or the other of these faculties, so that people are either predominantly intellectual, and the emotions do not play such an important role in them, or they are pre-eminently feelingful, touchy, sentimental, emotional and the reason does not play an important part in their life. There are others who are terribly active, they cannot sit in one place; there is always a tendency to move and do something or the other throughout the day, whatever the reason behind it be, and the feeling also be. There are psychic types who are accustomed to concentrate, and this also sometimes assumes a special importance for some characters. It is rarely we see people with all these faculties in proper proportion – such an integrated individual is difficult to see.
These faculties in the human being are the instruments of the practice of yoga, so that we cannot contact reality except through the apparatus with which we are endowed. These four features mentioned determine and decide our encounter with God, the Supreme Being; and the way in which we visualise the Supreme Being through these faculties goes by the names of the various yogas: jnana, yoga, bhakti, karma and the like. In the Bhagavadgita we have a large detail opened up before us of all these methods of spiritual practice, though we cannot say that anywhere does the Bhagavadgita create a watertight compartment among these procedures or ways of approach. In every verse of the Gita there is a touching of everything practically, and there is no airtight distinction of one from the other. However, to be more precise and to make it more convenient to us, teachers of the Bhagavadgita and interpreters of this gospel have tried to discover instructions and teachings in the Bhagavadgita which accept the employing of these faculties for the purpose of religious living or spiritual practice, and particularly references to some of the verses from the twelfth chapter of the Bhagavadgita which, at least according to certain careful interpreters like the great Madhusudana Saraswati, seem to take into consideration these four yogas, so-called, which adopt the techniques of reason, will, emotion and action.
Mayeva mana adhatswa mayi buddhim niveshaya; nivashishyasi mayeva ata urdhwam na samshayah – This is one verse in the twelfth chapter: "Absorb yourself in Me." This has been understood to signify a communion of the soul with the Absolute. Mayi buddhum nivesahaya: "May your reason be united with My Being." Our principle faculty of knowing is reason, for all practical purposes, and when the reason is dissolved in a higher reason, the individual practically is swallowed-up in the larger dimension of this Infinitude. So in this verse of the Bhagavadgita in the twelfth chapter, we seem to be told the final stroke in yoga – a jump into the Ocean of All-Being, and a dissolution of one's self in the All-Consuming Reality. But this is a hard job. No mortal who considers himself or herself as a human being can have the strength to embrace the ocean or the fire of God without terror for the affirming feature or the character of individuality. Nobody would like to die even for the sake of God Himself; they would like to live, whatever be the background of it. Dying is a very difficult thing. You cannot immolate yourself for the sake of God even. That is the last sacrifice that we would be prepared to do, and nothing can be more fearsome than that. And any argument that God is all things will not be adequate here. "Let God be anything, but I will not do this sacrifice." Bhagavan Sri Krishna, the teacher of the Bhagavadgita, seems to know this weakness of human nature, and as a good master, a school master, a psychologist or a teacher, He would not expect the student to do what the student is not able to understand or do. So the teaching goes, "If this is not possible, you can take to repeated practise of this type of concentration." This abhyasa-yoga, or repetition of concentration, is akin to the technique suggested to us in such methods as we have in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali for instance. Atha chittam samadhatum na shaknoshi mayi sthiram; abhyasayogena tato mamichaptum dhananjaya: "If you cannot so forcefully unite your whole being with Me, try by repeated practise to establish this contact Me and carry on this practise throughout your life."
Yamas, niyama, asana, pranyama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana are the graduated techniques prescribed for those who cannot at one stroke attain this union with the All. But we are not in a position to concentrate our minds even in this manner; it is very difficult for us. Even for a few hours of the day this type of concentration is hard, due to the power of the sense organs – the desires, the passions, the grief, the frustrations, and the many troubles to which a man is heir. Then what can be done? Abhyasepyasamarthosi matkarmaparamo bhava; madarthamapi karmani kurvansiddhimavapsyasi. Here I am trying to follow the reading of Madhusudana Saraswati who seems to be more generous in his understanding, because it is hard to make out the true implications of these statements of Bhagavan Sri Krishna. The very shrewd interpretation given by Madhusudana Saraswati is that here in this third verse the teacher seems to suggest that if this application of our will in the way of direct concentration becomes difficult for us for any reason, we should engage ourselves in service in His name – that is service of God through devotion to Him, maybe in the form of worship. Sravanam, kirtanam, vishusmaranam, padasevanam, archanam, vandanam, dasyam, sraksham atamnivedanam – these are the ways of devotion. See God in all, serve God in humanity, feel His presence in everything, worship Him in all visible objects, mankind or otherwise. This is the large manifestation of the Creator in the form of this universe. Through the bhavas of bhakti or the various methods of devotion, resort to this daily practice of doing such things as are pleasing to Him. Madarthamapi karmani kurvansiddhimavapsyasi: All our actions be for My sake. That means to say, one is always keeping in mind the vision of the presence of God, even when one is performing one's daily routine. All the routines or duties of a devotee or a bhakta are worships of God in one way or the other, whether it is worship in a temple or atithi satkara in the house. However, the instruction in this verse and that which follows in the succeeding one seem to meet at one point, and we cannot easily demarcate the meaning conveyed by this third verse and the fourth one, because what is called karma-yoga , action performed as yoga, is somehow inseparable from action performed in the name of God.
Abhyasepyasamarthosi matkarmaparamo bhava; madarthamapi karmani kurvansiddhimavapsyasi. So this seems to be teaching on karma-yoga. "The abandonment of the fruits of action at least may be your way, if everything is not possible and any other thing is not practical. Neither can you reason and argue and unite your total understanding with Me, nor can you find time to concentrate on My Being. You have not got the will, nor will you be able to feel My presence, love Me whole-heartedly. Then do your duty as per your station in society." Our duty will depend upon our station in human society, or station in a particular given circumstance or environment. But this duty that we perform should be such that it does not get tagged-down to a result that we expect to follow for our own personal benefit or advantage or personal satisfaction. We do not do something because we expect some pleasure out of it. The great ethical doctrine of Emmanuel Kant is – when some pleasure is connected with duty, it ceases to be duty, because duty is an impersonal requirement on our part and pleasure is a personal affair, so they cannot go together; this is what the German philosopher thought. But, however, he may not be wholly correct in going to such a puritanic extent in distinguishing between satisfaction and duty, because there can be higher satisfaction – not necessarily a personal pleasure arising from our performance of duty, because the correct performance of duty is possible only on the basis of a higher understanding, and wherever there is right understanding, there is a great satisfaction. We cannot say that there can be only duty minus the feeling sense in it, though this feeling of satisfaction need not be connected with personality, egoism or individual affirmation, or selfishness of any kind.
So, karma, bhakti, yoga, jnana – these seem to include every possible approach of man to God. The Bhagavadgita seems to have told us everything – there is nothing further to tell us. The theory and the practise of yoga, the philosophy and the application of it in life, is here complete for our practical purposes at least. There are those who imagine, think and conclude that the Bhagavadgita is over, here, and there is nothing further to be told. Some think that it is over with the eleventh chapter itself, because once one has had a vision of the Supreme Being, there is nothing further to be told. But this is one view, of some people – not the generally accepted view, because there are internal references in the Mahabharata itself which seem to suggest that the Bhagavadgita is not complete with the eleventh or the twelfth chapter – it goes further; and we may follow this tradition that the Bhagavadgita is not over with the eleventh or the twelfth chapters. Arjuna has some questions, or perhaps he has no questions, because the beginning of the third chapter is sometimes with a query from Arjuna, sometimes without a query, according to different readings. The general reading is a direct speech from Sri Krishna himself, but some extraordinary editions add one extra verse, posing a question from Arjuna as to what prakriti is, purusha is, etc. However, whatever the truth of the matter be, it is immaterial for our purposes. There is some context, evidently, due to which the thirteenth chapter has become a necessity, and inasmuch as great masters like Jnaneshwar Maharaj have gone into great detail in their discourse on thirteenth chapter, etc., and we cannot set aside the views of a great master like Jnaneshwar Maharaj who was supposed to be a God-realised being, it would be wise on our part not to go to extremes of historical analysis, and accept that there is a great point in the Bhagavadgita continuing from the thirteenth chapter onwards – for some important reason which we shall see.
We have practically understood the essentials of religion and spirituality with this long discourse, right from the beginning of the Gita till this present level we have reached now. But the vision of the All-Being – Vishvarupa, if it remains mainly a vision which passes, and it actually passed in the case of Arjuna, we have to conclude that he did not enter into it and dissolve himself there, because he was still there as an individual. He had a flash, he had an intuition, he saw with the third eye, but he did not conduct a pravesha into it. Jnatum drashtum ca tatvena praveshtum ca – the three words are mentioned towards the end of the eleventh chapter. He knew it and he saw it, but he did not enter into it, evidently.