by Swami Krishnananda
We have covered practically the whole ground behind the meaning and the context of the First Chapter of the Bhagavadgita. We had to take so much time in covering the field of this one Chapter as it lays the foundation for all further thought and understanding which will follow through the coming chapters. We had occasion to observe that the background of the First Chapter is not simple and not so very introductory as it is generally made to appear. Rather it has a value in preparing the ground for the edifice of the teaching. I am sure, you will be able to recollect the various stages of thought through which we had to pass in understanding the profound significance of ‘The Yoga of the Dejection of the Spirit’, which is the title of the First Chapter. The dejection, or the mood of melancholy in which the representative man, Arjuna, found himself, has been described as a spiritual condition. That is why even the so-called dejection is regarded as a part of yoga. It is not a morbid condition of negativity or an earth-bound attitude, but a necessary condition of positivity in its most initial stage, the task which a spiritual seeker has to take upon himself when he girds up his loins to encounter the universal Reality. The darkness which one faces at the outset is the cumulative effect of the tremendous inward preparation which has already been made through the earlier stages of self-investigation, study and reception of knowledge from various avenues in the world. But an explanation has to be offered as to why this dejection arises at all, which comes in the form of an answer given by Krishna in a few verses at the commencement of the Second Chapter. The point made out is that the understanding is not clear enough. The knowledge which is designated as the samkhya is lacking. There is a turbidity of the intellect and a misdirection of the ratiocinating faculty, which situation supervenes on account of the reason of the human being itself getting contaminated by the prejudices of the psyche, from which it arises, as it were, like a tendril from a seed. Who can gainsay that our rationality or logic is to a large extent conditioned by the structure of our personality which is located in a phenomenal context of the universe and every thing that devolves out of this phenomenality? The term ‘samkhya’ that is used in the Second Chapter is the knowledge which is supposed to be in consonance with the nature of Reality, and that which is dissonant with its nature is the opposite of it, the absence of knowledge, or samkhya. What this knowledge is will be told to us in the Third Chapter — what it is to be endowed with samkhya or correct understanding, alongside of which we will also know what is meant by wrong understanding. The immediate reaction of Krishna, the Teacher, to the predicament of the psyche of Arjuna is metaphysical, and it takes into consideration certain aspects in the course of the argument. The sudden answer which comes as an immediate reaction to the various arguments posed by Arjuna is that the soul of the individual is essentially immortal. The fear of death and destruction and catastrophe which harassed the mind of this human representative in Arjuna — all these problems are out of point on account of the essence of being or the basic fundamentality of the individual being indestructible. There is no such thing as destruction, ultimately, of anything that exists. There cannot also be a destruction of that which does not exist. This is simple logic which is the encounter that comes forth as a flash of light from Krishna upon the mind of Arjuna. The fear of destruction was one of the points raised by Arjuna as a counter blast against the injunction that engagement in war is necessary. This argument of Arjuna received a reply in a short passage which makes out that destruction of reality is not possible. That which is, always is; and that which is not, cannot be under any circumstance. Now, when it is said that something is destroyed, one does not properly understand what one is speaking. There is only a change of form; the name-form-complex undergoes a transformation in the process of evolution in the universe. But even in this transformation a total destruction of any element does not take place. There is a decomposition of the parts and a rearrangement of the parts in a particular manner under a given condition. And when one lacks the knowledge of this peculiar process through which everything passes, one regards it as a destructive process or death. Hence the fact being that the essence of everything is immortal — we call this essence of things the soul of things — there is no need for entertaining the fear of such a thing as death. If death that seems to be imminent or impending is the retarding factor in one’s engaging oneself in any action, this fear has to be shed immediately because there is no death of the essence of the personality of the individual. But if it is the fear of the destruction of the form or the name-form-complex, it is inevitable, and no one can escape this possibility, because the finite can never rest in itself forever. Death becomes necessary because evolution is a necessity. And death is nothing but a name we give to the process of the passing of a thing from one state into another state, into another thing as we usually call it. So, there is no fear of the death of the essence of the individual and there is no escaping the chance of undergoing the transformation of the name-form-complex which is called the death of personality. Hence, either way, there is no cause for grief. What is inevitable has to be accepted, and to weep over the inevitable is absolutely without any significance and is to no advantage, whatsoever. You cannot avert the possibility of this transformation which everything has to undergo as long as it is located as a finite entity in the realm of space-time-cause relationship. But if it is the soul that you are speaking of, it cannot be destroyed. This is a metaphysical point, a highly philosophical issue, which is the answer which Krishna gives to Arjuna’s query. But this is not the only answer.
The individual is not merely a metaphysical entity, though it is also that. We have noted in our earlier studies that the individual is also a social unit. There is a large society of individuals and the relevance of the individual to this social atmosphere is also to be taken into consideration when any judgement is to be passed at any time. There is a duty of everyone in respect of the atmosphere in which one is placed. This is called the dharma of the individual in respect of society. Svadharma is usually regarded as one’s obligation towards the society in which one is placed. And we have observed what society is. It is not merely the human atmosphere that we are referring to as society but everything that is around us which cannot be exhausted merely by the human world. The whole universe becomes an atmosphere later on, and we seem to be owing a duty towards this vast expanse of the universe which touches us on our very skin in various degrees of its manifestation, including what we call human relationship. Thus, from the point of view of the ultimate nature of Reality, from the standpoint of one’s connection with the society around, as well as the interest of one’s own self — from all these angles of vision, if we consider the duty of a person, it appears that no one is free from duty of some kind or other. So, inaction is unthinkable. And, even the decision not to act is also an action. Thus, the action bound world compels everyone to be active in some way. But wisdom consists in understanding the process of connecting one’s activity with the whole to which it belongs, and any kind of selfishness or emphasis on one’s own particularity or finitude in the process of engaging oneself in an action would not be a yoga but a passage to one’s bondage. Bondage is the consequence that follows from action which arises from non-understanding of the vital connection of one’s self with the whole to which one belongs. And freedom is the opposite of it. So, action is finally not an individual’s initiative merely. It is a part of the total purpose of the universe as a whole. And not to understand this would be the absence of samkhya, or knowledge. “I have explained to you what samkhya is,” says Krishna. The details of the samkhya would be touched upon in the Second Chapter. Now we are only getting into a little introduction or inkling of what this samkhya could be. This samkhya has to be applied in daily practice. This knowledge has to become a method or procedure of conducting oneself in daily life. This implementation of the knowledge of the samkhya in one’s daily life is called yoga. “Now I shall tell you what yoga is, after having told you something about samkhya.”