by Swami Krishnananda
From the point of view of the values of life based on our ordinary perception of things, it would appear that there is very little chance of the cosmical view entering into the normal modes of perception. We never look at things from a cosmical point of view. Everything seems to be at some place only, and perhaps for some time. Something is here, something is somewhere else, and there is apparently, from the perceptional point of view, no vital connection among things. We seem to be living in a world of values based on our sense perceptions which cannot embody anything that we can consider as universal or cosmic. There is nothing to prove in our daily life that cosmicality operates in us consciously. Every act of ours, every thought and every engagement or conscious relationship is sensorily bound, physically related and socially conditioned. Where is the cosmicality behind our daily life?
The contrast that seems to be there between the fact of life – which is universal inclusiveness – and the way of life we are living through the sense organs is brought about in an interesting verse towards the end of the Second Chapter of the Gita: yā niśā sarvabhūtānāṁ tasyāṁ jāgarti saṁyamī, yasyāṁ jāgrati bhūtāni sā niśā paśyato muneḥ (Gita 2.69). For us, this world of sense perception looks like bright daylight with every kind of clarity before it, and all things seem to be very well with us; but actually, we are in darkness in view of the fact that the truth of the universe is not as it is presented to us through the sense organs. The daylight of the sense organs is the darkness of the spirit. The true spirit, which is universal, is sleeping, as it were, while the senses are awake and are active in the daylight of their activity.
The cosmic vision sees our sensory world as a kind of darkness, while we, living in a sensory world, consider the cosmic world as darkness. The Universal is completely obliterated from our vision, as if it does not exist at all. It is pure darkness before us. But the world of sense perception is obliterated from the vision of the cosmic saint and sage, to whom this world is darkness. While we are awake in the world of the senses, the spirit is sleeping. When the spirit awakes to its own universal inclusiveness, the senses will sleep. Sri Krishna was born in the midnight of the sense organs. All the guards were sleeping. It is in that pitch darkness of the sense world that the light of the spirit awakens itself.
So the daylight of clarity of perception, so-called, to us, is really a mass of ignorance that is before us – darkness to the spirit. And to us who rejoice in the perception of things through the sense organs, God Himself does not seem to exist. Who is conscious of the existence of God? He is non-existent to the sense organs; and to God, the sense organs do not exist. This is a contrast, an interesting difference, a distinction drawn between spiritual universal existence and diversified sensory existence. Yā niśā sarvabhūtānāṁ tasyāṁ jāgarti saṁyamī, yasyāṁ jāgrati bhūtāni sā niśā paśyato muneḥ.
How would you, then, make yourself fit for the universal vision if you are rejoicing in the world of the sense organs? Another verse gives a little clue in this matter. Āpūryamāṇam acalapratiṣṭhaṁ samudram āpaḥ praviśanti yadvat, tadvat kāmā yaṁ praviśanti sarve sa śāntim āpnoti na kāmakāmī (Gita 2.70): A person filled with desires cannot have any vision of the Universal Spirit. If it could be possible, by way of intense austerity and restraint of sense organs, to withdraw the forces of the senses into your own self; if all the desires can merge into your universality as rivers merge in the ocean or as waves subside in the ocean; if the multifarious longings of the senses can melt down into the universal background of your own existence; if you are satisfied with what you are, and do not ask for what you do not have; if you do not go for things outside but are happy with your own self; if your loneliness is what you want and not the diversity of things outside – that is to say, if all your desires melt down in Pure Being, which is your essence – then the senses will not distract you in the way they do in ordinary life. You are basically universal in nature, and yet you perceive diversity in the world. There is contradiction between your daily perceptions and your spiritual longings.
So here is a clue given in this verse of the Bhagavadgita. If you are stable like the majestic ocean which is never disturbed by any kind of tumult on its surface; if you can stand mightily like an elephant before the howling jackals of the senses; if you can be satisfied with what you are and not merely with what you have; if these desires which are wrongly oriented on account of the pressure of the sense organs can revert back to your own self, then you will expand the dimension of your existence instead of looking like a finite individual. When so, desires enter into you and they do not proceed out in the direction of objects, and you attain peace: sa śāntim āpnoti.
Peace cannot be had by possession of things. You cannot have peace of mind by contact with external objects or any kind of external relation. Peace is the outcome of unity of vision, integratedness of personality. The five koshas – Annamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya, Anandamaya – which are the finitising sheaths of your personality, should again melt down into the spirit from where they have arisen. Then you have peace. This is the greatest achievement that you can conceive. If this could be possible, you can be sure that you are established in the Absolute.
Eṣā brāhmī sthitiḥ (Gita 2.72): This is the Absolute state. This is the state of Brahman. Which is the state of Brahman? It is where desires trouble you not, where you want nothing except your own Self because of the fact you are cosmically connected to creation as a whole. If you can establish your consciousness in this state even for a few minutes, you should consider yourself as blessed.
Nai 'nāṁ prāpya vimuhyati (Gita 2.72): Having attained this state, nobody is confounded afterwards. Once you have awakened, you will not be sleeping once again. Having established yourself in the consciousness of this absoluteness of your existence, you will never get confused. No doubt will arise in your mind.
Sthitvā 'syām antakāle 'pi brahmanirvāṇam ṛcchati (Gita 2.72): Even if at the time of passing from this world – for a moment at least – you are established in this state, you will not be reborn into this world. If you can be blessed with this vision, this perception of the universe, even at the last moment when you are quitting this world, that would be blessedness. You will enter into the Absolute. The quantity or the length of life that you have wrongly lived in this world will not affect that quality of perception, even if it comes to you at the end of life. This is the great blessing, this is the great achievement, this is the greatest attainment, and this is the aim, the purpose, the whole of life. With this verse, the Second Chapter concludes.
Arjuna, the student, hearing all this, was not able to grasp much of the profundities of this teaching because the Second Chapter of the Gita is packed with verses which become the seed of the exposition of the subsequent chapters. One or the other verse of the Second Chapter is the seed for the exposition of one or the other succeeding chapters. So it is a condensed teaching, also called Sankhya Yoga. It is a chapter of knowledge. But it was too much for Arjuna. "What is this that you are telling me, my Lord? You are emphasising on the one hand the wisdom aspect of life which makes out that I have to be established in the universal perception of things and withdraw myself from all kinds of sensory activity, and be what I am. On the other hand, you say 'Why are you throwing down your bow and arrows like a coward, not doing your duty? Get up! Do your work.' I cannot understand what you are speaking. On the one hand, it is universal vision, and on the other hand, duty, do work. I am confused by what you say. Please clarify your point."
The answer to this question of Arjuna is the commencement of the Third Chapter of the Gita. "There are two ways of approach to things," says the great Master, once again repeating, in more detail, what he said earlier. Sankhya and Yoga are the two ways of approach, but they are actually not different from each other. Whatever one can achieve through Sankhya, one can achieve through Yoga also. Contemplation and action, wisdom and work, are not differentiated vitally, basically. You cannot do anything without establishing that modus operandi of action on a perception which is Sankhya, or knowledge; and knowledge, which is Sankhya, or wisdom, is also meant to be applied in your daily relative existence.
The Bhagavadgita teaching is an expert handling of the inner harmony that exists between God and creation, the universal and the particular, that which is Sankhya and that which is Yoga. What is the relationship between God and His creation? What is the relationship between subject and object? What is the relationship between consciousness and matter? What is the relationship between contemplation and action? All these questions amount to only one question, finally – namely, the absolute and the relative, the inner and the outer or, rather, the universal and the external.
Sri Krishna's point of view is that it is not possible to emphasise or stick to only one side of the matter. We are, as human beings, phenomenal as well as noumenal at the same time. We are immortal, and also seized with death. Something in us will not die, and something in us dies. We speak of ourselves in two ways: We are bound to die one day, and we are imperishable. The imperishability of our nature has to be reconciled with our perishable nature. The phenomenal aspect of our personality is the relative aspect of it, which is bound to transform itself continuously in the process of time, and this process is called birth and death. But metaphysically, noumenally, we are imperishable.
The fear of death itself is the proof of the immortality of our soul. If we are really death-bound, we will not fear death. If our essential nature is transiency, we will not be afraid of transiency. If poverty is the only thing that exists and there is no such thing as freedom from it, nobody will be afraid of poverty. There is something other than what we are; therefore, we are afraid of what we are. The perishability of our nature, which is the fear of death that may come tomorrow, while it frightens us on the one hand, also explains why we are frightened. The fright is due to the fact that we are really not going to die. Essentially we cannot die. Because of the fact that essentially we are not going to die, the fact of impending death on the other side frightens that aspect which is not going to die.
The deathless immortality of ours is the reason why we are afraid of anything contrary to it, which is the phenomenal extinction of our personality. We are involved in space, time and causation, and materiality, which is the embodiment of our personality. Inasmuch as space, time and motion, and materiality and causation are in the process of time-bound evolution, then we, being involved in this process, also undergo this same transformation from moment to moment. So phenomenally, we cannot escape death. That is to say, the phenomenal aspect of our personality cannot escape death.
These five koshas mentioned – Annamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya, Anandamaya – this body, this social relation, this matter, this possession, this wealth, this whatever you have, they are all extraneous to your immortal essence, and therefore they are bound to leave you. Bereavement is the law of phenomenal existence. There is a verse towards the end of the Mahabharata which says that all accumulation will one day end in dispersion. All rising will end in fall. All accumulation will end in extinction. Life ends in death, and it is a fool who has occasions of joy and sorrow several times in a day. Sometimes you are elated, sometimes you are grief-stricken. There should be no occasion for you either to exult or to be grief-stricken, considering that these waves of joy and sorrow frequently dashing on you are caused by the process of time. Your duty is to follow dharma.
So one aspect of your personality, which is phenomenal, talks in this strain, and the other aspect tells you that you are going to achieve infinite existence. God-realisation, moksha, is your aim. This is what your spirit will tell you again and again. Your aspirations are endless. Unending is the asking of the soul. Nothing in the world can satisfy you; not all the grain, not all the gold, not all the silver, not all the domain in the world can satisfy even one person. Not even one person can be satisfied by the wealth of the whole world. Such are the desires of man, like the flaming march of a conflagration in a forest.
As there are two aspects of a human being, there are also two approaches to the problems of life. One approach is Sankhya, another is Yoga, but they are not connected by an 'and'. They are two phases, two wings of a single bird that is flying – simultaneously, indivisibly, as it were. Yoga is defined as action. Yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam (Gita 2.50): Expertness in action is Yoga. But what kind of action? What is meant by 'action'?
Here, in the beginning of the Third Chapter, a clue is given to us as to how action can bind or not bind. If the mind is not connected to the actions that you perform, you cannot call it real action. It will become like an automaton moving, a mechanical activity. If the body is moving and the mind is not thinking, it cannot be called real action. So while a person sits quiet without doing any action, we may imagine he is doing nothing; but he does something when the mind is conscious that he is not doing anything. If the mind is roaming over various questions of life or even entertaining desires as a daydream, but the sense organs are not active – neither you eat, nor you see, nor you smell, nor you talk, though you have a desire to eat and a desire to see, a desire to come in contact with people, but you are not allowing the desires to fulfil themselves by restraining the activity of the operative organs – this is real action. Even if you are physically doing nothing but are mentally doing something, you are an active person from the point of view of the psychology of your personality. But if your mind wants nothing, it has no desires of any kind, it contemplates not anything in this world but physically you are engaged in work, then that action cannot be called action. Mind, intention, purposiveness, causation, impulse – these are the actions. So physical activity, whatever be its nature, cannot be regarded as action of any kind if the mind is detached from it.
So there is a danger, especially in the case of a spiritual seeker, when one is prone to imagine that sitting quiet is a state of inaction, and freedom from the bondage of action. Action binds because of the thought involved in it. Action by itself does not bind, because consciousness is not connected with it. The binding factor is the charging of consciousness. When consciousness vitalises action, it becomes a specific action. When there is a devitalisation of the action process by the withdrawal of consciousness or mentality in it, it ceases to be meaningful action. Knowing this, one has to try to reconcile in one's finite existence here the two aspects of one's nature, the phenomenal and the noumenal.