by Swami Krishnananda
In a single verse which occurs in the fifth chapter of the Bhagavadgita, the gradual stages of the ascent of human perspective are given to us. Yoga-yukto visuddhatma vijitatma jitendriyah, sarvabhuttmabhutatma kurvann api na lipyate. Jitendriyah: ‘One who has restrained the senses.’ This is the definition of a person who has risen above the ordinary prosaic level of attachment to objects. The connection of the senses with objects is so common and apparent that we may almost be said to be living in object-consciousness, and living an object life, a fact that would be obvious. When we analyse our own minds and discover what we are contemplating, all our contemplations are of objects—of this and that and what not. The intention behind this thought of objects is a deluded notion of the senses, that they become enhanced in their dimension by the increase of pleasurable experiences.
The very same chapter in the Gita gives us an insight into the futility of the search for pleasure in objects. Ye hi samsparsaja bhoga duhkha-yonaya eva te, ady-antavantah kaunteya na tesu ramate budhah. There is a beginning and an end for the pleasures of sense. There is anxiety permeating this search for pleasure in objects; anxiety which is equivalent to sorrow, which is present continuously from the beginning to the end in one’s search for pleasure through objects. There is anxiety when the objects are not possessed. Because they are not possessed, there is an anxiety as to when they will be possessed. When they are actually possessed, then there is anxiety as to how long they will be in possession. One would not want to be deprived of this contact, and when there is bereavement of oneself from the objects, one need not explain the grief. Therefore there is grief and sorrow in the beginning, in the middle and in the end. There is no pleasure in the objects, which is practically demonstrated by our daily lives. Wise people do not indulge themselves in this search for object experience. Na tesu ramate budhah: It is the blind senses that, like moths rushing to fire, go headlong into external contact; a contact which they can never establish in this life, for reasons beyond their expectation and knowledge. Hence, it is necessary to control the senses.
Vijitatma jitendriyah: One who has restrained the senses is one who has taken one step towards the goal, risen at least one step above the earth level of object experience, object indulgence and object longing. All spiritual life is a step towards subjectivity of experience, from the externality or objectivity in which we are immersed. Yoga is only this much—a return to subjectivity from objectivity, a subjectivity which will encompass, in the end, all that we regard as the objects of sense. Towards this end the Bhagavadgitaadmonishes us that we have to learn the art of restraining the senses so that we do not live an object life, and we must learn at least the first lesson, the kindergarten lesson, of returning to the subjectivity of experience which is the conditioning factor of all experiences. Jitendriyah, a control over the senses, has to be exercised to the best of one’s possibility. Such a person is called vijitatma, one who has attained self-control.
There is a very marked distinction between these two words used in verse—vijitatma and jitendriyah. On one hand we are told that we have to be controllers of the senses, and then the next step is the control of self—vijitatma. The distinction is very obvious again. The senses are variegated—at least five can be enumerated—but the self is one. Here the ‘self’ referred to is the mind or the psychic apparatus. One who has controlled the senses has to turn back upon the mind and control the mind in its totality, and then he becomes vijitatma. The mind has to be controlled, which is of course more important than a tentative restraint exercised over the independent senses, because the mind is the dynamo which pumps energy into the senses. It is the powerhouse from which proceeds strength to the various centres of cognition. So when there is withdrawal of the energy flowing through the senses by means of sense control, there is an increase in the volume, the content of the energy of the mind.
A self-controlled person is also a sense-controlled person, and vice versa. The one is the same as the other, but the matter is not over here. There is an establishment of the mind in pure sattva when there is the withdrawal of sense energy into the mind by way of consideration and an establishment of oneself in non-distracted attention or concentration. All concentration of sense is distracted attention, but the concentration that we attain to when the senses are withdrawn into the mind is not distracted—it is sattvica. Therefore that state is referred to as visuddhtmta. Visuddhtm vijitatma jitendriyah: We become pure in the literal sense, not only in the ethical or social sense. It is not the ethical righteousness that is spoken of here, but the purity that is of a spiritual character. The resplendence of sattvaguna, the equilibrated condition of the psyche where the Atman within gets reflected as the sun is reflected in a clean mirror, that unity of oneself with one’s own Self is called yoga—yogayuko.
So here, in a half verse, we have a world of significance pumped into our minds, beautifully expressed in pithy language—yogayukto visuddhatma vijitatma jitendriyah. How graduatedly the words are used, systematically. Such a person who has established himself in the Self by means of the withdrawal of the senses from the objects by way of controlling the mind, by means of establishment of oneself in sattva or purity, by getting uniting with the reality within, becomes united with all things in the world.
To be united with your Self is equivalent to uniting with everything else. This is the magnificent outcome of the practice of yoga—to know your Self is to know everybody. This is a wonder indeed, that knowledge which is of the Self—Self-knowledge—is the same as world knowledge. It is equivalent to Universal knowledge. It is brahmasakshatkara. You become sarvabhutatmabhutatma. “He becomes the Self of all beings.” One who has become the Self of one’s own self has, at the same time, become the Self of all beings. To know my Self is to know you and everybody. Such a person acts not while acting, because actions cease to be actions in the case of a person who has ceased to be a person and thereby has ceased to be an agent of action, therefore evoking no consequence of action. This is Universal action; this is the great vision of karma yoga that the Bhagavadgita places before us in a concentrated verse in the fifth chapter.
For this attainment, deep meditation is necessary. The sixth chapter explains to us what meditation is, but prior to that, towards the end of the fifth chapter, we are given a cryptic description of what this yoga is going to be, as it is to be explained in the sixth chapter. Sparsan krtva bahir bhyams caksus caivantare bhruvoh, pranapanau samau krtva nasabhyantara-carinau. Here is a concentrated verse once again. Abandoning all contact that is external, setting aside all externality and freeing the senses and the mind from contamination with externality, fix one’s attention in the middle of the eyebrows. This teaching has, again, invoked many explanations and commentaries. What does it mean to fix the attention in the middle of the eyebrows? Physically, it is very clear. We concentrate psychically on the centre that is between the eyebrows. There are a variety of meanings implied in this instruction. According to the science of the psyche, the seat of the mind is supposed to be the centre described here, as that lying between the two eyebrows, sometimes called the ajnachakra. Here is the seat of the intellect or the reason, and to concentrate on the seat of the intellect is to bring it down under control. The science which expatiates on this theme tells us that the ajnachakra, that point between the eyebrows, is the penultimate point leading up to the crown of the head, which is supposed to be symbolically representative of cosmic experience.
Now, this is an esoteric teaching which has psycho-biological implications, with a spiritual profundity at the background. The various phases of the moon, which are fifteen in number counted through the bright half and the dark half of the lunar month, as we call it, are connected with the various plexuses in the system of the body, and the digits of the moon are regarded as representative of the digits in the psychic body, which are the plexuses or centres, called the chakras. They are not in the physical body, though they have an impact upon the corresponding centres in the physical body. According to this doctrine, the ajnachakra is the location of the blossomed intellect or the mind when it is fully awakened from the slumber of earth-consciousness and is about to wake up into the consciousness of the super-physical. This is perhaps the reason why this point is recommended as suitable for concentration, one having withdrawn the attention from the externals in the earlier stages.
Pranapanau samau krtva—there is another difficult technique. Following this advice, the process of breathing through the nostrils is constituted of the prana and the apana flowing through the nervous system, which is twofold in character, known as ida and pingala. This dual breathing through the two nostrils is the cause of distraction of the mind, swinging the attention from the subject to the object and from object to the subject, an alternate attention being thrust towards the object or the subject at different times on account of the ebb and flow of the prana, like the rise and fall of the waves of the ocean. This has to be curbed by a centralised breathing, which is the equanimity to be established between the two flows of ida and pingala. This equanimous breathing is called is the entry of the prana into the central nervous system, called the sushumna. They are all invisible nervous centres that cannot be seen with the eyes. This central breathing is connected with a central way of thinking, which means thinking neither the subject nor the object. Neither are you to concentrate on your personality, your own body, your own individuality as all in all, nor are you to concentrate on an object outside as if it is everything. The truth is in the middle between subject and object, as sushumna is between ida and pingala.