by Swami Krishnananda
Yoga is a positioning of oneself in a state of perfect equilibrium. What is this ‘oneself’ which has to be so positioned? This has been the subject of our studies. We have in this connection noticed that this so-called oneself has at least three definitions, three aspects, and may be said to constitute a threefold reality: the external self, the personal self, and the Universal Self.
The first six chapters of the Bhagavadgita are engaged or occupied with this subject of the positioning of the personality, by disciplining it gradually from its lesser, grosser entanglements until it reaches a position of self-integration, as it may be called. There is a distracted atmosphere around us in the beginning; nothing seems to be in order. This is the presentation before us in the first chapter. Not only are things not in order, they seem to be at loggerheads with one another. A situation of war, the worst thing that we can think of, is before us in the first chapter of the Gita.
This is exactly what we see in the world when we look at it with the naked eye. Nothing is in a state of alignment. Everything is independent, as it were, maintaining its self-identity in a state of conflict with another, which also maintains a similar self-identity. What is war? It is a clash of entities which maintain their self-identity irrespective of what another is, or what one’s relation to another is. Selfishness gone to the extreme in a person, a community, or a society leads to battle and war. Human society—the world as a whole—seen on its surface appears to be of this characteristic. “Each for oneself and the devil take the hindmost,” is an old proverb which tells us how the world seems to be going on. “Do what you like, I mind my business; and if you interfere with my business, war will take place.” Here is the first chapter of the Gita.
There is something else about it, which is not the subject of our studies here—namely, the inability of the individual to engage oneself in war while war is actually going on, for some reason which may be considered as purely personal. The world is so big, humanity is so large, that you seem to be isolated before it, and it would be next to impossible for you to think of facing it. Yet, you have no other way than to face it every day. This was Arjuna’s peculiar predicament. He had to face it; otherwise, what would he do in the state of a conflict that had already arisen? But actually, when he was face to face with it, he found that it was too big for him. It was too large.
The world appears to be bigger than you, and people around—constituting humanity—are vaster and perhaps stronger than you as a particular individual. How will you face this world, and people in general? One of the questions and worries or doubts of Arjuna was, perhaps, “This is an impossibility. What is the good of waging war when there is no surety of victory? Do we go only to die there?” No one engages in war merely to die; the idea is to win victory. And everyone has a hope in the heart of hearts that they will win victory over the conflicts that seem to be between themselves and the world outside. Every minute is a struggle of every person against the odds that are created by the world of humanity and of nature. Otherwise, if you have always a fear that this will not go far, or nothing will come, or it is certain that you will be crushed by the world, you will not lift a finger. There is a hope inside that victory is yours. “Let the world be big and people be many; what does it matter? I shall overcome them, and I shall have my say.” This is why you struggle. But yet, there is a diffidence that this may not be as simple as it appears. So, “Let me sink down into an inverted, hibernating condition of self-satisfaction and self-complacency. Let the conflict be there.”
There is a dual factor involved in this situation that is before you. On one hand, there is the finitude of your individuality, in comparison with the largeness of the world of humanity and nature. On the other hand, you cannot rest quietly with this consciousness of finitude in you. How long can you go on feeling wretched? It is intolerable. Can you always go on thinking that you are a prisoner, a weakling, a helpless person, an unwanted individual? Can this state of affairs go on for a long time? You want to overcome the barriers of your personality.
The first six chapters engage themselves in these interesting methodologies of gradually introducing into the sense of finitude of the individual a sense of largeness—not of a social character, but of the character of true infinity. There is a difference between largeness in the sense of quantity and infinity. Infinity is not quantity; it does not mean something big. It means something else altogether. The fullness of feeling that may be sometimes in us for certain reasons cannot be identified with a quantity or a substance. You can feel full, filled to the brim with satisfaction, as if everything has come to you. This feeling of inclusiveness, completeness, is not to be equated with the quantity of a possession in the sense of things in the world.
If you have a large estate, a lot of money, and authority over humanity, that may appear to be an extended form of your existence, but it is merely a thought operating. An individual remains an individual, a finite person remains a finite person, notwithstanding the fact he may look like the emperor of the whole world. A king is not identical with the world that he rules. This is the difference between true infinity and false infinity. If you are the ruler of the sky, the entire space and the whole world, it does not mean that you have become as big as space, because rulership is a concept in the mind; it is not an existent reality.
But, the integration of personality that is to be attempted in yoga is an endeavour towards the achievement of infinity. Unfortunately, language has no better word than ‘infinity’ to describe a condition which is both super-quantitative and super-qualitative. The sense of fullness, which is the characteristic of infinity, is neither a quality nor a quantity. It does not mean that happiness has somehow or the other been foisted upon you, or you have been whitewashed, colour-washed, or dressed up with happiness when you are really happy. Your sense of fullness, which is the satisfaction that you feel at that time, is not a quality that is added to you as an adjective; it is you yourself. If the happiness were only a quality that had been added to you, you would remain something other than that quality; therefore, you would not be happy because it is outside you. But you do not feel that a kind of qualitative adjunct has been placed on your head in the form of satisfaction; you have yourself become satisfaction. This is to give an indication of how true infinity differs from possessiveness or the satisfaction of having something outside oneself.
The Bhagavadgita techniques are difficult to understand, and many people do not know what it it says. Some people say the Gita tells us to work hard, “Do! Do! Do not keep quiet. Your duty is to stand up, be brave, be a hero, and fight.” This seems to be, in the eyes of many readers of the Gita, the message it conveys. The Gita does say that, it is perfectly true. Vigorous, enthusiastic words are used by Bhagavan Sri Krishna to instil into Arjuna a force necessary for girding up his loins for intense activity in the form of battle. By reading these words, by emphasising this aspect of the teaching, many people say the Gita is a karma yoga shastra; it tells us to do something. From the beginning to the end, there is only a hammering on ‘doing something’. But the Gita is not merely that. It is a doing of a different characteristic, of a different nature altogether. It is not doing something like digging in the field or doing business in a shop. It is not that kind of doing that the Gita speaks of, though we have to agree it is a kind of doing.
It is to be remembered that Arjuna’s questions did not cease until the eleventh chapter. Until then, he went on asking question after question. A kind of inclusive presentation had to be injected into the very consciousness and feeling of Arjuna, in order that all his queries may cease forever. We think he saw a total inclusiveness of the true infinity, which is called the Virat Svarupa. The Virat Svarupa cannot be seen; it is experienced, just as we cannot see our happiness as an outside something. It was a tremor of the soul—an earthquake, as it were, of the entire personality—that shook up Arjuna’s existence, and God invaded the very existence of man. At that time, a consciousness of doing gets transmuted into a divine operation. What would we do at the time when our soul is in tune with that presentation of inclusiveness? That ‘doing’ is actually the doing of the Bhagavadgita; it is a Godman’s action.
It is always emphasised in the Gita, together with its injunction to work, that action should be based on understanding. Buddhi yuktah is the term used in the Gita. Bereft of understanding, activity loses its significance. You will say, “I very well understand what I am doing. What is the difficulty?” Understanding the work that you do in the office is not the same kind of understanding that is referred to in the Gita. That understanding is explained to us in the third chapter. It is called sankhya—the actual relationship of subject with object: purusha with prakriti, consciousness with matter, oneself with the universe. That understanding is lacking in us, though we have a little, puny type of understanding when we are actually working at a desk.
It is only in the sixth chapter that the Gita achieves its purpose of explaining the theme of total self-integration, the positioning of the individual for the purpose of meditation. This positioning is what is called asana in a higher sense. Asana, as we noticed earlier, is a physical posture, a seatedness of the body for the purpose of higher contemplation; but this is a positioning of the whole personality, not merely the physical body.
As mentioned earlier, this personality is involved in various layers; and the knowledge of them is also essential. Our personality is not like a solid rock. There are constituents inside our personality which make up what we are. These constituents are called the ‘layers’; in Sanskrit they are called koshas—annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya and anandamaya koshas. They are sheaths which cover the true us or the soul that is inside us—the true soul that we are. Like an onion peel, one inside the other, there are peels of our personality. But in an onion, one peel is different from another peel, whereas here the peels are not so very different. There is a gradual tapering of one peel into the other, so that we cannot easily say where one sheath ends and another begins.
Imagine part of the ocean getting frozen in cold climates. The surface becomes hard ice, but there is water at the bottom. This liquid underneath gradually gets solidified into the ice on the surface. ‘Gradually’ is the word. There is no sudden jump from the liquid to the solid. In the beginning, it is a tendency to solidification—an impulse of the liquid to become other than what it is in a form of solidity, gradually, so that we cannot easily say where the water ceases and the ice starts. Something like that is what is happening in the formation of our personality. In the process of creation, to which we have made sufficient reference, what has happened to the individual is a cutting off of a centre of awareness from its Universality. This is what is called the fall of man. The isolation of a part from the whole is the fall.
In the Aitareya Upanishad particularly, this nature of the fall is described in very artistic detail. When this severance takes place, for whatever reason, it looks as if a blow is dealt upon the head of this little self-affirming, isolated part. This blow is the kick that is given by the Universal to the particular. It becomes unconscious, as it happens when a blow is given to anybody. We are completely oblivious of what has happened. Darkness prevails, whose symbol we see in the state of deep sleep. The severance of the part from the whole is not a joke; it is worse than death. Even death is better than that. It is the vitality of one’s own self being severed, as if every nerve is torn from one’s own existence. No one can imagine what that state is. When pain is intense, we are not able to feel it; we become unconscious. We can tolerate a little pain, but cannot bear too much. We become unconscious. It is death, as it were.
The obliteration of the Universality, of which the individual is an integral part, is the darkness that is seen in front—which is identified with one’s own self. “Darkness prevailed in the beginning of things,” say the scriptures. “God brooded over the waters of creation.” The waters of creation are nothing but a universal darkness that was created for the purpose of giving some significance to the individuals that have been severed from the Universal.
Now, there is the tendency of this individualised condition of obliteration of consciousness to germinate into activity. Consciousness never dies. Seeds may be lying in the earth for years, but when rain falls they germinate into tendrils. Likewise, how long this darkness continued, how long there was this obliteration of consciousness, how long one saw darkness, one cannot say. But a time came when there was an upsurge of activity. This darkness, the original covering, is what is called the anandamaya kosha—a thick layer of dust and darkness, clouds piled up one over the other. Since consciousness is always alive—it is never destroyed—it wishes to be conscious of itself. Consciousness has to be conscious of itself; otherwise, it is not consciousness. One cannot always lie in a condition of death, as a corpse. It is said that for some time it lies like a corpse. At the time of creation, a blow was given and it cried in pain, says the Upanishad. “I feel the agony of my limitation.” We know the sorrow of feeling finitude inside. We experience it because even now we are finite, and very miserable indeed. But we wish to forget that misery by imagining that many things belong to us, and all is well with the world; we have many friends and a lot of property to take care of us. This falsehood of feeling keeps us intact. Otherwise, we would have died in three days. This is why they say that the world is unreal.