Gita Essay

Essay on Srimadbhagavadgita#

Part 3 (Continued from Dec. 2011 Issue)

Jayanth Krishnamurthi

Yoga of Renunciation

Krishna has primarily advocated two important principles so far: controlling one’s personal weaknesses like desire and anger, and performance of one’s duties in the spirit of Yajna. But Arjuna desires to know which the better of the two is. If eradicating desire and anger is better, why not practice that alone? War is a hotbed of anger and desire. One person cannot practice both renunciation and karma yoga since they are, according to him, mutually conflicting ways. Krishna replies that renunciation and action are mutually complementary and not contradictory. The words “Sanyaasa” and “Karma yoga” do not really denote the duties of the mendicant and the family man. Renunciation is nothing but giving up human weaknesses like desire, hatred, and attachment which are embedded in the mind. That is the prerequisite of Karma yoga. The renunciation preached in the Gita is an instrument for cultivation of the heart, by discarding desire and hatred (V: 2-3).

A true Sanyasi is one who treats pleasure and pain alike, i.e. not influenced by affection or aversion. The orange dress and monastic staff do not make a Sanyasi. All can strive to cultivate an attitude of renunciation even in the thick of family life. But the Gita reminds that proper pursuit of Karma yoga must follow. By doing so, there is fullness to our effort in the divine pursuit. Krishna himself states that it is very difficult to achieve renunciation without Karma yoga (V: 3-6). Krishna also replies that only the ignorant claim that renunciation supports knowledge and action opposes it. One who sees that knowledge and action are the same is the true Jnani (V: 4-5). The Gita only preaches mental renunciation of action and not the physical side. There should be neither desire for the fruits of our actions nor any assumption of utterly free and independent action (V: 8-10).

A Jnani is one who is able to the see divine influence behind every activity in the world. He is not disturbed by chaos and order, positivity and negativity in the external world. The spark of divinity even in the wicked is not seen by ordinary people as it gets covered by their cruelty and egoism. But a Jnani has the great privilege of seeing the oneness of God in both good and bad persons alike (V: 18). However, though divinity is present in all people, we cannot say that good and bad are similar. If every person gets honor and recognition in society according to the services rendered by him, then the society will develop along healthy lines. No one desires the “equality” that treats good and evil forces alike. Equality that is based on merit is the true spirit of the concept. Even if God exists in all people, their actions which arise out of their inherent nature are not altered (V: 14).Krishna lays down the fact that his plan is to activate the capacity that lies latent within each person according to his or her nature. With the same care, feeding and watering, if different seeds of the same fruit give rise to fruits of different tastes, can the gardener be held responsible for it? Similarly, in this world, we observe things with diverse natures arising out of inherent differences. Hence, there is no point complaining against the individual peculiarities of behavior in a world created by the impartial Lord (V: 15).

The divine joy that one gets from self-realization is greater and purer than any other we may get from other things in life. To achieve it, one has to go through a very difficult exercise of renunciation and meditation but the final result is incomparable. Before this bliss, all worldly enjoyments are contemptible and artificial. Thus, our life’s main goal should be to make efforts to attain the spiritual perfection by which we reach, though beginning in toil and reluctance, the ultimate experience of fullness (V: 21-22).

As Krishnahas expounded, for self-realization there are two means. One is through action and the other through meditation. By practicing and becoming a Karma yogi (here Karma yoga is inclusive of   Jnana yoga), one becomes ready for Dhyana yoga. But before the concept is elaborated, Krishna points out to Arjuna that a karma yogi must not neglect social service in the midst of his other activities. Many are under the impression that performance of daily rituals and other obligations according to Varna and Ashrama are the only duties enjoined on an aspirant. However, one of the most important duties to be performed by an aspirant is the service of humanity in several ways. Performance of social service is not optional but mandatory. It is like the tax we pay to the Lord because it is inescapable in our spiritual lives. One who evades taxes is not a worthy citizen. There are two categories of people in this world. To the first category belong the people who spend all their time in prayer and meditation and do not care for society. To the other category belong those who are fully engaged in social welfare activities but have no time for God at all. The lives of both types are incomplete and imperfect. Both religiousness and social service are complementary like two faces of a coin. Hence, they must be performed in the spirit of Karma yoga to be eligible for Dhyana yoga.

Krishnanow expands on the practice of meditation. One should select a place conducive to the cheerfulness of the mind and fixing a suitable seat made of dried grass, deerskin, and cloth. He must maintain an erect posture while controlling the senses and fixing his vision on the tip of his nose and begin focusing his mind on God. The mind begins to waver if the body is unstable. Proper attention should be given to physical fitness as an aid to meditation. Severe austerities which are detrimental to Dhyana yoga and torturous to the body should be avoided. A right measure of food, sleep, recreation and a disciplined life leads to a state of the body which is helpful to yoga. It is the contact of the senses with the worldly pleasures that makes the mind flicker like a flame exposed to the wind. The mind of a yogi freed from sense-desires is like a steady flame in still air (VI: 26). This is only achieved by constant and vigilant practice. A yogi established in meditation sees nothing but the Lord in everything (VI: 30). However, what we see during meditation is not the real God but an image that we acquire under the guidance of our gurus. The real nature of God is bliss and knowledge and the great fruit of meditation is such a vision. The teacher of the Kuru princes, Drona, once asked his students to shoot the eye of a dummy pigeon fixed on the branch of a distant tree. He asked each one of his pupils to identify the target in front of them. Almost all of them described the forest, tree, the branches and the whole pigeon. But Arjuna alone saw nothing but the eye of the pigeon. During meditation, we should cultivate such intense concentration. In meditation, he who can keep the image of God in his mind’s eye, and hold it there alone succeeds.

But Krishnapoints out that the path of meditation is not easy. The mind is a veritable monkey; it is difficult to concentrate it for long on any object just as it is difficult to keep compressed air in open space. This is an ancient problem which has been teasing mankind for ages (VI: 34). Arjuna reiterates the question. Krishna gives two ways to face the problem. One is constant practice and the other is non-attachment to worldly desires. The mind is full of desires and rarely is there any place for God in it. As long as love for the objects of sense remains, the love of God cannot dawn. Even if we try to remember God, we easily forget Him. On the other hand, however much we may try to oust the thoughts of worldly pleasures from our mind, they keep knocking on our door. Once a certain lady was absorbed in the thought of her husband and was rushing to meet him. On the way, she failed to notice a king sitting in meditation of God and tripped over him. The king flew into a rage and called for her to be questioned. She smilingly replied: “Oh King, I was absorbed in the thought of my husband who is a mere mortal and I was not aware of your presence and tripped over you. But you were absorbed in the meditation of Almighty God. How then could you know that I tripped over you? Is not your love for God at least as much as my love for my husband?” Though the king failed in his efforts, Arjuna enquires whether a failed yogi is bereft of all happiness.Krishna assures him that one who practices the path of meditation will never suffer debasement (VI: 40). So, the important point is to keep trying, even if one repeatedly fails. Worthy reward is reserved for a good act performed with an honest effort.Krishna points out that all beings must honestly undertake spiritual practices which suit them the most.

Faith in God and Knowledge of the Three Gunas (Natures)

Among the three classes, namely, the individual soul, matter, and Supreme, only the individual soul is subject to the cycle of birth and death in this world. God is perfect and full of happiness. Inert matter is lifeless. In both, there is no chance of any misery, illusion or ignorance. In reality, the soul by its very nature is full of knowledge and bliss. But even if that’s the case, these are hidden under the thick cover of inert matter. The glow of the soul is completely eclipsed, so to say, by matter. The three constituents of matter namely Satva, Rajas, and Tamas create the shroud. Thus, bondage is due to the soul being under the influence of matter.

The influence of matter on the souls varies with the three forces of matter. If the predominance of Tamas leads to indolence, recklessness , and delusion, that of Rajas leads to a life excited by desire, anxiety, anger, and disturbance. Satva, which is a fountain of knowledge, judgment, and piousness lights up the path of our life towards Moksha (salvation). One can see a predominance of Tamas and Rajas today. Of the three forces, Tamas is the worst. Indolence is the root of all vices. The emperor Nala due to his carelessness neglected to wash his feet properly on a certain occasion. Hence, the demon Kali was able to enter his mind and corrupt his thoughts. With the slightest opportunity for indolence, Kali sneaks and in his trail all other bad qualities follow. We should understand the effects of these three forces and make efforts to use this Prakruti (matter) as a bridge to take us towards God.

Our day-to-day affairs are under the influence of the three forces of matter and profoundly affect our behavior. Worldly affairs permeated by spirituality become righteous acts. Even righteous acts, if polluted by Rajasic and Tamasic inclinations, become unrighteous. Perhaps the most pervading aspect of this influence is in our consumption of food. We should not drink liquor and eat meat. Diet should be restricted to a few items which are tasty, wholesome, and nutritious to both the body and mind. We should have the food at certain regulated hours. Food should be offered first to God with devotion and in doing so, it becomes pure. Even our sleep and carnal activities become pure if practiced in moderation and self-discipline. The food that is consumed is directly related to the nature of our heart and intellect. It is stated in the Chandogya Upanishad that a subtle portion of our food gets transformed into our mind. The mind’s cultivation or perversion depends upon the kind of food we take. Some ask why non-vegetarian food is prohibited even though it is quite nutritious. Such food may, of course, puff up the body but the soul and heart shrink up considerably. As the body grows under such food, cruelty, wantonness, and licentiousness develop rapidly in our mind. Pure food conduces to cleanliness in body and mind.

In the Mahabharata, the effect of food is beautifully illustrated. After the Kurukshetra War, Bhishma lay on his bed of arrows and preached meaningful instructions to Yudhisthira for consoling him. Hearing this, Draupadi asks Bhishma a question: “You give such long sermons on righteousness now. Why did you sit quietly when Duryodhana and Dushashana attempted an outrage on my modesty? Why didn’t you oppose them then? Where was your conscience then?” To this, Bhishma replies: “O Draupadi, then I was eating the food given by Duryodhana. The sinful food fattened the body and gave no room for righteousness. The voice of conscience was completely drowned by vanity and inertia arising out of eating impure food. But in the war, due to the piercing arrows of Arjuna, all my blood has flowed out. The blood in my body produced out of Duryodhana’s food has drained out and I have just my skeleton which is pure. Since my native sense of righteousness has awakened now, I have been able to give such an extensive message.” Hence, in our Hindu culture, great importance is given to the type of food to be eaten.

Krishnafurther underscores the differences between those with divine and diabolical qualities. Qualities which uplift society such as truth, non-violence, renunciation, austerity, charity, and compassion, are called divine tendencies. Qualities which are utterly contrary to these and which lead to society’s downfall are diabolic tendencies. Krishnapoints out that unless one knows the nature of darkness, he cannot appreciate the efficacy of light. The Gita has warned of the deadly consequences of following evil. Society today has become entrenched in such darkness. If denying the reality of the world  and turning their faces from duty to the society is one sort of darkness, the denial of the existence of the Lord and leading an undisciplined life is another sort (XVI: 8). This atheistic philosophy cuts at the very root of this world. Just as the planets revolve around the sun, all good qualities in man revolve around the central idea of his faith in God. If we deny God and super-sensory entities like righteousness, then we would not attach any importance to qualities like truth, compassion, and non-violence. Why should we follow the truth alone? Why should we not deceive people if it is going to give us wealth and happiness? The materialistic person does not show any concern for others’ grief, affliction, and oppression. He is not bothered by fear or suspicion regarding the dangerous consequences of his evil deeds in the future life. Thus, to gain some selfish ends the materialist would get ready to commit any heinous crime.

Many atheists question as to why we should fall prey to sentiments like charity, goodness to others, non-violence and deny ourselves moments of happiness in our short life. They only bring in such arguments to enmesh men and lead them into a path of utter wickedness. But whether they believe religion and morality are intertwined or not, they acknowledge the existence of righteousness. Even when a person commits a crime, he is conscious of it and feels a sense of guilt in himself. There are very few who do not hear the inner voice of reason. Even if one ignores it during a moment of passion, the sense of having been improper will always haunt him. It shows how deeply rooted spirituality and culture are in the collective conscience of people. The atheist and the materialist may trample on this notion of conscience but the consequences of such an attitude are obvious.Krishnastates that the world would be turned into a hotbed of strife, insecurity, and disorganization if such an attitude was adopted by everyone. (XVI: 9-11)

Those with wicked tendencies steeped in worldly activities indulge in the enjoyment of sensual pleasures as the supreme goal in life. Today, this has become both an individual and national ideal. There is fierce competition among people in earning money and possessing the means of luxury. A man’s fulfillment and success in life is measured by the money he has earned, by the number of mansions he has erected, and by the number of luxury articles he has been enjoying. Thus, today we have a desire and materialism oriented civilization (XVI: 12). To satisfy every desire, people will take recourse to crooked means. We see the myriad forms of this in our society such as corruption, black marketing, adulteration, tax evasion, misappropriation and misuse of public money (XVI: 13-15). The only way to escape from the evil consequences of the diabolic tendencies is by developing divine ones. Hence, there must be faith in a supreme entity. The awareness that there is a superior power which can judge our deeds will guard us from sin and unjust works.

But isn’t there law and order in countries which are atheistic? Some may argue that for a good social order, belief in God is not indispensable. True, in the matter of law and order, much difference may not be found between countries which are theistic and those which are not. The whole of mankind is under the influence of ancient culture which says that we must cultivate morality in our lives. But nobody seems to have freely inquired into the origin of this culture or why we should stick to moral principles. If we go empirically or by mere logic, these customs suffer by dissection. Even if several countries are able to maintain law and order, they cannot last long in the absence of faith in God. By the atrocities of half-baked logic, the culture will slowly be torn to bits leading to a collapse of the social system. The order which is not based on faith in God is impermanent and we should not be under the impression that it is firmly rooted. That is why the Gita declares that faith in God alone should be the foundation of our life   (XVI: 21-24).

However, there is another problem that crops up. It cannot be said that if we have faith in God, everything will run smoothly. There are many religious persons who are engaged in misdeeds. We see many, for all the name of God in their mouth, who are steeped in evil practices. When that is the case, how can we accept that theism contributes to social betterment? This complaint is genuine. But it is not proper to question the necessity from the instances of the hypocrites. These mockeries have only happened because of lack of true faith. A true devotee will never stoop to contemptible deeds. We cannot judge one’s devotion and righteousness by his external actions. From chanting of hymns and counting of beads, we cannot gauge the depth of his interior devotion. It has really become difficult to distinguish and identify the genuine servants of religion when they are found in a world teeming with the fake ones that cloak their sins under the garb of religion. Hence, such practices cannot be labeled as genuine religion anymore.Krishnasharply says that deluded ones, who are filled with diabolic urges, go down in darkness, life after life, without ever reaching Him. (XVI: 19-20)

How are we to get this spiritual outlook which is to change the very direction of our life? How are we to understand things such as God, righteousness and sin which are beyond the grasp of direct sense experience? God’s form, qualities, potency, and His ways of creation and design are inconceivable through logic. If we enter the wilderness of logic, there is a greater possibility of losing our way in confusion. A seeker who treads only the path of logic becomes a greater prey to skepticism and cynicism. Then, how do we discriminate our obligation to do things from those which we should not? Krishnashows that the scriptures should be our guide to determine the course of right and wrong. The scriptures are the only infallible means of knowing super sensuous things. The grasping power of our physical senses is very limited. From this, it would be ridiculous to say in this vast creation that there is nothing which the senses cannot understand. By powerful microscopes, scientists see objects which are normally not visible to our naked eye and we believe in their existence from their words. Similarly, our sages by their devotion, yoga, and penance have acquired powers to see these super sensuous entities invisible to us. Do we deny what the scientist has found out by his deep research and sensitive instruments, since we do not see them with our own eyes? If we want to contradict the scientist we can do it only by conducting more accurate experiments with more powerful instruments and not by sitting idle and merely charging him with untruth. In a similar manner, unless we acquire yogic powers and concentration of mind, is there any sense on the basis of our observations in denying what our sages have said? When we are sick we go to a doctor and take medicines prescribed by him without getting into any argument with him. If we ignore the doctor’s advice, we’ll be in trouble. Similarly, in matters like righteousness, we have to follow the advice of ancient sages who have realized by virtue of their Sadhana. If we resort to mere logic in these matters, we have nothing but confusion, waste of time, and noise.

But when we take refuge in our scriptures, it doesn’t mean that we should dispense with logic altogether. Reasoning has an extraordinary place in our philosophy. Our branches of Vedanta are nothing but logical expositions on the core nature of reality. Our sages have stated that one who does not use his logical intellect can never understand Dharma fully. But the catch is realizing logic’s limitations. If it is allowed to move beyond limits, it will do more harm than good. As the old saying goes, if we exceed normal limits even nectar becomes poison. Our study of Sanathana Dharma must be a mix of logic and scriptural authority. Logic should be consistent with the scriptures and different scriptural interpretations should be consistent with each other. The Vedas, Upanishads, and other holy works constitute our scriptures. The Vedas are perennial and authorless, although they were categorized by Veda Vyasa for easier understanding. If they had been composed by an author, there would have been a possibility of their being tainted by limitations and defects of his intellect. Hence, these scriptures not only reveal to us the true goals of life but also help us in our march towards them (XVI: 23-24)

Path of Devotion

Krishnaclearly states in his exposition of Bhakti yoga that devotion and service to God is the only way for salvation. This devotion is born out of fulfillment of Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga. There are two types of worshippers, one adoring and meditating on the auspicious form and attributes while the other adore him as Unmanifest  and Indestructible. Between the two, one may feel it is easier to adopt the Saguna method than the Unmanifest oriented focus. Why not follows the easier path alone? Arjuna also enquiresKrishna the same question (XII: 1).

Krishnareplies that worship of Manifest (Saguna) is better than the focus on the Unmanifest. So instead of going through the indirect path, we should follow the direct path (XII: 5). Krishna further says, even those who worship the Unmanifest Prakruti ultimately reach Him only. It is to be noted here that Krishna himself advocates worship of Saguna Brahman rather than concentrating on Nirguna Brahman.

As Krishnapointed out earlier, it is very difficult for ordinary people to undertake sustained meditation upon God with intense devotion for self-realization and the attainment of Moksha. Even if a person is unable to do so, he must at least make an eager attempt at practicing it. After several attempts, if a person has not attained mental tranquility to progress further, then he must renounce the fruits of all actions in the spirit of Karma yoga. If even this is not possible, at least while engaged in daily activities, he must think of God as many times as possible and cultivate the spirit of dedication. The tiniest attempt to do so will prevent deeper darkness from enveloping our life. Thus, the Gita has revealed to us the means of divine realization at different levels and within our reach. The devotion mentioned here is not the blind devotion, but a mature devotion arising out of Karma, Jnana and Dhyana yoga (XII: 12).

Along with the performance of selfless action, renunciation and practice of meditation, every aspirant should also strive towards the development of his virtues. The aspirant souls, fit for salvation, are intrinsically virtuous. Accordingly, our daily activities should be in harmony with developing positive qualities.Krishnaexpounds some of the common qualities that an aspirant should possess and declares that such a devotee is dearest to Him (XII: 13). Great importance is given to austerity as well. Austerity must be practiced in both body and mind. We must purify our thoughts, words, and deeds with the practice of austerity. Our words must always be gentle and truthful without causing annoyance to anyone. While good conduct, control of the senses, non-violence, and the service of elders are described as austerities of the body, self-control and purity of heart are austerities of the mind.

A person who is engaged in austerities and devotion is never inflamed by any activity of the world and carries out his duties without any fear. He keeps away from all selfish activities which are an aversion to God. He treats pain and pleasure alike. He is eager to burn with pain as atonement for his sins and purification of his soul. Pleasure is as painful to him as misery. He is not moved by praise or slander. This detachment is an extraordinary virtue. There are very few people who are not affected by both pleasure and pain. Even saints and selfless servants of society unfortunately fall prey to praise. If every aspirant were to try and cultivate this detachment, there would be no delay in attaining spiritual treasures (XII: 20). This quality is indispensable for one who is steeped in Bhakti yoga.

Conclusion: Salvation through Surrender  

From this insightful discourse, Arjuna has received satisfactory answers for all his doubts and questions. The nature of the individual soul, the Supreme soul, the inert matter and the relationship between these three has been revealed. From this, we have understood the role of each individual in the vast universe. The contact of soul with matter has been from time immemorial, and so the soul is bound by matter. Whether we like it or not, as long as there is this bondage, the soul will be subject to its influence. To free these shackles is our goal in life and we should utilize all our energy and resources in this direction. We do not achieve anything if we grow inactive out of sheer hatred for the worries and troubles of the world, owing to the bondage of Prakruti. The Gita assures us that if we perform our allotted duties without attachment, we shall not be swept by the stream of Karma even in the midst of the current and we shall be able to swim across smoothly. To do this, our only refuge will be the supreme power of the Lord who is above all souls and inert matter (XVIII: 62). Unless we surrender ourselves to Him, we have no hope of reaching liberation. He is the activator for all that happens in our lives. Knowing this, we must perform actions with the essence of devotion. Piles and piles of action, devoid of sincere faith, are inert and inconsequential (XVIII: 60). The spirit of surrender to Krishna alone is the highest stage of devotion (XVIII: 66). This, in essence, is the greatest lesson preached by the Gita for all mankind.

All of Arjuna’s doubts arising from ignorance were washed away from his mind. The knowledge which was lying dormant within him was awakened. He pledges to do as Krishna commands. Arjuna’s dilemma is faced by us every day in our lives. The lesson of the Gita is not confined to Arjuna alone. It wards off the confusion and turmoil of the whole mankind and inspires it with a sense of duty. During the war, in the same chariot, the Lord of the universe is seated side by side with Arjuna and guides him at every step and inspires him to activity. If Arjuna is ‘Nara’, Krishna is ‘Narayana’ and where the two are together, there is victory, righteousness, and justice. Even in the battle of life, Narayana alone should be the charioteer of the Naras. Only because Narayana has been separated from Nara in our life there has been immorality, need, and misery everywhere around us. We must choose the Lord as our charioteer, guide, and inspirer. May we all strive to follow the light of the Gita in our lifetime!!

मन्मना भव मद्भक्तो मद्याजी मां नमस्कुरु ।
मामेवैष्यसि सत्यं ते प्रतिजाने प्रियोऽसि मे ॥

manmanA bhava madbhaktho madhyAjimAm namaskuru

mAmevaisyasisatyamtE pratijAnE priyosimE (Gita XVIII: 65)

“Give your mind to Me, be devoted to Me, worship Me and bow to Me. Doing so you will come to Me alone, I truly promise you; for you are exceptionally dear to Me.”

सर्व देव नमस्काराः केशवं प्रतिगच्छति ।

Sarva dEva namaskAraha kEsavam pratigacchati

श्रीकृष्णार्पणमस्तु ॥


# This segment is a continuation of the essay that appeared in the Dec 2011 issue of Pramartha Tattvam and the essay concludes with this segment. The full essay was submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a gita scholarship sponsored bySVBF,USA. The Foundation offers state-level tuition assistance (up to $10,000) to any one who would recite the entire gita by heart before its judges, speak on the substance of the gita for an hour and write an essay on the essence of gita in the Foundation’s journal, Paramartha-tattvam.

Jayanth Krishnamurthi is a disciple of Dr. S. Yegnasubramanian. He recently graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) with a B.S. degree in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. He will be joining the controls department of Sikorsky Aircraft in the spring. Besides his academic pursuits, he is deeply interested in the study of Sanskrit and the different schools of Vedanta. He has also been learning Carnatic music for the past 6 years under eminent gurus both in New Jersey and Chennai.

Sringeri Vidya Bharati Foundation (SVBF) is established as an international extension of the ancient Sri Sharada Peetham, Sringeri, Karnataka State, India. It is incorporated as a non-profit religious and charitable organization in the USA. The Foundation functions under the direct guidance of the Jagadguru Shankaracharya, His Holiness Sri Sri Bharati Tirtha Mahaswamigal of the Sringeri Sharada Peetham.

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