Bhagavad Gita Chapters 2 and 3

Bhagavad Gita Chapters 2 and 3


The second part of the Gita book. This is chapter 2, and it begins with verse 46. Verse 46 then, “As much profit as there is in a water tank when on all sides there is a flood of water, no more is there in all of Vedas for a knower of Brahman who truly understands.” This point will come up again and again that, in effect, the sacred scriptures and their injunctions – which Shankara believes will be effective in securing gains in this world and in the next – all this is as nothing compared to the knowledge of Brahman, which is universal. All this is limited.

All these gains which may be made and are made by the right actions and by following the Vedas and by worship, they are in the end simply manipulating illusions. If they’re taken as absolutely real, then, in fact, their worth to us is very small. The knower of Brahman, on the other hand, is not limited to securing changes in the magic show. He becomes the Universal Self which projects the magic show. In that way, the manipulations and adjustments within the magic show are as nothing to the one who truly knows, although he can take part in the manipulation for the sake of creating beauty without attributing absolute reality to it.

The main objective is to release those elements of Brahman which have entered into the play of the world and gone too deeply into it. This will come in the Gita. The Lord says, “I’m born again and again in order to relieve the sufferings of the people who are caught in these illusions”. It’s important to remember that it’s He himself that has entered into these things and gone too far. Now, He Himself helps Himself to become again illumined. Our teacher once compared this to a strong swimmer throwing himself into tremendous rapids in which for a time he loses control of his course. He can influence it to some extent and gradually he comes out of the rapids.

We know that canoeists and mountain climbers and others deliberately take on difficulties and enter into these difficulties in order to have the joy of solving and extricating themselves from the difficulties. If they go too far and they begin to suffer intensely, then those elements which have become free, or relatively free, then help them to attain a certain measure of freedom so that they can complete the process themselves.

An expert who is teaching something doesn’t keep going up to pupils who can’t solve particular problems and then put them right, saying, “Rather, do it this way.” He allows them to wrestle with these problems for quite a long time until they find the solution themselves. Or if they don’t, and if they become too distressed and become despairing, then he can and does himself ease the situation and give hints and direct them in the right directions. If he simply does everything himself for them, well, then they don’t play their role at all.

Verse 50, “When your buddhi is yoked, is set in yoga, then you leave and go beyond both good and evil deeds in this world. Therefore, apply yourself, set yourself to yoga. Yoga is skilfulness in action.” Verse 51, “When, by clear insight, they can abandon the fruit of their actions, then they’ll be freed from the bonds of action, and they will attain freedom from everything that is an obstacle.” Verse 52, “When your buddhi will have crossed beyond the mire of illusions, then you’ll come to be tired of all that remains to be heard and learned, and all that you have already learned.”

53, “When you’re sick of all that learning and your buddhi stands motionless in samadhi, unmoving, then you will have attained yoga.” One of the important things in this verse is that it’s not simply a question of a furious concentration and then going back to revel in the illusions of the world. But it’s when the buddhi, the clear seeing part of the mind will actually become sick of all the methods of attaining successes in the world and avoiding failures by the traditional methods or anything else that one can hear.

When that expectation has been given up as a means to real freedom and joy, then the buddhi is able to settle unmoved, not wavering at all in samadhi, as has been explained and will be explained. While the buddhi remains, there is still some residual movement, but in this samadhi of the buddhi, there’s still thought but the thought is the same. Not simply similar but the same as was given in the example of the laser, where the successive waves are not merely coherent, of the same wavelength roughly, but are also in phase. We notice in these three verses that yoga is said to be a power in actions.

One of the points, only one of the points, but one of the points is that having crossed beyond the mire of delusive hopes and fears, the actions will become simple, straightforward, well-directed, and efficient. Also, they’ll be in conformity with the cosmic purpose and so they will not have the frictions and the internal contradictions which the ordinary actions of the world, impelled as they are by various motives, one of which becomes predominant, but only for the time, though. So, ordinary worldly actions are subject to tremendous internal frictions and are tiring, and in the end, they defeat themselves.

From verse 53 to the end of the chapter, 72, Shankara says, “This is a description of the way knowledge is stabilized. Sometimes he uses the word dhi, which means intelligence, the intelligence becomes steady. Knowledge has been attained, but it may waver. It’s noteworthy that – it was said before, when you have crossed beyond the mire of delusion – this illustration is given by Dr. Shastri in the book The Heart of Eastern Mystical Teaching, when he says, “When you’ve passed through a muddy field, although you’ve passed through the field, your feet still have some mud clinging to it.” It’s a natural thing to want to clear that mud off. Shankara explains the word kalila. It’s literally a tangle of delusion, but he explains it as a sort of mud, a sort of mire. The man of knowledge has clear knowledge. He’s passed through, passed beyond this mire of delusion, but still, some traces remain with him. It will naturally wear off as one walks on, but it’s a natural instinct, as we all remember from when we were children. We’ve been on a walk, and we’ve gone through, say, with our bare feet, especially through a stinking marsh. Well, then, when you come out just the other side, it’s a natural instinct, as you walk, to brush your feet on the long grass, see the mud drop off until the feet are white and shining as they were before. Shankara makes this point that this is a natural process by which any clinging remnants of illusion are washed off and it’s also a warning against acquiring more by wandering off the path into illusion again.

There are two kinds of samadhi. One is the samadhi on the things of the world. When this samadhi reaches its peak, these are known, as the Lord himself, as seen in the eleventh chapter of the Gita. The higher samadhi is when this vision of the Lord as everywhere is extended or completed rather by finding the Lord also in the Self. Normally, when the thought is held that the Lord is everywhere, there’s a tacit assumption He is everywhere but here. We know, at least, that He’s not here, but He’s just beyond the horizon, or He’s around the bend of the mountain road or something like that.

This is the higher knowledge, which is absolutely complete. Shankara makes this point. Even this higher knowledge for a time can retain some clinging traces of the mire of delusion. Now, Arjuna asks, “What does this man look like?” He says, in the verse 53, “What is the description of the man whose knowledge has been stabilized, who is established, who is set in samadhi? How does he, this man of steady knowledge, speak? How does he sit? How does he walk?” Now, it should be noted that in the description which Krishna gives, nearly all the things are negative. That’s to say it’s like the cleaning off of the final remnant traces of illusion.

It’s not an intensification of the knowledge, it’s not acquiring something new, but it’s cleaning off, dropping off any of these residual traces. Now, the description begins with verse 55. The Lord said, “When he abandons all the desires of the mind, O Partha, and is content in himself by himself, then he is called one whose knowledge has been settled. When his mind is not perturbed in sorrows, and he has lost desire for joy, his longing, fear, and wrath gone, his intelligence is said to be steady. When he has no desire for anything, or for getting this or that, good or evil, and he neither delights in it nor loathes it, then his knowledge is settled, stable.”

“When, like a tortoise, pulling in its limbs on all sides, he withdraws his senses from the objects of sense, then his knowledge is stabilized.” These characteristics, says Shankara, are the marks of the completely successful yogin, and as such, they are imitated by the one whose knowledge is not yet settled and established and clear. It’s quite important to consider carefully what it is that’s been described. This is one who has realized the great Self, which is being described early in the chapter, in the verse 21 and so on as all-pervading, indestructible, unthinkable, wonderful.

One can think, ‘Well, how could there be any question then of being deluded by the attractions of the illusory things of the world? They would be known to be unreal.’ Yes, they are known to be unreal, but the experience is that even unreal things can go on for a time affecting even one who knows that they are unreal. While that lasts, the process of establishing the knowledge, of taking ones stand on the knowledge so that the knowledge is not just a viewpoint but a standpoint. That process called  jnana nishta or standing on the knowledge is pursued.

It’s not something additional, it’s not any additional knowledge. It’s simply clearing away of the wraithes and the trails of illusion that have been brought from the unrealities of the past. What is being described here is not a limited man because these limitations have been known to be untrue. This immortal Self is infinite. What is performing the stabilization of knowledge is the reverberating, so to speak, the echoing buddhi, which still goes on sounding like a bell that has been struck, and has now been struck no more but continues to vibrate.

This process goes on until the remnants of the individual buddhi, the buddhi which produced the feeling of individuality and animated a body, centring round individuality, sinks into universality and the cosmic peace. The illustration is given of the tortoise withdrawing its limbs. St Teresa also gives this illustration. This is not a consciously adopted process of meditation against the normal stream, but it is now a natural process and the jnananishta consists only in not interfering with it by entertaining, by clinging to the unrealities of the past.

One can think, ‘Well, surely, these instructions are not necessary at all,’ but they can be. Here is a modern illustration. In an army which need not be named, when the penicillins and so on were coming in, sometimes a soldier would have prescribed for him a course of injections. Once such soldier had prescribed a course of six injections. He was told to report for them. He asked the orderly, “Is it going to hurt?” The orderly thought he’d have a little bit of fun. He said, “How many injections have you got?” He said, “I’m to have six on six successive days.” The orderly having his joke said, “You’ll faint six times.”

Now, he intended to tell the soldier almost immediately once he’d seen him panic, but he was called away. The soldier went in with that conviction, “You’re going to faint with pain six times.” The doctor saw he was in a bad way. He said, “What’s the matter with you?” The soldier said, “Well, this is going to hurt, isn’t it?” The doctor said, “No, it’s not going to hurt at all.” He said, “I was told that I’d faint.” He said, “No, you’re not going to faint at all,” but he still didn’t really believe the doctor. The doctor said, ” All right, well, I’ll give you the first one.” He gave the first one, and sure enough, it hardly hurt at all.

The next day, the soldier still found that he was in a considerable state of inattention, though he knew that this was based on something, it was quite unreal, quite a false story but still the effect had been that it created this tense fear inside him. It took several visits before he was able to turn up for his last injection in a quite calm state of mind. Now, this is an example where clear knowledge is overcome by something which is known always to have been quite unreal and untrue, but which nevertheless has had an effect.

Verse 59, “If one starves the senses and oneself, then they turn away from him, but he still has the inner taste for them. That remains, and that subtle, inner taste leaves him when he has seen the highest.” This is an example of a wrong method of control. By starving oneself, so lowering the whole energy of the body, then there can be a loss of desire for things. It’s the same when someone gets something like jaundice, for instance. Everything seems pointless and tasteless. The colours are not bright, and the tastes are not intense and attractive. Music seems trivial and dull. Physical pleasures lose entirely their attraction.

This is only temporary. When the jaundice is over or when he takes food again, those tastes return in full force. This is a warning not to rely on or not to think that simply starving the senses and oneself will produce a lasting change in the inner desires. Only when he has seen the highest, even those latent desires will pass away from him. Now, from verse 60, there are, as there are at the end of many Gita chapters, warnings and reminders. Warnings to the karma yogin who still thinks that the things are real and reminders to the man of knowledge who knows that the things are unreal but can still get drawn back into them by habit and past associations.

Verse 60, “Even though he is striving and although he has vision of the Self, still the sudden surge of the senses can carry away his mind forcibly.” Verse 61, “So he should restrain them all and sit in the yogic meditation at these times with his mind focused on the Lord. When his senses are under control, then his knowledge becomes stabilized.” Verse 62, “If a man meditates on the objects of senses, attachment to them is produced. From attachment springs desire. When desire is frustrated, anger arises. When he gets angry, there is delusion. When there is delusion, he forgets what he’s supposed to be doing. From that loss of memory, his buddhi is destroyed.”

“When his buddhi is destroyed, his clear judgment is destroyed, he himself is destroyed.” This is a clear warning for those who have some power of meditation and concentration. If they allow themselves to meditate and keep thinking about some object of the senses, then it will produce an attachment in them and then the chain of events follows. They become infatuated. Although they know in a way, it’s unreal, they keep thinking, I could do with that. Then when that desire is frustrated, they will become angry, and so on.

Finally, the buddhi, the higher part, the clear part of the mind, is completely destroyed. Then it’s said he perishes. That’s to say, he destroys his own spiritual prospects for a time. One of the important things is when we feel that some object is beginning to attract us, in the sense that it keeps returning unbidden to our mind, then with a conscious effort to fling it aside and assert freedom and to realize that freedom and bliss and expansion lie in complete independence of unreal things and that to depend on unreal things is contraction and it’s bondage and it’s suffering.

Some yogis every evening, consciously throw aside the ambitions and fears and hopes and all the successes and failures of the day and make themselves quite free. Verse 64, “But when his senses simply act on the objects of sense without any desire or aversion, controlled, governing himself, then he becomes tranquil.” This is also an important point of the Gita. The freedom is not separating oneself physically from the object of the senses and retaining perhaps an inner inclination towards them but, in fact, to cut off the desire and the hate and yet to act in accordance with what ought to be done in accordance with cooperation with the cosmic purpose, without hope or fear or fever or greed.

In this way, the self is brought to control, and then it becomes tranquil and clear. Verse 65, “In tranquillity, all griefs disappear for him.” When the consciousness is tranquillized, the buddhi becomes steady. An old yogi once recalled how, when he was very small, the local little village shop had kept by the door – the old lady kept by the door – a large slab of imported foreign chocolate. Delicious foreign chocolate, which he just tasted once, but his parents had never been able to afford it. Every time he went in to buy his tiny little ration of sweets, his mouth used to water when he saw this slab of the chocolate and some, say, he thought he’d like to grab it and run.

He knew it was wrong to steal. Once, there was the possibility the old lady’s attention was distracted, and he had the chance, with a heroic effort, he managed to turn away. Other times when he would have certainly have taken it, there were always other people in the shop who knew him. Sometimes he hated them for being there, obstructing his plan to get it. This went on for a bit. Then one day when he was standing, waiting in the shop, the old lady went to get something from the shelf, and she moved this slab of chocolate. He saw that it was just painted tin. Immediately, all his desire for it disappeared.

He said that was a great help to him later on in his yoga training, that desire can be met by heroic endeavour, but the true way is to see through to the reality of what the object of desire really is. It’s not simply negative. It’s not only seeing the transient and unreal nature of the things of the world but also to, as it is said, enter into samadhi on the Lord. Not simply a sort of world-weary feeling that “Oh, there is nothing worthwhile in the world,” but to see something which is much more full of joy and which is true freedom and true expansion to infinity. This is an important point of difference between the yoga training of the Gita and the training and detachment of some of the Buddhist schools.

Verse 67, “The senses are restlessly moving and if the mind follows after them, it carries away one’s knowledge as the wind carries away a ship on the water. Therefore, he who has withdrawn the senses on all sides from their objects of sense, it is he whose knowledge has become settled.” Verse 71, “When he has given up desires and is free from longing, he moves about without self-interest and without egoism, and he is in peace.” We note here, it doesn’t say that he’s always sitting in meditation. He moves about, and he moves about in accordance, not with selfishness or any self-centred motive, but from the cosmic purpose, as it were, he is a finger of God.

Verse 69, “What is night for all the other beings, in that, the man of samadhi is awake. That state where all the others are awake, that is night for the sage who has vision.” This is a difficult verse on the bare words. One of the interpretations is that the man of samadhi is awake. That’s to say, he knows the cosmic purpose which the other beings don’t know as it were night to them. The other beings are awake to the purposes of the individual selfishness, perhaps, the clan selfishness or the national selfishness, but the selfishness of separations of some kind – they’re awake to that. To him, those things are like dreams. Like almost dreamless sleep, it is night to the one who truly sees.

Verse 72, the last verse of chapter two. This is the state of Brahman, of God. “O Partha, having attained it, one is never again subject to delusion. If even at the last moment of life, he attains it, he enters the state of the nirvana called Brahman.” Nirvana is said to be a Buddhist word. It means literally blown out. In yoga, it is the blowing out of the separate individuality so that it’s like a candle which is blown out when the sun has risen. When the Consciousness called Brahman arises, the candle is blown out, or it simply becomes invisible. In the glory of the sunlight, the light of the candle is no longer there. This is the end of chapter two, which is the summarizing chapter of the Gita.

Chapter three. This is a chapter on action and non-action. It begins by explaining some of the ambiguities and the confusions that surround simple words like action. It’s important for us not to understand intellectually simply but to realize in our own conduct some of these distinctions and how we confuse them. Now, for instance, both action and knowledge in English and in Sanskrit have got two quite distinct meanings. Action can mean activity in general without specifying what is being done. Action also means a particular thing that’s done, an evil action, a good action.

In the same way, knowledge. We can say in English and in Sanskrit that knowledge is a thing, so to say. A man has a great deal of knowledge. He has a complete knowledge of this. Or knowledge can mean the process of cognition irrespective of the content, what it is that is known. Now, we return to chapter three of the Gita. Krishna explains to Arjuna that action is inevitable. Everybody acts, the body can’t be preserved without action. The whole universe is engaged in action. That seems plain enough. Then He goes on to explain, you have to learn certain things about action and non-action. He then proceeds to go into it.

Well, now the discussion, in fact, is spread out over several chapters, and here we’re just introducing it in comprehensible Western terms. Suppose we go to a concert, and we look and we see the cellist, one of the cellists. We look at him and his bow is not on the string. As a matter of fact, there’s a rest-pause for the cellos, but he’s looking at the scores, and when the conductor gives the cue, of course, they will all come in. Now, is he playing or is he not playing? In one sense, of course, he’s playing, and he’d receive his fee at the end. When there’s a rest-pause, he’s just as much playing as when he’s actively engaged. In another sense, yes, the cellos are not playing, now.

Now Arjuna thinks that one can get out of that activity by, so to speak, putting down everything and just sitting still. Krishna points out that such a man is just as much active as the man who’s running around because he’s still in the game, so to speak. He’s only resting now, but he’s still in the game, and he’s still impelled by the motives of the game. The particular motive that’s uppermost now is rest or it may be fear, and he’s not energetically pursuing ends and means, but he’s still there in the game.

Another modern illustration that’s given is that when a car is parked if the driver’s still in the seat, he’s in charge of the car although he’s doing nothing, and he is the driver. If he’s got out of the car and left, then he ceases to be the driver. All these things are not simply of academic interest. We can feel by sitting down in meditation, by withdrawing ourselves from the calls of duty, that we can attain a peace, but that isn’t so. The decision, “No, I’m not going to do anything there,” is just as much action as the one who says, “I’m going to jump in and make something for myself out of it.” Or, “Those poor people, I’m going to save them from themselves. I’ll take charge of the whole thing.” All these are action.

In the same way, people who live in a quiet area of a well-organized city can feel that, in fact, they are pacifists. They rarely encounter violence, and they don’t have to exert any violence themselves, or even to call for any violence to protect their comfortable flat or their right to walk along the street. They don’t realize they’re part of a system which runs the city and where force is available to protect these things.

In fact, the teaching of the Gita is that to be a complete pacifist, one has to be very brave and one has to renounce all human rights, and this is for monks. Arjuna himself is one of the warrior class, part of whose duty is to defend the rights of the weak with a minimum of violence, but if necessary with force. The force to be exercised without hatred, without fever, and without any selfishness whatever, purely as a duty.

The apparent pacifist who doesn’t take part in this keeping of order in the city, is not thereby outside it. He is simply a member of it who, as a matter of fact, supports it by paying taxes, for instance. He shouldn’t deceive himself into thinking that he is not an actor, an active participant in it. Krishna says, “What is action? What is non-action? As to this, even the clever ones are bewildered.”

Now, there are nervous conditions where people have difficulty in breathing. There’s a sort of cramp set up. They begin to find that they can’t breathe. One of the methods of remedying the condition is to train them to breathe slowly and fully and consciously which they have to do. The ultimate aim is to set them free from the condition, which is often emotional and based on a panic memory of what has gone before. Then in a sense, they are no longer conscious of any more than the ordinary person is conscious of breathing.

Now, there is this paradox in the ordinary way we breathe, but we are not conscious of breathing. We don’t consciously breathe. In a sense, we are not breathing, but this is not the same thing as the one with the cramp who actually doesn’t breathe. In the ordinary way, in the normal course of events, God would act freely through the body-mind instrument, which does not initiate actions of itself. It’s simply conscious of this flow, which is in accord with the cosmic purpose. If and when that body-mind instrument begins to acquire a personality and an individuality for itself, then it begins to act on its own account for its own advantage.

Now, it becomes, so to speak, conscious. The actions are cramped and distorted and often very laborious. This is remedied not by saying, “Oh, well do that to keep that up,” but by consciously breathing fully and clearly. Then finally, when that has been established, the awareness of that conscious process is given up and the natural state resumes its proper course, but it’s a little bit the same with this. The body-mind instrument ceases to work in accord with the cosmic rhythm and current and assumes a cramped existence of its own. It has to be trained and it has to train itself to follow the instructions of the yogic discipline and practice.

Then finally, there’s a sort of relief and a handing over to the cosmic flow as it was at the beginning, and the forced cramp of individuality is dissolved. This is roughly what Shankara is saying in these scattered verses through which he has to present his doctrine. In verses 9 to 16 of this chapter, as elsewhere in the Gita in certain places, Krishna presents to Arjuna the ordinary good motives of a good man who expects rewards for his good actions. He does this to see whether this will bring Arjuna back to performing his duty as all the others are performing their duty in the expectation that by doing the virtuous action will lead to reward. It doesn’t have any effect on Arjuna.

By these, they’re not exactly tests, but by these little proofs to himself, to Arjuna’s own Self, Arjuna will be brought to search for something which is beyond the given take of the world with the aspects of the Lord called the gods. One of the things he says is that there’s prosperity in this world for one who has reverence for the things of the world as aspects of God. The sacrifices are made to the gods in heaven, but also to the gods who are in the poor, in the needy, in the oppressed, the gods who are in the animals, and the gods who are in nature.

We are now beginning to feel the importance of a reverence for nature in our dealings with it. In verse 13, it says, “In this way, you will nourish the gods, and the gods, in turn, will nourish you. Thus nourishing one another, you will attain to supreme good.” As one of the great yogis, modern yogis, Rama Tirtha, pointed out, this is a sort of trading, and this is common to nearly all religions. Confucius remarked that this is the way by which the ordinary man who has no particular depth of vision can control his actions. This goes on up to verse 16.

Then suddenly at verse 17, there is a leap into knowledge. This is characteristic of the Gita. The verses on sacrificing to the gods and of the gods rewarding man take the world as real. The Gita never allows this to settle as the absolute truth. It’s a working truth while we are in illusion, but he never allows it to settle down as a final truth. Quite suddenly, there’s a great burst of light of the Supreme Self in the middle of this exposition of the wisdom, of the actions regarding the world, and of reverence to the gods and to nature and to human beings.

This chapter of the Gita is typical of some of the early chapters, in that the paths are presented and the degrees of reality are presented in close proximity to each other without any formal distinction. The paths have degrees of reality, but the final path of knowledge has no degrees. It points to what is beyond degrees, but without Shankara’s help, it can be confusing just to read the bare Gita text. In this chapter, it began by explaining that there are two paths of action and of knowledge. What comes before action is good works.

This is not a path of yoga at all because it’s performed by good men, but they do expect a reward for what they do. They are not seeking to be free from this world, identification with elements in this world, and with limited individuality, but they want limited individuality. They simply want more, better conditions for it. If this path of virtuous action is pursued with yoga, that’s to say with detachment from clinging to results or anticipation, feverish anticipation of results, and with the motive of getting some gain or avoiding some evil, if it can be done free from those things, then the same actions become the means of karma yoga. They lead to a purification of the mind.

In that purification of the mind, in that purified mind, knowledge springs up. The purification of the mind is accomplished in two ways, by independence of the events of the world, though taking part in them, and by worship of God and taking part in the world as a worship of God. Then knowledge springs out and then there is freedom from the domination by the motives of the world. Action is now done freely as part of the cosmic purpose to set an example to the people of the world who are still attached to action and to throw off the remaining traces of habitual attitudes of ignorance, which can still, in some cases, cling to the man  who has knowledge.

By these means, his knowledge becomes, as it’s called, absolutely steady and unwavering. Without the key provided by Shankara, the verses can be confusing when they’re read in a sequence. “He who follows not the wheel of action thus set in motion, who is of sinful life, indulging in the senses, he lives in vain.” This is the wheel of sacrifice, which has been mentioned. Then in the next verse 17, it suddenly says, “That man verily, who rejoices only in the Self, who is satisfied with the Self, who is content in the Self alone, for him, there is nothing to do.”

One feels, why, it has just been said that the man who does not follow this wheel of action for the sake of the Lord as a sacrifice, if he does not follow this, he’s of sinful life. Now, in verse 18, this is contradicted. It says, “For this one who rejoices in the Self, who is satisfied in the Self, for this one, there is here no interest whatever in what is done or what is not done, nor is there anywhere, anyone that he needs to turn to for any purpose.” These are two verses on the state of knowledge, the realization of the infinity of the Self.

Then, in verse 19, we are turned back to karma yoga: “Therefore without attachment, constantly perform the action, which should be done. Performing action without attachment, one reaches the Supreme.” Shankara explains that this reaching the Supreme is through the rise of knowledge and then the path of devotion and establishment of that knowledge and then liberation. The chapter goes on to explain by action did even the great sages like Janaka try to attain perfection.

Well, this verse is often in Shankara’s commentary is not read very carefully. He says these sages, if they are possessed of right knowledge, then because they had been engaged in works, they’ve made promises to the world and people were relying on them, they went on fulfilling those promises, but now in a state of knowledge. That’s to say the cosmic purposes were flowing through them, and they were throwing off any feeling of identification with body and mind with a view to complete liberation. That’s to say, with a view to throwing off the last traces of these illusory identifications which can cloud their knowledge or make it waver.

It may be that some of those sages were ones who had not yet attained to knowledge and Shankara says then they will be performing action for the sake of purification of the body-mind aggregate, and they would then attain knowledge. They also wanted to set an example to the world. Krishna, the avatar, the incarnation of the Lord says this is a very important element. That although the man who knows the Self has no obligation to do anything, still, he continues to do so because otherwise, the people of the world will fall into a sort of apathy and think, “Well, after all, he doesn’t do anything. Why should we do anything?”

That will not be renunciation of action, but that will be falling into an apathy, into a laziness and darkness. Therefore, Krishna says, “Though I have nothing, whatever that I need to attain in the world, still, I continue energetically in action.” It’s like, we can say, the masters at a school who energetically take part in the games with the children, although they themselves don’t need to build up their physique because it is already built up. The children need to build it up and if the masters simply sit around on the benches, lolling on the benches and watching, they will not be setting a good example to the children.

They get the children to take part energetically in the game, and they themselves seem to be energetically engaged in it themselves. They seem to want to win just as much as the keenest of the little contestants, but in actual fact, of course, to them, it’s a matter ultimately of indifference whether their side wins or loses. Their purpose is different. Something that children don’t understand at all, which is to improve the physical condition, the endurance, the balance, the precision of movement of the children with them. They conceal this, and they cheer on their own side, and they seem to be very keen on the results.

Verse 28 says, “Let the one who knows the truth not cause unsettlement in the minds of the ones who don’t know, who are still attached to action.” He should encourage them to do actions and himself fulfil these actions in an earnest way. In this way, he sets an example to the other people. In his inner consciousness, however, there is a clear awareness that the actions which take place are not the actions of the individual which he used to be, but these are now the cosmic purpose, the cosmic energies, which are acting without any distortion or deflection.

He doesn’t say this to the others. Otherwise, they will suppose that simply to give way to their instincts and their impulses would be to take part in the cosmic action. Although, in actual fact, it would simply be a gratification of their own selfishness and would lead to frustration and great suffering. Verse 30 is a very important verse, and this is about how the karma yogi performs action. It has already been discussed in the first part. “Renouncing all actions in Me with the thought resting on the Self, free from hope, from selfishness, devoid of fever, do thou fight.”

Then in verse 33, it remarks even the man of knowledge acts in conformity with his own nature. All beings follow their nature. How can forcible restraint make any difference? This used to be cited, phrased, “The more nature is driven out, the more it returns.” Similarly, they used to say, “What goes up must come down.” We now know that these things are not true. What goes up must indeed come down until it gets beyond the range of the earth’s gravitational pull. Then it becomes free as we see with the orbiting satellites.

The man of knowledge acts in conformity with his nature. Shankara says he’s not compelled by the love and hate by which other beings are compelled, are enslaved. In a sense, he acts in accordance with his own nature, in that one whose body and mind had been trained as, for instance, say, a baker, or a woodcutter, or an administrator king like Janaka, or as a poet. He would continue those activities for a time, but now it would be an expression of the divine life through them. The people who saw him baking the cakes and tasting the cakes would be influenced.

There are some of these illustrations given where the teacher is, for instance, a gardener. He goes on, though he’s fully a realized man, he goes on gardening. When the pupils come to him, he teaches them through gardening. He says that the process of yoga is to take out the little plants from the nursery bed and plant them out. In the same way, take up your instincts and your feelings and your desires from the little bed of selfishness and plant them out in the wide expanse of service of God and realization of the Supreme Self.

While he’s still subject to love and hate, he may think that he can adjust his life and change his life to a superior kind of life. But, in fact, although his motives may be seeming to him to be very good and pure, they are often a sort of concealed gratification of his own desire for individual domination or individual escape from responsibilities and so on. There are people who because they find they’re tiring of their family responsibilities, quote the example of the Buddha and say, “Well, I’m going to walk out.” Some of them actually do so, but they don’t go on to the second part of the Buddha’s career, which was to live in great austerity by begging, to live in caves and under trees. Oh, no, they don’t do that.

In this way, the unrefined feelings, although they may seem to be guides to spiritual advancement – ‘we are following the example of the Buddha’ – it’s not in fact so. Then chapter three ends, like a number of the chapters of the Gita, with a warning. Arjuna asks, “What is it that compels us to what we know to be wrong and disastrous?” The Lord says, “It is desire and anger. Both of which arise from the energy of rajas.” Rajas is the word which originally meant the colouring red. We might call it a sort of inflammation of the mind.

The concluding verses say that it is this desire, which above all else, veils the knowledge which is there in the Self. Even men of knowledge find sometimes that their knowledge has been momentarily clouded and shaken by it. It works through the senses and the mind. Even it contained buddhi. Through these three regions, it deludes the people. Therefore, he says, “Restrain the senses by meditation and cast off your desire which destroys your knowledge and your spiritual experience.” Finally, he says, “Ultimately, it’s by stimulating knowledge in yourself and encouraging it in yourself that you can best overcome your hankering desires.”

Shankara’s recommendation, as in the second chapter, is ultimately to practice meditation and thereby create a stir in the knowledge aspect, in the pure consciousness within men, which is the Lord. In Dr. Shastri’s works, he sometimes quotes his teacher who was asked, “What is the first thing to do? What should one do first?” The teacher said, “Well, some people say you should engage in service first and try to purify yourself, your feelings by service.” Other people say, “Well, you should study the basis of yoga, the philosophical basis, and acquire some knowledge, and that way, you purify the mind, then you can turn to meditation.”

He said, “No. The most important thing at the very beginning, from the very beginning, is to tranquilize the whole mental process.” This is done by meditation. Meditation must be practiced to tranquillize the mental processes from the very beginning and then the service which is entered into would not be a blind service which is liable to be deflected into egoism and domination. The knowledge which is acquired by study will not become an intellectual distraction and sometimes a refuge from actual realization practice.

Whenever the point about desire comes up, it’s necessary to repeat again and again the true attitude of the Gita teacher, to it. People say, “Oh, you say give up desire.” Well, aren’t I allowed to desire an umbrella when it’s raining? Aren’t I allowed to desire a proper wage for my work? Aren’t I allowed to desire shelter and food and clothes? Have I got to give up those desires? Now, this is not the meaning. We can get some idea from the word rajas, meaning coloured red and inflamed. It’s not that desire is wrong. It’s when it becomes a hankering and can’t be given up and especially when it begins to invade the mind at other times.

Now, for instance, food, when I’m hungry, that’s a legitimate desire. But if it becomes a hankering so I’m constantly thinking about food and spend a lot of my time and money in stimulating a rather declining appetite in all possible ways with sauces, rich sauces, and so on, well then the Gita says, this is not only unhealthy, but it’s a bondage. To have clothes, yes, but not to be ensnared by the desire for fine clothes to outdo someone else. To have a reasonable wage, yes.

Perhaps I’m quite happy with the wage, then I hear that somebody else is getting more for the same work. Now, if I become upset, if my wage then becomes a mockery, as it’s often said because there’s not equality, then I have become a slave of desire, and the desire will upset me. The desires are legitimately held if they’re simply for what is reasonably necessary and which can be met and then forgotten for the rest of the time.

When they begin to invade the mind, when they begin to assume a central position, and especially when they become distorted forms, when my clothes have got to be better than other people’s, not just to keep me warm, but they’ve got outdo other people’s in style or in materials, well, then this desire is becoming absolute in my mind. What happens is then that it becomes a bondage. You could say, “Now, this is hardly a bondage.” Yes, it is a bondage. Health is a good thing to have. We should struggle for health, but not that it should become an obsession because the time comes when I’ve struggled to get good health and I’ve got radiant health.

Now, one of perhaps the old parent requires nursing day and night. It means I shall miss a lot of sleep. That’s going to affect my health program, and it’s going to impair my health, anyway for a time. Now, if my health has been acquired in order to take part in the world and serve the divine purposes in the world, then I shall be quite ready to give it up also to serve these divine purposes. But if I’ve been acquiring my health out of a selfish desire, and it has become a strong desire which binds me, then I shall think, “Oh, well, I’m not going to sacrifice that. Somebody else who isn’t very healthy and so won’t miss the good health, they can do that, but I’m not going to sacrifice my health.”

In this sort of way, we can see what is meant. The desires are like the desire, for instance, to win at a game. It’s a fine thing, and it’s a stimulus to both sides. Both sides enjoy both winning and losing. If it becomes absolute so that I’m determined to win if necessary by fouls, well, then the whole purpose is lost. That desire has now become illegitimate, the desire to win. The desire to win must not be allowed to become so strong. The same with the desires of the world.

The desire even to live must not become absolute. If the time comes when the divine purposes require that some people will sacrifice their lives, well, then if the desire to live is a legitimate desire, well, then when it’s time to die, we shall not feel this inability to enter the new incarnation. If the desire to live is absolute, then I shall be willing to sacrifice everyone else so that I, myself, may live a little longer.


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