Bhagavad Gita, Chapters 7 and 8
Now, in these six chapters, there is a gradual concentration of the teaching on samadhi, or meditation, on the Lord with attributes, which are described, and there are also the hints at the meditation on the Lord without attributes. This latter one, the Lord without attributes, as an object of meditation or worship will be described at the very end in Chapter 12 and in the last chapters from 13 onward.
It’s important to notice in the seventh chapter, for instance, the word is ‘samadhi’ or ‘samadhana’. This means not simply having the mind set firmly, or intent on, or thinking hard about, or centred on, as these things are translated. The word, in fact, can’t be translated into a Western word because we don’t really have this meditation experience sufficiently commonly to have a word for it.
As was explained in the chapter on meditation, the introduction, it’s when there’s not merely one-pointedness but the ideas, which pass through the mind, normally, first become similar. That’s to say the succeeding idea is similar to the previous one and finally, they become exactly the same. Then the mind, so to speak, comes to an immobility.
The example that was given was a flame in a windless place. The flame burns steadily and it seems to be quite motionless. Though in fact, as we know, there is a constant refuelling from the candle and the wick, but it is motionless to our perceptions and to our awareness. In the same way, in these samadhis, the mind comes to a stop. When that becomes habitual on the same object of meditation, then there is a flash of prajna, as Patanjali calls it, or true knowledge.
That can be, in the world, an awareness of something which is remote or at a distance. It can be awareness of a scientific truth. It can also be where the object of meditation is something which is to be actualized. Then when the meditation becomes practised for a long time and perfectly steady, then there is this actualization from the infinite reserve of potential of prakriti or nature.
In this chapter, the Lord is going to contrast the meditations and worship on the Lord seen in his attributes, but the attributes are not taken as absolutely real. They are like the makeup of an actor, and it’s a question of recognizing and seeing the actor underneath the makeup. The meditations, as they’re called here and elsewhere in the Gita, on the lesser gods, where the things are taken as absolutely real.
If these meditations are pursued with a controlled life and with intensity for a long time, then they, too, become actualized but they become actualized in this world. The inevitable consequence will be a frustration of some kind as we realize that the thing which we thought would give us absolute happiness, in fact, is limited and contains, as Swami Rama Tirtha says, a poison within itself. Shankara in one place says that that the ordinary man eats the food and he doesn’t know there’s poison mixed up in it.
The wise man knows there is poison in the food. At times, he can be momentarily tempted out of past habit to taste that food, but he knows that it’s poisonous and he repents and he regrets it afterwards and he ceases afterwards. We know this today from the fact of eating the fats, or drinking the alcohol and so on, which we can know quite clearly are poisonous but we can easily think, “Oh, well, just one won’t make any difference.”
The Lord says in verse two here: “This being known, nothing more besides here remains to be known.” Shankara explains that this leads to an awareness of the Lord everywhere. He says, “It is omniscience.” Shankara adds that this includes everything that relates to human ends as well as to the nature of the Lord. We can say, “Well, does he know the times that the trains are going to leave in Budapest? Does he know what is happening in every hill and dale of an obscure area in an unexplored country? Does he know all of these details?” He could never get them all into one little brain.
Now, we have to remember this is coming into touch with omniscience. It doesn’t mean that this omniscience is located in the movements of a human brain and mind. Though, through meditations, if meditations were made on these limited things, then they would become apparent as we can see from cases of inspiration. Especially, for instance, in the history of our Western science, where quite often the scientist performs actions, which are totally against the whole logic of the situation, but which nevertheless lead him to the truth which he is seeking. This is not mere chance. It’s as though he was being led by his concentration, by something which is not contained within his own system of thought and observation and experiment.
Now, verse three makes a point; “Among thousands of men, perhaps one strives for perfection and even among those who strive and do attain the perfection of a purification, only one perhaps knows Me in truth”. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you take humanity as spread out evenly and then say, “Well, there’s only 1 in a 1,000 who will strive to practice yoga; and of these, only 1 in 1,000 will attain.” Because the gunas, the tendencies to darkness, to energy and to light, are not spread out evenly and we can see this with ordinary faculties also. There are five million amateur poets in Japan because there is a tradition of poetry there and in some countries, there are relatively few.
Then there is a great declaration in verse six of the Lord as the source and the dissolution of the whole universe. “There’s nought else higher than I. In Me, all this is woven like clusters of gems on a string.” Reading this together with some of the remarks later on, it’s been suggested, on the basis of what Shankara says later, that these gems on a string can also be read as like knots. That’s to say the divine nature of the universe is, so to speak, gathered together in places of different forms and shapes, and these form what seem to be the separate beings.
Now, the verses go on to give visions of the Lord in individual regions and things. “I am the liquidity in water. I am the light in the moon and the sun. I am the sacred syllable Om, in all the scriptures. I am sound and space.” Sound there means vibration. “I am essence of man. I am the agreeable odour in the earth and brilliance in the fire. The vitality in all beings. I am the austerity in ascetics.” Shankara comments on this last. “In me as austerity, the ascetics are woven.”
“I am the energy devoid of passion and detachment. In all beings, I am the desire.” This has already been commented on in Chapter 4, verse 11, which points out that two of these, the one who is in distress, say, who’s facing a very serious illness, or one who is seeking for success in the world are not seeking for freedom, for release. They’re good people. Our teacher used to say that it’s quite right at a certain stage to associate one’s wishes and longings in the world with the Lord, and it’s legitimate to pray for them but in acceptance that what happens is from the Lord and to accept that if they are not granted, this is the will of the Lord for us if we’re worshipping him.
One of the Buddhist teachers used to say, “People pray to the Buddha and sometimes they complain they get no answer. They forget that ‘no’ is an answer.” He also said that people often pray who are not really of good conduct. He said basically they’re spitting at the Buddha all day and then for 10 minutes in the evening, they’re praying for some selfish desire.
Then a third man is the one who wants knowledge of the nature of the Lord. Again, Shankara says, “He does not necessarily desire liberation, which will shake the roots of his individuality. He may have a drawing back from this. He may want to worship the Lord but he wants to remain, to some extent, as he is; and the last man is the knower.” Verse 18 says, “Noble indeed are all these for righteous men, but the knower is the very Self. Set in yoga practice, he resorts to Me alone as the unsurpassed goal.” Now, we note here that the knower, though he is the very Self and knows this, still yoked in yoga, steadfast in yoga, practising yoga, he resorts to the Lord alone as the supreme goal.” Shankara says, “This is release.”
The next verses from 20 to 27 give, like so many of the chapters do, a warning in the sense of showing what the pursuit of the lesser ideals and lesser desires in the world will produce. It produces an endless involvement in illusion. He says that if they pursue these ideals with faith and sincerity, He says, “I make their faith unflinching.” That is to say that, from these ideas, there’s a sort of radiance, which is in fact reflected from the Lord that they don’t know or seek for but because these things are manifestations of the Lord, there’s a sort of glow and a sort of wonder and so their faith becomes strong in them.
We can see this sometimes even in things like nationalists, who have a sort of mystical faith in their nation and the greatness of their nation and are certainly willing to sacrifice their lives and all that they have for it, but because it’s basically an illusion of separateness, it doesn’t lead to release or even to any real happiness in the world. One pointed, we can come to a living experience. Just as digging in the desert, sand and sand and sand and then water.
This is the gap. When we read or hear some of these wonderful declarations as we can, not only in the holy scriptures but in the work of poets sometimes, we can get an upliftment and something in us stirs. This is true, but then it goes off. After trying to revive it a few times with some success, we realize this is no longer much of a message for us and then we go try and look for something else. The reason this happens, which is very discouraging to many aspirants, is that the whole personality is not involved.
Athletes who train in running, for instance, they train, say, hard for three weeks up to the event, but they don’t train for too long before the event because otherwise they become what’s called stale. The reason is that running is fundamentally not really interesting by itself and the whole personality is not involved. The same way with things like reading poetry or appreciating art and nature – it’s often simply an emotional stirring. The intellect isn’t actually touched, nor is the will. We feel by repetition, things just become stale, you no longer notice them, you’re no longer affected by them.
Clara Schumann used to say that she played her study of Chopin every morning for 20 years and she found new beauties in it. This was because it had depth and she could go deeply into it.
In the same way, these declarations of the scripture; “the Lord is the energy of the energetic, the Lord is the pleasant fragrance in the earth.” After the rain, we have that characteristic fragrance from the earth. This is the Lord. We can feel ‘yes, yes’ and then it goes off. By meditation on these things, until it comes to samadhi, then there is something new, which is an actual experience.
Before that, we feel, “Well, after all we can change. We can change the subject of the samadhi. We, in fact, we’re just imagining these things and we can change them when we get tired of them.” When there’s the first movement, when, as Patanjali says, the object begins to shine in its true essence, then there’s a world of difference. This is an awareness of an actual reality, not something created by ourselves. It has to be practised. The same meditation on the same thing has to be practised for quite a time.
The Lord gives, in these scriptures, objects and attributes which are especially favourable for meditation, in which the Lord is more easily seen than in others. Then the whole personality will become engaged. In a certain sense, the gardener is a lesson to us. Not simply appreciating the garden but working. Some of them find a sort of divinity in the life of the plants.
There are people in the East who worship a temple, and they polish their temple until it shines. That means the whole personality becomes involved, including the will. If they get to think that the temple alone is the divinity, then they will have fallen away and they won’t have a deeper vision. It’s not a question of changing the surface but of going deeper. As was said, it’s not in the desert going from one oasis to another, but of digging deep and deep and deep until we come to the living water, which supported all the oases.
End of the gap recording.
At the end of the chapter in verse 27 the warning is summed up:” From the delusion of the pairs of opposites caused by desire and hate, all the beings are subject to innate illusion.” Shankara remarks interestingly that if we’re subject to desire and aversion, we don’t see things clearly even in the world, what to say of the spiritual realities. He says, “How can we get rid of this, get out from this delusion of the pairs and know the Lord?” Then it is done by giving up the desires as unreal because they are illusions. They are partial illusions.
Then they practise samadhi on the Lord and there is a movement within from their highest Self. The Gita says in verse 29, “Whoever practising samadhi on the Lord strive to be free from decay and death, they realize in full, Brahman, God, and what the individual self is and what action really is.” Verse 30, “Those who realize the Lord in the physical regions and in the divine control of the universe and in the realm of worship and sacrifice, even if it’s only just before they die, they will attain samadhi on the Lord as they die and they will become one with Him.”
Now, we should say on a chapter like this, which speaks of the universe as beautiful, yes, there are beauties in the universe but what about all the misery and the hopelessness of the universe? There are some people who can accept what happens to them as coming from the Lord, but what about the people who are broken by the suffering? How can we say this is a divine world? This will come up again and again. One of the points is that the Lord himself enters into all the beings. It is He who suffers, it is He who releases, and those who have heard and have the opportunity to practise the yoga can have a direct effect on the sattva, on the element of light, in the universe.
We feel that because physically we are only a tiny part of the universe, that spiritually it’s true also, but that isn’t so. Because at the heart of every being, there is the Lord, as it were, sleeping, so that when we are distressed by the universe, we should practise yoga. By the practice of yoga, we shall directly bring about an increasing lightening of the burden of ignorance. When we look back on our own lives, we can see that the vicious and evil deeds that we have done, contributed to the misery in the universe and that we can change and that we could do better deeds.
Externally, we must do something physically to free the people whom we meet and whom we’re in a position to help from some, at least, of their sufferings, but we know that anything we do will be only for the particular little area where physically we can affect. People say, “I believe in political reshuffling.” If the basis of the human consciousness remains the same, then although we may change the political system, the officials of the new system will be equally corrupt. The consciousness can be changed if the people who have the chance practise yoga.
They will, by their sacrifice of their individuality and their personal desires and selfishness, make a direct change in the consciousness of the universe, which will take place not by some direct channel – although that can happen – not through a visible channel but it will take place on the far deeper level of the causal structure of the universe. Our teacher said when people today see or hear of misery: 150,000 people are homeless and starving because of floods, they should not allow themselves to feel, “Well, what can I do?” They can’t go out there themselves.
They can do a little bit of some service to the world where they are now, which will indeed be very small, but then they should practise yoga. If they do practise, they will become aware of something, of some of the divine currents. By their practice, they are removing some of the obstructions and the blockages, so to speak, which prevent the free movement of those divine currents. We may say, “Well, how do we know? We don’t see these things.” Well, if it is necessary for a yogi to know, he will come to know. He will actually see this kind of thing in a physical operation in order that he may see it if he needs to see it.
As an example. At the end of a bitterly fought war, a soldier who had been a school teacher before he was conscripted into the army was to go home, repatriated from a prison camp to a country which he knew was in absolute ruins and where even his survival would be a very doubtful business. He was in great distress and uncertainty. He asked a man from the other side, who had helped him in certain ways quite freely and in whom he had a sort of trust and who also happened to be practising yoga, which the repatriate did not know.
He said to this man, “I’ve respected you and can you give me something? Can you give me some word of advice, something to hold onto? I’m going back to absolute ruin and I have no idea of what there’ll be or anything of what I can do.” Well, the yogic student was very embarrassed by this, and he felt that it would be wrong to make some hypocritical statement from one of the holy scriptures or something like that in which he didn’t have real conviction.
Facing this man in great distress, suddenly some words of his former teacher came to his mind, which didn’t seem very appropriate but it was all that came to him, and he said, “The only words I could give you, I think, would be these; find people who have the same ideals as you have and try to live and work with them.” The other man looked a little bit surprised, but he thanked him effusively and then he went.
Twenty years later, he received a letter from that man who had seen the name of the yogic advisor in another connection in a newspaper. He wrote this letter which said, “When the war ended and I was going to be repatriated, I asked you for some words of advice and you said to me; find people who have the same ideals that you have and try to live and work with them. When I went back home – I am a teacher and I searched for and I found a little association, which was trying to bring education to some of the remote villages in which there were almost no facilities. I offered to go there with their approval and work for almost nothing just for a bare living.
Over these years, some others have joined me. We’re very poor but some of the local children have made great progress in the school and some of them have gone on to the high school and the university. I saw your name in such-and-such a paper and I wanted to write and thank you for those words. I found people with the same ideals that I had and I’ve lived and worked with them and I am really happy.”
This was a case where that yogic pupil who, though he had faith, he perhaps needed some confirmation of this unexpected kind and because he needed it and he was sincere, it came to him.
End of Chapter 7.
Chapter 8. This chapter is mainly concerned with some of the more exact points of practice – of the continued practice over a period – but as in so many of the Gita chapters, there are other themes which do come into the chapter, although they are not central to it. At the beginning of the chapter, there are a few definitions or rather pointers. The first one is what is Brahman? That is the new term. What is the Supreme? The answer is, it is the Imperishable.
That is to say this is to be found in the universe, but also in the consciousness there is something which is not destroyed, which does not change in the universe and in the individual consciousness. Then it is said in the individual there is the separate awareness – which feels itself to be separate and in the body, but ultimately, it is what is imperishable and infinite. This is the great Self referred to at the beginning in verse 21 of Chapter 2.
Then the action, karma, which produces the separate conditions of beings, and the physical universe and the divine universe which underlies it, they are all to be realized as God. There were three things which are mentioned often in the Gita. These three; worship, sometimes called sacrificial worship, and gift and austerity; and God must be meditated on as appearing, as manifesting in these things.
With verse 5, the main theme of the chapter begins. This is the chapter on continued practice and its effects. “Whoever at the time of death, at the very moment of death, thinking of Me alone leaves the body and goes forth, he reaches My state. There’s no doubt in this.” Now, this will come again and again in the chapter. What we meditate on in life most, that to which our thought constantly returns with longing, or with fear or with worship, that leaves imprints, dynamic impressions at the base of the mind and they’re called ‘sanskaras’.
When enough of them are accumulated, they begin to form groups. What we would, in the Freudian system, have called complexes. At the time of death when the control is lost, what has been meditated on most in life, what has been dwelt on, that will manifest itself and that will determine the next birth.
In this chapter, especially, the objects of the meditations for release are radiant. They are meditations on the Lord as shining and brilliant in every atom of the universe and transcending the whole universe. Whoever meditates on the Sage, the Original One, the Ruler, more subtle than an atom, who dispenses everything, who controls everything of unthinkable nature, glorious as the sun beyond the darkness; who so meditates on such a being at the moment of death with a steady mind, a mind of samadhi, indeed with devotion and the strength of yoga, fixing the life breath between the eyebrows, he reaches that supreme, resplendent One.
Now, the key phrase here throughout the chapter is the strength of yoga. Shankara says that this is from the after-effects, from the dynamic impressions left by constant practise of samadhi. He uses this word, samadhi. Then when it’s been practised, that strength will come of itself at the time of death. People aren’t in a position to undertake difficult meditations but the strength of yoga will manifest itself then. In the case of a yogi who practises hard, it will manifest itself long before that. In his normal meditations, the strength of the yoga will begin to show itself and the meditations will begin, as it were, to come about of themselves.
The life breath, first of all, is concentrated in the heart – in the lotus of the heart, as it’s called – with the mind and the sense of ‘I’. Now, people say, “Well, I’m not sure what a lotus looks like, and why a lotus?” Well, these things are not exactly a lotus. It’s something like a lotus. Sometimes it’s called a wheel. Sometimes it’s called a saucer. Sometimes it’s called a bowl.
The descriptions are only simply sufficient to enable the practitioner, when he begins to become aware of that subtle centre in the heart, to recognize, ‘Oh, this is it,’ but it will never be exactly like what he has imagined. He goes on by saying the attention is first directed to the heart. When it matures there, then of itself, the practice will lead the concentrated life breath and mind up to between the eyebrows. Now, this again is not meant to be something achieved with endless fussing and effort. It’s a natural process, but it’s described so that people will recognize it when it happens naturally and they will not be frightened, or distracted or become very excited over it.
Then the practice is referred to with the syllable, ‘Om’. This long syllable and the vibration which accompanies it is one of the central practices of yoga. It’s a name of God and it can be practiced by anyone. Though, when it is received from a teacher, it becomes very much easier to practice. There’s a vibration and then a subtle form of that vibration.
The verse 12 and 13. This is somebody who is practising brahmacharya, that’s to say, who is controlling the instincts, especially the sexual impulse. “Having closed all the gates, (these are the senses) having centred the mind and the heart then fixing the life breath in the head, engaged in firm yoga, uttering the one syllable, Om, meditating on Me; if even at the last moment of life he departs like this, he attains the supreme goal.
Well, now these processes are something that have to be practised for a long time. They have a sort of knack in them and a sort of secret in them. As a general rule, it’s necessary for most people to join some group where they are practising, not because it can’t be done by oneself but people simply don’t have the energy to keep going. The day comes when they feel they’re tired of it.
One teacher explained this. He said, the advantage of a group is like in keeping awake all night. If you’re alone and you’ve got to keep awake all night or two nights, the time comes when you’re very, very tired. You suddenly feel sleepy, very sleepy and you just think, “Well, I’ll just lean against the wall. I won’t go to sleep,” but unconsciously, you drift off for a few minutes.
Now, if there are several of you, when that happens to you, one of the others is feeling very wakeful and he [taps] touches your shoulder. He says, “Don’t go to sleep.” He helps you over that period of weariness, then you begin to feel wakeful again. These things go in waves. Then he begins to feel sleepy. Then he tends to lean against the wall and he would go to sleep. Then it’s you who touches his shoulder and say, “Don’t go to sleep.” That’s the way with a group, it’s very easy to keep awake for a night or two nights but by themselves, it’s not so easy.
Well, in the same way with yogic practice. People who practise on their own have to have a strong, clear will and have to be able to meet the waves, which occasionally come up of lethargy, which clothe themselves as reasonable doubts and say, “Well, after all how do we know this is true? Perhaps this is all self-hypnosis,” or something like that. Or, “Perhaps this could be easier done by drugs.” Well, if people have a clear and strong mind, then they’re able to keep going easily through that but there are others who are not so used to it and they don’t. Again, it can depend. Somebody who has practiced something in life resolutely for some years will find yoga much easier.
From that point of view, music – a musical instrument or the ballet is a very good preliminary training for yoga because they have to practise every day – every single day – and they must not miss, and they know they must not miss and they don’t miss. Whereas an artist can leave it for a week, or two weeks or even a year and still at the end, he can draw almost as well and then in a very short time, he can draw just as well as he did. These instructions which are given are just an outline. They are generally reinforced by further instructions but may need encouragement from the teacher.
From verse 18 there is one of the groups of verses, and there are a number of them in the Gita, which describe the cosmic process. Now, there are differences between these accounts, and Shankara in his commentary recognizes this quite clearly. This one speaks of it as like a night and a day of Brahma, the Creator God. When He wakes, then the beings come forth from, as it were, His sleep. They’re like as if they are projected. Then at the end of His day He goes back to sleep again and they are withdrawn, so to speak, into what the psychoanalysts would call the unconscious, but which the yogis call the latent causal form.
Now, in some of the other accounts, Krishna will say, “I send these beings forth through my divine illusion,” or, “I plant the seed in the great Brahman,” which here means the material nature, which is projected, “And that seed manifests.” This is a similar idea to the latent impressions coming forth from the causal state. There are other accounts here in the Gita and in the Upanishads.
Shankara recognizes that these accounts are not the same, but he says, “They don’t refer to different things. The main point on which they all agree is that the process is conscious and purposeful.” We can see in ordinary life that, for instance, we can have different accounts of the same thing which don’t agree at all, and yet they are of the same thing and we don’t find basically a conflict between them.
For instance, in putting together a table, a carpenter will say, “Well, I put the glue on and press them together and then when the glue sets, the table will be firm.” Now, a chemist would speak of it in different forms. He would speak of the adhesive properties, and he would speak about the chemical composition of the glue and of the wood. That also would be a satisfactory account.
Then there would be another account, which would be the account of the atomic structure; the changes when there’s a chemical compound in the atomic structure. Now, the early chemists vigorously opposed this. They said, “No, atoms are simply a fiction. They’re unobservable and such an account is ridiculous.” Ostwald, one of the founding fathers of physical chemistry, bitterly opposed the idea of atoms; quite an unnecessary hypothesis. We know now that the account in terms of atoms would be acceptable and could be taken as true.
Though, it’s got now rather remote from the table that we were discussing, doing the table. Then finally, there’s the account now in particle physics, which has got so refined and pushed to such an ultimate that it doesn’t really tell us anything about the table at all. Although, we accept that this is perhaps nearer the ultimate truth of the table and the glue.
Now, we recognize you can have these four accounts of which perhaps the account given by the carpenter is the most useful, but you can have these four accounts which don’t agree at all and yet they are of the same thing and in a sense, they don’t contradict each other though on the face of it there are these conflicts.
Well, in the same way in the Upanishads, there are said to be 16 or 18 different accounts of creation. There are several in the Gita. Shankara, in his great Brahma Sutra commentary, he reconciles them and he says, “After all, if you admit that you have contradictions in your accounts of the origin of the universe, well, then people are going to think, well, if you’re self-contradictory in that matter, perhaps you’re self-contradictory in other matters about yoga, release and the supreme Self.” He says, “No. All the accounts agree that the creation is purposeful and is divine.” This is the point which the Upanishads and the Gita wish to put before us, and they put it out in these poetic and beautiful and true forms.
At the end of the chapter, there is the path of light and the path of smoke described. They are said to be after-death experiences. Swami Rama Tirtha, a great modern yogi, used to say that these are meditation experiences on the path of light’. They’re the experiences of the yogi, they are also experienced after death.
Then the chapter ends with one of these declarations. In verse 28, “Whatever merit is declared to come from studying the Vedas, from sacrifice and worship, from austerities and from gifts, beyond all this goes the yogin who knows this.