If we go into a Zen school – and then we find that we have to sit in meditation, and when there’s an earthquake, and there’s one every day in Japan, you mustn’t move. Well, it may get worse, you know, and the building will come down – go out in the garden – no. You mustn’t. So we think, Oh well, I won’t stay this school. This is fanatical, fanatical. Go on to something else. And then we can invent our own system, and think poor old Mammon, he’s had such a bad press, but really, one should allow a certain place, give him his due, and gradually Mammon begins to take over. We can begin to revere learning. And an account which our teacher quoted also of a great temple in China, about 600 AD, where what corresponds to an archbishop was preaching. The place was full, he was very learned, marvellously eloquent, and many of the people felt very exalted. The crowd filled the whole temple and came down the steps into the square.
From the other side of the square a man in a very poor dress came, and he began to speak, and those immediately in front of him turned round to him; and then the next round, and then the other people, and then people began coming out of the temple to hear this man preaching in the square, and finally the archbishop was left alone.
It’s not by learning, not by eloquence, but when the atman speaks, then it will appeal, whether it’s through a bell or through a single word.
So our teacher said that we study in order to get rid of many of the illusions which we are liable to hold, and he had means of getting people interested in the study. For instance, he said, and he recommended us to look, in Patanjali’s yoga sutras, three times it says ‘It is achieved also by devotion to God’. So we can look, and yes, Book I, Sutra 23. Or by devotion to God. Well, that’s one.
Then Book II.45, ‘from devotion to God, perfection, in samadhi.’ And then we can’t find a third one. Well, he distinctly said three. So then it means reading through the whole mass of the sutras, and looking very carefully, and still not finding it. And then in the end realizing that by combining words from three of the sutras, 27, 28 and 29,’Om is God’s expressing word, repetition and meditation on it from that realization of the true self’.
Well, this was unexpected. We had thought it would be almost exactly in the same words. But it does mean that the whole of the sutras are read through carefully and looked at. If he had said it comes twice, then one would find the first two and then slam the book. But looking for the third one means going over the whole text. Again, he said, in the Gita, there is a phrase, ‘delighted in the welfare of all beings’ which, he said, comes three times, and he quoted the words. Well, we can one in V.15, and one in XII.4, but a third one, we can’t find. And it means going through the whole text very carefully. And this was one way of getting us to look through, looking at the text carefully. And finally we’ll find there is one, very very very near, with just one word difference. But at least we have read through the whole Gita.
If we read just single passages, we can get to know them well, but we don’t have a picture of the whole. Just as, when the archaeologists, up to the last century would investigate a dig, and they would look in various places, but when the aerial pictures came in, going up high, one could see the relation of the different bumps and the dips and even the colour of the grass. The colour of the grass changes if there’s brickwork some distance underneath it. And then they could begin the pattern, the great pattern from above, which couldn’t be made out when studying the details from below, because there isn’t the perspective.
Well, in the same way there is a plan for the Gita, and to study the whole text in on block, so to speak, to make out the plan, is one of the methods which Shankara, in his commentary, helps us to do. For instance, it is sometimes thought that the Gita is replete with devotion to God. But Shankara has a somewhat abstract and philosophical and clinical approach to this, and some scholars have said he clearly overlooks the whole message of the Gita. But if we examine the Gita with this in mind, we shall find in chapter IV the Lord says, ‘I have taught you this same ancient yoga’. And Shankara points out that this means that what has been taught in chapters II and III constitutes the whole of the yoga. I have taught you this same ancient yoga. But Arjuna hasn’t believed it. How can you say that? Of course he’s believed it. No he hasn’t. Because he says to Shri Krishna, ‘You say you taught this yoga in ancient times and now you teach it to me again today. But how could you have taught it in ancient times? You are here now. Already in chapter III, a whole chapter before this, chapter III, verse 3, the Lord has said ‘In ancient times I taught this’.But Arjuna made no comment. He just thought, oh, well, how interesting, yes, but he didn’t query it.
But he obviously didn’t believe it because a chapter later he’s saying ‘How could you have done this?’ And in chapter II the Lord has said, verse 12, ‘Never did I not exist, nor you, nor these chiefs. I’ve always existed.’ And yet in chapter Arjuna is saying: “How could you have taught this ancient yoga to me”? You are here now. So it has been taught, but it has not been fully believed. And, although Arjuna has said at the beginning, I’m your disciple, teach me, the Lord has not accepted it. But it’s after the beginning of chapter IV that the Lord for the first time says, ‘You are my devotee, and now I will teach you further’.
If we look at chapters II and III we will not find devotion to the Lord in them. Not one word. Oh, we say, no, really! But it isn’t so. This yoga I’ve taught to you, this ancient yoga I’ve taught to you, in chapters II and III, and Shankara says this. And the Gita also says this. I have taught this already. If we look through it, we don’t find devotion to the Lord.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: Half-Gods and Gods
Part 2: Worshipping lesser gods
Part 3: Remove illusions by study
Part 4: Yoga is described