What Yoga is- according to The Bhagvad Gita


Each soul is potentially divine. The purpose is to reveal the divinity within – Vivekananda

Lord Krishna playing a flute in a standing posture. PHOTO: Wikimedia.org/wikipedia/Commons

That is the gist of the Hindu philosophy which has always been inward looking. Human birth is considered the highest in the trajectory of births. Scriptures speak of it as gained after 8.4 million births as other living things, and as such, has to be valued greatly. It is not to be wasted on unimportant things. As such, while there is life, one must strive to become the best version of one’s self, to realize Self, and to reach the Godhead.  And this goal can be reached in many ways. The Gita goes over each of these methods. One does not need to go to any other scriptures.

This, because, the Gita is an exposition of the Vedanta philosophy. Aldous Huxley, English author, has quoted Ananda Coomarswamy who described the Gita ‘as a compendium of the whole Vedic doctrine to be found in the earlier Vedas, Brahmanas, and Upnishads, and being therefore the basis of all the later developments, it can be regarded as the focus of all Indian religion.’

Huxley himself has considered the Gita holds utmost value for all mankind as “…this ‘focus of Indian religion’ is also one of the clearest and the most comprehensive summaries of the Perennial Philosophy ever to have been made.”

Perennial Philosophy holds that a human being has double nature – a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. If a person desires, he can identify himself with the spirit and, thus, with the ‘Brahman’. It is to reveal this divinity which Vivekananda considers the goal of human life.

The Gita binds all of the Yogas together, Karma Yoga and actions, Devotion and Renunciation of attachment to actions, and contolling of senses again and again to understand what Yoga is. Krishna is an incarnation of the ‘Divine Ground’ or the ‘Brahman’ in human form. He is an Incarnation of the Godhead, who knows Who he is and can therefore, effectively remind other human beings of what they have allowed themselves to forget: that if they choose to become what potentially they already are, they too can be eternally united with the ‘Brahman’. Vivekananda seems to have simplified this idea.

Jnan Yoga : The second chapter of the Gita is named The Yoga of Knowledge. Jnan Yoga is the metaphysical discipline of discrimination between the Real and the apparent, and is not within the reach of many, according to the Gita. A person who can practice the Jnan Yoga needs nothing more. But such discrimination is exceedingly difficult except for persons endowed with a particular kind of mental constitution.

Here Krishna reveals himself as ever-existing. “There was never a time when I did not exist nor you, nor any of these kings. Nor is there any future in which we shall cease to be,” he says. He also says that wise know that at death, one merely passes into another kind of body, and are not deceived by that. The Atman is unborn, undying, never ceasing, never beginning, deathless, birthless, unchanging for ever and does not die a death of a body.

Karma Yoga : The third chapter of the Gita also talks about Karma Yoga, of right action to be the way to knowledge as it purifies the mind. It is only to a mind purified from egotism that the intuition of ‘Brahman’ can come. Self abnegation according to the Gita can be achieved by the practice of two all inclusive virtues – love and non-attachment.

In this Yoga, the will is directed singly toward one ideal. This is not possible for a person who lacks discrimination; his will wanders in all directions, after innumerable aims. One has to overcome this and concentrate on the Atman itself, freeing oneself of the three ‘gunas’ – sattwa, rajas and tamas and their functions.

Non-attachment to action is a prerequisite for reaching the state of a Karma Yogi. One has to perform work without the desire for the fruits of work.  The Gita further asks one to have equanimity, to be even- tempered in success and failure. It is this evenness of temper which is meant by Yoga, it says. In the calm of self surrender one can free oneself from the bondage of virtue and vice during this very life. To unite the heart with ‘Brahman’ and then to act: that is the secret of non-attached work, to reach enlightenment.

Controlling one’s senses is important in Karma Yoga too. A person renouncing physical actions but still dwelling in his mind on the objects of his sensual desire, is deceiving himself. The true Karma Yogi controls his senses by the power of his will. All his actions are disinterested in the true Kantian sense, without worrying about the results of the actions.

Plato has said something similar about withdrawing of senses in ‘Phaedo’. He says to attain the purest knowledge, one has to approach with one’s mind alone, not introducing or intruding in the act of thought, sight, any other senses or reason. Plato calls it ‘the light of the mind in her own clearness searching into the very truth’.  This state is described by him as where a person has got rid of eyes and ears and of the whole body as they would become distracting elements ‘which when they infect the soul, hinder her from acquiring truth and knowledge.’ “Who if not he, is likely to attain the knowledge of true being?” he asks.

Raj Yoga: Chapter four of the Gita, titled Renunciation through knowledge, goes in detail about how to perform Raj Yoga. Some renounce all the actions of the senses, and all the functions of the vital force, and these are offerings for them, with the practice of self-control as the sacrificial fire, kindled by knowledge of the Atman. Some persons renounce sense-objects and material possessions. Others set themselves austerities and spiritual disciplines: that is their way of worship.

Others worship through the practice of Raja Yoga. Intent on controlling the vital energy, they practice breathing exercises inhalation, exhalation and the stopping of the breath, the Gita says.

Yoga of Renunciation: Named The Yoga of Renunciation, chapter five of the Gita says that action rightly renounced brings freedom, just as action rightly performed brings freedom. However, it considers shunning of action far worse than these.

To achieve the state of true renunciation, one is expected to make oneself free of lust and hatred, of desires, and delusions. However, it further says that it is hard to renounce action, without following Karma Yoga, the yoga of action. This yoga purifies the mind and brings a person to ‘Brahman’. After the heart is made pure by Karma Yoga, the body is obedient, the senses are mastered, the Atman is the Atman in all creatures.

A person then rests on action remaining untouched by action, just as the lotus leaf rests unwetted on water. The follower of Karma Yoga takes the body and the mind, the sense organs and the intellect as instruments only.

The chapter describes the method of achieving this. It says that a person shutting off senses from outward, fixing the gaze at the root of the eyebrows, should then check the breath-stream in and outgoing within the nostrils. Thus holding the senses, the intellect and the mind fast, he must thrust fear, anger and desire aside. Truly that man is made free for ever.

United Nations announcement. PHOTO: UN.ORG

The Yoga of Meditation: In chapter six, Krishna says here that a person who carries out a task dictated by duty only, not caring for the fruit of the action, is a Yogi, a true Sanyasin. He further says Yoga is really Sanyasa. Particularly so since nobody can practice the Yoga of Action, Karma Yoga, if he is anxious about his future, or the results of his action, the Gita says.

When a person is self-controlled, when his heart has reached fulfillment through knowledge and personal experience of the truth of ‘Brahman’, he is never again moved by the things of the senses. Such a Yogi is said to have achieved union with the Brahman.

According to the Gita, a Yogi is supposed to retire into a solitary place. He must exercise control over his mind and body. He must free himself from the hopes and possessions of this world. He should meditate on the Atman alone.

The place where he sits should be firm, neither too high nor too low, and situated in a clean spot. As he sits there, he is to hold the senses and imagination in check, and keep the mind concentrated upon its object. If he practices meditation in this manner, his heart will become pure. His posture will be motionless, with the body, head and neck held erect, and the vision indrawn, as if gazing at the tip of his nose. He must not look around. Thus, with his heart serene and fearless, firm in the vow of renunciation, holding the mind from its restless roaming, he now has to aspire to reach oneness with the ‘Brahman’.

The Gita also cautions. Yoga is not for the man who overeats, or for him who fasts excessively. It is not for him who sleeps too much, or for the keeper of exaggerated vigils. Let a man be moderate in his eating and his recreation, moderately active, moderate in sleep and in wakefulness. He will find that yoga takes away all his unhappiness.

When through the practice of Yoga, the mind ceases its restless movements, and becomes still, one realizes the Atman. Then one knows the infinite happiness which can only be realized by the purified heart, and not by the senses. The Yogi stands firm in this realization. He can never again wander from the inmost truth of his being. To achieve this certainty is to know the real meaning of the word Yoga, according to the Gita.

Yoga of Mysticism. In chapter nine lies the revelation of the mystic. A Yogi of Mysticism knows that the entire universe is pervaded by God in that eternal form which is not manifest to the senses. Although not within any creature, all creatures exist within him. His Being sustains all creatures and brings them to birth, without any physical contact with them.

Here Krishna affirms his supreme identity, and says he is the sire of the world, and this world’s mother and grandsire, that he is one who awards to each the fruits of his action and makes all things clean. He says he is OM, he is absolute knowledge.

The Yoga of Devotion: Chapter twelve says that those whose minds are fixed on God in steadfast love, worshipping him with absolute faith are considered by Krishna to have the greater understanding of Yoga.

To perform Bhakti Yoga, a person should not hate any living creature. Let him be friendly and compassionate to all. He must free himself from the delusion of ‘I’ and ‘mine’. He must accept pleasure and pain with equanimity. He must be forgiving, content, self-controlled. His resolve must be unshakable. He must be dedicated to me in intellect and in mind.

The Gita is important even otherwise. According to Aldous Huxley, the Bhagvad Gita is perhaps the most systematic scriptural statement of the Perennial Philosophy. “To a world at war, a world that, because it lacks the intellectual and spirtitual prerequisites to peace, can only hope to patch up some kind of precarious armed truce, it (the Gita) stands pointing, clearly and unmistakably, to the only road of escape from the self-imposed necessity of self-destruction,” he writes.



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