Shanti Sadan and Self-Knowledge name
Key Yoga Teachings: Adhyatma Yoga

Introduction to the Bhagavad Gita (continued)

Shri Krishna does not retire into the forest with Arjuna in order to give this instruction. He expects him to receive it on the battlefield where his destiny has placed him, which means that he expects his pupil to practise one-pointed concentration in the midst of furious activity and tension. Even so did the old Samurais of Japan perform the tea-ceremony, which is a ritual with a deep spiritual meaning, in the midst of battle. So Arjuna, now full of faith in the power and compassion of his Teacher, sits obedient in his chariot, listening absorbed to the Truth given by his divine charioteer, while all around him the conches and drums are sounding, and the air is full of the noise of the preparations for battle. We must imagine that there he sits attentive, until his instruction is completed and he can testify that, by the grace of his Teacher, he has recognised the Truth and his doubts have vanished. When this happens, it will be all one to him whether he lives and fights in the world, or retires into the forest for meditation. His destiny as the disciple of Shri Krishna is to become the prototype of the perfect Yogi, one who has detached himself from the fetters of his instrument, the body and the mind, and can live an intense inner life and a full outer one at one and the same time - one whose knowledge of the Truth has killed out personal ambition. In fact, he is to become a complete and free man.

At this point the listener will perhaps ask himself why this Scripture should be considered so especially suited to the needs of modern times. All the great religious creeds of the world have the seed of Truth at their heart, but the fructification of that seed, in the form of belief and teaching, varies with the time and clime in which it flowers. In other words, although the deepest and most secret desire in man has always been for expansion and freedom, the means he has employed to try to achieve this desire have varied with the changing times.

In the past, at any rate in the West, the majority sought for this security and expansion in the protection and guidance of a God, all-powerful and marvellous, who was served and worshipped, but was not thought to be directly knowable in this life, except by the Saints.

The rituals through which He was worshipped were a source of power to the worshippers. They were relied upon and were reverenced as channels through which grace would descend on those who had faith and devotion. Many men flowered into Sainthood as the result of this way of thought and religious training ; and where the faith was not distorted, the ordinary people were happy in the assurance that they had access to a Power whose service meant spiritual growth. Today this desire for expansion and freedom is perhaps stronger than ever, but it is showing itself in new and strange ways. The majority think that expansion and equality are synonymous words, and they have achieved mediocrity. They believe that analysis and reason will reveal the nature of any thing, so they are pulling everything to pieces only to find that nothing is revealed. They do not acknowledge the existence of any higher power, so they cannot worship, and therefore they cannot evoke a response from any quarter. Everything is being reduced to its lowest common denominator, including man himself ; and the time seems to be rapidly approaching when he will not be able to find any stimulus to which he can make a response and he will be left alone with himself.

In one of his prose works, the poet Robert Graves says : " In our civilisation, serpent, lion and eagle belong to the circus tent ; ox, salmon and boar to the cannery; racehorse and greyhound to the betting ring and the sacred Grove to the saw-mill. The moon is despised as a burnt-out satellite of the Earth and woman reckoned as 'auxiliary state personnel '."

This sounds unpromising enough and it would be fatal, if there were, in fact, nothing which could stand analysis and depreiation, and still survive, immutable and perfect. But all dovm the ages, mystics of the East and West have affirmed that such a pure and constant element does exist ; and in the Gita Shri Krishna reveals it to Arjuna and tells him that it is the highest teaching he has to offer. This immutable and untaintable thing is the supreme Reality, the innermost Self of man. It lies near at hand, but man may travel far afield in search of it.

I once knew a child whose parents believed in allowing it to have its own way in everything, and who laboriously explained to it that there was nothing definitely wrong or wicked, that everything was really good and right, only some things were a little inconvenient to other people if you did them. One day after having patiently tried to shock, or at any rate to get some reaction out of someone, he burst into tears and cried : " Isn't there ANYTHING I mayn't do ? " In the same way at the present time humanity is pulling things to pieces, but looking over its shoulder all the time, hoping that retribution may come from something more powerful than itself, and crying out : " Isn't there anything that I CAN'T destroy ? "

This may not be a high manifestation of spiritual need, but I think it may fairly be considered to come in that category, for although man on the one hand is subscribing to the doctrine of materialism and scepticism, he has never struggled more desperately to assert his personal right and need to enjoy and possess everything in heaven and earth, including happiness and almost divine authority and power. Dr. Shastri attributed this urge to the secret messages man receives from his hidden and neglected higher Self, which he wrongly interprets.

Ages ago the East perfected the art of analysis and reached a point beyond which reason and analysis could not go ; and then they found what was beyond that point, by relying solely on their purified and enlightened inner sense. The man of today is still playing with mental toys ; and if he is to be cured of this bad habit - and it is not an incurable malady but a habit, one which has slowly settled down on him - he must, like a drug addict, be slowly weaned from his drug and not cut off from it without preparation. And here we have the first of many reasons why the methods of the East are pre-eminently suited to the West of today, for the old Teachers did nothing in a hurry ; they knew that the mind had been turned outwards for so long that it would take time to correct it. They did not favour sudden conversion, but slow immersion. They accepted the apparent limitations of their pupil and used them for their own purposes of instruction. They allowed him to continue to use his reason, but in order that he might prove to himself the limited range of reason. They encouraged him to analyse until he was tired of the process, but he had to analyse his own mind and emotions. Only after a long apprenticeship, and when his trust and confidence had been cemented, did they fully disclose to him his divine nature - the real cause of his dissatisfaction, and also of his arrogance, his dreams of power and pleasure. This method can be seen at work in the Gita.

There is a simile used in the East to describe this technique; you wish to show a friend a certain bright star, so you take him out into the night. He looks up into the sky full of millions of stars but cannot see the bright particular one you wish to show him. So you tell him to stop searching the sky and to turn his attention to a cedar branch which bends over a pool nearby. He is puzzled, but obeys ; and then you direct his gaze straight up behind the branch, and tell him that there he will see the star. Now he sees it plainly, but he would never have done so unaided and without preparation. In the same way the Teacher promises to bestow the supreme Truth on the pupil, but first he directs the pupil's attention to the mind, and the pupil brings it into focus or discipline and becomes a student. Then he brings the heart under review, and the pupil becomes a devotee, a lover. Then the importance and significance of Dharma - the law of righteousness - and the needs of his fellow men are placed before the pupil, who sets himself to become a servant, steadfastly believing all the while that the Teacher is manipulating him into a position from where he may see the ultimate Truth, which he knows it is in the power of the Teacher to reveal to him. They draw nearer and nearer to their objective, and then, when the gaze of the pupil is really steady and directed upwards, the Teacher says the words which bring the Light within his focus, and he has it forever.

The same method is employed in the Gita. Arjuna is a very advanced soul in the worldly sense : he is a leader of men, ambitious and jealous of his honour. Nevertheless, before he can attain the vision and receive the highest teaching, he is given instruction on the technique of control of the mind and the senses, discipline and obedience, service, devotion and meditation. By slowly revealing to him a beauty and power and a destiny greater than his mortal mind has grasped, his Teacher corrects his sense of values, or in other words, directs his gaze in the right direction ; and only after this has been done, is the way shown whereby he can know the highest Truth. There is a legend that once while sitting amongst his courtiers, the Emperor Akbar drew a line on the wall and challenged anyone to shorten it without cutting or erasing it. For a while no one moved or spoke, and then his minister Birbal stepped forward and drew a longer line beside it. The true teacher does not erase the line drawn by his pupil, but he draws a longer one beside it. Prince Arjuna, the man of action, is not changed into a contemplative, but becomes an enlightened performer of action, whose only power is now the power of God, but in whom the incentive for action will never arise unless it comes from Him.

This slow process of acquiring spiritual wisdom, or any knowledge, for that matter, is said to have three stages, not necessarily to be considered as separate or unconnected with each other, for each must have been in operation if that which began as a theory is to become a reality. First the truth must be heard and grasped, and provisionally accepted. This in Sanskrit is called Shravana or hearing. Then this truth is to be digested or meditated upon, until its significance has been grasped. This aspect is called Manana, or brooding on the subject. The third stage is absorption in the truth which has been heard and brooded upon, during which process it becomes a reality and will never again completely leave the consciousness of the pupil. This is called Nididhyasana. One might say that it is as if you were offered a meal : you accept it, eat it and digest it, and then it becomes a part of your being, enriching your blood, giving vitality, and sometimes changing your very moods and thoughts.

Without stretching the point unduly, Prince Arjuna may be said to follow this progression. First he is told the story of his higher and lower nature by the Teacher ; and the psychological weapons at his disposal, his will, power of concentration, devotion and vitality, are brought to his notice. At this stage, the psychological instruction is given in the fullest detail, but he is also told from the outset that he has within him that which does not pass when the body passes, and that his highest Self is one with the supreme Reality. The Shravana is now complete and Arjuna is exhorted to practise Manana, that is, to brood on the significance of what he has been told, with concentrated and devoted meditation on the Lord - the personal God, and to learn to see the Lord as the substratum of all phenomena and all beings. By practising this devotion, this Manana, the way will be prepared for the settled state of Nididhyasana, in which he will lead an absorbed and dedicated life, while following his destined path in the world.

The whole range of the Teaching is given in the first Chapters, and nothing new is added, but as time goes on, the way it is reiterated becomes more interior, or rather the inferences to be drawn from it are more inward, concealed and far-reaching. The teachings of the Gita, as has been said, are primarily directed to the man of action, a man of the world, and therefore, although the truth of the Absolute, the supreme Reality, is affirmed, the pupil is warned that the difficulties of those who set their thought on the Unmanifest, are great - greater than those of the ones who learn to give devotion to the Lord with Form, the personal God ; and he is advised to fix his heart and mind on that Lord alone, and to allow Nididhyasana to take this form for him until he is led further. Radhakrishnan says about this : " The personal God is the form in which alone the Formless Absolute can be pictured by the finite mind. God is formless, and God is with form also ; and He is That which transcends both form and formlessness. He alone can say what He is." And Shri Krishna who is at once the incarnate Lord and the personal God assures Arjuna of two facts. The one is : " In whatever way men worship Me, in that way do I fulfil their desires ", and the other : " The supreme Self is the Seer, subtler than the subtle, of form unthinkable. He is effulgent as the Sun." There is no diversity in Brahman, the Supreme. He is indeed One without a Second ; the divergence lies in man, in the degree of purity and penetration of his supersensuous sight.

Sorrow and difficulty will invade the pupil who believes his capacity for worship to be higher and more abstract than it in fact is. Dr. Shastri has said that in order to emerge into the open air of enlightenment, all must pass through a very small and low door, and that only the one who will bow the body and head will get out of the prison. Therefore, for a long while, devotion and service to the Lord, or a Saint of God, is the rule.

At this point, the traditional meaning of the word 'devotion' , at any rate in Adhyatma Yoga, should be given, in case there are those who say to themselves : "I am not emotional - love of God and devotion are not for me."

According to Dr. Shastri, devotion is not necessarily emotion ; it is the capacity to identify oneself with an object and to recognise consciously one's basic unity with that object. When this identification becomes intense, it brings absorption in the object.

To repeat the teaching of the Gita on this point - there can be no contemplation of the Absolute in the ordinary sense of the term, as the Absolute does not inspire human love and adoration ; it is the personal God who calls forth devotion and worship from the soul. Nevertheless man has an interior sense of the Infinite, and in the end he will come to know that he is the Infinite.

There are some words of Meister Eckhart which are wonderful but almost shocking when first heard. He writes : " In Himself He is not God, only in man does He become God. I ask to be rid of God - namely that God, by His grace, may bring me into the Essence, the Essence which is above God and above distinction. I would enter into that eternal unity which was before all time, when I was what I would, and would what I was ; into that state which is above all addition and diminution ; into that immobility whereby all is moved." Those are the words of a man of God and a lover of God, but also of a questing soul, journeying consciously towards the Absolute State.

At the close of the story, Prince Arjuna has completed his pupilhood ; he has meditated on the teachings and made them his own. He has passed through all obstacles, and has seen the Lord, the ' supreme Treasure of the Universe ' as he calls Him. He declares himself satisfied, and at rest, and says : " Destroyed is my delusion. Through Thy grace I have gained the knowledge of the true nature of the Self. I am firm, my doubts are gone ; I will do Thy bidding." He takes up the great bow, enters the field and the battle is joined. He will be victorious on all the planes.