We are entering into the most crucial enunciations in the Bhagavad Gita dialogue. Krishna now gives a finishing touch to all that he has said so far, in the course of which he makes a number of great revelations. Seekers should focus their attention on these distinct and unique revelations and gain ample clarity. The vagaries of the mind should completely stop and clarity should make the mind sufficiently focused on its own bounties. The sādhanā will be steered properly and become expeditious, if these statements are taken to heart and actualized in life.
Know from me briefly, how one, having gained the naiṣkarmya-siddhiḥ, attains Brahman, which is the ultimate fruition of jñāna-niṣṭhā.
Though naiṣkarmya siddhiḥ (as explained in the previous ślokas) is a very lofty attainment, it does not mark the finale of spiritual sādhanā. This is a point to be taken into account by the seekers. They should reevaluate their understanding, steer their thoughts properly and gain the right vision about the sādhanā as well as the goal.
Naiṣkarmya siddhiḥ is only a stage, an advanced one, where the mind outlives its usual plight of being addicted to activities by unduly depending upon them and their results. With spiritual insight consistently fostered, a basic transformation takes place in the mind – in all its thoughts and urges. A spiritual mind drops the usual dross and temptations. It gives rise to the potential and also possibility of being pure and quiescent.
Generally all activities are instigated by desire, greed, possessiveness and the like. In the case of one who has attained naiṣkarmya siddhi, the situation changes entirely. The next phase for him is to get into the higher jñāna-niṣṭhā, for attainment of Brahman. When the seeker’s mind has become pure and sublime by virtue of the activities and interactions he has been pursuing with the spirit of karma-yoga, Brāhmic attainment is a distinct outcome to follow.
Krishna states that what he will say is only a brief exposition of jñānaniṣṭhā. Why so? A full description is not called for in the context of either Arjuna or the impending war he was facing. What Arjuna needed was basically the freedom from all his doubts and fears about the possible consequences of the war. Arjuna himself enumerated it in the beginning (verses 1.38-45). He apprehends a series of outcomes, all leading to terrible sin involving indefinite life in hell. If this distress is resolved, then Arjuna will have the necessary strength to go ahead with the fight.
Jñāna-niṣṭhā (wholesome commitment to knowledge)
This is only one side of the picture. There is the other side too. Krishna was exposing the Wisdom of the Soul to resolve Arjuna’s doubts and discomfiture. The exposition would not be complete, unless Krishna also speaks about the supreme jñāna-niṣṭhā, which alone will ensure the fullness and perfection the Soul-wisdom implies and bestows. While treating Arjuna to the extent he needed and the situation called for, Krishna cannot be indifferent to the sublimity of the subject of discussion, its zenith and fruition. So he is briefly describing the lofty jñāna-niṣṭhā to complete his narration as well as to enlighten and lead the seekers to where they should rightly reach.
He describes this supreme jñāna-niṣṭhā in three verses. These reveal a world of wisdom as also a specific focus for the seeker at this level:
Integrated with pure intellect, regulating the mind with will; giving up sensory thrills in the form of sound etc.; abandoning desire and dislike;
being given to alone-ness (not resorting to madding crowd); eating but little; moderating activities of body, speech and mind; resorting to contemplation; seeking refuge under dispassion;
abandoning egotism, clout, arrogance, lust and rage (hatred), not accepting gifts; possessing nothing; and composed – such a one is said to be ready to become Brahman.
Bhagavad Gita – a jñāna-śāstra
People generally speak of Bhagavad Gita as a karma-śāstra related to karma-yoga, and that alone. But the very first words Krishna uttered (verses 2.17-25) looking at Arjuna’s plight and hearing his confession, refer to the inmost Soul, spelling out its unborn, undying and all-fulfilling character. He clearly emphasized right then that by knowing this inner Soul alone, fear of death as well as questions and problems of living, would be led to extinction. In Self-knowledge alone lies a full redress and solution to all the torments of the mind and puzzles of the intelligence (2.25).
Sāṅkhya denotes Knowledge of the Soul. This is what he first discussed in the second chapter. Sāṅkhya itself means paramātma-vidyā, Knowledge about the supreme Self. The Self in oneself is only to be known, realized. It is already present within oneself as the ‘I’. One does not have to gain it or reach it. There is, in truth, no distance-based journey or a time-bound effort. Nor is the Self something to be produced as an outcome by the seeker. Its presence is all along there. All that the seeker has to do is to know it in all its magnitude and magnificence, and by dint of that knowledge, make the mind free.
For anyone who knows this Self as unborn, undying, absolute and eternal, how can any questions like birth, death, sin or virtue arise – emphasized Krishna during the discussion (2.21-25). Does this not clearly show that the knowledge of the Self itself becomes a panacea for all questions, doubts and problems of the mind and intelligence?
Everything that followed was in pursuance to this sāṅkhya discussion. How can the dialogue be then a mere karma-śāstra? Bhagavad Gita is knowledge-based – it is a jñāna-śāstra. This fact finds mention everywhere, if closely examined (4.16, 4.33, 4.34, 4.38, 7.2, 9.1 etc.).
Here now in the 18th chapter, Krishna says that detachment is the core of spiritual life (18.6, 9, 23). Armed with that spirit, if one lives, moves and acts, his mind will be freed from the clutches of desire and whatever activities desire motivates or instigates. It is then that the seeker feels inclined to take up the real jñāna-niṣṭhā, wherein he gets involved only with his mind and its vagaries, intelligence and its quests with a view to clear them for ever. Outer pursuit of any kind has no place in such a state.
In the 6th chapter, Krishna did describe two levels of meditation – the first one with the details of pose, and the second, focusing on the inner Self (6.11-28).
Here now he describes the whole of jñāna-niṣṭhā, not the piecemeal meditation. It is not just an absorptional spell lasting for minutes or hours. On the other hand, it is a process of purging all the inner dross and making oneself pure to the core. The words used, the phrases employed, the content and goal conveyed are distinct and forceful. None should miss the jñāna-niṣṭhā, which alone is the core content of seeking and enlightenment.
Disciplines that lead to knowledge of Brahman
The so-called karma-yoga proponents should understand with sufficient importance that for anyone, including a karma-yogi, this jñānaniṣṭhā is the pinnacle. This fact should not be forgotten or set aside. In jñāna-niṣṭhā alone, spiritual sādhanā has its crowning fulfillment.
See how Krishna describes it:
The intelligence of the seeker must become pure. Only such pure intelligence will be able to inspire and guide the mind properly to remain exclusively spiritual (buddhyā viśuddhayā yuktaḥ). A pure intelligence will always be given to reflect upon the Soul, and as a result, the interactional life as a whole, will be soaked with sublimity. More than the visible world, the invisible source, the Brahman, will appeal to the mind and intelligence.
Sufficient control of oneself, the bodily and inner discipline, emphasizes Krishna, is an important part of this jñāna-niṣṭhā. Will (dhṛti) should be employed for this purpose (dhṛtyā ātmānam niyamya ca). Like mind and intelligence, will also is an inner constituent. It should be rightly identified and diligently employed by the seeker. Pleading weakness or inability has no place in spiritual life.
Too much interaction with sensory objects should be avoided (śabdādīn viṣayān tyaktvā). Interactions become necessary only when our objective is external and has something to do with the society around. For one poised to pursue the kevala jñāna-niṣṭhā (exclusive dedication to Knowledge), where is the question of any outer pursuit? His sole focus should be within – the mind and the intelligence.
What further? Desire and hatred, which generally subdue the mind should be sternly abandoned (rāga-dveṣau vyudasya ca). The seeker should find it delightful to be rid of them. That makes the mind beautiful, joyful and peaceful.
To facilitate this kind of exclusive jñāna-niṣṭhā, it is desirable to take to a solitary place, which will naturally be free of varied interactions (vivikta-sevī). To learn to eat moderately is the next discipline (laghvāśī). The need to eat more will be there only when one needs more energy for excessive activities. Here, the activities being the minimum, such excess eating is not called for. Likewise, in speaking, physical activity and also in thinking, control and moderation should be practised (yatavāk-kāya-mānasaḥ).
The only interest and practice should be consistent meditation and inner absorption (dhyāna-yoga-paro nityam). When no interactions are there to cause mental distractions, when Nature with its abundance surrounds the seeker, the mind will tend to plunge into its own inner depths. The effect of natural surroundings is quite forceful.
The one factor that facilitates this inner absorption is dispassion – intense and wholesome dispassion. Mind should start reveling in dispassion (vairāgyam samupāśritaḥ). Scriptural and similar texts which discuss dispassion can be recited to inspire oneself. Earlier, the objects and their impressions were working on the mind. But now, thoughts and memories of dispassion-stimulating writings must have their sublime effect. Vairāgya-śatakam of Bhartṛhari is a distinguished text on dispassion. Seekers should make use of it liberally. There are many portions in Srīmad Bhāgavatam which also revel in dispassion. Let the mind learn to be enriched by all these introspections.
Krishna now says that the sole object of exclusive meditation and the life in seclusion is to get into the inner chambers of the mind and identify the subtle negative traits lurking there. Thereafter each should be removed with relentless keen attention. How carefully Krishna leads the seeker to this kind of inward examination and helps the seeker spot the blemishes and stains one after another!
Egoism is a very subtle concept the seeker has to grasp well. For that, he has to reflect deeply upon it. Egoism is the feeling of ‘I’, as a separate entity, causing actions, inviting results, and enjoying and suffering in the process. Kartṛ-bhoktṛ-bhāva is the functional expression of ego or egoism. Even the ‘spiritual-ego’ of being a sādhaka, heading for the goal or having attained it, is wrong. It is harmful to the very pursuit and hence should be safeguarded against.
The next trait to be detected and renounced is the feeling of power (balam). The seeker should not feel that seeking is itself a creditable means of strength: “I am a seeker, and therefore, am distinct from the rest. I have spiritual power.” Any such note takes away the purity and sublimity of seeking. It constricts the mind greatly. The seeker has to scrupulously avoid it throughout. Strength is always known to subdue the weak. Thus, the feeling of strength inevitably brings a note of superiority and dominance. For this reason it is antagonistic to spiritual humility and dispassion. The seeker has to be attentive to be free of any such notes. He must not have either superiority or inferiority. His focus should be on even-mindedness.
Krishna adds that one must search for the traces of desire, hatred and possessiveness and remove them carefully with diligence (kāmam krodham parigraham vimucya). The tendency to look for and expect any kind of favour or help from others (parigraham), even to ensure bodily upkeep, should be carefully identified and renounced, says Krishna. Only thus can the mind become sufficiently quiescent.
People may wonder whether this kind of inner probing, cleansing and edifying is practicable. Remember, ours is a blessed country where people from time immemorial have been reveling in austerity meant to gain the rare spiritual gifts and embellishments. Even the kings who lived in ornate palaces had their innate fondness for ascetic life and its unique merits. They knew well that the joy in anyone has its locus in the mind – in its purity and enrichment.
The outer world with its glories is there, visible, no doubt. But the source that produces and displays it reigns inward, hosting far greater splendour and magnitude. Thus, to take to asceticism and austerity is a matter of loftier choice and benediction. That is how India is rich with its austere and ascetic tradition and culture. Thousands of people in this country even today live and move with austere simplicity, with a traditional commitment - amazing in every way. The genesis of all this is the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and other allied texts, and the great impact they have made on the lives of people here.
This kind of deep inner sublimity and enrichment is the core of true spiritual life and pursuit. People yearn for acquiring and amassing riches, fame and other resources only to make the mind joyous and fulfilled. If the same joy and fulfillment can be had in a more abundant manner by virtue of the inner jñāna-niṣṭhā, will not a rational human prefer to take to the inner path?
In fact, spirituality is no other than getting into the mind’s complexities, understanding its problems and pressures, and working the way out of these to realize the mystery of peace, contentment and fulfillment. Upon dropping all the dross of the mind, being freed of ego, desire, pride, hatred and possessiveness, the seeker verily becomes qualified to attain Brahman (brahma-bhūyāya kalpate), Krishna says.
Integration of knowledge and devotion
Krishna does not stop here. He has something more to say in the same strain:
One who has become Brahman (i.e. who abides in Brahman) is always cheerful. He neither grieves nor desires. Being equal towards all beings, he attains unflinching devotion to the Supreme.
To be a brahma-bhūtaḥ means to be cheerful in heart and mind. What is there for him to worry about? The external world and its bounties do not and cannot by themselves cause any problems to anyone. Our own mind, by virtue of its propensity, alights on them through the senses to create notes of allurement and dislike. When the mind leaves all its pulls and pressures to remain calm and quiescent, what can the world do? If at all, it remains a beautiful expression of the same Brahman, which the mind has now become.
Freed of all possessiveness and preferences, the seeker attains equal vision, a subject Krishna has always been stressing variously. Thence, says Krishna, the brahma-bhūtaḥ begets unflinching devotion to the supreme Reality. By saying this, is Krishna lifting devotion to a pedestal higher than jñāna? Does it appear so? The next statement seems to indicate something more.
By devotion he comes to know the Supreme well - what and who It is. Knowing the supreme Reality thus in essence, he enters into It.
By means of such intense and wholesome devotion, the seeker comes to know the supreme Reality. The supreme Reality always remains a lofty concept, the cause and source of creation. The world being stupendous on all fronts, its source must be all the more so. How can one comprehend it then, much less access it?
The mind is, after all, within our limited body. The natural doubt is: it must also be equally limited. Can such a mind climb to the required level to comprehend the Supreme? But all this skepticism vanishes, once the mind becomes pure, sublime and refined, bereft of all notes of desire, hatred and ego.
Getting thus the essential knowledge of the Supreme, the seeker feels his existence is already within It, as is the world within the unbounded space. The earth, sun, moon, stars and all else come within the world. Likewise, the seeker as an entity is undoubtedly within the Supreme.
The entry he feels is not a physical one, like water or air entering a jar. It is a knowledge process. He comes to know that his being is already within the Supreme. Not that it was not earlier, but he did not know it so far. Now the knowledge and confirmation have dawned in him unshakably. As a result, he realizes how he is already dissolved or merged into the Supreme (viśate tad-anantaram).
Generally, devotees have wonderful ideas about God as well as the merger into Him, the supreme Divinity. In many instances, devotional imagination is quite picturesque. But if the subject is thought of in a rational, philosophical manner, there is enough clarity to be gained in the matter. Our being is already within the orbit of God or Divinity. What is required is the dawning of the understanding and realization that this is so.
(From Essential Concepts in Bhagavad Gita - Volume 6)