The following article is reproduced from the English Monthly Vicharasetu – March 1998 published by the Ashram
Krishna has, in a way, completed his exposition of Sankhya and Karma yoga, their sadhana and goal alike. He has also shown when the sadhaka would reach his goal and what, in a nutshell, is the ultimate fruition of yogasadhana. Krishna’s description would naturally have their relevance and purpose, only when Arjuna, to whom they are addressed, is able to grasp what he heard and express his reaction to the message. Arjuna’s response shows that he did grasp Krishna’s teaching. That is why he asks:
Arjuna’s questions are basically two; but they cover the entire range of Yoga and its practical fruition. Equally so, they bring forth the nature of the Knower’s inward and outward life. It is very significant that Arjuna uses the word ‘sthitaprajna’ in his first question, whereas he uses ‘sthitadhee’ in the next.
How can the ‘samadhistha sthitaprajna’ be described, is what Arjuna asks first. “How will the sthita-dhee speak? How will he be resting. And how will he move about in the world and interact with people?” – he asks next.
This portion of the second chapter of Bhagavad Gita is called “sthita-prajna prakarana” It is a very deep and subtle enunciation which brings great value and clarity to the whole spiritual and philosophical exposition of our land. In many of the unique excellences which Gita has, this is a significant one. It shines distinctly with all its emphasis and revelation. The manner in which Krishna answers Arjuna shows how well a dialogue can be conducted, even in a battlefield. Generally subtle philosophical discussions are held in calm environments and leisurely spells. In spite of the fact that the situation here is entirely different, neither Krishna nor Arjuna has allowed fullness and sublimity of the discussions and the messages imparted to suffer the least.
The first question of Arjuna has its special note: “sthitaprajnasya samadhisthasya ka bhasha” – “What is the description of the sthitaprajna seated in samadhi?” In other words, how would Krishna describe the Yogic Knower absorbed in samadhi?” One’s prajna (consciousness) becomes sthita (steady and still) only in samadhi. At all other times the prajna will remain active, generating thoughts and reflections. So the sthitaprajna will not be able to speak or describe his state himself. His sthitaprajnata has to be described by another person, who knows about it well. By wording the question in this manner, Arjuna shows how keen he was in listening to Krishna.
Vedavyasa, too, is showing his great insight and purpose while penning the whole dialogue. More than sketching the biography of the rulers and the ruled of his time, the Sage intends to lay down before the people of the land a message that would last for all times. The intricacies of human behaviour, the sublime purpose of all our interactions, the hidden potential the human personality contains and hosts within itself, how this can be brought to manifest in all relevance and usefulness, ultimately how the individual has the full scope to outlive and assimilate all challenges and inputs from the world around him, these and allied questions are clearly set forth in the narrations of Vedavyasa, whatever be the scenes and events before him.
Philosophy is truly a complement to our external life. It is not to be read and reflected in the leisure of retirement. Instead, it is to be read and applied to the actual needs and riddles of life right from early stages. Arjuna’s enquiry focuses these points with an emphasis that is hardly found elsewhere.
In the next question of Arjuna, he has used a different note and basis. The sthitadhee can speak himself, because he is no more in his sthitaprajna state of samadhi. His speech naturally will strike a difference from that of the rest. What is that difference? Sthitaprajna will be still and absorded into himself. The sthitadhee is not so. He can be quite vocal and even eloquent. Arjuna wants to know how will the sthitadhee take his rest. In other words, what will be his mind like when he stops his activities any time and withdraws into restfulness? Will his mind be brooding and bothering in the same way as that of the ordinary people? Or there is a clear distinction? And lastly, how will he move about, conduct his vyavahara, without causing any disturbance to his own sthitaprajnata treasure. He can even be a greatly helpful source for others. With his unique attainment, he can immensely contribute to the inner welfare of others around.
On close analysis, Arjuna’s questions cover what a seeker wishes to know about the supreme spiritual state. They are also meant to throw light on how a Knower distinguishes himself from the rest of mankind, both in the matter of inward absorption and external interactions. Where lies the difference between a spiritual Knower and a non-Knower? Do spiritual life and its fulfillment pose a conflict to the life in the world? Will life in the world and the interactions it warrants bring about any dislodgement for the Knower from this inward state? Will the world also find the Knower’s presence and movements any disturbance or disharmony? Or, these will be enriching to the world too? How does the Knower ensure that his pursuit of activities in the external world does not disturb him, instead it turns out to be a great enrichment to his life of spiritual enlightenment?
In short, Arjuna is requesting Krishna to give a full description of the sthitaprajna state, samadhi, and also about the sthitadhee state. One refers to the individual’s inward absorptional state and the other to the interactional life of the Knower.
By getting ample clarification in this manner about both aspects of Yoga – the absorptional and interactional aspects – the study and pursuit of saadhana will stand to derive more depth and comprehensiveness. So Arjuna’s enquiries are quite timely, relevant and useful to all seekers of spiritual wisdom and yoga. We have quite a number of Upanishads, where Self-knowledge and Self-Knowers are presented and explained. But the words sthitaprajna and sthitadhee are not mentioned in them. These two concepts, especially the background in which they are presented here in Gita, throw special light on the whole subject of Self-knowledge and Self-Knower.
Krishna always deals with Arjuna’s enquires and questions carefully and well, thereby fulfilling the questioner as well as enriching the subject of discussion greatly. After Krishna began his exposition from the 11th verse of this chapter, this is the first significant question Arjuna raises. Briefly but fully Krishna gives his answer:
When one renounces all desires born of the mind and rejoices by himself on his own Self, he is considered a sthita-prajna.
Krishna emphasizes here only two points in describing the sthita-prajna state. All the desires have to be renounced. After so renouncing, the seeker must be able to take his repose on his own Self within. And in so doing, he must find all the delight and fullness he seeks and yearns for. Leave everything and all, and rest upon your own inward Self. Such restfulness must be delightful, so much so that the seeker will not feel like having anything else for his satisfaction.
The mind has first of all to be disconnected from all the desires it fosters towards things of this world or the other world. Any desire is a desire indeed. And it has the sure effect of disturbing the mind. The only way to make the mind undisturbed is to keep away all desires. In any kind of desiring, the mind gets drawn outside.
A question may arise now: Is the desire for Self-realization also to be renounced? Well, if it is a desire, that is not good. In trying to realize the Self, why should one foster anything like a desire at all? In looking at your body, is there any question of desiring at all? To look at your own mind likewise, does not imply any desiring. So too, to look at the Self within and try to realize what it is, why should any desire be there? Generally you desire to get at some place away from where you are, or you desire to get an object which is different from you. Where the thing sought is different from you, a desire for it is possible and relevant. But in striving to realize your very Self, the Self that you already are, where is the need for any desire at all? You can have an urge for it, an impetus or compulsion for it. That is no desire.
Desire is something that pulls or pushes the mind away from its centre and leads it elsewhere. But here the process is just reverse. The mind, if at all, must get to its own centre, its own essence and being. That process is certainly different from desiring.
Krishna clearly states that after the mind gets rid of the desiring habit and desires, it should become self-seated and in that self-seatedness, the seeker should find all the delight he needs, to make him remain immersed within himself. This point is quite important and clear.
Every day we go into deep sleep for several hours. In sleep (sushupti), the mind itself ceases to be, it becomes extinct, not to speak of the desire it generates. Unmindful of the body, mind and intelligence, the sleeper sleeps to get lost into himself. In what way does this deep sleep state (sushupti) differ from sthita-prajna state? In the suspension of desires, in their disappearance for a while, sushupti and sthita-prajnata may be held to be the same, or nearly so. Even to say this is not true, because sushupti is a biological development. When the body gets tired after being wakeful and active, the biological system sends it to sleep, a state of utter restfulness. It is not something that we generate. Sushupti is a regular state we have just like wakefulness, as a counterpart of wakefulness. Like dream and wakefulness, sushupti is also a state, repetitive in nature, and even periodical. All the three appear in sequence and complement one another. By sleeping for hours together, no special change is brought to the mind, its structure and function. Also, it is not a condition that one should leave all his desires, in order to get into sushupti.
In sthita–prajnata, the whole development starts with an effort – the clear discrimination to eliminate desires; and as a result desires become extinct in the end. It is not then like one slipping into sushupti to forget everything and remain dead to the world and environments for a while. The similarity between sushupti and sthitaprajnata is that in both there is no awareness of the objects outside. The difference between the two is that in sushupti one becomes unconscious of himself, whereas in sthita-prajna state one remains fully conscious of himself. In addition, the sthita-prajna enjoys full delight born of himself, his Self.
What is such an awareness-full, delightful withdrawal? And why are people missing it throughout their life? Can the Self of one bring such an all-inclusive delight, as to exclude the need and company of all things, which he otherwise interacts with? All these questions have their full answer in the sthita-prajnata the seeker is able to gain within himself.
Explained just in 32 poetic letters, Krishna’s description of the “samadhistha-sthitaprajna” is verily a synopsis of all that the Upanishads point out, explain and reveal in various ways.
Our consciousness generally moves about in three states, each different from the others. Wakefulness is the state in which grossness and externality prevail. Only when one wakes up, his waking consciousness brings in the presence and perception of the external objects, including earth, water, fire, air and space. So the entire gross world is a result and outcome of our wakefulness, wakeful consciousness.
But does this wakefulness remain unbroken forever? In fact, whenever wakefulness takes place, it can only be from and after sushupti (deep sleep). Jagrat (wakefulness) cannot be except as a contrast and succession to sushupti. If jagrat is broadbased, external and gross, sushupti is just the opposite of these. In sushupti one remains drawn into himself, subtle and internal, so much so that he does not even know that he is. None says, or can say, that ‘I am sleeping’, ‘I am in sushupti’. The awareness of sushupti comes to us only after we wake up from it. Wakefulness alone is the state in which we have ‘current awareness and knowledge’.
Inasmuch as we have this sushupti state, just like the jagrat state, and that also lasts every time for hours, can we allow the waking state all its seeming value and relevance as we do now? In judging the value and truth of existence of objects, we cannot become blind or partial. A judgement based solely on our jagrat state will not be adequate. The parallel state of sushupti should also become equal ground in making our assessment. And sushupti completely negates the entire waking state realities. If the existence of objects including our own body was absolute, then when we, the perceivers, go into sushupti state, how does none of these objects, including our body, seem to exist and get felt at all? Does the object world come first before us, or we first wake up ourselves, and then alone perceive the gross existence?
Our waking or sleeping does not depend upon the existence of anything other than ourselves. The inward states are brought about by every individual himself. As we wake up ourselves, so also do we get into sleep all by ourselves. Whether any object exists outside or not, one can and does slip into sushupti. Do not people sleep while travelling? Even when some one dear and near is present nearby and a dialogue goes on with him, sometimes one slips into sushupti, to the surprise of all concerned!
Similarly wakefulness also sets in all by itself. One wakes up himself, as he went into sleep, and then begins to feel the presence of his body and the rest of objects around.
There is another state in between, the dream state, svapna. Svapna is a sate in which the dreamer, unlike in sushupti, wakes up into a new world, similar to the waking world but different from it, to enjoy and suffer the activities and interactions taking place exclusively there. The dream objects, interactions and the resulting experiences often, rather invariably, invalidate and contradict the wakeful objects and interactions with them and the resulting joy and suffering. This is similar to the waking world invalidating and contradicting the dream world. But the waker and dreamer are the same. Naturally the truth of both the states – jagrat and svapna –– perceived by him remains the same, because, the test of any existence is its experience by oneself. Waking world derives its status because it is perceived by us. Dream too has its similar status on the ground of being perceived by us.
Besides these two mutually invalidating and contradictory states is the sushupti state, in which both the waking world and dream world are completely negated, and the waker and the dreamer remains all by himself, to be the only subject, devoid of all object connections and consequences. The waking and dream objects together with the interactions and resulting experiences subsist solely on the subject waker and subject dreamer. Without the subject, neither can ever be. Whereas in sushupti, the subject sleeper remains all by himself. Like the objects depending upon the subject (in jagrat and svapna) the subject does not depend upon the objects (sushupti)
Sushupti is thus the full and independent state of the subject. It is this subject alone that brings about by itself, for itself, in itself, the wakeful and dream state, without any kind of linkage with anything else. In waking the grossness and externality of objects prevail, whereas in svapna, the objects remain within the body and as such are subtle in nature. Even the externality we experience during dream reigns within the body. Dream is in fact a sheer expanse within the gross body. Yet the objects of dream are felt to be external. The internal dreamer and waker, produces, all in himself, the externality in both states.
The comparison of the three states goes a step further. Only in jagrat we have the awareness that ‘I am awake’, ‘I am doing this, experiencing this....’. While dreaming, the dreamer does not feel that ‘I am dreaming’. It is instead to him a waking state itself. Only when he wakes up, he realises that he was in a dream state. So in dream he does not have the current awareness about what he is, as happens in waking.
In sushupti, it is not at all so. He does not have any awareness at all as he will have in waking or dream. Unaware of anything outside or inside, doing nothing, knowing nothing, he sleeps, to feel on waking up that he was sleeping. It is this lack of awareness that poses the problem, the only problem, in understanding the ‘I’, the sleeper, dreamer and waker. This constant ignorance is what the sthita-prajna state removes outright.
The subject, the Self, reveals itself in all its fullness and delight. ‘Atmani eva atmana tushtah’ denotes this self-revealing and self-delighting situation. Thus, in this single verse, Krishna presents not only the yoga state of fullness but also the spiritual and philosophical goal discussed and revealed in the Upanishads and allied scriptural texts.
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(part of the series Essential-Concepts-In-Bhagavad-Gita)