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Let him by himself save himself and not lower himself, for oneself is one’s friend, oneself alone one’s enemy. (line 5, Ch 6)

Yoga is neither for him who eats too much or not all, nor for him who sleeps too much or keeps awake.   (line 16-17. Ch 6)

Summary of Chapter 6

Following on the end of Chapter 5, Chapter 6 begins to outline the practice of a “yogin” that Krishna wants Arjuna to see. His basic advice to Arjuna is to “be a yogin”, though one that is intent on Krishna. The discipline involves controlling the thoughts in a kind of sitting practice, on seats “neither too high nor too low”.  Arjuna has two doubts: the first is about the impossibility of controlling the mind, which he says is ‘no more susceptible to control tan the wind itself’. The second is his doubt about how a non-ascetic like himself could practice yoga in the way Krishna conceives.  Krishna answers addresses both doubts.

Opening Question

Near the end of this reading Krishna’s exhortation to Arjuna is to ‘become a yogin’.  What is it to be a “yogin”, as we see it understood here in the Chapter 6, and as it has been unfolding in the readings thus far?

Observations

We might think that Krishna is telling Arjuna to merely ‘stay in his lane’ – just keep his head down and do his job, and not ask questions, along the line of Tennyson’s  ”Yours is to do or die and not ask questions why”.

But the problem with this interpretation is that Krishna is very clearly giving Arjuna a practice or a path – a way out that is also a way in – above and beyond what is ‘merely’ in his lane as a member of the warrior caste. This practice, according to the text itself, up until this point, has never been available to one like himself, to a man of action.  He is to engage in the action of the battle on entirely new grounds.

Krishna describes the practice of a yoga of restrained thought:

…remaining in retreat, solitary, in control of his thoughts…let him set up for himself a firm stool in a pure spot, neither too high, not too low, with a cover of cloth, deerskin, or kusa grass. As he sits on his seat, let him pinpoint his mind, so that the workings of his mind and sense are under control, and yoke himself to yoga for the cleansing of self. Holding body, head, and neck straight and immobile, let him sit yoked, his thought on me, his intention focused on me.  When he this yokes himself continuously, the yogin of restrained thought attains to the peace that lies in me, beyond nirvana.  (line 10-15)

While it may seem to be extreme practice relative to ordinary habits, it seemed to us that it is not unimportant that the seating is “neither too high, nor too low” and that nothing fancy or expensive is needed to cover the seat – as if any material at hand will do. There are no elaborate rituals and Vedic hymns to chant.

Continuing this thought, Krishna says:

Yoga is neither for him who eats too much, or not all nor for him who sleeps too much or keeps awake. (line 16-7)

Krishna appears to be describing a more moderate path, and not, rather, an ‘ascetic’ one.

However, the endpoint of this practice is one that might itself seem extreme, since it involves the cessation of thought:

Renouncing without exception all objects of desire that are rooted in intentions, taming the village of the sense all around with his mind, he should little by little cease, while he holds his spirit with fortitude, merges his mind in the self, and thinks nothing at all.  (line 25)

The presupposition here is that mind or thinking is itself an expression of – or at least deeply interrelated to – desire.

At this point he has “become brahman”.  He sees himself in all creature, all creature in himself – sees everything the same – the blissful and the wretched are no different. And then finally sees everything in Krishna.

The “ultimate yogin” is one who becomes one with Krishna, and moves in Krishna.

Someone in the group offered the analogy of bedrock: if you go down far enough, islands are all connected by bedrock. But we don’t ordinarily see this. The practice of Krishna’s yoga, then, leads to that knowledge. But when you sit down to practice it, you don’t see it right away.  The practice leads to the knowledge, “little by little.”  

Two things seem to be required: first, one must renounce intentions and desires for “fruits” of actions, while controlling or restraining thoughts.  Secondly, one sets ones sights on Krishna, as the ultimate reality, as brahman. 

Arjuna, filled with trepidation about the difficulty of the task, rightly wonders how he could possibly achieve this end, in the short time he has, and given the fact that he is not an ascetic or an adept. Won’t his failed efforts go to waste?  Krishna’s response, we believe, is also intended to be moderate:

Neither here no hereafter is he lost, for no one who does good can go wrong, my friend.

He goes on to describe the succession of rebirths (line 40) – that someone who practices will slowly, every life, become more complete.  This may be a difficult doctrine to hold for many readers, but we wonder if, at very least, this vision has the practical import of quelling the fear of wasted effort, and thus moderating ones response to the human situation.

One question that has lingered for us is why Arjuna? What is special about his situation? A possible answer is that the Bhagavad-gita presents an ultimate situation, in which nothing more distasteful in life than the one Arjuna faces can be conceived.

As the book proceeds, and as we continue our close-reading study together, it is becoming more evident to us that the Bhagavad-gita is not a mere story about a man and his discourse with the Supreme Godhead – but Arjuna’s situation has become the occasion for a spiritual teaching intended for every person – no matter what caste they are in.  The ‘ultimate distasteful situation’ is a place where wisdom would be most needed – and thus a suitable vehicle for such a teaching. We are seeing the grounds of a practice, mindful of tradition, yet free tradition, presupposing no caste at all.  This is one reason why it may yet resonate with those living in a modern liberal democratic society – who either come from Indian lineage or not – who have not been brought up in traditional Indian society.

Next week: Chapter 7 and 8

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