Conversation held on March 1st, 2018 12 pm Eastern/11 Central
Summary of 24(2) lines 40-end
Krishna continues his response to Arjuna. Here he begins to move a little deeper into his initial answer of lines 1-40 in this chapter. The central thrust, as we have seen, thus far of Krishna’s initial answer is to show Arjuna that there are better reasons to engage in the battle than looking toward the preservation of his kingdom, victory and riches. He urged him to look toward Dharma instead.
In our reading for today, Krishna encourages Arjuna to recover an attitude of single-mindedness or singleness of purpose grounded in a mindset that is modeled on the wise man, a brahmin. The warrior Arjuna, after all, had spoken “to sage issues”. Making his initial response more precise, Krishnaarticulates the ‘redirection’ of Arjuna’s interest as one in terms of the “fruits” of actions. “Abandon self-interest,” Krishna says. Singleness of purpose is to come about when he renounces his attachment to the “fruits” of his actions. This mindset is one that is described as withdrawing from attachment to senses, like a “tortoise withdraws his limbs”, or one that is like the ocean, in which all “objects of desires flow” into the wise man in a way that rivers flow into the unperturbed depths of the ocean. Moreover, the man who adopts this stance is wide awake in what he says is night for creatures.
At around line 68, the text reads: “The controlled man wakes in what is night for all creatures, as it is night for the seer of vision when other creature are awake.” What is this night? What does it mean for the controlled man to be awake? Why the analogy between waking versus sleep?
An initial observation is that “sleep” is not literally sleep, but refers to the capacity for not seeing reality for what it really is. Waking, by contrast, refers to a state of clarity from delusion. Naturally a question arises about what delusion is. According to the text, “delusion”, which comes out of anger and partiality, seems to begin ultimately with the most basic ways we relate to our senses.
Sleeping and waking is a very suggestive image. If we experience terror during dreams, we sweat and scream, but when we are awake, we find it is nothing. So what is being suggested here, is a certain attitude and standpoint that contrasts with our everyday natural attitude as sharply as that between waking and sleeping. This play on words between waking and sleeping might simply mean that the “controlled person” begins to become aware of things, having distanced themselves from the things that give rise to passions and fears.
The question for us then is about our relationship to our senses – what is begin indicated here? Does the wise man move himself apart from senses, such that he is no longer sensing, or is utterly insensible? Or what does would mean to move away from them? One person thought it meant that the wise person puts themselves at a remove so that they are aware, but they aren’t affected in the same way. (c.f. lines 60-65) This reading certainly accords with the text. But it strikes some of us as very difficult to achieve, though not impossible; for the attempt to attain it may in fact be how we all better ourselves.
A question then arose about the relationship between this single-minded attitude, involving profound self-control, and action. What is the relationship between them?
One suggestion was that if you are aware, you become aware of what your path is, and the goal then seems to be to act regardless of the results. We have, after all, no control over the fruits of our actions anyway; all we can do is act as well as possible. We can’t really know what the ultimate outcome will be: all we can do is whatever the right thing is, and focus on the present, because we don’t what the consequences will be. If you are controlled by your desire to achieve a certain outcome, you may not act at all, because you think it will turn out this or that way; while the truth is, you have no idea which way it will turn out.
We still struggle with some of the themes that come up for us in the book thus far. Krishna, for example, is telling Arjuna to “fight” lest he suffer certain consequences; but then he seems to turn around and exhort him to act regardless of consequences. He seemed to say that death is not so meaningful as Arjuna thinks, there is one cycle. But if it’s all one cycle, and I’m not concerned with death, why concern myself with honor? Moreover, it almost seems like he’s saying to Arjuna act as if you were dying or dead. We share these and other difficulties.
One way of resolving the apparent contradiction is to think about it means to yoke oneself to action: line 51-54- ‘this application is the capacity to act’. The promise is a state of bliss or serenity.What is the relationship, then, between this promised serenity to action?
We find in the text that there is something greater to fear than death – which is karman, something bad that accumulates with actions done improperly or unlawfully. (c.f. line 52) In this encouragement to “yoke himself Krishna”, Krishna seems to be saying that Arjuna, as a Ksatriya warrior, can achieve the same results as a Brahmin. On the one hand, he is to remain in the warrior path, do his law. But by doing so, yoking himself to Kirshna, he achieves results like those achieved by one with insight.
This goes back to the question about how Krishna’s speech about a ‘wise man’ could help Arjuna in his particular situation, who is a warrior. But also, could it apply to everyone? Does it relate to our world?
It seems that anyone can break the cycle. All human beings have senses, desires, thoughts, a capacity to observe emotions, conflicts, and a capacity to act. We seem to be facing the possibility that there is an attitude of disinterested objectivity that leads not away from but towards deeper engagement and action.
To see how this applies to Arjuna in particular, we might return to the line of the opening question: “The controlled man wakes in what is night for all creatures, as it is night for the seer of vision when the other creatures are awake. ” How do we read the contrast between the “controlled man” and the “seer of vision”? Is Krishna saying that Arjuna, while he cannot hope to be a wise man with deepest insight, can at last aspire in this case to be a “controlled man” – the second best thing to being a “seer of vision”? Thus it could be that, without undergoing the path of the wise man, Arjuna, “maintaining this stance even in his last hour”, might be able to “attain to the nirvana of brahman“.