“Now learn this buddhi yoga, declared to you in the Sankhya philosophy. By the yoga of the buddhi [or: by uniting the buddhi in yoga], you shall rid [free] yourself of the bondage of karma” (2:39).
Since Sankhya is the philosophical basis of the Bhagavad Gita, we will be talking about it quite a bit. For now, here is A Brief Sanskrit Glossary’s definition: “Sankhya: One of the six orthodox systems of Hindu philosophy whose originator was the sage Kapila, Sankhya is the original Vedic philosophy, endorsed by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (Gita 2:39; 3:3,5; 18:13,19), the second chapter of which is entitled “Sankhya Yoga.” The Ramakrishna-Vedanta Wordbook says: ‘Sankhya postulates two ultimate realities, Purusha and Prakriti. Declaring that the cause of suffering is man’s identification of Purusha with Prakriti and its products, Sankhya teaches that liberation and true knowledge are attained in the supreme consciousness, where such identification ceases and Purusha is realized as existing independently in its transcendental nature.’”
Not surprisingly, then, Yoga is based on the Sankhya philosophy.
Buddhi is the intellect, understanding, and reason. It is not just the thinking mind, it is the understanding mind, the seat of intelligence and wisdom. Buddhi Yoga, then is the Yoga of Intelligence which later came to be called Jnana Yoga, the Yoga of Knowledge. We have four levels of being, and the buddhi–also called the jnanamaya kosha–is one of the highest. So a buddhi yogi has his consciousness centered in the higher levels of his being. And he uses his buddhi to extend that yoga even higher into that level which is virtually indistinguishable from spirit. From then on Self-realization is assured.
Yoga and Sankhya are inseparable, so buddhi yoga involves meditation as its paramount aspect. A Buddha is a successful buddha yogi. Unprejudiced reading of the Pali Sutras of Buddhism will reveal that Buddha was not only an Aryan, he was a classical Sankhya philosopher, a buddhi yogi. Anyone who wishes to follow Buddha must be the same just as anyone who wishes to follow Jesus must follow dharma as found in the Gita. Then he, too, will be a follower of Sankhya and a practicer of Yoga.
“Yoga” comes from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means to join or connect or even to unite in the sense of making many into one. It can also mean to bring together. But in the scriptures of India it always is applied in a spiritual sense, meaning both union with God and the way by which that union is effected. Yoga, then is both spiritual life and the culmination of spiritual life. Yoga is union with the Supreme Being, or any practice that makes for such union.
According to Krishna, the direct effect of buddhi yoga is the dissolving of karmic bonds created by past actions (karmas) and the freeing of the yogi from the compulsion to future karmas–binding actions. So we should look at karma itself.
“Karma” comes from the Sanskrit root kri, which means to act, do, or make. It is exactly the same as the Latin verb ago from whose form, actus, we get our English words act and action. Both verbs are “all purpose” words–that is, they can be applied in many situations to express the idea of many forms of action both mental and physical. This is important to know so we can realize that karma covers the entire range of human action, whatever its character.
Karma, then, means any kind of action, including thought and feeling. But it also means the effects of actions. For karma is both action and reaction. Being a fundamental principle of existence it may be thought of as the law of causation governing action and its effects in the physical and psychological plane. It extends back to the moment of our entry into relative existence and extends forward to the moment of our exit from relative existence–even if that exit is a matter of transmutation of consciousness rather than external cessation of manifestation in a relative form or body.
Buddhi yoga is performed as an expression of divinity for the revelation of divinity, all other benefits, individual and communal, being secondary–even insignificant. For it is purely psychological, even if sometimes expressed outwardly.
First we must be able to intellectually understand the principle and the practice. Then if we follow it the result will be not be the benefit of others or satisfaction with ourselves for having done the right. Instead it will be the breaking of the bonds of egoic desire which bind us to the wheel of birth and death, forcing us to act and to reap the results of our actions.
To even conceive of erasing the capacity for desire from our minds is audacious to the maximum degree. To strive for it is courageous beyond calculation. No wonder a battlefield and imminent war is the setting for Krishna’s teaching. We must understand that desirelessness is not a mere absence of desire or a state of indifference or detachment. It is an absolute incapacity for desire. That is, desire cannot arise in the mind (buddhi), conscious or subconscious, of the perfect buddhi yogi. (Obviously we are going to be imperfect yogis for quite a while yet.)
People usually make the same mistake about buddhi yoga that they do about Patanjali’s yoga. They believe that just not thinking is the state of yoga and just not caring is the state of karma yoga. But they are much, much more. Yoga is the state in which the mind substance (chitta) has evolved to the point where no modifications (vrittis or waves) can arise. Buddhi yoga is the state in which desire can no longer arise, being eclipsed by awareness of the spirit-Self. These are high ideals virtually beyond our present comprehension, but not beyond our attainment.
The safe path
Krishna continues to amaze us. Next he states: “Here [in this yoga] no effort is lost, nor is any loss of progress found. Even a little of this discipline [dharma] protects one from great danger” (2:40).
All effort is effectual, and there is no regression from progress attained in this yoga. It also protects the yogi from mahato bhayat–great danger or great fear.
Even to try the path of yoga for a while and then abandon it, or to try it and fail, or to follow it and die before making any significant progress–all these will result in tremendous benefit. Not one calorie of expended energy will slip away from us. This is incredible, and reveals the profound nature of authentic yoga. Yoga (the real thing, that is) inaugurates such a profound change in our entire mode of existence, such a deep-reaching extension of our higher will, that it cannot help but come to full effect in time. So powerful is the psychic restructuring accomplished by even a little yoga practice that we are permanently affected, as Krishna will expound later.
Even more: no negative effect can accrue from such yoga. In other endeavors failure or abandonment often produce psychic damage, weakening, or loss in some form. Not so with this yoga. So mighty is its effect that even walking away from it cannot cancel its positive and inevitable results. Only good can come of our attempts. For even a little practice of this yoga will save us from the terrible wheel of rebirth and death by breaking the chains of desire–or rather, the weakness and ignorance that render us capable of desire.
The secret of its effectiveness
“Here [in this yoga] there is a single resolute understanding. The thoughts of the irresolute have many branches and are, indeed, endless” (2:41).
In the practice of yoga there is only one ideal: liberation of the spirit (moksha). Nothing else can be a motive. It is like threading a needle. The thread cannot have fibers sticking out, otherwise it cannot be put through the needle’s eye. In the same way the mind must be focused on the single purpose: freedom in union with the Divine. Many types of actions may be engaged in and many goals may be aimed for or achieved. Yet, to the yogi they are nothing in themselves. The final result alone matters and alone is ever before his inner eye.
It is much like the rays of the sun. They can be very hot in the summer, but if even in the winter they are focused by means of a magnifying or “burning” glass they will cause any flammable object to catch fire. The narrower the point of a weight the more pressure is produced. A brick weighing a pound or two will cause no discomfort if held in the hand. But if the corner of the brick is brought to bear on the palm it will be painful.
The idea of both these examples is that the more united or “pointed” the mind is made through yoga, the more powerful–and therefore effective–it is.
To lack this single-mindedness in relation to moksha is disastrous to the yogi. This cannot be overemphasized because yoga is nothing less than the intense form of liberating sadhana Krishna envisions and which impels him to say: “The thoughts of the irresolute have many branches and are, indeed, endless.” Lost in the labyrinth of many goals and focusing on a multitude of objects, the aspiring yogi becomes lost in confusion and frustration. Krishna’s picture of such a person was presented by the Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock when he wrote about a man who leapt on his horse “and rode madly off in all directions.” In the Bible several times people are urged to walk straight forward without turning to right or left. (Proverbs 4:27; Deuteronomy 5:32, 28:14; Joshua 1:7) The meaning is the same as Krishna’s.
As Swami Premeshananda was wont to say: “Go Forward!”
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Religiosity Versus Religion
Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:
- The Battlefield of the Mind
- On the Field of Dharma
- Taking Stock
- The Smile of Krishna
- Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
- Experiencing the Unreal
- The Unreal and the Real
- The Body and the Spirit
- Know the Atman!
- Practical Self-Knowledge
- Perspective on Birth and Death
- The Wonder of the Atman
- The Indestructible Self
- “Happy the Warrior”
- Buddhi Yoga
- Religiosity Versus Religion
- Perspective on Scriptures
- How Not To Act
- How To Act
- Right Perspective
- Wisdom About the Wise
- Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
- The Way of Peace
- Calming the Storm
- First Steps in Karma Yoga
- From the Beginning to the End
- The Real “Doers”
- Our Spiritual Marching Orders
- Freedom From Karma
- In the Grip of the Monster
- Devotee and Friend
- The Eternal Being
- The Path
- Caste and Karma
- Action–Divine and Human
- The Mystery of Action and Inaction
- The Wise in Action
- Sacrificial Offerings
- The Worship of Brahman
- Action–Renounced and Performed
- Freedom (Moksha)
- The Brahman-Knower
- The Goal of Karma Yoga
- Getting There
- The Yogi’s Retreat
- The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
- Union With Brahman
- The Yogi’s Future
- Success in Yoga
- The Net and Its Weaver
- Those Who Seek God
- Those Who Worship God and the Gods
- The Veil in the Mind
- The Big Picture
- The Sure Way To Realize God
- Day, Night, and the Two Paths
- The Supreme Knowledge
- Universal Being
- Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
- Worshipping the One
- Going To God
- Wisdom and Knowing
- Going To The Source
- From Hearing To Seeing
- The Wisdom of Devotion
- Right Conduct
- The Field and Its Knower
- Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
- Seeing the One Within the All
- The Three Gunas
- The Cosmic Tree
- The All-pervading Reality
- The Divine and the Demonic
- Faith and the Three Gunas
- Food and the Three Gunas
- Religion and the Three Gunas
- Tapasya and the Three Gunas
- Charity and the Three Gunas
- Sannyasa and Tyaga
- Deeper Insights On Action
- Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
- The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
- The Three Kinds of Happiness
- The Great Devotee
- The Final Words
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Read the Maharshi Gita, an arrangement of verses of the Bhagavad Gita made by Sri Ramana Maharshi that gives an overview of the essential message of the Gita.
Read The Bhagavad Gita (arranged in verses for singing) by Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri).
Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary