When the mind is led about by the wandering senses, it carries away the understanding like the wind carries away a ship on the waters. The intelligent, buddhic awareness of him whose senses are withdrawn from the objects of the senses on all sides will be found firmly established (2:67-68).
The theme of peace is being continued in these two verses, and its imagery brings to mind the following: “When the even was come, he [Jesus] saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side. And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships. And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.… And they said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41) Rather than being some special, unique person that we can only admire, Jesus was exactly what each one of must become. We, too, must bring peace into our stormy minds.
It is the wind and rain of the senses that “carries away one’s understanding, as the wind carries away a ship on the waters.” However much the “captain” of the buddhi grasps the wheel and tries to hold the ship steady on its course, the struggle is hopeless. This is because, as the verse literally says, the mind wanders after the senses and becomes guided by them, losing its intelligent awareness (prajnam). Caught then in the heaving waters of samsara, of constant birth and death, with their attendant anguish, each of us is carried away by the waves, lost and disoriented completely.
Swami Prabhavananda renders this verse: “The wind turns a ship from its course upon the waters: the wandering winds of the senses cast man’s mind adrift and turn his better judgment from its course.” “Better judgment” is the translation Swami Prabhavananda uses for prajnam. Prajnam means both consciousness and awareness, and includes the knowledge gained by the evolving bodies of the Atman. Just as Krishna has described before that we lose “memory,” the lesson of experience, it is prajnam that we lose.
The statement that we are turned from our course points out a basic truth: by nature we are all “on course,” and our drifting is unnatural. Therefore when we set our wills to recover our course, there is no doubt that we will succeed. It is inevitable. In the Gita Arjuna says to Krishna: “The mind is truly unstable, troubling, strong and unyielding. I believe it is hard to control–as hard to control as the wind” (6:34). And Krishna will agree. But the mind must be subdued, nevertheless. That is easy to say, but how? “The awareness of him whose senses are withdrawn from the objects of the senses on all sides will be found firmly established.” And how do we effectively say, “Peace, be still” to the senses?
We must understand that the senses are simply instruments (indriyas) of the mind, that although they “cast man’s mind adrift” this is the reversal of the natural order, that it is the mind that is meant to “drive” the senses, the way a charioteer drives the horses that pull the chariot. Krishna surely had in mind this passage from the Upanishads:
“Know that the Self is the rider, and the body the chariot; that the intellect is the charioteer, and the mind the reins. The senses, say the wise, are the horses; the roads they travel are the mazes of desire. The wise call the Self the enjoyer when he is united with the body, the senses, and the mind. When a man lacks discrimination and his mind is uncontrolled, his senses are unmanageable, like the restive horses of a charioteer. But when a man has discrimination and his mind is controlled, his senses, like the well-broken horses of a charioteer, lightly obey the rein. He who lacks discrimination, whose mind is unsteady and whose heart is impure, never reaches the goal, but is born again and again. But he who has discrimination, whose mind is steady and whose heart is pure, reaches the goal, and having reached it is born no more. The man who has a sound understanding for charioteer, a controlled mind for reins–he it is that reaches the end of the journey, the supreme abode of Vishnu, the all pervading” (Katha Upanishad 1:3:3-9).
The awakened mind
Krishna expresses it to Arjuna this way:
The man of restraint is awake in what is night for all beings. That in which all beings are awake is night for the sage who truly sees (2:69).
By “awake” Krishna means having the awareness centered in an area of existence. There are, then, two kinds of minds: those that are awake in the Atman and those that are awake in the senses, consciousnesses centered in the spirit and consciousnesses centered in matter. And of course, to be centered in something will cause us to be identified with it. Some identify with the immutable, imperishable Self, and some identify with the ever-changing, perishable world and the body which links us to that world. The Self, on the other hand, links us to the Supreme Self, Brahman. Both types are awake, having reached the evolutionary level of humanity, but the difference is vast, even abysmal.
How Jesus saw it
Jesus speaks of the awake mind in this way: “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23) Two words in these verses are translated “light.” The first is luchnos, which means a lamp or something that gives light. The other is foteinos, which means to be radiant or full of light. “Body” is soma, which not only means “bodily” as well, but also interestingly enough means slave! For the body is a slave to the world and the senses. Ophthalmos means both the eye and the faculty of vision.
Now things get really interesting. The word translated “single” (aplous) does not mean one in a numerical sense, but in the sense of unified, of having come into oneness with something. Its root is pleko which means to be twined together with something. The opposite of aplous is poneros, which though translated “evil,” does not mean what it does in our time. “Evil” was used at the time of the King James’ translators in the sense of misfortune and harm, as well as negative moral condition. It also means to be degenerated from essential character or virtue.
Putting this all together we see the meaning of Jesus. When the consciousness, the mind, is united to the Self, even our body is filled with the light of spirit. If, however, the mind is drawn away from atmic awareness and turned toward its antithesis, the world of the senses and mortality, then both body and mind are plunged into darkness. Consciousness is not extinguished, but is subverted, evoking the words of Jesus: “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” In other words, we become conscious of unconsciousness, we “see” blindness. How great, then, is that darkness. For it is utter annihilation of the purpose of our existence.
There are two forms of darkness. To the person awake in the awareness of the Self the world and life of the senses is rightly perceived to be darkness and death. But to the dead-alive person who is absorbed in the false life of the senses, the knowledge and knowing of the Self is absolute nothingness. Either he does not believe in the spirit, or he considers it thoroughly irrelevant, even disruptive to his desires and goals. Both of these individuals consider themselves wise, but only the one with atmic vision is really a knower of the truth. It is completely worthless for these two to dialogue or discuss. Each must pursue what he “sees” until it reveals its true nature to him. Both need the freedom to do this. They should leave each other alone, free to follow the way they have chosen.
Like the ocean, which becomes filled yet remains unmoved and stands still as the waters enter it, he whom all desires enter and who remains unmoved attains peace–not so the man who is full of desire (2:70).
As the ocean is unaffected by the flowing of rivers into it, so the restrained and awakened mind, the mind that has been returned to its true center, the Self, receives a multitude of desire-impulses, yet makes no response. This is the real meaning of Patanjali’s definition of yoga: the non-responsiveness of the mind (chitta–the mind substance) to outer stimuli. The illumined individual does not become inert or unconscious, but becomes unmoved by that which perpetually agitates and conditions the mind of the ignorant, especially those who are kamakami–desiring not just the objects of desire, but desiring the state of desire. For:
He who abandons all desires attains peace, acts free from longing, indifferent to possessions and free from egotism (2:71).
Ego and egotism are the twin roots of desire. If they are eliminated, desire becomes impossible.
The final word
This is the divine state. Having attained this, he is not deluded. Fixed in it even at the time of death, he attains Brahmanirvana (2:72).
Prabhavananda: “This is the state of enlightenment in Brahman: a man does not fall back from it into delusion. Even at the moment of death he is alive in that enlightenment: Brahman and he are one.”
These words are too sublime to need comment.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: First Steps in Karma Yoga