The “genealogy” of yoga
After outlining the basic way of yoga, Krishna then tells Arjuna:
The Holy Lord said: This eternal yoga I taught to Vivaswat, Vivaswat taught it to Manu, and Manu taught it to Ikshwaku. Thus, handed down in succession, the royal seers knew it. After a long lapse of time, this yoga was lost here on earth (4:1-2).
Vivasvat, Manu, and Ikshvaku were ancient sages–primeval sages, actually, at the beginning of the human race. God himself directly taught yoga to those sages. That is why Patanjali says in the Yoga Sutras: “He is Guru even of the Ancients” (Yoga Sutras 1:26).
Just how the yoga was forgotten (lost) is not told to us, but it is important that we realize that this world, whose nature is bondage, is not a friendly environment for that which liberates. Whether the yoga was lost by carelessness or defects or omissions in teaching, or whether a time came when no one was even interested, the result was loss of the knowledge.
The same is true of our personal world. The mind is extremely gifted in forgetting or distorting the correct practice of yoga. Therefore we should be very vigilant and make sure that our practice is exactly correct, with not a single detail being neglected or left out. There are several contemporary spiritual organizations that over the course of years have so altered the yoga methods they teach that they have been rendered ineffectual–and in some cases, detrimental.
How do we protect ourself from this spiritual erosion? Study the Gita. It is all there. If we read the Gita, the eleven authentic Upanishads, and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali without prejudice or preconception we will find they are unanimous in their teaching on meditation.
Who is Krishna in the Gita?
We have already finished three chapters of the Gita, and it is time for us to understand who the figure of Krishna really is–and what the Gita really is, as well.
First we must understand the context of the Gita. The Gita is seven hundred verses within an epic poem known as The Mahabharata, that chronicles the Mahabharata (Great Indian) War that took place about three thousand years ago (according to the calculations of Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri). The original poem was written by the great sage Vyasa, perhaps the single most important figure in Indian spiritual history.
The Bhagavad Gita is the supreme scripture of India, for it is the essence of all the basic texts that came before it. Further, it supplies a psychological side to spiritual practice that can be found in no other authoritative text. If someone desires, he can confine his study to the Gita alone and yet know everything that is in those texts. Although it contains some references to elements distinctly Indian, it is the only universal scripture, its teachings (including those about caste) being relevant to the entire human race.
Having said that, we must realize that although the Gita takes the form of a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna on the eve of the Great Indian War, it is not a historical document in the literal sense. Rather, Vyasa chose this critical juncture in Indian history as the setting for a complete exposition of spiritual life–itself a battle of sorts. It cannot reasonably be thought that Krishna and Arjuna sat in a chariot in the midst of a battlefield discussing all the topics presented in the Gita, and in metrical stanzas of four lines containing eight syllables each (sometimes eleven syllables when Vyasa needed the extra length to get in all his ideas). Rather, the Gita is Vyasa’s presentation of the Eternal Dharma, though there is no reason to doubt that the wisdom of Krishna is embodied in it, or that much of it–at least in general–was spoken to Arjuna at Kurukshetra.
One of India’s greatest yogis in the twentieth century was Paramhansa Nityananda of Ganeshpuri. One day someone cited a portion of the Gita, prefacing it with the statement: “Krishna said in the Gita….” Immediately Nityananda said: “No. Vyasa said Krishna said….” This is the correct perspective on the entire Gita. What we are reading is the enlightened understanding of Vyasa, who in the Gita is presenting us with a digest of the yoga philosophy of the Upanishads combined with both yoga psychology and instruction in yoga meditation. It is not amiss to say that Vyasa is the most important figure in Sanatana Dharma. If all other scriptures and commentaries disappeared and only the Gita remained, the Dharma would still be intact.
In general, then, Krishna is the voice of Vyasa, but within the Gita he is at times the voice of both the Atman and the Paramatman. So when we ponder the meaning of his words we should consider how they might be understood in this dual manner. For example, when Krishna tells us to fix our minds on him and worship him single-heartedly and steadfastly, he is not telling us to worship a God that is outside, but that which is the inmost dweller of the heart. He also means that the focus of our attention must be on our individual being as well as on the infinite. For they are one in essence.
The qualified student
During my first trip to India I met two Westerners who told me they had come to India to seek out a “qualified guru.” I laughed and with my usual lack of tact asked: “Are you qualified disciples? Do you think a qualified guru would accept you?” They looked very taken aback and then admitted that it was not likely. But when I met them some months later they told me they had gotten initiation from every guru they met. “Just to make sure,” was their explanation. They had not gotten the idea.
But who is a qualified disciple? Krishna tells Arjuna:
This ancient yoga is today declared by me to you because you are my devotee and friend. This secret is supreme indeed (4:3).
Devotee and friend. Here we have the marvelous, seeming contradiction that is the jewel of Eastern religion (including Eastern Christianity): the ability to be simultaneously absolutely reverent toward and yet absolutely familiar with and at home with God. The fear and trepidation, so beloved to Western religion past and present, simply do not come into it. Why? Because the orientals intuit their unity with God, while the occidentals feel utterly separated and alien from God. Consequently Western religion demands reconciliation and placation while Eastern religion simply calls us to unity, a unity that is essential and eternal. Westerners doubt their salvation, but Easterners know that they may have forgotten their unity with the Divine, but they have never lost it. They do not find salvation, they recover it. The infinity of God and their finitude does not daunt them in the least. They rejoice in both as devotees and friends of God. Because only such people can know this, Krishna says it is a secret–the Supreme Secret indeed.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: The Eternal Being