The “genealogy” of yoga
After outlining the basic way of yoga, Krishna then tells Arjuna: “I proclaimed this imperishable yoga to Vivasvat; Vivasvat communicated it to Manu, and Manu imparted it to Ikshvaku. Thus received by succesion, the royal seers knew this; after a long time here on earth, this yoga has been lost” (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).
The yoga of the Bhagavad Gita
The yoga found in the Bhagavad Gita is very simple.
First the yogi sits in an upright posture, “holding the body, head and neck erect, motionless and steady, gazing at the tip of his nose and not looking around” (6:13).
His eyes should be turned gently downward without strain. Not that the yogi makes himself cross-eyed! This is not actual concentration on the tip of the nose, but a relaxed looking downward at nothing in particular.
Next, he breathes through his nose–not his mouth–in a completely natural and spontaneous manner, in this way “equalizing the inhalation and exhalation, moving within the nostrils,” (5:27) easily calming and refining the breath. This, according to Krishna, is the sacrifice known as pranayama.
Then, through the japa of Om, “having placed the vital breath [prana] in the head, established in yoga concentration, uttering the single-syllable Brahman, Om, meditating on Me,” (8:12-13) the yogi meditates upon the Supreme. For Krishna, the embodiment of that Supreme, tells us: “I am the Pranava [Om]” (7:8). “I am Om” (9:17). And: “Among words I am the monosyllable Om” (10:25). Further, in this last verse he continues: “Among sacrifices I am japa,” the repetition of a mantra, indicating how Om is to be employed by the yogi.
And the ultimate result he also tells. “Thus, continually disciplining himself, the yogi whose mind is subdued goes to nirvana, to supreme peace, to union with Me” (6:15).
Finally he gives the rationale and affirmation of this: “At the hour of death, he who dies remembering Me, having relinquished the body, goes to My state of being, in this matter there is no doubt. Moreover, whatever state of being he remembers when he gives up his body at the end, he goes respectively to that state of being, transformed into that state of being. Therefore, at all times meditate on Me, with your mind and intellect fixed on Me. In this way, you shall surely come to Me” (8:5-7).
“At the time of death, with unmoving mind, endowed with devotion and with the power of Yoga,…he reaches this divine Supreme Spirit.…Uttering the single-syllabled Brahman–Om–meditating on Me, he who goes forth, renouncing the body, goes to the supreme goal. He who thinks of Me constantly, whose mind does not ever go elsewhere, for him, the yogi who is constantly devoted, I am easy to reach. Approaching Me, those who souls are great, who have gone to the supreme perfection, do not incur rebirth…he who reaches Me is not reborn” (8:10,13-16).
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 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 (and 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. If all other scriptures and commentaries disappeared and only the Gita remained, the Eternal Dharma would still be intact and suffer no loss whatsoever. That is why once a year on Vyasa Purnima he is to be honored.
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, since 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: the ability to be simultaneously absolutely reverent toward and yet absolutely familiar with and at home with God. The awe, 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 it is unnecessary for them to “be saved.” They may have forgotten their unity with the Divine, but they have never lost it. They do not find or get 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 its a secret–the Supreme Secret. Indeed.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: The Eternal Being
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