The supremely free
“With his intellect unattached at all times, with conquered self, free from desire, by renunciation, one attains the supreme state of freedom from action” (18:49).
Sometimes detachment is mistaken for a kind of emotionless or flat state of mind devoid of response or reaction. I have known yogis who tried to maintain a zombie-like state they thought was detachment. Some even refused to show their children or one another affection because they feared becoming attached. But this is a misunderstanding, and the word asakta clears it up. For it means “not-clinging,” letting things simply pass on without trying to hold on to them. I have lived with great yogis who profoundly loved music and beauty, but they never formed an attachment or addiction to them. They enjoyed them while keeping their awareness centered in the Self and free from identification or grasping after them. They also had great hearts that rejoiced in the good fortune of others and grieved at their misfortune.
One time in Delhi a great yoga-siddha came to the home of some of my friends. My friends were dedicated yogis and invited some other sadhakas to come meet the saint. Among the group was an aged woman in great anguish of heart. When she told her sorrow to the saint, to my amazement he began to shed tears in sympathy–and so did the others present. This was a great lesson to me, and one that my yogi-friends back in the West needed as well. For detachment is not indifference. Throughout the world for over two thousand years people have honored both Buddha and Jesus more for their compassion and caring than even for their wisdom.
Without self-mastery there is no hope of freedom. The self referred to here is the lower self, the appendages of the true Self that are usually mistaken for It. And that must be conquered, so there must be a battle–which is what the Gita is all about.
Vigatasprihah merits a looking into. Sprihas means deep desire, intense longing for something, as well as envy at its possession by someone else. Vigata means “gone away” or “completely disappeared.” In the freed individual sprihas is not present and suppressed, or even latent, but rather has been completely banished and dissolved permanently. This is an exalted state, but one we all can–and must–attain.
Anyone can physically turn from something or rid their external life from it, but only the yogi can truly renounce: that is, renounce it mentally in his heart. This is the renunciation Krishna is speaking of. When one has attained that, then he is nishkarmyasiddhim–perfect in non-action. For his mind no longer acts, only his lower self which is the instrument of his enlightenment. This is a supreme (paramam) state, as he says.
“Learn from me briefly how one who has attained perfection [in non-action] also attains Brahman, which is the highest state of knowledge” (18:50). Krishna is not saying that union with Brahman is a kind of secondary side-effect of non-attachment and non-action, but he is indicating that Brahmajnana is so abstract and exalted that those who attempt to reach it may fail. But if they turn inward and work with their own consciousness they will remove the obstacles to Brahmajnana–and thus attain it. The wise work with what is at hand. It is like pulling on a rope to bring something closer to us and into our grasp. We only reach the top step by stepping on the lower ones in between. It seems obvious, but the ego has a way of blinding us to such simple truths.
Qualifying for knowing Brahman
Now we encounter another list of necessary traits, this time the requisites for knowing Brahman. They come at the end of the Gita because it is so crucial for us to know about them and to strive for them single-mindedly.
“Endowed with a pure intellect, controlling the self with firmness, abandoning sound and the other objects of sense, casting off attraction and hatred, dwelling in solitude, eating lightly, controlling speech, body, and mind, constantly devoted to yoga meditation, taking refuge in dispassion, relinquishing egotism, force, arrogance, desire, anger, and possession of property; unselfish, tranquil, he is fit for oneness with Brahman” (18:51-53).
Buddhya vishuddhaya yukto means “united to a totally purified intelligence [buddhi],” the idea being that the yogi’s awareness must at all times be united with his highest intelligence. It can also mean “with a totally purified intelligence in a state of yoga”–in union with the consciousness that is the Self. And in most Sanskrit texts, all possible meanings are intended. Yoga the practice is the way to yoga the state of union.
Dhrityatmanam niyamya means “controlling [or subduing] one’s self with firmness [or determination].” It can also mean “steadily [i.e., continuously] controlling one’s self.” Mastery is the meaning here–perpetual mastery.
Shabdadin vishayans tyaktva means “having abandoned [or left behind] the objects [or spheres] of the senses, beginning with sound.” This is a profound yogic principle. By means of sound all the other sense-objects or sensory mental levels can be transcended. This if course refers to the subtle sound of Om maintained in japa and meditation. That is why Om is called the taraka mantra, the “delivering” mantra.
Ragadveshau vyudasya means “casting aside [or rejecting, abandoning] raga-dwesha” the alternating cycles of attraction and repulsion, liking and disliking, loving and hating.
Viviktasevi means “living in solitude” or “frequenting isolated places.” The first is both external and internal. The truth is, a person can live in a high-rise apartment complex and still live in solitude if he keeps to himself and maintains inward awareness. But it is helpful if the yogi can live in a quiet, uncrowded place, even outside a city. This is ideal, but the ideal cannot always be obtained. The second meaning would apply to someone who simply cannot live in solitude. He should go as much as possible to quiet, isolated places and stay there as long as possible. Sri Ramakrishna continually advised this. His great disciple, Mahendranath Gupta (“M”), the author of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, followed this assiduously. He had several places known only to him, some in Calcutta and some outside, where he would disappear for a day or more, or he would stay in those places but return home for meals. Sri Ramakrishna said this was absolutely necessary to gain–and retain–one’s spiritual progress.
Krishna is not telling the yogi to be completely anti-social, but he definitely means for us to live mostly to ourselves. Even satsang should be limited.
Laghvashi means two things: “eating lightly” and “eating things that are easily digested.” Both are needful to good health, yet we must not interpret “eating lightly” as starving ourselves. Few things are more unappealing than the cadaverous yogis that think a wraithlike appearance is a good thing. Paramhansa Yogananda used to say: “eat often, eat less,” and various health authorities recommend this. But not many people in this country can graze like that through the day. So a yogi should do his best, always keeping good sense in mind.
Yaktavakkayamanasah means “whose speech, body, and mind are controlled [disciplined].”
Dhyanayogaparo nityam means “constantly [ceaselessly] devoted to yoga meditation” and “constantly holding yoga meditation as the highest object.” The yogi does not merely tincture his life with yoga, but constantly practices meditation–which in this instance includes constant japa–and considers it the supreme commitment and factor of his life. This is rare, and so are realized yogis–for that very reason.
Vairagyam samupashritah means “taking refuge in dispassion [vairagya]” and “supported by dispassion.” The first meaning indicates that we do not wait for the virtue of vairagya to arise of its own accord as a result of spiritual practice, but rather that we take hold of ourselves and deliberately turn from troubling objects or situations, refusing to permit them in our lives, and cutting off all responses to them. We also expel from our minds and lives (including our environment) all things and situations that destroy dispassion. That is why we have a free will–to be used to eliminate that which erodes it. It is a necessary foundation for our spiritual peace and safety.
Now we are given a list of things the yogi relinquishes. The word vimuchya does not mean a mere laying aside or a temporary cessation, but total abandonment. Either getting it away from us, or ourselves away from it. Here is what Krishna says we eliminate from our life (including our minds and hearts):
Ahankara–egotism and ego-consciousness.
Balam–force, in the sense of coercion or bullying of others. This is a facet of ahimsa, actually. But I would like to point out that if this word was spelled with a long first “a” instead of a short one, the word would mean “childishness,” and would equally apply as a requisite for successful yoga practice. Considering that the ego is a monstrous child, this may be the intended word. In Dracula, Dr. Van Helsing speaks of the fact that Dracula is really a cunning and powerful infant, and speaks of “his so-great child mind,” for over the centuries he has become increasingly infantile as his greedy and demanding ego has consumed everything else about him.
Darpam–arrogance and pride, both traits of a childish, egoic mind.
Kamam–desire and longing for things.
Krodham–anger and wrath directed towards others.
Parigraham–grasping after things, taking them, seizing them either legally or illegally. This includes hoarding and constant adding to one’s possessions.
That is what we give up. What do we acquire?
Nirmanas–unselfishness, for the word literally means “not mine.” It, too, implies not acquiring things just for the getting of them.
Shantas–tranquility, calmness, being completely at peace.
All those–and only those–who fit this entire list are brahmabhuyaya kalpate: fit (qualified) for oneness with Brahman. Others have done it, and so can we. Yet, we see from this how few yogis there really are, and why.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: The Great Devotee
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.
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Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary