The supremely free
He whose intellect (buddhi) is unattached, whose lower self is subdued, from whom desire has departed, by renunciation 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 greatly 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 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 all the others present. This was a great lesson to me, 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 in brief how one who has attained perfection also attains Brahman, that supreme 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 of a stair 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 supremely pure intellect, controlling the lower self by firmness, turning from the objects of the senses, beginning with sound, casting off attraction and aversion, dwelling in a solitary place, eating lightly (what is easily digested), with speech, body and mind controlled, constantly devoted to yoga meditation, taking refuge in vairagya, forsaking egotism, force, pride, desire, anger, possessiveness, freed from the notion of “mine” and peaceful–he is fit for union 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. As 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 japa within meditation.
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 secret places, 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. So a yogi should do his best in these matters, 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, making it a kind of “yoga cooler,” but rather 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,” because 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