While we exist in relativity there are two “selves,” the lower and the higher. The higher is the true Self, and the lower is the pretend self, which is nevertheless necessary at the moment for our evolution. Until the real Self masters the lower self they are in continually conflict with one another, often on a subconscious level. Krishna is now going to talk about this. He will use only a single word, atman, but will mean it in these two virtually antithetical selves. By using small and large “s” we can convey the idea. However, translators do not agree as to which self is meant at the various times the word is used. So I am going to give the translation without capitalization and then analyze it in both ways.
“One should uplift the self by the self. He should not degrade the self. For the self alone can be a friend to the self, and the self alone can be an enemy of the self. For him who has conquered himself by the self, the self is a friend. But for him who has not conquered himself, the self remains hostile, like an enemy” (6:5, 6).
One should uplift the self by the Self
There is no way to raise the self from its present mired-in-the-mud condition other than by the revealing of the Self that results from purification and spiritual practice, mainly meditation. When the Self becomes the master, then it frees and transmutes the lower Self, assimilating it to Itself.
One should uplift the Self by the self
Yet, this cannot be done without the cooperation and engagement of the lower self–again, through purification and spiritual practice. Of course, the Self is always “uplifted,” but to our deluded eyes it is buried beneath the debris of our ignorance. So when we engage in meditation and other forms of sadhana we are exalting the Self in our own perceptions. We are freeing that which is ever-free.
He should not degrade the self
The nature of the world is such that simply by neglecting ourself, by failing to open the way to higher consciousness–which is the Self–we are guaranteeing the progressive entanglement and degradation of the lower self. It is simply inevitable. So the longer we delay in taking up spiritual life, the worse we make things, and the harder it will be for us when we do get sensible and begin undegrading ourselves.
He should not degrade the Self
The Self cannot really be degraded in essence, but we can degrade It by burying It beneath our consciousness and binding It by the effect of our negative actions. Of course, it is really ourselves we are burying and binding, but in the mirror of Maya we appear to be doing it to the Self. And since that is how we see it, that is how it is.
For the self alone can be a friend to the Self
Strange as it seems, this is so. It is like the story of the little mouse who chewed through the ropes and liberated the lion. The self can be the friend of the Self when it works for the Self’s ascendency in our lives. Not only that, it is the only friend the Self can have, for it alone touches the Self. Furthermore, the whole idea of our existence in relativity is our evolution. And that takes place only in the lower self. God, gods, masters, and teachers have nothing whatsoever to do with it in the final analysis. It is only between the self and the Self. However, God, gods, masters, and teachers certainly can inspire and inform the self as how to go about being the friend of the Self. So they are indispensable; but still it is all up to the self.
For the Self alone can be a friend to the self
Only the Self can deliver the self from its present condition of blindness and binding. It is really the influence of that Self that results in the self being consciously aware of its need for higher evolution. Here, too, we see that the friendship of God, gods, masters, and teachers count for little if Self-contact is not being attained. Religiosity, devotion, dedication–yes, even love for God, gods, masters, and teachers–will not do the needful. In fact they often hinder it by distracting the self from its only friend. I am speaking of the process of sadhana and awareness of the true purpose of that sadhana. Since it is the revealing of the Self, then obviously the Self must be the main focus of the sadhaka.
And the self alone can be an enemy of the Self
No external being or situation can even touch the Self, much less harm It. Neither can the lower self, but it can be inimical to the Self, living in such a way that It is banished so far from its environment, inner and outer, that It does not even exist, practically speaking. Here, too, the mirror of Maya confuses us, fooling us into thinking we are doing to the Self what we are only doing to our lesser self. By resisting the inner impulse of the Self toward Its ascendency, the lower self wars against It in a one-sided folly that only worsens the lower self’s present status.
And the Self alone can be an enemy of the self
This is true in two ways, in both of which the Self is the “Beloved Enemy.”
First, the Self is the enemy of the self’s absurd attempt to take the place of the Self, and therefore is the enemy of it’s deluded purposes and intentions, including its desperate attempts to remain in its delusions–the worst of which is the delusion of an existence separate and independent from the Self and Brahman, the Supreme Self. At the advent of the Self, all this foolishness vanishes along with all the attachments and aversions of the petty self. It not only loses its toys, it looses its false identity which makes them possible. The Self is the implacable enemy of ignorance, which is the self’s beloved enemy–of itself.
Second, on occasion the Self steps in and takes charge of the downward spiral of the self-destructive self. For example, if for several lifetimes someone has been using his body or mind to destroy himself and the pattern has become virtually irreversible, the Self intervenes and deprives him of the things or situations which have enabled his self-destruction. If he has misused his intelligence or abilities, the Self will ensure that in one or more life he is deprived of them or the means to express them. A person who has misused wealth will be deprived of money and possessions. A person who has misused his bodily functions will be born in a defective body incapable of those functions. None of this is punishment or retribution. It is an act of merciful rescue by the Self. But the lower self will see it as an inimical action.
For him who has conquered himself by the self, the Self is a friend
Yes, it is true: the lower self must conquer itself. After all, we do it all the time, don’t we? We censor our own selves (unless we are subhumans in a human body), and even talk to ourselves, and instruct ourselves! So we must put forth the same powers to free ourselves that we used to bind ourselves. That is part of the evolutionary process. We will not struggle alone–the Self will help us all along. It is tapasya that reveals the eternal friendship of the Self for the lower self. For the Self is its salvation. Literally.
For him who has conquered himself by the Self, the self is a friend
That is pretty easy to understand, for when the lower self has been truly mastered by the Self, it becomes the Self. Then it cannot be other than our friend!
But for him who has not conquered himself, the self remains hostile, like an enemy
This is certainly the truth–we are our own worst enemy as long at the lower self is in control, even if we like it that way (more fool us). For when the lower self is in charge, there is only one direction to go: lower.
But for him who has not conquered himself, the Self remains hostile, like an enemy
Absolutely. The Self will dispel everything we have built up in our tiny, ultimately non-existent kingdom. The Self will not only stop the dumb things we are doing, it will reverse their past effects and turn us around to reality. What could be worse for a delusional person? It is a matter of mutual hostility. And there can be no cease-fire.
“The highest Self of him who has conquered himself and is peaceful, is steadfast in cold, heat, pleasure, and pain; thus also in honor and dishonor” (6:7).
Peace is a matter of the exercise of will. Never will our life be free from the pairs of opposites, from ups and downs and changes of all kinds, pleasant and unpleasant, if the will is not strong and operative. If the will is in peace, in the Self, then the sadhaka will be in peace. This is a very high and subtle state, and many think they have attained it merely because they have developed a kind of Stoic numbness in relation to their life. (This prevails in India.) But this is not so.
The serenity spoken of by Krishna comes from identification with the immutable Self. Two examples of this in modern times are Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh and Swami Ramdas of Anandashram. They were often seen to be happy and peaceful in adversity and good fortune, and especially in honor and dishonor. Swami Ramdas’ autobiography, In the Vision of God, illustrates this many times. The supreme example of this peace was seen in Sri Ramakrishna. He was hated and denounced by those were jealous of him and those whose materiality rendered them incapable of understanding him. Always he was cheerful, even when physically mistreated by such ignoramuses. The same tranquility was observed in him when a large council of scriptural scholars unanimously declared that he was an incarnation of God (avatar). He only smiled and quietly remarked: “Well, I’m glad to know I don’t have some illness.” Divine peace does not preclude a sense of humor.
“The yogi who is satisfied with knowledge and discrimination, who is unchanging, with conquered senses, to whom a clod, a stone, and gold are the same, is said to be steadfast in yoga” (6:8).
The human race is gripped in the delusion that if a thing looks like something–then it is that. Even worse: that if someone acts like they are in a certain state, they have that state. I vividly remember seeing Alan Watts pretending (very poorly) to be in the state of satori (enlightenment) as he rubbed away on an ink slab (!?). At that very moment he was an alcoholic and some time after he committed suicide–not the state or the action produced by enlightenment. People think that if they act kindly then they are kind, if they act generously they are generous, and if they act like aristocracy they are aristocracy. Not so.
Swami Sivananda cleared up the whole question by four little words he formed into a motto that he even had printed on pencils: BE GOOD. DO GOOD. Throughout every morning at satsang with him in the Diamond Jubilee Hall, right behind him above the door which we had all entered, we saw that words in huge letters. First we must be; then we can do.
We do not have measles because we have red spots on our skin; rather, we have red spots on our skin because we have measles. This is incredibly simple, but few people, especially in the West, grasp it. They also get cause and effect reversed, thinking an effect can become a cause. “If I act like it, then I will become it.” This is philosophically translated into the absurdities of Positive Thinking. “If we just hold that good thought it will come about…We will just know that everything will be all right.…” and other nonsensical platitudes. Thoughts may be things, but things are not inner states. “Satisfied with knowledge and discrimination,…steadfast in yoga,” are absolute requisites.
When Brahman is experienced, then the fluctuations of the senses are no more than driftwood on the vast ocean of Spirit. All that which men prize and despise are both seen as the same: dreams. Sri Ramakrishna tested his mind by holding a lump of clay in one hand and a rupee in the other. Saying “Rupee is clay and clay is rupee, clay is truly rupee and rupee is truly clay,” he tossed them into the Ganges, affirming their sameness–for all things must in the end merge into Brahman.
“He who is equal-minded toward friend, companion, and enemy, who is neutral among enemies and kinsmen, and who is impartial among the righteous and also among the evil, is to be distinguished among men” (6:9). For he sees all in Brahman as Brahman.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: The Yogi’s Retreat
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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