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Getting There

Part 46 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

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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 this moment for our evolution. Until the real Self masters the lower self they are in continual 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 oneself by the lower self; one should not degrade oneself. The lower self can truly be a friend of the lower self, and the lower self alone can be an enemy of the lower self. For him who has conquered himself by the lower self, the lower self is a friend. But for him who has not conquered himself, the lower self remains hostile, like an enemy (6:5-6).

The lesser aspects of our being, our lower self, are not negative by their nature, but ignorance and misapplication of will have corrupted them and reversed their polarity. The first step, then, for the aspiring yogi is their purification, correction and repolarization. This is accomplished in the very first step of Patanjali’s eightfold yoga: yama and niyama.

Prerequisites for yoga

“Yoga is for the purpose of knowledge of truth,” says Shankara. Knowledge (jnana) does not come about from practice of yoga methods alone. Perfection in knowledge is in fact only for those who practice virtue (dharma) as well as yoga.

All things rest upon something else–that is, all things are supported by another. This is because a foundation is needed for anything to exist. Being Himself the Ultimate Support of all things, God alone is free from this necessity. Yoga, then, also requires support. As Trevor Leggett says in his introduction to Shankara’s commentary on the Yoga Sutras: “This is yoga presented for the man of the world, who must first clear, and then steady, his mind against the fury of illusory passions, and free his life from entanglements.” Patanjali very carefully and fully outlines the elements of the support needed by the aspirant, giving invaluable information on how to guarantee success in yoga.

The first Yoga Sutra says: “Now the exposition of yoga,” implying that there must be something leading up to yoga in the form of necessary developments of consciousness and personality. These prerequisites are known as Yama and Niyama. Shankara says quite forcefully that “following yama and niyama is the basic qualification to practice yoga.”

Yama and Niyama

Yama and Niyama are often called the Ten Commandments of Yoga, but they have nothing to do with the ideas of sin and virtue or good and evil as dictated by some cosmic potentate. Rather they are determined by a thoroughly practical, pragmatic basis: that which strengthens and facilitates our yoga practice should be observed and that which weakens or hinders it should be avoided. It is not a matter of being good or bad, but of being wise or foolish. Each one of these Five Don’ts (Yama) and Five Do’s (Niyama) is a supporting, liberating foundation of Yoga.

Yama means self-restraint in the sense of self-mastery, or abstention, and consists of five elements. Niyama means observances, of which there are also five. Here is the complete list of these ten elements of successful yoga as given in Yoga Sutras 2:30, 32:

  1. Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness
  2. Satya: truthfulness, honesty
  3. Asteya: non-stealing, honesty, non-misappropriativeness
  4. Brahmacharya: sexual continence in thought, word and deed as well as control of all the senses
  5. Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness
  6. Shaucha: purity, cleanliness
  7. Santosha: contentment, peacefulness
  8. Tapas: austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline
  9. Swadhyaya: introspective self-study, spiritual study
  10. Ishwarapranidhana: offering of one’s life to God

All of these deal with the innate powers of the human being–or rather with the abstinence and observance that will develop and release those powers to be used toward our spiritual perfection, to our self-realization and liberation. Shankara says quite forcefully that “following yama and niyama is the basic qualification to practice yoga. The qualification is not simply that one wants to practice yoga. So yama and niyama are methods of yoga” in themselves and are not mere adjuncts or aids that can be optional.

But at the same time, the practice of yoga helps the aspiring yogi to follow the necessary ways of yama and niyama, so he should not be discouraged from taking up yoga right now. He should determinedly embark on yama, niyama, and yoga simultaneously. Success will be his.

Only through establishment in yama and niyama can anyone “uplift oneself by the lower self.” If yama and niyama are not observed then there is no other result than that the person shall continue to degrade himself. By yama and niyama “the lower self can truly be a friend of the lower self,” which before was its enemy. The diligent yogi makes the lower self his friend, but if he lapses in yama and niyama the lower self reverts to being his enemy.


The highest self of him who has conquered himself and is peaceful, is thus steadfast in cold, heat, pleasure, pain, 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.

Supreme peace

The yogi who is satisfied with knowledge and discrimination, unchanging, with senses conquered, to whom a lump of clay, a stone and gold are the same, steadfast–is said to be in union (yukta) (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–not a state or 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 those 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 the nature of cause and effect. They continually 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 is preeminent among men who is impartial to friend, associate and enemy, neutral among enemies and kinsmen, impartial also among the righteous and the unrighteous (6:9).

For he sees all in Brahman as Brahman.

Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: The Yogi’s Retreat

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Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Preface to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:

  1. The Battlefield of the Mind
  2. On the Field of Dharma
  3. Taking Stock
  4. The Smile of Krishna
  5. Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
  6. Experiencing the Unreal
  7. The Unreal and the Real
  8. The Body and the Spirit
  9. Know the Atman!
  10. Practical Self-Knowledge
  11. Perspective on Birth and Death
  12. The Wonder of the Atman
  13. The Indestructible Self
  14. “Happy the Warrior”
  15. Buddhi Yoga
  16. Religiosity Versus Religion
  17. Perspective on Scriptures
  18. How Not To Act
  19. How To Act
  20. Right Perspective
  21. Wisdom About the Wise
  22. Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
  23. The Way of Peace
  24. Calming the Storm
  25. First Steps in Karma Yoga
  26. From the Beginning to the End
  27. The Real “Doers”
  28. Our Spiritual Marching Orders
  29. Freedom From Karma
  30. “Nature”
  31. Swadharma
  32. In the Grip of the Monster
  33. Devotee and Friend
  34. The Eternal Being
  35. The Path
  36. Caste and Karma
  37. Action–Divine and Human
  38. The Mystery of Action and Inaction
  39. The Wise in Action
  40. Sacrificial Offerings
  41. The Worship of Brahman
  42. Action–Renounced and Performed
  43. Freedom (Moksha)
  44. The Brahman-Knower
  45. The Goal of Karma Yoga
  46. Getting There
  47. The Yogi’s Retreat
  48. The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
  49. Union With Brahman
  50. The Yogi’s Future
  51. Success in Yoga
  52. The Net and Its Weaver
  53. Those Who Seek God
  54. Those Who Worship God and the Gods
  55. The Veil in the Mind
  56. The Big Picture
  57. The Sure Way To Realize God
  58. Day, Night, and the Two Paths
  59. The Supreme Knowledge
  60. Universal Being
  61. Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
  62. Worshipping the One
  63. Going To God
  64. Wisdom and Knowing
  65. Going To The Source
  66. From Hearing To Seeing
  67. The Wisdom of Devotion
  68. Right Conduct
  69. The Field and Its Knower
  70. Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
  71. Seeing the One Within the All
  72. The Three Gunas
  73. The Cosmic Tree
  74. Freedom
  75. The All-pervading Reality
  76. The Divine and the Demonic
  77. Faith and the Three Gunas
  78. Food and the Three Gunas
  79. Religion and the Three Gunas
  80. Tapasya and the Three Gunas
  81. Charity and the Three Gunas
  82. Sannyasa and Tyaga
  83. Deeper Insights On Action
  84. Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
  85. The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
  86. The Three Kinds of Happiness
  87. Freedom
  88. The Great Devotee
  89. The Final Words
  90. Glossary

Visit our e-library page for Free Downloads of this and other ebooks in various formats.

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 Swami Nirmalananda Giri (Abbot George Burke).

Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary

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