We tend to think of union with Brahman as a result of jnana, of being a perfect jnani. And this is so, certainly, otherwise Adi Shankaracharya would not have written so much on the subject of jnana. But perhaps we mistake bhakti–devotion–for something much less. As Swami Sivananda was wont to comment: “emotion is not devotion.” Bhakti means dedication, a strong affinity for something–so strong that it brings us to the object of our devotion, or brings it to us. (Usually it is a combination of both.)
Sri Ramakrishna is unique among India’s spiritual teachers for many reasons, but one of the most remarkable is his ability to make clear in a sentence what others would take a multitude of words to make only slightly more comprehensible. Whenever he prefaced something with the words: “Do you know what it is like?…” a gem of astounding wisdom would follow–and so simple that anyone could understand easily. He formulated a whole system of spiritual life that is unequaled for its simplicity and profundity. He defined bhakti and jnana in a sentence apiece. Here they are:
“Jnana is knowing ‘The world is unreal; Brahman alone is real.’”
“Bhakti is feeling: ‘God is the Master and I am the servant.’”
Obviously a sensible person ascribes to both propositions. Only the accomplished yogi is really a jnani or a bhakta. Consequently Krishna says:
Absorbed in Brahman, with Self serene, he grieves not nor desires, the same to all beings, he attains supreme devotion unto me (18:54).
Well, there we have it. Bhakti and Brahmajnana are inseparable. Actually bhakti is the fruit of realization. Yet bhakti is both cause and effect, for he continues:
By devotion to me he comes to know how great I am in truth, then having known me in truth, he forthwith enters into me (18:55).
Literally, part of this verse says: “He comes to realize how great and Who I am.” It also equally means: “He comes to realize the extent of my Being”–the infinity of God. Having known this in truth–not just in theory or “on faith”–such a one straightaway enters Brahman.
Doing all actions, always taking refuge in me, by my grace he attains the eternal, immutable state [abode] (18:56).
Madvyapashrayah literally means both “trusting in me” and “taking refuge in me.” This is a natural result of those who have understood that their seemingly separate existence independent of God is an illusion, that God is in very truth their All in All. Thus he becomes their “eternal, imperishable abode,” and they themselves are revealed as eternal and imperishable.
Now for some practical instructions:
Reaching the Eternal Abode
Mentally renouncing all actions in me, holding me as the highest goal, resorting to buddhi-yoga, constantly fix your mind on me (18:57).
It has already been said in the Gita that it is impossible for anyone to remain without acting at any time. For even when sitting still, the body is acting at a tremendous degree, and that is all under the direction of the subconscious mind. So we are thinking and acting all the time–otherwise we would die. For this reason Krishna makes a point of saying that all actions must be renounced chetasa–mentally. But he is not advocating just pulling back the mind and being indifferent and feeling separated from the action, just being an observer. For that would be mere mental isolation. Instead, he says: “Mentally renouncing all actions in me.” That is something completely different. He is telling us that by the constant remembrance of God and awareness that we are living in God, that all is God, we should do all actions in the awareness that it is ultimately the divine power that is acting, that we are witnesses, but not passive witnesses. Rather, we are intent on following the counsel: “Stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God” (Job 37:14).
Though Sargeant has “yoga of discrimination,” the Sanskrit is buddhiyogam, the yoga of the intellect in the sense of the yoga of our highest and subtlest levels and spiritual faculties. Yoga that does not reach to these rarefied levels is not any yoga at all, but a muddling around in the lower levels of our being that will confine our awareness to those levels.
Certainly discrimination will result from our tapping into those supreme levels of our existence, but buddhi yoga is so much more. Krishna says: “Constantly fix your mind on me.”
How to lose your way
Fixing your mind on me, you shall by my grace surmount all obstacles; but if from egotism you will not hear me, then you shall perish (18:58).
Sometimes to succeed we need to know the way to fail. Ahamkarat literally means “I making,” the assertion and empowering of the ego. The result of this is vinankshyasi, which means both “you shall be lost” in the sense of losing your way and wandering aimlessly and fruitlessly, and “you shall perish” in the sense of utter failure.
If, filled with egotism, you think: “I will not fight,” this your resolve shall be in vain, for your nature [prakriti] will compel you (18:59).
Krishna here warns Arjuna (and us) against being in the state of ashritya na, which literally means “not depending on” or “not taking refuge in.” Only when we think we are separate from God and capable of being independent do we think we can contravene the divine law–which is the Divine Will. We actually think we can circumvent God and do as we please. Basically, we plan to make a fool of God, not realizing that we are only making a fool of ourselves. Our very existence depends on God, and if we are wise we take refuge in God–not in the manner of a pygmy groveling at the feet of the master, but by entering into God and reclaiming our eternal and irrevocable unity with God. This is the only viable refuge open to us.
If we think we can avoid acting in accordance with the divine plan, manyase mithya: “you think falsely,” or: “you imagine in vain–hopelessly.” Is it any wonder the world is in the terrible mess we see all around us? People are trying any way they can to avoid their only possible destiny. See how they scramble after mirages, disdaining the glorious realities open to them, making pathetic excuses for their pathetic lives. Yogananda said that during his early years in Boston he was once walking in a neighborhood when suddenly God showed him that the houses were just like chicken coops and the people inside were like chickens that pecked, scratched, laid and hatched eggs, and ended up fried chicken. God then asked him if he would like to become fried chicken; and he replied: “No, Lord. I came with Thee and I will go with Thee.” A wise resolve.
How many people ignorantly say: “It is my life; I will live it as I please;” “It is my body, I will do with it what I want.” Even after two thousand years, who really understands or even believes the divine words: “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26). So they pass from life to life in confusion and suffering. Awakening does not come easily to such people. So Krishna is warning us to not be one of them.
Yes, we like Arjuna must fight, must engage in the struggle with the unreal so the Real can be gained. And if we think we will not, we are very wrong, for even our material nature–our prakriti–will compel us. For no matter how we distort our presence in this world, it has a single purpose: the return to God. And return we shall, though the longer we delay the longer and more demanding will be the battle. It is not a matter of whether or not we will become seekers of God–only when. But as I say, by delaying we make the struggle much more ferocious and fraught with fear.
Many make the excuse of not being “ready” for spiritual life, but the moment we attained human form we were ready and equipped with all we needed. We all have delayed, and that is all the more reason to stop it right now before we make things worse for us. Bad things happen to good people because of what they did when they were themselves bad people. That is the law.
Krishna drives the message home, saying:
What you do not wish to do, through delusion, you shall do against your will, bound by your karma born of your own nature [swabhava] (18:60).
Arjuna did not really have a choice; he had come to the point of evolution where only the right thing could be done by him. Let us hurry up and get to that point, too.
The ultimate Determiner
The Lord dwells in the hearts of all beings, causing them by his maya to revolve as if mounted on a machine (18:61).
The purpose of this revolution through birth, life, death, and endless repetitions of these cycles, is evolution of consciousness. It is Maya because it is a projection of appearances only, what Yogananda called “the cosmic motion picture.”
Fly unto him alone for refuge with your whole being. By that grace you shall attain supreme peace and the eternal abode (18:62).
The key words here are “whole being.” Spiritual life is not a condiment to be sprinkled in our life to somehow make it better. Spiritual life is just that: life; and it requires the totality of our being to be successful. It is a continual, uninterrupted endeavor. For it is our total being that must be transformed in order for us to enter the Eternal. Anything less fails.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: The Final Words