Krishna has told Arjuna of the disciplines necessary for the yogi and has told him of the exalted states which he can attain. To all this Arjuna puts the following question-statement:
Arjuna said: This yoga which is taught by you characterized by evenness of mind, I do not see how it endures, owing to the mind’s restlessness. The mind is truly unstable, troubling, strong and unyielding. I believe it is hard to control–as hard to control as the wind (6:33-34).
A common simile of the mind used in India is that of a kite which can fly very high into the sky, so high it can barely be seen, yet a tug on the line and down it falls to earth! Sri Ramakrishna was very fond of two songs on this theme:
In the market place of the world, O Mother, you are flying kites.
They fly high lifted by the wind of hope and held fast by the string of maya.…
The kite of my mind was flying in the sky of the Mother’s feet.
Jolted by the evil wind of sin it turned over and fell down.
It became heavy and tilted on one side by maya.
I cannot raise it up again.…
Its crest of knowledge has been torn.
It falls down no sooner I lift it up.…
It was tied to the string of devotion,
But it became confused as it got into play.…
Sri Ramakrishna often compared the unpurified mind to a vulture that flies so high it is hardly even a dot in the sky, yet its entire attention is centered on the earth below, looking for dead bodies to eat. The idea of both similes is that the sensory mind–the manas, not the buddhi–is capable of rising very high, but yet it is tightly bound to earth and will after a while descend. Anyone who seeks higher awareness knows this to be all too true.
There is hope, nevertheless:
What can be done
The Holy Lord said: Without doubt the mind is hard to control and restless; but through practice (abhyasa) and dispassion (vairagya) it is governed (6:35).
Abhyasa and vairagya will tame the wandering mind. Abhyasa is not just spiritual practice, but sustained spiritual practice–perseverance. Although spiritual practice is a fundamental need for the yogi, it must be done with a proper attitude toward that which agitates the mind and sends it sinking toward the very things the yogi wishes to escape. Therefore vairagya is also necessary. Vairagya is non-attachment or indifference to those disturbing elements–even a distaste for them. This is not an easy outlook to gain, but steadiness in the practice of meditation will make it possible. For Krishna continues:
I agree that yoga is difficult to attain by him whose lower self is uncontrolled; but by him whose lower self is controlled by striving by right means, it is possible to attain it (6:36).
It is a fact: yoga is not for the weak or the lazy.
Arjuna has already protested that he thinks it is impossible to control the mind. Such an attitude springs from inner negativity and troubles many yogis, especially in the beginning. Now another face of the ego emerges: pessimism.
Arjuna said: One who has faith but is uncontrolled, whose mind has fallen away from yoga without reaching perfection in yoga–which way does he go? Is he not lost like a dissolving cloud, fallen from both worlds–here and hereafter, having no solid ground, confused on the path of Brahman? You are able to completely remove this my doubt. Other than you there is no one who can dispel this doubt (6:37-39).
If I had the proverbial nickel for every time some spiritual loafer asked me if there are not people who just are not ready for yoga, and would it not be better to not try than to try and fail, I would not have the proverbial fortune, but I would have a hefty sack to carry around. Arjuna is following the same line, which I expect was old and tired even then, thousands of years ago.
Krishna, worthy teacher, now tells Arjuna–and us–the real facts of the matter.
The yogi’s future
The Holy Lord said: Truly there is no loss for him either here on earth or in heaven. No one who does good goes to misfortune (6:40).
We must fix this truth firmly in our minds. First, in relation to ourselves: seeking Brahman assures us of a good end, especially if we persevere. Second, in relation to others: even if they turn away from the search for God, the force of the spiritual karma created by their spiritual searching at least for a while will guarantee a positive future for them, even if only in the next or a future life.
There is a technical term in Sanskrit for one who has fallen away from the practice of Yoga: yogabhrashta. Krishna now discusses the good fate of the yogabhrashta:
Attaining the worlds of the meritorious, having dwelt there for countless years, he who has fallen from yoga is reborn in a happy and illustrious family (6:41).
After death the former yogi will go into the higher astral regions, impelled by the tremendously positive karma that is always produced by yoga practice. In those realms of great peace, happiness, and clarity of mind he will remain for a long time, continuing to refine his understanding and preparing for a spiritually fortunate rebirth. After that, he will be reborn in a happy and illustrious (shuchinam shrimatam) family. For the yogi’s parents will be of admirable character and recognized for it by those around them. This is why in India it is assumed that a saint will have been born of spiritually illustrious parents, perhaps even having saints in his ancestry.
Or else he may be born into a family of wise yogis. Truly, a birth such as that is more difficult to obtain in this world (6:42).
It is difficult because there are so few families of accomplished yogis, and because such persons, habitually observing brahmacharya, will have very few children, if any.
There he regains the knowledge he acquired in his former incarnation, and strives from thence once more toward perfection. Truly without his willing it his previous practice impels him on the yogic path. He who just desires to know about yoga goes beyond the Vedas (6:43-44).
How wondrous is yoga. Although it is sad to see someone fall away from the yoga life, the spiritual force generated will manifest in the next birth. We can be totally optimistic about anyone who takes up yoga, for those who just want to know about yoga enter into a stream of life that will carry them onward and upward.
I know this is true because I met a yogi in India who told me that he remembered his previous life as a Franciscan monk in Italy. He had heard that in India there were people called yogis who knew the way to God. From that moment onward he yearned to go to India to meet those who could tell him how to find and know God. He even tried to find some way to get to India. He died with this unfulfilled desire and in his next life was born in India and became a yogi.
Another man I met in India was a European who had entered a Roman Catholic seminary with the specific purpose of becoming a missionary to India. “After a few years,” he told me, “I realized that I did not want to be a missionary at all–I just wanted to go to India!” So he left the seminary and went to India, where I met him in the ashram of the great Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh.
By persevering effort and mastery, the totally purified yogi, perfected through many births, reaches the Supreme Goal (6:45).
Ultimate success in yoga is assured–in contrast to every other earthly endeavor. So the wise do not delay, but become yogis now and persevere.
Great is that yogi!
The concluding words of this sixth chapter of the Gita are intended to inspire us to seek out and follow the path of yoga. For as Shankara observed at the beginning of his commentary on the Yoga Sutras, if the prospective yogi has no idea of the value of yoga practice he cannot be expected to persevere. So Krishna says:
The yogi is superior to ascetics [tapaswins], and considered superior to jnanis and superior to those engaged in Vedic rituals [karmakanda]. Therefore be a yogi (6:46).
Being immersed in body-identification, people are very impressed with anything physical. Asceticism and unusual physical control are prized even by those who claim to identify with the spirit instead of the body. Those with a bit more evolution to their credit are more impressed with intellectual attainments, especially with the ability to write or speak in an arresting or inspirational manner. The majority, however, are mostly impressed by good deeds of many kinds: philanthropy, heroism, great success, and power. But Krishna tells us that those who seek union with Brahman are far greater than any of these. Then he gives the traits of a real yogi destined to attain Brahman:
Of all the yogis, he who has merged his inner Self in me and honors me, full of faith, I consider him the most devoted to me (6:47).
True worship of God is not ritual worship or good works but consciously uniting ourselves with God. This is real faith and devotion directed to God. So if we wish to be truly great men and women, all we need do is seek God. For those who find God find everything to an infinite degree.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Success in Yoga