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:
“I do not perceive the steady continuance of this yoga which is declared by You as evenness of mind, because of [the mind’s] instability. The mind, indeed, is unstable, turbulent, powerful and obstinate. I think it is as difficult 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 mind 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.
What can be done
There is hope, nevertheless, for Krishna replies: “Without doubt the mind is unsteady and difficult to restrain; but by practice [abhyasa] and by indifference [vairagya] it is restrained” (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 self is uncontrolled; but by him whose self is controlled, by striving, it is possible to attain through proper means” (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. For Arjuna says: “One who is uncontrolled through he has faith, whose mind has fallen away from yoga, who does not attain perfection in yoga, which way does he go? Is he not lost like a disappearing cloud, having fallen from both worlds, having no solid ground, confused on the path of Brahman? You are able, Krishna, to completely dispel this doubt of mine. Other than You, no one exists to remove 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
“Neither here on earth nor in heaven above is there found to be destruction of him. Truly, no one who does good goes to misfortune” (6:40).
We must fix this truth firmly in our minds. First, in relation to ourselves: we must be assured that 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 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 endless years, he who has fallen from yoga is born again in the dwelling of the radiant and the illustrious” (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 spiritually “radiant and illustrious” family. The words shuchinam shrimatam, can be equally correctly translated “happy and illustrious.” 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 their ancestry.
“Or he may be born in the family of wise yogis. Such a birth as this is truly more difficult to attain 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–if any–children.
“There he regains the knowledge derived from the previous birth, and he strives onward once more toward perfection. He is carried on, even against his will, by prior practice. He who even wishes to know of yoga transcends the [ritualistic] 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 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. Interestingly, after becoming an accomplished yogi he left India and went to live in Assisi near the shrine of Saint Francis.
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 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.
“Through persevering effort and controlled mind, the yogi, completely cleansed of evil, and perfected through many births, then goes to the supreme goal” (6:45). Success 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 the ascetics, he is also thought to be superior to the learned. And the yogi is superior to those who perform ritual works. 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 and any of these.
Then he gives the traits of a real yogi destined to attain Brahman: “Of all these yogis, he who has merged his inner Self in Me, worships Me, full of faith, is considered to be 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
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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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.
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Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary