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Union With Brahman

Part 49 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

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Krishna tells us the facts

How can we tell who is an enlightened person? The answer is to be found in the Gita. There the internal state of the perfected yogi is outlined–a state that can only be known to the yogi himself, that cannot be observed externally and subjected to a checklist, for it is purely internal in character. As Yogananda used to sing: “He who knows… he knows. None else knows!” The Kaivalya Upanishad describes the enlightened person as saying: “I know all that is, but no one knows me” (Kaivalya Upanishad 21).

A truly enlightened person will say what is found in the Kena Upanishad: “I cannot say that I know Brahman fully. Nor can I say that I know him not. He among us knows him best who understands the spirit of the words: ‘Nor do I know that I know him not.’ He truly knows Brahman who knows him as beyond knowledge; he who thinks that he knows, knows not. The ignorant think that Brahman is known, but the wise know him to be beyond knowledge” (Kena Upanishad 2:2, 3). Nevertheless, Krishna is able to give us a working idea of enlightenment, one which can be useful to the individual yogi so he will not mistake the goal or mistakenly assume he has attained it before he really has.

It is all in the mind

When he is absorbed in the Self alone, with mind controlled, free from longing, from all desires, then he is known to be steadfast (6:18).

Here we find three traits of mind necessary for enlightenment: 1) total absorption in the Self, 2) perfect control of the mind, and 3) complete freedom from desire. This is a great deal for us to work on, and without diligent yoga practice it is impossible. Some or all of these may be managed occasionally in meditation, but that is not enlightenment. For Krishna continues:

As a lamp in a windless place flickers not: to such is compared the yogi of controlled mind, performing the yoga of the Self (6:19).

Flashes of enlightenment can come to the yogi, but he must not be satisfied with fleeting experiences of the Self, but must strive to become permanently established in consciousness of the Self. This state cannot be attained by talk and wishful thinking. Rather:

When the mind comes to rest, restrained by the practice of yoga, beholding the Self by the Self, he is content in the Self (6:20).

There is no way to enter into the state of enlightenment except through yoga. Certainly we sometimes hear of rare individuals who entered into perfect knowledge of the Self with minimal effort or even upon merely hearing of the Self. But such persons have attained illumination in previous lives. There are no shortcuts to enlightenment.

When the mind ceases its movements and becomes permanently stilled, the Self is known. As long as the surface of water is moving to any degree there is distortion in the reflected image, but once it comes to absolute stillness, the image is perfect (complete) and undistorted. It is the same with the mind. The mind can be likened to a double-sided mirror which reflects both the outer world and the inner Self. Both sides must be stilled through yoga. Then the yogi finds profound peace and rests contented in the Self. Only in the illumined Self does he behold (know) the Self. For it is swayamprakasha, self-illuminated and self-illuminating.

He knows that endless joy which is apprehended by the buddhi beyond the senses; and established in that he does not deviate from the truth [tattwatah: thatness] (6:21).

That the infinite happiness of the Self can be experienced by the buddhi is an extremely important point. Infinite consciousness transcends the senses and therefore the sensory mind, the manas, but it is not beyond the experience of the buddhi, the higher mind, the intellect. For the word buddhi is derived from the root verb budh, which means “to enlighten, to know.”

The buddhi can be illumined by the Self. This is most significant, for it is usually assumed that all levels of the mind are dissolved at the advent of enlightenment, that the liberated yogi has no mind. But this is a misunderstanding. As Sri Ramana Maharshi continually pointed out, at the onset of enlightenment the buddhi is not destroyed, but rather is transmuted into the Self–for nothing ever really exists but the Self. As I say, this is important, for those who have no actual experience or realization make all kinds of statements, such as that since the enlightened have no mind they have no subconscious mind, and therefore cannot dream. And they love to challenge a yogi with the question: “Do you dream?” If the answer is Yes, they declare the yogi unenlightened. But when Ramana Maharshi was confronted with this silly question he simply said: “Yes. But not like your dreams.” When asked what his dreams were like, he answered that when asleep (yes, he did sleep) he saw the forms of deities and temples–two nemeses of contemporary “advaitins.”

Unshaken by sorrow or suffering

Standing firm in his realization, the yogi never loses or moves away from his perceptions of Reality.

Having attained this, he regards no other gain better than that, and established therein he is not moved by heaviest sorrow (6:22).

No suffering can overshadow or cloud the yogi’s inner vision, no matter how terrible or prolonged it may be. Two events come to mind that illustrate this.

Sri Ramakrishna was in the final stages of throat cancer. Its ravages were terrible. One day he began pathetically describing the horrible pain to a disciple. After listening a while, the disciple interrupted him, vehemently saying: “No matter what you say, I see you as an ocean of bliss!” Sri Ramakrishna smiled, turned to a disciple standing nearby, and said: “This rascal has found me out!” And that was the end of the subject.

Toward the end of his earthly life, Paramhansa Yogananda had severe trouble with his legs, at times being unable to walk. Sometimes when the pains were so bad that he could not sleep, close disciples would sit with him in his bedroom. Often he asked them to play recordings of Indian devotional music to take his mind to higher levels. Once, though, he fell asleep as his first American disciple, Dr. M. W. Lewis, and his wife kept sad vigil in his room. After some time, Yogananda began to softly moan, and then his groans became increasingly louder and more expressive of the awful pain. Both devoted disciples began to weep in sympathy for his sufferings. Instantly Yogananda stopped groaning and began laughing. Then they understood: the great Master was always immersed in divine bliss, however much the body might suffer.

The real yoga

Let this dissolution of union with pain be known as yoga. This yoga is to be practiced with determination, with an assured mind (6:23).

The most important part of this is to realize that cessation of suffering is not a side effect, but can be pursued directly. The Gita uses the tongue-twister dukhasamyogaviyogam–the yoga of the dissolving of union with pain.

How shall we succeed in this yoga?

Abandoning those desires whose origins lie in one’s intention–all of them without exception–also completely restraining the many senses by the mind, (6:24).

Desires may persist, but we must steadfastly turn from them, restraining the senses by the mind. We need not even cut them off. Instead we should fix our minds on God. For since all desires are merely aberrations of the primal desire to find God that is in each one of us, the false desires will melt away. Yet it is not enough to just want to cut off desires, for desires are not self-existent entities. Rather, they arise from the senses as a result of contact with sense-objects. So the senses must be thoroughly controlled and restrained, placed under the directorship of our intelligent will.

It will not be an overnight matter or instant success. So Krishna says:

With the buddhi firmly controlled, with the mind fixed on the Self, he should gain quietude by degrees: let him not think of any extraneous thing whatever (6:25).

That is quite clear, but it should be pointed out that the constant practice of yoga in the form of japa and meditation is the only way to fix our mind on the Self and keep it steadily there so that in all the experiences of life we will remain in unbroken awareness of Spirit. It is through japa and meditation that we can also follow Krishna’s next directive:

Whenever the unsteady mind, moving here and there, wanders off, he should subdue and hold it back and direct it to the Self’s control (6:26).

This is immeasurably important. We restrain and control the intellect by immersing it in the Self. The Sanskrit text literally means “he leads it into the Self.” In other words he establishes, he centers, the buddhi in the Self (Atman). The fact that the buddhi can experience the Self must never be forgotten by us. This revolutionizes our entire approach to attaining realization of the Self. The means is right at hand. We need only know the way and do it. It may not be fast, but it will be sure.


Shankara says at the beginning of his commentary on the Yoga Sutras that unless the aspiring yogi knows the benefits which the practice of yoga will bring it is impractical to think that he will persevere. After all, who would work to gain something he does not really know about? “Some kind of reward” would not be enough of an incentive. Krishna then speaks of the results of the yoga he has been recommending to us:

The yogi whose mind is truly tranquil, with emotions calmed, free of evil, having become one with Brahman, attains the supreme happiness (6:27).

Peaceful, passionless, pure, and blissful–who would not earnestly strive for such a prize? Even more:

Thus constantly engaging himself in the practice of yoga, that yogi, freed from evil, easily touching Brahman, attains boundless happiness (6:28).

He still walks the way, and does so until he attains the highest realm and merges with the Absolute, but it is now easy (sukhena) and anandamayi–filled with bliss.

The eye of the yogi

He who is steadfast in yoga (yoga-yukta) at all times sees the Self present in all beings and all beings present in the Self (6:29).

What a glorious vision! Since the Self and Brahman are one, the Self being the microcosm and Brahman the macrocosm, everything that exists can be found in either one, though in the individual Self it is only a kind of seed-reflection.

It is essential for us to comprehend the fact that the illumined yogi never confuses himself with Brahman the Absolute. Even if he says: “I am Brahman,” he means that Brahman is his essential nature. For example, we can say of a gold statue that it is gold, but we will not mean that it is all the gold in the world–only that it is made from gold. In the same way our Self is of the substance of Brahman, but it is not the totality of Brahman.

So the yogi does not experience that he, personally, is in all things and all things within him in the same way that Brahman experiences unity with all. The yogi does experience a unity with all things, and as I say he experiences all things within himself as seed-reflections. I once described this kind of experience in an autobiographical writing in this way:

“While meditating one day all ordinary physical sensation vanished. Spatial relation ceased to exist and I found myself keenly aware of being beyond dimension, neither large nor small, but infinite (for infinity is beyond size). Although the terminology is inappropriate to such a state, to make it somewhat understandable I have to say that I perceived an infinity of worlds ‘within’ me. Suns–some solo and others surrounded by planets–glimmered inside my spaceless space. Not that I saw the light, but I felt or intuited it. Actually, I did not ‘see’ anything–and yet I did. It is not expressible in terms of ordinary sense experience, yet I must use those terms.

“I experienced myself as everything that existed within the relative material universe. Or so it seemed, for the human body is a miniature universe, a microcosmic model of the macrocosm. The physical human body is a reflection of the universal womb that conceived it. I had experienced the subtle level of the physical body that is its ideational (i.e., causal) blueprint. On that level it can be experienced as a map of the material creation.”

Later, Dr. Judith Tyberg, director of the East-West Cultural Center in Los Angeles, told me that she had attended a lecture at Benares Hindu University in which a map of the universe and charts from Gray’s Anatomy were compared and seen to be strikingly alike.

Such an experience as mine is not what is meant by Cosmic Consciousness, but rather is consciousness of the inner reflected cosmos. Nevertheless, it has value. However, the perfected yogi has the same experience in a much more profound and practical manner, and actually knows and perceives all things in an incomprehensible manner. I have told my experience so those who have similar events will not assume they are the Infinite.

Now here is the really important part of the matter. Ignorant people experiencing momentarily what the yoga adept sees always, will be keenly aware of the What of their seeing. But the enlightened yogi sees the Who, as Krishna points out, saying:

He who sees me everywhere, and sees all things in me–I am not lost to him, and he is not lost to me (6:30).

Prabhavananda: “That yogi sees me in all things, and all things within me. He never loses sight of me, nor I of him.” The yogi sees Brahman at all times, understanding that all things are but waves in the ocean of Brahmic Consciousness, including himself. This is depicted in Swami Sivananda’s thrilling poem, Only God I Saw:

When I surveyed from Ananda Kutir, Rishikesh,
By the side of the Tehri Hills, only God I saw.
In the Ganges and the Kailas peak,
In the famous Chakra Tirtha of Naimisar also, only God I saw.

In the Dedhichi Kand of Misrik,
In the sacred Triveni of Prayag Raj too, only God I saw.
In the Maya Kund of Rishikesh and
In the springs of Badri, Yamunotri and Gauri-Kund to boot, only God I saw.

In tribulation and in grief, in joy and in glee,
In sickness and in sorrow, only God I saw.
In birds and dogs, in stones and trees,
In flowers and fruits, in the sun, moon and stars, only God I saw.

In the rosy cheeks of Kashmiri ladies,
In the dark faces of African negroes, only God I saw.
In filth and scents, in poison and dainties,
In the market and in society, only God I saw.

In trains and cars, in aeroplanes and steamers,
In Jutkas and dandies, in tumtums and landan, only God I saw.
I talked to the flowers, they smiled and nodded,
I conversed with the running brooks, they verily responded, only God I saw.

In prayer and fasting, in praise and meditation,
In Japa and Asana, in Tratak and concentration, only God I saw.
In Pranayama and Nauli, in Bhasti and Neti,
In Dhouti and Vajroli, in Bhastrika and Kundalini, only God I saw.

In Brahmakara Vritti and Vedantic Nididhyasana,
In Atmic Vichara and Atmic Chintana, only God I saw.
In Kirtan and Nama Smaran, in Sravana and Vandana,
In Archana and Padasevana, in Dasya and Atmanivedana, only God I saw.

Like camphor I was melting in his fire of knowledge,
Amidst the flames outflashing, only God I saw.
My Prana entered the Brahmarandhra at the Moordha,
Then I looked with God’s eyes, only God I saw.

I passed away into nothingness, I vanished,
And lo, I was the all-living, only God I saw.
I enjoyed the Divine Aisvarya, all God’s Vibhutis,
I had Visvaroopa Darshan, the Cosmic Consciousness, only God I saw.

Om, Om, Om, only God I saw.

What better comment could there be on Sivananda’s attainment expressed in this poem than Krishna’s next words:

He, established in unity, worships me dwelling in all things. Whatever be his mode of life, that yogi ever abides in me (6:31).

The main characteristic of Sivananda was his love of all humanity and indeed of all sentient beings. Daily I saw his compassion for all he encountered. So Krishna’s next words describe his state of mind and heart as well as that of all who truly know Brahman:

He who judges pleasure or pain by the same standard everywhere that he applies unto himself, that yogi is deemed the highest (6:32).

Krishna has in these verses given the real facts about the interior state of those who know Brahman. It is wisdom to ever keep these in mind when encountering those who are thought to be enlightened, and even more wisdom to keep applying them to ourselves so we will press onward to the fruition of yoga: Brahman, and Brahman alone.

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

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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

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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.

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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