The next ten verses of the Gita are mixed in character. They tell us about both the foolish and the wise.
Forty-five years ago I read the Gita in Swami Prabhavananda’s translation, which I still recommend as the best for getting an overview of the Gita’s message. The Gita was so wonderful, so enlivening, that I read it while walking to school (university) and while walking back home. Home! It was not the building where I was residing that was home. Sanatana Dharma, the truth embodied in the Gita, was my true home. And I had at last found it.
Everything about the Gita astonished and delighted me, but one moment stands out vividly. I read the verses quoted in the next section, and paused in genuine awe. This book told me the exact stages of the mind as it becomes enmeshed in delusion and as it frees itself from delusion. What a find! What a contrast to the puerile religion I had heretofore struggled and agonized to make sense of–because it had no sense. Such simple and yet profound wisdom to be found in the Gita was surely the path to freedom. I have never changed my mind.
Human beings are rational creatures, at least potentially. It is our mind, our intellect, that is our distinctive mark. Animals certainly show both intelligence and even intuition, but the gap between them and us is virtually infinite. How terrible, then, to be trapped in behaviorist, dogmatic religions that have no psychology whatsoever, that comprehend nothing of the human status and composition, yet fume at us that we are sinners and worthy of divine punishment. Such religions are nothing more than versions of Animal Trainer (God) and Animals (us). The Trainer is motivated by an irrational and insane drive to be adored and obeyed while employing means that can only make him hated and feared. The animals are living on instinct alone (called “faith”), dominated by fear and greed. When the animals do their tricks right they get rewarded; when they do not, they get the whip. And when they get “retired” from earthly life, if they have performed well they will get yummies forever, and if they have not performed well they will be shunted into a dungeon and live in torture and misery forever. The more personal religions which endeavor to bring in emotion in the guise of love and devotion are equally ugly and irrational. With them it is all a matter of Abusive Parent and Abused Children.
To find the truth of the Eternal Self, the inner Tao, the Buddha Nature, is the only alternative to mind-numbness, atheism, or madness. The Bhagavad Gita is the revealer of truth, of reality. It awakens, inspires, and enables us in the unfoldment of our true nature.
How not to do it
For a man dwelling on the objects of the senses, attachment to them is born. From attachment desire is born. And from [thwarted] desire anger is born. From anger arises delusion; from delusion, loss of memory; from loss of memory, destruction of intelligence. From destruction of intelligence one is lost (2:62-63).
It is true that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. In these two verses Krishna has described the entire journey, beginning with thinking of sensory objects and experience and ending in total loss, in destruction. Each step should be considered well.
Thinking (dwelling on)
Thought is power–magnetic power, particularly. That is, thought can draw or repel whatever is thought about, depending upon the polarity of the individual mind. Many times we see that people bring to themselves the things they continually think about, but we also see that thinking about something can repel it from a person. For example, the Franciscan Order is almost obsessed with the idea of poverty, yet it is one of the wealthiest institutions in the world. Thinking about poverty brought them wealth! This is not said in jest. I have seen people draw to themselves the things they detested, and seen others drive out of their lives the things they yearned for. It is a matter of the polarity of the thought force, of magnetic energy.
As a rule, though, thought brings to us what we think about. Even if we begin by disliking or opposing the object of thought, in time we become attached to it, either by coming to like it (whether or not we admit the liking) or becoming unable to dispel it from our minds. We see this in the lives of many crusaders. They become what they oppose. In fact, they often oppose something to cover up their secret attraction to it.
It has long been known that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. Krishna is aware of this, and is counseling us to simply ignore that which we do not wish to become involved with. That is why in meditation we ignore any distractions and just keep relaxed in the awareness of the process of meditation–and nothing else. If we do this, in time the distractions will dissolve, and in the meantime, being ignored, they will not be distractions, practically speaking. So if we will not obsess on a subject, it will not touch or capture us. This is a major principle of spiritual life.
The stages of destruction
Dwelling on the objects of the senses, attachment to them is born. Attachment means having an affinity for something, or having some feeling of desire to be aware of it or have it present. It has a definite emotional connotation. It also means to feel some kind of kinship with an object, or to feel a need for it–even a dependency. Attachment also means to be linked to something, to become externally associated with it. This has already been discussed as a consequence of thinking continually of an object.
Obviously there is a positive side to this. If we think of that which is beneficial and elevating we will better ourselves. Sri Ramakrishna once met a young man who was psychically very sensitive, and who was being employed as a medium by some spiritualists in Calcutta. He spoke to him a truth that we should never forget or neglect to embody in our lives: “My son, if you think about ghosts you will become a ghost. If you think about God, you will become God. Which do you prefer?”
From attachment, desire is born. The word used here is kamas which means any degree of desire for something–from mild wish to intense craving. The implication is that the nature of objects is one of escalating absorption. We cannot stop at simple attachment. If we permit attachment, it will in time grow into something much worse: controlling addiction. This is the path to loss of freedom, to enslavement.
From [thrwarted] desire anger is born. If we do not get what we want, or if we get it and then lose it, or if we get it and find it is not what we wanted–or less than what we desired–anger (krodha) arises in varying degrees and forms.
From anger arises delusion [moha]. We not only lose our freedom through addiction to objects, we also lose our rational faculty. For when our addictions are thwarted we respond with the ultimate irrationality: anger, which accomplishes nothing but misery and completely annihilates our good sense and reason. Sammohas also means confusion, not in the sense of simple disorientation, but in the sense of breakdown of mental coherence arising from delusion. It is a form of moral insanity.
From delusion, loss of the memory. Smritivibhramah literally means to wander away from what is known (remembered)–from what has been learned through experience. For it is what we know, and remember, from our own experience, inner and outer, that is fundamental to our evolution. That alone is living wisdom, everything else is merely theory, however true it may be objectively. The whole purpose of the chain of births we have undergone is our gaining of practical knowledge, knowledge that is fully ours because it has arisen from our own experience and our insight into that experience. Just as no one can eat for us, so no one, however evolved they may be, can gain knowledge for us, or even impart it to us. Until we know something for ourselves it is nothing more than speculation or theory.
From loss of the memory, destruction of intelligence [buddhi]. Our very faculty of intelligence, the seat of evolution, is destroyed by this amnesia. This is terrible, for expanding intelligence is the fundamental characteristic of evolution. That is why Krishna speaks so often of buddhi yoga as the path to perfection.
From destruction of intelligence one is lost [destroyed]. When buddhi is destroyed, we ourselves are destroyed. (Pranashyati means both destroyed or lost.) This is no exaggeration, as the foregoing sections demonstrate. The purpose of our entry into relativity was the development of higher intelligence so we might be fitted to participate in the infinite consciousness of God. If we impair and erode that intelligence we frustrate the very purpose of our (relative) existence.
On the other hand, if we comprehend Krishna’s words in this matter, we can see that the conscious deepening of our buddhi is the path to liberation. But most of all we can learn how to never take even the first step on the path to personal destruction. By refusing to allow our minds to mull over that which is delusive, we protect ourselves from future entanglement in the nets of delusion. If we are already somewhere along the path to destruction we can also use this list to see how to reverse the process. For the message of the Gita is always and at all times the message of hope and betterment.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: The Way of Peace