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Wisdom About the Wise

Part 21 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

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Arjuna said: What is the description of him who is steady of insight, of him who is steadfast in deep meditation, of him who is steady in thought? How does he speak? How does he sit? How does he move about? (2:54).

Earlier, I spoke of how some supposed spiritual figures in both East and West are given a free hand to devastate the minds and lives of others just because they bear the title of “guru” or “avatar.” This is because of a complete miscomprehension of the nature of enlightenment and how it manifests in the consciousness and behavior of the enlightened. In response to Arjuna’s question, Krishna tells us everything we need to know–and which we should ever keep in mind when encountering supposedly enlightened people. Krishna will take eighteen verses to give Arjuna and us the total picture. Here are the first eight of them.

Without “wants”

The Holy Lord said: When he leaves behind all the desires of the mind, contented in the Self by the Self, then he is said to be steady in wisdom (2:55).

Nothing could be easier to understand: an enlightened person wants nothing, finding total fulfillment in the Self–both individual and universal.

Therefore when we see people with spiritual goals such as serving God in others or exhibiting a veritable passion about a world mission or saving or enlightening others, we can know they are not illumined, and therefore incapable of doing any of those things in a real manner, however fine the exterior machinery might appear.

A true spiritual teacher has no expectation of others whatsoever, never foists demands on them. Knowing that all growth comes from within, never from an outer factor–including him–the worthy teacher knows that it is his duty to teach, and that is the absolute end of the matter. From then on it is up to the student to either follow the teaching or not. If he asks for help or advice from the teacher, it is the teacher’s duty to give the requested assistance and then leave the matter alone. In spiritual life as well as material life there is a division of labor that should be adhered to. Under the guise of love or devotion there should be no violation of spiritual law. And no authentic teacher will ever break any law.

In contrast

It is virtually impossible to find any popular “spiritual” teacher that does not live like the jewel in the lotus–both materially and socially. Although there is a pretense that their disciples are insistent upon it, it is really the guru that demands continual adulation and material accouterments that would have been considered extreme even for a Di Medici monarch. One guru in India has himself and his wife weighed every year and given their combined weights in gold. And the palatial living quarters of the gurus are like overdone satires of the houses of the most vulgar nouveau riche.

At the bottom of this outrageous aggrandizement on the psychological and material levels is a profound sense of insecurity, discontentment and often self-loathing on the part of the super-guru. I have had experience of this firsthand when visiting their ashrams and conversing with them. The pathology is very evident. Let me give a single example.

Once I was the guest of a super-guru after having spent several days at a yoga retreat sponsored by his organization. I had spoken to the retreatants several times during those days, and was being rewarded by being invited into the August Presence. (I had previously been asked to sign a legal document stating that I would never ask the institution for money in the future as payment for my speaking. I had refused to sign–and never asked them for money.)

As we sat at the table, being served by anxious, hushed, and devoted “gopis,” Super-G began to tell me about the well-known rock groups that had asked him to come speak during their concerts both inside and outside the United States. Since I disliked all popular music (especially rock music), and being aware of the negative character of the groups he was naming, I was listening with a mixture of amazement and disgust. And then I got the idea: he was trying to make me jealous! Did he really think that, having lived with great masters in India and having received the grace of so many other great saints, I would be impressed by a listing of these aberrant drug-addicted pandemonium peddlers?

More was to come. Since I did not swoon at the listing of the rock groups, he passed on to speaking tours. He had been invited to speak in the Soviet Union! And also in a host of other gruesome places where there could not possibly be genuine spiritual interest. This list was peppered with the names of celebrities who would either be sponsoring or accompanying him.

That left me unaffected, so he moved on to the subject of living accommodations. First I got a recounting of what centers of his organization were engaged in providing luxurious apartments and houses for him, even stocking a complete set of his tailor-made silk clothes so he would never need to travel around the country with luggage. I dislike travel and being away from our ashram, so that moved me not.

Finally he resorted to real estate. First of all, a road for his exclusive use was being cleared in a local forest where some disciples had managed to purchase a large tract of land so he could be totally isolated.

(No matter how “loving” and “giving” the super gurus are, they like to have inaccessible retreats away from their disciples, some of them–usually the Americans–even doing some kind of “early retirement” so they will not have to have contact with their adoring devotees. Some of them claim to need solitude so they can “write,” though little or nothing is ever published. However one super-guru emerged every week from his state of retreat to travel some hours to a major vacation-playground to take saxophone lessons from a well-known jazz musician.)

After the road was put in, a renowned architect was going to come and study the land and design a house specifically to fit in with the landscape and (of course) the ecology of the forest. Then the house would be built by the devotees–or at least by their money.

He had come to the end of the line. I was not impressed. I was appalled. He was miffed. I was glad to get out of there never to return. Fortunately I had many memories of simple, even barren, rooms in which I had sat with great saints in India, rooms where they stayed in joyful contentment, living the simplest of lives. Before going to India I had seen the two tiny rooms in which Paramhansa Yogananda, head of a world-wide spiritual organization, had lived for over a quarter of a century, as well as the simple little kitchen across the hall where he had so often cooked for his beloved students.

“Contented in the Self by the Self, then he is said to be steady in wisdom.” I had seen Krishna’s words verified in the lives of the true yogis.


He whose mind is not agitated in misfortunes, freed from desire for pleasures, from whom passion, fear and anger have departed, steady in thought–such a man is said to be a sage (2:56).

“The kingdom of God is peace and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17). Living in the inner kingdom of infinite peace and joy, the enlightened are not affected by fortune or misfortune, for nothing can change their spiritual status. “The same in pain or in pleasure… [he] is fit for absorption in Brahman” (14:24, 26). Even for us, “He whose happiness is within, whose delight is within, whose illumination is within: that yogi, identical in being with Brahman, attains Brahmanirvana” (5:24).

Desire, fear and anger are manifestations of what we may justifiably call “raw ego.” Other emotions are further removed from the source and their character not so easy to detect. This unholy trinity is thoroughly intertwined. They are ego-based responses to stimuli of differing character. Desire arises when we think something external can change our inner or outer status for the better (or at least more enjoyable), fear arises when we feel endangered, and anger arises when we are mistreated or our desire thwarted. All other responses are permutations of these three, their offspring. The enlightened is free of them.

Please be wary of those who pretend that when they manifest these passions they are “just lilas,” “mere appearances,” “writings on water,” etc. How can they benefit you by deceiving you or causing you pain and confusion by their seeming negative behavior? Lesser teachers may do so, erroneously thinking it is the only way to help you–as a kind of psychological shock treatment. But a truly illumined person will do no such thing. Their very presence can work in you the necessary changes. I have both experienced it and witnessed it.

Broken bonds

He who is without desire in all situations, encountering this or that, pleasant or unpleasant, not rejoicing or disliking–his wisdom stands firm (2:57).

There are some key words here we need to look at.

Sarvatra means “on all sides,” “everywhere,” and “in all things.”

Anabhisnehas means “without affection” “unimpassioned,” and “nondesirous.” So Krishna is saying that at all times, in all places, and on every level of existence, the wise one has no attraction toward something, no emotional reaction toward anything, and absolutely no desire for anything. Further, he is neither elated nor disturbed when prapya–encountering, obtaining, attaining or incurring–that which is shubhashubham–pleasant or unpleasant or a mixture of both.

Shubhashubham can also mean lucky or unlucky, fortunate or unfortunate. In other words, nothing moves him, for tasya prajna pratishthita–his consciousness, his awareness, and the wisdom that arises therefrom is established, standing firm at all times. For nothing can be added to him or taken away. For him pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, are all one and the same (see 2:38). “Content with what comes unbidden, beyond the dualities [pairs of opposites] and free from envy, the same in success or failure, even though acting, he is not bound” (4:22). “He has no purpose at all in action or in non-action; and he has no need of any being for any purpose whatsoever” (3:18). He is free indeed.

Living within

And when he withdraws completely the senses from the objects of the senses, as the tortoise draws in its limbs, his wisdom is established firmly (2:58).

This is not referring to just control of the senses in a mechanical way, but to the fact that the enlightened person lives thoroughly within himself. Although we usually think of the senses as the material organs of perception, in reality the senses are astral and causal, and their main purpose is to see in the spirit. So the liberated person truly lives according to nature on all levels. Seeing with the inner eye, hearing with the inner ear, etc., he sees and hears true. Also, it means that when he withdraws the senses he does not become inert and unconscious in what the yogis jokingly call jada samadhi–a state of mental inertia which is neither meditation or samadhi. Rather, he is more conscious than otherwise. And it also means that when an accomplished yogi withdraws his senses he does not fall asleep as a consequence–something I expect we have all done to our embarrassment.


Sense-objects turn away from the abstinent, yet the taste for them remains. But the taste also turns away from him who has seen the Supreme (2:59).

Prabhavananda: “The abstinent run away from what they desire but carry their desires with them: when a man enters Reality, he leaves his desires behind him.”

How much is said in this simple sentence! The truly enlightened are not simply free from desire, they have become incapable of desire. This is extremely important to know. We must apply this to ourselves, and not foolishly think that just because we avoid the objects of desire and thereby experience no desire, that we are truly desireless. For just being without desire is not the same as having passed into the realm of consciousness where desire cannot exist.

The senses

The troubling senses forcibly carry away the mind of even the striving man of wisdom. Restraining all these senses, he should sit in yoga, intent on me. Surely, he whose senses are controlled–his consciousness stands steadfast and firm (2:60-61).

People get fooled in relation to the senses, too. I think somewhere I have told about a little girl I knew whose parents tried for years to keep her from sucking her thumb. Even in the primary grades she sat around with her thumb in her mouth. One day, when she was visiting our house, she was watching television with thumb in mouth. At one point she pulled out her thumb, called to my stepmother who was in the kitchen: “Guess what! I don’t suck my thumb anymore!” and put it right back in. Business as usual.

It is amazing to see the difference between the ascetic approaches of Western and Eastern religions. Western spiritual writers blame everything on demons, claiming that every evil thought and impulse comes from evil spirits. The yogis (Hindu, Taoist, and Buddhist), on the other hand, understand that these negative thoughts and impulses come from within us–that we are totally responsible for the folly that foams up in our minds. Western ascetics wear themselves out battling and driving away demons. What can they achieve by living out this fantasy? Certainly negative spirits exist, but what can they do to us in the final analysis? It is the enemy within–our own ego and its ignorance–that really harms us and none other.

A religion that does not teach its adherents to recognize and deal with their own culpability is right to be obsessed with sin, for what else can it produce? No wonder that Jews, Christians, and Moslems welter in fixation on sin and evil in contrast with the Hindus, Taoists and Buddhists who focus on innate holiness and perfection.

There was a great saint in the West–a Pope, actually–who tried to bring some light into the of darkness of Christian sin-consciousness and sin-obsession, but instead was condemned for heresy. Poor Pope Pelagius is immortalized only in Christian fulminations against the “Pelagian heresy” that man is essentially good and capable of holiness. Unintentionally, Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus gives an insight on this. Under the heading of “obsession,” the first entry is “attraction.” There you have it. Obsession with sin is attraction to sin; preoccupation with holiness is attraction to holiness. You get what you fix your mind on.

“Therefore at all times remember me, and fight with your mind [manas] and intellect [buddhi] fixed on me. Thus without doubt you shall come to me. With mind made steadfast by yoga, which turns not to anything else, to the Divine Supreme Spirit he goes, meditating on him” (8:7-8).

“Keep your mind on me alone, causing your intellect to enter into me. Thenceforward, without doubt, you shall dwell in me” (12:8).

Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise

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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

Visit our e-library page for Free Downloads of this and other ebooks in various formats.

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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