Monday, March 16, 2009

Gita, Chapter 6, and Yoga

My Friday night Gita classes have finally arrived at the sixth chapter. This being a yoga ashram, people are generally most interested in what this chapter, known variously as dhyāna-yoga (the most authentic name, it seems, as it is given by Shankara and Sridhara) or abhyāsa-yoga. I have also seen it called ātma-saṁyama-yoga (based on 4.27ff, where the first descriptions of aṣṭāṅga-yoga are given). Madhusudana calls it adhyātma-yoga. Since this chapter's topics parallel most closely what is found in Patanjali, it has a great deal of appeal, and always did for me also when I first contacted the Gita.

My first lecture was last Friday, and it was mostly spent discussing the last verse of chapter 5 and the first 3 of chapter 6.

The use of the word yoga in the Gita is quite different from the way people generally understand it these days. Tilak has gone to some pains to show that the primary meaning is "stratagem" or "device." Certainly "means" has always been my primary interpretation, but "discipline" has been a close second. Since the first definition given of yoga is karmasu kauśalam, this interpretation should really have no objection. For Tilak, of course, in this sense yoga can only mean karma-yoga, and indeed karma-yoga is the only legitimate interpretation for the Gita as a whole.

Some people, including Tilak, don't like Madhusudana Saraswati's insight into the construction of the Gita into three parts of six chapters each, but the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. The sixth chapter ends with a clear statement thath the best yogi is one who worships Me (bhajate) with faith (shraddhavan). He is yuktatama or "most united with Me in yoga." This clearly ends one discourse and sets up the next one.

Similarly, chapter 12 nicely concludes the discourse on bhakti and leads into the third discourse on jnana. Madhusudana says the section on bhakti is a bridge, because it closes the gap between karma, which is external, and jnana, which is internal. Most people find the last six chapters anticlimactic after the revelation of the universal form and the justification and glorification of bhakti in chapter 12, but the metaphysical discourse in the last six chapters is a necessary supplement to what has gone before.

The word yukta could be analyzed from various points of view also, but the intent is clearly related to yoga. It could also mean "reasonable" or "connected," but in this verse, I would simply think it meant "situated in yoga" in the sense given above. Nevertheless, a word never completely discards its various overtones and colors, and the word yoga itself always has the overtone of connection, i.e., "the expertise of actions, disciplines or stratagems that lead to a sense of correct understanding, self-integration and connectedness to God."

The last verse of Chapter 5 is interesting in the development of the themes of the Gita. In general, the last verses of each chapter make for an interesting study and provide a lot of insight into the Gita. Krishna is only slowly unfolding the concept of Purushottama, though he will hammer it home not only in the middle six, but also in the final six. In fact, Krishna has not been very open about himself--hinting only here and there with a well-placed mat- this or that. Of course, in Chapter 4 he talks about his transcendental nature, the concept of avatāra, and in 4.9-11 indicates a little about bhakti, but the intervening section from there up to 5.26 does not touch on any of these themes at all, but rather develops Sankhya ideas about the relationship of the individual soul (puruṣa) to Prakriti. 5.29 returns to the point about a higher puruṣa, or puruṣa-viśeṣa, as the Yoga-sūtra has it.

6.1-2. As with chapters 3 and 5 (and arguably chapter 4), chapter 6 begins with a reminder that Krishna is talking about karma-yoga and that though karma-yoga and sannyasa have a common purpose, yoga (action done without attachment to the results, or saṅkalpa) is superior to sannyāsa.

6.3 is one that seems to support the sannyāsa position, however, when it states that for the beginner, karma is the "cause" of yoga, while for one who has reached an advanced level of yoga (yogārūḍha), śama or "pacification" are the cause. I would, however, think that the meaning here is that there is a progressive interiorization of discipline, and this verse is thus a good introduction to the chapter. In our bhakti-yoga system, it can be said to be akin to the physical practices contrasted with the mental ones.

Ultimately, when Rupa Goswami says, sādhanaughair anāsaṅgair aprāpyaḥ sucirād api, he means that the external practices have the goal of leading to inner purification of mind, without which they are ultimately pointless. Seen in this light, the Gita's karma-yoga is ultimately on the same continuum as bhakti-yoga and Ramananda Ray is quite correct to quote the varṇāśramācaravatā verse, which shows that engaging in one's prescribed duty according to Varnashram is a form of bhakti, even though Mahaprabhu rejected it as external.

Jagadish Ghosh loves (as do I) verses 6.27-31 and pointing to various other sources, particularly the Bhagavatam (chapter 3.29 and 11.5) states that this seeing of God everywhere (he even quotes Caitanya-charitāmṛta, "Wherever Radha's eyes fall, Krishna appears there to her.") is the highest goal of all yoga practice. There is little one can say to debate that conclusion, expect to specify the nature of such vision. When Krishna says tasyāhaṁ na praṇaśyāmi, sa ca me na pranaśyati, "I am never lost to him, nor is he ever lost to me," it sounds distinctly like a personal relationship and makes 6.47 much more meaningful.

Of course, 6.27-31 are about the internal sādhanā having an effect on one's perception of the sensory world. It is like that pair of verses Kunjabihari Dasji quotes:

bāhire nayan nā deo kokhon,
bhāvākrānta citta nāhi jad-avadhi
je bhāve abhāva, hoibek bhāva,
nāile bhāvābhāse hobe nā tad-buddhi

mahatera bhāva, bhāvite bhāvite,
tad-āviṣṭe sarva hobe vismaroṇ
antar-bāhye tabe ekākāra hobe,
mahad-bhāve rasa hobe āsvādon

Don't look outside until your mind has been saturated with bhāva. For a mind saturated with bhāva will find Krishna's presence even in those places where others cannot find him. On the other hand, if your inner mood is immature, you will not have the ability to see him there. By meditating constantly on the inner moods of the Great Souls, one becomes saturated with their attitude and all mundane considerations are forgotten. At that time, inside and out become one and one relishes the taste of the rasa just as the previous great souls did. Another translation.

In this way of seeing things, the goal is actually to transform one's inner self in such a way that one's perception of reality is transformed and one sees the iṣṭa devatā's presence in all events, all circumstances, and all people--friend or foe, ally or competitor.

What I think is missing in this description of the lone sādhaka in an isolated place heroically entering the inner world of sādhanā is a median stage of individual relationship. The Sanskrit language has, besides singular and plural numbers, the very interesting "dual" or dvi-vacanam. In a world where the significance of binary numbers ("There are only 10 kinds of people in the world--those who understand binary and those who don't.") is being comprehended more and more, the dual seems to have its own inherent value.

At any rate, the individual relationship as a bridge between isolation and universalism seems to be understated in the scheme of sādhanā. No doubt, for the advaitins, the idea of relationship to a personal God fills that role and individual relationships with other humans are seen more as a distraction and a hindrance. They focus the attention away from rather than opening a window into the universal. This is no doubt true when (a) one or the other of the individuals involved in such a relationship is not a sādhaka with an individual practice and insight, and (b) the relationship itself has no ritualistic or well-conceived sādhanā aspect in its own right.

Furthermore, the culture in such a relationship cannot be seen to be exclusive of the prerequisite achievements and characteristics of basic spiritual life--which, according to the Gita, is based in equanimity. samatvaṁ yoga ucyate.


Subrata said...

Just curious, if you had a chance of reading "Gita Dhyan" of Sri Mahanambrata BrahmaChari?

Jagat said...

Yes, I did. A long time ago, but I cannot remember anything I picked up from it. I should maybe look again.

I did read his Bhramara-gita fairly recently though. Then I noticed that Gita Press has translated it into Hindi and is selling it everywhere.

Anonymous said...

A great read.

Could you oblige me with this minor and technical question. In the transliteration of Sanskrit we read of 'jnana', but am I correct in thinking that it is pronounced 'gyaan'?

thank you

Jagat said...

It depends where you are in India. I think that gyaana is what you get in most of North India, jnyaana in the south.