The Characteristics of a Knower
The teaching must have affected Arjuna a wee bit. He asks, “You mentioned about the state of being in samādhi and talked about a sthitaprajña (one of steady wisdom). What are his characteristics? How does he speak?” Bhagavān enumerates the marks of a knower which forms the education of a seeker. The nineteen ślokas from the 54th to 72nd were apparently Mahatma Gandhi’s favourites. These ślokas are useful for contemplation and practice.
Arjuna asks, “O Keśava! How does a person of established wisdom speak? What is the behaviour of one who has his mind in equanimity? What does one of a firm intellect speak about? How is such a person? What does he desire?” (54)
Śrīkṛṣṇa replies, “O Arjuna! When a person, renouncing all mental desires, is content in contemplation upon the Self and Self-experience by and within oneself, he is known as a sthitaprajña.” (55)
“He is not agitated by sorrow and does not hanker after pleasure. Beyond desire, fear and anger, he of a firm mind, is known as a muni.” (56)
“One who is uniformly devoid of desires and is impartial under all circumstances, and is steady without grief or mirth in the face of fortune or misfortune, such a person’s wisdom is said to be firmly established.” (57)
“One who retracts his sense organs from objects that excite them like a tortoise that withdraws its limbs and is able to live without attachment to sense objects, his wisdom is said to be firmly established.” (58)
“If asked, “As the seeker limits his food intake, sense objects move farther from him. Isn’t the taste for objects within the mind?”, the reply is, “Yes. But when the intellect experiences something higher than itself, the taste for sense objects disappears.” [Which means that as the desire to know about the Supreme Self grows, the appetite for sense pleasures wears out] (59)
“Arjuna, even if the intelligent seeker strives to restrain his mind, the sense organs agitate him and forcibly carry away his mind [as it is the nature of the mind to be externally engaged]. These sense organs have to be tamed and the mind should be established in the Supreme Self. He whose sense organs are controlled, his wisdom is said to be firmly established.” (60-61)
“When man remembers sense objects, a relationship between the mind and sense objects is formed. Desire for those objects arises from this memory relationship. [When those desires are opposed] anger is born. From anger arises infatuation that destroys discrimination. Infatuation overturns understanding. Hampered understanding destroys the intellect. The destruction of the intellect ruins the person” (62-63)
“The one who gives up attachment and aversion, separates sense objects from sense organs and controls them while restraining the mind is able to attain tranquillity of the mind i.e., a firm and pure state” (64)
“When his mind attains tranquillity, all of the seeker’s sorrows end. In such a tranquil mind, the intellect is firmly established.” (65)
“The intellect of the one who has not united one’s mind with the Self does not function well. Realisation does not come to such a person. The one who is unrealised will not be at peace. How can one without peace attain happiness?” (66)
“He whose mind is a slave to sense organs will have his intellect snatched away by it just as a boat is carried away by the wind.” (67)
“Therefore, O one with mighty arms! One whose sense organs are separated from sense objects and are restrained has his knowledge well-established.” (68)
“The knower stays awake when it is night for the world. [The knower is careful and conscious of the principle that is unseen by the ignorant ones engaged in worldly pleasures]. When it is day for the beings of the world, it is night for the knower. [i.e., The knower has no interest in those areas that immensely interest mundane people] (69)
“Just as the ocean remains (un)disturbed even after taking in new waters that join it incessantly, desires enter the realised sage. [He, whom desires do not enter thus, attains peace]. The one desirous of more desires does not attain peace.” (70)
“The sage who abandons all desires, does not hanker after pleasures and acts without ego and selfishness, attains peace.” (71)
“O Partha. This is indeed the Brāhmī state i.e., the state of those whose minds experience brahman. Your confusions and delusions will be dispelled if you reach this state. One who is in this state even at the time of death, attains brahmanirvāṇa [unity with brahman]. (72)
Nobody would have thought that attaining the aforesaid qualities is easy by any stretch of the imagination. These qualities are noble and can be attained only after great effort. Such qualities are necessary not just for the Yogi but everyone else as well. It will be good for everyone to remember these qualities frequently. Equanimity, abandoning desire, anger etc., treating fortune and misfortune the same, restraining the sense organs - such qualities ought to be fostered.
This chapter is known as Sāṅkhya-yoga by convention. Sāṅkhya refers to the discernment of the principle of reality. “Khyā prakathane” [khyā refers to description] is the Dhātupāṭha for the root - khyā. Saṅkhyā, khyāti, khyāpana are words from the same root. The one that enumerates reality well is sāṅkhya. The one who has attained the knowledge of reality is known as a Saṅkhyāvān. There is a branch of philosophy propounded by Maharṣi Kapila known as Sāṅkhya. The word meaning of sāṅkhya is the same there as well.
samyag-vivicya khyāyante arthāt prakaṭīkriyante tattvāni prakṛti-puruṣa-padārtha-rūpāṇi yasminstat||
Gītā-bhāṣyam by Śrī-nīlakaṇṭha 18.13
According to this sāṅkhya school, the Universe is constituted by prakṛti, puruṣa and thirty-two other principles. Since this school differs from vedānta, we will not worry about it here. In our case, sāṅkhya refers to that knowledge that expounds upon the Self - made distinct from the body, jīva (the transmigratory self), jagat (the world) and Īśvara (the Supreme Controller). That is the knowledge of reality. Arjuna’s unrefined mindset had to be refined by this discerned knowledge of reality.
As this intended meaning of sāṅkhya is not currently well-known, it appears that we can rename this chapter “tattva-viveka-yoga” (The Yoga of Discernment of Reality). The gist of the chapter might become clearer to the mind with these words.
To be continued...
The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.