Ch. 6 The Practice of Dhyāna (Part 1)

This article is part 54 of 127 in the series Jīvana-dharma-yoga


jñānārhaté saṃnyāsādé
saṃnyasipudu karmaphalavano karmavano
enaṃ karmadoḷillaṃ
tānénuvudu seré karmadóḷagadu kaluṣaṃ

Saṃnyāsa makes one fit for knowledge
What should we give up, karma or its fruit?
Karma itself is pure, faultless.
It only becomes impure by the feeling of ‘I’.

svāntada śodhanéyappudu
santatakarmātta lokasaṃparkagaḷim
kāntada dṛṣṭiyiné pūrṇatattvaṃ doréguṃ

The mind is refined
By constant contact with the world through various duties
By contemplating within,
By meditating in solitude one obtains complete knowledge.


Not having any desire for one’s own profit is Saṃnyāsa. Working in a righteous way for riches, wishing for pleasure and coveting success are all suitable for householders. Even if one’s duties are performed with intended personal benefit, they can eventually bring about selflessness. Whether this is a worldly karma or a religious one, whether it is selfish or not — it turns the mind towards the divine if it does not violate dharma. Various experiences gained during the course of life because of constant contact with the world shake and jolt the jīva, make it wander about, and exhaust it. Finally they bring about the realisation about the limited value of the world, the plight of pleasures, and the bounds of human effort.

The Gītācārya does not prescribe severe austerities that affect bodily functions. He says that all activities should be within permissible limits. Sādhanā should not affect efficiency in action and peace of mind.

Dhyāna-yoga is fixing the mind upon the principle of the ātmā. It is impossible to understand the Bhagavad-Gītā without dhyāna. Knowledge gained from mere study of books is incomplete. Complete knowledge is gained from one’s own experience and the practice of ātmaupamya.

Different births of a jīva are just like chapters in a single novel. One who wants to study the progression of a jīva should see the various accounts of different births as the uninterrupted flow of a river. Different streams join this river — clear and pure streams as well as waters turbid with sewage. The river becomes cleaner and clearer as it progresses. Thus, the flow of small streams also becomes meaningful. Similarly, even a little effort in the right direction will not go waste.

Chapter 6. Dhyāna-yoga or Dhyānabhyāsa-yoga

In the previous chapter was enunciated karma-jñāna-sāmarasya — that karma and jñāna are harmonious n with each other. In this chapter will be described dhyāna, an activity that, with satkarma, helps in attaining jñāna.

There are ten important points discussed in this chapter:

  1. Relationship between saṃnyāsa and yoga
  2. Importance of human self-effort
  3. How jñāna (knowledge) and vijñāna (experiential wisdom) are essential to each other
  4. The method of dhyāna
  5. The proper limit for food and enjoyment
  6. Tranquility
  7. The practice of Ātmaupamya or considering the universe as an extension of one’s own self
  8. Accomplishment by practice
  9. Even a little practice does not go waste
  10. The excellence of performing dhyāna

The Relationship between Saṃnyāsa and Yoga

We might remember that earlier we examined the question of the nature of a saṃnyāsīn. The answer to that is now given with certainty.

anāśritaḥ karma-phalaṃ kāryaṃ karma karoti yaḥ
sa saṃnyāsī ca yogī ca na niragnir-na cākriyaḥ
(BG 6.1)

Who is a saṃnyāsī ? Not one who has given up yajña and other fire sacrifices[1] and other dhārmic activities like dāna, but one who performs his duties without any desire for selfish benefit. He alone is a yogi.

Among the mahāvākyas (great declarations) in the Gītā, this is one of the most important. Yoga here could mean either karmayoga or jñānayoga. Ultimately, saṃnyāsa and yoga are complementary to each other and are not mutually detrimental. Saṃnyāsa, sāṃkhya and jñāna are all treated as synonyms in the Gītā. Similarly, the words dharma, niyata karma and kartavya are all synonymous. The performance of karma yields cittaśuddhi (purification of the mind) that is a prerequisite to attain jñāna. It is impossible to obtain jñāna without purifying the mind. The mind must be equanimous and composed to receive jñāna. Saṃnyāsa becomes a tool to calm and compose the mind. Thus, both karma and saṃnyāsa become one in jñānayoga. They are complementary to each other. Śrīkṛṣṇa makes this clear when he says,

ārurukṣor-muner-yogaṃ karma kāraṇam-ucyate
yogārūḍhasya tasyaiva śamaḥ kāraṇam-ucyate
(BG 6.3)

The readiness for the practice of yoga is obtained by karma, before the actual practice of yoga is begun. Yoga then becomes complete by the practice of śama (tranquillity).

The necessary first step is to perform one’s ordained duties and then give up the fruit of labour. This is the practice of egolessness. Love and hatred are thence transcended, thus achieving tranquillity of mind. This leads to the complete experience of the Self.

yaṃ saṃnyāsam-iti prāhur-yogaṃ taṃ viddhi pāṇḍava
na hyasaṃnyāsta-saṅkalpo yogī bhavati kaścana
(BG 6.2)

The first step to prepare for yoga is to give up purpose (saṅkalpa). In other words, desire and want. Thoughts about the outcome — that something should result out of an action, or that something should take place in a specific way only and not in any other way — are all saṅkalpa. Saṃnyāsa is the absence of desire for personal fulfilment.

Giving up Desire for Selfish Ends

There is a question here. Should we not have many saṅkalpas such as the upliftment of the nation and so forth? Saṅkalpa is planning. Can there be development in the world without planning? Such questions may arise. Saṅkalpa is the mark of human will; should human effort or will be given up? Has not Bhagavān himself said “pauruṣaṃ nṛṣu” — “I am agency or will in humans”? It has been amply said in the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata that pauruṣa is required. Without saṅkalpa, pauruṣa is impossible.

The answer to this question is thus: Firstly, the intent here is not to give up desire for the progress of the world but to give up selfish desires. The desire for profit, enjoyment, and fame should be given up. However, there is no harm in desires that please Bhagavān. Secondly, selfish desires are prohibited for saṃnyāsīs and people desirous of the knowledge of the ātmā, not for everyone. Saṃnyāsa is for those who deem worldly pleasures as worthless. Giving up all desires is not expected of people whose minds are firmly and truly attached to the world. The saṅkalpa of such people is “caturvidha-phala-puruṣārtha-siddhyarthaṃ” — to gain the four-fold achievements in life. Even a selfish desire can be acceptable as dharma. Are not karmas like agniṣṭoma and aśvamedha similar to this? Working for pleasure, riches, and success in a righteous manner is not proper for saṃnyāsa but is acceptable for the gṛhastha. This saṅkalpa of a householder belongs to the millions of objects to be achieved by human beings, the foremost of which is dharma.

A student in a gurukula is prohibited from using perfume, flowers, and tāmbūla[2]. However, these enjoyments are not forbidden for householders, and even encouraged. If we say that a man suffering from fever should not be served fatty foods, it doesn’t mean that his guests should also be deprived of ghee. Let there be selfishness; but it should be subservient to dharma. However, when the highest spiritual knowledge is aspired for, this selfishness should go away.

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.


[1] Saṃnyāsīs are required to give up all association with fire. The reason is that fire is required for the everyday life of a householder — both worldly and ritualistic.

[2] Betel leaf, arecanut and edible lime are good for digestion but also increase desire for enjoyment.



Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.



Engineer. Lapsed blogger. Abiding interest in Sanskrit, religion, and philosophy. A wannabe jack-of-all.


Mother of two. Engineer. Worshiper of Indian music, poetry, and art.

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