Accomplishment through Practice
It looks as though this principle appealed to Arjuna’s mind, in the course of teaching of the true nature of the ātmā. However, he still had doubts regarding the practice.
cancalaṃ hi manaḥ kṛṣṇa pramāthi balavad-dṛḍham।
tasyāhaṃ nigrahaṃ manye vāyor-iva suduṣkaram॥ BG 6.34
Arjuna says — "Kṛṣṇa, is not the mind fickle? It can impede the path of the jīva and shake it, can it not? Is it possible to bottle up wind?". Bhagavān says, "indeed, it is difficult; but not impossible". How, then, is it possible?
asaṃśayaṃ mahābāho mano durnigrahaṃ calaṃ।
abhyāsena tu kaunteya vairāgyena ca gṛhyate॥ BG 6.35
The mind can be taken into control with intelligent effort. Practice of dhyāna and indifference to worldly pleasures are the ways to accomplish that.
The word abhyāsa (practice) should be looked at in a little more detail here. Abhyāsa means doing something again and again. What does this imply? It means that when one sets out to achieve something, it cannot be done by the mental adrenaline rush of one moment, but requires persistent and consistent effort for a long time. A moment is just a point in a long line. Time is the straight line comprising these moments without any gap. Dots are right next to each other in a line, without any gap. Dhyāna and vairāgya too should thus be practised continuously, without any gap. How long should the practice last? Till the sattvaguṇa of the jīva breaks out of the shackles of rajas and tamas and rises above them, and becomes strong enough to put them down. The time required for sattva to become this strong is determined by how large the quanta of rajas and tamas are. Who can measure the quantity of the three guṇas hidden in a jīva? There can be no one outside the jīva who can convey this to him. The workings of his innermost mind will not be visible to them. In fact, it is not even necessary for someone outside to convey it to him, because he can himself realise when his sattva becomes stronger. The development of sattvaguṇa will happen for everyone at some time or the other — however evil or uncultured he may be. There is no being without even an iota of sattva. His exact moment of favourable opportunity is when his sattva blooms. That is when he has to be watchful. This is the ‘inner voice’ that he has to heed. It is heard when bodily ears are closed and the inner ones are opened. If it has to become a habit, one has to listen to it carefully, grasp its intent and follow it thenceforth. The mind becomes strong with long-term practice of detachment and dhyāna. It becomes easier to pursue the true knowledge of the ātmā when the mind firms up.
Arjuna says — “This is fine, Krishna, I have śraddhā. However, my attempt to control my mind might not complete and break down halfway. What will then become of me? What will happen if a small speck of cloud gets separated from its parent? Caught in the wind, it will be scattered without even a sign remaining of it. Is not my plight the same? What if the only outcome of running a race is fracturing one’s foot? I would not have completely left the practice of dhyāna, neither would I have achieved it”.
Even a little practice will not go waste
Śrīkṛṣṇa replies to this question thus:
pārtha naiveha nāmutra vināśas-tasya vidyate।
na hi kalyāṇa-kṛt kaścit durgatiṃ tāta gacchati॥ BG 6.40
If you try and do not succeed, you will not suffer from it. One who tries to do good will never come to ruin.
A boy might be coaxed by the elders of the family to study for a difficult exam. They are convinced that he is intelligent and studious, and might pass the exam. He might not be so confident, and might ask “What if I don’t pass?”. The elders will then say, “it is okay to not pass this time. What is the harm in studying for it? The preparation for this exam will help you next time, if not this now”. Śrīkṛṣṇa’s answer is similar.
He had given a similar assurance to Arjuna earlier:
nehābhikrama-nāśo’sti pratyavāyo na vidyate।
svalpam-apyasya dharmasya trāyate mahato bhayāt॥ BG 2.40
Even if this dharma is followed a little, it protects us from great fear.
Saṃskāra from many lives
The above statement is not just one of encouragement. The accomplishment of yoga is possible only through gradual steps. Our efforts might not bear fruit in a single birth. A jīva attains a favourable state in the next birth because of the puṇya of this birth. From the puṇya of that birth, it attains an even better state in another birth. Thus, the qualification to be in the presence of the divine is accrued from the saṃskāra and effort of many lives.
prāpya puṇya-kṛtān lokān uṣitvā śāśvatīḥ samāḥ।
śucīnāṃ śrīmatāṃ gehe yoga-bhraṣṭo’bhijāyate॥ BG 6.41
athavā yoginām-eva kule bhavati dhīmatāṃ।
etaddhi durlabha-taraṃ loke janma yad-īdṛṣam॥ BG 6.42
A follower of the path of yoga will gain puṇya and thus attain better stations even if his effort is not enough to take him to the intended final destination. His incomplete practice of yoga will not harm him in any way. Rather, he will then be born in a virtuous and wealthy family, and becomes capable of performing virtuous deeds again. Or, he might be born in a family of seers and yogis and gain true knowledge of the self. Is it not great fortune to be born in such a good family? It is indeed great puṇya to be born in a good household.
tatra taṃ buddhi-saṃyogaṃ labhate paurva-dehikaṃ।
yatate ca tato bhūyaḥ saṃsiddhau kuru-nandana॥ BG 6.43
pūrvābhyāsena tenaiva hriyate hyavaśo’pi saḥ।
jijñāsurapi yogasya śabda-brahm-ātivartate॥ BG 6.44
prayatnād-yatamānastu yogī saṃśuddha-kilbiṣaḥ।
aneka-janma-saṃsiddhaḥ tato yāti parāṃ gatim॥ BG 6.45
One who practises dhyāna-yoga but leaves his body before his efforts fructify, will be born in a noble family in the next life. Because of the excellence in the place and circumstances of his birth, his mind will turn towards his practice of yoga, which he had left half-finished. Due to his previous practice, his mind will be ripe and ready for yoga. Maturity of the mind is because of the influence of his family. Thus, his practice of yoga resumes. Even if he faces obstacles during his practice this second time, he will be capable of overcoming them. Further, he deliberates upon the nature of reality. He gains knowledge and thus transcends all bookish knowledge. The material in his effort to gain knowledge is śabda-brahma — or the collection of Vedas and śāstras. When we say that he transcends them, it is implied that he has full possession of the knowledge contained in them, and therefore they are no longer necessary to him. Thus, by repeated efforts he loses the impurities accumulated in him from the actions and desires of his previous births, and acquires true knowledge.
Three points have to be observed in the above discussion:
- The relationship between family and the eligibility to perform yoga
- The necessity of continuous and long practice.
Influence of Family
Consideration of familial influence in the conduct of a person is a distinctive feature of sanātana-dharma. It is respectful to call Śrīrāma as belonging to the family of Ikṣvāku, or the family of Raghu. So also, Paurava, Bhārata, Yādava are all names that denote great pride. Ṛṣi Kaṇva indicated King Duṣyanta’s exalted nature by saying “uccaiḥ kulaṃ catmanaḥ” (distinguished indeed is his clan). There is a term — noblesse oblige — which means that with wealth comes great responsibility. Arjuna himself talks about familial dharma in his extensive lament of abandonment. There is a saying in kannaḍa — “kulavannu nālagé heḻuttadé” — the tongue betrays the family. Thus, family and society are of great importance. It comes to a man by his actions in his previous births. When we say that a family is good, it means that they are good-natured and also have good saṃskāra. A sāttvika mind and innate spirituality run naturally in the family and comprise their ancestral wealth. Also, there is more opportunity for contact with good people and education in such a family. Thus, being born in such a family is the fruit of great puṇya in itself. Similarly, being born in a base family is the result of pāpa.
Step-by-step improvement of the jīva
Various accounts of different births and rebirths are not different stories but all births are different chapters of a single great story. One who wants to understand the progress of a jīva should examine the different chapters of different births as one unbroken and uninterrupted flow, like that of a river. Streams of clear water join this river, as does village muck. As the river flows further, it loses its filth and becomes clearer and clearer. Thus, the inflow of small but clear streams also finds a favorable outcome. The story of our meagre but sincere effort is similar.
The progress of a jīva happens gradually. Each birth is a step. The eligibility for mokṣa comes from many saṃskāras. For the jīva to attain a good state (sadgati) various kinds of purification are required, just as various strokes with a hammer are required to create a sculpture out of stone, and various methods of mixing, boiling, and filtering are required to produce medicine out of herbs. Therefore, it is not right to be hasty about mokṣa. Only constant practice of yoga helps in the attainment of mokṣa.
The superiority of dhyāna-yoga
Yoga is when a human being employs his divine nature in the service of the world, and thereby unites his inner-self with the paramātmā. This means that he should perform the activities of the world without any desire for its fruit: “Yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam”. Such yoga is superior to penance such as vratas and upavāsas, better than the knowledge of many śāstras, and better even than yajñas and yāgas. Therefore, O Arjuna, you practise this yoga and become a yogi.
yoginām-api sarveṣāṃ madgatenā-ntarātmanā।
śraddhā-vān bhajate yo māṃ sa me yukta-tamo mataḥ॥ BG 6.47
“I consider one who fixes his mind upon me and serves me with devotion, as the best among the yogis.
Let your mind be within me. Let your hand obey my instructions”.
This is dhyānabhyāsa-yoga — the yoga of the practice of dhyāna.
ścihnakagaḻ gauṇam-intu ṣaṣṭhādhyāyam॥
The essence of sannyāsa
Is to cut off desire and practice Ātmaupamya.
Giving up Agni and other signs
Are mere outward marks, says chapter six.
Summary of the first hexade
To attain the four puruṣārthas, to rid oneself of difficulties,
Or to preserve order in the world —
Actions performed for the above, rooted in svadharma
Is itself devotion to Parameśvara, says the first hexade.
arpaṇe vara-prasādaṅgaḻeraḍu taṭaṃ।
satpuruṣa-jīvitada nadi naduve pariguṃ॥
Offering and obtaining blessings and boons (vara or prasāda) are two banks
The life-river of the virtuous flows between.
Svakarma performed sincerely is a flower offered to the divine
Fortunate is he who accepts its fruit, however it is.
The essence of all the Vedas, full of pure knowledge
Relieving the burden of saṃsāra, teaching the supreme brahma-tattva
The shore of the ocean of prakṛti, removing dualities and attachment
Benefiting the universe, is the avatāra of Śrīkṛṣṇa as the Gītā.
ಮಾನಂಗಳ ಬಣ್ಣಿಪಂ ಜಗದ್ಗುರುವೀಗಳ್ || 1 ||
mānaṃgaḻa baṇṇipaṃ jagadguruvīgaḻ || 1 ||
After teaching dhyāna, the world-teacher now
describes the myriad deeds, qualities, strengths, and greatness of the Imperishable
for the one-pointed focus of Arjuna’s mind.
ನೀಶ್ವರಮಹಿಮಾಸಮಕ್ಷತೆಯ ಮೇಣ್ ಮಾಯಾ-
ಶಶ್ವತ್ಸುಖಶಾಂತಿಲಾಭಪಥಮಂ ತೋರ್ಪಂ || 2 ||
nīśvaramahimāsamakṣateya meṇ māyā-
śaśvatsukhaśāṃtilābhapathamaṃ torpaṃ || 2 ||
After elucidating the arrangement of Universal Nature,
the practice of the contemplation of the divine,
and the world-delusion caused by māyā,
Bhagavān will now show the path to eternal bliss and peace.