The Importance of Contemplation
The Gītā has two intertwined streams of instruction. One is theoretical whereas the other is practical. The theoretical part is especially intellectual with an ascertaining of the truth using an analytical mindset. The practical aspect or sādhana pertains to the emotional mind. The mind when active is known as the citta – ‘Anusandhānātmaka-vṛttimad-antaḥkaraṇam cittam’ (‘The citta is the contemplative mind.’) The buddhi has to be followed by citta. But the citta is slower than the buddhi. Hence there is always a difference between the buddhi and the citta.
It is seen that in the world, there is always a gap between words and deeds. It is not that only dishonesty is the reason for this. Spoken words might not match what is in one’s mind on half the occasions. But during the other instances, the reason is impossibility and not dishonesty. The citta is not ready to follow what the buddhi deems appropriate. The citta is not as careful as the buddhi. The more difficult the buddhi’s instruction gets, the more unprepared the citta is for it.
Man’s mind is like a sheet of paper. It remains flat and smooth when not folded layer by layer or rolled into a tube. Once folded, however, it is a struggle to make it smooth. The same goes for a bar of metal. Once bent in a certain way, it is not easy to make it straight. The same happens with a cane stick. The citta too, similarly, yields to habit. To let go of an old habit and take on a new habit takes time, patience, and firmness. This is its nature.
Thence is Bhagavān’s statement.
asaṃśayaṃ mahābaho mano durnigrahaṃ calam।
abhyāsena tu kaunteya vairāgyena ca gṛhyate॥ (6.35)
abhyāsa-yogena tato mām-icchāptuṃ dhanañjaya। (12.9)
Deep is the gap between the citta and the buddhi.
This is why the practical aspect of the Gītā is harder than the philosophical aspect. Practice of the gītā requires a long-standing firmness of the mind and constant effort. It should not be thought that mere hearing of the instruction is attaining the goal. Even if the principles are well-understood intellectually, it is not the same as attaining the final fruit. The gītā-śāstra was not created for argumentation but for practice.
Experience is Knowledge
We can go a step further and state that one who lacks practice will be found lacking in the realization of the truth, for jñāna is not a mere comprehension of an idea but a method of work. In other words, jñāna is not akin to a point but to a line. There are several stages in jñāna. The peak, however, is experience. The one who has scaled a mountain peak can claim to have seen the entire mountain. The one who has experienced the truth completely knows what it is. The jñāna of an inexperienced person is insufficient and hence not trustworthy. It is as dangerous as confusion. Therefore those are honest students of the Gītā who take the effort to practice and consequently realise it in their experience.
Experience is becoming that which we contemplate upon – through an effort of the mind. The mind is like lac or beeswax, capable of assuming any form. It has to be melted, cast in the shape of the contemplated object, and then hardened. That is experience – becoming the object. The gopikās meditating constantly upon Śrīkṛṣṇa had their minds passionately absorbed in him, consequently attained his form, and experienced Bliss. That is experience.
Such an experience of the Supreme can happen only through significant effort and prolonged practice. Therefore people like us who have read the words of the Gītā and have slightly understood its literal meaning have not attained much. Our efforts and practice are important. For this, we need to understand by ourselves the modes of instruction and practice that match our ability and competence. Theoretical philosophy is not unimportant. But its importance is for intellectual inquiry. That inquiry bears fruit during actual experience. Practice is imperative for experience. And experience is not something that happens intellectually. Along with the buddhi (intellect), the manas (psyche), the citta (the unconscious storehouse of all impressions), smṛti (memory), comprehension, inference, and intuition as well as other powers of the internal organs should converge. If all of life’s energies were to be engaged, the fruition of that effort and its ripening is the experience of the Supreme.
Let us therefore focus on applying the teaching of the Gītā.
Mere Reading is Insufficient
Several students of the Gītā religiously read the work even if they do not understand it, in the ardent belief that the act yields religious merit. That is a good thing, no doubt. But there is a danger in that. They might get the false assurance that just uttering the letters of the Gītā can destroy all their pāpas. Repetition and remembrance of Bhagavān’s holy names have been greatly extolled in our tradition. However, remembrance of the name and reading the work are but the means. Towards what? Means to ensure that our minds are focused on the Divine. Utterance of the names of the Divine with the mind elsewhere is fruitless. It is a mistake to think that repeating the letters of the Gītā will remove pāpa accruing from performing bad deeds. The benefit of repeating the Gītā text is in memorizing it. Once memorized, it becomes easy to recall the text again and again. With repetition, the meaning of the text becomes clear to the mind. Reflection on the meaning of the text becomes easier with the meaning clarified. Reflection on the essence of the text enables contemplation. Hence the pārāyaṇa or ritual reading of the text is sequentially beneficial rather than as a complete solution by itself. For the complete benefit of the Gītā, the focus must be on its meaning. The practice of parroting the text has increased of late. The desire of proclaiming to the world that they have read the Gītā has spread a lot. What of mere reading? What of understanding the meanings of sentences? Only after harmonizing the meaning across different parts of the Gītā, seeing its meaning holistically and an extended practice might the essence of the Gītā flash in the mind. The same is said about the Vedas as well.
sthāṇur-ayaṃ bhārahāraḥ kilā’bhūtbr>adhītya vedaṃ na vijānāti yo’rtham
The study of the Gītā should not be like the burden of the washerman’s vehicle.
bhārasya vettā na tu candanasya
What if a donkey bears the weight of sandalwood logs on his back? It experiences only the burden and not the fragrance of the sandal.
Therefore, the pārāyaṇa bears fruit only through contemplation on the work’s meaning.
The path of contemplation has been divided into three stages by our ancients –
śrotavyo mantavyo nididhyāsitavyaḥ।
The three stages are śravaṇa, manana, and nididhyāsana.
Śravaṇa is listening, which means reading or performing a ritual study.
Manana is thinking about the meaning. Manana is the reflection on the meaning of the work by the union of the refined manas and the well-trained buddhi.
Nididhyāsana is the constant considered observance in one’s own deeds of the principle understood through manana.
Of these three, the first one is not hard. The other two are achievable through great difficulty. If manana has proceeded well, nididhyāsana should not be difficult.
Thus manana is the most crucial part of contemplation.
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.