Recension By William Quan Judge
Devotion By Means of Self-Restraint
“He who, unattached to the fruit of his actions, performeth such actions as should be done is both a renouncer1 of action and a devotee2 of right action; not he who liveth without kindling the sacrificial fire and without ceremonies.3(1) Know, O son of Pandu, that what they call Sannyasa or a forsaking of action is the same as Yoga or the practice of devotion. No one without having previously renounced all intentions can be devoted. (2) Action is said to be the means by which the wise man who is desirous of mounting to meditation may reach thereto; so cessation from action is said to be the means for him who hath reached to meditation. (3) When he hath renounced all intentions and is devoid of attachment to action in regard to objects of sense, then he is called one who hath ascended to meditation. (4) He should raise the self by the Self; let him not suffer the Self to be lowered; for Self is the friend of self, and, in like manner, self is its own enemy.4(5) Self is the friend of the man who is self-conquered; so self like a foe hath enmity to him who is not self-conquered. (6) The Self of the man who is self-subdued and free from desire and anger is intent on the Supreme Self in heat and cold, in pain and pleasure, in honor and ignominy. (7) The man who hath spiritual knowledge and discernment, who standeth upon the pinnacle, and hath subdued the senses, to whom gold and stone are the same, is said to be devoted. (8) And he is esteemed among all who, whether amongst his friends and companions, in the midst of enemies or those who stand aloof or remain neutral, with those who love and those who hate, and in the company of sinners or the righteous, is of equal mind. (9)
“He who has attained to meditation should constantly strive to stay at rest in the Supreme, remaining in solitude and seclusion, having his body and his thoughts under control, without possessions and free from hope. (10) He should in an undefiled spot place his seat, firm, neither too high nor too low, and made of kusa grass which is covered with a skin and a cloth.5(11) There, for the self’s purification he should practice meditation with his mind fixed on one point, the modifications of the thinking principle controlled and the action of the senses and organs restrained. (12) Keeping his body, head, and neck firm and erect, with mind determined, and gaze directed to the tip of his nose without looking in any direction, (13) with heart at peace and free from fear, the Yogi should remain, settled in the vow of a Brahmachari, his thoughts controlled, and heart fixed on me. (14) The devotee of controlled mind who thus always bringeth his heart to rest in the Supreme reacheth that tranquillity, the supreme assimilation with me. (15)
“This divine discipline, Arjuna, is not to be attained by the man who eateth more than enough or too little, nor by him who hath a habit of sleeping much, nor by him who is given to over watching. (16) The meditation which destroyeth pain is produced in him who is moderate in eating and in recreation, of moderate exertion in his actions, and regulated in sleeping and waking. (17) When the man, so living, centers his heart in the true Self and is exempt from attachment to all desires, he is said to have attained to yoga. (18) Of the sage of self-centered heart, at rest and free from attachment to desires, the simile is recorded, ‘as a lamp which is sheltered from the wind flickereth not.’ (19) When regulated by the practice of yoga and at rest, seeing the self by the self, he is contented; (20) when he becometh acquainted with that boundless bliss which is not connected with objects of the senses, and being where he is not moved from the reality;6(21) having gained which he considereth no other superior to it, and in which, being fixed, he is not moved even by the greatest grief; (22) know that this disconnection from union with pain is distinguished as yoga, spiritual union or devotion, which is to be striven after by a man with faith and steadfastly. (23)
“When he hath abandoned every desire that ariseth from the imagination and subdued with the mind the senses and organs which impel to action in every direction, (24) being possessed of patience, he by degrees finds rest; and, having fixed his mind at rest in the true Self, he should think of nothing else. (25) To whatsoever object the inconstant mind goeth out he should subdue it, bring it back, and place it upon the Spirit. (26) Supreme bliss surely cometh to the sage whose mind is thus at peace; whose passions and desires are thus subdued; who is thus in the true Self and free from sin. (27) He who is thus devoted and free from sin obtaineth without hindrance the highest bliss—union with the Supreme Spirit. (28) The man who is endued with this devotion and who seeth the unity of all things perceiveth the Supreme Soul in all things and all things in the Supreme Soul. (29) He who seeth me in all things and all things in me looseneth not his hold on me and I forsake him not. (30) And whosoever, believing in spiritual unity, worshipeth me who am in all things, dwelleth with me in whatsoever condition he may be. (31) He, O Arjuna, who by the similitude found in himself seeth but one essence in all things, whether they be evil or good, is considered to be the most excellent devotee.” (32)
“O slayer of Madhu,7 on account of the restlessness of the mind, I do not perceive any possibility of steady continuance in this yoga of equanimity which thou hast declared. (33) For indeed, O Krishna, the mind is full of agitation, turbulent, strong, and obstinate. I believe the restraint of it to be as difficult as that of the wind.” (34)
“Without doubt, O thou of mighty arms, the mind is restless and hard to restrain; but it may be restrained, O son of Kunti, by practice and absence of desire. (35) Yet in my opinion this divine discipline called yoga is very difficult for one who hath not his soul in his own control; yet it may be acquired through proper means and by one who is assiduous and controlleth his heart.” (36)
“What end, O Krishna, doth that man attain who, although having faith, hath not attained to perfection in his devotion because his unsubdued mind wandered from the discipline? (37) Doth he, fallen from both,8 like a broken cloud without any support,9 become destroyed, O strong-armed one, being deluded in the path of the Supreme Spirit? (38) Thou, Krishna, shouldst completely dispel this doubt for me, for there is none other to be found able to remove it.” (39)
“Such a man, O son of Pritha, doth not perish here or hereafter. For never to an evil place goeth one who doeth good. (40) The man whose devotion has been broken off by death goeth to the regions of the righteous,10 where he dwells for an immensity of years and is then born again on earth in a pure and fortunate family;11(41) or even in a family of those who are spiritually illuminated. But such a rebirth into this life as this last is more difficult to obtain. (42) Being thus born again he comes in contact with the knowledge which belonged to him in his former body, and from that time he struggles more diligently towards perfection, O son of Kuru. (43) For even unwittingly, by reason of that past practice, he is led and works on. Even if only a mere enquirer, he reaches beyond the word of the Vedas. (44) But the devotee who, striving with all his might, obtaineth perfection because of efforts continued through many births, goeth to the supreme goal. (45) The man of meditation as thus described is superior to the man of penance and to the man of learning and also to the man of action; wherefore, O Arjuna, resolve thou to become a man of meditation. (46) But of all devotees he is considered by me as the most devoted who, with heart fixed on me, full of faith, worships me.” (47)
Thus in the Upanishads, called the holy Bhagavad-Gita,
in the science of the Supreme Spirit, in the book of devotion,
in the colloquy between the Holy Krishna and Arjuna,
stands the Sixth Chapter, by name—
DEVOTION BY MEANS OF SELF-RESTRAINT.
Essay on Chapter VI
More than one subject is treated in this chapter. It ends what I call the first series, as the whole eighteen chapters should be divided into three groups of six each.
Renunciation, equal-mindedness, true meditation, the golden mean in action, the unity of all things, the nature of rebirth and the effect of devotion upon it and devachan, are all touched upon.
It is a most practical chapter which would benefit students immensely if fully grasped and followed. The mistakes made many thousand years ago by disciples were the same as those of today. Today, just as then, there are those who think true renunciation consists in doing nothing except for themselves, in retiring from active duties, and in devoting their attention to what they are pleased to call self-development. On the other hand are those who mistake incessant action for true devotion. The true path is between these two.
The forsaking of worldly action—called sannyasa—is the same as what is known in Europe as the monastic life, especially in some very ascetic orders. Adopted selfishly under a mistaken notion of duty it cannot be true devotion. It is merely an attempt to save oneself. The course adopted by some theosophical students very much resembles this erroneous method, although it is practiced in the freedom of the world and not behind monastery walls.
To be a true renouncer of action and a devotee one must put the problem on another plane. On the physical brain plane there is no way of reconciling a contradiction such as appears to exist in the direction to perform actions and yet renounce their performance. It is exactly here that many readers of the Bhagavad-Gita stop and are confused. They have for so long been accustomed to thinking of the physical and living in it, the terms used for their thought are so material in their application, that, seeing this contradiction, they say that the book will not benefit them. But considering the difficulty from the view that the real actor is the mind, that acts are not the dead outward expressions of them, but are the thoughts themselves, we can see how one can be both a renouncer and a devotee, how we can outwardly perform every action, multitudes of them, being as active as anyone who is wrapped up in worldly pursuits, and yet be ourselves unattached and unaffected.
Duty and the final imperative—the “what ought I to do”—comes in here and becomes a part of the process. The actions to be performed are not any and every one. We are not to go on heedlessly and indiscriminately doing everything that is suggested. We must discover what actions ought to be performed by us and do them for that reason and not because of some result we expect to follow. The fact that we may be perfectly certain of the result is no reason for allowing our interest to fasten upon that. Here again is where certain theosophists think they have a great difficulty. They say that knowing the result one is sure to become interested in it. But this is the very task to be essayed—to so hold one’s mind and desires as not to be attached to the result.
By pursuing this practice true meditation is begun and will soon become permanent. For one who watches his thoughts and acts, so as to perform those that ought to be done, will acquire a concentration in time which will increase the power of real meditation. It is not meditation to stare at a spot on the wall for a fixed period, or to remain for another space of time in a perfectly vacuous mental state which soon runs into sleep. All those things are merely forms which in the end will do no lasting good. But many students have run after these follies, ignoring the true way. The truth is that the right method is not easy; it requires thought and mental effort, with persistency and faith. Staring at spots and such miscalled occult practices are very easy in comparison with the former.
However, we are human and weak. As such we require help, for the outer self cannot succeed in the battle. So Krishna points out that the lower self is to be raised up by the help of the higher; that the lower is, as it were, the enemy of the higher, and we must not allow the worse to prevail. It will all depend upon self-mastery. The self below will continually drag down the man who is not self-conquered. This is because that lower one is so near the thick darkness that hangs about the lower rungs of evolution’s ladder it is partly devil. Like a heavy weight it will drag into the depths the one who does not try to conquer himself. But on its other side the self is near to divinity, and when conquered it becomes the friend and helper of the conqueror. The Sufis, the Mohammedan mystical sect, symbolize this in their poetry relating to the beautiful woman who appears but for a moment at the window and then disappears. She refuses to open the door to her lover as long as he refers to their being separate; but when he recognizes their unity then she becomes his firm friend.
The next few verses in the Gita outline that which is extremely difficult—equal-mindedness, and intentness upon the Supreme Being in heat and cold, pleasure and pain, success and failure. We cannot reach to this easily, perhaps not in many lives, but we can try. Every effort we make in that direction will be preserved in the inner nature and cannot be lost at death. It is a spiritual gain, the riches laid up in heaven to which Jesus referred. To describe the perfection of equal-mindedness is to picture an adept of the highest degree, one who has passed beyond all worldly considerations and lives on higher planes. Gold and stones are the same to him. The objects he seeks to accomplish are not to be reached through gold, and so it and the pebbles have the same value. He is also so calm and free from delusion of mind and soul that he remains the same whether with enemies or friends, with the righteous or the sinners.
This high condition is therefore set before us as an ideal to be slowly but steadfastly striven after so that in the course of time we may come near it. If we never begin we will never accomplish, and it is far better to adopt this high ideal, even though failing constantly, than to have no ideal whatever.
But some are likely to make a mistake herein. Indeed they have done so. They set up the ideal, but in a too material and human manner. Then they thought to walk on the chosen path by outward observance, by pretending to regard gold and stones as the same to them, while in their hearts they preferred the gold. Their equal-mindedness they confined to other people’s affairs, while they displeased and alarmed all relatives and friends by the manner of riding this hobby and by wrong neglect of obvious duty. Truly they sought for equal-mindedness, but failed to see that it can only be acquired through right performance of duty, and not by selecting the duties and environments that please us.
1. A Sannyasi.
2. A Yogi.
3. Those ceremonies prescribed by the Brahmanical law.
4. In this play upon “self” the Higher and the lower self are meant, in that the lower is the enemy of the Higher through its resistance to true development; and the lower self is at the same time the enemy of its own best interests through its downward tendency.
5. These directions are for those hermits who have retired from the world. Many of the translators have variously construed the text; one reads that the devotee has “only skin and sheet to cover him and grass to lie upon”; another that “his goods are a cloth and deer-skin and kusa grass.” “Those who know” say that this is a description of a magnetically arranged seat and that kusa grass is laid on the ground, the skin on the grass, and the cloth on the skin. Philological discussion will never decide the point.
6. “Reality,” Nirvana, and also complete realization of the True and the disappearance of the illusion as to objects and separateness.
7. Madhu: a daitya or demon slain by Krishna, and representing the quality of passion in nature.
8. “From both” here means the good Karma resulting from good deeds and spiritual knowledge acquired through yoga, or heaven and emancipation.
9. “Without any support” refers to the support or sanction contained in the Brahmanical law in its promises to him who keeps it, for he who practices yoga is not abiding by the promises of the law, which are for those who obey that law and refrain from yoga.
10. That is, Devachan.
11. Madhusudana says this means in the family of a king or emperor.