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7. Real and Imitation-Yogi
There are many different interpretations of one of the most important questions asked by Arjuna.
Arjuna said: What, O Krsna, is the description of him who has steady wisdom, and is merged in the superconscious state?
How does one of steady wisdom speak, how does he sit, how does he walk? (2:54)
A generous interpretation is that he really and sincerely wanted to know what the characteristics of an enlightened person were.
We are all seekers of truth, interested in meeting the holy men.
But if you are able to examine yourself, and are able to see for yourself what makes you go to these holy ones, you might discover something tremendously interesting.
When you look at an enlightened person, you see the way he or she smiles, gesticulates, chants and so on - the external behaviour.
Immediately you set about to imitate this external behaviour, hoping thereby that somehow the spirit will follow.
It does not!
Whereas we should study the lives of the great men and endeavour to derive some inspiration from them, we should also realise that holiness is not something which is worn around the shoulders.
It is the spirit that is holy.
So, Arjuna's question has doubtful significance to us.
When we observe a holy man, it is important to remember that, whereas his actions are the outflow of the spirit, the actions in themselves are not understandable, except against the background of that spirit.
It is very difficult to understand the spirit in which the holy man functions.
It is easy to imitate him.
In the beginning of the third chapter there is a lovely question.
Arjuna said: If it be thought by thee that knowledge is superior to action, O Krsna, why then dost thou ask me to engage in this terrible action? (3:1)
'If you consider that the spirit and the understanding are more important than the action, why do you want me to fight?
I have understood that I am the atma, that all this is the spirit and there is no body at all.
I have also understood that one should be totally unaffected by success and failure, pain and pleasure, honour and dishonour.
My understanding is perfect.'
But, what is the meaning of that understanding?
When you are in a happy situation, when everything is going fine, your body is healthy, your family is wonderful, and you have no trouble at all, it is very easy to say you are balanced, evenminded in success and failure.
But, what happens when dishonour and failure hit you?
By merely pretending to have understood and isolating yourself (if that is possible), from human society, how would you know that you have really understood yourself?
You cannot know that you have understood the truth that the enlightened person is even-minded in success and failure, unless you plunge yourself into something which can lead to success or failure.
So, it is life that reveals the depth of our understanding, and it is the depth of understanding that flavours life.
One without the other is ridiculous and ununderstandable.
In order to answer Arjuna's question, the Lord adopted a very interesting and humorous attitude: "Yes, yes, you are right."
That was Gurudev's method.
He would say: "Yes yes, you are right", and slowly take you round and round and make you see that you were an absolute idiot!
Krsna said: In this world there is a twofold path, as I said before, O sinless one, the path of knowledge of the sankhya and the path of action of the yogi. (3:3)
The word 'yoga' in the Bhagavad Gita often means 'action', what you and I call karma yoga - the yoga of living, of action - not stupid mechanical action, but action based on innate intelligence.
But what is implied in the verse is a taunt!
"In previous ages when I taught jnana yoga, people understood that it implied living an enlightened life.
They did not ask silly questions as you ask now.
I also taught karma yoga, but that did not mean it is mechanical action.
It implied right understanding."
"But," continues Krsna, "it is not possible for you not to do anything even for a single moment."
So, let us do what has to be done with the right understanding.
What is right understanding?
There is a beautiful verse:
The world (and the individual) is bound by actions other than those performed as yajna.
Do thou, therefore, perform action as sacrifice, free from attachment. (3:9)
Do it in the spirit of yajna, meaning sacrifice.
To me the English word 'sacrifice' sounds like 'to make something sacred' .
Any action that springs from correct understanding is yajna.
If your actions are not directed towards better understanding of yourself, of the world, of God, then you are caught.
If your actions are directed towards a better understanding, greater wisdom and insight, you realise that it will not do to dig into the past, you have to be moving, flowing.
Ganga is holy only because it is flowing.
Life is flowing.
Do not dam it anywhere.
Then you are damned!
Life is flowing, and this flow ensures that you are not caught anywhere.
If there are obstacles, you either jump over them, get around them, or push them away.
Life has to flow, and it is in that flow that greater and greater understanding, greater and greater wisdom, self-knowledge and insight arise.
In order to ensure this, and in order to ensure that life is a continuous unarrested flow, as it flows you must be tremendously aware and that awareness is free.
So for this insight to be ever aware of the flow called life, it has to be totally free, and therefore observant.
That freedom is also insisted upon by Krsna.
Therefore, without attachment do thou always perform action which should be done (your duty).
For, by performing action without attachment man reaches the supreme. (3:19)
This is the central theme of the Bhagavad Gita.
Any action that is motivated towards a goal is destructive.
When you free this inner awareness or insight, of both past and future, what has to be done is done.
Krsna demands that such should be the behaviour of even enlightened people.
As the ignorant men act from attachment to action, O Arjuna, so should the wise act without attachment, wishing the welfare of the world. (3:25)

The Bhagavad Gita - Introduction | EN

Swami Venkatesananda

The Song of God - Introduction - Swami Venkatesananda - enlarged 4th edition – 1984 - published by The Chiltern Yoga Trust, Cape Town, South Africa
1998 - 2017

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