The Gita’s Provides a Practical Guidebook For Action In the World

The final six chapters of the Bhagavad Gita are primarily focused on taking the “big picture” view that we have been offered in the earlier chapters, and addressing the application of the principles into the details of life and action. The Gita here is transforming what would otherwise be a philosophical doctrine into a practical and detailed methodology. Arjuna has been convinced of the correctness of Sri Krishna’s viewpoint. At the same time, he has immediately grasped the issue that without some clear and detailed understanding he would again find himself lost in the play of forces and the currents of life. He therefore requests that the general knowledge, and the vision he has been vouchsafed, be turned into a detailed understanding of the way the Purusha interacts with Prakriti and the practical tools he would need to exert leverage on the reactions of his outer nature.

This interaction of Purusha and Prakriti constitutes one of the primary questions to be addressed, but the Gita also takes up the question of the three Gunas of Nature, the method of their interaction and how they constitute all the actions of life, and the way to gain ascendency over their action. The Gita provides possibly the best detailed explication of the Gunas that has been developed and these final six chapters delve in detail into how to use this knowledge to gain liberation while continuing to act with vigor in the world.

Sri Aurobindo outlines the questions to still be taken up: “All life, all works are a transaction between the soul and Nature. What is the original character of that transaction? what does it become at its spiritual culminating point? to what perfection does it lead the soul that gets free from its lower and external motives and grows inwardly into the very highest poise of the Spirit and deepest motive-force of the works of its energy in the universe?”

The Gita draws upon its wider synthesis of Vedanta, Sankhya and Yoga to distill out a practical guidebook for action.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 13, The Field and Its Knower, pp. 395-396

The Highest Immortal Dharma Taught By the Gita

The Gita accepts the seeker, regardless of which path is chosen. Those who take the austere path of the yoga of knowledge are welcomed and accepted by the Divine. Similarly, those who choose paths of devotion or works are also accepted and they also achieve the final goal of the transformation of consciousness through unity with the supreme Purusha. There is no “bickering” here over one path being the “only way” to achieve realisation. The main thing is to focus the consciousness and the actions on the Divine and to transform the awareness to one of unity and identity with the Divine consciousness. This is not a matter of fixed rules, habits, rituals or formulae.

Sri Aurobindo explains this: “In the lower ignorant consciousness of mind, life and body there are many Dharmas, many rules, many standards and laws because there are many varying determinations and types of the mental, vital and physical nature. The immortal Dharma is one; it is that of the highest spiritual divine consciousness and its powers…. it is beyond the three Gunas, and to reach it all these lower Dharmas have to be abandoned…. Alone in their place the one liberating unifying consciousness and power of the Eternal has to become the infinite source of our action, its mould, determinant and exemplar. To rise out of our lower personal egoism, to enter into the impersonal and equal calm of the immutable eternal all-pervading Akshara Purusha, to aspire from that calm by a perfect self-surrender of all one’s nature and existence to that which is other and higher than the Akshara, is the first necessity of this Yoga. In the strength of that aspiration one can rise to the immortal Dharma. There, made one in being, consciousness and divine bliss with the greatest Uttama Purusha, made one with his supreme dynamic nature-force…the liberated spirit can know infinitely, love illimitably, act unfalteringly in the authentic power of a highest immortality and a perfect freedom.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 12, The Way and the Bhakta, pp. 391-392

The Divine Nature of the Devotee

We see in many religious traditions that commitment is sometimes translated into a extremity that treats other paths as less worthy (or even “wrong”) and which may in some cases even lead to the extremes of fanaticism and violence such as the outbreaks of “convert or die” we have seen throughout history in a variety of settings. The Gita makes it clear that this is not the pure and true form of devotion and sets forth the qualities and nature of the devotee in its view. The basis is equality and desirelessness, and on this foundation there arises a purity of “love and adoration of the Purushottama….”

Sri Aurobindo defines the equal consciousness the Gita calls for: “First, an absence of egoism, if I-ness and my-ness…. The Bhakta of the Purushottama is one who has a universal heart and ind which has broken down all the narrow walls of the ego. A universal love dwells in his heart, a universal compassion flows from it like an encompassing sea. He will have friendship and pity for all beings and hate for no living thing: for he is patient, long-suffering, enduring, a well of forgiveness.”

“…he will be one who is freed from the troubled agitated lower nature and from its waves of joy and fear and anxiety and resentment and desire, a spirit of calm by whom the world is not afflicted or troubled, nor is he afflicted or troubled by the world, a soul of peace with whom all are at peace.”

There are other possible characteristics of his nature: “Or he will be one who has given up all desire and action to the Master of his being, one pure and still, indifferent to whatever comes, not pained or afflicted by any result or happening, one who has flung away from him all egoistic, personal and mental initiative whether of the inner or the outer act, one who lets the divine will and divine knowledge flow through him undeflected by his own resolves, preferences and desires, ….this pure instrumentation is the condition of the greatest skill in works.”

Equality of soul will have him accepting whatever the Divine brings to him, pain or pleasure, joy or sorrow, heat or cold. “He will keep a mind firm in all things, because it is constantly seated in the highest self and fixed forever on the one divine object of his love and adoration. Equality, desirelessness and freedom from the lower egoistic nature and its claims are always the one perfect foundation demanded by the Gita for the great liberation.”

“And the crown of this equality is love founded on knowledge, fulfilled in instrumental action, extended to all things and beings, a vast absorbing and all-containing love for the divine Self who is Creator and Master of the universe….”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 12, The Way and the Bhakta, pp. 389-391

The Advantages of the Yoga of Desireless Action

The Gita recognizes that the practice of any of the methods of yogic concentration can be difficult and discouraging, as the human mind and heart are easily distracted or led astray by the appeal of the objects of the senses. Thus, whether one follows the austere path of the yoga of knowledge as it was traditionally practiced, or even the path of devotion which turns everything one sees and does into an act of divine adoration, the difficulty remains in that we tend to forget, lose our focus, and get ourselves caught up in the outer forms and forces.

For this reason, the Gita now proposes an additional method which it sets forth as pre-eminent because results will come even for those who cannot totally succeed with the other methods.

Sri Aurobindo describes this method and its role in the Gita’s yoga: “Then the way is to control the lower self in the act and do works without desire of the fruit. All fruit has to be renounced, to be given up to the Power that directs the work, and yet the work has to be done that is imposed by It on the nature. For by this means the obstacle steadily diminishes and easily disappears, the mind is left free to remember the Lord and to fix itself in the liberty of the divine consciousness.”

In fact, the Gita provides an ascending series of methods with this at the top! “…practice of a method, repetition of an effort and experience is a great and powerful thing; but better than this is knowledge, the successful and luminous turning of the thought to the Truth behind things. This thought-knowledge too is excelled by a silent complete concentration on the Truth so that the consciousness shall eventually live in it and be always one with it. But more powerful still is the giving up of the fruit of one’s works, because that immediately destroys all causes of disturbance and brings and preserve automatically an inner calm and peace, and calm and peace are the foundation on which all else becomes perfect and secure in possession by the tranquil spirit. Then the consciousness can be at ease, happily fix itself in the Divine and rise undisturbed to perfection. Then too knowledge, will and devotion can lift their pinnacles from a firm soil of solid calm into the ether of Eternity.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 12, The Way and the Bhakta, pp. 388-389

Applying the Process of the Gita’s Yoga

The Gita presents a yogic path that has advantages in comparison to the austere path followed by the traditional yoga of knowledge. The primary advantages reside in the opportunity to embrace the Divine Presence in all aspects of life, with all the various capacities, powers and senses that the human being possesses. This means, as Sri Aurobindo elsewhere states, that “all life is yoga.”

At the same time, this is not something that allows one to wallow in the fulfillment of desires, and engorgement with the objects of the senses and simply consider oneself “saved”. What the Gita is actually asking us to do is to systematically confront every thought, every feeling, every impulse, every physical sensation and convert it from our normal human response and view to the point where everything we see, do, experience and respond to is seen and responded to as the Divine.

“no doubt, on this way too there are difficulties; for there is the lower nature with its fierce or dull downward gravitation which resists and battles against the motion of ascent and clogs the wings of the exaltation and the upward rapture. The divine consciousness even when it has been found at first in a wonder of great moments or in calm and splendid durations, cannot at once be altogether held or called back at will; there is felt often an inability to keep the personal consciousness fixed steadily in the Divine; there are nights of long exile from the Light, there are hours or moments of revolt, doubt or failure.”

These difficulties must be overcome with patience, persistence and perseverance. “But still by the practice of union and by constant repetition of the experience, that highest spirit grows upon the being and takes permanent possession of the nature.”

The Gita points out that even this may be a more difficult process than some can actually carry out, and therefore provides yet another option: “Then the way is simple, to do all actions for the sake of the Lord of the action, so that every outward-going movement of the mind shall be associated with the inner spiritual truth of the being and called back even in the very movement to the eternal reality and connected with its source.”

The result: “Then the presence of the Purushottama will grow upon the natural man, till he is filled with it and becomes a Godhead and a spirit; all life will become a constant remembering of God and perfection too will grow and the unity of the whole existence of the human soul with the supreme Existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 12, The Way and the Bhakta, pg. 388

The Benefits of the Gita’s Approach To the Practice of Yoga

While the Gita acknowledges the traditional yoga of knowledge, with its renunciation of the world and its attempt to attain the silent, immutable Eternal as its goal, it also notes the difficulty of this particular path and the strenuous efforts it requires to suppress all of the natural tendencies and energies of life in order to achieve the result. The Gita therefore recommends another route. Sri Aurobindo explains:

“The Yogin of exclusive knowledge imposes on himself a painful struggle with the manifold demands of his nature; he denies them even their highest satisfaction and cuts away from him even the upward impulses of his spirit whenever they imply relations or fall short of a negating absolute. The living way of the Gita, on the contrary, finds out the most intense upward trend of all our being and by turning it Godwards uses knowledge, will, feeling and the instinct for perfection as so many puissant wings of a mounting liberation.”

The way of the seeker of the Gita hinges upon accepting and seeing the Divine in all things. “When they meditate on him with a Yoga which sees none else, because it sees all to be Vasudeva, he meets them at every point, in every moment, at all times, with innumerable forms and faces, holds up the lamp of knowledge within and floods with its divine and happy lustre the whole of existence. Illumined, they discern the supreme Spirit in every form and face, arrive at once through all Nature to the Lord of Nature, arrive through all beings to the Soul of all being, arrive through themselves to the Self of all that they are…”

“The other method of a difficult relationless stillness tries to get away from all action even though that is impossible to embodied creatures. Here the actions are all given up to the supreme Master of action and he as the supreme Will meets the will of sacrifice, takes from it its burden and assumes to himself the charge of the works of the divine Nature in us. And when too in the high passion of love the devotee of the Lover and Friend of man and of all creatures casts upon him all his heart of consciousness and yearning of delight, then swiftly the Supreme comes to him as the saviour and deliverer and exalts him by a happy embrace of his mind and heart and body out of the waves of the sea of death in this mortal nature into the secure bosom of the Eternal.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 12, The Way and the Bhakta, pp. 386-388

Appreciating the Yogic Path of Renunciation

Sri Krishna has been asked by Arjuna to advise him as to which path of yoga is the best one. Arjuna starts from the conception of his day that identified yoga as a path of renunciation and ascetic one-pointedness, abandoning all the desires, fruits and actions that bind us to the world. He has been told by Sri Krishna that he should not take this path, regardless of the general conception; and now he wants to know why. This dialogue is useful to us as it illuminates an issue that most spiritual seekers have to address when they take up a spiritual discipline; namely, how to practice in a meaningful way to achieve the spiritual realisation, and to what extent they can or should have an interaction with the world at large.

There is a long history of the anchorite in the desert, or the monk in the monastery practicing an austere discipline, as well as the yogi in the cave or the renunciate living an unencumbered life to focus on the spiritual Truth.

The Gita seeks to provide us guidance to achieve an integration and wholeness that is missing from these solitary approaches, while at the same time making it clear that those who follow these disciplines also achieve the result and thus, should not be in their turn dismissed or scoffed at.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the Gita’s approach: Sri Krishna indicates “Those who found their mind in Me and by constant union, possessed of a supreme faith, seek after Me, I hold to be the most perfectly in union of Yoga.” “The perfect union is that which meets the Divine at every moment, in every action and with all the integrality of nature.”

“But those also who seek by a hard ascent after the indefinable unmanifest Immutable alone, arrive, says the Godhead, to Me. For they are not mistaken in their aim, but they follow a more difficult and a less complete and perfect path.”

The path is hard because it leaves nothing to grab onto, and goes against the normal grain of human nature and requires suppression of the heart, the will, the physical being in order to achieve its results. “But still by the equality of their understanding and by their seeing of one self in all things and by their tranquil benignancy of silent will for the good of all existences they too meet Me in all objects and creatures.” “But this is a less direct and more arduous way; it is not the full and natural movement of the spiritualised human nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 12, The Way and the Bhakta, pg. 386