Bhagavad-Gita Third Chapter
What is Yoga?
by Michael Dolan/B.V. Mahayogi
What is Yoga?
by Michael Dolan/B.V. Mahayogi
You may have noticed that my comments on the Bhagavad-Gita follow a particular point of view. I believe that this great text can only be approached through the great teachers that have studied it. Of these great teachers the commentaries that best suit the text avoid distorting its thesis.
Introduction to the Third Chapter of the Gita
Main Thesis of Bhagavad-Gita
The thesis of the Bhagavad-gita, in fact, is quite clear. For example, Yamun Acharya in the 11th Century summarizes the main idea of the Gita as follows in a book called the Gita-samgraha :
“It is the doctrine expounded by the Bhagavad-gita that Narayana who is the Supreme Brahman, can only be achieved by means of bhakti which is brought about by observance of the dharma, acquisition of knowledge, and the renunciation of passion.”
There are many who are uncomfortable with such a clear interpretation. They try to make the Bhagavad-Gita into a more mysterious book filled with secrets. But the real knowledge imparted by the Gita is an open secret. It expounds dedication to God. God is identified as Krishna throughout. For example, at the end of the Second Chapter, Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna, tāni sarvāṇi saṁyamya yukta āsīta mat-paraḥ vaśe hi yasyendriyāṇi tasya prajña pratiṣṭhitā “One who restrains his senses and fixes his mind on Me is of steady intelligence.” The word “mat” here means Me. If one is searching for a “nonsectarian” interpretation of the Gita one may say that “Me” has a different meaning. Since I say “Me” when talking about myself and you say “Me” when talking about yourself, we are all “Me.” “Me” means the “Oneness” of “Me.” In the end there is no distinction between you and me and we are all together. But this interpretation flies in the face of reality. The Bhagavad-Gita may lend itself to a certain amount of interpretation, but the idea that “you” and “me” are the same as the infinite Me of divinity is neither good common sense, nor is it grammatical. The idea that we are “One” with divinity is unsupported by a close reading of the text.
Summary of first six chapters by Yamuna
Yamuna’s summary, the Gita-samgraha is very useful in getting at the real meaning of the text. According to Yamuna’s version, the first six chapters of the Bhagavad-gita really instruct us on gaining a well-founded position in understanding ethics and wisdom. These are called the way karma or “action” and jnana, or “spiritual knowledge.” In the first third of the Gita, Kṛṣṇa teaches how action should be dedicated with knowledge in yoga to achieve a harmonized relationship between soul and Supreme Soul. Wisdom, or a proper understanding of the soul or atma helps us to balance our karma. Proper dharma or religion means living in harmony with our true spiritual condition--religion means proper balance of the need to keep body and soul together and dedication to God. The implications of that dedication or bhakti will be explained later.
As we have seen, the first chapter of the Gita is largely introductory material, coming as it does halfway through the great epic Mahābharata. In the middle of the Kurukṣetra war, as the opposing armies stand ready for battle, Arjuna is overcome, and expresses his inability to perform his duty as warrior. We see the moral dilemma on which the conversation turns.
In the second chapter of the Gita, Arjuna accepts Krishna as his guru or teacher and asks advice in his moment of doubt. Here the real teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita begin to unfold. The teaching of Kṛṣṇa is for the sake of Arjuna, who, overcome by misplaced attachment, compassion has taken refuge of Kṛṣṇa.
The second chapter of Bhagavad-gita, as we have seen, explains the nature of the soul or atma. This analysis of the soul or atma is called “sankhya” which means something like analysis or “breaking it down.” Krishna analyses the soul’s nature in relationship to the world of space and time where everything is temporary. Krishna explains that a “sankhya” analysis is helpful in understanding our true position--that the soul is eternal. This is his first teaching, for this wisdom will guide us in many decisions.
What is Yoga?
Many people are confused by the constant use of the word “yoga.” Throughout his analysis Krishna uses the word “yoga.” Yoga has many meanings. To “yoke together” is a popular way to understand the word Yoga. It’s important to understand this word, yoga. The idea of yoking two things together is a useful point of departure. The yoke was first used in agriculture on the south Asian continent. India is credited with having invented this system for bringing two bulls under control for the purpose of pulling a plow. It is commonplace to consider yoga as a way of harmonizing with the divine. What has all this to do with pulling a plow?
The word yoga may be seen as referring to any method which brings opposing elements in harmony. Two bulls tend to go off in different directions; The yoke creates a team of oxen essential for agriculture. Our world is filled with dichotomies; the split between positive and negative, the duality of yin and the yan, male and female, space and time, quantum relativistic worlds, the spiritual and material aspects of our existence.
Yoga strives for balance, harmony.
The word “yoga” of course has taken on many different connotations today which are different from its ancient use. In our technological world we are interesting in getting results. No technique is useful unless it gets results.
But Kṛṣṇa has already told Arjuna that we must not be attached to results. In fact, our material attachment to the results of our karma is what gets us in trouble. Karmic results, after all, trap us in the endless circle of births and deaths.
Here in the Third Chapter of the Gita, Kṛṣṇa elaborates on the idea of karma-yoga. But when Krishna speaks of karma yoga, he isn’t referring to a particular set of practices or techniques meant to bring about the result of good karma.
In fact what he’s describing is the need to bring one’s action into balance, into harmony with one’s spiritual nature. Kṛṣṇa wants Arjuna to do more than merely follow the rules of karma in the caste society of varnāśrama-dharma. He understands the need to be a “good” person, but in a higher sense he’s interested in paramahamsa-dharma, where surrender to divinity is the highest principle.
These concepts go much deeper than what we are normally concerned with when we think of yoga. While Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna are exploring the idea of balance in ethical action, in the West, we’re accustomed to think of yoga as a kind of technique for stretching muscles. Western yoga schools popularize the idea of using yoga techniques and postures to improve physical balance. People practice yoga to bring their body into harmony so they can cope with the tremendous stress of modern material life. But the idea of “yoga” here in the third chapter of the Gita has a deeper purpose.
It is useful, then, to think of the word yoga in terms of “harmonizing” two disparate elements. Just as a conductor harmonizes a number of musical instruments into a synthetic unit, the orchestra, so we balance the different conflicts of life in harmony through different forms of “yoga.”
One may even think of different schools of yoga in terms of Hegelian dialectic: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Whenever two Ideas are balanced, they produce a higher synthesis in a new idea. Karma alone is mere exploitation; when it is balanced with yoga it becomes sacrifice and leads to enlightenment. Mere analysis--stepping back from everything to get a new perspective--involves metacognition but materialistic analysis is inconclusive. It’s like going outside your house and looking in the window to see if you are home. Properly balanced in yoga, knowledge, or jnana as it is called in Sanskrit, leads to enlightenment in wisdom. Kṛṣṇa’s message is about how to couple sacrifice and wisdom.
As Yamuna has pointed out, Krishna’s essential message in Bhagavad-Gita is simple: When action and knowledge are in perfect balance, they lead to the higher synthesis of dedication and divine love in surrender to God. This is the perfection of existence.
As we have seen, the proper balance of wisdom and action, love and sacrifice is the true subject of discussion in Bhagavad-gita, which is a profoundly metaphysical work.
In the coming chapters, Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna dialogue about the different practices of yoga, the proper forms of meditation, and strategic life-views that lead to a life in balance and harmony. Kṛṣṇa concludes that the highest balance is found in dedication. This dedication to the divine principle is called bhakti and is considered a superior yoga than mere action or knowledge.
In the second chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna began by explaining that the soul or atma is eternal and survives the death of the body. In fact, it moves from one body to the next, evolving consciously from one lifetime to the next. This temporary world has no eternal reality. As such it is an illusion, and a wise man is one who can distinguish between temporaland eternal reality. As a person puts on new clothes, leaving aside the old and useless ones, so we change bodies from one lifetime to the next.
Now, in the third chapter, Krishna explains that Arjuna should do his duty and follow the path of karma-yoga in light of this wisdom. Karma-yoga here has the connotation of “work-done-in-sacrifice” or “work in harmony with a higher purpose.”
Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna that as a warrior he should therefore do battle, since harmonizing action and duty will bring about the transcendental perfection called samadhi, or “perfect balance.” This ethical action will be transcendental perfection for Arjuna whose mind should be fixed in meditation.
All this metaphysical talk seems confusing. Arjuna wants clarity. Which is better, then: is it action or meditation?” Arjuna is concerned whether it is better to follow the path of action or karma yoga, or to follow the path of knowledge and wisdom which includes meditation, jnana-yoga. Krishna explains further is meant by the perfection of duty or, karma-yoga.
So begins the third chapter.