The Three Types of Discipline of the Bhagavadgita by Swami Krishnananda

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(Spoken on September 18th, 1974.)

I have been asked to speak a few words to you on the philosophy of the Bhagavadgita. Normally, this great text called the Bhagavadgita has been regarded as a religious and spiritual gospel of Bharatavarsha, that is, India. There have been commentaries galore published on this wonderful text of India’s heritage, all expounding various aspects or facets of its doctrine or teaching, and even today commentaries are being written on this wonderful book. It only shows the comprehensiveness of the teaching of the Bhagavadgita and the inability of the finite human mind to fathom its depths.

To me at least, the Bhagavadgita has been not merely a religious gospel or even a spiritual guide in the ordinary accepted sense of the term, but I may say it is a very scientific presentation of the technique of discipline carried to the degree of perfection. The Bhagavadgita is a gospel of discipline, and though you may be familiar with this word ‘discipline’, it may be necessary for me to explain what discipline means from the point of view of the Bhagavadgita.

Those of you who are fairly acquainted with what the Gita is may know that it consists of eighteen chapters. These eighteen chapters of the Bhagavadgita are grouped into three sections of six chapters each. The first group of six chapters deals with a particular type of discipline, the second group of six chapters expounds another type of discipline, and the last or the third set of six chapters delineates a novel type of discipline altogether different from the other two mentioned already.

“What is discipline?” may be a question. This is a feature of human life which is very much valued and regarded as an absolute necessity in every walk of life. Everywhere we feel a need for discipline, which means a systematic conduct on our behalf in respect of the duty before us or in regard to the atmosphere in which we are living. A very methodical approach of our total personality in regard to the circumstances in which we are placed may be called discipline.

Now, this definition holds good also from the point of view of the teaching of the Bhagavadgita. As we have a short time before us to discuss this very vast subject, I shall try to clinch the whole matter by touching upon the basic fundamentals of the character of discipline as taught in the Bhagavadgita.

The first six chapters deal with what we may call self-discipline. The second six chapters deal with a vaster and more comprehensive type of discipline, a self-discipline in relation to the whole of the world outside, which takes into consideration not only the individual personality of one’s own self but also the world in which one is situated or of which one is a country. The third discipline is universal discipline, which is the pinnacle that we have to reach in this divine practice of coordination which we have to establish within and without.

As I mentioned, the first six chapters deal with personal discipline. They deal with the individual, the person, the human being as such, how a human being can be integrated psychologically, morally and intellectually. The human personality is not exhausted merely by the physical body. You or I as an individual person does not mean merely this physical vesture that is visible before the eyes. The personality of a human being is more than the physical body. Your character, for example, is the determining factor of much of the success that you are expected to achieve in the world. Your character is not merely the demeanour of the physical body; it is an internal manoeuvre of your mental makeup or status of consciousness. The way of thinking, the inner conduct of the psychological organ, and the capacity of your reasoning faculty to comprehend things all combine to constitute your personality.

Now, what is the human personality, which is supposed to be disciplined, and by which we mean self-discipline? The physical body is only an outer vehicle of a power that is working within the physical body. The body is only a vehicle; it has to be driven by a motive force which is other than the body, and this motive force is intelligent enough. There are the vital organs, the sensory powers, the thinking principal, the volitional faculty, the intellectual endowment, and the moral conscience. All these are present in us not as isolated ingredients thrown together in an unconnected manner, but in a beautiful blend. The faculties that constitute the human personality are not thrown together pell-mell. Our personality is a systematised presentation of self-consciousness, and it may be defined as a centre of self-consciousness. We are aware that we are such and such or so-and-so.

In this consciousness that we have of our own self, we have an integrated feeling of a totality that we are, and not an isolated makeup of bits of essentially isolated characters. It is very difficult to conceive what a human personality is. I mentioned that, psychologically at least, we seem to be made up of various phases of inner conduct, character and understanding. But all these various aspects of our conduct, feeling and understanding, etc., are brought together into a harmony of function, and it is this intelligence which brings the faculties into a harmonious function. It is this that goes by the name of the human individual.

Though there are millions of cells in our body, all different from one another, and though each thought of the mind may be said to be different from other thoughts, and every limb can be separated from every other limb, our consciousness does not feel this isolated location of the parts of the personality. We are a total, we are a whole, we are a completeness. This is an inviolable law of consciousness operating in every person right from childhood up to old age, even up to the event of death.

Now, the Bhagavadgita expects us to discipline ourselves in the sense that these faculties of the human individual should be harmonised so that they do not war among themselves internally. What is this war that is likely to take place within ourselves? This war is what is called psychological aberration, a subject for study in abnormal psychology. Psychological problems are generally the consequence of a war that takes place internally between or among the faculties in the subjective individual. How can a war take place inside our own personality when we are one single complete compact individual?

To give an instance of this predicament or possibility, there can be a war between the understanding and the feeling, and then you will be an unhappy person at home though you may be a dignified public person outside. Your social status and the rational capacities may make you, or at least appear to make you, a noble individual of an elevated status in the eye of the public. You may be a big person or a big gun, as they say, in the eyes of the world, but privately you may be a miserable person at home. This is a phenomenon which is not unknown to people. Most people are privately unhappy though publicly big, rich, well to do and powerful. There can be political power which one may wield, social status and public esteem; all can go simultaneously, hand-in-hand with internal agony and sorrow which one suffers privately in one’s own abode. Why should this happen? It is because while your intellect, your reason, your public capacity works in a particular direction, your emotion works in a different direction altogether.

Love and hatred may be said to be emotional functions, though as an intelligent, cultured, educated person, you may be convinced that love and hatred are not worthwhile characters. You must be an impartial being. This is the philosophical conclusion which your reason may come to, but your emotion will have a grudge of its own against certain aspects of life and affection for certain other aspects.

The Bhagavadgita wants you to bring all these faculties together. The understanding and the feeling are one, like husband and wife, if we can put it in that way. There is a clicking of two clocks together simultaneously, without any kind of discrepancy in the sounds that they make. They speak in the same voice. What you feel, that you understand, what you understand, that you feel. Or, to put it in another way, your thoughts, your speech and your actions are in harmony with one another. What you think, that you speak, and what you speak, that is the way you act. This is a very difficult thing to achieve. Personal or self-discipline may be summed up in the technique of bringing together into a beautiful blend the thoughts of the mind, the words that you speak, and the actions that you perform in society.

Let each one close one’s eyes for a few minutes and probe into one’s own conscience. Am I in harmony with myself so far as my thought, speech and action are concerned? Do I not speak something which I do not really mean in my mind? Is my action not in harmony with my deepest demands of conscience? When there is a diversity of movement among the three functions – thought, speech and action – there is a split personality created within ourselves. We are not a complete whole. We develop psychopathic conditions. When the discrepancy among thought, speech and action is not very serious, it does not disturb us very much. But when it becomes a habit or second nature, it may go deep into our personality and this split may become the essential nature of our own selves, so that we are not wholes but parts sundered from one another, and that is a psychological malady.

So the first six chapters of the Bhagavadgita give a beautiful art of combining these faculties into not merely a complex of different parts as we do in the assembling of the parts of a machine, for example, but into a beautiful organic blend as an artist does when he paints a beautiful picture. In the picture which an artist paints, there is an organic completeness of the various types of ink that he uses so that you do not see the difference of the inks on the canvas or the background of the picture, but you see only the living force that is emanating from that picture that is painted on the canvas. When you enjoy a beautiful painting, you are not enjoying the ink or the beautiful pattern of the arrangement of the ink, but a new character that is projected out of this pattern of the arrangement of ink. That is a new type of art altogether, different from the mechanical assembly of parts of the machine as in a motorcar, etc.

Therefore, we are not supposed to bring about the assemblage of mechanical parts in the discipline of our personality, because that would be an artificial life. We are supposed to conduct ourselves in such a way that our life is an art, a beauty, an attraction, so that our face beams with a joy that draws people towards us as if we are a magnet. Beauty is a source of attraction, and we become a source of beauty on account of the discipline spiritually conducted according to this novel doctrine of the Bhagavadgita.

Now, this is not sufficient, and the next six chapters describe something much more. Whatever be the discipline that you have in your own self – you are a well-integrated, psychologically balanced personality – very good, but what is your relationship with the world outside? India is very big, and it is not exhausted merely by your personality, and it is not the whole world. The world is much bigger than even our country, and it has a connection with the whole international system. Inasmuch as you are an organic part of this country as a citizen, well, you would seem to have a connection with other parts of the world also. And this world, which is this Earth, has a connection with the solar system. Physicists and astronomers know what vital connection this Earth has with the Sun and the entire solar system and the Milky Way, and so on. Astronomers tell us that the whole physical universe is an organic completeness, as our own personality also is.

The second six chapters of the Bhagavadgita tell you how to take into consideration in real discipline of life the factors that are transcendent to your individual personality also. If you are a very well conducted, moral, intellectual, cultural person individually and yet know nothing about the outer world, you will be a failure in life. People will say that this man knows nothing of the world though he is a very good man in his own individual personality. As far as he is concerned, he is an ideal, golden man, but he has no idea about the world outside, and when he is in public, he is a failure.

The Bhagavadgita wants you to also be integrated in your relationship with the public, not merely in your relationship with the parts of your own personality. And what is this public? ‘Public’, according to the Bhagavadgita, does not mean merely the human beings outside. The world is larger than a set of human beings. Mankind is not merely the content of the world; there are many more things than mankind in this world. The forces that control the destiny of the world are not mankind’s forces. They are natural forces. Nature’s wrath is more fierce than man’s wrath, and nature’s bounty also is vaster than man’s bounty. And nature, according to the Bhagavadgita at least, is the whole physical universe, not merely these little mountains and rivers that we see in the geographical realm of our country or this Earth.

The Bhagavadgita takes us into a vaster realm of a wider cosmos, I should say, of which you are a citizen because you are ruled by the government of the universe. Just as you have a constitution for your own country, there is a constitution for the entire universe, according to which every leaf moves, and every wisp of wind blows. Nothing can happen in this world unless it is ordained and permitted by the constitution of the setup of the whole cosmos, of which you are an integral part. You cannot isolate yourself from that. So self-discipline, according to the Bhagavadgita, does not merely mean individual bodily, psychological, intellectual discipline, which of course is necessary. It is also universal and cosmic discipline.

But the Gita is still more. The third step is absolute discipline. This is the only way in which that third type of discipline can be defined. Absolute discipline is that type of unitedness and harmony that you establish in life whereby you are friendly not only with the outer universe but with the profundities of the inner structure of the universe. Just as your body is not your whole personality, the physical universe is not the whole creation. Just as you may mistake the physical body for a human being, you may mistake the visible, physical universe for the total reality. Even as there are many more interesting features within your physical personality, there are riches and vaster secrets internal to the visible physical universes which are not recognisable by human understanding, and not perceptible to human senses.

What does the Bhagavadgita say, finally? Within you is the secret consciousness, the intelligence with which you are identifying yourself every step of your life and every moment of the activities of your life. Even as within the body there are the senses, and within the senses there is the mind, and within the mind there is the intellect, and inside the intellect there is the animating consciousness, there is some such secret within this physical universe also. These inner secrets are called the various layers or realms of being. In our Eastern cosmology, these are called the lokas or the worlds which are internal to the visible physical universe. You must have heard these words Bhuloka, Bhuvarloka, Svarloka, Maharloka, Janaloka, Tapoloka and Satyaloka. There are so many worlds, one over the other, they say. These worlds are not kept one over the other like sandwiches. They are one inside the other, like the layers of your personality. The body, the senses, the mind, the intellect and the spirit within you are not kept one over the other like slices of bread. They are one internal to the other, one controlling the other, one more pervasive than the other, the higher becoming more real than the lower, so that the highest is the real principle of your being. The lokas, or the various realms of being outside, are the internal structural features or peculiarities of the creation before us.

Corresponding to the physical body, there is the physical universe. Corresponding to the mind within, there is the cosmic mind. Corresponding to the intellect here, there is the cosmic intellect. Corresponding to the spirit within you, which is your intelligence, there is the Universal Spirit. That is called God in religion, that is called the Absolute in philosophy, that is the reality of the scientists and physicists which we cannot gainsay, and that is the Ultimate Truth of all truths. Whether it exists or not is an irrelevant question because nothing else can be, and it is only a name for being itself. You are asking whether it exists, and I am saying that it is the name for existence itself. What you call existence is that, and you cannot ask me whether existence exists. That is a meaningless question. That which you call existence in its universal character and in its totality, and also in its internality, is called the Absolute. Just as the limbs of your body cannot be isolated in any manner whatsoever from your total personality, you as an individual cannot be isolated from the total structure of the cosmos and from the ultimate reality, which is the Absolute.

Thus, the goal of the life of the human being is the realisation of the Supreme Being, which is not an outside something but the higher reality of your own personality. The Bhagavadgita is a gospel not only for human beings, not only for India, Bharatavarsha, not only for this Earth, but for the whole of creation. In one sentence I can say that the Bhagavadgita is the exposition of the science of life.



Yoga in Daily Life

Yoga in Daily Life

[Excerpted from Spiritual Roots of Yoga by Ravi Ravindra]

Renouncing all actions on Me,

Mindful of your inner self,

Without expectation and selfishness,

Struggle without agitation. (Bhagavad Gita 3.30)

Krishna invites us and enjoins us to make our daily life into a spiritual practice, a yoga. No one can be without action. Even if we simply lie down, doing nothing visible, we are still engaged in action. Because no one can remain actionless even for a moment. Everyone is driven to action, helplessly indeed, by the forces of nature (BG 3.05). Even if the body is still, the mind is in action, associating this with that, dreaming, desiring something, fearing something else. The question is not whether to act but how to act. Similarly, no one can avoid daily life; the question is not whether we should participate in daily life, but rather how to participate in this life we live daily.

What Is Daily Life?

All the actions we do routinelysleeping, eating, washing, walking, sitting, standing, talkingare included in our daily life. And so are all the activities we engage in as a part of our jobs, professions, household routines and the like. These are not without their importance, but our inquiry here has less to do with the various kinds of activities and much more to do with the quality of the actor engaged in these activities willingly or unwillingly, driven by nature or driven by the spirit because our daily activities reflect the quality of our being.

When Krishna speaks to Arjuna about a person of steady wisdom (sthitapraja), Arjuna does not ask what sort of wonderful ideas such a person has or what the theology or philosophy of a person of steady wisdom is. He asks: How does a person of steady wisdom, who is established in samadhi,
speak? How does he sit? How does he walk? (BG 2:54).

Krishnas answer is quite unambiguous: A person of steady wisdom is one who has become free of all desires that prey upon the mind, and who is content and at peace. When unpleasant things do not disturb, nor pleasures beguile, when craving, fear, and anger have left, such a one is a sage of steady wisdom (BG 2:5556).

There is a Hasidic story, which is also echoed in Zen circles, that tells of a pupil who goes to the master not as much to hear a learned discourse than to see how the master ties his shoe laces, to see how the master lives. And in our daily life we walk, talk, sit, and tie our shoe laces. We express our understanding and we search for steady wisdom in the midst of these very activities.

When we hope to move away from daily life, what do we expect to escape from? Do we hope to escape from the ordinariness, the repeatability, and the predictability of our daily life? Do we wish for adventure, for something unexpected, for something that will surprise usperhaps an unexpected gift or a guest or an event? There is much to be said for new impressions that can bring our mechanical routine into question. There is value in going to new places, meeting new people and new ideas. We are refreshed by the unexpected; something other than the usual comes alive in us, and we feel reinvigorated and rejuvenated. But many things are still the same. Even on the final ascent to Mount Everest there are elements of daily life. Certainly, in the monastery which for some might seem like a release from daily life into a realm of spiritualitythe activities of daily life are required. Many requirements, mostly to do with the general maintenance of our bodies and of our places of shelter, are the same or very similar everywhere.

I once met a monk in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand. He had the venerable traditional name of Nagasena. At that time, he had been a monk for nearly thirty years, as long as I had been a professor. We were instantly drawn to each other, and spent practically the whole night speaking together. He said to me, You know, being a monk is a profession like any other. It has its ups and downs, its routine, its excitement, and its dullness. It is just like daily life.

When we think of daily life as a dull affair, consisting of ordinary activities, we are referring to a level of the mind, to a level of awareness and of engagement, which is dull and humdrum. When we wish to be released from daily life, it is this level of life and engagement that we wish to escape. We wish to live with another level of engagementone in which we are not bored, or dispersed; in which we are more alive to ourselves and to everything around us. Those who are freshly in love have no complaints about daily life. It is the lack of a love affair with life that makes everything stale and dull and uninteresting. We can be connected with the same quality of engagement while washing dishes in a kitchen or praying in a monastery on Mount Athos.

Another aspect of life that mitigates against our sense of freedom is that of reward and punishment. What we call daily lifeespecially as contrasted with a holiday, or with retired lifeis the feeling of being constrained by reward and punishment, by the hope of gain or the fear of loss. So, we dream of another lifeperhaps in a monastery or perhaps at a resortwhere we will not be driven by gain or loss, or reward and punishment, or ambition and fear, at least not in the ordinary sense of gain or loss. In this dream, we seek a satisfaction of some subtler kind, a reward of heaven perhaps, or a gain for our soul, but nothing crass or materialistic.

The subtler part of ourselves feels overwhelmed by the excessive demands of worldly life or is disenchanted by the crudity of this life. However, what we wish to escape from in our ordinary life resides not as much in what we actually do as in the quality of engagement with it and the motivations underlying the activities. The dullness or ordinariness of daily life is not as much characterized by a particular type of activity as by an attitude toward it. In the midst of the most sacred presence or activity, we can be driven by fear or competitiveness.

It comes as a surprise to find in the gospels that in the very presence of the Christ, the disciples were competing as to who would sit on the right side of Christ in heaven and who would be farther away! The low level of daily life can intrude even when we are in the presence of the Sacred. In the very holy of holies we can think of self-advancement and self-importance.

What Is Our Life For?

However, we live our lifein a dull or an excited manner, or in some extraordinary waythe question as to why we live is always there. The three famous sights which Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha-to-be, sawnamely, an old person, a diseased person, and a dead bodyare not so strange to most of us. There is hardly a person who has not seen all of these three sights. But for most of us, it does not create the sort of psychological revolution it did for Siddhartha Gautama. We are not deeply engaged by these sights. I saw the dead body of my older brother who died when he was much younger than I am now, and I was deeply moved. But it cannot be said that it left a permanent
revolution in my thinking or behavior or general engagement with life. We see people die, even loved ones, but we do not behave as if we too are going to die. We live in the body as if the body were permanent, not subject to death and decay, mistaking the vehicle for the passenger.

There is a story in the Mahabharata in which a celestial being, a Yaksha, asks the five Pandava brothers in turn, What is the greatest mystery in the world? The stakes are high. If they give an unacceptable answer and still attempt to take water from the lake, they will die. All the four younger brothers die and finally it is the oldest brother, Yudhishtra, the son of Dharma, whose response is found acceptable by the yaksha, who then revives all the dead brothers. The greatest mystery, according to the wise Yudhishtra as well as the yaksha, is that even when I see everyone around me die, I do not really believe that I myself am going to die.

There is nothing that Siddhartha saw and experienced that could not be experienced in our daily life. But we lack a vital engagement, a certain kind of intensity, and the sort of passion that he brought to his experience. For our daily life to be a practice leading to the Real, for it to be yoga, an intensity of
engagement is needed. There is no recipe for this, but there are stages. We will not seek to be engaged differently unless we become aware of the lack of intensity, of passion, and of meaning in our lives. This is the first requirement. With this recognition, I may begin to blame others or to expect that a change of the situation will make the difference I yearn for, but I need to realize that it is my own relationship with the world and my activities that need to change.

My life is not going to be lived by someone else; I must live it myselfit is my opportunity and my challenge.

Gradually, we can begin to recognize that everything is the way it is because there are large-scale forcesto which we subscribe, or which also operate as much inside ourselves as outsideand that these forces have brought us to where we now are. These forces, which are the forces of the status quo, are very large. We begin to understand not only that a radical transformation of our being is necessary but also that such a transformation is not easy, and that we are deeply addicted to the status quo even though we occasionally see the need to be otherwise. St. Paul speaks for all of us, I cannot even understand my own actions. I do not do what I want to do but what I hate. What happens is that I do, not the good I will to do, but the evil I do not intend (Romans 7:15, 19). Arjuna asks, Krishna, what makes a person commit evil, against his own will, as if compelled by force? (BG 3.36).

When we see the force that causes us to repeat ourselves mechanically, we are ready to turn to the part that yearns to be free of this and to undertake a practice. We become aware that deep down in ourselves there is a contradiction: there is a part that searches for the truth and wishes to emerge
into the light, but there is also a part which is quite willingusually out of fear and ambitionto subscribe to the status quo and to stay in the dark. In Indian mythology, there is a story of the churning of the milky ocean for obtaining amrita, the elixir of Eternal Life. The antigods (daityas) and the gods (adityas) are always in conflict. Both of them wish to live forever and have supremacy. They both wish to obtain amrita. The daityas are children of Kashyapa (literally meaning vision) and Diti (meaning limited). The adityas have the same father, Kashyapa, but their mother is Aditi (unlimited, vast). Naturally, the beings of limited vision fight against the beings of vaster vision. Both of these types of being are also within each one of us, representing and strengthening our own downward and upward tendencies. As the myth goes on to say, Vishnu, the highest God, advises the adityas to undertake the churning of the milky ocean for the purpose of obtaining amrita, but he also tells them that they cannot succeed in this churning without involving their unruly cousins, the daityas. Daityas may not have the right vision, but they have enormous energy, and their force is needed for the difficult task of churning.

Both aspects of myself are needed for the requisite effort and striving required for churning the sea of consciousness to find what can lead to freedom from the ravages of time.

When we see our situation and we see the need for transformation, we see that we need the support of a practice of yoga, a way to become free of our usual and ordinary limited habits of mind, feeling, and body. Whatever else we might say about it, yoga involves the whole of ourselvesbody, mind, and heart. In order to bring about a change, a merciless self-knowledge is necessary, a recognition of all our contradictions, fears, and wishes. For a true self-knowledge, we need to see ourselves in the midst of daily life. It is precisely where we are and where we can begin from. All our life is like a hologram: any little piece of it contains the whole and can reveal the whole. Our gestures, postures, tone of voice, behavior to animals or to neighboursany of these is a fit subject for investigation and can reveal a great deal about our inner self.

In the shloka (verse) of the Bhagavad Gita that was quoted in the very beginning of this essay, we are advised to renounce all our actions to Krishna while being mindful of our deepest self. What is Krishna for us? One of the roots of the word Krishna in Sanskrit is karshati which means that which draws. Krishna is what ultimately draws us. So, each one of us must ask of ourselves, What is my Krishna? What is my Ultimate Attractor? What do I love deep down, more than anything else? We will discover a lack of unity in ourselves; there are at least two of me, in me: one attracted by Krishna and the other attracted by self-importance.

I came out alone on my way to my tryst.

But who is this that follows me in the silent dark?

I move aside to avoid his presence but I escape him not.

He makes the dust rise from the earth with his swagger;

He adds his loud voice to every word that I utter.

He is my own little self, my Lord, he knows no shame;

But I am ashamed to come to thy door in his company.

Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali, poem 30

Only when we see the two in us can we see the need to struggle with the undisciplined parts of ourselves, so that they can be gradually brought to submit to those parts which have a vaster vision and which see clearly. When we can engage in the struggle willingly and mindfully, we can embark on a journey in which more and more of ourselves becomes integrated in yoga and
by yoga.

Thus, our ordinary daily life can become a spiritual practice, a true sanyasa, not by renouncing the world, but by renouncing worldliness. It is a form of dying to the world, which in effect is a form of dying to our self, to the usual self which is thoroughly entangled in the forces ruling the world, forces of reward and punishment, of fear and self- importance.

The question How to live with a centered self, integrated by yoga, but at the same time without being self-centered? becomes more and more interesting, more and more important. It has often been said by the sages that only when we are willing and able to die to our old self can we be born into a new vision and a new life.

There is a profound saying of an ancient Sufi master, echoed in much of sacred literature, which says, If you die before you die, then you do not die when you die. Krishnamurti in a conversation about life after death said, The real question is Can I die while I am living? Can I die to all my collectionsmaterial, psychological, religious? If you can die to all that, then youll find out what is there after death. Either there is nothing; absolutely nothing. Or there is something. But you cannot find out until you actually die while living.

St. Paul had said I die daily. Dying daily is a spiritual practicea regaining of a sort of innocence, which is quite different from ignorance, akin to openness and humility, an active unknowing. If I allow myself the luxury of not knowing, and if I am not completely full of myself, I can hear the subtle whispers under the noises of the world outside and inside myself. A contemporary sage in India, Sri Anirvan, remarked that the whole world is like a big bazaar in which everyone is shouting at the top of their voice wanting to make their little bargain. A recognition of this can invite us to true metanoia, a turning around, to a new way of being. Otherwise, the momentum of the status quo, abhinivesha in the terminology of Yoga Sutra of Patan?jali, persists. Only in moments of real seeing can an action of true vairagya, a disenchantment with the hold of the unreal on our heart, take place. Otherwise, as Wordsworth put it, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.

When the Real calls us, we realize that our attention fluctuates and that we cannot stay attuned to the call for a long time. We begin to understand that we cannot aspire to the steady wisdom of which Krishna speaks without acquiring steady attention, free of all movements of the mind. Then the opening sutra in Patan?jalis Yoga Sutra acquires a practical importance for us: Yoga is stopping all movements of the mind or Yoga is cultivating steadiness of attention (YS 1:2). Now we can begin the practice of yoga, as if for the first time.

All Action Is Yoga

All these stages are a progressive movement, not away from our ordinary daily life but toward an awakening to and a transformation of that daily life. In the usual situation, we live in a dreamy state of nishkarma kama, actionless desiring. The practice of yoga, as it is strongly emphasized by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, is for the sake of nishkama karma, purposive action without selfish desire. Then the ordinary daily life itself is transformed, because the person who is living it is different. The same cooking and dishwashing, the same lecturing or writing or putting the garbage out is now extraordinary.

All action, all life is yoga. Yoga is relevant here and now, whoever I am, and wherever I am. What I am will change, and I will occupy different places. Yoga is not one specific action, or one particular exercise, or a fixed point of view. Every action, thought or situation can be yoga if it helps to bring about an integration. Each chapter in the Bhagavad Gita ends with a colophon declaring it to be a yoga, including the first chapter, which is called the yoga of Arjunas crisis. In the moment of a crisis of conscience, in the midst of despair and a decision not to act resulting from his recognition of the conflict of dharmas at various levels, Arjuna turns to Krishna, who is seated in his heart, as his own highest self. Thus, begins Arjunas apprenticeship in yoga.

Krishna is also seated in our heart, and we too can begin our practice of yoga. Krishna enumerates many definitions of yoga and many characteristics of a yogi, both as a beginner as well as an accomplished practitioner, appropriate to the stage of development of the aspirant. A yogi renounces inaction, then renounces the fruits of action, and then is gradually able to abandon all action except that which is the fulfillment of the will of Krishna, the Highest Being. Yogis are progressively free of dualities such as like-dislike, attachment-revulsion, success-failure, sorrow-pleasure. They are freer and freer of partiality, of desire, fear and anger, selfishness and pride. A yogi takes recourse to buddhi, mindfulness, and more and more acquires a stability of attention which is not unhinged by whatever the theologians, philosophers, or scientists have said or what they will say (BG 2.4954).

Yoga is work well done (BG 2.50); it is the breaking of an attachment to past suffering (BG 6.23), and it is everything that leads us to our Krishna, our Highest Attractor, the sole signifier of significance in our life. Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever sacrifice you undertake, whatever charity you give, whatever efforts you make, do all that as an offering unto Me (BG 9.27).

And Yoga Is No Action

After much searching, striving, effort, responsibilities, and action, there is the call to abandon all doing, a complete surrender to the Highest Being (BG 18.66). In this state of total attention, of pure awareness, a yogi does not decide to do this or that. Right and compassionate action is a natural outcome of this state. It is not a state of inaction, but of non-egoistic action. I do not do it, but it is done through me or in me. As the Tao te Ching says, The sage does nothing, but nothing is left undone. This recognition is expressed in another tradition, where Christ says, I am not myself the source of the words I speak: it is the Father who dwells in me doing His own work (John 14:10). Meister Eckhart: What we receive in contemplation, we give out in love. Reverting to the Bhagavad Gita, seeing that gunas act upon gunas, a yogi realizes that he does nothing at all (13.29).

There is a mystery here. Not the kind of mystery that can be solved by the discovery of a missing clue by some clever sleuthing. It is a mystery not because something is missing, but more because it is overfull. It cannot be solved by our usual rational mind, but we can contact a level of beingof body, mind, and heartwhere it is dissolved. Solving this mystery, much as responding to a koan in Zen, is not a matter of articulating a published solution. In a breakthrough of consciousness another level of being is contacted. This other being is naturally reflected in the way we talk, stand, or walk. Uday Shankar, the greatest Indian dancer in the twentieth century, felt hesitant even toward the end of his life to perform the dance he called the walk of the Buddha after his enlightenment. Finally, he did dance it, as an offering, a summation of his entire lifes practice and understanding of dance, the yoga of his life.

The solution to the mystery of acting while doing nothing, or of doing nothing while engaged in vigorous action, is not to be found in this or that description. The solution is inherent in a fundamental transformation of consciousness. Daily life is not only the place of spiritual practice, it is the goal of all spiritual practice. We may understand something in a monastery or in a cave or behind a tree, but we must return to where the ordinary forces are at play and where we must have our action for the sake of the world. Even after he had seen the great form of the Godhead, a vision not vouchsafed to many in the history of the universe, Arjuna had to fight in the battle that ensued. Krishna said in the Mahabharata that the choice a person faces is not between war and lack of war, or struggle and lack of struggle. The only choice is between struggle at one level or at another. We need to struggle in our world, in our daily life, against our own egos. If we are free at our present level of existence, then we shall have to struggle at other levels. After all, even the angels or the devas have egos, and they too have to struggle. A real practice of yoga will not take us away from the battle in the world, from daily life. It will lead us to an understanding of how to be engaged in the battle and yet still be above it. This is what Krishna says about such yogis:

Engaged, but not identified,

Various forces of nature do not disturb them.

They know that this is all a play of forces.

They are firm, unshaken. (BG 14.23)