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Perennial Psychology Of The Bhagwad Geeta
By Sanjeev Nayyar, January 2002 [[email protected]]

The Wisdom of Renunciation and Liberation       

1.Mighty-armed One, I wish to know the essence of renunciation and of relinquishing the fruits, O Lord of senses, destroyer of sin.

The Blessed Lord said
2.The wise have known that abandoning the desire-fulfilling observances is renunciation; insightful ones say that relinquishing the fruits of all actions is relinquishing.
The actions that are helpful and liberating in the path of spirituality have been described. Now Arjuna wants to better understand the profound teachings of the path of renunciation (sannyasa) and of the path of renouncing the fruits of one’s actions (tyaga). Aspirants who renounce the desire for pleasure are called sannyasins, and those who perform their duties skillfully and selflessly, giving up the fruits of their actions are called karma yogis. Sri Krishna tells Arjuna that there are characteristic differences between renunciates and those who perform actions but renounce the fruits.

However, from time immemorial there have been two paths: the path of renunciation and the path of action. The majority of people in the world follow the path of action. Only the rare and fortunate few walk the path of renunciation. Only those who have already burned their desires for self-enjoyment can walk that path. Others should not try. For the ordinary human being, the path of action is the way.

When one studies various commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, he finds an intellectual tug of war between two groups of commentators: one pulling toward renunciation and the other toward action. These two paths are distinct and separate, and there is no need to judge one as being better than the other. Those who do are prejudiced and act under the influence of their egos. When one studies the message of the Bhagavad Gita, he realizes that all knowledge originates from one source and finally leads one to that source. That source is pure Atman, from which springs the entire knowledge and toward which it flows through various avenues until it finally meets its source: the ocean of happiness, bliss, and peace.

The Bhagavad Gita’s message ends in this eighteenth chapter, which is conclusive and decisive. When he replies to Arjuna’s questions, Sri Krishna answers the questions of all aspirants. Which is the path that leads one to the immutable, unchangeable, everlasting bliss? Which is the path that should be followed? What is renunciation, and what is action? Many commentators have drawn certain conclusions because they themselves lust for the enjoyments of the world and because they think since majority of people of the world follow the path of action, it is superior to the path of renunciation. But to know Truth, one does not need the support of an army of people. Truth can and should be attained in all possible ways. To attain the absolute truth, there are various paths that lead to the same summit. It is no use to create a war of arguments, attempting to prove one path superior or inferior to another.

In the ancient tradition, the organization of one’s life was guided by the thought that one would live for at least one hundred years. The first twenty-five years were devoted to school and learning. In the next twenty-five one attempted to understand relationships and interaction with others and the creatures of the world. The third quarter of one’s life was dedicated to understanding the values of life with is currents and cross currents. The last twenty-five were devoted to spiritual sadhana alone. One would completely wash off the past; he would renounce and become totally non-attached, dedicating himself to the supreme Self-alone. These last twenty-five years were devoted to Self-realization. With that systematic way of living, one finally attained the purpose of life. That was considered to be the normal produce. But even during ancient times a few enlightened ones joined monasteries from a very early age, renounced the normal course of life, and attained Self-realization.

The path of renunciation is meant for only a few, and those who are not prepared should not tread that path. Those who learn to dedicate the fruits of all actions to the Lord and for the well being of others are on the path. Those who renounce both actions and their fruits also follow the path to Self-realization. In the path of renunciation all action is renounced. Therefore the desire to receive the fruits of action is renounced as well. But in the path of action, action is not renounced; only the fruits are surrendered.

The question might arise: Is it possible for anyone to renounce all actions? This can be answered with another question: When all the actions, desire and motivations for self-enjoyment are renounced, what is the action to be done and what is the purpose of doing actions? There remains only one action: doing action for the welfare of others. That action which is not done for one’s own pleasure but only for the well being of others does not have the power of bondage. Therefore such action is allowed to be done in the path of renunciation.

Those who follow the path of action believe that actions such as yajna, charity, and austerities are liberating actions that should be performed. And in the path of renunciation, actions such as meditation, contemplation, and prayer are done with the motivation of attaining liberation. Although it is important and a must in the path of renunciation, liberation is only a step toward Self-realization. Even after one has liberated himself from the bondage of attachment, he has yet to attain unity with the Self of all. Liberating the individual self from the bondage of attachment is not the same as attaining samadhi or Self-realization. Even if one performs actions that are liberating and that do not create further bondage, he still remains an individual and has yet to reach a higher state. He has to learn to expand consciousness and go on expanding it until he realizes universal consciousness.

The goal of the renunciate is to systematically fathom one after another of the various stages of consciousness that lead to the innermost One. The following principles are the basis of the path of renunciation:

(1) The renunciate directs all his energy toward the attainment of the goal of life, Self-realization; (2) He does not waste time and energy pursuing desires based on self-interest; (3) The renunciate’s journey is inward; it is neither action nor inaction nor retreat. It consists of performing actions mentally and directing the mind and is modifications inward rather than toward the external world; (4) Non-attachment is attained spontaneously because the renunciate is not involved with objects; they have all been consciously renounced; (5) With pure reason all the samskaras are burned in the fire of knowledge; (6) There remains only one desire: the desire for Self-realization. That desire does not motivate one to do actions in the external world but becomes a means to build determination, will power, and one-pointed ness. therefore such desire is an essential means rather than an obstacle in the path of sadhana; (7) In the path of renunciation, Self-realization alone is the goal, and any action that does not becomes a means is firmly rejected and renounced. There is no half-here and half-there; total dedication and devotion are essential limbs for renunciation. This path of the rare few is the highest of all. It is difficult but not impossible. Those who are fully prepared should walk this path of fire and light. They should not listen to the suggestions of those who are not capable of following the path of renunciation.

Those who are not prepared to become renunciates should not think that they cannot realize the Self. That which is important to understand and attain is the state of non-attachment, without which treading either path-renunciation or action-is meaningless. It is important to do actions and duties for the common good and to release oneself from the helpless and inevitable law of karma. Such actions become a means to Self-realization, provided the goal always remains foremost and one’s actions are performed with zeal to offer all the fruits to the Lord. That brings freedom from the law of karma. Dedicating all the fruits of action to the lord is meditation in action, a central theme of the Bhagavad Gita, inspiring Arjuna and all aspirants. In the path of action, Self-realization is said to be attained by performing actions that are not binding, that are performed for the Lord alone. No path is superior or inferior. That which is important is to attain the wisdom of non-attachment.

11. It is not all possible for a body-bearer to abandon acts in their entirety; he however, who relinquishes the fruits of action is said to be the relinquisher.

12.    The fruit of action is threefold: undesirable, desirable, and mixed; such fruit accrues after    death to those who do not relinquish; but to the renunciates, there is none.

Those aspirants who are endowed with the qualities of sattva, who are free from all doubts, do not withdraw themselves from disagreeable work and do not become attached to pleasant work. For them duty is duty, and they perform their duties with an even mind. It is not possible for the ordinary human being to abstain from his duties, for he carries his samskaras from his previous lives. He has those latent tendencies within himself that create his duties, and sooner or later they have to be performed. There is no choice but to perform one’s duty, but one can choose to renounce the fruits of his actions. The aspirants who do not relinquish the fruits of their actions receive those fruits, but they are uncertain as to what they will be. Some fruits are agreeable, some are unpleasant, and some are mixed. Those who perform their actions selflessly and skillfully, dedicating all the fruits of their actions, remain unaffected here and hereafter.

13.    Learn these five causes from Me, O Mighty-armed One, taught in Samkhya where all actions end, for the fulfillment of all actions.
14.    The substratum, the agent of action, and instrumentality of different kinds, separate motions of various kinds, and he rulership of the deities as the fifth-
15.    The actions that a human initiates with the body, speech, and mind, whether just or its opposite, these five are its causes.

According to Samkhya philosophy and science, when an aspirant performs action from a state of equilibrium, it is accomplished without any obstacle. Samkhya explains that five factors are necessary for accomplishing an action. First the doer of actions needs a field for his actions and a dwelling place, called adhisthana. The second important factor is the performer of the actions who dwells within the field. He should be skilled in the performance. The third factor is the means and instruments of various kinds that are used by the performer. To attain the desired fruit, it is necessary to have health and appropriate means. The fourth factor is effort, for it a concentrated effort is not made; the desire to accomplish something is wasted. The undertaking should be well planned, and effort should be applied skillfully. The fifth factor is a favorable circumstance. Good actions performed in past lives give one the opportunity to be reborn in a family, environment, and country that offer favorable circumstances.

Some people think that a favorable circumstance is the result of luck. But luck is not a non-human factor; it is not partiality shown toward any one particular individual by a supreme being. A favorable circumstance is self-created. The Bhagavad Gita gives this as the last factor. Human endeavor, sincerity, and effort are the principle virtues, and favorable circumstances follow accordingly. Luck is the joy obtained after one’s task has been performed successfully, with skill and selflessness. Luck is within the domain of the individual and not in the hands of Providence. Those who are not aware of the actions they have done in the past to bring about their present good circumstances call it luck and attribute it to chance or to Providence. VERY GOOD

23.    An act performed devoid of attachment and without attraction and aversion, by one desiring no fruit, is called sattvic.
24.    That act, however, which is performed by one desirous of fruit and possessed with ego with much exertion of many kinds, that is called rajasic.
25.    Without foreseeing the result, loss, violence, or capacity, the act that is initiated out of delusion is called tamasic.

All actions are divided into three classes. Sattvic actions are those that are performed selflessly, the fruits being dedicated and offered to the lord. All yoga practices, including physical exercise, pranayama, and meditation, are considered to be sattvic actions. Prayers, chanting, and charity done selflessly are sattvic in nature.

Actions that are not performed with non-attachment but with desire for self-gratification are rajasic. Such actions are performed with great strain and are enveloped by selfish and egotistical desires. That way of being leads one to be chronically anxious and tense. The majority of people in modern society suffer under the strain of actions motivated by rajas. If modern therapy were to concentrate on helping one develop a sattvic way of being, many of the physical disorders and much of the psychological stress that we see would be eliminated.

Tamasic actions are those undertaken without regard for the consequences. The tamasic person stumbles along, reacting to the moment without regard to the havoc he creates as a result of his capacities or limitations. He may think that he is capable of much more than he really is and thus injures himself and others. Or he may believe that he is incapable, and thus become inert and fail to act. Although such people are unpredictable, one can accurately predict that the results of their actions will be disastrous.

26.    Liberated from attachment, not uttering ‘I,’ endowed with the power to sustain and enthuse, unaffected in fulfillment or failure, such an actor is said to be sattvic.
27.    Attached, desirous of the fruit of action, greedy, inclined to violence, impure, possessed by exhilaration and depression, such an actor is said to be rajasic.
28.    Not joined in yoga, unrefined, unbending, a rogue, harming others, lazy, always depressed, a procrastinator, such an actor is said to be tamasic.

After describing three kinds of performers of actions, Sri Krishna distinguishes between three types of intelligence (buddhi) and three types of resolution of firmness (dhriti). Among the four main instruments of antahkarana, buddhi is the discriminative, judging, and deciding faculty through which the light of knowledge comes forward. It is through buddhi that one discriminates and understands, judges, and makes decisions before he performs actions. There are three kinds of buddhi. The buddhi that helps one to discriminate, judge, and decide; to know right from wrong; and to understand what is to be feared and what is not to be feared is called sattvic buddhi. Sattvic buddhi leads the aspirant inward and helps him to fathom the subtler and higher realms of life. Without any distraction, the pure reason of buddhi becomes penetrative and fathoms those levels of life that normally remain unknown to ordinary human beings.

The higher or sattvic buddhi has the following characteristics. (1) The power of discrimination is developed; (2) The buddhi that has learned to discriminate between the Self and non-Self, between the supreme Self in its unmanifest state and its power of manifestation, possesses power of non-attachment; (3) Such a buddhi has one pointed ness and inwardness; (4) It has attained calmness, quietness, and steadiness; it remains serene, undisturbed, and undissipated; (5) It is free from the desire for sense gratification; (6) It helps one to decide right from wrong and to act in a timely manner; (7) It makes one selfless and giving, without any expectations; (8) It helps one to remain tranquil and even in all conditions; (9) It helps one to remain a witness; (10) It leads one to spiritual heights.

33.    That undeviating steadfastness (dhriti) which sustains activities of mind, prana, and senses through yoga, is, O Pritha, a sattvic one.
34.    That by which one sustains virtue, desire, and worldly success, desire, and worldly success, desiring fruits incidentally in the context, that steadfastness (dhriti) is rajasic.
35.    That by which someone devoid of intuitive wisdom does not give up sleep, fear, grief, and depression, that steadfastness (dhriti), O Son of Pritha, is tamasic.

In addition to intelligence and knowledge, dhriti (firmness or steadiness) is necessary in the path to infinity. Here are aspirants who have knowledge, who know what to do and what not to do, but who lack the inner strength to be steady and firm in doing their practices. Some aspirants are very steady and firm but do not have profound knowledge of spirituality. In the path to Self-realization, sattvic buddhi and sattvic firmness are equally important. The way it is used here, the word dhriti has a meaning more profound than that, which is usually attributed to it. It is that inner strength which does not drawn all of a sudden but which is attained only after long spiritual practice under the guidance of an accomplished yogi. Human effort, sincerity, and honesty lead the aspirant to attain that power. For lack of that power, the yogi cannot reach the highest realm of spiritual knowledge.

Dhriti enables one to have a one-pointed mind, and it helps one maintain coordination between the mind and the vital breath and pranic energy. It is a method of applying sushumna, which is important for attaining spiritual knowledge and a state of tranquility, for all inner and external distractions are controlled by sushumna application. Those who systematically learn the method of meditation know that after attaining physical stillness and steadiness, irregularity of the breath continues to disturb the mind. Mental unrest can also disrupt the breath and mind are two inseparable friends who work together until the last breathing of life. An in-depth study of the breath has not yet been undertaken by modern scientists, but the yogis know the subtle function of the breath and are aware that irregular breathing agitates the mind and vice versa. When the breath is calm and serene, when it has no jerks and no long pauses, it does not distract the mind but creates feelings of intense joy and steadiness. NOTE

The state in which both mind and breathe function in a balanced way is established by dhriti. Dhriti is that which brings mind and breath to a state of balance; it is the power that helps them to work together in a serene way. If one is not able to regulate his mind and breath in a perfectly coordinated way, his meditation will not bear the desired fruit, samadhi; no matter how many hours he practices meditation.

41.The actions of the brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas, and shudras, O Scorcher of Enemies, are properly divided by the gunas born of the primordial nature Prakriti.
42.    Peace, control, asceticism, purity, forgiveness, simplicity, knowledge, realization, and positive belief are the actions of a brahmana produced by nature.
43.    Bravery, confidence, steadfastness, dexterity, not escaping a battle, charity, and expressing sovereign power are the actions of a kshatriya, born of nature.
44.    Farming, husbandry, and trading are the actions of a vaishya, born of nature, and the actions of a shudra, consisting of service, are also born of nature.

Sri Krishna describes four kinds of people according to their innate qualities and dispositions. Birth does not take place by chance; it is not accidental. Our desires and actions from the past lead us to our circumstances, abilities, and desires in this birth, and that which we desire and do now determines our future. We experience desires, and we also act according to the qualities or samskaras that we carry from our past. We carry our samskaras from here to the hereafter and are reborn according to our own choices. As we have already noted, human beings can be broadly divided into four categories according to their inherent qualities and dispositions. In the Bhagavad Gita they are called brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya, and shudra.

The brahmana quality is found in spiritually inclined people who know that the purpose of life is to attain tranquility. These aspirats practice self-restraint and self-control, and they gain knowledge of both the internal and external worlds. They also have a profound knowledge of life here and hereafter. They are endowed with the sattva quality because they have strengthened that quality in the past. These brahmanas are called brahmanas not because they have inherited wisdom from their ancestors but because they cultivated that disposition with sincere efforts in their past lives. Sattva is not received through inheritance, but it is the result of one’s own efforts. Many times we find that a vagabond or ill-mannered and irresponsible person is born into a family of brahmanas, and often a man of brahmanic qualities and disposition is born into a shudra family. It is said that everyone is like a shudra by birth, but one becomes a brahmana only by his own efforts. It is one’s samskaras that create his disposition. One who has the qualities of a brahmana is led toward a spiritual way of life, and he is able to teach the art and science of life.

Rajasic qualities are seen in the personalities of kshatriyas. They have valor, courage, and the ability to administer and rule. The rajasic quality and disposition leads one toward an active and creative way of life. The vaishyas are another class of people; they are less endowed with sattvic and rajasic qualities than the people in the first two categories. They like to trade and conduct business. Shudra is the category of people who are not fit enough to tread the path of spirituality. They do not have zeal to be active, they lack courage, and they are not fit for trade and business. Their duty is that of service.

In ancient times this division into classes was the basis for the distribution of labor. It was designed for the well being of society. One’s position and work was determined according to the qualities he possessed. Over time, however, this concept of categorizing individuals according to their abilities has become distorted and used to separate people based on their caste, color, race, culture, or religion. That creates both psychological divisiveness and conflicts in the individual, community, and nation, and it devalues human life. Many great cultures have suffered as a result of false standards fostered by the priesthood and so-called religious leaders who have used religion and scripture to feed their own egocentric and selfish philosophies. These people are supposed to be the custodians of culture and religion, but they become caught up in the cult that serves their selfishness instead of propagating the fundamentals of truth. Instead of teaching unity, they teach diversity. Many societal diseases such as disparity, illiteracy, malnutrition, and discrimination between the poor and rich, the knowledge able and innocent, have degraded the human being so much that we have forgotten the truth that all human beings breathe the same air supplied by one and the same Lord.

45.  A person attains perfection when absorbed and delighting in his own act. Hear how one who is content in his own actions finds perfection:

46.  Worshipping Him with his act, he from Whom begins all activity of beings, by Whom all this is spanned and pervaded, a child of Manu finds perfection.

Verses 45 and 46 are conclusive as far the caste system is concerned. These verses say that any one who is sincerely devoted to his own duty is successful. Not only brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas, and shudras, but also anyone who is devoted to his duty can attain perfection. The aspirant attains success when he regards his duty as worship to the supreme Brahman from whom all human beings spring and by whose power they are able to do their work. One who surrenders himself with mind, action, and speech and makes Brahman the goal of his worship reaches Brahman. The student should remember that self-surrender-when one learns to surrender all that he thinks is his own-is the highest of yogas.

Total surrender means total acceptance of the supreme Self in the place of the individual self. This should not be misunderstood and thus lead one to become inert and lazy but should instead lead one to do all that can be done for the Lord. The attitude, “I am Thine and Thou art mine” is the first step in the practice of self-surrender. The second step is “Thou art everything,” and the last step is “All that is conceivable and comprehended, all that exists is Thou alone.” That state of Self-realization is attained by very few, only by those who have completely surrendered their egos and have realized the beauty and grandeur of the Lord of life. That realization is beyond I-ness and my-ness. It is timeless and infinite.

50.    How one, having attained perfection, attains Brahman, learn from Me-as well as the final determination of knowledge.
51.    Endowed with purified intelligence, controlling himself with sustenance (dhriti), abandoning the objects of senses such as sound, and casting away attraction and aversion;
52.    Enjoying solitary places, eating lightly, with speech, body, and mind controlled, unceasingly intent on the yoga of meditation, having perfect recourse to dispassion;
53.    Having abandoned ego, pride, passion, and anger, not receiving sense inputs, free of ‘mine,’ the pacified one is fit to become Brahman.
54.    Having become Brahman, with pleasant and clear self, one neither grieves nor desires; alike toward all beings he gains the highest devotion toward Me.
55.    Through devotion he recognizes Me, how expansive and who I am in reality. Then knowing Me in reality, he enters Me immediately.
56.    Even performing all the actions at all times depending entirely on Me, through My grace he attains the eternal, imperishable state.

Sri Krishna briefly explains how the accomplished yogi attains the highest Brahman. The yogi has to attain many realms of wisdom before he can attain the highest Brahman. In the first step he learns to develop control over his senses through self-restraint. In the second step he concentrates the mind, not allowing it to become distracted and dissipated. Next he makes his mind one-pointed by practicing both meditation and non-attachment. In the next step he becomes a witness and does not identify himself with the objects of the world. In a still higher stage he establishes himself in his true nature: peace, happiness, and bliss. At the final state he realizes his Self as the Self of all. Each of the stages of wisdom is valuable and is an accomplishment, but the highest of perfection is attained when the individual soul is united with the absolute Self. The yogi who has attained that does not suffer as a result of the negative emotions that have such a powerful impact on the minds and hearts of ordinary people. The realized yogi is tranquil, for he has already attained Brahman, and for him there is nothing more to attained. He has no desires; his whole life is devoted to the Lord alone. He has profound knowledge through direct experience of the greatness of the Lord, and he remains one with the Lord. Such a yogi performs his actions with an attitude of worship. His whole life is devoted to the Lord, and the eternal becomes his permanent abode.

72.    Did you perchance hear this, O Son of Pritha, with a one-pointed mind? Did your delusion of ignorance perchance vanish, O Arjuna?
                                                                               Arjuna said

73.    The delusion has vanished by Your grace; I have received remembrance, O Infallible One. I stand here free of doubts; I shall act according to your word.

Throughout the dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna, it has been Arjuna who has asked the questions. But here Sri Krishna asks questions of Arjuna: “Is your delusion dispelled? Has your ignorance vanished? As a result of knowledge imparted by me, are all your questions answered, or is there still doubt lingering in your mind?” Arjuna replies, “O Enlightened One, my ignorance has been dispelled, and my doubts have been resolved by the teachings you have imparted to me. I have no doubt in my mind and no conflict about doing my duties. I will fight with all my might. You have inspired me, and I have regained my inner strength. I will perform my duties according to my dharma. Now I am able to perform them skillfully and selflessly without any attachment.”

Those like Arjuna who plunge into sorrow and delusion lose their memories of their true nature and of the source from which they came. But Sri Krishna has led Arjuna to the awareness of that which he had forgotten. Arjuna now realizes his unity with the Self of all.
                                                                   Sanjaya said

74.    I heard this wondrous dialogue, making my hair stand on end, between the indwelling One and the great-souled Son of Pritha.
75.    By the grace of Vyasa I heard this secret most, supreme yoga from Krishna, the Lord of yoga, personally teaching it Himself.
76.    O King, remembering again and again this wondrous, virtuous dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, I rejoice again and again.
77.    And remembering that very wondrous form of the Lord, there is great amazement in me, O Lord, and I rejoice again and again.
78.    Where there is Krishna, the Lord of Yoga, and where there is the bow bearer, Son of Pritha, there glory, victory, success, and polity are definite. This I believe.

Sanjaya, the narrator of the dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna, speaks to King Dhritarashtra. The compiler of this dialogue is the sage Vyasa who gave the power of vision to Sanjaya, enabling him to narrate what occurs on the battlefield. Sanjaya says, “O Dhritarashtra, I have heard the supreme and profound wisdom and the knowledge of life and the universe and that which is beyond from the master of yoga. I am describing it to you exactly as I heard it. When I recall these profound teachings my hair still stands on end. With great joy I saw the vision of the Lord of the universe, and the joyous and delightful memory of that experience is still with me. I firmly assert that where there is a great hero like Arjuna and a perfect yogi like Sri Krishna helping him, that side is sure to be forever victorious in all ways.”

The dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna gives deep insight into the philosophy of life and its practical application. These teachings describe the eternal wisdom of the infinite Lord and the ways in which that wisdom can be attained. When a good student has a perfect preceptor, attainment is sure.

Here ends the profound and unique teachings of the Bhagavad Gita. In this concluding chapter Yogeshvar Krishna imparts the art and science of renunciation.

                                                           Glossary of Sanskrit Terms
ABHYASA. Practice. The Bhagavad Gita suggests two means to attain mastery over the mind and its modifications: abhyasa, which is a systematic spiritual practice or instruction given by a master, and VAIRAGYA, which means detachment.

ADHISTHANA. Base, foundation, or seat. In the Bhagavad Gita, the sense, mind, and buddhi are said to be the seat of attachment and anger through which the ever-shining light of ATMAN is covered, just as the fetus is covered with the membrane of the amniotic sac and fire is covered with smoke.
ADVAITA. Non-dual: single reality. In the VEDANTA system, the Self or the absolute Reality is said to be the non-dual, single principle.

AJAPA JAPA. Repetition of the MANTRA done spontaneously throughout the day and night without any effort. The state of ajapa japa comes when a student has practiced his or her MANTRA for a long period of time, uninterruptedly and sincerely. Then, as a result, the unconscious mind is filled with the vibration of the MANTRA.

AJNA CHAKRA. That center of consciousness located between the eyebrows; literally, “command center.” At this center the command of spiritual guidance from the higher CHAKRAS is received. It is the seat of the mind.

AMRITA. Ambrosia, nectar. According to legend, the gods and demons churned the ocean, and as a result found nectar. The gods, however, knew the art of drinking the nectar and thus became immortal, while the demons remained subject to death and rebirth.

ANASAKTI YOGA. The spiritual path that emphasizes performing one’s actions without becoming attached to their fruits. It is an alternative path for those who do not choose to follow the path of renunciation.

ANTAHKARANA. The inner instrument. The intellect ( BUDDHI ), ego (ahamkara), sensory-motor mind ( MANAS ), and storehouse of memories (chitta) are considered to be the inner instruments of cognition.

ANTAHKARANA CHATUSHTAYA. The group of our functions of the inner instrument: intellect, ego, sensory-motor mind, and the storehouse of memories.

ANTAR YAJNA. Inner sacrifice or inner ritual. It signifies the knowledge through which a yogi burns all past SAMAKARAS and VASANAS and attains freedom from them forever.

ARYA. Fully civilized.

ASANA. Posture. This is the third rung of RAJA YOGA, consisting of HATHA YOGA postures or asanas. This term refers especially to the seated pose used for meditation.

ASAT. That which is non-existent. See SAT.

ASHRAMA. The stages of life In the Indian tradition the life span is ideally divided into four parts. The first is called BRAHMACHARYA, which covers the first twenty-five years of life and is devoted to study, self-discipline, and self-transformation. The next twenty-five years, Grihastha, the householder’s life, is spent in skillfully and selflessly carrying on one’s duties toward family and society. The third stage, Vanaprastha, retirement, consists of preparation for renouncing the world and cultivating the courage to attain the goal of life. In the fourth and last stage, SANNYASA, one develops a completely detached attitude and established himself in the knowledge of the pure Self, leaving the external world behind.

AVATARA. A divine incarnation. After death, realized beings can choose to incarnate onto the physical plane in order to serve humanity. Ordinary mortals are merely reborn to continue their growth process and do not have the choice of remaining beyond.

BANDHAS. Locks. The various locks practiced by yogis, such as the root lock, navel lock, and tongue lock, are engaged in order to hold and channel energy and thereby enhance spiritual practice.

BHAGAVAN. The glorious one. The supreme Lord is called Bhagavan because He is the One whose glory is this entire Universe. He is the almighty creator, preserver, and annihilator.

BHARATA. Lover of knowledge. It also refers to the ancient wise King Bharata and his descendants. Since ARJUNA is a lover of knowledge as well as a descendant of King Bharata, this epithet is also given to him. It also refers to the nation of India.

BHAVA. Mood, emotion, positive feeling, mental creation. In order to cultivate bhava, the Bhagavad Gita advises the aspirant to change his mental state from its ordinary course and channel it to awareness of the Self, ATMAN.

BRAHMA. Creator of the universe. In Sanskrit the term “Brahma” refers to the immanent aspect, while the term “BRAHMAN” refers to the absolute transcendent Reality. Another similar term, BRAHMANA. Refers to those who are knowers of BRAHMAN or sometimes (but never in the Bhagavad Gita) to the BRAHMANA caste, the intellectual class of Hindu society.

BRAHMAN. The absolute Reality, pure Consciousness. According to ADVAITA VEDANTA philosophy, Brahman is the Absolute non-dual Reality, and Its essential nature is existence, consciousness, and bliss. There is a perfect identity between the Self and Brahman; the difference or duality between Brahman and the Self is mere illusion.

BRAHMA SUTRA. The first codified philosophical work on VEDANTA, by Badarayana. Many scholars have written commentaries on this work. Among them, that of SANKARA is the foremost and most profound.

BUDDHI. Intellect, the decisive faculty of the inner instrument. This is the first evolute of PRAKRITI. Closest to PURUSHA.

CHAKRA. Wheel or circle. In the yogic tradition, it refers to a center of consciousness. There are said to be seven or more of these located within the human being, ranging from the base of the spine to the top of the head.

DHARMA. The eternal law that holds and maintains the individual as well as social life. In the Eastern tradition, it signifies philosophy, spirituality, and discipline, which if practiced could guide humanity toward its highest destiny. It also refers to one’s duty or destiny in life.

DHYANA YOGA. The systematic practice of meditation; one of the paths described in the Bhagavad Gita.

EKOHAM BAHU SYAM. A famous statement from the Upanishads meaning, “I am One; let me become many.” This indicates that the divine will or divine determination is the cause of the manifestation of the universe.

ESHANAS DESIRES. Out of the numberless desires, there are three main ones. First, the desire for a spouse and children; second, the desire for wealth, and third, the desire for name and fame. The SANNYASIN must renounce these.

GANAPATI. The deity of Indian mythology who has the head of an elephant and the body of a human being. The popular name of this god is Ganesha. His vehicle is a mouse, who has sharp teeth symbolizing the sharpness of Ganapati’s intellect and discrimination, capable of cutting the fetters of bondage and removing the obstacles.

GUNAS. Attributes of nature. According to SAMKHYA philosophy, PRAKRITI, the primordial nature, has three qualities: SATTVA, RAJAS, and TAMAS. SATTVA signifies brightness and lightness; RAJAS indicates movement; while TAMAS indicates heaviness, inertia, and darkness. For spiritual growth, SATTVA is helpful and should be cultivated.

HATHA YOGA. The yoga comprising the first five rungs of RAJA YOGA: YAMA, NIYAMA, ASANA, PRANAYAMA, and PRATYAHARA.

ISHVARA. The almighty God residing in everyone’s heart and directing all human activities. The manifest Lord or personal deity.

JIVA. The individuated soul. Because of its association with MAYA or PRAKRITI, the soul becomes subject to bondage and thus seeks liberation.

JNANA YAJNA. Wisdom sacrifice. The Bhagavad Gita offers various interpretations of ritual or sacrifice and suggests the internalization of external ritual by offering various attitudes and tendencies into the fire of higher knowledge. For jnana yajna, the Bhagavad Gita suggests the offering of the sense of duality and multiplicity into the fire of non-dual knowledge. Thereby one attains freedom and immortality.

JNANA YOGA. The yoga of knowledge as expounded by VEDANTA.

KALA. The time principle. According to the Bhagavad Gita, good and bad, construction and destruction, all occur within the range of time. Everything originates and ultimately into the mouth of time. Here time is identical with the supreme Reality.

KAMA. Kama is the prime desire that gives birth to anger, greed, attachment, jealousy, and pride.

KARMA. Action. According to yoga traditions, the karma that is performed with any selfish motive brings about bondage, while performing the same karma selflessly for the sake of duty alone brings freedom.

KRISHNA. Darkness.

KUNDALINI. The divine energy, which ordinarily remains latent, sleeping at the base of the spine. The goal of yoga is to awaken this force and lead it upward to unite with supreme Consciousness, thus yielding unitary bliss.

MUKTI. Liberation.

MUNI. One who practices silence.

NADI. An energy channel. According to the yogic tradition, there are 72,000 nadis of which 14 are the important ones. Out of these fourteen, IDA, PINGALA, and SUSHUMNA are the most important nadis, especially for spiritual purposes.

NIDIDHYASANA. Pondering over the Truth and applying it in one’s daily life. According to JNANA YOGA, one attains identity with supreme knowledge in three successive stages: studying or listening to the teaching ( SRAVANA), thinking about and analyzing them (manana), and applying them practically and assimilating them into one’s personality (nididhyasana).

PRAJAPATI. The lord of all subjects; a term for the creator of the universe.

PRAKRITI. Primordial nature. According to the SAMKHYA and YOGA systems of philosophy, there are two eternal: PURUSHA and Prakriti. PURUSHA is the conscious principle, and Prakriti is the unconscious principle. PURUSHA is the pure witness, the subject, consciousness. Prakriti is unconscious, the object, the cause of all worldly phenomena. Through association with PURUSHA, Prakriti becomes the enjoyer of pain, pleasure, and indifference. The universe comes into existence when PURUSHA and Prakriti join each other and apparently share each other’s qualities.

PRANA. The life force. In the yogic tradition the life force prana is said to be tenfold, depending on its nature and function. Of the ten, prana and APANA are the most important ones. Prana is ordinarily identified with inhalation and APANA with exhalation. According to the Bhagavad Gita, a yogi should balance and control the movement of prana and APANA in order to have control over the modifications of the mind and thus attain SAMADHI.

RAJA YOGA. The royal path of yoga. The great sage PATANJALI codified the system of raja yoga, which has eight successive stages: YAMA, NIYAMA, ASANA, PRANAYAMA, PRATYAHARA, DHARANA, DHYANA, and SAMADHI. See ASTANGA YOGA.

SAGUNA. With attributes; the lower aspect of the  Reality also know as  Iswara (God). This state of  reality is endowed with  MAYA and thus is the cause of manifestation, preservation, and annihilation of the universe. See NIRGUNA.

SAMADHI. Spiritual absorption; the eight rung of RAJA YOGA. As long as a yogi is aware of the process of meditation, the object of meditation, and the meditator, such a state is called samadhi with seed. When the yogi merges into unitary consciousness, such a state is called samadhi without seed.

SAMA VIDYA. Knowledge of meditation and devotion.

SAMKHYA. The system of Indian philosophy that posits the existence of two realities, PURUSHA and PRAKRITI, the conscious and unconscious principles.

SAMSKARAS. Subtle impressions of past actions.

SATYAM. Truth. Absolute Reality is supposed to be endowed with three inherent properties: satyam, SHIVAM, and SUNDARAM.

SHRADDHA. Faith. Faith is a divine quality and an essential aspect of one’s spiritual practice. Such faith does not rely on the knowledge of the scriptures: rather it comes through spontaneous experience from within.

SOMA. A specific species of plant or the juice extracted from it. In ancient times there were sacrifices in which the juice from the soma plant was offered into a ritual fire with the desire to achieve goals or heaven.


SUSHUMNA. The central NADI, the inner channel corresponding to the spinal column. This NADI has profound significance in yogic practices, especially in the practice of KUNDALINI yoga. Only competent masters know how to open sushumna and direct the dormant divine force KUNDALINI through it, leading it to SAHASRARA, the thousand petalled center. When the breath flows freely and equally through both nostrils, SUSHUMNA is engaged.

TYAGA. Giving up possessions. It is one of the two essential requirements of the path of renunciation. Under the law of tyaga one gives up all that he possesses and enjoys the freedom that comes from non-possessiveness. Under the other requirement, non-attachment ( VAIRAGYA ), the basic necessities that cannot be given up have to be used without attachment.

VAIRAGYA. Dispassion or non-attachment. According to the Bhagavad Gita one does not necessarily need to renounce the world or what one needs, but one should perform his duties lovingly, skillfully, and selflessly, remaining unattached to the fruits of his actions.   

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