The Bhagavadgita cannot be easily understood. We can understand the Vedas and the Upanishads properly, but not the Bhagavadgita. Even the Upanishads, the fundamental scriptures of India, have a single meaning on the surface so that there is no difficulty in understanding them. But the Bhagavadgita is highly symbolic and esoteric, and the surface meaning is not its real meaning. No other scripture in India has had so many commentaries. While the Upanishads speak of God or the Absolute directly, the Bhagavadgita tries to touch various stages of the evolution of man, and that is the difficulty in understanding it.
The Bhagavadgita is, in one sense, the most important scripture because it touches all sides of life from the lowest to the highest. It touches the inner as well as the outer. It touches the social, the individual and the spiritual aspects at one and the same time. It is the only scripture which can satisfy every doubt in the world. In that sense, the Bhagavadgita is not a Hindu scripture but a world scripture. It does not speak of Hinduism, but of yoga proper, and yoga is not a religion but a science of life. Though the Gita is written in Sanskrit and, therefore, it may be called an Indian scripture, it is really a universal scripture. The purpose of the gospel of the Bhagavadgita is to bring about a reconciliation between the visible and the invisible, man and God. Life is a conflict, and the purpose of the Gita is to solve this conflict. There are eighteen chapters of the Bhagavadgita, and each chapter is a resolution of a different type of conflict.
There are, really speaking, four types of conflict in the world. There is conflict between ourselves and another person, there is conflict within one’s own self, there is conflict between ourselves and the world of nature outside, and finally there is a conflict between ourselves and God Himself. While the conflict between ourselves and another person, and the conflict within one’s own self are visible and seen in our daily life, the other two conflicts are not so easily seen. We may call them social conflict, personal conflict, natural conflict and spiritual conflict. The social and the personal conflicts are really the effects of natural and spiritual conflicts. The conflicts follow one after another in a sequence of logical deduction.
The original conflict is between the individual and the Absolute. Lower than that is the conflict between the individual and the world of nature. Then comes conflict within one’s own self. Then, as a result of all these, there is social conflict, but we are busy solving social conflicts without knowing their causes. Social service and social work, which are regarded as solutions to the problems of life, are really not solutions at all. However much we may materially and socially strive to make ourselves happy, we cannot be happy. People will not love each other ultimately on account of an invisible inner conflict.
By social work and social service, we are trying to bring about an outer appearance of mutual love among people, but this cannot last long. Social love and affection cannot last long because inwardly people do not love one another. Because of the absence of inner love, the outer love breaks at different times. Even best friends can separate one from the other on account of the absence of an inner bond between them. Unless there is an inner affection, the attempt at outward coordination and solidarity is futile. But mankind does not know this secret; therefore, we are suffering even to this day. All our knowledge has not helped us in understanding this secret. As long as there is personal, individual conflict within one’s own self, social solidarity is impossible because society is nothing but a group of individuals. How can there be social peace when individual peace is absent? When the unit of the individual comprising the society is unhappy, how can the total be happy? This is the defect of the philosophy of socialism as well as communism. They will not succeed in the end because they have not gone into the root of the matter. Thus, we come to the conclusion that social welfare is possible only when there is individual welfare, and individual welfare is not possible as long as inner conflicts are not solved.
The inner conflicts are caused by a non-coordination of the inner layers of personality. We have various layers of inner personality, such as the conscious, the subconscious and the unconscious levels of the mind. Though we may be happy consciously, subconsciously we may not be, so a study of our personality does not mean merely a study of our conscious mind. Western psychology has limited itself only to the conscious level and, therefore, it has not solved problems of life. Human personality is deeper than the conscious level. Modern psychoanalysis has understood this doctrine and secret to some extent. Not only can we not understand another person, we cannot understand our own self unless all layers are known at the same time.
Why is there a conflict between the subconscious and the conscious? The answer to this question can be known only when we know what the subconscious is. The subconscious, truly speaking, is a layer of impressions of previous experiences piled up one over the other for years and years together. These impressions which are piled up in the subconscious are consequences of external perception of objects through the senses. Therefore, the subconscious mind, of which the conscious mind is only a part, is made up of impressions of sensory perceptions, and so we may say our personality is made up of impressions of sensory perceptions. We have to think very cautiously and carefully when we analyse our personality in this manner. Thus we have come to know that our personality is the outcome of sensory perceptions.
Now remember, I have taken you from society to the individual, and now from the individual we are going to the objects of the world. This is called the world of nature. Our sensory perceptions will be evaluated on the basis of our attitude to the objects of the world. We have concluded that society is dependent on the individuals, and the individual is dependent on the world of nature outside. Our relationship with the world determines our inner personality, and that determines human society outside. We are now slowly going from the effect to the cause. The senses always imagine that there are many objects in this world, and therefore, they are craving contact with these objects. Sensory perception is nothing but the activity of the senses to grab or come in contact with desirable objects and avoid undesirable objects. The whole of the activity of the world is nothing but this sort of sensory activity. But the question comes now, “Why do the senses want certain things and not certain other things?” They have got a peculiar notion about the objects of the world, and this notion has to be analysed threadbare.
The senses have two notions about things. One notion is that things are outside them. The other notion is that things are localised in space and time. One thing can be only in one place, and it cannot be in two places. This is one of the ideas of the senses. The senses do not know that things are interconnected among themselves. If the interconnection of things is known, the senses will not go for a few objects of the world alone. There is a feeling that the objects are physical, external, as well as localised. But this is a misconception of the senses.
Yesterday in our analysis we came to the conclusion that things are not diversified or physical in their nature, but have a deeper background beneath them. Reality shall always assert itself, and it is difficult to defy the nature of reality. The reality of things is not diversity, but coordination and unity. In the beginning it appears that things are divided among themselves; later on it appears that they are connected with one another, and still later we will realise that they are one in their substance.
The Bhagavadgita has eighteen chapters, and they are divided into three groups of six chapters each. The first six chapters, the second six chapters and the third six chapters gradually solve the conflict of division, coordination and unity, or rather we may say that the solutions of the individual, the universal and the Absolute are given in these stages of the chapters. The subject is very vast, and this is only a very bare outline of what the Bhagavadgita says. To study the entire gospel of the Gita would take a very, very long time. I will explain in a few minutes what it actually says. As long as the conflict between God and man is not solved, no other conflict can be solved. The root disease is the separation of the individual from the Supreme Being. The aspiration of the individual for unity, coordination, social welfare, etc., is only an indication of its aspiration for unity with the Absolute. We are trying for outward unity through such organisations as the United Nations, etc. They will not succeed unless there is spiritual unity. We cannot join broken glass however much we may try. If we want to join the glass pieces, we have to melt them and then recast them. We do not know this secret. We think that unity can be achieved by conferences and parliaments. The individuals have to be melted into the Absolute, and then only can there be real unity.
Now, the Bhagavadgita tells how this can be achieved. In the beginning, you have an aspiration for the Supreme Being or the Absolute. That is why you have come to India, for example. But you cannot get this so easily because it requires a long period of training and discipline. When you undergo this discipline for a long period of time, you will become frightened and feel that it is impossible. If I ask you to stay here for one year and practise this discipline, you will be afraid of it and want to go home as early as possible. This condition is described in the first chapter of the Bhagavadgita, when you feel like doing something but you cannot really do it. The majority of people in the world are in this condition only. They want truth but cannot get it because the subconscious mind revolts against their higher aspirations.
The second chapter of the Gita says that this mood of fear and anxiety can be overcome if there is a master or a guide or a spiritual teacher. The spiritual path is difficult to tread without a proper guide. We cannot tread this merely by studying books because we need the guidance of a person who has already walked this path. The second chapter introduces us into the great teaching which the master of yoga, Sri Krishna, gives, and here the master tells us that all our efforts should be based on knowledge. Actions not based on knowledge will not lead to success. What succeeds is not activity, but knowledge of activity. As a matter of fact, the whole gospel of the Bhagavadgita is nothing but the technique of the blending of knowledge and activity. We have a wrong notion about both knowledge and activity. We usually think that knowledge means not doing anything, and activity means working without knowledge. Sri Krishna tells us that knowledge does not mean understanding without work, nor does work mean activity without knowledge. It is very difficult to understand what knowledge and action are. Action is the outward expression of knowledge, and knowledge is the inner reality of action. Now, this may be said to be the central theme of the Bhagavadgita.
When action is based on knowledge, then we gain an inner strength to conduct ourselves properly in the outer world. From the second to the sixth chapter of the Gita we are told how the individual personality can be disciplined in the process of the blending of knowledge and action. In this blend of knowledge and action, we enter into the stage of meditation. The sixth chapter of the Gita explains what meditation is. In our meditations we cannot ignore the outer universe. Many people think that meditation is a personal, private activity of the individual. From the seventh chapter onwards, the Gita tells us that meditation is an activity of the coordination of the individual with the universe. So meditation does not mean our private work in our room, but a universal activity of the mind. From the seventh to the eleventh chapter of the Gita we have an exposition of the gradual unification of the individual with the universal. As a matter of fact, when the individual unites itself with the universal, the spiritual automatically manifests itself. So the individual, the universal and the spiritual ultimately mean one and the same thing in this sense.
In the twelfth chapter of the Gita we are given the technique of various processes of spiritual practice to bring about this unification, and from the thirteenth chapter onwards until the end of the Gita we have a beautiful exposition of how we can live in this world with this universal knowledge. It is only with this knowledge that we can redeem the world and do social work. It means to say, we cannot do any good work in the world unless we are a superman. Just as we cannot get a good job or a high post in the government or in society unless we are properly educated in a college or a university, we cannot have success in social life and in the world unless we are trained in the field of the spirit. The Bhagavadgita, therefore, prepares us for living a universal life in this world. So the yoga of the Bhagavadgita is inclusive of social work, social service, individual peace, as well as God-realisation. This is the most complete exposition of yoga anywhere in the world. To know this truth you have come from France to India. Please let me know if you have understood this or not. Anyone can speak to me if they have not understood what I said. I have given you an ocean and don’t know whether you have understood it. It is an ocean wherein you can drown or swim happily.
So your coming to India is in one sense successful because you have heard such interesting things. You have understood the whole thing but you cannot practice it on account of your old habits persisting. To overcome the old habits you have to sit for meditation every day. Please make a note of what I have told you and think of these points every day in your meditation, without break. You should sit for meditation at least for one hour every day. You should not say, “I have no time.” You must find time. You can select any time that is convenient, morning or evening, but one hour of sitting is absolutely essential. If you have undesirable habits, give them up. Give up three things: smoking, drinking and eating meat. This itself will be 25% of success. Then your mind will become calm; otherwise, it will be disturbed in meditation. You should not tell lies. You must always tell truths. Don’t do harm to anybody either in thought or word or deed, and control your senses as much as possible.
There is a Sanskrit word called brahmacharya, which means control of all the senses and conservation of energy of the system. Without practising these things, meditation will not be successful. Otherwise, it will be like building a house on the surface of the ocean; it will sink in.Brahmacharya means all-round control of the senses, conservation of energy, not telling lies, not hurting others, not eating meat and not smoking or drinking. These are essential before meditation; otherwise, your meditation will be like putting on a beautiful shirt when you have got typhoid fever inside. You will be suffering in spite of your meditations because you are not following the techniques.
Now I have told you everything. Nothing is left in outline. The Gita wants you to think of the world as you think of your own self. The whole of Indian culture and philosophy centres around a single term called the Self or the Atman, and the whole of the culture of India, including its social and political setup, is contained in this single term ‘Self’. This word Self includes everything that is conceivable by the human mind – economic progress, social progress, political progress, personal, philosophical, moral, intellectual and spiritual progress. But you will be surprised as to how this concept of Self can include so many things. This doubt arises in the mind because we have a wrong notion of what the Self is. The term Self that is used in this context is different from the grammatical connotation of the word ‘self’. We generally use the word ‘self’ when referring to our own self as yourself, myself, himself, herself, etc. This common notion of the self seems to be connected with the bodily individuality of people. That is why I refer to myself, yourself, himself, herself as the self. This would mean that there are many selfs, like myself, yourself, himself, etc., but the Self is not manifold as we usually imagine.
The metaphysical concept of the Self is different from the grammatical connotation of it. The term Self does not imply individuality or bodily personality, but a peculiar state of consciousness. The Self as the centre of consciousness implies absence of externality and objectivity. You can imagine how this can be because when you say you are a particular self, you refer to yourself as incapable of being externalised into an object. Consciousness cannot be externalised because consciousness is indivisible. If you imagine that consciousness can be divided, you have also to imagine that there is a gap between one part of consciousness and another part of consciousness. Now the question is, who is it that is aware of the gap between two parts of consciousness? Naturally, consciousness alone is conscious of the gap between the two parts of itself. That means consciousness is present even in the gap between its two parts. This is another way of saying that there is no gap at all in consciousness. If consciousness has no gaps, or it is indivisible, naturally it is universal.
Everyone in the world refers to himself or herself as the Self. This Selfhood is applicable not only to conscious beings but also to inorganic material entities, and if the Selfhood can be attributed to everything in the world, it means the whole world is filled with Self alone. Since this Self is inseparable from consciousness, it is implied that the whole world is filled with one conscious Self, but on account of an ignorance or a misconception in the mind we imagine that there are objects outside the Self.
~ Swami Krishnananda, lecture given to a French-speaking group on December 28th, 1972.