The “Bhagavad Gita” Way of Life

[Reproduced from The Theosophical Movement magazine for June 2001, published by Theosophy Company India –]

Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita

In Chapter VI of the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna sums up his review of the then existing philosophies and schools of thought. Having shown to his disciple Arjuna what is of worth and what is worthless in the ideas and views current then, Krishna gives the correct view. In verse 5 it is said:

He [man] should raise the self by the Self; let him not suffer the Self to be lowered; for Self is the friend of self, and in like manner, self is its own enemy.

Here are two selves mentioned, the higher and the lower. We are told that we should raise our self—from the lower pole to the higher, from the compound self to the homogeneous, as the Buddha said. Krishna says the same thing: Do not debase yourselves; each one is the friend and foe, not of others but of himself. Man is triple: (1) spiritual Individuality, (2) material bundle of attributes, the magic mirror of nature, and (3) the reflection cast by the Individuality into that mirror, which reflection is the personality, the false “I”. This false or personal “I” is caught up in the meshes of illusion called tanha in Buddhism—the dust of our illusions, as The Voice of the Silence puts it.

This tanha or dust of illusion on the mirror of mind and matter makes all the mischief prevalent in the human kingdom. In Chapter III, verse 34, Krishna says to Arjuna:

In every purpose of the senses are fixed affection and dislike. A wise man should not fall in the power of these two passions, for they are the enemies of man.

Love and hate, affection and aversion, attraction and repulsion, like and dislike, are bound to arise, says Krishna, because man possesses senses and sense-organs; looking at the objects of sense, he gets illusioned and is deluded. Shall we then turn away from the world of objects? No, says Krishna: do not come under the sway of these opposites, for they are the enemies of every man. Affection and dislike are a pair, two aspects of one and the same force. Just as electricity shows itself as light and again as heat, so also this one force has two aspects. So Krishna says: do not be swayed by these two—raga and dvesha, attraction and repulsion, affection and aversion, like and dislike, love and hate. How not to come under the sway of these opposites is indicated in the next verse: Do your own duty; mind your own business; obey the law of your own being; do not try to perform the duties of another; do not meddle with the business of another; do not live by the law of another being. Here in one single verse the problem of every one of us is given an answer: do your own duty by every duty.

A most perplexing problem, called conflict of duties, arises. How to mind our own business? How to find out what the law of our being is? This is a fundamental problem. In our civilization, many programmes of development are formulated, as also numerous methods given of how to escape misery and disease and anguish. We must go to the root, and ask: What is the cause of sorrow and pain which follow upon non-performance of duty, upon our breaking the law of our own being? It is self-evident and simple that if we could know for certain what are our duties and what constitutes the law of our being, we would live according to that knowledge. Most people want to do the right, yet they do wrong. They are exactly in the position of Arjuna, who asks the same question that millions ask today: What is this hidden force or power which, so to speak, compels a person to do wrong, even when he resolves to do right? This question is on everyone’s lips. But the answer? Orthodox religionists say, “God’s will”; some students of Theosophy say, “Karma.” But what is God’s will and what is Karma, and how do they spring into existence?

As we have seen already, the Buddha named this force tanha, longing. Krishna calls it rajas, the force or the power that compels one to move in the direction of the myriad objects of sense. Rajas has two aspects, says the Gita. Kama-passion-lust is one—the force of attraction that causes affection and love and the many, many likes; the other is krodha-anger-hate—the force of repulsion that produces the many kinds of dislikes. Kama-passion or attraction, and krodha-anger or repulsion are the two aspects of rajas. As verse 38 in Chapter III puts it:

As the flame is surrounded by smoke, and a mirror by rust, and as the womb envelops the foetus, so is the universe surrounded by this passion.

Here we have three very wonderful examples which need to be looked into.

Rajas or tanha is like smoke which envelops the flame. The Soul in man, the soul who is man, is fire, is flame, and it is surrounded by smoke—something that the flame does not want. If the quantity of smoke increases, the flame goes out. This is a very true analogy. If desires and passions are powerful in any person, he faces spiritual extinction, what is called in Theosophy the death of the Soul. When tanha or rajas—thirst for things of the senses, the motion in the direction of the many objects of the senses—so engrosses the Incarnated Ego that he is overpowered, his connection with the Star of Individuality, whose ray he is, is broken and the personal self is spiritually dead. There are many in our civilization who are spiritually dead. So that is the first step for all of us to take: not to allow the quantity of smoke, our personal likes and dislikes, to increase and envelop our soul-perception.

The next example in the verse quoted above is that of the mirror. The Voice of the Silence says, “Mind is like a mirror; it gathers dust while it reflects.” Mr. Judge, in his rendition of this Gita-verse, uses the term “rust” instead of “dust,” and it is a better simile. We can easily wipe off the dust that has gathered, but if in the process of time the mirror has become rusty, then it is a more difficult proposition. We will need knowledge of chemistry, the science of the elements of matter, and the laws of their combination. Higher chemistry is Alchemy; the spiritual branch of Alchemy enables us to transmute base metals into gold. Theosophy is defined as “that branch of chemistry, by which one begets Immortality.” We have to gain Immortality, first of all by removing the rust that has spoiled the mirror.

Let us pass on to the last example. The foetus is living in the mother’s womb; unless it comes out of the womb it cannot become a real human. Each one of us, every human soul, is like a foetus, confined within the womb of its own material nature; we are not able to see the Light of Day—the Light of Brahma’s Day. Unless we are born again, we are in danger of spiritual death. The evildoers who surround themselves with smoke are like aborted embryos, dead forms; those men and women who do not remove the rust from their own souls are also doomed; only those who are born again are spiritual entities, ready for Immortality. That is what Jesus taught Nicodemus: “Unless a man has been born over again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Like smoke around fire, like dust and rust on a mirror, like the womb enveloping the foetus, the human personality is enveloped by the force of rajas in the form of desires—kama. Likewise true Knowledge or Wisdom is enveloped by false or perverted knowledge.

Each of these three examples has a message of its own. They trace the whole course of human evolution. Smoke and flame is one stage, rust and mirror is the second; the foetus and its birth—the second birth—is the third stage. We can understand this if we obtain for ourselves the true key that ancient Wisdom and its restatement, H.P.B.’s Theosophy, offers to us. We must study her books and then we learn how to practise—how to handle the smoke and the rust, and how we can become, each one of us, as one newly born. But, at the very start we must take the teaching of the Gita to heart and remember that Wisdom has become corrupted and that we must go to the source.

Raja, tanha, desire, is smoke: when we construct a house and want to build a fireplace, we have to have a proper chimney, otherwise we will not have a good, blazing, warming fire. That chimney must let the smoke out in a proper fashion. That is the first step—the smoke of our personal desires must be thrown out. The moisture of passion must be dried up and we must by control purify ourselves. Purification is the first step. There are four kinds of purity: (1) mental purity; (2) purity of emotions and character, or moral purity; (3) purity of speech; (4) purity of deeds or actions. Purity is the key word for this first stage of development. Mere desire or aspiration will not bring about purity; even resolves made at New Year do not succeed—because of lack of Knowledge. We must study and find out what purity really means and how it can be practised, to eliminate vice and unfold virtue. At this stage we learn to leave evil behind and to do good. We do that scientifically, like the chimney-builder; and the technique lies in the word—unselfishness. We must learn to curb, to control, to kill selfishness. Selfishness is the root vice from which all other vices fructify. Selfishness and impurity are one and the same; unselfishness and purity always go together. Smoke is impure, choking to the Soul. What chokes and smothers the Soul is selfishness.

Minor acts of selfishness gather together and become a strong force; these petty forms of selfishness in everyday life, if persisted in, produce in the course of time a permanent selfishness—like rust on the mirror. If we do not clean our looking-glass from day to day, it gathers dust; if we do not keep it well polished, it will rust in the process of time. This is also true of our personal lower nature. The duster and the polish are of two kinds—Philosophy and Philosophers. Purity and unselfishness are helped in their development by good company. An individual student may get rusty in his very goodness, if he remains satisfied with his unselfishness. Knowledge of spiritual alchemy is needed; he must transmute unselfishness into selflessness. In the first stage, he becomes unselfish and good; in the second stage, the ideal is higher—he must become spiritual. Just as by letting off the smoke of evil and selfishness he becomes good and unselfish, so now by further effort, by practising real alchemy, spiritual transmutation, he must progress—from evil to good, from good to spiritual, from selfishness to unselfishness, and then to selflessness. Good company is necessary. The first stage is the school-life of soul-study; the second stage is the home-life of the soul; true spiritual family brings true spiritual friendship and company. In ordinary life we make a distinction between kin and friends. In the higher life our friends are our kin. Our Guru-Teacher is our father and mother; our co-disciples are our friends and brothers.

When we are transmuting the rust into radiance and becoming selfless and spiritual, we are getting ready for the Second Birth. Control of the lower, determination not to let any impurity manifest in us or through us, makes us good in the true sense and brings us to the second stage; development, unfoldment, according to the technique taught in Theosophy, means that a dual-virtue—justice and mercy—begins to show itself more and more in all our life. As we act with justice towards ourselves and with mercy towards others, we make a good beginning. Therefore The Voice of the Silence asks us to be as hard as the stone of the mango fruit toward our own lower self, but like the sweet and luscious pulp of the fruit for the woes of others.

Thus we become ready for the next, the third stage. In our heart the soul of justice and mercy lives. This Inner Ego or Soul is like a foetus; it is surrounded by our own past Karma—good as well as evil.

The good man who is studying and who is applying the teachings to himself is a practical philosopher. By study and application he finds his true companions, real members of his true family. As the soul of justice and mercy in his heart is gaining strength, his past Karma gains speed. Opportunities come to him to pay off that Karma—by an increasing number of deeds of justice and mercy. These deeds, energized by his duty and application, purify the heart; his own good actions done now and here attract to him attention and bring him justice and mercy from those great Masters who are sometimes called Silent Watchers in the night. They watch, in secrecy and silence, without trumpeting forth their labour, without anybody knowing it. They watch for the soul of justice rooted in Wisdom, and mercy rooted in Compassion. And when they see it in the heart of some warrior for Truth and against selfishness, the Great Gurus fecundate that soul of justice and mercy. Just as the sun fecundates and brings out the beauty and the glory of the lotus in the tank of mud and slime and stagnant water, so these Great Ones fecundate the soul, purified, studious, just and merciful, and bring out the latent devotion, Bhakti. The soul is compared to the lotus; just as the lotus opens its heart to the sun, so does the soul of the devoted disciple open in fragrance and holiness. But let us not forget that in developing justice and mercy, in expressing peace and holiness, the aid of the great Philosophy and Science should never be abandoned.

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SOME RELATED ARTICLES: The Theosophy of the Bhagavad GitaAtman – The Higher Self, Some Questions and Answers about Hinduism, Gandhi on Blavatsky and Theosophy, The Two PathsDesire: The Cause of All Suffering, The Sevenfold Nature of Man, The Life & Times of Adi Shankaracharya, Ramalingam Pillai and the Theosophical Movement, and Is Theosophy Hinduism, Buddhism, or Something Else?

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