Bhagavad Gita, Chapter III: “Satisfaction in Self Alone”
In our discussion last week, we ended with Arjuna in a state of confusion and anxiety because of his lack of understanding precisely what is expected of him— should the warrior devote himself entirely to meditation on the Self, or should he perform works in the world? In this chapter, Krishna teaches Arjuna that while some yogis are inclined to practice spiritual meditation, others are predisposed to action. However, if one focuses on absolute detachment from the consequences of actions, offering all benefits to the Divine Lord, one “embarks on the spiritual exercise of works,” performing both mental devotion and selfless conduct in all behavior (3.7).
This chapter’s theme concerns the fifth limb of Yoga: “pratyahara,” or the drawing inward of the senses. If one succeeds in absorbing all sensual attention inward, “tak[ing] pleasure in [Self] alone,” the Divine will always fulfill such a yogi’s needs and enable such to perform his or her dharma (duty). The spiritual student must subdue all external distractions, which cause the mind to wander ceaselessly in hopes of attaining pleasure and averting pain.
The three constituents of Brahman, or Nature—sattva (purity and joy), rajas (passion), and tamas (inert and rancid)—comprise the qualities of material nature and the world is ruled by such factors; hence, one should steadily strive toward the sattvic state, whether in diet, habit, action, thought, or prayer. Moreover, the sattvic state is possible only through renunciation of all fruits of action concurrent with one-pointed focus on the Divine.
Krishna warns Arjuna that desire is the supreme enemy of humanity because it motivates malevolent thinking and avaricious behavior, and is thus, the destroyer of justice, righteousness, and compassion among sentient beings. If one hopes to attain authentic peace within, as well as happiness and contentedness on Earth, s/he must defeat this evil by restraining the senses, and by finding comfort and solace internally through identification and concentration on “the minute part” of the Divine within—the Self (15.7).
Krishna also asserts that although one may sit quietly in meditation for time unending, if desire and aversion occupy such a person’s thoughts, that person “is called a hypocrite” (3.6). Therefore, the student must work diligently to exhume such disturbances, constantly returning to the contented Self within whenever hindered by such obstacles.
When we consider that this entire chapter is committed to these teachings on inner concentration and total detachment, their importance becomes apparent. Many upcoming chapters speak to these same spiritual and material values, as Krishna works to dispel Arjuna of all self-doubt and angst comprising the new religious consciousness.
Next week’s discussion centers on Krishna’s illumination to Arjuna that, He, the Lord, is simultaneously the Creator, the Sustainer, and the Destroyer of the World since the beginning of time and continuing through all eternity.
Zaehner, R. C., trans. The Bhagavad Gita London: Oxford University Press, 1973
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