Home > Bhagavad Gita > Chapter 4: The Yoga of Wisdom

Chapter 4: The Yoga of Wisdom

5 Mar 2017   Shanti Gowans
Krishna said:
I taught this imperishable doctrine to Vivasvan, god of the sun,
who, more than a hundred billion years ago, conveyed it to Manu, father of humans,
and Manu imparted it to King Iksvaku. (1)
 
Thus transmitted in succession from father to son,
one generation to the next,
this Yoga was known for eons
to all the primeval sages, seers, philosopher-kings.
It has, however, over the dwindling ages, been lost, Arjuna. (2)
 
I am imparting this same Yoga today to you
because you are my devotee and friend.
This is the supreme, innermost secret. (3)
 
Arjuna said:
You are of recent origin,
and born countless eons later than the god of the sun,
whose birth goes back to remote antiquity.
How then, is it possible, that you taught this yoga
at the beginning of creation? (4)
 
Krishna said:
Arjuna, you and I have been born many times.
I have remembered all these lives,
you recall only this one. (5)
 
Although I am birthless and deathless,
and the infinite Lord of all beings,
I manifest Myself through my own divine potency (yogamaya),
keeping my nature (Prakruti) under control. (6)
 
Whenever righteousness is on the decline,
and chaos is in the ascendant,
then I embody myself
and manifest myself on earth. (7)
 
For the protection of the virtuous,
for the extinction of evil-doers,
and to establish righteousness (dharma) on a firm footing,
I am born in every age. (8)
 
Whoever knows profoundly
that my birth and activities are divine 
is not reborn on leaving his body,
but comes to me. (9)
 
Completely freed from greed, fear and anger,
wholly absorbed in me,
burnt and purified in the blaze that arises from wisdom,
many have attained my own state of being. (10)

This verse provides considerable encouragement to the seeker. It says that by following any path that is appropriate to the natural characteristics of the human organism - the path of action, or the path of devotion, or the path of wisdom, many have reached the absolute truth. Here we are assured that reaching the Absolute, Ultimate Being, is not the almost impossible feat that is commonly made out to be. Whatever the path followed, it is necessary to lose the sense of doership, which means not getting involved in attachment, fear and anger. Ultimately what counts is the faith and trust in the Impersonal Reality.

Howsoever people seek me,
I return their love with my love;
whatever path they may travel
leads to me in the end. (11)
 
People seeking success in their activities
sacrifice to the gods, 
for ritual can bring success quickly,
in this world of human beings. (12)
 
I founded the four orders of society
(namely the priests, the warriors, the traders and the slaves), 
classifying them according to the gunas (modes of Prakruti)
predominant in each,
and apportioning corresponding duties to them.
Although I did this,
know that I am the eternal non-doer. (13)
 
Since I am indifferent to their results,
actions cannot contaminate Me.
All those who understand this
will not be bound by their actions. (14)
 
This is how actions were performed
even by the ancient seekers of liberation;
therefore, follow their example:
act, surrendering the fruits of action. (15)
 
What is action?
and what is inaction?
Even wise men are confused by these questions.
Therefore I shall expound to you the truth about action,
knowing which you will be freed from its binding nature. (16) 
 
You must realise what action and inaction are;
what wrong action and inaction are as well.
The true nature of action is profound and mysterious. (17)
 
He who can see the inaction that is in action,
and the action that is in non-action, is wise.
Even when engaged in action
remains in the equanimity of the Self,
and can act in the spirit of Yoga. (18)

Those who are caught in the machinery of money and power take no joy except in activity and change. Whenever an occasion for action arises, they cannot, in their ignorance, help themselves and feel compelled to act. They are inexorably moved, like the machine in which they are a part. Prisoners in the world of phenomenality, they submit to the demands of matter. On the other hand, the wise heart is tranquil. As a Taoist sage has put it:

"It is the mirror of heaven and earth, the glass of everything. Emptiness, stillness, tranquility, tastelessness, silence, non-action - this is the level of heaven and earth. This is perfect Tao. Wise men find here their resting place. Resting, they are empty."

It is from the sage's emptiness that stillness arises, and from stillness, action that is non-action.

Free from desire for success,
and anxiety about failure,
and indifferent to results,
his actions are burnt up in the fire of wisdom.
Even the wise call him a sage. (19)

The sages call a person truly wise who acts without lust or scheming for the fruit of their acts. Their acts do not affect him for they are melted in the wisdom of self-knowledge. These actions are so natural that they seem like inaction. In reality it is action that is non-action. Quoting from the Tao again:

The man in whom Tao acts without impediment
harms no other being by his actions.
Yet he does not know himself
to be 'kind', to be 'gentle'.
 
The man in whom Tao acts without impediment
Does not bother with his own interests
And does not despise what others do.
 
He does not struggle to make money
And does not make a virtue of poverty.
He goes his way without relying on others
And does not pride himself on walking alone.
 
Surrendering all thoughts about outcome,
unperturbed,
self-reliant,
he does nothing at all,
even when fully engaged in actions. (20)
 
Serene, expecting nothing, fearing nothing,
free from possessions,
acting with the body alone,
he is untainted. (21)
 
Contented with whatever happens,
free from jealousy,
balanced and transcending all pairs of opposites
(such as pleasure or pain, loss or gain, failure or success, praise or blame),
he acts
and is never bound by his actions (22)
 
When a person has let go of attachments,
has no identification with the body
and does not claim it as his own,
whose mind is established
in the wisdom of the in-dwelling consciousness,
everything he does melts away
and all his actions become worship. (23)
 
Divine is the ritual. 
Divine is the offering. 
Divine is the offered,
poured out by the divine.
Divine is the fire. 
Divine is he who makes the offering to the fire, 
which is divine.
Divinity is attained
by all those who recognise the divine in every action. (24)

Brahman is like the ladle (with which the oblation is poured into the fire); Brahman is the oblation; Brahman is the fire; Brahman is the sacrificer and so Brahman itself constitutes the act of pouring the oblation into the fire. And finally Brahman is the goal to be reached by him who is absorbed in Brahman as the act of such a worship. 

The metaphor in this verse refers to the ritual of the Vedas known as the yajna. In every Yajna there are four essential factors, namely:  the deity invoked to whom the oblation is offered; the fire in which the oblation is poured; the material that constitutes the offering, and the individual who is performing the yajna.
 
This verse is chanted by Hindu monks as 'grace' before meals, the 'fire' referred to here is the fire of hunger, jatharagni. Its significance is that the consumption of food is a necessity for all, including the sages. The point here is that the wise  person thinks of the act of consuming food as a jnana-yajna, the food, the eater of it, the digesting of it, are all modifications of Brahman, just as waves are part of the ocean.
 
Some men of yoga pray to the gods
and make this their worship.
Some offer worship by worship itself,
in the fire of  God. (25)
Others offer their senses 
in the fires of self-abnegation.
Yet others offer the objects of sense perception
in the fire of the senses. (26)
 
Kindled by the wisdom of the yoga of self-restraint, 
others offer all the functions
of their senses and the breath
in the fire.  (27)
 
Some offer material possessions, austerities, their practice of yoga;
while other ascetics observe vows and
offer their studies of sacred texts,
and wisdom itself. (28)
 
Others intent on control of their vital forces,
offer their out-breath into their in-breath,
or their in-breath into their out-breath. 
Others, while fasting, 
and having controlled both
the processes of exhalation and inhalation,
pour their vital airs into the vital airs themselves.
All these understand worship,
and that by worship they cleansed. (29-30)
 
Enjoying the nectar that has been left over
after partaking in the essence of worship,
they are freed of themselves.
However, the non-worshipper
 cannot be happy in this world or any other. (31)
 
Thus many forms of worship may lead to freedom.
All these are born of action (mind, senses and body).
When you know this you will be free. (32)
 
Arjuna, better than any ritual performed through material things
is the worship achieved through wisdom.
For wisdom is the culmination of all actions,
without exception. (33)
 
Find a wise teacher,
someone who has seen the truth. 
Honour, serve, and ask them your questions
with an open and guileless heart.
Those wise seers of Truth
will guide you on the path to wisdom. (34)
 
When you realise enlightenment,
you will never fall back into delusion.
In the light of that wisdom 
you see the entire creation first within your own self,
and then yourself in me (the all-pervading consciousness). (35)
 
Even if you were the most evil of all evildoers, Arjuna,
wisdom is the raft that will carry you across the waters of all evil. (36)
 
For, just as blazing fire turns fuel to ashes,
even so all actions are turned to ashes
in the wisdom's refining flames. (37)
 
Nothing in the world can purify as powerfully as wisdom;
having attained purity of heart
through a prolonged practice of karmayoga
you will automatically find this wisdom within yourself. (38)
 
Mastering his senses,
resolute and exclusively devoted to practice,
the person of faith becomes wise.
Having attained true wisdom,
he soon attains supreme peace (in the form of God-realisation). (39)
 
The ignorant, without faith and lacking discrimination,
are easily mired in doubt,
and are lost on the spiritual path.
They can never be truly happy in this world
nor the world beyond. (40)
 
Arjuna, actions do not bind those
who have dedicated all their actions
according to the spirit of karmayoga,
whose doubts have been torn to shreds by wisdom,
and who is self-possessed. (41)
 
Therefore, with the sword of wisdom,
slash to pieces this doubt in your heart
which is born of ignorance.
Establish yourself with even-temperedness 
in the path of selfless action (karmayoga),
and stand up for the fight. (42)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Shanti Gowans is the globally recognised author and founder of Shanti Yoga™, Meditation and Ayurveda for the self, family and community.

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