Chapter VI Meditation


Chapter VI is on meditation technique. It speaks both to the karma-yogin, the man of action for whom samādhi is only one of the three parts of his training, and then to the Knowledge-yogin, for whom it is the main part. In fact, for the Knower it is natural that mind remains in samādhi while life lasts; the only effort for that mind (but it can be a considerable one) is to keep away from following mirages of past associations.

The whole tenor of the chapter is self-effort: ‘let one raise himself by himself, let him not degrade himself’ (verse 5). But there is a difference in the means for the two stages:

VI.3 For him who is still trying to attain yoga, acting is said to be the means; for the same, when he has attained yoga, quietening is said to be the means.

Before he has reached samādhi on the Self, while he is a man of action involved in the world, yogic action, without personal motives and making no claim as to the fruits, is what he has to do. It makes his mind transparent, and he will finally attain Knowledge of Self, as it springs up in his direct experience. After that, the final means to liberation is to stay at peace in the serenity of Self-realization, till the last traces of restriction to a limited personality die away.

The karma-yogin is to practise in daily life the actions proper to his role, in an unselfish way. To do this he will have to free himself gradually from bondage to external things and inner compulsions. Instructions are given on meditation which will help him to do this. The karma-yogin’s meditation is not on the Self (he cannot do that yet) but on some holy object:

VI.10 Let the yogin practise yoga in a secluded place,

Alone, restraining thought and mind; free from hopes and any feeling of possession.

11 Let him in a clean place lay out a steady seat for himself, not too high and not too low;

Let him put on it a grass mat, and over that a skin, and over that a cloth.

12 There let him fix his mind on a single object, and rein in the activity of mind and senses;

Sitting on that seat, let him thus practise yoga for self-purification.

Purification means thinning the tangle of the inner apparatus of mind and causal body; as they become transparent, there are glimpses of the Self beyond, seen at first as an awesome wonder.

Hints are given for keeping the meditation steady:

VI.13 Let him sit firmly, keeping straight and still his body, head and neck, not looking at anything else but the nose-tip.

Westerners (and some Easterners) often do not care for the nosetip gaze. It is however found in most of the schools of meditation, not only in India but in China and Japan also. A very restless mind can be pacified by controlling the pupils of the eyes, and this is one of the methods. However, it usually needs instruction and encouragement from a teacher to carry it through. A modern teacher, Dr Hari Prasad Shastri, recommended it to some pupils.

18 When his controlled thought rests on the Self alone,

Free from hankering after any desire,

That one is called a yogin.

19 It is said of the yogin whose mind is controlled in the yoga of Self, that it is like a flame burning calmly in a windless place.

20 When thought comes to rest, checked by yoga practice, When, contemplating Self by self, he is at ease in the Self,

21 When he knows that supernal joy which is beyond the senses but appreciated by the higher mind,

And never deviates from it but abides steady in it,

22 Which having gained, he realizes it as higher than any other gain,

And having been established in it, he is not shaken even by great pain,

23 This yoga-yoke, let him know, is an unyoking from misery.

It has to be practised with determination, and without being daunted by difficulties.

Little by little this is practised, and not by sudden violence. If force is used there may be a temporary exaltation, but usually followed by an equally violent reaction. Violence in this technical sense includes drugs, unnatural postural distortions, screaming excitement, very rapid breathing, self-torture and compulsory asceticism, and so on.

26 When something tries to distract the fickle and unstable thought process, it must be drawn back by the higher mind and fixed again on the Self. Then let him go beyond thinking.

This last sentence is the inhibition (nirodha) of all mental operations. Often teachers do not insist on it much at the beginning because it seems like suicide to those who identify thought with consciousness. In the yoga experiments, thought is found to be only a movement in consciousness. But until there is some experience, it is imagined that consciousness without thought would have to be just a blank.

The nirodha state beyond thought had been described much earlier than the Gītā in the ancient Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, and much later in Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra-s. In fact many of the technical terms of Patañjali’s yoga are found already in the Gītā. Śaṅkara’s commentary on it is full of them.

The results of yoga practice are given: the infinite joy, already mentioned in Chapter V, appears again and again, and now there are indications that it is the great Self that is appearing as the Lord:

29 The yogin settled in samādhi sees the Self in all, and all in Self;

He sees the same in everything.

30 For that one who sees Me in all, and sees all in Me,

I am never lost, and he is not lost for Me.

Having heard the instruction on meditation, Arjuna breaks in with the objection that it is impossible – like trying to grasp the wind. The teacher explains that it is indeed difficult, but can be done by regular practice, and detachment. The words used – abhyāsa and vairāgya – are quoted in Yoga Sūtra 1.12: ‘Their inhibition is by practice and detachment.’

Arjuna then displays a momentary will-to-fail (familiar to teachers of anything at all) by asking what happens to one who drops out of the training. Does he not lose both worlds, this and the next? Kṛṣṇa patiently expands the phrase in II.40: ‘There is no loss of effort here.’ Such a man will be reborn in favourable circumstances for yoga practice, and the dynamic latent impressions of his former practice will forcibly bear him onwards, ‘whether he wills it or not’.

An indication is given at the end about meditation on the Self as the Lord, and this is to be developed in the beautiful verses of Chapters VII, IX and X.

Chapter VII The Lord
The Thinker, East and West