Yoga according to the Gita


Reproduced from "The Theosophist" November 1995 issue

As a prelude to the subject, I may cite an incident in the life of a yogi who lived his life according to the dictates of the Gita. He was lying on his deathbed. He called his associates and servants near him and asked forgiveness of any whom he might have wounded by his words or official actions. Frequently he asked his personal assistant, Marie Russak, to read to him from "The Song Celestial" by Edwin Arnold, which is a translation of the Gita. The twelfth chapter was the one he liked to listen to most. The seven stanzas of this chapter describe the nature of a true devotee. He died, at 7:27 on 17 February 1907. The number 7 figures in all the incidents of his life, and had a profound influence on it.

The yogi referred to above is Colonel H.S. Olcott who founded the Theosophical Society and made it an international organization. Howard Murphet, in his "Hammer on the Mountain", a biography of H.S. Olcott, describes this incident (pp. 309-10). The Gita, gave him the inspiration and strength to work for the theosophical cause and the welfare of humanity with great devotion, facing a mountain of difficulties with resources of a poor order.

H.P. Blavatsky considered the Gita as a great Occult work and therefore requested her friends in her will to read a chapter from the Gita in her memory every year on the date of her death, 8 May.

The Gita consists of seven hundred stanzas divided into eighteen chapters, each closing with the declaration that it is the gist of all the Upanishads and is a Yogasastra (science of yoga). The first chapter is named the yoga of Arjuna's Despondency, the second the yoga of Sankhya and so on. In other words, each step towards yoga is styled as Yoga.

In chapter II, stanza 48, Sri Krishna tells Arjuna: 'Do all acts without attachment. Take success and failure alike. Equilibrium of mind is yoga. Attachment leads to desire; desire in turn produces anger, which unsettles the mind.'

Stanza 50 of the same chapter gives another definition of Yoga: 'If you act fixing the consciousness in buddhi, then whatever you do will be for the good of humanity, for it loses its character as a good or a bad deed. So attach yourself to buddhi and try to become a yogi; any act done for the welfare of humanity will lead you to Yoga.'

The word 'kausalam' used here is derived from the word 'kusala' which means 'welfare'.

Patanjali in his Yoga-sutra defines yoga as control of thought and memory (citta-vritti-nirodha). Here he mentions only the means to attain yoga, and not yoga proper. In the next sutra he says what yoga is: When the 'vrittis' (activities) of mind are controlled, the consciousness is established in its true nature. The soul, which is divine in nature, attains its true state.

In other cases, the soul identifies itself with the 'vrittis'.

Sankaracharya, in his "Atmabodha", illustrates this: 'When associated with the five kosas or vehicles the Atma identifies itself with those vehicles, in the same way as pure glass appears to be blue in color when in contact with a blue cloth.' Coming back to Gita, we hear Sri Krishna say (XVIII, 46): 'The principle which gives life pervades everything. Man derives power to act from it. Do every act as an act of worship to that principle. Then you will attain fulfilment of yoga. In other words, if you act for the welfare of humanity you will become a yogi.'

The message of the Gita can be expressed in four syllables: 'yogi bhava', 'become a yogi'.

Let us follow H.S. Olcott, the yogi who would 'eat any food, or even go without, sleep on any bed, work in any place, fraternize with any outcaste, endure any privation, for the cause'.


P.C. Panicker

Mr. Panicker was a lawyer and teacher, and a long-standing TS member in Kerala, South India.


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