The role of ‘action’ in spiritual evolution.
My own orientation, Surrender Meditation, is strongly reflected in my commentary on these verses, but it is certainly not the only valid perspective. So if your orientation is other than this, you can draw your own conclusions accordingly, with my blessings.
He who sits, trying to maintain restraint of his powers of action, even though remembered things stir his mind, is deluded. He is said to be self-deceived.
Previously, we learned that it is not possible to maintain inaction with our will, that nature will outwit us at every turn. Now Lord Krishna goes on to say that if we believe we can overcome this, we are fooling ourselves.
But one who, indifferent to outcomes, his inner power unrestrained, Arjuna, undertakes Karma Yoga with his powers of action, is superior.
But one who, without attachment, using the mind to control the senses, Arjuna, engages his powers of action in the Yoga of Action, is superior.
There is quite a difference between these two translations. My own, the first, is not consistent with any other translations I have found. This does not surprise me, as my own orientation of surrender sadhana is a radical approach to meditation and yoga sadhana in general. The second translation is consistent with traditional yoga.
I wanted you to see the difference, and how Sanskrit can be translated and applied to one’s own orientation. This is the beauty of Sanskrit: It expresses Truth so well that it can be relevant to several perspectives at once. This is not a fault, but a gift of the shastras (spiritual texts).
Manasa ( मनसा ), the ‘internal instrument’ ( अन्तःकरण )
The word for ‘mind’ in this verse refers to antakarana*, the ‘internal instrument’ of perception and cognition—the faculty (the ability, power or inner-cause), not the physical sense organs.
*Antakarana - the 'internal instrument', the power to think, feel, and know; the emotions, conscience, and soul: anta - inner, karana - cause.
We are being reminded that we have the inherent ability to know, think and feel, and that these powers are not going anywhere. It is in this sense that the word manasa, mind, is used in this verse.
The ability to know, think and feel are powers of our Real Selves and cannot be put down by our will, as they are characteristics of our true selves. And, considering what they are, why would we want to do this anyway? Understanding this, we should not be despairing of these activities of the ‘mind’, even in meditation. This ‘internal instrument’ is what is behind the efficacy of Karma Yoga (Action Yoga). In fact, these powers are set free in Surrender Meditation, allowing for experiences beyond normal cognition.
Karma Yoga is most commonly applied to paths of service to guru and those in need, as a means of overcoming negative karma. Surrender sadhana is also Karma Yoga. In Surrender Meditation the mind is often active, and may even act as the ‘inner cause’ of kriyas, purifying actions that occur spontaneously in meditation.
Restrained or Unrestrained?
The word niyama is often translated as ‘observance’, in the sense of adherence to certain moral principles, and rites, rituals and ceremonies. But as a word, niyama can be understood as either ‘restrained’ or ‘unrestrained’, as its prefix (ni-) can either accentuate or negate the word attached to it (yama, to restrain). So, as with any verse, there is a traditional translation and an esoteric translation.
Whether the verse is translated as one’s “powerful internal instrument unrestrained” or “using the mind to restrain or control the senses,” along with indifference to outcomes it describes what is meant by Karma Yoga, the Action Yoga that Lord Krishna is urging Arjuna to take up. The only real difference is who or what is doing the restraining—you or God.
So you should take up this action, Arjuna. Action is certainly better than non-action, for even the maintenance of the body cannot be accomplished without action.
Lord Krishna has responded to Arjuna’s request in verses 1-3, where he asks Krishna to tell him specifically what to do. Krishna tells him to take the path of Action (Karma Yoga). Krishna further tells him that not acting will accomplish nothing, that it is not really possible to maintain inaction, so he may as well put action to good use and get on with his duty, his natural tendency, his own dharma: action.
At this point it is important to remember the context: the clashing together of the opposing forces of sun-energy and moon-energy (ha-tha yoga, sun-moon union) that awakens Kundalini, the evolutionary force, in a very real way.* So we can assume that everything is leading up to this, and that once this has begun, we will expect more than growth: we will expect evolution.
* Kundalini awakens 'in a very real way'. Casual coffee house chats about kundalini's whereabouts, i.e., "My kundalini is in my sixth chakra now," will cease with this experience, and you may want to run. At this point, your good relationship with guru is as essential as Arjuna's.
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