The Bhagavad Gita appears in the story of the Mahabharata. It is a conversation between Lord Krishna and his devotee and childhood friend, Arjuna. Listening in, we receive the teachings of Lord Krishna as he relates them to Arjuna.
The subject of this chapter is Devotion.
This post addresses the answer to Arjuna’s question on who has the best knowledge of Yoga, withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara), and equanimity (samadhi).
Arjuna spoke: Of those who are constantly engaged in worshipping You, and those who worship the Imperishable Absolute, which has the best knowledge of Yoga?
The Blessed Lord spoke:
Those who are always absorbed in Me as their highest objective, always engaging in worshipping Me with the highest degree of faith, I consider to be the My best devotees who are naturally attached to Me.
- Worshipping – ‘surrendering, loving, serving’
For those highest initiated, the mind easily becomes absorbed in Me and produces supreme faith, so they are naturally the most devoted to Me.
In this verse, Lord Krishna is describing someone who worships Personal God as Himself. It seems then, that the answer to Arjuna’s question must be “those who are always engaged in worshipping Me” have the best knowledge. But Lord Krishna hasn’t really addressed this, only that they are the most devoted to Him as Personal God.
This verse is describing someone who has advanced significantly in their yoga practice. By referring to the “highest initiated” He indicates those who know the science of yoga and meditation, and understand the nature of its unfolding over time. But as to who has the best knowledge of yoga, He has yet to say.
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But those who worship the Imperishable Absolute, which by its very nature is inexplicable—eternally unchanging, intangible, invisible and everywhere—with all the senses subdued, the mind indifferent everywhere, delighting in affection for all beings and esteeming them as equal, they also attain Me.
Now we have our answer: both. Whether you worship Personal God or Impersonal God you can attain God, though the path of the invisible Absolute is more demanding..
“The senses subdued”
The subduction, control or restraint of the senses is called pratyahara, that magical state of meditation in which the sense faculties, or powers, withdraw from the physical senses. The ability (power) to hear, see, feel, etc., is separated from their objects (sound, sight, touch, etc.). In this state, the sense organs (ears, eyes, skin, etc.) naturally have no connection to sense objects. Once one has reached this point, samadhi (equanimity) is not far away.
This can be taken two ways: The yogi either tries to control the senses, or the senses automatically come under control. The first is the path of the will, in which one uses the will to achieve the desired results. The second is the path of surrender to God, in which one does nothing and leaves everything to God.
- Pratyahara, the spontaneous withdrawal of the sense faculties from their corresponding sense organs, allowing for direct perception (without any means, i.e., the sense organs). The gateway to samadhi.
- Samadhi is a state in which the mind is the same throughout, and either not moving at all, or moving uniformly.
“The mind indifferent everywhere”
This phrase describes the effects of pratyahara as the condition that produces and is present in samadhi.
The Sanskrit for ‘mind’ in this verse, is buddhi. Buddhi is the part of the mind that is intelligent, rational, and makes judgements.
- Buddhi: intellect, reason, the discriminative faculty of the mind.
Outside of Meditation
Pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses, can also take place in everyday life. For one who practices meditation by surrendering to Absolute God, this will happen naturally. The senses will become disinterested and withdraw from their objects gradually over time. In the beginning, this may show up after the fact with the discovery that something that once attracted you has lost its power. Or you may have simply forgotten it and only realized this change later.
An example of my own experience of this, was finding a bottle of wine in the back of the refrigerator that had been there for weeks. I had been used to having a glass of wine when I came home from work in the evening, but had forgotten all about it. Then, one day when I was cleaning the refrigerator, there it was, an untouched bottle of wine. This heralded profound experiences in my meditation, the result of this phase of pratyahara in daily life.
The senses are otherwise always active, with the attention constantly flowing outward to perceive things, and bringing them back to the mind for storage. For this reason, those who practice willful yoga must work very hard to try to get the senses to stop bringing things into the mind, keeping it busy and aborting yoga. Some avoid people, places and things that keep the mind active. For instance, if a man becomes agitated in the presence of women, he will avoid women. But in surrender sadhana, pratyahara happens spontaneously and powerfully in meditation, and opens the door to samadhi naturally.
Of the devotee who experiences God as Personal, and the yogi who experiences God as Impersonal, both know Yoga and reach God. The only real difference is how.
Do you think that samadhi, or meditation for that matter, requires that you sit a certain way? If you do, these masters would not agree with you. Kripalu is dancing. Anandamayi Ma has risen in ecstasy. Shri Ramakrishna is in blissful bhava-samadhi with a devotee supporting him to avoid another fall. These saints are beyond caring what we think.
One usually thinks of samadhi as the final frontier of Yoga, but it is really a part of the process of purifying and clearing the mind, though in advanced stages, it is certainly very fulfilling.
- Samādhi समाधि – sama (the same) + adhi (as above)
Also, the idea that samadhi only occurs when the mind is not moving is incorrect. The mind may be moving or not. As to the nature of its movements, the next common error would be that such movement would have to be sattvic (smooth-flowing and peaceful). But this is also incorrect. It is the uniformity that is the key (samadhi means ‘sameness’). The state of mental activity will depend on the nature of the purification. In the highest samadhi (nirbija) one surpasses this process.
Namaste (I bow to the divine one you really are),
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