Monday, September 14, 2015

Meditation, detachment, and working for the welfare of all living beings

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The Bhagavad Gita explicitly connects the state of "action without attachment to results" and the ability to bring the mind under the control of the Higher Self.

In order to achieve the state of acting without attachment -- which some verses also describe as "actually doing nothing at all" even while acting -- it says that the mind must be brought under control.

In the sixth verse of the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that, for the one who has learned how to control the mind, the mind is the best of friends -- but for the one who has not, the mind can resemble the worst of enemies. 

The good news is that Krishna explains that we can, with practice, bring the mind under our control -- and that this practice is also the best way to come into contact with the Higher Self.

In chapter 6 verses 33 and 34, Arjuna expresses doubts about the ability to ever bring the mind under control, due to its flickering and unsteady nature. 

"For the mind is restless, turbulent, obstinate, very strong, O Krishna," Arjuna says, "and to subdue it, I think, is more difficult than controlling the wind" (6.34).

Krishna acknowledges that it is "very difficult to curb" the mind, but also tells Arjuna that "it is possible by suitable practice and by detachment" (6.35).

He advises the regular practice of meditation in a secluded location, while alone, providing some very specific instructions which begin in verse 10 of chapter 6:
10 One perfecting the science of uniting the individual consciousness with the Ultimate Consciousness, consistently residing alone in a secluded place engaged in controlling the mind, desireless, free from proprietorship [translated here as "feelings of possessiveness"], should meditate on the inner self.
11 In a sacred and purified place after establishing a seat neither too high nor too low of kusa grass, deerskin or natural cloth; 
12 thereupon sitting firmly on that seat controlling the mind and activities of the senses making the mind one-pointed; one in realization should meditate by the science of uniting the individual consciousness with the Ultimate Consciousness for purifying the mind. 
13 Holding the physical body, head and neck straight, unmoving and stable, gazing upon the tip of the nose and not glancing in any direction, fixed in the vow of celibacy,
14 with an unagitated mind, fearless, completely subduing the mind; the renunciate should sit concentrating upon Me as the Ultimate Goal.
Thus, in verse 14, the Lord Krishna explains that the yogi should focus entirely upon Krishna -- while only a few verses later, in verse 19 of the same chapter, the Lord Krishna describes the mind thus concentrated as focused upon or resting steadily in the Higher Self:
19 As a lamp in a windless place does not waver, so the transcendentalist, whose mind is controlled, remains always steadying his meditation on the transcendent self.
From these passages, then, I believe we can make the case that the teaching described using the imagery of Arjuna and the divine Krishna is teaching very much the same thing as that which is being conveyed through the parallel imagery of Thomas and the Divine Twin found in the New Testament gospel of John and in texts found at Nag Hammadi such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Book of Thomas the Contender (see previous posts discussing these texts herehere and here).

Or, stated the other way around, the metaphor of Thomas Didymus (the Twin) is trying to give us the same understanding that Krishna is here imparting to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita.

The mind is always unsteady, prone to rushing off in different directions -- as is Thomas in the New-Testament-era texts discussed in the posts linked above. It is full of doubts, as is Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, when Arjuna expresses to Krishna his doubt that the mind can ever be controlled at all.

And yet, Thomas has a divine counterpart with whom he is already inextricably linked -- with whom he is "twinned," one who is already "closer than a brother" to him, although he does not always act like it. This is the divine twin -- the transcendent self or the Higher Self described in the Bhagavad Gita using different language, and described in the letters of Paul as the "Christ within."

We can catch glimpses of this unwavering, transcendent divine twin below or beneath the endless flickering of our mind as we learn to stop letting the mind carry us wherever it is "blowing" from one moment to the next -- and when this happens our mind stops becoming our "worst enemy" and begins to become a tool that we control instead of one that controls us.

Beginning each day by following some of the specific recommendations given in the sixth chapter of the Gita (such as the recommendations of using a meditation cushion, one that is neither "too high nor too low," assuming good upright posture, not closing the eyes completely but rather gazing downward in the direction of the tip of the nose [or, as 5.27 and 28 say, "keeping the eyes and vision concentrated between the two eyebrows," in the region of the third eye], and focusing the mind on one point, while "suspending the inward and outward breaths within the nostrils [5.27-28]) can help us to begin to gain control over the mind, which Lord Krishna tells Arjuna in 6.36 is -- in his opinion -- the most practical and appropriate path towards uniting with the Higher Self.

Interestingly enough, in light of the assertion being made that the allegory of Thomas and the Divine Twin is intended to convey the same message found in the Bhagavad Gita chapters 5 and 6, Krishna tells Arjuna that the one who gains full consciousness of the Higher Self -- the one who attains awareness of Krishna -- will "attain peace" (5.29).  

It is quite evident from a reading of the New Testament scriptures that the Christ regularly greets his followers with the word "peace" and that he very memorably promises them his peace, such as in John 14:27.

The Bhagavad Gita suggests that it is only by bringing the mind out of its "flickering, doubting" mode and under the control of the Higher Self that we are able to achieve this peace, which is characterized by complete detachment from either the fear of the consequences of right action or desire for benefits from its successful outcome. Instead, we can simply focus on doing what is right, without being beset by doubt. In 5.25, for example, Krishna tells Arjuna:
Those who are beyond the dualities that arise from doubts, whose minds are engaged within, who are always busy working for the welfare of all living beings, and who are free from all sins [which 5.10 has already explained comes from freedom of attachment and surrender to the Supreme], achieve liberation in the Supreme.
Incredibly enough, the bringing of the mind beneath the control of the Lord, and the release from doubt through the surrender to the Supreme, appears to be exactly what is dramatized in the famous episode of "Doubting Thomas" found in John, chapter 20.

I believe that the Gita tells us how to pursue this uniting of the "Thomas-mind" to the Supreme Lord every single day, through very practical direction and the promise that, while at first difficult, with discipline "it is possible," through suitable practice and detachment.

When the two "twins" are united, then our mind can begin to become our "best friend" rather than our "worst enemy."

Because, as we learn to become less attached to the outcome and more in touch with the Higher Self, we are less "blown about by the wind" (the exact same metaphor used in the Bhagavad Gita 6.19, 33 and 34 is also used in the New Testament, in James 1:6), less wracked by doubt, and more prepared to do what is right, without attachment to the outcome.

And, Krishna also appears to be telling us in the Gita, this detachment is essential in order to be "always working for the welfare of all living beings," which is our duty.

Note that by explaining what I see in these ancient texts, I am not trying to imply (at all) that I myself have achieved this state! It is one thing to know what the texts are telling us, and quite another to achieve what they are describing. 

But, even though Arjuna expresses his doubts to Krishna, and says that all of this seems to be harder even than controlling the wind, Krishna promises him that the path can be successfully followed -- and what is more, that eventually we are assured of success in this regard (although perhaps over the course of many incarnations).