Buddhi Yoga and Svadharma

by Raghavan Iyer @ Theosophy Trust


BUDDHI YOGA AND SVADHARMA


 Whosoever knoweth me to be the mighty Ruler of the universe and without birth or beginning, he among men, undeluded, shall be liberated from all his sins. Subtle perception, spiritual knowledge, right judgement, patience, truth, self-mastery; pleasure and pain, prosperity and adversity; birth and death, danger and security, fear and equanimity, satisfaction, restraint of body and mind, alms-giving, inoffensiveness, zeal and glory and ignominy, all these the various dispositions of creatures come from me. So in former days the seven great Sages and the four Manus who are of my nature were born of my mind, and from them sprang this world. He who knoweth perfectly this permanence and mystic faculty of mine becometh without doubt possessed of unshaken faith. I am the origin of all; all things proceed from me; believing me to be thus, the wise gifted with spiritual wisdom worship me; their very hearts and minds are in me; enlightening one another and constantly speaking of me, they are full of enjoyment and satisfaction. To them thus always devoted to me, who worship me with love, I give that mental devotion [Buddhi Yoga] by which they come to me. For them do I out of my compassion, standing within their hearts, destroy the darkness which springs from ignorance by the brilliant lamp of spiritual discernment.

Bhagavad Gita, X    

 Lord Krishna represents the universality and versatility of boundless joy (ananda) and the unconditional love at the core of cosmic and human evolution. Wherever thought has struggled to be free, wherever the human heart has opened itself to the invisible Spiritual Sun, and wherever even a drop of wisdom has been awakened through suffering and pain, courage and persistence, there you will find the immortal Spirit, the sovereign power of the omnipresent Purusha. All the Rishis and Mahatmas reside within the universal form (brahmanda) of Vishnu-Narayana-Krishna. In saluting them, one experiences a sense of the timeless, a transcendence that reaches beyond all limits, frontiers and boundaries of manifestation. One may greet the Supreme in the midnight sun, in the dawn of Venus, at midday or in the gathering dusk – the time of memory or the time of reverie. And one must always reach out towards that Divine Darkness which is prior to all worlds and beyond all forms. Myriads upon myriads of worlds of billions of beings arise from that Divine Darkness and reside in the unmanifest light of the invisible form of Vishnu-Narayana.

 That light neither rises nor sets, neither waxes nor wanes. It is the same light which, in the words of the Gospel according to John, irradiates every soul that comes into this world. It is the light to be found in the sound of the AUM, uttered, however imperfectly, by every baby at birth. It is the light that descends upon every human being at the moment of death, when he or she stands ready to cast off the external garments of this world and return to the inmost vesture, the karana sharira, and come closer to the Atman. It is also the light-vibration of the ever-present Brahma Vach that pulsates throughout the cosmos, maintained in motion by mighty men of meditation, Dhyanis, Rishis, Mahatmas, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. All human beings can return, again and again, to sit at the feet of Lord Krishna and so learn how to brighten their lives and awaken compassion in their hearts.

 Every pilgrim soul who seeks to increase skill in action for the sake of increasing his or her capacity to add even a little to the sum of human good can benefit from the Teachings of Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. Taken as a whole, the Gita is a treatise on yoga, the kingly science, of the individual soul's union with the universal Self. That union is, ontologically, ever existent. But because of the maya of manifestation and the descent of consciousness through vestures which seem to create a world of many selves and many forms, the human mind becomes alienated from the true inmost Self in which Ishvara resides. It becomes confined within time and space, within past, present and future, and it must struggle to overcome these illusions. Thus the whole of the Gita is a summons and challenge to engage in that righteous warfare which every human soul must undertake. In the eighteenth chapter of the Gita, Lord Krishna declares that if one will not voluntarily choose to engage in this righteous war, karmic necessity will compel one to do so. The wise are those who cooperate with cosmic necessity, with their own divine destiny, with their own sacrosanct duty or svadharma. The wisest are those who choose as firmly and as early as possible, making an irreversible and unconditional commitment, in the gracious manner and generous spirit of Lord Krishna. Without doubt or hesitation, they choose His path, His teaching and His prescribed mode of skill in action.

 In the second chapter of the Gita, Krishna begins by affirming to Arjuna the eternal existence of one indivisible, inconsumable, inexhaustible Source of all life, light and energy. Having dispelled the danger that Arjuna would abandon through fear the righteous battle and his svadharma, Krishna presents before Arjuna the talismanic teaching of Buddhi Yoga:

 Yet the performance of works is by far inferior to mental devotion [Buddhi Yoga], O despiser of wealth. Seek an asylum, then, in this mental devotion, which is knowledge; for the miserable and unhappy are those whose impulse to action is found in its reward. But he who by means of yoga is mentally devoted dismisses alike successful and unsuccessful results, being beyond them; yoga is skill in the performance of actions: therefore do thou aspire to this devotion. For those who are thus united to knowledge and devoted, who have renounced all reward for their actions, meet no rebirth in this life, and go to that eternal blissful abode which is free from all disease and untouched by troubles.

Ibid., II    

Buddhi Yoga requires a fixity and steadfastness in intuitive intelligent determination which is superior to Karma Yoga, the yoga of works, as a means of gaining enlightenment. It involves an eye capable of recognizing essentials, which, once awakened, will give a decisiveness without wavering or wandering. Through this resolute intellect, one's actions may become shadowless – nischaya. Even though one may be obscured, as a member of the human family participating in the world's pain, ignorance and turbulence, nonetheless one inwardly preserves the dignity of the power of choice. It is, therefore, possible to touch within oneself that level of absolute resolve which ensures that something essential will never be abandoned, or diluted or doubted, never weakened by careless speech nor lost in the chaos of compulsive acts, but always protected from discursive and dissecting Manasic reasoning. Every human being enjoys such moments of assurance. Otherwise it would not be possible to survive. Even fools and knaves have a few moments of sushupti at night inspiring them to awaken in the morning to greet another day. Were it not for this abiding sense of assurance about one's minimum dignity within the core of one's being, one could not go on.

 This sense of one's distinct place in the total scheme of things is what Spinoza called the conatus, the urge or will to sustain rational and spiritual self-preservation. This is not merely an intellectual notion, but a biological fact. When a person begins to approach death, the anahata vibration in the spiritual heart ceases to sound in the linga sharira. The Sage or Seer can recognize this cessation of sound and a subtle alteration in the rate of breathing several months before the time of physical death. Throughout this period, the human being is engaged in a protracted review of the whole of his or her life, a review which is too often chaotic and confused, a jumble of recent memories and childhood events. Only at the time of separation from the physical body is the soul enabled to view in an orderly and rapid manner the entire film of an entire life. In the final preparation for this there is an ebbing of the connection between the sound vibration in the spiritual heart and the karana sharira and the vibration in the linga sharira, and therefore also in the sthula sharira. Once this ebbing begins, the person has begun to withdraw or die.

 The sense of resolve and human dignity is so weak in human beings today that vast numbers, in the phrase of T.S. Eliot, are only "living and partly living". They have become so disgusted with the world, so confused about the events of our times and the precipitous decline of humane values throughout the globe, that they are hardly incarnated. They are mostly asleep or sleep-walking, drowsy or passive, or they mechanically go about their duties. They maintain none of that minimal wakefulness that is found in many a humble villager who, through desperation and poverty, maintains intact the light in the eyes, the light of Manas and human self-awareness. Paradoxically, one can sometimes sense the ray and radiance of pure consciousness in the most desperate and despised of human beings, whilst others have, alas, been educated beyond their capacity to make use of their knowledge. Between the head and the heart there is a terrible chasm, or even a battle. Many tend to be lost and therefore they live and partly live. It is as if the will to live, the conatus, has weakened; nothing remains but an automatism of habit and the power of cohesion in the skandhas. This is the pitiable condition referred to by Lord Krishna when he speaks of those who are wedded to the fruits of action. The plight of those who have conditioned themselves only to act for the sake of results is an indictment of modern education in Kali Yuga. The Iron Age arms too many people to live only in terms of what is perceptible, measurable and tangible. Having reduced all to the terms of a utilitarian consciousness, they come to view their fellow human beings in a crude Lockean fashion: "Every human being is a threat to you, unless you can join interests with him." If a person is neither a threat nor an accomplice in some selfish interest, he is a stranger. Today vast numbers of human beings live in cities of strangers. They live alone amidst humanity, unloved, with no sense of warmth. Such is the tragic condition of "modern man".

 Over five thousand years ago Lord Krishna anticipated this condition of varnashankar, the confusion of castes. Although it will increase and proceed throughout the entirety of Kali Yuga, it will also provide an opportunity for those who engage consciously and voluntarily in a discipline of intuitive determination, Buddhi Yoga. Human beings who are yoked to Buddhi are lifelong exemplars of Buddhi Yoga. Preferably before the age of seven, and in rare cases even before the age of three, they have permanently married themselves to the Light of the Logos within the secret spiritual heart. Having so early betrothed themselves and permanently married themselves to the Lord within, they go through the obligations of life with ease, without much expectation, but with a certain lightness and skillfulness in the performance of duty. They do what is needed for their parents and grandparents. They do not despise those who claim to be their rivals or enemies. They do not become too attached to their own siblings, and see themselves as essentially no different from the other children they encounter from poorer families, from humbler circumstances, or even from rich and unhappy families. All of them they recognize as a part of one sacred family.

 Between the ages of seven and fourteen, having already secretly betrothed themselves to this inner core of the Ishvara within, they become quite ready to engage in the duties of the grihastha ashrama. At the same time, they have cultivated that skill in self-education which will last all through the grihastha ashrama and take them into the third ashrama. Even if they cannot retreat into the solitude of forests, mountains or caves, but remain in the midst of society, they will be like wanderers or parivrajakas, preparing themselves for the fourth ashrama. They will always be one step ahead of the stages of life. By the age of twenty-one they will have sharpened their powers of reason and by the age of twenty-eight they will have developed sufficient Buddhic insight to be able to synthesize and select. So they are able to let go of what is irrelevant and inessential. They can follow the teaching of Buddha: "O Bhikshu, lighten the boat if you will cross to the other shore." While others who are less wise are engaged in amassing and accumulating, they learn to lighten their claims upon the world and their demands upon others. By lightening their expectations from institutions, their hopes and fantasies in relation either to the opposite sex or in relation to children or parents, they become capable of looking with eyes of wonder each day for what is unexpected. They begin to perceive the unwritten poetry of human life and the silent drama of human existence. Thus they become witnesses to the divine dialectic ceaselessly at work.

 Such souls are fortunate, for they have chosen to become yoked to Buddhi. Having established true continuity of consciousness in youth, by the age of thirty-five they have already started withdrawing. At the moment of death, whether it come early or late, they are able to engage in a conscious process of withdrawal, maintaining intact the potency of the AUM. In life they have not merely learnt to meditate upon the AUM, but also to enact it. They have learnt the art of will-prayer and gained the ability to act in any and every situation for the good of others, without expectation of reward. They have learnt to cast their actions, like offerings, into the ocean of universal sacrifice in the spirit of the AUM. Thus they are able to experience the AUM, whether in the silence that precedes the dawn or in the noisy rush and din of cities. Even in the cacophony and cries of human pain they hear the AUM. It cries out to them in all of Nature's voices. So they maintain continually an awareness of the AUM, and well before the moment of death they are able to receive the help that will enable them to follow a life of svadharma and Buddhi Yoga in their future incarnations.

 Having given Arjuna preliminary instruction in Buddhi Yoga in chapter two of the Gita, Krishna conveys in chapter four the correct mental posture of the disciple. He depicts that divine bhakti which is the prerequisite for jnana and also the true spirit of Karma Yoga, because they all fuse into a sacred current of consciousness.

 Seek this wisdom by doing service, by strong search, by questions, and by humility; the wise who see the truth will communicate it unto thee, and knowing which thou shalt never again fall into error, O son of Bharata. By this knowledge thou shalt see all things and creatures whatsoever in thyself and then in me.

Ibid., IV    

In this depiction of the perfect posture of the chela, Krishna stresses the humility of the wise and the silence of the strong, virtues of the Sage whose portrait was given in the second chapter of the Gita. Having conveyed this ideal posture, Krishna proceeds in the seventh chapter to present Buddhi as an element in cosmic manifestation. Here he goes beyond the teachings of the Sankhya School, which holds that Buddhi is a kind of radiant matter or substance present throughout all Nature. Krishna affirms Buddhi as wisdom itself and inseparable from himself, something that no human being can develop except by the grace of the Lord.

 In all creatures I am the life, and the power of concentration in those whose minds are on the spirit. Know me, O son of Pritha, as the eternal seed of all creatures. I am the wisdom [Buddhi] of the wise and the strength [tejas] of the strong.

Ibid., VII    

 To understand this a human being must be able to insert himself or herself into the whole of humanity, recognizing that there is a cosmic force working in human evolution. This is Mahabuddhi, connected with Mahat and Akasha, the alkahest of the hierophants and magicians. It is the universal solvent and the elixir of life. It is the basis of self-conscious immortality and self-conscious transmutation of the linga sharira and the sthula sharira. It is the Light of the Logos. All expressions of intelligence – whether latent, partial or highly specialized, whether precise, diffused or merely potential, whether in a dog or an Adept – are drops in one universal shoreless ocean of cosmic Buddhi. Therefore, no human being can develop Buddhi Yoga on the basis of individualistic conceptions of progress. One cannot simply say to oneself that because one has seen through one's illusions, one is now going to become an apprentice in Buddhi Yoga. To say that is to misapprehend the nature of the quest. All forms of yoga require, at some level, what M.K. Gandhi called anashakti, egolessness; this is supremely true in Buddhi Yoga.

 In the practice of spiritual archery one must forget oneself. One can do this meaningfully only if, at the same time, one remains spiritually awake. One must become intensely conscious of one's kinship with all of creation, capable of enjoying its beauty and intelligence without any sense of "mine" or "thine". Wherever there is a display of wisdom, one must salute it. Wherever one finds an exhibition of that true common sense which is helpful in the speech of any human being, one must acknowledge and greet it. This does not mean merely saying "Namaste" outwardly, but inwardly bowing down, prostrating oneself before others. At night, before falling asleep, one must count all the benefactors and teachers that one met during the day. No matter how they are disguised, you must be so taken up in rejoicing that you have learnt from other human beings that you have no time to complain of injustice or to become discontented, let alone contentious and cantankerous. In the Uttara Gita, long after the Mahabharata War had ended, Krishna told Arjuna that every time one speaks unnecessarily or falsely, one's astral shadow lengthens. If one speaks unwisely, harshly or without thought and deliberation, one expands and fattens the linga sharira. So one creates a smoky obscuration of the power of tejas, the light within the spiritual heart. The true yogin does the opposite, becoming very conscious and deliberate in the exercise of mental and therefore uttered speech. He learns the art of what D.K. Mavalankar calls self-attenuation. Through this stripping away of inessentials, one becomes capable of maximizing one's every use of life-energy.

 Paradoxically, one cannot acquire this self-mastery without recognizing that one cannot do it on one's own. Therefore, Krishna teaches that the power of universal Buddhi is an omnipresent essence. Krishna is the radiance in all that is radiant and the intelligence in all the intelligences in the universe. Thus it is only by Krishna's gift that one can arouse that power of devotion which brings the disciple to him. This ultimate paradox, which can be understood in relation to music and love, is vital to spiritual life. It is not only that one must strive and try; a moment comes when one is so absorbed in the object of the quest that one feels the magnetic attraction of that which one seeks. Therefore, the more one enjoys being drawn towards the Lord, the more one can recognize and receive His gift of Buddhi Yoga. To prepare oneself to use the gift of the Lord, one must, as the second chapter of the Gita teaches, become a spiritual archer, skilled in the art of action. One must become perfected in the precise performance of one s self-chosen duty or svadharma. Initially, when Krishna uses the term svadharma in the second chapter of the Gita, he uses it in relation to the duties of birth, of calling and of caste. He chides Arjuna for forsaking the svadharma of a Kshatriya. He suggests that if one does not fulfil one's own obligations, chosen and accepted over lifetimes, and if one does not come to terms with the limits, possibilities and opportunities of one's birth, one is moving in the wrong direction and will accrue much evil. Even this initial definition of svadharma in terms of one's starting-point in life is much more than a reference to mere occupation and caste.

 In the early years of life, most human beings have so little meaningful choice with regard to circumstances that it is difficult to talk credibly of freedom at an early age. Nonetheless, there is for every human being a clear opportunity to accept or not accept that which one cannot alter. In that context, one may be said to choose one's svadharma. The concept of choosing that which one cannot change is not fatalism. Rather, it is a critical assessment in consciousness of those elements in one's life which are innate. In the very act of understanding and in the attempt to give meaning to these initial parameters, one must develop and apply some understanding of the karmic field. Moreover, by understanding the karmic tendencies in one's own constitution and confronting one's likes and dislikes, one may come to sense something about one's lower nature and gain some understanding of one's possible behaviour in other lives. Thus, one will recognize that in one's family, for all its obvious limitations, there may be many opportunities for enjoyment and for learning. All true soul-education is an unfoldment through worship and affection, and it is open to every human being to make all life a celebration of learning.

 If one really wishes, through the power of worship coupled with affection, to become skilled in the performance of duties, one must recognize that there are those who have gone beyond the initial stages of Buddhi Yoga. They have become constant in the power of Jnana Yoga, men and women of ceaseless meditation and contemplation. They are the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of ceaseless contemplation, constantly ideating and thereby sustaining the possibility of human aspiration. They are able to do this through their conscious choice of mental solitude and their freedom from attraction and repulsion. Above all, they exemplify perfection of mental devotion. They have become supremely steadfast, like the immovable Himalayas. They are rock-like in their strength of tapas, bhakti and dhyana. Krishna repeatedly gives encouragement to all beginners making their first tentative steps on the path by urging them to discern in themselves something in common with the highest beings who have ever existed. He offers to Arjuna a living portrait, in potent words, of the true Sage. Whilst it is difficult for modern man to understand, there are in fact many more sages, munis and yogins than guessed by human beings incarnated on earth. Whilst there are billions upon billions of human beings, there are also galaxies of adepts and Bodhisattvas. Whilst they are invisible to the physical senses, they nonetheless exist and they all have their roles in the task of cosmic and human evolution.

 To become capable of recognizing them and saluting them means that it is possible to gain some light with regard to one's own svadharma. Hence, Krishna affirms that it is even better to die in one's own svadharma than to be concerned with the duty of another. Even if little is going to change significantly in one's life, the acquisition of wisdom always remains possible and worthwhile. It is a useful mental exercise just to imagine that one is going to die in exactly one's present situation. Then, without giving any room to fantasy and expectation, one must understand how, through this acceptance of immediate svadharma, one may strengthen the power of mental devotion or Buddhi Yoga. Growth in the power of sacrifice or Jnana Yajna is always possible in every circumstance. But that growth requires a turning away from the region of separative consciousness towards the realm of the united hosts of perfected performers of yoga who reside within the universal form of Krishna.

 To begin to apprehend this is to begin to prepare for the opening of the Wisdom-Eye, a process that is beatified by the realization of the universal vision given to Arjuna by Krishna in the eleventh chapter of the Gita. At the end of that vision Krishna makes a statement which is the foundation of all self-conscious transcendence: "I established this whole universe with a single portion of myself, and remain separate." Here Krishna is the paradigm of the Pythagorean spectator, the Kutashtha, he who is aloof and apart from all manifestation. He is the fount of those great Dhyanis who descend in the dawn of manifestation, knowing its limits and uninvolved while performing their tasks in manifestation. Maintaining their continuity of consciousness and self-transcendence in the Logos, they remain free from the hypnotic spell of Mahamaya. What is exemplified by Dhyanis in the dawn of manifestation is repeatedly re-enacted in the course of human evolution when human beings, by the power of vairagya – true dispassion established by the power of a vow of fixed determination – are able to generate a continuous current of Buddhic insight. Establishing and maintaining this current, testing it in action and correcting themselves by it, individuals may become constant witnesses to the truth. After a while, their minds become so firmly yoked to Buddhic discrimination that it becomes as natural as breathing. In many Buddhist schools and sanctuaries, particularly in the Hinayana tradition, neophytes are taught to observe their breathing. When coupled with the Mahayana refinement of motive, this can serve as the enduring basis of bare mindfulness and pure attention.

 Vinoba Bhave sums up the whole teaching of svadharma in the Gita in terms of the concept of chittashuddhi – purity of consciousness. All human beings, even in Kali Yuga, and even surrounded by pollutions, are capable of mental purification. All are capable of maintaining unbroken and intact a stream of pure consciousness, but this requires spiritual food. One must learn to devise one s own rituals and sacrifices, to treat one's body as a temple in which one will greet and bathe in the Light of the Logos. One must learn to consecrate one's own vesture, becoming wholehearted, uncalculating and without expectation in one's relationship with Krishna. When through self-consecration bhakti and buddhi come together, jnana is released. From jnana one may eventually rise to dhyana, ceaseless contemplation. Then it is possible to return to svadharma and understand it in the salvific sense expressed by Krishna in the eighteenth chapter of the Gita. There Krishna puts svadharma in terms of a universal formula, independent of birth, of early circumstances, of vocation and calling. It is the art of discovering one's true nature, and therefore becoming creative in one's capacity for self-expression.

 Each human being is an original, and each act is unique. Out of enjoyment of the cosmic lila and out of veneration for the universal form and omnipresent light of Krishna, a human being can become unrestricted and spontaneous in enacting and delivering svadharma. There is a great joy in this and such ananda is so all-absorbing that there is no time to interfere with other people or to criticize them. There is no distraction in relation to the demands of dharma. Instead, there is full concentration on becoming a servant and instrument of the universal Logos in the cosmos, the God in man, Krishna in the heart.

 With thy heart place all thy works on me, prefer me to all else, exercise mental devotion [Buddhi Yoga] continually, and think constantly of me. By so doing thou shalt by my divine favour surmount every difficulty which surroundeth thee; but if from pride thou wilt not listen to my words, thou shalt undoubtedly be lost. And if, indulging self-confidence, thou sayest "I will not fight", such a determination will prove itself vain, for the principles of thy nature will impel thee to engage. Being bound by all past karma to thy natural duties, thou, O son of Kunti, wilt involuntarily do from necessity that which in thy folly thou wouldst not do. There dwelleth in the heart of every creature, O Arjuna, the Master – Ishvara – who by his magic power causeth all things and creatures to revolve mounted upon the universal wheel of time. Take sanctuary with him alone, O son of Bharata, with all thy soul; by his grace thou shalt obtain supreme happiness, the eternal place.

Ibid., XVIII    

 To become a true votary of Buddhi Yoga through the performance of svadharma is to become ready to serve the divine will of the Atman, the workings of the Logos and the Avatar behind all the turbulent sifting and chaos of the historical process. The Buddhi Yogin recognizes the intimations of the divine dialectic in maturing human beings, mellowing minds and hearts, broadening and expanding their quintessential humanity. Cooperating with the Light of the Logos within, they are able to rediscover the germ of purity of consciousness and thereby enter the family of the wise, the fraternity who know all of this and exemplify it ceaselessly. The true hallmark of these Rishis and Mahatmas is the power of devotion and adoration. They are constant in adoration of Krishna, His lila, His wisdom, the joy of His dance, the beauty of His unconditionality. They understand from within themselves the way in which Krishna may be seen in Arjuna, in Arjuna's aspiration to reach up to Krishna, and also in Krishna's enjoyment of the seeming separation of himself from himself in Arjuna. This is the mysterious art of the universal diffusion of the one Light, the problem of the One and the many, and the participation of the many in the One. Through Buddhi Yoga, bhakti and svadharma there can be a self-conscious return to the One, but only on behalf of the many. This is the sacred Teaching of Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, given to sustain humanity throughout Kali Yuga. All may benefit from the Teaching, returning to it again and again, using it in individual ways, enjoying and appreciating its beauty. Those who are perceptive and appreciate this great gift will make resolute vows to be steadfast in maintaining unbroken a sacred relationship with the Teaching and its great Giver.

Hermes, January 1985
by Raghavan Iyer