I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away
Indeed, a great account by Shelley, expressing vainness of the material wealth! Shelley’s sonnet ‘Ozymandias’ too signifies, what Krishna is trying to explain Arjuna.
Everything material is short lived. Monumental cities or gigantic structures! Even great kings and valiant warriors like Bhishma or Arjuna aren’t lasting forever. A material grant will shine today and expire tomorrow. The gist is instead of cultivating the temptations of the body, one should seek eternal happiness.
Undying happiness will be the product of an undying soul, hence understanding the nature of soul is key to Salvation.
What is the nature of soul….
From the 17th verse of Chapter II – Sankhya Yoga, Lord Krishna describes the nature of the soul.
न जायते म्रियते वा कदाचिन्नायं भूत्वा भविता वा न भूयः ।
अजो नित्यः शाश्वतोऽयं पुराणो न हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे ।।२।।२०।।
The soul is never born nor dies at any time nor does it come into being again when the body is created. The soul is birthless, eternal, imperishable, timeless and is never destroyed even when the body is.
अविनाशि तु तद्विद्धि येन सर्वमिदं ततम् ।
विनाशमव्ययस्यास्य न कश्चित्कर्तुमर्हति ।।२।।१७।।
वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि ।
तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णान्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही ।।२।।२२।।
नैनं छिन्दन्ति शस्त्राणि नैनं दहति पावकः ।
न चैनं क्लेदयन्त्यापो न शोषयति मारुतः ।।२।।२३।।
The soul is indestructible, eternal, and omnipresent. (Verse 17) It is neither born nor deceased. It’s the body that is destroyed. When the body is destroyed, the soul enters another, the way a man shrugs off his old clothes and puts on new ones. (Verses 22, 23)
The body of a being goes through various stages of existence like birth, aging and death. The soul, however isn’t bound by these. The body may undergo wear and tear, burning, drowning or like. The soul does not have these infirmities. The body is destroyed one day; the soul is not. He only verves into another body.
Thus Lord Krishna explains Arjuna, nature of the illusory creation and the immortal soul.
The coherent Arjuna fires the next question! What about the sin of killing, even if you agree to not mourn? If it is believed that the bodies of Bhishma or Drona are mortal, isn’t it a sin to kill any of them?
From verses 31 to 39, Lord Krishna explains the importance of following one’s duty (Swa Dharma – स्वधर्म). Swa means Self and Dharma is Duty (here). Fighting for the truth and righteousness is the duty of a warrior (Kshatriya – क्षत्रिय). There is no sin in a combat if it’s for upholding greater good of the society. Let’s take a simple example. A soldier on the front, defending his country is not looked upon as a sinner. It is his duty to protect his nation. His action is hence held in the interest of the society and not demeaned as ruthless massacre.
A royal court which helplessly tolerates misbehaviour against a female member of family (Draupadi) requires re-engineering. It’s the ordained duty of a true warrior to bring proper statehood to the depraved dynasty and to a society which allowed such a shameful act to happen. It is not a sin to fight against it. In fact, it would be a sin to move away from the war in such state of affairs. Moreover, fleeing from war will create wrong ideals in the society. It is the duty of the future ruler (Arjuna) to guide the society in the right direction. Even if he has to fight for it, it is the right thing to do. It is a sin for Kshatriyas to be weakened by seeing individual kinship instead of collective interest. Lord Krishna thus pacifies Arjuna’s query on sin!
Krishna discourses origin of existence, nature of body and soul and duty (Swa Dharma) of an individual. His motive is to convince Arjuna that – Duryodhana, Dushasana or he himself are purely right or wrong perspectives. Masses keep verging knowingly or unknowingly between right and wrong ideologies. Sometimes the unjust is strong and society may run after it. Just as the army then behind Duryodhana is outnumbering Pandavas.
As the existence is perishable so are right and wrong attitudes. These are perceptions emerging out of a vacillating mindset. What looks good to you today may not be so great tomorrow. One must overcome this inconstancy of mind. Because once the mind is stable, it comprehends what is right and does it.
A gun never fires, the hand behind it fires;
hand never fires, man behind it fires;
man never fires, Mind behind it fires!
This stability of mind is the third part of Arjuna’s quest. Once his mind gains stability, he would know whether war is right or wrong and he could act accordingly. In fact, an unwavering mind would decipher all questions related to existence and lead him to eternal peace – Salvation.
There’s a story about classical vocalist Pt. Vishnu Digambar Paluskar. While traveling through the forest, he rested at a temple. There arrived a hermit. In the dusky evening, the ascetic, immersed in his own universe, begins to sing. Paluskar felt that the whole world is mesmerized listening to that song, the temple is filled with celestial light! After a while, when he came to his senses, the song is over and the light is gone. Paluskar asked the ascetic, “Will you teach me singing that has such a transcendental effect? I am ready to do anything for it. I am even ready to become a hermit.” The ascetic grinned and replies “Such singing is not the result of being a hermit. But when you attain such a proficiency in your trade, you will automatically become a hermit. “
Hermits and commoners are games of the mind. The one whose mind is stable can be a hermit even though he is a commoner and the one whose mind is not stable……
Sthita Prajna – The Unwavering ………
Prajna means intellect, Sthita means steadfast. The Unwavering one…. whose intellect is stable. One who has no duality in thought and action….. A staunch pragmatist.
The description of Sthita Prajna surfaces from verse 54 of the second chapter. Arjuna curiously seeks to know how the one with stable mind looks, behaves and reacts. Krishna describes.
दुःखेष्वनुद्विग्नमनाः सुखेषु विगतस्पृहः ।
वीतरागभयक्रोधः स्थितधीर्मुनिरुच्यते ॥ २।। ५६ ॥
The one, who’s mind is undisturbed by distress, without desire for happiness, free from attachment, fear and anger, that sage is known as steadfast in consciousness.
A sage is a person who has no regrets, has no desire for happiness at all, and whose love, fear and anger have disappeared.
It’s as hard to put it into practice as it is easy to say. For..
यततो ह्यपि कौन्तेय पुरुषस्य विपश्चितः।
इन्द्रियाणि प्रमाथीनि हरन्ति प्रसभं मनः ॥२।। ६० ॥
O Arjuna the senses are so turbulent they can forcibly lead astray the mind of even a vigilant person of sound judgement.
Strong senses invariably attract the human mind into various temptations. Hence developing neutrality towards sorrow and happiness becomes difficult. A common man can understand being neutral towards sorrow but being neutral to happiness? Sounds crazy!
Unlike the Sthita Prajna,
यदा संहरते चायं कूर्मोऽङ्गानीव सर्वशः।
इन्द्रियाणीन्द्रियार्थेभ्यस्तस्य प्रज्ञा प्रतिष्ठिता॥२।। ५८ ॥
Similar to a tortoise that withdraws its limbs, when one completely withdraws the senses from the temptations, he is established in perfect knowledge.
That is why the temptations that seduce the common man do not bother him. His mind and body are engrossed in only one thought, eternal bliss… which is salvation.
In case of momentary happiness and sorrow,
रागद्वेषवियुक्तैस्तु विषयानिन्द्रियैश्चरन् ।
आत्मवश्यैर्विधेयात्मा प्रसादमधिगच्छति ॥२।।६४ ॥
But the self-controlled being, while amidst objects of the senses, freed from the attachment and aversion, with senses governed by the self; attains ecstasy.
Like a droplet on a leaf maintaining its distinctness, the Sthita Prajna attains bliss despite staying amongst the sensory temptations.
Lord Krishna calls such a state ‘Brahmi’ – ultimate state, that is, the state of attaining eternal happiness.
एषा ब्राह्मी स्थितिः पार्थ नैनां प्राप्य विमुह्यति ।
स्थित्वास्यामन्तकालेऽपि ब्रह्मनिर्वाणमृच्छति॥२।।७२ ॥
O Arjuna, one who attains the realization of the Ultimate Truth, is never again deluded and at the moment of death, liberates from the material existence and merges into the ultimate consciousness.
The Sthita Prajna and his qualities are unique features of the Gita. They’ve not been mentioned anywhere else in Indian Philosophy (like Upanishadas).
A closer look at Gita reveals that Chapter II actually summarizes the entire essence of Indian School of Wisdom. The questions Arjuna is struggling with, are related not just to war but to a meaningful life. Lord Krishna unfolds the mystery within this chapter.
If we want eternal happiness, we should be able to distinguish between what is eternal and what is fleeting in existence. According to the Sankhya, the visual creation is temporary, while the soul is eternal.
We, who are part of the fleeting creation will not get eternal happiness until we free ourselves out of that delusion. To come out of the delusion is to come out of the momentary pleasure and sorrow.
To come out of happiness and sorrow is to look at both joy and sorrow with equanimity and to give them up. To gain this equilibrium, restraint is needed on the senses.
If the senses are to be controlled, then the mind must be controlled, and to control the mind, is not to suppress it but to conquer it with the intellect.
The one who acquires this intellect becomes Sthita Prajna i.e. the Unwavering.
He, whose intellect is stable, is happy because he recognizes that happiness is within and not in the matter around. Then the fruits of his deeds do not bother him. He can withstand both happiness and sorrow and can go beyond them.
Here the process and the product become one. The seeker and the sought after (happiness) become one. The person who has gone into the Brahmi – Ultimate state, breaks the confinements of material happiness and reaches inner peace – Salvation aka Nirvana.
What could better explain the bliss than John Donne’s lines!
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Once we realize the dreamy nature of material world and awaken ourselves out of it, fear of even the death, vanishes. Pure happiness dawns, breaking barriers of existence.
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