54. This verse is Arjuna’s query to Kesava (another name for Krsna) about the description of the realised Person. Krsna acquired this name after He killed the demon Kesi. ‘Kesava‘ also poetically refers to Krsna’s charm as it means ‘one with fine, luxuriant hair’.
Arjuna asks Krsna about the highest level of Perfection in a human being. In the next verse, Krsna gives the definition of a realised Person. In verses 56-59, He expounds on the definition with greater descriptive clarity. In verse 60 he talks about how the turbulent senses attack the mind and lead it astray. In verses 61-66 he gives the importance of the intellect. In 67 he says that the mind which has been misled by the senses drags the intellect away. And when your intellect is gone, He emphatically says, you perish. In verse 68 he talks about the need to control the senses. The way to calm the mind is through regulation of the senses. The senses entice the mind and the mind misleads the intellect. Verses 69-72 bring out the conclusion.
Most of us have either a hazy or distorted idea of Perfection. Externally a perfect person looks like any one of us. But there is a world of difference internally. We have no access to his internal state and make the mistake of assessing him by superfluous parameters. Consequently, we go completely wrong, conferring divinity on ordinary people and ascribing mediocrity to outstanding sages! Thus we lead ourselves up the garden path which is why it is imperative to have an accurate benchmark of Perfection. So that we know which direction to move in and which role model to emulate.
Arjuna’s query sounds ridiculous on the face of it. It is symbolic yet complete in itself. One may wonder what the posture or language or gestures of a realised Person have to do with his internal state. But he is not asking whether such a person speaks Sanskrit or Italian, whether he sits in padmasana or what pace he walks at. One has to understand the actual purport of the question.
He asks what the ‘Sthitaprajna’ is like. Sthita means steady, prajna means one of wisdom. Ka bhasa means what is his nature, his description. Prabhaseta means how does he speak. Speech is one of the 5 organs of action. The style of the scriptures is such that when they refer to one organ, they include all of them collectively. So the question is how do the organs of action function. A realised Person is one who has reached the state of Infinity and yet is living in the world. How does the Infinite express itself in the finite? Kim asita means how does he sit? When you sit, you are with yourself, not contacting the world. So the question is about his inner nature. And the last, ‘kim vrajeta’, how does he walk? When you walk you interact with the world. So how does such a person meet the external world?
Hence it is a complete question – a word painting of a person of Excellence. How do we know that this is what he means, that it is the correct interpretation of the question? From the answer. Krsna’s answer begins with Verse 55.
The subsequent verses communicate the depth of the human personality, incomprehensible to the common person. Yet the masterly presentation paints a picture that anyone can understand, relate to and strive to emulate.
55. Partha is another name for Arjuna, meaning son of Prtha, Kunti. Throughout the Bhagavad Gita, both Krsna and Arjuna use various names to address each other. Apart from lending a poetic charm to the text, it indicates the tremendous love they have for each other. This is essential for any communication, spiritual in particular. Subtle, abstract concepts are understood better when there is affection and confidence between teacher and student.
Here Krsna gives the definition of a realised Person, with both positive and negative assertions. He first gives the negative aspect because it is easier to understand. A person of steady wisdom is one who completely abandons all desires from the mind. That sounds frightening to us. Then Krsna quickly follows it up with a positive assertion to prevent any misconception. He has no desires because he is established in the Self alone by the Self. Self means Atman. Atman is the absolute state of Godhood. When you have access to your own Infinite status, everything else pales into insignificance. The value of all finite things instantly comes down to zero. He is giving us a definition in the absolute. It is impossible to understand the absolute. Hence we must come back to our level. Understand its meaning with reference to our life and then extrapolate to understand what He is talking about.
He is referring to growth – the escalation from one state of preoccupation to another. We have all been through some form of growth. Today you are all grown up but at some point of time you were a child. And as a child you were enamoured with toys. Today do you have the same desire? Obviously not. Even if you were offered sophisticated toys that were not available when you were a child, you wouldn’t want them. You can confidently declare that you are totally free of all desires for toys. How did these childhood desires go? Did you ever say, ‘I am going to renounce these toys’? No. In fact the toys just dropped out of your life. All you did was to grow to appreciate something higher, something more fulfilling, more tantalizing, more attractive. You made no attempt to get rid of the desires for toys; you merely escalated to a higher desire.
A child has desires for toys. As long as he is in the state of childhood you can never persuade him to keep away from toys or to drop the desires for them. One day the child grows up and encounters the thrill of computer games. Thereafter he is hooked onto the computer. What happens then to all the toys? He very graciously gives them to his younger brother, who is bowled over by his sense of renunciation! The truth is that he has not renounced anything. He has only discovered something that gives him a greater thrill. And the computer becomes his whole world.
Then one fine day you find that he has no interest even in the computer games. Why? He has fallen in love and thereafter everything – toys, computer etc – are meaningless to him. Thus he grows into a full-fledged adult. Now he has other passions – desire for money, power, position, status etc.
This is how you escalate to higher desires. Having reached this stage, all you want to do is maintain status quo. But there are miles to go. If you can visualise something beyond what the world has to offer you gain that perspective which will allow you to move even higher.
This is portrayed in Plato’s metaphor. There is a society living in a dark dingy cave. Generation after generation live in the same cave. One day a smart young man gets up and tells his elders, “ Look, there must be something beyond this cave. The whole universe cannot be just this cave. Let us explore.” The elders look at each other and say, “He always looked a little odd to us”. So they tell him “You must be tired. Go to sleep. Tomorrow you will feel better”. Confused but obedient, he follows their advice. Then after a few days that restlessness again arises within him. He is now convinced that there must be something beyond the cave and he realises that the elders are not aware of it.
One day when everyone is asleep, he decides to explore by himself. He sets out and turns a few corners. Soon he finds he is in total darkness. He no longer has the comforting light of the settlement. He has not yet reached the mouth of the cave either. He is neither here nor there. Now that’s a frightening condition to be in. But he has the conviction that there has to be a world beyond the cave, which keeps him going. He walks on until he sees a faint light glimmering in the distance. This was the new world beckoning him. His confidence grows and he continues his pursuit with renewed vigour. He finally reaches the mouth of the cave.
He comes out into the open world and sees for the first time what you and I see everyday – the sun, the sky, the clouds, the fresh air, the mountains, the rivers, the birds, the trees, the animals and the mighty ocean. He is in ecstasy. He basks in his newfound experience for a couple of days. Then he thinks of his family and community back in the cave. He decides to go back into the cave to bring them out.
He goes with enthusiasm. He is elated since he has experienced the truth and he cannot wait to share it with the others. Back in the cave, he speaks with greater conviction – he describes the beautiful world, the green grass, the bright sun and stars and fresh air. How do you think his elders react? They look at each other and say, “Our doubts are now confirmed!” Doubts about what? About his sanity. Because he speaks a language they do not understand. When he describes the sun and stars, they have no idea of what he is talking about. So they think he is mad.
Plato beautifully captures the essence of the spiritual journey in this metaphor. There is that inner call of the divine in all of us which tells us that there has to be something beyond the life we know. And there is that exploratory spirit in us to find out. When you embark on this journey you find that nobody is with you. People mock you for your convictions and they sometimes act as hindrances to your path of discovering the truth. They think that you are lost when in fact they are the ones who are lost! Once you are able to pursue the truth alone, you reach a state where you are out of sync with other people but you have not yet experienced the higher. You can no longer be content with worldly pleasures but you have no access to spiritual joys. You are in no-man’s land. However you must persevere nevertheless. Then you get an indication that you are on the right track. Things start going right in your life. You gain the unshakeable confidence that you are on the right path. With this renewed conviction you continue till you reach Realisation.
In India a great seer has emerged in each generation to speak to us of the new world – the experience of the fourth plane of consciousness. But since we do not understand, we wonder what he is speaking of. Why should he come back and speak to us? He has no other intention but to share the bliss and serenity of his experience. He tells us the truth. Initially you may not comprehend the deeper import of the scriptures, but over time you realise its veracity. This is the guru-sisya parampara – the preceptor-disciple lineage which has continued from the beginning of time.
Spiritual evolution must be gradual. When you are full of desires you cannot suddenly drop them. In fact you cannot drop desires at all. What you can do is pick up something of greater value, something that is more fulfilling, more gratifying than what you are engaged in right now. If you are at the physical level, try and move up to the emotional plane. Once you taste the joy of emotional gratification your own erstwhile physical pleasures seem trivial. Escalate to an intellectual goal and even emotional joys fade into insignificance. Finally when the lure of the Infinite grips you nothing in the world will ensnare you. This is the positive aspect of the definition of a realised Soul. If Krsna had not given this, it would have misled us. Suppose He had said, “When one completely abandons all desires of the mind then one is a realised Soul” we would all qualify in deep sleep. Because there are no desires in deep sleep. But that is not Realisation because in that state you have no knowledge of the Self or Atman. You must qualify both in the negative and the positive aspects. When one completely abandons all desires of the mind as a result of being satisfied in the Self, then one is said to be of steady wisdom.
Growth takes place in every aspect. When you move from mere taste to the value for hygiene then even if somebody tells you that you get delicious bhel at a roadside stall you will not feel like going. You may like junk food but the moment you cultivate a desire for health, the very sight of oily food is a turn-off – you no longer enjoy it. When you begin to appreciate classy clothing you cannot go back to gaudy, ill-fitting clothes. When you move from improper language to refined language, you cannot go back to inappropriate speech. Growth, escalation, is unidirectional. Once you get to the higher level you can never fall back to the lower .You do not regress to the previous stage. The Gita gives you this assurance, ‘yad gatva na nivartante‘. Having reached a higher stage, there is no going back.
Here in Verse 55 he gives the definition of a Self-realised Person. This is explained in the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad in three words, ‘aptakama, atmakama, akama.’ Aptakama means all desires are fulfilled. This happens when you have atmakama, the desire for Atman. The lure of the Infinite neutralises all worldy desires. Then you go to the state of akama, desirelessness. This is Realisation.
In the next few verses he uses beautiful word paintings which metaphorically communicate the idea.Words are actually an insufficient, inefficient medium to communicate Atman. Atman is infinite but language is the medium of finiteness. How can you explain the infinite in finite words? Yet, He does accomplish the task effectively.
When you feel an emotion very strongly you find words inadequate. An angry person says strange things because language falters when communicating an emotion. When you are trying to explain an intellectual idea it becomes even more difficult. Complicated, abstract scientific concepts are difficult to understand or teach. Here, He is trying to communicate Atman which is way beyond the intellect and He is using finite, limited words to communicate It. Such is the colossal nature of the task taken up by Krsna and what a wonderful experience He makes it.