By asking relevant questions, Arjuna prompts Krishna to clear all doubts about who is a true spiritualist and who is not
The Bhagavad-gita is a conversation between Arjuna, a supernaturally gifted warrior, and Lord Krishna , who was acting as Arjuna’s charioteer. The Gita was spoken in order to encourage Arjuna to fight a great war. In the course of giving Arjuna all types of spiritual and material advice, Krishna discusses various topics like karma, the self, the Supreme Self, the purpose of yoga, how our environment affects our consciousness, and how to attain the ultimate perfection of life.
Some of Arjuna’s Questions
Often Arjuna asks questions in order to clarify his doubts. One such question comes in the Second Chapter. In Gita (2.54), Arjuna asks:
sthita-prajñasya ka bhasa
sthita-dhih kim prabhaseta
kim asita vrajeta kim
“O Krishna , what are the symptoms of one whose consciousness is thus merged in transcendence? How does he speak, and what is his language? How does he sit, and how does he walk?”
The questions appear to deal only with such a person’s external behavior, but Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura reveals each question’s internal meaning. Bhurijana Prabhu, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, in his book Surrender Unto Me extensively cites this commentary to show that Krishna answers each part of Arjuna’s question in detail. Most of this article is based on the explanations given in this book, and some statements are directly quoted (“”) as they are.
Arjuna’s question can be divided into four parts: 1) what are the transcendentalist’s symptoms, 2) how does he speak and what is his language, 3) how does he sit, and 4) how does he walk?
Krishna answers Arjuna’s first question immediately, in verse 55: “O Partha, when a man gives up all varieties of desire for sense gratification, which arise from mental concoction, and when his mind, thus purified, finds satisfaction in the self alone, then he is said to be in pure transcendental consciousness.”
“The sthita-prajna reveals his position by having no selfish attachments. He is detached from both happiness and misery. Rather, he is fully satisfied by fixing his consciousness on the self.” In other words, he is equipoised.
Responding to Provoking Situations
“Krishna next answers Arjuna’s second question, ‘How does he speak?’ This question means: ‘How are his intelligence and words affected by another’s affection, anger or neutrality? In other words, how does he respond?’”
Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita (56-57): “One who is not disturbed in mind even amidst the threefold miseries or elated when there is happiness, and who is free from attachment, fear and anger, is called a sage of steady mind. In the material world, one who is unaffected by whatever good or evil he may obtain, neither praising it nor despising it, is firmly fixed in perfect knowledge.” Srila Prabhupada elaborates on this quality of a transcendentalist in his purport: “Such a fully Krishna conscious person is not at all disturbed by the onslaughts of the threefold miseries, for he accepts all miseries as the mercy of the
Lord, thinking himself only worthy of more trouble due to his past misdeeds; and he sees that his miseries, by the grace of the Lord, are minimized to the lowest. Similarly, when he is happy he gives credit to the Lord, thinking himself unworthy of the happiness. . . .”
It is easy to exchange love for love. When someone, even if it is a stranger, greets us with a loving “Hi,” it is so easy to reciprocate with a cheering “Hello.” But this does not completely reveal how we “speak” or respond. The test of our speech is how we respond when someone inflicts a mental injury to us using his or her vocal chords. Do we remain calm or do we explode? Do we react violently in such provoking situations?
We need to learn to speak pleasantly even with those who are inimical to us. It will help in toning down the bitterness in relationships. A sweet response can even avert a potential confrontation.
Once a man approached a parrot-seller to buy a parrot. The parrot-seller said, “I have this special parrot for you. If you pull his one leg, he chants the name of Krishna . And if you pull the other, he chants the name of Rama.” The person was thrilled to see such a saintly parrot, and he immediately purchased it. Whenever guests would visit his home, this man would proudly show his parrot to them and make them hear the divine names of Krishna and Rama from the parrot’s mouth.
One day he thought, “If my parrot can chant the holy name upon pulling either of his legs, I am sure if I pull both his legs, he will chant the entire Hare Krishna maha-mantra.” When he approached the parrot and pulled both his legs, the parrot screamed, “You fool, don’t you understand I will fall and break my head?”
The lesson that we learn from this story is that we cannot maintain an artificial gentleness for long. Our responses, especially our speech, should be controlled in both happy and painful situations. Krishna Himself advises later in the Gita (17.15), “Austerity of speech consists in speaking words that are truthful, pleasing, beneficial, and not agitating to others. . . .”
Restrain, don’t Indulge
Arjuna’s next question is: How does he sit? According to Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, this means “How does he not engage his senses? What is his mentality when his senses are restrained from their objects?” Lord Krishna answers in the next two verses, Gita (58-59): “One who is able to withdraw his senses from sense objects, as the tortoise draws its limbs within the shell, is firmly fixed in perfect consciousness. Though the embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, the taste for sense objects remains. But ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.”
Our strength of sense control is tested in solitude. It is easy to display saintliness in public, but a true saint maintains his purity both in public and private life. Today if a person is left alone for some time, he automatically turns towards the internet to get trapped inside the World Wide Web. Often this virtual journey starts with watching daily news, proceeds to entertainment videos, and ends in watching illicit stuff. Leisure should be used for relaxing but leisurely activities should not degrade our consciousness. Leisurely time should help us march toward peace instead of agitating us.
If we are struggling to restrain our senses, we should try to divert them to spiritual activities like physical yoga, mantra meditation or reading scriptures like the Bhagavad-gita. This will help in purifying the mind and controlling the senses.
Medicine for the Maniac Mind
Beginning with text 64 and continuing almost until the end of Chapter Two, Krishna answers Arjuna’s last question: “How does he walk?” The purport of this question is: “How does a man in transcendence engage his senses?”
Krishna says: “But a person free from all attachment and aversion and able to control his senses through regulative principles of freedom can obtain the complete mercy of the Lord. For one thus satisfied [in Krishna consciousness], the threefold miseries of material existence exist no longer; in such satisfied consciousness, one’s intelligence is soon well established.”
“Well established” means the living entity should be connected to Krishna through Krishna consciousness. In such a state he can be free from material attractions and aversions and become fully satisfied. “Without bhakti, regardless of what one possesses or what one does, no one is satisfied.”
Later in the Gita (9.14), Krishna describes the activities of great transcendentalists: “Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.” The word always is important here. If the hyperactive mind is bereft of a constant engagement, it goes wild and drives the soul towards degradation. What could be the best and most effective activity by which we can control our mind and senses? The Vedic scriptures explain that chanting the holy names of Krishna is the best medicine for the maniac mind. The holy name fixes the mind on Krishna and thus purifies the mind of all the contaminations arising due to previous indulgence in sinful activates.
In conclusion, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna , answers Arjuna’s question perfectly, by citing the internal symptoms of the sthita-prajna transcendentalist.
Yugavatara Dasa is an associate professor of Anatomy in KEM medical college in Mumbai.