“The last eighteen verses of the second chapter of the Gita give in a nutshell the secret of the art of living.” These verses have since been inscribed on the tablet of my heart. They contain for me all knowledge. The truths they teach are the ‘eternal verities.’
– Mahatma Gandhi.
Gandhi is referring to verses 55 through 72 of chapter-02 where Krishna in response to Arjuna’s question, eloquently summarizes the characteristics of “The man of steady wisdom” – the “Stithaprajnya.”
The following is my attempt at a free translation/interpretation of these verses
Arjuna’s question (Verse 54; Chapter 02):
Krishna, how does a man of “steady -wisdom” conduct himself? How does he walk? How does he sit? How does he speak? How does he react to the vagaries of life? How is it possible for a man to live in this world and still be not affected by it? How can I recognize such a man and how can I become like him?
|55||Arjuna, That man who has given up not just all his desires but even the “desire” for desires is a man of steady wisdom, the stithaprajnya. Anchored and firm he is unshaken and unshakeable by pleasure or pain (and the many pairs-of-opposites).
When a man is so anchored, he delights in living within his own self. He may conduct himself as a normal man but deep within he is completely calm and when faced with a crisis he is able to dive within and hold on to this peace.
Such a person Arjuna, has truly scaled the peaks of the state known as “stithaprajnya”. Firmly established thus, he lives free and unbound by the fetters of the world.
|56||Calm and steady when sorrow or joy visits him, the sage of steady-wisdom neither weeps when troubles assail him, nor does he jump and dance when happiness favors him.
Remember however Arjuna that this is no artificial made-up state of existence but a natural steady-state brought about through years of constant vigil, contemplation, and deep meditation.
For such a person, there is no anger, lust, passion, or fear.
He remains unperturbed and unshaken by the pairs-of-opposites because he knows that they come and go, one following the other, like the day follows the night and night the day. A person such as this is truly a stithaprajnya
|57||That person who retains her equanimity irrespective of the state she finds herself in is truly a stithaprajnya.
Content with whatever comes her way neither elated, not dejected, affected not in the least by good or bad, she lives in steady-wisdom devoid of all attachments and cravings.
Calmly assured when praised and supremely undisturbed when criticized, she neither loves the one nor hates the other.
|58||The sense organs Arjuna, are forever reaching out towards sense objects – that is their basic nature…
Be like the tortoise Arjuna – when attacked, she withdraws all her limbs into her shell and presents to her attacker only her hard shell – no harm comes to her. When the danger passes, she moves on. So also, be vigilant.
When you see your sense organ move towards a sensory impulse, withdraw it immediately – the eyes from what they need not see, the ears from what they need not hear, the nose from what they need not smell, and the fingers from what they need not feel.
“The mantra becomes one’s staff of life and carries one through every ordeal…”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Nobody has done more to popularize the practice of mantram-repetition than Eknath Easwaran so it is best to use his own words*:
“A mantram – or mantra, as it is often called – is a powerful spiritual formula, which, when repeated silently in the mind, has the capacity to transform consciousness. There is nothing magical about this. It is simply a matter of practice. The mantram is a short, powerful spiritual formula for the highest power that we can conceive of – whether we call it God, or the ultimate reality, or the Self within.
Whatever name we use, with the mantram we are calling up what is best and deepest in ourselves. The mantram has appeared in every major spiritual tradition, West and East, because it fills a deep, universal need in the human heart.
Select a mantram that appeals to you. Every religious tradition has a mantram, often more than one. But you needn’t subscribe to any religion to benefit from the mantram – you simply have to be willing to try it.
Once you have chosen your mantram, do not change it. If you do, you will be like a person digging shallow holes in many places; you will never go deep enough to find water. The mantram is most effective when repeated silently in the mind. You don’t have to chant it aloud, and it doesn’t require any fixed times or place or special equipment.
Repeat your mantram silently whenever you get the chance: while walking, while waiting, while doing mechanical chores such as washing dishes, and especially when you are falling asleep. You will find that this is not mindless repetition; the mantram will help to keep you relaxed and alert during the day, and when you can fall asleep in it, it will go on working for you throughout the night as well.
Whenever you are angry or afraid, nervous or worried or resentful, repeat the mantram until the agitation subsides. The mantram works to steady the mind, and all these emotions are power running against you which the mantram can harness and put to work for you…
*Eknath Easwaran: “The Mantram Handbook” – A practical guide to choosing your mantram & calming your mind
|59||Arjuna, In a man who is constantly vigilant and striving, the sense organs remain suppressed and dormant. However, just one mistake, one bad/vague thought and the desire for these sense objects and the desire for their enjoyment thereof, is quickly re-kindled – if he makes the further mistake of indulging in any of these desires then he quickly spirals down to where he began and must make painstaking efforts to get back up to the point he had reached…
You therefore must move beyond even this state of constant vigil to be called a stithaprajnya – for in the man of steady-wisdom, not just the attachment to the sense objects, but even the last shred of desire or relish for them is sublimated in the quest for the changeless self.
There exists not even a bubble or a murmur on the steady waves of the mind.
|60||Son of Kunti (Arjuna), extremely difficult is the art of sense-control. The senses behave like frightened horses ready to bolt away from the control of even the vigilant, struggling practitioner of yoga. Despite several years of practice and careful vigil, the senses can be led astray by a fleeting attraction, a small indulgence…
So Arjuna, never slacken in your practice or vigil.
A great story that illustrates this point, is the story of the “monk who had conquered anger”:
A practitioner of meditation and yoga, who believed he had succeeded in conquering anger decided to achieve advertise his achievement. He decided to put up a board outside his modest hermitage – “The sage who lives here has conquered anger”
A few weeks later a group of trainee monks passing by that way were so impressed that they decided to visit this great sage and seek his blessings. They trouped in. One of the monks posed the question uppermost in all their minds – “Sir, have you conquered anger?” The great sage merely nodded. Another monk asked “Sir, have you truly conquered anger?” The sage now grunted in response. Another monk asked again “Anger! You have conquered anger?” The fourth monk now piped up “Sir, have you really conquered anger?” The sage’s eyes slowly fluttered open – red and terrible, he thundered “One more person asks the same question and I will kick all of you out of my hermitage!”
|61||This then is the reality Arjuna. Each and everyone in this world is constantly assailed by these forces of nature. The challenge therefore is to be able to live in this world without being affected by these forces – the man of steady-wisdom understands this and is able to remain (through constant practice and steady vigil) in a meditative state that is natural and effortless.
He moves about the world like a common man, but remains unattached like a drop of water on the lotus petal. Contemplative and thoughtful with his senses under control it is natural that such a man is of steady wisdom.
|62 & 63||When a man constantly thinks of sense objects and the pleasures associated with them, allowing a free rein to his thoughts, he naturally becomes attached to these objects.
This attachment fuels desire – the desire to acquire that which the sense organs are attached to. When he is unable to fulfil this desire he becomes angry. This impotent anger further fuels his desire and its associated attachment.
Thus starts a vicious cycle of attachment, desire, and anger – one fueling the other, one feeding off the other driving the man further into the vortex of destruction.
Uncontrolled anger deludes the mind and with delusion is lost the power of discrimination the clarity that is able to differentiate between right and wrong; want and need… The deluded mind that can’t discriminate between right and wrong is an unintelligent mind – a mind destroyed by its own antics.
When the mind of a man is destroyed, he is also destroyed with it and so perish several men in this world Arjuna…
|64||A person living in this world has no choice but to live in the midst of these sense objects and associated desires. The man of steady-wisdom however is able to move about with his senses controlled and governed by the all-knowing self within.
He neither desires nor avoids these sense objects knowing that these are but fleeting and illusory – here today and gone tomorrow. To such a man is bestowed the gift of “absolute serenity” – a state of tranquility that passes all understanding.
|65||When a man attains serenity then all the miseries of his mind are burned and reduced to ashes. When his miseries are destroyed he sees the true nature of his self and he attains to the steady state of the stithaprajnya.|
|66 & 67||However, for the person who refuses to control his desires and does not rein-in his senses, there is no peace of mind. He refuses to meditate and follows his senses, hankering after sense pleasures that lead to his ultimate ruin.
Allowing his mind to be led away by his senses he gets blown away like the boat caught in a storm.
|68||Therefore, Oh! Mighty armed one, this is the way it is… this is the reality. It is only that man who has completely controlled his senses, sublimated and re-directed them towards the self within, who attains serenity.
A man is said to be established in steady-wisdom only when he has conquered and attained complete mastery of his senses.
|69||Arjuna, What appears as night to other sentient beings appears as day to the man of steady-wisdom and he remains constantly vigilant and careful. What appears as day to other creatures appears as night to the sage of steady-wisdom.
Krishna is clearly using an euphemism here – what he is actually saying is that when other living beings are relaxed, indulgent, making merry and not discriminating between right and wrong; good and bad, the stithaprajnya is able to focus on what is important and shun the unimportant. Krishna is saying that a man of steady-wisdom lives by a different standard from the rest of mankind because he has the serenity of mind and the clarity of purpose.
|70 & 71||Have you seen the ocean Arjuna? Always filled to the brim and though receiving the waters of a hundred rivers, ever calm…
So also remains the man established in steady-wisdom unaffected and unshaken by the sense objects that enter and exit through his mind.
Such a person is able to give up his attachment to all sense objects. He lives and moves in the world completely detached and devoid of any sense of ownership or possession. Free from anger, ego, and arrogance the man of steady-wisdom lives in complete contentment and peace.
|72||Partha, this is the stithaprajnya state also called the “Brahmi” state. A person who attains to this state is completely free from delusion, free from the afflictions of the “pairs-of-opposites” and floats through the world ever-free, ever-blissful and at peace with himself and with the world at large.
When he enters the last part of his journey on earth he enters the state of “nirvana” thus breaking the cycle of ceaseless birth and death.