Gita on Meditation Practice

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

In the western Yoga community at least for the serious yoga practitioners an in-depth study of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra (YS) is almost mandatory. However, Srimad Bhagwad Gita commonly referred to as "Gita," which in many respects can helpful serve as a complimentary reading to YS, has not even gained the status of elective reading.

This is unfortunate! Gita which predates YS by several centuries expounds in detail on various tenets of the Samkhya Philosophy (the integral philosophical theme of YS) and offers practical tips on dhyana (meditation), pranayama (breath control), and behavior and lifestyle conducive to Yoga practice.

So why has Gita not elicited a robust and enthusiastic embrace from western Yoga practitioners? My speculation about the reason is as follows:

The name Srimad Bhagwad Gita, "The Song of the Lord," indicates it is a Hindu religious text perhaps dwelling on the theme of devotion. Such a suggestion, though mistaken is likely to turn off both the atheists and the people of other faiths. Contrast it with the example of YS. Unlike Gita, the name "Yoga Sutra," simply means a string of verses pertaining to Yoga-- non-sectarian and directly focused on Yoga, the subject of our primary interest.

But fans of Gita would argue that it presents a cosmological view of the world and creation, the nature and attributes of the core of a human being and discuses the spiritual evolution of the human kind. That this ancient text has broad philosophical appeal not just for India but also for the contemporary world has been eloquently stated by many philosophical and intellectual giants of our times.

Here is what some of those luminaries have said about Gita:

  • The Bhagavad-Gita is the most systematic statement of spiritual evolution of endowing value to mankind. It is one of the most clear and comprehensive summaries of perennial philosophy ever revealed; hence its enduring value is subject not only to India but to all of humanity.
    Aldous Huxley
  • In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad-Gita, in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seems puny and trivial.
    Henry David Thoreau
  • ….(Gita is) the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us.
    Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and I see not one ray of hope on the horizon, I turn to Bhagavad-Gita and find a verse to comfort me….
    Mahatma Gandhi

Below, I have selected a few verses from Gita which provide tips on meditation practice and related issues.

Chanchalam hi manah krishna pramaathi balavad dridham;
Tasyaaham nigraham manye vaayoriva sudushkaram.

The mind verily is restless, stubborn, strong and unyielding. Controlling the mind is as difficult as it is to control the powerful winds.
(Gita 6: 34)

Asamshayam mahaabaaho mano durnigraham chalam;
Abhyaasena tu kaunteya vairaagyena cha grihyate.

Undoubtedly, the mind is difficult to control and restless; but, by practice (abhyasa) and by dispassion (vairagya) it can be restrained.
(Gita 6:35 )

shuchau dese pratishthapyasthiram asanam atmanah
naty-ucchritam nati-nicamcailajina-kusottaram

Fix a firm seat (sthiram asana) in a clean place
The seat should be neither too high, nor too low
Cover it with a cloth, antelope skin and Kusha grass
(Gita 6: 11)

tatraikagram manah kritvayata-cittendriya-kriyah
upavisyasane yunjyadyogam atma-vishuddhaye

Sitting on the asana (seat), fixing the mind on a single object
Controlling thoughts and sensory activity, practice yoga for self purification
(Gita 6.12)

samam kaya-siro-grivam dharayann acalam sthirah
sampreksya nasikagram svamdisas canavalokayan
Keeping the head, neck and trunk straight, posture motionless and steady
Fix the attention at the tip of the nose, not looking in any other direction
(Gita 6:13)

naty-asnatas 'tu yogo 'sti na caikantam anasnatah
na cati-svapna-silasya jagrato naiva carjuna
A yogi does not eat too much or too little
Does not sleep too much or too little
(Gita 6:16)

yuktahara-viharasya yukta-cestasya karmasu
yukta-svapnavabodhasya yogo bhavati duhkha-ha
Disciplined* and moderate in eating and playing
Disciplined in performance of all actions
Disciplined, and moderate in sleeping and waking
He is freed from all sorrow
* the Samskrita word used for disciplined is "yukta" from the same root "yuj" from which the word "yoga" is derived.
(Gita 6:17)

yatha dipo nivata-stho nengate sopama smrta
yogino yata-cittasya yunjato yogam atmanah
As a lamp does not flicker in a windless place
So does the mind of a yogi who has attained steadfast control over thoughts
and performs yoga of self (i.e. meditates on the self)*
(Gita 6:19)
*Note that in many of these verses is, the samskrita word used for "self' is "atman." As we know from many references in Gita itself and other ancient Indian texts, the seat of atman is the heart center. So, the expressions such as "Yoga of self" "meditation on the self" or being "absorbed in the self' can be assumed to mean any of the following: "meditation on the heart center;" "observing thoughts without engaging;" "witnessing the mind body events;" "practicing mindfulness at all times," or "contemplation and reflection on the self e.g. 'who am I'?"

Yatroparamate chittam niruddham yogasevayaa;
Yatra chaivaatmanaa'tmaanam pashyannaatmani tushyati.

Mind comes to rest when thought is restrained by Yoga practice
And the self is observing the self, staying content in its own self*
*In other words, you can still the mind by restraining thoughts through meditation practice. Witness the self by directing your awareness within and be content within yourself (atma tushti) (Gita 6:20)

Sukhamaatyantikam yattad buddhi graahyamateendriyam;
Vetti yatra na chaivaayam sthitashchalati tattwatah
This (referring to the practice in 6:20) can offer infinite happiness
That is beyond the senses, grasped by the higher intellect (buddhi)
(Having found that) he realizes that this is true happiness and none other.
Being firmly established in that realization, yogi does not deviate from it
(thus, inner content and happiness becomes everlasting)
(Gita 6:21)

Yam labdhwaa chaaparam laabham manyate naadhikam tatah;
Yasmin sthito na duhkhena gurunaapi vichaalyate.

Having gained this state, yogi realizes that no other state is greater than this
When he arrives at this state, even profound sorrow cannot disturb him
(Gita 6:22)

Tam vidyaad duhkhasamyogaviyogam yogasamjnitam;
Sa nishchayena yoktavyo yogo'nirvinna chetasaa

(Then) he recognizes that dissolution (viyoga) of the union with suffering (dukha samyoga) is Yoga
He practices this with determination and unperturbed mind
(Gita 6:23)

Shanaih shanairuparamed buddhyaa dhritigriheetayaa;
Aatmasamstham manah kritwaa na kinchidapi chintayet.

Gradually, little by little, firmly restraining the mind activity, bring the mind to quietude. Focus the mind upon self and not let the thoughts gravitate to any other thoughts
(Gita 6:25)

Yato yato nishcharati manashchanchalamasthiram;
Tatastato niyamyaitad aatmanyeva vasham nayet.

Whenever the restless and unsteady mind wanders away
The meditator should restrain it and bring it within the self (i.e. witness/ observe the self)
(Gita 6:26)

Sparsaan kritwaa bahir baahyaamschakshus chaivaantare bhruvoh;
Praanaapaanau samau kritwaa naasaabhyantara chaarinau.
Expel all external thoughts. Fix the gaze between the eyebrows.
Equalize the outgoing and incoming breaths. Focus on the breath moving within the nostrils,
(Gita 5:27)

Asamyataatmanaa yogo dushpraapa iti me matih;
Vashyaatmanaa tu yatataa shakyo'vaaptumupaayatah.

Yoga is hard to be attained by one of uncontrolled self, but when a self-controlled person strives sincerely and utilizes proper means, he surely attains the state of Yoga (i.e. the Yoga of self).
(Gita 6:36)

Pranayama (Meditation in breath)
Apaane juhwati praanam praane'paanam tathaa'pare;
Praanaapaana gatee ruddhwaa praanaayaamaparaayanaah.
Some offer exhalation (apana) into inhalation (prana) exhalation. Others offer inhalation (prana) into exhalation (apana). Restraining the course of outgoing and incoming breaths (pranapan gati), they are solely absorbed in the breath.
(Some yogis focus on the downward flow of inhalation and upward flow of exhalation. Others focus on the upward flow of inhalation and downward flow of exhalation. Still others focus on external/internal retention of breath. These are various ways of meditation/absorption in Pranayama.
(Gita 4:29)

Apare niyataahaaraah praanaan praaneshu juhwati;
Sarve'pyete yajnavido yajnakshapita kalmashaah.

Others after regulating their diet focus on offer breaths into breaths (passively flowing with the flow of the breath as it is naturally occurring, that is, without choosing to actively focus on upward or downward flow of the breath). They all know practice of Pranayama is an act of sacrifice and their sins/sufferings are destroyed by this sacrifice
(Gita 4:30)

Concluding Remarks

Krishna, the incarnation of God is regarded by many Indians the greatest yogi of all times that ever walked in flesh and blood on this planet. Arjuna, one of the greatest warriors and accomplished yogi and master of yoga nidra, often referred to as, "Gudakesh," (Gudak=sleep, Ish=master) that is, one who has mastered sleep. In Gita, Krishna enlightens Arjuna about the major streams of yoga including Bhaktiyoga, Rajyoga, Karmayoga, Gyanyoga and Dhyanayoga. Over the last thirty centuries scholars, philosophers and pundits have studied Gita for insights into Vedanta (essence of Veda), Samkhya and Yoga. Gita has been studied, chanted and sung by millions of householders in India.

Many may find my selection of verses extremely limited. I encourage them to study the full text of Gita and discover for themselves its wealth and wisdom. They will find an enormous array of resources for Gita study. There are over two hundred translations of Gita in English language alone and hundreds of commentaries to assist them in savoring the depth and richness of it.

But my objective in selecting these verses was extremely limited. I wanted to reach out to those who might not have the time or might be intimidated by yet another whole new text from a foreign language. Others might have been hesitant to study a religious scripture of another faith. Therefore, I selected a few non-sectarian, non-esoteric verses that offer the "nuts and bolts" of meditation practice from Gita so all of us can have them for our ready reference.

Please note that in my compilation of the verses on meditation, conspicuously absent are the verses pertaining to devotional meditation, which indeed are superbly beautiful and can be instrumental in accessing the deepest level of absorption into the Divine. If you feel deprived of them which undoubtedly some of you would, I invite you to "feast" on them in your local library or the next bookstore you pass by.

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Copyright 2010, Mind Publications 
Posted November 2010


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