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CHAPTER 17

THE YOG OF THREEFOLD FAITH

Yogeshwar Krishn explicitly said at the end of Chapter 16 that the action which he has repeatedly spoken of commences only after the renunciation of desire, anger, and greed. It is the action without accomplishing which there is neither happiness nor perfection, nor the final beatitude. Scripture is, therefore, the authority to fall back upon whenever we are faced by the dilemma of that which is worthy of being done and that which is unworthy-of that which we should do and that which we should not. And that scripture is the Geeta, the epitome of the most esoteric knowledge. There are other scriptures, too, but it is of the utmost importance that we always keep our eyes fixed on the Geeta. If we seek elsewhere we may stray, for the systematic, straight approach of the Geeta is not to be found anywhere else.

Thereafter Arjun asks the Lord to enlighten him on the state of persons who worship in contravention of the scriptural ordinance although with staunch faith. Are they sattwiki, rajasi or tamasi? Are they righteous, impassioned, or diabolical? Arjun wishes to be enlightened on this because he has learnt earlier that whatever be the property, sattwa, rajas or tamas, it is determined by the nature of one’s birth. It is for this reason that at the very outset of the chapter he raises the question.

1. "Arjun said, What, O Krishn, is the property-sattwa, rajas, or tamas of persons who albeit worship with faith but in disregard of the scriptural ordinance ?’ ’’

To resolve Arjun’s doubt Krishn then classifies faith too as being of three kinds.

2. "The Lord said,‘Listen to me on how the faith arising from people’s innate nature, too, is of three kinds, virtuous, impassioned, and blind.’’’

In Chapter 2, the Yogeshwar told Arjun that the prescribed action in yog, in both the Way of Selfless Action and the Way of Discrimination, is the same. The mind which is earnestly and firmly given to selfless action is aimed in a single direction. The minds of ignorant persons are, on the contrary, endlessly divided, because of which they invent countless different ways. Their minds are riddled with innumerable dissensions and they not only devise various rites and ceremonies, but also flaunt them in flowery and alluring words. Unfortunately they who pay heed to these alluring words are also deluded, as a result of which they fail to do that which is worthwhile and just. The same is reiterated here in a different way when Krishn points out that the faith of persons who worship in transgression of the scriptural injunction is of three kinds. The current of Faith flowing in the human heart, is either good or fervent or insensible.

3. "Since the faith of all people, O Bharat, is according to their inherent propensity and man is reverent, he is what his faith is.’’

The faith of all persons is according to their natural inclination. Man is by nature a creature of faith. It is thus that a person’s character bears a close resemblance to the character of their faith. We are often asked who we are. Some of us say that we are Soul. But Yogeshwar Krishn contradicts this: like the nature of their inherent disposition is their faith, and so thus is the person.

The Geeta provides an insight into what true yog is. Maharshi Patanjali was also a yogi and we have his yog system of philosophy.

According to him yog is perfect restraint of the mind. And the use of this arduous discipline is that in this state the onlooker, the individual Soul enshrined in the human body, comes to rest firmly in his own eternal, true counterpart. Is he tainted before this union ? In Patanjali’s view the Soul is earlier the same as the predilection of the man who embodies it. And Krishn now affirms that man is naturally endowed with the quality of faith, indeed totally immersed in it. There is some dedication in him and he is moulded by the character of his faith. A man is what his natural inclination is. At this point, Krishn proceeds to catalogue the three kinds of faith.

4. "While the virtuous worship gods and the impassioned and morally blind worship yaksh and demons, they who are blinded by ignorance worship ghosts and nature-spirits.’’

We all labour tirelessly to worship what our hearts are inclined to and what we revere.

5-6. "Mark you that they who undergo terrible self-mortification without scriptural sanction and are afflicted with hypocrisy and arrogance besides lust, attachment, and vanity of power, and who wear out not only the elements that form their bodies bur also me who dwells in their Souls, are ignorant men with evil disposition.’’

The Soul is rendered feeble by maladies when it slips into the fissures of nature, whereas yagya provides him strength. Arjun is, therefore, counselled to regard the ignorant, insensible people who do injury to the Soul as unquestionably demoniacal. Thus is resolved the issue raised by Arjun.

Righteous persons who have forsaken the way shown by scripture worship gods; they who are driven by passions worship yaksh and demons; and the ignorant pray and bow to ghosts and spirits. They not only worship, but indulge in the most agonizing exercises of penance. According to Krishn, however, these acts of self-mortification only sap the elements that make up their bodies and the God within their Soul. Thus, instead of adoring the one true God and partaking of his divinity, they only further distance themselves from him. These persons ought to be regarded as evil. This implies that even worshippers of gods are evil. There could be no stronger way of putting across the idea. So let us resolve to only adore and pray to and worship that Supreme - Being of whom all these-the many gods, yaksh, demons, ghosts and spirits-are no more than tiny fractions. This has been repeatedly emphasized by Krishn.

7. "Listen to me (as I tell you) the distinction between the three kinds of yagya, penance, and alms, that are like the three kinds of food relished according to individual taste."

People love three kinds of food according to their respective taste just as there are three kinds of faith; and there are likewise three kinds of yagya, penance, and charity. The first to be categorized is food.

8. "Food that is naturally pleasing and conducive to life, intellect, strength, sound health, happiness, and satisfaction besides being savoury, tender, and durable is loved by the virtuous.’’

Apparently, according to Krishn, food that is naturally agreeable and good for strength, sound health, and intellect, and thus for longevity, is good. And such food is dear to the righteous.

It is thus clear that no food as such has the property of ennobling or of stimulating, or of depressing. So neither is milk perfect nor onions inflaming, nor garlic a generator of baser instincts.

As for food that is conducive to good physique, healthy mind, and sound health, the choice of people all over the world varies widely according to environment and geographical condition and, of course, according to individual taste. Whereas rice is the staple food of some, others in other regions prefer bread made from wheat-flour. There are countries where people subsist mainly on banana and potato. Mutton and fish, and even frogs, snakes and dogs, and horse-flesh are all accepted and enjoyed as food by inhabitants of different parts of the earth. There are people to whom camel-flesh is a delicacy. An overwhelming majority of Europeans and Americans are eaters of beef and pork. But that has not in any way prevented them from being ranked first in matters of learning, intellectual advancement, and economic progress.

According to the Geeta, food that is tasteful, tender, and nutritious is sattwik. That food is good which is congenial and favourable to long life, strengthening of both body and mind, and to sound health. But it is also laid down that food that is naturally relished is good. So there is no use saying that this food is pious while that is impious. The only tenable view is that, that food is good which is in keeping with the local situation, surroundings, place, and time, and which provides the required nourishment. The use of an object, rather than the object itself, is what makes it good, morally objectionable, or evil.

So it is that food and drinks such as meat and alcoholic beverages are uncongenial to a person who has renounced the home and family, and taken up the life of a sanyasi renunciate engaged in meditation upon God. Experience demonstrates that such victuals result in a state of mind that is inimical to spiritual discipline. There is always a possibility that such food and drinks will lead the seeker astray from the way of attainment. So they who have chosen a life of seclusion because of their disenchantment with worldly passions had better keep in mind the advice about food that Krishn has offered in Chapter 6. The proper thing to do is to eat and drink only that which is favourable to worship and adoration of God.

9. "Bitter, sour, salty, too hot, pungent, rough, and acidic food that gives rise to sorrow, worries, and illness, is preferred by the passionate."

And -

10. "Food that is half-cooked, unsavoury, odorous, stale, leftover, and defiled is liked by men with a dull sensibility.’’

The discussion of food is now closed and that of the next subject, namely, yagya, taken up.

11. "Yagya that has scriptural sanction and the performance of which is an obligation, is fitting and auspicious when it is practised by persons with intent minds who aspire to no reward."

The Geeta approves of such yagya. It was in Chapter 3 that Krishn First named yagya. "Since the conduct of yagya is the only action," he said, "and all other business in which people are engaged are only forms of worldly bondage, O son of Kunti, be unattached and do your duty to the Supreme Spirit well." In Chapter 4, then, he went on to explain the character of the unique action called yagya: that it is an act of sacrifice in which the practicer of yog offers the incoming and outgoing breath (pran and apan) to each other and in which the two vital winds are regulated by offering them as oblation to the fire of self-restraint to achieve serenity of breath. There were thus enumerated fourteen steps of yagya, which are all but varying stages of the same action that bridges the gulf between individual Soul and the Supreme Spirit. In brief, yagya has been imaged as that unique process of contemplation which leads the worshipper to the eternal, immutable God and ultimately effects his dissolution in that Supreme Being.

12. "And, O the unequalled among Bharat, be it known to you that the yagya which is embarked upon for mere ostentation, or even with a view to some reward, is contaminated by passion and moral blindness.’’

The one who sets about thus is versed in the precept of yagya, but he is, in fact, unrighteous and obsessed because he performs yagya either to flaunt his virtue and win admiration, or with the design of securing some profit.

Krishn then points out the features of the most inferior kind of yagya.

13. "Devoid of scriptural sanction and powerless to invoke the Supreme Spirit as well as to restrain the mind, the yagya that is engaged in without a sense of total sacrifice and faith is said to be demoniacal’’

Unsupported by scriptural authority and incapable of generating even food-the lowest form in which God is manifested-and of restraining the mind to the Self, and possessed of neither the urge to make sacred offerings-the will for total self-surrender-nor true devotion, this form of yagya is rightly said to be of the most inferior kind. Therefore, the person who undertakes it does not have even the faintest glimmering of true yagya.

Krishn next remarks upon the question of penance.

14. "Adoration of God, the twice-born, the teacher-preceptor, and of the learned, along with having the qualities of innocence, uprightness, chastity, and disinclination to violence-are said to be penance of the body.’’

The body ever strays towards its desires. So chastening it to make it abide by the predisposition of the Soul is physical penance.

15. "And utterance that does not agitate but is soothing, propitious, and truthful, and which is but an exercise in the study of Ved, in remembrance of the Supreme Being, and in Self-contemplation, is said to be the penance of speech."

Articulation is also resorted to in order to give expression to thoughts that have a leaning towards objects of sensual gratification. Restraining it from this and steering it deliberately in the direction of God is the penance of speech.

The last form we are apprised of is penance of the mind.

16. "Affable temperament, tranquillity, silent meditation, self-possession, inner purity, and the like are said to be penance of the mind."

Simultaneous practice of the three kinds of penance - of body, speech and mind-is the truly worthwhile penance.

17. "The threefold types of penance undergone with utmost faith by selfless persons who do not desire any fruit thereof is said to be truly righteous."

The other kind of self-mortification is that which is indulged in by persons whose temperament is that of rajas, or passion.

18. "And if undergone with the purpose of gaining homage, honour, and adoration, or for mere display, penance is unsteady and ephemeral, and is said to have the property of rajas."

And so we now come to the penance of the most depraved kind-the one which is deemed evil, which is of the nature, or property, of tamas.

19. ‘‘The penance that is undertaken out of mere stupid stubbornness or to hurt others is said to be diabolical.’’

Thus, as we have seen, the purpose of penance that is good and virtuous is to mould the body, mind, and speech in harmony with the cherished end. The mode of impulsive penance is similar, but it is taken up with the vainglorious desire for worldly honour. Sometimes even exceptional souls who have renounced the world fall prey to this infirmity. The third kind of penance, that which is called demoniacal, is not only done wrongfully but also with the malicious intention of causing harm to others.

Krishn next takes up the question of alms.

20. "And the alms that are given to the right person at the right place and time, and in the spirit that charity is a bounden duty done without any expectation, are said to be good.’’

However, charity that is grievous because it is done under coercion, or with expectation of some favour or reward, is of the impassioned kind.

21. "And alms which are offered grudgingly and fog a good turn in exchange, or with some recompense in view, is said to be impulsive and morally improper.’’

The basest kind of gifts are, however, those that are offered with disrespect and scorn to the undeserving at an inopportune place and time.

22. "And the alms which are dispensed without deference or contemptuously to unworthy recipients at an inappropriate place and time are said to be diabolical."

The revered Maharaj Ji would always tell us, "Bear it in mind that the donor is wrecked if he gives alms to the undeserving." Similar to this is Krishn’s observation that charity is worthwhile only if it is directed, at a suitable place and time, at the meritorious with true generosity and without any desire for a reciprocal favour. Gifts that are offered reluctantly and with an eye on some profit in return are morally flawed, while alms that are given irreverently and with scorn to the undeserving are positively evil. Though generically they are all gifts, alms-giving by persons who renounce their desires, home, and all, and place their trust in God alone, is of a higher order, for charity of this kind implies a total surrender by a mind that has been purged of all cravings. Krishn approves of this form of charity as an indispensable necessity.

Krishn at last enlightens Arjun on the significance of OM, tat, and sat.1

23. "Om, tat , and sat are three epithets used for the Supreme Being from whom at the outset there came forth the Brahmin, Ved, and yagya.’’

Krishn tells Arjun on how the three names Om, tat, and sat, symbolizing God, direct us to the Supreme Being and call him to mind. It is he who, at the beginning, created the Brahmin, the Ved, and yagya. That is to say that Brahmin, the Ved, and yagya are all born from OM, the symbol Of Brahm. Thus it could also be said that they have all ensued from yog. They are generated only by ceaseless contemplation of OM, and other than this there is no way.

24. "It is hence that the deeds of yagya, charity, and penance, as ordained by scripture, are always initiated by the devotees of Ved with a resonant utterance of the
syllable OM.’’

It is owing to this that performance of the ordained worship, benevolence and penance by persons who concern themselves with God ever commences with an articulation of the sacred OM, for this utterance reminds one of that Supreme Being.

Krishn then elaborates the meaning and use of tat.

25. "Stripped of desire for any reward and holding that God is all pervading, persons who aspire to the ultimate bliss embark on the tasks of yagya, penance, and charity as ordained by scripture.’’

Tat denotes surrender to God. Stated differently, one has to recite OM and take up the accomplishment of yagya, alms-giving, and penance with absolute trust in tat, i.e., that God.

Krishn next elucidates the meaning and use of sat.

26. "Sat is employed to express the ideas of truth and excellence, and, O Parth, the word is also used to denote a propitious act."

At the beginning of the Geeta, Arjun held forth that family traditions alone were permanent and real. That provoked Krishn to ask him how he had become a victim of such a deluded notion. That which is real is never absent at any time and it cannot be annihilated, whereas that which is unreal has no existence at any time, and it cannot be otherwise. Now what is that which never has a being? Krishn affirmed while resolving these questions that the Self alone is real and also that the bodies of all living beings are perishable. The Self is eternal, imperceptible, permanent, and immortal. This is the paramount truth.Krishn remarks that this epithet of the Supreme Being, viz, sat, refers to truth and thus to the sense of perfection. Arjun is further told that the expression sat is employed when the commencement of the undertaken task is complete in every respect and well under way. Sat by no means implies that all these objects are ours, How can things our physical bodies make use of belong to us when we are not masters of even our own persons? The application of sat is ever aimed in the same direction-of faith in the verity that the Self is the most sublime reality. The word sat is used when there is firm belief in this truth, when there is a hankering after perfection to realize this truth, and when the action that effects this realization begins to get along well. On the same subject of reality the Yogeshwar speaks again.

27. "And it is said that the condition inherent in yagya, penance, and charity, as well as the endeavour to attain to God, is also real.’’

Only action that is entered upon for the attainment of God is real; and yagya, alms-giving, and atonement are but complements to this undertaking. Finally, Krishn affirms decisively that faith is an essential requisite of all these undertakings.

28. "Therefore, O Parth, is it said that, devoid of faith, the oblation and alms that are offered and the penance that is suffered, as well as all other similar ventures, are all false, for they can do us good neither in this world nor in the next.’’

All that is done without genuine trust and reverence-whether sacrifice or charity or self-mortification by way of contrition-is unreal. This is said, for such deeds are beneficial neither in this life nor after death. Faith combined with self-surrender is, therefore, a crucial necessity.

«««««

At the beginning of the chapter Arjun wishes to be instructed by the Lord on the nature of the faith of men who set upon the task of worship in violation of scriptural injunction. Who among us does not know the many who persist in adoring ghosts and spirits? What is the nature of their faith? Is it moral, impulsive, or steeped in ignorance and therefore evil? Krishn’s answer to the question is that since faith is inherent in man, he cannot but believe in something here or there. So he is shaped by his leaning and faith. Determined respectively by properties of sattwa, rajas and tamas, faith is of three kinds. While men with righteous faith adore gods and men of Illusion are devotees of yaksh (source of renown and valour) and demons (personification of wealth and brutish conduct), the ignorant venerate ghosts and spirits. By their various forms of worship that are lacking in spiritual approval, all such devotees not only impair the elements that they embody but also their finer resolutions and the God that dwell within them. These adulators of supernatural spirits, yaksh, demons, and diverse gods should indeed be looked upon as disposed to evil rather than as true worshippers.

It is for the third time now that Krishn has broached the subject of gods. He told Arjun, first in Chapter 7, that only misguided men who have been robbed of their discernment by lust worship gods. Reverting to the problem in Chapter 9, he asserted that even worshippers of the many gods really worship him-the one eternal, immutable God. However since the practice is contrary to scriptural provision, this worship of theirs is but futile. And now here, in Chapter 17, Krishn classifies these worshippers as the most debased, for the only form of reverence countenanced by him is the worship of the one God.

Subsequently Yogeshwar Krishn deals with four vital issues, of food, yagya, atonement, and alms-giving. Food is said to be of three categories. Men who are endowed with moral virtue relish food that is nutritious, naturally pleasing, and soothing. Men who are given to passion and moral confusion are fond of dishes that are pungent, hot, tantalizing, and injurious to health. And ignorant men with a wicked leaning hanker after stale and unclean fare.

If taken up and accomplished in the way provided by scripture, yagya (internal meditative exercises that subdues the mind and is free from desire is morally worthwhile. Yagya that is performed to flaunt oneself and as just a venture for the gratification of some desire is morally reprehensible. The lowest of all, however, is yagya that is rightly called evil, for it is divested of scriptural sanction and embarked on without incantation of sacred (Vedic) hymns, spirit of sacrifice, and true dedication.

Reverent service to a teacher-preceptor, who has all the virtues that can provide access to the Supreme God, and sincere contrition that observes the principles of non-injury, continence, and purity constitute penance of the body. Speaking that which is true, agreeable, and benign is the penance of speech. Bringing the mind to bear upon the required action and holding it in a state of silent meditation on the cherished goal alone and nothing else is penance of the mind. But the penance that is complete and perfect in all respects is that which involves the mind, speech, and body all.

Alms given reverentially out of a Sense of moral obligation and with a due regard for suitable place and time as well as for worthiness of the recipient are good. But aims given with reluctance and hope of some consequent profit are an outcome of passion, while alms given with disdain to an undeserving beneficiary are caused by ignorance.

Identifying the character of OM, tat arid sat, Krishn says that these names awaken memories of God. OM is intoned at the initiation of penance, charity, and yagya that are in keeping with the way prescribed by scripture; and the sacred sound stays with the seeker until the consummation of his enterprise. Tat signifies the yonder God. The ordained action can be accomplished only with a sense of total resignation and sat manifests itself only when the venture has got well under way. Worship of God alone is reality. Sat is put to use when the devotee is convinced of the truth and possessed by a craving for perfection. Sat is relevant, too, to the final conclusion of the action, comprising yagya, charity, and penance, that is capable of taking one to God. The deeds that provide access to God are doubtlessly real. But along with all these, faith is a prime necessity. Undertaken without faith, the action that is accomplished, the alms that are given, and the fire of penance in which the worshipper has burnt himself-are all in vain, profitless both in the present life and in the lives to come. Faith is thus imperative.

Thus, through the whole chapter, light is shed on faith; and in its concluding part there is attempted-for the first time in the Geeta-a detailed elucidation of OM, tat and sat.

Thus concludes the Seventeenth Chapter, in the Upanishad of Shreemad Bhagwad Geeta, on the Knowledge of the Supreme Spirit, the Science of Yog, and the Dialogue between Krishn and Arjun, entitled.

‘‘OM Tatsat Shraddhatya Vibhag Yog.’’ or ‘‘The Yog of Three Fold Faith’’

Thus concludes Swami Adgadanand’s exposition of the Seventeenth Chapter in

"Yatharth Geeta"

HARI OM TAT SAT



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