It takes a while for me to learn anything. Especially the important life lessons. “Take charge of your life,” a good friend would say to me. And I wouldn’t understand. I’d blame others which in hindsight seems the most convenient thing to do. I’d wallow in self-pity, and I realise being sad can be more addictive than anything else. I still struggle with this idea. I know that it is true that nobody is responsible for our life, but us. Yet, I fail now and then to put it to practice and slip back to my old ways.
The Bhagavad Gita is the most profound, powerful and useful text I have ever read. And if someone asked me if there was something I held total, absolute belief in, it would be the words of Lord Krishna. The strength of His words strike you as a thunderbolt. I have gone back to some of them over and over again, in awe as much as in at attempt to uncover the many layers in them. If I were asked the difficult question of picking one verse that I like more than any other, then it would be the one that follows.
उद्धरेदात्मनात्मानं नात्मानमवसादयेत् |
आत्मैव ह्यात्मनो बन्धुरात्मैव रिपुरात्मन: || 5||
uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ nātmānam avasādayet
ātmaiva hyātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ
Let a man lift himself by his own Self alone, and let him not lower himself; for, this Self alone is the friend of oneself, and this Self alone is the enemy of oneself.
The verse is from Chapter 6 – Samkhya Yoga or the Yoga of Meditation. I am happy to share the commentary by Swami Chinmayananda, one of the greatest teachers of this ancient wisdom.
“As a complete sastra, the Gita has to be faithful to Truth and Truth alone, irrespective of what the tradition of the country at a given period might have made the faithful ones believe. It is not very unhealthy to believe that the grace from an external source is constantly helping a true seeker striving on his path, but this is really healthy only when this thought is correspondingly complemented with sufficiently intense individual self-effort. To believe that Guru’s grace will land on us by post in packets is against the sastras and bigger the assertion with which such packets are presented, the more should be suspect the genuineness of the sender-saint.
Had there been a packet method, we should have a ‘packet-yoga’ explained in our scriptures; for our rsis were exhaustive in their treatment of the science of self-perfection. If at all some great saints of today are sending prasadam, it is not to be considered and misconstrued that those packets are ‘Atmika-powder’ which can be rubbed in through the skin between the eyebrows. With the right mental attitude, if we can approach them and make use of them, certainly we can gain a certain amount of mental equipose and self-confidence, which can be intelligently applied in our own self-effort.
‘Man should uplift himself by himself,’ is the open statement declared by no less a person than Lord Krsna Himself – not cooed in a playful mood in the company of the gopis of the Yamuna bank at a hilarious hour of laughter and play, but roared to Arjuna on the battlefield at a serious moment of His life’s fulfilment as an avatara. Man, if he wants to exalt himself into his greater cultural and spiritual possibilities now lying dormant in him, he has to raise the lower in himself to the greater perfection that is the true and eternal central core in himself.
Everyone has, in himself, a picture of the ideal. This intellectual conception of ourselves is always very vivid in each one of us. But unfortunately, this ideal remains only in the realm of thought and is not lived in the world of activity. Intellectually we may have a clear and vivid picture of what we should be, but mentally and physically we behave as though we were opposites of our own ideal concepts. The divorce between the idealistic ‘me’ and the actual ‘me’ is the measure of a man’s fall from his perfection.
Most of us are generally unconscious of this duality in ourselves. We mistake ourselves to be the ideal and are generally blind to our own actual imperfections. Thus, we find a notoriously selfish man in society warmly and sincerely criticising the slightest trace of selfishness in his neighbour. In a world of no mirrors, it is possible that a squint-eyed man may come to laugh at another squint-eyed person because the one who laughs knows not the angle at which his own eyeballs are facing each other!
Within ourselves, if we carefully watch, we can discover that intellectually we have a clear concept of a morally strong, ethically perfect, physically loving and socially disciplined ideal picture of the man that ‘we should be’; but in the mental zone of our feelings and emotions however, we are tantalised by our own attachments, likes and dislikes, loves and hatreds, appetites and passions. Hence we behave like a cur fed by the wayside gutters and ever quarreling with others of the same ilk over dry and marrowless bones!
As long as the individual has not realised the existence of this dual personality in himself, there cannot be any religion for him. If an individual has discovered that there is ‘enough in him to be divided into two portions’, and when he wants to keep the lower as brilliant and chaste as the higher, the technique that he will have to employ to fulfil this aspiration, is called religion.
Mind is the saboteur that enchants us away from our own known perfection, to be slave to the flesh and the external objects of brittle satisfaction. Mind is the conditioning that distorts the ideal and creates the lower satanic, sensuous self in us, which is the equipment for the higher Self to manifest. In short, when the rational and discriminative capacities of a limited intellect are brought to bear their authority upon the wavering and wandering, sense-mongering mind, the lower is brought under discipline and made to attune itself with the noble and divine in us. The processes by which the lower is brought under the direct management and discipline of the higher, are all together called the spiritual techniques.
This process of self-rehabilitation and self-redemption of the satan in us, cannot be executed by inviting tenders and giving the contract to the lowest bidder! Each will have to do it all by himself unto himself, ‘alone to the alone all alone’ is the way. No Guru can take the responsibility; no scripture can promise this redemption; no altar can with its divine blessings make the lower the higher. The lower must necessarily be trained slowly and steadily to accept and come under the influence of the discipline of the Higher. In this process, the Teacher, the scripture, and the houses of God, all have their proper appointed duties and limited influences. But the actual happening depends on how far we ourselves learn to haul ourselves from the gutters of misunderstanding in us.
So far Bhagavan has indicated an exhaustive treatment which may be in many of its aspects considered as equivalent to modern psychological process called introspection. Realising our own weaknesses, rejecting the false, asserting the better, and trying to live generally as best as we can the higher way of life is the process of introspection. But this is only a half of the entire process and not the whole of it.
The other half is also insisted upon here by Krsna. It is not only sufficient that we look within, come to note our weaknesses, we erase them out and substitute the opposite good qualities, and develop in ourselves the better, but whatever little conquests we might have made out of satan’s province, we must see to it that those areas are not again handed back to satan’s dominion. Krsna wants, almost in the same breath, ‘do not allow the Self thereafter to fall down and dragged again.’ to the old level of the cheaper way of existence.
The second line of the stanza contains a glorious idea shaped into a beatufy of expression, which almost immortalises the great author Vyasa. We are to be considered both as our own friend and our own enemy. Any intelligent man observing and analysing life will vouchsafe for the truth of the statement, but here more is meant philosophically than what meets the ear. Generally, we do not fully understand the import when we say, ‘The Self is the friend of the self’
The lower in us can raise itself to the attunement of the Higher, but the Higher can only influence when the lower is available for Its influence. To the extent the lesser in us surrenders itself to the influence of the Higher; to that extent, it can serve the lower as a great friend. But if the lower refuses to come under the influence of the diviner in us, the divine presence in us is accused of as an enemy of ourselves. This is so, because the dynamism of life provides us its energy, both for our life of higher aspirations and our life of low temptations.
Ultimately, it is fro the aspirant himself to accept the responsibility of blessing or damning himself. The potentiality for improvement, the chances for self-growth, the strength to haul ourselves out from the misconceptions in us are all ever open for employment, but it all depends upon how we make use of them.”
May we all take charge of our lives. If Bhagavan’s words are powerful, Swamiji’s commentary felt like a slap on the face when I read it.