We've had a good initial discussion on the subject of "the Sage", and now it's time to delve deeper with a few case studies. We'll start with the Bhagavad Gita's glowing description of the "Self-Governed Sage". Any questions, comments or general thoughts are more than welcome!

“What, O Kesava, is the description of that wise and devoted man who is fixed in contemplation and confirmed in spiritual knowledge? What may such a sage declare? Where may he dwell? Does he move and act like other men?”

“A man is said to be confirmed in spiritual knowledge when he forsaketh every desire which entereth into his heart, and of himself is happy and content in the Self through the Self. His mind is undisturbed in adversity; he is happy and contented in prosperity, and he is a stranger to anxiety, fear, and anger. Such a man is called a Muni. When in every condition he receives each event, whether favorable or unfavorable,with an equal mind which neither likes nor dislikes, his wisdom is established, and, having met good or evil, neither rejoiceth at the one nor is cast down by the other. He is confirmed in spiritual knowledge, when, like the tortoise, he can draw in all his senses and restrain them from their wonted purposes. The hungry man loseth sight of every other object but the gratification of his appetite, and when he is become acquainted with the Supreme, he loseth all taste for objects of whatever kind. The tumultuous senses and organs hurry away by force the heart even of the wise man who striveth after perfection. Let a man, restraining all these, remain in devotion at rest in me, his true self; for he who hath his senses and organs in control possesses spiritual knowledge.
“He who attendeth to the inclinations of the senses, in them hath a concern; from this concern is created passion, from passion anger, from anger is produced delusion, from delusion a loss of the memory, from the loss of memory loss of discrimination, and from loss of discrimination loss of all! But he who, free from attachment or repulsion for objects, experienceth them through the senses and organs, with his heart obedient to his will, attains to tranquillity of thought. And this tranquil state attained, therefrom shall soon result a separation from all troubles; and his mind being thus at ease, fixed upon one object, it embraceth wisdom from all sides. The man whose heart and mind are not at rest is without wisdom or the power of contemplation; who doth not practice reflection, hath no calm; and how can a man without calm obtain happiness? The uncontrolled heart, following the dictates of the moving passions, snatcheth away his spiritual knowledge, as the storm the bark upon the raging ocean. Therefore, O great-armed one, he is possessed of spiritual knowledge whose senses are withheld from objects of sense. What is night to those who are unenlightened is as day to his gaze; what seems as day is known to him as night, the night of ignorance. Such is the self-governed Sage!

— from Ch. 2 of the Bhagavad Gita

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The metaphor of the turtle has meaning, particularly in Hindu tradition, where the world is the lower shell (legs symbolizing four directions? Four cycles? Four truths?...) and the heavens are represented by the upper shell, perhaps like higher manas connects to buddhi. The next connection in the text follows closely, namely a chain of causation (from concern to loss of all).  Most curious to me is a loss of memory, because in thinking about what that means (from delusion to loss of memory, to loss of all), it seems to be talking about forgetting who we really as spiritual beings, as atma.   If we forget who we are, we lose all.


Thanks Di. This adds a whole 'nother dimension to the tortoise reference! Considering that this metaphor is used in reference to sagehood, perhaps we could see the four legs as corresponding to the Four Perfections? (described here by Sankaracharya) - these being the path to such a state.

Or, perhaps we can go in another direction, which seems perfectly in line with the text: the four legs, plus the tail and the head as corresponding to the six 'senses' (SD 1:95-6), which must be withdrawn and merged into the seventh.

Or perhaps as symbolic of the six human principles merged into the seventh when withdrawn into the shell. Etc.. It's an intriguing metaphor on many levels!


ah, it gets better and better.  thank you for expanding on it!



Was reading the Mandukya Upanishad today, where it equates the "four quarters" with the four states of consciousness mentioned in the Voice of the Silence (waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and 'turiya'). Perhaps this points to another way of approaching the legs in the above analogy. (?)


I looked back at the Mandukya, and it has that quality of wholeness, connecting us to our inner Highest Self (every night), just as the world with the heavens in the tortoise metaphor.


There is a theme here of equanimity. Why might we consider this is so important in life?


Perhaps freedom (of many kinds) is why this is important. Several lines before this, regarding karma yoga, the Gita text mentions that this equanimity (detachment from success or failure, or the fruits) is freeing.  It’s also said in 5.27-28 “…focusing their attention on the center of spiritual consciousness, 28 the wise master their senses, mind, and intellect through meditation. Self-realization is their only goal.  Freed from selfish desire, fear, and anger, they live in freedom always.”

While freedom from rebirth, etc., is mentioned, the freedom can be extended to other choices, other actions, akin to living in both worlds (the material and the spiritual) and moving between them easily to help alleviate the suffering.  Returning the “market place,” as in the 10 ox-herding pictures or returning from Nirvana as in Mahayana Buddhism requires this freedom of action.

The Enjoyer is used in a cross-reference of this passage in chapter 2 with a passage in the Katha Upanishad (translated by Max Muller) THIRD VALLI, which describes Arjuna’s horses and chariot, if firmly held (under control) and in union with the Highest Self: “3. 'Know the Self to be sitting in the chariot, the body to be the chariot, the intellect (buddhi) the charioteer, and the mind the reins.'

4. 'The senses they call the horses, the objects of the senses their roads. When he (the Highest Self) is in union with the body, the senses, and the mind, then wise people call him the Enjoyer.'

5. 'He who has no understanding and whose mind (the reins) is never firmly held, his senses (horses) are unmanageable, like vicious horses of a charioteer.'

6. 'But he who has understanding and whose mind is always firmly held, his senses are under control, like good horses of a charioteer.'


Thanks again Di. The chariot analogy is very powerful! It's such a perfect visual to help us understand the importance of 'self-control' and the overall balance that arises when one's reigns are well guided.

It's such a good point you make about freedom of action. It seems to me that this may be one of the central characteristics of the sage: that they're capable of moving consciously and willfully throughout the planes, practicing a 'continuity of consciousness' that eludes most of us.


Chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita focuses largely on the difference between the Real and unreal and the steps towards attaining that realisation.

"The unreal never is. The Real never ceases to be. The conclusion about these two is truly perceived by the seers of Truth."    2:16

The unreal is the ever changing world of phenomena (gross and subtle) which appears to the senses and which also makes up our body and its sense organs. It has no lasting power in itself.

The sage is one who directly experiences and distinguishes The Real from the unreal and also knows her/himself to be that one ever-present Reality. Krishna speaks from that 'knowing' when he says:

"Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor these kings and men. Never will there be a time hereafter when any of us will cease to be."      2:12

The Sage has a body but does not identify with it, nor with the sensory experiences of pleasure and pain which it undergoes. The Sage knows that his real nature cannot be affected by passing phenomena.

"Weapons cut It not; fire burns It not; water wets It not; the wind does not wither it."  2:23

Therefore the one who aspires to apprehend The Real, to become a Sage, needs to learn to establish herself in that Self. This doesn't mean cutting ourselves off from the sense organs for without them we could not live or act in the world. It is our attachment to sensory experience in the form of desires and hatreds that we need to tackle. The eyes are not to blame for the sights they bring us, it is the grasping mind that makes the senses an unwitting accomplice to its acts.

The allegory of the tortoise withdrawing its head and limbs (the five senses) relates to pratyahara (withdrawal) - one of Patanjali's eight limbs of yoga - which includes (or rather requires) nonattachment. Yet pratyahara is something far more just non-attachment and relates to both samadhi and the freeing the 'inner-man' to work on its own plane. See Patanjali 2:54 where pratyahara described as the drawing in of the sense organs from their objects and assuming the nature of the mind-stuff itself.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says of the Sage:

"When he completely withdraws the senses from their objects, as a tortoise draws in its limbs, then his wisdom is firmly fixed." 2:58

The Sage is said to be able to do this at will. The question is, 'why isn't the Sage's wisdom firmly fixed when acting in the body and through the senses?' One answer is that the Sage is only fully such during times of samadhi or when his/her consciousness is centred in the Self (the triune Self of Atma-Buddhi-Manas).

As the Mahatma KH states in his letter to Sinnett (Barker edition):

"We are not infallible, all-foreseeing "Mahatmas" at every hour of the day, good friend" ML 65


"… an adept is an ordinary mortal, at all the moments of his daily life but those – when the inner man is acting." ML 24b


Thanks Peter. This is wonderful.

The sage is one who directly experiences and distinguishes The Real from the unreal and also knows her/himself to be that one ever-present Reality.

This seems to be a very apt definition of a sage.

For anyone interested, here's the link to the second Mahatma Letter quoted in Peter's response. It has many interesting things to say about the nature of Adeptship.



What does it mean to be "happy and content in the Self through the Self"?


Relating to being happy and content through one’s Self:  

Fearlessness and freedom are key messages in the Gita, and I think it focuses on what matters in life and "not sweating the small stuff."  In terms of relationship to Self, I always think of that as one of friendship. Krishna mentions being Arjuna’s friend in theGita, 9.18: “I am the goal, the sustainer, the master, the witness, the abode, the refuge, and the most dear friend.”

I had looked at it more closely when my Quaker study brought me to the relationship of self to Holy Spirit…and the reason they are called Friends. The best definition of friend that I’ve ever read is from Kahlil Gibran speaks of constancy : “Your friend is your needs answered. … And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.”

The following Biblical quote (Wisdom of Solomon 7.13-16) I picked up as one that HPB indirectly references (but I didn’t keep track of where): “I learned diligently, and do communicate her [spirit of wisdom] liberally: I do not hide her riches. For she is a treasure unto men that never faileth: which they that use become the friends of God, being commended for the gifts that come from learning.  God hath granted me to speak as I would, and to conceive as is meet for the things that are given me: because it is he that leadeth unto wisdom, and directeth the wise.  For in his hand are both we and our words; all wisdom also, and knowledge of workmanship.”

In trying to track this reference down (likely a footnote about how it was misinterpreted), I located the following passage, which both connects the sage with essence of the Universal Soul (freely communicating) and also showing this stated relation of friendship through the ages:

ii108, ISIS UNVEILED: “When the soul of the invocator has reached the Sayadyam, or perfect identity of essence with the Universal Soul, when matter is utterly conquered, then the adept can freely enter into daily and hourly communion with those who, though unburdened with their corporeal forms, are still themselves progressing through the endless series of transformations included in the gradual approach to the Paramatma, or the grand Universal Soul.

“Bearing in mind that the Christian fathers have always claimed for themselves and their saints the name of "friends of God," and knowing that they borrowed this expression, with many others, from the technology of the Pagan temples, …”

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Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on February 22, 2013 at 1:20pm

One very interesting side note about this passage is that it was read aloud every day in Gandhi's ashrams or wherever he was present. He conducted  a prayer meeting at the end of the day.  It was Gandhi's favorite and passages from other religions were read too. .  It is interesting that this little frightened person who started his life as a terrified youth named Mohandas would become known at the end of his life as a Mahatma (Self-Governed Sage) at the end of his life. (It never pleased him to be called this because his standards for Mahatmaship were so high.)

What role do you think the constant dwelling on this description of the Self-Governed Sage played in Gandhi's transformation?