Here is the opening verses of Chapter 6.  The other passages will be posted throughout the month.

“He who, unattached to the fruit of his actions, performeth such actions as should be done is both a renouncer of action and a devotee of right action; not he who liveth without kindling the sacrificial fire and without ceremonies.  Know, O son of Pandu, that what they call Sannyasa or a forsaking of action is the same as Yoga or the practice of devotion. No one without having previously renounced all intentions can be devoted. Action is said to be the means by which the wise man who is desirous of mounting to meditation may reach thereto; so cessation from action is said to be the means for him who hath reached to meditation. When he hath renounced all intentions and is devoid of attachment to action in regard to objects of sense, then he is called one who hath ascended to meditation. He should raise the self by the Self; let him not suffer the Self to be lowered; for Self is the friend of self, and, in like manner, self is its own enemy. The man who is not self-conquered. The Self of the man who is self-subdued and free from desire and anger is intent on the Supreme Self in heat and cold, in pain and pleasure, in honor and ignominy. The man who hath spiritual knowledge and discernment, who standeth upon the pinnacle, and hath subdued the senses, to whom gold and stone are the same, is said to be devoted. And he is esteemed among all who, whether amongst his friends and companions, in the midst of enemies or those who stand aloof or remain neutral, with those who love and those who hate, and in the company of sinners or the righteous, is of equal mind.

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Might students give their thoughts on the meaning of this interesting statement taken from above?

"He should raise the self by the Self; let him not suffer the Self to be lowered; for Self is the friend of self, and, in like manner, self is its own enemy."


"He should raise the self by the Self; let him not suffer the Self to be lowered; for Self is the friend of self, and, in like manner, self is its own enemy."

I think what's meant here is that one must take counsel with the higher Self, not lower self.  The higher principled mind is the 'friend' of all because it has the benefit of the all in mind, while the lower principled mind is no friend of anyone because it has a mistaken understanding of what is of benefit to anyone - even to oneself. 


"He should raise the self by the Self; let him not suffer the Self to be lowered; for Self is the friend of self, and, in like manner, self is its own enemy."

I interpret this to mean that we are the master of our own destiny.  If we choose to follow our earthly desires, the path of least resistance, then we become our own foe.  If we choose to follow our spiritual calling, the path of the high road, then we become our own ally.   


How might this apply to the relationship between the personal and the universal?


The personal tends to look for the benefit to oneself, the Universal for the whole.  That is what the higher nature represents, the whole.


2nd Paragraph

“He who has attained to meditation should constantly strive to stay at rest in the Supreme, remaining in solitude and seclusion, having his body and his thoughts under control, without possessions and free from hope. He should in an undefiled spot place his seat, firm, neither too high nor too low, and made of kusa grass which is covered with a skin and a cloth. There, for the self’s purification he should practice meditation with his mind fixed on one point, the modifications of the thinking principle controlled and the action of the senses and organs restrained. Keeping his body, head, and neck firm and erect, with mind determined, and gaze directed to the tip of his nose without looking in any direction, with heart at peace and free from fear, the Yogi should remain, settled in the vow of a Brahmachari, his thoughts controlled, and heart fixed on me. The devotee of controlled mind who thus always bringeth his heart to rest in the Supreme reacheth that tranquillity, the supreme assimilation with me.


Krishna is giving us some guidance on meditation here. He is giving up physical advice, mental advice and spiritual advice all at once.


Is there a way to keep the mind focused upon the Supreme while at work in the world performing duties?


I have found this to be very difficult.  Partly, I think it has to do with how much attention is required to perform one's duties.  It might be easier if it is a menial job that does not require a lot of thoughts.


Perhaps through training elementals an individual can perform various duties and still have the highest aspects of mind focused upon the Light.


 "Know, O son of Pandu, that what they call Sannyasa or a forsaking of action is the same as Yoga or the practice of devotion. No one without having previously renounced all intentions can be devoted. Action is said to be the means by which the wise man who is desirous of mounting to meditation may reach thereto; so cessation from action is said to be the means for him who hath reached to meditation. When he hath renounced all intentions and is devoid of attachment to action in regard to objects of sense, then he is called one who hath ascended to meditation." From one perspective, the meaning in this seems to be that action and inaction, surely an understanding of which is essential when we see ourselves as Arjuna, that we may look into coming circumstance manasically, but through the prescribed meditative state, know when to actually act and when not. This requires detachment as regards results mostly because we simply have to admit that we don't know enough, as a sage might, regarding pending karma, to predict dependable outcomes. This requires an equanimity of mind, which is the basis for calm judgment. Frankly this requires the whole of the 18 chapters, because still one "has to act as seemeth best unto thee."


Krishna also makes a strong point regarding an awareness of the cause of action. There would seem to be a simultaneous knowing and ability to act when a man manages a yogic stance between his lower manasic self, in whom action occurs, and the Higher Self, which by nature is actionless. In this respect there is a kind of physics or really metaphysics in actu when such a stance occurs within. The idea, to my mind, is to see devotion between the Higher and the lower as always en potenia, and in action when the yogic stance occurs because of the bringing about of a psychological conduit, perhaps equivalent to the actual sutratmic thread. In this way the devotion spoken of by Krishna is an actual state of mind, a condition of interconnection, not merely the wished for results of any external practices or so called devotional acts. In Tibetan Buddhism, in particular in the Madyamika school per Psong ka pa, it is spoken of as the difference between the actual realization of Emptiness (percieved as a bolt of lightening), as compared to its intellectual understanding. Here emptiness is not an equivalent to what seems transparent to the senses, but the actual state of the Higher Self to the lower, where this Higher Self cannot incarnate (perhaps as true Bodhichitta) without a realization of it. To some extent then, there is an incomprehensibility to the mind here, yet through the right condition of devotion, it will lawfully happen.

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Permalink Reply by barbaram on June 6, 2014 at 2:29pm

Hi Steven,

The yogic stance, "a simultaneous knowing and ability to act" you refer to in your message reminds me of "mindfulness" taught by the Vipassana school where one is aware and has the ability to act.  You seem to further imply that in those moments, as the lower devotes to the higher while the latter directs the lower in action, thus both become synchronized 

Permalink Reply by Steven Levey on June 6, 2014 at 2:49pm

Hello Barbaram,

     The Vipassana school (Mahayana), while espousing Insight meditation and, yes a thorough use of mindfulness, is Theraveda Buddhism, which is based in the Boddhisatva vow, Paramitas etc.. However, in practice, at least in America, there is far too much emphasis on the act of meditation and nearly no time at all spent in the philosophical discussion re: the manas in relation to action and inaction. Often in American Buddhism the notion of the Higher Self is left undealt with because of an unexamined sense of what "No-self" or Anantman means. However, the Madyamaka school of Tibetan Buddhism (Nagarjuna-Santideva-Chandrakirti and of course Psong ka pa), have not left this unexplored and discuss an equivalent between No-Self, in its undetectability by lower manas (monkey mind in Buddhism), and the fact that, what they call the Buddha Nature is simply non-dependent or intrinsic although not detectable except through a powerful devotion (Bodhichitta) which has resultant tajasai-reflection within manas, as all else is dependent. Psong ka pa shows in his writings a concern for an unfortunate sense of psychological nihilism for would be students based in this unexamined sense of emptiness (possibly bringing about a misguided sense of no-meaning), which in reality is the basis, in his writings for that which is dependent and therefore needs to be taken seriously as the product of the prakritic man's karma. This supports HPB in The Voice where she, in a footnote, calls the Madyamaka school true nihilists. But she means their understanding of true emptiness as in "the voidness of the seeming full and fullness of the seeming void" also from The Voice.

Permalink Reply by barbaram on June 6, 2014 at 3:07pm

Thank you, Steven, this is very informative. 

Permalink Reply by barbaram on June 7, 2014 at 3:45pm

Hi Steven:

I read your message again and I agree that the Vipassana School, at least the ones I know, focuses mostly on meditation and lacks understanding of metaphysics.  The teachings revolve on the Paramitas.   I come to see Buddhism in America as a teaching of ethics, which I like, since it is the beginning of treading the path.  I have never come across "the Madyamaka school of Tibetan Buddhism (Nagarjuna-Santideva-Chandrakirti and of course Psong ka pa)."  Maybe, I will look for it. 

I am not sure what you mean by this one sentence,  can you elaborate?

"what they call the Buddha Nature is simply non-dependent or intrinsic although not detectable except through a powerful devotion (Bodhichitta) which has resultant tajasai-reflection within manas, as all else is dependent."


Permalink Reply by Steven Levey on June 7, 2014 at 4:24pm


      My point (and of course these are my understandings) is based in a main tenant of the Madyamaka school (HPB speaks of this school of Tibetan thought in The Voice) regarding the relationship between the Buddha Nature-the Higher Self, which is also called "intrinsic", meaning self-existent (paramartha in sk.), and all else which exists is dependent upon the rest of maya for their existence. This is very much like thinking of how a cup or a tree, or anything else for that matter, is really a sum of parts as is knowledge. That which is self-existent simplyis and is partless, without beginning or end-is Wisdom as in the nature of Krishna as Vishnu or as the Paramatman. However, mind can be effected by that which cannot incarnate in it (the Higher Self) through the reflection of it-known as pure compassion. Called the law of laws by HPB. Intuition also describes the reflection of the Higher triad into the lower, when it occurs. Again-these is how I see the relationship of Krishna to Arjuna.

Permalink Reply by Steven Levey on June 7, 2014 at 4:57pm


    I just wanted to say one more thing about the use of Buddhism or in fact other systems in relation to theosophical thought. Theosophy, as HPB presents it and as the Gita presents the three yogas, Sanhya thought, etc, seems to be a very select aspect of the systems in question which are theosophical in their non-sectarian focus of ancient Wisdom-the Santana Dharma. The synthetic wisdom Krishna is presenting (Thus in the Upanaishads, etc.) in the Gita might be called the "Heart" of the systems spoken of, which have mostly dogmatized that which were their theosophical roots, where now nit picking over details and differences in lineage have taken more importance than the wisdom at the "heart" of these systems. Frankly, without HPB's perspective along with WQJ, I for one, would not know what is theosophical in the sectarian systems I've mentioned.

Permalink Reply by Samantha Province on June 13, 2014 at 2:01pm

Understanding the Madhyamika doctrines of emptiness and dependent origination has enormously enhanced my understanding of Theosophy and would also benefit other students of Theosophy IMO. The concept of emptiness states that there is no fundamental, stable, and eternal essence of things. This is complemented by dependent origination, which states that no entity, phenomenon, or concept comes into existence of its own power but only with reference to or in reliance on another. A close parallel in the west would be the philosophy of Heraclitus who wrote "you cannot step twice into the same river; for other waters are continually flowing in."

These doctrines are very important for Theosophy as they are crucial for both evolution and compassionate action. I'd like to quote from an excellent book called Introduction to Emptiness by Guy Newland, which as an overview of emptiness as it is taught by the great Tsongkhapa:

Consider, however, that if we actually did have a very solid kind of existence, it would mean that we could never change. If it were our essential nature to be as we are, we would always be exactly that. We would be locked into existence-just-as-what-we-are-now. There could be no life—everything would be static and frozen. We could not interact with other living beings, growing and learning. How could we become wiser? How would we find happiness?

As we live and grow, we learn that we are happy when we can bring happiness to others. Other living beings, and their suffering, are empty, but this does not at all negate their existence or the painfulness of their suffering. Instead, it means that this suffering is not a fixed part of reality—it can be changed. In fact, it will change, but whether it gets better or worse depends on causes and conditions—which means that, in part, it depends on us.

We can think of emptiness as like the clear, blue sky—a transparent space that is wide open. In that way, our empty natures mean that there is no limit to what we can become. We are not blocked, obstructed, or tied down. Right now, our powers to help others may be limited, but emptiness is the lack of chains preventing us from becoming more wise and loving. It is the absence of bars on the door, the freedom from any built-in limit on what we can be. How wise can we become? How loving? When we wonder about this, let’s not impose limitations that are not part of reality.

Inevitably we face difficulties—sometimes great difficulties. The path demands time and effort. But the obstacles are not insurmountable because they are not intrinsic to the structure of reality. Fundamentally, all things are empty—and so we are empty—of any intrinsic nature. This is why the reality of emptiness, properly understood, is a tremendous wellspring of hope and inspiration. Only because we are empty, the possibilities for what we can become are wide open. The sky is the limit (pg 7).

This may seem to contradict the Theosophical teaching of the Atman but in reality it is only a matter of terminology and skillfull teaching methods. When we read of the Atman having such qualities as "inherent existence" and being "eternal," what we should understand is that these are ways of expressing that it is the ultimate mode of existence for all things. But this ultimate principle is itself reliant on those things which follow on it. The Neoplatonist Damascius writes that " the first principle must arise coordinately with the things [proceeding] from the first principle, since it is with respect to them that it is called “a principle,” and actually is one. Similarly, the cause must arise coordinately with its effects, and the first [in a series] arises coordinately with the subsequent members of the series. When many things form a plurality that constitutes a unique system, we designate them as “all things,” just as the first principle also belongs among all things. To generalize, we call “all things” properly speaking just those things we are capable of conceiving, howsoever we conceive them. And we can also conceive of a first principle" (see Nicholas' post here).

Permalink Reply by Peter on June 16, 2014 at 2:18am

Hi Samantha - I meant to say earlier that I agree with your recommendation of the Guy Newland book on 'Introduction to Emptiness' .  It's an excellent and very readable introduction to Tsongkhapa's thought on Emptiness.   

BTW, thinking of your essay on Advaita and Vishisadvaita (mentioned in another post)  Swami Vireswarananda produced two good translations of the Brahma Sutras - one with Sankara's commentary and the other with Ramanuja's commentary.    Vireswaranada's introduction in both books is very useful in illustrating the key points and differences between the various commentators.  You may already be aware of this, of course.

The other work you may already be familiar with - but just in case you're not -  is "The Seven Great Untenables" by John Grimes which explores the key criticisms of Advaita concept of avidya/maya by Ramanuja and the Advaitins' reply.

Permalink Reply by Samantha Province on June 16, 2014 at 3:19pm

Thanks for the recommendations Peter! The Grimes book looks particularly interesting.

Permalink Reply by Peter on June 5, 2014 at 11:03am

"He who, without depending on the fruits of action, performs his bounden duty, he is a Samnyasin and a Yogin: not he who is without fire and without action.  Do thou, O Pandava, know yoga to be that which they call renunciation; no one verily becomes a Yogin who has not renounced thoughts."  Ch6 v 1 & 2.

In previous chapters Krishna has stated that there are two paths that of karma yoga and that of jnana yoga, of which the latter is also called true samnyasa (renunciation of action).  Why then does he now appear to say that devotion to action, Karma Yoga, is the same as samnyasa?

In his commentary on these verses, Sankara states that Krishna presents the devotee of action as both a yogi and a samnyasin only in the secondary sense, not in their primary meaning, for no devotee of action can attain Karma Yoga without the renouncing the thought of results.  In other words, according to Sankara there is similarity but not identity between one devoted to action and the sanyasin.  Karma Yoga is a means, by way of purifying the mind, towards the attainment of Dhyani Yoga.

Ch6.5  Let a man raise himself by himself, let him not lower himself; for he alone is the friend of himself, he alone is the enemy of himself.  (Trans.  Abhinava Vidyatirtha Swami)

Essence of Sankara’s commentary:  by our actions we are either our own best friend or our own worst enemy.  Our own actions keep us tied to samsara or lead towards liberation.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on June 10, 2014 at 10:59pm

Would anyone be willing to offer Peter a reply to his question:

In previous chapters Krishna has stated that there are two paths that of karma yoga and that of jnana yoga, of which the latter is also called true samnyasa (renunciation of action).  Why then does he now appear to say that devotion to action, Karma Yoga, is the same as samnyasa?

Permalink Reply by Kristan Stratos on June 11, 2014 at 12:22pm

I am slightly confused at the present question.  It appears that the answer to this question is found in Peters original post.  I will post the remainder of the highly informative commentary from Adi Sankaracharya Bhagavatpada regarding this question, however, the idea is that Karm-Yoga and Samnyasa are meant only in its secondary sense.

(Objection) : In the sruti, in the smriti. and in the yoga-sastras, it is plainly taught that a Samnyasin or a Yogin is one who is without fire and without action. How is it that the Lord teaches here a strange doctrine that he who lights fire and performs actions is a Samnyasin and a Yogin? 

(Answer) :-This is not to be regarded as a fault; for, it is intended to represent a devotee to action as a Samnyasin and a Yogin in a 'secondary' sense of the two terms. He is regarded as a Samnyasin because of his renunciation of the thoughts concerning the fruits of action; and he is regarded as a Yogin because he performs action as a means of attaining to Yoga or because he abandons thoughts concerning the fruits of actions as causing unsteadiness of mind. Thus, it is only in a secondary sense that the two terms are applied to him. It is not, on the other hand, meant that he is in reality a Samnyasin and a Yogin. 

II.  Do thou understand that the Yoga, which consists in performance of action, is that which those who are versed in the sruti and the smriti declare to be samnyasa, the true renunciation which consists in the abandonment of all action as well as its fruit. 

(Question) :-On what point of similarity between Karma-Yoga which consists in the performance of action (pravritti) and the pure Samnyasa which consists in abstaining from action (nivritti) is the representation of identity of the former with the latter based? 

(Answer) :-There is of course a certain amount of similarity between Karma-Yoga and pure samnyasa so far as the agent is concerned. For, he who is a pure Samnyasin, who has renounced all actions as well as their accessories, abandons thoughts (samkalpa) concerning all actions and their fruits, those thoughts causing the desires which impel one to action. A follower of Karma-Yoga, too, renounces thoughts of results, while he performs actions. This the Lord teaches in the following words: 

No devotee to action who has not given up the thought of reward can be a Yogin, 
a man of steadfastness; for the thought of reward causes unsteadiness of mind. 

That is to say, -that devotee to action who has given up all thoughts of reward will become a Yogin, a man of steadfastness, a steady-minded man, inasmuch as all thought of reward which is the cause of unsteadiness has been given up. 

Action is a stepping-stone to Dhyana-Yoga;

Thus, having regard to the likeness between pure Samnyasa and Karma-Yoga in so far as the devotee in either case renounces (the thoughts concerning the fruit of action), Karma- Yoga has been represented in vi. 2. as Samnyasa with a view to ,extol it. And the Lord extols it because the Karma-Yoga, practised without regard to the fruit of action, forms an external aid (bahiranga) to Dhyana- Yoga, i.e., leads the devotee to Dhyana-Yoga (in due course). 

This is taken form Alladi Mahadeva Sastry's translation of the Acharya commentary on the Gita, [Chapter VI, pg. 180]

Replies to This Discussion

Permalink Reply by Grace Cunningham on June 15, 2014 at 12:10pm

How would Krishna define "action"?

Permalink Reply by Peter on June 15, 2014 at 1:30pm

Krishna states that action is the play of the three gunas (sattva, rajas and tamas), born of Prakriti. See chapter 3, verse 5.

In the previous chapter (2)  Krishna explains to Arjuna that the Self (Atman) does not act nor does it suffer from the result of action.  'It neither slays not can it be slain' (Ch2:11)

The Self transcends the realm of action and the three gunas.

"This Self cannot be cut nor burnt nor wetted nor withered. Eternal, all-pervading, unchanging, immovable, the Self is the same for ever."  (Ch2:20)

The Advaitee would see this as support for the claim that the Self cannot be known or realised as a result of action, no matter how noble or spiritual.

Permalink Reply by Grace Cunningham on June 25, 2014 at 5:52pm

This point is reflected in the saying by Krishna, "I created this entire universe with a single portion of myself and remain separate."  The true SELF is beyond the manifest world yet in a mysterious way inside of it.

Permalink Reply by Peter on June 12, 2014 at 12:11pm

To be fair, there are other interpretations of this verse.  

The issue for the Advaitee is that s/he maintains that the non-dual Brahman is alone real and that the Self, Atman, is not different from Brahman.  This means that all difference (differentiation) is mayavic and all action arising out of this mayavic perception is itself ultimately unreal.  Therefore, action (Karma, or even Karma Yoga) cannot lead to Moksha or Liberation.  Hence the Advaitee always emphasises the distinction between Karma Yoga (the way of action) and Jnana Yoga (the way of Wisdom). 

As there is no difference between Atman and Brahman, according to the Advaitee, then Liberation or Enlightenment is a matter of Realisation (the removal of ignorance or avidya) and not the effect of a karmic action.  Atman, which is Absolute Wisdom, is not and can never be the effect of any cause generated on the planes of manifestation or maya.   Karma Yoga (which for the advaitee includes action, devotion, meditation etc) is a necessary preparation for the aspirant who aspires to Jnana Yoga (which is also the true renunciation or samnyasa) by purifying the mind of defilements and ego-ic attachments.

HPB also states that neither Atma nor Buddhi are ever reached by Karma (which we’ve mentioned a few times in our earlier study of The Key.)  She also states that nothing can go into Nirvana which isn’t there already (see The Mysteries of the Buddha in CW) which resonates with the Advaita viewpoint that Atman and Brahman are already one, they don’t become One at the dawn of Liberation.

The Vishistadvaitin takes the view of qualified non-dualism.  Brahman is non-dual but contains within itself a plurality through which it manifests diversity, i.e. the world and individual souls. The diversity of world and souls is not a maya, according to the Vishistadvaitin, but real parts of Brahman.  The soul (Atman) is a part of Brahman but not identical to Brahman.  Therefore, the distinction between Karma Yoga and Jnana (Samnyasa) is not an issue for the Vishistadvaitin as all action based on devotion to the Supreme leads to liberation, and samnyasa (renunciation) is a key element of all spiritual practice. 

 Vishistadvaita, like Dwaita (dualism) philosophy, is Theistic affirming a personal God.  It could be argued that in many ways, the verses in the Bhagavad Gita with their seemingly theistic element of worship of Sri Krishna lend themselves more easily to the interpretations of the philosophy of Vishistadvaita and Dwaita. 

Permalink Reply by Samantha Province on June 13, 2014 at 11:34am

I think ultimately there is really no difference between these three perspectives. Both Vishistadvaita and Dvaita lead to Advaita when taken to their logical endpoint. Neither of these two philosophies would maintain that temporal entities and phenomena can sustain their own existence apart from Brahman. Thus if there is any real unchanging part of existence it will have to be the Brahman at the core of all beings. The same could be said for all the major dualistic western theistic spiritualities which posit that created beings would have no existence if it were not for the constant working of the deity. This viewpoint finds its most thorough philosophical formulation in Aristotle's unmoved mover argument.

Permalink Reply by Peter on June 13, 2014 at 12:28pm

I think that’s a little too easy for us to say. Ramanuja acharaya, for the Vishistadvaitins, and Madhva acharya, for the Dwaitins, were great logicians.  I’m sure they would fiercely disagree that the logical endpoint of their respective schools was Advaita.  In fact they spent most of their teaching lives demonstrating the exact opposite through logical analysis of the Vedas and Upanishads and Brahma Sutras. 

Whatever the ultimate truth of this, their respective interpretations of the Gita do differ from one another in a number of places - each having to interpret the verses in a way that stays consistent with their own system of thought.

The student of Theosophy needn't hold to any of these views, of course.

Permalink Reply by Samantha Province on June 13, 2014 at 12:47pm

Well there's no doubt that they would fiercely reprobate those conclusions, as would western theologians. From an Advaitan perspective however this is where their sort of logical argumentation leads. As the Shankaracharya who commented on the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad writes, "This unreal phenomenal existence created by differentiation is indeed a fact for those who do not believe in things as different from Brahman as well as for those who do believe. But the believers of the highest truth, while discussing in accordance with the Srutis [sacred texts] the actual existence or non-existence of things apart from Brahman, conclude that Brahman alone is the one without a second, beyond all finite relations. So there is no contradiction between the two views… In fact, all schools must admit the existence or non-existence of the phenomenal world according as it is viewed from the relative or the absolute standpoint" (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad - Shankara Bhashya translated by Swami Mad... pgs 478-9). And this is exactly what a system like Madhva's system entails. He posits two levels of reality. One is the independent and eternal Brahman and the other is the world of transitory forms which have no existence in and of themselves but rather have it on loan directly from Brahman. In the west also you have great mystics like Meister Eckhart who were able to see the nondual implications of their scholastic theology. The only alternative is to see the world as something with inherent existence and being in and of itself. Granted that this is the case, the differing scriptural interpretations may really only be reflections of differing levels of personal evolution and understanding rather than something intractable. The question for the Theosophical student then is which is nearer to the higher spiritual understanding of the Mahatmas.

Permalink Reply by Peter on June 13, 2014 at 2:27pm

Yes, of course, Samantha - Sankara, in his own commentaries, can always show that the opponent is either wrong or not justified in holding a particular viewpoint, or that the opponent sees difference where none exists.  Ramanuja and Madhva can do exactly the same in their own commentaries. We see the same thing amongst the rival buddhist schools.  The idea that different viewpoints reflect differing levels of spiritual growth is acknowledged in both Vedanta and Buddhism.  Where the difficulty lies is that each school tends to believe its own doctrines are the final truth and it is the others who hold only the provisional truth and have yet to 'evolve' further.

To return to my original post, all I am wanting to say is that different schools will interpret the verses differently, so it may be valuable for us to leave room for different viewpoints.

Permalink Reply by Samantha Province on June 13, 2014 at 2:53pm

I hope I didn't come across as too confrontational. This is a subject I've been pondering for a while now (I've actually been writing a lengthy essay on it) and I wanted to take the opportunity to expound on it. My main point, which I probably did not emphasize enough, is that these views may in reality be complimentary and also "true." Because of this they are all worth study, as you say. We don't have to say one interpretation or the other is "incorrect." Ramanuja and Madhva may want to say that their views are the truly correct ones, but Shankaracarya anticipates views such as theirs and allows that they are true enough. When we dispassionately analyze these differing views and their arguments however I think the conclusion will be inevitable that nondualism is the necessary completion of all doctrines. Thus Advaita is the Vedanta truly deserving of the name, as HPB says.

Permalink Reply by Peter on June 13, 2014 at 3:45pm

No, that's fine, Samantha.  It's a very interesting topic. Part of it for me was a reluctance to see a simple point about interpreting the Gita verses get lost in a complex argument (albeit interesting) as to whether all these schools logically end up in Advaita.

I wouldn't want to disagree with you that Advaita is the Vedanta truly deserving of the name.  But it's worth acknowledging that members of other schools also analyse these different views dispassionately and logically according to Gita, Upanishads and Brahma Sutras yet arrive at different views to yours and mine.

Permalink Reply by Tamiko Yamada on June 13, 2014 at 10:35pm

The story of the six blind men and the elephant comes to mind.  Each had a portion of the truth but only the one with vision could see all the parts contributing to being an elephant.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on June 13, 2014 at 11:05pm

I think it is important to remember that the synthesis of the six Indian Schools of Philosophy (which is the Secret Doctrine) is... in a word  secret.  That is, a fuller awareness of this synthesis lies behind the veil of Initiation and requires an exceedingly high level of self mastery.  By studying the six schools and grasping their perspectives we are preparing the mind for this eventuality. But it is, in the strictest sense, not an intellectual enterprise alone, but rather is accompanied by a radical reorientation of the sense of self.

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Permalink Reply by Peter on June 14, 2014 at 11:19am

"...But it is, in the strictest sense, not an intellectual enterprise alone, but rather is accompanied by a radical reorientation of the sense of self."

Good point, Gerry - it's important to remind ourselves of this whether we are studying six schools or just following one.

Do you think as students of Theosophy that we actually do, or that we should, study all six schools?  I often see passing references to Samkhya, Yoga and Vedanta and Theosophy.  The only article I've seen on Vaisiseka and Theosophy is the recent one by David.  I don't believe I've come across one on Nyaya system and Theosophy, which doesn't mean there isn't one out there, nor on the Mimansa school and Theosophy.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on June 14, 2014 at 11:53am

Well that is an interesting question. You and many others have made the excellent point that these sorts of things depend upon the individual. 

I think it would be terrific to be fluent in many languages, knowledgeable about all the Buddhist schools, aware of the subtle differences between all the Christian sects and versed in all six of the Indian Schools. And pursuing these goals builds mental muscles we will need along the way.

  My fear is that for many theosophical students it is easier to pursue these intellectual exercises than to disassemble the personal consciousness and really make actual progress on the path of selflessness so crucial for moving humanity towards universal enlightenment.

We become content in endlessly studying the maps and never set out to scale the mountain.  This was well illustrated in the Peter Brooks film "Meetings with Remarkable Men".

Maybe this is the best way to look at it.  We should study and master whatever subject is required for us to do our duty.

Permalink Reply by Peter on June 14, 2014 at 4:11pm

I think study is about 'understanding' not mental gymnastics and intellectual exercises.  That's the case whether we study theosophical teaching or the various schools and traditions that HPB refers to.  You make it sound like a session at the gym, Gerry! :-)

We might become content with maps, but that doesn't necessarily follow.

Permalink Reply by Tamiko Yamada on June 25, 2014 at 5:43pm

The excessive map reading phenomena was displayed in the story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty".  He keeps day dreaming about being a hero and going on adventures but does not have the courage to actually do them or be heroic.

Permalink Reply by barbaram on June 15, 2014 at 7:51pm

I think we need both - the theoretical and practical facets - to the teachings.  It is not very helpful if we do not have the intellectual depth to understand our experiences; similarly, it is not very helpful if we do not have the experiences to deepen and solidify our studies.  Gurdjieff describes this very well when he equates knowledge with the intellect and being with practice and how they have to grow together.  The only way to assimilate what we learn is by putting them into practice everyday, then we may avoid the danger of over-development of one over the other. 

There is another dimension to reading the teachings, which is, on the subtle planes we are attuning ourselves to a deeper level of consciousness.  Pondering on the ideas on a regular basis can open the students to become more sensitive to the finer energies.  A few months ago, I flipped through some writings by Judge.  One advice he gave to the students was to spend more time with holy people and I thought, well, unfortunately I do not know anyone in that class.  Recently, it dawned on me that, in a way, reading the writings has similar effects because, in essence, during the process of studying, we are putting ourselves in the aura of the source of Wisdom.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on June 16, 2014 at 10:55am

Yes, I agree the theory practice dynamic is the engine of our deepening understanding.

Maybe a better way of making the point is the difference between a decidedly academic approach where the accumulation of information is paramount as opposed to real understanding (to steal a word from Peter) which genuinely expands our vista of ourselves and of the world and universe.

The Teachers have been very clear about this point.  We cannot activate the vehicles of higher perception without an ethical purification.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on June 14, 2014 at 12:10pm

"Self-conquest is the first step on the ladder of Brahma Vidya."

— D.K. Mavalankar

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on June 15, 2014 at 11:31pm

Just joining in quickly to say that I think many may fall into the error of imagining that intellectual study/exercises and self-conquest (or "dissembling the personal consciousness") are mutually exclusive. They're not, of course. They're both aspects of the Path, as I think Barbara expresses well above. So it's not a question of one or the other, in my view, but a need for both (in addition to other aspects as well, it would seem).

The map analogy you make above seems valid to me, in one sense, in order to illustrate the point you're making Gerry, but what if we thought about it this way: that "map" is the "plan of the universe", which, in a sense, is the aggregate of "archetypes", which, in a sense, are the very fabric or substance of our being. Studying that "map" is thus "to know thyself", and our progress towards greater self-knowledge is "a series of progressive awakenings", in HPB's words, beginning, of course, with some intellectual conception of who we are and what is reality. So, to address Damodar's quote, I would pose the question: what would possibly prompt one to engage in self-conquest, if one had not first obtained some intellectual understanding that there is cause to do so? And where would such understanding come from if not from study and discussion?

So... self-conquest the first step? Perhaps. From a certain point of view. But perhaps not, from another point of view. ;)

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on June 17, 2014 at 9:31am

Just re-read this quote from Damodar as well. Perhaps it sheds light on the subject.

“The student must first learn the general axioms. For the time being, he will of course have to take them as assumptions, if he prefers to call them so. … What the student has first to do is to comprehend these axioms … The student must first grasp the subject intellectually before he can hope to realise his aspirations. When this is accomplished, then comes the next stage of meditation which is "the inexpressible yearning of the inner man to 'go out towards the infinite.'" Before any such yearning can be properly directed, the goal, to which it is to be its aim to run, must be determined by the preliminary stages. The higher stage, in fact, consists in realising practically what the first steps have placed within one's comprehension. In short, contemplation, in its true sense, is to recognise the truth of Eliphas Levi's saying: “To believe without knowing is weakness; to believe, because one knows, is power.”
Permalink Reply by Peter on June 19, 2014 at 6:43am

Jon - just by way of adding a few more thoughts.  In the system of Vedanta they talk about the three stages of shravana, manana, and nididhyasana, though I'm sure other spiritual traditions have something similar.

Sravana is the formal study of the teaching. In one sense, it has to do with hearing the teaching or knowing what the teaching actually is.   In other words establishing in our mind what it is that is being taught. 

Manana is reflecting on the teaching developing our understanding of it and dispelling doubts about it.

Nididhyasana is contemplation or meditation on our understanding of the teachings until we have fully assimilated them to our being.

By 'accident' I came across a passage by HPB this morning where she discusses what is needed to male a "perfect man."  It seems to have a bearing on our topic here:

". . . to make a perfect man, he is to be: 1, perfect in physical form, as regards his organism and health; 2, perfect intellectually; 3, perfect spiritually. All these must be equilibrized. At any rate, he must have all these three schemes of evolution sufficiently represented to produce perfect equilibrium. An absolutely healthy man, full of vitality, but deficient in intellectual powers is an animal, as I say, not a man. A perfectly spiritual man with a sick limb and a weak body is not a man, but a spirit imprisoned, looking out of the window—an unfortunate spirit. A perfectly healthy and intellectual, well-developed man, without the corresponding spiritual consciousness, is (his intellect notwithstanding) an empty shell and nothing more. If one of these things is deficient there is no equilibrium, if all these three qualities are present so as to produce equilibrium, the man himself will be a perfect man on his particular plane—I mean. Meaning by the latter, not the universal planes, but his own personal or individual plane of the septenary scale of perfection. Now that is very easily understood."

Secret Doctrine Dialogues, 441

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on June 19, 2014 at 10:16pm

Thanks Peter. Wonderful quote from HPB!

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on June 25, 2014 at 6:04pm

You might correlate the Spirit, Intellect and Body with the heart, the head and hands.  3H's must be held in balance.

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Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on June 7, 2014 at 4:08pm

Next Paragraph:

“This divine discipline, Arjuna, is not to be attained by the man who eateth more than enough or too little, nor by him who hath a habit of sleeping much, nor by him who is given to over watching. The meditation which destroyeth pain is produced in him who is moderate in eating and in recreation, of moderate exertion in his actions, and regulated in sleeping and waking. When the man, so living, centers his heart in the true Self and is exempt from attachment to all desires, he is said to have attained to yoga. Of the sage of self-centered heart, at rest and free from attachment to desires, the simile is recorded, ‘as a lamp which is sheltered from the wind flickereth not.’ When regulated by the practice of yoga and at rest, seeing the self by the self, he is contented; when he becometh acquainted with that boundless bliss which is not connected with objects of the senses, and being where he is not moved from the reality;6 having gained which he considereth no other superior to it, and in which, being fixed, he is not moved even by the greatest grief; know that this disconnection from union with pain is distinguished as yoga, spiritual union or devotion, which is to be striven after by a man with faith and steadfastly.

Permalink Reply by Tamiko Yamada on June 13, 2014 at 10:36pm

Is this Krishna's version of the "Middle Way"?

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on June 22, 2014 at 1:27pm

Surely they are both pointing to the concept of maintaining balance.

Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on June 9, 2014 at 10:56pm

Next paragraph:

“When he hath abandoned every desire that ariseth from the imagination and subdued with the mind the senses and organs which impel to action in every direction, being possessed of patience, he by degrees finds rest; and, having fixed his mind at rest in the true Self, he should think of nothing else. To whatsoever object the inconstant mind goeth out he should subdue it, bring it back, and place it upon the Spirit. Supreme bliss surely cometh to the sage whose mind is thus at peace; whose passions and desires are thus subdued; who is thus in the true Self and free from sin. He who is thus devoted and free from sin obtaineth without hindrance the highest bliss—union with the Supreme Spirit. The man who is endued with this devotion and who seeth the unity of all things perceiveth the Supreme Soul in all things and all things in the Supreme Soul. He who seeth me in all things and all things in me looseneth not his hold on me and I forsake him not. And whosoever, believing in spiritual unity, worshipeth me who am in all things, dwelleth with me in whatsoever condition he may be. He, O Arjuna, who by the similitude found in himself seeth but one essence in all things, whether they be evil or good, is considered to be the most excellent devotee.”

Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on June 18, 2014 at 10:27am

Next Section:


“O slayer of Madhu,7 on account of the restlessness of the mind, I do not perceive any possibility of steady continuance in this yoga of equanimity which thou hast declared. For indeed, O Krishna, the mind is full of agitation, turbulent, strong, and obstinate. I believe the restraint of it to be as difficult as that of the wind.”


“Without doubt, O thou of mighty arms, the mind is restless and hard to restrain; but it may be restrained, O son of Kunti, by practice and absence of desire. Yet in my opinion this divine discipline called yoga is very difficult for one who hath not his soul in his own control; yet it may be acquired through proper means and by one who is assiduous and controlleth his heart.”

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on June 22, 2014 at 1:29pm

Are there other words in the English language to convey the idea of restraint?  This word gives the idea of holding something back.  Is Krishna also recommending the idea of directing the mind?

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on August 1, 2014 at 7:38pm

Well, I think the Sanskrit can give us a bit of help with this question. The term used for "restrain" is "nigraha". Here's the meaning, which gives us a few more English terms and ideas to associate with "restraint" of this kind:

nigraha [nigrah] m. restriction, repression, punishment; opp. anugraha | coercion, duress; subjugation | defeat, destruction | stop, capture, immobilization | med. cure a disease, cure | confinement, imprisonment | reprimand, censure | dislike, disgust.

The language here seems quite strong, so perhaps we may need to go beyond the idea of "holding back" to something a little more intense. I also like the correlation here to the medical use of the term as meaning "to cure a disease". Perhaps we can make a connection here with curing the disease of the mind that is the illusion of separation. (?)

Permalink Reply by Grace Cunningham on August 10, 2014 at 11:18am

This line of thought reminds me of the saying in the Bible which indicates the Kingdom of Heaven must be won by force.  From what you are saying here the word restraint in English might be too soft a word.  Maybe the lower mind cannot be held on a leash so to speak.  It must be fully controlled lest the continuity needed to establish higher states of consciousness becomes broken.

Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on June 27, 2014 at 10:41pm

Last exchange between Krishna and Arjuna in Chapter 6


“What end, O Krishna, doth that man attain who, although having faith, hath not attained to perfection in his devotion because his unsubdued mind wandered from the discipline? Doth he, fallen from both,8 like a broken cloud without any support,9 become destroyed, O strong-armed one, being deluded in the path of the Supreme Spirit? Thou, Krishna, shouldst completely dispel this doubt for me, for there is none other to be found able to remove it.”


“Such a man, O son of Pritha, doth not perish here or hereafter. For never to an evil place goeth one who doeth good. The man whose devotion has been broken off by death goeth to the regions of the righteous,10 where he dwells for an immensity of years and is then born again on earth in a pure and fortunate family;11 or even in a family of those who are spiritually illuminated. But such a rebirth into this life as this last is more difficult to obtain. Being thus born again he comes in contact with the knowledge which belonged to him in his former body, and from that time he struggles more diligently towards perfection, O son of Kuru. For even unwittingly, by reason of that past practice, he is led and works on. Even if only a mere enquirer, he reaches beyond the word of the Vedas. But the devotee who, striving with all his might, obtaineth perfection because of efforts continued through many births, goeth to the supreme goal. The man of meditation as thus described is superior to the man of penance and to the man of learning and also to the man of action; wherefore, O Arjuna, resolve thou to become a man of meditation. But of all devotees he is considered by me as the most devoted who, with heart fixed on me, full of faith, worships me.”