Reflections Along The Way

Bhagavad Geeta: Chapter 4, Verses 24-32

Shri Krishna explains in the earlier verses how enlightened people see action in inaction, inaction in action, and how they live in the world by perceiving themselves as the non-doer, even amid intense activity.

In the following verses, Shri Krishna describes how the enlightened person perceives the world and the spiritual practices one can follow to be enlightened.

Chapter 4, Verse 24

ब्रह्मार्पणं ब्रह्म हविर्ब्रह्माग्नौ ब्रह्मणा हुतम् ।
ब्रह्मैव तेन गन्तव्यं ब्रह्मकर्मसमाधिना ॥२४॥
brahmārpaṇaṁ brahma havirbrahmāgnau brahmaṇā hutam,
brahmaiva tena gantavyaṁ brahmakarmasamādhinā. (24)

The oblation is Brahman, the ladle with which it is offered is Brahman, the act of offering is Brahman, and the sacrificial fire is also Brahman. Such persons, who see everything as Brahman easily attain Brahman.

A person who can see only Brahman in everything, oneself; the instruments used to act; the action; the results of the action; can easily attain Brahman (the state of God-Realization or Self-Realization).

In my dream, I may go to Mars in a space rocket and win a Nobel prize for being the first human to do so. When I wake up, I know that my waking mind becomes all these different entities and activities in the dream. Similarly, we see duality in the world as this limited ego. When one is enlightened and awakens into the state of higher consciousness (Brahman), all the objects merge into that one consciousness (Brahman).

This verse is from the perspective of an enlightened person identified with Brahman and is quite famous. Many spiritual aspirants chant it before consuming anything to eat or drink as a practice, to constantly remind themselves that there is only one without the second. With this constant and regular practice, one can ultimately realize the One infinite essence.

In the Vedic period, performing yajñas was quite common as a ritual. Hence Shri Krishna uses that as a metaphor in describing all the aspects of an action. In the following verses 12 spiritual practices are explained to attain the highest Knowledge.

Chapter 4, Verse 25

दैवमेवापरे यज्ञं योगिनः पर्युपासते ।
ब्रह्माग्नावपरे यज्ञं यज्ञेनैवोपजुह्वति ॥२५॥
daivamevāpare yajñaṁ yoginaḥ paryupāsate,
brahmāgnāvapare yajñaṁ yajñenaivopajuhvati. (25)

Some yogis perform sacrifice to the Devas. Others offer sacrifice of the self in the fire of the Brahman.

Those who are advanced spiritual seekers offer all the aspects of their actions into the sacrificial fire of Brahman to invoke the grace and to be established in Brahman. They see only Brahman in the dualistic world.

Others have their own practices. Some people perform sacrifices to invoke Devas (celestial Gods). They practice offering actions unto the Devas by doing their duties in the spirit of Karma Yoga

Chapter 4, Verse 26

रोत्रादीनीन्द्रियाण्यन्ये संयमाग्निषु जुह्वति ।
शब्दादीन्विषयानन्य इन्द्रियाग्निषु जुह्वति ॥२६॥
śrotrādīnīndriyāṇyanye saṁyamāgniṣu juhvati,
śabdādīnviṣayānanya indriyāgniṣu juhvati. (26)

Some offer hearing and other senses in the sacrificial fire of restraint. Others offer sound and other objects of the senses as sacrifice in the fire of the senses.

Mind is disturbed by two sources – from outside when the sense organs (eyes, ears, skin, etc.) report what they are seeing, hearing, feeling, etc., and when reliving the sense enjoyment of the past.

Some seekers offer all the senses into the fire of restraint meaning they practice restraint when engaging with the world to not become a slave of the senses.

Others offer all the objects of the senses into the fire of the senses meaning they do not allow the mind to be distracted by leading a disciplined life.

These people are purifying the mind to be able contemplate. 

Chapter 4, Verse 27

सर्वाणीन्द्रियकर्माणि प्राणकर्माणि चापरे ।
आत्मसंयमयोगाग्नौ जुह्वति ज्ञानदीपिते ॥२७॥
sarvāṇīndriyakarmāṇi prāṇakarmāṇi cāpare,
ātmasaṁyamayogāgnau juhvati jñānadīpite. (27)

Some, inspired by knowledge, offer the functions of the senses and functions of the breath (life energy) in the fire of self-control.

Some yogis offer all functions of organs of action and organs of perception and all functions of the prānas into the fire of self-control effortlessly inspired by Knowledge. All activities are offered as an oblation into the fire of Knowledge. These people are ready to practice contemplation and meditation.

Chapter 4, Verse 28

द्रव्ययज्ञास्तपोयज्ञा योगयज्ञास्तथापरे ।
स्वाध्यायज्ञानयज्ञाश्च यतयः संशितव्रताः ॥२८॥
dravyayajñāstapoyajñā yogayajñāstathāpare,
svādhyāyajñānayajñāśca yatayaḥ saṁśitavratāḥ. (28)

Some offer their wealth, austerities, and yoga as sacrifice, while others study the scriptures and cultivate knowledge as sacrifice, while observing strict vows.

There are six practices listed in this verse –

  • Some offer their wealth as a sacrifice. They serve society selflessly by offering either material wealth or their skills for the good of all.
  • Some follow austerities such as having strict discipline that they don’t break under any circumstance to keep their mind focused on the goal.
  • Some practice yoga as an offering.
  • Some read and chant scriptures.
  • Some study the scriptures and reflect on them. As the higher values rise in them, the lower values are offered into the sacrificial fire of Knowledge.
  • Others take up strict vows such as being honest in all circumstances and living uncompromisingly in the spirit of sacrifice.

Chapter 4, Verse 29 and 30

अपाने जुह्वति प्राणं प्राणेऽपानं तथापरे ।
प्राणापानगती रुद्ध्वा प्राणायामपरायणाः ॥२९॥
apāne juhvati prāṇaṁ prāṇe’pānaṁ tathāpare,
prāṇāpānagatī ruddhvā prāṇāyāmaparāyaṇāḥ. (29)

अपरे नियताहाराः प्राणान्प्राणेषु जुह्वति ।
सर्वेऽप्येते यज्ञविदो यज्ञक्षपितकल्मषाः ॥३०॥
apare niyatāhārāḥ prāṇānprāṇeṣu juhvati,
sarve’pyete yajñavido yajñakṣapitakalmaṣāḥ. (30)

Others offer as sacrifice the outgoing breath in the incoming breath, and the incoming breath in the outgoing breath, restraining the incoming and outgoing breaths, purely absorbed in the regulation of the breath. And others curtail their food intake and offer prānas into the life energy as sacrifice. All these knowers of sacrifice are cleansed of their impurities as a result of such sacrifices.

Prāna is often misunderstood to be breath, but it is not. Prāna is the expression of the touch of life through the body, mind, and intellect. In Vedanta, the main prānās are five physiological systems in the body

  • prāna (taking in)
  • apāna (excretion)
  • samāna (digestion)
  • vyāna (circulation)
  • udāna (the ability to think something higher)

We interact with the world outside through these prānās by receiving information and responding to it. Some people do not let their responses be disturbed by their receptions. Others end their responses in the very perceptions. Those who practice controlling this prāna (incoming perceptions) and apāna (outgoing responses) are the ones who are practicing prānāyāma, not just controlling the breath. Breath is just one aspect of prāna.

Some others are careful with diet, which doesn’t mean only food. It indicates intake from all senses. They don’t allow anything unnecessary (not conducive to their spiritual growth) on their plate.

All the twelve practices mentioned thus far are to control the interaction with the world outside so that you can exhaust your vāsanās and purify the mind to make it quiet and ready for contemplation.

Chapter 4, Verse 31

यज्ञशिष्टामृतभुजो यान्ति ब्रह्म सनातनम्।
नायं लोकोऽस्त्ययज्ञस्य कुतोऽन्यः कुरुसत्तम॥ ३१॥
yajñaśiṣṭāmṛtabhujo yānti brahma sanātanam
nāyaṁ loko’styayajñasya kuto’nyaḥ kurusattama. (31)

Those who eat the remnants of the sacrifice that are like nectar, advance toward Brahman (Absolute Truth). O best of the Kurus, those who perform no sacrifice find no happiness in this world, how then the other (world)?

After yajña, whatever remains is the pure heart because the vāsanās are exhausted with the spiritual practice. Those who perform these yajñas with discipline and self-effort in the spirit of sacrifice progress spiritually. It is up to us how we make our life.

Those who do not perform yajñas have lost the opportunity to evolve in this world only. Without self-effort, nothing can be gained. Even in this world, nothing can be gained. Forget about the spiritual world. 

Chapter 4, Verse 32

एवं बहुविधा यज्ञा वितता ब्रह्मणो मुखे ।
कर्मजान्विद्धि तान्सर्वानेवं ज्ञात्वा विमोक्ष्यसे ॥३२॥
evaṁ bahuvidhā yajñā vitatā brahmaṇo mukhe,
karmajānviddhi tānsarvānevaṁ jñātvā vimokṣyase. (32)

All these various kinds of sacrifices have been spread out in the Vedas. Know them as born of action, and having known you shall be liberated.

In this way, there are many kinds of spiritual practices, and many paths to reach Brahman which are spread out in the Vedas. No matter which path one takes they all reach the same goal of Self-Realization. All these yajnas and paths are essentially oriented with self-effort. To evolve, there has to be total involvement and the right effort is needed.

None of these yajñas are performed without the body, mind, and intellect. They all belong to the realm of action. But know that you are beyond these. Knowing that you will be liberated.

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