Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 6: How to become a yogi

By Gaurav Rastogi

We left Chapter 5 (The Way of Renunciation) knowing that there are two paths to liberation- renunciation (sannyasa) and detached action (karma yoga), and that it’s better to be a yogi in either case. Chapter 6 starts with Krishna equating renunciation and action, saying that one cannot do one without the other. Then he clarifies that mastery of oneself is the main thing. When you have mastered yourself, everything is the same.

yam sannyasam iti prahur, yogam tam viddhi pandava
na hy asannyasta-sankalpo, yogi bhavati kascana

“What is called renunciation is the same as yoga, or linking oneself with the Supreme, for no one can become a yogi unless he renounces the desire for sense gratification.”

Then, Krishna offers what I believe would be the first ever DIY instructions- how do you meditate all by yourself. These instructions- on how to set-up for meditation, and how do you know you’re doing it right, are very precise, and take up a large part of this chapter. Krishna ends this monologue by describing infinite bliss. Arjuna points out that this is a tall order, and asks a question all starter-yogis ask- “This sounds tough…what happens if I don’t make it”? Krishna reassures him that all effort counts towards progress, and that progress is better measured over life-times.

Absence makes the brain go wander: As Arjuna predicts in this chapter, taking up a challenge is not the same thing as sticking with it. I took on the task of reading the Gita for you, but my discipline failed me. I have read, and read the next three chapters in vain, only to face a blank sheet with dread every time I start to write down my thoughts. Oh! Krishna! What have I done? Good news is- Chapter 6 (which I take on again today) declares that all efforts count towards progress, and that progress is better measured in life-times.

Single Player version: When I read the part in the beginning where Krishna talks about self-mastery being the main thing, I was stuck with a mental image that’s unshakeable. Imagine the camera focusing on Arjuna’s face at the beginning of the chapter, then suddenly zooming out when Krishna starts talking. As the camera zooms out, I would expect to see the vast armies laid out on all sides, and faces of known relatives and friends flashing past. However, in this sequence, instead of seeing the Pandava and Kaurava armies, one sees nothing! No brothers, no elephants, no enemies, no friends, and no army. Nothing! Arjuna is alone.

As Krishna goes on talking, it becomes clear that the only action is needs to take is inside Arjuna, and there’s no war to be had outside. The story was not at all about the war outside, but instead about the raging war within. Arjuna’s task was to cancel out the inputs he was receiving from his senses, and just do what he’s here to do. No wonder Arjuna is confused- this is a very tall order, and he’s not sure if he has the practice to be in the moment.

Starter Yogis please read this first: The DIY instructions are very crisp, and not unlike what one finds in any modern hatha yoga book. Find a clean place, bring an empty stomach (not growling with hunger), body aligned, and mind controlled, detach you’re your daily thoughts and slowly become still. When your mind is serene, you’ll enjoy infinite bliss, seeing “me in everywhere, and everything sees in me, to him I am never lost, and he is not lost to me”.
samam kaya-siro-grivam, dharayann acalam sthirah
sampreksya nasikagram svam, disas canavalokayan
prasantatma vigata-bhir brahmacari-vrate sthitah
manah samyamya mac-citto yukta asita mat-parah

“One should hold one’s body, neck and head erect in a straight line and stare steadily at the tip of the nose. Thus, with an unagitated, subdued mind, devoid of fear, observing the vows of brahmacharya, one should meditate upon Me within the heart and make Me the ultimate goal of life.
This is fascinating stuff. It’s surprisingly simple and bureaucracy free. No yellow forms to fill in triplicate (do this penance here, pay for these sacrifices there), no intermediaries to ingratiate (buy “good karma” here), and best of all, no waiting in line (take a number and wait till judgment day). This sounds alarmingly simple, and one is expecting there to be a gotcha.
If at first you don’t succeed...At this point Arjuna points out the obvious roadblock in this west-coast-liberal-“freeway to infinite bliss”-business. To use a modern metaphor, Arjuna says that getting control over one’s mind is like “herding cats”. Arjuna asks what happens to those people who try but fail at this while being, as they say in my native Delhi, “good of heart (dil ka achcha)”.

… go to level 2 and re-start! The answer to this question is a logic that video-game players of all age understand clearly- you get multiple lives to achieve your goal and, oh!, you also get to carry forward the points. So, basically, if you cross level 1 but don’t finish the game, you will be reborn into a rich and pious family. If you cross level 2, you will be born into a family of yogis.
“but the yogi who strives with zealous mind, purified of all sin,
through many lives perfected, then comes to the supreme”.

When you’re happy and you know it…Imagine you’re passing along directions to go someplace, and you don’t have writing, drawing or printing technology. All you have to rely upon is word of mouth propagation of the directions. Your instructions have to be independent of the expertise of the follower. How do you make sure that the person following the instructions is not lost? Easy- you describe the path and the end state in many different ways. That’s what Krishna does here.
“As a lamp in a windless place does not flicker”, “where thought ceases and where the mind sees the soul”, “disunion form the union with pain”, and finally:
“who sees me everywhere and everything sees in me,
To him I am never lost, and he is not lost to me”

It’s very clear that these markers are the equivalent of “bread crumbs” left by Hansel and Gretel in the story by Brothers Grimm. If you’re not seeing these signs, then you’re not doing something right! Find a Guru!

Greater than, redux
The chapter ends with a formulaic ending, literally. Krishna says the following formula:
Yogi > Acsetic (Tapasvin)
Yogi > Wise man (Gyani)
Yogi > Man of Action (Karmi)
=>Therefore, become a Yogi, Arjuna. QED

Quotes and translations from

3 thoughts on “Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 6: How to become a yogi

  1. Geeta Padmanabhan

    Beautiful! Worth waiting for! The Gita is beginning to make a lot more sense now, what with your terms of reference and Cho’s wacky analogies in Engey Brahmanan (“Where is the Brahmin?” a TV serial in Tamil).
    “The story was not at all about the war outside, but instead about the raging war within”, absolutely the mantra for living! Thanks for the post!


  2. Aditya

    Cool! This was very simple and easy to understand. But is Chapter 6 the last or is there more? Also, does Bhagvad Gita have any reasons as to why everyone is going through this or should go through this process? Also, does it mean that meditation and doing your duty is all that is required? No rituals necessary?



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