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yogasthah kuru karmani sangam tyaktwaa dhananjaya
siddhy-asiddhyoh samo bhootwaa samatwam yoga uchyate
doorena hyavaram karma buddhiyogaad dhananjaya
buddhau sharanam anwiccha kripanaah phalahetavah// 2.48-49 //
Arjuna, perform your actions rooted in yoga and abandoning attachment. Be the same in success and failure. Evenness of mind is called yoga. Mere action, Arjuna, is Inferior indeed to karma yoga. Seek, therefore, refuge in karma yoga. Those who work for results are of little understanding. BG 2.48-49
Krishna is asking here Arjuna to do whatever he does with evenness of mind, samata or samatvam, naming samatvam as yoga.
I have heard a story about a young Japanese archer. He had won all archery competitions beating all rivals, and there were no more archers he could compete with and defeat, which made him a little sad. Then someone told him about an old Zen master who was also a master archer. He lived on a faraway mountain all alone, without ever coming down or contacting anyone. The young archer travelled to the mountain and met the old master in order to challenge him. He demonstrated his skill by shooting an arrow at a distant target and hitting the bull’s eye. Then he shot another arrow and split the first arrow and then yet another, splitting the second arrow. With a victorious smile the young man now handed the bow and his arrows to the old man.
The old master took the bow and arrows and walked to a cliff on the mountain. The cliff projected over a deep, bottomless chasm. On the cliff was lying an old, half rotten log of wood. The master coolly walked to the cliff, climbed on to the log and standing on it shot an arrow to a target on the other side of the cliff and then shot another arrow and split the first one. Climbing down from the log and the cliff, the old master now handed over the bow and arrows to the young man, inviting him to do the same. The young archer took the bow and arrows, looked at the cliff, looked at the chasm, looked at the rotten log and his legs started shivering.
However great a master you are in what you do, unless you have mastery over your mind, it all comes to nothing. Mastery over our mind is our greatest asset without which all our other assets become useless. A great negotiator fails unless he has mastery over his mind. Without mastery over your mind, you cannot take important decisions, give a crucial speech, argue and convince someone about your point, plan or execute your policies. Without mastery over the mind, a great dancer cannot dance well, a great singer cannot sing well, a painter cannot paint masterpieces. Mastery over the mind is our first and most important skill, without which all other skills become useless.
It is this mastery over the mind, the ability to keep the mind even in spite of what happens, that Krishna now defines as yoga: samatvam yoga uchyate – evenness of mind, calmness of mind, steadiness of mind, the ability to remain unperturbed by external events, is called yoga.
Krishna wants us to remain the same in success and failure. He wants us to remain the same under all circumstances, whatever happens in life. And all kinds of things are bound to happen in life – that is called life: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, as we say today. This is a sutra that tells us how to live our life in our VUCA world. This is the sutra for our young generation of people – driven, passionate, ambitious, achievement oriented – to achieve success in life.
Most accidents happen when we lose samatvam or samata, steadiness of mind. Road rages are invariably the result of losing samatvam. You are driving on the road, the driver in front of you is slow and you are in a hurry. You sound your horn again and again and he neither speeds up his car nor gives you side to overtake him. Slowly your despair mounts and in a moment of blind fury you dash your car against his, causing a major accident.
You are at a party beautifully dressed in a new sari and the little girl of the house serving cool drinks spills a glass onto your sari. You instantly lose your samata and give the little girl a slap. The girl screams, dropping the tray of cool drinks. There is shocked silence and everything comes to a standstill at the party. You apologize realizing your mistake but the party is over for you, the relationship with the family has ended and you have become a social outcast. People will think twice before inviting you for a party in future.
In the Mahabharata, King Parikshit, the grandson of Arjuna, loses his life because he loses his samata. On a hunting trip, the king had wandered long chasing a deer and was exhausted. He found a rishi sitting in meditation and asked him if he had seen the deer. The rishi kept quiet – his name was Shamika and he was on a vow of silence. The king repeated the question and when he got no answer, took it as an insult to him – after all he was the king. Looking around he found a dead snake lying nearby and picking it up with an arrow, he put it around the neck of the rishi. The rishi did not react but continued his meditation but soon his son Shringi heard of the incident and came to his father. When he saw his father with the dead snake around his neck, he could not tolerate it and in anger cursed Parikshit that within seven days he would die bitten by the snake Takshaka.
A moment of losing samata and an emperor who was brought back to life from the dead by Krishna himself loses his life.
Sage Gautama loses his samata when he learns of his wife Ahalya’s adultery with his disciple Indra. There are many versions of the story told by ancient Indian literature. In the Mahabharata version in a moment of anger, losing his samata, he orders his son Chirakari to cut off his mother’s head. He probably did not want to witness the scene and after giving the order left the place for a bath. On the way the whole time he was thinking of the order he had given and what had actually happened. The Mahabharata tells that the rishi soon felt what happened was perhaps as much his error as that of Ahalya and the came back running, bathed in perspiration, to find out what has happened. Fortunately Chirakari – whose name means slow-to-act – hadn’t executed his order and Ahalya was still alive. The father hugs his son, praises his slowness in acting on his unpleasant order. A moment of losing samata on the part of Gautama, Ahalya would have lost her life but for her son’s slowness to act.
Gautama here says:
Raage darpe cha maane cha drohe paape cha karmani
Apriye cha kartavye chirakaari prashasyate. [MB Shanti 166.70]
In infatuation, in haughtiness and in arrogance, in harming others, in wicked deeds and before doing things that go against your heart, those who practice the art of delay are praised.
The Panchatantra story of the brahamani and the mongoose is famous. A mongoose gave birth to a baby and died on the same day as a brahmani gave birth to her baby. The brahmani started looking after the baby mongoose with the same affection she had for her son. Both babies grew up together as brothers, both loving each other deeply. One day the brahnani had to go out to fetch water while her baby was sleeping. Leaving the baby to the care of the mongoose that was playing around, the brahmani went out, though in one corner of her mind the fear was there that the mongoose is a wild animal and its wild nature might come out any moment.
She was completely shaken by the sight that met her when she came back after a short while. The mongoose was standing at the door of the house bathed in blood from head to foot. A loud scream escaped the brahmani’s mouth thinking of what might have happened to her baby and she dashed the pot of water she had on the head of the mongoose, killing it instantly. She rushed inside, only to see her baby sleeping soundly in its cradle and a cobra lying dead on the ground close to it. Her loss of samata for one moment caused the death of the mongoose whom she had loved like her own baby and who had saved her baby’s life from the deadly cobra.
We have a brilliant example both for retaining samatvam and losing samatvam in the encounter between Rama and Parashurama beautifully described in Valmiki Ramayana. After the weddings of Rama and his brothers with the princesses of Mithila, the wedding party is on their way back to Ayodhya. Suddenly they find the sky is turning dark, all the animals are running in panic and birds are screeching ominously. A powerful whirlwind has started blowing as though the end of the world is approaching, trees are uprooted and the whole nature has turned violently restless. In the middle of all the terrible chaos they see Lord Parashurama standing in front of them like an unassailable mountain. He has his battle axe with him, a giant bow on his shoulder and a shining arrow in his hand. His coppery matted hair is tied up on top of his head in an angry knot. It is his arrival that has turned the whole nature violent and restless. The soldiers accompanying the wedding party is struck by panic. Barring the Rishis, Dasharatha and the princes all are shivering in terror.
He had heard of Rama breaking the bow of Shiva at Mithila and is furious. From his behaviour it is clear that Parashurama has lost his samatvam. Ignoring the rishis and Dasharatha paying him respects, he addresses young Rama directly and challenges him to tie the string on the bow with him and show how good he is at using that bow. It was one of the two bows made by Vishwakarma, he explains, one of which was given to Rudra, which is the one Rama had broken and the one he has with him belonged to Vishnu.
Rama is unaffected by the fury in the words and the eyes of Parashurama, After paying obeisance to the incarnation of Vishnu who has cleaned the earth of corrupt kshatriyas twenty-one times but who is at the moment not in control of himself, Rama takes the bow from him and effortlessly ties the bow string. He places the arrow on the bow and asks Parashurama where he should aim it, what he should destroy with it. The arrow cannot go waste once placed on the bow. Still cool and collected, fully in control of himself, young Rama gives aged Parasurama a choice: the arrow can destroy either all the spiritual powers he has acquired through a lifetime of tapas or his ability to move about at the speed of thought. Parashurama’s arrogance is gone now, he is humble, and he asks Rama to destroy his spiritual powers. Bowing down to Rama, he retires to Mount Mahendra to begin austerities again.
Rama appears completely in possession of his samatvam in this episode. He does not panic even for a moment in the presence of the man who has wiped out the kshatriyas of the land again and again, whose battle axe is pure terror to kshatriyas and who is known as the most formidable of warriors alive. At the same time Parashurama loses his samatvam at the news of Shiva’s bow being broken by Rama and in that state comes like a storm and challenges Rama, only to lose all the spiritual powers he has acquired through a lifetime of tapas.
Both Duryodhana and Yudhishthira are examples for losing samata in the Hastinapura hall where they play the game of dice. Yudhishthira gets carried away by the game and he not only stakes all his wealth and his kingdom in the game, he stakes one by one all his brothers and eventually himself too. After losing himself in the game, he still does not stop – he does what even the worst of gamblers would not do – staking his own wife, so out of control is he. Later when Draupadi is brought to the dice hall dragged by her hair, she calls Yudhishthira contemptuously ‘the gambler’. He had ceased to the great king he was and had become just a gambler for her.
When Krishna says samatvam, he means evenness of mind both in success and failure. The success achieved through cheating in the dice game goes so much to Duryodhana’s head that in the full sabha, with Bhishma and Drona and hundreds of invited kings present, he publicly reveals his left thigh and invites Draupadi to come and sit there, thus reducing her to the level of a common prostitute – the left thigh of a man in India is traditionally the seat for a wife or a hired pleasure woman. Bhima pays him back for his arrogance in the final mace fight between them by crushing that thigh. Had Duryodhana not lost his samata, he would not have done what he did in the sabha.
Draupadi by contrast is an example for someone who does not lose her samatvam even in the most trying of circumstances. Even in the horrendous scene she was in, she remembers to pay her regards to the elders in the sabha and ask those questions which no one could answer: has she become a slave? Does Yudhishthira after staking and losing himself have the right to stake her in the game?
One of the most horrible examples in the Mahabharata for what happens when samata is lost is what Ashwatthama does in what is known as the kalaratri in the Sauptika Parva of the epic. Angered by what was done by Bhima to Duryodhana, unable to sleep at night, Ashwatthama enters the camp of the sleeping Pandavas at night and wrecks havoc there. He kills Dhrishtadyumna by kicking him to death, several others he slaughters by his hand and the remaining ones in the camp with his sword. Those who tried to run away and escape with their lives were slaughtered by Kritavarma and Kripacharya who were stationed at the gate of the camp. Not a single soul in the camp escaped with his life that night. Ashwatthama had become death itself that night – the most horrible death. Killing sleeping warriors is against all rules of war and that is what he had done in their scores without any mercy. Had he not lost his samatvam, he wouldn’t have done this darkest deed of the Mahabharata which is filled with dark deeds. The desire for vengeance and inability to sleep had totally destroyed all tranquility in his mind. Before entering the camp Ashwatthama had told Kripacharya that until he did this he would not be able to sleep. But after he did it he was cursed to wander the earth sleepless, filled with diseases, finding not a moment’s peace, for the next three thousand years.
Losing your samatvam can cost you dearly.
One of the most controversial incidents in the history of world cup football is what is known as the Zidane head butt. It is believed Frenchman Zidane’s rival Italian player Materazzi said something nasty about Zidane’s sister in a controversial moment and that drove him mad with anger and losing his samata he attacked Materazzi with his head. Zidane was sent off the field by the referee and France lost the match to Italy and also the world cup.
You lose your samata when you are under stress and when that happens there is a decrease in productive thoughts and an increase in distracting thoughts. The greater the stress, the greater the distortion in perception of threat and poor judgment often occurs. In a stressful situation (whether real or perceived), only immediate survival goals are considered which means that longer-range considerations are sacrificed. The greater the fear, frustration and hostility aroused by a "crisis", the greater the tendency to aggression and escape behaviours. The greater the stress, the greater the likelihood that a decision-maker will choose a risky alternative. During crises, the ability of the group to handle difficult tasks requiring intensely focused attention is decreased. The greater the group conflict aroused by a crisis, the less the number of communication channels available to handle incoming information.
That is why Krishna is asking us to remain rooted in yoga – rooted in samatvam because yoga is samatvam of mind – and act in the world.
Samatvam can do wonders for us. Author and Zen teacher Brenda Shoshanna in her book Zen Miracles tells us the story of Leila, a Zen meditator, and a cleaning woman Frieda. As Leila sat in mediation in her room, outside the room Frieda kept singing aloud making it difficult for Leila to focus on her meditation. After struggling in vain for a while Leila came out and requested Frieda to be a little quieter. The cleaning woman did not understand English well and kept on singing and her broom kept banging against Leila’s door. Negative thoughts were coming to Leila’s mind but the years of Zen she had done came to her aid and rather than reacting negatively, she decided to end the meditation and go for a walk to the nearby beach. When Frieda saw Leila going out she told her she too was coming along.
Leila wanted to be quiet and enjoy the beach but Frieda kept singing, her voice growing louder and louder every minute. Finally they reached the beach and Leila spread a blanket and sat down, only to have Frieda sit right next to her. And she started singing “My heart is breaking” and swaying with the song. Leila decided to accept the situation as it is and began slowly swinging along with Frieda and humming with her. Leila saw tears were flowing down Frieda’s eyes.
Suddenly Frieda said, ““You, my mamma. Missing my mamma.” “Leila finally understood that Frieda was missing her mother, who was far away. She must have reminded Frieda of her mother. Frieda was sitting there crying and in a moment Leila started crying as well. She was also missing her mother, who had died a year ago. The two of them sat there crying on the blanket together until Leila turned and gave Frieda a hug. Soon the crying subsided, the singing subsided—they were simply sitting together, listening to the sound of the waves.”
What a beautiful situation! Leila could have lost her samatvam and reacted to Frieda, instead she maintained her samatvam with the help of her Zen and acted rather than reacted. A beautiful relationship developed between the two, the weeping and lonely Frieda was consoled, Leila herself wept for her dead mother and everything was beautiful and serene.
Samatvam which Krishna defines as yoga can do wonders to us. A corporate executive’s job is tough with multiple demands on him every moment. As Yukl in his Leadership in Organizations describes it, his work involves supervising, planning, organizing, decision making, controlling, coordinating, consulting, administering and many others. Besides, the pace of work is hectic and unrelenting, the content of work varied and fragmented, decision processes are disorderly and most planning is informal and adaptive. This makes samatvam absolutely vital for him.
Praising karma yoga further, Krishna adds that mere action is Inferior to karma yoga. He therefore advises us to seek refuge in karma yoga. Those who work for results are of little understanding, says he.
Before we end, Krishna is not saying success and failure are the same – they are different, and so are gain and loss as well as happiness and unhappiness. What he is asking us is to keep our mind balanced in all this. Because once we lose our mental balance we lose everything.
What Krishna gives us here is the sutra of acceptance.
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