Thursday, February 28, 2008

This body is a chariot

There is a wonderful example of the chariot (ratha-kalpana) first described in the Katha Up - arguably the most famous illustration amongst all the Upanishadic ones - it was not only used by Bhagwan Krishna in his teaching to Arjuna, but Bhagwan Vyasa himself projects his entire Gita, nay the entire
Mahabharata, onto the canvas of this dramatic image.
We have Arjuna, the brave but bewildered jiva, caught between the opposing forces of dharma and adharma, who fortunately has this wondrous "partha-sarathy" (charioteer to Arjuna or Partha), to help steer him in the right direction.

Now in this particular illustration, the chariot itself is the deha, the body, and the indweller in the body or the Master of the body is the JIva, the transmigratory weary traveller who is lost in the maze od samsara. So immediately it is clear that this Jiva is someone "other than" this body/mind/intellect that house him as it were.

The horses represent the sense organs. If they are uncontrolled, then this chariot is going nowhere; it is never going to be steered in any direction, let alone the right one, no matter who the driver is.

So one of the first steps in any spiritual pursuit is sense control or control of the sense organs, or dama. Feasting the sense on all manners of sense-gratification can never go hand-in-hand with an iota of growth spiritually.

The reins of course represent the mind. The way to control the horses is through the reins and the way to get the senses from going astray is by controlling the mind. The mind is composed of a flow of thoughts, which in turn prompts the organs into various actions. Now agitated, now dejected, etc. Having a intellect with no hold over the mind is as dangerous as being in a chariot with a driver who has no hold over the reins. When the intellect refuses to participate in these distracting thoughts, the latter lose their hold and the intellect is able to remain in full control of the mind. This is the second spiritual discipline - which we call shama.

Now everything is upto the charioteer, the intellect. If the intellect does not hold the reins tight, it is not going to be long before they enable the horses to astray. So it is important first of all for the intellect to move the chariot itself away from all sources of much distraction and noise, lest it become practically impossible to maintain any semblance of control. This brings us to the third spiritual discipline called uparati or withdrawal - withdrawal from an (over)indulgence in worldly affairs.

Not only that the intellect now must have a very firm idea of what the goal is - if the intellect simply has all the above steps in place, but is confused as to where to steer the chariot towards, then the poor jiva is only going to be going around in circles (quite literally in the cyclic dance of birth and death).
In the Gita Bhagwan Krishna uses a very important word to describe this "vyavasayatmika buddhi" - a single-pointed committment towards reaching the goal. Related to this is also where one more spiritual discipline in and that is "samadhana"

Not only now must the destination be clear, the intellect now MUST have a road-map to get there - this is where the Shastra comes in,as does one of the most important disciplines or qualities of all - shraddha. Scriptures and the intellect's faith in them.

If the intellect is constantly questioning the validity or otherwise of the roadmap it has been provided, it is never going to go anywhere.

But for that fortunate Jiva, whose intellect,mind, senses, are all composed and aligned, and the roadmap is clear and unambiguous, the journey is assured of success in reaching the goal of liberation or Moksha. Not otherwise.