We are doing a scripture study together: reading along through some scriptures and discussing the passages.
57. He who is without attachment on all sides,
Encountering this or that, pleasant or unpleasant,
Neither rejoicing nor disliking;
His wisdom stands firm.
58. And when he withdraws completely
The senses from the objects of the senses,
As a tortoise withdraws its limbs into its shell,
His wisdom stands firm.
59. Sense objects turn away from the abstinent man,
But the taste for them remains;
But the taste also turns away
From him who has seen the Supreme.
60. The turbulent senses
Carry away forcibly
The mind, Arjuna,
Even of the striving man of wisdom.
61. Restraining all these senses,
Disciplined, he should sit, intent on Me;
He whose senses are controlled,
His wisdom stands firm.
Notes on the Sanskrit
“On all sides” is “sarvatra” which meaning includes “everything” and” in all things.” So the first line could also be translated as “without attachment in all things.”
“Pleasant and unpleasant” are together in one word “shubhashubham” If you look closely you can see that it is a word Shuba (pleasant) and A-Shuba (negating the pleasant). It’s a very efficient word for the concept!
What is translated as “taste” is in the notes “flavor” which is, according to Sargeant, the object of hunger, which is the most basic of desires (and so presumably used as an example to indicate all sense desires).
There is a violence in the words used in verse 60 to describe the mind being forcibly carried away by the senses.
Commentaries of Gurus
Lord Krishna explains here that one devoid of attachment to everything, when exposed to that which is good does not rejoice, neither does such a one lament when exposed to that which is not good. –Madhvacarya’s Commentary
Further it is stated that when one withdraws his senses from the objects of the senses such as the ears from sound, the eyes from sight, the tongue from taste and so forth then one becomes steady in wisdom. Regarding the effortless manner in which this withdrawal of the senses is to be enacted is indicated by the example of a turtle withdrawing its limbs within its body. –Sridhara Swami’s Commentary
Lord Krishna answers the question, How does such a one sit? With the word yada meaning when, when one is in meditation they do not let their senses go out, for example like the following of sounds by the ear and compels the organs of action to perform only the basic functions of utmost necessity. The illustration used is of the turtle which out of fear of something protects itself by drawing its limbs and head inside its shell. After the danger passes the turtle again lets out its limbs again and in a controlled manner continues on its way. In the same way one who is sthita-prajna situated in the perfect knowledge of transcendent meditation acts thus. –Kesava Kasmiri’s Commentary
Sensual objects of enjoyment are fuel for the senses. Lord Krishna states that the desire for these sensual objects departs when one starves them by restraining the senses from indulging in them. But although the action is restrained the craving remains subtly within the mind. Rasa is taste and raga is attachment. So the craving attachment for taste of sense objects remains present. However when the eternal nature of the soul is realised in all its glorious splendour and it is seen that it is infinitely more attractive than the most delightful sense object. At that time all desire for sense objects completely vanishes along with the residue of craving. –Ramanuja’s Commentary
Even men of wisdom who lack spiritual experience and resort to using the mind as their only medium of understanding are soon overpowered by the senses. What then is the impediment to those who take pride in the bodily conception? Lord Krishna use of the word pramathini meaning turbulent indicates one who is assailed by agitation. –Madhvacarya’s Commentary
This week I was lucky enough to have my mother visiting and I showed her the verses I was on and she gave me her insight on them.
She told me that the previous verses are some of the most important in the Gita: the description Krishna gives of a realized man. The description is also the prescription. One learns the qualities of a realized person and then does those things. Fake it til you make it!
I find verse 60 particularly encouraging. Even wise men who are doing good work towards enlightenment still struggle with the force of their minds. Learning to control the mind is extremely difficult, which means I’m not an idiot for having such a hard time with it. Greater people than I have struggled with it!
Verse 61 says that we can control our senses by meditating “on Me.” I think that, like Jesus’s statement of “no one comes to the Father but through Me” that the “me” here is not literal. I believe it is saying to meditate on the divine, to call on something more powerful than your mind and senses to help you. I don’t think the name of the being you call on has to be Krishna or has to be Jesus. You’re meditating on their True Selves, which is divinity itself, not the limited body and incarnation of a particular person.
I like the example of the tortoise withdrawing his arms like we can withdraw our senses in meditation. I think it means that we don’t always have to have our senses withdrawn from the world and the sense objects. It’s just that there are times to do so (and that is meditation).
Understanding the concept of non-attachment is particularly tricky. It sounds very harsh to say that one should not be attached to anything and that the wise man doesn’t experience joy with good things or pain with bad things. Words like “aloof” or “indifferent” don’t have good connotations for us in general.
I think there is a natural fear that arises when hearing this instruction. Wouldn’t it be boring to not be influenced by the ups and downs of the world? Wouldn’t it make me a sociopath to not be attached to things and more importantly to people?
When I used to ask these questions as a child I was told that this steady non-attachment is not a state of perpetual dullness, but rather that the enlightened man is full of joy at all times. His joy is not knocked out of place by the changes that inevitably blow over his life. It’s all maya, an illusion, and he is firmly seated in unwavering bliss.
It takes a lot of practice to develop the mindset of being able to see the world and what happens to us in it as a play and not as firm reality. I have a small ability to do this. I find that many times I am able to take that mental step back and see how I’m enfolded in a drama but its triumphs and tragedies don’t actually change the real me.
I’m not sure that experience is something that can be explained in words. I think you might have to have a taste of it to begin to understand! I have these tiny moments of insight and then I get caught up in the drama again and become consumed with what this personality wants in this lifetime, that very limited mindset.