Shri Krishna informed Arjuna that ‘Shrutivipratipannã te yadã sthãsyati nishchalã, samãdhãvachalã buddhistadã yogamavãpsyasi.’ – ‘You will attain yoga when your int ellect, which has become unstable due to hearing a variety of words, becomes stable in samãdhi’ (Gitã 2.53). Now let us take a look at what Arjuna asked thereafter.
Characteristics of a Sthitapragna Person
Arjuna asked, ‘स्थितप्रज्ञस्य का भाषा समाघिस्थस्य केशव। स्थितघीः किं प्रभाषेत किमासीत व्रजेत किम्॥’ – ‘Sthitapragnasya kã bhãshã samãdhisthasya keshava, sthitadheehi kim prabhãsheta kimãseeta vrajeta kim.’ – ‘O Krishna! What are the characteristics of a stable minded person? In what way does such a person speak? In what way does he sit? In what way does he walk?’ (Gitã 2.54).
This is Arjuna’s aspiration, his hope, his prayer. This is not a question asked for the sake of asking. Some have a habit of asking questions, but not Arjuna. Some have a hobby of just gathering information; they like to know new things and increase their information bank by asking question after question. However, Arjuna is genuinely interested; he is a spiritual aspirant. Just like the ill crave for a cure, Arjuna’s intense craving is evident here. At this time he is distraught by the unsteady state of his mind. He desperately wants to be freed from this distress. Moreover, Shri Krishna has already told him to attain unwavering conviction in the form of Paramãtmã (see previous article, Swaminarayan Bliss, pgs. 10-14). He has told him to become a true yogi and to focus his mind on the form of Paramãtmã. Arjuna wants to become such a yogi and attain such a state of samadhi in which his mind is steady on the form of Paramãtmã. Thus, his wish is naturally revealed in the form of this question.
Based on grammatical derivation, the word ‘sthitapragnaha’ means ‘one whose intellect is steady’, ‘samãdhisthaha’ means ‘one who is stable in samãdhi’ and ‘sthitadheehi’ means ‘one whose intellect is stable’ – this is synonymous to ‘sthitapragnaha’.
How Does a Sthitapragna Person Speak?
Along with the characteristics of one who is sthitapragna, Arjuna also asks questions regarding the manner in which a sthitapragna person speaks, rests and moves. Arjuna wishes to adopt a clear path by which he can mould his life. He wants to understand this by learning from a living example, since anyone wishing to master an art keeps someone who has mastered that art as their role model. An aspiring sportsperson constantly tries to learn from an expert sportsperson. He takes a detailed look at everything his role model does. He engrosses himself in his thoughts, and as a result, he too reaches the peaks of success. Arjuna has a similar expectation in his mind. He wants to know the art of seeing mental stability in the ordinary activities, like speaking, resting and walking, of great men.
Also apparent from this question regarding how a sthitapragna person speaks, rests and walks, is that Arjuna understands the importance of body language. Body language is the language of actions, the language of conduct. One’s actions in the form of speaking, sitting and walking are a reflection of one’s true character. One’s thoughts can be deduced from what one says. Often, a person’s mental state can be inferred just from hearing them speak. Sometimes, the unstable minded do not themselves know what they are saying. The same applies for other actions, such as resting and walking, as well. Arjuna wants to know about the inner calmness that is reflected in one’s conduct.
In this way, Arjuna’s question unites philosophy with life. Philosophy is not merely a matter for debate. It is not merely about churning out thoughts. It is not just an intellectual exercise. It is not merely a wave of thoughts that builds imaginary ideals. Philosophy is a means to a concrete goal. It is true experience of that which exists. It plays a major part in how we conduct our lives. That which cannot become a part of one’s life, cannot be called philosophy. Arjuna’s question clearly shows this.
When One Abandons One’s Desires
Answering the question, Shri Krishna says, ‘प्रजहाति यदा कामान् सर्वान् पार्थ मनोज्ज्तान्। आत्म’येवात्मना तुष्टः स्थितप्रज्ञस्तदो’यते॥’ – ‘Prajahãti yadã kãmãn sarvãn Pãrtha manogatãn, ãtmanyevãtmanã tushtaha sthitapragnastadochyate.’ – ‘O Arjuna! When one abandons all desires that arise in the mind, and finds contentment only in Paramãtmã who resides within one’s own ãtmã, one can be called sthitapragna’ (Gitã 2.55).
‘Prajahãti’ means to renounce, to abandon. Renunciation is the first step to becoming sthitapragna. It is not possible to become sthitapragna while still continuing to do as one has always been doing. There is no choice but to adopt renunciation. Therefore, renunciation has been put first.
‘Kãmãn’ means desires. Desires for worldly pleasures. It is these desires that need to be renounced. As long as one has such desires, one cannot experience stability in life. The influence of these desires is not insignificant. The dominance of these desires is not limited to just humans, but affects animals also. Observing the day to day activities of animals will reveal this. Birds are always eager to go to a place they like and rush to eat something tasty. If they do not like the taste of something, they show their dislike. This is the impact of desires.
Once, I saw this in a snake first hand. One afternoon during the monsoon season, a snake caught a frog. A sadhu saw this and before the snake could swallow the frog, he clapped and made a loud noise. The snake dropped the frog and slid away. The sadhu remained there, curious to see what would happen. After a while, the snake came back to the same spot looking for the frog. This is the dominance of desires.
Now let us talk about ourselves. Everyone, from a new born baby to an old person, is chained by the shackle of desires. As children we had certain wishes. Childhood passed, but the desires continued: “I have seen this, now I want to see that. I have tasted this, now I want to taste that. I have got this, now I want to get that. I want to go there, I want to meet that person…” These waves of desires continue to flow in one’s mind. We are unable to sit in peace. Desires do not let us rest, and the restlessness increases. Moreover, we cannot settle on one decision, new desires continue to arise. When this increases, mental restlessness takes root. As a result we are subject to feelings of anguish, incompleteness and emptiness.
That is why the Gita inspires us to overcome mundane desires.
Another thing worth noting here is that Shri Krishna does not just say ‘kãmãn’, but ‘sarvãn kãmãn’. ‘Sarvãn kãmãn’ means all desires. One becomes sthitapragna when one abandons all mundane desires. It is easy to abandon the desires for a couple of things. There is no effort involved in abandoning desires for things that one does not like. But not having one or two desires does not make one free of desires, for that one has to abandon all mundane desires.