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The Gita and Yoga

The development of processes of breath control in connection with substitution-meditations does not seem to be unnatural at all, and, as a matter of fact, the practice of pranayama in connection with such substitution-meditations is definitely indicated in the Maitri Upanishad, VI. 18. The movement of inhalation and exhalation was known to be the cause of all body heat, including the heat of digestive processes, and Krishna is supposed to say in the Gita, XV. 14, "As fire I remain in the body of living beings and in association with prana and apana I digest four kinds of food and drink." The author of the Gita, however, seems to have been well aware that the prana and apana breaths passing through the nose could be properly balanced (samau), or that the prana vayu could be concentrated between the two eyebrows or in the head (murdhni). It is difficult to say what is exactly meant by taking the prana in the head or between the eyebrows. There seems to have been a belief in the Atharva-shiras Upanishad and also in the Atharva-shikha Upanishad that the prana could be driven upwards, or that such prana, being in the head, could protect it. Manu also speaks of the pranas of young men rushing upwards when old men approached them. But, whatever may be meant, it is certain that neither the balancing of prana and apana nor the concentrating of prana in the head or between the eyebrows is a phrase of Patanjali, the yoga writer.

In describing the course of a yogin in the sixth chapter the Gita advises that the yogin should lead the austere life of a Brahmachari, withdraw his mind from all mundane interests and think only of God, dedicate all his actions to Him and try to live in communion with Him (yukta asita). This gives to his soul peace, through which he loses his individuality in God and abides in Him in the bliss of self-effacement.(1)

(1) shantim nirvana-paramam mat-samstham adhigacchati, VI. 15. The Gita uses the words shanti and nirvana to indicate the bliss of the person who abides in God. Both these words, and particularly the word nirvana, have a definite significance in Buddhism. But the Gita seems to be quite unacquainted with the Buddhist sense of the word. I have therefore ventured to translate the word nirvana as "bliss of self-effacement." The word is primarily used in the sense of "extinguishing a light," and this directly leads to the Buddhist sense of the absolute destruction of the skandhas. But the word nirvana is also used from very early times in the sense of "relief from sufferings" and "satisfaction."

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