Bhagavad Gita on steady atma

The Bhagavad Gita promotes the “steady atma” through and through. As I have translated in the previous verses in Gita, “If a person becomes quiet from all actions arising out of the manas and the atma that person is said to have a steady awareness”. I have wondered for a long time what is this “steady atma”? How do we explain it in our worldly terms?

This verse of Bhagavad Gita is the most intriguing in this respect, while it is not talked about as “steady atma”, it does give a good clue:

indriyÀni parÀny Àhur indriyebhyah param manah |
manasas tu parÀ buddhir yo buddheh paratas tu sah ||3-42||
evam buddheh param buddhvÀ samstabhyÀtmÀnam ÀtmanÀ |
jahi shatrum mahÀbÀho kÀmarupam durÀsadam ||3-43||

indriyani = senses, parAn = turned outward ahur = are said, 
indriya+ibhyah = senses+dependant param=beyond manah = manas
manasastu = manas+even para = beyond buddhir = knowledge yo = and 
buddheh = knowledge paratastu = even beyond sah = self
evam = also buddheh = knowledge param = beyond 
buddhVa = that knowledge 
sama+sthabya = equanimity/level/even/equality + supported/held/fixed 
atmana = self atmana = self
jahi = overcome shatrum = adversary mahabaho = long-arms 
kama rupam = form of thoughts durasada = unparalleled

So translating:

Senses are said to be outward turned,
Senses are dependant on manas which drive the senses
Manas is driven by knowledge and knowledge is driven by self.
Also, beyond knowledge is that knowledge that the self held by the steady atma
will overcome the long arms of the unparalleled adversary in the form of thoughts

What is “sama+sthabhya+atma” here? While it translates to a “steady atma”, what is it really? This is the exact question that Arjuna asks in this verse:

sthita prajnasya ka bhasha, samadhisthasya kesava
sthitadhiha kim prabhaSheta kimAsIta vrajeta kim

sthita = steady prajnasya = of + awareness ka = what 
bhasa = language, samadhi+thasya = silent + of that kesava
sthitadhiha kim = steady in what prabhaSheta = explain 
kim+AsItha = seated in what vrajeta = roaming kim = in what?

Translated to:

Kesava, can you explain what is steady awareness, what is the language of that silence, Steady in what, seated in what, roaming in what?

Have we even realized that we are having a roaming awareness? Only if we are aware of this can we become aware what it means to be steady? And if we said steady, what is steady and in what is it steady? A very relevant question. The answer is what I have translated in the previous post:

prajahÀti yadÀ kÀmÀn sarvÀn pÀrtha manogatÀn |
Àtmany evÀtmanÀ tushtah sthitaprajnas tadocyate ||2-55||
duhkheshu anudvignamanÀh sukheshu vigataspÃhah |
vitarÀgabhayakrodhah sthitadhÁr munir ucyate ||2-56||
yah sarvatrÀnabhisnehas tat tat prÀpya shubhÀshubham |
nÀbhinandati na dveshyai tasya prajnÀ pratishthitÀ ||2-57||
yadÀ samharate cÀyam kurmo 'ngÀniva sarvathah |
indriyanindriyÀrthebhyas tasya prajnÀ pratishthitÀ ||2-58||

Translated to:

if a person becomes quiet from all thoughts arising out of the manas and the atma that person is said to have a steady awareness A person without getting agitated by sadness or carried away by happiness A person without getting diffused by taste, fear, anger is called a steady seer. He who has no love towards attainment, to the beautiful or welfare, is neither rejoicing nor hating keeps his awareness steadily fixed Just as how a turtle pulls itself into a shell, if a person can keep all his senses pulled away steadily (He is having a steady atma)

I sometimes wonder if we have to translate “kama” to action, to desire or to thoughts. The point very simply is that all desires and actions arise due to thoughts, so I would translate kAma to thoughts. Can we be in a state where there are no thoughts? What is the silence of thoughts? How can we silence it?

There needs to be a primary reference the “Thought of I” that is present for all other thoughts to occur. We can call it the awareness, that which has no opinion of itself, the ego, that is awareness with an opinion of itself, or anything else. But a primary reference of “I” has to be present. Then there are inputs from various outward turned sensory organs, that send electrical signals to the brain. These signals are interpreted, compared against some direction (sankalp) of this “Thought of I” which forms new thoughts and emotions. This leads to reactions obviously and more inputs and the cycle continues, as is said aptly in Isa Upanishad “kratau smara kritam smara kratau smara kritam smara”, “intentions persisted, actions persisted leads to intentions persisted, actions persisted”. Obviously, if we search inside ourselves we find, not only external sensory inputs, but stored memory of actions also can cause more thoughts to be formed, we call it worry.

Logically speaking, if a “steady atma” is one that has no worries, emotions or actions, what has to happen is that “we do not interpret the outward signals that are coming in to the brain by the senses or ignore all thoughts arising out of stored thoughts”. So, how can we start to prevent interpreting these signals? Do we have any clues in our day to day life that helps us do this?

I am sure all of us one time or the other have found, when the brain is cluttered by different thoughts, we tend to ignore the important sensory inputs we are getting and do a lot of careless mistakes. What do we do then to correct it? Typically, we push aside all the other thoughts and focus on the current problem at hand to get the current work done. How can we do that? Obviously, it looks like the brain is capable of ignoring and choosing the inputs that it will respond to when we concentrate. The ability exists. So, what happens when we choose to concentrate on “void” or “absence of”?

If we think logically here, what happens when we concentrate on getting a job done and how are we able to complete it? All thoughts that are formed, all inputs that are interpreted are related to that work on hand, isn’t it? So, if concentrated on void, no thoughts need to form. My take is there is no input in this world that is required to be interpreted for this work to be completed, the brain should ignore all inputs and become silent. But, while it is easy to say concentrate on void, the problem here is that, “the brain” inherently cannot stop thinking. Thoughts need to form. To hold the brain steadily in the void state of no thoughts needs high levels of concentration. But, I believe more than concentration what is needed here is a conviction that having a steady mind is where we want to get to. The sankalp of being steady needs to be present.

But, if this is how the steady mind is achieved, then it stands to reason as how it is said in the verse above, a steady mind will definitely overcome thoughts, because only by overcoming thoughts can be we have a steady mind anyways.

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