Talks on the Gita -Vinoba 18

Chapter 2
10. The Ideal Teacher

20. Thus the science and the art have been explained. Still the whole picture does not stand clearly before our eyes. Science is nirguna (attributeless). Art is saguna (one with attributes). But even saguna cannot become manifest until it assumes concrete form. Formless saguna can be as abstract and elusive as nirguna. The remedy is to see somebody who is the personification of a particular quality. That is why Arjuna says, “O, Lord! You have told me the basic principles of life and explained the art of translating them into practice. Still the picture is not clear to me. Please, therefore, tell me the characteristics of one whose intellect and mind are fully anchored in the basic principles of life and who has fully assimilated the yoga of renunciation of the fruit of actions. Tell me about such a person who demonstrates the limit upto which the fruit of actions could be renounced, who is steadfast in the contemplation of the Lord while working and who is firm like a rock in his settled conviction—a person who can be called a sthitaprajna.[1] How does he speak, how does he sit, how does he walk? In short, how does he live his daily worldly life, and how can one recognise him?”

21. In response to this entreaty the Lord has portrayed, in eighteen verses at the end of the Second Chapter, the noble and exalted character of the sthitaprajna. These eighteen verses can be said to contain the essence of the eighteen Chapters of the Gita. Sthitaprajna is the ideal that the Gita puts before us. In fact, it is the Gita which has coined the word sthitaprajna. Later the Gita describes the jivanmukta (the liberated one) in the Fifth Chapter, the bhakta (the devotee) in the twelfth, the gunateeta (one who has transcended the three gunas) in the Fourteenth and the jnananishtha (one steadfastly committed to knowledge) in the Eighteenth Chapter, but the description of the sthitaprajna is much more elaborate and lucid than theirs. This description highlights the characteristics of both the siddha (a realised soul, one who has attained liberation) and the sadhaka (the spiritual seeker). Thousands of satyagrahi[2] men and women regularly recite these verses during their evening prayers. If these verses could be taken to every home in every village, what a happy thing it would be! But then, they would spread of their own accord if they are first imprinted on our own minds. If the daily recitation becomes mechanical, it would not get imprinted on the mind; it could rather have an opposite effect. But it would not be the fault of regular recitation; it is the lack of accompanying reflection over them that is to be blamed for this. Regular recitation must be accompanied with constant reflection and soul-searching.

22. Sthitaprajna, as the term itself tells, means one having steadfast wisdom. But how could there be steadfast wisdom without subduing the senses? Hence the sthitaprajna has been described as the embodiment of restraint. Restraint implies that the intellect is anchored in the Self and the mind and the organs are under the control of the intellect. The Sthitaprajna reins in all his organs and uses them in desireless and selfless action. Just as a farmer uses bullocks for ploughing, the sthitaprajna uses his organs for the desireless pursuit of swadharma. His every breath is used in the highest pursuit—the spiritual quest.


References and Context

  1. Sthitaprajna means one who has attained 'steadfast wisdom', whose intellect is settled in a state of union with the Divine as a result of assimilating the fundamental principles of life and mastering the art of living in accordance with them. Vinoba was particularly fond of the eighteen verses in the Gita describing the ideal of the sthitaprajna and gave discourses on them during his incarceration in 1944. They have been published in the form of a book titled 'Sthitaprajna-darshan' (The Steadfast Wisdom).
  2. Participants in the satyagraha campaigns led by Mahatma Gandhi against the British imperialism. Satyagraha means holding steadfastly to the truth one has perceived.