CHAPTER 15 VERSE 15
अनुद्वेगकरं वाक्यं सत्यं प्रियहितं च यत् ।
स्वाध्यायाभ्यसनं चैव वाङ्मयं तप उच्यते ॥१५॥
satyaṁ priya-hitaṁ ca yat
vāṅ-mayaṁ tapa ucyate
anudvega—not agitating; karam—producing; vākyam—words; satyam—truthful; priya—dear; hitam—beneficial; ca—also; yat—which; svādhyāya—Vedic study; abhyasanam—practice; ca—also; eva—certainly; vāṅmayaṁ—of the voice; tapaḥ—austerity; ucyate—is said to be.
Austerity of speech consists in speaking truthfully and beneficially and in avoiding speech that offends. One should also recite the Vedas regularly.
“Austerity of speech consists in speaking truthfully and beneficially and in avoiding speech that offends. One should also recite the Vedas regularly.”
So, this is actually a very interesting chapter, this chapter 17 of the Bhagavad-gita. The title of this chapter is “Divisions of faith.”
We all have faith in something or someone. People are often or can be critical of somebody having faith, for instance, in God or some higher spiritual principle. But they don’t question their own faith that they place in the purpose of life being to them simply experiencing a constant flow of sensual stimulation that does not completely fulfill me or satisfy me. One has great faith that the body is the self even though it is scientifically provable that it is not. So, there are different things that people place faith in.
And in this chapter Krishna explains what is termed as the different “divisions of faith.” And just as an example of what’s being referenced, I’ll read the first three verses of this chapter so we have a context.
“Arjuna inquired: O Krsna, what is the situation of those who do not follow the principles of scripture but worship according to their own imagination? Are they in goodness, in passion, or in ignorance?”
So, we’ll just pause and just remind you that the three operative states of material nature are categorized as the mode of goodness, the mode of passion, and the mode of ignorance, that these are invisible forces that permeate material nature and stimulate all forms of activity.
“The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: According to the modes of nature acquired by the embodied soul, one’s faith can be of three kinds—in goodness, in passion, or in ignorance. Now hear about this.
O son of Bharata, according to one’s existence, under the various modes of nature, one evolves a particular kind of faith. The living being is said to be [in] a particular faith according to the modes he has acquired.”
So here we can see that people’s state of consciousness and the particular types of things that they will have faith in, for instance, is actually determined by how the modes of material nature are influencing them.
Just as a reminder, we’re only studying 40 particular verses from the Bhagavad-gita, which contains 700 verses, so we’re not even dealing with—or dealing with only about five percent of the verses. And so, for that reason, we can’t go into great detail about a lot of the quite wonderful philosophical ideas that are contained, and instructions that are contained here.
But going on with this particular chapter that we’re reading from, they speak of different categories of things that are each subjected to these three influences. And so, the categories of things that are spoken about are food, the food which we eat and the effect that it has on us, or what is also attracting us to a particular type of food; to the performance of sacrifice, the undertaking of sacrificial offering or sacrifice; the performance of austerity; the execution of penance. (And someone may ask, “What’s the difference?” Austerity is normally undertaken to attempt to gain something, whereas penances are often performed in order to sort of account for or try to pay for some wrongdoing.) And the last item is charity. So: food, performance of sacrifice, austerity, penance, and charity are the subjects that are examined in this chapter.
And just to give you a little example of one of these items—because we’re going to be looking at one of the verses connected to austerity, but just to give you—to broaden your appreciation and understanding, I’ll read another three verses from the Bhagavad-gita that speak about the performance of sacrifice, the undertaking of sacrifice or sacrificial offering.
So, Krishna states:
“Of sacrifices, the sacrifice performed according to the directions of scripture, as a matter of duty, by those who desire no reward is of the nature of goodness.
But the sacrifice performed for some material benefit, or for the sake of pride, O chief of the Bharatas, you should know to be in the mode of passion.
Any sacrifice performed without regard for the directions of scripture, without the distribution of prasadam [or spiritual food], without chanting of Vedic hymns and remunerations to the priests, and without faith is considered to be in the mode of ignorance.”
So, we can see by this—and maybe later you want to go back and read that a little bit more carefully and slowly, and you will see these very clear distinctions in these states of consciousness of people undertaking, in this case, sacrifice.
But now going on to speak about the portion that we’re dealing with, which is austerity, Krishna speaks of three categories of austerity: The austerity of the body, austerity of speech, and austerity of the mind.
So, the Sanskrit word for austerity is tapah, and it embodies the principle of restraint, of not being under the control of the mind and the senses. In the modern world, there are a group of people that have been incredibly influential in a society, where the idea is promoted that one should not have restraint in anything if it is pleasurable. If something is pleasurable, I should frequently, even continuously, engage in these activities without any consideration of right or wrong. I should not have guilt or hang-ups. And of course, what’s being promoted is the consciousness of an animal.
Human life is meant for the purpose of spiritual liberation. And the performance or execution of austerity, to show restraint, even very great restraint, to be dispassionate, is a sign of nobility, of a person actually understanding and appreciating the value and importance of human life. This idea of restraint, of course, in the Vedas, is taught is central to our happiness and peace as well.
We have discussed previously verses where this principle has been addressed, that if a person wants to be peaceful, they must learn to tolerate the urges of the body and mind, and they should move forward in their life in a very purposeful, very compassionate manner, not being greedy and overly self-centered.
There is a verse in this chapter that we’re reading where Krishna states to Arjuna:
“And serenity, simplicity, gravity, self-control, and purity of thought are the austerities of the mind.”
So, to cultivate these principles were categorized and taken as what was called austerity of the mind. If you remember just a few minutes ago, I mentioned to you that austerity here was broken down into austerity of the body, of speech, and of the mind. And so austerity of the mind was considered to cultivate “serenity, simplicity, gravity, self-control, and purity of thought are the austerities of the mind.”
So, I’ve got a couple of notes here which I may just read from, or part of, and that is, austerity, or this word tapasya, tapasa, means that you voluntarily accept some hardship or some difficulty by making certain sacrifices. And of course, for the bhakta, for one who is cultivating this spirit of devotion and service to the Lord, it means that you’re willing to give up some material comfort for the service of the Lord.
One of the main goals of yoga is to gain control over the mind and of the senses. This is considered actually a critical element to the performance of any form or any path of yoga, and until a person actually becomes the controller of the senses, he won’t be able to be happy. The Sanskrit term for this is goswami: swami means lord or master and go here means the senses; to be the master of the senses rather than being the slave of the senses.
The Vedas tells us that of all the senses, the tongue is considered the most difficult to control, but if one is able to control the tongue, then it is said that it one can very easily bring all of the senses under control. And of course, the two functions of the tongue: one is to taste, so always running after palatable things to taste; and the other one is speech. The tongue is an organ of speech; and the need to exercise control over speech is considered paramount in the process of bringing the mind under control and one’s life into focus. And I’ll speak to that in a little bit.
This principle, as I said, it really applies across the board to all forms of yoga. The great authority on astanga yoga, Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutra in the second pada, the 32nd sloka, he states—he was speaking about the yama and niyama which are the first two limbs of this eightfold path of yoga that he talked about, and they have to do with the following regulations and the acceptance of observances. So, in this sloka, he states:
“The niyamas (or observances) are internal and external purity, contentment, the acceptance of austerity, the recitation of sacred mantras, and the study of Vedic texts, and complete devotion and surrender to God.”
So, these are his tenants that he says one must embrace to be successful. And it’s not only in the astanga yoga process, it’s fundamentally in all yoga processes that these activities really support a person’s spiritual growth and self-realization and God realization.
So, much earlier in the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna had spoken about the effect of embracing this type of austerity. And this is a verse from the 5th chapter, where it states:
“Before giving up this present body, if one is able to tolerate the urges of the material senses and check the force of desire and anger, he will be well situated and is happy in this world.”
So, I mean it’s quite far out because we live in a time where we’re being sold so many ideas in amazingly effective ways. The use of psychology and advertising and the promotion of social ideologies has been so remarkable that people have really embarked upon and engaged in a level of consumption that is never been seen before in history, the amount that we’re consuming. And we’re told that the instant rush or buzz, the so-called happiness that one gets from this activity is actually fulfilling, and it should be the purpose of life.
Yet, we see that there is a corresponding growth of unhappiness, of mental health issues, of depression, and of suicide in these societies that very much track their levels of consumption, and more so in the last 12 years with the wide acceptance of smartphones. And so, there is a very clear correlation here.
When I was young, I used to hear about sacrifice and austerity, within the context of Christianity. There were examples of people in the Middle Ages whipping themselves and kneeling down on hard stone floors for extended periods, and that type of so-called austerity is not at all supported in the Vedas. It has more to do with the restraint of the mind and of the senses, which is actually much more difficult to do.
So, I mentioned that the tongue has the function of seeking to taste things, but also of speech. And I mentioned that the principle of having to or learning to control your speech was considered so utterly critical to spiritual growth. And one of the underlying reasons is because sound exists in two forms—you have material sound vibration, and you have spiritual or transcendental sound vibration—and they produce two completely different and opposing effects.
The material sound leads to the entanglement of the living being in material nature. It often implicates one in so many ways and causes chains of thought and desire, and actions that come from it, that result in perpetual bondage and unhappiness within the material realm. Spiritual sound, on the other hand, is utterly liberating. It purifies the mind and the heart, and leads to transcendental enlightenment.
But unfortunately, we see that the vast majority of people and the vast majority of sounds that come out of people’s mouths, meaning the majority of what people often talk about in this world is either unnecessary, even useless, and often downright damaging to oneself or to others.
And of course, one example is this tendency towards gossiping. The great transcendentalists really want people to strictly avoid this tendency towards gossip. It really drags one down and will make your life actually very unhappy in many different ways. And yet we see that the following of influencers, we see the tendency to want to read about and gossip about the movie stars and music stars and political big wigs and things. It really ends up having a very detrimental effect on people’s consciousness and results in them being bound to the material world.
And of course, along with the gossip often goes rumor-mongering and gossiping. And one of the most astonishing things that have happened over the last perhaps six years is how, in much of the world, what was formerly known as news, that the activity of news organizations, is far more focused now on opinion and gossip and fault-finding and rumor-mongering, to try and get political advantages or to cause misfortune or unhappiness to others, to put them down. And it’s really a terrible situation.
The first step in becoming the master of your own tongue is to refuse to allow this urge to verbalize your many material thoughts and ideas and opinions etc. Being able to control the urge to speak can actually bring you an enormous sense of freedom. It’s incredibly, actually, empowering to learn how to hold the tongue.
The second part of controlling the urge to speak, or the tongue, is to positively engage it in the chanting of spiritual sound and the discussion of spiritual subject matter—that transforms a person’s consciousness, transforms their life, not just their thinking. And of course, the primary way that this is done is through like japa meditation where one quietly chants these transcendental sounds on meditation beads, or coming together and singing these transcendental vibrations. This is called kirtan.
So, this urge to speak is very natural. However, this natural urge really does need to be controlled so that it brings about the highest physical, mental, and spiritual benefits to the individual. One who is able to control the tongue will more likely be successful in life, and especially successful in spiritual life, in the path of yoga.
So just a little reminder now of the verse that we’re studying:
“Austerity of speech consists in speaking truthfully and beneficially and in avoiding speech that offends. One should also recite the Vedas regularly.”
So, I’d just like to quote from a portion of a verse from the Bhagavat Purana, the Srimad Bhagavatam, where it states that:
“…Truthfulness means to speak the truth in a pleasing way, as declared by great sages.”
So, this is a very interesting idea. A person that is living a spiritually directed life does not hesitate to speak the truth. They don’t hide the truth, but at the same time, they endeavor to speak it in a way that is pleasing.
We see this tendency when people get upset with each other. There can be often a tendency to try and use something that may be truthful but to use it like a club to beat somebody else with, to cause them pain. That type of speaking is utterly condemned by the great transcendentalists.
So, speaking on this point of the austerity of speech, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in his commentary on this verse states:
“One should not speak in such a way as to agitate the minds of others. Of course, when a teacher speaks, he can speak the truth for the instruction of his students, but such a teacher should not speak to others who are not his students if he will agitate their minds. This is penance as far as talking is concerned. Besides that, one should not talk nonsense. When speaking in spiritual circles, one’s statements must be upheld by these scriptures. One should at once quote from scriptural authority to back up what he is saying. At the same time, such talk should be very pleasing to the ear. By such discussions, one may derive the highest benefit and elevate human society. There is a limitless stock of Vedic literature, and one should study this. This is called penance of speech.”
So, one other highly authoritative commentator, Srila Sridhara Swami, in his commentary states the following:
“Tapah or austerities of speech in sattva guna, the mode of goodness, are words that cause no worry or trepidation. Words that are truthful, encouraging and beneficial, giving an impetus for spiritual development and resulting in attraction to the Supreme Lord Krishna or any of his authorized incarnations and expansions as well as proper recitation of Vedic mantras are all actions of speech in sattva guna.”
In a previous verse, a couple of verses ago, we had read from the 15th chapter, the 15th sloka that:
“I am seated in everyone’s heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas I am to be known; indeed, I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.”
So as Sridhara Swami has pointed out, the purpose of recitation of Vedic mantras and study of the Vedas is to know Krishna. That is its actual purpose. The Vedas and the instructions of the Vedas are categorized into three groups: instruction that is directed towards people in the mode of ignorance; instruction directed towards people in the mode of passion; and then instruction and subject matter for people more fixed in the mode of goodness.
These instructions while we may say are all Vedic instructions and equal, that can be true, but we can also say that they are not all equal in all respects, that the recitation of Vedas here is specifically referencing the instruction in the mode of goodness dealing with the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
So, a really important point to also appreciate and understand when it comes to the acceptance of austerity, and since we’re talking about the austerity of speech: in the Bhagavata Purana there is an incredibly wonderful verse, a beautiful verse that goes:
“Although one may neutralize the reactions of sinful life through austerity, charity, vows, and other such methods, these pious activities cannot uproot the material desires of one’s heart. However, if one serves the lotus feet of the Personality of Godhead, he is immediately freed from all such contaminations.”
So, this is a really critical distinction just to further understand and appreciate: that while the performance of austerity and of penances and things can be practiced by people seeking, somehow atone or pay for a past sinful or harmful or destructive activity that they may have undertaken in their life, the undertaking of such actions, while it can neutralize the sinful effect or result of such things, it does not foundationally change one’s heart, that if one wants a change of heart, if they want to be free from the influence of the modes of passion and ignorance and the consequences of this, then one must take to the activity of devotion and of loving service to the Supreme Lord. That roots out the very cause of these things.
And so that kind of would be the final word on this particular verse that we’re studying, and what it does is set us up for the very next verse that we will study, which is going to be very much tied to this particular quotation from the Bhagavat Purana.
Thank you very much.