Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 6, Verse 5

उद्धरेदात्मनात्मानं नात्मानमवसादयेत् |
आत्मैव ह्यात्मनो बन्धुरात्मैव रिपुरात्मन: || 5||

uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ nātmānam avasādayet
ātmaiva hyātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ

uddharetelivate; ātmanāthrough the mind; ātmānamthe self; nanot; ātmānamthe self; avasādayetdegrade; ātmāthe mind; evacertainly; hiindeed; ātmanaḥof the self; bandhuḥfriend; ātmāthe mind; evacertainly; ripuḥenemy; ātmanaḥof the self


BG 6.5: Elevate yourself through the power of your mind, and not degrade yourself, for the mind can be the friend and also the enemy of the self.


We are responsible for our own elevation or debasement. Nobody can traverse the path of God-realization for us. Saints and Gurus show us the way, but we have to travel it ourselves. There is a saying in Hindi: ek peḍa do pakṣhī baiṭhe, ek guru ek chelā, apanī karanī guru utare, apanī karanī chelā[v.01] “There are two birds sitting on a tree—one Guru and one disciple. The Guru will descend by his own works, and the disciple will also only be able to climb down by his own karmas.”

We have had innumerable lifetimes before this one, and God-realized Saints were always present on Earth. At any period of time, if the world is devoid of such Saints, then the souls of that period cannot become God-realized. How then can they fulfill the purpose of human life, which is God-realization? Thus, God ensures that God-realized Saints are always present in every era, to guide the sincere seekers and inspire humanity. So, in infinite past lifetimes, many times we must have met God-realized Saints and yet we did not become God-realized. This means that the problem was not lack of proper guidance, but either our reticence in accepting it or working according to it. Thus, we must first accept responsibility for our present level of spirituality, or lack thereof. Only then will we gain the confidence that if we have brought ourselves to our present state, we can also elevate ourselves by our efforts.

When we suffer reversals on the path of spiritual growth, we tend to complain that others have caused havoc to us, and they are our enemies. However, our biggest enemy is our own mind. It is the saboteur that thwarts our aspirations for perfection. Shree Krishna states that, on the one hand, as the greatest benefactor of the soul, the mind has the potential of giving us the most benefit; on the other hand, as our greatest adversary, it also has the potential for causing the maximum harm. A controlled mind can accomplish many beneficial endeavors, whereas an uncontrolled mind can degrade the consciousness with most ignoble thoughts.

In order to be able to use it as a friend, it is important to understand the mind’s nature. Our mind operates at four levels:

Mind: When it creates thoughts, we call it mana, or the mind.

Intellect: When it analyses and decides, we call it buddhi, or intellect.

Chitta: When it gets attached to an object or person, we call it chitta.

Ego: When it identifies with the bodily identifications and becomes proud of things like wealth, status, beauty, and learning, we call it ahankār, or ego.

These are not four separate entities. They are simply four levels of functioning of the one mind. Hence, we may refer to them all together as the mind, or as the mind-intellect, or as the mind-intellect-ego, or as the mind-intellect-chitta-ego. They all refer to the same thing.

The use of the word ego here is different from its connotation in Freudian psychology. Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939), an Austrian neurologist, proposed the first theory of psychology regarding how the mind works. According to him, the ego is the “real self” that bridges the gap between our untamed desires (Id) and the value system that is learnt during childhood (Superego).

Various scriptures describe the mind in one of these four ways for the purpose of explaining the concepts presented there. They are all referring to the same internal apparatus within us, which is together called antaḥ karaṇ, or the mind. For example:

The Pañchadaśhī refers to all four together as the mind, and states that it is the cause of material bondage.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Shree Krishna repeatedly talks of the mind and the intellect as being two things, and emphasizes the need to surrender both to God.

The Yog Darśhan, while analyzing the different elements of nature, talks of three entities: mind, intellect, and ego.

Shankaracharya, while explaining the apparatus available to the soul, classifies the mind into four—mind, intellect, chitta and ego.

So when Shree Krishna says that we must use the mind to elevate the self, he means we must use the higher mind to elevate the lower mind. In other words, we must use the intellect to control the mind. How this can be done has been explained in detail in verses 2.41 to 2.44 and again in verse 3.43.