The meaning of a word does not, as is usually believed, come from the dictionary. Of course, people who have no individuality of their own depend on the dictionary for the meanings of words. People with individuality invest words with their own meanings. So what Krishna means by samyama can be known only in his context. Similarly Mahavira’s meaning of samyama will have to be known from his context. Its meaning does not lie in the word itself, it lies in Krishna and Mahavira or whoever uses it.
Looking at Krishna’s life no one can say that samyama means repression. If there has been a single person on this earth who can be called utterly unrepressed, uninhibited and free it is Krishna. So samyama for Krishna cannot have anything to do with repression. And as far as I am concerned, samyama and repression are antonyms, opposites.
This Sanskrit word samyama is really extraordinary. To me it means balance, equilibrium, to be just in the middle. When the scales are equalized so that neither side outweighs the other, it is samyama. In this sense a renunciate does not have samyama, balance any more than one who indulges in worldly pleasures. Both are unbalanced; they are wanting in samyama. Both are extremists: the indulgent holds to one extreme of life; the renunciate holds to the other extreme. Samyama means to be equidistant from the two extremes, to be just in the middle. Krishna stands for that middle state where there is neither renunciation nor indulgence. Or you can say samyama is indulgence with an element of renunciation in it, or it is renunciation with an element of indulgence; it is striking a balance between indulgence and renunciation. Really samyama is neither indulgence nor renunciation; it is a state where you don’t tilt the scales to either side. He alone is samyami who maintains equidistance from either extreme.
There is a man who is mad after wealth. Day in and day out he is running after amassing money. Day in and day out he goes on adding to his bank balance. Money has become the be-all and end-all of his life – his demigod. This person has gone to one extreme of life. There is another person who has turned his back on wealth; he is running away from wealth. He renounces wealth and does not even look back lest it attract him and entrap him again. This person has gone to the other extreme. Both have lost balance, both lack samyama. Renunciation of wealth is the goal of one and acquisition of wealth is the goal of another.
Then who is samyami, the balanced person? In Krishna’s terms a person like Janaka is samyami. Negation of the extremes is samyama; to be exactly in the middle is equilibrium. Too much fasting and too much eating go against samyama; right eating goes with samyama. Fasting amounts to tilting the balance on the side of hunger; overeating amounts to tilting the balance on the side of indulgence. The balance lies in eating just the right amount of food – neither less nor more. By samyama Krishna means balance, equilibrium, equipoise. Any movement deviating from the center, even a slight deviation from the middle to one side or another destroys the equilibrium; on either side there is the death of samyama.