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Commentary on the Bhagavadgita

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Discourse 7: The Third Chapter Concludes – The Knower of Reality

Tattvavit tu maha-baho guna-karma-vibhagayoh, guna gunesu vartanta iti matva na sajjate (3.28). Tattvavit means the knower of Reality. Here ‘knower’ means the knower of the processes of the gunas of prakriti and their relation to actions performed by individuals. Guna-karma-vibhagayoh tattvavit: One who knows the reality of the manner of the working of the gunas of prakriti in their relation to the actions of people is a tattvavit.

What does a tattvavit know? One with this insight recognises that all movements in the form of activities of any kind are only movements of the gunas of prakriti, whether they operate in heaven, on this earth, in the nether regions, or in hell.  Na tad asti prithivyam va divi devesu va punah, sattvam prakriti-jair muktam yad ebhih syat tribhir gunaih (18.40): Not in all creation – including the celestials in heaven – will we find a single entity which is free from the involvement in the gunas of prakriti. The celestials are more rarified in their constitution and can penetrate through even solid objects on account of their inner constitution being sattvic in nature. We cannot do that; we are rajasic and tamasic predominantly. So in all creation, whether it is in heaven or earth or anywhere, the activities that are seen among people are only the activities of the gunas of prakriti.

If two legs walk, it is an activity of two limbs of the body, though actually it is not an independent activity of the legs. It is an order issued by the entire organism of the body and the mind. The entire body is in action when the legs move. Whenever an individual works or does any action, even the least of action, a cosmic mutation in the form of the rotation of the gunas of prakriti determines his action. Therefore, the tattvavit, or the knower of Reality, is a cosmically-aware individual.

When anything takes place or an event occurs anywhere in the world, the tattvavit knows that it occurs everywhere. Modern science and physics tell us that events do not take place in space. If they do not take place in space, where else do they take place? They take place not in time, not in space. That means to say, an event that occurs historically in this world – so-called historically from our point of view – does not take place in one particular part of the world. It is an agitation taking place in the whole world but manifest only in some part, like an ulcer or a boil. It may be a volcano or an epidemic or a war taking place in some part of the world, but it is engendered by the agitation of the total organism of the world.

Physical science has now gone to the extent of realising that there is a continuum which is the ultimate reality of the universe. It is not physical or solid in its nature because solids can be converted into liquids, liquids can be converted into gases, gases can be converted into pure energy, and energy is not located in any particular place. Energy is not a localised movement; it is a continuum that is non-spatial and non-temporal – a subject in modern physics which takes us practically to the conclusions of the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita that all action is a cosmic action.

Thus a tattvatit, a knower of this reality of the mutations of the gunas of prakriti in relation to the activities of an individual, knows that the gunas act on the gunas. All actions are nothing but the collision of parts of prakriti with other sets of parts. When the sense organs perceive an object, these gunas, as the sense organs, come in contact with the gunas as the object of prakriti. The forces of nature operate individually as well as externally. We noted previously that the sense organs are constituted of the gunas of prakriti, and are intelligently superintended by the divinities – the adhidevatas, which work in between the adhyatma, the individual, and the adhibhuta, the object. Guna gunesu vartanta iti matva: All this wonderful activity of the world, this great drama which is the history of mankind – natural or anthropological, or whatever we call it – is just a play of prakriti. It is not a particular event caused by any individual anywhere. We may say nature does everything, or we may even say God does everything.

Having known this, the knower of Reality, or the tattvavit, is na sajjate – is not attached to anything. He does not even hold an opinion on anything, because to hold an opinion is to pass a judgement, which is nothing but a localised notion that we entertain in regard to something; and no wise person can pass a judgement on anything in this world because to judge a thing is to eliminate factors which are invisible and uncognisable, and yet contributory to the occurrence of a particular event. Judge not, lest you be judged. If you judge a thing, you will be judged in a similar manner by the forces of nature. Whatever you do to the world, that will be done to you. Do unto others as you would be done by. Atmanah pratikulani paresham na samacharet (Mahabharata 5.15.17): That which is not good for you should not be meted out to others either. This is an ethical consequence that we may draw from this scientific and philosophical conclusion that the gunas of prakriti alone operate in this world and they constitute all the solid objects – mountains and rivers and the solar system and all our bodies, and everything we can think of in heaven or earth. Knowing this, he is not attached to anything. He remains unbiased, unconcerned. He is a witness of the drama, just as the audience in an enactment of a drama is not attached either to this actor or that actor, knowing very well that all the actors perform a mutually correlated activity to produce a definite effect. As the audience does not get attached to any performer in a drama, so is the case with the knower of Reality. He is not attached to anything – iti matva na sajjate. Totally unconcerned and wanting nothing does a knower of Reality live.

What is his attitude towards people who do not know this Reality? Ignorant people who behave very foolishly and get attached to things – what is his attitude towards them? This is suggested in the next verse: prakriter guna-sammudhah sajjante gun-akarmasu, tan akritsna-vido mandan kritsna-vin na vicalayet (3.29). Those who do not have an insight into the nature of prakriti’s actions get attached to particular objects of sense; but we should not disturb their feeling or condemn their outlook of life. We should not tell them that their outlook is totally wrong and that their perception is erroneous. Condemnation is something unknown to the knower of Reality. The teacher in a school does not condemn the ignorant child or the student. An efflorescence of the mind of the student is attempted by the teacher, who is a master of psychology. Sri Krishna is a master of psychology and he acts as the best of teachers before a student like Arjuna, and thus he expects every knower of Truth to also behave as a good teacher of mankind, and not a judge of mankind. The teacher does not judge the student as good or bad, but as someone who is in a particular state of evolution from which he has to effloresce and flower into a larger dimension of knowledge. The teacher is sometimes called a spiritual midwife, in the language of Socrates. The midwife does not create the child, but brings the child out. So is the case with the teacher. He does not thrust knowledge into the ignorant person. He does not interfere at all with the mind of the student, but enables the mind to undergo a transmutation by the dexterous psychological activity of this teacher, so that knowledge manifests itself automatically from the otherwise ignorant mind.

A person who taught Plato and Socrates once made a humorous analogy that even a buffalo knows geometry. How can he say that a buffalo knows geometry? For that, an illustration was given. Imagine there is a triangular field and a buffalo is standing at one of the angles. At another angle there is a man with a bundle of grass, who calls to the buffalo. Will the buffalo come directly, or will it come through the other angle? It knows that this line is shorter than the other line; this is the geometrical knowledge of the buffalo. So, some knowledge is inherent even in a buffalo. A monkey knows that stones that are thrown will not hit it if it hides behind a tree. This is the monkey’s logic; we cannot say that the monkey does not have logic. It knows how to grab the fruit that is in our hand when we are unaware of its presence. When we are aware, it won’t come. When we are unaware, looking away, it will come; and if we pursue it, it knows how to hide itself. So there is an incipient wisdom present even in the lowest category of creation. Therefore, the wise one is he who acts as a good mentor and does not judge things as good or bad. He is a divinity itself. Tan akritsna-vido mandan kritsna-vin na vicalayet: the one who is kritsnavit, knowing all things, should not interfere with those who know things only partially. People who have only a fractional knowledge of things should not be judged as inferior by the one who has a complete knowledge of things; and no student is considered as totally unfit by the good teacher.

Who is a tattvavit? A knower of Reality, he knows the ways of the gunas of prakriti and their relation to the activities of people. How does he behave? This interesting attitude and behaviour of the jnanin, or the knower of Truth, is placed before us in two verses in the Third Chapter. It may look strange that these two verses which do not fit in with the subject of the Third Chapter are placed there. Only the Lord knows why he has put them there. Suddenly, He takes our minds to some height, which is actually not the theme of the Third Chapter.

Yas tv atmarati reva syad atmatriptas ca manavah, atmany eva ca santus tastasya karyam na vidyate (3.17): There is no duty to be performed by that person who is satisfied with the Self. Atmany eva ca santus tastasya karyam na vidyate: There is no necessity for that person to come in contact with any external atmosphere in the form of activity, because he is rejoicing in his own Self. Atmarati is one who is rejoicing, delighting in his own Self. He plays by himself, he delights with himself. He is in company with his own Self. The Upanishad also says that his friend is himself. His company is himself. His food is himself. He rejoices within himself. Such a person is called atmarati – one who does not want anything because he is everything.

Yas tv atmarati reva syad atmatriptas: He is one who is satisfied with what he is, and does not try to possess anything further. We generally try to be satisfied with our possessions, with what we have. So much land, so much money, so much reputation – on that basis we judge the quantity and quality of our happiness. But here, the joy of this atmarati, tattvavit, is not dependent on these external factors of land, money, reputation, etc. It is rooted in himself. Atmatripta: I am satisfied with what I am and not necessarily with what I have. This is a tattvavit. Atmatriptas ca manavah, atmany eva ca santusta: he is satisfied with himself.  Tasya karyam na vidyate: he has no duty to perform.

He does not have to depend on anything else in this world for his sustenance: tasya na kascid artha-vyapasrayah (3.18). Such is the glorious ideal that the sage reaches on having an insight into the structure of this world of prakriti and its relation to human activity. Arjuna puts a question: “This is an interesting teaching and very enlightening indeed, but people find it very difficult to practise. People commit errors, blunders and sins, even if this teaching is poured on their heads. Atha kena prayukto’yam papam carati purushah, anicchann api varsneya balad iva niyojitah (3.36). Knowingly, as it were, people commit mistakes. Though they are learned and have an insight into the knowledge of the scriptures, they are likely to take the erroneous path. What is the reason behind this mistake that human beings are subjected to?”

Kama esa krodha esa rajoguna-samudbhavah, mahasano mahapapma viddhy enam iha vairinam (3.37). Our enemy is our own self, the lower self, to which I made reference yesterday, which is conditioned entirely with the sentiments of love and hatred. In the verses of the Second Chapter, which we have already studied, it is mentioned how desire arises in terms of objects, and when a desire arises in terms of objects there is simultaneous anger in regard to that which is likely to be a hindrance in the fulfilment of the desire. Therefore, when there is a desire, there is anger, either potential or manifest. Even if it is not manifest, there is a susceptibility to anger in regard to a possible hindrance that may arise in the fulfilment of a desire. Hence, love and hatred go together. Kama and krodha go together.

Kama esa krodha esha rajoguna-samudbhavah. Born of the intense agitation of prakiriti’s nature, due to the agitation of the rajasic quality of the mind and the intense disturbance on the surface of the psyche, there is the impetuous activity of the sense organs in the direction of other people and other things in the world, with whom we have to deal in a manner which is always partial and never wholesome. It is always partial because of the fact that we can never have a judicious understanding of the total structure of anything in this world. Our knowledge is fractional. We are not tattvavit; we do not know the relation between the gunas of prakriti and action. So we are pulled in the direction of self-destruction, as a moth flies into the blazing flame under the impression that it is beautiful, and is reduced to ashes. The flames of desire which burn through the sense organs compel the individual soul to fly to the objects of sense, thereby losing its understanding and, sometimes, its very existence itself.

This impulse has to be restrained. We should not get angry. Actually, anger is a sign of absence of even culture, let alone spiritual insight. An uncultured person gets agitated over silly things. His eyes become red, his lips start throbbing, and he starts showing his fist. This is not only a sign of a lack of education and culture; it is a brute’s nature. Anger is the worst of enemies. Let it not take possession of you.

Hanuman got very angry in Lanka. Sita’s predicament roused his anger to such an extent that he thought, “I should go from here only after teaching a lesson to Ravana.” His mission was only to find Sita and tell Rama where she was; he was not entrusted with any other work. But this ambassador went beyond his empowered authority as an ambassador. He said, “It is best for an ambassador to do something more than what he is instructed, in the interest of the government. They have not told me to do that, but in their interest I will do it.” So he rose up into a mountainous shape, and we know what he did. He destroyed the whole of Lanka by setting fire to it. Afterwards he cooled down a bit. He began to feel, “What a wretched act I have done! Anger is the worst of enemies. How is it that I got into a rage of this kind and set fire everywhere, not thinking that perhaps Sita may also be burned? If this has happened, I shall not go back to Rama. I shall stay here itself, do prayopavesha and end my life.”

He is a hero who, knowing that fire-like anger is rising up, subdues it with the power of the will. Such a person is a hero, and not merely one who carries a weapon in his hand. Kama and krodha are the worst of enemies, and are the hindrances in the spiritual advancement of the spirit, because the violation of the very consciousness of Universality is the main activity of the sense organs that work on the basis of kama and krodha, desire and anger. How are we going to subdue these forces?

If we want to have a license or a permit, we can apply to the government in two ways. There is a method of approaching through the proper channels. The nearest official is approached and the application is submitted; and that person endorses it and gives to the next official, until finally the supreme authority endorses it and the permit is granted. The other method is to go directly to the supreme authority, if it is practicable and possible for us, and then an immediate order is issued and is communicated to all the subordinate officials automatically, spontaneously, instead of the routine stereotyped method of rising gradually over a period of time.

So is the instruction of Bhagavan Sri Krishna in the manner of controlling these impulses of kama and krodha. We can go gradually from the lower level of restraint to the higher level, or we can touch the top and put the whole force down with one action. The stereotyped, procedural method is to apply the lower methods of restraint and gradually go up to the higher methods of restraint. A person who is subject to intense passions and anger may do well to fast one day in a week. Or if he is more sincere and honest, he may miss a meal every day because then his impulses will know that if they start creating too much havoc, they will miss a meal, so they will be cautious in manifesting themselves. Restrain yourself through habits of food. Have only a sattvic diet, and not rajasic and tamasic diets. Fast one day in a week, or miss a meal every day. That is one method.

The other method is, as far as possible, try to avoid company of people who are not in any way going to be of help to you or are going to be a disturbance to you. Atheists and materialists or opponents of any kind may not be good company for you. Be alone to yourself. Try to be alone to yourself as much as possible, and be in the midst of people only to that extent as would be necessitated by the work that you perform. You may be a teacher, you may be a factory manager, you may be a medical person, or you may be professor, etc. You may be in the midst of society only to the extent to which you have to fulfil your obligations – not more, not less. When that performance is over, you may withdraw yourself. When the class is over, you need not go on chatting with the other teachers, etc. Reduce your contact with people to the minimum by a judicious analysis of the requirements of human society. Thus, diet is one method, and social contact is another.

The third is the study of spiritual books such as the Bhagavata, Bhagavadgita, Upanishads, etc. This should be done every day, in the early morning, so that when you wake up in the morning it is with the noble thoughts of Vyasa or Valmiki or Bhagavan Sri Krishna or Jesus Christ or whoever it is. The intense nobility and the profundity of these spiritual teachings which have gone into your mind due to your svadhyaya in the morning will, to some extent, restrain your behaviour throughout the day.

Lastly, there is meditation and japa. As much time as possible must be devoted to meditation and japa. The sense organs are weakened by these methods, and weak minds cannot wreak too much havoc and are not as rapacious as they are when they have strength.

Indriyani mano buddhir asyadhistanam uchyate (3.40). The forces of kama and krodha have a location in your body. They are the sense organs, manas and buddhi. Your reason, your mind and your sense organs are the instruments which are harnessed by the forces of kama and krodha to achieve their purpose. So the lower category may be controlled first, and the higher category afterwards. The sense organs may be restrained first by the means that I mentioned in brief. Then you can control the mind gradually by japa sadhana. As direct meditation is very difficult, the mind can be restrained by japa sadhana, purascharana, etc. Then the buddhi is restrained by higher meditation.

This is a procedural method of the application from the lower orders to the higher orders. But there is a direct method of subjugating the sense organs, which is the rousing of the aspiration of the soul for establishing itself in Universal Consciousness. This is called the rousing of the brahmakara vritti in the mind. A vritti is a modification of the mind. Ordinarily there is a visayakara vritti in your mind. A modification of the mind in terms of the objects of sense is called visayakara vritti, but the modification of the mind in terms of Universal Existence is called brahmakara vritti. When you try to analyse the inter-relationships of the circumstances of life, you will notice that everything is connected to everything else. Therefore, any particular passion or anger in regard to an object is not permitted. This kind of meditation, which is your attempt to locate or fix your consciousness on a universal concept, will immediately put a check on the instinctive activities of the mind and, secondarily, on the impetuous activities of the sense organs.

Indrayani parany ahur indriyebhyah param manah, manasas tu para buddhir yo buddheh paratas tu sah (3.42); evam buddheh param buddhva samstabhyatmanam atmana, jahi satrum mahabaho kamarupam durasadam (3.43). These last verses of the Gita are like medicine – a prescription by a doctor which you may repeat every day. The indriyas are strong, no doubt, but the sense organs being strong does not mean that they are the only authorities in the world. The mind is stronger than the sense organs. The intellect, or the higher reason, is stronger than the instinctive mind. Higher than the reason is the strength of this Universal Spirit, which you really are. So try to root yourself gradually by the process of self-analysis through which you realise the inter-connection of all things, on account of which particular love and hatred cannot be sanctioned in this world. There cannot be desire for something or hatred for something. Kama and krodha can be subjugated in this way also by a direct push that you give from the top, from the Atman that is Universal. When the order from the Universal Atman is communicated to the buddhi, it communicates that order into the mind, and the mind communicates the order to the sense organs and puts a check on their activities. Kama and krodha cease. This is how you may control these hindrances to spiritual practice. So concludes the Third Chapter of the Bhagavadgita.