Commentary on the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

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Discourse 19: The Seventh Chapter Begins – Transcending the Sankhya

Yesterday we briefly summed up the first six chapters of the Bhagavadgita that were previously covered. We noticed that the emphasis is particularly on self-discipline—or rather, to put it in a more technical way, the emphasis is on self-integration in the different levels of the operation of the human psyche.

Now, what happens after the expected goal of self-integration is reached by way of direct restraint of the senses and the mind, and meditation as per the suggestions given in the Sixth Chapter? Meditation on what? There is not much detail on this subject in the first six chapters. There was a reference to the Atman towards the end of the Fifth Chapter, and this continues throughout the Sixth Chapter: ātmanyeva vaśaṁ nayet (6.26). This has been reiterated several times. The restraint of the mind and the senses is intended for the purpose of achieving Self-identity—the establishment of consciousness in the Atman. We have heard this word ‘Atman’ a number of times, but in the Sixth Chapter the Bhagavadgita does not go into detail as to what this Atman is, though it says that it is immortal and it is pervading everything.

From the Seventh Chapter onwards, we enter into a new field of observation and study—namely, the encounter of the individual with the cosmic purpose. Very little of the cosmos is mentioned in the first six chapters other than a reference to the three gunas of prakriti, etc., in the Third Chapter. But a direct onslaught, as it were, on this great subject of the Universal Being having an organic connection with the individual, and God being the Creator of the world, did not receive adequate emphasis. “Do this.” “Do not do this.” “Restrain yourself.” We heard this many a time in the first six chapters.

From the Seventh Chapter onwards, the Supreme Lord assumes an important position. In the first six chapters, Sri Krishna speaks as an instructor, as a mentor, as a good guide—a friend, philosopher and guide, as it is said. Now he speaks in a different tone altogether, as a representative of the Almighty Himself. He is no more a teacher of the ordinary type. He is not a simple friend of Arjuna or a philosopher par excellence, but is God Himself speaking. He is the mouthpiece of the Almighty. Therefore, the ideas of “Come to Me. Resort to Me. Be intent on Me. Depend on Me. Surrender yourself to Me,” are more prominently emphasised from the Seventh Chapter onwards. God speaks as the mighty originator of the cosmos, and the be-all and the end-all of all things. Thus, we enter into the field of true religion—spirituality, we may say—from the Sixth Chapter onwards. From the beginning until the Sixth Chapter, we were in the field of psychology mostly—the constituency of the inner psyche and its modus operandi in relation to the gunas of prakriti, and more properly, the way of right action in human society.

Here is something which is directly religious, in the sense that we come in direct contact with God Who speaks to us face to face, as it were. Mayyāsaktamanāḥ pārtha yogaṁ yuñjan madāśrayaḥ, asaṁśayaṁ samagraṁ māṁ yathā jñāsyasi tac chṛṇu (7.1): “O Arjuna! When you are devoted to Me, intent on Me only”—mayyāsaktamanāḥ—“and for the purpose of uniting yourself with Me, you practise yoga, what happens to you? You attain to a total experience and you will know Me in totality.” That is to say, God speaks to the individual represented by Arjuna as the specimen of mankind and says, “You shall know Me in totality.” Samagraṁ: “You will not know Me merely as your protector and guide. You will not know Me merely as the Creator of the cosmos. You will know Me in totality, which includes whatever you can conceive in your mind.” Samagraṁ māṁ yathā jñāsyasi: “How will you know Me in totality? I shall now tell you.”

Jñānaṁ te’haṁ savijñānam idaṁ vakṣyāmyaśeṣataḥ, yaj jñātvā neha bhūyo’nyaj jñātavyam avaśiṣyate (7.2): “After having heard what I am going to tell you, there will be nothing left for you to know. Vijnana and jnana, both I shall place before you.” In commentaries of the Bhagavadgita, the interpreters vary in the meaning they give to the words ‘vijnana’ and ‘jnana’. The Amarakosha, the famous dictionary of Sanskrit, says mokshe dhirjnanam anyatra vijnanam silpasastrayoh: When you are endowed with the wisdom of the Ultimate Reality which is moksha, that wisdom is called jnana; and vijnana is the arts and the sciences of the world, such as architecture, sculpture, etc.—vijnanam silpasastrayoh. But Acharya Sankara and certain other teachers say vijnana is the direct experience of what one has already known through jnana, or what may be called lower knowledge.

Reference to two kinds of knowledge—apara vidya and para vidya—is also made in the Mundaka Upanishad. These days we consider the Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, Atharvaveda, Itihasa, Purana, Siksha and other Angas, or auxiliaries of the Vedas, as the highest form of learning; but here this learning, which we adore as the highest possible reach, is considered as lower knowledge. Atha parā yayā tad akṣaram adhigamyate (M.U. 1.1.5): That is called para vidya, or Supreme Knowledge, through which we directly enter into the imperishable Reality of the cosmos. We may become enlightened by the study of the Vedas or the Puranas or the Itihasas or other scriptures, but that knowledge is not adequate to enable us to enter the imperishable Reality. Merely knowing about it is not enough. Lord Krishna says, “I shall tell you both these things—that which is helpful to you as analytical knowledge of the structure of the cosmos, and also that which will directly take you to Me, the Supreme Being.”

Manuṣyāṇāṁ sahasreṣu kaścid yatati siddhaye, yatatām api siddhānāṁ kaścin māṁ vetti tattvataḥ (7.3). Millions of people live in this world. Do they all want God? Very few even think of God. They very rarely put forth any effort in the direction of knowing and realising God. There is a small percentage of humanity who want God, and they would very much like to practise yoga for the sake of the realisation of God; but among those who strive, even ardently, all may not reach God. Yatatām api siddhānāṁ kaścin māṁ vetti tattvataḥ: “Even among those who devoutly seek Me—even among those—only very few really do reach Me.” How difficult it is! The difficulty in contacting God is stated here briefly: manuṣyāṇāṁ sahasreṣu kaścid yatati siddhaye, yatatām api siddhānāṁ kaścin māṁ vetti tattvataḥ.

The cosmological principles which God created, as it were, at the time of His willing this cosmos are now mentioned briefly along the lines of the Sankhya, and also the Vedanta. We heard something about the Sankhya when we studied the Second and Third Chapters. The Sankhya enumerates the categories of the constituents of prakriti, and says that there is a purusha that superintends over all the activities of prakriti as an immutable universal consciousness. Somehow or the other, Sankhya falls into the chasm of the duality of purusha and prakriti. It is not possible for Sankhya to bring about a unity between consciousness and matter.

Even today we cannot easily say what the relationship between consciousness and matter is; and psychologists are in the dark as to the relationship between mind and body. Does the body determine the mind, or does the mind determine the body? When we have a mental shock, the body is affected. Or if we swallow poison, the mind is affected. So interiorly they seem to be interconnected. But what is the meaning of ‘interconnection’? Who causes this connection between mind and body? This question is still being raised in psychological circles. The principles of Sankhya, which enumerate the constituents of prakriti, are very highly informative knowledge indeed, but we are still left in the dark as to what connection purusha has with prakriti. What happens to us when we attain Self-realisation? Where does the prakriti stand at that time? Prakriti is supposed to be there permanently—eternal, never dying. Is prakriti still eternally there even after Self-realisation? If that is the case, will the Self-realised entity be conscious of prakriti?

These are the difficulties that Sankhya poses before us. When we realise the Universal purusha—‘Universal’ is to be underlined, which means to say all-pervading and existing everywhere—and we are established in that Universal Consciousness which is supposed to be liberation even according to the Sankhya, where is the stance of prakriti? If the purusha knows prakriti, then it is in contact with prakriti, and that is bondage. The whole point is that consciousness should not be in contact with prakriti. The moment it comes in contact with prakriti, it enters into the state of bondage; but if we say that purusha is not conscious of prakriti, it is not omniscient. So here is a snag in the Sankhya philosophy, which the Bhagavadgita gradually gets over as it proceeds.

Bhūmir āpo’nalo vāyuḥ khaṁ mano buddhir eva ca, ahaṁkāra itīyaṁ me bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā (7.4): “My prakriti, the material out of which I have created this cosmos, can be classified under eight principles.” Earth, water, fire, air, and ether are five well-known physical elements; they are known as bhūmir āpo’nalo vāyuḥ khaṁ. These are the gross manifestations of the subtle substances behind them, which are known as tanmatras: sabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa and gandha. These five elements are the principal building bricks of the cosmos. Then there is the mind, which is the subtle, rarefied matter which reflects consciousness through it as a mirror reflects one’s face. Then there is buddhi which understands, decides, and logically concludes, and ahamkara which is self-conscious. So earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intellect and egoism are the eight categories out of which the whole cosmos has been manufactured, as it were, by God.

Apareyam itas tvanyāṁ prakṛtiṁ viddhi me parām, jīvabhūtāṁ mahābāho yayedaṁ dhāryate jagat (7.5): “What I have mentioned to you up to this time as the eightfold constituents of the cosmos are lower categories; but there is something which is higher—through which, by which, I sustain the cosmos.” It is not enough if we have only these categories, just as building material does not make the building. It has to be synthesised, organised, given a living touch by a mason or an architect; only then the building material becomes a house to live in. So, all these that have been mentioned as the eight constituents are the building bricks of the cosmos. They are the material. But who will build the house? “I myself build it by entering into it as the mason, as it were, and giving life to it.” Unless there is a cohesive force, there cannot be the coming together of the discrete items which are prakriti’s constituents.

As cement is necessary to bring together all the bricks into a coherent structure, something is necessary to bring all these eight things into a state of harmony and unity of purpose, as they themselves cannot achieve it. Here there is earth, here there is water, here there is fire, but it does not make a cosmos—just as here we have bone, here we have flesh, here we have blood, but it does not make a human being. There is something else in man, other than his anatomy or physiology, which makes him a man, a human being. Man is not anatomy and physiology. There is something else in him, and it is called humanity. That is the life principle which gives value to the physical structure of the body. In the same way as cement holds the bricks together and the building does not crumble, there is something which gives value to the elements of the cosmos. Jīvabhūtāṁ mahābāho yayedaṁ dhāryate jagat: “I become the cosmic jiva. I, as the jiva tattva of the cosmos, the vitality of the cosmos, keep all these elements in unison so that you see a universe rather than chaos.” We do not see building material spread out everywhere; we see a structure beautifully placed before us as this wondrous creation—grand, very systematic, working as methodically and precisely as mathematics.

Science is able to predict certain consequences of present contingencies in nature on account of there being a mathematical precision and positivity in the working of nature. “If we do this now, tomorrow this will happen to us”—and this also applies morally, ethically, socially and medically because there is a connection between the present condition and the future condition of the body and the mind. As there cannot be a connection unless there is a vital principle, Lord Krishna says, “I myself act as the cosmic vitality.” Here jīvabhūta does not mean the ordinary, individual jiva; it means the cosmic jiva. This cosmic jiva tattva has been given various names in the different schools of thought. Vedanta generally calls these stages of the entry of God into the materials of creation as Ishvara, Hiranyagarbha and Virat. God enters through these gradations. The Atman enters this body and gives it life through the karana sarira, sukshma sarira, etc. In the same way, the cosmos becomes a living organic entity, beautiful to look at and meaningful in every way, when the Universal Consciousness enters into it. Hence, that higher principle is a greater prakriti than the eight lower ones mentioned earlier.

Etadyonīni bhūtāni sarvāṇītyupadhāraya, ahaṁ kṛtsnasya jagataḥ prabhavaḥ pralayas tathā (7.6). “You may consider all these things to be instrumental in the production of the cosmos. They are everything. Whatever you touch, whatever you feel, whatever you see in this universe is just these eight principles operating with My help, as I invisibly animate the whole cosmos. But, finally, I shall tell you I am everything. I can dismantle this universe if I wish, and if I withdraw Myself from the universal structure, it will crumble and fall like an old house whose cement has deteriorated. But I am very active and do not allow the universe to disintegrate into bits of matter. I shall tell you the truth.” Ahaṁ kṛtsnasya jagataḥ prabhavaḥ pralayas tathā: “I am the origin and the sustenance of the whole universe. I not only created this and brought it into being, but I also maintain it. I created the universe with My will, and I sustain it as My own Soul.”

This body is sustained by the entry of the soul into the mind, intellect, etc. We are physically alive because of the Atman inside. That Atman does not directly interfere with the bodily structure. It works incidentally, successively through its permeation in the three koshas—the mind, intellect, and prana—in the same way as the cosmic structure is also maintained through certain gradations and subtleties of the descent of the one God.

In the Panchadasi and other Vedantic scriptures, much is told to us about the way in which Brahman becomes Ishvara, Ishvara becomes Hiranyagarbha, Hiranyagarbha becomes Virat. The illustration given in the Sixth Chapter of the Panchadasi is that Brahman is like a clean cloth. Ishvara is like the very same cloth stiffened with starch. The painter cannot paint directly on the cloth. The cloth must first be stiffened. Starch is applied to the cloth—that is, the cloth assumes a concretised form, as it were. It is not the pure cloth that it was, but the cloth is still there as the base. Without the cloth, there cannot be the starchiness; but without the starch, the cloth cannot be a good background for any painting. Similarly, there cannot be a movie in a cinema without the screen. Though we are not going to the cinema to see the screen, we know very well how important the screen is. The painting on the canvas is very attractive indeed and we go on looking at it, but we never think of the background on which the painting has been made. We never recognise its existence, just as we do not think of the building’s foundation when we look at it.

This foundation is the cloth, and it gradually stiffens itself into a will to create, just as the cloth is stiffened by the application of starch. That stiffened form, which is the will of Brahman, as they call it, is Ishvara-tattva. Then what does the painter do? After the cloth is stiffened with starch, he draws an outline of the picture that he will paint; with a pencil or a slight touch of ink, he draws an outline. This outline of the universe which is not yet fully manifest is Hiranyagarbha. We have a faint idea as to what will be the character of the universe that is going to be created, even as by seeing the pencil drawing, we can know what the painter is actually going to paint. The full painting is the Virat. The drawing on the canvas is filled with ink of various colours, and then we have the beautiful picture of the painting. This is the Virat—the whole cosmos looking so beautiful, the finest and the most complete manifestation of that which was only an outline in Hiranyagarbha, and which was only the will to create in Ishvara, with Brahman as the background. Ahaṁ kṛtsnasya jagataḥ prabhavaḥ pralayas tathā.

The cloth can say that it is the entire painting because without it there would be no painting at all. Though we see only the painting and do not appreciate or even think of the cloth on which it is made, where would the painting be without the cloth? In the same way, Ishvara, Hiranyagarbha and Virat—this beautiful creation that we see—cannot exist if there is no universal background, which is Brahman. Brahman is totally invisible as is the cloth behind the painting, but it is very, very substantial; and without it, nothing can be. Therefore, Lord Krishna says, “I am everything. I am the origin and the sustenance of this cosmos.”

Mattaḥ parataraṁ nānyat kiñcid asti dhanaṁjaya (7.7). Very emphatically the Lord says, “Nothing outside Me can exist, not even this universe.” He becomes very bold now and even transcends the universe by saying, “Even this universe that I have been describing to you cannot be there without Me; and higher than Me, nothing can be.” Parataraṁ can mean ‘external to Me’ or ‘higher than Me’. “Beyond Me, there is nothing. Outside Me, there is nothing. There is nothing either as the fourteen worlds, the gods in heaven or what is called prakriti; nothing of that kind can be outside Me.”

Now the Sankhya has been transcended. The Purusha Supreme is speaking: “Prakriti cannot be outside Me.” But the Sankhya says that prakriti is immortal, that it is as indestructible as purusha itself. If that is the case, there is a predicament regarding the relationship between consciousness and matter, purusha and prakriti, which is transcended here in the Vedanta of the Bhagavadgita. “I transcend everything, even prakriti, and it cannot exist without Me. It cannot even be outside Me, let alone without Me.” If that is the case, if the whole cosmos is not outside God, then it is permeated by the immanence of God, and every atom in the cosmos dances with the power of the Soul which it assumes from the Almighty Himself: mattaḥ parataraṁ nānyat kiñcid asti dhanaṁjaya.

Mayi sarvam idaṁ protaṁ sūtre maṇigaṇā iva: “As beads are strung on a thread, the whole universe is strung on Me.” The beads cannot become a garland or a mala unless there is a thread. “There would be no cohesion, no principle, no meaning, no future, and no sense in anything if there was no thread underneath to connect the little bits of creation. I am that thread—the Supreme Soul—and, therefore, I am everything.”