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Commentary on the Bhagavadgita

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Discourse 21: The Seventh Chapter Continues – The Gospel of Universal Religion

The glory of God and His creation is the subject of the Seventh Chapter, as we have been noticing; and the basic principles of a universal religion are laid down in this chapter and in the Ninth Chapter particularly – which we shall read later on. It is not possible to have contact with God if one’s eyes are blinded by the operation of the three gunas of prakriti, which are known also as maya. Na mam dushkritino mudhah prapadyante naradhamah, mayayapahrita-jnana asuram bhavam asritah (7.15): “Dominated by the asuric prakriti of rajas and tamas, blinded by the power of the sense organs running in the direction of objects, conscious only of the external world of matter and knowing nothing of the higher values of life, such people cannot know Me.” They cannot have an insight into the Almighty’s supra-conscious existence.

The Bhagavadgita says that there are four kinds of devotees, who approach God for various purposes. Chatur-vidha bhajante mam janah sukritino’rjuna, arto jijnasur artharthi jnani cha bharatarshabha (7.16): When we are in distress, when we are in a state of utter poverty, when we are in a dying condition, when we are suffering from an incurable disease, when we are harassed up to the point of death, when there is no help coming from anywhere and sorrow is hanging on our heads like Damocles’ sword, we cry to God for help. These are one kind of devotee: they love God and cry to God because they are in grief, and they want God to redress all the sorrows in which they are sunk. Perhaps if they were well-off – very healthy, wealthy, and all was well with them in this world – the idea of resorting to God might not have arisen in their minds. Nevertheless, God is very kind, compassionate and so gracious as to accept that even these people are His devotees though they have come to Him only for material gains in the sense that they want only redressal of sorrow, and if they are free from sorrow they shall be highly satisfied. Artha is a person who is in grief, in a state of distress socially, politically, physically, mentally – in whatever way. A distressed person crying for God is a kind of devotion which is specific and unique in itself.

There are other devotees who do not cry for God to remove their suffering in the world. They are the jijnasu – those who want wisdom of life. Learning sometimes evokes a desire to worship Saraswati and such other goddesses; those who want power and domination and might, worship Lord Siva and such other gods, and so on and so forth. Those who are jijnasus are lovers of knowledge – insight into the reality of things. We may even say they are lovers of spiritual knowledge. They crave that God should bless them with this wondrous wisdom.

It is described in the Devi Mahatmya that there were two devotees of Devi. One was a king and the other a Vaisya, a trader. When Devi appeared before them and asked them what boon they wished for, the king said, “I want to regain my kingdom, which I have lost.” But the Vaisya said, “I want wisdom of life.” Devi blessed both of them with the purpose for which they had worshipped her. Hence, there are devotees who are jijnasus – who want wisdom, knowledge, acumen, intelligence, genius, and spiritual realisation, and for that purpose they worship God.

There is a third kind of devotee, designated here as artharthi. Commentators have interpreted this word in various ways, because artha means an object of material satisfaction. These devotees want material gains – wealth, prosperity in this world socially or even politically; they want to gain earthly suzerainty. Maybe they want to even become kings and emperors, presidents and so on. These people who want the highest pitch of material glory are also devotees of God.

Artha means material value. But some interpreters of the Bhagavadgita feel that here, perhaps, artha has some other meaning, because there appears to be a gradual ascent in the sequence of the devotional spirit that is mentioned; and as a jnani is supposed to be the best, he would be mentioned last. The distressed is mentioned first, and the knower or the one who seeks knowledge is supposed to be the second. Naturally, we cannot say that the seeker of knowledge is inferior to the one who asks for redressal of sorrow. So there seems to be a superiority of the grade of devotion in each succeeding stage, especially as the last one is supposed to be the best. Thus, we should infer from this sequence that the third type, which is artharthi, cannot be a person who seeks material gains, because that would be inferior to the previous type, who seeks knowledge. Therefore, artharthi has been interpreted by others as one who seeks the fulfilment of the purusharthas of life. The supreme aims of existence are called purusharthas, consisting of dharma, artha, kama and moksha. Those who have a longing to blend these supreme values of life in their practical existence for the purpose of ultimate liberation may be considered to be artharthis – that is, purusha artharthis – superior even to those who seek knowledge. But – there is a ‘but’ – God considers all these devotees as dear to Him in some way because they resort to Him. Even if a child cries, it is listened to and the proper response is given.

“One in distress seeks Me. Merely because he seeks Me, I consider him as My devotee, whatever be the motive behind it. Those who are in search of knowledge also seek Me. Those who are in need of material gain, or the purusharthas, also want something from Me. The whole point is, these people want something from Me. The distressed ones want Me to free them from sorrow. That is, they are using Me as a kind of instrument to free them from sorrow.” Those who want knowledge also consider God as an instrument for gaining knowledge. The other type also uses God as an instrument. They do not consider God as the ultimate aim. If we want anything from God – from God, through God, utilising God for the achievement of a purpose – we certainly consider that purpose as superior to God Himself. We are using God as an instrument in the fulfilment of our desires, whatever those desires be – even the most glorious of desires, the love for wisdom. We are asking God to give us wisdom, as if God Himself is not equal to that. But the Lord says that the jnani is the best of the devotees because he does not want anything from God. He has ceased to have any kind of expectation from the world, and does not have any kind of ulterior motive. The devotee who wants only God and wants nothing from God or through God, is the jnani. Anybody who wants something from God or through God is a lesser devotee.

Udarah sarva evaite (7.18). “All are good. I am pleased with them,” says the Lord. “But I consider the jnani as the supreme because he does not expect anything from Me. He wants only Me.” Do we not think that the giver of boons is greater than the boons themselves? So how is it that we are so foolish as to expect boons from God, not knowing that God is larger than all the boons that He can give? Only a jnani knows that. “I consider the jnani as the best of My devotees, because he loves Me as his own self.” If I love you as my own self, that is showing a greater affection to you than showing my affection in any other way – by way of material gifts, by good words, by hospitality. Nothing that I can do for you or give to you is real affection in comparison with that affection which considers my self as your self and your self as my self. The identity of souls is the highest of devotion, and is the highest that we can expect from anybody in this world. The unity of one with the other is the highest friendship. Two friends cannot be real friends unless they are merged into a single soul. If they are two souls, they are ultimately not reliable friends. They will not be friends in need, because each one has his own soul and he has not merged his soul with the other. Even if the friends appear to be inseparable, if each one has his own egoistic individuality by maintaining his own individual soul, he will not be a good friend. He will desert you one day or the other.

Paul and Peter were very great friends – very close. One day when they were in the forest, a bear pursued them and wanted to pounce on them. Paul climbed to the top of a tree to save himself. Peter did not know how to climb. He lay down on the ground and held his breath as if he was dead, because he heard it said that animals do not attack corpses, they attack only living beings. Even lions do not eat what they themselves have not killed. The bear came and sniffed Peter in the ear and in the nose, and concluded that he was not a living being. It went away. When the bear left, Paul came down and humorously asked, “What was the bear whispering in your ear, my dear friend?” Peter replied, “It whispered to me – ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed’. You simply climbed the tree, leaving me alone here.”

The son of a king and the son of a minister were close friends; they were inseparable. They ate together, walked together, talked together and slept together. They were always together. The public felt that their friendship was very dangerous because one day one boy would become the king and the other boy would become the minister, and their closeness wouldn’t make for a good government. There must be some difference between the minister and the king. What is the use of having a minister if he is equal to a king, and what is the use of having a king if he is equal to a minister? Everybody felt that the two boys should be separated, but could not think of how, as they were always together. One man had a brainwave and said, “I shall separate them in a minute.” The two boys were going for a walk, hand in hand. “Gentlemen!” he said and called the minister’s son, “Please, come just for a minute. There is something that I want to tell you.” When the boy came, the man whispered in his ear, “One paddy contains only one grain of rice.” “Eh!” the boy said. “This is all that you want to tell me?” And he went back. Then the king’s son asked, “What did he say?” “Eh! Stupid! He said that one paddy contains only one grain of rice.” “No, it cannot be,” said the king’s son. “A man will not call you to secretly tell you that. You are not telling me the truth.” Immediately the two boys were separated and their friendship was ended. They wouldn’t talk to each other after that.

Here is a mystery. Anybody who expects anything from God is not as dear to God as the one who wants God only. Vidura expressed his love to Sri Krishna, and forgot himself completely in total communion with the master. In the Bible there’s the story of Mary and Martha. When Christ went to their house, Mary just sat at his feet and did not ask him what he wanted. She did not offer even water or extend any kind of expected hospitality; she just sat. Martha was very busy cooking food and what not. She was not conscious of the presence of Christ but was conscious of the preparations that she was making for the honoured guest, whereas Mary sat still and did not offer even a drop of water. “Martha, you are too busy with things,” Christ told her. Similarly, we may be too busy with things, and that is not what God expects from us. We have to be busy only with Him, and not busy with anything other than Him.

Udarah sarva evaite. God’s kindness is greater than the kindness of anybody. Most merciful is God that He considers even the littlest devotion to be a very wonderful thing. Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to be so kind to people. He considered even the blabbering of a child to be a great lecture and presented the child with a tin of biscuits, praising the wonderful lecture even though the child was just babbling nonsense. If anyone danced, even with crooked movements, it was praised as a wonderful dance and a present was given. And if anyone sang, even with a hoarse voice and without any melody, they were given a present of a tin of biscuits and fruit. That is, encouragement was given in every line which a person wanted to pursue, even in the littlest, humblest way.

Draupadi cried to God because she was in distress, and her cry was immediately responded to. She was not asking for knowledge, she was not thinking of the purusharthas, nor was she thinking of communion with God. She was in intense distress, unimaginable distress; and there was an immediate response. So even the lowest category of devotion calls God with equal force as do the higher types of devotion. The way of God is a very great mystery indeed. He says the jnani is the best, which implies that the others are naturally the second and the third categories, but He responded immediately to the call of Draupadi. Instantaneous, timeless, action was taken, even if she did not fall into our definition of jnani So God’s ways, only God knows. We cannot say anything about His wonderful ways.

However, Lord Krishna says tesham jnani nitya-yukta eka-bhaktir visishyate (7.17): “Because of his unstinted, concentrated, whole-souled, communion-like devotion to Me, I consider the jnani as the best; the jnani is me and I am the jnani, whereas other devotees stand apart, and they are individuals expecting something from God.” Tesham jnani nitya-yukta eka-bhaktir visishyate, priyo hi jnanino’tyartham aham sa cha mama priyah (7.17): “I am dearest to the jnani and the jnani is dearest to Me” – because what can be dearer than the self? If we love the self of God as our own self and God loves us as His own self, there is a communion of the so-called two into a single existence. That love is the greatest love which needs no object before it. That love is the greatest which does not want any kind of recompense. That love is not love which expects a response from the beloved. “If I love you, then you should also love me; but if I have no response from you in spite of my affection for you, then you are not worthy of my affection.” This kind of affection is no affection. The soul has to commune with the soul, and this happens only in the case of jnana and not in the other cases, notwithstanding the fact that God is immensely merciful to consider even a child like Prahlada or Dhruva to be as great devotees as Suka, Vyasa or Vasishtha.

Udarah sarva evaite jnani tv atmaiva me matam, asthitah sa hi yuktatma mam evanuttamam gatim (7.18): “All these devotees that I mentioned are very good people. Yet he stands first who is a jnani, who is Me and is inseparable from Me.” He who considers nothing else as the goal of life except God Himself, who day in and day out plants God in the heart of his own personality, who feels God in the soul of his own self, who implants the Universal in his particular individuality and thus melts his individuality into the Cosmic Universality, who exists as the Universal Soul itself in meditation and experience – that person is a jnani. He is veritably God Himself. We can call him a jivanmukta, if we like.

It is very difficult to achieve this kind of devotion. Bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate; vasudevah sarvam iti sa mahatma sudurlabhah (7.19): It is difficult to love God. The love of things is so attractive, so promising and rewarding that the invisible God may not be as attractive to the senses. We take a series of incarnations – millions of births – to come to the human level, and then only is it possible for an individual to think in terms of pros and cons and entertain logical judgments, which is not available in the animal, plant and mineral kingdoms. After taking many an incarnation and passing through many bodies of various species, we become human beings. Even as human beings, it is not easy for everybody to reach God because there are categories of human beings. There are demoniacal human beings, selfish human beings, cut-throat human beings, tit-for-tat human beings, so they are not in a position to attain God. It is a blessed one who has polished his personality through austerity, by means of the practice of the various stages of yoga in the different incarnations that he has taken. Bahunam janmanam ante: “After the completion of many, many lives – then only the jnani attains to Me as the only goal, resorts to Me as the only purpose in life.”

Vasudevah sarvam iti sa mahatma sudurlabhah – such a person is indeed rare in this world who has the conviction that God is all, that Narayana is all, Vasudeva is all, the Almighty is all. Such a conviction cannot arise in ordinary people. After many millions of births, such a conviction may arise. The sense organs will not play havoc with that person who knows in an integral manner that God is all, because their feeling and understanding merge into a kind of intuition; and then there is no use of expecting anything from this world. “The world merges in God as I myself also merge in God.” Bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate, vasudevah sarvam iti sa mahatma sudurlabhah.

Sri Aurobindo says that when the British put him in prison due to a bomb case and he was summoned by the magistrate, suddenly in the courtroom he had the vision of Narayana. He saw the police as Sri Krishna, Narayana. He saw the magistrate as Narayana; he saw the doors, the windows and the iron bars as Narayana. Everything was Narayana shining everywhere, and even the prosecutor standing there was Narayana. Narayana was flooding the entire court, right from the policemen and the prosecutor, to the magistrate sitting there. He mentions this experience in a beautiful and powerful style in his speech called the Uttarapara speech. Vasudevah sarvam iti sa mahatma sudurlabhah. Such an experience is rare.

Kamais tais tair hrita-jnanah prapadyante’nya devatah, tam tam niyamam asthaya prakritya niyatah svaya (7.20): “Not knowing Me as the All, people resort to so many gods.” The ‘so many gods’ are to be considered as influxes and emanations of the Supreme Being. We may worship Ganesha, Devi, Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Vishnu, Siva, Surya, Kartikeya, Skanda, or any god, provided we do not consider them as individual gods standing independently in their own sphere; otherwise, we will receive from them a blessing that is completely limited. A limited god can bless us only in a limited way. There is no harm in worshipping these gods, but we should consider them as a hand or a finger of the one Almighty. Whether it is Siva or Vishnu or Christ or Buddha or Mohammed or anyone, they are facets of the single crystal of the Supreme Being. Any facet of the crystal reflects the whole crystal. Therefore, there is no harm in worshipping individual gods. But if we consider them as independent gods – Mohammed is different from Christ, Christ is different from Krishna, Krishna is different from Devi and they have no connection with one another, we want something from Devi and something else from Krishna – if that is the case, we will get what we want. Kamais tais tair hrita-jnanah prapadyante’nya devatah: With desires which are discrete and diversified in nature, people run to all sorts of divinities – a stone, a snake, a tree, a symbol, a diagram. Everything is a god for a person with desires of various types. Such people who have multifarious desires of a rajasic and perhaps tamasic nature and who worship varieties of divinities independently, as it were, will have their own result granted to them. Tam tam niyamamasthaya prakritya niyatah svaya: “In My ordinance, I have arranged that these people also shall be given whatever they want.” If we ask for a handful, we will get only a handful. If we ask for a bucketful, we will get a bucketful, and if we ask for the whole earth, we will get the whole earth; but we will get only what we want, not more than that. If we ask for a sword, we will get a sword.

There was a person who wanted that any thought that arose in his mind should materialise, and he was blessed with that boon. Whenever he thought something, it would materialise. He was very happy, and felt that now the whole world was under his control. He sat under a tree and thought, “Let there be mangoes in the tree.” Immediately mangoes dropped from the tree. “Let there be cool water for me to drink,” and immediately cool water flowed in front. “Let there be many servants to massage my feet,” and servants came. “Let me have a good bed to lie down on and rest,” and a bed immediately appeared. While he was lying down, he thought, “This is a forest. Suppose a tiger pounces on me; what will happen?” Immediately a tiger came and pounced on him, and he was finished. This is what happens if we have desires which are uncontrolled by real knowledge, wisdom. Therefore, we should not propitiate small deities in order to fulfil petty desires when we have the Great Master who can grant us all that we want with His oceanic mercy. Anyway, in His goodness and mercy He says: “Even if the little gods are worshipped, you will get something. Don’t bother yourself.” Immensely merciful is God. He knows the futility of our efforts and the foolishness of our worships, but in spite of that He says, “I’ll give you what you want.” So kind is God!

Kamais tais tair hrita-jnanah prapadyante’nya devatah, tam tam niyamam asthaya prakritya niyatah svaya: The Universal Religion of the equality of worship and the equality of the vision of all faiths, cults and creeds is a way to God. Whatever be the way in which we approach the Ultimate Reality, that is a religion, no matter how devious and circuitous that way may be, provided we are conscious that every other path also equally leads to the same goal and all religions merge into a single religion of man’s desire for God. This is the gospel of Universal Religion.