by Swami Krishnananda
…as distinguished from the religion of mere outward performance, has been the brilliant thesis of the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Chapters of the Gita that we have been studying. This is a great theology compressed into a series of brief statements rather than a huge magnum opus, but each verse is a pithy seed sown for further consideration and delineation by philosophers, academicians and metaphysicians. The religion of God – we may say, the religion of man – is the real subject here. In the first six chapters, a kind of religion is adumbrated in the form of the impulsion and command to work for the sake of work, duty for the sake of duty, and performance of one’s functions in society as a participation, a necessary cooperation with the scheme of prakriti. Work performed in the spirit of a voluntary cooperation with the forces of nature is also a religion of some kind, because religion is basically an attitude that tries to transcend itself. That was the emphasis laid in the first six chapters – culminating with dhyana, or meditation, for the purpose of the integration of the individual.
Whenever we expect values of life in some things that are above us, we are religious people. But if we consider that we are all-in-all and everything is just for us – the realities of life are centred in our personalities and in the personalities of others who are like us, and there is nothing qualitatively superior to human thought and action – if that is how we feel, we are irreligious people. But if we believe in a Reality that is above human society and human individuality, and perform our duties not as a compulsion by an outside mandate but as an impulsion from our own spirit for the purpose of the regeneration of our own spiritual nature, and also as a help given for a similar uplift of people around us – if this sort of attitude is maintained in the work that we perform, work is also religion.
When we bring God into the picture of our existence in the world, we feel that true religion begins. Though it is no doubt true, philosophically speaking, that participation in the universal activity of prakriti is a religion – and it cannot be anything less than true religion – we hanker for God but do not hanker for work. It is a misreading of the values of life to think that God is outside the range of work. The mind, in its cleavage of psychic operations, creates a distinction between the world and God, and it is difficult for the human mind to believe that anything that is concerning this world has any connection with God.
Hence, we are hard-pressed to accept the doctrine that work is also a divine worship, though we have been told this twenty times, a hundred times, a thousand times. We are inclined to believe it due to our susceptibility to accept a larger Reality in human society than our own selves, and also our acceptance of the fact that nature is compelling us to participate in its scheme. Philosophically, and in moments of rationality, we accept this; still, we hunger for something which is not work. The word ‘work’ is anathema because of our concept of the divinity that we wish to worship, so it has become very difficult for us to see divinity in work.
The Bhagavadgita has tried to dispel this misconception in our minds that activities in the world can also be divine worships, which is contrary to the ordinary belief of the sense organs and the mind involved in pleasures of the body and the senses. The Gita places tremendous emphasis on the fact that activity is not contrary to divinity, and work is not disharmonious with God. This is so because of the fact that work is connected with God’s creation. Inasmuch as it has a vital relationship with God’s creation, it also has a connection with God; hence, work is also religion.
In order to cater to the higher instincts of a call for God in His transcendent aspect, the Bhagavadgita goes into the essentials of an immortal essence presiding over our participation in religious work – God as we would like God to be, and not God as we would not like Him to be. In our restlessness, in our eagerness for pleasure and leisure, in our boredom with life as a whole, we do not wish for God’s insistence on our performing work in this world. Rather, we very much wish that He asks us to redeem ourselves for any compulsion to work. But God is not of that nature. He wishes us to accept the organic connection between the world and God; therefore, work is religion.
The purely theological, religious doctrine that is presented to us from the seventh chapter onwards is a new kind of teaching: Divinity parades as all things in creation; the five elements are the manifestation of God’s lower prakriti; the vitality, or prana, that is operating in the cosmos is the higher prakriti; devotees are of four kinds in nature; everyone is fit to realize God one day or the other, provided that one’s devotion to God is pure. This is the emphasis of the Seventh Chapter. In connection with this topic of true religion and universal religion, a question automatically arose: “What happens to the religious man after he dies?” Many a time this question arises within our own selves: “What will happen to me tomorrow? I am an old man. One day I will pass away from this world. In what way is my religion going to help me?”
The answer to this question comes in the Eighth Chapter. Life is continuous and does not end with death, and so whatever religious performance that is to our credit will be carried forward to the next life. Our personality does not die psychologically when it dies physically, and all the things that we did in this world – good and bad – will be carried forward. Therefore, it is emphasised that we must think only of God at the time of death. Inasmuch as it is not easy to think of God as Absolute at the time of passing – on account of the many physical difficulties which may harass us – it is again emphasised that we must live a life of religion throughout our lives. The entire life of the human being should be a transmutation of personality in the form of divine worship; and it is incumbent that at the time of passing, the thought should not be anything irrelevant, but should be of the supreme Absolute.
The Ninth Chapter continues this theme. An interesting verse which we discussed yesterday says that God takes care of all people personally, as it were, as His near and dear children, and He shall provide us with all that we require. Even the worst of sinners can become a highly religious person: Api chet suduracharo (9.30); ye’pi syuh papa-yonayah (9.32). It is said towards the end of the chapter that even the worst of sinners – very bad people, wicked persons – can also reach God. They do not get damned to hell. Eternal damnation is not the doctrine of the Bhagavadgita. There is punishment, to some extent, meted out on account of erroneous actions performed in this world, with the nemesis following automatically. Action breeds reaction. It is not punishment meted out by somebody; it is a punishment meted out by the action itself as an automatic reaction that comes forth on account of an action – whether it is good or bad, positive or negative, harmonious or disharmonious. Complete rejection of any person is not in the constitution of God’s ordinance. “All are welcome to Me, whether they are high or low.”
The poem ‘Abou Ben Adhem’ by Leigh Hunt describes how the humblest person, who was unknown and unrecorded in human history, received the first call from God. Famous people do not go to God so easily. The greatest sages and saints are unknown persons in the world; the known ones are second-rate heroes. The greatest of beings – who come to redeem humanity by merely their existence or thought – perform no actions in the historical or political sense. They merely release some energy – an aura around them, a potential – that pervades the whole earth. We are told in our scriptures that Vyasa and Narayana are residing in the Badrik Asrama for the solidarity of mankind, and are invisibly performing miracles by their very existence – not necessarily by the movement of their hands and feet.
The Ninth Chapter clinches the whole subject by saying that the worst of people also are called. Actually, there is no such thing as the worst of people. As a matter of fact, sin cannot stand before God. There is no such thing as original sin, or Adam’s sin, or my sin or your sin, or imperishable sin; these doctrines are not there. Even hell is a kind of purgatory, like a temporary prison. No one’s spirit is damned forever to an eternity of suffering. On account of the compassionate presence of the immanent God in all things and there being nothing external to God, there is no such thing as an eternity of suffering or eternal rejection. Even hell cannot be outside Him.
Man-mana bhava (9.34): “Concentrate your mind on Me.” Mad-bhaktah: “Be devoted to Me.” Mad-yaji: “Perform sacrifices for Me.” Mam namaskuru: “Prostrate yourself before Me.” Mam evaishyasi: “You shall attain Me.” Yuktvaivam atmanam mat-parayanah: “Eternally being in the state of unity of yourself with Myself, you shall be in Me and I shall be in you.”
This has been beautifully put in the concluding verses of the Sixth Chapter: Sarva-bhuta-stham atmanam sarva-bhutani chatmani; ikshate yoga-yukta-atma sarvatra sama-darsanah (6.29). Yo mam pasyati sarvatra sarvam cha mayi pasyati; tasyaham na pranasyami sa cha me na pranasyati (6.30). Sarva-bhuta-sthitam yo mam bhajaty ekatvam asthitah; sarvatha vartamano’pi sa yogi mayi vartate (6.31). Here it is specifically said, “Whatever be your behaviour, if you really surrender yourself to Me, you are redeemed.” Sarvatha vartamano’pi: Whatever be a person’s behaviour, if his spirit is united with the Absolute – sa yogi mayi vartate – “that yogi is in Me, lodged in My spirit.”
Atmaupamyena sarvatra samam pasyati yo’rjuna; sukham va yadi va duhkham sa yogi paramo matah (6.32). There is a gradual ascent of religious spirit from the beginning to the end of the chapters we have been studying. A distance between God and man is maintained in the earlier chapters, beginning with a very great distance indeed in the First Chapter. Gradually the distance goes on diminishing until we begin to feel that God is a teacher, a friend, a good philosopher and guide, and finally a redeemer. We are taken to the heights of thought which declares that God is not merely a friend, philosopher and guide in the ordinary sense, as the historical Krishna may appear to the historical Arjuna. The heights became more pronounced in the Seventh Chapter when we are told that God is much more than our ordinary human friend; He is the creator of the universe itself. Aham sarvasya prabhavah (10.8): Everything proceeds from Me. Mattah parataram nanyat kinchid asti (7.7): Nothing exists outside Me. The creative aspect of God was especially enunciated in the Seventh Chapter. Yet, a kind of distance is maintained between God and the world, because we feel that God created the world and, therefore, He must be a little away from the world. Do we not say that God is in heaven?
While in the earlier chapters – up to the Sixth – there is a great distance indeed between the world and God, in the Seventh Chapter we are given a little comfort by the doctrine that God, being the creator of the universe, is immanent and, therefore, is with us at all times. God is both within and without us. The distance between God and man again becomes a little pronounced in the Eighth Chapter, which presents the theory that God is reached after death. Antakale cha mameva smaran muktva kalevaram (8.5) … sa yati paramam gatim (8.13): “If you think of Me at the time of death, you shall reach Me.” It is not mentioned that we can reach God now, in this world. Can we reach God while we are alive? Or do we reach God only after death?
The Creator’s distance as a supernal transcendence, as a father in heaven, is an idea that may arise in our minds in the Seventh Chapter; and that we can reach God only after death is an idea that may arise in the Eighth Chapter. But God is not to be considered to be reachable only after death. That God can look to our needs even today is especially emphasised in the Ninth Chapter. Ananyas chintayanto mam ye janah paryupasate; tesham nityabhiyuktanam yoga-kshemam vahamy aham (9.22): God is not transcendent, sitting in heaven and gazing at us dispassionately and unconcerned, but He is greatly concerned. God comes down to the very earth and the kitchen of the human being, and provides us rations and all our needs, and protects us in every way. Thus, in the Ninth Chapter the religious spirit brings God to the very earth, as it were, and the distance between God and man diminishes very, very palpably. “I am everywhere” is the statement made in the Ninth Chapter.
In the Tenth Chapter we go further, to a greater emphasis of the immanence of God – not God coming sometimes when we are in a state of distress, not providing us with what we need when we need it, but perpetually residing in all things which are the glories of this world.
There is such a thing called glory, enhancement of spirit, genius, supernal power, high respectability, with a power to attract – something that will not allow us to take our mind away. There are certain things from which we cannot take our mind away, due to their beauty or grandeur. When we look at the beautiful full moon in a clear sky, we do not want to look away. We go on gazing at that scintillating, beautiful, soft, honey-exuding glow, as it were – the full moon, radiating calmness and coolness with its beams. The beauty of the full moon attracts us; but the beauty of the ocean is of a different kind. It exalts our spirit by the magnitude of its superiority over us. Take the example of an elephant. We would like to go on looking at it again and again, for some reason which we cannot understand. For a particular reason, we would not like to take our eyes away from the full moon – because of the beauty. Why do we like to look at an elephant? Is it beautiful? It is majestic, and it humbles us to some extent. Our ego feels very small before the might of the elephant and, therefore, we feel the greatness and power of the elephant. We maintain a respectful distance from it on account of the humility that we automatically feel due to the largeness of its body and the greatness of its power. So it is majesty that attracts us here, not beauty. Similarly, the grandeur, the power, the terror, the capacity of the ocean to destroy us, and the largeness which is far beyond our egoism makes us look at it with great wonder. “Oh what a wonder! The great ocean of waves, terrific in their nature!” Hence, we can be attracted to things either because of their beauty or because of their grandeur.
God is both beauty and grandeur. Mostly, religions do not consider God as a beautiful person; there is no emphasis on that. So we always fear God as a justice of the Supreme Court or a policeman, and we think that He has to be respected because of His power and His capacity to punish us. We fear God. We do not embrace God as if He is a beautiful, beloved thing. Why is it so? It is because of the emphasis in religious circles – in all religions, Semitic or Indian – on the fatherhood of God. That the fatherhood of God is emphasised in all religions is something very peculiar. It may be due to historical circumstances, or because prophets and the progenitors of the scriptures happened to be mostly men. Whatever the reason be, it appears that the fatherhood of God has been overemphasised in religions, as if He is only father.
God is also mother. In India, mother worship – Sakti worship – has also been inculcated. This other side of God, the feminine aspect, is not completely cut off from the male aspect, as if God is only male and not female. The ardhanarisvara tattva, or the unity of the two polar essences – the positive and negative – are considered in the ardhanarisvara tattva of Lord Siva, where Siva and Sakti are one person. As it is said in religious parlance, especially in India, husband and wife constitute one person. They are not two different persons. Though physically they appear to be two persons, their soul is one.
The idea of Sakti worship – the spirit of there being unity between the positive and the negative, and there being no cleavage between man and woman – was introduced in India; yet, the concept of fatherhood prevails. Though we may accept that God can also be conceived as mother and worshipped as Sakti or Devi, we think of God predominantly as supremely just – a lawgiver, a judiciary, and a terror who blesses us only if He is pleased, and punishes us if He is not pleased.
Do we think that God is beautiful? Sakshan manmatha-manmathah is a term used in the Bhagavata (10.21.05): “He is the cupid of cupids, the beauty of beauties.” Even if the essences of all the beautiful things in the world – the quintessence of the most beautiful things, human or otherwise, whatever they be – are taken together, it will not stand before the beauty of God. It is very unfortunate that God should be regarded only as a terror, as a justice, and as a fearful person. He is the most enchanting. The enchanting, beautiful character of God is especially brought into high relief in the life of Bhagavan Sri Krishna, who is the might of mights, the power of powers, and represents the fatherhood of God in this tremendous incarnation as the height of yogic ecstasy and power; and yet, he was the beauty of beauties. The Bhagavata Purana and the Mahabharata also describe Bhagavan Sri Krishna as an incarnation of God, and they remove the partial notion of God as only a father who is merely just and legal in His attitude, rather than compassionate and friendly.. The friendliness of God, the power of God, the transcendence of God, the superiority of God, the beauty of God, the enchanting capacity of God, the tremendous attraction that He exerts upon us is delineated in Bhagavan Sri Krishna, who is the full incarnation of God.
The glories of God are detailed in the Tenth Chapter. These glories can be seen in certain enhanced, exalted things which are beyond ordinary human concepts. “Where are You actually present in this world, O Lord? You said that You are in all things. Are You in an atom? Are You in a dustbin? Are You in a tree? Are You in a stone? Where are You?”
“I am in everything, no doubt, yet My presence can be especially felt in certain exalted manifestations.” Towards that description we are entering the most glorious chapter, the Tenth – where Sri Bhagavan Himself starts speaking without Arjuna raising a question. “I shall speak to you further about My glories and My supernal greatness.”
Sri bhagavan uvacha: bhuya eva maha-baho srunu me paramam vachah, yat te’ham priyamanya vakshyami hita-kamyaya (10.1): “You are very dear to Me and I am dear to you; and because of this fact, I feel prompted to tell you a little more for your own welfare, for your hita, for your goodness – something that is very secret, something that is supremely good for you.”
Na me viduh sura-ganah (10.2): “The gods do not know Me, really speaking – let alone human beings. They cannot know Me in My true essence because I am the origin of all these gods.” Aham adir hi devanam maharshinam cha sarvasah: “Even maharshis cannot know Me in full. Nobody can know My origin because I am prior to the manifestation, or coming into being, of their existence.”
Yo mam ajam anadim cha vetti loka-mahesvaram, asammudhah sa martyeshu sarva-papaih pramuchyate (10.3): “Whoever knows Me as the ancient one, prior to all manifested forms, greater than all the gods of religions – such a person completely non-deluded in mind is free from every kind of fault, and no sin can accrue to that person.” God is not merely in things – in personalities and objects – He is also in the relations between things. That which is between things is also God’s operation, and to that He directs His attention.
Buddhir jnanam asammohah kshama satyam damah samah, sukhkam duhkham bhavo’bhavo bhayam chabhayam eva cha (10.4). Ahimsa samata tushtis tapo danam yaso’yasah, bhavanti bhava bhutanam matta eva prithag-vidhah (10.5): “The intelligence in some people, and the absence of intelligence in other people; the capacity to forgive; truthfulness; self-restraint, externally as well as internally; the experience of pleasure and pain; the coming and going of things; fear, and the absence of fear; the capacity of a person to feel the feelings of other people, and be compassionate to others, and not hurt others’ feelings, and maintain an equilibrated attitude towards all people; the charitable nature of people; the glories, and even the absence of glories of people – all these proceed from Me.” Bhavanti bhava bhutanam matta eva prithagvidhah: Night and day, life and death, light and darkness, good and bad, necessary and unnecessary – everything is subsumed under this integrality of the supreme inclusiveness of the Absolute Supreme Being.