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Commentary on the Bhagavadgita

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Discourse 38: The Thirteenth Chapter Continues – The Field and the Knower of the Field

Maha-bhutany ahankaro buddhir avyaktam eva cha, indriyani dasaikam cha pancha chendriya-gocharah (13.5).
Iccha dveshah sukham duhkham sanghatas chetana dhrtih, etat kshetram samasena sa-vikaram udahrtam (13.6).

It was mentioned that this body is kshetra, and the knower of this body is kshetrajna. Also, because of the fact that this kshetrajna is the knower not only of any particular body but of all bodies, it is proper for us to conclude that the whole universe is the field, or the kshetra, and the Supreme Purusha, God Almighty, is the kshetrajna. Kshetrajnam chapi mam viddhi sarva-kshetreshu bharata (13.2): “I am the kshetrajna in sarva kshetra – in all the kshetras. All living beings constitute physical embodiment; and in every such physical embodiment, I am present as the knower thereof.”

Hence, in an individual sense, we may consider kshetra as a material manifestation in the form of this body, and kshetrajna as the inner Atman; or in a cosmical sense, we may say the entire universe is kshetra, the field of action of the one purusha, the one Consciousness, which is kshetrajna in the cosmic sense. What are the inner constituents of this cosmic kshetra and also of the individual kshetra?

This field, which is basically material in nature, objective in character, is constituted of certain substances. What is this world made of in its physical form, and what is the individual made of in his individual form, personal kshetra? The cosmic kshetra rises from the lowest material realm of earth up to Isvara. The whole thing is the realm of kshetra and kshetrajna. Mahabhuta is the name given to the five gross elements – earth, water, fire, air, and sky or ether – known in Sanskrit as prthvi, ap, tejo, vayu, akasa. These are the things visible to our eyes because they are physically manifest as broad objects of sense; but there are internal realities transcending the five elements, the inner kshetrajna, which cannot be seen with the eyes.

Kshetrajna cannot be known or seen, because kshetrajna is the knower of the field. Therefore, the knower cannot be known. The various functions – in a series of ascents and descents – of this kshetrajna in a cosmical sense are mentioned here as ahankara, buddhi and avyakta. Maha-bhutany ahankaro buddhir avyaktam eva cha  refers to the well known Sankhya categories of prakriti, mahat, ahankara and the five elements. The ahamkara, buddhi and avyakta mentioned here as internal to the five elements correspond exactly to the Sankhya principle of ahankara, mahat tattva and avyakta prakriti; or in another style, we may say that ahankara corresponds to Virat, buddhi corresponds to Hiranyagarbha, and avyakta corresponds to Isvara. Isvara, Hiranyagarbha, Virat, the five elements, and the tanmatras – known as sabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa, gandha – constitute the entire cosmos.

What are the constituents of the individual? That is now mentioned. Indriyani dasaikam cha pancha chendriya-gocharah: There are five organs of perception, and five organs of action. Srotram chaksuh sparsanam cha rasanam ghranam eva cha (15.9) is told to us later on. The ear and other sense organs of knowledge, plus the organs of action – vak, pani, pada, payu and upastha – constitute ten: five sensations producing knowledge or perception, and five organs that perform action. These are ten in number. If we also add mind as the chief perceiving faculty, it becomes eleven. Hence, dasa ekamindriyani dasaikam cha: – dasa and eka becomes ekadasa, eleven. Thus, there are eleven cognitive and perceptive faculties in the individual. The mind being the chief of them, it rules over all the senses including the ten mentioned.

In addition to that, we have the five objects of perception: sound is the object of the ear or organ of hearing, touch is the object of the tactile sense, colour is the object of the sense of seeing, taste is the object of the sense of the tongue, and smell is the object of the sense of the nose. Pancha chendriya gocharah: Five objects of sensory cognition, together with the mind and the ten sense organs, constitute the substance of the individual microcosm. The macrocosm was mentioned earlier as consisting of the five elements, plus ahankara, buddhi and avyakta. Now the microcosm is mentioned as pindanda and the macrocosm is brahmanda. This pindanda, or the individual constitution, is made up of these things only: the five objects of perception, the ten sense organs, and the mind.

This classification of the kshetra and the kshetrajna into two categories – macrocosmic and microcosmic – requires an elucidation of the means of contact of the microcosmic with the macrocosmic. How does the individual kshetra, with its own individual kshetrajna, come in contact with the external macrocosmic field and the knower of the field? In other words, how do we come in contact with anything at all? How do we know any object in the world, and how are we affected by the perception of objects?

Iccha dveshah sukham duhkham sanghataschetana dhrtih (13.6). This process of the individual contacting the external and getting affected by it takes place in the following manner: by desire – iccha ; by hatred – dvesha; by a longing for pleasure – sukha; by the desire to avoid pain – duhkha; and by the desire further to maintain this conglomeration of the physical body – sanghata. Sanghata is a composite structure made up of various elements, which we study in anatomy and physiology, and they have to be maintained in a proper order so that they may not get dismembered. Suppose the bone moves in one direction and the flesh moves in another direction – we will not be human beings. They have to be put together by a cement of cohesion. That cohering, compact presentation of the otherwise-individual ingredients is called sanghata, this physical body. This physical body is not one indivisible unit. It is made up of little units – which may be called cells, or whatever name we give them – and they get dismembered, they decay. When the prana is withdrawn from the body, it decomposes; then the inner components of the body reduce themselves to their original form and become one with the five elements.

Consciousness is the individual capacity to know the objects of the world through the body; that is called chetana here. Dhrti is the determination of the individual to maintain itself through the ahankara tattva or the ego.

So, how many things are mentioned in the individual’s case? We have a determination to maintain ourselves as a physical personality. We move earth and heaven to see that we are not destroyed or endangered in any way whatsoever. We protect ourselves, and for that purpose we decide to take certain steps, and we apply the faculty of determination – “I shall maintain myself in this physical body only” – and we do every blessed thing, whatever is possible, for that purpose. The consciousness that is at the back of even this determining faculty is the chetana. Sanghata, as explained, is nothing but this composite structure of different elements that make up the body, and it is simultaneously associated with a longing for pleasure and a hatred for pain. Iccha, dvesha – love and hatred – go together with the asking for pleasure and avoidance of pain.

These are the inner components of the individual kshetra, the microcosm; and the chetana mentioned here may be identified with the individual kshetrajna. One who knows the individual body and identifies with the individual body is kshetrajna in the individualised sense. But the other one that is mentioned corresponds to the cosmic kshetrajna, who is represented in these different degrees of His own manifestation – known as prakriti, mahat and ahankara, or Isvara, Hiranyagarbha and Virat. So, in these two verses, in two verses only, the entire cosmic structure and the individual structure is summed up. Maha-bhutany ahankaro buddhir avyaktam eva cha, indriyani dasaikam cha pancha chendriya-gocharah. Iccha dveshah sukham duhkham sanghatas chetana dhrtih, etatkshetram,  This is kshetra in brief – samasena sa-vikaram udahrtam. Briefly I have mentioned what the kshetra is, both from the universal point of view and from the individual point of view, with all the modifications thereof.

This is the knowledge which is briefly mentioned in two verses, but so hard to comprehend. Our minds cannot always remember that we are individuals coming in contact with the universal structure of the kshetra and kshetrajna through iccha, dvesha, sukha, duhkha, etc. We are not aware of this kind of happening in our daily life. We are so ego-ridden that we just take for granted everything as it is, as it appears on the surface to the sense organs. We think that we are here, totally independent, and the world is there, totally independent, and that we have practically no connection with the world. We do not know that a connection is established every minute by the consciousness of perception.

How do we maintain this awareness of our relatedness to the world through the consciousness of cognition through the sense organs and the mind? For that a discipline – a series of disciplines – is stated in the coming verses. These are very famous verses, which are worth committing to memory. We have  already seen sthitaprajna lakshana in the Second Chapter, bhagavad bhakta lakshana in the Twelfth Chapter, and gunatita lakshana in the Thirteenth Chapter; and now here we have the lakshana of a seeker. Who is a good seeker?

Amanitvam adambhitvam ahimsa kshantir arjavam, acharyopasanam saucham sthairyam atma-vinigrahah (13.7).
Indriyartheshu vairagyamanahankara eva cha, janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi-duhkha-doshanudarsanam (13.8).
Asaktir anabhishvangah putra-dara-grhadishu, nityam cha sama-chittatvam ishtanishtopapattishu (13.9).
Mayi chananya yogena bhaktir avyabhicharini, vivikta-desa-sevitvam aratir jana-samsadi (13.10).
Adhyatma-jnana-nityatvam tattva-jnanartha-darsanam, etaj jnanam iti proktam ajnanam yad-ato’nyatha (13.11).

All these things mentioned here in these verses are called knowledge. Etaj jnanam iti proktam: “I consider these virtues I have mentioned as real knowledge.” Ajnanam yad-ato’nyatha: “Whatever is the opposite of what I have said here, is ignorance.”

A student of yoga, a spiritual seeker, is humble. He does not expect respect from anybody, but offers respect to everyone. Trnad api sunicena taror iva sahisnuna amanina manadena kirtaniyah sada harih: Only he can take the name of God, Hari, who wants not respect from anybody, but respects everyone, and is humbler than a blade of grass. If grass is trampled on, it simply bends; it doesn’t resist. We should consider being humbler than a blade of grass – trnadapi sunichena. If we chop off the branches of a tree, it does not curse us. Even if we cut off large part of the tree, it again shoots up tendrils and leaves. It is very tolerant. Thus, the devotee should be as tolerant as a tree and as humble as a blade of grass, giving respect to everybody and wanting respect from nobody – amanitvam.

Adambhitvam: There is no show on the part of a spiritual seeker. He never demonstrates himself as a seeker of God, a lover of God, a spiritual seeker. He looks like anybody else in the world. There is nothing special or anything particular that we can cognise in that person. He hides his knowledge and his sadhana. It is said the sadhana that we perform, the mantra that we chant, and the Guru whom we worship should not be revealed to anyone. We should not boast about who our Guru is. It should be known only to us, and to the Guru. We should not announce to the public who our Guru is; we should not tell people what mantra japa we are doing, and our sadhana technique also should not be revealed to other people. If we have an experience in our sadhana, that also should not be told to anybody except our Guru. Adambhitvam means there is no demonstration of ahankara. “I have attained samadhi; I was there in that state for three hours.” We should not go on saying these things.

Ahimsa, non-violence, is something well known to us. All beings should feel fearlessness towards us. Abhayam sarva bhutebhyah mattah sarvam pravartate: "May all be fearless towards me" is the pratijna, or the vow, that we take. "Let nothing, let no one, be afraid of me." Kshantih is forgiveness. If somebody does something wrong to us, we should not do the same to them. We forgive them because, after all, everybody is susceptible to making some mistake or the other. Here is a short poem: "There is so much bad in the best of us, and so much good in the worst of us, that it ill-behoves any of us to find fault with the rest of us." So, be forgiving. Arjava: We should be honest and straightforward, and not hide anything. We should not think one thing, say another thing, and do something else. Kayena vacha manasa: There should be harmony; otherwise, there will be non-alignment of personality. Acharyopasanam: We should always be humble and worshipful before our teacher, who imparts knowledge to us. We should not show our greatness or our ego before the teacher or the Guru. Let him be worshipped as the veritable manifestation of God Himself. Saucham means physical purity, both inwardly as well as outwardly. Sthairyam is the decision that we have taken to achieve God-realisation in this birth, and not in a future birth. Atma-vinigrahah is self-restraint, the control of the senses and the mind.

Indriyartheshu vairagyam is distaste for the objects of sense. Neither do we want to hear anything, nor do we want to taste anything, nor do we want anything at all that the senses usually consider as very delighting. There is nothing in this world which can delight us. Therefore, we should be rid of longing for the objects of sense. Anahankara: We should not project our ego in any way whatsoever, nor go on thinking how we were born into this world, how we have grown up, how we will become old and leave this body one day. Is this world – where everything decays, decomposes, and turns to dust – a haven of pleasure and joy? How can anyone pat himself on the back and say that he is well off in this world?

Therefore, janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi-duhkha-doshanudarsanam. We should think of the way in which we were born into this world – a very, very unpleasant way indeed in which we were born. The process of dying, the going from this world, is also very unpleasant indeed. Old age is unpleasant, sickness is unpleasant, all kinds of sorrow which we have to encounter daily, and the defects of sense objects – these are to be contemplated upon every day. These truths of life – janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi-duhkha-dosha – should be brooded upon every day.

There is defect in every sense object. It looks honey-coated and tasty, but inside there is a poison which will kill us. Na visham vishamityuktam visham vishayachintanam: Ordinary poison cannot be considered as dangerous as the poison of sense objects, because ordinary poison – scorpion or even snake venom – will destroy us only once; but the vishaya chintana, the contemplation of sense objects, will kill us in several births. Therefore, these kinds of sorrows should be borne in mind, and we should not be entangled in them.

Asaktir: Therefore, we should be detached from things, and live an individual life. We should be alone to ourselves and not mix socially, as these people are not necessary for us. Anabhishvangah: We should not seek contact with anybody. We should not look for people to chat with. There should be no contact. We do not need friends. Putra-dara-grhadishu: Also, we should not be attached to our family members – such as son/daughter, husband/wife, property/house. If we are householders, we have some duty to perform as a trustee of an institution, not attaching oneself to anything, but doing one's duty very, very meticulously. We may live at home, but we should detach ourselves, knowing well that one day or the other we will leave this, and also knowing that one day or the other they will leave us. Hence, attachment is unfounded and unwarranted.

Asaktir anabhishvangah putra-dara-grhadishu, nityam cha sama-chittatvam ishtanishtopapattishu: Whether pleasant things or unpleasant things come – whether good news comes that makes us feel happy, or there is something which makes us very unhappy – we should keep our mind in a state of balance and not be tilted either to this side or that.  

Mayi chananya yogena bhaktir avyabhicharini: Finally, we should resort to God only. Avyabhicharini bhakti is ekabhakti, which means wanting only one, and not wanting anything else. If we want another thing simultaneously, it is vyabhicharini bhakti. Here is avyabhicharini bhakti, where we do not want anything else except that one thing. "May that devotion be fixed on Me." And what kind of fixing is it? Ananyogena: "With an undivided assiduity of concentration, may you be devoted to Me with a devotion that has no second."

Mayi chananya yogena bhaktir avyabhicharini, vivikta desa sevitvam: We should always try to live ekantam – alone – and not in a thoroughfare or a city, where there is a lot of noise and dust. As far as possible, we should try to live in ekantavas, have ekantavas, and be satisfied in ourselves and not require anybody else with us. Vivikta-desa-sevitvam aratir jana-samsadi is dislike for crowds of people. If there is a crowd of people, we should leave that place and go somewhere else – sit under a tree. We should not have any kind of taste for organisations, crowds, and the noise of human society. We should be alone to ourselves.

Adhyatma-jnana nityatvam: Our daily routine should be working for the acquisition of adhyatma jnana, the knowledge of the Self. We should work for it day and night. Tattva-jnanartha-darsanam: We should aspire for the vision of Truth, and ask for nothing else. Etat jnanam iti proktam: If we have these qualities, we have knowledge. Ajnanam yadato'nyatha: If we do not have these qualities, we are ignorant. It is said that we should aspire for knowledge of Truth: tattva-jnanartha-darsanam. What is Truth? Jneyam yat tat pravakshyami yaj jnatvamrtam asnute, anadimat param brahma na sat tan nasad uchyate (13.12): "I shall now tell you what Truth is. That Supreme Brahman is the Ultimate Truth, after knowing which there is attainment of immortality." Anadimat param brahma: It has no beginning and no end. It cannot be designated either as existing or not existing. It cannot be called existing because whenever we think of any existing thing, we want to see it with our eyes or consider it as some object of some sense organ. As it is not the object of any sense organ, we do not consider it to be existing; but neither is it not non-existing – because, ultimately, it is the only existence. Na sat tan nasad uchyate: Therefore, it cannot be regarded as sat, and it cannot be regarded as asat either.

Sarvatah pani-padam (13.13): It is spreading itself everywhere. Everywhere we can find the hands and feet of that Being. Sarvato'kshi-siro-mukham: Everywhere are the eyes of that Being, everywhere are the heads of that Being, and everywhere are the faces of that Being. Sarvatah srutimal loke: Everywhere are the ears of that Being. Sarvam avrtya tishthati: It envelops all things.

Sarvendriya-gunabhasam sarvendriya-vivarjitam (13.14): That which we cognise through the sense organs as objects of sense is also a manifestation of this Brahman, conditioned by the sense organs. But it is free from all sense organs. It can be cast into the mould of sensory perception in the form of objects, but It is not an object because It has no relationship with any sense organ. Asaktam: It has no relation to anything in the world. Transcendent is the Reality. Sarva-bhrc caiva: Though It is transcendent, It supports everything by also being immanent at the same time. Nirgunam guna-bhoktr cha: It has no quality by itself, because to say that a thing has quality would be to compare it to something else. It is blue, It is red, It is tall, It is short – we cannot say anything about It because all these definitions, all these descriptions, require a comparison of It with something else; and because something else external to It does not exist, It cannot be regarded as having any quality at all. Therefore, It is called nirgunam. Guna-bhoktr cha: But all qualities reside in It. Though It has no quality by Itself, whatever beauty we see, whatever colour we see, whatever sound we hear, whatever sensations we have, everything is on account of Its existence. Every kind of statue can be found inside a block of stone, but actually there is no statue at all inside a block of stone.

Bahir antas cha bhutanam (13.15): It is everywhere – outside us, as well as inside us, like a pot that is sunk in the ocean has water outside it as well as inside it. This Brahman is flooding us: inwardly as the Atman, and outwardly as Brahman. Bahir antas cha bhutanam: Everywhere It is, outside and inside. Acharam: It does not shake or move; and it does not fluctuate like the world of the three gunas. Charam eva cha: It moves, and nobody can move faster than it; and yet it is totally immovable. These are the tremendous contradictory qualities of God. Nobody can be faster than He, nobody can be quicker in action than He, and yet He does nothing; He is stable, remaining in His own abode. Sukshmatvat tad avijneyam: Because of Its subtlety, because It is subtler than even the mind, subtler than even the intellect, it is impossible to know It through these instruments of mind and intellect. Durastham: It is very far. It looks as if It is infinitely far away from us – beyond the stars – because we cannot see It anywhere. We always imagine that the Supreme Being is very far away – many, many, millions of light years away – yet It is very near, in our throat itself. Durastham chantike cha tat: Nothing can be farther than That, because of Its vastness and infinitude; and nothing can be nearer than That, because it is the Selfhood of all beings.

Avibhaktam cha bhuteshu (13.16): It cannot be divided into parts – some atman here, some atman there. It is one indivisible sea of Selfhood, yet It appears to be divided into little atmans – my atman, your atman, this self, that self, etc. Vibhaktamiva cha sthitam: It looks as if It is cut into pieces of atman across many living beings, while actually It is indivisible – like space appearing to be cut into parts when there are vessels containing little spaces. Little spaces are not parts of the universal space. There is only one universal space, though it appears as if they are all divided into many vessels in which we cognise this vast space. Bhuta-bhartr cha: It is the protector, the supporter, and the benefactor of all living beings. Taj jneyam: Know that it is this character of the Supreme Being. Grasishnu: It absorbs everything into Itself. Prabhavishnu: It releases everything from Itself.

Jyotishamapi taj jyotih (13.17): It is the Light of all lights. Na tatra suryo bhati: thousands of suns cannot stand before it. The light of the sun is like darkness before It. Tamasah param: Beyond the darkness of the world shines that supreme radiance of the Absolute. Jnanam jneyam jnana-gamyam: It is knowledge, It is the object of knowledge, and It is also the knower. All three clubbed together is that Eternity which is Brahman, the Absolute. Hrdi sarvasya vishthitam: It is in our own heart. We should not be afraid that this tremendous description is of something that is very, very far away. It is in the heart of all.

Iti ksetram tatha janam jneyam coktum samasath (13.18): "So I have briefly told you, Arjuna, what is the field as well as what is the knower of the field, cosmically as well as individually."