Commentary on the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

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Discourse 43: The Fifteenth Chapter Concludes – The Greatest Secret Revealed

Śrotraṁ cakṣuḥ sparśanaṁ ca rasanaṁ ghrāṇam eva ca, adhiṣṭhāya manaś cāyaṁ viṣayān upasevate (15.9): “With the help of the mind and the five senses—hearing, seeing, touching, tasting and smelling—the individual jiva enjoys by indulging in the objects of sense.”

Utkrāmantaṁ sthitaṁ vāpi bhuñjānaṁ vā guṇānvitam, vimῡḍhā nānupaśyanti paśyanti jñānacakṣuṣaḥ (15.10): “Foolish people don’t know that I am at the back of all things. Whether they are standing, moving, getting up, taking their meals—whatever be their occupation, that occupation becomes possible because of My being there as an active impelling power; but fools think that they themselves are doing everything.”

When we walk, we feel that we ourselves are walking; when we eat, we feel that we ourselves are eating; when we see a thing, we feel that we ourselves are seeing it—whereas somebody else walks for us, somebody else sees for us, somebody else tastes for us. “Fools do not understand this, but those who have the eye of wisdom know that I am doing all these things—even the perception of things, even the digestion of food, and even the locomotion or the movement through the feet.”

Yatanto yoginaś cainaṁ paśyanty ātmany avasthitam (15.11): This great Being, responsible for every kind of activity in the world, is visualised by the great yogins as located, lodged, in their own heart. There is no great difficulty in having a vision of this great Reality, because it is the Self of all; and as the Self is the nearest and the dearest, it should be very easy to come in contact with That. Actually, there is no such thing as contact with the Self, because the Self does not come in contact with anything. It is just what it is, and this mystery of the Self not coming in contact with anything and being all things at the same time is seen only by yogins, and not by those who are spiritually illiterate.

Yatantopy akṛtātmāno nainaṁ paśyanty acetasaḥ: “Yogins have a vision of this inner Reality masquerading through all the forms of the world; but those who are indulgent through their sense organs, even if they put forth immense effort, will not be able to see Me or visualise Me.” Here is a clue as to why it is not so easy to have a vision of God though it is well known that God is nearest—nearer than our very neck, as is well told in all the scriptures and by saints and sages. The reason is akritatma.

When Dhritarashtra heard that Sri Krishna was coming as an ambassador and wanted to see him, Sanjaya said, “What can you see? You cannot see him because Sri Krishna is kritatma and you are akritatma. Akritatma cannot have a vision of kritatma. So why are you saying that you want to see him?”

What is the meaning of kritatma and akritatma? A person who has subdued his sense organs perfectly is kritatma. Such a person is Lord Krishna; and we are the opposite of it. Kritatmata means subjugating the sense organs and integrating the personality into a single power, rather than a diffused power manifesting itself through five channels of expression. In the personality of integrated beings like Sri Krishna, the energy does not flow in different directions. Their energy acts as a total impact, not as a diffused impact through the channels of sense perception. Therefore, those who are not kritatma—who are akritatma, who have not controlled their sense organs and are very much indulgent in respect of objects outside—even if they struggle hard, they will not see It. What is the use of struggle when it is based on ignorance and a desire for that which is quite different from what one is asking for?

Yad ādityagataṁ tejo jagad bhāsayatekhilam, yac candramasi yac cāgnau tat tejo viddhi māmakam (15.12): “Know that the light and the radiance that you are seeing in the sun above, the luminosity that you see in the moon, the brightness that you see in glowing fire—all this is an emanation from My great radiance. Whatever be the glorious brilliance of these mighty luminaries here in this world—sun, moon, stars, and fire—they appear bright due to the brightness that is reflected through them, and that brightness is Mine.”

As a mirror appears to be bright on account of the light that is cast on it, the mind appears to be intelligent on account of the reflection of the Atman consciousness through it. A mirror cannot shine of its own accord. It cannot shine in darkness; it shines only in light. Actually, it is the light that shines, and not the mirror. In the same way, the mind does not understand anything. It is the Atman that causes the apparent behaviour of the mind as if it is intelligent. All light comes from the Supreme Being.

Gām āviśya ca bhῡtāni dhārayāmy aham ojasā, puṣṇāmi cauṣadhīḥ sarvāḥ somo bhῡtvā rasātmakaḥ (15.13): “Entering this entire earth, I support all beings. There is a vitality in the earth, energy in this very planet, and whoever is inhabiting this world is made to be self-sufficient and happy, and made to feel that they are guarded, protected and provided for, because of My entry into the very substance of the earth.”

The earth is not a dead entity; it is full of life. We call this earth Bhudevi—a divinity which is the earth. Viṣnu-patni namastubhyaṁ, pāda-sparshaṁ kśamasva me: “Please, Divine Mother Earth, excuse my placing my foot on you.” People sometimes utter this mantra when they wake up in the morning and put their foot down on the ground.

“Having entered all the plants and trees, I become the essence of medicines.” It is said that on amavasya, the day of the new moon, the entire energy of the moon is poured into the vegetable kingdom. According to Indian tradition, we should not pluck a leaf or cut a plant or fell a tree on amavasya day, because the full strength of the moon, which is the source of medicinal plants, is supposed to be pervading the entire plant kingdom in the world. Even a leaf of tulasi is not plucked on amavasya day, because it is all light. If the essence of the bark of a particular tree—or any tree, for that matter—is boiled and drunk on that day, it is considered to be a medicine for illnesses of various types.

Somo bhῡtvā: God becomes the moon, which is responsible for the medicinal influence in all plants and trees. It is believed that there is a direct connection between the moon and the plant kingdom. The rays of the moon influence the plant kingdom in a particular way, so that the plants become medicines. Every plant can be considered to be a medicine for some purpose or other, and has a curative effect of some kind.

Puṣṇāmi cauṣadhīḥ sarvāḥ somo bhῡtvā rasātmakaḥ: “I enter into these plants by becoming the very energy of the soma, or the moon, and sustain these plants with the vigour, the rasam.” This rasam may be called the protoplasm. The protoplasm in the plant is nothing but God Himself acting through the power of the moon presiding over the plant and all the trees.

Ahaṁ vaiśvānaro bhῡtvā prāṇināṁ deham āśritaḥ, prāṇāpānasamāyuktaḥ pacāmy annaṁ caturvidham (15.14): When the prana and the apana conjointly act at the root of the naval within the stomach, they operate in a different manner altogether, and go by the name of samana; and that creates a kind of heat in the stomach, which is necessary for the digestion of food. This heat is known as Vaisvanara-agni, the Universal Fire. It is the energy of God that operates through the metabolic process of individuals and causes the digestion of the four kinds of food—pachamy annam chatur-vidham.

There are six kinds of taste, and four kinds of food. If I describe all these, your tongue will water. That which is swallowed, that which is chewed, that which is licked, and that which is drunk—these are the four varieties. “I actually digest these four varieties of food in your stomach by bringing the prana and the apana together for action, and generating the heat inside as Vaisvanara-agni—the Universal Vaisvanara operating through all individual stomachs as the energy of metabolism.”

Sarvasya cāhaṁ hṛdi saṁniviṣṭaḥ (15.15): “I am in the hearts of all.” Mattaḥ smṛtir jñānam apohanaṁ ca: “Memory and loss of memory are also due to My presence or withdrawal.” Vedaiś ca sarvair aham eva vedyaḥ: “After all, I am the only Being that is to be known through all the Veda Samhitas.” Vedāntakṛd vedavid eva cāham: “That which is glorified in the Vedanta Shastra also is Me and, finally, I am the one who really knows the meaning of the Vedas.”

This is a summing up of the essence of the earlier teaching that God pervades all things. Sarvasya cāhaṁ hṛdi saṁniviṣṭaḥ: “In the deepest recesses of the heart of all beings, I am present. Both knowledge and ignorance are there on account of My manifestation or absence of manifestation.” The Vedas are supposed to be the glorification of the magnificence of God; and that God who is glorified in the Vedas is this One God who is speaking the Bhagavadgita. And that Supreme Brahman who is glorified in the Upanishads is this great God who speaks this Gita. And, finally, the meaning of the Veda and the Vedanta can be known in its entirety only by God. Nobody can fully know it: vedavid eva cāham.

A student studied all the Vedas from Brihaspati, and he was very confident that he knew their meaning. He went to Indra and asked, “How much do I know, O Master?” Indra pointed to the sand dunes on the shore of the ocean and said, “You have learnt so much, and what is yet to be known is as large as this big stretch of sand dunes on the shore of the sea.” Disciples went to Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa and said, “Please teach us the Vedas.” He said, it seems, anantā vai vedāḥ: “The knowledge of the Veda is infinite, so I will take infinite time to explain to you what the meaning of the Veda is.” The idea is, only God knows God.

That there is a conjoint action between purusha, which is imperishable, and prakriti, which is perishable, has been mentioned again and again in several contexts. This is also a valid position cosmically because prakriti is perpetually in a state of mutation on account of the instability of its three gunassattva, rajas and tamas. Hence, the characteristic of prakriti—which is constituted of the three gunas—is perishability, fluxation, instability and, finally, unreality. Purusha is infinite consciousness and, therefore, it is imperishable in its nature. Individually speaking, the kutastha chaitanya—the witnessing consciousness in us—is imperishable, but the body is perishable.

Dvāv imau puruṣau loke kṣaraś cākṣara eva ca, kṣaraḥ sarvāṇi bhῡtāni kῡṭasthokṣara ucyate (15.16): There are two realities in this world, one being imperishable, the other being perishable. Which one is perishable, and which one is imperishable? All visible objects, including all jivas, are perishable. Yaddrsyam tannasyam is a brief sutra of Acharya Sankara: Whatever is visible is perishable. This entire world is visible and, therefore, it has to be considered as kshara, or perishable. This is cosmically true as well as individually true. But there is a kutastha Atman inside us which transcends the five koshas, which is beyond the annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya and anandamaya koshas. Beyond the physical, subtle and causal bodies there is a transcendental light shining within us; that is our real Self, that is the Atman, that is the kutastha chaitanya. It is the imperishable in us.

Thus, we have an imperishable essence as well as a perishable embodiment. As physical bodies—or, rather, any kind of body—we are perishable in nature; but as the kutastha Atman inside, we are imperishable. Hence, we seem to be living in two worlds at the same time. We live in the phenomenal world of cause and effect, bondage, suffering, destruction and, in the end, death. The subjection to the time process is one kind of experience that we have to pass through. But there is something else in us which is immortal, and it eagerly asks for perpetual existence. While the body perishes, the person inhabiting this body does not want to perish. That is why even while knowing that this body will go one day or the other, there is a longing for eternity and immortality. From where does this desire arise if we are just the body, which is certainly going to perish after it is cast away? How could it aspire for immortality? The very nature of the body is contrary to the immortal. We should say, therefore, that the desire to be immortal, the aspiration for infinitude, arises not from the body that we appear to be, but from the real Atman that we actually are.

The two realities are the empirical reality and the eternal reality, the visible reality and the invisible reality, the external reality and the universal reality, the material reality and the spiritual reality. These are the contrasts that are made here by the words ‘kshara’ and ‘akshara’: All that is perishable is kshara, and all that is imperishable is akshara. And, as I mentioned, this analogy can be extended to any realm of being—to externality, materiality and sensibility on the one hand, and internality, universality, consciousness, etc., on the other hand. Thus, there appears to be a twofold reality in this world, almost amounting to the peculiar relationship between the purusha and the prakriti of the Sankhya.

Here the Bhagavadgita scores a point above the Sankhya when it says there is something above both purusha and prakriti. For the Sankhya, there is nothing above purusha and prakriti. According to the Sankhya, there are only two realities—consciousness on the one side and matter on the other side—and everything can be explained by the juxtaposition and the interaction of purusha and prakriti. So why should we want a third thing? Actually, we cannot conceive of anything in the world except consciousness and matter, the perceiver and the perceived. Is there anything else in this world? What else can be found, other than the seer and the seen? But, interestingly and very specially, the statement is made here that there is a Being transcending this so-called prakriti, and it is above even the purusha.

The perceiving consciousness and the perceived object are transcended in a universal consciousness that absorbs both into its original essence. The purusha and the prakriti of the Sankhya can be said to be like a universal subject and a universal object; but we cannot regard a subject as being conscious of an object unless there is a mechanism which makes it possible for purusha to be aware of prakriti. As prakriti is totally jada and inert, it cannot act on purusha; and as purusha is wholly consciousness, it cannot act on prakriti. Therefore, there is no question of there being any kind of connection between purusha and prakriti; they are total dissimilarities. If that is the case, creation cannot be explained. With all kinds of manipulated analogies, the Sankhya tries to explain how they act, though they cannot act, because of the original assumption of the Sankhya that the two have different qualities. But they appear to be acting, like the right and left hands acting in harmony. The two hands have no connection other than through the body, of which both are parts. It is here alone, in the Bhagavadgita, that a transcendent opinion is held that there is an Absolute beyond the seeing or witnessing consciousness and the witnessed world. God is not simply consciousness; He is not simply an object of perception in the form of the whole universe. “Unthinkable Reality, Supreme Transcendence, Purushottama am I.”

Uttamaḥ puruṣas tv anyaḥ (15.17): There is a third something. The Supreme Purusha is different from both the purusha and prakriti mentioned. He is called Paramatma, the Supreme Self. We may call the purusha of the Sankhya as a kind of self, but this is a Supreme Self which includes every other kind of self, and all selves are subsumed under this universal inclusiveness. Yo lokatrayam āviśya bibharty avyaya īśvaraḥ: That Supreme Paramatman, the all-pervading Self enveloping the three worlds, supports the three worlds as the Lord of all.

In the state of Ishvara or Hiranyagarbha, there are no subjects and objects, and there is no seeing and seen. The seer-seen context arises only after the Virat appears as a threefold reality: as adhibhuta, which is the visible universe, as adhyatma, which is the perceiving consciousness, and as an invisible transcendent connecting link, which is adhidaiva. Until this takes place, there is a total, integrated, direct consciousness which is omniscient. That omniscience which is transcendent to both the seer and the seen aspect of reality is Ishvara, though we may use any other name.

Yasmāt kṣaram atītoham akṣarād api cottamaḥ, atosmi loke vede ca prathitaḥ puruṣottamaḥ (15.18): “Because I am above the kshara and the akshara, the perishable as well as the imperishable, I am glorified in the Vedas as well as in this world. All people cry for joy, freedom, and perfection in this world, but actually they are crying for union with Me. All the longing of this world is actually a longing for Me, finally, in a distorted form; and all the glories that you read in the Vedas are the glory of My super nature.”

Yo mām evam asaṁmῡḍho jānāti puruṣottamam, sa sarvavid bhajati māṁ sarvabhāvena bhārata (15.19): “Arjuna, whoever is undeluded in his mind knows Me as the supreme transcendent Purushottama above both purusha and prakriti, the seer and the seen. Such a person is an all-knowing being, and he adores Me in a total fashion. He does not adore Me only from one angle of vision or from one point of view.” From every angle of vision and every point of view, from what is called a total perspective of the Supreme Absolute, this great knower of Reality worships the Supreme Being.

This is a secret. This Fifteenth Chapter is a great secret—the most secret, not an ordinary secret. Iti guhyatamaṁ śāstram idam uktaṁ mayānagha, etat buddhvā buddhimān syāt kṛtakṛtyaś ca bhārata (15.20): “It is not an ordinary secret, it is not a great secret, but it is the greatest secret that I have told you. Really you will be wise after having known the import of this teaching; and you have done what you wanted to do, you have known what is to be known, and you have obtained what is to be obtained. You become what is called kratakritya, jnatajneya and praptaprapya, which are the signs of perfection. You know whatever is to be known, you have done what is to be done, and you have obtained what is to be obtained. That state of affairs is called kratakritya. O Arjuna! You will attain to that state and you will know all things, if you have grasped the essential import of this teaching that I have given to you here in this Fifteenth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita, which is known as Purushottama Yoga.”

Sometimes this Fifteenth Chapter is called Purana Purushottama Yoga. It is a very, very important chapter, which people chant every day before lunch, perhaps because of its reference to digestion—vaiśvānaro bhῡtvā. Because they want to have good digestion, the whole chapter is recited.