by Swami Krishnananda
The Bhagavadgita is a moksha-shastra, a scripture on the science of the liberation of the spirit. Thus it follows the course of the return process along the same lines as the evolutionary process of the descent of the soul from the Supreme Being. The first six chapters may be said to be engaged in an exposition of self-discipline from the individual point of view, the integration of the human personality and the preparation of the whole man for the greater task which is yet to come – namely, the at-one-ment of the individual with the set-up of the universe. Some of the interpreters and commentators on the Bhagavadgita hold that the first six chapters have a relevance to the significance of the term 'twam' in the famous Upanishadic passage – Tat twam asi. The next six chapters pertain to the characteristic of 'tat', or That, and the last six chapters are confined to the exposition of the process of the union of the two, signified by the term 'asi', That Thou Art. Thou That Are, to put it another way – Twam tat asi. So this twam is in the first six chapters, tat in the next six, and asi in the last six. This is one of the opinions held by certain interpreters like Madhusudana Saraswati and commentators of that category. However, there seems to be some point in this opinion that the first six chapters are concerned with the discipline of the person, which culminates in the art of concentration, meditation – dhyana-yoga, which is the theme of the sixth chapter.
Now, if we can remember again the scheme of the entire process of the descent of the evolutes in the cosmological process from the higher realities, we would realise that this individuality, this personality, this so-called 'I-consciousness' of ours is a phenomenal appearance. The individual essence itself may not be phenomenal, but what we call the principle of individuality – characteristics which go to constitute the isolated individuality of ours – these externalising features are phenomenal in their nature because it is not true that the individual is totally cut off from the universe. This will be clear and obvious to us if we know how we came from the higher regions. So, the study of cosmology is the background and the rock-bottom, as it were, of any kind of study in philosophy, and certain modern thinkers have held that metaphysics is a critique of cosmologies. This is something very interesting, and without knowledge of the cosmological process it will be difficult for us to know where we are standing today. From the position we are occupying at this moment, we have to ascend further, gradually, through the stages by which we have come from the highest status – the Supreme Being. The Bhagavadgita, from the seventh chapter onwards, right up to the eleventh or the twelfth, occupies itself with this grand subject: the theme of the constitution of the whole universe and its relationship to the creator, Ishvara, Paramatman, Purushottama – the Supreme Being as the director of the whole of creation.
Yesterday, we concluded our studies with a little mention of the five elements, which are the grossest manifestations of the cosmical substance, by a permutation and combination of whose inner constitutions the individuals are formed – organic or inorganic. Now, the very commencement of the seventh chapter touches upon this principle of the five elements, which are the visible forms of the inner constitution of the universe as it is visible to our eyes – Bhumirapo'nalo vayuh kham mano buddhireva cha; ahamkara iteyam me bhinna prakritirashtadha: The outer cloak as it were, of the Creator, is this physical universe, eminently organised by the presence of the Supreme Being.
Here we have a very important task to perform, because now we are entering into certain processes of practice which are more difficult than the ones we passed through earlier during the course of the first six chapters. The discipline of the first six chapters is difficult enough. It is not easy for a person to pass through this course of the first six chapters of discipline, culminating in the art of meditation as described in the sixth chapter. Now, the greater difficulty is before us – our relationship to the universe as a whole, our association with this cosmos and the relevance that obtains between us and God Himself. This is a frightening theme for unprepared minds and persons uneducated in the art of thinking profoundly in this manner, because the world persists in being recognised as an external object due to the force by which the senses work, and most of the theories of knowledge – these processes of the science of epistemology, as they are called – stand on the hypothesis that the world is outside and the whole perceptional process becomes meaningful only if the object is somehow outside the knowing subject. A sort of outsideness of the object is necessary for seeing any meaning at all in the process of perception or visualisation of the object of the senses. The knowledge of the world is the knowledge of the object of the senses. So in all perception which would be considered as purely empirical in its character, the world is taken for granted as something totally outside us, and to establish any kind of meaningful relationship with that which is entirely outside us would appear to be a futile endeavour, because that which is totally outside us bears no connection with us. We cannot even know that the world exists if it is wholly outside.
So the Vedanta epistemology, especially, goes deeper into the implications of the very process of perception. The knowledge of the world is not such a simple process – it is not so innocent as it appears on the surface. We do not just jump into the world and see that it is there; there is some complicated implication behind and underneath this outer association of our personality through the senses with the objects of the world, the world as a whole. It is not true that the world is really outside us. The five elements are not objects in such a way as to be totally disassociated from even our sense organs. A little inkling of this suggestion was given to us in the third chapter of the Gita when we were told: Gunah guneshu vartante. The very characteristic of the senses as an impulsion towards contact with objects is indicative of there being a common feature between themselves and the objects outside, and it was made clear to us that the perception of the world by the senses, or rather, the contact of the senses with the objects outside, is a colliding of the gunas of prakriti with the gunas of prakriti. The sattva-rajas-tamas combination, which is the constituent assembly of the individual, comes in contact with its own expanse in the form of a so-called world presented outside. Na tadasati prithivyam va divi dveshu va vanah, sattvam prakritijairmuktam yadebhis syat tribhirgunaih – Nothing in the world, nothing in the individual, nothing in heaven and earth can be outside the purview and operation of these three gunas of prakriti. Not even heaven is outside the operation of these gunas. The heaven of Indra, or all the planes of existence, even up to Satya-loka – whatever is in this physical world, whatever is in you and me and everywhere – all these things are the permutation and combination of these building bricks of the cosmos: sattva, rajas, tamas. Thus the perception of the world, the knowledge we have of an external object is a very interesting phenomenon taking place of which we, as individuals, do not have a complete picture before our mind's eye. The world beholds itself, as it were, in all processes of perception, and it is not 'A' or 'B' looking at a 'C' outside, unconnected with it. The world is not a 'C' outside 'A' or 'B' as an individual. So, in the process of the practise of yoga in its higher reaches, especially from the beginning of the seventh chapter, we are performing a Hanuman's feat of leaping across this ocean of the large expanse of the cosmos and recognising the basic fraternity that is there already, from time immemorial, between ourselves as subjects and the whole cosmos, the world outside, as an object of ours.
I will bring our minds back to the earlier stages of our studies, lest we may forget them. We began with the first chapter where we are confronting the social atmosphere of the Mahabharata, and it was all a chaotic presentation before the distracted mind of Arjuna, due to which he was disarmed completely, psychologically, and he found himself in a social chaos and an unintelligible relationship between himself and his kith and kin and society in general. This problem had to be tackled by the Samkhya mentioned in the second chapter and explained further in the third chapter. A right understanding of the nature of human relationship was essential, and it became necessary further on to know the nature of one's own personality also. Thus, the social relationships got integrated with the existence of the individual whose coming together may be said to constitute a society.
Then we come to the harder task of relating the individual itself with its original, from where it has come – the cosmos. This is a third step, as it were, we are taking, and a more difficult step because the subject of epistemology is a crucial theme in all philosophical studies, and it is an essential introduction to all further studies in the philosophical fields. It is a very difficult theme and much has been said and written about it – still people are saying and writing about it, without coming to a final conclusion as to how we come in contact with the world at all, and how we know that anything is there at all. Even today we are not able to come to a final conclusion about it because the doctrines of philosophy vary from each other for obvious reasons, and we are still at loggerheads as far as finals are concerned.
However, it has to be accepted finally that, from the point of view of at least the implications of the possibility of knowing anything at all, the knowledge process should imply, suggest and include a kind of kinship between us and that which is known by us. The Bhagavadgita is explicit in this matter. There is nothing outside this Supreme, Creative Principle: Mattah parataram nanyat kinchidasti; aham kritsnasya jagatah prabhavah pralayastatha. These magnificent proclamations may sometimes go above our heads; we cannot understand how this could be – how God could be everywhere. Man's mind is weak and is not endowed with that much strength as to enable it know how God could be everywhere and, yet, we also could be there at the same time to know that God is there. How could God be an object of our consciousness, of our perception? How could the world be there at all as something that we know through our senses? This difficulty has been obviated by the Samkhya doctrine mentioned in earlier chapters, and now we are going deeper into a vital connection that we have, as souls rather than as bodies, with the vitality of the whole creation.
In the beginning, at the commencement of this seventh chapter almost, we are not introduced into the principle of God or Creator very much, though it is mentioned here and there in a scattered manner. A vista of a larger expanse of the universe is opened up before our eyes, wider than our individuality and even our social relations, and we are merely told that God created the world. The principle of creation, or the hypothesis of God creating the world, keeps us in a position of awe, wonder, and our devotion to God as the creator of the universe is sometimes called, in certain fields of theology, Aisvarya-pradhana-bhakti – devotion charged with the spirit of awe, wonder and majesty as we would look upon a judge of the Supreme Court or a monarch ruling an empire, who is far above us in power, knowledge, and in every respect. The concept of God in religions, at least in the earlier stages, seems to involve a sense of awe and a distance between us and God. This distance is maintained in the seventh chapter, though the distance gets diminished and narrowed down, as it were, as we go further and further in the eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh chapters, until we reach the eleventh where the narrowness gets abolished completely in the commingling of us with the All-Being. The seventh chapter therefore introduces the principle of the Creator, who is not mentioned at all in the earlier chapters up to the sixth, because the first six chapters seem to be confined to the discipline of the individual which is very essential for even knowing something about there being such a thing as Creator himself, or God.
Now we are introduced into the cosmological principle of creation and the Creator, which theme was essential in the earlier stages of mere discipline of the personality which culminated in dhyana, in the sixth chapter. God Is! And when we are passing through a mere disciplinary process, such things need not be told us. When we are in the earlier stages of our schooling, we do not even know who is ruling our country, we do not know that there is a government at all, because we need not be concerned with such things which are beyond our heads and which do not constitute part and parcel of our education in the earlier stages. Later on, we begin to study geography and history and political science, civics, and then we come to know something more about the environment and the ruling powers, and so on. So in the first six chapters we are in a preparatory stage, and so we were not introduced into that higher area which is cosmology, theology, and so on - to which we are now introduced, from the beginning of the seventh chapter. But there is something higher than these five elements: Apareyamitastwanyam prakritim viddhi me param jivabhutam – There is a subtle organising power behind the physical elements. The universe is not dead; it is not constituted of inanimate matter as it may be told us in the earlier stages of our study. There is nothing dead and insentient in this cosmos. Everything is vibrant with energy, everything is moving, everything is flowing, everything is living. In some form or other, in some incipient potentiality of consciousness, it manifests living characteristics. The Soul of the Universe vibrates through even the minutest atom and the electron, which perhaps explains the purposiveness that we recognise in the movement of even the littlest of things in the world. There is a teleological movement of everything in the world, there is a purpose in everything – it is not a dead mechanism that operates, though that appears to be our interpretation of things from purely a spatio-temporal point of view. Thus, the existence of God becomes a necessary postulate in earlier stages – a hypothesis, you may say – to explain the purposefulness in creation and the nature of the very evolutionary process of the cosmos.