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The Teachings of the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 10: The One Supreme Absolute Alone Is

The faculties of knowledge and action in the human individual correspond, practically, to the functions of reason, will, emotion, and the impulse to act. We rationally and intellectually consider the pros and cons of a particular step to be taken – this is the rationality behind our way of living. Apart from pure intellectual or rational assessment, there is also a faculty in us which goes by the name of will – volition – which decides and determines a course of action or a purpose to be fulfilled. There is also a very important contributory factor in all of our engagements in life, namely emotion or feeling, and there is also the vigour which impulses to act. Practically, the human being is exhausted by these operations: reason, will, emotion, and an impulsion to vibrate as activity in some direction or the other.

The way of life of the human being is also the way in which we live a religious life. Even our practise of yoga and our concept of God, everything for the matter of that which is connected with this, has to be cast in the mould of these endowments. We cannot go beyond the limitations set by these facets of human individuality. In our adventures in life, we operate one or the other of these faculties – sometimes one preponderating over the others, and often, some one faculty assuming such an importance that it may even bury down the other aspects as if they do not exist at all. But we are a blend of all these faculties. It is not wise to over-emphasise any of these, because we are a wholesome, total human organism; and health, whether it is physical or psychological, is to be considered as a balance of our forces – the forces which constitute us, whether they are physical or otherwise.

The religious life that we live is also conditioned by these principles of our psyche, and though it is true that we should harmonise the operations of all these faculties due to certain inborn traits in us, characteristics into which we are born right from the beginning of our life, we are not capable of paying equal attention to all these. There is an automatic preponderance of one or the other of these faculties, so that people are either predominantly intellectual, and the emotions do not play such an important role in them, or they are pre-eminently feelingful, touchy, sentimental, emotional and the reason does not play an important part in their life. There are others who are terribly active, they cannot sit in one place; there is always a tendency to move and do something or the other throughout the day, whatever the reason behind it be, and the feeling also be. There are psychic types who are accustomed to concentrate, and this also sometimes assumes a special importance for some characters. It is rarely we see people with all these faculties in proper proportion – such an integrated individual is difficult to see.

These faculties in the human being are the instruments of the practice of yoga, so that we cannot contact reality except through the apparatus with which we are endowed. These four features mentioned determine and decide our encounter with God, the Supreme Being; and the way in which we visualise the Supreme Being through these faculties goes by the names of the various yogas: jnana, yoga, bhakti, karma and the like. In the Bhagavadgita we have a large detail opened up before us of all these methods of spiritual practice, though we cannot say that anywhere does the Bhagavadgita create a watertight compartment among these procedures or ways of approach. In every verse of the Gita there is a touching of everything practically, and there is no airtight distinction of one from the other. However, to be more precise and to make it more convenient to us, teachers of the Bhagavadgita and interpreters of this gospel have tried to discover instructions and teachings in the Bhagavadgita which accept the employing of these faculties for the purpose of religious living or spiritual practice, and particularly references to some of the verses from the twelfth chapter of the Bhagavadgita which, at least according to certain careful interpreters like the great Madhusudana Saraswati, seem to take into consideration these four yogas, so-called, which adopt the techniques of reason, will, emotion and action.

Mayyeva mana ādhatsva mayi buddhiṃ niveśaya nivasiṣyasi mayyeva ata ūrdhvaṁ na saṃśayaḥ (Gita 12.8). This is one verse in the twelfth chapter: "Absorb yourself in Me." This has been understood to signify a communion of the soul with the Absolute. Mayi buddhiṃ niveśaya: "May your reason be united with My Being." Our principle faculty of knowing is reason, for all practical purposes, and when the reason is dissolved in a higher reason, the individual practically is swallowed-up in the larger dimension of this Infinitude. So in this verse of the Bhagavadgita in the twelfth chapter, we seem to be told the final stroke in yoga – a jump into the Ocean of All-Being, and a dissolution of one's self in the All-Consuming Reality. But this is a hard job. No mortal who considers himself or herself as a human being can have the strength to embrace the ocean or the fire of God without terror for the affirming feature or the character of individuality. Nobody would like to die even for the sake of God Himself; they would like to live, whatever be the background of it. Dying is a very difficult thing. You cannot immolate yourself for the sake of God even. That is the last sacrifice that we would be prepared to do, and nothing can be more fearsome than that. And any argument that God is all things will not be adequate here. "Let God be anything, but I will not do this sacrifice." Bhagavan Sri Krishna, the teacher of the Bhagavadgita, seems to know this weakness of human nature, and as a good master, a school master, a psychologist or a teacher, He would not expect the student to do what the student is not able to understand or do. So the teaching goes, "If this is not possible, you can take to repeated practise of this type of concentration." This abhyasa-yoga, or repetition of concentration, is akin to the technique suggested to us in such methods as we have in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali for instance. Atha cittaṁ samādhātuṁ na śaknoṣi mayi sthiram, abhyāsayogena tato mām icchāptuṁ dhanañjaya (Gita 12.9): "If you cannot so forcefully unite your whole being with Me, try by repeated practise to establish this contact Me and carry on this practise throughout your life."

Yamas, niyama, asana, pranyama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana are the graduated techniques prescribed for those who cannot at one stroke attain this union with the All. But we are not in a position to concentrate our minds even in this manner; it is very difficult for us. Even for a few hours of the day this type of concentration is hard, due to the power of the sense organs – the desires, the passions, the grief, the frustrations, and the many troubles to which a man is heir. Then what can be done? Abhyāse'pyasamartho'si matkarmaparamo bhava, madartham api karmāṇi kurvan siddhim avāpsyasi (Gita 12.10). Here I am trying to follow the reading of Madhusudana Saraswati who seems to be more generous in his understanding, because it is hard to make out the true implications of these statements of Bhagavan Sri Krishna. The very shrewd interpretation given by Madhusudana Saraswati is that here in this third verse the teacher seems to suggest that if this application of our will in the way of direct concentration becomes difficult for us for any reason, we should engage ourselves in service in His name – that is service of God through devotion to Him, maybe in the form of worship. Sravanam, kirtanam, visnoh smaranam, pada-sevanam, arcanam, vandanam, dasyam, sraksham atma-nivedanam – these are the ways of devotion. See God in all, serve God in humanity, feel His presence in everything, worship Him in all visible objects, mankind or otherwise. This is the large manifestation of the Creator in the form of this universe. Through the bhavas of bhakti or the various methods of devotion, resort to this daily practice of doing such things as are pleasing to Him. Madartham api karmāṇi kurvan siddhim avāpsyasi: All our actions be for My sake. That means to say, one is always keeping in mind the vision of the presence of God, even when one is performing one's daily routine. All the routines or duties of a devotee or a bhakta are worships of God in one way or the other, whether it is worship in a temple or atithi satkara in the house. However, the instruction in this verse and that which follows in the succeeding one seem to meet at one point, and we cannot easily demarcate the meaning conveyed by this third verse and the fourth one, because what is called karma-yoga , action performed as yoga, is somehow inseparable from action performed in the name of God.

Abhyāse'pyasamartho'si matkarmaparamo bhava, madartham api karmāṇi kurvan siddhim avāpsyasi. Sarvakarmaphalatyāgaṁ tataḥ kuru yatātmavān (Gita 12.11). So this seems to be teaching on karma yoga. "The abandonment of the fruits of action at least may be your way, if everything is not possible and any other thing is not practical. Neither can you reason and argue and unite your total understanding with Me, nor can you find time to concentrate on My Being. You have not got the will, nor will you be able to feel My presence, love Me whole-heartedly. Then do your duty as per your station in society." Our duty will depend upon our station in human society, or station in a particular given circumstance or environment. But this duty that we perform should be such that it does not get tagged-down to a result that we expect to follow for our own personal benefit or advantage or personal satisfaction. We do not do something because we expect some pleasure out of it. The great ethical doctrine of Emmanuel Kant is – when some pleasure is connected with duty, it ceases to be duty, because duty is an impersonal requirement on our part and pleasure is a personal affair, so they cannot go together; this is what the German philosopher thought. But, however, he may not be wholly correct in going to such a puritanic extent in distinguishing between satisfaction and duty, because there can be higher satisfaction – not necessarily a personal pleasure arising from our performance of duty, because the correct performance of duty is possible only on the basis of a higher understanding, and wherever there is right understanding, there is a great satisfaction. We cannot say that there can be only duty minus the feeling sense in it, though this feeling of satisfaction need not be connected with personality, egoism or individual affirmation, or selfishness of any kind.

So, karma, bhakti, yoga, jnana – these seem to include every possible approach of man to God. The Bhagavadgita seems to have told us everything – there is nothing further to tell us. The theory and the practise of yoga, the philosophy and the application of it in life, is here complete for our practical purposes at least. There are those who imagine, think and conclude that the Bhagavadgita is over, here, and there is nothing further to be told. Some think that it is over with the eleventh chapter itself, because once one has had a vision of the Supreme Being, there is nothing further to be told. But this is one view, of some people – not the generally accepted view, because there are internal references in the Mahabharata itself which seem to suggest that the Bhagavadgita is not complete with the eleventh or the twelfth chapter – it goes further; and we may follow this tradition that the Bhagavadgita is not over with the eleventh or the twelfth chapters. Arjuna has some questions, or perhaps he has no questions, because the beginning of the third chapter is sometimes with a query from Arjuna, sometimes without a query, according to different readings. The general reading is a direct speech from Sri Krishna himself, but some extraordinary editions add one extra verse, posing a question from Arjuna as to what prakriti is, purusha is, etc. However, whatever the truth of the matter be, it is immaterial for our purposes. There is some context, evidently, due to which the thirteenth chapter has become a necessity, and inasmuch as great masters like Jnaneshwar Maharaj have gone into great detail in their discourse on thirteenth chapter, etc., and we cannot set aside the views of a great master like Jnaneshwar Maharaj who was supposed to be a God-realised being, it would be wise on our part not to go to extremes of historical analysis, and accept that there is a great point in the Bhagavadgita continuing from the thirteenth chapter onwards – for some important reason which we shall see.

We have practically understood the essentials of religion and spirituality with this long discourse, right from the beginning of the Gita till this present level we have reached now. But the vision of the All-Being – Vishvarupa, if it remains mainly a vision which passes, and it actually passed in the case of Arjuna, we have to conclude that he did not enter into it and dissolve himself there, because he was still there as an individual. He had a flash, he had an intuition, he saw with the third eye, but he did not conduct a pravesha into it. Jñātuṁ draṣṭuṁ ca tattvena praveṣṭuṁ ca parantapa (Gita 11.54) – the three words are mentioned towards the end of the eleventh chapter. He knew it and he saw it, but he did not enter into it, evidently.

Whatever it is, these are very hard things to understand. There is a persistent assertion on the part of every seeker that there is a universe outside. With all our practices and our philosophical affirmations, we cannot gainsay the presence of a world outside us, sometimes even people around. We cannot easily identify the objective universe with the consciousness that conceives it, beholds it, perceives it, comes in contact with it. A persistent distinction is there between consciousness and matter, which are called purusha and prakriti. The whole bodily encasement of the individual and the entire creational structure is supposed to be a conglomeration of the constituents of what we call prakriti – the original matter, we may say. Matter is more than what we sense with our gross organs – it is a subtle potentiality for objectivity. Even according to modern physics, matter is not actually the hard brick or the solid mango that we touch. It is something very unintelligible, transcending even conception by the mind; something which cannot be described even as ethereal, yet existing as a very subtle transcendent potentiality for manifesting externality. Matter is externality. The power of externality is matter and therefore it is something more than solidity, and we cannot identify it with solid objects. Somehow, something is there. This something which is there, and not here, is the so-called prakriti or the object, and the one cannot be identified with the other easily. But the verse at the very beginning of the thirteenth chapter, in a very subtle way, seems to solve this difficulty for us when it says: kṣetrajñaṁ cāpi māṃ viddhi sarvakṣetreṣu (Gita 13.2): "I am the Knower in all the fields which are known." The multiplicity of perceivers and a real external universe seem to be ruled out by the suggestion given here that there is a single ruling consciousness as a kshetrajna, which is the perceiver, true cogniser, knower behind all the bodies. If a body or a material structure is to be considered as that which is constituted of the five elements – earth, water, fire, air, and ether – and if there is a uniform kshetrajna or a knowing principle behind all these bodies, it is difficult to believe how the universe can be outside this consciousness.

The Bhagavadgita accepts the Samkhya principles of the dualism of prakriti and purusha, with a great proviso that there is something beyond these two principles which are like the two wings of the bird of the Supreme Being, but the wings themselves are not the bird. We have a similar thought in Spinoza in the West, who had a notion of the Supreme Being by way of what we call substance, with two attributes of space and time. The attributes of Spinoza are something like the purusha and prakriti of the Samkhya according to the Mahabharata, the Manu Smirti and the Bhagavadgita – not Kapila's or Ishvarakrishna's Samkhya. There is a practical utility in taking for granted that there is such a thing called purusha and prakriti. Whether they are really there in the last word is a different matter, but they have to be taken as existent, like an 'x' in an equation; it is not there, but it must be there because it has utility. Human beings, who can think only in this manner and cannot think in any other way, cannot obviate their involvement in this concept of the duality of the seer and the seen, and we cannot jump over our own skin.

But the philosophy of the Bhagavadgita, or any profound philosophy for the matter of that, is a study of the implications of experience, and not merely a study of empirical experience. Empirical experience may tell us that there are two realities – prakriti and purusha – but the implication is something deeper. The very knowledge of the fact that there are two things shows that there is a third thing which is other than the two things; otherwise, no one can know that there are two things. Prakriti cannot know there is purusha, purusha cannot know that there is prakriti, if they are totally different. The possibility of the one knowing the other, or one contacting the other, is acceptable only on the presence of a larger ground to which a subtle hint is given when the Bhagavadgita tells us, "I am the Knower behind all the things," – which means to say, the consciousness behind the whole material universe. Consciousness is the Knower of the whole cosmos. There is a single Seer – 'The Beholder of the Universe' that is God, who is brooding over the waters of creation. We need not go further, deeper, into the difficulties that we may have to face, in going a step beyond this conclusion that we have arrived at, because if we press this feature of the omnipresence of consciousness as immanent in all creation to its logical limit, we will be forced to conclude that matter does not exist, because consciousness can be omnipresent only if the so-called material object is a part and parcel of the existence of consciousness itself. This is to go too far, and we need not to such an extent at the present moment.

The thirteenth chapter of the Bhagavadgita is thus: prakriti, purusha, viveka, kshetra, kshetrajna vibhaaga-yoga. This prakriti, this material – a metaphysical matter, we should say, not the ordinary matter of the carpenter, or the chemist, or the scientist as we know, the philosopher's matter – this matter is not a solid substance, but a constituent of forces, energies. There is no matter outside energy. This is what our science also says, and the Bhagavadgita says. These energies are called sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattva, rajas and tamas are not three substances. The idea of substance attacks us like a hobgoblin wherever we go; and whichever we try to contact in any manner whatsoever, the idea of solidity of objects and the externality of things is so hardboiled in us that we cannot understand how a mere force, an energy, can become a solid universe. The solidity of a substance is not the characteristic of the substance itself – it is a reaction set up by the contact of senses. Again we go back to that famous statement in the third chapter of the Bhagavadgita where it is said that the perception of the universe is nothing but the coming together, in contact with each other, of the constituents of the individual with the constituents of the cosmos – the gunas of prakriti colliding with the gunas of prakriti, an ocean of waves, dashing against one another, as it were, where there neither a seer or a seen, no subject or object. 'The Ocean of Being' is dancing within its own bosom!

So the prakriti so-called, the matter to which reference has been made in the thirteenth chapter, is constituted of three forces – sattva, rajas, and tamas – which is the theme of the fourteenth chapter. The idea that the universe is a solid, material, brick-like substance is removed from our mind by the teaching that the whole universe is force. Here we have a corresponding philosophy of German philosopher Leibniz – the universe is made of force – and this is also of modern physics. As we are told, all great men think alike, whether they are from the East or the West. When we reach the top of the mountain, we will see the same thing, whoever we are. So all these great men – Plato or whoever he is, they have reached an apex of perception of things, so they have the same explanation, finally, of the internal character of things. We have to overcome our subjection to the gunas of prakriti – this is a teaching towards the end of the fourteenth chapter. We are caught up by these forces, as it were, and we cannot easily understand how we are so caught. The grip of these forces upon us is such that we have lost consciousness of the way in which this grip has been affected upon us. We have been totally brainwashed – until madness – so that we cannot know what has happened to us. When we are indoctrinated into a particular system of thinking, by hammering into our mind the same thought, again and again, we may forget our original thinking. So the world has been effective in driving into our minds the falsity of an existence of an external, material, so-called universe; and we are indoctrinated into it – we think only in this manner. Thus it is that we are in a prison-house, imagining that we are in heaven. The teaching has been so very powerful that we have accepted it wholly – that this prison-house is the same as the heaven supreme. This body is delightful – it is made of gold and silver, it is perfumed, it is very delightful. We decorate the body as if it is a deity. We look at our own face in the mirror as if there is nothing more beautiful than that – our own face is the most beautiful thing. We take care of it more endearingly than our own firstborn child, but it is the dirtiest of things – the most awful thing, if we go into the structure of it. It will stink if you don't take bath for a few days, it will deteriorate for other reasons, and we know its fate finally – such is the glory of this body which we are considering as a temple of our so-called ideal. This is to say how far we have gone into erroneous notions about things; and even the fear of death is not a deterrent factor for us. We are not afraid of death, provided that we can taste the honey of this body. The Bhagavadgita goes far enough to remove this objection, this difficulty, this problem facing us and repeats again and again. There are repetitions of ideas many times, and these repetitions go to contribute to the effect they produce upon us, because a thing told once only is likely to be forgotten. So it is told again and again, hammered into our minds.

The world appears to be there as a prakriti outside, but it is not really outside there. It is immanently controlled by a Supreme Principle – the kshetrajna, the Knower of all things – and even this so-called outside object, this prakriti, is not a solid substance. It is a sea of turbulent energies which attack each other with the force of a cyclone blowing over the surface of an ocean. Above these gunas of prakriti, transcendent to the visible structure of all this creation, beyond the individual seer, is the Supreme Purushottama. The whole universe is guided, controlled, illuminated and ruled by this Supreme Purushottama. God is called Purushottama to distinguish the supremacy of God over the ordinary purushas which are the individuals. While the jivas are called purushas, there is a Supreme Purusha who is the best of all purushas – that is Purushottama.

The fifteenth chapter again describes the nature of this universe, with a different type of emphasis – the subject which was touched upon in the thirteenth and the fourteenth chapters already. The thirteenth, fourteenth, and the fifteenth chapters concern themselves with cosmological themes, creation, and the entire series of the levels of manifestation, God's role in this creation and man's relationship to God, the connection with the universe, with the other principles, and so on. These are all in varieties of ways mentioned in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth chapters. The fifteenth chapter has an importance of its own because it very poetic. It has its own majesty, and in a beautiful allegory it compares the whole of creation to a tree with its roots above and branches spread below. This allegory of a tree is also to be found in certain mystical scriptures of the West, like the Scandinavian myth of 'The Tree of Yggdrasil', as it is called – they compare the universe to a large tree. There is some point in taking this as a suitable comparison in for the way in which universe spreads itself out, because the universe is like a spread-out, large banyan tree – asvatthavraksha, the peepul – the only difference being its roots are above and the roots are not below, as we have in the case of other peepul trees here. Ūrdhvamūlam adhaḥśākham (Gita 15.1) – We have never seen a tree like that, where the tree's roots are above; they are fixed to the sky as it were.

But this is a very interesting analogy for us, for the purpose of meditation even. We know very well that we are always accustomed to this concept of the 'above' whenever we think of the higher realities, especially the Creator. Don't we look up when we pray to God? Do we look down on the ground? This is a symbolic inclination of the human consciousness – to recognise the transcendence of higher realities. And, whenever we speak of the sky, we look above, as if the sky is only above, though it is also underneath. If the sky is all around the earth, why should we say it is above? This earth is hanging in space, in mid-space – there is no below for the earth. But it is a notion of our mind on account of our inability to see the whole structure of this planetary system, and we cannot believe that we are a moving in a spaceship called this earth. We are not in a rocket, though it is so, perhaps, in some way. We are rushing, rocket-like, in some direction, but we think we are on the solid ground of the Earth. This habit of the human mind is to consider that it is on a low ground, and everything which is of a controlling nature and an administrative type, especially divine in nature is above because the world and everything connected to the world is considered as 'effect' which proceeds from a cause, and the cause being superior, is also transcendent. And we, like children, think that all transcendent things are above in a spatial way, and look up. But, it is above also in a logical sense. Logically, God is above us. To repeat what I told you earlier, He is above in the same way as the higher class in a school is above the lower class. It is not above in space – it is not a 'spatial aboveness'. We don't find the higher classes in a school or a college standing in the sky and the lower classes below – yet, we still say it is a higher class. So in what sense do we call it a higher class? You know very well – it is a 'logical, conceptual higherness'. In that sense we speak of the 'higher self' transcendent to the lower self. We conceive of the realities above the world as 'above' in a very very specific, psychic, psychological or philosophical sense, mystical manner. In this way, we have to conceive that the rootedness of the tree of this universe in the Transcendent Being – God the Creator, the Absolute, and the descending of this tree, and all the effects that you see here, spread out as branches of which we are all parts.