by Swami Krishnananda
In the Third Book of the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana we have an elaborate presentation of the instructions given by Maharishi Kapila to mother Devahuti. Everyone should read this wondrous conversation between Sage Kapila and Devahuti for the variety of themes dealt with in this connection. Among many other things which are very important from the point of view of a sadhaka, the emphasis that Rishi Kapila lays here is concentration on God as the Supreme Person. The concept of God as a Person is pre-eminent in all religions. We cannot but conceive God as a Great Person, Whose limbs have to be the objects of our concentration. The minute details of this process are described by Kapila in these chapters.
In every religion, we will find that God is conceived as a Person—whether it is the Father in heaven, Allah, Ahura Mazda, or Narayana, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva. Whatever be the nomenclature of this Great Divinity, the idea behind it is the Personality of God. The structure of human individuality is such that it cannot but feel the necessity to encounter the Ultimate Being as a Person, because the devotee expects a response from God. The heart of the devotee does not feel comfortable with the imagination that God is a transparent, ubiquitous pervasiveness which includes the devotee also, so that the possibility of response between the devotee and God is not well defined.
For instance, we hear in the Old Testament that the Jews had a covenant with God. They would deal with God as if He was their caretaker, their well-wisher, and He would fulfil all their requirements. The very feeling that such a covenant with God is possible arises due to the conviction that God is such a Person with Whom we can have concourse.
The principle of devotion to God emphasises this aspect of a Person, but not like a human person, which is mortal in its nature. This is a metaphysical Person, inconceivable to the ordinary mind, the deathless Personality of God—the Mahapurusha, as we have it described in the Purusha Sukta of the Vedas. The very name Purusha suggests the idea of the Great Person.
Also, we should be satisfied and happy during the time of meditation. It is one of the conditions of successful contact with God. We cannot satisfactorily place ourselves before God Almighty with a sense of fear of Him, as if He is a terror in front of us and we do not know what He will do to us. The conviction of the devotee is that God will always do good, and His response is not always so uncertain that it causes insecurity in the heart of the devotee. We reach out to God and approach Him for succour because we feel certain that He will help us, and He will not harm us. We cannot conceive Him like a universal magnetic field, by touching which we do not know what reaction will follow. There is a confirmation in the heart of the devotee that only a good thing will follow.
That is the reason why God as a Supreme Person is considered as magnificently beautiful. It is a great art presented before us, an attraction which satisfies not only the mind, the feeling and the heart, but even the sense organs which seek the perception of beautiful form. That is how Maharishi Kapila describes God as the Marvel of marvels. We also have this type of description in the vision of Narayana that was granted to Brahma, partly in the Second Book and in the early part of the Third Book of the Bhagavata. God is always considered as a divine protector, a parent—a father and mother. The feelings of satisfaction, affection, and aesthetic completion go together in our worship of God. This is the reason why in every religion God is considered as a Supreme Person.
We also have in our scriptures the description of the Mahapurusha, Purushottama. Ato’smi loke vede ca prathitaḥ puruṣottamaḥ (B.G. 15.18), says Bhagavan Sri Krishna in the Bhagavadgita. We cannot describe Him in any other manner except as Purushottama, the best of all purushas. Here the word ‘purusha’ does not connote a male being, but means an inclusiveness of all particulars, bereft of the distinction of male and female. We cannot say whether God is male or female, because that majesty is so complete that we cannot describe God section-wise or partially in terms of social connotations.
How does Maharishi Kapila describe the majesty of God, so that we may contemplate on Him? Yesterday I mentioned the Zen technique of attention paid to minute particulars of anything which becomes the object of concentration. Here is a similar description of meditation on every minute part of the body. The visualisation of God rises gradually from His feet to the cosmic apex of His head, which is all-pervasive. There are Sanskrit stotras which are called Vishnu Padadikeshantavarnanam—or, in a reverse way, Vishnu Keshadipadantavarnanam. From the conceived hair of the Supreme Person down to the feet, and in the other order, from the feet to the Supreme head with His hair, is a kind of vipasana meditation of a mysterious type, taking the mind from top to bottom and from bottom to top. We are looking at God from head to foot in all His finery, completeness, beauty, ability and omnipotence.
Because of the magnificence and the might of God, the mind may not be in a position to conceive the whole of Him in one stroke. Even when we look at an ordinary individual, we cannot visualise the entire person at one stroke. We see only some part of the person for the purpose of our practical activity, and concentration on every limb is not done, generally speaking. But in order to attract the attention of the mind to the beauty and perfection in every part of the body of God, it is said that everything is madhuram. Adharam-madhuram—everything is sweetness, like sugar candy, where we cannot say that any part is not sweet.
In the case of an ordinary mortal, there is a distinction made between the functions of the head, heart, lungs, feet, hands, and so on, but in the case of the Mighty Person, such distinction is not made. Any part is as good as any other part. We cannot say that His feet are inferior to His head, as no such comparison is possible in the case of God’s Personality. His limbs are described for the purpose of meditation. Every part is capable of doing the function of any other part. This is how we have it in the Bhagavadgita and in the Veda. Sarvataḥ pāni-pādam tat sarvato’kṣi-śiro-mukham, sarvataḥ śrutimal loke sarvam āvṛtya tiṣṭhati (B.G. 13.13): Every part of His body is eyes and ears, every part is mouth, every part is feet, every part is hands. He can work with His feet, not merely with His hands; He can see with His toes and speak with His nose, because every function is an attribute of every part of God. It is not a limitation of concept as in our own personality where one organ cannot know the function of another organ. There, every organ is all organs because God is All-in-all.
Vishnu Padadikeshantavarnana is the subject of this description for the purpose of meditation: Beautiful are Your feet—resplendent, radiant. Rays of sunlight emanate from His toes—not merely a dazzling light before which we have to close our eyes, but a mellowed honey-like flow which is at the same time sweet and satisfying. Anything that proceeds from God is beautiful and sweet. If He speaks, it is beautiful, sweet words; if He thinks, it is beautiful, sweet thoughts; if He acts, it is beautiful, sweet action; if He blesses us, it is sweet blessing. There is nothing but sweetness in His case. And this sweetness is not a quality like the quality of sweet objects. It is the essence of God Himself.
One of the specialties of the Srimad Bhagavata is that it highlights the sweetness of God rather than His majesty and omnipotence. In the Mahabharata, for instance, there is special emphasis on the greatness, the power, the potency, and the ability of God as the incarnation Bhagavan Sri Krishna. Here, in the Bhagavata, that is not taken into consideration pre-eminently, as in the case of the Mahabharata where Vyasa always presents Lord Krishna as a fearsome personality before whom everybody has to bow, and no one can take advantage of him. Even kings come down from their thrones at the very sight of him, as he is a fear to everyone and nobody can stand before him. This is how the figure of Bhagavan Sri Krishna is presented in the Mahabharata. But here in the Bhagavata, God is not to be feared. He is a source of joy, madhura. In the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana the loving character of God is emphasised everywhere, in all the Skandhas, right from the beginning to the end.
The reason is that in our meditations we require a total absorption of ourselves in God. It is not enough if only our intellect is illumined by the clarity of perception of the omnipotence of God; it is also necessary that other faculties in us, such as feeling and aesthetic sense, should also be satisfied. Usually, the mind of man cannot conceive such a completeness of God. Can God give us everything? It is said that He can. But our frailty does not feel itself competent to accept this possibility of everything being possible for God at all times, because we do not believe that He is a mother. We always believe that He is a judge whose dispensation can be for or against. But a mother’s judgment is not against, it is always for. In a similar manner, in the Bhagavadgita and also in the Srimad Bhagavata, Bhagavan says, “Whoever loves Me, I shall love him abundantly.” Many characteristics of God are involved in this concept.
Now, coming to the point of meditation on God as the Supreme Person, we have to see how we can visualise Him in our presence as a mighty inclusiveness—a Person standing before us in all glory and perfection. We require a little bit of imagination and the power of will to concentrate like this.
We say that God created the world. The Bhagavata does not deny this fact that God created the world because the mind of the human individual cannot but accept that God created the world. We cannot violate our own sense of feeling. The Bhagavata does not expect us to violate our own feelings and acceptances, and takes them as they are. And like a good schoolmaster taking the student from the level of his own standard, the Bhagavata gradually takes us from our own standard of incompleteness and finitude, and the needs incumbent upon this finitude, to another level.
All the parts of this personality are equally distributed systematically, beautifully, like an artistic presentation. We have no occasion in the world to see beautiful things in such a complete manner. We have a sentimental perception of beauty which is valid for some time, but it does not persist for all time. Nothing that engulfs us in its beauty for all time, under any circumstance, is available in this world. That is available only in God, who is Supreme Beauty. Inasmuch as we are not accustomed to perceive such beauty in the world, we find it hard to conceive God in that perfection. This is why there is struggle in the beginning of the attempt at meditation. The mind gets revolted by the concept of perfection.
The beauty should be perfect, as incomplete, imperfect beauty cannot attract. But we have not seen perfect beauty anywhere in the world. Every beauty is imperfect; it has a flaw behind it, which we always ignore for the time being, for practical purposes; and that which is ignored will come up one day or the other and tell us that our concept of the beautiful object is not complete. But here, it is not like that. Nothing is hidden; it is open beauty.
Thus, Maharishi Kapila takes us gradually from the various parts of the Supreme Person to every other part. We can look at His head, His eyes, His nose, His hands, His chest, His whole person. What do we see there? We see the whole cosmos embedded in Him. We are not looking at an extra-cosmic Person standing on the top of the world, with His feet on the Earth as if the Earth has no connection with Him. This Mighty Person, called the Visvarupa, includes all the creation that He is supposed to have made. In the Visvarupa-darsana we find all the worlds rolled up in one mass. Ihaikasthaṁ jagat kṛtsnaṁ pasyādya sacarācaram (B.G. 11.7): “You can see the whole universe here,” says Bhagavan in his Visvarupa.
Hence, the mind cannot feel the necessity to get distracted or to go in some other direction. We may not feel at that time, “I am contemplating an extra-cosmic Supreme Person seated in heaven, and I have left the Earth which also seems to have some value for me.” These values which are supposed to be in this world are included in this Supreme Magnificence, because God is not merely a transcendent creator, He is also an immanent material out of which the whole universe is created. Abhinna-nimitta-upadana-karanatva is the nature of God—that is, the unity of Being is the material cause as well the instrumental cause of creation. A potter is only the instrumental cause, and not the material cause, of the pot because the material is the earth, the clay, out of which it is made. But here, the material cannot be outside God. The timber, the beams and the support of this world are made up of God’s Person Himself. In the great Skambha Sukta in the Atharva Veda, we have a question: What is the timber out of which the house of God is built? What are its beams; what are its pillars; what is the structure? The answer is that the pillar, the beams and the timber that are used are made of God only. That is the answer of this great Skambha Sukta: the structural pattern of God is the substance of the world also.
So, in this great Person you find the world of your dear delight. All your delights are embedded there. All the honey that you can think of in every flower of the world, you will find there in that Universal flower of completeness. You will also find all your relatives there, if you want to see them. Your friends will be there; your treasure will be there; your property will be there; you yourself will be there. Can you imagine God in this fashion? “Difficult it is,” says Maharishi Kapila, because the mind’s attachment to lesser things is so poignant it does not easily release itself from their clutches.
In one place, Maharishi Kapila says, “Who is there in all creation free from total attachment to the finite objects of the world except Narayana, the great rishiwho is supposed to be abiding in Badrikashrama? Except Him, who can resist the temptations of life?” In all the creations of Brahma, who is free from attachment except Narayana Himself? He is Tapomurti, whose incarnation is incidentally described in the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana, and there is also a reference to Nara-Narayana in the Mahabharata.
In Brahma’s court, when all the divinities were seated, two persons rushed across without even paying attention to Brahma and the audience. How would you feel if two people suddenly, unceremoniously, crossed through the audience when you were holding a conference and large number of people were seated? Would you feel it is all right? People were surprised, and wondered who these two persons were. Brahma alone knew, and to the query of the gods seated there in audience, he said, “These two are Nara and Narayana. They do not have any concern for me or for any one of you. They have risen above common perception. The power that they wield is more than the power of the wind, the sun and the moon.”
This dual force of Nara-Narayana is in Badrinath. In the Mahabharata there is a story about them. There was a king called Dambhodbhava, who wanted to conquer the whole world. He did not want to leave anything unconquered. He extended his kingdom to the shores of the ocean, and there was no king whom he had not vanquished. But his egoism did not feel satisfied, and he wanted to conquer more.
He went to Brahma and said, “I have conquered everybody, but still I have the desire to conquer more. Is there anyone whom I have not conquered? Tell me, so that I can conquer him also.”
Brahma wanted to tease this egoistic king, and said, “There are two persons whom you have not yet conquered, and you may go there and see if you can do anything to them.”
“Oh! Is it so? Let me know who they are,” said Dambhodbhava.
“They are Nara-Narayana. They are in Badrikashrama. You can show your strength to them,” replied Brahma.
“I will conquer them,” the king said.
He went to Badrikashrama with a huge army, and told Nara-Narayana, “I have come to seek battle.”
Nara and Narayana replied, “This is not the place for battle. We are rishis. We are calm and quiet people. We don’t require any disturbance here, and you should not come and speak to us in this manner.”
“But I have been told by Brahma that you are capable of meeting me, and I want to have a battle with you,” said the king.
Again Nara and Narayana said, “This is not a proper place for battle. We do not fight with anybody.”
The king again persisted. Then Nara and Narayana took a little piece of grass and let it off, and it shot like a piercing arrow through the eyes, the chest, and every limb of the king and of every soldier, who were thousands in number. They cried in agony. They did not know whether they were alive or dead.
The king prostrated before Narayana and said, “Please withdraw this curse upon us. I made a mistake, and I accept that I am defeated by you.”
Then Nara withdrew the astra, and the king and the army left.
The very thought of these Maharishis is a purifying tapas for us, an uncontaminated perfection of tapas force. “Except for them, who is free from any kind of desires?” says Maharishi Kapila. This is incidental to the main subject.
The main theme is concentration on the Mahapurusha, for which, first of all, we have to equip ourselves with the characteristic of feeling that we have had enough with everything in this world. If we feel that we have not had enough of this world, this Person cannot be an object of our meditation. A sense of ennui and a feeling that we do not require anything else should take possession of us. We had a surfeit of all things in the world. A person who is defeated by the world cannot go to God. We have to conquer the world first; it is a snare placed before us. We have to pass through that net that is placed before us, and overcome it. This is the battlefield, actually speaking, in which we are not to be defeated. We have to win victory in this field of battle of the Mahabharata, which is taking place in the form of this very Earth itself in front of us. So, unless we have conquered the temptations of life, we will not be able to have an attraction for God. This is also very marvellously described by Maharishi Kapila. I am not going through all the details of it, due to shortage of time.
There are obstacles which we cannot imagine in our life. I mentioned that there are levels of creation—Bhuloka, Bhuvarloka, Svarloka, Maharloka, Janaloka, Tapoloka, Satyaloka—and while we pass through all these levels of creation, we have also to encounter the citizens of these various levels. We have to make friendship with them. The higher we go, the greater is the beauty that we see. The Earth has only crude beauty and a crude capacity to satisfy, whereas in the other levels there is subtle power everywhere; and as we move higher and higher, we will find the capacity to satisfy ourselves becomes more and more. The sense organs, which glut in the beauties of the world, will be engulfed by another beauty which they cannot contain, and the eyes may not be able to fully comprehend the grandeur of satisfaction that is available in the higher worlds.
These are described to us in great detail in an allegorical fashion as the Amrita Manthana, in another Skandha of the Srimad Bhagavata. Amrita Manthana is the churning of the ocean by the gods and the demons in order to acquire nectar. Both good people and bad people want to be immortal; they do not want to die. So is the case with the Devas and the Asuras who, in order to become immortal, wanted to drink the nectar which would rise when the ocean was churned. When they churned the ocean, at the very outset they found it brought forth the opposite of what they expected. What they expected was one thing, and what came was something else altogether. The expectation was for nectar, but poison came first.
At the beginning of the attempt of spiritual practice, the sense organs feel a deficiency and an incapacity of an incomparable nature. There is a dark cloud hanging in front of us, and light will not be there in the earlier stages. The reason for the darkness in front of us—the opposition of ugliness and terror at the very outset—is due to a reaction set up by the dissatisfied senses which have not been given their fill by the objects of sense. The poison, therefore, is created by a circumstance of repulsion between the sense organs and the actual things which exist in the world. That repulsion has to gradually cease by facing it completely. We have to face that condition.
Our attempt at spiritual practice is not a smooth movement as if on a paved road. There is opposition from the world. In the beginning, it will be opposition from human beings only. Afterwards, nature itself will oppose. That is the second stage of opposition, and it is much greater than the problems created by people in this world. When nature itself has a feeling that we are trying to overcome it, it will present a phenomenon which is difficult to describe. First it will be an arena of tremendous temptation, and then an arena of war, threat and terror, in various forms.
This dual feeling which the gods and the demons had when they churned the ocean is actually the churning of life itself; that itself the ocean. Our whole life is like a sea before us whose essence has to be extracted by the churning rod of our own mind in concentration. Within us are the gods as well as the demons—the Jekyll and Hyde, as they are called. They join together and want to have the best of things in the world; they churn life. The opposition from nature is the reason why there is a feeling of discomfiture in the beginning. A poisonous gas comes, as it were, which is all opposition from every source. There is body ache, mental ache, dissatisfaction, a feeling of distress in everything, and finally collapsing because of the power nature has, with which we have not properly acclimatised ourselves during our life in the world.
We have not only to be friendly with human beings, but we also have to be friendly with nature. We cannot oppose it under the impression that everything is well with us. There are laws of nature which are to be obeyed so that they become harmonised with the structure of our own being. If that has not been done, there is opposition one day or the other. Nature keeps quiet because our opposition to it is not very strong, but when we are bent upon it, it takes up its cudgels—and then we have poison before us.
However, briefly speaking, this churning of the ocean both by the Devas and the Asuras—the divine forces and the evil forces in us, both the positive and negative—find not the nectar. At least fourteen gems come up one after the other, each greater than the previous, so that in the attraction for these wonderful gems we may completely forget the very purpose of our churning. As I mentioned, the higher forces are more beautiful, more attractive than the lower ones, and these are actually the gems coming up. Fourteen obstacles from the fourteen levels of creation will come. Both forces want to drink the nectar that finally emerges, and so there is a war going on between the positive and negative forces in our own selves.
Until the end of time, we will find there is opposition between cosmic positivity and cosmic negativity. The grace of God is described here in the form of the descent of Mahavishnu in a form which fed the aspirations of the divine forces, and dispersed the evil forces. Nectar was drunk by the gods, who are the aspirations for the greatness of God in us. This is the allegorical story of the Amrita Manthana in the form of an epic poem described in the Srimad Bhagavata.
This is, of course, connected with our experience in meditation on the Supreme Mahapurusha, in which we have to persist day in and day out. We have to keep the picture of this Mahapurusha before us always. If the mind cannot visualise this picture, we should at least have a painted picture of the Virat Purusha in front of us. If we go on looking at it every day and concentrate our mind, we will be able to energise our mind to the capacity of concentrating even without a support such as a picture or a framework, and visualise the Cosmic Being Himself as the Great Person ready to bless us with all His glory at any moment of time. Such meditation is the theme of this wondrous description of Maharishi Kapila to Devahuti, who was his own mother.