by Swami Krishnananda
The first six chapters of the Bhagavadgita stand by themselves as unique teachings on the integration of the human personality, which process was described gradually right from the First Chapter. The Gita, as a very good psychologist and a master teacher to students, takes its stand on the level of the student, and endeavours to gradually raise the mind of the student from that pedestal on which the student stands. Though the student is Arjuna in this particular context, the student is every one of us, humanity in general.
Arjuna finds himself in a highly non-aligned and disturbed circumstance of conflict of every kind, with difficulties galore. This is described in the First Chapter; and you know how the mind was gradually raised to higher and higher levels by the theoretical teaching of the Sankhya cosmological doctrine and by the practical teaching of the implementation of this Sankhya doctrine in the actual performance in life, called Yoga. A further confidence was infused into the mind of the student-disciple in the Fourth Chapter when it is told that God Himself incarnates as the rectifying medium whenever any critical situation arises; and in the Sixth Chapter we were told how it is possible to align the layers of our personality in an integrated act of meditation.
So up to this time, until the end of the Sixth Chapter, the emphasis is on the human individual, the perfection of man, the bringing together of all the forces that constitute individuality, as a soldier is worked up into perfection and order for the action that he has to embark upon in a field of battle. In every way he has to be prepared. He girds up his loins, as they say, but not in an unprepared manner. In every way he is prepared. At one whistle or one stroke, he is ready to strike with all his might and main. But on what will he strike? This is another subject altogether which will take us to the chapters from the Seventh onwards, right up to the Eleventh which form another unit, with which we can club the Twelfth Chapter also as an appendix thereof.
While the human individuality is to be perfected by integration, alignment of layers through the constituents of the meditational process, the human individual is also to be aligned to a cosmic setup a macrocosmic integration, as it is called. The microcosmic endeavour of the human personality has to be set in perfect tune with the macrocosmic order, law and system, so that gaining individual perfection is only a preparatory process for its perfect alignment with the cosmic perfection. So there is an element of cosmology and macrocosmic operation even in the act of meditation, and it is not an isolated individual effort.
Therefore, it is now clear that when you sit for meditation, you are preparing for some onslaught, and it is not an end in itself. Meditation, dhyana, leads to samadhi, communion with reality. The nature of reality has not been properly touched upon in the chapters that we have covered up to this time. There was excessive emphasis on the nature of the psychological individual, but the metaphysical cosmos has not been explained in sufficient detail, except here and there by way of vague reference.
When we were discussing the Sankhya doctrine of the Second Chapter, we had occasion to digress into the details of Sankhya cosmology. This detail is not to be found in the Second Chapter; only the word ‘Sankhya’ is used, and it is said that Sankhya is essential. Arjuna was lacking knowledge of Sankhya, on account of which he could not be an expert in the Yoga of action. But it is good to have at least some idea of the outline of the entire process of cosmic creation, which you remember as it has been told to you.
Now the Gita takes up this very subject in the Seventh and Eighth Chapters, etc. the cosmic evolutionary process, the structure of the universe. The description of this reality of the universe becomes necessary for the purpose of enlightening the individual already perfected through the first six chapters for direct communion with the cosmic whole.
Bhūmir āponalo vāyuḥ khaṁ mano buddhir eva ca, ahaṁkāra itīyaṁ me bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā (Gita 7.4). In our description of the Sankhya cosmology, we noted there is Purusha, Prakriti, Mahat, Ahamkara, and a threefold distribution of force into the adhyatma, the adhibhuta, and the adhideva which is between; the adhibhuta was constituted of the elements, or tanmatras, called shabda, sparsha, rupa, rasa, gandha, and the elements prithvi, jala, tejo, vayu, akash earth, water, fire, air and ether.
This verse of the Gita says: bhūmir āponalo vāyuḥ khaṁ. Bhumi is the earth, apa is water, anala is fire, vayu is air, kham is akasha. These five elements are mentioned here as evolutes from the Supreme Being. Then added to it is mano buddhi ahamkara. They refer to or correspond to ahamkara through the Sankhya system, as mentioned to you, and there is the Mahat, there is the Mulaprakriti. They are almost similar to these three principles mano buddhi ahamkara, which are above the five elements. These are the eight principles. Bhūmir āponalo vāyuḥ khaṁ mano buddhir eva ca, ahaṁkāra itīyaṁ me bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā: This is My eightfold manipulative power, Prakriti, the operative force.
But there is something above them. That is the Supreme Purusha. Apareyam itas tvanyāṁ prakṛtiṁ viddhi me parām, jīvabhūtāṁ mahābāho yayedaṁ dhāryate jagat (Gita 7.5). This eightfold Prakriti mentioned is like a roster. Right from Prakriti downwards through the series of Mahat, ahamkara,the five tanmatras and the five mahabhutas may be considered as lower categories of creation, but the vitality, the force, the prana, the energy, the life, the consciousness that is behind these elements is something different, which is the life principle operating in all, which is God Himself. Jīvabhūtāṁ: There is life, purposiveness, longing, desire, restlessness, aspiration in everything. In dead matter you cannot find all these activities.
Etadyonīni bhūtāni sarvāṇīty upadhāraya (Gita 7.6). The whole creation is only this much: this operative principle which is consciousness, jiva, and the other eightfold categorisations of Prakriti. Ahaṁ kṛtsnasya jagataḥ prabhavaḥ pralayas tathā (Gita 7.6). Here Sri Krishna sums up all his teaching by saying, “I am everything.” This statement has not been made in the Gita up to this time. “I am the beginning and the end of all things.” Who is saying this? Only whoever is the beginning and the end of all things can say that. No individual, no particular manifestation can speak in this extreme. Kṛtsnasya jagataḥ prabhavaḥ pralayas: I am the beginning, the middle and the end all the universe, in its entirety. That is to say, this peculiar ‘I’ which is making this statement is immanent, is hidden as the soul of all things throughout the process of creation. There are innumerable evolutes, but through every process of evolution, and in every evolute that is so manifested, the life principle continuously is present as there is a single consciousness continuously operating in the three states of our life waking, dream and sleep. Waking is different from dream, dream is different from sleep. They are totally different in their character. When you are dreaming, you cannot know that there is any such thing as the waking condition; when you are awake, you do not think of the dream condition at all; and when you are asleep, the other two conditions vanish. It is not possible to distinguish these three states unless there is a continuous consciousness permeating all three. Therefore, you know, “I am awake, I had a dream, and I slept.” It is one ‘I’ that is speaking, knowing at the same time that all the three states are of one particular entity only.
In a similar manner, the whole of creation is ‘I’, says the Universal Consciousness. Here we may identify this great ‘I’ with the Purusha of the Sankhya infinite in its nature. Only the Infinite can say, “I am everything.” This identification of the Supreme I in the process of creation and all the evolutes causes various difficulties in understanding from the point of view of an ordinary individual. We cannot actually understand in what manner God pervades the world and in what way creation is effected. We have to take it for granted that it is exactly as it has been described in the scriptures. If you wrack your head too much, you will find no answer because the action of the macrocosm, the workings of the Infinite, cannot be comprehended by the faculties available to the individual.
There is a story associated with St. Augustine, a theologian and a mystic of the Middle Ages, a very famous doctrinaire of Christian theology. It appears he was sitting on the shore of the ocean, trying to find out how creation arose. He had to write a thesis, a big book on theology, which should also mention the process of how God actually manufactured this universe. From what material did He create this? How did He think? How did His will operate when creation took place? He was deeply brooding over it. The story goes that a boy suddenly appeared near him, and was bailing out water from the ocean and throwing it on the sand. The pot was full of holes and the water ran out the holes, but still he was trying to empty the ocean, as it were. St. Augustine said, “My dear boy, what are you doing?” “I am emptying the ocean.” “What kind of person are you? You cannot empty the ocean with this pot, especially as it has holes.”
The boy replied, “If you can get an answer to what you are thinking in your mind, I can empty the ocean.” It means to say, you can never get an answer to this question. Every answer is tentative. It is satisfying so far as our understanding of the cosmos is concerned, but our understanding is our understanding; that’s all. It has to be locked up in our cabin; it cannot go outside. It helps us to some extent as a walking stick, but the walking stick cannot walk. It only helps us.
So all our knowledge is a kind of walking stick. It has the power to give us some assistance like a torch when we are walking in darkness, but it cannot suffice in the end. Nobody can understand the great mystery of this form that we have seen just now. No tapas, no austerity, no effort of any kind even in the spiritual field can make us fit to behold this form. This is what that Cosmic Form spoke to Arjuna in the Eleventh Chapter. Our efforts are of no avail. A superior, different kind of effort may be necessary to behold that Form not through the physical eyes, but through an eye which is different altogether.
Ahaṁ kṛtsnasya jagataḥ prabhavaḥ pralayas tathā. Briefly, the cosmological statement is here in these three verses. It will be touched upon again in two verses in the Third Chapter. But the point is that it is an affirmation of the same detail covered earlier, that the Supreme Absolute, God Almighty you may call Him Parabrahman, Purusha, Purushottama is everything. This is the doctrine of the Vedanta which distinguishes itself from the Sankhya to some extent, especially from what is called the graphical Sankhya. According to the Sankhya, the Purusha and the Prakriti are totally different entities; both are realities by themselves. Though the Sankhya says that the Purusha does not pervade Prakriti, yet it says that Purusha is all-in-all and infinite. Infinite are the Purushas, numberless are they, and yet each one is infinite. This is a peculiar logic of the Sankhya which has been transcended by the universal philosophy of the Vedanta where Prakriti does not stand as a contradiction to Purusha; it is not an object of consciousness, it is a manifestation of the Infinite itself. Otherwise, Purusha cannot make the statement “I am all”, because the Purusha of the Sankhya is all in the sense of its being infinite, but it is not all in the sense that there is a Prakriti in front of it always.
Hence, the Vedanta doctrine is adumbrated here, in addition to the acceptance of the principles of the Sankhya. The Vedanta takes the whole philosophy of the Sankhya with a pinch of salt, and accepts it with some reservation. The evolutionary process described by the Sankhya is perfectly all right; the Vedanta accepts it. Yet there is a ‘but’ before it, that the Purusha is not infinite in number. There is only one Purusha possible because there cannot be two infinities. Infinity is one only. Even if you try to pile up infinities over infinities, you will have one infinity only.
Therefore, there can be only one ‘I’ behind the cosmos, not many I’s. Many I’s cannot say, “We are the creators of the cosmos and we are all things,” because two things cannot be all things. So here is the supremacy of the Godhood that speaks in this strain as ‘I’: “I am.” That is all. You cannot say anything more. You can only say, “it is.” Astīti bruvato’nyatra kathaṁ tad upalabhyate (Katha 12), as the Upanishad says. You can know God as Existence. It is, that’s all. You should not say anything more about God except that He is. What He is, you should not say, because there is no quality, no attribute that can be associated with Him, inasmuch as He is the All. If He is the All, there can be no external attribute. Ahaṁ kṛtsnasya jagataḥ prabhavaḥ pralayas tathā: I am all things.
It is incumbent on the part of the spiritual seeker, as mentioned, to commune himself with this great Reality which is the beginning and the end of all things. The Universal should engulf, as it were, the individual. The waves should subside in the ocean. The little I of the finite individual should get merged in the Infinite One I.
The feeling of the seeker of Truth at the time of his attempt to commune himself with the Almighty is called bhakti or devotion in the language of the Gita. Whoever is devoted to God is also a Yogi. In all practices there is an element of devotion, a longing for something higher than one’s own self. You are a devotee of the higher Self. You are a devotee of God. You are a devotee of the infinite Purusha. You are devoted to it in the sense that you want it. Whenever you want something, you become a devotee of that thing.
The Gita tells us that there are varieties of devotees. Your devotion to God is not a uniform attitude commonly discoverable in everybody at the same time. You are placed in a different context on account of your karmas and the nature of your personality. Even when you love or hate a thing, you differ from another person who has a love and hate for different things. The quality or intensity of love and hatred varies in different individuals according to the nature of the object as they conceive it or according to their own psychological circumstance.