The Spiritual Import of the Mahabharata and the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 11: God Present Within Us

There is a system of thinking known as ‘field theory’ in science, which attempts to bring together the various perspectives of observation of any given object, whereby the observation is supposed to be complete. If the field of operation in the process of observation is partial, then the result is not expected to be a correct picture of the object of observation. The most difficult thing in the process of perception is to make this perceptional process a comprehensive method of the acquisition of true knowledge. Our observations and perceptions are mostly partial, one-sided; and this defect or limitation that is imposed upon the process of perception gives us a wrong picture of the object—even if it be God Himself, the supreme object of knowledge. The Bhagavadgita, towards the end of seventh chapter, takes up the point of what we may call the field of comprehension. The thought of God has to be entertained in the mind of the individual concerned at the time of the passing of the soul from this body, and the future of the soul is decided by the nature of the thought that one entertains at the time of passing. If the thought is partial, one cannot expect a comprehensive result.

The limitation that is imposed upon the knowledge process by the interference of spatial extension and temporal succession tells upon our concept of God also, so that we think of God as we think of a cow, an empirical object, notwithstanding the fact that we try our best to make this idea of God as vast as possible and as inclusive as practicable. But whatever be our endeavour in making our concept of God comprehensive, the limitations that interfere with the knowledge process also affect our concept of God. The Bhagavadgita warns us about this in a few words in two verses at the end of seventh chapter. These terms are well known phrases in the philosophy of the Vedanta and Samkhya, but their connotation and significance is hard to comprehend unless we go deep into their interrelationship. Jara-marana-moksaya mam asritya yatanti ye, te brahma tad viduh krtsnam adhytmam karma cakhilam. Sadhibhutdhidaivam mam sadhiyajnam ca ye viduh, prayna-kale’pi ca mam te vidur yukta-cetasah. These are the last two verses of the seventh chapter of the Bhagavadgita.

The important terms that we are referring to in this context in these verses are adhyatma, adhibuta, adhidaiva, and adhiyajna. These four terms occur in these one and a half verses: Te brahma tad viduh krtsnam adhyatmam karma cakhilam. Sadhibhutadhidaivam mam sadhiyajnam ca ye viduh. We read the Gita, repeating these verses and understanding their grammatical meaning, but grammar is not the only way of scriptural interpretation. There is a philosophical and metaphysical aspect in the wisdom that the scripture gives us, apart from the linguistic surface in which it is cloaked, and to confine our knowledge of scripture only to its linguistic aspect or grammatical dictionary meaning would be to partially understand its profundity. The thought of God is the most difficult thought. As a matter of fact, any thought is difficult when it is attempted to be made comprehensive. The difficulty is not in the fact that the object here is God—the difficulty is in the structure of the mind itself. The defect of the mind is uniformly present as operative in the entire knowledge field—whether the object of the concept in the mind is a particle of sand or the supreme Absolute Itself, it makes no difference. There is a common defect present in all perception. The defect is that the mind works through certain blinkers, as it were, and it can look at the object from one point of view. The object is looked upon as an object only and bereft of any other implication in its existence.

Every object has infinite relationships, but this infinitude of relationship is incomprehensible to the mind of the observer of the object. The object is taken as an isolated, localised something, cut off from all other objects, and this idea that the object is absolutely independent of all other objects, especially independent of the observer himself, is the basic defect in the knowledge process. This is usually called ‘the fallacy of simple location’. That objects are simply located in a particular place is a fallacy, and this fallacy is at the root of all our knowledge. While we extend our knowledge to the supreme object, God, who is supposed to be the object of our contemplation and meditational processes, we no doubt try our best to free this object, which is God, from the common defects of the usual empirical perceptional process—but still God stands before us as a tremendous object.

The Bhagavadgitaendeavours to free our minds from this obsession that God is an object, because the term ‘object’ has certain implications. It stands outside the subject. The adhibhuta is outside the adhyatma. The adhyatma is the subject; the adhibhuta is the object. But as these terms in these verses of the Bhagavadgita would point out, God is not merely the adhibhuta. He is not an object, though He may be the supreme object, transcending all other limited objects. Still He stands before us as an object. But the Gita tells us that this adhibhuta, the supreme object, is inwardly related to the adhyatma, the subject. So the field of operation of the object extends beyond its conceived location and permeates the very subject itself, which endeavours to conceive this object. So much so, it is impossible to raise the mind to the status of the concept of God unless there is an equal rising up of the status of the subject himself. Not merely this, there are other aspects also mentioned in these verses. It is not merely the adhibhuta or the object, or the adhyatma or the subject that is the concern here. The other terms used are adhidaiva and adhiyajna. Adhiyajna is the field of action, activity, operation, relationship and any kind of external dealing in human society in general, to put it in plain terms.

The whole field of sociological relationships is comprehended within the Being of God, so that social existence in not outside God’s existence. Many of us, theologians and spiritual seekers, are prone to commit the mistake that society is different from God, or at least isolated in its character from God-being, so that social workers, social welfare thinkers and humanists are likely to ignore the principle called ‘God’ as an irrelevant interference with the human concern called ‘social activity’ or ‘welfare’. Not so is the truth. The adhiyajna or the field of activity, service and relationship of any kind is one of the manifestations of God Himself, so that the concept of God includes the concept of human society, and it cannot exclude it. So social welfare, social thinking, the humanistic approach is incomplete without the introduction of the divine element into it. Also, vice versa—the concept of God in a purely theological form is also incomplete if it is to be divested from all empirical experience.

There are two kinds of extremes in thinking—the empirical and the transcendent. While we emphasise the transcendent aspect of God, we are likely to ignore the world and human society and become austere monks, desert fathers, cave dwellers and monastic hermits with an absorption of consciousness into a transcendence of values, which may border upon a complete bifurcation of oneself from the external experiences in the form of the world—adhibhuta, and society—adhiyajna. This is something very important to remember. The Supreme Being is no doubt the eternal object—adhibhuta, but inclusive of the thinker, the subject—adhyatma, inclusive also of the whole of society—adhiyajna, and inclusive of all the gods that one can imagine—adhidaiva. All the gods of religion are included in this Supreme Godhead. The angels and the divinities that we speak of in religious parlance, the dwellers in the higher heavens, paradise, the ethereal beings—all these angelic existences, the divinities and gods of religion—are also comprehended within this supreme God. The concept of God is fairly difficult to entertain. We cannot think God. Our minds are not so made as to enable us to contemplate God as He is in Himself. But the Bhagavadgita insists that liberation is impossible until and unless meditation becomes practicable on the true God. And who is this true God? Towards this end we are driven by the various chapters of the Gita, right from the seventh onwards.

So, to come to the point again, these one and a half verses towards the end of the seventh chapter tell us how we have to build our personality, which has to be integral and not partial. We are to be supermen ultimately and not remain merely as men, mortals, individuals—one among the many. We are empirically individuals, one isolated from the other, but we also have an element within us which brings us together. We have a super-social personality in us, transcending our social individuality. We are units of human society, no doubt, but we are not merely that. We are not just single units or individual citizens of a nation—an Indian citizen, a British citizen, an American citizen, etc. This is a poor definition of a human being. We are that, no doubt—we are passport holders, we have visas, we are fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, we are this and that. This is the lowest concept of individuality of a person. But we have a superhuman element within us, and this is the deepest adhyatma in us. That is God present within us.

God is present as the superhuman element in the human individual, and minus that, the human individuality vanishes into an airy nothing. The root of our personality is God Himself, and the root of anything, for the matter of that, is this Being. The gods in heaven, the angels in all the superior realms, all human beings, everything created in this universe, all objects and all subjects, everything blended together gives us a picture of the supreme unity of Godhood. If this idea could be entertained, if it could be practicable for any human being to think like this at the time of passing, liberation is certain. Prayana-kale’pi ca mam te vidur yukta-cetasah: The mind has to be united with God—this is called yoga. Ultimately yoga means union with God. It can be union with anything from the point of view of the vision of God. It is ultimately a union with the essential essence of any particular thing in the world. You can get united with anything in the world and it can be equivalent to uniting with God, provided this unity is not merely with the empirical form and name of the visible object, but with the internal essence or content of the object.

Such is the profundity of meaning that is hidden in these simple terms that we generally pass by them when we study or read the Bhagavadgita. Te brahma tad viduh krtsnam: Brahman, or the Absolute, has to be understood in its entirety, not in its partiality. Krtsna is completeness; integrality is krisattva. So the Absolute or Brahman has to be comprehended in its integrality, totality, unity, in its blendedness and completeness—not merely in transcendence, but also in immanence and inclusiveness of everything. This concept of God is difficult for the simple reason that the thinker also is involved in this thought. The adhyatma is not isolated from the adhibhuta or the adhiyajna or the adhidaiva. The thinker being involved in the very process of the thinking of God, such a thinking becomes difficult, because we are usually accustomed to think of things as externals, outside objects which we have to judge in a particular manner. Here is an object which we cannot judge, because any kind of judgment involves an isolation of the subject and predicate in logic.

So the thought of God is not a logical concept. It is something superior to ordinary understanding. It is super-logical indivisibility of comprehension that is the krisattva brahmatva mentioned in this verse. When Arjuna listens to this tremendous message injected into his mind towards the end of the seventh chapter, he is bewildered, as perhaps every one of us is. We are unable to understand what all this means. It amounts to saying that we cannot think at all. Our minds are put to a stop when we are asked to think in this comprehensive manner, because comprehensiveness is unknown to us. We are always partial beings. We have likes and dislikes; we are either this or that—but not both. Doubt arises in the mind of Arjuna and he puts questions, which are recorded at the beginning of the eighth chapter. What is this Brahman? What is this imperishable Being? What is adhyatma? What is adhibhuta? What is adhiyajna? These questions arise naturally in the mind of anyone. Kim tad-brahma kim adhyatmam kim karma purusottama, adhibhutam ca kim proktam adhidaivam kim ucyate. Adhiyajnah katham ko’tra dehe’smin madhusudana, prayana-kle ca katham jneyo’si niyatatmabhih. “How are we to contemplate You, the Supreme Being, at the time of passing? What do You mean by these words that You have used in Your lecture?”

The great Teacher of the Bhagavadgita answers in reply to these queries. Every term is explained beautifully. The imperishable, eternal is called the Absolute—aksaram brahma paramam. There is only one imperishable reality anywhere, and this world of perception does not contain anything imperishable—everything is passing in this world. Even this will pass away. Everything will pass away in this world, because in finitude is hidden a tendency to move on into larger experiences. No finite object can rest contented with itself. Finitude is a name for restlessness and an eagerness to transcend oneself into a larger dimension. So every finite object dies, perishes to its present form and assumes a new form in the process of the evolution of finitude towards larger finitudes, into greater forms of synthesis, until the supreme synthesis is reached, which is the supreme Brahman, the Absolute. Inasmuch as everything is perishable, the tendency of the whole universe is to overcome this perishable character of itself and attain the imperishable Brahman—aksaram brahma paramam. The adhyatma is the essential nature of an individual—svabhavo’dhytmam ucyate. Your essential nature is called adhyatma. Your essential nature is naturally not what appears on the surface of your personality. Your body, your social conduct, the words that you speak, the ideas that you think usually—these are not your personality. These are temporary expressions of various layers of your personality at different moments of time. They are like the movement of a river, or the burning of the flame of a lamp—a continuity but not an indivisibility.

But in spite of this continuity and a procession which forms the empirical personality of the individual, there is a basic indivisibility. That essential content is the adhyatma—atman as it is usually called. Sometimes it is known as the kutastachaitanya in Vedantic language. The innermost essence and the basic rock bottom of the individual is adhyatma, and it is inseparable from the imperishable Brahman. The atman is Brahman; kutasta is the same as the Absolute. Just as the root of the wave in the ocean is the ocean itself, the root of personality, the Overself, the kutastachaitanya, is Brahman, the Imperishable. Aksaram brahma paramam svabhavo ‘dhytmam ucyate, bhuta-bhavodbhava-karo visargah karma-samjnitah: All activity which forms part of the field of adhiyajna is called karma in a cosmical sense. There is only one activity ultimately, and that is the movement of the cosmos towards its ultimate end. The purpose of the universe is the impulse behind activity, and therefore there can be only one action anywhere and not many actions, such as my action or your action. All actions, the so-called activities of individuals, are facets of cosmic activity. This is the supreme yajna and is called adhiyajna—the transcendent purpose behind all activities.

The whole gospel of the Bhagavadgita herein is imbedded—the principle of karma getting transformed into yoga, known as karma yoga, when all actions are realised as expressions of cosmic activity. There is no such thing as my activity or your activity. They are only outer manifestations, through the individualities of persons, of that supreme impulse of universal action, and therefore there is only one agent behind action—God Himself—and neither are you the doer, nor am I the doer. If the agent is the Supreme Being in any form of action, all results of actions also accrue to Him. That is why the Gita again insists upon our abandonment of the fruits of action. If the actions do not belong to you, the fruits thereof also cannot belong to you. If, by any kind of egotistic affirmation of yourself, you assert your agency in any kind of action, there would be a nemesis following from this false notion of action—a reaction set up by this individual notion of activity or personal agency. This nemesis or reaction is what is known as karma bandhana, or the bondage of karma, which becomes the source of sorrows of various types, including transmigration. So the creative impulse, which is the source of all forms of action in this world, is the ultimate karma. This alone can be called real karma, and all other karmas are included in this supreme karma.

The perishable form of the world is called adhibhuta, the objectness that is present in objects. Externality is the clothing in which the essence of the object is rooted. Every object has an eternal element present in it. But, when it is looked upon as something present somewhere as a name and a form, it becomes a temporal, perishable appearance. There is a reality hidden in appearances, and the appearance aspect is called adhibhuta, while the reality that is responsible even for the appearance is the imperishable Brahman. The transitoriness that is the characteristic of objects is not their essential nature. Their essential nature is eternity and infinitude, but their name-form complex, which is in space and time, is the perishable aspect—this is called adhibhuta. Adhibhutam ksaro bhavah purusas cadhidaivatam. What we usually call today the Overself in man is the Atman in the individual—the kutastachaitanya that I referred to just now. The adhidaiva is the presiding principle behind all individuals, the supreme consciousness that is at the base of all individualities—not the mind, but consciousness.

There is an angel inside you, ruling your destiny, guarding you, protecting you, directing you in the proper way. This angelic element within you, the superhuman principle, the divinity implanted in the heart of all individuals is the adhidaiva. Purusas cadhidaivatam, adhiyajno’ham evatra dehe deha-bhrtam vara. Here the incarnate God, Sri Krishna, speaks of the adhiyajna as Himself. This is something very interesting and novel for us to contemplate. The divine incarnation is the adhiyajna. It is the unifying principle in human society. The blessedness of humanity rests in the extent to which it is able to be guided by the divinity that is immanent in human society. Human individuals cannot achieve ultimate success merely with the power of their hands and feet. Success is a name that we give to an achievement which is of a permanent nature. That which is today, but shall pass away tomorrow, cannot be called a victory. Human achievements in the process of human history have been passing phenomena—they have not been ultimate victories. We have won nothing in this world; we always have been defeated in the process of history.

Today we are looking up with dazed eyes as to what is going to happen to us in the future, because we are always depending on the strength of our arms, the power of our understanding or intellect, the ratiocinating faculty minus the divine element in us. Man minus God is a corpse, and a corpse cannot be expected to win any victory or achieve success. So the divine incarnation here, symbolised in the form of Krishna or any form that God may take as an incarnation at any time in the history of the cosmos, not merely in the history of the earth, can be regarded as the finger of God operating in individual societies. God creates the world and also takes care of it. He is the Creator and also the Preserver, and He preserves the world that He has created by means of His incarnations. The supreme excellences which you see manifested as great genius in this world can be also called divine incarnations, as we shall be told in the tenth chapter, for instance. Anything in this world that is superb, magnificent and beyond the ordinary in power, in knowledge and in capacity of any kind should be regarded as a divine manifestation.

God incarnates Himself from time to time, for the solidarity of mankind, for the establishment of righteousness and the abolition of unrighteousness. Dharma-samsthapanarthya sambhavami yuge yuge. At every juncture or crucial moment of time, God’s incarnation takes place. It does not mean that God takes incarnation only some times, in some centuries, and not always. There is an eternal manifestation of God. As God is eternity, His manifestation also is timeless. It is not only merely a historical occurrence that takes place some time in history. It is a timeless advent of an eternal reality, and therefore it can be regarded as a perpetual support in this world of mortality. God is the only friend of man, truly speaking, because perishable individuals cannot be regarded as true friends—they pass away. How can you live in this world by relying upon that which passes away? Suhrdam sarva-bhutnam jnatva mam santim rcchati, says the Gita. “Knowing Me as the true friend of all beings, people shall attain peace.” We have to realise that God is our true friend. He is a friend who shall not forsake us at any time. He shall stand by us at the hour of doom. We must realise God as the true friend, as incarnate divinity, as a presence which is perpetually before us, guarding us and taking care of us in every respect, providing us with everything that is required at any moment of time. Contemplating God in this manner, we realise His presence even in society.

So here, in these two verses at the beginning of the eighth chapter, the great Master of the Gita gives a reply to the queries of Arjuna, all amounting to this sum and substance with which I began today, namely, the necessity to conceive God as a totality and comprehensiveness and not merely as an external object bereft of relationship with the subject and human society. Such yoga is supposed to be the means of the liberation of the spirit from this mortal tabernacle, and the eighth chapter busies itself with the eschatology of the processes through which the soul passes in its journey through the layers of the cosmos.