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

Chapter 14: The Absolute Pervading the Universe

A direct entry into religion proper is made in the ninth chapter of the Bhagavadgita, where the concept of God assumes a concrete form. A living presence begins to be propounded, over and above the gospel of action and psychological integration which was explained in the earlier chapters, especially up to the sixth. The rise of the consciousness of the human being to the state of perfection, by gradual stages, passes through a phenomenon known as religion, and the ninth chapter devotes itself to the exposition of a universal religion for humanity as a whole. The chapter begins with the words: Raja-vidya raja-guhyam pavitram idam uttamam, pratyaksavagamam dharmyam susukham kartum avyayam. A royal secret, as it were, is going to be expounded. It is the kingly quintessence of knowledge, which is to be acquired by personal experience, and is not capable of acquisition merely by verbal testimony, sensory perception or logical reasoning. This wisdom, this knowledge which has to be acquired by direct contact of Being with Being, intuition or experience, is the essence of what is known as dharmapratyaksavagamam dharmyam.

The word dharma is now here revealed in its true colours—not as a cult, creed, law, rule, or principle of action in a human world—but a supreme system according to which the whole universe operates. The word dharma is interpreted in the most general manner, and comprehensive enough to absorb into its connotation everything that we regard as right, virtuous or righteous.

Now, the great Teacher of the Bhagavadgita takes us right into the heart of the matter when He directly declares at once what this dharma is, on what it is rooted and what it is expected to reveal in the lives of people in the world. Maya tatam idam sarvam jagad avyakta-murtina: This half-verse is the rock bottom of all expressions of law and rule going by the name of dharma, in one way or the other. Any rule, law, or principle is a method or manner in which we accommodate ourselves into the existing order of things. This capacity of self-accommodation in respect of the existing order of things is not only obedience to law, abidance by rules, but it is equivalent to righteousness. This is what we call virtue, goodness and so on.

Conformity to reality is dharma, and anything opposed to it is adharma. The principle of reality is what determines the nature of dharma or virtue, goodness or righteousness, or rectitude in action, conduct, behaviour, thought and feeling. So a person who does not have a correct idea of what reality is cannot be really virtuous or righteous. Our social forms of goodness and virtue, rectitude and legality are relative to the conditions in which we are placed, and inasmuch as they have no reference to the ultimate reality of things, we have to go on changing our colours like chameleons from day to day. But there can be harmony between the relative forms of dharma and the ultimate form of it. Our daily conduct may vary according to the needs of the hour. Seasons, social circumstances, the state of one’s health and various other requirements of the time may demand a relative expression of conformity, all which has to be in harmony, finally, with a principle motive which cannot change.

So dharma or righteousness is of two types, known as vishesha dharma and samanya dharma. Abidance to law, which is relative to historical, social, or political conditions is vishesha dharma, and abidance to the law that is eternally operating in the whole of the cosmos is known as samanya dharma. While the way of living of people in different times and climes may vary according to these times and climes, there is a general regulating principle behind humanity as a whole. Though it is true that one person need not necessarily think identically like another person, there is a basic equality of human ideology and aspiration. So there is a vishesha dharma, or a particular requirement of the time, and there is a basic conditioning factor which is the inviolable dharma, or what is sometimes called sanatana dharma. It is operative eternally and works with impunity with everything throughout the cosmos, and it decides what sort of relative expression this law has to take under historical conditions that change from time to time.

The basic dharma is described in this half-verse of the ninth chapter of the Bhagavadgita, which goes as: maya tatam idam sarvam jagad avyakta-murtina. The Absolute Almighty pervades every nook and corner of the universe. Every nook and cranny is permeated by the presence of the Supreme Being. The consciousness of the presence of the Almighty inseparably in every little thing in the whole of creation is the ultimate constitutional dharma. It is the central constitution of the cosmos, and all local and provincial laws follow from it. Political laws, social laws, family laws, personal laws, physical laws, psychological laws, and what not—all these are expressions according to the requirement of the particular state of affairs of that eternal deciding factor which is the presence of one common Being everywhere, equally, unanimously, perpetually in everything. The presence of God is defined here as an invisible presence, an unmanifested existence—avyakta-murtina. It is not a gross, visible, sensory presence. The presence of God is to be conceived in a manner quite different from our idea of the existence of concrete objects, like a brick wall, a pebble or a stone, or the human beings that we see in the world. Everything that is concrete is capable of isolation from other things that are concrete. The idea of substantiality or concreteness is associated with duality, disassociation, difference, etc.

Therefore it is made out that inasmuch as the Supreme Being is above every dualistic concept, inasmuch as He is present unanimously and uniformly everywhere, He has to be impervious to the ken of the senses. The senses are outer expressions in space and time in terms of objects which are hard and concrete, and therefore, to the senses, the Creator of the cosmos is invisible. It is not that He is invisible under every condition; under the conditions in which we are living today God is invisible, just as high voltage and high frequency light waves may be invisible to the condition under which our eyes operate at present. It need not mean that they are invisible under every condition, because if the frequency of our capacity to perceive through the eyes is raised up to the high level frequencies of light, the eyes may perceive and ears may hear such ultrasonic waves. So, the imperceptibility of God’s Being is not a negation of the possibility of experience of God’s Being. It is a description of the inadequacy of sense power in respect of God experience.

Mat-sthani sarva-bhutani na caham tesv avasthitah is another descriptive epithet which is added to this definition of God’s invisible presence in all things. All things are rooted in God, but the wholeness of God cannot be comprehended by any finite object. That means to say, though everything is in Him, He cannot be wholly contained in anything. All things can be contained in Him, but He cannot be contained in anything exclusively, because while the part can be contained by the whole, the whole cannot be contained by the part. So it is a futile attempt on the part of the human reason, for instance, finite faculty as it is, to imagine that it can know the secrets of the world. The scientific adventures and rational philosophies of humanity are incompetent to fathom the depths and the mysteries of the cosmos, because the wholeness of reality is not capable of being contained in the finitude of human understanding, or in anything finite, for the matter of that. There is nothing in this world that is capable of being an instrument in the knowledge of God. Hence, the world is called a relative world. There is nothing absolute here, because the Absolute is only One, while the relative parts can be many. While the entire relative world is contained in God and the relative is in the Absolute, the Absolute is not in the relative, because there is a distracted differentiation of particulars in the world of relativity; and in this distractedness of finitude, the Infinite cannot be wholly present. That is the meaning of this phrase, na cham tesv avasthitah.

But there is a more enigmatic declaration yet to come—na ca mat-sthani bhutani. It also cannot be said that the world is in God, though it may be said in one way that it is in God. Inasmuch as an effect has to have a cause, and the world reveals the characteristics of an effect, it has to be based on a cause that is wider than itself, vaster than its expanse, and we posit the existence of a Creator as the cause of this world, this universe. So in this sense we may say that the world is rooted in God—mat-sthani sarva-bhutani. But the omnipresence of God excludes the possibility of anything getting rooted in Him, because to imagine the rootedness of one thing in another is to assume the difference of one thing from another, an indirect refutation of the omnipresence of the Supreme Being. Nothing external to God exists, He being the all-comprehensive Infinite, and That, external to which nothing is and nothing can be, cannot be regarded as a cause of an effect which has to be rooted in it as if it is an outside something. So immediately the Teacher of the Gita assumes a role which is quite different from the one in which He declared that the whole world is rooted in God.

Look at the mystery and majesty of God—pasya me yogam aisvaram—behold the grandeur of the Absolute. We will be stunned even to think of it. The hair will stand on end, the mind will get stupefied, the senses will get blinded, the speech will get hushed and the whole personality will melt even at the thought of this majesty of the supreme Absolute, wherein nothing can be found that is in this world, while everything here is also to be present in the Supreme Being. Everything is there and nothing is there. The sense in which everything is there and the sense in which nothing can be there has also been explained. “Where something is seen outside, something is heard outside and something is understood outside, that state of affairs is to be regarded as finite,” says the great Teacher Santakumara in the Chhandyoga Upanishad. The Infinite is described in a different manner: It is that state where nothing is seen outside, nothing is heard outside and nothing is understood outside. “On what is It rooted?” Narada puts this question to the great Teacher, because we are accustomed to think in terms of rootedness of something in something else. “What is the basis for everything?” he asks, because we cannot think except in terms of basis, the relatedness of the effect to the cause. Everything has to be connected to something else, so Narada asks, “On what is this Absolute rooted?” The great Teacher laughs, “You always think of connecting one thing with another thing. A person may be located in some thing, in some status, in some position. But here, on which everything is based, which is the position of everything else, how can you conceive of a position in respect of It? It is It’s own basis. It is neither a cause nor an effect of anything. It is not an effect, because It is not anything finite. It is not a cause, because It does not undergo any modification.” Causeless and effectless, superb is that Being—pasya me yogam aisvaram. Look at this great yoga of God!

But human beings are frail in their understanding. Avajananti mam mudha mamusim tanum asritam, param bhavam ajananto mama bhuta-mahesvaram. Our God is a human God. Human beings worship a God who looks like a human being, and even when we conceive of God as an all-comprehensive universal Creator, we only magnify His human personality. The anthropomorphic idea does not leave us, because human thought cannot become a superhuman faculty. To regard God as a human being is to apply a derogatory epithet to the supremacy of His infinitude. Avajananti mam—”Insult Me,” as it were. “People talk to Me as if I am a human being, not knowing the transcendent infinitude of Mine”—param bhavam ajananto. So what is available to this finitude of human intellect under the circumstances of this inaccessibility of the infinitude? A humble surrender of oneself—mahatmanas tu mam partha daivim prakritim asritah, bhajanty ananya-manaso. The mind, ever united with That, knowing that God is the source of all beings—jnatva bhutadim avyayam—great souls resort to Him only as the ultimate refuge.

We have small refuges everywhere. We have a bank which is our refuge or an office as a refuge, a little land and a house and social relationships—these are all refuges in times of difficulty. But they cannot be called ultimate refuges; they can desert us one day or the other. The props that the world provides to us are unreliable in the end. They cannot be trusted fully; everyone knows this. But there is a refuge which can be trusted wholly. There is a friend who will follow us ever and ever. The great souls resort to this ultimate refuge which will take care of them under any circumstance—satatam kirtayanto mam yatantas ca drdha-vratah, namasyantas ca mam bhaktya nitya-yukta upasate. They become restless without the company of God. They feel homeless and homesick on account of their dissociation from God’s Being. They are like children who have lost their parents. They are agonised in their hearts and are crying for union with That which they have lost, worshipping Him in various ways.

Here is a psychic knot, in a verse which the Bhagavadgita gives us, revealing the universality of its approach in the matter of religion. Jnana-yajnena capy anye yajanto mam upsate, ekatvena prthaktvena bahudha visvato-mukham: By the sacrifice of knowledge people worship God in three ways—as the One, as the all-inclusive, and as the variegated. These central points, mentioned in three words here, perhaps become the seed of what later on develops as the schools of philosophy known as Advaita, Vasishthadvaita and Dvaita—the school that emphasises unity, the school that emphasises all-inclusiveness of variety, and that which emphasises variety alone. We can approach God in any manner, and at any point in the world, in any form and in any attitude, provided that this attitude or approach is exclusive and fully dedicated to the cause.

We live in a sense world, in an intellectual world and also in a spiritual world. We are sensory beings, rational beings and spiritual beings—all things put together. When the sense world is sitting hard on our face as a phenomenon of diversity and differentiated objects, we are likely to admire God as that which is present behind this variety, and worship symbols, isolated forms as channels for our entry into That which is behind these forms. This is the significance of the worship of symbols, forms, idols, images, etc. Even our concept is only a symbol—an idol or a symbol is not necessarily physical and visible to the eyes. A concept in the mind is also an idol, because it has a form and a shape and is localised. But this localisation, this channelisation and this idealisation are intended to take the mind above itself to That which is transcendent and lies behind it as the principle conditioning it. So these schools of thought, whether it is Advaita, Vasishthadvaita or Dvaita are not self-contradictory—they are complementary, one to the other. One emphasises one aspect; another, another aspect. God manifests Himself as this variety of things—it is true. It is also true that this variety is interrelated in a universal completeness and it is not just a distracted variety. It is an organic completeness, ultimately.

But it is also true that there is no such a thing as relatedness in the Absolute. It is one indivisible mass of being. So the great Teachers are all correct. They emphasise various layers and stages of experience or realisation, and the Bhagavadgita endorses as correct these approaches as the One, as the interrelated, and the diversified. Further on we will be told, in this very chapter, that every conceivable thing in the world is a direct manifestation of God-Being, whether it is visible to the eyes, tangible to the senses or merely conceivable by the mind.