by Swami Krishnananda
The vision of the cosmic form was vouchsafed to Arjuna, as portrayed in the majestic words of the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavadgita. Subsequent to this wondrous display of God’s glory, which was witnessed with consternation by Arjuna in his mystical rapture, he raises a question before Bhagavan Sri Krishna. “This mighty spirit which was revealed to me just now is capable of approach and attainment, finally, in a whole-souled contemplation of the entire being of the seeker; a merger, as it were, of one’s consciousness in the impersonal Absolute. There is the other way of contemplating You as the glorious, mystifying, majestic form. Which of the two approaches can be regarded as preferable?” This is the question.
The answer is a little surprising and, at the same time, very solacing. One would have expected the great Master to give an immediate reply by saying that what is required of the seeker of the liberation of the soul is a complete merger of himself in the Absolute by a contemplation which leaves no trace of personality or externality. On the other hand, the Yogesvara tells Arjuna, “Considering the difficulty involved in the contemplation on the impersonal Absolute by people who are located in a physical body, I prefer the other way of devotional surrender to the magnificent form of God, by which approach divine grace will descend upon the devotee.” The reason is also explained in a few verses in the twelfth chapter. Kleso’dhikataras tesam avyaktasakta-cetasam:Those who are intent upon the impersonal Brahman will find their way very hard to tread, because of the fact that it is not easy for embodied beings to contemplate the disembodied.
In meditation we set ourselves en rapport with that upon which we are meditating. There is a sort of parallel concourse of consciousness between ourselves and the great object of meditation. If we are far below the level of that on which we are ideally contemplating in ourselves, there would be no proper harmony between the subject meditating and the object of meditation. It is very clear and obvious that people are mostly incapable of raising their consciousness to the status of impersonality wholly, because of the fact that we are ‘persons’ and not ‘impersons’. How many among us, who among mankind, can be sure of overcoming the awareness of a physical body and be certain of one’s ability to transport one’s mind to the level of the infinitude of God? As it involves, therefore, a tremendous difficulty on the part of the minds of people who are engrossed in body consciousness, Sri Krishna says, “I prefer the devotional or the devout attitude of self-surrender to the Supreme Form of God, rather than straining oneself towards the Impersonal Being.” Though the one may appear to be different from the other in the method of approach, the goal is the same. This is a great consolation to every seeker. It does not mean that one is superior or inferior to the other, though many a time it appears to investigative and logical minds that the impersonal approach is superior to the personal. But surprisingly to religious thinkers, the Bhagavadgita makes no distinction.
The whole point of meditation is the capacity of the mind to absorb itself in the object of meditation, to the exclusion of any other thought. One may be wondering how Bhagavan Sri Krishna regards the personal approach as equal to the impersonal. The reason is purely psychological, which is the essence of the whole matter in contemplation or meditation. Meditation proper is what usually is known as ananya chintana—a thinking deeply, absorption wholly, to the exclusion of any extraneous idea. This is the basic psychological secret in contemplation or meditation. The function of the mind at the time of meditation is very important, not the nature of the object. The purpose of meditation is to so adjust the mind to a particular pattern of thinking, so that it ceases from any distracted attention towards dualistic notions which sustain the ego individuality of a person. The whole point in meditation is transcendence of thought—overcoming of ego and dissolution of personal consciousness in God-Being. This can be achieved only when the mind is freed from its attachments to diversity of thought and the multitudinous attention that it usually bestows upon objects of sense. When the mind is concentrated on any particular ideal—externally a form or internally a concept, whatever it be—what happens is there is a bombarding of the mind by a single thought. Just as we hear of the bombardment of material particles by scientific methods due to which a tremendous energy is released out of particles of matter merely because of the continuous hammering on them by great forces imposed upon them from outside, the energy of the mind gets released by a continuity of thought which presses upon it so hard that it bursts forth, as it were, and overcomes itself. There is a self-transcendence of the mind by a repeated hammering over it by thoughts which are continuously maintained to the exclusion of anything else.
Our personality—the ego, the bodily consciousness—are maintained intact on account of diversity of attention. Just as a cloth is constituted of threads which are the warp and woof thereof, the mind is constituted, as it were, in the form of a fabric made up of the warp and woof of thoughts of likes and dislikes, loves and hatreds, etc. These are nothing but an expression of the mind’s attachments and aversions to the diversity of objects. The attention of the mind on one particular concept, internally or externally, is the opposite of the usual function of the mind. Hence, irrespective of the particular character of the object of meditation—form or impersonal, whatever it is—the transformation that takes place within us is common. Whether we contemplate on a Supreme Form or we contemplate on the Formless Infinitude of Being, the transformation that takes place within the mind is similar. It is an attention which is whole-souled and freed from all distraction and diversity. So Bhagavan Sri Krishna points out that the same goal is attained by those who strain themselves towards the impersonal Absolute by meditation thereon, and by those who devote themselves by surrender to the Supreme Form of God.
Now having said this much, a beautiful prescription is given in the very middle of the twelfth chapter which sums up what we know as ‘the four yogas’, in modern terms. Though the names of these yogas are not mentioned there, these are equivalent to what we know as jnana, raja, bhakti and karma yoga. “Absorb yourself wholly in Me.” Mayy eva mana adhatsva is the first instruction. Mayi buddhim nivesaya, nivasisyasi mayy eva ata urdhvam na samsayah: A total absorption on God is the supreme yoga. A whole-souled attention—twenty-four hours a day we are only concerned with That, our mind is thinking only of That, and there is no other interest in life except an entertainment of God thought. This is the greatest achievement that we could conceive, if it could be practicable. But Sri Krishna says that if we find this is hard, if we cannot maintain this thought throughout the day, then—abhyaasa-yogena tato mm icchaptum dhananjaya—try to practice the art of repeated concentration. Fix your mind again and again on the chosen object, and continue this practice day in and day out. This is abhyasa yoga. Today you may find it difficult; tomorrow perhaps it may be a little easier on account of practice done today, and so on and so forth. Every day the difficulty will be lessened and the mind will attain greater and greater composure and concentration.
Even this is difficult for many people; they cannot even sit for practice in this manner. They take to devout adoration of God—singing His names, glorifying His Being and engaging themselves in such ways as would be conducive to the maintenance of devotion to God in their daily routine of practice. By way of worship, by way of listening to God’s glories, by singing His names, etc., mat-karma-paramo bhava: “Do your duties as worship of Me.”
If even this is difficult, then perform your duties unselfishly. Everyone has a duty to perform in the station in which one is placed in human society. No one is free from this obligation—everyone knows this very well. Now, this fulfilment of the obligation that we owe in life, the duty that we are expected to perform, is to be conducted in a most unselfish manner as an instrument in the hands of God. The whole doctrine of the Bhagavadgita, which goes by the name of karma yoga, sums up the principle of the outlook of life that we have to entertain throughout, which is that we are not the agents of action, we are not the performers of duties—we are only instruments in the hands of supernal powers. If this wisdom at least is available to us, certainly it would save us from the folly of imagining that we are the sole agents of action, which mistake will come upon us as karmaphala—the nemesis or the reaction of action, on account of which rebirth may be the consequence. To put an end to this transmigratory life and the pains that follow as reactions to actions, we are not to regard ourselves as performers of actions but as participants in a cosmic purpose, which is the operation of the law of God. This much, at least, should be capable of performance for every individual.
So here is the central theme of the twelfth chapter before us, after which the characteristics of a real devotee are described. A real devotee is one who hates not or loves not anything in this world in an exclusive manner, but is compassionate, merciful and equanimous in his attitude towards all things; principally one who shrinks not from anything and one who does not conduct oneself in such a way as to be shrunk away from by others. Yasman nodvijate loko lokn nodvijate ca yah:One who does not regard oneself as a proprietor of anything. You have no propriety right over anything—aniketah sthira-matir. Aniketah is one who has no habitat. Even the house you live in is not your house. You are a trustee, as it were, a caretaker of the so-called property which appears to be invested upon you but of which you are not the owner in any manner whatsoever. Who can say that we are the owners of anything in this world? We are not the owners of even this body. Hence, performing one’s duty with this dedicated spirit, not regarding anything as one’s property or belonging, thus severing oneself from attachments of every type, one lives a godly life. This is the sum and substance of the twelfth chapter.
When we move to the thirteenth chapter, we are entering a more philosophical theme. As a matter of fact, from the thirteenth chapter onwards, we are entering into deeper and deeper philosophical discussions, which are placed before us as methods of implementing the doctrine of the whole of the Gita delineated in the earlier chapters, right from the first to the eleventh. The whole world of experience consists of the dual action of purusha and prakriti, consciousness and matter, ksetrajnah and ksetra—thus the thirteenth chapter begins. Ksetrajnam cpi mam viddhi sarva-ksetresu is a very important passage at the very commencement of the chapter. The ksetrajnah mentioned here in the thirteenth chapter, the consciousness, the Atman, the kutastha, the soul inside us, is not merely the individual light that shines in the heart of a particular person. It is the light that is the light in all beings, sarva-ksetresu, and not only in one ksetra. It is not my self or your self or someone’s self—it is the Soul of all beings.
Thus, the presence of God in an individual implies, at the same time, the omnipresence of God, and this omnipresent Being is the source of this creation. Along the lines of the Samkhya cosmology, the thirteenth chapter mentions the process of the evolution of the various elements in the cosmos. The Supreme Being is God Himself who condenses Himself into the creative will, known in the Samkhya language as mahat, mentioned here as buddhi in the thirteenth chapter, which becomes possible on account of the presence of avyakta. Samkhya calles it mula prakriti; Vedanta calls it maya shakti, and so on. The self-delimitation of God in the form of a Creator is explained as an act which is beyond the intelligence of the human being. This unintelligibility of the manner in which God descends, as it were, into the creative purpose is described as prakriti in Samkhya, maya in Vedanta, and avyakta here in the thirteenth chapter.
Through avyakta God reveals Himself as buddhi or mahat and stratifies Himself further down as the cosmic ego, ahamkara. In later Vedantic doctrines, these stages are described as ishwara, hiranyagarbha, and virat. The terminology of the Bhagavadgita is different, but it means almost the same thing. Right from the supreme will of the Creator to the manifestation of cosmic ahamkara, there is only paradise reigning in the universe. There is only a garden of Eden, only heaven, and supreme felicity of cosmic perception everywhere. There is no egoism, no hatred, not even an individual consciousness. But then starts the sorrow of the individual. There is the manifestation of the grossened elements, mahabhutani—earth, water, fire, air and ether—which look like objects of sense to individuals who are cut off from the outside world. These individuals are again constituted of the five layers—annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnaamaya and anandamaya koshas—the physical, vital, mental, intellectual and causal layers, which appear to be outside the universe. Then what happens: Iccha dvesah sukham duhkham sanghatas cetana dhrtih. Well, all trouble arises at once, like the cyclone that blows as soon as the sun is beclouded by a darkened screen in the monsoon season. Desires and hatreds of various types take possession of the individual ego as soon as it is severed from the cosmic fold. This much is the short description, an outline given in the thirteenth chapter of the Gita of the kshetra or the field of action, the universe in its material form.
Now, the description goes further down to the nature of the percipient, the subject who aspires for God or the attainment of liberation. What are the characteristics of such a person? What is jnana? What is the knowledge that is required of us in order to understand this kshetra,and what is the knowable or the supreme object of knowledge? Amanitvam adambhitvam, etc. are the various verses, beautiful indeed, which portray not only the ethical characteristics that are required of a seeker, but also the philosophical attitude that we have to maintain and the spiritual qualifications that are required of us. The gradual ascent of aspiration until tattva-jnanartha-darsanam takes place is mentioned in these verses, culminating in the beautiful concept of knowledge of Truth as it is. This comes to us by the service of the Guru, study of the scriptures, self-investigation, humility, unpretentiousness and such other qualities that are mentioned in these verses, beginning with amanitvam, etc. This is knowledge, and everything else is ignorance—etaj jnanam iti porktam ajnanam yad ato’nyatha.
With this knowledge of our true relationship to the creation of God, with this preparedness of spirit, what are we supposed to know? What is the object of attainment? What is knowable reality? Here is a very grand description of the supreme Brahman, which comes only once in the whole of the Gita, and that occurs in the thirteenth chapter. Jneyam yat tat pravaksyami yaj jnatvamrtam asnut: Knowing which you shall attain immortality. What is that, by knowing which, you shall attain immortality? Sarvatah pani-padam tat sarvato’ksi-siro-mukham, sarvatah srutimal loke sarvam avrtya tisthati. There is something that is invisible to the eyes but which exists everywhere, with hands and feet and eyes and heads everywhere, as it were, pervading all things inwardly and outwardly; deepest and nearest, inside us and yet most remote and unreachable by any effort of man. Sarvendriya- gunabhasam sarvendriya-vivarjitam, asaktam: It is free from the limitations of the senses. The Supreme Being does not perceive with eyes and ears as we do, yet It is the illuminator of all the senses. It is not conditioned by the sense organs, but without It the sense organs cannot function.
Avibhaktam ca bhutesu vibhaktam iva ca sthitam, bhuta-bhartr ca tat jneyam grasisnu prabhavisnu ca. Jyotisam api taj jyotis tamasah param uchyate, jnanam jneyam jnana-gamyam hrdi sarvasya vis°hitam. This grand description goes with the declaration that this great Reality is indivisible—it cannot be separated into parts. It cannot be partitioned in any manner, yet it appears as if it is divided among the objects of sense, which are different one from the other. Avibhaktam ca bhutesu: Like space which is undivided everywhere and yet it may appear to be divided by the various vessels or pots, glasses, etc. which carry little spaces within themselves, though the space is unaffected by these so-called delimitations thereof by the presence of walls and vessels and the like, so is God’s Being unaffected by the divisions which we see through the perceptions of the senses. This great Being is within us and not far from us. It is rooted in the deepest recesses of the heart of everyone. It is the Light of all lights—even the sun cannot shine there. Mystics have said that the light of the sun is the shadow of God. Such is the brightness that we can expect in the vision of the Absolute. All these are figurative descriptions to entertain us with the majesty of God’s Being. Otherwise, who can explain what this light is? It is superior to anything that we can think of, understand, imagine, perceive or cognise. The philosophical background of the thirteenth chapter of the Bhagavadgita is concluded here, and further ethical and practical implications of it will follow further on.