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

Chapter 21: The Lord Dwells in the Hearts of All Beings

We have been familarised with the terms sattva, rajas and tamas many a time through the course of the Bhagavadgita. In fact, these are not independent things external to us. They are not three things that lie outside in space, working in respect of us with an outward impulsion or compulsion. Actually these three forces are pressures exerted from three different sides, and these being mere pressures exerted upon us by the very law of things, they cannot be regarded as substances in themselves. There is a pressure from within, a pressure from without, and a pressure from above. Thus every event is a threefold concatenation of factors. Nothing happens independently by itself, as either a subjective element, an objective substance or a supernatural divinity. Three forces work together—sattva, rajas, and tamas—in everything.

Na tad asti prithivyam va divi devesu va punah, sattvam prakriti-jair muktam yad ebhih syat tribhir gu&naih: There is nothing anywhere—either on earth or in heaven, neither high nor low, whatever be its nature—which is free from the clutches of these three gunas. This is another way of saying that everything is an expression consequent upon a threefold pressure exerted by the law of nature in any particular point in the space-time complex. There is in every person, to give a gross example, an impulsion from within. Every person, every individual has a propulsive inclination from within oneself in some direction, in some manner, for some purpose. But it is not an independent propulsion, because it is conditioned by the existence of an external atmosphere. There is an outward world, other people around us, and many other things. The outward atmosphere of the existence of factors other than one’s own self limits the operation of the inward propulsions. In a similar manner, the effect that the external atmosphere has upon oneself is limited by the outlook that one has from one’s own self. So there is a collision of powers, which may be broadly spoken of as the inward and the outward factors in experience. But this inward and outward bifurcation of experience is again decided upon and determined by a superintending element, which is often known as the adhidaiva. So in some sense we may say that sattva, rajas and tamas are the propulsive features of adhidaiva, adhyatma and adhibhuta.

The Bhagavadgita is very eloquent in its explanation of the manner in which one has to direct one’s conduct and express one’s outlook in relation to these forces. It is always insists, throughout, that we have a sattvic attitude, and not merely a rajasic, or much less a tamasic attitude. The idea behind it is that the supernatural element or the principle of universality is to guide our destiny, our conduct, our actions and our outlook, and we should not be directed by our individual proclivities, idiosyncrasies, instincts, sentiments or desires, nor should all these be decided by the existence of outward objects. Our conduct, our behaviour, our entire outlook, our experiential attitude should not be decided upon by the existence of things outside. Nor should this decision be a consequence of our inward sentiments and ways of looking at things. That is the meaning of saying that it is not enough if we are merely tamasic or rajasic. We have to be sattvic, which means our stand should be on a third superintending, transcendent, universalising feature which is God present—divinity manifesting itself in some form, in some degree, in some intensity of manifestation.

Humanly this attitude is impossible. Ordinarily no human being can think in this manner, because either each one thinks for himself from his own individualised body-mind complex point of view, or it is entirely decided by the factors preponderating outside. We either take our stand on the conditions prevailing outside, or we are propelled by our own prejudices and preconceived judgments. Not for a moment would it be possible for ordinary human beings to stand above these two clutches and take an impartial attitude towards both sides. That impartiality of outlook is called the sattvica bhava. There is the finger of God operating in some element, in some form, and herein is the inner significance of what is known as karma yoga—action based on understanding, and understanding of that collaborating principle operating between the inward and the outward factors, the subject and the object. It is difficult for the mind to grasp and more difficult to put into practice.

These three principles are described in the fourteenth chapter in some detail, which again become the principal features guiding the themes described in the seventeenth chapter. Everything is sattvica, rajasica or tamasica. Whatever we think, whatever we speak, whatever we do, whatever we will—everything conceivable anywhere in any manner is one of these things—sattvica, or rajasica, or tamasica, or it is a mixture of one or two of these things in some proportion. Anyway, there cannot be anything independent of these. That means to say there cannot be anything, anywhere, which is neither subjective, nor objective, or a blend of both.

The more we are able to bring a harmony between the subjective element and the objective features in the gradually ascending series of the manifestations of this principle of universality known as adhidaiva, the more we are able to succeed along these lines, the more we are spiritual, and the more we are moving along the path of God. Else we are individuals—human beings caught up in the cocoon of our own feelings, or conditioned by the existence of outside things. Thus a categorisation has been made in the seventeenth chapter of the activities of our mind, speech and body, the food that we eat and many other things. In fact, anything that is of any meaning in our lives has been classified into either the sattvica, the rajasica, or the tamasica group. We are advised that it not proper for us to work on the basis of the tamas element, or even the rajas element—always the sattva has been praised. That is, the only valuable meaning in this world is the presence of divinity, and divinity is the harmonising principle among the conflicting factors. It is the cementing force in the middle of the gulf that is created in experience by the interference of subjectivity and objectivity.

Our understanding, our volition, our feelings and our actions are therefore sattvic, rajasic or tamasic. The gross understanding or the tamasic, objective-motivated understanding is that which clings to objects as realities in themselves and pours forth all one’s affection upon the objects, transferring oneself into them in some manner, so that there is a loss of personality in the love that one evinces in regard to the object of attachment. This is the lowest kind of understanding of the nature of reality. For the mother, the son is all reality—there no reality more than that. She will die for her son. People die for wealth, people die for name, fame, honour and many other things of that kind. These are examples of how the self within is transferred to outside factors and features that are visibly substantial, or merely psychological or conceivable, and become objects rather than subjects. When one, as a true subject, sell oneself as a belonging of an object outside and are contented to remain as an object rather than a subject, one is in a tamasic condition. This is the worst state of knowledge, where particular things are regarded as universals and one’s concentration goes entirely to these particular elements—whether property, family relations, wealth, name, fame, power, authority, and the like.

The higher understanding is the logical acumen that intellectual geniuses possess. By scientific investigation into the nature of things, they recognise the interconnectedness of all objects and realise that the world is an organism, completeness in itself, rather then a medley of scattered particulars. For the lowest understanding, everything is confusion and nothing has any connection with any other thing, whatsoever. Everything is totally independent of everything else—this is the lowest type of knowledge. “I have nothing to do with you, and you have nothing to do with me, and no object in this world has anything to do with anything else.” This is tamasic knowledge, the lowest type of understanding. So we think we can cling to anything or hate something with impunity, without any kind of nemesis or retribution following there from.

But the higher understanding knows that such a thing is impossible on the very face of it. We cannot love something to the exclusion of something else, because there is an inward relationship of things by a prehensive activity, so that when we touch something, we touch something else also, at the same time, without knowing what we are doing. Any kind of relationship with any particular object or situation at once implies a sort of interference with the positive or the negative prehensions of that particular object with other things in the world. Everything is somehow or other related to everything, whether mediately or immediately. Thus the genius of logical knowledge appreciates the presence of an interrelationship of all things. This is rajasic knowledge, where we maintain the diversity of objects as a reality in itself and yet accede or concede there being an inward collaborative activity going on along the various particulars of this organism of things.

The highest knowledge is that intuition by which one enters into the soul of all bodies and realises, by a total grasp of instantaneous experience, the indivisibility of what we may call a universal subjectivity, atmatattva, which is independent of any kind of externalisation in perception, and which is inseparable from brahmatattva or Absoluteness. We have been told that Atman is Brahman, which means to say that the Universal is the same as the Self, and the Self is the same as the Universal. The two are two terms referring to one and the same context—reality and existence. This is sattvic wisdom, the highest that one can have.

Likewise is the classification of will, emotion, action, etc. which is elaborated in the eighteenth chapter. When we decide, we are exerting our volition—the will is operating. It is sattvic volition or will which is able to restrain the senses and stabilise the mind and the intellect in the direction of harmony with all things. Rajas is that which confuses one thing with another other and is unable to bring about this harmonising feature among the various types of experiences we have in the world. Tamas is that which adheres to a prejudiced affirmation of will. Feelings are the expressions of emotion. They are the premonitions of a desire for pleasure, satisfaction, or happiness. We require immediate happiness—comfort at once, and not tomorrow. This inclination or instinct of the mind by which one seeks immediate satisfaction and pleasure, whatever be the consequences following, is a misguided attitude, because the immediate satisfaction that we are after generally proceeds from the contact of the senses with objects. This contact stimulates the nervous system, an itching sensation is created, and any stimulation is mistaken for happiness. That which is pleasurable in the beginning but painful in the end is not the right type of satisfaction. But that which is genuine in its nature appears to be painful in the beginning, but in the end it brings a joyous fruit which is permanent in its nature.

The way to the realisation of sattva is often painful and agonising, because it often passes through tamas and rajas. We have to move through the thick jungle infested with thorns, etc. in the form of tamasic and rajasic impulsions, before we reach the luminous, lustrous jewel of sattva. The lowest satisfaction is that which revels in utter ignorance of the consequences, the pros and cons of experience, lives like an animal and rejoices in the predicament of a beastly existence. The satisfactions of a beast are tamasic, and man often searches for beastly satisfactions. The rajasic satisfactions are those which are superior, no doubt, but which are painful in the consequence, though appearing to be satisfying in the beginning. The true satisfaction, which is sattvic, is satisfying only in the end, not in the beginning.

Actions which are motivated by personal agency are erroneous actions, and who can avoid this feeling of personal agency in action? Everyone knows and feels, “I do, and I have to do”, not knowing that many factors are contributory to the production of a result. As we have already noted, all that goes to constitute the personality of the individual, no doubt, is a group of factors contributory to the result of the action. But this is not all. The outward world also has a part to play in the production of the result. Every event is a collision of the subject and the object, and a spark splashes forth, as it were, in this impact which is the result often attributed to the subject and often attributed to the object. But neither is the truth, because the experience of a consequence is the interference of the third element, as was pointed out earlier, namely, one degree of the Universal operating in the midst of the particulars in the form of the subject and the object. In every experience there is this Universal element present.

I cannot even be aware that you are sitting in front of me unless the Universal is operating between you and me. Neither can I speak to you, nor can I understand that you are in my presence, nor can you know that I am here. All knowledge is a manifestation of Universality. Every experience is Universal in its nature. There is nothing anywhere except the Universal ultimately; the particulars are not. One who knows this truth cannot appropriate agency to oneself. That action that is free from the agency or the commitment of personality in the performance of activity is sattvic. Anything else is rajasic or tamasic—motivated by egoism, personal esteem, and selfish desire, or performed with an intention of harming others in some way or the other, covertly or overtly.

The eighteenth chapter is something like a catalogue or an index of several things that have been discussed in greater detail in the earlier chapters, tending towards a summing up of the supremacy of God—the absoluteness of the Universal element in all experience. Isvarah sarva-bhutanam hrd-dese’rjuna tisihati. Ishvara is the heart of all beings. That means to say, as I mentioned, the Universal is also the Self, and everything is determined by the purpose of this Supreme Will that is known as all this creation. The surrender of oneself to the intentions of this Universal is the gospel, ultimately, of the Bhagavadgita. The coming into utter abolition of oneself in the recognition of the All-Being of God is what is known as sharanagati or the surrender of self. The surrender of self is the last sacrifice that one can do, and the hardest of sacrifices that one can conceive. Whatever books we read or efforts that we make, this last sacrifice would be withheld for anyone, because sacrifice is generally regarded as an offering of possession. However, the highest sacrifice is not a giving up possession, but the giving up of the possessor himself, which is unthinkable on earth. How can one surrender the personality of one’s own self, which is the source of the surrendering act or performance? How can the doer abandon himself? How can the sacrificer sacrifice himself?

The crux of spiritual knowledge and tapas or sadhana is reached when we come to our own selves from the outward panorama of things. Everything looks successful and grand and practicable when the dealings are only with external objects, with the vast cosmos. We may handle the whole world with great success and victory, but when it comes to a question of handling our own selves, we are an utter failure, because the most difficult thing is one’s own self and not the world outside, though it appears many a time that the world is a terrible thing before us. But we are the terrible things, and not the world.

Hence this great terror is our own ego which has to be offered on the altar of sharanagati. “Come to Me alone and I will free you from all sins,” is the last message of the Bhagavadgita. It is wonderful indeed that all our sins will be pardoned and will be extinguished as if they had never been there. How could that which was there not be there now? It is impossible to imagine. It was already mentioned in some other place in the Gita itself, “That which is, cannot not be.” So if there is sin, it cannot not be; no one can destroy it. But here is the message that it can be extinguished in one moment, as if it was not there, because it was not a substance existing—it was not a reality. Error, evil, and ugliness are not substances. They are misplacements of values. Just as darkness cannot be called a substance, evil is not a substance by itself—it is an error of commission. Hence, when the erroneous affirmation of the individual ego is consumed in the fire of the recognition of the existence of the Universal, it is something like waking up from the dream consciousness into the brilliance of daylight. All the sins committed in dream are destroyed by the very act of our waking. We need not have to perform special tapas when we are awake for the errors that we committed in dream. The very fact that we have woken up into a higher degree or level of consciousness is enough penance or expiation for the blunders of the dream world. Likewise, the very fact that we have woken up into the consciousness of God’s All-Being is enough expiation for all the errors and mistakes that one might have committed in the dream of world consciousness.

In this great art of the yoga of the Bhagavadgita, the individual has always to walk hand in hand with God’s grace. God is our friend, and no one else can be our friend. The particular has to go with the Universal. We have to go with God. Arjuna is with Krishna. This is what the last verse of the Gita says, when it propounds that, “Victory is certain, prosperity will prevail, and everything shall be well, where Arjuna and Krishna are seated in one chariot and move forward in the battlefield of life.” Where man walks with God, all will be well. That means to say, everything that is individual becomes divine when the touch of the Universal galvanises it and transforms it into the precious gold of utter Reality, and lifts it from the mire of the reflected unreality of particularity. Hence it is our duty—the whole of the Bhagavadgita is a gospel of duty—it is our duty to see that everything that we think, speak and act, our entire outlook, is rooted finally in the existence of God-Being.