by Swami Krishnananda
The chapters of the Bhagavad Gita may be said to indicate the progressive march of the spiritual seeker by graduated steps towards the achievement of the goal. What one sees in the beginning while looking at things with open eyes is a field of turmoil – a historical conflict and a difference between one thing and everything else.
We see the world in this manner. Everything is at sixes and sevens, everyone distrusts everyone else, everyone wishes to use and utilise everyone else, everyone is suspect about everything outside. Everyone has to guard oneself from every other person, though it is true that one cannot completely ignore the presence of this multitude of the variety of persons and things in the world. This is the picture of the field of battle.
Every moment of time we are facing such a situation. It is an inward battle, manifesting itself as an outward conflict; an irreconcilability within reveals itself as a physical irreconcilability and a practical difficulty. This is what is happening to us every day from morning to night, from moment to moment. We have to be cautious and look around in all directions, noticing what is happening, how we can adjust and adapt ourselves to the movement of conditions around, which are not uniform always, but vary from day to day and sometimes several times even in a single day. We have to face this world of irreconcilability. Why should we face it? Because we are in it. We have entered the field willy-nilly and while we are in the field, we cannot absolve ourselves from the necessity to handle the situation in a requisite manner.
This is what they call the need to perform one's duty. Duty is what we are expected to do under a given condition; therefore, the colour and the contour and structure of duty also changes according to place, time and circumstance. What is duty in this place may not be duty in another place. What is duty at this time may not be duty at another time. What is duty under these prevailing conditions may not be duty under different conditions. Desha, kala, paristhiti (place, time and condition) decide the nature of what we are expected to do, so that we cannot have a textbook of the nature of duty anywhere in the world. We have to use our common sense, our feeling, and our understanding. Understanding is the word that will be underlined when we move forward through the chapters of the Bhagavad Gita. The word buddhi, reason, is emphasised always.
We find that this world is often too much for us. The large army of people, the entire humanity, seems to be facing us, staring at us, and telling us that we should be cautious: Beware! Sometimes we look much smaller than the world, which is larger, like the Kaurava army which is larger than the Pandava group. The world which is objective in its nature occupies a larger area in space and time than our individuality, our personality. We seem to be singly facing the world, which is like a vast ocean in front of us.
While it is emphasised that we have to face the world, we will also feel that it is not an easy affair. How will one person that I am be able to confront the sea of humanity, this vast world of space and time? Yet we are told again and again to get up and gird up our loins for doing what is necessary. What is necessary? This requires not only a personal understanding within, but also guidance of a specific nature.
We may, in a mood of inadequate understanding of the circumstances prevailing, imagine that we can do something. There are people in the world who feel that they can conquer the whole of nature, face humanity, rule the world, become kings and emperors, dictators. Such feelings some may have, but these are only types of initial enthusiasm.
The world has not come under the control of any dictator finally. It has thrown them all out by producing historical circumstances, political conditions, and social catastrophes. In this situation, where one is not sure of whether it is possible to do anything at all in this world, one can throw down one's arms: "I shall not take up my weapon of effort in any way when now I realise that I am not up to the mark in my relationship with this power of humanity, the world of nature. This is not for me." So goes the defeatist attitude, which overpowers a person after a while, though there was initially a feeling that one could do many things.
Spiritual seekers, who have in the beginning felt a spurt of aspiration, begin to feel now that they can renounce the world and work vigorously for attaining God in this birth itself. This is what Arjuna felt: "Let the Kauravas know who I am."
We can see in the discourses given by Arjuna on the Pandavas' side, described to us in the Udyoga Parva of the Mahabharata, prior to the commencement of the war: "What do they think they are? They do not know the power of my Gandiva. Let me twang my bow and see that their hearts quail." All this was told in the preparatory discussions in an audience, but, when, actually, the confrontation was on hand with the magnitude of the forces in front, the assumed confidence and valour flew like mist before the sun and a totally different mood overpowered the very same person who said he will twang the bow and break the hearts of the enemies.
The field of confrontation judges us. We will know ourselves only when we are faced by the opposite party. When nobody is opposing us, we cannot know what we are. Even the power of God Himself cannot be seen unless we oppose God. There are people who opposed Vishnu, Narayana. Then only He manifested Himself as a ferocious man-lion, Narasimha, or as a Rama or Krishna.
When we are confronting the world, it shows its strength, and we also will show our strength only when we are confronted. When we are losing everything, we will put forth all our energy to save ourselves.
There are two powers working in us – daiva and asura, as the Bhagavad Gita mentions. The weakness which tells us that it is not possible for us to face the world of objects arises on account of the undivine forces (asura) also operating in us, which tell us that we are puny little individuals, that we are nowhere before this large world. The astronomical universe terrifies us. We are one speck, atomic in size, like a particle on this small planet called earth, which is floating unrecognised in space in the midst of large galaxies, unthinkable in vast space and time complex. We are flabbergasted at the might of this universe. We feel defeated, humiliated by the very size of the world.
But another thing, the divine nature (daiva) in us, tells us that we can overcome the whole universe; we can reach the stars and make them our own. We can probe into the mysteries of nature, conquer it and harness it, utilise it for our purposes. The daiva, the divinity in us, tells us: "You are not a weakling. Get up and show your strength! Don't be a coward." The other one says, "You are a coward, a weakling, you cannot do anything."
The facing of the world, confronting the Kaurava forces, meeting the requirements of the large humanity, calls for a development of our personality in a new direction altogether. We require a strengthening inwardly, gradually, in the needed measure to face the world, and it is necessary to face the world. We cannot run away from it. We are in it, steeped in it. What is the use of making complaints?
As threads are involved in the fabric of a cloth and one thread cannot say that it will run away from the cloth, none of us can say that he will run away from the world. Even Arjuna's complaint that he can flee and eat a beggar's meal in the forest is an unintelligent foolish person's attitude. Such a thing is not practicable in a world where we are inextricably involved in all things.
The duty, therefore, is not to run away from what we are confronting, but to develop enough energy in us to confront it. If we have to face the ocean, we have also to become an ocean. One ocean can meet another ocean, but the drop that we are cannot do that. We may feel that we are a drop in the midst of the sea of Kaurava forces, but we are also an ocean inside, of which the drop is a vital part. Towards that realisation, move forward. Act now! Bring forth to the surface of your awareness the power that is in you called understanding.
We are not outside the world and the world is not outside us. The Kaurava and the Pandava forces are two sides of the same coin. They come from the same Vyasa Bhagavan. They are descendants of one person only. They are like two arms of a single individual. They are cousin brothers, belonging to one family. The Pandavas also are called Kurus sometimes, and the Kauravas also are called by the same name. Remember that they are descendants of Vyasa, who is the original progenitor of both sides. So also is there an origin of this world and also of our own selves, who look like individuals. We have a common parentage and a uniform heritage. This, on the one hand, is the light that will emanate from us by exercising our understanding, that the stuff of the world is also the stuff of our personality.
When we behold the world, a part of the world in us is beholding itself as if it is located outside in space and time. A part of the total makeup of the whole creation, call it the world or the universe, segregates itself in a perceptional process as the individual perceiver on the one hand and the world of perception on the other hand.
The qualities of nature operate on both sides: the world objectively is constituted of certain forces which are the constituents of the perceiving individual also. When a perception takes place through the sense organs, nature collides with nature. Matter comes in contact with matter; prakriti meets itself, embraces itself as if it is divided into two parts in a similar manner as my two hands can clap together and feel a sensation of unity between them, notwithstanding the fact that the two hands are emanations of a single makeup of my personality physically and mentally.
Here is the little specific recipe for us, given to us in the Gita itself. The qualities of nature operate upon the qualities of nature. Sense organs which are constituted of the properties of prakriti come in contact with the objects which are also constituted of the very same properties of prakriti, which are known as sattva, rajas and tamas, meaning harmony, distraction and inertia, respectively. We need not go into the meaning of all these words at present as I am only bringing this point as a kind of illustration that spiritual progress is something like the advance of the chapters of the Bhagavad Gita.
The advice given by Bhagavan Sri Krishna to the despondent individual Arjuna is to rise up to the occasion. In a military operation everyone has to rise up to the occasion and see that they succeed. Strength has to be infused into ourselves. We have to build up our personality. Energy should be infused into ourselves. We have to be morally, intellectually and physically strong. This is the teaching that we have in the second and third chapters. "Apply your intelligence. Resort to the Yoga of understanding."
How much understanding have we? We have a contorted understanding. We always see things in a topsy-turvy manner. Right understanding is buddhi yoga, the understanding that properties of nature operate both inwardly and outwardly so that we are not seeing the world; rather the world is seeing itself. We are not confronting anybody else; the world is confronting itself for a total evolution to take place in an onward ascending march towards a recognition of itself.
The universe marches upward in an ascending spiral movement to find itself in itself, to know itself as itself, which is called the Self-realisation of the cosmos. We may call it God-realisation.
Yet we can feel a diffidence: "I understand what you are saying but the weakness of the heart does not leave me. Is it humanly possible on this earth to develop such a strength in me to face the whole world? I know what you are telling me. I have the potentiality to develop my strength enough to face the whole world. In spite of this advice to me, the understanding that I have generated in me still questions whether it is possible, or not."
There are higher powers which will be ready to bless us always. Nature is twofold, lower as well as higher, which will be told to us in several other chapters of the Gita. The lower nature makes us feel that we are weak and incapable. The higher nature sometimes gets submerged due to the clamouring sound made by the lower nature through the sense organs. Often many boisterous types of people shouting at the top of their voice can drown a wise word uttered by a good individual. Such things happen in our spiritual life. The soul will give us good advice but the clamour of the sense organs sometimes takes the upper hand and drowns the little voice of the soul. We feel disconcerted; we do not know whether we are capable of doing anything at all. Even the head of the family can sometimes get disgusted due to the noise that the members of the family make. This may happen to us as spiritual seekers.