Commentary on the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 22: The Seventh Chapter Continues – Worshipping Deities

Devotees often have the erroneous notion that a god is only in one place—here is Ganesha, here is Devi, here is Surya—and one has no connection with the other. Devotees think that the different gods can grant different boons—that what one god grants, another cannot grant—and that for the purpose of a particular boon, they have to approach a particular god. Offering different prayers for different kinds of ailments—physical, social or mental—is a lesser religion of the masses. “They shall be granted their boons,” is the proclamation of the great Lord. Kāmais tais tair hṛtajñānāḥ prapadyantenyadevatāḥ, taṁ taṁ niyamam āsthāya prakṛtyā niyatāḥ svayā (7.20). This means to say that even if we want a cup of tea and expect to get it from our god, it will be given to us, though it is a petty, flimsy thing that we are expecting from our adored deity.

This is religion indeed, in the sense that there is a desire to be devoted to an ‘other than oneself’, which is considered as a god capable of bestowing all boons. But these are limited fruits consequent upon limited devotion coming from a limited god who appears to be in one place—in Kailasa only, in Vaikuntha only, in Brahmaloka only, or in the sky only as Suryanarayana—and not anywhere else. That the god is not anywhere else is the peculiarity of a limited devotion to a particular isolated concept of the deity.

Yo yo yāṁ yāṁ tanuṁ bhaktaḥ śraddhayārcitum, icchati tasya tasyācalāṁ śraddhāṁ tām eva vidadhāmyaham (7.21). The force of the Universal Being animates these different deities as the replica of that Supreme Being, and so they have in them a power to evoke devotion, and it is mistaken for the evocation coming from that particular deity only. The idea is that when we see a brilliant electric bulb, we are carried away by the bulb’s power; we adore it, and worship it, and put a garland over it, saying, “O Thou that is giving me brilliant light every day” and so on, not knowing that the brilliance does not come from the bulb. It is pumped from a universal source whose generating centre is somewhere else. Similarly, even the capacity of a particular god to bless us comes from a universal source. The poor devotee who is clinging to a little concept of a localised entity does not know this.

Our own limitation of thought binds us, though there is a large reservoir of abundance that is ready to pour upon us whatever we want. But even if the granter is ready to give us all things, we ask for little; and so we are rewarded with that which we deserve. If we ask, it shall be given; but it shall be given only in the measure that we ask, in the manner that we expect, and in the quantum that we deserve. Here is a religious outlook which is so catholic in its nature that it does not condemn, denounce or deprecate any concept of god, any faith, any cult or any religious outlook. It only considers them as insufficient and inadequate for the purpose of attaining the final goal of life.

There are various degrees of satisfactions in this world. If we have a cool drink, it is a satisfaction. If we have a good meal, it is a satisfaction. If we have a good rest, it is a satisfaction. If we have glory, praise and status in society, it is also a satisfaction. But these are brittle, localised, with a beginning and an end, and so there is a desire in us to go for higher satisfactions which are more than the meal or the available things in the world. That is why people worship gods. They have little gods in their homes, in their temples, on a shelf in a cabinet; and something called a little prayer is offered. This little prayer, this little Jaya Jagadisha Hare that we sing while lighting a candle or even an incense stick, is the outcome of our feeling of there being something higher than us.

We have kept a little idol in a corner of our room, but our feeling is of a different nature altogether. Though the sense organs tell us that it is a little piece of wood or metal, or a painted picture that is in front of us, we consider it as embodying some capacity to overcome our limitations. That means to say, we are somehow or the other conceptually implanting in that idol, or symbol, a power that is not easily available to any man in this world—not available even to all humanity. So there is a double-dealing on the part of the devotee, who knows that the little deity, the little idol is not going to bless him. It is made of a material substance. It is in one place. It looks small. What kind of blessing can be expected from it? Yet the feeling is so powerful that the devotee unconsciously feels the presence of something in it which he cannot easily comprehend intellectually. It is a superior inundation, a capacity that theoretically comes from somewhere else—just as a child knows that the light comes from somewhere else, though he does not know from where it comes.

Because of our persistent sensory limitation of that god—limiting that god to one particular place only—the blessing is delimited. Nevertheless, whatever our faith is shall be considered as worthwhile because of the fact that whatever our faith is, it is, after all, a faith in something higher than our own self. All religion is great, and every concept of God is adorable in the sense that it is a worship of something greater than one’s own self and, therefore, it supersedes the individual ego. In that sense, every religion is good and every notion of God is worthwhile. All concepts of spirituality are equally adorable from the point of view that they lift our minds from our own egoistic centre and we unconsciously ask for something that is beyond us, above us, more than us, and infinitely greater than us. Here is a beautiful presentation of universal religion—which has no communal touch and no hatred of any kind, and considers every cult, every creed, every type of worship, every faith, and every form of adoration as good enough from its own point of view, though inadequate from the highest point of view.

Sa tayā śraddhayā yuktas tasyārādhanam īhate, labhate ca tataḥ kāmān mayaivaḥ vihitān hi tān (7.22): “If Ganesha blesses you or Devi blesses you or Surya blesses you or anybody blesses you, ultimately it is My blessing that is coming. I am conscious of what you are thinking and feeling.” The omniscient Absolute is aware of our intentions, our limitations, our foibles, and our poor approach to the deity, which is based on our mental conception. Nevertheless, the omniscient eye, which sees through the very deity that we are worshipping, grants, with its omnipotence, the energy that our deity requires to grant the boon that is expected by us. Lord Siva’s power or Lord Vishnu’s power or anybody’s power is the power of the Absolute, and the omniscience and omnipotence of the Absolute is the reason why any god is capable of blessing us. But just as the quantum of water flows according to the thickness of the pipe, the blessings that we receive from these gods will also be limited by the ‘pipe’ of the personality that we have foisted on these deities. Yet, we will get it.

Antavat tu phalaṁ teṣāṁ (7.23): Poor indeed is the result that follows from this kind of limited worship. “Though I agree that worship is good in every way, you could have asked for better things.” But how can we ask for better things? Our minds are limited, like little cups, and can contain only cupfuls and not the entire ocean. This is because our minds are limited to the concepts of space, time and objects and, therefore, even our spiritual expectations are limited to these objectively presented dimensions, which are limitations, and which will end. The whole point is that whatever has a beginning will also have an end. Therefore, it is good for us to ask for something infinite, which has neither a beginning nor an end. But that infinite can respond only if the infinite in us rouses its spirit and asks for the infinite. The infinite within us alone can ask for the infinite outside. The little soul in us cannot ask for the infinite. It can ask only for its counterpart. Just as a sweeper’s friend is a sweeper, a labourer’s friend is a labourer, a driver’s friend is a driver, a fisherman’s friend is a fisherman, and so on, we expect from our deity whatever we are in ourselves.

If our deepest soul does not rise to the occasion, the highest Universal Soul will not respond. If it is only a mental asking, a psychological, sentimental craving, and even a biological expectation, that will be given to us, but the infinite will not be given. The infinite can respond and grant us infinite blessing only if we approach it as an infinite soul. The total man has to rise to the total occasion in order that the total reality may respond. Otherwise, all results of worship will be limited. They will have a beginning and an end; and when we go, the result also goes.

Antavat tu phalaṁ teṣāṁ tad bhavatyalpamedhasām: A poor understanding of the nature of spiritual life—not knowing that God is everything, and expecting something ulterior from God—is not true spirituality or religion. Not knowing this, people with a lesser intellect commit this error and get reborn—though perhaps into a better world on account of their devotion.

Devān devayajo yānti madbhaktā yānti mām api: We shall reach that which we are thinking in our minds. What will we reach after death? Whatever we are expecting now, that we will reach. If we want union with a particular deity, we will attain union with that particular deity in that particular higher realm—a different realm of being. “But those who worship Me as the total infinite, reach Me.” Devān devayajo yānti madbhaktā yānti mām api. Here mām means ‘Me, the total Absolute’ speaking through the personality of Bhagavan Sri Krishna and including all the gods. Did we not notice that all the gods were there in the Visvarupa? Right from earth to heaven—everything was spread out, and every deity was shining in the different limbs of the Virat Svarupa. That Visvarupa is speaking here as the All-in-all, the be-all and end-all of all things.

Avyaktaṁ vyaktim āpannaṁ manyante mām abuddhayaḥ, paraṁ bhāvam ajānanto mamāvyayam anuttamam (7.24). Here Bhagavan Sri Krishna is referring to Himself. “People think that I look like a human being. My higher nature is not known to those with poor understanding.” The personality of Sri Krishna is a concretisation and a beaming forth of a resplendence that is all pervading. There is a larger reality behind this presentation in the form of the personality of Sri Krishna. To the friend, he looked like a friend in human form; to the warrior, he looked like a warrior. But behind him, behind his personality, there was an oceanic expanse which was pumping energy into him indefinitely and infinitely. He wielded purna shakti. We say that Bhagavan Sri Krishna is krishnastu bhagavan svayam and shodashakala purna avatara. That is what is generally believed. The idea is that the perfect God manifested Himself in this perfect personality. The whole of the Absolute was concentrated into a pinpoint, as it were, and that was the power of Sri Krishna’s complete incarnation. Yet, “I am actually the Total Whole that is concentrated through this personality, but do not mistake this personality itself for the Total Whole. Your senses see only My little form, but I represent another light altogether—which is beaming through Me, which is larger than this visible form. But those with poor understanding do not recognise this. People think that I am endowed with a human personality, that I think like a human being and walk like a human being, but I am the Infinite that is made visible to the eyes of man as an incarnation for a particular purpose that has arisen.”

Nāhaṁ prakāśaḥ sarvasya (7.25): “Everybody cannot see Me. I am not visible to all people.” Only our soul can behold it—not our sense organs, not our sentiments, and not our longing or desire.

Yogamāyāsamāvṛtaḥ: “I have covered Myself with the veil of the presentation of this world of prakritisattva, rajas and tamas.” The Absolute has put on a dress, as it were, and we see only this dress of the manifestation in the form of the three gunas of prakriti. When we open our eyes and see, we see only the manifestation of prakriti in the form of this world—the three gunas. The essence behind it, the purusha behind the prakriti, is not cognised by the vision of our eyes or the action of any of our sense organs. Nāhaṁ prakāśaḥ sarvasya yogamāyāsamāvṛtaḥ. Here, yogamaya means the veil that God seems to be putting on Himself in the form of His creation. The radiance of the sun may blind our eyes to such an extent that we may not be able to see the sun.

Tat tvaṁ pūṣan āpāvṛṇu satyadharmāya dṛṣṭaye (Isa 15) is a prayer in the Isavasya Upanishad: “O Sun! Withdraw your rays, the golden cover that you are hiding yourself with, so that I may behold you in your essence.” The glory of God in the form of this creation blinds our eyes to such an extent that we cannot see God behind this glory. The radiance of a nugget of gold may blind us to the real perception of it. So too is the wonder of this world that tantalises us, attracts us, promises us all things, and gives us immense satisfaction. It is a cover that God has put on Himself so that we may be blinded with the attraction for the things of sense—which is the veil that is referred to as maya—and, therefore, we will not be able to behold Him that is behind. We will see the dramatic personae, but the director Himself is not seen.

Mūḍho’yaṁ nābhijānāti loko mām ajam avyayam: “I am the eternal in the process of time, but the temporal mind that is in this world of space and time concentrates itself only on that which is visible to the eyes.” Mūḍha is the word that is used here. Fools are they, idiots, who think that the visible is the real while the invisible alone is the real. They go for the objects of visible perception. The invisible does not attract them in any way whatsoever because all attraction is sensory, and the senses cannot see or behold that which is unmanifest. They see only the manifest world of sense objects. Therefore, deluded are these people. Mūḍhoyaṁ nābhijānāti loko mām ajam avyayam: “The immortal and uncreated essence that I am cannot be beheld by deluded people who only look through their eyes, hear through their ears, and enjoy through their physical personality.”

Vedāhaṁ samatītāni vartamānāni cārjuna (7.26): “I know everything, Arjuna, but you do not know anything. I know all that was, all that is, and all that will be.” Sri Krishna also says, “I too have undergone many a form. Several incarnations I have taken, as you also have taken several incarnations, Arjuna. The only difference is that I know that I have passed through all these stages of incarnations, but you do not know that you have undergone these incarnations. I have detached Myself from the forms in which I appear to people, whereas you are attached to the form that you appear to your own self.”

Vedāhaṁ samatītāni vartamānāni cārjuna, bhaviṣyāṇi ca bhūtāni māṁ tu veda na kaścana: “I know everything, but nobody can know Me. I know everything because I am the universal light that permeates all things, and even the vision of the individuals is just a modicum of the reflection of this universal light.” So, it knows everything. It also knows how the individuals perceive things, but the individuals cannot know what is behind them.

Plato gives us the allegory of the cave. People are bound hand and foot in a dark cave for their entire life, without being able to see the entrance to the cave. But the entrance is open, and sunlight enters and falls on the wall of the cave. People are walking in the sunlight on the road above, and their shadows appear on the wall. The prisoners watch these two-dimensional shadow images dancing on the wall. Because they have been bound hand and foot right from the beginning and have never seen sunlight, they think that this is the only reality. They do not know what light is. They have always been under the impression that the whole world of reality is this two-dimensional dance. This world appears three-dimensional, but reality is four-dimensional. We are unable to conceive the four-dimensional reality, which is timeless and spaceless, because of our being bound to the concept of only three dimensions—length, breadth and height. But suppose these prisoners are released, and they are brought to the sunlit road. They will be surprised to see that the three-dimensional figures are people walking, and they will be blinded by the sunlight. They will not know what has happened to them because they have seen only the two-dimensional shadows cast by people who were walking on the road.

Due to a peculiar structure of our sense organs and mind, we see things only as length, breadth and height, even though there is no such thing as length, breadth and height. It is an illusion that is created by the peculiar structure of our sense organs. There are actually no dimensions. That the world is dimensionless is proclaimed today by our modern scientists. So Sri Krishna says, “I know everything. But the world of three dimensions cannot know the four-dimensional Eternal.” Vedāhaṁ samatītāni vartamānāni cārjuna, bhaviṣyāṇi ca bhūtāni māṁ tu veda na kaścana: The four-dimensional Universal knows everything that is taking place in the three-dimensional world; but people bound to three-dimensional perception cannot know the transcendent, which is of four dimensions.

We think that there is no such thing as four dimensions, because we cannot imagine what it is. Dimensions are only length, breadth and height. What is the fourth dimension? That is the Universal. Nobody knows what universality is because they know only subjectivity and externality. Total universality is completely obliterated from our perception. It is only a dream for us, an imagination and an abstract concept. Yet, that is the true reality. The universal four-dimensional continuum—which is neither space nor time, which is neither object nor anything solid—is the reality, though we mistake solid, three-dimensional objects to be realities.

Hence, the Immortal Being, the timeless four-dimensional essence, says: “The Universal that I am, I know everything—past, present and future.” Because in a spaceless and timeless existence there is no past, present and future, at once there is a grasp of eternal instantaneous knowledge in the Supreme Absolute. One grasp is equal to a total grasp. The past, present and future are in the palm of our hand, as it were, because the past, present and future do not actually exist. They are only a three-partite division created by a peculiar structure of our mind and sense organs. In this sense, the world is illusory. It is not as it appears to be. Things are not what they seem.

Icchādveṣasamutthena dvandvamohena bhārata, sarvabhūtāni sammohaṁ sarge yānti paraṁtapa (7.27): The moment we are born, we are born into delusion. It is said in the Bhagavata Purana that when a child is in the womb, it knows its previous existence. It weeps and cries: “Why I am in this womb? Is it because of the karmas of my past? O Narayana! I shall not commit these mistakes, due to which I am in this womb now. I shall never make such mistakes. I will always resort to Narayana, and will never commit such mistakes which cause me to be born into the world.” Once the child comes out into the world, it forgets everything. The moment we are born into this world, the maya of the three dimensions, the prakritis, the gunas, catch hold of us to such an extent that all these prayers we made in the womb vanish into thin air and we are once again the same idiots, knowing not what has happened to us; and then we commit the same blunder. The mistake of erroneous perception is born together with the biological tabernacle which we put on at the time of birth. Ignorance is born with us and we get deluded right from childhood itself, right from babyhood, right from the time of coming into existence in this world.

What is the reason for this? Icchādveṣasamutthena: Throughout the different incarnations, the soul has been involved in likes and dislikes. There is no way of thinking except through likes and dislikes. Psychoanalytically, we should go deep into our own mind and see if we can think without the touch of love and hatred. It is impossible for us to think anything without a touch of some like for something and dislike for something else. Therefore, this division that we have unnecessarily created in our psyche creates a split personality in our own self. We are not whole persons at any time. We are double dealers, two-partite fractions, as it were, dovetailed together—like Jarasandha.

Jarasandha, a famous man in the Mahabharata, was born in two halves due to a defect in the process of conception; and because a demoness called Jara joined the two pieces together, he was called Jarasandha. Likewise, we are Jarasandhas. We are two different things altogether. The love aspect and the hatred aspect of our personality become dovetailed into a single individuality, as it were, making it appear that we are one individual. Actually we are two individuals, loving and hating people. Therefore, our perceptions are dual, and we never have an integrated perception of anything. There is non-alignment of our inner psyche. We are double-dealers in our own selves, let alone in respect of other people. Icchādveṣasamutthena: Because of this involvement in love and hatred.

Dvandvamohena bhārata: Because of the delusion that this dvandva, or duality, is the source of joy. Do we not think that it is a great happiness to be in a state of love and hatred? “I love this immensely, and hate that immensely.” This is the way that we live in this world, and it gives us great satisfaction. It is a great satisfaction to love something, and it is a greater satisfaction to hate something. Both are satisfactions only; and it is this kind of satisfaction that we get in this world. Mūḍhoyaṁ nābhijānāti: The idiotic mind does not understand anything.

Icchādveṣasamutthena dvandvamohena bhārata, sarvabhūtāni sammohaṁ sarge yānti paraṁtapa: All beings are deluded in this fashion. They see topsy-turvy. They do not know what is behind things.

In the Seventh Chapter of the Gita, we have been studying the essentials of a universal religion—an impartial religion of mankind with no denomination of any kind, where each god is equally as good as any other god, and yet no god is equal to the ultimate God. It was mentioned in this context that outside God nothing is—mattaḥ parataraṁ nānyat kiñcid asti (7.7)—and our aim is to attain God. The whole point in the practice of religion is the learning of the art of conducting oneself in the way of God. Otherwise, what is the good of religion? It is a way to God.

The whole point is that we have to reach God through religious practice. It has been mentioned that God is such that outside of It nothing can be, and beyond It there is nothing. We have to reach a God outside of Whom nothing is. How would we reach a God outside of Whom nothing is? There is no question of reaching—because when we conceive a question of reaching or moving in the direction of something, there is an outsideness already created. We cannot move towards anything which is not outside, and there is nothing outside God. It appears, therefore, that there is no such thing as an ordinarily conceived movement towards God. Hence, realisation, attainment, moksha, the goal of life—which is God—cannot be conceived in ordinary space-time related terms.

Then how do we reach God? The Bhagavadgita is the gospel of the art of reaching God, yet it confuses us by saying that we cannot easily reach God. Why we cannot easily reach God has been already mentioned in the earlier verses. It is because our mind is confused by its lodgement in a kind of split-psychic personality caused by love and hatred, which are the principles of mental operation. In any way, we have to get out of it. There is a necessity to integrate the psyche; we cannot go on living a split life. The object of final spiritual realisation is the total God, not a partial God.

It was conceded that the lesser gods are also equally good. They are equally good in the sense that they will give us some benefit—a benefit that has a beginning and an end. But liberation is not something that has a beginning and an end. Hence, a beginningless and endless achievement cannot be attempted by the worship of any kind of localised god—a god that is placed in some heaven and distinguished from other deities. Therefore, the merciful acquiescence of the Almighty in giving us permission to worship any kind of independent god does not mean that it is a solution to the problems of samsara. It is a solution to our daily problems, no doubt—problems regarding material prosperity, social status, freedom from illness, and joys of various kinds that this earth can give us. All these can be the boons that we can expect from our gods, but we will not get liberation. Liberation is a total merging in the Total Reality and, therefore, any localised god, conceptualised god, isolated god or limited god will not permit us this attainment.

Who is this ultimate God? How do we conceive Him? In his great compassion, Bhagavan Sri Krishna gives two verses which become the seed, as it were, for the next Chapter, which is the Eighth. These verses tell us how God has to be accommodated in our meditating consciousness. Meditation is the way in which we accommodate this total concept of God in our own self. We are not accustomed to total thinking. It was already mentioned that we are partial thinkers; we think along the lines of love and hatred. But that will not do. We have to learn the art of a complete thinking which will exclude nothing from its purview or its operation.

Jarāmaraṇamokṣāya mām āśritya yatanti ye (7.29). “Do you want liberation?” is the question that is raised here. Jara and marana are old age and death. “Do you want freedom from old age and death, and to not be born once again into this samsara, this misery of the earth? If that is the case, I shall tell you the recipe, and here it is: Resort to Me as the Ultimate Being for freedom from decay and death.” Te brahma tad viduḥ kṛtsnam adhyātmaṁ karma cākhilam.

Sādhibhūtādhidaivaṁ māṁ sādhiyajñaṁ ca ye viduḥ, prayāṇakāle’pi ca māṁ te vidur yuktacetasaḥ (7.30). At the time of passing, at the time of leaving this body, what kind of consciousness is to take possession of us? It is told to us in the Eighth Chapter that the consciousness that will take possession of us at the time of passing will be the same consciousness that we entertain in our daily life—because as is the tree, so is the fruit. We cannot have apples from pickles. If we have been living a very distracted, erroneous, confused kind of life, how would we expect this total awareness to arise in our mind at the time of passing? That is told to us in the Eighth Chapter.