Commentary on the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 23: The Eighth Chapter Begins – The Different Facets of the Supreme Being

In the Seventh Chapter certain terms are used which are highly technical; and in the beginning of the Eighth Chapter, Arjuna raises a question regarding the meaning of these terms. These technical terms constitute the nomenclature of the aspects of God that make the Total—which have to be in our consciousness at the time of passing. The world is outside, but it is also inside. Therefore, we think of the Ultimate Being in our consciousness, as we cannot afford to limit God to something that only permeates the outside world.

Īśāvāsyam idaṁ sarvam (Isa 1), etc. We have heard that God pervades all things. When we speak of God’s immanence in all things, we are likely to commit the mistake of thinking that ‘all things’ means all things that we see with our eyes. This delimitation of all things that we see to an external world is an error of concept because we ourselves are also one of the things of the world which God indwells. Hence, the adhibhuta prapancha, which is the externally perceived world, should not be taken as merely the world which God indwells. God also indwells the adhyatma prapancha, which is the inward reality of our own self. Our inner reality is also indwelled by the God who indwells the world of objective perception; but we will not be able to easily blend these two aspects in our mind. When we think something, do we think of the total—the merging of both the subjective and the objective sides? Now I am seeing you sitting here: somebody is sitting. Can I, in ordinary circumstances, convince myself that the object that I see seated in front of me is organically inseparable from my existence here where I am seated? Normally this kind of thought is not possible and, humanly speaking, nobody in the world can think in this manner; the object and the subject cannot be taken together. But do we expect a cheap liberation? We have to pay a heavy price for it.

That heavy price is not only the concept of the blend of one’s own self and the object that we perceive, which is the world. There is something more. Adhidaiva prapancha is also to be taken into consideration. There is something midway between the perceiving subject and the world of objects perceived. It was indeed difficult enough for us to conceive a blend of ourselves and the world outside. Now things are made even more difficult by it being said that we have also to think of a third thing, not merely the two things. The third thing is the consciousness that enables us to know that there is a blend between us and the world. The world cannot know that it is connected with us in any manner. Physically speaking, we also cannot know that we have any vital connection with the world outside, because we are independently sitting here. But there is a third person operating between us, as the individual perceiver, and the world of objects outside, whose preponderance in our mind causes an inference that it is not possible to have consciousness of an object outside unless there is a third element, a connecting link which is transcendent. This transcendent element is called adhidaiva. At the time of death, we are supposed to meditate on the total concept of an inclusiveness of ourselves, the world outside, and also the transcendent superintending principle—adhidaiva.

Other things are also mentioned. There is a thing called adhidharma, which brings into a focus of cohesion all these three principles mentioned. It is not that I am here, the world is outside, and consciousness, the third thing, is hanging as a no-man’s land. This idea should also be removed from our mind. The connecting link mentioned between the subjective side and the objective side is not a third element to be contemplated independently, because that third thing is a union of both the subjective side and the objective side. There is no subject and object in the third element; it is like a single body feeling the unity of the right hand and the left hand. For the physical consciousness, the right hand and the left hand are not two objects. In a similar manner, the transcendent individual—the adhidaiva mentioned—is not a separately existing third entity, in the same way as the body is not a third principle for the right hand and the left hand. It is an inclusive principle wherein the right and the left are subsumed. By thinking hard, we must be able to conceive this in our mind. This unifying principle is called dharma, the total ruling force of the cosmos. In Vedic terminology it is known as rita or satya. Te brahma tad viduḥ kṛtsnam adhyātmaṁ karma cākhilam; sādhibhūtādhidaivaṁ māṁ sādhiyajñaṁ ca ye viduḥ, prayāṇa-kāle’pi ca māṁ te vidur yuktacetasaḥ (7.29-30).

So many difficulties will harass our minds at the time of meditation. We will begin to think that God is creating the world, or God has created the world. The word visargaḥ that is used here implies the force which generates the world and causes the emanation of the world from God. Sometimes we are unable to free ourselves from this idea that the world must have been created by God, and yet we are not be able to bring about a relationship between God and the world. Is God outside the world, is God inside the world, or is the world identical with God? God cannot be outside the world because if that is the case, nobody in the world can reach God. Nor can the world be outside God because if that is the case, it is an external object with no substance, no existence whatsoever. This is because only God can be existence, and if the world is totally outside existence, it is non-existence.

We connect the cause with the effect—the cause which we have imagined as God, the Creator, with the world as the effect. These ideas must be shed, particularly when we think of the Total Reality, because the idea of the Total excludes the concept of causality. The relationship between cause and effect, the relationship between subject, object and the transcendent, all these ideas are removed at one stroke by an entry of consciousness into a peculiar kind of Self which the Upanishads call Vaisvanara, and is portrayed as the Visvarupa in the Eleventh Chapter of the Bhagavadgita.

“Whoever can conceive this Total in the mind—Brahman as the Absolute, which includes the adhibhuta prapancha, the adhyatma prapancha, and also the connecting link of adhidaiva—and removes from the mind the idea of the causality of God in terms of the world, such people are really able to think of Me in the proper manner at the time of passing.” It is better we not pass so easily, because this kind of thinking is not humanly possible. Lord Krishna is trying to extract this idea with a heavy wage. For the gracious gift that we expect from the Almighty, we have to pay that price through hard effort of sadhana in this manner described.

jarāmaraṇamokṣāya mām āśritya yatanti ye te brahma tad viduḥ kṛtsnam adhyātmaṁ karma cākhilam (7.29) sādhibhūtādhidaivaṁ māṁ sādhiyajñaṁ ca ye viduḥ prayāṇakāle’pi ca māṁ te vidur yuktacetasaḥ (7.30)

With this tremendous, earth-shaking gospel given in two verses at the end of the Seventh Chapter, we are now introduced into the Eighth Chapter. It is indeed earth-shaking, because Arjuna himself was confused about what the Lord was saying.

Arjuna asked, “What is this that You are speaking? You said there is Brahma, the Absolute; then You said there is adhyatma; then You said there is karma; then You said there is adhibhuta; then You said there is adhidaiva; then You said there is adhiyajna. I cannot understand what all this is, and You want me to bring them together into a total focus?”

Kiṁ tad brahma (8.1): “Which is that Supreme Absolute that You are speaking of, O Lord?” Kim adhyātmaṁ: “Which is that subjective self?” Kiṁ karma: “Which is that action that You refer to?” Adhibhūtaṁ ca kiṁ proktam: “Which is the objective world that You are speaking of? What does it actually mean?”

Adhiyajñaḥ kathaṁ ko’tra (8.2): “Which is that transcendent element which You spoke of as being between the subject and object? You refer to adhiyajna as an activity that You are performing in the cosmos. What does it mean, Bhagavan Sri Krishna?”

The last question was: “Also, how am I to think of You at the time of death?”

These are philosophical, mystical, spiritual questions, no doubt, but they point to a final aim in our mind: how to quit this world honourably, and not be forcefully dispatched. Prayāṇakāle ca kathaṁ jñeyo’si niyatātmabhiḥ: “How do people with a restrained mind and senses contemplate You at the time of death?”

There are so many questions in this Eighth Chapter. Firstly, what is Brahman? Secondly, what is adhyatma? Then, what is karma? Then, what is adhibhuta? Then, what is adhidaiva? Then, what is adhiyajna? And lastly, “How to think at the time of death?” Arjuna raises seven types of queries for one answer to all these diversified questions, because it was pointed out in the concluding verses of the Seventh Chapter that these so-called diversities have to be put together into a pattern of singleness for the purpose of total liberation.

Śrībhagavānuvāca: The Lord answers these questions one by one. The indescribable, eternal, timeless and spaceless Absolute is called Brahman: akṣaraṁ brahma paramaṁ (8.3). It exists everywhere, and yet it appears to be nowhere. It exists everywhere and, therefore, everything lives and exists. It appears to be existing nowhere because it is not the object of the perception of anybody’s sense organs. Inasmuch as the world is an object and the Absolute Brahman is not an object, the world appears to exist and the Absolute does not appear to exist anywhere at all.

Asad vā idam agra āsīt (T.U. 2.7.1): “Non-existence was there in the beginning” is a statement that is sometimes made in the Upanishads. The negation of all causes of duality and multiplicity—non-existence of every conceivable name and form, and non-existence of even the thinkers of the names and forms—ends in a tremendous positivity, and the so-called void becomes the complete plenum. Bhuma is the word used in the Chhandogya Upanishad for this utter perfection; such is the Absolute. Akṣaraṁ brahma paramaṁ: Eternal space and time—eternal reality, which is indivisible—that is Brahman.

The adhyatma that I spoke of is the svabhava, or the natural characteristic, of an individual person. The word svabhava has been used in several contexts when dharma, or duty, was described in the previous chapters, and it also will be mentioned in subsequent chapters, especially in the Eighteenth Chapter. The natural disposition of the individual is his svabhava. This disposition—the contour, the behaviour, the pattern of our movement, psychologically or even socially—is conditioned by a peculiar action of the soul on the structure of our psychophysical personality. That kind of peculiar individuality, conditioned by the mind and the body, differentiates one individual from the other—just as one house can be differentiated from another house, not because of the building bricks which may be the same in all cases, but because of the different shape given by the architects. The permutation and combination of the physical elements and the psychic components differ in different individuals, though the soul that charges these components with life and intelligence is one and the same. The different individual disposition that each one has on account of a preponderance of a different permutation and combination of sattva, rajas and tamas is called svabhava. In that, there is also an indwelling principle called adhyatma.

Bhūtabhāvodbhavakaro visargaḥ karmasaṁjñitaḥ (8.3). The word ‘karma’ that is used here represents the power or the energy with which the whole cosmos emanates from the Absolute. Everything rushes out, as it were, from the bosom of the Ultimate Reality—the Mahat Brahma, as it is called. This great force, this complete potentiality rushing outwardly in the direction of space and time, is the originally conceived karma. This total karma, we may say, which is the action of God that causes the emanation of the world, gradually descends into lower categories of activity until it becomes an ordinary action of a human individual. In the process of the coming down of the intensity of this action, which was originally cosmic, it delimits itself into lesser and lesser dimensions of personality so that finally it becomes a very little individual. In the beginning, it was a cosmic action, then it became a space-time vibration, then it became akasa, then vayu, then agni, then apa, then prithvi, and finally it became the individual bodies. All these are karmas in different densities and areas of action.

But original action is the will of God. The Supreme Purusha’s original will is the first action. The Purusha Sukta makes reference to this original dharma. That dharma subsequently conditions every other kind of dharma in the world by delimiting the process of creation through the tanmatras and the five elements, etc. The original dharma is the will of God. But that will of God, which is the originality, also permeates all the other lesser wholes that act as the media of action, including our own selves. Even our will, which prompts us to act, is actually a reverberation, as it were, of the original will. But, unfortunately, we are unable to believe that our will is acting under the impulsion received from the cosmic will, so we get caught by the selfishness of wrongly thinking that our will is confined to our body, while actually it is a propulsion from a cosmic existence. It is said in the earlier chapters that no action is individual; every action is God’s. So karma is defined here as the propulsion of the Cosmic cause for the purpose of the emanation of the effects in various degrees of descent, until the lowest atom is created.

Adhibhūtaṁ kṣaro bhāvaḥ (8.4): The perishable world is the adhibhuta prapancha. All the world of names and forms, including this body, is perishable. It is under mutation; it is a flux. It is a continuity of a succession of events, and no object in this world can be said to be existing individually or independently even for a second. Persons like Buddha have highlighted this aspect by saying that the world is like a flowing river, where we cannot touch the same water the next moment. Like a flame that is burning and every minute, every second, there is a new set of atoms of fire rushing forth, the world is not a total indivisibility, but a movement. As a flame is a movement, as water in the river is a movement, the world is a movement. Therefore, it is perishable because when it moves, it is conditioned at every minute into bits of process. Similarly, this kind of concoction of matter into the form of this so-called physical world is cut into pieces—into little processes which are like links in a long chain—and so it cannot be regarded as imperishable. It is perishable. Adhibhūtaṁ kṣaro bhāvaḥ: All the perishable nature that we see in this world, including our own body and the entire structure of space-time-object, is adhibhuta prapancha.

Puruṣaś cādhidaivatam: There is a Supreme adhidaiva who brings everything together into a hierarchy of divine operations, even when the different gods act. Indra, Varuna, Mitra, Surya, Agni, Devi, Narayana, Vishnu, Siva, Ganesha—all these divinities represent facets of the Supreme Absolute—or, we may say, the fingers of God operating; and they have to be put into a pattern of harmonious action so that one will not do something which would contradict what the other does. Gods do not contradict themselves. Siva does not contradict what Ganesha does, nor does Ganesha contradict what Narayana does. There is a harmony of principle in the mode of behaviour and action of these gods. They are all conditioned by a supreme constitution of the Absolute, and that is the adhidaiva. The constitution of the government is the adhidaiva that rules the entire governmental system, and this adhidaiva comes down in lesser and lesser degrees until it becomes a little connecting link between you and me.

Adhiyajñoham evātra dehe dehabhṛtāṁ vara: “The adhiyajna that I mentioned, which is the field of action, is nothing but Myself becoming intensely active through the forces of rajas and sattva for the purpose of the evolution of the cosmos.”