Commentary on the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 35: The Eleventh Chapter Concludes – Whole-souled Devotion to God

The Great Lord withdrew His Cosmic Form and appeared once again in that charming, beautiful, human form as Sri Krishna of Dvaraka—to the great joy of Arjuna, who wanted to see that friendly comrade because he was too frightened of that Cosmic Vision.

Sañjaya uvāca: ityarjunaṁ vāsudevas tathoktvā svakaṁ rūpaṁ darśayām āsa bhūyaḥ (11.50): The great Sanjaya, who knew everything that was happening inside and outside, says here, “Having told Arjuna that this is a very difficult thing to visualise for ordinary mortals, the Lord withdrew Himself into the normal form of Yadava Sri Krishna; and then He consoled him—‘Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid’—as a parent would pat a child on the back. ‘Don’t cry, don’t cry, Arjuna. All is well. Be happy. Don’t bother.’” Ᾱśvāsayām āsa ca bhītam: “He consoled the frightened Arjuna.”

Arjuna uvāca: dṛṣṭvedaṁ mānuṣaṁ rūpaṁ tava saumyaṁ janārdana, idānīm asmi saṁvṛttaḥ sacetāḥ prakṛtiṁ gataḥ (11.51): Arjuna now exclaims, “O Master, I was out of my wits! I did not know where I was, or what I was seeing. I had lost myself. Now I have come back to myself after seeing You in this kind, beautiful, friendly form. Having seen this human form which You have now assumed, which is calm, sober, friendly, beautiful, charming, I have come back to myself. I am a normal man now. At that time I was not a normal person. I had lost myself completely. I did not know what was happening to me. Great Master, be gracious!”

Śrībhagavānuvāca: sudurdarśam idaṁ rūpaṁ dṛṣṭavān asi yan mama, devā apyasya rūpasya nityaṁ darśanakāṅkṣiṇaḥ (11.52). Now, summing up this great theme of the Visvarupa Darshana, the Lord Himself speaks. Devair atrāpi vicikitsitam purā, na hi suvijñeyam, aṇur eṣa dharmaḥ (Katha 1.1.21) is a parallel passage in the Kathopanishad. Nachiketas pleads that the Eternal Secret be revealed to him. “Not even all the gods know this. Subtle is this matter,” is Yama’s reply to Nachiketas.

Likewise, Bhagavan Sri Krishna now speaks to Arjuna. Nāhaṁ vedair na tapasā na dānena na cejyayā, śakya evaṁvidho draṣṭuṁ dṛṣṭavān asi māṁ yathā (11.53): “Impossible it is to behold this Form. You have seen it; but it is not easy to see it. The gods are also eager to visualise this, to have darshan of this Great Form. Every day they eagerly await that occasion when they can have this darshan. But I cannot easily be known, not even by the gods, because the means that they employ to have darshan, the vision of this Supreme Form, are inadequate. The means and the end should be on a common pedestal. An inadequate means cannot suffice for the achievement of an end that is supremely adequate. Study of the Vedas and scriptures, and intense physical austerity, mortification of the flesh, any kind of charity and philanthropic deed that you perform, and sacrifices of any kind—these will not suffice. No mortal deed can take you to the Immortal.”

Bhaktyā tvananyayā śakya (11.54): The word ‘ananya’ comes many a time in the Bhagavadgita. Sri Krishna never forgets to use this word ‘ananya’. Of course, everybody has devotion for God in some measure. We are all devotees of God in some way; but are we ananya? Ananya means undivided, non-separate, non-externalised, whole-souled love. Now, many of us may not be able to entertain such a thing. We love God and pray to God, we worship God and consider Him as the Ultimate Reality and the aim and goal of our life—accepted; but yet, there is some string that pulls our devotion back in another direction altogether. We have loves of different types which are connected to this world and, therefore, these devotions are secondary in their nature and fall into the category of gaunabhakti. Because our devotions are more ritualistic in their nature, externalised in their nature, we express our devotion in some form outside; but the ananya bhakti that is spoken of here is the devotion of our soul for the Universal Soul.

It is not the mind, the intellect and the feeling that love God. Most of our affections are psychological. We use only our mind in thinking of God, and even in loving God. The soul, the spirit, does not always come up. We are not possessed by the spirit within our own selves. We are temporarily possessed by certain emotions, but these emotions are not devotion. We may be intensely stimulated for some time when we hear charming, stirring, devotional music, or when stimulating sankirtan is going on in a chorus or in a group. Yet the pulls of the earth, which limit this devotion that has temporarily taken possession of us through emotion, will manifest themselves after the satsanga is over, and we will be the same Mr. So-and-so. It would not have made much difference in our practical daily life. The practical daily conduct of business is also to be a part of devotion to God, and devotion to God is not to be confined to the chapel or the puja room or the temple. We should not say, “I shall finish my puja and come.” We cannot come from the puja. It is a whole-souled dedication of ours.

When the soul rises into action, the mind and the body cannot stand it. Very rarely our soul acts. In deep sleep we are possessed by our soul, and so we are immensely calm, quiet and happy. In the state of deep sleep, there is a subdual of all distraction for the time being. And in intense agony at the point of death, the soul also rises and is in complete possession of our personality. When we are sure that death is imminent and we do not have permission to live even for a second more, then the soul rises up into an action of agony. The third occasion when the soul rises is in an intense fulfilment of passionate action, whether it is political or personal. Where one loses oneself completely in a frenzy of behaviour and action, at that time the soul temporarily takes possession of us for a minute, for a second. It is only in these three conditions that the soul acts: at the greatest point or height of intensity when our longing is fulfilled, or when we are dying, or when we are sleeping. At other times the soul is sleeping, and only our mind is acting.

It is necessary for the soul to act in devotion to God—not merely because we are dying, or we are fulfilling some desire, or we are sleeping. This is a fourth kind of state altogether in which the soul acts. The thrill, the stimulation, the rejoicing, the horripilation, the sense of loss of self-consciousness, and the sense of being possessed by Universal-consciousness characterise this devotion gradually, stage by stage. This alone can permit us to have this Great Vision. No action, no tapasya, no study, no ritual, no charity can help us, because they are all in the world of space and time.

Bhaktyā tvananyayā śakya aham evaṁvidho’rjuna, jñātuṁ draṣṭuṁ ca tattvena praveṣṭuṁ ca paraṁtapa: There are three processes: knowing, implementing, and materialising the love of God. First of all it is a vision and a knowledge—ñātuṁ draṣṭuṁ. To know and to visualise, to see and to understand, has been bequeathed to Arjuna. He understood because of the explanation given by the Lord Himself as to what it is. He saw it, but he did not enter into it. He was standing outside it, as it were. He was looking at it. But it has to be borne in mind that the fulfilment of God-consciousness, or God-realisation, consists not merely in having the vision of God or knowing Him in a special characterisation as described here. We have to merge ourselves into it. The Atman becomes Brahman. The soul enters into the Maker of all things. “This devotion, which is the supreme means of knowing Me, will enable one to know Me, to visualise Me, and finally to enter into Me, which is the salvation of the soul.”

Sankaracharya tells us in his commentary that the last verse of this chapter is the quintessence of all teaching. That is his opinion. The last verse is matkarmakṛn matparamo madbhaktaḥ saṅgavarjitaḥ, nirvairaḥ sarva-bhūteṣu yaḥ sa mām eti pāṇḍava (11.55): “O Arjuna! Such a person will reach Me who performs all action and duty for My sake—matkarmakṛn; who regards Me as supreme above all things anywhere—matparamo; who is intensely devoted to Me throughout the day and night for all time—madbhaktaḥ; who is not attached to anything and is free from contamination by anything in the world—saṅgavarjitaḥ; who has no enmity with anybody and doesn’t hate anyone, and no one is an enemy of that person—nirvairaḥ sarvabhūteṣu: no living being is antagonistic to that person and he is not antagonistic to any living being. Such a person reaches Me.”

Om tatsaditi śrīmad bhagavadgītāsūpaniṣatsu brahmavidyāyāṁ yogaśāstre śrīkṛṣṇārjunasaṁvāde viśvarūpadarśanayogo nāmaikādaśo´dhyāyaḥ. In fact, the whole purport of the Bhagavadgita teaching is over with the Eleventh Chapter. Whatever follows from the Twelfth onwards is a kind of commentary, a kind of elucidation of certain minor details which have been briefly stated somewhere or the other in the earlier chapters. The ascent of the soul culminated in the vision of the Universal Spirit.

The lowest pedestal on which the soul was standing was the condition in which Arjuna found himself in the battlefield—everywhere fear, everywhere animosity, everywhere uncertainty, everywhere suspicion and agony, and everywhere strife and conflict. Kaliyuga manifested itself in full force in that picturisation of the Mahabharata battle. No one loved another. Everyone hated the other. From that samsaric mire of intense antagonism, conflict and fear, the soul had to be taken gradually, stage by stage. This has been done by the instructions that Sri Krishna gave, as a very good schoolmaster would give, without telling more than what is necessary under the given condition.

Apt words were used and suitable suggestions fitting to the occasion were given—not a word more, not a word less. But gradually the tempo went on rising, and we have observed how the tempo rose. The explanations became more and more clarifying, more in depth in their nature, until they reached a kind of perfection in the Sixth Chapter, where the individual person was taught the art of self-integration and making oneself whole.

Unless we become whole, we cannot attain the Whole that is the Universal Reality. As we know very well, most of us are shreds of personality, fractions of the psyche, torn pieces of individuality, and none of us is complete in ourselves. We think different things at different times, and we do not know today what we will think tomorrow. There is a non-alignment of our psychological individuality. The understanding, the feeling, the willing and the emotion do not act harmoniously in concert. Therefore, unhappiness, suspicion and even sleeplessness are caused by this distracted action of the psychological organ antahkaranamano, buddhi, ahamkara, chitta, which act as if they are independent entities, while actually they are four facets of a single action of the total psyche.

For the integration of personality—to wean the person away from this difficulty of non-alignment—the art of meditation is prescribed in the Sixth Chapter. When a person is suitably fitted by this discipline of meditation, the student, the seeker, is introduced into his relationship with the whole creation—with the five elements, the tanmatras, and with God as the Supreme Maker of all things. God’s interference in the world becomes manifest in the Seventh Chapter, and not much of it is mentioned in the earlier chapters. Up to the Sixth Chapter, it is all psychological discipline. Then Divinity enters in the Seventh. Mere psychological discipline, social discipline or any kind of discipline is not sufficient. It becomes sufficient only if God gives the galvanising touch to the perfection that we have otherwise attained psychologically, educationally, or socially.

Gradually, the mind of the seeker is taken up to the consciousness of the true religion of God. The true religion of humanity is impartial in its nature and considers every human being as a brother or a sister, a cooperator, a pilgrim on the path. There is a spirit of cooperation among the individuals on account of everyone wanting only one God, because it has been emphasised that outside the one God there cannot be another god.

The little gods, whom people generally worship, are the manifestations, the facets, the fingers or the more concretised forms of the Universal Being, and their worship will also bring some result. We will get some blessing even from a patwari, but that is not enough. It is not sufficient because full authority of administration is not invested with the patwari. So is the case with the little gods. They will give us some blessing, but these blessings have a beginning and an end, and we will repent afterwards that the thing that we sought was not actually obtained. Therefore, it is necessary to seek the One God, outside Whom there cannot be any other god.

This is emphasised in the Ninth Chapter, and also it is further added that God is so kind and merciful that He shall take care of us as a kind father, as a kind mother, as a grandfather, as a great grandfather, as our very life-breath, our very sustenance—everything. In the Tenth Chapter, it is told that God is pervading in all the mighty excellences; and in the Eleventh Chapter, He stands alone, and nobody else can be there in front of Him.

For the perfection of yoga, for the removal of dirt in our mind, for removing even sins, and to do prayaschitta for any mistakes that we have committed, the Eleventh Chapter is generally read. The Eleventh Chapter of the Bhagavadgita is like a mantra which will purify us, cleanse our mind and burnish our soul. Students of yoga, students of true religion, lovers of God, would do well to read the Eleventh Chapter of the Bhagavadgita every day, because without some kind of prop, some assistance from outside, we will not be in a position to contemplate on God independently. So, read the Eleventh Chapter every day.

The mahatmyas—which means the glories and descriptions of the importance of each chapter of the Bhagavadgita—are explained in independent chapters in the Padma Purana. That is, one chapter of the Padma Purana is devoted to the description of the greatness of one chapter of the Bhagavadgita. Thus, the twenty-four chapters of the Padma Purana tell us what is the importance and the greatness of each chapter of the Bhagavadgita. However, we need not go into all those glorifying chapters. The whole of the Gita is a textbook of spiritual practice, and devotees believe that every word of it is a gem.

The form has been withdrawn. Arjuna and Sri Krishna are sitting together as chums, in the same manner as they were sitting before. Now they can have a friendly chat or discourse. Krishna can treat Arjuna as his dear friend, comrade and equal; and Arjuna can put questions of any kind.

After having heard all this, seen all this, and understood all this, Arjuna raises a question which is very pertinent for every one of us: “You are the Mighty Lord, inclusive of all things, transcendent as well as immanent. You are inconceivable to the mind. You remain as the Supreme Absolute Brahman, but You are also manifest as a person, as I am seeing You here in front of me. You said You are manifest in various excellences, as You have mentioned to me earlier. Which way of contemplating You would You regard as better, or superior? Should I try to contemplate You as the indeterminate, infinite, transcendent, Absolute Brahman? Or, may I adore You as a manifest Bhagavan Sri Krishna or any of the forms that You have taken in these excellences? With form or without form—which way is the better one for me to contemplate You?”

That was Arjuna’s question, and this question is raised by every one of us also. Some say that nirguna bhakti is better than saguna bhakti, some say that saguna bhakti takes us to nirguna, and some, like the Vaishnavas, Saivas, Saktas, etc., cling to saguna only, especially in specialised forms of devotion. Which way are we to follow—the saguna form or the nirguna form, the transcendent form or the immanent form, the universal form or the personal form?”